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

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


Chapter One


Definition of the Concepts of Man

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…17 Hence, 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


Chapter Five


5.1 Critical Evaluation

Going through the understanding of man, his nature and his place in nature in the whole scheme of the work based on Aristotle’s psychology of man, we can now establish his consistencies and inconsistencies if any. To ask then, was Aristotle’s system consistent? Perhaps the greatest thinkers are not strictly consistent, and would not be great if they were.

But at least in the most central idea of all his philosophical writings or commitments is the problem of balance and relation. This concern for problem of balance and relation, accounting for change and permanence can be found scattered galore in all phases of his philosophical devotion in form of the doctrine of the golden mean. Nevertheless, Aristotle is greatly extolled for having attempted as well as established the structure of being and man. He not only established the structure of being as substance, he also introduced the grades and place of being as with the grades of beings in his metaphysics.

Although his biological description of coming into being and going out of being, that is generation and corruption gives us an account of the levels of being in his biological psychology as borne in De Anima. His account of being in grades purports the idea of continuity and discontinuity between animality and humanity as what is obtainable in the modern scientific evolution. In fact, he prefigured the evolutionary theory. His prefiguring of this theory could also be found in philosophy of evolution propounded by Herbert Spencer and creative evolution philosophy of Henri Bergson gives almost a detailed account of whatever remains in Aristotle’s scheme. This is the reason for our beginning with discussion about origin of man, most especially in evolutionary/scientific viewpoint.83

Indeed, Bergson sees Aristotle’s error as the cause of misunderstandings and contrary views carried by most of the philosophies of nature. Aristotle’s error here lies in the proposition of a radical difference between the vegetative animal and rational life as based on the difference in intensity and degree. Thus, he opines otherwise that the difference between the vegetative animal and rational life is not a difference of intensity, nor more generally of degree but of kind.84 Therefore, he concludes that they are merely different outlets and are different species of living things, and are in three main directions as Aristotle holds.

Further, we were led into considering the major influences on Aristotle from the ancient Greeks Plato, Pythagoras, Anaxagoras etc. except specifically the Ionian cosmologists who did not venture into any discourse about man. The conceptions mislead most definitions of man. Had it been that Aristotle ascribed man as animality, we should have understood properly what man’s nature really is with some basic clarity of his physical essence. But Aristotle chose otherwise further to propose and hold unto a metaphysical essence of humanity upon whose any attempt to make clear what it means comes a perplexity.

We understood then that man is incapacitated to give account of his nature and destiny since he is not yet in touch with the reality of his source or origin-not in touch with nature. Therefore, we concluded that our knowledge about them is pre-judgment. Our conception of man is as proper as our anthropomorphic conception of God and other beings. With the review of Aristotelian philosophical opinions vis-à-vis Aristotle’s on the constitution of man, we arrived at the conclusions of the most recent exaggerated dualists, which affirm both the spiritualist and materialist’s opinion as the ‘phenomenal forms of an unknown’ (Klages).

Furthermore, we tried to establish the value and meaning of man for Aristotle and his description of man. From him, we gathered that rational capacity is what makes man. In other words, man is measured not by what he is, but by what he does, his ability per se. Therefore, the end of man’s existence coincides with the nature and its functionality. We made it clear then that Aristotle’s idea of man is not co-extensive with reality. It is more of metaphysical prescriptions than natural description. Actually, we established what underlies the chief problem of man here, as not his nature but what he does with his nature albeit what he expects of himself. Through the exposition, we discovered the inner structures of being which is ordinarily inherent in every being of nature. There we underscored the major contrary phases, which Aristotle regarded as necessary and essentially complimentary composites of man, thereby exposing his substantiality and unity of both.

This we tried to understand more in body-mind relation, hence we recognized the vacuum of such magical interaction explained away by the theory of actualization of rational capacity upon matter. The major contradiction here underlies the notion of immortality and definition of death. Indeed, we saw the basic contradictions of this ‘philosopher’ as he was famously referred

On another note, we delved into the problem of free will and determinism to determine whether we are actually predetermined by the forces of nature at least genetically and psycho-biologically or by reason as Aristotle affirmed. After all said and done, we realized the impediment to Aristotle’s recourse to reason. Hence, we affirmed the old cracker-barrel theory of Jean Jacques Rousseau, who writes that man is free but everywhere in chains. In this sense of freedom, Sartre, a greatest opponent to Aristotle in the contemporary existentialist field holds freedom not in the sense of Aristotle, but in the sense that man is condemned to be free.

In tandem, our determination of the extent of our freedom of will and determinism of the inner-forces within, led us into considering the various conflicts in man as existential conflicts. They are called existential conflicts because they originate from the determinations of the basic contrary factors and will, embedded in his existence.

On this plane, we showcased the crises arising from the place of man in nature as human of middle status of the ontological bearing. They are explainable not in phenomenological sphere, rather in some metaphysical sphere.

Thus, in the urge for auto-transcendence, we discussed man’s desire to be what he is not as a factor arising tensions, anxieties, anguish and frustrations in his life. Within this context we saw that man destroys himself by his inability to accept the availability and givens of life and nature. Thus, we find him as a suitable form of a useless passion of Sartre. Truly this facticity of life reminds us the opinion of Karl Marx, that spiritual being is a product of matter, and tries to affirm it by the limitation of life which imposes challenge on man as a freak of nature. Besides, this is truly a consequence of the human nature in Aristotle’s metaphysical study of man.

Moreover, we were confronted with the problem of non-finality as one of the impending dangers arising from man’s existence, as human. This is particularly a crisis embedded on man’s clashes of desires which are prompted by different motives and are caused or predetermined by the distinct properties of his inner structural content. Willy-nilly he looks forward prodded by reason that is the soul-essence in search of the ultimate end or purpose unknown, yet he also searches downwards as conditioned or predetermined by material essence or physical essence. Hence, he is in dilemma about his identity and destiny, whether to remain animal and find his destiny in nature or whether to transcend his nature to a supernatural conferment of his destiny.

Progressively, we considered what we mean by identity crisis of the person as an outcome of the existential conflict in man thus, we used Locke’s description of identity to establish our goal. However, Thomas Reid’s vehement logical proposition disclaimed what Locke claimed to be identity of a person. In personal identity, he affirms that contradictory opinions or two contradictory conclusions are false. That is to say, any theory that leads to such an obvious contradiction must be false. With this principle, we can now reject what Aristotle opines to be human nature as neither animal nor god but both at the same time as false too. Hence, human nature in Aristotle is very much derived and disregarded as a poor account of the existential nature of man since nothing is surely a ‘human constant’ in man. Analogously, one wonders how one can be at the top-most of a building and still identifies himself as staying at the bottom at the same time. This is unfathomable and quite fallacious. So man is not at all consistent with a particular phase or unit of control rather the two units continuously struggle. Hence, it becomes a fact that the implication of being human is only a step more or on extra-indictable from phrased concept within the mind, but also a situation, a set of conditions, sensibilities and prerequisites of man’s special mode of being which is not co-extensive with reality. The humanity of man could be seen in the true picture of Freud’s analysis of the human predicament. According to Freud, man’s inner life is a battle-ground of contending forces. What man feels, thinks, and does is the reflection of the conflicting features (i.e. the conflict going on inside him).

Man, according to him, has a little bit of control over the outcome of his conflict since it involves forces which he is not consciously aware; whether he is controlled or not or predetermined biologically, man is free by his will to do or not to do what he desires. Hence, he opines the existence of an internal struggle within man which is a struggle between the Id, ego, and super-ego. ‘Id’ represents the factor of desire, ego of morality. The ego as reason for him regulates all other surging of the other factors that create anxiety.

Definitely, we can perceive the precariousness of being human creates barrier to his destiny. In other words, man’s desire for knowledge can create obstacle against his realization of his destiny. Lastly, we delved into the connection between man’s knowledge and his destiny. Thereupon, we established the limitation of man’s intellect as the facticity which conditions it; and his unknowability of his destiny which leads him more or less into constant struggle since he does not get satisfaction from what senses present to him. Rather than accepting that, his reason searches for the ultimate end as ultimate happiness. These are outcomes of man’s human nature, which controls almost all the cultures of man in auspices of a greater following that Aristotle commanded.

In response to these contradictions inherent in human nature, Erich Fromm in his book, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, observes the essence of man in certain contradiction inherent in human nature as against animal existence. He admits that man is an animal but without having sufficient instincts to direct his actions. These contradictions create conflict and fright, a disequilibrium which man must try to solve in order to achieve a better equilibrium. But at least, having discovered this new contradiction that emerges again it necessitates the search for a new equilibrium and so forth. Hence man continues to struggle in order to live. Existential conflict is then the basis of human nature in Aristotle. Albeit, Heidegger rejected Aristotle’s ontology because it gives primacy to substance, so also do we reject his metaphysical study of man as a ‘medley of incompatibles’?

Aristotle’s scheme on man as a substantial union in human essence can be disapproved in the following ways: Epistemologically, we employ the correspondence theory of truth. This theory holds that conformity of fact with the idea of the mind must be ascertained before truth is assured. But here, the ‘human nature’ which Aristotle foresees is only a metaphysical essence looming large over the physical essence. It is in fact not co-extensive with reality since we cannot determine any reign of reason as he pictured in our daily experience of the man. Rather, we experience carnality. Could we ask then; if our capacity for rational activity really separates us from other animals? Why this and not our capacity to kill each other manufacturing and using weapons or perhaps, our other capacity to satisfy carnality?

Logically, Aristotle’s prediction of human excellence through the account of a human nature is unfounded. For instance, the first three principles of logic include: principles of identity, contradiction and principle of excluded middle. When examined critically one would find out that Aristotle faults in his attempt to propose a human nature into a mere assertion and falsity. Thus, there is nothing that is called human nature, as some scholars would deny it. For fourteenth century philosophers, Francis Meyronnes, Antonius Andreas and John Canonicus viewed him far less favorable75.85Thus they carried Bonaventure’s critique of Aristotle to its conclusion. Hence, they called him the worst metaphysician (Francis) and Andreas viewed him as a ‘poor natural philosopher’. That notwithstanding, we extol Aristotle for his influence on thought. That is why he is regarded by some as a philosopher. He made great contributions to philosophical development.


5.2 Conclusion

By way of conclusion, our main concern here is not to dehumanize man neither is it to rule out the place of reason in man. Rather our essay suggests and revokes the natural state of man. Our natural state is not that of human-with-reason but of the human-with-heart. Reason in man has been over-emphasized so much, in such a way that it dominates the natural feeling of the heart. Such that man instead of being human with feelings, turns to be a being with rationality, thereby eroding the place of feeling in man. Emotions are contained in the human heart. Accordingly, man reaches the object of his happiness through the heart (Blaise Pascal), which, according to Mohammed, can only contain God.

Instead of ascribing this emotional aspect, which controls a greater part of man to his nature, we always neglect that. Even in our daily conversation, we hear people say for instance: ‘He is not thinking at all’, ’Do you think that will happen?’ ‘I don’t think so’ etc. What we always hanker on, is the capacity to think whenever we refer to man, denying him the other part that constantly shows itself in our attitude to our fellow man and even other things of nature. We do not intend to deny man of this metaphysical essence of his kind as Pascal did. Yet, we are to accept Hume’s conception of reason as slave to passion. Hence, here-to-fore, we take a little bit of Mournier’s definition of man as a person. This view is more acceptable to us than Locke’s emphasis on rationality and self-consciousness, a person is fundamentally a corporeal object, immediately an animal with composites of body and soul to which some (limited) consciousness can be ascribed. This is our stand. He is not a mere homunculus of statistics as in Locke and Aristotle, but that, which relates to the world and to fellow human persons with openness of heart.

These qualities are our ontological heritage embedded in our constitution. We have the ability to relate well even without any guiding or artificial laws of human excellence, which is seen today in various cultures and some philosophies, especially those of the contractarians, which yield much influence on our nature. Rather than edify man, such misconceptions of cultures and philosophical ideas build complexity out of the simple co-naturally existing man. We have to vigorously pull man from such misleading conceptions, and that is our goal in attacking the major philosophical basis for rational cleavage.

Most pertinent is the vulgar description of state of nature, which Thomas Hobbes holds. Thus, he asserts that in a state of nature, life of man is ‘short, brutish and poor’, hence he points out the need for a social contract, which is a sort of a prescription of the ideal the ought-ness under the guise of law. But this is quite wrong in the natural state and attitude of man. The fact is that other creatures like bees etc., which share the same natural agreement with man still maintain their natural agreement which man has denied himself by his elimination of heart and subsequent substitution of the rule of reason. Our natural agreement is openness to the world and our fellow men. We await this awakening, not recovery of our identity. There is always the danger to forget the human-with-heart as the identity of man. With this reconsideration in mind the world will no longer be a tale of woes but an idyll of love.


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