We Are Not Brutes
by Paul Gould
Aristotle defined man as “rational animal.” The point of contrast is with irrational animals, or brutes, which, according to the Roman Stoic philosopher Epictetus, “make use of appearances” but do not “understand the use of appearances.” Or to put it another way, God has created man with a particular nature, one that includes rational faculties that give us the ability to wonder about the universe and to ask the persistent questions: what is the meaning of life? Why am I here? Does God exist? Is there objective value? And so on.Part of what it means to flourish as humans is to find answers to such questions. We were created to know. Again Epictetus:
But for us, to whom He has given also the faculty [of reason], [eating, drinking, sleeping, copulating] are not sufficient; for unless we act in a proper and orderly manner, and conformably to the nature and constitution of each thing, we shall never attain our true end.
And what is our true end?
God has introduced man to be a spectator of God and His work; and not only a spectator of them, but an interpreter.
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I think that Epictetus is partially correct. God has created us to know the truth about Himself and the world. And more, amazingly, He has also created us to have a relationship with Him—not only to know about God, but also to be directly acquainted with God, to be in a loving-trusting-abiding relationship with our Creator. The idea that mans true end is to know and love God has been the consistent chorus of thinkers in the history of ideas (from Plato, Epictetus, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin and more).
But, in this age of YouTube, Internet, sound-bites, and image, I have a worry about man…
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