Thursday, May 24, 2018

Evening Note for Thursday, May 24

Thought for the Evening: Rosmini on the Definition 'Rational Animal'

In Anthropology as an Aid to Moral Science, Rosmini has some critical things to say about the Aristotelian definition of man as "rational animal". They more or less come down to three.

(1) 'Rational animal' understates the importance of volition to the human being, although the volitive and the intellective aspects of human nature are both important and are not the same. While it is true that the volitive follows on the intellective, "there is no proof that this happens necessarily and that the opposite involves absurdity" (p. 21).

(2) It would be more appropriate to call the human being an 'intellective animal' than a 'rational animal' because the intellect is more fundamental than reason, and all reasoning presupposes intellectual understanding.

(3) 'Man is a rational animal' implies that animal is the subject and rational is an attribute of the animal. The intellectual element in human nature, however, has to form part of the human subject so that it can't simply be abstracted away as a secondary or consequent element.

With regard to (1), I think Rosmini just has a different notion of volition than the Aristotelians do, since I'm quite sure Aquinas would deny Rosmini's claim that there is no proof that the intellectual and volitional are linked necessarily; having a will for Aquinas just means that you have an intellectual appetitus or tendency to act.

With regard to (2), Rosmini himself concedes that the scholastics tended to prefer using 'rational' of human beings to distinguish them from the more purely intellectual angels, and that this is potentially useful. And I suspect a Thomist could also say that using 'rational' here is analogous to saying that the object of the human mind is 'material being'; it's not exclusionary but identifying the primary and principal characteristic of the faculty.

The third is interesting, and I think there is probably something to it. As Rosmini goes on to note, the definition creates some complications for the scholastic in discussing how the soul, i.e., what makes you a living thing, is both a form of the body and the form of the human being; he points to the trouble Aquinas has to take in ST 1.76.1 as an example.

Rosmini gives two of his own proposed definitions:

(A) An intellectual, volitional, animal subject.

(B) "[A]n animal subject endowed with the intuition of indeterminate-ideal being and with the perception of corporeal-fundamental feeling, and acting in accordance with the animality and intelligence it possesses" (p. 26).

A scholastic response to (A) would likely be that it looses any sense of the unity of the human being. (B), although it is supposed to be essentially equivalent, avoids the obvious appearance of disunity by being more explicit about the relations among these. It depends on a number of Rosmini's own positions, though; 'the intuition of indeterminate-ideal being' is how Rosmini thinks of intellect, and 'the perception of corporeal-fundamental feeling' is more or less animal consciousness. Perhaps more seriously for the Aristotelian, Rosmini's definition is definitely dualistic; Rosmini is a much stronger dualist than any Aristotelian would be.


[Antonio Rosmini, Anthropology as an Aid to Moral Science, Rosmini House (Durham: 1991).]

Various Links of Interest

* Ed Simon has a nice, if occasionally florid, look at the French revolutionary calendar, which was, of course, not the worst but one of the most symbolic ways in which people have attempted to erase the Catholic Church.

* Thony Christie looks at the twin histories of astronomy and astrology.

* Kenny Pearce is curating an online exhibition of Berkeley's Manuscript Introduction to PHK.

* On Pierre Hadot at "Knowledge Ecology"

* Philippe Hamou, Marin Mersenne, at the SEP

* The marginalia of John Stuart Mill online

* An interesting story about how DNA can be misleading in criminal forensics.

* Nathan Goldman reviews two books on Gershom Scholem.

* Charles Camosy on Alfie Evans.

* Claire Lehmann, The War on Dignity

* An interesting look at five kinds of Bible cultures in the United States.

* Ben Taub, The Spy Who Came Home

* Ivanoe Privitera, Aristotle and the Papyri: The Direct Tradition. It's always worth remembering how tenuous our hold on the thought of the past is.

* David Graeber, 'I had to guard an empty room': the rise of the pointless job.

* Emily Thomas on Catharine Trotter Cockburn.

* An interactive map of medieval trade route networks.

* David Whidden, The Alleged Feudalism of Anselm's Cur Deus Homo and the Benedictine Concepts of Obedience, Honor, and Order. Quite important, if you ever do anything with Anselm; the suggestion, which you still find, that Anselm's mindset (or his theology) is feudal has been known to be problematic for a while -- Anselm didn't live in a fully feudal society, rarely uses feudal terminology and probably never understands it in a feudal sense even when there is overlap, and is pretty clearly drawing most of his thought from Benedictine thought and practice. Whidden's paper is a nice exploration of some of these points with particular concepts important to Anselm's thought.

* Owen C. King, Pulling Apart Well-Being at a Time and the Goodness of a Life

* Michael Milona and Katie Stockdale, A Perceptual Theory of Hope

Currently Reading

Jules Verne, The Self-Propelled Island
Antonio Rosmini, Anthropology as an Aid to Moral Science
Christopher Tollefsen, Lying and Christian Ethics
Neil Oliver, A History of Scotland

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