What It Means to Be Human

The human being is the most complex and fascinating phenomenon ever created. All people of knowledge from philosophers, to scientists, sociologists etc. have attempted to come up with propositions capable of summarizing the human being. Some have provided propositions that destroy the very dignity of the human person. Others have come up with more or less acceptable view. I call their view acceptable because they have sustained the test of time and debates in the philosophical arena.
Here, I want to consider Aristotle’s view of the human person, which deals with basics of what a human being is, but lacks what makes us great; and I want to express one of the elements that make us stand apart from all other beings.
In the De Anima, Aristotle argues that the human person is a composite of body and soul. For him, the body cannot be separated from the soul in the same way form cannot be separated from matter. The soul, as he conceives it, is the substantial form of the body; by this, he means that it needs the body for its subsistence, but it is not a body. It is what makes a human being a human being in the same way the ability to cut is what makes an axe an axe, sight is what makes an eye an eye, so the soul is makes a human being what he/she is.
It is noteworthy to mention that the telos of Aristotle in studying the soul is not because he believes that it has some value beyond this life; he is studying it because he believes that it is something fascinating as any philosophical concept. Knowing what something is tells us what it can do. As a result, he defines it as the first actuality of a natural body that potentially has life.
Due to this understanding, he maintains that anything that has life has also a soul. So plants have nutritive soul- meaning the can take in food and so grow; animals have perceptive/sensitive soul, which means that they can do what plants do, and they can also sense and reproduce. Human beings, according to his view, have a rational/intellective soul which is unique to them. Humans have the capacity to do what both plants and animals do, but more importantly, he/she has the capacity to reason. Due to that capacity, human can strive toward a higher telos (end).
How does the body communicate with each other as we observe it? Unlike most thinkers, Aristotle differs between the mind and the soul. The mind is part of the body and so is a physical thing while the soul is an immaterial, non spatial thing that acts in a physical thing (the mind). So the soul interacts with the body by means of the mind. The soul acts on the mind which acts on the body, but it is unaffected by it and has nothing in common with the body. So when the body is deteriorated, the soul remains intact. The soul never gets tired doing what it does. If the mind can be weary thinking, if the body gets tired daily, the soul can never be tired exercising its activity.
A concept that Aristotle was probably never interested in, but which interests me greatly, is that the human person originates from love, by means of love, to become love, and ultimately return to love. As such, he is the only being capable of selflessly giving himself as a gift of love. Actually, love is the only requirement that a person asks of others. We are just to a person if we love him/her. This is true for God as well as human. Love, for a person, excludes the idea that he/she is being treated as object of pleasure. Here, I think Kant would strongly agree with me since he maintains that a person must always be treated as an end in his Categorical Imperative.
Thus, the way we manifest our humanity, the way we echo our identity is when we let love blossom selflessly. It’s in selfless love that we become fully human. As a consequence of this behavior and understanding, before we do anything, we must always question whether or not that elevates the human person to love more deeply and so allows him/her to flourish as a person of dignity. Moreover, the capacity to offer ourselves as a gift of love when we fully know what that involves is a testimony that we are unique and was intentionally given that capacity. It is a witness that we were created as an intrinsic end for a particular purpose. As a result, we must live in a way that bears witness to that. We are truly human when we avoid engaging in what compromises the purpose for which we were made.
So to be human means to be constantly giving ourselves as a selfless gift. In fact, every move we make in life, our cravings, restless effort to succeed, search for friendship, bonding, conviviality, and striving to know the truth and the good are done for the sake of love. Entrust your self to selfless love so we can attain the depth of human existence. Know this. That love you are seeking, the love you have a right to enjoy and should selflessly die for has a name and a face— Jesus of Nazareth who died on the cross to give meaning to your life and purpose to your endeavors.

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2 Comments

  1. selfless love is quickly mocked in today’s society- especially since it requires us to let go of our pride and vanity, and trust in God. ‘Jesus, i trust in You’ – a statement that is more challenging than any other in the world…yet returns and fills us completely with true love.

    Thanks, Joseph!

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