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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How to Best Live Life

This simple question has been the concern of thinkers in every period in history. However, it seems that our culture seems to characterize these kinds of questions as unnecessary because, as they say, they are the fruit of primitive thinking, or psychological hang-up, or simply they don’t help put food on the table. Whenever we will to rise above our imagination, it can be observed that things work for the sake of an end. So, we too are not spared from this natural phenomenon of life. As Thomas Aquinas says, “it is characteristic of man to do everything for an end” (ST II-I, 1, 1). That means every action we do, we do it for the sake of an end. Corollary to that statement, we have an end. Everything has an end. For instance, a chair’s end is to provide seating for people; a car’s end is to bring people wherever they want to go very quickly; nature’s end is to provide oxygen, beauty, location, good condition for human beings to flourish; the weather’s end is to furnish good season so we can grow the appropriate crops… according to our needs. The question is rightly asked: how should we live life in order to become the best person possible? In other words, how do we need to live in order to fulfill our end? Philosophers have proposed many different ways we can live in order to be as flourishing as possible. In this post, I will expose Kant and Christianity’s proposal on how to best live life
Kant’s first proposal on how to best live life is his Categorical Imperative. It states that a person is to “act only in accordance with that maxim through which he/she can at the same time will that it becomes a universal law”. If whatever we are doing can be universalized i.e. it would not caused any morally harm if everyone does it, then we can pursue it. Otherwise, it would be wise to jettison it. Kant’s second proposal is that we should never act in such a way that we treat Humanity as a means but always as an end in itself. Well, there is nothing wrong with these proposals if people did not want to get their way out of everything. It is unbelievable how much many people are not even trying to be honest. Since it is the case, they give voice to many who think Kant’s proposal is confusing, or cannot really be universalized. Why is it hard to not do to others what you yourself dislike? Kant’s way can keep the world together, but many prefer to conjure up issues that have never existed. Who can deny that if something cannot be universalized, it is probably wrong? Who can deny that all human beings must be intrinsically valued, and so must never be treated as means?
We are wired for God. As the great Augustine says, “O God, you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in thee” (confessions I). It is true the technological advancement that our world has known surpassed our wildest expectations. We can sit here in America and instantly experience what is happening in Japan. I can testify to this since I see any soccer game live in Europe though I don’t live there. But the human heart longs for something that they sciences or technology can never deliver. We are yearning for something that lies beyond the limited human mind. “Only in God is our soul at rest”, the psalmist said. Only when we are living in communion with God can we find what we are looking for. That is the Christian message. Anyone who denies that will experience this for himself. No one can deny that he does not long for infinite happiness that he does not find in anything earthly. All pleasures we have experienced so far are ephemeral. They come and go. So, what are we to do in order that our yearning may one day be satisfied? That is what Christianity is; she proposes the answer to our longing. The answer is Jesus Christ, but it is intrinsically dependent on us to choose and embrace Him with our heart, mind, soul, and every fiber of our being. Three principles are proposed by Christianity on how to best live life and at the end reach something that can satiate our longing. The first principle is to become holy. Holiness is man’s first vocation. Aquinas calls this ‘human flourishing’; some motivational speakers call it ‘the best-version-of-ourselves’. Is it not true that we all would like to become the best person we can be? Is it not true that we all have an ideal for ourselves? It seems to be that there are two versions of each of us. The one that we actually are, and the one that God wants us to become. Christianity offers the best mean to reach that ideal self. No one in their right mind can reject such a view altogether. The second is to become virtuous. Virtue is at the heart of the Christian life. The more virtuous we become, the easier it is for us to reach holiness, flourishing, or the best version of ourselves. The more virtuous we are, the more our neighbor, society, church, and family benefit. The whole world prefers virtue to vice. Something vicious committed by one man hurts not only the wretched person, but also the family of the hurt. The third principle that Christianity proposes on how to best live life is to cultivate love. We need to start advertising a culture of life ground on firm examples that inspire others to choose God’s way above vengeance. We need to publicly live and make choices that testify our Christian faith. When we get the opportunities, we need to make it count so deeply that no one can resist asking us what inspires us to act like that. There will be occasions to refuse suing someone because we choose to forgive though we are hurt. We leave justice to God. Living this way is living for the end for which we were created. Yes, each of us has a vocation that will most fulfill us. However, most of us will never find out that vocation. Therefore, as Christian, we need to develop the best version of ourselves and live it as no one else could.
I am not talking about anything abstract. All of us know how to be kind. We all know we must help those in needs. We all know that we can love more. The question is: are we doing with all our heart, mind, strength, will, and intellect? I am asking that we do these in ways that reflect the best version of who we are. Action follows upon being. What we do reflects who we are. Who we are is not mediocrity. We are made for greatness. We cannot simply help. We must be the greatest helper we can possibly be. We cannot afford to simply be kind. We need to be the kindest person we can be. We need to live in ways that show greatness. Do you think this is the best you can can give at what you are doing? Are you the best son you can be? The best neighbor, friend, coworker, student, Christian you can be right now? Ok, you’re probably not, but is this the best you can do? Do you think you can live in accordance with the greatness that you are? Mother Teresa said, “Let no one come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness in your eyes, smile, and greeting”. When we are virtuous, we benefit as well. A virtuous act expands our heart and brings us a sense of achievement and self-realization. When you develop these characteristics, you reach the end for which you were created. Don’t ever give it up.
That is my proposal. Would you like to propose a way, too? Feel welcomed.