The Place Of Man In Aristotle: The Basis Of Man’s Life Crisis (An Evaluative Rediscovery)

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1.1     Origin of Man- An Evolutionary/Scientific perspective                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

‘Man or ‘homo sapiens’, as he somewhat arrogantly calls himself, is the most interesting and also the most irritating of animal species on the planet earth’.[1] The origin and structure of man have been the age-long subjects of study, controversies and theorizations in form of fundamental questions, assertions and denials that pertain mostly to issues about life, its origin and nature. Numerous scientists, biologists, paleontologists and philosophers have remarkably worked, researched and discovered some useful information that will help us understand the origin and structure of life.

Characteristically, these researches and discoveries about origin of life in general and man in particular have been classified into two major circles of understanding, vitalistic and mechanistic views.[2] Some philosophers like Descartes and Gassendi followed this idea mechanistic view and sought to propagate it to posterity.

Invariably, this teleological while the former explains life as originating by chance, with no plans and hereunder we have two levels of determination, ‘the evolutionists and the traditionalists that considers life as a cause-effect’. The traditional view takes care of the mythical and legendary account of the origin of life, as contained in the Holy Writ, hence: The Lord formed man of the slime of earth and breathed into his face the breath of life.[3] This approach commanded a greater affection of many scientists and philosophers. Basically in defense of the theory of traditional account of origin of man, Jean Servier eloquently condemned the possibility of scientific evolution, thereby reducing scientific claim of factual basement to a mere mythical claim. Consequently, the criticism led to a mid-way consideration which incorporates the origin of life by direct creation through God’s intervention and the opposite by pure chance or spontaneous generation. This mid-way is known as programmed evolution.

Programmed evolution as a theory has become acceptable to many philosophers as well as the scientists, unlike the scientific evolution held formerly which created much polarity between them. Thus, for the philosophers, it entrains ‘that the soul* arises through the action of an intelligent being to give origin to life’.[4]

In addition, Teilhard de Chardin describes him as ‘the arrow-head of evolution’. These evolutionary discoveries are far away from philosophical truth. Nevertheless, Aristotle’s scheme seems to vary under this evolutionary perspective.[5] Since in Aristotle’s schemes, there is no such evolution as in the modern sense, scientific temporal evolution, though he may have developed an ideal evolution.[6]

Finally, we must note therefore, that the problem concerning the origin of man is yet unsolved, since evolutionary theory cannot satisfy philosophical curiosity, even the claim of an evolution of a reflective consciousness by Teilhard[7] .

1.2     The Background of Study

No doubt at all that there were so many views about what constitute the essence of man, but all did agree in the first place that such essence exists, that is to say that there is something by virtue of which man is man and so are all other beings in nature before Aristotle, and at its climax after him, having succeeded in arousing interest. The traces of this devotion in philosophy are identifiable in the ancient and classical, Middle Ages and enlightenment philosophers culminating in Kant and then those of the contemporary era. The pre-Socratics to begin with, were mainly cosmologists who reduced all that is to material existence and origin. Pythagoras introduced form and not only that, he brought forward the idea of form limiting the matter which is boundless. For him, balance or equilibrium is achieved through the imposition of form over matter.[8]

According to Enoch Stumpf, Anaxagoras in addition brought forward, the phenomenon of ‘nous’ (the mind as that responsible for the actualization of matter by form, thus he maintains that the nature of reality is best understood as consisting mind and matter.[9] Accordingly, Aristotle later expressed a double evaluation of his views.

Furthermore, the materialists came to fore, exalting the material existence of all things. Socrates in contrast emerged as a spiritualist in defense of the soul and Plato asserted man as this soul, separating apart the two worlds of reality and ideas, hence the emergence of his dualism as the case may be. However, this psychological dualism was inherited by the immediate successor, Aristotle, who sought to reconcile them. Thus, the problem of balance and relation between matter and form (body and soul) is seen scattered all over his fragments.                                                                                                                  For instance, the whole of his ethical, political, metaphysical treatises as well as his scientific writings incidentally bear some elements of this problem of his major concern. Biologically, Aristotle proceeded with the analysis of nature. According to him the term, ‘phusis’, means essence or form in general.[10] Nature means for him ‘a formed or active principle of movement and rest in corporeal reality’.[11] The Physics BK II of Aristotle was strictly dedicated to the explanation, justification and above all the articulation of the notion of nature as ‘an intrinsic principle of movement’[12] .  Considerably, to act intelligently is to act in accordance with rational nature, while to act instinctively is to act in congruence with the animal nature.

In the first book of De Anima, Aristotle speaks of the soul as the entelechy or act of the body that possesses life in potency.  In the same manner and within history of psychology appropriate to the dichotomized notions of philosophers on the soul, he observes thus:

… the most far-reaching difference is that between the philosopher who regard the elements as corporeal and those who regard them as incorporeal.[13]

In a bid to reconcile them Aristotle portrayed soul as the actuality of the body which cannot be distinguished from it, though some parts are separable for him, since they are precisely not the realizations of the body.

     1.3      The Definition of Man


Having seen previously the stand, which Aristotle takes on man, as a different nature among other nature, can we now at this point try some sense of definition? Generally, the question should be what is man, (Was ist der mensch), but in Aristotelian concept of man, it goes thus: who is man, (was ist der mensch). However, this question is not only onerous to man but also most rancorous to him, since he evades approaching it. Inadvertently, ‘man is a being so vast, so could, so multiform, that every definition demonstrates itself as too limited. Man’s aspects are too numerous’16.

Also, Martin Heidegger has the opinion that man cannot be defined until death. Therefore, it is only in death that one can define man from his own perspectives. On the contrary, we can only accept their propositions on the ground of the utopic nature of man, as the humanity in Aristotle. Thus, the idea of Bloch’s ‘utopic being’ (utopischer Raum) stands supreme. But this is not the case even Mondin’s claim that man is a kind of prodigy that combines within himself apparent antitheses: a fallen unrealizable, divinity, unsuccessful absolute value etc…17Hence, he mutually concluded the part of his own jolt by a two word definition of man as an impossible possibility. Actually, A.J. Heschel observed this in his book, ‘Who is Man’, when he writes that man portrays:

a conscious desire in man to be animal ‘natural in the experience of carnality or even to identify himself as animal in destiny or essence.

Considerably, the definitions of man since Aristotle bear the vestigial traces of this truth of ‘animality’ in man calling for recognition. The real predicament in man springs up and as well becomes intensified by the attention of man to understand the human ideal of reason as man’s ‘human’ nature, instead of accomplishing the real natural level of animality in his experience of the world so far, not neglecting the passions in man. The most ridiculous drama going on in man’s unconsciousness is his abhorrence of his authentic existence in evasion towards the definition of his nature which he projects in the explanation of other beings other than himself. Thus he denigrates them in an anthropomorphic greed, to be of lower strata to himself.

Whenever man is seen analyzing other beings, it is just a projection of greed. Unless this consideration is taken, man continues to remain an animal, a project and a mystery. Man has no perfect knowledge of himself.

1.4              Aristotle vis-à-vis Some Philosophers

Some schools of thought view man as a mere spiritual singularity, while others view man as somewhat a material body. And thirdly, those at the mid-way have no acceptable explanation. Aristotle belongs to this last group, as he attempted the reconciliation of the two through his metaphysical theory of ‘hylemorphism’. Thus for him, man is a substantial union of body (matter) and soul (form). But he couldn’t balance the equation in the relation between passion and reason. Hence, reason predominates, as it controls man in all his actions.18                                                                                                                   Thanks to the scholastics who inherited this Aristotelianism, especially Thomas Aquinas who presents man as a man by the actuality of spirituality, existing form that informs an organic body and makes it a human body.19Thomas Aquinas unearthed and developed this “mutual affinity” between body and soul as that co-opting for the natural repugnance to death. Man, for Aristotle, then is not only a rational subsistence but also: an ‘unam’ per se, composed of essence, and ‘to be’ of body and soul, of substance and accident.20                                                                                                                                    In the modern era, Rene Descartes believed strongly that he can be more certain of himself as a “thinking thing” than as a body. This understanding of man as an automata or mechanism creates sharp dichotomy in his ‘cogito ergo sum’, between mind which can outlive the bodily extension. Leibnitz followed this pattern of thought.

The contemporary thinkers conversely hold against this metaphysical parallelism of the exaggerated dualism. Hence Marxists proffered their ‘dialectical materialism’ as in defense of the body. Hence, the body contrary to Aristotle’s view becomes the ‘elan vitale’, instead of the spirit, which now is turned into a product of the creative body and its instrument. Thus, man was rated a brute animal. The existentialists, among whom Sartre is a chief exponent confirmed this materialistic outlook on man and upturned man’s centre of gravity to his body. For him, it is the body that gives man his individual species to be what it is.21 He is Aristotle’s most drastic opponent. He defined man as ontologically pure spiritual being. Sartre remarks thus: The concept of man is spirit and no one ought to allow himself to be deceived by the fact that he can also walk on two legs.22

It is categorically clear that the consciousness he projects is not the same kind with Aristotle’s. Human body is only ‘an encumbrance and ballast for man’s spirit’. Man for him is anguished by the body limits. Also, in the contemporary era thinkers who are exaggerated realists, like L. Klages, maintain that man is made up two substances, spiritual and corporeal but the elements are always at war with each other portraying the spirit as the enemy of biological and psychosomatic life. Thus he asserts more seriously that:

spirit benumbs life which is essentially becoming and moving, thus two powers are in mutual conflict here which were originally similar and this conflict is not merely factual but inevitable. And yet both of them are supposed to build up the person, the personal ego, which is the carrier of the spirit and life.23

In line still, Freud is one of the greatest theoretician on man, who with some psychological bent envisaged the conflicting existence in man, thereby defining man as a component of two instincts: death and life instincts. With all these views above, we can easily see with Soren Kierkegaard that the human being which Aristotle structures becomes one which would be formed fully from disagreement, clash or dissension. The question now could be: between the body and the soul, which is so antithetically opposed to the other and which excludes the other to be united, in order to form the personal self. Moreover, the contemporary opinion of the present day thinkers against exaggerated dualism is that both are phenomenal forms of an unknown

[1] B. Russel; Has Man A future? ( Britain: Penguin Books, 1961), p.9

[2] B. Mondin; Philosophical Anthropology, (Rome: Urban University Press, 1985) p. 26

[3] The New Jerusalem Bible, Pocket Edition,Gen. 2:7

* The soul for philosophers, especially Aristotle is a principle of life ,an  animator of the inanimate, a cause of life. Thus, it corresponds with Mondin’s assertion

[4] Op Cit. p. 141.

[5] F. Copleston; A History of Western Philosophy, vol. 1 (New York: Continuum Books, 1962), p. 330.

[6] Ibid. p 326.

[7] T. de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, (New York: Harper Row Publ. 1959). P. 177.

[8] E.S Stumpf, Philosophy; History and Problems, (USA: Mc Graw-Hill Inc.,1994), P.11

[9] Ibid p. 24.

[10] S.I Udoidem, Concept of Nature in Aristotle’s Physics,BK 11, Accademia, Owerri, vol.1 no.1, June,2003, p.11

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] F. Copleston, History of Western Philosophy, vol. 1,  p. 327.

16 Mondin, Op. Cit.p.19

17 Ibid. p.20

18 S.E Stumpf, Op. cit, p.101

19 G.F Krychede, Reflection on Man, (New York: Georgeton Univ. Press,1965),p.414

20 H. Renard, Philosophy of Man, (Milwaukee: Bruce Press Co.,1948),p.2

21 W. Warburton, Philosophy: The  Classics, 2nd ed.(London:Routledge,2001),p.222

22 J. Endres, Op. Cit.,p.144

23 Ibid.

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