Philosophical Anthropology facing
Aquinas' Concept of Human Nature
University of Genoa
1) Philosophical Anthropology and the Concept of Human Nature
Although nowadays the term "philosophical anthropology" is not very much used in the contemporary philosophical milieu and there are no chairs of this discipline in most philosophical faculties, except for the catholic ones, I do believe that contemporary philosophers deal very often with topics which are deeply related to what we call "philosophical anthropology". See, for instance, the mind-body problem, the philosophy of intentionality and of human action, which is the necessary ground of ethical reflection, bioethics, problems concerning the different approaches to cultural anthropology, philosophy of politics and of interculturalism, searching for values shared by different cultures, and so on. Also the classical concept of human nature, which is deeply connected with the topic of philosophical anthropology, cannot be easily deleted. In fact it seems very difficult - if not impossible - to make comparisons between different cultures or to speak of human rights and duties without having, at least implicitly, a normative concept of human nature (in the classical or philosophical sense) and not only in the mere biological sense (which is the more often used in contemporary speech).
But how can Aquinas' concept of nature and particularly of human nature, help us nowadays in facing the topics of Philosophical Anthropology? I will try to answer these questions, choosing only some of the main aspects of the problem. According to Thomas nature is the substance or, rather, the form of those beings that have in themselves the principle of their action. Aristotle and Thomas have not a static concept of essence. Nature is the principle of movement. Nature has a dispositional character. Nature always tends towards unity (ad unum), when there are no obstacles. That means that where there is nature, there is also an end (finis) which means self-preservation and fulfilment (1). And where there is end, there is also ontological good. It seems very difficult nowadays to speak of something which is good in itself, only according to the ontological meaning of good. In fact we often hold that it would be a good thing to preserve things which have no utility for us or for mankind in general, just because they exist. We can acknowledge a hierarchy of beings and natures in
the world looking at the perfection of their actions (the more or less immanent or intimate character of their actions)(2) .
2) The Meaning of Human Nature
Human nature is basically the very ground of every development of man. Natural in man is everything that is in us, that we find out in ourselves (although we can never know it in a complete way), but we cannot choose and change. In other terms: natural is what is created in ourselves by God. Nature is creature ("natura est creatura"). Nature is the very ground of everything we can choose, which is free (first meaning) or the development of what is natural in the first sense, which is chosen by us, but according to human nature, in a way coherent with the nature of man (second meaning). Thomas holds: "As Boethius says (De duabus nat.) and the Philosopher also (Metaph.V, 4) the word "nature" is used in a manifold sense. For sometimes it stands for the intrinsic principle in movable things. In this sense nature is either matter or the material form, as stated in Phys. II, 1. In another sense nature stands for any substance or even for any being. And in this sense, that is said to be natural to a thing which befits it in respect of its substance. And this is that which of itself is in a thing. Now all things that do not of themselves belong to the thing in which they are, are reduced to something which belongs of itself to that thing, as to their principle. Wherefore taking nature in this sense, it is necessary that the principle of whatever belongs to a thing, be a natural principle. 1) This is evident in regard to the intellect: for the principles of intellectual knowledge are naturally known. In like manner the principle of voluntary movements must be something naturally willed. Now this is good in general, to which the will tends naturally, as does each power to its object; and again it is the last end, which stands in the same relation to things appetible, as the first principles of demonstration to things intelligible: 2) and speaking generally, it is all those things which belong to the willer according to his nature. For it is not only things pertaining to the will that the will desires, but also other things that are appropriate to the other powers; such as the knowledge of truth, which befits the intellect; and to be and to live and other like things which regard the natural well-being; all of which are included in the object of the will, as so many particular goods"(3). Therefore we can call natural (second meaning) also what is moral (in according with moral or natural law).
Acts are called human insofar as they proceed from a deliberated will. Such acts already presuppose, and are ultimately brought about by certain merely natural operations of intellect and will; which is to say, operations that are not free or not rooted in a man's own mastery of his acts. Even the free will of the pure spirits, as finite and created beings, presupposes natural operations of intellect and will. With respect to these spirits, Aquinas uses a familiar phrase: "magis aguntur quam agunt; nihil enim habet dominium suae naturae". He holds: "All natural things in the world are moved to act by something else except the First Agent, Who acts in such a manner that He is in no way moved to act by another; and in Whom nature and will are the same. So there is nothing unfitting in an angel being moved to act in so far as such natural inclination is implanted in him by the Author of his nature. Yet he is not so moved to act that he does not act himself, because he has free will"(4). That is true in the case of man too.
In order to understand what is natural in man (in the first and main sense), we have to consider some polarities that we find in Aquinas' thought. In particular: nature-culture, nature-election or nature-freedom and natural-supernatural. The second term of these polarities is the end of the first term. We cannot know human nature (in the philosophical sense) in a complete way, without knowing also the second term. This means that the concept of human nature is also a dynamic one. In modern thought the oblivion of these main polarities, provoked by the scientific revolution, determines a new concept of nature, and also of human nature, a closed, essentialistic and individualistic one (nature conceived only as self-preservation - conservatio sui) as in Spinoza(5). But the oblivion of the finalism of nature during the modern age is at the very root of the oblivion of the concept of nature itself in contemporary age. Therefore in contemporary culture there is often a deep gap between man ad nature and between human nature and human freedom. On the one hand there are philosophies of nature (in the biological sense) without freedom and culture and, on the other hand, there are philosophies of freedom and of culture without nature. On the one hand ethical value is grounded on nature (non human nature), on the other hand only on freedom (human freedom). This is the case of existentialism.
According to Aquinas human nature is a deep unity of body and soul as the form of the body. He often stresses this unity, particularly when he deals with the incarnation of Christ(6). Natural is this unity as well as what is rooted in this unity. But how can we know human nature? Not immediately (in a rationalistic or essentialistic way), but in a mediate way, reflecting on the specific objects of our acts, on our human acts and then on our faculties (7). In fact we are always acting beings. Furthermore we can know better the other things than ourselves. In contemporary terms we might say with Paul Ricoeur that man knows his nature better and better by acting intentionally and interpreting his acts and his works(8). Reflecting on our own acts, we can also grasp the meaning of the acts of other people and we can better understand our own acts. In particular: we can understand the meaning of human acts, because the peculiar human language is shared by every man. See the beginning of the Commentary of Thomas on Aristotle's Politics(9).
3) Self-actualization and Virtue as a "Second Nature"
If in order to know human nature in a complete way it is necessary to reflect (theoretical reason) on human acts, it is also necessary to develop all the main human experiences and to become capable to reflect on them. That means to reflect on theoretical experience, practical experience (art and ethics), aesthetic and artistic experience and, particularly, religious experience, which has a synthetic role, since it is at the very top of both theoretical and practical use of reason. To develop our human experience means - I believe - in classical and Thomistic terms, to develop those habits called "virtues", which are somehow natural (a second nature): "By vital operations are meant those whose principles are within the operator, and in virtue of which the operator produces such operations of itself. It happens that there exist in men not merely such natural principles of certain operations as are their natural powers, but something over and above these, such as habits inclining them like a second nature to particular kinds of operations, so that the operations become sources of pleasure"(10). We can learn by experience, facing reality and developing virtues, because our practical reason is never deeply separated from theoretical reason (as often happens in modern and contemporary thought)(11). Reason (also practical reason, which is directed towards undertaking particular actions here and now), knows things and natures as they really are thanks to theoretical reason. Therefore we can always learn from reality. In fact there is always one reason. I believe that we do not use the term "experience" in this sense, perhaps because very often we have an empiricistic and subjective concept of experience. If we refuse this meaning, we can hold that "becoming virtuous" means "learning by experience". The virtuous man is an experienced man.
In Anthony Lisska's words: "Choosing values in human beings is effective in achieving self-actualization only if the person is open to the experiences going on within the organism. The awareness of self-actualization is very important, and the awareness is related to the openness to experiences necessary for functioning well as human beings.
Persons who are becoming more open in their "experiencing" share an organismic commonality of value directions. Rogers's research indicates that maturing humans exhibit what he calls a 'surprising commonality'". In addition, Rogers argues that this commonality is not due to the influences of any one particular culture. His empirical evidence suggests a cross-cultural basis for this commonality. Rogers writes that 'this commonality of value directions is due to the fact that we all belong to the same species"(12).
We can get to know human nature, by reflecting on everyday experience. Still nowadays we know man also as a scientific object (an object of physics, biology, psychology, cultural anthropology). Of course Thomas did not know modern science, but his concept of abstraction leaves room for different approaches to the same subject. The main problem of philosophical anthropology in the last decades and the very root of this old and new discipline, has been the problem of considering together the basic reflection approach and the scientific approach. That is why philosophical anthropology as well as the philosophy of nature are in some ways quite static, but in others in continuous development. It is apparent that also scientific discoveries become part of everyday experience in man. I think that the reflection approach comes first from a methodological point of view: not only can we understand scientific concepts only thanks to pre-scientific concepts, but we may even accept truths on human nature that science cannot confirm. In particular: the Aristotelian concept of form as the principle of order is still very important when we have to deal with macroscopic entities such as man and his actions(13). This concept enables us to connect the reflection approach to the scientific approach. If we do not make use of the concept of form in philosophical anthropology, the only alternative is to conceive the human being and his actions in a materialistic way as a casual sum of particles and events. And this happens in contemporary thought as well as in prearistotelian philosophy(14).
4) Nature and the First Principles
Now let us look more precisely at what is the meaning of natural in man according to Thomas. In Summa theologiae I-II- 94, 3 ad 2 he writes: "It should be said that the nature of man can mean either that which is proper to man, and the all sins, insofar as they are against reason, are also against nature…Or it can mean that which is common to man and the other animals, and the certain special sins are said to be against nature, as is against the union of male and female, which is natural to all animals, that two men should seek sexual union, which especially is called a vice against nature". Here Aquinas holds that there may be corruption of human nature in the individual man. But what seems natural according to the individual man might not be natural according to the human species. That is very important nowadays in facing problems of interculturalism, sexual ethics etc.
It is noteworthy that from this point of view natural are the biological tendencies of man (vegetative, sensitive etc), which are also common to every being and, particularly, to other animals. These inclinations can be guided by reason. But natural is also what in our world is proper only to man, since he is a "rational animal": the first principles of reason and will: "…in man, nature can be taken in two ways. First inasmuch as intellect and reason is the principal part of man's nature, since in respect thereof he has his own specific nature. And in this sense, those pleasures may be called natural to man, which are derived from things pertaining to man in respect of his reason: for instance, it is natural to man to take pleasure in contemplating the truth and in doing works of virtue. Secondly, nature in man may be taken as contrasted with reason, and as denoting that which is common to man and other animals, especially the part of man which does not obey reason. And in this sense, that which pertains to the preservation of the body, either as regards the individual, as food drink, sleep and the like, or as regards the species, as sexual intercourses, are said to afford man natural pleasure. Under each kind of pleasure, we find some that "are not natural" speaking absolutely, and yet connatural in some respect. For it happens in an individual that some one of the natural principles of the species is corrupted, so that something which is contrary to the specific nature, becomes accidentally natural to this individual: thus it is natural to this hot water to give heat. Consequently it happens that something which is not natural to man, either in regard to reason, or in regard to the preservation of the body - from some ailment, thus to a man suffering from fever, sweet things seem bitter, and vice versa - or from an evil temperament; thus some take pleasure in eating earth and coals and the like; or on the part of the soul; thus from custom some take pleasure in cannibalism or in the innatural intercourse of man and beast, or other such things, which are not in accord with human nature" (15).
Both first principles of theoretical and practical reason are natural. Sometimes Thomas calls the first principles of reason which are grounded on the apprehensio of being and of good (i.e. the principle of contradiction, the principle according to which the whole is larger than its parts, the first ethical principle etc.) ratio ut natura, while the developments, which are grounded on those principles, are called ratio ut ratio(16). More frequently he speaks of "voluntas ut natura" (the necessary openness of our will, to the infinity of being and of goodness, which is the ground of every choice), while "voluntas ut ratio" means those choices (electio). Also on the will (voluntas), connected with the knowledge of the infinity of being, is grounded the human desire of infinity, the "desiderium naturale videndi Dei".
5) Natural law
One of the most interesting places where Thomas deals with nature in man is the famous passage of Summa theologiae I-II, 94-2, connected with the topic of the first principles of practical reason: "Just as being is the first thing grasped simply speaking, so the good is the first thing grasped by practical reason which is ordered to action, for every agent acts for the sake of an end, which has the character of good. Therefore, the first principle of practical reason is grounded in the notion of good: the good is that which all things desire . This, then, is the first precept of the law: good should be done and pursued and evil avoided. All other precepts of the law of nature are grounded in this one, such that all those things that are to be done or avoided pertain to precepts of natural law which practical reason naturally grasps as human goods. Because good has the note of end and evil has the contrary note, reason naturally grasps as goods all those things to which man has a natural inclination, and consequently as to be pursued in action, and the contrary of these are grasped as evil to be avoided. Therefore there is an order of the precepts of the law of nature that follows the order of the natural inclinations. For there is in man a first inclination to a good of the nature he shares with all substances insofar as each substance seeks the preservation of the existence it has according to its own nature; and following this inclination the things by which the life of man is preserved and in the contrary prevented pertain to natural law. Second, there is in man an inclination to more special things, according to the nature he shares with other animals. Following on this, what nature teaches all animals are said to be of natural law, such as the joining of male and female, and the raising of young, and the like. In a third way there is an inclination to know the truth about God and to live in society. Accordingly those things which look to this inclination pertain to natural law, for example, that a man should avoid ignorance, that he should not offend others with whom he must live, and other such things which are relevant to this".
It is noteworthy that in this famous article, Thomas does not start from a static or essentialistic concept of nature or from the will of God, from which to deduce the precepts of natural law, but from our everyday experience, the experience of every man living and facing reality in time. This man is a united whole of body and soul, inclinations and reason, practical and theoretical reason. Theoretical reason knows inclinations and the different degrees of the hierarchy of beings. Practical reason interprets natural inclinations and makes norms out of them here and now: "bonum est faciendum". That is possible, because both inclinations and practical reason have an end. Both are good in the ontological sense. Ethical goodness is grounded on ontological goodness. Reason itself, as we have seen before, is natural (that means: has an end which is truth or action in the case of practical reason), although transcending material beings. It is also noteworthy that, according to Thomas, man, although he cannot know his own essence (natura) in a complete way, can find out, looking at his acts, in his nature, what is also proper to other things around him, the inclination towards self-preservation and the inclination towards the joining of male and female and the raising of the young. The natural ethics of Thomas is, therefore, not strictly anthropocentric (this is good nowadays, because many philosophers fight against anthropocentrism), although there is no ethics in our world without human reason.
Anthony Lisska attempts to explicate the developmental or self-actualization moral theory by the following nine principles:
"1) A dispositional property is developmental in character;
2) The natural bent of a dispositional property is towards the completion of the developmental process;
3) The well-being of a human person is determined by the harmonious completion of the dispositional properties, which determine the content of a human essence;
4) The end -i.e. well-being is, by definition, a good;
5) There are as many goods as there are ends;
6) The concept of good is incommensurable; this follows from (5) above;
7) The hindering of any developing process frustrates that process;
8) To frustrate a natural process in a human being denies the possibility of attaining human well-being;
9) The source and foundation of the concept of morality is a fully functioning human person"(17).
In this concept of natural law "there is no fact/value dichotomy because the 'value' - in this case, the 'end' of the natural process - is the result of the normal development of the 'fact' - in this case, the dispositional property. There is no radical bifurcation between fact and value, because the value; i.e. the good - is nothing more than the development of the process structured by the nature of the set of dispositions. It follows, therefore, that a value is not derived from a fact through the process of 'adding"' the value to the fact"(18).
Furthermore, "in so far as an immoral action in Aquinas's moral theory is what it is because it strikes against the developmental properties of a human person, it prevents that person from reaching a state of 'functioning well' or 'flourishing'. This denial serves at least an analogous function to what 'engaging in a contradiction' does for Kant. Therefore, using Kantian ethical categories, Aquinas is not offering a hypothetical imperative for moral obligation, as so many of his critics has suggested(19).
Among the three kinds of inclinations and precepts there is a hierarchical order, from the first to the third. Thomas holds: "…even granted that the end of reason and will were the conservation of human existence, it could not be said that the end of man is a bodily good. To be a man involves soul and body, and although the existence of body depends on soul, the existence of the human soul does not depend on body, as was shown earlier; the body is for the sake of the soul, as matter is for the sake of form, and instruments for the sake of the agent in order that he may act through them. Hence all goods of the body are ordered to goods of the soul as to their end"(20). Although the highest inclinations and precepts are more perfect than the lowest and therefore we might die for our children (second precept) or for the sake of freedom and of religious faith (third precept), the lowest inclinations and precepts are the necessary ground in order to cultivate the highest inclinations. In fact they are stronger and more common(21). We do not preserve our nature, looking only or first of all at our self-preservation, although we must look also at our preservation. It is easier for us to preserve our lives or to love our children than to cultivate friendship or religion. Furthermore we cannot cultivate friendship and religion without searching for the preservation of our lives. I would like to stress that comparisons among different cultures are possible on the basis of these inclinations and goods, which are common to every man, but, in fact, may be interpreted and ordered in different ways.
6) The Main Precepts of Natural Law
The principle of self-preservation implies that is natural not only to preserve our own existence, but not to search another nature (that means that it is natural to assent to our nature). Self-preservation is not contrary to our desire of fulfilling our nature. In fact: only searching our own fulfilment we really preserve our nature. There is not an isolated inclination towards self-preservation (as we have seen when dealing with the concept of nature during the modern age). But we cannot claim to leave our condition of finite creatures, by becoming angels or God through our own efforts (as the devil tried to do): "Without doubt the angel sinned by seeking to be as God. But this can be understood in two ways: first, by equality; secondly, by likeness. He could not seek to be as God in the first way; because by natural knowledge he knew that this was impossible: and there was no habit preceding his first sinful act, nor any passion fettering his mind, so as to lead him to choose what was impossible by failing in some particular; as sometimes happens in ourselves. And even supposing it were possible, it would be against the natural desire; because there exists in everything the natural desire of preserving its own nature; which would not be preserved were it to be changed in another nature. Consequently, no creature of a lower order can ever covet the grade of a higher nature; just as an ass does not desire to be a horse: for were it to be so upraised, it would cease to be itself. But herein the imagination plays us false; for one is liable to think that, because a man seeks to occupy a higher grade as to accidentals, which can increase without the destruction of the subject, he can also seek a higher grade of nature, to which he could not attain without ceasing to exist"(22). Therefore we only can desire God to help us in fulfilling our nature. This is the topic of the "naturale desiderium videndi Dei" and of the gift of Grace(23).
The second precept is connected to the inclination to the joining of male and female and the raising of young. More precisely we might speak of dispositions or inclinations towards sensory apprehensions. That means to have sense experiences and to care for offspring. In the other animals procreation is a substitute of individual immortality, because there is only immortality of the species and not of the single individual. But we too, as animals, though rational, are responsible for the future generations (as H. Jonas stresses in his The Principle Responsibility(24)).
The third inclination is connected in fact with many precepts, particularly with dispositions or inclinations towards rational cognitivity. That means to understand (rational curiosity). and to live together in social communities. To cultivate reason means to cultivate culture (in its wide sense), society (the relationship with other human beings), religion (the relationship with God). Very important is nowadays, as always, the topic of the others (intersubjectivity). Thomas deals with this topic when he deals with the specific characters of human language, the desire of honour(25), friendship, politics, religion etc. Contrary to Aristotle, according to Thomas friendship is possible also between man and God (the topic of charity).
It seems very interesting to make comparisons between the third inclination (the third precept of natural law) and the topic of the hierarchical order of being: "When the thing in which there is good is nobler than the soul itself, in which is the idea understood; by comparison with such a thing, the will is higher than the intellect. But when the thing which is good is less noble than the soul, then even in comparison with that thing the intellect is higher than the will. Wherefore the love of God is better than the knowledge of God; but, on the contrary, the knowledge of corporeal things is better than the love thereof. Absolutely, however, the intellect is nobler than the will"(26). We can hold that we love God, but also the other human beings and, particularly, ourselves, more than we know them. Some contemporary philsophers as Harry Frankfurt, stress very much this topic(27).
Very often in Aquinas' works it is apparent that the topic of the "other" is implicit. For instance: when Thomas holds that an act is moral only when both the interior act and the exterior act are right, according to the phrase "bonum ex integra causa" (in contemporary terms we may speak of a mix of internalism and externalism in his ethics), we might ask: how we can know that an exterior act is a good one? I think that Thomas implicitly thinks that the others can know the morality of our exterior acts as well as those virtues that are the sources of those acts, better than we do. This is why they can advise us. We might say that the others are somehow "in ourselves". To sum up: I believe that very often in Thomas' works the topic of intersubjectivity, that is very important nowadays, it is only implicit, and that is not strange. Nowadays we talk very much about the "community", because we are not very often communitarians. On the contrary community was very important in everyday life during the Middle ages. Still the relationship with other people is natural and we always need that.
To sum up: we are beings, we are living beings, we are intelligent beings. Therefore we need to develop ourselves, facing the challenges of reality, i.e. of other beings, of living beings and intelligent beings, and with the whole of ourselves, reason and passion, body and soul. This is the meaning of experience as self-actualization.
7) The Basic Natural Experiences at the very Root of our Desire for Happiness
According to Platonic thought, the source of the acts of reason and will is the contemplation of the eternal truths. Aristotle does not agree with Plato's concept of eternal truths. As in Aristotle, also in Thomas only some natural acts, deeply connected with the first principles, which have in themselves their own end (the praxis teleia or actio immanens) such as living, being happy, contemplating the truth, living friendship and love, although some of them seldom occur in our lives, are paradigmatic for every other kind of acts which have their ends outside themselves (the kinesis or actio transitiva)(28). This is the case of art. Those natural acts, having their end in themselves, are somehow circular. Only those perfect and fulfilled kind of acts are at the very root of our natural desire for happiness and of hope. We can speak in contemporary terms of basic human experiences. Prominent among those acts is the act of living, because we are always living, also when we are angry or when we commit sin and make mistakes. From the biological point of view we do not live more or less, but we live. And when we live there is always, within ourselves, an order, an actio immanens, a goodness (in an ontological sense, because there is an inclination of our body towards preservation and fulfilment) and an integrity (integritas), which means unity of the parts of a whole among themselves(29). It maybe that we do not pay explicit attention to them, but still those natural acts are implicitly the very source of our desire for happiness. Of course we have to note that in us life is not only biological life, but is also intellectual and moral life (in an analogous way): intelligere est vivere. This is the Aristotelian difference between zen and bionai. These kinds of life always presuppose biological life. The intentional and transcendental character of our knowledge both preserves and deeply changes our biological life. As happens in our biological life, also in our intellectual life and in our conduct (or ethical life), in facing reality, we always have to come back to our first principles, theoretical and practical, as if in a circular movement. We cannot abandon those first principles and go on without them. The ground of ratio as discursus (from currere - to run) is intellectus principiorum, the apprehension of the first principles of theoretical reason, as well as the ground of our own ethical choices is the apprehension of the first principles of natural law. The insight of the first principles of knowledge (prima principia indemonstrabilia per se nota) is paradigmatic, because even when we make mistakes in our reasoning and in our conduct, our first principles can grasp always and immediately the truth and the good. Therefore, although we may not understand the truth and make mistakes, we can always have a new start in our search for truth and moral good. It is noteworthy that Thomas calls the first natural principles (theoretical and practical) also habitus (prima principia quorum est habitus, habitus principiorum), because we always can use them, since they are in potency in ourselves(30). Particularly in our relationships with other people, in friendship (amor amicitiae) and in love (particularly in the contemplation - love of Christ) we can make experience of happiness, of the top level of life. That is why we always remember some happy periods of our life. To sum up: recovering human nature means recovering a fresh start in our lives and that is always possible thanks to the natural first principles and to some natural acts. Aquinas makes an interesting comparison between the "fresh start" of the first principles and the newness (novitas essendi) of creation, and between creation and the gift of Grace(31). Perhaps, from this point of view, we can also make an analogous comparison between the "fresh start" of natural first principles and the "fresh start" produced in man by God's forgiveness.
8) Nature and History
Let us consider another important aspect of the problem of human nature. Human beings, who have a nature, always face events of which they cannot have foreknowledge and which seem not to have an order and a nature. We may speak of chance or luck. Chance nowadays has an ambiguous meaning. On the one hand it deals with the chaotic universe of the ideology of evolutionism and nihilism according to which "in principle there was Chance". Although - I suppose - we cannot logically deduce from evolutionism the negation of human nature (in the classical sense), it is a fact that people often use this argument. But, on the other hand, chance is also very important in our lives, particularly nowadays, because we are always looking for something new, for something exceptional for our lives. This is apparent, if we consider some slang expressions of ordinary language. From this point of view the study of everyday language is very interesting(32). I believe we can say that we are always by nature looking for something exceptional. Only what appears new, really new (we might say cum novitate essendi), as grounded in the newness of the act of being, can fulfil our natural desire for happiness and truth. Chance and luck are very important in our lives(33). But this newness always requires nature and necessity as its ground. Thomas holds that we can know that there is chance, because we know - at least implicitly - that there is nature, order and necessity in ourselves and in the world in general. According to Thomas, if it is true that we must speak of chance from the point of view of the secondary causes (and of man) - the autonomous role of the secondary causes is very much stressed by him - from God's point of view there is no chance at all(34).
In fact it is absurd to oppose to each other, nature and chance or nature and history. This happens - maybe - because we often have too static and essentialistic a concept of nature and of God. It is noteworthy that in Aquinas' thought we can find a deep and often implicit sense of history and of the role of secondary causality in history, although he does not discuss this topic extensively in an explicit way(35). But the internal logic of his metaphysics of creation is deeply open to the newness (novitas) of historical events and therefore to chance. This is not strange for a philosopher who is also a great Christian theologian. This means that the events of history, of contemporary history, help us, more and more, to discover human nature and natural law also by way of negation (in a dialectical way). If this is true, we ought to look with open eyes at the events of the times we live in, and not only at those of past times, because in this way we can get to know in greater depth human nature and natural law. Nature and history, nature and time are not against each other, but they are complementary living polarities. I think that this is, in fact, Aquinas' concept of the relationship between nature and history.
Conclusion: Recovering Human Nature
Nowadays somebody holds: if there were a natural law, a unique human nature, there would be more uniformity in ideas about the right and the wrong, and in the customs and institutions which embody these concepts. "A threefold response to this objection might be suggested:
a consideration in Aquinas's meta-ethics of the particular and contingent nature of practical judgments using practical reason. Aquinas' concept of human nature is a dynamic and dispositional one, not an essentialistic and static one.
A consideration of the biological work determining a specific unity to human beings as members of a natural kind; there may be more unity than cultural anthropologists have been wont to admit;
A consideration of the psychological unity which appears in constant studies of human behaviour. Carl Rogers has suggested similarities in his discussion of self-actualization theories of human development"(36).
In general: by facing different cultures, we can understand, though often with many efforts, the problems of the others or, at least, that we have not understood those problems yet. But also this kind of comprehension always presupposes that we know something of their nature.
To sum up: facing Aquinas' concept of human nature from the point of view of contemporary philosophical anthropology, although we need to make explicit some of the topics which in his thought are absent (particularly: modern science and evolution) or sometimes only implicit (particularly: the basic role of language, of intersubjectivity, of cultural diversity and of history) we must acknowledge that Aquinas' concept of human nature (first principles and natural law) is still basic. In particular: freedom and human morality are rooted in nature. Furthermore, in Aquinas' "weltanschauung" there is a kind of methodical (not ontological) anthropocentrism (the concept of man as a microcosm) that might be recovered nowadays, after the scientific revolution. I think that human experience, the apex of the evolution of nature, in its natural openness to the totality of being and to other men (as they are quodammodo omnia as we are), is the living criterion of our approaching reality. But this does not mean subjectivism, thanks to intentionality (we can recognize other beings as different) and thanks to the fact that in man the main dimensions of reality are integrated at a higher level or sketched at a lower level.
1. Cf. In V Met., l. V, n. 826: "…primo et proprie natura dicitur substantia", idest forma rerum habentium in se principium motus inquantum huiusmodi. Materia enim dicitur esse natura, quia est formae susceptibilis. Et generationes habent nomen naturae, quia sunt motus procedentes a forma, et iterum ad formas. Et idipsum, scilicet forma est principium motus rerum existentium secundum naturam, aut in actu, aut in potentia. Forma enim non semper facit motum in actu, sed quandoque in potentia tantum: sicut quando impeditur motus naturalis ab aliquo exteriori prohibente, vel etiam quando impeditur actio naturalis ex materiae defectu".
2. Cf. CG. IV, 11"Quanto natura est altior, tanto emanans ex ea est intimior".
3. Summa theologiae, I-II, 10, 1.
4. Summa theologiae I, 60, 1 ad 2.
5. Cf. R. Spaemann, Die Frage Wozu, Alber Muenchen.
6. Cf. Summa theologiae III.
7. Cf. De ver. X, 8: "Quantum igitur ad actualem cognitionem, qua aliquis considerat se in actu animam habere, sic dico, quod anima cognoscitur per actus suos. In hoc enim aliquis percipit se animam habere, et vivere, et esse, quod percipit se sentire et intelligere, et alia huismodi opera vitae exercere".
8. Cf. the works of P. Ricoeur.
9. Cf. In I Politicorum, l. I: "Est autem differentia inter sermonem et simplicem vocem. Nam vox est signum tristitiae et delectationis, et per consequens aliarum passionum, ut irae et timoris, quae omnes ordinantur ad delectationem et tristitiam, ut in II Ethicorum dicitur….Sed loquutio humana significat quid est utile et quid nocivum. Ex quo sequitur quod significet iustum et iniustum. Consistit enim iustitia et iniustitia ex hoc quod aliqui adaequentur vel non adaequentur in rebus utilibus et nocivis. Et ideo loquutio est propria hominibus; quia hoc est proprium eis in comparatione ad alia animalia, quod havbeant cognitionem boni et mali, iusti et iniusti, et aliorum huiusmodi, quae sermone significari possunt".
10. Summa theologiae I, 18, 2 ad 2: "Contingit autem aliquorum operum inesse hominibus non solum principia naturalia, ut sunt potentiae naturales; sed etiam quaedam superaddita, ut sunt habitus inclinantes ad quaedam operationum genera quasi per modum naturae, et facientes illas operationes esse delectabiles".
11. On the deep relationship between speculative and ethical virtues see Summa theologiae I-II, 57, 1, 2: "Since , then the habits of the speculative intellect do not perfect the appetitive part, nor affect it in any way, but only the intellective part; they may indeed be called virtues in so far as they confer aptness for a good work, viz. The consideration of truth (since this is the good work of the intellect): yet they are not called virtues in the second way, as though conferred the right use of a power or habit. For if a man possess a habit of speculative science, it does not follow that he is inclined to make use of it, but he is made able to consider the truth in those matters of which he has scientific knowledge: that he make use of the knowledge which he has, is due to the motion of his will. Consequently a virtue which perfects the will , as charity or justice, confers the right use of these speculative habits. And in this way too there can be merit in the acts of these habits, if they be done out of charity…".
12. Anthony J. Lisska, Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law. An Analytic Reconstruction, Clarendon press, Oxford 1996, p. 220.
13. See H. Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life. Toward a Philosophical Biology, Harper & Row, New York 1966.
14. Cf. E. Runggaldier, Was sind Handlungen? Eine philosophische Auseinandersetzung mit der Naturalismus, Kohlhammer GmbH, Stuttgart, Berlin, Köln 1996.
15. 15 Summa theologiae I-II, 31, 7: Utrum aliqua delectatio sit non naturalis. Sed contra: Phil. dicit in VII Ethic, quod quaedam delectationes sunt 'aegritudinales et contra naturam' : "dicendum quod naturale dicitur quod est secundum naturam, ut dicitur in II Physic. Natura autem in homine dupliciter sumi potest. Uno modo prout intellectus et ratio est potissime hominis natura, quia secundum eam homo in specie constituitur. Et secundum hoc, naturales delectationes hominis dici possunt quae sunt in eo quod convenit homini secundum rationem: sicut delectari in contemplatione veritatis, et in actibus virtutum, est naturale homini. Alio modo potest sumi natura in homine secundum quod condividitur rationi: id scilicet quod est commune homini et aliis, praecipue quod rationi non obedit. Secundum utrasque autem delectationes, contingit aliquas esse innaturales, simpliciter loquendo, sed connaturales secundum quid. Contingit enim in aliquo individuo corrumpi aliquod principiorum naturalium speciei; et sic id quod est contra naturam speciei, fieri per accidens naturale huic individuo…Ita igitur contingit quod id quod est contra naturam hominis, vel quantum ad rationem, vel quantum ad corporis conservationem, fiat huic homini connaturale, propter aliquam corruptionem naturae in eo existentem…vel etiam ex parte animae, sicut propter consuetudinem aliqui, delectantur in comedendo homines, vel in coitu bestiarum aut masculorum, aut aliorum huiusmodi, quae non sunt secundum naturam humanam". Cfr. pure CG. III, 122 in particolare 5.
16. Among these principles there is a hierarchical order. The principle of contradiction is the ground of the principle according to which the whole is larger than its parts, the first principle of practical reason is the ground of the other practical principles.
17. A. Lisska, P. 103:
18. A. Lisska, p. 199.
19. A. Lisska, p. 204
20. Summa theologiae I-II, 2, 5
21. This point is very much stressed by N. Hartmann in many works.
22. Cf. Summa theologiae, I, 63, 3
23. Cf. Summa theologiae I-II, 5, 5 ad 2.
24. See H. Jonas, The Principle Responsibility,
25. Cf. Summa theologiae I-II, 2, 2, 3.
26. Summa theologiae I, 82, 3.
27. See.H. Frankfurt, On the Importance of What we care about. Philosophical Essays, CUP, Cambridge 1988, p. 117-133.
28. Cf. In IX Met., VIII 1865: "…quando non est aliquod opus operatum praeter actionem potentiae, tunc actio existit in agente ut perfectio eius, et non transit in aliquod exterius perficiendum; sicut visio est in vidente ut perfectio eius, et speculatio in speculante, et vita in anima, ut per vitam intelligamus opera vitae. Unde manifestum est , quod etiam felicitas in tali operatione consistit, quae est in operante, non quae transit in rem exteriorem, cum felicitas sit bonum felicis, et perfectio eius. Est enim aliqua vita felicis, scilicet vita perfecta eius. Unde sicut vita est in vivente, ita felicitas in felice. Et sic patet quod felicitas non consistit nec in aedificando, nec in aliqua huiusmodi actione, quae in exterius transeat, sed in intelligendo et volendo". Cfr. Aristotle, Met. IX, VIII, 790.
29. Cf. Summa theologiae I, 18, 2: "Vitae nomen sumitur ex quodam exterius apparenti circa rem, quod est movere seipsum: non tamen est impositum hoc nomen ad hoc significandum, sed ad significandam substantiam cui convenit secundum suam naturam movere se ipsam, vel agere se quocumque modo ad operationem. Et secundum hoc, vivere nihil aliud est quam esse in tali natura: et vita significat hoc ipsum, sed in abstracto…".
30. Cf. L. Tuninetti, "Per se notum". Die logische Beschaffenheit des Selbstverständlichen im Denken des Thomas von Aquin, Brill, Leiden 1996.
31. Cf. De pot. III, 1 ad 6; De pot. III, 8 ad 3.
32. Cf. Dom Cupitt, The New Religion of Life in Everyday Speech, SCM Press, London 1999.
33. Cf. CG. III, 74 IMP: "Quod divina providentia non excludit fortunam et casum. In his enim quae in minori parte accidunt, dicitur esse fortuna et casus. Si autem non provenirent aliqua ut in minori parte, omnia ex necessitate acciderent: nam ea quae sunt contingentia ut in pluribus, in hoc solo a necessariis differunt, quod possunt in minori parte deficere. Esset autem contra rationem providentiae divinae si omnia ex necessitate contingerent…Esset etiam contra perfectionem universi si nulla res corruptibilis esset, nec aliqua virtus deficere potens…Multitudo et diversitas causarum ex ordine divinae providentiae et dispositionis procedit. Supposita autem causarum diversitate oportet unam alteri quandoque concurrere per quam impediatur, vel iuvetur, ad suum effectum producendum. Ex concursu autem duarum vel plurium causarum contingit aliquid casualiter evenire, dum finis npon intentus ex concursu alicuius causae provenit (caso del debitore) Non est igitur divinae providentiae contrarium quod sint aliqua fortuita et casualia in rebus"…Nullius autem causae naturalis intentio se extendit ultra virtutem eius: esset enim frustra. Oportet ergo quod intentio causae particularis non se extendat ad omnia quae contingere possunt. Ex hoc autem contingit aliquid casualiter vel fortuito, quod evenient aliqua praeter intentionem agentium. Ordo igitur divinae providentiae exigit quod sit casus et fortuna in rebus".
34. Cf. Summa theologiae I, 22, 4: "Et ideo quibusdam effectus praeparavit Deus causas necessarias ut necessario evenirent: quibusdam vero causas contingentes secundum conditionem proximarum causarum". Ad 3: "…modus contingentiae et necessitatis cadit sub provisione Dei, qui est universale provisor totius entis: non autem sub provisione aliquorum particularium provisorum".
35. Cf. In I Sent. d. 23, q. 1, a. 1: "…secundum Boetium sumptum est nomen personae a personando, eo quod in tragoediis et comoediis recitatores sibi ponebant quamdam larvam ad repraesentanduml illum cuius gesta narrabant decantando. Et inde est quod tractum est in usus ut quodlibet individuum hominis de quo potest talkis narratio fieri, persona dicatur: et ex hoc etiam dicitur prosopon in graeco a pro quod est ante, et sopos quod est facies, quia huiusmodi larvas ante facies ponebant".
36. A. Lisska, p. 211