HUMANITY AS NATURE B
Joel D. Benedict
University of Advancing Technology
The purpose of this paper is to argue for the
unique ability of the human mind to rise
above nature without becoming detached from it. The method is to analyze the identity of
humans within the scope of the philosophy of Hans Jonas contrasted with his peers. The result is
that the human mind is not is
olated from nature, and can still transcend nature without the
limitations nature applies to everything else within it. The conclusion for the ethics of today is
that humans need not be defined in nature by humanity. The recommendation is that
al presences in nature that match the same transcendence of humans beyond nature
receive the same definition of humanity.
What the issue is
The transcendence of humanity beyond itself continues without the limits of other
humans or nature, just as the influence of philosopher Hans Jonas continues beyond the limits of
his life. The purpose of this paper is to argue for the unique ability of the
human mind to rise
and beyond its own nature
without becoming detached from it.
We will study the
common characteristics of all living creatures, and the upward progression of the consequence of
the human mind from uniqueness in nature to con
nection with other minds, followed by the
growth and responsibility of the minds.
The complexity of the human mind starts with the basics
Creatures of good, creatures of need
Cybernetics at the time of Jonas was the study of the structure
of regulatory systems in
society and nature, with a particular emphasis on applying the principles of nature to the human
mind, like mathematics, physics, or animal behavior.
Cybernetics, according to Jonas, falls short
because, “living things are creature
s of need. […] Animal nature […] is constituted by the triad
of perception, motility, and emotion
(Jonas, 1966, pp. 126
.” Emotion is the feedback
mechanism that is driven by the purpose of needs like hunger or ex
tinction. Jonas says that
cybernetics also fails to address the idea of good, which is what drives need: “Without the
concept of good, one cannot even begin to approach the subject of behavior,” because all
intentional action is directed toward a good, eve
n if it is a good for just that person or group
(Jonas, 1966, p. 127)
To determine the fulfillment of good of the human mind, there must first
be a reason why the human mind deserves consideration for its particular natu
Uniqueness of the mind from nature
mind is different from everything else in nature because it can determine
itself, transform itself, and can transcend its surroundings: “All three freedoms are unique
prerogatives of the mind, designating t
hat dimension of the human being that is beyond the
(Jonas, 1996, p. 174)
.” Animals, in contrast, cannot determine anything
instinct or training, cannot develop their minds through imagination,
and cannot transcend reality
to think of abstract concepts like eternity or infinity.
The human mind transcends nature
The followers of Jonas continue to develop the distinctions and similarities between the
human mind and nature. All forms of life are regulated to some extent by their physical needs,
those that Jonas calls “metabolic.” They
vary in the degree to which the
y are required to pursue
those instincts: plants automatically are driven by metabolic needs and animals can postpone or
plan for metabolic needs. Humans are driven by the radically different metabolic need of the
the capacity for “imagination, think
ing, and moral responsibility
(Vogel, 2008, p. 139)
an editor of Jonas’ books and a follower of Jonas’ philosophies, Lawrence Vogel agrees with
Jonas that the transcended mind and soul is what distinguishes the human
mind from nature: “our
widened horizon of self
transcendence brings in its wake perils peculiar to human existence:
moods like anxiety, guilt, and despair (
).” Thus, the “perils peculiar humans” are similar to the
perils peculiar to animals and plants
urvival and reproduction
are not problems faced in the
same way between the other forms of life, because each successively transcends the other. The
is something that no other form of life possesses.
endence of the self, or thinking beyond one’s own surroundings and
circumstances, is possessed by every human by each assimilating ideas gained from others and
spreading those ideas to others. Descartes argued that the abilities of the human mind are
facing: the abilities of consciousness grow autonomously, simply taking ideas that it
sees on the outside and applying those ideas to the abilities the mind had all along.
Or in other
words, the human mind needs not nature to exist, leaving it separable
disagreed that knowledge grows solely by introspection, and argued instead that knowledge can
be gained without ever having an inward experience or knowledge.
Minds grow by sensed potentiality
The mind that forms the human se
nd gains knowledge
by: “gradually beholding
from the address, utterance, and conduct of others what inward possibilities there are and making
them its own
(Levy, 2002, pp. 72
By observing others, humans need not e
hing to apply it to themselves, or as Jonas scholar David J. Levy puts it: “Understanding
rests far more on sensed potentiality for a certain humanly possible experience than on actual
experience itself (
p. 73).” It is because of the “se
nsed potentiality” that the mind can be
introduced to an entirely extroverted idea, like a story or biography, and can transform itself to a
new introverted thought philosophy.
All this is to say that the human mind cannot possibly
isolate itself from natu
re, due to the constant exchange of knowledge and growth between the
Responsibility of the minds
Therefore, since the human mind is inseparable from nature, and effects nature simply by
its potential, the human mind has a responsibility to the minds
of others and the continuation of
the nature humans are dependent upon. The responsibility is something only humans are capable
of taking on: “We recognize it as a distinguishing and decisive feature of human existence
002, p. 92)
Responsibility is part of the power of the human mind that comes from being able
to transcend the metabolic goals of nature.
This is not to say that
the surroundings of humans
should be preserved, but more that the nature of human minds should be preserved.
responsibility is what gives human beings value and purpose above their
mere existence: “This
represents a qualitative intensification of
as a whole
, the ultimate object of our
The “Being as a whole” refers to the entirety of human minds and of nature
that should be preserved by the introverted human mind via its connection with nature.
The opposition we h
ave studied centers around the cybernetic principle that nature is
regulated by structure devoid of good, and that humans and animals are analogs in the system,
driven by the same metaphysical metabolism in a different form. We have looked at a different
xtreme, the Cartesian opposition that posits the mind as isolated from nature; ultimately, this too
set good as irrelevant to the individual human mind. We've also looked at the reasons why the
opposition arguments are false. The cybernetic principle is in
complete in its exclusion of the
nate need of the soul to do pursue good
. We've shown that however unique the human mind is
in nature, it is not independent of nature or of the need for good. It is thus that we can conclude
that the human mind is not def
ined in nature by mere humanity, but by the responsibility born by
mind to maintain the metabolism of nature to preserve the nature of the mind.
Therefore, since the key attribute of good for the nature of the human mind is
responsibility obtained via transcendence beyond nature, the recommendation is that humanity
should be attributed based on whether a living being is capable of knowledge of the
responsibility to its own nature for good. Even the mind of an infant can be c
because it has the potential to know its responsibility.
Nature does not have the key attribute of
ity, so good is not found in it, but in the natural purpose of the mind. Finally, we can
know that if nature or technology should
ever transcend itself and begin to assimilate the
responsibility of good as the human mind does, then
will have acquired the same
nature beyond nature of the human mind.
Jonas, H. (1966).
Phenomenon of life:
toward a philosophical biology.
New York, NY: Harper &
Jonas, H. (1996).
Morality and morality: a search for the good after Auschwitz.
Northwestern University Press.
Levy, D. J. (2002).
Hans Jonas: the integrity of thinking.
: University of Missouri
Vogel, L. (2008). Overcoming Heidegger's nihilism. In S. Fleischacker,
150). Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press.