Calvin Professor Defends the Term “Rational Animal” as Applied to Man
December 16, 1957
The Rev. H. J. Kuiper, Managing Editor TORCH AND TRUMPET
2401 Paris Avenue, S. E. Grand Rapids, Michigan
Dear Sir: Will you allow me just a brief comment on Mr. Walter A. De Jong’s interpretation of the expression “rational animal” in a recent number of your Journal? Your contributor makes clear what he means by the term, but fails to point out that men such as St. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas meant something quite different by it. The Latin form (of which the English “rational animal” is only a trans literation, not a translation) is “rationale animal,” in which the substantive “animal” is simply “a thing endowed with an anima (the soul conceived as the vital element),” that is, an animate thing, or creature; the adjective “rationale” means “participating in capable of apprehending, ratio, objective and universal reason.”
I am not now arguing for the adequacy of the term as a definition of man, but only trying to make clear that Mr. De Jong’s “ratio” is not the “ratio” of Cicero, Seneca, Lactantius, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and others who stood in the Classical-Christian tradition. While the term is popularly interpreted as in your contributor’s article, I am sorry to see your journal lend its prestige to this vulgar, though mistaken, notion.
Yours very truly,
ROBERT T. OTTEN 532 Ethel, S. E. Grand Rapids, Michigan
Reply I want to thank Mr. Otten for his letter, pointing to a problem in semantics. I am just wondering if his contribution doesn’t suggest a dilemma. Can you discuss a secular education and escape this “vulgar notion” popularly associated with the term?
WALTER A. DE JONG