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Aristotle and the Servile Nature of Man

July 29, 2008

I find it interesting that Aristotle did not consider himself to be reasoning autonomously as if all  truth is relative to the knower who creates the rules by which that truth is known.  He did not think he was God.  He was seeking the First Cause of things, through the effects that imply its existence.  This search was his divine science that we call Metaphysics. He says of this science:

But just as we say that a man is free who exist for himself and not for another, in a similar fashion this is the only free science, because it alone exists for itself. For this reason, too, it might rightly be thought that this science is not a human possession since in many respects human nature is servile. (Metaphysics, I.3.ii)

Aristotle

Aristotle

For Aristotle, because man is more properly the servant of knowledge and the First Cause and because this divine science is a free science it cannot be owned by anyone or thing other than God.  “For all knowledge that which God most properly has is divine.” (Ibid) Thomas Aquinas understood the servile nature of man to be descriptive of his inability to perfectly acquire divine knowledge.  It is no wonder that Aquinas found certain of Aristotle’s beliefs to be agreeable with the data of special revelation. He sought to perfect Aristotle as grace perfects nature.

For a Christian to accept certain first principles based on Aristotle’s philosophy is not an ipso facto abandonment of divine authority.  Even Aristotle did not consider himself to be usurping the divine right over all knowledge (though he was not submitting to the true God). Presuming a Christian could meet with Aristotle and discuss this divine science; this would not be an appeal to neutrality. Both the Christian and Aristotle would admit the servile nature of man’s knowledge. They would both agree that no fact is neutral but is objective.  The duty of the Christian would be to kindly show Aristotle where his insistence on objectivity can only work if the God who is the cause of objectivity is personal and loving and distinct from creation.

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