John Paul II has called the Christian vision of the world simultaneously anthropocentric (in the positive sense!) and theocentric. One of the central tasks of the Christian faith, as “quaerens intellectum,” is, accordingly, to understand human nature, especially in its relationship to God. This task includes an irreducibly distinct philosophical dimension.
Our aim in this course is to make some progress in this task. To this end, we will study in depth two of the most philosophically rich anthropologies in our tradition: a classical Christian anthropology and a modern one, which is ambiguously post-Christian. The classical Christian anthropology is Aquinas’s “Treatise on Man” in the Summa Theologiae, and the modern one is Hegel’s Philosophy of Spirit. These two anthropologies are fitting to study in relation to each other for at least two reasons, in addition to their wealth of philosophical insight. First, though it may seem prima facie that these two authors have little in common, in fact their anthropologies are part of the same family, as it were. Both are essentially Christian appropriations of Aristotle; they are founded more or less explicitly on an interpretation of the de Anima, which they integrate into an interpretation of man as imago dei, specifically as revealed in Scripture and the Christian tradition. Second, they pair up well thematically along three axes, which will structure the approach we adopt in this course: 1) man as he exists in himself: here the central theme is the relationship between the soul and the body; 2) man as he exists in relation to others: here the essential theme is the nature of the acts of intellect and will, by which the soul “transcends itself”; and 3) man as he exists in relation to God: here, the central theme is both the meaning of the imago dei and the relationship between the human spirit and the Holy Spirit. Third, the differences between Aquinas and Hegel promise to be very fruitful to compare: while Aquinas represents a kind of culmination of the classical tradition, Hegel presents in a paradigmatic way both the contributions and the pitfalls of modernity.