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Chapter 5: The Goods Which Fulfill Persons

Appendix 3: Substantive goods explained more fully

Human fulfillment in the intellectual dimension is knowledge of truth, particularly that truth which is sought for its own sake. Considered from the point of view of the activity, this good is knowing, while considered from the point of view of the perfective content, it is truth. Theoretical knowledge—truth sought for itself—is not limited to professional intellectuals such as philosophers and scientists. The curiosity of a child also is aimed at this good. Esthetic experiences, which are engaged in for their own sake, involve a great deal of sensory activity, but this activity is formed and given its peculiar value by the influence of intelligence. Thus, such activity also pertains to the fulfillment of human persons in the domain of intellect.

In Scripture, explicit mentions of truth and knowledge usually refer to the practical or existential fulfillment previously described, called “wisdom” (see Prv 3.13–18). However, the fulfillment of persons by theoretical truth and esthetic experience is not ignored, even if it is seldom explicitly discussed. It is implicitly recognized and commended in various contexts, including that of the praise of God the creator (see Ps 104). The beauty and order of God’s universe are acknowledged and acclaimed with childlike wonder (see Job 38–41).

Vatican II explicitly commends work in philosophy, history, mathematics, and the sciences, as well as cultivation of the arts, because this effort “can do very much to elevate the human family to a more sublime understanding of truth, goodness, and beauty, and to the formation of judgments which embody universal values” (GS 57).

In the field of external activity, one might suppose there is no good directly perfective of human persons, but only goods instrumental to properly personal fulfillment. But this supposition would be a mistake. Playful activities are engaged in for their own sake, and so are many forms of skillful performance which also are productive of fruitful results.

An important aspect of human dignity is cooperation with the creative work of God (see Gn 1.28; Ps 8.7). If work is not fulfilling, this situation arises not from any necessary irrelevance of external behavior to the fullness of personal being, but rather from the conditions which make work into labor (see Gn 3.17–19). Vatican II explicitly teaches that work is not merely instrumental and that human fulfillment demands culture, including external activity (see GS 53 and 67). Activities which are merely playful in a special way reflect the utter gratuitousness of God’s creative act, for such activities express a person and seek to acquire nothing.

The fulfillment of persons in their bodily dimension is acclaimed as a great blessing throughout the Bible. Creation is crowned by life and this good is specially blessed to insure its growth and continuance (see Gn 1.22, 28). In the covenant with Noah, there is a permission to kill animals, but an explicit protection of human life (see Gn 9.1–7). The position that life is precious and death a great evil is strongly asserted in Wisdom (see 1.12–16; cf. GS 18). That life itself is a good is presupposed in all of the cases in which life is miraculously preserved or restored.

Vatican II clearly teaches that whatever is opposed to life itself or to bodily integrity is a great crime (see GS 27). Procreative fruitfulness, good health, and bodily integrity are aspects of the human good of life (see 2 Kgs 4.12–16; Ps 127.3–4; 128.3–4; 144.12). Considered as an intelligible value, the avoidance or treatment of pain belongs to this same general category of human well-being.