In a Sense All Things

The final reading of our summer reading program is called “In a Sense All Things” (CUA Primer, pages 60–61). That title, which is the same as the title of the whole primer itself, comes from the first passage, written by Aristotle, in his work De Anima. “De Anima” is Latin for “On the Soul.” (Even though Aristotle originally wrote the work in Greek, people today often refer to it by a  Latin translation of its original Greek title, Περὶ Ψυχῆς. CUA’s Department of Greek and Latin could help us with all this.)

Interestingly, when Aristotle set up On the Soul as an investigation into the soul, he meant that he was looking into the nature of biological life, of what makes living things different from dead things. People would later argue over whether Aristotle believed in a kind of soul that could survive after bodily death, like the Christian idea of soul. However, the main focus of what Aristotle means by soul in On the Soul is biological life, and so its makes sense, though it may sound odd, that Aristotle thought that plants have souls, in the sense that plants are living things with biological life in them. So you could think of the book as if it had the title On Biological Life.

Another interesting thing about Aristotle is that he also though that the capacities that living things have come out of their biological life. Therefore, the power that plants have to capture energy from the sun through photosynthesis, the power that animals have to move around, and the power that human beings have to know and understand, all come from their biological life. The passage in the primer concentrates on the power of intellect that enables human beings to know and understand things. It is through this power that human beings have to know and understand everything that “the soul is in a sense all things.” To help us understand this idea, Aristotle makes an analogy between a human soul and a human hand: A hand can change its shape in order to grasp a wide variety of things, becoming like those things in the sense of taking on a similar shape to each of them. In a similar way, the human intellect can grasp (or understand) ideas that our senses take in as well as abstract ideas separated from sensible things. It does this by its ability to adapt itself to an innumerable variety of kinds of things.

In the second passage of the reading, Saint Bonaventure says that, although God made human beings to know the world, they cannot flourish fully without receiving the help that God provided through Jesus Christ. In order words, so to speak, we need to open our hands and intellects both to the created world and to the God behind all things.

Because this post is meant to be helpful to your discussion when you first meet with your Learning Community instructors, I don’t have any specific questions about the passages to ask you. However, please feel free to make comments below about the passages, or about the summer reading program in general. Thank you very much for all of your work for this summer reading program, and I wish you all a fantastic first year at Catholic University!

Photo: “my hand” by Moss is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Erica Farrell says:

    This reading assignment throughout the whole summer has been completely different than my reading assignments and general assignments that I have had to do during my summers throughout elementary school and high school. My prior assignments had been more about recalling what I had learned in the prior year and jumping a little bit into what I might learn in the fall of the following year. I think what is so interesting about the CUA Primer is that is calls for an entirely different way of thinking than I have used in my past summers. This has called for me to think intellectually and not just working on how many facts I can memorize in one summer. It’s more about knowing how and why we are who we are or why we exist the way we exist or similar why/how questions, rather than simply what facts can I know.

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