With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on. -- William Morris

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Significance (or Beauty) of Human Action- Part I: Action as Revealing

The following is an excerpt from an essay written a couple of years ago concerning Karol Wojtyła's (Pope John Paul II) understanding of moral action. I figured this would be a suitable entrance into exploration regarding human action (as well as an easy first post):

In order to understand how action reveals or expresses the person, it is necessary to understand first the nature of the human person. Wojtyła’s presentation of human nature and the person closely follows Thomas Aquinas while also including a phenomenological reading that brings out the lived-experience of the person. It is in light of the uniqueness of human nature, specifically as rational and free, that the significance of the human act in expressing the person comes into view.

In contrast to all other earthly creatures, only humans can act morally. Humans do have acts which are similar to animals (actus hominis), but there are also acts that are proper only to humans (actus humanus). The reason why animal and human acts differ is because of the different nature involved.[1] Animals will never be persons. As much as a pet dog or cat might take on personal characteristics in virtue of its owner, an animal remains sub-personal. Humans, on the other hand, are persons. Following Boethius’ definition, Wojtyła says that the first distinctive element constituting a human as a person is rational nature. Humans can reason; they can conceptualize, think through problems, and wonder about the meaning of life. Even more importantly, humans can know the truth by virtue of their rational nature.[2] This truth, as Wojtyła points out, involves moral truth—“the truth with respect to the good and the truth with respect to goods.”[3] Reason is the starting point for understanding the uniqueness of human beings as persons. In addition, reason grounds the fact that human nature is a “basis of morality”—i.e., from humans come acts that are distinct from all other earthly creatures, namely, moral acts (i.e., human acts).

Reason itself is not the end point in the investigation of what is distinct about human nature. Humans are also free. This freedom derives from rational nature. Yet, freedom, or free will, expands beyond the efficacious realm of reason and enables the person to act as a person, i.e., in a moral way. The will, as an appetitive power, is directed towards the good rather than the truth per se. Still, there is an intimate relation between reason and will. As Wojtyła says of Thomas’ understanding: “Reason and will work so closely together (utraque ad actum alterius operatur): the will wills so that reason may know; reason, in turn, knows that the will wills and what the will wills.”[4] The will, as a rational appetite, is open to the moral truth of the good that reason presents. The will goes beyond knowledge and is that by which a person acts freely and morally.

It is the activity of the will that Wojtyła wants to emphasize with regard to the human person. Human thought is indeed a significant aspect of the person. However, the activity of the intellect is only a step—albeit a crucial one—towards the activity which is most expressive of the person. “That which is most characteristic of a person, that in which a person (at least in the natural order) is most fully and properly realized, is morality.”[5] While knowledge is a constitutive aspect of personhood, the person makes himself known fully only through free acts.

Wojtyła’s thought here, again following Thomas, deserves some reflection. The sphere of morality is the sphere most revealing of the human person. In a general sense, a moral act, which derives from free will, reveals an individual as a person, i.e., as one capable of a moral act. A human person can never remain in the world of thought alone—such a person would die. Action is an integral part of all living creatures. Yet, since humans are rational and, even more crucial, since humans are free, human action is moral and therefore particularly expressive of the person, revealing the person in a way that thought itself can never do. In a somewhat simplistic example, when getting to know someone, we are not interested in merely how much truth that person knows. A person’s knowledge of truth is indeed a crucial aspect of personality, relating to moral action with regard to knowing the truth that is good and providing the foundation for willing such good. However, how much truth someone knows is not constitutive in getting to know the person. In other words, knowledge itself is not fulfilling. More fundamental are the questions (when asked in a truly moral way, i.e., not separated from the truth as good): What kind of person is she? Is she nice? Is he good? These are essentially moral questions, and they are played out all the time in our daily interactions with other persons. The moral quality of a person becomes manifest through action, filling out and completing the person, and hence revealing the person herself.

The more specific sense to the expressive nature of the moral act—alluded to above—is that the act reveals the good or evil (in various degrees) of the person. A good act says something about the person, just as an evil act does in a different way. The reason why a moral act says something about the person is because of its origination in free will. “Thanks to our will, we are masters of ourselves and of our actions, but because of this the value of these actions of our will qualifies our whole person positively or negatively.”[6]

The nature of the person as a free agent is crucial for Wojtyła’s understanding of the moral act as revelatory of the person. From the above, we have seen how much Wojtyła depends upon Thomas and his “objective” description of human activity.[7] Wojtyła himself, however, is interested in deepening the description of human activity by means of phenomenology. His reflections on reflexive consciousness are particularly apropos here regarding the fundamental linkage between action and the person. An important part of Wojtyła’s task is to integrate the ‘turn to the subject’ with traditional metaphysics. In examining experience through consciousness, Wojtyła is always careful not to reduce the person to consciousness. Rather, the person is a subject (suppositum) of consciousness (and before that, a subkect of being). In this light, Wojtyła is able to fruitfully reflect on the subjectivity of the person found in consciousness without leaving out the important objective reality of the metaphysical subject.

Reflexive consciousness manifests the revelatory nature of action regarding the human person. Specifically, reflexive consciousness is self-consciousness; it is that consciousness which turns towards the self as subject (i.e., we experience our subjectivity through reflexive consciousness) and hence as the free and responsible one. Through reflexive consciousness, the person experiences himself as the author and originator of his action.[8] Here, Wojtyła invites us to see in our own conscious experience this reality of freedom and responsibility that we live out on a daily basis. It is in this reflexive consciousness where we experience the intimate connection between person and act in our very own person. Since the moral act is so tied into the very core of the person—originating from that core—it would seem that the moral act must reveal something of the person.

Thus we come full circle to what is “most characteristic” of the person—morality. Not only do we see this from a Thomistic explanation of intellect and will, but we also see this through a phenomenological reading of lived-experience. We ourselves experience that knowing is not enough—it is rather the experience of acting and of being responsible that is central to the human person.[9] Because of this experience, we can see even more clearly the intimate relation between person and act.

[1] “Human Nature as the Basis of Ethical Formation,” 96. (All articles taken from Karol Wojtyła, Person and Community: Selected Essays, trans. and ed. Theresa Sandok [New York: Peter Lang, 1993].
[2] Ibid., 97.
[3] Ibid.
[4] “The Role of Reason in Ethics,” 58.
[5] “Thomistic Personalism,” 172.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 171. Worth mentioning here is the importance of the principle operari sequitur esse, that action follows upon being and is thus an expression of being. As Wojtyła notes: “Activity as activity is a kind of extension of existence, a continuation of existence. Activity as the particular content that is realized in this activity is a kind of externalization or expression of the being’s essence” (“Human Nature as the Basis of Ethical Formation,” 96).
[8] Dr. Kenneth Schmitz, Wojtyła class notes, Catholic University, 4/6/04.
[9] Ibid.

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  • At 9/26/2006 1:43 PM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…

    This is a good exposition on JPII and his thoughts on what makes one a person.

    In showing the way our actions help demonstrate who we are as a person, I find there is much strength in this position. It is a valuable tool in understanding what it means to be a person and what "personality" means to a person. I am glad you posted it!

    However, I also disagree with one major aspect of this position: the distinction assumed between humans and the rest of the animal world.

    Biologically I find this position (which does hint at truths) to be as problematic as Ptolemy is for astronomy (who also hints at truths in his system).

    I know I am in a rather peculiar position here. I believe we can and should classify individual animals to be persons even as we do individual humans.

    I have never been satisfied with any classification of animals saying they do not possess reason. My own experience with them shows they can and do possess it, though in relative levels. They are different in quality but not in kind, although some on the lower end of the scale might be close to having none. Evolutionarily this should be expected. Those who are closer to us in our biological makeup are also closer to us in their ability to reason.

    My own experience with my parents' pets has shown me that dogs can and do reason. I have known dogs to know shame, to know when they do wrong (as for example, my parents used to have two dogs, one used to steal food from the other, the other did not care, but the one stealing knew it was wrong and did so only in stealth and if caught would grab for some more and take off). But I have also known them to use reason -- in that the same dog, Skippy, was able to create games to play with me, and communicate to me through motions and barking she wanted to play it and HOW to play it (communication was often used as the proof for reason in classical sources).

    Now, I am not saying all animals have the same level of reasoning ability, but to me it is obvious they have some ability, of relative levels, and allowing them to have personalities so no two animals act the same way or will do the same thing, even if they are of the same kind.

    Even in the human world, we can see not all humans are of the same capability for choice and yet all of them (to the horror of the abortionist) are yet free human persons in the full sense.

    So, the action done is the way we get to know a person; it is also the way I get to know animals, seriously. Each one is different.

    Theologically, the East said that each nature has its own energy and will. This is why Christ has two wills, because he has two natures. When the will is followed in its purity, it is good. When it is abandoned and one deliberates (through the gnomic will), then sin comes into effect. I believe this is true not just for humans, but for all that live in creation and acts upon others in creation. Animals might have a different task or goal, and more limited and so more limited in their personality or personal choices, but yet I see they have it and have with it at least limited capabilities for evil -- or good.

    Some ways people tried to determine animals did not have free will, and only instinct, is that it is said animals will sacrifice themselves for the sake of their children (showing no desire for immortality, etc). Why doesn't this argument work also with humans? Indeed, to me it seems to be an indication of goodness done (and not all animals of the same kind do this, indicating it is not just instinct)

    In reality, it seems we have often been unable to communicate with animals, and so assumed much as to what they can or cannot be conscious of. This was an argument from silence -- and to me, through the discoveries of many modern scientists, at least some animals have been shown to have the rudiments of this self-consciousness.

    One way we can judge the IQ of a dog is to see if they recognize themselves in a mirror. This test requires that they possess a concept of self, the concept of a self which wills, and acts according to the self's dictates.

    Theologically, I see the fact that the whole world is in divine judgment and needs salvation also exemplifies that sin exists beyond the human realm. Moreover, the famous prophecy saying the lamb shall lay next to the lion to me indicates that animals as individuals (not the Platonic ideas of the animals) have a place in the eschaton. We find in the records of the saints that saints have communicated with animals, and even made contracts or covenants with them (how is this possible without the use of reason?)

    Now I agree that there is in the animal realm a sliding scale of reason, and we are superior to the rest of the animals in quality. This makes us their stewards. We become their source of salvation according to St Maximus the Confessor. We lift them up even as Christ lifts us up. The incarnation moreover makes us special in creation even as the incarnation made Israel special among the nations of the world.

    But I have known enough animals and seen enough to know they act differently, and they truly are moral persons, even if one can say their ability to act as a person is qualitatively less than ours.

    (Note: this is my second time trying to publish some of my comments here -- the first time, I was more systematic and eloquent, but as I hit the publish key, it went to a denial of service page, and all that I wrote was lost. This second time I am trying to just suggest some of the ideas, but now being a little frustrated, the eloquence and arguments are not as sound)

  • At 9/27/2006 11:21 AM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

    great work! Good to see you diving in.

    I found your reply insightful and fascinating.
    But allow me to pose some questions and thoughts to contribute to the line of your thinking with respect to 'animals as persons'.

    The first and most important axiom I would throw out there is this:

    It is of the nature of reason to manifest itself. Or to put it negatively, there is nothing more irrational than a deliberate refusal to use reason. (And thus, it is not an argument of silence by which we judge that animals do not have reason, but rather it is from the nature of reason as such).

    If we accept this axiom (and it would require some development to argue for it being necessarily true...) then it immediately follows that animals do not possess reason per se.

    But, this does not mean that they cannot "possess" reason per accidens: after all, animals live in a world whose dominion has been given over to human beings - the rational animal.
    Thus, the world is permeated by the spirit of reason. Everything animals do that hints at something reasonable is recognized as reasonable only by humans; after all, we do not see animals studying other animals in order to assess or classify or order. True, animals may encounter each other, and engage each other for the sake of "learning" about each other, but is it accurate to immediately recognize this as rational?

    Second, I agree entirely that animals have a sense of self. But I think it is a hasty conclusion to identify 'reason' with merely 'a sense of self'. Moreover, let us remember too that when a dog feels 'shame' it is still the rational creature - namely us - who names it 'shame'. Does a dog recognize another dog's shame as shame? To what extent is a dog's shame elicited by the domestic environment in which it experiences the contextual factors that lead up to this 'feeling'? Or to put it another way, do animals in the wild recognize shame?

    Futher, is it accurate to identify the 'rational' with the 'ability to communicate'? Once again, 'communication' is a word, a name if you will, that is being attributed to an otherwise unknown dynamism; are animals consciously aware of the fact of communication? Do they strive to improve their ability to communicate on their own? Have they developed a written language so that their communication can transcend the decay of time?

    Anyway, in summary I would simply say that I am sympathetic to the ideas of your position here. Animals cannot be simply measured by some Modern equivocation of rational/non-rational. BUT, in contrast with what appears to be your espousal (and I could be wrong here) I do not think the way beyond this equivocation is by univocalizing 'reason'.

    And so I hold fast to the tradition that the unique character of the animal called 'human' is that we, and we alone, possess reason.
    I agree that animals have intelligence, a sense of self, ability to communicate etc. and so are worthy of attention and respect as gifts from God.
    But it is only through their being uplifted by human reason (as you mention was pointed out by Maximus in terms of salvation) that they can elevate these qualities.

    It is similar, I would further contend, to our relationship with angelic substances. We are not angels, and we will never become angels. It is a question of nature here, and this is certainly a point I believe that Western philosophy has done well to develop. We are not, nor will ever be, angels. But, we have a divine capacity that enables us to receive and assimilate angelic powers in a uniquely human way.

    In the same way, animals will never be human - that is, never be inherently rational per se, though they can assimilate human powers relative to their own intelligences - and so perhaps be rational per accidens.

    Fundamental to my position is the anologia entis - the distinction between humans and animals is necessary for illuminating their unity: animals can only be called raitonal by analogy to the ratio proprio of reaon (i.e, the human being). If we hastily obscure that line, then we do injustice to both animals and humans.

    Anyway, I await your reply.

  • At 9/27/2006 10:54 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…

    Andy: A great post indeed. I find something particularly fascinating about JPII's attempt to synthesize traditional Thomist doctrine with phenomenological analysis. I think, when conceived rightly, as your post shows, such phenomenological examinations can yield real fruit!

    Henry: Also a fascinating post. Though I must say Brendan has taken the words right out of my mouth. I think it is vitally important that we not attempt to filter animals through a standard of rationality or irrationality that is too univocal, such that we'd be turning blind eyes to so many of their suprisingly human-like actions.

    Nonetheless, I think the traditional distinctions still shine through. I think the very expression of rational being through mind and will marks the unique image and likeness of God in man.

    One way to draw out the differences is to associate what Brendan has called for in an analogical predication of reason with its parallel in an anlogical account of life. St. Thomas, in associating life with self-movement and self-awareness, marks the different forms of life in the hierarchial order of nature. Self-movement here in the sense that a power is contained and perfected within the subject, such that the agent is the source and the end. God embodies the highest sense of "life" insofar as His self-movement (not understood in terms of act-to-potency) is limitless and his self-knowledge is perfect (because in Him existing and understanding are one and the same). Each species in the order embodies life in lesser degrees according to the restrictions on self-movement and self-awareness.

    Animals, in exhibiting sense-awareness, exhibit a form of movement that is not perfectly self-contained. The beginning of the act and the end differ at each stage. The senses are affected from without, by say some enticing prey, and ends within the imagination. As St. Thomas says: "no sense power reflects on itself."

    A turning point in the hierarchy then is life as intellectual. For this marks a degree of abstraction such that source and end of the action are contained within the subject, and are thus more reflective of the Life of God whose simplicity unites source and end perfectly.

    Language for Aquinas is the kicker, I think. For the presence of intellect, of the ability to abstract, marks a kind of "second level discourse" in which "intellect can reflect upon itself and know itself." In this sense it is more an image of God. This is precisely the basis of language. Because the exterior word is but an expression of an interior word, which marks our judgment of an idea, or rather our intellect's reflection upon itself, its self-contained movement. Without the highest degree of abstraction, by which we can have knowledge and judgments of our intellect, our ideas, and not just the things they represent, is the basis of linguistic expression and is embodied in it. We can judge of trees and our notions of trees, but can animals?

    If so, where is their voice? Where is the external word giving expression to the judgment "this emotion is shame?" It seems to me that animals can make judgments, but they cannot judge that their judgments are true.

    Overall, my point is simply to allign the different analogical predications of reason with a scheme for different analogical predications of life. For it seems self-movement unites the two, and to the extent that one's self-movement is hindered or implicates external sources, one can only predicate reason and life in a certain, ordered sense. But that is a sense entirely different from that of the intellect, because that marks a form of life and self-movement that is self-contained, and thus second order.

    I think, insofar as the predications of life do not vary and mark different modes of being, so too will the predications of reason remain as such, in the sense that the potencies for "reasoning" are ordered and limited. The line that would have to be crossed is that of intellect, and the question is do animals have the potency to cross that chasm?

    I think not. As Brendan has pointed out more eloquently, we will never be angels. We may be creatures on the other side of that line, but our possession of intellect is limited by our natural orientation to the sensible. We can only embody "reason" according to that unique potency, such that no matter how much we evolve, if we are to remain human, we will never be able to contemplate without the donation of sense experience.

    That "evolution" would have to be one of grace. And that is precisely what happens in our Beatitude. But notice we are creatures who by nature possess the ability for intellection apart from matter in a strict sense, the source of our soul's immortality. Grace perfects nature. But would grace build upon animal nature by carrying it to beatification when it had not the natural potency for intellection? When its natural activity and its analogical form of "reasoning" never exceeds the material? Perhaps, but then one might ask: why not such radical grace for plants as well!?

    Interesting to think about. Anyways, just some thoughts.


  • At 9/28/2006 11:00 AM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    great analysis and insight (it's hard to believe your only a junior? still).

    Anyway, the key is most definitely the various recapitulations of analogy, and this not only for the sake of truth, but also for the sake of the unique attributes of non-rational animals.

    I would contend that we - the rational animal - need our 'others' like non-rational animals, in order to come to greater understanding of ourselves, the world and ultimatley God. If we hastily impose rationality where there is none, I think we violate the integrity of that which is not rational.

    In sympathy with Henry, though, I think (and if I put words into your mouth, Henry, please correct me) that the intention is to illuminate the intrinsic worth of the non-rational. Of course I (and I'm sure Pat as well) are in full agreement here. Recognizing an "accidental" potential within non-rational animals for 'participating' in reason is not out of the question.

    Moreover, in Gregory of Nyssa ((De opificio hominis) we find the view expressed that reason is a superabundance, pregnant with potential that requires the elements of the world and the brutes in order to actualize.

    So, for example, where humans lack the speed of the horse, they "harness" the horses speed, allowing it to participate in human activity. In this case, the horse offers its superior attribute of speed to our superior attribute of reason, and thereby becomes united with it (to a degree).

    In this light, it seems, an element of our Imago Dei is illuminated: we elevate lower being, and thereby not only imitate God's elevation of us, but in so doing, we take upon ourselves God's very character (again, to a degree). In other words, the very act of imitation is simultaneously an act of becoming.

    When we remove the hierarchy of being by investing everything with reason (or as in pantheism, with the divine) we occlude this ontological dynamism from being made more intelligible.

    And to echo Pat's use of the power of abstraction, one finds the same 'God-making' dynamic in the very act of human knowledge.
    In every act of abstraction, the human intellect actualizes its power to overcome the ontological disproportion between itself (the intellect) and things in the world. In abstracting the 'form' of the thing, the intellect takes it into itself, and in a sense becomes one with the thing. In this way, human knowing somehow mysteriously overcomes the (infinite?) distance between itself and the thing, thereby elevating the thing to the level of human being. So here, too, the act of divine imitation is simultaneously an act of 'becoming more divine' (or more demonic, as unfortunatley, the case may sometimes be when our intellectual powers are misused).

    Anyway, just to further expand the conversation.

  • At 9/29/2006 8:14 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…

    Well, I am going to only offer a few more brief remarks (there is a great amount of room left for conversation on this topic, and the reason I even said what I did is because I recognize my own understanding -- which is still developing -- differs greatly than most people on this topic and I just wanted to reflect upon a few of those insights). What follows will be a bit of an unsystematic mish-mash, perhaps, but I hope there will still be something in this stromata of thoughts that you find worthwhile.

    Well, where do I begin?

    I first want to re-state or re-emphasize some things. First, I want to make it clear that I believe there is a scale involved in the discussion. Not everything is equal.

    I brought out the use of reason, but I could have used the moral order. In fact, I should discuss a bit more on it and my vision of how animals have an ability of moral choice.

    Every nature (every animal creature, of which man is one) has its proper end -- where it will aim for naturally according to its will if it follows its will. This nature will always be good in itself.

    With this natural end or will, however, there are various levels of ability to act upon it or against it. Our mode of willing is not according to nature, but according to the individual. According to the entity involved, there can be more or less ability to deviate from that will -- but all individuals can do so, and the more they individually deviate from their proper end, the less good they produce. In saying this, I also think it can be said there could be more than one good end possible, so there is not only the possibility of deviation, but the possibility of a plurality of goods we can choose from as our end (which I think is a corrective to Maximus on the natural will).

    Humans obviously have a great ability to deviate. They also, I believe, have a great variety of possible good ends. I believe, however, all animals have this variety, though some less, some far less than others.

    As an analogy (which has its faults) we can look at freedom as the ability to move within a given domain, and the size of the domain is the size of your freedom and the choices you have. Some animals can have very miniscule freedom, like a cell which is 1 mm cubed. Others could have 1m cubed. A human's space would be the whole world. This makes it a true chain of being and chain of freedom (and also of reason) -- instead of a punctuated structure for reality.

    Now, reason and freedom for moral choice seem connected (though, again, I agree with Maximus that our mode of willing is unnatural but gnomic, and so faulty, but I do believe even when willing naturally, there are a multitude of possible goods to follow). The question then is asked:

    How do we detect this reason in others? I agree that reason will manifest itself. However, we have a problem to deal. If one discounts the possibility of reason with animals, then if they have reason and if they manifest it, we could quickly say "we are humanizing animals" and just neglect the act of reason manifested before our very eyes. This is indeed what happened, often, in colonial policies -- humans were seen as subhuman, and the manifestation of their humanity was seen only as imitation.

    However, my view is -- if you see a phenomenon, treat it as the phenomena. We can then question why -- why does a dog feel shame if I see the shame? Did it learn it from me? Let's assume it did. Does this make it any less shame, any less an indication they have learned some sense of right and wrong? No. It just means what is in their potency has been manifested through socialization with us in a way similar to how humans manifest their inherent understanding in socialized methods as well (it is both nature and nurture, and our nurturing of animals allows us to turn their nature into something comprehensible to us).

    The ability to communicate one's reason is exactly the way reason is manifest - it is why the ancients thought language was the proof of reason. How else can one actually manifest to another their sense of reason? This is why I also pointed out that I have experienced such communication through various animals (and not just my parents’ dogs).

    Moreover, there is a sense that animals have more ability to communicate with us than we allow, because of our fallen nature itself removes our ability to understand them. The saints manifest a more pure relation to animals, and have been known to preach to them (St Francis, St Anthony) or even make pacts with them (St Francis), or even be given information about the world around them (St Seraphim of Sarov, Pope Cyril VI of Alexandria).

    In saying this, therefore, I do say they are free moral persons, but I would not disagree with saying their moral ability is less than ours. That's my whole point of saying it is a scale of reason, a chain. I can see, however, a million years from now (if the earth still exists) humanity evolving further to have more reason and freedom than we do now -- and yet still limited in a way that angels (or pure spirits without a carnal nature) would not.

    I have not said a frog will be anything but a frog, but within the frog realm, each frog is unique, has moral ability, and moral choice, even as we do, but only in a more limited sense with less natural ends than we would have. This is true for any animal. What those possible ends are, perhaps we as humans can guess, but do not really know, so we might not be able to judge which frogs manifest their proper end, and which do not. The ultimate judge is always the same one as for us: God, and God will judge according to ability and their nature even as God judges us.

    Now, when one looks into animal studies, one can find more evidence for reason for those who are closer to us in the chain of being than those further from us. I know there are debates on it, but the examples of primates learning sign language is interesting. How much do they learn, I do not know. But there seems to be a level of awareness, shame, and humor gained from it.

    Dolphins have been found to create tools and educate their young in how to use them (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/06/0607_050607_dolphin_tools.html)

    Those who observe the natural world have found many examples of animals observing each other, developing languages (http://www.livescience.com/animalworld/prairie_dogs_041206.html is on prairie dogs), etc.

    Now again, I will say some animals this is more included in their possible natural goods than others -- but I find even those who do not have this LEVEL of natural good, does not mean on their own individual level, there is not individual manifestations of choice. The problem I think is we want all choices and moral being to represent the moral choices of what we as humans have, and if they do not have it -- making morality itself anthropomorphic instead of an issue of natural good and its willful lack in an individual.
    We basically turn it into a hermeneutic tautology. It could be true but if false we would have difficulty seeing it is false while we keep to that hermeneutic.

  • At 9/29/2006 9:50 AM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    Again, let me say that I am sympathetic to your position, though as already expressed, I remain firm with the tradition in maintaining that humans alone are the rational animal. Many of your points are fruitful in how they press the matter, forcing a claim like my own to be better articulated. In light of this, allow me to offer the following in response.

    First, with respect to the notion of a created entity’s end, believe it or not, I think Kant may offer some important insight here – insight that seems almost ‘Eastern’ in the sense that it challenges anyone who would claim to use teleological argumentation as a sort of a priori. It is one thing to say that each created thing has an end (general finality, in Kant’s terms) but it is entirely different to claim to know the specifics of that end, and to allow these specifics to fund our judgments of the entity. Your position (unless I am mistaken) recognizes that we humans cannot be so determinately certain regarding the non-rational end of other creatures, and instead must, with a nod to Kant, allow that their end could be something unforeseen by us. This is important to bear in mind, and a point I think you are right to draw out.

    But let us remember that Kant was a great equivocator – if not the great equivocator. He tended to draw sharp distinctions, overemphasizing a kind of discontinuity. So although there is a necessary unknown element to the end of any created entity, it is also true that the end is always present with a certain degree within the very process of the entity’s development. This is why I believe we are justified in making judgments over the created entities that constitute the ‘world’, and why natural science has a legitimate claim to a certain kind of knowledge.

    In light of this, I think the axiom ‘it is of the nature of reason to manifest itself’ still stands firm. To your objection – namely, that even if reason were to be manifest in a creature other than a human it is simply dismissed by saying that ‘we are humanizing animals’ – I would have to offer the following observations.

    First, as Pat pointed out, the nature of reason involves the ability, not only to be reflective, but to be self-reflective. So long as reason is only recognized as such by one creature within a world teeming with creatures, is this not enough evidence to suggest that perhaps only one creature is in possession of reason? Otherwise, what kind of reason is unable to recognize itself in otherness? The fact is that no animal seeks to recognize, or indeed is able to recognize, reason in other animals.

    Second, the aforementioned objection, to my mind, seems too Kantian in that it still attributes too much determinate power to the mind, and fails to allow nature to speak for itself. And in truth, this is what I see as the fundamental problematic in your position: it invests richness in a container that simply cannot hold it. Lest we are to fall prey to the dilemma of modernity, I think it behooves us to allow nature(s) the integrity they manifest.

    Thirdly, and in light of the second, we can point out (and repeat) the following: animals may communicate, but they do not do so across time; animals may behave with concern for their immediate relations, and even their species, but they do not seem driven to preserve other species; animals express no critical relation to transcendence (there are, as far as I know, no animal places of worship); animals do not seek a way beyond violent means of self-preservation; and the list could go on.

    Now, as you point out, there is much that animals do that reflects an ability to assimilate reason to themselves. I (and perhaps Pat) have already conceded this point. But again, it is a point recognized only by the rational animal, i.e., the human being.

    Finally, let us consider the insight of many of the Patristics, especially the Cappadocians, and in particular, Gregory of Nyssa. In his marvelous treatise on the making of man (De opificio hominis), he deals at length with the way in which the material form of the human body manifests itself as the vessel of reason. With elaborate detail, Gregory explain how everything about the human body demonstrates that only in the human being is there the presence of reason. For example, the human being’s upright posture frees the hands to help in the feeding process, which in turn enables the complexity of the mouth to become an instrument of superior communication (the image he uses is that ‘reason plays the human voice like an instrument). In other animals, absent the upright posture and use of hands, the mouth feeds directly on the food. He provides several other examples, but the point is clear: there is an ontological connection between an animal’s nature and the physical form that this nature takes in creation.

    Again, we are not arguing that animals have no intelligence, or do not communicate. In many ways, I agree with much of what you said. I agree that we can think of intelligence and communication ability on a scale of degrees. But I do draw the line when it comes to that unique quality that makes us different: namely, reason. And I most adamantly oppose univocal predications of darn near anything.

    Two questions remain for me. First, with respect to the moral freedom of an animal: do they also have moral culpability? If so, how can that be enforced, and by whom should it be enforced?

    Second, and this is the big one, you mentioned how in a million years humanity could evolve to have more reason and freedom than now. Do you hold that humanity could evolve beyond what was seen in the humanity of Christ? In other words, is there a ‘form’ of humanity even beyond the form it took when it was assumed by God Himself?

  • At 9/29/2006 11:23 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    As you can see, there is much to discuss on this. I am only opening up some lines of thought and showing where my position differs from the normal tradition. I would enjoy taking the time to reflect more on these questions in depth and sometime in the future I hope to. However, I hope you can understand that what I can post here are snippets of my thoughts on the topic, some which I think answer the questions or lead to answers, some showing how I look at the questions differently.

    I do want to answer your two big questions at the end -- because I think the other questions we both have set up the ways in which either of us would answer them and it could end up going in circles.

    The answer to the first, can animals be culable and then who has a right to judge them, I think, was hinted with my answer: Yes, they are moral entities and because they are individuals can divert against their natural wills in the way we as humans can, they are culpable according to the order of their creation. Ultimately for their judge they have the one judge, Christ the Pantocrator. In the temporal order we must and do judge, and since I believe humans ARE the stewards of the earth, this means we can also judge the culpability of animals and work with them according to what we believe that means. Interestingly enough, medieval courts agreed with this and often put animals on trial.

    Second while Christ became man, it is true, to me the implications are more than for humanity: Christ became creature so all of creation can be redeemed. In this way, it is through man that all of creation joins in the saving graces of the incarnation, even as it is through Israel and its role in the incarnation that all of humanity can be saved. Thus I take seriously the cosmic hymns of Scripture as well as the more cosmic oriented Patristic writers. Thus, in answer to the the question about evolution: yes, as Jesus brings about the salvation of man, so also anything in creation, even that which could take place after man, would find its salvation in the one incarnation of the Creator becoming creature.

    Now to briefly examine the teleological issue (before following my own natural inclination to eat), I will be restating some things I have said, but hopefully in a way which might add a bit clarity of my position even if it is not going to agree with yours.

    Central to my line of thought is the question of the natural will in St Maximus. In reality, it is also the point of the one LOGOS being embraced in all of creation through many logoi (showing essences as they embrace the Logos are in their own way, logos or rational). This shows how it is not an issue of equivocation (because it is following the point that the one Logos is experienced in many logoi, some reflecting greater that one logos than others, even as I said some animals have greater moral ability and rational ability than others, yet, at their heart, there is their logos, their reflection of the divine -- which you properly point out is an issue in this discussion).

    Since the will is good in its nature (physis), and yet we can will what is bad, the question comes up again and again: how? The answer is not that the will is bad, but the mode of willing in the individual allows for an unnatural end. If we can answer that for ourselves, I think the answer opens up for an understanding of how this is the case in the animal realm. They have their natural goals (which as we both agree, might not be that which we as humans know, and yet in their self-expression as individuals we can see elements of it, even as we see it in other humans)The development of some of the social hierarchies in some animal groups I also think points to the fact that at least those animals do discern differences between one another.

    However, if we say only humans reason, the problem remains: any revelation of self-conscious reflection in an animal will be dismissed as something else, like instinct. Yet, if valid for animals, why not for humans? Indeed, I think we have seen examples in recent scientific study, for example, with Koko that at least some forms possess these qualities to some degree. More importantly, if reason means abstraction, what kind of abstraction are we looking for? The creation of new words, or abstract words for animals to observe they are different from other animals? Then look no further than to the prairie dogs (the studies which have been done on them have been more than fascinating to me).

    Well, I need to follow my will and eat. Pax.

  • At 10/01/2006 8:35 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…

    I hope my comments in the last post did not inadvertently end the discussion. I did not mean we should end our exploration on this theme, but that we should try not to end up going in circles, and I feared at the time I could be going that way soon. In part, because I was trying to answer the questions quickly (having other work I need to do, and still need to do, like writing the test my students will be taking Monday).

    There are several key issues both Pat and Brendan have brought up which I have not answered. Again, in part, because I am trying to focus on what I see is central to my position, and hoping from my own reflection, the way I would answer the other questions could be ascertained. Of course, as I also pointed out, I am not trying to post my own systematic position on here – it would take a considerable amount of time, and even research to get the sources to back the scientific studies I remember reading throughout the years.

    However, having taken some time off from the discussion, I thought I would answer a few more points – again in no order, so just look at this as some more of my stromata.

    Pat said animals can make judgments, but not determine if their judgments are true. Is this any different from humans? Reason, as many point out, can only show that it cannot be the full way.

    Also his question on plants, my answer is – I do not know ;) There are some interesting things which science has been observing about plants of late, and I can believe that in the eschaton that we will find there was indeed truth in the notion of the Ent.

    Now to a couple more from Brendan

    I am not sure what you mean about animals not going beyond a violent means of self-preservation. Which animals – are you making a univocal observation for all species with this? And how does it differ from humans who also seem to use violence to continue to exist as well? It is interesting that St Thomas uses the fact that some animals will sacrifice themselves and die at the hands of predators (non-violent preservation imo) as proof they don’t seek eternal life. While I disagree with what he concludes from this observation, I do think it shows that animals can think beyond their individual self and use non-violence self-sacrifice like Christ for the betterment of their children/species.

    There has been some indication with some species (Elephants maybe, some primates) that they have notions of burial rites and religious elements. Certainly if you read the life of St Francis, you will note that all the animals around him seemed to have a personal devotion to him, but also religious reverence to God. Even if legend and myth, I think it points to a spiritual truth about animals and their praising of God in their own way, their own religion (even hinted in the Psalms, too).

    I want to end with the personal experience I have had with one of my parents’ dogs, Skippy. My parents inherited her form my uncle, promising to always take care of her after he died of cancer. For over a year, whenever I would visit, for whatever reason, she would get excited and she would lose control of her bladder. She was obviously embarrassed from this. She would then ask to go out whenever I would come over, to let loose outside and not over the floor. However, that still was to her an embarrassment. She worked to control herself more. She worked to strengthen her bladder, and gain self-control. So that after a couple years, she no longer needed to go outside when I came nor did she lose control of her bladder. It was a conscious effort to overcome a shameful problem. However, because of it, she has now gained a strong control of her bladder, so much so that my parents call her the “tank” and she might be able to hold out for a whole day if need be. This to me indicates someone who knew themselves, knew something was wrong, and worked to overcome the problem in a way any other person would. To do that requires an understanding of self, and reflection over the problem, and the creation of a solution. She did it. To me, that shows a person behind the actions.

    Well, I need to get ready for liturgy. I just wanted to make it clear I am not trying to end the conversation, but making sure it continues in a way things go forward and not around in circles.

  • At 10/02/2006 11:00 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 10/02/2006 11:03 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    By all means, let us continue the conversation, as I for one have found it thoroughly enriching. I appreciate your returning to some of the finer pionts.

    Out of respect, I’ll let Pat respond to your rebuttal to his own points.

    As to your question concerning violence, I can only say this: as it was not one of the primary components of my objections, I don’t see the necessity in fully developing that particular matter. Instead, I would like to draw out two “elephants” in the corner, which thus far have gone unnoticed.

    The first can be explained by making a subtle gesture toward one of my last posts, in which I explained the notion of “preemptive predication.” You will recall that this term indicates a method of thought, prevalent in pre-modern thought (though, of course, not in name), where something was predicated before it was limited by propositional closure. Thus, Aquinas ended his quinque viae with the phrasing: et hoc omnes intelligunt Deum [“and this is what all call ‘God’”], or some other variation.

    The upshot of such a methodology is that it avoids univocal predication, even at the logical level (or ‘the level of thought’). Now, with respect to this conversation, my position, which aspires to honor such a methodology, can be described as follows: I maintain that there is something which is wholly unique to the human person, and this is what all call ‘reason’. I do not claim to know the exhaustive constitution of this rational principle, but I do know that it is that which makes the human being unique as created in the image and likeness of God.

    It seems to me that your position, which seeks to recognize a rational principle in other non-human creatures, requires a methodology that posits an a priori category of reason, which is then extended extrinsically to other creatures. In other words, you claim to know what reason is, as if it somehow a separate category that is then simply applied volitionally to other creatures. Such a methodology, no matter how much it is qualified, is without a doubt haunted by the legacy of Kantian thought: you treat reason as an a priori category, extrinsic to human thought even though humans participate in it, and you then use it as a measuring stick to determine the nature of other creatures.

    The second elephant in the corner can be brought to attention with a question: if, as you want to suggest, animals can be rational, does it follow that humans can be divine according to the same mode you are suggesting? (Certainly, Scripture and Tradition both hold to the belief in our final deification, but we will always be God-men, like Christ, and never God as such). If the answer is a qualified ‘no’, then it seems once again we are left with the unhappy Kantian dichotomy between the two realms: freedom (grace), and nature; realms so divided that the only way to ground oneself in the former is through stoic duty. If the answer is ‘yes’, then another question arises: how are we to account for the fact of this shared principle among all created things (for, by extension, if humans are divine, then so are animals)? It would seem the only way to explain the matter is with an appeal to something like Being as that by which all things share a common principle. Here, we are left with an even unhappier result – for we have crash-landed on planet Scotus, where Being is the great univocal (or one may go further back, and further East, to attribute it to the Averroistic influence in Scholasticism, as Hans Urs Von does).

    In light of the above problems, which I hope have given you some food for thought, I would still stand firm in claiming that only within a proper evaluation of Being as fundamentally analogical, holding in a tensile union both unity and difference – but always recognizing unity in its phenomenological character as ‘always-arriving’ and never an a priori – can one grant the true dignity to human beings, as well as to all other beings that exist.

    Submitted with the sincerest and utmost respect.

  • At 10/02/2006 11:11 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    one last note: I thoroughly enjoy and appreciate your first person testimony (which we can respectfully call the 'Skippy principle'). I would never want to make light of it.
    Indeed, then, how can one respond to it?

    I'll only say this: when "Skippy" (and here I mean to say any domesticated animal) either uses the word 'embarassed' or writes the book, "Overcoming Incontinence," then I'll unequivocally concede your point.

    Until then, let's remember that it is always the human person who is the recognizer. And, lest we become nominalists, we must maintain that words are ontologically relevant, more than mere signs to point to an otherwise unreachable reality. Where animals learn, know or even use words, it is entirely under the dominion of the human being.

  • At 10/03/2006 9:51 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…

    I apologize for my looming silence. I'm trying to knock out a rather heavy, last-minute paper on St. Thomas and the body-soul relation. I'll gladly jump back in as soon as I hand this over to the prof.

    Pax Christi,

  • At 10/06/2006 9:22 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…

    I too have been busy, and hope to write more on this topic during the weekend. However, I want to build upon what has been said and add at the end some more of the thought which has also led me to form my current opinion.

    While there is the suggestion that I am looking at reason as an a priori category, I think both sides of the discussion are guilty of this this (though I hope we both recognize it and I hope we both see our as being capable of modification, which I think is the case). By stating reason "is that which makes the human being unique" you have been made it, it becomes a matter of definition, something unique to humans alone, and therefore not possessed by animals (however, then what about angels and God?). That's as a priori an assertion as possible, making it true by definition, and it goes with my observation -- a hermeneutic that says animals cannot reason, then any indication of reason found in an animal has to be false and reasoned out as some other phenomena. It is a a tautology (and perhaps mine does too, although I am trying to state there are ways at least to observe this ability).

    This means perhaps we are also discussing reason with a different understanding from one another, and so the difference of opinion is not as divided as it might be.

    I would call what makes humans unique "humanity" not reason. However, if you want to say reason is what makes humans, human, and only humans have reason, let's change the word from reason to sentience. Would you agree that animals are sentient creatures (using the more archaic understanding, which includes consciousness)?

    I am also curious as to what this designation (of reason is that which makes humans unique) means in relation to animals.

    It has been commonly said that animals do not have a share in eternal life, because they do not have a soul capable of that eternity. The reason their soul is not capable is that they do not possess reason. Only one with reason, or the spiritual soul, has a share in the eschaton.

    Do you follow this line of reasoning as it pertains to animals (as is clear, I see animals as sentient and capable of moral choices and capable of a share in the eternal life).

    One might wonder why I keep asserting free will to animals, and this relates to another underpinning of my thought.

    I look to the world, and the evolution of animals, and see the development of species and special instincts as the reification of communal choices made in the progress of evolution. Each animal kind has its instincts which defines the normal parameters of their function, but still have a flexibility of choice to move beyond and overcome those instincts (as we even see in humans, with humans having this ability to a greater extent than other known animals).

    Now in looking at this, I see the development of species to often include cruel, horrifying practices. I can see this is not a necessary way for evolution to take, but it is the way it has taken based upon the developmental choice of previous generations - a kind of original sin in evolution. Before humanity existed, we see in the natural sphere the kinds of consequences we theologically equate with sin (esp. the reign of death), and I see it because sinful choices were a part of the development we see in evolution. Moreover, I see all kinds of actions and qualities within the animal realm, some far more than others, which if looked upon with some sort of moral system, would be classified as evil. This is difficult for me to accept. I want to accept the goodness of nature and creation -- and the goodness of God who worked for their creation. However, if one sees the way evolution developed as a result of free will decisions, as much as any human activity is not predicated to God as cause, so the same would then be seen within the animal realm. If we remove this free will, and animals only live out their lives on instinct and the instinct is placed into their order by the creator, I find it similar to a Calvinistic view of the universe (on many levels, from the idea that God would create something to do what is normally considered evil, to the removal of choice in evolution, etc).

    Well, I hope that will help keep the conversation going until I can sit down and discuss more of the issues.

  • At 10/06/2006 12:43 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    Let me start by reaffirming something I’ve said a number of times: I am in fact sympathetic with your position, and there are many points where I would agree. I share your desire to get beyond an all too modern equivocation between ‘human’ and ‘all other creation’. However, I would submit that the expression you use to achieve this actually hinders our shared goal. Let me respond to your insightful comments.

    First, let me clarify. When I claimed you were using reason as an a priori category, I thought the language itself would indicate the Kantian sense in which I meant it. To further illustrate this, I even made direct reference to Kant. Thus, to your suggestion that we are both doing this, I would have to disagree. Here is the difference.

    You say that reason is X, and you then apply this to all creatures. I say, “there is something unique to the human person alone, and this is what we call reason.” Admittedly, as you point out, the difference is subtle, which of course means that there are similarities. But I would point out that when I am critical of ‘definition by means of a priori synthesis,’ I am not thereby doing away with all definitions. In other words, questioning a mode of defining does not mean that I do not recognize the need to acknowledge the limits inherent in all human discourse, through which we necessarily arrive at definitions and, consequently, words.

    It is something that Andy jokes about with me: I become critical of a certain use of definition, and the reaction is to attack the opposite extreme, as if I were suggesting definitions as such are impossible or unhelpful. “Why define anything at all?” is his common chide (in good humor as always). Joking aside, such thinking assumes an either/or equivocation, as if there is no other way to approach the nature of definitions than EITHER invest them with the whole of human power, OR refuse any power to them. Definitions need not be univocal, but it does not follow that they are equivocal. There is – as I know you know – a middle.

    So I do not concede the equivocation you seem to be appropriating to me: either definitions or no definitions. Instead, I would say that HOW we define is of crucial import especially in a conversation like this, where we aspire to a fragility of ideas not normally encountered in everyday discourse.

    Further, the way that I ‘define’ reason is not by stepping outside of it, as it were, and placing it within limited closure. Instead, I maintain this: precisely because of the fact that it is the rational principle itself that allows definitions at all, this fact precludes me, or anyone, from exhaustively defining it (in the same way that the eye, which is the source of all sight, cannot ever see itself directly). The best we can do, I would suggest, is approach it apophatically, followed by limited cataphaticism upon the consequent result.

    So, when I say that animals are NOT included within the nature of the rational principle, I am making a negative assertion rather than a positive one. This is legitimated by virtue of the principle already mentioned: there is something unique to human beings, and this is what we call reason, or the ‘rational principle’.

    To put it another way: there is something that makes the human different from all other animals, and this is the difference called the ‘rational principle’. In medieval nomenclature, the rational principle is called the ‘species’ because it is the speci-fic difference that it added to the genus ‘animal’ rendering the nature of the ‘human.’ The reason we cannot simply call this ‘human,’ is because (to answer another one of your questions) we share this principle with higher beings (angels and God). It is, to say it again, the image of the divine in us.

    But it exceeds us, which is why we need our others (non-rational animals) to help us understand its specific nature. Your ideas, by drawing out the ways in which non-rational animals share in qualities with us, help to further specify the nature of the rational principle. But where I believe you go wrong is in relinquishing the principle altogether simply because there are these similarities.

    And this brings me to the most important grounding of my reasoning. I am following a widespread and influential tradition in the assertion that the rational principle is unique to human being alone. (You and I both understand the metaphysical and spiritual legitimacy of the nature of tradition.) As I see it, you are seeking to overcome a misinterpretation of this tradition, and in this I share your goal. But in your effort, you make choices that I do not and cannot concede. Your desire to redefine the word ‘reason’ is one such choice. I cannot concede this for reasons stated above, but also because I aspire to remain true to the tradition. Thus, I think you wisely draw attention to the issue of the word, but I would want to hold fast to its traditional use.

    So to your other questions regarding the nature of non-rational life, I would, as I’ve already stated, agree with much of what you said. I do not hold that animals are utterly non-intelligent, or non-sentient, or non-free, or even to some extent, non-moral. This is why I have said that I share in your efforts.

    As a final thought here: there is a large degree of speculative theology at work in your thought, and this I applaud. As we have had many a conversation, I think it is clear we both share a desire to engage in speculative thought inspired by the great thinkers we read, as well as our unique experiences as followers of the Lord in the world. But as I’ve learned (and I’m sure you would agree) the beauty of our tradition is that it keeps our speculative thinking from venturing too far off the path of truth, goodness and beauty. It is our true anchor. It is the continuing life of Christ, as passed on to us from the greats who came before. They are the shoulders upon which we stand – remove them, and we plummet into an intellectual dark ages.

    Respectfully as always.

  • At 10/07/2006 7:13 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    As from my first post, I acknowledge that my own ideas are different from the commonly understood (and especially scholastic) tradition. Yet, I am trying to engage that very tradition from within, on its own terms, while looking at the new evidence we have from science (and other sources -- which include my reading of Solovyov, Porphyry's On the Abstinence of Meat, some Native American religious views, and an adaptation of views (ie, non-reincarnational) from Hindu and Buddhist traditions are also sources for my thought).

    One example of my engagement of this very tradition is the use of language as a sign or indication for reason. In the Greek, we can see this association by the word logos which is at once used to indicate the idea of WORD but also rational/principle of reason. As you have also noticed, I have also in engaging this discussion employed the Eastern tradition, especially found in St Maximus, that sees the logoi of creation united in the Logos, indicating that all of creation is a reflection of the Logos (to various degrees). In the West, this tradition is continued in Nicholas of Cusa.

    Another aspect of tradition I am trying to engage, and one which I think is not engaged enough, is what we learn of the world and all that live in it through the lives of the saints. This should be clear.

    Saying all of this, I still wonder if we are not debating over terms while having more general agreement than it might appear. Our discussion is beginning to remind me of the debate over the filioque, where both sides really have the same general vision, but express it differently from different cultural-linguistic traditions.

    Your discussion on definition is, for me, an example of this. We are in agreement on this. We need definitions, but only in relation to an apophatic element to that definition. My way of suggesting what you wrote seems to be my analysis of reason and its quality in animals is seen on a scale and so it is not all univocal nor equivocal.

    I know you are sympathetic to my position, and again, to see where we really differ, I want to see which of these you would reject:

    1) animals are sentient beings
    2) animals, while they have instincts, also have an ability to use their own sentience to make free will choices (within limits)
    3)free will actions can be of three kinds: wholesome, good actions; unwholesome, evil actions; and neutral actions which are neither good nor evil (for example, how one lies down to sleep)
    4)animals, according to their kind and their nature, can make free will actions which can be of moral value
    5) animals can be said to have their own logos, which is a reflection of the Logos
    6) animals are also goods in themselves and not just goods made for others
    7) because of 5 and 6, animals also have some sort of share in eternal life (they are not just temporal goods)

    Without discussing the notion of reason and its relation to humanity, which of those do you accept/not accept/ or find possible/impossible?

    Now as I said, if you want to define reason as that which makes a human, human -- that is fine, but try to engage that also with the fuller definition and explanation of reason in the same tradition we are both standing upon. I am engaging perhaps their explanation of reason, while you are engaging more their placement of reason (which, to me, is a conclusion, and based in part on the biological notions of Aristotle, while I tend, with the East, to be more Platonic).

    As to another question you asked – about humans being divine according to the same mode I am suggesting – I am not sure what exactly you are asking. It seems to me you are thinking I am saying all animals are human, but this only follows one uses your own definition of reason. If we use it, then I will say like you all other animals do not have reason, but then I will say all I said above, saying they are sentient entities. I still need to know what aspects of tradition and its explanation of what reason is (beyond who has it) that you are using.

    Secondly, although this is somewhat another question, though related to what you asked – I will say I follow Nicholas of Cusa and say God is that which is not-other (in which you will also see some of my thought being reflected).:

    “11. If anyone sees how it is that by defining itself Not-other de-fines all things, he sees that Not-other is the most congruent measure of all things—a greater measure for greater things, a lesser measure for lesser things, an equal measure for equal things, a beautiful mea-sure for beautiful things, a true measure for true things, a living measure for living things, and so on in the same way for all things.
    12. If anyone sees that Not-other is not only the definition of it-self and of all things but also the object of its own definition and of the definition of all else, then in all the things which he sees, he sees only Not-other defining itself For what does he see in other except Not-other defining itself ?. What else [does he see] in the sky except Not-other defining itself ? And similarly for all things. Therefore, the creature is the manifestation of the Creator defining Himself—or the manifestation of the Light (which is God) manifesting itself. This is
    comparable to a proclamation of a mind which defines itself—[a proclamation] which through living speech is made to those who are present and through a messenger or a writing is made to those who are distant. In these manifestations of the mind there is no other than the mind defining itself, manifesting itself vitally and most clearly to listeners through its speech, to those far away through a delegated speech, to those farthest away through a writing. In this manner, Not-other, the Mind of mind, shows itself more clearly in the first creatures
    but more dimly in the others,” Nicholas of Cusa, On God as Not Other. Trans. Jasper Hopkins (Minneapolis, Arthur J. Banning Press, 1999), 1162-3.

    As always this is an interesting discussion and I am trying to move beyond our stalemate and find out where we truly disagree and where we are talking past each other. I hope Andy can add some more comments (or Part II) soon, and also, I am still awaiting the next in your series for the blog.

  • At 10/08/2006 7:48 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…


    As expected another brilliant and insightful response that will merit the fruit of greater precision. Your response raises many issues, and I shall endeavor to treat each in turn without confusion or digression.

    Let me begin by underscoring your analogy: our disagreement may indeed be likened to the whole ‘filioque’ issue; in this I would agree, but perhaps not for the reasons you hold. As you rightly point out, a large degree of our debate involves semantics and terminology, just as in the debate concerning the filioque.

    However, as many a church historian will rightly point out, the ‘filioque’ debate, while involving a very real and theologically substantive issue that necessarily involved terms, definitions and such, was – underneath it all – a debate about authority and how authoritative decisions should be made. As Myendorff describes it: “For the West, Rome was the ultimate criterion and the supreme judge; the East remained loyal to a “conciliary” conception of the Church, while recognizing the primacy of Rome and its exceptional, though informal, authority in ecclesiastical affairs”(Orthodoxy and Catholicity, 30).

    In light of this, I would respectfully submit that our debate – to an extent, even if limited or merely undeveloped – also involves the question of authority. Only rather than the authority between Rome or Councils, ours involves the authority between ‘being’ and ‘mind’.

    It is important here for me to be clear: you and I agree for the most part, so I do not intend for this dichotomy to be overstated. I only employ it to help bring clarity to our differences, which, as we are seeing from the fruits of this debate itself, are actually quite profitable and beautiful in themselves. And so with utter care I shall try to explain the matter of authority.

    What do I mean? Well, to begin, let me give the direct citation of how you portray my position. Here is what you wrote: “you (Brendan) want to define reason as that which makes a human, human.”

    This is only partially accurate. It is less my goal to define reason, than it is to illuminate the essence of the human. So it would be more accurate to say this: I believe there is something that makes the human to be what it is. Full stop. Surely, this is a principle with which few would disagree, no? This is the principle with which I begin, and it is a principle that comes from being, not from my own mind. I take it for granted that being manifests the way in which all things have a unique essence, and so human being has a unique integrity that is all its own. Only after conceding this indisputable principle does the name ‘reason’ enter: that which makes the human uniquely human – whatever may be its essence – is what we call ‘reason.’ I apologize if this seems overstated, but it is the only way to fully bring out the metaphysical perspective from which my position begins.

    This metaphysical perspective does not seem to be the approach you are taking. To illuminate this point, let me again quote you. You wrote: “I am engaging perhaps their (i.e., the tradition’s) explanation of reason, while you are engaging more their placement of reason.” At the risk of nitpicking, this quote gives evidence of the fact that you believe that reason can be volitionally ‘placed’ by the mind, which indicates the a priori character you attribute to ‘reason’. I hold that reason cannot be volitionally ‘placed’ at all – reason is established by being, and its establishment is only within that which we call ‘human being’.
    Further on you write: “I still need to know what aspects of tradition and its explanation of what reason is (beyond who has it) that you are using.” Again, only when reason is an a priori can it be thought within the context of ‘having’. I do not say that humans have reason, as if this were something extrinsic to human being. Instead, it is the very illumination of the human form. There is no question here of ‘having’.

    Thus, I would not only disagree with your characterization, but I would further contend that the thinkers of our tradition never ‘placed’ reason as you seem to suggest. Instead, they welcomed with open arms that which the ‘world’ – or ‘being’ – revealed to them. As you well know, the premoderns had a much more intimate rapport with the world than we who have been infected with the ‘scientific revolution.’ (It is a rapport, I might add, that still lives in many Eastern religions and philosophies, as you well know). And so to conclude this first part of my response, I would once again submit that there is a greater Kantian – and thus Modern – influence in your thinking than you may well be aware.

    With respect to the matter of tradition, you have indeed established that you are thinking from within the tradition, and from sound sources. You mention a few notable thinkers to support your case, one of whom is Maximus, a thinker for whom I have great respect and admiration.

    To respond to your question regarding my sources, then, I would provide the following list:

    First, and foremost, is Scripture, which, in both the Hebrew and Christian testaments, I think indisputably points to the unique principle in the human being, which has come to be called ‘reason’. (Of course, I am not claiming that Scripture isn’t your source also…just pointing out its influence in my own.)

    Second, though no less crucially, is Gregory of Nyssa. His work in anthropology (De opificio hominis), which is everywhere Scriptural, goes to great efforts to explain the unique ‘rational principle’ found only in the human being. Now, while it is true he had a very Platonic and Neoplatonic influence, these were rightly tempered with his Christian allegiances, a fact to which numerous articles attest.

    Third, the scholastic tradition born from an authentic reading of St. Thomas, and his predecessors. The scholasticism to which you refer, which is commonly believed to have hastily appropriated Aristotelian biology, is not the heritage from which I base my position. It seems that Thomas’s Dionysian/Platonic side tempers the hasty description of Thomas as little more than an Aristotelian. The so-called Thomism that followed Suarez, Cajetan et al. were more Aristotelian than perhaps even the Angelic Doctor himself.

    Fourth, and here is perhaps a point of hermeneutical difference between us, I too claim Maximus as a source, even if only indirectly. His doctrine of the Logos and the logoi has influenced my thinking in remarkable ways. In your appreciation of this I agree with you. However, I do not agree with the somewhat univocal reading that you at least seem to give this doctrine.

    In other words, it appears to me (and I could be wrong here) that simply because he uses this one word ‘logoi’, you make the hasty assumption that by using a unity of name he is establishing a unity of being as well. And so when he writes: “…the one Logos is many logoi…” or “…the many logoi are the one Logos to whom all things are related…”(Ambiguum 7, 1077C) you seem to hear him making a metaphysical claim about the being of all things as the same.

    But this would be a reading that overlooks his nuances. So for example, he also explains: “For all things, in that they came to be from God, participate proportionally in God, whether by intellect, by reason, by sense perception, by vital motion, or by some habitual fitness … Consequently, each of the intellectual and rational beings, whether angels or human beings, through the very Logos according to which each was created, who is in God and is “with God” is “called and indeed is” a “portion of God” through the Logos that preexisted in God as I have already argued”(Ibid).

    And nowhere does he articulate an analogia entis within his thought better than when he writes: “For all created things are defined, in their essence and in their way of developing, by their own logoi and by the logoi of the beings that provide their external context. Through these logoi they find their defining limit.” Clearly, the nature of difference with the notion of ‘logos’ is a fundamental feature of Max’s thought. A reading that would overlook this fact, to my mind, is perhaps reading too much into his text.

    Finally, to respond to your enumerated points:

    1) I agree that animals are sentient, if by this you mean that they have a degree of intelligence, which enables them to have a sense of self, the ability to make choices some of which are better than others, etc.
    2) Because I hold an analogia entis as the fundamental metaphysical principle, it follows that there is also an analogia libertatis; an analaogy of freedom. Thus, animals are free in their own sensible way. Clearly, compared to a tree or a rock, they express a greater degree of freedom. To deny this is absurd.
    3) I do not agree with this division of “free will actions” (as you call them). I do not believe that there are neutrally free actions. All actions are ordered toward greater or lesser degrees of goodness, and as such, always increase or decrease the level of the agent’s freedom. Even your example, how one lies down to sleep, plays a direct role in the goodness, or lack thereof, of the rest such a night of sleep would render. Moreover, since all actions are ordered toward a telos, there can be no neutrally free action because there is no sphere of neutrality which could serve as the telos of such an action. (These are points that I think Andy’s paper illuminated).
    4) If by moral value you mean the objective good or lack of good an action can render, then yes, I would agree animals can act in ways that participate in such goodness or lack thereof. But if ‘moral’ means a conscious knowledge of the goodness involved, and so an awareness of the good as such (i.e., God), then I think nature answers this: animals simply do not express awareness of God. When I happen to come across a beaver church next to a beaver damn, then I will rethink this conclusion. But as of now, being simply does not evidence this, and to suggest otherwise is simply too Kantian for my taste, since it reads into being what the mind conceives (which is, I might add, also very Platonic).
    5) I agree with this, though with a different hermeneutical reading of Maximus than you.
    6) I agree entirely with this. This conclusion is based on the analogia bonitatis, which, again, follows from the analgoia entis. Every being, insofar as it exists, has the level of goodness relative to its kind. However, I believe that the goodness of animals is only illuminated in their encounter with human nature. I know of no testaments to animal goodness within the animal world itself: I see no animal hospitals, I see no animals libraries, I see no animals artists, etc.
    7) This statement, to my mind, is too complex to simply draw conclusively from the “syllogism” provided in statements 4 and 5 (as you claim). The assumptions in your statement here are too many, and not well developed enough. For example, you assume the nature of eternal life is something you and I agree on. Second, you seem to assume a dichotomy: EITHER animals share in eternal life, OR they are only temporal goods. But I would want to look beyond this equivocity.

    As a brief conclusion, I would say that my main argument in all this is that there seems to be a very Kantian way of thinking at work in your judgments. One could also say that you are making the mistake Plato and his legacy made, a mistake which Thomas Aquinas was frequently critical of, and the mistake is this: judging as true in reality anything which the mind can perceive, imagine or conclude. This is why our starting point must be being, and not our own minds. I am a great admirer of your enterprise, which not only appreciates and respects Eastern religious and philosophical systems, but aspires to integrate them into Christian thinking. But I would add that such an endeavor can also lead into error unless it is tempered by a sound metaphysics. It is here where I humbly submit you might be lacking.

    Anyway, I know this was loooooooooong, but I hope it has clarified some queries. I await your response. As always, respectfully submitted.

  • At 10/13/2006 4:34 PM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    As you can see, it has been a rather busy week. I had to get tests made and graded, and also decide on materials for the class I will be teaching next semester.

    While you might be tempted to read me in light of Kant, I think it is causing some slight misunderstanding. It would be better to read what I say following classical sources, and not use Kant as a hermeneutics to accidentally misunderstand my thoughts.

    To help facilitate this I am going to start with some quotes from classical sources, from authors who long predate Kant, to show you the tradition I am coming from, and hopefully show the fact that you need to read my comments from a pre-Kantian mindset.

    Certainly these sources do need to be read in their own context, and while I am sure you will understand that context, other readers might not and so I will offer a very brief commentary with what I post.

    “But it is now requisite to show that brutes have internal reason. The difference, indeed, between our reason and theirs, appears to consist, as Aristotle somewhere says, not in essence, but in the more and the less; just as many are of opinion, that the difference between the Gods and us is not essential, but consists in this, that in them there is a greater, and in us a less accuracy, of the reasoning power.” Porphyry, Book III.7 On The Abstinence of Meat in Select Works of Porphyry. Trans. Thomas Taylor (Somerset: The Prometheus Trust, 1994), p.86-7.

    Remembering that the context here is in the power of reason, and only in this context, Porphyry is saying that the difference between brutes and humans is not in essence, but in quality. When Porphyry mentions the Gods, we must keep in mind that what he means by them we, as St Augustine points out in Book IX.23 of The City of God mean angels.

    “For, just as one tree is no more or less inanimate than the next, but all have the same degree of insensibility […], so no one animal could not be thought slower in mind or less ready to learn than another unless they all possessed reason and understanding, though to different degrees. Consider the point, then, that it is the ingenuity and sharpness of some that brings the stupidity and sluggishness of others into relief; for example, compare the ass and the sheep with the fox or the wolf or the bee.” Plutarch, “Gryllus” in Selected Essays and Dialogues. Trans. Donald Russell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p.348.

    This is from a rather interesting and amusing dialogue from Plutarch, put into the mouth of Gryllus, a human turned pig, debating Odysseus on whether or not brutes have reason (and interestingly enough, the word being used to indicate reason is logos). The text seems to be incomplete, but after Gryllus makes his point here, Odysseus says, interestingly enough, “But, Gryllus, it’s surely a very terrible and extreme position to allow reason to exist in creatures which have no concept of god.” Ibid. Here, we see a variation of your question to me on animals and their worship of God. While I will return to this point later, I thought it will be of note to see Gryllus’ answers. “Then are we to say, Odysseus, that a clever and remarkable person like yourself could not have been descended from Sisyphus?” Ibid.. That is, Sisyphus, who despised the gods, was a man: did he lack the power of reason?

    In his great Summa St. Thomas Aquinas asks the question, is the intellect a power of the soul or its essence. His answer is, of course, it is a power of the soul not its essence, because only in God is the intellect united with essence (cf. Summa Theologica First Part, Question 79, Art. 1). When I say we have reason, I am only using in loose English that which St Thomas Aquinas is saying – reason is not our essence, but only a power of our soul. However, unlike St Thomas, I also say that it is a power that animals also possess.

    Now of course I know St Thomas Aquinas does not blindly follow Aristotle. However, when one looks at his understanding of animals, he relies upon Aristotle far more than any other source (and that was not, in his time, a bad thing). However, he does follow some of the general problems one encounters in the scholastics when they use Aristotle, that is, much of what he says on a biological level could be shown to be in error by simple observation.

    When I read St Thomas Aquinas and his refutation of reason in animals, I certainly see the influence of Aristotle more than any other source, though secondarily one can see that St Thomas is also following the tradition Christians developed about animals under the influence of Stoical thought.

    Thus, let’s take at random what St Thomas Aquinas says in the Summa Contra Gentiles. “In the souls of brute animals, however, there is no operation superior to those of the sensitive part, since they neither understand nor reason. This is evident from the fact that all animals of the same species operate in the same way, as though moved by nature and not as operating by art; every swallow builds its nest and every spider spins its web, in the same manner.” St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles Book II, Chapter 82. Trans. James F. Anderson (Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press: 1975), p267.

    It would be easy to abstract human activity to say we all act the same way in the manner he abstracts the way animals act. However, any lengthy encounter and observation with animals shows that no two animals are identical, and they do act differently, though they certainly are influenced by their natural inclinations. This is as true for swallows and spiders as it is for us humans: one can easily see natural activities which we all do, and use them to show the point he is making about spiders with us. However, I should point out, I have yet to see two identically spider webs….

    St John of Damascus also gives us some interesting material to ponder. First, he discusses the “thinking faculty” and later he discusses the “speaking” part of the soul. On the first, he says, “To the thinking faculty belongs judgments, assents, inclinations and disinclinations to act, and avoidance of action. In particular, concepts of intellectual things, the virtues and sciences, the principles of the arts, and the deliberative and elective powers belong to the thinking faculty.” Book II, Chapter 19 of St. John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition On The Orthodox Faith in John of Damascus: Writings. Trans. Frederic H. Chase, Jr. (New York, Fathers of the Church Inc: 1958), p.244-5. When St John of Damascus moves to speech, that is communication, he writes in chapter 21, “The speaking (or rational) part of the soul is again divided into mental and spoken speech. Mental speech is a movement of the soul made in its reasoning faculty without any vocal expression […] Spoken speech acts through the voice and language, that is to say, it is the speech which is spoken by means of the tongue and mouth. For this reason it is said to be spoken. It is, moreover, the messenger of thought.” Ibid., p.264.

    Here you can, I hope, understand why I have discussed the role of communication and language in connection to the animals: to communicate means they have to be representing to someone else that which they have said to themselves mentally. It is an external representation of some decision or thought, that is, an external representation of an act of reason.

    Now to finally get to what you wrote. First, I agree that a major part of the argument over the filioque was an argument over authority, but it certainly is not the only part of the debate. There was also a theological question as to what the filioque meant. The theological issue I was raising, however, is how theologians from both sides of the divide would support their use or lack of use of the filioque, in part, by misreading the outcome of its use or lack of use in the other party. Both sides created a hermeneutic to reject the other’s position, and both sides then were incapable of reading each other properly, and did not see, as a result, they are fundamentally united despite the linguistic differences. I think there still is some misreading of what I have said, causing for the appearances of more differences between our positions than there really are. This is not to say, however, there are no differences (and that is why I reworded my position, so I could find out where those differences actually were).

    Now, when we discuss humans in relation to other animals, I want to make it perfectly clear, I am not making them the same. In part, if you see reason solely as what it makes humans – human- then you will obviously read what I say about animals as saying all animals are human. That is again why I tried to (and will again, when I get down to that point of the discussion) redefining my position without using the term reason. However, let’s make it clear, St Thomas sees intellectual abilities within humanity as being a power of our soul, and so when I say someone “has reason” I am following in this framework, that it is a power of their soul, and only in God is it an essence. I am clearly rejecting some classical sources which calls the notion “rational animal” as human, because I am following other classical sources which says it is not reason that makes humans, humans, but their own human essence, and all animals share in the use of a power of reason, but in different levels, some drastically different to be sure. You seem to want to follow that tradition and as I said, that is fine, I understand what it is saying, and I can follow it in limited use, as a convention, because there is a truth being put forward in it which I do agree: that human capacity for reason is, in the animal realm, superior to the rest.

    In this way I think I have answered many of your points when discussing my use of the term reason vs. yours, and I hope, having seen some of the sources I have taken up to show what it is I am suggesting, you can see it should not be read in the lens of Kant (unless you want to suggest Porphyry and Plutarch, among others, were time travelers who learned at the feet of Kant before they wrote, similar to a notion that some Rabbis had about Moses being given a glimpse of the future and learning his theology from them).

    When I asked for your sources, I was hoping you would show me what they said specifically about reason (other than that humans are the only animals which are reasonable) so as to understand your own notion of what it means to be reasonable. I have tried to show throughout our discussion various sources I am using, and some of their ideas about how reason is employed. This allows me to discuss where I see these qualities in animal (and why I have consistently referred to the notion of animal communication with humans – something Porphyry also does well in his work). Moreover, it goes back to the original post, that our actions demonstrate who it is we are as persons, and it is in this fashion I see the actions of animals reveal who they are, up to and including their ability to communicate with us.

    Now, I admit our communication with animals is not perfect. In part, I believe it is a result of sin. I have already hinted at this before. Early commentaries of Genesis have pointed out how Adam, before his fall, was able to understand and communicate with animals, but now we cannot. But sin is not only the source for human inability to understand animals, but also as the source for human inability to understand each other properly (as suggested by Genesis). Pentecost is seen as the reversal of this. It seems to be as one is restored to purity and saintliness, understanding of others increases, not just with other humans, but also with animals. This seems to be the point of much hagiography, where saints and animals are capable of interacting once again, and the saints are able to talk to the animals, and the animals are able to understand the saints, and vice versa.

    This also goes to the root of your question of animals and worship. On the one hand, is all worship the same? Of course not. I can worship God all alone, in the midst of a forest, without any external qualities to represent this worship. If you see me sitting down on a tree stump in the middle of the forest, and asked me what I was doing, you would believe me when I said I was praying, and thus performing an act of worship. Now, if it is possible to worship without the externals, it is a shame that you want to find construction of externals as being a necessary indication for worship in the animal realm. The saints, if we believe the stories about them (and there are far too many to discount them) often called animals to worship God (like St Anthony of Padua with the fish), and the animals responded to the call. Moreover, other saints quickly understood the acts of animals to be acts of worship, as for example St Francis of Assisi with many different animals. We also have records, from many sources, of the saints bringing animals into churches, and the animals performing various acts of reverence, like sheep bowing before a tabernacle. While it is clear there is a human influence involved when animals are seen bowing before the tabernacle, there is also a human influence involved when young children do the same. Yet, I would not be so quick to dismiss the saints when they declare their experience and understanding of various acts of animals to be acts of worship: their saintliness, to me, provides for a better understanding and the world than those of us (like myself) with minds clouded by sin.

    Now on to my reading of St Maximus, I think I have made it clear throughout the discussion I find all animals to have their own nature, that they are their own kind, and not all are equal. My quote from Nicholas of Cusa I think points this out as well, that God is not other according to the measure or reflection of God found in each kind. Or, as St Thomas Aquinas puts it, “Now, God is the most perfect agent. It was His prerogative, therefore, to induce His likeness into created things most perfectly, to a degree consonant with the nature of created being. But created things cannot attain to a perfect likeness of God according to only one species of creature. For, since the cause transcends the effect, that which is in the cause, simply and unitedly, exists in the effect in composite and multiple fashions…” St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles Book II, Chapter 45. Trans. James F. Anderson (Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press: 1975), p136-7.

    So I fully agree with you, by saying each logos of creation is a reflection of the Logos, that is each form of creation is formed by God in God’s image, we must not assume all the forms are the same, and all creatures are the same. Thus, I follow with St Thomas and tradition in accepting a great chain of being – an infinite variety of gradations to make creation as beautiful as possible. It is because of this that I see there is necessary a gradation in the power of reason, which animals share in, just as I see there are existents outside the capability of reason, as for example, rocks.

    Now to briefly look at your response to my seven points (only because this is becoming a very long post), and reflect upon those area we differ.

    1 and 2 are fine and do not need any commentary.
    3 – for the sake of our discussion, we do not need to discuss neutral actions, however, I would point out, if animals are not moral entities, then their actions are neither good nor evil and would have to be seen as neutral. You could easily have taken on that category if you wanted, but I am glad you do not, because I think it shows we are closer to agreement that it appears.
    4 – it is not reading that which the mind perceives, since the mind can easily be mistaken. The point I have said from the beginning is that one can easily deny reason in animals, and then mistake one’s mental construction of what they see animals doing as something other than reason, and make it impossible to ever find reason in animals. Yet, if followed with humans, we wouldn’t find reason within the human realm of existence either. However, my point here was simple: animals have moral capability, but it is not all equal (again showing I am not making all one and the same), but according to their natural inclinations (instincts, genetics, original sin, etc) they tend to have more or less ability according to kind, on various actions, even as we find not all humans have the same capabilities.
    5 – I hope you have seen my reading is not different from yours here. I am not saying all logoi are the same, far from it – I have consistently said each animal has their own nature which is different from others, which provides each animal a different level of freedom and reasoning ability.
    6 – many people who observe animals in their own, without human contact, see animals healing each other, working for the betterment of each other, and if you believe the saints (I do) worshiping God. Hence my discussion above. I think their reading of animals is purer than someone like me, so I will rely upon what they have said, following it as a kind of revelation, though not Revelation.
    7 While I agree that temporal life is also within eternal life, the point I am making is that I do not believe those who are goods in their own (God saw them good, Genesis) would be limited only to temporality. Now I admit that the goods in the temporal realm are not distinct from the eternal good, it is one and the same, but to me that is the point. To make them as temporal goods and reject their ability to share in eternal life, seems to be to make that dichotomy which is what I am rejecting.

    I know I didn’t go into great detail with points 1-7 this time, but I wanted to write a reply on what you said, but having written so much before I got to them, I knew here it would have to be brief. I do agree for point 7 there are many things left unsaid and need to be drawn out into the discussion – some I think I have done here. However, I think we both know we are trying to keep responses limited here, and as such, one should take the post in that spirit.

    Now, I hope the wait I am sure you had to read my response was worth it!


  • At 10/15/2006 9:51 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  • At 10/15/2006 10:11 PM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…

    Finally. Midterms are behind me, and fall break lies before me.

    It's amazing how fast one can be left behind in a discussion as interesting as this. I've read nearly all the posts and have found them fascinating. I still find myself in the tradition of denying non-human animals reason, so luckily Brendan has said about everything I would have with greater eloquence than I. I find it hard to disagree with him, which is either a vice from his influence on me as a teacher, or because he's expounding our shared position rather well.

    I will try and respond to some thought's from your most recent post, Henry, knowing that Brendan will have to respond more adequately to the questions/answers directed to his posts.

    I think one way to view the relationship between what is "essential" and what is "more or less" is to realize that, within a metaphysics of participation, one's essence is (in a certain sense) a matter of more or less. Analogy is key. Thus, angels according to their essence have a certain capacity for intellectual activity, and we have an essentially lesser capacitity for such activity. Animals too, would have something analogous to our intellectual activity, but not our unique proportion of intellectual activity. As being shines forth, our unique share, our "more or less" of intellectual activity distinguishes us from both angels and animals. But it is not the kind of accidental "more or less" that distinguishes two beings in the same genus with the same nature and capacity; rather, the "more or less" distinguishes us essentially. What I believe you would deny is that the capacity for reason is the kind of participation that distinguishes beings essentially. I only mean to show that with regard to the Porphyry quote, the distinction can be a matter of "essence" and "more or less." It is, overall, my position that these varying degrees of participation are determinative for essences. My main question to you throughout will be: if not these, then what distinguish man and animal in essence? What determines man's nature as man's and not animals' if not his unique participation in intellectual that is reason?

    One way to respond to the condition of Sisyphus: Sisyphus may despise the gods, but he is aware of the gods he's despising in order to despise them. One might reply to Gryllus by noting that Sisyphus could not despise the gods without a concept of them, could he?

    With regard to St. Thomas, it may be that reason is not the essence of the soul: for the soul is the act of a body, and if reason were strictly its essence, then every man would at all times only live insofar as he does acts of reason. The logic would seemingly suggest that man stops living when he sleeps! However, it seems to me that reason could be a power of the soul that specifies it. It may not be the essence of the soul, but a potentiality of the soul that marks the soul as particularly human. The soul is the principle of life/self-movement, but insofar as this principle is marked with the power for a particular kind of self-movement, ie. reason, the soul is thereby distinguished in man. Reason would not thereby be “our essence,” for as St. Thomas holds, our essence is not even contained in the soul. The soul is merely the form of human nature, not the entire human nature itself. The soul with that unique power is an irreplaceable component of our nature, but by itself does not constitute it. You have noted your divergence from the line of reasoning situating the definition of man as “rational+animal,” so this of course does not truly refute you in any way. I simply mean to show here that though reason is a power of the soul, it can be a power that specifies the soul of man, and thus serves as the form of human nature (marking him off from animals). As you have said, you in no way mean to equate the natures of human and non-human animals, so in light of that attempt to maintain distinction, I ask again what then distinguishes the nature of man from that of non-human animals if not reason, as mans unique proportion of participation in intellectual activity?

    This is of course not to deny that animals have some rationality. St. Thomas refers (I think in his Disputed Questions on the soul, or perhaps commentary on De Anima) that animals have a “kind” of reasoning, but one that is coincident with the sensible activity, one that shares all of its activity with some bodily organ and has no activity independent of it. This then obviously underlies his argument for animal mortality, because the soul that does not have a power whose activity does not entirely share its activity with some bodily organ per se cannot continue any activity after the separation of soul from bodily organ. Death would entail the end of whatever “reasoning” animals partake of. Now perhaps analogously, we can say animals have “reason,” but Thomas is pointing to a unique power of the soul expressed in man that as such possesses an activity transcending all association with the bodily organs, and thus can survive death. There is then, it seems, despite all the analogical similarities drawn between our reasonings within the chain of being, a kind of line drawn in the proverbial sand: on this side, on starting with reason’s manifestation in man and then upward in angels etc., reason designates something radically different, crossing a chasm in meaning that animal “reasoning” cannot. So animals may possess “reason,” but our distinct ontological situation makes our possession of it mean something radically different.

    As Brendan has noted, being shows this to us. Despite potential equivocating about what we mean by reason, these differences are grounded in an experience of the lived being of these various creatures. There is something unique and determinative to human nature, something that makes them human animal and not other animals. If we have a more open definition of reason, such as St. Thomas notes that animals have a “kind” of reasoning, then we can say animals seemingly do have reason, in the sense of all the various and fascinating empirical examples (like apes learning sign-language). But if by reason we mean that particular and unique power that is actualized in human nature and is found only on that side of the divide, marking where humans (and angels) become distinguished from animals, then we can in this sense say animals lack reason. And this while being consistent with the empirical examples.

    Alaisdair MacIntyre has spend some time studying the intellectual capacities of dolphins in particular, and how fascinatingly intelligent they are. And yet, despite their “reasoning,” and the ape’s ability to learn sign-language, he still consistently holds that the Thomistic-Aristotelian distinction stands, and these animals are not simply rational to a lesser degree, but insofar as they lack the unique power found in the human soul (the activity that is independent of the body) their reasoning is never truly the same as in our sense. The sense differs, not merely the degree. Though of course, you could from this side speak in terms of degrees, but only I think in the sense laid out before, as degrees that define essences.

    So with regard to St. Thomas and the Aristotelian inheritance, I find it as defensible and, as MacIntyre has noted, that even though Aristotle’s biology (and physics!) had their insufficiencies, this particular distinction still holds even in the light of the amazing new discoveries of “animal reasoning.” So with regard to the comment about birds nests: it is true that animals in this sense express something of the quality of ars. But Thomas’ conception by no means (as least in principle) suggests that every bird nest need be identical. Despite the countless accidental differences, it is still the case that ars builds upon the movement of nature, so we could ascribe a kind of ars to animal natures. In other words, I think it would be more than rare to find a bird who built a nest radically unlike all other birds of the same kind: as if MTV had a show called “Pimp my Nest” that featured the artistic creations of birds whose homes were studded with miniature lamps and flat-screen monitors and such. An exaggeration obviously. But the animals nature would guide the art, and thus no avian artwork could every truly deviate from the general guidelines inscribed by instinct (though it may be adapted by the evolutionary effects on instinct and environment). If we were to see perhaps a bird with an impressionist exhibit, or perhaps going through a blue period, then maybe we’d be speaking of something different. All in all, I’m not sure the distinctions in spider webs and bird nests need be attributed to individual innovation.

    With regard to St. John Damascene’s thoughts, it is indeed accurate I think to distinguish between the interior word and the exterior word. But vocalization need not necessarily signify rational activity. Or at least not in the human sense. In other words, if we allow to animals a kind of “reasoning” that does not transcend bodily activity, it seems they can express that “rationality” in vocalization, such as when prairie dog lookouts yelp in a certain tone to warn their comrades of approaching predators. This is, however, different from the vocalization of a rational activity that, I believe, transcends the body. For instance, I have yet to hear of a prairie dog whose vocalization is about contemplative matters, perhaps about the nature of mathematics.

    As you say, it is not your intention to make all animals humans. And as you note, that seems to be what we are arguing to if in fact we have accepted the tradition that defines humans as rational animals: our concern is that the move to predicate reason of all animals does not take into account greatly enough the weight of the distinctions. And, again, you have noted both your sympathy for this tradition as well as your divergence. I believe this tradition offers you a real challenge in overcoming it, and thus as I’ve mentioned, almost all of my concerns can be expressed as: what then defines the human nature? You have mentioned that other classical sources with which you sympathize have claimed that it is not reason that makes humans human, but their own human essence. I ask then: what does that mean? What precisely is that “own human nature?” Surely, as you’ve argued, reason is not the essence of man (in the sense that it would equate him with the divine simplicity of God). But nonetheless, as a quality, doesn’t it specify that essence? How do you define human nature from animal nature except by some quality or other that one actualizes and not the other? Wouldn’t it then be an empty term?

    Your connection between sin and our “babeling” in communication is quite right. But it seems that with regard to animals, it need restore communication in the same sense. It may be that as Genesis establishes man’s dominion over lesser creatures in the chain of being, the perfection of which is the ordered and beautiful subjugation of the lower to the higher, when sin is expelled and one’s body is subject to the soul and the soul is subject to God (restoring the order), that sense of dominion may be restored. This may create a state of “communication” but more so in a unilateral sense. Animals may be conformed to the ordered directives of mankind such that they seemingly understand cognitively, and man’s understanding of animal natures and their movements within those natures may be so perfected that he is able to understand every individual instance as an expression of that particular nature (and thus it may be that Aristotle’s account of a perfect science, here biological, is actually an account of prelapsarian harmony with other creatures!?). It could be. Thus the harmony created in a sinless state between man and the rest of creation may be so coincident as to allow for a kind of communication, but one that need not attribute reason to animals. Thus, St. Francis’ encounter with the wolf may be one of a harmonious dominion, even command of him to return to a state of harmony with the particular men of the town he terrorized (higher ordering lower). As with the sermon to the birds, it may be that St. Francis was homilizing with them but not to them, such that they would not run off and follow the Gospel, but take a kind of joy in acting according to their God-given nature in the presence of one who was returned to sinless harmony with them. I’m merely speculating, of course!

    You are right that we can perhaps say there are different forms of worship, and in many cases, they are internal. So internal, in the case of animals, I’d argue, that their “worship” is simply the internal principle of movement inscribed in them by God. What could be more fitting as worship of God than to perform the acts actually intended by God for certain kinds of beings? We might say that, with a strong view of the importance of the natural order and God’s activity in it, that non-human animals worship insofar as they act in accord with their nature: as the birds sing, and the trees perform photosynthesis, etc. Heck, even rocks in just “being” can be seen as a song to the Almighty, who breathed them forth into being hovering over nothingness (a stretch of course). But we need not hold that animals worship consciously with a concept of God like men do, nor need we, if infact that kind of worship is proper only to a being whose nature contains the capacity to reason. If animals worshiped in the same sense, I would not expect them all to be Carthusians! Their worship, as well as their concept of God, would be something communally developed, purified, perfected, and passed on, just as our language is.

    Again, you are quite right to quote Thomas on the beauty of creation as God’s image poured out into many essences and grades of perfections. And the analogia entis is the foundation for an analogy of reason. But what then is the standard for the analogous predication of reason? St. Thomas has a definite standard with which an analogy of intellectual activity can be built upon the analogy of being, but what would keep your account from applying reason to, say, plants? What’s the minimum requirement for predication, and if it is not the reason found in humans, then how is it any less arbitrary to locate it in non-human animals?

    Further, you are right to say that if we have to strict a definition of reason, then we are likely to deny the reasonability found in animals. However, I don’t think, for instance, Thomas’ account is subject to such a flaw, because he does recognize and (as with MacIntyre, who situates himself within the Thomistic tradition) is open to the recognition of extremely fascinating activities that fall within animal natures, of seemingly rational qualities. He is, I think, both conscious of their capacities, but also very aware of their incapacities. Thus, while I still hold that animals are irrational, I do not hold that they are not impressively reasonable in a certain sense. I believe, for instance, that one can consistently marvel at their various achievements, and yet deny them reason and immortality.

    If then one does deny them reason in our sense, when one holds reason in our sense as the pre-requisite for moral activity, then they would be denied moral activity. You could of course apply moral activity along the same analogical lines as you have reason, but then would you be taking adequate account of how human and animal “moral action” differ radically? My biology teacher told me of the various ways that self-less activity in animals can be reduced to genetic motivations, but only in men has he seen self-less activity cross the seas to provide for starving African children who will never enter into one’s own gene pool. But that opens a whole new can of worms…

    I do not see a necessary dichotomy between the goodness of the temporal and mortality. For, I think, if grace builds upon and does not contradict nature, then those that by nature have the capacity to exist beyond the sundering of soul and body would thereby be open to the movements of grace in transforming them unto eternal life in God. Because of the nature of man’s soul and its capacity to act independent of any bodily organ, can act without the body and thus (though not complete as a nature) survive death. God can then, through His own Resurrection, reunite the separated soul with its body and clothe it in glory. Now if we do not follow such a paradigm, I think we open the doors too wide, such that grace takes over and renders nature’s structure meaningless and arbitrary. For instance, if the souls of animals do not allow it to survive death because it does not exhibit a capacity to act independent of the body, then grace could seemingly first give it the quality of a rational soul (one that can survive death) and give it a glorified body, etc. But then for that matter, grace could just as easily elevate plants to the status of quasi-rational animals, then to rational animals, then to separated souls, and onto glorified creatures. And hey, why not rocks! And all the way down the chain of being. According to the structures of nature, in which a being whose activity does not transcend the body, fails to exist independent of the body, God would be literally re-creating brand-new each being that before could not live beyond death. What good then was the first nature? These are just some rough thoughts….

    But because the perfections of all created beings are pre-eminently contained within God’s Being, in a divine unity, one might say that in that state the goodness of these beings survive temporality. Though of course, not insofar as they are naturally temporal.

    I apologize for the excessive length. I got a bit carried away!

    But to sum up, my main question to you Henry is: what does specify the natures of man and of animal if not rationality?

    I would also like to point out that all of my focus on the distinctions should be seen within the context of an analogia entis as Brendan described it: difference in the service of a greater unity, such that animals find rationality through dependence on us and in their very difference from us, and this is something beautiful.

    Pax Christi

  • At 10/18/2006 6:52 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    It truly is an interesting conversation, and it is showing me the kinds of issues I will one day have to deal with when I go from a stromata here to a full exposition elsehwere.

    As per usual, I am finding my time limited (or, when I had free time yesterday, I had very little energy to do the things I needed to do). So I will respond very briefly now and I hope to write more soon (probably this weekend).

    I think your central question to me is: how do we define what it means to be human over and against all other animals.

    In part I will say "I can't answer this question." When asking for our very essence, and defining that essence, I find all definitions will always fail -- in fact, the Fathers often would point out our inability to know ourselves should put limits to what we say about God.

    I can't answer this question, nor can I answer what the essence of "cat" is over and above the other animals, or "dog" or "deer" or "mice" or "skunk." I believe there are qualities to that essence we detect with our senses and our intellect, and I believe the same is with our humanity.

    When we try to define these qualities, and then we absolutize our definition, we create a construction over the world and turn things outside ourselves as objects to ourselves instead of subjects in their own right -- this is true not only with other animals, but it is also true in how many humans treat other humans.

    However, I would say humans are those animals in which the incarnation took place.

    I think it is generally clear we agree with the concept of analogia entis -- the question is how this is actually to be applied. To me it is a far more beautiful world in which there is a variety of participation not only in being, but in reason as well.

    But I do think we must follow through with the way the Fathers and philosophers looked at the notion of reason, and also looked at how many of them tried to deny reason to animals (and also eternal life). Can their proof be turned in and against humans? Often, the answer is yes. Which either shows humans are not so free as we presume, and do not have a share in eternal life, or the proof is not as sound as it might first appear.

    My personal experience with animals, and the distinctions in how they build things, and interact not only with me, but with each other, shows to me the proof is faulty. However, we can stretch it to make it true -- we can find a generalization and show "see, all animals follow this." However, looking to humans, we find the same situation (sociology works to show this).

    Again, the problem is we can observe others as objects. When we look and observe in this manner, then we will find them to be objects. Sociology is about objectifying humanity, in the way we generally do so for animals. We can't deny all that is said in these observations either -- but we must understand it is a systematization and conventual observation which can have uses and a relative value, but becomes problematic when it is absolutized.


  • At 10/20/2006 12:21 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

    Henry and Pat,

    What a fascinating exchange this has become, worthy itself of a small publication perhaps.

    Henry, I especially found your accounts of some of those ancient thinkers rather enlightening and a valuable resource should I ever speak from your position against one who is too far to the other side (that side which both you and I agree is neither authentic to the tradition, nor appreciative of the beauty of the gift of creation.)

    Pat, all I can say is once again, it is hard to believe that such insight and understanding can be found in one so young. You are much further along than many of the doctoral candidates I have encountered.

    Now to throw in my two cents for what it’s worth.
    First, I’ll respond to some of Henry’s points in the comment he left before Pat’s response.

    To begin, I will here concede your point, and retract the degree with which I accused you of being Kantian. (Though I must say it was not the case that I was reading you in light of Kant, but because I was reading you in light of the authentic scholastic tradition that you appeared Kantian). You have verified well that you are certainly influenced by these non-Kantian classical sources.

    That said, though, I would still maintain that, simply to the extent that Kant’s ghost haunts the whole of our Modern mindfulness, appeal to classical sources do not preclude that they too can be read in a Kantian way. But I would also say that I have great respect for Kant, despite those areas where I believe he went astray. And I would further add that, in the West, where one has not struggled through Kant and the medieval champions against whom he turned, then one can really never be sure she has purged herself of the Kantian problematic. Since I do not know the extent of your Kantian reading, I’ll concede your defense and relocate my Kantian accusation to the status of a mere ‘influential inheritance.’

    Remember, though, I did cite your own words as evidence, which you did not attempt to defend, except by appealing to other sources. But my point was not that you are using Kant as a source, but rather as a (perhaps unconscious) hermeneutic. To exonerate yourself from this, it would see to me that a more philosophical or hermeneutical engagement would be necessary. For it still stands that at least the way you phrased your thoughts on reason, it was treated as an a priori category, possessed by humans, rather than that which proceeds into the world through the human person.

    As to the citations you offered, I would have to refrain from commentary, as I have not read the entire treatises, nor am I well versed enough in Porphyry or Plutarch. I would emphatically underscore Pat’s observation regarding Sisyphus argument: clearly, that Sisyphus despised the gods is in no way comparable to an animal who has no awareness of the gods: to despise is to most certainly have a knowledge and a relationship.
    Regarding the issue of Thomas and the rational essence of the human being, Pat articulated well this matter. In light of this, I would respectfully question your reading of Thomas, and as evidence I would focus attention on the “random text” you cited from the SCG.

    Now, being a great admirer of Thomas, I was prompted, by your use of his thought, to go to the source, where I read the passage in the entire context. Here, I would have to take issue with the interpretation you give of Thomas. I’ll give your words so to avoid the labor of scrolling around for them. You wrote:

    “It would be easy to abstract human activity to say we all act the same way in the manner he abstracts the way animals act. However, any lengthy encounter and observation with animals shows that no two animals are identical, and they do act differently, though they certainly are influenced by their natural inclinations. This is as true for swallows and spiders as it is for us humans: one can easily see natural activities which we all do, and use them to show the point he is making about spiders with us. However, I should point out, I have yet to see two identically spider webs….”

    First, I would say that it is certainly not easy to abstract human activity. Human activity is the manifestation of being, and precisely because it is not an object but an act, it cannot be abstracted. Now, within a Kantian reading of being, it can indeed be abstracted, since here being – that in which all human act takes place – is reducible to a concept; it is a concept that adds nothing to a thing. For Thomas, however, “a thing acts only to the degree in which it is in act.” Act is not a ‘thing’ but the illumination of being, as it gives itself to participation.

    Second, in the passage you cited, Thomas was not directing his attention to animal acts, so much as animal essences. As a medieval, Thomas followed unquestioningly that medieval axiom: agere sequiter esse – “acting follows being.” Acts, which render effects, offer to the rational mind a ‘doorway’ into being as such, as well as the being of the agent. This is why Thomas’s point concerns the ‘effect’ of the action: only humans are capable of ‘art’ while animals are not. I think you miss his point because you interpret his clarification example, “every swallow builds its nest, and every spider spins its web,” as if Thomas is here referring to all non-human animals as simply ‘animals’ – as if he is including swallow and spider within the same grouping. In fact, he is not.

    Rather, his point is one of manner and method (ars). All swallows of the same species build their nest in the same manner, and all spiders likewise spin their webs in the same manner. Now, as you point out, it is certainly true that no two spider webs look the same. But this is due to the external factors within which a spider must spin, and not from the internal drive of the spider. There is nothing inherent, or per se, to the spider that would cause it to spin a web in a manner wholly different from other spiders. Thomas’s point is that nowhere except in human nature do we find the spirit of art influencing behavior such that improvements, innovations, and aesthetics are incorporated into even those most mundane activities like building.

    It may be that an eagle builds a nest with a mode that is different from a swallow, but that is one reason an eagle has a different species within the genus ‘avis’ or whatever the case may be. The key here is the nature of the ‘specific’ difference that enables the beauty of creation to shine forth. Contrary to modern taxonomy, the medievals did not use taxonomy as a way to finitely limit, but rather as a way to draw out the inherent intelligibility of things found in creation (but I’ll get to this further on).

    I do want to address one other point you made regarding St. Thomas. You wrote:
    “However, let’s make it clear, St Thomas sees intellectual abilities within humanity as being a power of our soul, and so when I say someone “has reason” I am following in this framework, that it is a power of their soul, and only in God is it an essence.”

    Again, I would have to say I only partially agree with this reading. First, the medieval notion of ‘having’ is wholly different from the way we today understand it, shaped as we are by economic theory. When Thomas uses the phrase rendered in English as “has reason,” it is better to understand it as “being had by reason.” Having to the medieaval mind was really about ‘being had’, possessing was really about ‘being possessed.’ This is most clearly exemplified when Thomas explains the soul: “the body is said to have a soul in the sense that it itself is had by the soul.” Further, nowhere have I read Thomas claiming that only in God is reason the essence. As you and I both know, Thomas is famous for repeatedly claiming we cannot in this life know the essence of God. In fact, Thomas only really says two things about God’s essence: first, that we cannot know what it is, and second that it is not other than his existence (which in no way contradicts the first, since the latter is apophatically articulated.)

    I guess the reason I raise all these issues is simply to suggest that perhaps you haven’t given Thomas as fair a shake as he merits, especially on this issue.

    Before tallying all this, one other point you made merits attention. You made the allusion to your own private prayer as a mode of worship which then provided you with an analogy into the animal kingdom. Here are your words:

    “This also goes to the root of your question of animals and worship. On the one hand, is all worship the same? Of course not. I can worship God all alone, in the midst of a forest, without any external qualities to represent this worship. If you see me sitting down on a tree stump in the middle of the forest, and asked me what I was doing, you would believe me when I said I was praying, and thus performing an act of worship. Now, if it is possible to worship without the externals, it is a shame that you want to find construction of externals as being a necessary indication for worship in the animal realm.”

    With the utmost respect for your intellect, which shines brighter than most of the students I have met here at CUA, I must draw out the very modern assumption in this remark. In essence, you elevate a particular difference to an absolute status, which can only be grounded on the notion of individuality forged in the fires of modernity. In other words, you are here claiming that somehow your individual prayer, or moments of illumination in the midst of a forest, are somehow disconnected from the worship that occurs in the community of the church. I would contend that such a disconnect can never be made. Every act of worship must be first and foremost born from a prior community’s act of worship, ritual and especially faith. Even Joseph Smith’s act , which was a wholesale rejection of all church communities, required prior knowledge and experience of those communities.

    Since your example requires the concession that individual worship can occur “without externals” (as you put it), it is discredited by demonstrating that, one moment of such worship does not mean that those externals are still not present. In fact, they are. No human learns to pray on her own. This is certainly one area where Christianity, which acknowledges the necessity of faith-in-community, outshines other religions that might make the very suggestion you are making here.

    In other words, when I allude the absence of animal churches, I do not intend, as you seem to interpret, the construction of a ‘worship center or building’ but rather the artistic manifestation of a community of faith. I simply reject the argument you are here making, which is this: just because animals don’t outwardly express worship doesn’t mean they don’t do it. And I reject it with the same reason I reject that argument when applied to ‘rationality’ (recall what I said regarding this: ‘it is of the essence of the rational to express itself’). Thus, just a there is nothing more irrational than a volitional refusal to use reason, so too worship that is purely interior, with no evidence of the external or no effort to externalize it, can amount to nothing more than idolatry.

    Again, as much as you might want to resist, the evidence of your words and thoughts seem to suggest the presence of the principles of modern enlightenment thought. As I said, this isn’t so bad in and of itself. But I think this way of thinking ultimately inhibits the overall goal of your enterprise.

    Which brings me to the overall point:
    You are right to point out that we do not differ as greatly as this exchange might lead one to believe. In fact, it is probably because we agree on so much that this exchange occurred in the first place. But like Pat, I would pose the same question to you, and I would underscore the way Pat phrased it at the end of his post: “what does specify the natures of man and animal if not rationality?” I use this phrasing because it does not ask for an absolute definition, but allows simply for the recognition that ‘there is something which distinguishes the human from all other animals’ and it challenges your position to clarify how you would explain that difference.

    Your response, which amounts to pleading ignorance, was worded as follows:
    “In part I will say "I can't answer this question." When asking for our very essence, and defining that essence, I find all definitions will always fail -- in fact, the Fathers often would point out our inability to know ourselves should put limits to what we say about God.”

    Notice, though, how (and I hate to do this again, but..) Kantian your response is. Your response assumed that Pat was asking you to provide an exhaustive account of the essence of a thing, which, as is widely known, Kant claims we could never know. Thus, your response is a direct appeal to this Kantian argument, even if unwittingly. But neither Pat nor I are asking this of you. We are simply asking you to identify the difference; or in medieval parlance, the ‘species’. As I already mentioned, in medieval taxonomy, the species was that which introduces a difference into the genus. In modern taxonomy, the notion of species would become perverted into allowing scientists to believe they have an exhaustive understanding of the thing-in-itself.

    So maybe we should back up and pose this question to you: do you believe that there is an intelligibility granted from within the differences that are introduced into the multitude of genus’s? If so, then how do you account for the difference that is introduced into the genus ‘animal’ that provides us with the intelligibility of what is properly ‘human’? Again, we are not asking for an exhaustive account of an otherwise mysterious and ineffable essence. We are asking for the ground of intelligibility. Note, however, that if your answer remains either one of ‘pure intuition’ (Kant) or ignorance, then in both cases you are heading down a dangerous path toward nihilism, since it either renders intelligibility purely intuitive and therefore non-communicable, or it refuses intelligibility altogether.

    Submitted as always, most respectfully and with anticipation for your response.

  • At 10/23/2006 10:32 PM, Blogger A.K. Schwarz said…

    A month later and I have finally read (quickly) through the comments. What an amazing exchange--the intellectual probings on both sides of the debate are quite remarkable. I had a feeling my little "side-comment" from my essay 2 years ago (I believe the comment is actually quite crucial, even though it wasn't given substantive attention in my essay) would blossom into some interesting comments. Well, what to say? At this point, nothing, except to say that I am in essential agreement with Brendan/Pat but also have appreciation for Henry's view of the animal kingdom/ creation. When time allows, I hope to add some further comments. Thank you for the critical exchange!

  • At 10/24/2006 3:37 PM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…

    Well, it’s been longer than I planned to get back to the discussion, and now I have more points I will have to respond to. This is fine, though I might miss things in my response, and if I do, I ask you to understand that much of what I say still can be used to extrapolate answers in relation to that which I do not get to. I also want to point out that (as I expect is usually the case for others ) that my responses here certainly are “on the spot,” and while I might refer to a text or two this comes from my familiarity with those texts and an ability to quickly find the passage I want, and it is true that I have taken a bit of time (maybe a few hours) to reflect upon how I would answer the questions, when I actually get down to writing my answers, it’s more on the cuff and more generalized than I hope to offer one day (because this is an issue which has interested me for sometime, and it is one I want to write upon in the future).

    I also want to say that Pat’s responses show a great deal of insight, and I wonder if he would like to add his name as a contributor to the blog and write front-page posts on subjects which interest him from time to time as well.

    Now, I want to re-address what I think is the main question both Pat and Brendan have asked me in their own ways – about how I would characterize humanity if I had to produce a systematic representation or taxonomy. I answered Pat about the nature of humanity and said I do not know what it is – and I find that this is still correct (and not a nihilistic response anymore than it was in the Cappadocians), however I do agree there needs to be a positive approach in dealing with this question. While it is obvious (as I have said on many occasions), I have a profound interest in and influence from apophatic theology, this apophaticism is for a point as well, and must lead to some positive content as well. So I will offer various methods by which I would characterize humanity below, but I want to put in an apophatic caveat before I do so. Systems can be and are very useful. I use them, but I find they are often matters of convention more than absolutes, but when I am pressed to create my own “system” beyond using one which has already been given, I am afraid people will not understand the apophaticism needed to approach it and not turn it into an absolutism. Brendan is correct this was the framework of medieval systems, but in the modern age, this distinction has often been forgotten by those who use them, and I do not want people to mistake my practical taxonomy as an ontological one (any more than they should mistake the medieval one this way).

    There will be two main ways I will address this question. The first is to offer an adaptation of the medieval designation. As I said before, I find there is much truth in it, and it is hinting at something which must not be forgotten. In describing humans as “rational animals,” the medieval system is addressing the significance difference or level of rational skills in humans than we at least observe or understand in other animals. In this way, one way to answer the question of what distinguishes humans from other animals would be to deal with our capacity or level of reason in relation to other animals. We already do this in relation to angels, who we recognize as being spirits or pure or greater intellects (although angels are not animals). We can then create a taxonomy on the level or capacity of reason, so that each species is seen, at a normative level, to posses a certain level, and this then clarifies or creates the distinction between one species with another. In this way I could and do adapt the medieval taxonomy by saying humans are the animal with the highest capacity of reason (at least of those animals we know about). Thus we can say our reason is purer in such a way to even conventionally say (without making it an absolute) that humans are rational animals.

    Now for my second way of producing a taxonomy, it would in many ways be an empirical method, but with caveats I would hope would overcome empiricism. What do I mean by this? As St Gregory of Nyssa (and many others) points out, the soul creates the body in a way that the body is an image of the soul or the essence of the individual involved. We can therefore observe exterior qualities as a way to create and guide our taxonomy. It would have to be very phenomenological, looking for those characteristics which are shared in common by one species in relation to and against another species. Because the body is an image of the soul, this is a fruitful method, but we must keep in mind that as the body is an image of the soul, it is only a representation of the soul and not the fullness of the soul (I say this to make sure this methodology does not become a pure empiricism). So we can create a taxonomy on how different animal species appear in common, and I believe this is the general method that people do differentiate one kind of animal versus another. This then becomes the way to answer my own question, how would we define “cat” or “hamster” or “squirrel” or “dog” or “rabbit” over and against other kinds of animals. The question of defining what it means to be a human in my opinion is the same question of what it means to define any animal – if we say “reason” is what classifies the distinction between humans in relation to other animals, then it does not provide an answer as to how you would differentiate the other animal specie. In this way, this phenomenological approach I believe is superior because it allows us to differentiate more specie.

    Of course, Brendan, I did give another – shorter and simpler answer, which did create a distinction, though it is a distinction that requires an acceptance of the Christian faith – humans are that animal in which the incarnation took place. That does answer the question, but again, it fails to qualify other animals and how they relate to each other.

    Now a second question both Pat and Brendan brought out was in relation to Plutarch and the example of Sisyphus. Plutarch, I believe, would say it is more irrational to believe in the gods and hate them than not to believe in them at all. I would agree with him in this case. However, we can follow through with this and point out that there are humans with no belief in a God of any sort. The force of the argument would then stand. We can see humans who have no belief in God, does that make them without the capacity of reason? However, we cannot say (unless they have told us, and thus show reason) that animals have no concept of God. Moreover, I still believe in the testimony of the Saints (and it is more than the Franciscans) who believe in the power of animals to offer worship to God. Yet even the Franciscans offer to us more than a generalized since of worship as Pat expresses it – they show us examples in their texts where animals offer full fledged worship to God in a manner which extends beyond the way they normally would worship God. In several of the earliest texts on the life of St Francis, and therefore I believe a tradition which is verifiable, a lamb is brought into the churches and it, on its own volition, gives eucharistic adoration. There are many other unique examples of veneration and adoration in the early Franciscan texts, that they indicate to me, there is more than a belief that animals, by their natural beauty, show God’s glory. Certainly I do believe that is also indicated in other texts, but that is also true for humans as much as it is for animals. Moreover, this understanding of animals by Saints goes beyond the Franciscan Saints, and still indicates to me that the problem is not that animals give to worship or glory to God, but that we don’t know how to read or interpret it.

    Now, Brendan brought up my response on worship, and rightfully points out that all worship to God includes a communal quality. I do not dispute that. Moreover, I do not dispute that we learn how to pray through our community, that we learn how to worship through our community, and so when we offer private adoration to God, that in part it was instilled in us by our community. However, once we understand this, this is true not only for us but for other animals as well. Thus, if someone were to point out that when we see in the texts of the saints that animals were shown giving adoration to God, that they were trained to do so, this could be (but does not have to be) the case, but it would not remove the point that they had the innate ability to worship even as we do, and it was brought out of them as it is in us, so it shows that this quality is in animals, even as it is in us.

    Now I want to address Pat on Alaisdair MacIntyre while at the same time responding to Brendan on the question of the arts in animals. Pat pointed out how MacIntyre, studying the dolphins, did not find himself breaking with the tradition on the status of animals, despite the intellectual capabilities he found with the dolphins. I have not read MacIntyre, so in part, I have to say I would have to read him to know if my response here works or does not. However, I think it works here. I pointed out that we see no two spider webs are the same and animals do not make exactly the same nests. Brendan’s answer was to indicate that is to be expected because the external factors will be different. True enough, but I find that kind of answer is too close to the one an empiricist will give, and the way that an empiricist will also work to remove free will choice in humans. They would see the way we produce art, or write, or think, would be indicative of the external factors which shape us, and that if we knew all these factors for a given individual, we could predict what they will do. Hermeneutically, this indicates that one’s position indicates how one will interpret any given data. If we want to see that there is an artistic side to how animals create their habitat, we would look for differences in that creation. However, if we reduce all differentiation to external factors, then it means we in our minds create and interpret the data to indicate our predisposed position and make it impossible for that art to be shown. If there was no difference, I would say this would prove the point, but once we see differentiation, we must at least acknowledge it indicates a possibility that art is involved. So I want to point out that, once again, I believe one of the problems involved here is a problem of hermeneutics: once you define animals as incapable of reason, then you could find external, mechanical answers for their behavior; the problem is this can and is often applied to humanity. If you think it is problematic to read humanity in this way (as I would), then you can see how it is problematic with us from our own experience of our human existence, and at least question if this is actually the case in our reading the actions of animals. It is a hermeneutic which can quickly close on itself and explain away any observation (as again proven by scientism and its approach to humanity). It is, ultimately, assuming the conclusion to prove that conclusion.

    Pat brought up prairie dogs. Despite the source (Mormon), I think the following article should be read and then we can discuss more of what we learn about animals via prairie dogs: http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/lds/meridian/2005/prairie_dog.html

    While we might not know of prairie dogs doing mathematics, in part, I think this is an argument from silence. Moreover, is mathematics needed to indicate reason? I know, historically, most humans had no ability in mathematics.

    Brendan mentions the problem of “having” in St Thomas Aquinas. I just want to caution Brendan here – while there is a sense, in some of St Thomas Aquinas, that it can mean “being had by” but we must not go too far with this, because there are times of “having” is understood in the way we mean it today. I agree, however, with what Brendan is saying about humans, when we say we have reason, that means we are had by reason, and that when we say we have souls, that really means we are had by souls. Read what I say about having in this sense.

    Now this brings up a side point in St Thomas Aquinas. Pat didn’t question what I said about God, when I said that St Thomas points out that the intellect is a power for us, but for God it is one with God’s essence. In fact, he understood properly this was an issue of divine simplicity. I pointed out the source for this statement, but now I will quote it.

    “I answer that, In accordance with what has been already shown (54, 3; 77, 1) it is necessary to say that the intellect is a power of the soul, and not the very essence of the soul. For then alone the essence of that which operates is the immediate principle of operation, when operation itself is its being: for as power is to operation as its act, so is the essence to being. But in God alone His action of understanding is His very Being. Wherefore in God alone is His intellect His essence: while in other intellectual creatures, the intellect is power.” ST I.79.1.

    The SCG helps us understand that what is at issue here is the divine simplicity. “But the divine intellect knows all things at the same time, because it knows all things through one thing, its essence, and because its action is its essence.” (SCG, II.101.4)
    Pat moreover pointed out why St Thomas did not want to say it is our essence, because in doing so would remove humanity from us when reason is not found (in sleep, in the womb, etc). Yet St Thomas Aquinas also understood the ancient debate about the knowledge of God. Does God know? Obviously the answer is yes. How so, if he is simple? The only answer is as St Thomas gives: since in God, potency is one with actuality, then this is true also in knowledge, and this act is one with God’s essence, so that in God, God’s knowledge has to be one with God’s essence (or else divine simplicity is gone).
    My post is already long, but I want to address a few more issues, some of them I think will address other points which have been made, but I will not call them out specifically.

    The last few days I have thought about other experiences I have had with animals, especially dogs (my parents have consistently had two at a time, and so I have had several different experiences with several different individual dogs). One thing I have seen in all of them, for various reasons, is fear. Before I was born, my parents had one dog appear on their doorstop, and soon after give birth to puppies. They gave away the puppies, and kept that dog, and my sister gave her the name “Lady O’Lane” Lady for short (I believe from Mr Rogers). Some of her experiences we do not know, but one thing that was obvious with her is that in any thunderstorm, she had great fear. Not all dogs showed the kind of fear she had with thunder, so much so that there seemed to be an indication that something happened to her before she came upon my parents, and she came to create a fear of thunder via abstraction. Fear, when it is of one kind or another, and consistent, indicates abstraction – otherwise, one would expect fear to be random. She had fear of thunder, other dogs had other fears, from baths, to an angry voice when they did something wrong. How does one get afraid of the same causes without some sort of reason behind cause and effect? Moreover, it is interesting that fear is a primary category in which worship develops (Otto). This to me indicates not only the ability for abstraction but also an ability for worship. Now much needs to be worked out with this, but I think it is a fruitful approach to the question of worship in animals, if they can approach and show fear, they we can approach the question of mysterium tremendum in animals.
    Now, it has been suggested that Kant, even if indirectly through our culture, has had an influence upon me. Perhaps this is the case. Perhaps it is also the case for those who contend against Kant’s influence as well. In our discussion about animals and reason, Kant distinctly disagrees with me and puts animals as separate from humanity on the basis of reason. However, I think more than Kant, Descartes and his influence on our culture has created the basis by which moderns understand animals. Brendan, if you want to say I am influenced by Kant (though I think I am not), I think that influence could also be seen in your response, time and again. I am not saying you follow him, but that taint is there. Even those who try to overcome a tendency often revert back to it through contradiction, and become a flip side of the same coin. For myself, as I have cited before, I will cite again: my influence is outside the categories Kant (and Descartes) have created. We can find my position in the ancient world through Platonists such as Porphyry. I think Descartes and Kant also are influenced by the ancient world, but via the Stoics, and that in medieval scholasticism, this Stoic influence also won out. In other words, I think what makes for a Descartes and a Kant already exists in the medieval world, though not to the extent and difficulty as we will see in Descartes or Kant (because of the Platonic and realist influence). The ancient debate on reason and animals was had between the Platonists and the Stoics, and the Christians (not all, to be sure) took the Stoic answer in this debate, but so did the modernists. However, this is not the only influence I have – I have an Indian influence (from my interest in Buddhism, but also my interest in Hinduism), but also a Native American influence. Native Americans I believe indicate the kind of pre-modern insight one needs to have to understand a St Francis fully.. and I think should be studied to understand how I view animals as persons, without indicating they are our equals. Then you can begin to see how Kant, while you try to read it into me, is outside of the categories I am thinking of here. It’s the wrong coin.

    Well, this has been very long, and I hope not too long. I have not answered all the points which have been addressed, but I hope I have at least answered some of the central ones.

    Oh, and as a side note, Andy – I am glad you have posted part II. I have not had the time to digest what you wrote, but when I do, I will comment upon it. Brendan, when will you post the next part of your posts? I am still waiting in anticipation for it.

  • At 10/24/2006 4:49 PM, Blogger Brendan Sammon said…

    Real quick:

    Henry, I haven't yet read your new post fully, but very much look forward to doing so. I hope to do it before I leave for Italy on Thursday.
    But I want to make two quick suggestions:
    1. Maybe we should move this exchange to the comment section of Andy's new post? No big deal either way, but it has some advantages.
    2. I wholeheartedly agree that Pat should be added as a regular blogger, if he wants.


  • At 10/25/2006 2:34 AM, Blogger X-Cathedra said…


    I'd be honored to be made an official blogger. Thanks for the opportunity to enter into such great dialogue.

    Pax Christi,

  • At 10/30/2006 10:26 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said…


    I agree, let's move it on up (and I was thinking about that possibility with my last post).

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