PLATONIC-ARISTOTELIAN NOTION OF MAN
[A Comparative Analysis]
EXPLICATION OF TERMS
1.1 The concept “Man”
Man by his very nature is an inquisitive being. The innate desire, says Aristotle, is both for pragmatic motives and for the sake of knowing. Man wants to know and conquer the realities around him and beyond him. But has not been able, even to unveil the mysteries of his own being “existence.” These various obscurities of man to himself, varied concepts and images of man have been presented according to various ages as below.
1.1.1 The Ancient Notion of Man
The Greek philosophers, interpreted man from ontological perspectives Democritus and other atomists conceived man as wholly composed of atoms and matter. Man is a material reality and possesses characteristics such as singularity, individuality, and concreteness in its being. It is universal and abstract in its qualities.
Plato, the scribe of Socrates on the other hand laid more emphasis on the spiritual aspect of the being man. For him, the soul pre-existed the body before its union with the body. According to him, the soul pre-existed in the world of forms before it came into the world where it got imprisoned in the body, a vessel and from within this prison exercises its activity.
For Aristotle, however, man is the only being that has rationality: he reasons, deliberates, imagines etc and so is the only being, animal that possesses the soul, which is in the form of the body. He writes:
Man is a soul. The soul has two parts: the rational and the irrational. The rational soul has the power of scientific thought. The reason is capable not only of distinguishing between different kinds’s of things, which is the power of analysis. It is able also to understand the relationships of things to each other, able to deliberate and discover as well the guides for human behaviour.1
Irrespective of the fact that, no universal concept has been accepted, even the notion of science that man is a machine. Moreover, that man is a composite of cells predetermined by genes. This Aristotelian solution proves most satisfactory.
1.1.2 The Medieval Notion of Man
This is the period of the confluence of philosophy, and theology but more theologically dominated. The Christians, interpreted man as coming from God. For Augustine, because man is unique and unrepeated, he sees him as single specie. Boethius helped him by completing that concept to differentiate man from other animals such as rats, goats etc. For Him, man is not only an individual person but also a rational being. He said; The person is an individual substance of rational nature.2
For Aquinas, man is a rational subsistent. He is composed of body and soul in his capacity as a “physical substance.”3 He has his highest capacity in the intellect and this makes him a rational animal or a “subsistent rationale” (a rational subsistent).
Gaurdini in his elegant thought saw man as an autonomous being that decides for him. His notion about man is:
Person means that I, in my being definitively cannot be in habited by any other, but that in relation to me, I am only with myself, I cannot be represented by another, but I am guaranteed to myself.4
1.1.3 The Modern Notion of Man
Anthropomorphism rules this period. Here man is seen as man and later on, as a Supreme Being. He is the measure of all things. It is based on the gnoseological phase since it is all about psychological perspectives.
Descartes, the rationalist posited that there are two separated substances: the res cogitans et res extenza – The mind and body or the spiritual and corporeal. He says man cannot be composed of mind and body as in the scholastic sense but rather that the mind makes use of the body, as a pilot, would the Plane. He concluded, therefore, that man is the mind. His idea should not be accepted since the mind needs the body to actualize its activities hence function well.
Freud, thought man, the true “I” to be the subconscious. For in the subconscious, the requirements of the society and the subconscious meet.
1.1.4 The Contemporary Notion of Man
This is the period of dialogical concepts. It attacks vehemently the Psychological and ontological theories of man. Mounier, in his essay “le personalisme” (personalism) condemned the psychoanalysts, idealists and the Empiricists, who maintained either the concreteness or the spiritual substance of man alone. Rather, he embraced incorporate existence or incarnate existence of thought and body.
Other concepts are analyzed thus: economic man (Marx), existent man (Heideggar), symbolic man (Cassirer), Utopic man (Block), Problematic man (Marcel), Cultural man (Gehlem), A thinking reed (Pascal), An image of God (Origin), Will of Power (Nietzsche), Anguished man (Kierkegaard)5 etc.
We say then, that whether Psychological or ontological, all human beings whether, he or she, white or black, Christian or Moslem, is globally a person made up of four indubitable fundamental elements: autonomy in being, self-consciousness, communication, and self-transcendence. He is free and social. In communication, he intersubjectivises with others in correspondence to love, friendship etc. In self-transcendence, he climbs the ladder of God. He meets the real absolute and eternal.
Nonetheless, Man as man, as Higgins formulates, means nothing less than the fact that man is also a moral being. He summarized man by the means of Aristotle’s four causes: the material, formal, efficient, and final causes. These four causes make the boldest attempt at satisfying every branch of study that claim to have the concept man. Higgins sees man, in Aristotle’s sense, as a unified whole, a complete substance formed by infusion of two widely differing constituents. One of this is the material element, the undetermined and determined part of him-his body.
…by union with a formal or determined cause, this material element put life into a human body, of which its end is a rational animal. This formal cause or soul is a life principle, the absolute, internal reason where man performs his vital action.6
As for theologians, the efficient and final causes may be regarded as indispensable aspects of man. Augustine (St.), for instance believed that our souls will never rest until, they find rest in Him from whom they come.
1.1.5 Igbo Notion of Man
In every age, every culture around the world has a certain picture of man, vis-à-vis his essential nature.
Conceptually, the Igbo equivalent meaning for “man” is “mmadu.” Dr. E. M.P. Edeh gives an analysis of the concept mmadu (mma-di), meaning “good that is.”7 Implying that he shares in the being of his maker, the highest good (God).
Another school of thought gives the analysis of “mmadu” as “mma-ndu,” “the goodness of life.” Here, the concept “the good” is a quality associated with man. He is considered the highest good of all creatures. This concept has a profound implication for the Igbo. If “man” (mma-ndu) is the greatest good,” it follows that for the Igbo, the being of man is an indubitable fact since His life (ndu) is an issue for him (man)8
Concisely, there is one indubitable truth about man:
There is man. He is there, I am here. Man is a man in the world as J.F. Douceel, noted of the trend of contemporary philosophy. Man does not simply live in the world. He also made us live in it.9
Thus he writes:
Man essentially lives in the world that is made up of complex sets of horizons. Man lives in a certain situation in which he can generally not change. It is up to him to assume this situation and make the most use of it.10
The Platonic-Aristotelian notion of man is therefore crucial with regards to the human existential understanding and our discussion that will be made clear as we proceed.
1.2 Body and Soul
The body is one of the elements of man that is naturally sensible and clear in existence. It is the concrete part of man, yet it does not constitute the human reality absolutely. It exists with the soul to make the actual human being. With this fickle nature of the body and soul, we shall look into, the body and soul as a problem; it’s relationship and functions.
1.2.1 The Soul And Body Problem
Philosophy and anthropology have problem on the usage of the term that designates the psychological faculty in man. Anthropology speaks of mind, philosophers and theologians refer to it as “spirit.” For the scientists, it is operational (i.e. the both terms). It is then left to the philosophers, theologians, and scientists to choose the best, concerning the nature and origin of man.
The issue of body and soul, at one extreme is the attempt to separate the human body and soul by the Platonic idealism, using the dualism of Descartes. At the other end is the attempt to reduce the mind and body relationship to animal psychology and behavior giving no acknowledgement to man’s soul as truly spiritual entity. “Neither pure spirit nor brute animal, man is an organic spirit and spiritual organism.11
1.2.2 Soul and Body Functions
The body performs both external function as walking, talking, hearing, seeing, taste, smell etc and internal activities as biochemistry and the metrics of genetical informations etc. The somaticity of man transcends and develops into nuclear operations. Mondin. B writes; “Man is able to manage his body, train it, and render it capable of performing movement of admirable perfections”.12
He is a symbolic being, which is a sign of life health, vigilance, and command. However, man has some characteristics in common with the animals such as growth, reproduction, movement etc.
Epistemologically, the body is a vital instrument of acquiring knowledge to Aristotle and Hume, it is through the body that the world manifests itself to me and I project myself on the world (Phenomenology).
Lastly, the body is the source of evil and likewise a curse to the soul according to the Platonists and Manicheans doctrines.
1.2.3 The Relationship between the Soul and the Body.
The union of the soul and the body originates as a single being-man. For Aristotle, being soul alone is not man, nor to be body alone but the blend of these two elements. Other supporters of this opinion include; Cajetan, Albert the great, Aquinas and Rosmini. For Hume, their relationship is that of subjective and reflection.
Plato himself says that the soul is identified with the true essence of man. Freeing the soul is a necessary condition to eliminating the body. Other proponents of this opinion include: Spinoza, Augustine, and Descartes etc.
Kant, in his agnosticism rejected all attempts and regarded all soul-body reports as nothing but fallacious. At this point, we say that the soul-body relationship is substantial because the body and the soul cannot operate in isolation. The soul and the body is not a substance because neither the soul nor the body has atoms of autonomous existence or self-initiation. Both of them participate together at the moment of generation. Therefore cannot be identified as a simple accident or a complete substance.
1.3 The Origin of Man
The search for the origin of man dates back to at least the written history of man. This gave rise to some evolutionary theories under Psychological cum biological, scientific, theological, and philosophic thought.
1.3.1 Psychological Cum Biological Thought
In this approach, man (Homo erectus, Homo vivens, Homosapiens, Homo volens etc) is regarded as a unique composite of man and spirit, of body and soul.
For Traducianism, the parents generated both body and soul through the instrumental fission of the ovum and sperm alone. According to it, man originated from a complex structure of molecules called DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid).
On another note, the soul of man has a proximate spiritual source, the soul of the offspring, must be the soul, which must be an emanation of the souls of the parents.
1.3.2 The Theological Thought
According to the theological thought, it is believed the supreme being (God) from whom all things were made and who holds the entire universe in his hands also made man.
Let us make man in our image and likeness; let them have dominion over all other creatures… So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.13
Right down the history, man is an indubitable being that exists in the world otherwise, there would be no history for there would be no man to talk about the past, the present or even predict the future.
1.3.3 Philosophical Thought
According to the emanation theory, human race emanated from some live forces in the world and some great men fashioned by the gods of Pantheon (The Early Greek pyramid text record). Also, the creationists, pictured man to be descendants or rather, products of Gods so that all things come from divine architecture and genealogy – Theory of creationism.
In the 19th century, man was believed to have originated from animals not from gods. An instance is the Darwin’s. “The Descent of man” Here Darwin treated man’s origin and history in the context of animal origins or evaluation. In the evolutionist, theory man is believed to have descended from common ancestors among the primates by natural evolutionary process like isolation, adaptation, natural selection, and mutation.
1 Stumpf, S.E. Philosophy: History and Problems [London: McGraw-Hill Book. CO., 1989], p.96.
2 Mondin B, Philosophical Anthropology,[ Rome: Urbanian Univ. Press, 1985], P.247.
3 Ibid., p.194
4 Ibid. p.250.
5 Ibid., p.21
6 Higgins. T.J.S., Man as Man: The Science and arts of Ethics [Milwaukee: Bruce Pub., Co., 1968], p.157.
7 Edeh E.M.P., Towards an Igbo Metaphysics,[ Chicago, Loyola University, press, 1985], p.100.
8 Ekei. J.C., Justice in Communalism [Lagos, Realm Comm. Ltd., 2001], p.92.
9 Donceel. J.F., Philosophical Anthropology,[ New York: Sheed and Ward, 1967], p.454.
10 Ibid. p.455.
11 New Catholic Encyclopedia,[ New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., Vol V, 1966], p.671
12 Ibid., p.232
13 Gen., I: 26-27