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Happiness and the Heart | Fr. Robert J. Spitzer | From "Defining 'Happiness'", chapter two of Healing the Culture: A Commonsense Philosophy of Happiness, Freedom and the Life issues

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After coming to an objective definition of "person", one might ask, "Why should we concern ourselves with the matters of the heart?" The answer is that even though an objective definition gives solidity, stability; and certitude, it does not give freedom. Even though it gives evidence and grounding, it does not move one to care or concern. If we do not make an earnest attempt to set our hearts free, indeed, if we do not even know how to set our hearts free, we will not be able to move our most objective, most correct, and most complete ideas into reality. We'll be all dressed up with no place to go.

I. The "Heart"

In the posthumous collection of notes entitled Pensées, Blaise Pascal observes, "The heart has reasons that the mind knows not of." [1] Most of us have an intuition about what this might mean, but we need more than an intuition, for the culture, the common good, and the future of rights are dependent upon the reasons of the heart and the mind. Inasmuch as Pascal was a mathematician, his view of the "mind's reasons" was probably related to geometrical demonstration, algebraic proof, mathematical definition, the setting of postulates, and so on. In fact, this barely touches the surface of what can be known by human beings. As noted in the previous chapter, the Neoplatonists recognized knowledge outside the spatio-temporal, mathematical, and even imaginary domain that they termed "the five transcendentals" (being, truth, goodness! justice, beauty; and "the one"). Moreover, poets have recognized yet another "transcendental", namely love, which philosophers and theologians have frequently spoken of as an ultimate objective of humankind. Pascal saw that there was a dimension untouched by the domain of objective definition theory, logic, and mathematical demonstration. He believed his beloved mathematics had to be complemented by these transcendentals in order to achieve the full depth and breadth of understanding and judgment. Through this complementary relationship, I the heart "awakens" the mind as the mind awakens the heart. Witness, I for example, the great physicist and astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington, who in his famous work The Nature of the Physical World makes a defense of mysticism as a consequence of his own scientific inquiry:
We all know that there are regions of the human spirit untrammeled by the world of physics. In the mystic sense of the creation around us, in the expression of art, in a yearning towards God, the soul grows upward and finds the fulfillment of something implanted in its nature. The sanction for this development is within us, a striving born with our consciousness or an Inner Light proceeding from a greater power than ours. Science can scarcely question this sanction, for the pursuit of science springs from a striving which the mind is impelled to follow, a questioning that will not be suppressed. Whether in the intellectual pursuits of science or in the mystical pursuits of the spirit, the light beckons ahead and the purpose surging within our nature responds. [2]
Just as Eddington reached the final frontier of scientific inquiry, another kind of knowing was awakened within him. He began to sense mystery beyond limit, a light beyond mathematical reasoning. Instead of feeling closure or an emptiness beyond mathematics, he sensed a being beyond mathematics that infused it with a reality much greater than the mathematics could define. In his pursuit of truth, Eddington allowed his other mental faculty to be awakened, to absorb passively and be filled by the mystery beyond Schrödinger's and Einstein's equations, and found himself in a state of appreciation and awe rather than in a state of demonstration and control. This experience of awakening extends also to the pursuit of goodness, justice, beauty, and love.

Perhaps the most important function of the heart is to seek meaning and purpose in life. If one attempts only to find meaning and purpose through what Pascal called the "mind", one will likely limit one's view of reality (and therefore of "person") to what is clearly perceivable and tangible. But if one complements the mind with the heart, one's horizon will open upon Eddington's mysticism in the equations of physics, the mystery perceived in the glimpse of a sunset over the ocean, the ecstasy felt in a Brahms symphony, the call felt in the simple song of a bird, or even time slipping to its still point in the midst of profound camaraderie. The heart really does have reasons that the mind knows not of, and when these two realities work inclusively, the full range of human ideals, desires, passions, commitments, wisdom, hopes, freedom, indeed, even the common good, seems to find a breadth and a depth that it never had before. The human spirit comes alive. It sees things anew, finds profound meaning and hope where before it may have had little. Above all, it gives a different vision of the human person. The recognition and valuing of the knowledge of the heart can set one free to see persons in a completely new light--in the light of mystery, in the desire for the unconditional and the unrestricted, in the boundlessness of curiosity, in the profundity of the desire for perfect love, in the quest for perfect beauty, and even in the longing for perfect goodness and truth.

II. The Effect of the "Heart" on the Culture

What does the above mean about the definition of "person" and its effects upon "rights", the "common good", and the good of the culture? Everything. For as the heart goes, so goes the definition of "person". And as the definition of "person" goes, so goes the definition of "rights" (see Chapter Seven), and as the definition of "rights" goes, so goes the definition of the "common good". And as the definition of the "common good" goes, so goes the real welfare of the culture. Will the culture contribute or detract from the development of human beings? Will the culture lead to greater unity or disarray? Will it promote peace or hatred? Equality and dignity, or bias and prejudice? Will it seek a solution to its problems in truth, love, goodness, beauty, and being, or rather in lies, hatred, injustice, depravity, and annihilation? It all depends on whether our hearts are in the trim, whether we use our hearts to open up our vision of the human person or to narrow it. It all depends on whether we really care about the person we have perceived, whether "person" and "rights" are merely legal abstractions, or whether they are the most objective yet mysterious realities within our worldly purview.

In the Introduction to this book we saw that if the culture is to lead toward greater possibilities and opportunities for humankind (instead of the opposite), it will have to have the most complete and objective definition of "person" possible. Now it is apparent this task will require both knowledge of the mind and knowledge of the heart.

The mind liberates the heart and the heart liberates the mind. If our vision of personhood and of individual persons can be caught up in this ongoing interdependent cycle, we can be sure that we will see dignity wherever it may be, that rights will not be a mere legal abstraction, and that the common good will be fired by a passion and a vision that will surprise even the greatest optimist. A culture cannot help but benefit from this. The upcoming four levels of happiness are intended not only to awaken the heart, but also to produce a complementarity of mind and heart that will open upon a truly respectful, responsible, and benevolent culture.


[1] Blaise Pascal, Pensées (1670).

[2] Sir Arthur Eddington, The Nature of the Physical World (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1929), pp. 327-28.

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Fr. Robert Spitzer, S.J., Ph.D, is the President of Gonzaga University, and co-founder of University Faculty for Life and the Center for Life Principles. Fr. Spitzer has been a member of the Society of Jesus (Oregon Province) since August 1974. He took his first vows in August 1976. He was ordained a priest in June of 1983, and made his final profession in April 1994. He has authored two books and his third book, Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life, will be published in the spring of 2008 by Ignatius Press.

Visit Fr. Spitzer online at RobertSpitzer.org.

Visit the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies, and news in the Church!


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