Whether there is such a thing as a universal human nature is a question that cannot be dodged; it is a question that must be settled before proceeding to the discussion of natural law. . . . [I]t is meaningless to argue seriously about natural law without having ever raised the question of the universals. . . . It is vain and unprofitable to argue about the universality of natural right or natural law without a minimum of logic concerning the universals, concerning, the meaning of universality . . . .
Socrates is a man. When we say "man," when we predicate "man" of the individual Socrates, is it a mere description of the individual or is it also a referent: does it only describe Socrates or does it also refer to something real "external" to, and independent of, Socrates and in which he participates? If it does refer, then what is it it refers to? By saying "man," do we refer to a universal or merely to a set? Is a particular man, say Socrates, "man" because he is a member of the set of individuals we classify as "men"? Or is Socrates "man" because he participates in the entirety in this thing called "man"? Philosophers called this latter sort of referent a universal. It is either a type (e.g., "humanness"), a property (e.g., "whiteness"), or a relation (e.g., in betweeness). In this case, when we say that Socrates is a man, the term "man" is a universal of type.
We may break the philosophical understanding of universals into three general schools of thought: realist, idealist, and nominalist. The realists believe that universals have a real existence. The realists may be broken further into two general groups, Platonic (universalia ante rem) realists and Aristotelian (universalia in rebus) realists sometimes called moderate realists. The Platonic view is that universals (the "form") are real and exist independently of and collateral to the particular thing that participates in it. The Aristotelian view is that universals are real, but do not exist independently of the particular thing that participates in the universal. The universal inheres in the particular. The universal only exists in the individual that embodies it. We understand the universal through the process of abstraction.
The idealist or conceptualist believes that universals are realities in the mind only (concepts alone), and have no extra-mental existence, whether independent or not of the particular. The nominalist goes further and rejects that universals are real in any sense, and only accepts the existence of individuals or particulars. For a nominalist, something like "humanity" does not have a real existence; it is but a "name" or a "term" (The Latin word for "name" is nomen, from which the word nominalist comes. An alternative name for nominalist is also a terminist). In terms of whether the universals are real or not, the idealist or conceptualist position collapses into the nominalist or terminist position.
The problem [of universals] may be expressed by considering two interrelated questions. First, can our concepts be grounded in reality if it is the case that universals do not exist in some manner in cognition-independent reality? Second, can the nature of the entities in cognition-independent reality be thoroughly individualized if it is true that our conceptual classifications reflect something real? [Platonic] Realism says "no" to the first question; nominalism says "no" to the second. Moderate [Aristotelian] realism, in contrast, answers both questions affirmatively.Douglas J. Deny Uyl and Douglas B. Rasmussen, "Ethical Individualism, Natural Law, and the Primacy of Natural Rights," in Ellen Frankel Paul, et al. eds., Natural Law and Modern Moral Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 35 n. 5. Put simply, when we say "Socrates is a man," the Platonic Realist would say that the most important reality is not Socrates, but "man." The nominalist would say that the most important reality (in fact the only reality) is Socrates, and not man. The moderate realist would say that both man and Socrates are important realities, as the reality of man expresses itself in and through Socrates.
It is important to distinguish a universal from a set or collection. A universal can be predicated, in its whole meaning, to each of its subjects or parts. A universal can be identified in its entirety in any one of its parts or subjects. This is not true of a set or collection. A set or collection cannot be identified with any one of its parts or components; it cannot be predicated of any of its parts. Is "man" a universal in which individual men and women share, or is it a set or collection of individual men and women? Clearly, at least in ordinary usage, "man" is a universal in which individual men and women participate, and not merely an individual member of a set or collection of men and women that have existed, that currently exist, and that will, in the future exist. To see the distinction between a universal of the whole and a set, we can look at the way we predicate the universal and the set on an individual.
The Senate is a "set" of senators; it is what we get when we aggregate a group of senators. Suppose that Smith is a member of the Senate; he is a senator. Though he is a member of the Senate, Senator Smith cannot be said to be a Senate, or to contain within himself the Senate, or to be senate. This is so because a set (Senate) cannot be predicated of any of its parts (Senator Smith).
The matter is markedly different when say that Socrates is a man. It means more than merely that he is a member of the set of men. Since the term man is a universal whole, it may be predicated on Socrates in its entirety. This is so because a universal can be predicated in its entirety upon any parts or subjects since they in some manner participate in and are expressive of that universal. So we can say that Socrates is a man, that Socrates has within himself humanness (manness), that Socrates is man.
Socrates is man, unlike Senator Smith, who is not senate.
We participate in a universal in a manner different than we participate in a set. Thus, the thinking behind the depiction of the humans in the "Pioneer Plaque," designed by Dr. Carl Sagan and Dr. Frank Drake, is highly unphilosophical. The physical makeup of the man and the woman were determined through a computerized analysis of the "average person," something a nominalist would think of. The universal "man" is not determined by averaging individual men and women. Under the classical view of natural law, "man" is not a set or aggregate of men and women.
Under the classical view of natural law, "man" is a universal whole, a reality that exists outside of us and independent of us, but one that expresses itself and is found only particular or individual men and women. In the view of the natural law, each and every man, woman, child, and fetus from the first moment of conception participates in the universal whole that is man. As such, each individual person participates in the nature of man and shares in the dignity of that universal concept, the attendant duty that comes with it to learn of what it is to be "man," what is the end or purpose of "man," and what kind of activity conforms to and is expressive of "man." In short, the universal is what allows for an objective human nature and an objective law that stems from that universal and objective human nature in which we participate.
This is the viciousness of the Darwinian thesis: that man has an evolving nature, and therefore there is no such thing as a universal in any individual "man." Man is process. Becoming.
This human nature, this universal in which we participate, is a "given," it is not one that we make for ourselves. We discover it, we uncover it. We do not invent it or create it. We are servants to the universal, and through our adherence to the natural law that is part of it we find our freedom to become what we are.
Man Created By God: Source of Universal
We are not masters of the universal. Outside of it we are no longer free, but act as if we are something we are not. And there is no question of becoming "superhuman" when we act outside of it. We have no ability to become more than what we are. We only have the ability to be what we are or to be less than what we are. Therefore, we become inhuman, indeed subhuman, when we act outside of the universal.