The German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz is known for, among other ideas, the principle of sufficient reason. A truncated version of the principle is that everything has a reason or a cause for its existence. In this paper, I would like to extend the principle of sufficient reason to human nature.
I shall like to argue that there exists something called human nature, that God creates such a nature, and – in applying the principle of sufficient reason – human nature is designed for a particular end.
Human nature can take many definitions. In general, human nature refers to those traits and characteristics that are true of all human beings across space and time. Furthermore, nature entails the essence or quiddity of a person. That is to say that nature is the foundation for what a thing is.
From the perspective of Catholicism, the definition of human nature must include a rational soul made in the image of God. It is essential to clarify that Catholicism asserts that essence or nature precedes existence. That is to say that it is God who constitutes human nature. While this may seem almost self-evident to people of faith, it is not a settled matter.
For existentialists, human nature is created by the individual. This is what Jean-Paul Sartre meant when he wrote that “existence precedes essence.” For Sartre, as for existentialism in general, the human being determines his nature for himself. Secularism takes the existentialist argument one step further by denying the existence of human nature at all.
The significance of this question lies in the fact that nature not only determines what a being is but also dictates meaning. If, as existentialists argue, human beings create their own nature, then they not only decide the purpose of their life, they decide if they are human beings!
If, as secularism argues, nature does not exist, then there is no objective meaning to life and no way of objectively distinguishing between different beings. It is the nature of a thing that dictates what that thing is. All human beings, regardless of race or nationality, share the exact human nature. If they did not, they could not all be called human beings.
It seems evident that both existentialism and secularism create an impossible ontological problem. Beyond the internal contradictions of both existentialism and secularism, Catholics must also reject these views for soteriological reasons. Catholicism asserts that not only is human nature created by God, but it can only be perfected by grace and find meaning in relation to God. (See International Theological Commission; Human Persons Created in the Image of God).
It is prudent to clarify nature as it relates to God. It is possible – and necessary theologically – to speak of the divine nature. However, we can only do so analogically due to God’s transcendence. When one has complete knowledge of a being’s essence, one completely understands that being. Such an understanding of God is not possible for a finite and sinful human being. This is not to suggest a complete alienation of the divine and the human natures, but an acknowledgment of the transcendence and immanence of God.
The Catholic Church identifies two types of grace; sanctifying and actual. Sanctifying grace refers to the process whereby Catholics are transformed into the adopted children of God. It is sanctifying grace that allows one a share in the divine life God offers.
Where sanctifying grace is intrinsic to the soul, actual grace acts on the soul by moving the intellect and the will to seek God.
For the purpose of understanding grace in relation to nature, it suffices to say that grace is God’s unmerited and benevolent activity on and in His creation. It is the life of God, transmitted to human beings which complement, heals, and elevates human nature in ways not attainable by human beings through their own natural powers.
From the Catholic perspective, God creates human nature and infuses that nature with grace; God acts on human nature to guide it to its proper end. It is entirely possible that God could have so constituted human nature that it would naturally incline toward its highest and best end. However, to do so would denude, if not destroy, the human capacity for free will. As such, it can be inferred that God desires that we cooperate with Him toward our highest and best end. What exactly is that end? To that, I turn next.
Made For God
“You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they can find rest in you.” – Saint Augustine.
Catholicism correctly asserts that all of creation is imbued with teleology. Simply put, every created thing and being is designed for a purpose. What then is the goal of human nature?
To be made in the image of God is, among other things, to be rational. Rationality seeks truth and justice. In addition, a thing is more in the image of its creator to the extent that it shares qualities with its creator. In this case, that quality is love (1 John 4:16). So, human nature can be said to have been created to seek truth, justice, and love. While those things exist imperfectly in this world, they exist perfectly in God. Therefore, it can be argued that human nature is designed to seek and commune with God. When we settle for less, we become “restless” or, at worst, find idols to take the place of God.
Since a thing is perfect to the extent that it fulfills its purpose, and since the purpose of human nature is communion with God, human nature can only be perfected by and in God. For this reason, a principle of Catholic philosophy is that God is the summum bonum or the highest good that exists.
Unfortunately, fallen human nature cannot find communion with God of its own power. For this reason, our human nature can only find communion with God (and thereby be perfected) by grace. The final step, therefore, is for us to be receptive to and cooperate with God’s grace. Only then can we seek all that we desire.
Accepting that every created thing is created for a purpose, it is logical to ask what human beings have been made for. In the preceding paper, I have suggested that human nature is designed by God to commune with God. Furthermore, since a thing is only perfect in so far as it fulfills its purpose, human beings can only be perfected (i.e., perfect happiness) in a relationship with God.