Gonzaga Socratic Club logo

current schedule
schedule archive about


Please note that the first event for Fall 2022 will be held online. All other events will take place in person on Mondays, 6:30-8:00 pm, in the Wolff Auditorium of Jepson Center on the Gonzaga Campus unless otherwise noted.


Gonzaga Socratic Club Human Nature Series
Universities sponsored by the Society of Jesus, including Gonzaga University, have made the study of human nature foundational to the intellectual formation of students. Through addressing questions of human nature, meaning, and purpose, philosophy of human nature provides a context for the specific studies in individual academic disciplines. The Gonzaga Socratic Club Human Nature Series will highlight significant perspectives on human nature during the 2021-22 academic year.

Mon Jan 31, 5:00-6:30 pm PST
Drew M. Dalton, Philosophy, Dominican University, River Forest, IL

"Speculative Naturalism and the Question of Human Nature, Meaning, and Value"

What can the modern sciences tell us about our nature, the meaning of human existence, and the potential moral value of our being? The talk will endeavor to answer these questions by introducing the audience to the origin, nature, underlying assumptions, and virtues of philosophical naturalism, a position which endeavors to account for the nature of reality through reference to its physical structure alone, a task which it holds is best accomplished in and through the empirical sciences.  While it is commonly assumed that such a position requires the abandonment of any robust sense of human meaning and value, this talk will argue precisely the opposite: namely, that through a speculative extension of philosophical naturalism, a new (albeit counterintuitive and potentially horrifying) sense of human meaning and moral value can be derived. 

Tues Mar 1,
6:30-8:00 pm PST
David H. Calhoun, Philosophy, Gonzaga University

"Philosophical Anthropology and Philosophical Psychology: Kierkegaard and Sartre on the Role of Human Nature in the Self’s Project of Self-Definition"

Is the self whatever it construes itself to be? Can the self define itself in any way whatsoever without any constraints or limitations?

A popular modern truism is that “you can be anything you want to be.” Versions of this idea are found in the contemporary idea of self-definition, the value of self-expression, and the claim that the self constructs itself. The idea even appears in Supreme Court jurisprudence, in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s assertion: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life” (Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833 [1992] 851). Many people have noted the connection between modern ideas of self-definition and the existentialist notion of the self’s project or task of representing itself to itself or constructing itself as a self

In this presentation, I will explore the existentialist sources of the idea of self-construction, paying particular attention to an important contrast between existentialist thinkers on the conditions for the project of self-definition. On the one hand, Kierkegaard claims that the self’s project of representing itself to itself is grounded on a more fundamental ontology, that of the human person created by God, distinct from animals, and structured in such a way as to make self-representation possible. Thus for Kierkegaard philosophical anthropology grounds philosophical psychology. Only beings of a certain sort—human beings—find their self-understanding problematic and are thus drawn into the problem and project of self-definition. By contrast, atheistic existentialists decouple the notion of the self’s project of self-definition from a foundational ontology, at the extreme denying, as Sartre famously does, the idea of a human nature at all. While Sartre attempts to maintain the idea that reality imposes limits on the self’s self-construction via his idea of the “coefficient of adversity,” he sets the course for more expansive and antirealistic modern notions of self-definition. In the end, nonetheless, I will argue that Sartre recognizes a foundational human nature underlying his phenomenological ontology. Thus even the advocates of radical self-construction acknowledge a foundational human nature. Once again, philosophical anthropology—human nature—grounds philosophical psychology.

Mon Mar 21
6:30-8:00 pm
Wolff Auditorium, Jepson Center (JC 114)
Charlie Lassiter, Philosophy, Gonzaga University

Hylomorphism and Contemporary Philosophy of Mind

Hylomorphism doesn't typically make an appearance when describing the usual suspects in the metaphysics of mind. Those standard alternatives for understanding human nature are framed in terms laid out by early modern philosopher Rene Descartes, namely, (1) mind-body dualism (Descartes’ view), (2) materialism, which explains mental activity in terms of bodily processes, or (3) idealism, which characterizes the physical world as a mental construction. By contrast, hylomorphism, which draws inspiration from the theory of human nature of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, claims that human beings should be understood as systems of organized structures that support particular functions. Understood in these terms, hylomorphism is a powerful metaphysic capable of solving a number of philosophical problems in the philosophy of mind as well as drawing on our latest developments in the sciences.
    This talk will:
  1. provide an overview of one development of contemporary hylomorphism, 
  2. offer a discussion of how it addresses the problem of other minds, and 
  3. identify a surprising implication concerning embodiment and enculturation. 
The upshot is that if hylomorphism is right, then we are the sorts of beings we are in virtue of our internal and external organization.

Mon Apr 11
6:30-8:00 pm
Wolff Auditorium, Jepson Center (JC 114)
Jake Tuttle, Philosophy, Gonzaga University

Seeing God Face to Face: Thomas Aquinas on Human Nature, Heaven, and the Body

Mark Twain is sometimes reported to have said, "If I cannot drink bourbon and smoke cigars in heaven then I shall not go." This (probably apocryphal) quotation captures an intuition that many people have about happiness--namely, that in order for a person to be completely happy, he or she must enjoy the goods of the body. Accordingly, if heaven is a state of maximal happiness, it should include the sorts of sensible pleasures that we enjoy in this life.

At first glance, this intuition also seems to fit well with Christian teaching. In contrast to some accounts of reality that denigrate the material world, Christianity emphasizes the goodness of God's creation, including the goodness of our bodies and their associated activities. Indeed, Christianity values the body so highly that it insists upon the resurrection of the dead rather than the mere survival of an immortal disembodied soul. In light of these doctrines, it is not surprising that many Christians expect that the blessed in heaven will eat, drink, play sports, and even have sex. (Perhaps bourbon and cigars aren't out of the question either.)

However, a long tradition of Christian philosophers and theologians has rejected the idea that beatitude includes the goods of the body. One such figure is the medieval Catholic thinker St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas argues that the blessed in heaven will have perfect, resurrected bodies. However, he also insists that our beatitude will not include any bodily activity. Instead, the blessed in heaven will be totally occupied with contemplating God's essence. He calls this eternal act of contemplation "the beatific vision." On Aquinas's view, our enjoyment of this good will be self-sufficient, or lacking in nothing.

Aquinas's account of heaven has puzzled some scholars, because it seems to render the body otiose. What's the point of having a resurrected body, if that body will not do anything? This problem seems especially serious in light of Aquinas's hylomorphic theory of human nature, according to which a human being is composed of a body and a rational, immaterial soul. On Aquinas's view, part of what it is to be human is to have a body. So it might look surprising that the beatific vision, which is supposed to fully satisfy our deepest desires, should not include any bodily activity. In my talk, I argue that Aquinas resolves this tension by appealing to the Christian notion of divinization--namely, that the blessed in heaven come to more closely resemble God than is possible in earthly life.


For information about the Gonzaga Socratic Club or to propose topics or speakers for future meetings, contact the Club Director:

David Calhoun



©2004-2022 David H. Calhoun. Papers and presentation materials available on this site are used by permission of the authors. Site last updated April 4, 2022.