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A. Aristotelian Rationality

According to Aristotle, man is a rational animal. Fair enough—on this point as on others, Aristotle is no doubt right: but what specifically did he have in mind? Here the term ‘rational’ apparently points to or expresses a property that distinguishes human beings from other animals. As Aristotle saw it, this property is the possession of ratio, the power of reason. The idea is that human beings, unlike at least some other animals, have concepts and can hold beliefs; they can reason, reflect, and think about things, even things far removed in space or time; human beings are (or, at any rate, can be) knowers. This is what it is to be a rational creature; and this is what Aristotle saw as distinctive about human beings. Of course rational powers can come in degrees. We ordinarily think of ourselves (no doubt in a burst of specific chauvinism) as much more talented, along these lines, than other terrestrial animals, although perhaps we are prepared to concede that some of them display at least rudimentary powers of reason. We also realize there may be other creatures, perhaps in other parts of the universe, that put us absolutely in the shade when it comes to intellectual power. Now is the de jure question the question whether a creature rational in this sense can accept Christian belief? Presumably not: given the many millions of rational animals who do accept it, that question, like the question of justification, has much too easy an answer.

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