Human Action: Spiritual vs. Instinctual

A Reflection on Laudato Si´ (Pope Francis´ Encyclical Letter)


The Sons of Confucius Philosophical Club


“We have forgotten that man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature.” (Laudato Si´, p. 10)

Man is equipped with instinct, reason and motivation. He does things which are reasonable and has passed through his will. If he does things outside reason and motivation, the purpose of doing things is lost and defiled. This may cause imbalance in his nature, causing disparity in human relationships. This happens when man is only customized with his instinctual nature. Our instinctual tendencies are those things which we are doing as immediate responses to certain situations (such that, we yawn when we feel sleepy, we drink when we feel thirsty, we scream when we are shockingly frightened, etc.) This is how things happen in our instinctual nature. However, man is beyond his being instinctual (as distinguished from any other creature). He is spiritual and has motivations. As a spiritual being, man has freedom to do things which in him is reasonable and motivational. Thus, there is always a motivation, reason and purpose in every man´s free action.

We started this reflection with the lines cited from the Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis Laudato Si´ and a little explanation of man as both instinctual and spiritual nature in order to ground ourselves in understanding things which are happening around us in the light of Philosophy and Teachings of the Church.

Most of the time, environmental or man-made casualties and accidents, crimes and violation of laws, political and territorial dispute are the highlighted and big headlines on newspapers, radio commentaries and news reports over the television. The rising tension between the bad and the good human action is very crucial at this point of time wherein everything seemed to be instinctual and human reason is perverted by technology and ´grab-and-throw mentality´ of this present generation. It is just like we are to jump from a 10-storey building only to prove if we will die or hold the burnt charcoal in order to justify that it is really hot. People, at all times, lack moral reason which is in its spiritual nature. The rising crime committed by children and adults with ages 9-24 is something disturbing. Where did all this things come from?

Freedom is a state of being. A bird is free if it is outside the cage. A phone is for free if it is part of the packaged plan. A child is free to play inside the vicinity of their house. But what is unique with ´Freedom´ for man? The ground and norms of morality states that freedom is the important factor of human actions as distinct from acts of man which are merely instinctual. With or without freedom, instinctual actions can be done since it does not require any prohibitions, limitations, rightness, motivations and reasons. In contrast, human action really requires freedom for an authentically free, moral, acceptable to all and well-reflected and contemplated results. This is the reason why every human action should be free, that is, he has reasons and his will concur to it in doing such thing. Yet, man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will. In this aspect, we will get to understand that whatever is happening in our education, family, politics and government, business sectors, technology and identity are all due to our freedom. It is either we practice our freedom and respect others freedom or practice our own freedom and not minding at all other´s freedom. The first emphasizes justice, harmony and community while the latter speaks of selfishness, greed and discontent. Hence, the things that make us upset today are products of the latter use of freedom which generate egocentric mentality. These lead to greater societal problems such as scarcity in basic needs because of hoarding, laxities and excesses in law implementation due to individual biases, corruption and exploitation because of greed and pleasure and above all war and dispute because of unresolved issue on conflict of interests. The bottom line of these problems is the overt abuse of freedom.

That simple line in Laudato Si´ reminds everyone that freedom has a limitation. Freedom has an accompanying responsibility over our human actions. Since we are spiritual, freedom passes through our rationality and will. It means that we know how to use it, when to use it, where to use it, to what extent we can use it properly. There are already great issues in our society concerning freedom and its abiding responsibility. These issues are not just making scars of painful reality but cancers and tumors that if not rehabilitated immediately and will not be taken with serious awareness, will eventually rapture and cast its cancerous cells on the entire body, our culture and way of life.

In the end, we are encouraged to do our own responses to certain realities. We will be confronted by several things which will come across our journey. Will things be just passing through my instinctual nature or these things must be confronted in my spiritual nature. There are reasons behind man´s actions. It is through our instinct, reason and motivation which crafted our free actions with authenticity and responsibility.

Let us ask ourselves then, “Are the things I am doing at the moment and deciding to do in the future product of my mere instinctual nature (leveled among animals and other living beings) or upshots of my spiritual nature (as differentiated from all other creatures)?”


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