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Lecture 6. The Bible on Human Nature: The Fall Comparison of Plato, Aristotle & Bible Two responses by Christians to Plato & Aristotle Boethius Introduction to Aquinas. The Fall: Genesis 2. Whether to interpret details literally (trees, fruit, serpent) - relatively unimportant.

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lecture 6
Lecture 6
  • The Bible on Human Nature: The Fall
  • Comparison of Plato, Aristotle & Bible
  • Two responses by Christians to Plato & Aristotle
  • Boethius
  • Introduction to Aquinas
the fall genesis 2
The Fall: Genesis 2
  • Whether to interpret details literally (trees, fruit, serpent) - relatively unimportant.
  • Knowledge of good and evil:
    • “Knowledge” seems to mean experiential, intimate (used as euphemism for sex).
    • “Good and evil” are moral categories: righteousness and wickedness.
variety of interpretations
Variety of Interpretations
  • Some interpret the story as representing a unique, historical event. Others see it as a story about “Everyman”. (“Adam” is the common noun for human being.)
  • Among those who interpret it as a unique historical event, there are a variety of views about how much damage is done to human nature (especially, our capacity for virtue and liability to vice).
original sin
“Original Sin”
  • The majority of commentators in ancient, medieval and early modern times take it that we have all “inherited” a morally disordered nature as a result of the fall.
  • Two key elements: concupiscence (uncontrollable desires, both sensual and ambitious), and pride (haughtiness, arrogance, self-worship).
  • Consequences listed in text focus on pain, toil and physical death.
psalm 139
Psalm 139
  • God’s universal knowledge and presence.
  • Encompasses the details of conduct of each individual human being.
  • God creates each human being.
  • Possibility of divine deliverance from enemies and guidance.
wisdom and proverbs 8
Wisdom and Proverbs 8
  • Recall: Aristotle distinguished practical wisdom (phronesis) and philosophical wisdom (sophia). God has only the latter.
  • Author of Proverbs 8 makes no such distinction: the same wisdom that enabled God to craft the world is available to guide us, enable us to live righteously.
the fruit of wisdom
The Fruit of Wisdom
  • Results in riches, honor, wealth and justice.
  • But -- the fruit she gives is better than gold.
  • “Happy are those who keep to my ways.” (v. 31)
  • “He who does injury to me does hurt to his own soul; all who hate me are in love with death.” (v. 36)
common ground plato aristotle the bible
Common Ground: Plato, Aristotle & the Bible
  • The world is teleologically organized -- full of systems with built-in purpose.
  • Human nature exists and is knowable by us. (The law written on the heart -- Rom 2:14-15)
  • There are absolute, universal values, grounded in human nature.
  • Acting morally, virtuously is an indispensable component of happiness (blessedness).
Knowing and contemplating God is the highest human good.
  • Human beings have an immaterial component (the soul).
  • To fulfill their true natures. human beings are in need of discipline, training and restraint. (The 10 commandments, training in the virtues)
God (a perfect, self-sufficient, eternal intelligence) exists.
  • The order of the universe (Logos) is reflected in the rational order of human mind (logos). (Proverbs 8)
  • Humanity is the highest form of life on earth (Gen. 1,2: created in God's image, commissioned to subdue the earth).
common ground the bible and plato only not aristotle
Common ground: the Bible and Plato only (not Aristotle)
  • Human beings survive bodily death (it is uncertain what the mature Aristotle thought about this).
  • The creation & supervision of the world by a supreme intelligence (according to Aristotle, the world is eternal, uncreated).
  • One can be supremely happy, even when persecuted and mistreated, so long as one attains righteousness.
common ground the bible and aristotle only not plato
Common ground: the Bible and Aristotle only (not Plato)
  • Human beings consist of a unity of soul and body. We are not merely souls that inhabit or possess a body. (Cf. Genesis, 1:7 and 3:19; Psalm 139:13. )
contrasting elements of the biblical worldview
Contrasting Elements of the Biblical worldview
  • It is possible for friendship and mutual love to exist between God and individual human beings.
  • Physical work (including manual labor) is a positive good, part of human happiness (Gen. 1:28, Jesus as carpenter)
  • Human beings are essentially equal before God, under God's law.
Divine forgiveness and mercy are not a violation of justice and provide no license for unrighteousness. (See Romans 4:21-26).
  • The truth that God reveals in the Bible is in some conflict or tension with our "natural" knowledge. (I Corinthians 1:19-25).
  • The positive reality of evil. Evil is more than merely the lack of goodness. Evil deeds lead to an "inherited" proclivity to evil. Evil is like a cancer.
two reactions to philosophy from within the biblical tradition
Two reactions to philosophy from within the Biblical tradition
  • Rejectionists: “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?” Tertullian, al-Gazzali, Martin Luther, Karl Barth, Anders Nygren.
  • Synthesizers: Boethius, al-Farabi, Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas, Joseph Butler
boethius 480 525 ad
Boethius (480-525 AD)
  • Last philosophical scholar of the ancient world. Translated Aristotle’s logical works into Latin.
  • Unjustly sentenced to death as a result of political intrigue in court of Theodoric, barbarian king of Rome.
  • Wrote The Consolation of Philosophy while on death row.
boethius s impact
Boethius’s impact
  • Boethius preserved logic, mathematics for western Europe sliding into the Dark Ages (700-1000 AD).
  • The Consolation of Philosophy became one of the most influential books in European history. Suggested a unification of Christian piety with Greek philosophy.
boethius synthesizing christianity with plato aristotle
Boethius: synthesizing Christianity with Plato/Aristotle
  • All human beings seek happiness -- the supreme good.
  • Like drunkards, we have lost the way home and stumble into errors, identifying happiness with position, power, honor, wealth, or pleasure.
  • True happiness consists in possessing (by a kind of participation) God, who is absolute, self-sufficient goodness.
discussion questions
Discussion Questions
  • Why does Boethius not mention anything specifically Christian in The C of P (e.g., Jesus, the Bible, the Church)?
  • Is Boethius closer to Plato or Aristotle?
  • What common denominator recurs in all of Boethius’ refutations of false conceptions of happiness?
false conceptions of happiness
False Conceptions of Happiness
  • Wealth
  • Position
  • Power
  • Fame
  • Pleasure
crucial tests
Crucial tests
  • Does it make one self-sufficient, independent? (wealth creates dependencies, new wants, power depends on allies, supporters)
  • Can it be used for bad, even self-destructive purposes? (wealth, power -- clearly can be)
  • Is it a source of anxiety? (power, pleasure)
  • Can it have bad effects? (pleasure)
boethius s definition of true happiness
Boethius’s Definition of True Happiness
  • Once one possesses it, one has no further needs, wants, or reason for anxiety.
  • It can never be used for anything but good purposes.
  • It can never have anything but good effects.
  • It cannot be deceptive or false.
happiness god
Happiness = God
  • God is the very essence of happiness.
  • If we can “possess” God, then God would fulfill every need or want, and provide perfect security.
  • God cannot be the source of evil.
boethius on the simplicity of god the good
Boethius on the Simplicity of God, the Good
  • Boethius draws heavily on some late (3rd c. AD) Platonists -- the Neo-Platonists, especially Plotinus.
  • According to Plotinus, the ultimate source of being is the One.
  • The One is Goodness itself, Being, Beauty, Power. These are just different names for the same, undifferentiated reality.
simplicity cont
Simplicity, cont.
  • Consequently, for Boethius, God does not have goodness -- He is goodness itself.
  • If God merely had goodness, we would have to seek a cause or explanation of why He does.
  • Since God is goodness (and beauty and power and happiness), no such explanation is possible. God is the First Cause.
boethius aristotle
Boethius & Aristotle
  • To a degree, Aristotle would agree with Boethius: the intellectual apprehension and comprehension of God is the highest good for human beings.
  • However, Aristotle did not believe that human beings were capable of a permanent “possession” of God. So, human happiness is inherently insecure, fleeting.
a natural pointer to the supernatural
A Natural Pointer to the Supernatural?
  • Boethius argues, in effect, that the fact that human beings can be dissatisfied with any good obtainable in this life points to the reality of a further reality.
  • Our ultimate aim is to become divine - not intrinsically but by “participation”.
  • Is this merely wishful thinking?
introduction to aquinas
Introduction to Aquinas
  • Europe emerging from Dark Ages (700-1000)
  • Scientific works of Aristotle: Byzantium ->Islamic world -> Spain ->Jews ->Western Europe
  • Averroes (ibn Rushd), Maimonides -- 12th c. Spain
St. Albert the Great -- Paris, Cologne, 13th century. Revived use of observation & experimentation.
  • Roger Bacon (Oxford) -- revived Platonic application of mathematics to science
  • Thomas Aquinas -- student of Albert. Born near Naples. Joined Dominican order. Kidnapped by brothers.
structure of summa theologiae
Structure of Summa Theologiae
  • Work of theology. Appeals to both theological authorities (Bible, Augustine) and to natural reason.
  • Encompasses the conclusions of philosophy.
  • Organized by questions.
typical question
Typical question
  • Is ....? (the question)
  • It seems.... (thesis)
  • [Several plausible arguments, numbered]
  • On the contrary,.... (antithesis)
  • Response [Sets out Thomas's opinion -- typically, agrees with the antithesis, or accepts both as partially true.]
  • [The numbered plausible arguments are rebutted or corrected, one by one.]
the natural and the supernatural
The Natural and the Supernatural
  • Natural
    • Imperfect happiness (“felicity”)
    • Can be attained by our own, natural powers
    • Can be understood scientifically
  • Supernatural
    • Perfect happiness (“beatitude”)
    • Requires God’s “grace” (special assistance)
    • Can be understood only by “faith”
natural philosophy supernatural revealed theology
Natural Philosophy & Supernatural (Revealed) Theology
  • Philosophy (including “natural theology”) is competent to understand the natural order. So, Aristotle is a reliable guide to imperfect happiness, and the structure of the cosmos.
  • Understanding the supernatural requires special revelation (through prophets, inspired Scriptures).
human nature
Human Nature
  • For Aquinas, human nature (the essence of humanity) encompasses both levels.
  • We are “naturally supernatural”. We cannot be fully satisfied with any natural good.
  • Our capacity to grasp the idea of infinity or perfection bears witness to our supernatural end. (Cf. Boethius)
theory of mind and knowledge
Theory of Mind and Knowledge
  • Aquinas is a developmental empiricist: all human knowledge begins with the use of the 5 senses, by which we come to know our physical environment.
  • We start with the natural sciences, and then move to metaphysics and natural theology.
  • Natural theology tells only that God (a First Cause) exists. It does not tell us much about the nature of God.
not a strict absolute empiricist
Not a Strict, Absolute Empiricist
  • 1. Mind is not a blank slate: it brings specific, pre-determined powers and potentialities to the business of learning through the use of the senses.
  • 2. Knowledge is always the product of the joint operation of the senses and the intellect.
  • 3. Ultimately, we can attain some (very limited) knowledge of things beyond the range of our senses.
the structure of the soul
The Structure of the Soul
  • Rational
    • Intellect
      • Speculative
      • Practical
    • Will (rational appetite)
  • Sub-rational
    • Senses
    • Bodily appetites
      • Concupiscible & Irascible
the sub rational soul
The Sub-rational Soul
  • The senses give us information about the environment.
  • The appetite propels us to certain apparent goods or away from certain evils: anger and fear (irascible) and desires for food, water, warmth, sex (concupiscible).
rational soul
Rational Soul
  • The theoretical (or "speculative") intellect strives toward truth and understanding. It begins with the information delivered by the senses, and "abstracts" universal laws from this data.
  • The practical intellect deliberates about what is the best course of action. It begins with inclinations provided by the appetites, but corrects and supplements them from a rational assessment of a plan of life.
The will receives its direction from the practical intellect -- but the will is needed to effect the transition from thought and feeling to action.
essence vs accident
Essence vs. Accident
  • What a thing is most fundamentally, versus what a thing just happens to be.
  • An oak tree (essence) vs. a hammock hanger (accident).
  • A human being (essence) vs. a source of household income (accident).
the signs or criteria of essences
The signs or criteria of essences
  • 1. Essences correspond to a shared nature, that can be the subject of scientific investigation.
  • We can investigate the nature of humans or oak trees, not of hammock-supports or income-sources.
2. Essences provide a non-arbitrary principle for dividing the world into distinct, countable individuals.
  • Contrast: how many human beings are in the room? vs. How many income sources are in my brokerage account?
3. Essences provide a non-arbitrary principle for identity through time.
  • If I disassemble and re-assemble a wooden hammock support, is it the same support? Who cares?
  • Is X the same person as Y? This matters.
function use
  • The function of a thing is part of its essence, the use we put it to is an accident.
  • The dog's function is to be loyal and trainable, its use is to herd sheep.
double truth
“Double” Truth
  • Some 13th century philosophers (including Siger of Brabant) were accused of holding a theory of “double” truth: that the same thing could be theologically true but scientifically false.
  • Aquinas vigorously opposed this distinction: philosophy and theology give us two ways of knowing the truth. Truth itself is one, indivisible.