What is a human being?

I’ve been reading a book by the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre entitled God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition. As always, MacIntyre is thought-provoking, historically aware, philosophically sophisticated and theologically suggestive.

There’s a nice little quotable line at the beginning of the tenth chapter: “We are by our nature directed to an end beyond nature . . .” (p. 87).

We human beings are fully embodied creatures, made up of the same ‘stuff’ that makes up all organic life. We are part of an ecosystem, both shaping it and being shaped by it. We become what we are as a process, one involving relationships, experiences, intellectual discoveries and development, and and bio-chemical and cellular changes. Yet, we are also something beyond all this. We have mind, consciousness, transcendence . . . something religion and philosophy often calls “soul” (defined in various ways in relation to body). This ’emergent’ part of us brings forth culture, art, music, abstract representation (mathematics), advanced symbolic communication (language), design, ingenuity, stewardship, ethics,  and love (and, sadly, evil – which twists and dis-orients all of this toward destructive ends). Truly we are mysterious, wonderful beings. I don’t mean this to be self-congratulatory, but as a compliment and offering of thanksgiving and worship to our Creator (Psalm 8).

So, I want to modify MacIntyre’s statement:

We humans are biologically rooted, spiritually constituted, socially constructed (in the soft sense), mentally transcendent, and teleologically (or better, eschatologically) oriented beings, created in the image of God and destined to be transformed according to the image of Christ.

What do you think? What would you add? Subtract? Question? Enquire about? Want to talk about?


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2 Responses to What is a human being?

  1. elena says:

    Your own description… right there in the middle paragraph “we human beings are…”
    is lovely.
    and inspiring. It informs how we are to live out our daily bread.
    indeed, how majestic is the name of the Lord in all the earth.

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