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Philosophy Project Topic: Happiness in the Philosophy of Higgins




All human beings desire to be happy. This basic and natural urge for happiness is deep-rooted in the being of every man. Without it, man would have no good reason for doing anything. Happiness is the original stimulus for all human action. Indeed, whatever a person does, happiness is his ultimate goal. It is also a truism that the quest for happiness has led humankind into civilization and development. But it is worthy of mention, here, that the most important aspect of this development of our world is indisputably the development of human personality. It is, in other words, the moral development of man that constitutes the world. This means that the development for our world is primarily the development of human persons. Now, the most important aspect in the development of the human person is his moral development. Indeed, moral maturity is inevitably important for the development of our world. For, we cannot talk of the development of a world if its citizens are morally undeveloped and immature.

In consonance with his line of thought, Omoregbe writes,

However, in order that any society be able to possess and fulfill the purpose of which it exists, the individual members that constitute it must adopt and cultivate a certain basic moral disposition. The individual members must be morally mature if the society in which they live is to develop and progress.[1]

However, the end of man’s life is that which gives meaning to his activities and it is that towards which all his actions tend. Human action cannot proceed indefinitely. We must come to an “uncaused cause” of other actions, the primordial source in the order of intentions of all human actions.

Aristotle opined that the final end of man is happiness, “everyone agrees that this final aim of action is to be called happiness or well-being eudaimonia”.[1]

Aquinas agreed with Aristotle but differed by saying that this happiness is to be located in God alone who will satisfy and quell all human appetites. Buttressing this very fact, he said, “man’s last end is the uncreated good namely God, who alone by his infinite good can perfectly satisfy man’s will”.[2]

Higgins on his own part observed that, “man’s end of work in this life is preparation for perfect happiness hereafter. The attainment of this purpose depends on the moral character of his willed acts”.[3] This implies that a finite, contingent being who has not yet reached his final perfection may, if he is free, choose to reject it. Because he is free, man can perform acts which perfect his nature and acts which degrade it. It is impossible that the latter should lead to his happiness. Therefore, if man insists on acting in a way which degrades his nature, it is impossible that he arrives at perfect happiness or even at a state approximating it. Hence, his attaining a state of preparation for perfect happiness depends on the moral perfection of his willed acts. Action suited to the achievement of this perfect happiness for the individual man is a task challenging our discourse.


In an overview of general ethics, this fact stands out pre-eminently: a man ought to attain his final end. To accomplish this he ought to lead a life in keeping with his nature, a reasonable life. This he does by obeying the Natural Law – which is simply nature properly inclining us towards the natural and necessary goods of human life. Ultimately, this discourse aims at establishing the particular obligations of the natural law as it concerns the individual as an individual in the pursuit of his ultimate end. Hence, this study proposes to establish what orderly human conduct is by examining the particular good or evil acts man is to do or avoid as an individual.


The significance of our study finds expression in our effort to objectively excavate those ethical principles that are inevitable in a man’s life as an individual if he is to attain his ultimate end; those universal enduring values of the natural law which are of worth to us as individuals. It takes that aspect of the individual man that is of most penetrating consequence. Essentially, it answers the vital question of our existence: what are the ethical principles that should lead man (as an individual) to his ultimate end?


Today, our world is experiencing a lot of ethical problems. Each man’s moral problem throughout life on earth is to select and perform the kind of actions which will lead to true happiness. In this problem, man is faced with an avalanche of moral principles, some of which are capable of leading man or even have led man to act contrary to his nature. This is indicative of the fact that not all ethical principles are equally valuable in the formulation of an ethical system. Humanity, therefore, in which the individual subsists, is in need of a general but objective orderly conduct for the individual as an individual -to teach him how to live aright, that by right living he may attain the full stature of his ultimate perfection. This is the problem that prompted our discourse.


Our inquiry into individual ethics centres on what an individual’s conduct ought to be by following the ultimate principles of orderly human actions, namely, that final end of happiness to which man’s conduct should tend. Since some of his acts do not tend there, it is necessary to find a basic principle of differentiation between the good and the bad. This we found to be competently and objectively addressed by Thomas Higgins. Against this backdrop, the methodological approach in this study is the analytical-expository method. The use of such method as this, I hope, will help us to effectively expose and analyze Higgins treatment on the principles of individual ethics. Hence, the scope of this study, given its restrictions and conciseness, is primarily limited to Higgins’ conception of the principles of individual ethics towards obligation to God, self and others, in addition to the views of relevant authors. To attain our goal, we have divided this study into five chapters, chapter one is the general introduction of the study which presents the background, objectives, significance and problems that prompted this study. It also includes the methodology, scope and explication of terms and concepts.  Chapter two reviews relevant literatures and arguments of some authors. Chapter three states the threefold obligation enshrined in every individual’s moral principles. Chapter four treats more deeply, man’s obligation to his fellow men. Chapter five is evaluation and conclusion.



The fundamental principles of the moral law are generally referred to as “Moral principles”. Moral principles as defined by Omoregbe are;

Standards of moral behaviour, norms with which our conduct should conform. They are guides of human conduct, indicating certain things or certain ways of behaviour which should be avoided and other things or ways of behaviour which should be adopted.[1]

Moral principles are, in fact, explicit formulations or explications of the moral law. They are by their nature, universal, that is, they are valid and applicable at all times and in all societies. For example, there is no society in the world (nor is there anytime in history) where murder is right and justice is wrong.


In order to properly understand what we mean by “individual ethics”, it is worthwhile to have an apt definition of what ethics is. Ethics basically is the science of morality. It originated from the Greek word “ethike” which means “that which concerns ethos”. Ethics as that which concerns ethos simply means the ways human beings act and conduct themselves. No wonder Pope John Paul II defined it as “the science of human actions from the point of their moral value of the good or evil conditioned in them.”[2] Technically, we can describe ethics as that branch of philosophy that studies the principles of right and wrong in human conduct. It lays down principles on what we ought to do and how we ought to live.

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Topic: Happiness in the Philosophy of Higgins

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[1] J. Omoregbe,  Ethics: A Systematic and Historical Study.  41.

[2] J. N. Ekennia.,  Bio-Medical Ethics Issues, Trends & Problems. Owerri, Barloz Publishers Inc. 2003, 2.

[1] D. J. O’ Connor., Christian Ethics: Moral Theology in the Light of Vatican II, 8th ed., Volume II, Bangalore, Theological Publications, 1968,   23.

[2] D. J. O’ Connor., Christian Ethics: Moral Theology in the  Light of Vatican II, 8th ed. Volume II Bangalore, Theological Publications, 1968,  598.

[3] T. J. Higgins., Man as Man: The Science and Art of Ethics. 7th ed., Milwaukee, The Bruce Publishing Company, 1949,   25.

[1] J. Omoregbe., Ethics: A Systematic and Historical Study, 2nd ed., Lagos, Cepco Communication Systems: Limited, 1989, 75.


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