The Scholar's definition of a human
Scholars have tried to define the definition of man, and many did so differently, as we will see. Plato (c. 427–347 b.c.e.), attempts to give us a definition of a human being and what makes us human. Plato, a student of Socrates (469–399 b.c.e.), (father of the Socratic method), believed in the almost mystical but nonsensical theory of forms. Plato felt that everything was a copy; a copy of the ideal. Thus, for example, a table is only a table because there is a perfect table in heaven. Without this perfect table elsewhere, the ideal of beauty, they would be no table. Scholars cannot determine where the ideal resides. Is it in heaven or in the mind? Plato doesn't seem to know.
Aristotle (384–322 b.c.e.) disagreed with his teacher Plato. He rejected the amorphous theory of ideals. He focused more on how to live your life properly.
Aristotle was an empiricist. He only accepted what is rational and scientific, observable facts. He was attentive to careful observation, extensive experience, and scientific findings. He would, for example, reject virgin births. Aristotle felt that everything in this world has a purpose. If the object in question achieved its functional use, it achieved its purpose. A chair's purpose is to provide comfortability. Thus the chair has purpose. Humans, too, have a purpose. Its what distinguishes us from animals. A good person is one who acts morally. An excellent person is one who thinks. Maimonides (1138-1204) agrees with this way of thinking. A good Jew is one who practices halacha, Jewish law. An excellent Jew is one who develops their intellect. Because the Torah mitzvot are a means to an end, they help people acquire a proper understanding to improve themselves and society, the goals of the Torah. But the laws are not dispensable. They will continue to be observed in the messianic era. The messianic era will not be a time in a changed in nature. Rather, Jews will live peacefully in Israel and governments will provide the opportunity for philosophizing. Maimonides emphasized the acquisition of knowledge and the use of the scientific method.
The Platonic person looks at a painting, admires it, but does not take notice of its beauty. An intelligent person (or Aristotelian) marvels at the painting, take notice of it and puts its beauty in the form of application. They analyze the work and try to understand why it is good and how it fits in with the others. Thus, while Plato sees a “pie in the
sky,” Aristotle takes the pie in hand, savors it and eats it.
This rational view was considered heresy to the Dominican heresy-hunters of Montpellier, France. They burned the Greek pagan books before they started burning the Guide. The ideas of metaphysics and the books in which it was contained had no value in Christianity, but it did in the Arabic world where Jews and Arabs existed together for many centries until 1492 when Jews were exiled. Needless to say, Solomon b. Abraham, David b. Saul, and Rabbi Jonah Gerundi were the perpetrators for burning the Guide in Europe. It would not be revealed again for about 200 years until after Moses Mendelssohn has provided it for the general public. Thus, the Chanukah story is not about the Maccabee revolt against Hellenistic paganism, Greek culture. It was a rebellion against the Syrian Greek, who banned circumcision, erected a pagan statue in the Temple and banned Torah study. It was a theological battle, not a rebellion against Greek philosophy.
What does the bible say about being human
Genesis 2:7 reads:
“The L-rd G-d formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a nefesh chayah.”
Onkelos does not render this simply as “a living being,” but characterizes this as man's ruach m’mal’la, “one with the power of speech,” a phrase denoting a certain level of intelligence.
According to Aristotle and his philosophical disciple Maimonides, a person who focuses his time in contemplative study, neglect to improve themselves or society, refraining from proper habits in the avoidance of the joys of this world in extream isolation (neglecting the Golden Mean) are not religious and certainly not pious – nor can they be called appropriately human. Aristotle defined what it means to be human. To be human is to develop the intellect. It is what separates us from animals. To do otherwise would be almost not human, or to put it differently, it would be less than human.