In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • All for the Greater Glory of God":Was St. Ignatius Irrational?
  • Daniel A. Dombrowski (bio)


Given the voluminous commentary on John Rawls's classic A Theory of Justice, it is surprising that there are still sophisticated arguments in that work that have been left largely untouched. One chapter that has not received the attention it deserves is chapter 83, titled "Happiness and Dominant Ends." The chapter has not been entirely ignored since in conversations I have had with various scholars I have learned that in this chapter Rawls has given the impression to many readers that he thinks dominant-end views like those of St. Ignatius of Loyola, whom he refers to explicitly, are "irrational" or "mad."1

Ignatius's famous version of a dominant-end view is that all that we do should be for the greater glory of God (ad majorem Dei gloriam). This saying is the motto not only of the Jesuit order he founded but could also be seen as the motto for all theists in the Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). As a result, nothing trivial is at stake in the effort to understand Rawls's meaning and his apparent hyperbole.

In this short article I will argue for three points: (1) I will explicate Rawls's view and suggest that the charges of irrationality or [End Page 109] madness do not apply to Ignatius's view. Here I will try to make Rawls's view clearer than Rawls himself makes it. (2) I will nonetheless defend Rawls's thesis that some other dominant-end views are irrational or mad. And (3), I will briefly indicate the political importance of the topic at hand, which might initially seem to be quite abstract and removed from the practical world.

Inclusive Ends Versus Dominant Ends

The most common "inclusive end" for a human life that has been defended in the history of philosophy is happiness. Rawls largely follows Aristotle in seeing happiness as consisting in a successful execution of a roughly rational plan of life that is arrived at under more or less favorable conditions. We tend to be happy when our rational plan of life is to an acceptable extent being executed. Like Aristotle, Rawls believes happiness is not a totally rational affair because in addition to rationality it involves luck. Rawls is also an Aristotelian in thinking that, despite the obvious subjective element in happiness, it is to be defined objectively. That is, if a person believes that he or she is on the way to a successful execution of a roughly rational plan of life, but is mistaken or deluded in this belief, we should think that this person is unhappy regardless of his or her subjective satisfaction. A person in "fool's paradise" is not really happy.2

Happiness is an inclusive end in part because it is self-contained and is chosen for its own sake, not for the sake of something else. In this regard a person's happiness is similar to a work of art like a novel or a painting. Even if a particular work of art is flawed in some ways, there is a certain completeness to it that makes it possible for the reader or viewer to notice aesthetic value in it that contrasts with the aesthetic value found in other works of art. When a human life approaches "blessedness" (Rawls's word) it is analogous to a masterpiece in literature by Faulkner or to a painting by Leonardo. As Rawls puts the point, "happiness is not one aim among others that we aspire to, but the fulfillment of the whole design itself." [End Page 110]

The question quite understandably arises: how to choose rationally among possible plans of life? Rawls is famous (or infamous) for his effort to construct a fair decision-making procedure regarding justice in an original position behind a veil of ignorance. Something similar is appealed to here in that a plan of life is one that would be chosen (albeit without the help of a community of all rational agents) with deliberative rationality. In both the original position and when choosing a plan of life there is a need to...