The Philosophy of Human Nature in Christian Perspective

by Peter Weigel (Volume editor) Joseph Prud’homme (Volume editor)
©2016 Monographs 149 Pages


In this work, leading contemporary philosophers discuss key facets of the human person from a variety of perspectives in Christian thought. This closely woven volume includes chapters by Nicholas Wolterstorff on the distinction between humans and other animals; Robert Sokolowski on language; Marilyn McCord Adams on the presence of the Holy Spirit in human beings; Roland Teske on the soul and soteriology; Nicolas Austriaco on bioethics and human nature; J. Hayes Hurley on consciousness; and Germain Grisez on death and immortality. An excellent source for scholars, this book is also ideal for courses in philosophy, theology, and psychology.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Christian Philosophy and Human Nature
  • Chapter One: Why Animals Don’t Speak
  • Chapter Two: Language, the Human Person, and Christian Faith
  • Chapter Three: Appositional Consciousness
  • Chapter Four: William of Auvergne on the Various States of Our Nature
  • Chapter Five: The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit: Some Alternative Models
  • Chapter Six: Immediate Hominization from the Systems Perspective
  • Chapter Seven: Death in Theological Reflection
  • Series index

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The editors wish to extend their appreciation to the scholars contributing to this distinctive volume and for their helpful suggestions along the way. All were very supportive of an anthology examining different aspects of the human person. The editors also wish to acknowledge the recent loss of Fr. Roland Teske, S.J., noted scholar and friend, while this volume containing his essay was on its way into print. Thanks to Jackie Pavlovic and the staff at Peter Lang who guided this work into final form. Thank you to everyone involved.

Chapter One first appeared in Faith and Philosophy 4, 4 (1987), 463–485. Chapter Two first appeared as the 2002 Aquinas Medal Lecture in the Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, 76 (2003), 27–38. Chapter Four first appeared in Traditio 58 (2003), 201–218. Chapter 6 first appeared in National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 4, 4 (2004), 719–738. Chapter Seven appeared in The Dignity of the Dying Person, Proceedings of the Fifth Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, ed. Juan de Dios Vial Correa and Elio Sgreccia (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000), 142–172. We appreciate the permission we received to reprint these essays in this single, convenient volume, also featuring the previously unpublished work of accomplished philosophers.

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Christian Philosophy and Human Nature


This important collection of essays by leading philosophers develops a detailed approach to the study of human nature. Each selection examines aspects of the question, what is it to be a human? Our authors do this while taking into account distinctively Christian positions as well as the positions of important historical figures, both Christian and non-Christian. Each piece uses a philosophical approach, but also considers human nature in light of transcendent, theological themes. The volume thus provides a counterpoint to the predominantly secular emphases with which the current philosophical world often studies the human person.

The articles engage a range of topics pertaining to human nature and experience: language, consciousness, emotions, the human essence, ethics, sin, freedom, salvation, and personal responses to God. However, within this diversity of topics the pieces also form a unifying thematic arc rendering the pieces apt for inclusion together in a single volume. Nicholas Wolterstorff and Robert Sokolowski see important features of our humanity outwardly manifest in the use of language. Speech for them reveals a reasoning essence distinctive from that of other animals. J. Hayes Hurley gives the phenomenon of reasoning an inward turn by looking at a particular dynamic of philosophical and spiritual consciousness. Roland Teske’s discussion of William of Auvernge stays with the focus on human mental faculties. Yet, he adds a more explicitly theological dimension by examining the human condition in light of the Fall and our need for redemption. The heart of the volume thus introduces as a central theme human nature struggling towards its ← 1 | 2 → final destiny with God. Marilyn Adams continues the soteriological emphasis by considering what it is for God to be at work in our inner lives. The final two pieces look at the beginning and the end of human life. Nicanor Austriaco’s chapter develops wonderings about when human nature begins and offers an overarching metaphysics of human nature considering the distinctive claims of philosophy, theology, and biology. Germain Grisez brings the volume to a close in considering how the Christian conscience faces death.

What follows is a brief biography of each scholar along with an overview of each chapter. The goal here is less a full summary than bringing some of the important points of the different chapters into connection with each other.

Nicholas Wolterstorff is the Noah Porter Emeritus Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale University. He is currently affiliated with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. His highly influential and wide-ranging contributions to philosophy, particularly in the philosophy of religion, include works in religious epistemology, philosophical theology, metaphysics, aesthetics, political philosophy, theories of justice, and educational philosophy.

His “Why Animals Don’t Speak” assesses some fundamental characteristics of human nature revealed in human speech and communication. Speech sets the ontology of persons apart from other animals by involving persons in a nexus of moral considerations. Wolterstorff initially notes that modern linguistics and philosophical theories of reference tend to leave out this key moral component. One need not start with, quoting Walker Percey, that “man the talker” is “a besouled” creature of God (p. 18). Engaging the moral properties of human language at first does not require a religious point of view. Longtime readers will recognize and appreciate Wolterstorff’s characteristic blend of insight and wry wit coupled with needed technical precision.

He first notes that speech acts reveal diverse intents: asserting, asking, commanding, confessing, expressing a wish, etc. Behaviorist outlooks focus on speech as sounds intended to manipulate behavior, an approach that often overlooks the exacting significance of our words. English speakers in the U.S. can use the word ‘Aristotle’ to refer to a very particular person existing 2500 years ago in another hemisphere. How does one account for this exacting significance? How do words manage to refer with such precision? Wolterstorff briefly considers some contemporary philosophical theories of reference, and those familiar with these accounts will appreciate Wolterstorff’s deft handling of their relative merits.

What modern accounts of human language tend to overlook is the ability to confer a moral status on speakers and listeners. “To perform a speech action is to acquire a certain normative standing in one’s society, a standing constituted by a certain complex of rights and/or responsibilities” (p. 25). Speakers are normally to ← 2 | 3 → be taken at their word and obliged to be truth tellers. Listeners are held responsible for deciding whether and how to respond. Language presupposes and upholds an understood moral community implying a constellation of responsibilities separating us from other sentient creatures. (This does not mean other animals do not communicate.)

Later sections of the piece examine certain Biblical implications of speech and how it ties persons to God. Adam’s act of naming creatures in Genesis, contrary to some modern readings, is not an act of domination or the arbitrary imposition of merely human categories. Wolterstoff thinks Genesis shows language to be a divine gift. The Biblical view of language sees God establishing language so that humanity may flourish and persons become fully themselves. Speech acts place persons in communion with God and their fellow human beings. For the individual consciousness, language opens the person onto a variety of worlds, be they descriptive, normative, imaginative, ontological, or psychological. In this way Wolterstoff connects speech to a characteristically human set of mental faculties, and shows language as a conduit of thought connecting us to God and other persons.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (November)
Holy spirit death immortality Christian thought
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 149 pp.

Biographical notes

Peter Weigel (Volume editor) Joseph Prud’homme (Volume editor)

Peter J. Weigel is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Washington College in Maryland. He received his PhD in philosophy from Yale University and his MPhil. in logic and metaphysics from the University of St Andrews. He is the author of Aquinas on Simplicity (Peter Lang, 2008). Joseph G. Prud’homme is Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute for Religion, Politics, and Culture at Washington College. He received his PhD. in the interdepartmental program in political philosophy at Princeton University. He is the author of numerous works on political theory, legal and constitutional thought, and religious studies.


Title: The Philosophy of Human Nature in Christian Perspective
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162 pages