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What Is The Best: The Definition Or Understanding Of ‘Saint'? (Essay Sample)


Is Susan Wolf correct in arguing that the life of a saint “does not constitute a model of personal well being toward which it would be particularly rational or good or desirable for a human being to strive” (Wolf, “Moral Saints”, 419)? What, for that matter, is the best definition or understanding of ‘saint'? Examine arguments on both sides, and defend your conclusion carefully and in detail.


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On Sainthood and Personal Well-Being
Do moral saints have a good life? What kind of well-being do they stand or strive for? Is it possible for them to attain personal well-being? On her part, Susan Wolf believes that moral saints do not pursue personal well-being because their concern is to live a life of moral perfection or saintliness, which to Wolf is a pursuit that is not “particularly rational or good or desirable for a human being to strive” (419). While it is true that moral saints are after some form of saintliness, moral perfection is not the endeavor or quality that defines them. In opposition to Wolf, this paper will take the position that moral saints pursue a kind of well-being that is more encompassing than moral perfection. Although saints are unlike the rest of us because of their perceived religious fervor or devotion, they are after a kind of good life that is no different from the ones we envision as normal folks or non-saintly individuals. The good life for the saints is not moral perfectionism; instead, it is one of goodness, happiness, excellence, and devotion in all of the major aspects of life. Robert Merrihew Adams agrees with this expansion of moral sainthood and the notion of saintly well-being. He writes: “The substance of sainthood is not sheer will power striving like Sisyphus to accomplish a boundless task, but goodness overflowing from a boundless source” (396). The saint's relationship with God or a Supreme Being is the saint's source of personal well-being that is characterized by growth and happiness. In sum, the saints may be a class of their own but they also try to live a good life beyond the demands of moral piety. Pursuing a more personal and holistic way of life, saints aspire for goodness not only in the area of morality but also in the matters of religion, personal contentment, and meaningful fellowship.
More than moral goodness or sainthood, saints also pursue their own happiness just like any other human being. Their notion of the self is as strong and real as anyone else in this world. After all, despite their saintly demeanor, they too are humans with needs, dreams, desires, and aspirations. It is wrong for Wolf to think that saints “pays little or no attention to his own happiness in light of the overriding importance he gives to the wider concerns of humanity” (Wolf 420). Just because saints are known to be do-gooders who spend most of their time thinking and caring about others does not mean that they are incapable of thinking about themselves and their own fulfillment and happiness. Adams writes: “Saints have typically been intensely and frankly interested in their own condition, their own perfection, and their own happiness. Without this interest, they would hardly have been fitted to lead others for whom they desired perfection and happiness” (397). In order for saints to serve others, they must have a firsthand knowledge of happiness and perfection. How can they convince others to embrace happiness and live better lives without a full understanding of happiness and its many riches and benefits. Only by knowing and experiencing happiness can a saint fulfill his or her duty to give joy and inspiration to others. His pursuits for moral perfection do not forbid him or her from the efforts of self-discovery or self-refinement. The act of looking inward is as much the duty of a saint as is the act of looking outward (i.e. altruism).
Although a moral saint derives some kind of happiness from looking after the welfare of others, he/she forms his/her own happiness outside his/her altruistic acts. Wolf can be criticized for claiming that the “happiness of the moral saint, then, would truly lie in the happiness of others” (420) because the saint obviously has interests outside the confines of his or her altruistic nature. It is not hard to imagine that a saint may also have a deep passion for music, literature, or the arts. These non-moral interests lie outside their passions for charity and other humanitarian acts often associated with the actions of moral saints. The personal well-being of saints is not only possible and real but also complex and multifaceted. A saint and his or her happiness cannot be defined solely by his or her moral endeavors or his or her commitment to being as “morally good as possible” (Wolf 421) because doing so would limit or simplify moral sainthood and the notion of personal well-being. Adams tries to broaden the definition of moral sainthood by claiming that the devotion of the saints in pursuing the welfare of others should be seen “in the context of a more comprehensive devotion to God” (397). Although encompassing a more general scope (i.e. human happiness), Haidt confirms the complexity of personal well-being with his happiness formula, namely, H= S+C+V. According to this formula, happiness is the result of a combination of factors, which include our

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