The Perfectibility of Human Nature in Eastern and Western by Harold Coward

By Harold Coward

Explores the difficulty of the perfectibility of nature in philosophy, psychology, and various global religions.

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Philo further subdivides the soul into two parts: the rational part and the part that has to do with emotions and desires. In their rational souls humans are akin to God and the angels. 43 Following Greek thought, Philo refers to the body as a prison or tomb of the soul—a corpse to which the soul is tied. In Philo’s view, for the wicked person who is animated by desire and sensual pleasure the body is alive, while for the virtuous person the body is dead. The body, by being a corpse, works against the soul’s higher good.

Deut. 39 As Jewish philosophy began in the Diaspora in the Hellenistic world from the second century BCE to the first century CE, it is not surprising that the philosophers view of human nature and its perfectibility was influenced by Greek thought. 40 Let us briefly outline Philo’s views on human nature and its perfectibility. 41 Following Plato, Philo makes the cause of the world’s creation God’s goodness. God creates by bringing order out of the chaos of preexisting matter. God does this by first creating the ideal world—an ideal eternal world of forms discerned by reason.

29 Here the condition of human nature is compressed into three experiences: (1) humans experience good and evil in life because the human heart (the seat of thought, emotion, and will) is divided between tendencies to good and evil; (2) evil constantly threatens the soul (the principle of life) with death; and (3) to maintain life and resist evil and temptation requires more than human resources—namely, strength from God for help in perfecting oneself. For the rabbis, God remains the source and giver of the commandments.

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