A Note on the Difference Between Man and Brute

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

Recently I heard a story of a man who suffered a heart attack while walking his dog. The dog would not allow paramedics near the man to treat him, and so police had to be called in to shoot the creature. The delay resulted in the man's death.

Indeed, brute animals are marvelous creatures, but the story above suggests what most of us know intuitively, namely, that they are essentially different from human beings. An animal is a living sentient creature. It is this ability to sense that distinguishes animals from plants. In logical terms, "sentient" reduces the genus "living thing" to a species of living thing, namely animal. Allow me to explain.

A categorical proposition is a complete sentence with a subject and a predicate. For example: "Giraffes are tall". "Giraffe" is the subject, and "tall" is the predicate. The genus in a definition is that which is predicated essentially of several things that differ in species. For example, a bird is an animal, a dog is an animal, a horse is an animal, and a man is an animal. As we can see, "animal" is predicated of bird, dog, horse, and man.

Furthermore, "animal" is predicated essentially of them all, not non-essentially. In other words, one cannot predicate "brown" essentially of bird, dog, horse, and man, even though all of them might be brown. The color brown is not part of the very essence of man, otherwise all men would be brown. Nor is brown part of the very idea of bird, otherwise all birds would be brown, and anything that isn't brown, like a Bluejay or a Cardinal, would not be a bird. But animal is part of the essence of man, bird, horse, and dog. If a thing is not an animal, it cannot be a dog.

Now, the specific difference is that which reduces the genus to a species, making one species essentially different from another within a genus. Hence, "sentient" is the specific difference that renders an animal essentially different from a rose.

Man is a living sentient creature as well, but "animal" is the genus in the definition of man, and the definition is that which expresses what a thing is essentially. What is it that reduces the genus "animal" to the species "man"? The answer to that question is none other than the ability to reason. Man is a rational animal.

To be rational is to have the ability to draw a necessary conclusion from given premises. For example,

All men are animals.
Some things are not animals.
Ergo, some things are not men.

It is because man has the ability to reason on the basis of self-evident principles that he is able to determine that some reasoning is invalid, for example:

All educated people have worked hard.
Some students are not educated.
Ergo, some students have not worked hard.

In other words, the conclusion (some students have not worked hard) does not follow from the given premises. Hence, the logic is bad.

Now, in order to reason, one must be able to make judgments, for example: "Some things are not men", or "All men are animals". The ability to make universal statements (all men are animals), however, presupposes the ability to apprehend universal concepts, such as "man", "animal", "thing", "living", "health", "equality", "universality", "cause", "science", "essential", "necessity", "contingency", etc.

Universal concepts, however, are not sensible; particulars are sensible. One cannot, for example, draw a picture of the concept "animal". The idea of animal is neither a horse, a dog, a cow, nor a bird. It covers all of them. "Animal" is not necessarily four legged, or two legged, or winged or not winged. It has no corresponding image. It is an idea, that is, something intelligible, not sensible.

Nor can we draw a picture of the idea or species "bird". One can only illustrate an image, that is, a particular bird of a particular species (i.e., canary, duck, falcon, etc.), having a particular size, color, etc. But universal concepts have no size, shape, color, or texture. What color is the idea or concept "color"? It is neither red nor green nor blue. How long is the concept of length? How small is the idea of small? To what is the idea of "relation" related? What shape is the concept "shape"? Is it round, square, or rectangular? The answer is that it does not have shape, just as one's idea of "weight" has no weight.

All of us know what it means to be small, heavy, colored, one, many, true, false, good, beautiful, honest, healthy, and sick, etc. But none of these are sensible. Universal ideas have no sensible matter, and what is material cannot be the receiving subject of what is immaterial. The hand cannot grab a concept as it can grab a hammer, and the eye cannot behold the concept "health", "equation", or "necessity". We cannot taste "quantity", or "morality", or the very concept "taste". The receiving subject must be proportioned to what it receives, which is why the mind and the brain are not the same thing. The brain is the organ of internal sensation (sense memory, imagination, instinct, kinesthetic sensation, etc), and sensation is always of particulars. But the mind is an immaterial power whose object is the intelligible structure of things, or the nature of things, and a nature or idea exists in the mind as universal.

Animals have brains, because they are sentient creatures, but they don't have minds. Whenever I want my own dog out of the house, all I do is open the side door and call out "squirrel", and she will run out and into the backyard barking and searching all around for it every time, for the past 7 years in fact. The reason is that in her sense memory, the sound "squirrel" is associated with the phantasm of a squirrel as a result of past experience with us, and that phantasm evokes an instinctive reaction. She does not understand the concept

of falsehood or deception, whereas children do. That is why one can fool a child once or twice, but not indefinitely.

There is no science of sensible particulars, only universals. In other words, there is no science of this particular human cadaver on the table; rather, medical students study its particular internal structure in order to know the anatomy of all humans (universal), because different human beings are all essentially the same. That is why there are no animal scientists. Animals cannot grasp universal ideas, which is why they do not make judgments (i.e., John is able to lie), and thus cannot reason to conclusions from two different premises. Hence, birds do not improve on the architecture of the nests they build, for they do not understand what they do.

Although instinct in many animals is a genuine source of wonder, it is precisely because we understand that animals are non-rational creatures that we are wonderstruck at their instinctive abilities; for instinctive behavior resembles rational activity, because it is meaningful and ordered to an end, but the animal does not understand the end nor why it does what it does. If it did, the dog in the story above would have allowed the paramedics to save his owner who was undergoing a heart attack and in danger of dying.

Although an ape might use a tool, for instance, move a crate in order to reach the banana hanging from the top of a cage, it will not build a crate with the planks, nails, and hammer left in the cage, so as to reach the banana. For it does not understand the concepts of "means" and "ends", because it cannot grasp the concept of "relation", and thus neither does it grasp the concept "tool". It will never understand what a hammer is, namely a tool, nor what a nail is, namely something that potentially binds a bunch of two by fours together which in turn can be organized to form a crate, which can be used as a means to climb and reach an object of desire. The reason is that the powers of sensation, which define a brute animal, are limited to the apprehension of particular sensible things.

Man, on the other hand, not only senses, but he also knows that he senses, and he knows that he knows. He understands the very idea of sensation, intellection, and the differences between the two. He can define things using a genus and a specific difference precisely because the object of his intellect are the essences of things, which exist in his mind as universal, one, and unchanging. What exist in his mind are logical entities, not real sensible things, and the logical beings that exist in his mind are proportioned to that mind. And so if logical entities, such as "genus", "species", "difference", "animal", "man", etc., are immaterial, non-quantitative and immutable ideas, the human intellect is an immaterial power not subject to quantity.

And so man is not merely a more complex sentient creature than brute animals, but an essentially different creature than all other species of animal; for intellection is not sensation. Sensible particulars are nothing like intelligible ideas that are universal in scope, and without that ability to grasp ideas having universal scope, it would be impossible for the human person to draw necessary conclusions which make it possible for us to design bridges, skyscrapers, and the very computer I'm using to write this article.

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