Involved in Humankind. Nature, Virtue, and the Good We Desire for Ourselves and for Others

Zovko, Marie-Élise (2013) Involved in Humankind. Nature, Virtue, and the Good We Desire for Ourselves and for Others. Knowledge Cultures, 1 (2). pp. 263-300. ISSN 2327-5731

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In the unforgettable lines from his Devotions on Emergent Occasions: "No man is an island", John Donne reflects on the intimate connection of all human beings. The contrasting imagery of the island and the sea, and the continent from which a clod of earth cannot be washed away without diminishing the whole, brings into sharp relief the indisputable truth: I am involved in humankind. The more human beings attempt to discriminate between themselves and others, the more they substantiate the common foundation of existence which they share and which joins them inseparably to one another. Nature is the common ground on which we stand, the foundation which conjoins us to one another and makes any attempt to separate ourselves from the common lot of humankind a form of self-deception. This paper explores the ways in which the diverse meanings of the term nature in its human context serve to confirm this simple truth. The common nature of human beings causes them to strive for a single goal: happiness, despite the differing ends of human striving. The achievement of that goal, according to the philosopher, depends, however, on the attainment of virtue, the perfection of human nature. The concept of virtue implies the need for conscious and intentional application of our natural abilities to formation of our character and behaviour according to a particular model or ideal – with the aim of becoming as human as possible. The author considers, with the aid of philosophers like Plato, Aristotle and Spinoza, the relationship of nature and virtue, based on exposition of the various meanings of nature and their role in the realisation of our humanity – from external or physical nature, to bodily nature, objectivity in its various forms, including the objectivity of "other" spontaneity like my own (alterity), and finally the ideal of human nature as a model or goal of human striving. Thereby an inescapable paradox emerges: the paradox of freedom and necessity, which forms the basis for the further opposition of nature and nurture in the formation and education of our faculties as individuals and members of a larger community: how can human beings realize, through intentional exercise of their natural powers of reason (the differentia specifica of the human species), i.e. faculties which operate according to the same lawfulness and necessity as they do in external or physical nature as a whole, the excellence (arete) proper to their nature? The opposition of freedom and necessity in human actions and history is considered in reference to examples from Tolstoy's War and Peace and Kant's Idea of History in Cosmopolitan Intent as well as on the basis of Spinoza's concept of conatus, the striving to persevere which is the common characteristic of all things, but takes a particular form in human beings and their striving to understand the true causes of all things as they follow from the substantia infinita and from their own nature. The absolute freedom of the substantia infinita is that of the only thing which exists and exists and acts by virtue of its nature or concept alone. The freedom possible to human beings through perfection of their powers of understanding turns out to be an image of the absolute freedom of the first principle, the substantia infinita, natura naturans or God. The apparently irreconcilable conflict of freedom and necessity, nature and virtue, naturalism and intellectualism, dissolves in the light of insights which may be gained by reflection on these relationships. The final result of recognition of the common nature which unites all human beings and the path to its perfection is a natural desire to attain for others the good we desire for ourselves, and above all the greatest good: knowledge and understanding of the highest principle and the manner in which all things follow from its creative power. While the community of knowledge and understanding in shared pursuit of what is required for our complete preservation and greatest possible perfection in mind and body forms the basis for the natural union of human beings with one another, from the knowledge of things as they are contained in God and follow from his nature arises the greatest possible Joy and satisfaction of Mind , embodied in what Spinoza calls "intellectual Love of God".

Item Type: Article
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Depositing User: Maja Šoštarić
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2014 13:22
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2021 11:25

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