THE PLACE OF MAN IN ARISTOTLE: THE BASIS OF MAN’S LIFE CRISIS (An Evaluative Rediscovery)

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TABLE OF CONTENT

TITLE PAGE…………………..…………………………..……….ii

CERTIFICATION………………………………………………….iii

DEDICATION………………………………………………………iv

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT………………………………….……….v

TABLE OF CONTENT…………………………………………....vi

 

GENERAL INTRODUCTION………………………………….....ix

  ii. The Division of Work…………………………..xii

  iii. The Statement of the Problem……………xii

  iv. The Scope of Study……………………….…xiv

  v. Purpose of Study……………………..............xiv

  vi. The Methodology……………………….…...xv

 

CHAPTER ONE

DEFINITION OF THE CONCEPTS OF MAN

1.1  Origin of Man- An Evolutionary/Scientific perspective………1

1.2     The Background of Study………………….…..3

1.3      The Definition of Man………………………………6

1.4              Aristotle vis-à-vis Some Philosophers.......................................8

 

CHAPTER TWO

DESCRIPTION OF MAN

2.1         Aristotle’s Notion of Man…………….……………12

2.2         Man -A Substantial Union……………….……13

2.3         The Body -As an Integral Part………...16

2.4         The Soul-As A Spirit………………….19

2.5           Matter and Form in Man………...……21

2.6         Body-Mind Relation…………………..22

 

CHAPTER THREE

DETERMINISM

3.1 Man-A being of Biological/Psycho-Ethical Determinism…….25

3.2     Man- A Being of Desire………………….27

3.3     The Rationality and Irrationality in Man…………28

3.4            Man-An Ontological Mean…………..…..31

3.5          Mortality and Immortality in man……………..33

 

CHAPTER FOUR

THE EXISTENTIAL CONFLICT IN MAN

4.1              The Urge for Auto-transcendence.……….35

4.2   The Problem of Non-finality in Human Nature …...….38

4.3            Crisis of Personal Identity………...…..41

4.4  The Implication And Precariousness of Being Human…..43

4.5     The Human Intellect and Destiny ……….....45

 

CHAPTER FIVE

5.1            CRITICAL EVALUATION ………………………..…………49

5.2            Conclusion……………………………………………….…….60

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY……………………………………….……..63

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

 


GENERAL INTRODUCTION

That man experiences crisis in life is an unalterable fact of life. This crisis is an existential conflict arising from the existential struggle that has significance in his consideration of himself and experience of himself, comprehension of his existence and his expectation of himself, the real and the ideal.

Aristotle, among other thinkers projected such an ideal world of man, which is considerably separate and at the same time unrealistic to natural existence. This existential conflict arises from the nature of place accorded to man in nature. Contrary to the fact that  a greater part of man is animal, scholars like Aristotle in their placement of man have led man to bring into the world, only a capacity for a humanity, which he does not naturally posses but to form  through diligence and labour.

Born of Stagira, little town situated at the North-east side of Chalcedon in 384, B.C. Aristotle was the son of Nichomachus, who was a physician of the court of Macedon. Though his father died earlier in his life, Aristotle at seventeen became a disciple of Plato’s accademy in Athens in 367/66 B.C where, for over twenty years, he experienced Plato until the latter’s death in 348/47 B.C. He had much influence from Plato and danced to his tunes until his mature period when he later became a critic of Plato’s view. Later, he formed his own thought patterns. Leaving Athens with   Xenocrates, his colleague at the academy, he visited Hermias the king of Atarneus on his invitation, who later died of a great torture.

In 343/42, he was invited to Pella by Philip of Macedon, to tutor his son, Alexander the Great for about three years. This was brought to an abrupt end, by the demand of an active part from Alexander the Great in Macedon. Alexander having rebuilt the city in honor of Aristotle, he[Aristotle]changed his residence to his native residence in Stagira. Aristotle, however, moved back to Athens and spent twelve years teaching and writing at the Lyceum. But this was terminated after Alexander’s death and he left Athens impulsively at a death threat for his mother’s birth-place, Chalcis, where he died in exile in November 322 B.C, at the age of 62.

Most of his earliest works were lost, but some fragments still remain. His work covers a wide range of knowledge from physics to psychology, from metaphysics to ethics, from politics to the arts, from logic to rhetoric. His years away from Athens were predominantly taken up with biological research and writing. Judged on the basis of the content, Aristotle’s most important psychological writings belong as the case may be to his second residence in Athens as well as to his mature period. His principal work in psychology, De Anima, reflects in different ways his pervasive interest in biological taxonomy and his most sophisticated physical and metaphysical theories.

Because of his age-long tradition of exposition which has commanded a greater following so far in our world up to date in its interpretation, his work, De Anima, has central theses which are sometimes disputed.

Consequently, this essay proceeds on two levels of proof, which are divided further into five chapters for a better appreciation. On the one level, we among other essays so far, especially to the contemporary times, would review the world of nature and man’s place in it as a telling point of contact between Aristotle’s investigations into the soul and other philosophers’ and psychologists’ of various epochs. While on the other level we are to consider the methodology of biological and metaphysical aspects which Aristotle presents to us, to answer the question on whether we are determined by some ethical choice, or predetermined by some biological- natural facts.


i.                   Division of work

Chapter one, apart from the general introduction, scope, purpose and method of the study, considers nature as that possessed in common through evolution, reviewing Aristotle’s root of his metaphysical psychology and other scholars’ views of the problem. Man’s meaning and his description by Aristotle is viewed in chapter two.

Chapter three tries to answer the question about the extent of forces in man and his “free nature”. Next, chapter four follows from the preceding one, as the core of the project, revealing the cause and nature of the crisis of man. As a follow up then, in chapter five, we shall evaluate critically the whole scheme of Aristotle’s metaphysical anthropology and as well assert our standpoint by a way of conclusion, which brings the work to an end.

 

ii.       Statement of the problem

Since the evolution of thought in history, man’s nature has been the question so central to philosophy. Although the pre-Socratics did not concern themselves with questions bordering on the constitution of man, yet anyone who is influenced by the Socratic tradition in the examination of life recognizes the basic fact that we live in a world on which we depend for existence and sustenance. The influence our universe yield over us stirs us into asking questions about our nature and our place in the universe and proffering our solutions to it.

In attempt to answer the question about man, scholars, scientists and even philosophers have provided their opinions, assertions and denials that succeed each other according to their understandings. Hence they created the problem of man.

Invariably, this problem of man lies solely in the conflict or contradiction between his comprehension of his existence and expectation that is between the real and their ideal, the ‘is’ and ‘ought’. As a matter of fact, the problem of man is found glaringly expressed in man’s anguish and suffering in reality. Therefore, we are to consider Aristotelian key view on man and his ontological status as a link between two worlds. There upon, we shall determine whether our nature and destiny   are to be determined by some   ethical choice or some biological fact.


iii.      Scope of the study

This task may not be quite exhaustive or very much detailed. However, it articulates the synopsis of modern psychology through some philosophic anthropological method of proof which is rightly cloaked in Aristotelian corpus. Moreover, it does not lay any claim to exhaustive study of Aristotle’s systems. Rather, all that the work tries to do is to expose Aristotelian ontological study of man in ethical ideal as not unconnected to all human suffering and anguish.


iv.              Purpose of the study

Actually, purpose, they say, is the master of motivation and mother of commitment. Hence, this project has a great purpose in its motivation and commitment to bring out a neutral outline of Aristotle’s views on man, but in the mainstay it probes our anthropomorphic vision of man, seeking to justify in essence, the scientific view of man in its phenomenological grounding. It shall also, examine our transcendental ideals in much juxtaposition with the scientific reality in order to elicit the true human nature and destiny, at least for the sake of human good ,integration and continuity.

The attack on the Aristotelian ethical ideal will be seen through the light of inconstancies in Aristotle’s projection of reason, together with the precariousness of the modern human living, kindled by scientific vision. However, as a rediscovery venture, the work tries to point out the need for the human-with-heart without exalting or disapproving reason.


v.       The methodology

In order to realize the ultimate aim of the research paper, the method applied will be more of expository and analytically blended with criticisms. It will be mildly didactic and there will be less use of technical terms. In the main, it will be open to arguments, assertions and denials (for or against) which are to be provoked by it. In all, it incorporates the phenomenological and transcendental methods of the study of the subject as a work of philosophical anthropology in so far as these can help us reach our objectives more reasonably.

 

 

 




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.                                                                              

 

 

 



[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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