Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Philosophy Reformed Irenicism

Zanchi’s Aristotle (9): Man as Microcosm

In the next installment, Zanchi notes that the kind of natural philosophy he has in view ranks second only to the Word in helping us to learn the things that we need to know about nature, God, and ourselves (more on this in a moment).

Zanchi here invokes the Platonist hierarchical schema to describe the various “levels” of existence for the understanding of which philosophy gives us aid.

But Aristotle adds a fourth kind of knowledge, which is knowledge of man in particular (and thus is connected to what we saw Augustine and Zanchi to say last time); Zanchi’s brief remarks recall Aristotle’s discussion of different types of soul (vegetative, sensitive, rational). This kind of knowledge is especially illuminating, because man himself is a kind of μικρόκοσμον, a “cosmos in miniature.”

Moreover, this philosophy is not a little useful for coming to know all of these things; it hands down knowledge by no means obscure or slight both of those things that are below us and of those things that are at our level. And it easily conveys us to those things above us that we must know. After the Word of God, then, what can be found more outstanding than this philosophy? The Platonists decree that there are three worlds. The first of these they call “angelic” and “ultramundane,” and they say that it is the one where God and the angels enjoy an undying eternity. The second they call “heavenly,” and they say that it is the one that we perceive, where the stars, heavenly bodies, planets, sun, and moon are seen. The last and lowest they name “sublunar,” and they say that it is the one in which we live, are moved, and exist. But a fourth is also added by Aristotle himself, and they say that this is man, whom certain thinkers call a μικρόκοσμον, because his spirit is heavenly and his body is composed from the elements; and there is vegetative potency in him, as in plants; sense-perception, as in beasts; and mind and reason, as in the angels.1

  1. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.