a1 Heythrop College, University of London email@example.com
Let me start with the enigmatic dictum of Blaise Pascal: ‘l'homme passe l'homme’ – ‘man goes beyond himself’; ‘humanity transcends itself’. What does this mean? On one plausible interpretation, Pascal is adverting to that strange restlessness of the human spirit which so many philosophers have pondered on, from Augustine before him, to Kierkegaard and many subsequent writers since. To be human is to recognize that we are, in a certain sense, incomplete beings. We are on a journey to a horizon that always seems to recede from view. Unlike all the other animals, who need nothing further for their thriving and flourishing once the appropriate environmental conditions are provided, human beings, even when all their needs are catered for – physical, biological, social, cultural – and even when they enjoy a maximally secure and enriching environment, still have a certain resistance to resting content with existence defined within a given set of parameters. They still have the restless drive to reach forward to something more.
John Cottingham is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Reading, Professorial Research Fellow at Heythrop College, University of London, an Honorary Fellow of St John's College, Oxford, and editor of the international philosophical journal Ratio. His recent titles include On the Meaning of Life (Routledge, 2003), The Spiritual Dimension (CUP, 2005), Cartesian Reflections (OUP, 2008), and Why Believe? (Continuum, 2009).