Monday, January 23, 2012

Contentment, Happiness, Pleasant States

Early on in Book IV of Society and Its Purpose, Rosmini proposes an interesting set of distinctions between contentment, happiness, and pleasant states.

You are in a pleasant state when your felt needs are met and you feel no pain. Thus being in a pleasant state is purely a matter of how you feel.

More developed than this is contentment. In order to be content, you must not merely be in a pleasant state; you must assess yourself as being in a pleasant state. It requires conscious judgment that you are fine. Whereas pleasant states just arise naturally, contentment in this sense is a personal state, dependent on personal judgment. Because of this, human beings, as persons, cannot rest content with merely having pleasant states -- pun intended. Once our mind develops to a certain extent, we do not merely feel, we judge, and merely feeling good is not always enough. We need to judge that we feel good because we have something good. Feeling is, Rosmini says, just a "first tribunal"; it is intellectual judgment that finally rules.

This judgment of contentment, however, does not need to be explicit; it can be a 'habitual judgment', which is to say, contentment really lies in the disposition to judge ourselves as in a genuinely satisfying state. Or in other words, contentment in this sense is not an act of judgment but a state of being inclined to judge.

Happiness is the next stage in sophistication on Rosmini's view. You are happy when you are not merely content but you can ascribe your contentment to the possession of a true, complete, and lasting good.

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