Beasts, Human Beings, or Gods? Human Subjectivity in Medieval Political Philosophy

  • Juhana ToivanenEmail author
Part of the Studies in the History of Philosophy of Mind book series (SHPM, volume 16)


Human beings are not only self-conscious minds but embodied and social beings, whose subjectivity is conditioned by their social surroundings. From this point of view, it is natural to suppose that the development and existence of a subject that is distinctively human requires contact with other people. The present contribution discusses medieval ideas concerning the intersubjective constitution of human being by looking at the medieval reception of two ideas, which Aristotle presents at the beginning of his Politics: (1) human beings are political animals by nature, which means that those who live outside of political communities due to their nature are either deficient or above humanity – they are beasts or gods; and (2) human beings are parts of political communities, and as such, comparable to hands in a body. When medieval philosophers consider these ideas from metaphysical and normative perspectives, they distinguish different senses in which human beings are naturally political. In effect, they draw a nuanced picture of the relation between an individual human being and the political community, and in so doing they distance themselves from a literal reading of Aristotle. An analysis of the medieval discussions reveals how the social aspect of human subjectivity emerges in medieval political philosophy and how medieval philosophers conceptualise the Aristotelian distinction into three kinds of beings – the beast, the human, and the god.


Political Community Human Subjectivity Theoretical Thinking Bodily Disposition Medieval Philosopher 
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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of JyväskyläJyväskyläFinland

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