Two Kinds of Being

two kinds of being

Human being has two dimensions, which could be called the 'natural' and the 'cultivated'.  This article aims to help clarify the nature and significance of the distinction and relation between these two kinds of being.

The Natural and the Cultivated

As we explore the distinction between these two kinds of being, let us begin with one particular aspect of human nature - sex. If there is one reality we tend to think of as real in an unequivocal, bodily sense it is sex. Its tangible, even instinctive aspect is something that impresses itself on us. Sex seems to be something simply natural. It is a bodily reality similar to that in many other creatures. Its most obvious purpose is procreation. A new bodily being can come into existence as a result.

It might not be as self-evident that sexuality is also a reality ‘constituted by meaning’. That is, it is not just a meaningful reality, having intelligibility, as something capable of being understood in many of its aspects. There is also a dimension of the reality itself that is not tangible and bodily in a direct sense but is ‘constructed’ from meaning as such. We could call this cultivated being. So we can identify two kinds of being, the natural and the cultivated.

The Art of Being

Cultivated being is not something specific to sexuality but applies to all of human reality. As well as what we might call our ‘natural’ being there is a dimension of cultivated being that is interwoven with it, being a further development of it. It might be helpful to begin with an example. Let us take a work of art, say a painting. If we asked, ‘What is the reality of this work of art?’ how would we answer?

If we looked only to its tangible, physical aspect we would see it as a collection of paint applied to a board. These are material things we can touch and see.

Yet if we tried to say that a painting is ‘only’ that collection of material attributes we would miss its essential significance.

The artist has consciously intended to express a meaningfulness to be communicated to others through the tangible medium. This meaning is not in a conceptual form, like the exposition of a theory, but in aesthetic form, intended to communicate meaningfulness in an indirect way through sensing and feeling, though not excluding what can be gained by an intellectual engagement with it.

So the painting has a natural aspect, being the simple given-ness of the materials in themselves, and a cultivated aspect, which is the additional meaning made manifest through those materials. This cultivated aspect is that dimension of the painting that is constituted by meaning’. The ‘materials’ from which it is constructed are the elements of meaningfulness conceived by the artist and worked into a new creation. The physical materials pre-existed the artist's efforts, but the work of art itself is the creation of the artist.

Cultivation as Natural

From a Christian perspective, the natural world is created by God, and we experience it as merely given, prior to, and apart from any of our actions. But the cultivated world is a cooperative creation of God and the human person and community. It is an enrichment of reality drawing on the potentials already in the natural world to bring into existence something new. It is genuinely a dimension of the real.

We can be inclined to wonder if cultivated being is properly real, because it seems less tangible. We might have the feeling that it is not ‘really real’. But it is crucial to grasp that it truly is real. Like anything real, we discern its reality by its effects, consequences, implications. Indeed, the cultivated dimension of human reality is its larger part. It includes, not just works of art, but technology based on science, which is a constructed realm of conceptual knowledge allowing us to act on the natural world, drawing out its hidden potentials and making use of them. It is culture, and everything cultivated in such ways.

The cultivated realm then has to be seen as natural to humanity. It is part of human nature. It is not artificial in a pejorative sense. It does depend on art, artifice, for its construction, but this does not diminish its significance; it  augments it. Through this artfulness we can become more human.

The Living Form of the Good

A further example of this cultivation could be given in how people value animals. Take the horse. The horse is part of natural creation, and would exist whether human beings came to walk the earth or not. Yet horses have become something quite special to human beings, as ‘co-workers’, participants in human play, as ‘objects’ of art, and even as ‘companions’. They are not mere objects, like stones, to be used, but have a nature of their own which needs to be respected. In our dealings with them we have developed norms for our own behaviour, to express this recognition.

By contrast with the example of the painting, constructed using inanimate materials, we come a step closer to recognising that in the natural world, in itself, there are inherent norms of order.

Our cultivation of the world constituted by meaning does not act on the world as if on a blank slate, but needs to be in accord with the order we find already within it.

If we do not discover this order and respect it, our efforts at constructing a world of meaning can make us less human, not more. This is even more so when we consider the human body.

An Ambiguity

So we find in this cultivated reality an ambiguity. Because it is in a real sense a human creation, its goodness cannot be merely taken for granted. If it is constructed from humanly conceived meanings, it might include the embodiment of mistaken meanings. These mistakes might be unintended, or they might come through bad will. In either case they produce distortions in the new realities so constituted.

Not only that, the process of construction of these meanings is communal. We can be affected by distortions caused by others, and yet these can be built in along with our own creations. It is like building your own house, but some of the materials you bought in good faith were defective, and you did not find out till much later.

This is a pivotal problem, for the central construction of meaning for each individual is his or her own self.

We already begin constructing this self more or less spontaneously from birth onwards, largely using materials provided by others. Our own ‘home’, where we live with our own sense of self, is already partly constructed with faulty materials. However, this self is not simply and wholly who we are. It is not identical with the full being of the human person. It is that dimension of who we are that is cultivated, constituted by meaning. We also have our natural being, ourselves as embodied persons created by God.

Body and Spirit

This ‘natural’ being is not the body in some reductive sense, as though merely physical by contrast with the spirit. The body is always already ‘inspirited’ in its bodiliness. So we cannot equate the cultivated realm with that of the spirit, and the natural realm with the merely physical. Our capacity for, and exercise of, intelligence is already integral with our bodies, even though going beyond it.

The embodied person is already spiritually meaningful, imprinted or formed by the meaning God intended us to have. The body is not a mere aggregate of materials at the disposal of our capacity to create ourselves. We are meant to constitute ourselves in harmony with that order, that meaning, already inherent in the being we receive as a gift from God. The potentials we seek to cultivate already have a form. They are not mere potentials.

Co-creators of Being

But at the same time we are not meant to leave those potentials in an undeveloped state, burying our potential talents in the ground. God wants us to be creators of our own being, but as co-creators, not autonomous artists with no respect for the ‘materials’. In fact, this respect for the materials is what embodies the spirit of co-creation.

This cultivation of our being is not essentially some excrescence obscuring God’s perfect creation, and needing to be pared away to reveal that ideal natural state. Yet because of the distortions already affecting us, we do have to do some of this paring away. Our cultivation can add all sorts of things not in harmony with the form of our potentials, and these do need to be stripped away. But this is only part of the story. It cannot provide us with our whole notion of what it is to be human.

Through cultivation we create a reality that is genuinely new, yet consonant with the form of the good already present in the potentials that have now been developed.

God has given us this field in which we can be co-creators, not only the recipients of a gift, but capable of being also a gift to each other.

The Communal Nature of Cultivated Being

This realm of cultivated being is not primarily an individual project, but is the space in which we can participate in that aspect of the divine that is creatively communal. Yet creation exists purely as a gift, so our participation in this process is to enable us to become givers. God wants us to experience the joy of giving. Giving in its broadest sense can be a simple sharing of what we have received from God, but it can also be a sharing of what we freely create.

The destiny of all creation is meant to be another, not oneself. There is no point constructing a self to give it to oneself. The whole purpose of this gift of being creators is to enrich the other. Its value is revealed, not so much in the details of what is given, but the love which is the movement of giving.

Giving and Receiving

At the same time, a giver needs a receiver. To be created is primarily to be a being capable of receiving love. So to the extent that we create ourselves, we are meant to construct ourselves primarily as receivers of love. Our efforts at cultivation are not oriented to those creations we make, but to graciously accepting the gift of the other.

Although this is the primary purpose, it cannot be the only purpose, since we are also meant to be givers. So that which we create is important. This reveals that the primary focus of our creative effort is to create, not ourselves, but the other. Yet this can only be by way of gift. So through my gift the other, as constituted by meaning, can come to be. And by opening myself to receive the other I become me.

The Natural as the Form of Cultivated Being

In what seems a roundabout way, we discover that the realm of cultivated being is oriented towards natural being. That which we receive from God is foundational to any efforts we make to become more for the sake of each other. Genuineness does not head in the other direction, as though to replace the natural with the cultivated. It is meant to enhance and develop it from within. It is meant to stay always connected to the natural as to its foundation, while not conceiving that foundation as essentially a limitation but as the form of the good.

Due to the distortions in the good, the fact of untrue meanings misshaping our creations, there is ambiguity in the relation between the cultivated and the natural. There is no longer any ‘pure nature’ unambiguously existent and available for us to embrace. There is no purely natural lifestyle still available to us.

A Disorientation of Human Being

In Christian doctrine this prevailing state of affairs is called original sin. We are necessarily caught in a situation of ambiguity. However, this ambiguity is ‘structural’. It does not mean that we cannot experience genuine goodness and love. But such goodness cannot be made truly systematic. That is, the good is particular rather than universal.

True acts of love do occur, but we cannot ourselves establish a state of affairs where acts of love become ‘automatic’. There is always a potential precariousness in the human good.

We can specify this a bit further. The ‘natural good’ in itself is now subject to this tendency to disorder. The form of the good it is meant to embody drifts off centre. The ‘cultivated good’ is then also meant to act as an augmentation, a corrective to draw it back towards the centre. The natural potentials that have been diminished are ‘topped up’ again by the cultivated good to restore balance. But as we have seen, the source of this augmentation is itself affected by ambiguity, so its contribution might exacerbate the problem. Cultivation can push the natural further off centre. This is why cultivation is meant to be oriented towards the natural, not away from it.

These considerations frame our challenge. Although the cultivated is meant to be oriented towards the natural, for it to even exist as a realm of the good it has to in some sense move 'away' from the natural. It is only by opening up that space for cultivation that we can even be co-creators with God. This space provides the freedom we need to be full participants in our own co-creation. But where there is freedom there is a possibility that its exercise will cause an imbalance or distortion between the natural and the cultivated.

The Attraction of the Sexes

The relation between the natural and the cultivated then is not a 'line' but a 'space'. In this space we discover a dynamic interplay between contrasting but unified principles. Let us consider relations between the sexes as an example. The dynamism in this case is that between the masculine and feminine. The two 'poles' of masculinity and femininity are held together by the creative tension of attraction.

Complementarity is the principle of unity as well as of creativity. The creative principle opens up a space, or a 'distance' that increases the attraction. The unifying principle reveals the degree to which this difference deepens the recognition of similarity. This is how men and women can be both the same and different. It is not a trade-off. Accentuating the difference is meant to accentuate the unity. In the process both become more by feeling both more strongly individual and more strongly united.

So the potentials in male and female bodiliness can be cultivated to develop masculinity and femininity as intentional characteristics of the self and of culture. To give an obvious example, men are visually attracted to women's bodies, but in its natural state this tends to be of a fairly simple kind. However, women commonly enhance their attractiveness to men by means of artifice and adornment so as to accentuate those aspects of their appearance that men will recognise as distinctively feminine. In such ways femininity becomes part of cultivated being. To some extent such a dynamism helps to restore something that tends to diminish, and to some extent it is pure creativity as expression of the joy of being.


This notion of two kinds of being, of the natural and the cultivated, and the relation between them, is one of the foundational ideas underlying the other key ideas proposed in the "3rd Millennium Project". It has relevance across all fields.