When does the human person begin to exist? Part 6: The human person as developing

by Dr. David Fleischacker

In the former 5 parts of our inquiry, we had explored the meaning of the Thomistic definition of person as a “distinct subsistent in an intellectual nature.” A person needs to be distinct from mother or father or brother or sister or friend or enemy. A person is a subsistent, a that which is, a concrete unity. A person is intrinsically linked to intelligence, reasonableness, responsibility, and love. And now to turn to the next stage, what is specifically human about this person?

The HUMAN person

As Developing:

In the former blog entry, it was noted that the intelligence of human beings develops. It starts as a mere potentiality, a mere capacity that grows through the years. In other words our questions for understanding, insights, definition and symbolic formulations of insights, our questions for reflection, reflective insights, judgments, questions for deliberation, apprehension of values, judgments of value and the good, and decisions unfold, shift, grow, and undergo transformations and even conversions over the years.These growths can be horizontal expansions of common sense, of the dramatic formation of human living, or of the artistic realms. These growths can undergo expansions into new modalities of stewarding the world mediated by meaning, such as takes place in the move into theory and explanation, and then again into a higher differentiation of consciousness that Lonergan identifies as the shift to an explanatory interiority or the “Third Stage of Meaning.” And within each higher stage whether theory or interiority, horizontal developments can take place. Differentiations of the sciences, and ultimately of metaphysics can be articulated and explored, and then used to guide and direct our lives within creation and history.

Most comprehensively, the human being can be characterized in terms of the full range of our questions and the full range of notions that constitute the aims of these questions. Lonergan defines this totality as the capacity for self-transcendence. We are beings that seek intelligibility, truth or being, and the good. This capacity drives our development and this capacity defines our aims. Its fulfillment is what we desire, and such fulfillment would bring ultimate happiness. Thus, to find that which would bring about such fulfillment would be to adhere to that which would be our true happiness. This ultimately means to be in love with one who is unrestricted intelligence, truth, and goodness.

Thus, the human being is intrinsically intellectual because the human being is intrinsically constituted by a relationship to understanding the intelligible, to judging that discovers the true, to evaluation and deliberation that beholds the good and grounds true freedom, and most comprehensively to a capacity for self-transcendence that yearns to be actuated in a love that truly completes it, in a love of God as God who has first flooded our hearts with love, and placed us into a context to love our neighbor and our enemy in a manner that transforms our world.

Our development is one that brings about a religious self-transcendence in faith, hope, and love; a moral self-transcendence that forms into the moral virtues; an intellectual self-transcendence that forms into the intellectual virtues. Human beings are human persons because of this intrinsic link to intellectual life, one that is “one the way” toward ultimate human perfection in another that is perfection itself.

But when do we begin?

Of course, these all refer to the developments of the human mind, will, and heart and we are looking for the beginning of the human person. When does this intrinsic link to developing intelligence, reason, deliberation, love begin? Part of the difficulty in answering this question is a difficulty raised two blog entries ago, in part 4. The human being is not merely an intellectual, rational, responsible being. We are in-carnated, infleshed, and that infleshment is in two related levels that develop. On a first level emerges the organic. Early in life we undergo multiple differentiations of cells and cell systems. At the beginning, we are but a single cell, then a few cells, and out of this grows the circulatory, the muscular, the immunological, the digestive, the neurological, and a number of other interrelated systems. With the trees we share growth, feeding, and other organic systems. On a second level arises the motor-sensory-affective developments. Increasing integrations of the body, especially through the neurological, blossoms forth into a motor-sensory set of operations that give rise to sensate living within this world. With the animals we share sensory perceptions of our spatial-temporal niches of life, and the ability to transform those niches with our motor responses in the context of passions and emotions.

But are these vegetative and sensate dimensions of our existence intrinsically linked to intelligence, rationality, morality, love?

Next Expected Blog Entry: March 1

For those who are interested, I think the conclusion of this current question should take place in the following order, each one to be published one week after the former.

1. When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 7. The Human Person: the relation of the mind to the body

2. When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 8. The Human Person: the relation of the body to the mind

3. When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 9. The Human Person: The relation of the zygote and fetus to the adult mind.

4. When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 10. The Human Person: The CONCLUSION

2 Replies to “When does the human person begin to exist? Part 6: The human person as developing”

  1. what kind of nonsense is this : you pose a question, and then you don't even so much as begin an attempt to answer it?
    here's a question for you: is the human person ( say you or me ) reducible to the composition or unity of his flesh or body and his particular human soul, or rather, is a human person something that possesses such a composition-but can no more be defined by such a composition than can he be difined by his hands, o by hisr legs, or his mind, etc.

    1. Mr. Rafferty,

      Not sure why you think the question is not answered. It was answered in stages, and definitively with the last blog of that series. As for your question, I would say that it would be good to transpose flesh and body into explanatory terms and relations (intelligible forms), and then identify the same for what is meant by soul and person. In light of that, and the realization that all levels of the universe come together within the human person, and that the human person fundamentally is one central unity, identity, whole…a start to the answer might look like this, beginning with the highest operations and then ending with the lowest. Notice as well, that each higher sublates each lower, and the higher are not reducible to the lower:

      Will, decision (with moral habits)
      Reason, Judgement (with attunement to reality, being, truth)
      Intelligence, Understanding (with attunement to intelligibility, form)
      Images, senses, experience
      organic operations, especially neurological systems
      Biochemical, molecular operations, forms
      Sub-atomic particles, forms
      sub-sub-atomic particles (quarks, etc.)

      Every higher level adds an informing principle to the lower levels, with the highest being the form of the whole. So, the rational principles inform the body, and are not reducible to the body or the flesh. The human soul then, as the unity of the whole, being seated in the rational principles, is comprised of all these levels. However, there is another element of composition as well, and that is the capacity of the human person to develop, to move from potency into act. And this developmental capacity allows for the formation of perfections of understanding, judgment, and decision, and each perfection then perfects all the lower levels with it. So, when my mind has grown in understanding, my neurons and my body are more informed by that growth in understanding. When my will has reach higher perfections of acts of will, and more and better habits, then my entire body and flesh have become integrated into these higher forms.

      This is one way for talking as St. Thomas does, about how the rational soul informs the body.

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