The Basics Series: 3. Humanity

From the first article in this series on Reality itself, we know that Reality is what is regardless of humanity’s knowledge or awareness of it. Reality itself comprises the totality of all existence and is comprised of two realms, the immaterial and the material. Out of the totality of all existence, humanity can only truly know so much of it. As we learned in the second article in this series, what humanity knows by experience, knows about and understands, believes to be real, and what humanity speculates comprises the individual’s or group of individuals’ World. How much of reality is covered in the individual’s (or group’s) World directly impacts how they view the rest of Reality itself. This does not impact what Reality actually is, but it does impact how humanity views and understands it until it experiences it. These are Properly Basic (or first) principles due to their being no need for “reasoning” or “justifying” these things, they are considered “self-evident.” While they can still be challenged, or questioned, these two sets of first principles remain as they are none the less. They are in fact, reality, regardless of what humanity has to say about them.

This brings us to humanity itself. We’ve taken for granted that humanity is real, it is a part of the totality of all Reality. We understand how humanity can come to know about reality. But what about humanity itself? The nature of humanity at the basic level is not an exercise in psychological study. We are not going in depth here into the questions of identity and how it works. We are talking about the basics, those things that are considered as granted to be true, properly basic, and commonly accepted through living. As we go into this subject, I am sure that anyone reading this article will bring in their own presuppositions to bear. Please know that in this article, there are simple truths about humanity that exist which are understood basically. That is as far as this article goes. There is much debate among the trees, but for now, we are looking at the forest, so don’t let yourself get lost in the woods.

What is Humanity?

We do not need to go into seeking definitions for this subject as was necessary for the other two. When we talk about humanity, we are talking about that popularly referred to species known as “Homo Sapiens.” Us. The ones capable of reading and understanding this article. You and me. Humanity exists, and there is no questioning that properly basic point (though there are some who challenge the idea of existence period). We are creatures that dwell upon the planet we call Earth. We are comprised of a collection of organs that are a multitude of various cells, all of which exist in mutual support of one another in order to form a unique being of existence. In addition to this material creature, we also have a unique identity which we can recognize and strive to actively maintain. We are unique among all other creatures, as there are no other creatures exactly like us. We have our own genetic make-up, but there is also an element of our existence which exists outside of the genetic code. We are both material and immaterial, and we are capable of “seeing” and “feeling” the immaterial as a part of us.

The Trinity of Humanity

There are a variety of models by which we attempt to coherently and correspondingly understand our very nature of existence. While there are many different models out there, and many different terms used to represent the different ‘parts’ of our existence, there is in general an accepted structure of our nature. We exist as some form of a unique trinity. There are three basic ‘components’ of our individual existence. These three ‘aspects’ of our reality come together to form a unity that makes us who each of us are. While there have been a variety of terms created to identify each of these ‘components’ of our nature, I will stick to the traditional mix. There is the body, the mind, and the spirit. Each of these components do not exist separately from one another in life as we know it to be (though, of course, this is argued). While we can go into long debates about what happens at death, what happened before life, etc., please remember we are talking about the basic nature of these things as they are at a properly basic level. (We are acknowledging what is there, what can be identified with free thought, and what seems truly self-evident about our nature, not the details.)

The Body

The component we will start with is the body. The body is the physical or purely material component of the human entity. It is comprised of our cells, the organs they form, the matter, the compounds. The chemical processes which make it work and function are those we share with other creatures. Indeed, we share with all the creatures of Earth the same common framework of physical existence (some DNA core, if you’d like). These physical components are determined by our genetic code, and are effected by how that code works and is setup. As a part of the way this body works, there are things called ‘emotions’ which are directly tied to the physical nature of our bodies. Emotions are often mixed with the two other components, and justly so. However, it is important to understand that our emotions are driven by our body’s chemical makeup. The emotions are a response to certain material and immaterial stimuli, but they come forth in a purely material way. Often, the emotions can take control over the other two components, and this can result in both a positive impact on the total being or a negative one. If the body rules over the other two across life, it is certainly a negative. Altogether, the body is what we know when we look into the mirror or something else where we can see our reflection. It is our purely material component of our total reality.

The Mind

The next component we will consider is often referred to as “the mind.” The mind is acknowledged as being separate from the body, but it is argued whether the mind is operated by the body, or if the body is operated by the mind. In many ways, the mind is “controlled” by the body, but also the mind can be the one in charge. The mind itself, however, is a purely immaterial aspect of our existence. This component houses our “rational” capacity. It is an important ‘tool’ (if you like) that our total existence utilizes to gather data, organize it into information, and provide a means of understanding it. There are two aspects of the mind that can be easily identified as separate from one another. There is the conscious part, and the unconscious part. Perhaps it is better to say the “voluntary” part and the “involuntary” part. We commonly find ourselves having moments where we react to some sort of external stimuli unconsciously or involuntarily. We often call this “acting from instinct.” This is that aspect of the mind which controls all the involuntary functions of our body, and can be added on to through life experience. That is to say, it can be “trained” to control the body without conscious thought. The “conscious” side, however, is that part where our total existence utilizes the rational tool to think, act, and consider. The mind has many aspects to it, but it is important at the properly basic level to recognize just those two “major” aspects of its nature (a ‘meta’ level of grasping the concept, so to speak). Within the mind lies the imagination, the real vision or picture of reality we live by each day, and our abstract thinking.

The Spirit

The final component is “the spirit.” It is referred to by many names, including soul, heart, essence, and many others (mostly by language). The aspect of our total existence we are talking about is that which makes up our “conscience.” There is something that controls both the mind and the body when we are in full control of all of our faculties. There is something in us which determines right from wrong, which can understand that concept. There is also something in us that can be lost, it can be controlled by the body or also the mind. The spirit is either the strongest or the weakest “force” within our total existence. When it is strong, the individual is often focused, joyful, and steadfast. When it is weak, the individual is often reckless, erratic, or unpredictable (but they would disagree, of course). The spirit is the truest form of our identity, but the fullness of our identity is also connected to our mind and our body also. We can “rationalize” our way into completely deleting this part of our existence (though it remains in Reality unto death). However, the spirit plays a very unique role in the formation of our identity. Most importantly, the spirit is that part of us which can be darkened, or enlightened. It can be holy, or it can be evil. It is the driving force behind our existence, and when the body or the mind is without its spirit or soul, there is little which separates us from the other creatures of the Earth. Truly, a person who has lost their soul behave very much like a wild animal, and will be called one by others.

Other Features of Humanity

Now that we have described the properly basic nature of our total existence, let us talk about some of the unique features of our “Trinitarian” nature. We have described the reality of our very existence as “beings,” or “entities” (pick your flavor). Now what are some more general “features” about the totality of our existence, especially those which make us so clearly different and unique from all the other creatures of Earth.

  1. Moral Agency
  2. Abstract Thought
  3. Creative Ability

Moral Agency

The first feature to look at is the most important, or perhaps, the most significant. Being human can be defined as the capacity to understand and act upon a moral basis. Our ability to identify things as good or bad, or to call certain behaviors right or wrong, is one that is quite unique. While many suggest that there is some form of moral capacity among other animals, it is at a most biologically basic level that they express such behavior. This is mostly an anthropomorphism, or the applying to something non-human some human attribute or characteristic. The animal does not know or comprehend that what it is doing is moral, it is simply doing what it must do as a creature without a human conscience. Of course it is debated whether or not morality is objective or real or not, whether it simply exists in the human mind or is separate from us and directing us. What is important to note, however, at the properly basic level, is that we are Moral Agents. A Moral Agent is a being capable of knowing, recognizing, understanding, and applying morality to what it consciously and freely chooses to do. A Moral Agent can do things based upon morality, or its decisions are driven by a moral principle.

Purely material things are not Moral Agents. A Moral Agent can attribute to a material thing a moral characteristic, but that material thing is not, in reality, a moral thing. It does not have the capacity or ability to be a moral thing. However, the Moral Agent can itself be in a moral state, it has the capacity to be a moral thing. A rock is not a good or bad thing. A Moral Agent can look at a rock and say that it is either good or bad, but that does not make it so. The rock has no ability to be good or bad, and does not exist in either state. However, a Moral Agent, having the ability to “see” morality in things, can take the rock to be something morally good or bad. This can also be said of the human body and the human mind. This shows where the idea can apply to immaterial things as well. The human body is material, and as such, is not itself good or bad, it simply is. The human mind, being an immaterial thing, exists without a moral state, as it does not exist independently of the spirit as a Moral entity. It is not a Moral Agent, all though a Moral Agent is an immaterial being necessarily. That is because Morality itself is not a material thing. It is no more determined by material things than our spirit is. Indeed, it is our spirit that makes us Moral Agents. A Moral Agent can use both material and immaterial things for good or bad reasons, but those material and immaterial things are not themselves either good or bad. The Moral Agent, however, can be either one. There will be more room for exploring Morality, including the nature of “Moral Reason” in a later series.

Abstract Thought

The next feature of humanity that makes us so unique from all other forms of life is our capacity for abstract thought. Abstract thought, to put it simply, is the ability to not just count three objects, but to think about numbers themselves. It’s the ability to think about concepts that are not necessarily materially present before the eyes of the thinker. While a being which can think “concretely” can think only about a dog that is on a rug, the abstract thinker can consider what is meant by “on.” Abstract thought has a lot in relation with imagination. Our imaginations are the types of abstract thoughts where we can form our own vivid worlds in our minds that do not exist in reality, however, there are aspects of reality included in them. We have the ability to “see” things in our mind before they are actually observed in Reality. This feature gives us the ability to carefully consider what we do before we do it, even to the point of determining what the outcome of our actions will be. It is nearly a predictive capacity without the statistics. It is our capacity to have abstract thoughts that serves as a component of our Moral Agency. This, and the third feature, act in mutual support, something of an interlocking framework that comprises our uniqueness as beings of existence. Without one, you would not necessarily have the other. Abstract thought, while it is the core of the other two features, is still not quite as significantly impactful on our nature as humans as Moral Agency, though our Moral Agency depends on our capacity for Abstract Thought in many ways.

Creative Ability

The third major feature of our total existence as humanity is our creative ability. Because we can think abstractly, we are able to picture in our minds (using our imagination) something that does not exist. We can then bring that idea into existence using our knowledge of the Realities necessary to bring it about. Our Moral Agency then comes in to give us a reason to even bother doing so. To “create” something is unique from simply “making” something. The ability to Create is to form something that did not previously exist (in Reality, not necessarily in the mind), or that was not known by the creator to have previously existed. In other words, the origin of the thing being formed is the creator’s mind, from purely abstract thought about Reality. That which is simply “made” is formed out of what has previously been known.

For example, a person who forms out of their imagination an invention that here-to-fore was never known or was even possible to be brought about. This thing is “new” to the total World of the creator (reference the second article of this series to understand what is meant by “World”). The creator has never experienced or observed anything like it. The person formed this new thing in their mind first (abstract thought, imagination), then learned about what realities would permit its formation. Now, if that same person formed from memory something that the person had seen before, or has read the blue prints of, or perhaps was simply told how to make it, then that person has “made” something. This is just to make the point about creative ability more clear, so, please don’t get lost in the difference between the two (that can be quite the rabbit hole).

Our ability to create from abstract thought is further enhanced in uniqueness in that we create due to some moral purpose. There is something that gives purpose to what we create. Indeed, we even grow an attachment to what we create and give a significant purpose to it that when others don’t use it for that purpose, we get offended! This attachment to what we form with our own hands is also a feature of our unique existence, but it stems necessarily from our Moral Agency. We create in order to bring good into our World. Whether that good is a selfish good, or a “greater good,” there is something which compels us to create. Again, this feature is always expressed in part with the other two features. Moral Agency would not be present if abstract thought is not possible. Creative ability would not be possible without abstract thought. Also, Creative ability may be present in a being with abstract thought, but without Moral Agency, there would not be any reason to compel the being to create.

Conclusion

What is being covered in this article is a part of Reality. These are properly basic principles about the basic nature of Humanity. While there are matters pertaining to the Origin and Destiny of humanity, these are not necessarily “properly basic” principles, and there are significant arguments related to those aspects of humanity. For the Christian, there is no conflict with these properly basic principles. Humanity is created in the image of God, and as such, it is expected to find similarities in our nature to what may be the nature of God. The “Trinitarian” make up that seems so self-evident is but one of these similarities. The unique features of humanity are also reflections of God. We are Moral Agents, possessing the capacity to not only act on moral grounds, but to understand and carefully consider them. Our abstract thinking ability allows us to think about greater things than simply what is physically, and it ties us to the immaterial realm.

As Humans, we exist as both material and immaterial beings. It is our Moral Agency that makes us “spiritual.” We exist in either a spiritually good or a spiritually bad state. However, the things of this material world are not good or bad. They simply exist, and the nature of their being created by God is good, but that does not make each individual creation good itself. What we do with what God gives us can be good or bad, however. The very order and configuration of the words on your screen come from my abstract thinking. They are not themselves good or bad, but you the reader may attribute to them a moral state of existence which only you are capable of expressing. This is also a reflection of the nature of God who Himself exists as the ultimate Moral Agent, who across all time attributes what is actually good and by that, we come to know what is actually evil. But more to be said on that subject in other articles.

As we Christians go out into the world to spread the gospel, it is important to understand that not all people accept these realities about humanity. It is because of these realities that we, as Christians, so greatly value every human life. Even those who act from an Evil Moral State of being we are to love. It is important for us to identify how we view humanity. This has a significant impact on how we view life and the rest of reality. Indeed, our capacity to love makes us unique as God is unique. Our objective is to shine light on the truth of even the nature of our own existence. Without doing so, it can become difficult to explain some of the more subtle nuances of our Worldview. I pray that this article may help you better understand your own nature, and I pray it may assist you in better relating the truth of God to others, so that all may come to know the glory of God.

Your Thoughts?