Since Plato, the way to find what is essential to X is to start with some general or indistinct concept and add differences until one hits X. On this account, the essential must be conceptual. So what if the thing most essential to man is some mode of relation to being? One of the first things that we figured out about being is that it is non-conceptual, or, if one wanted to call it conceptual, it is absolutely not one of the concepts used in the Platonic process of definition. So long as we are trading in concepts, being, or any relation to being is either worthless or given, and in either case forgettable. So the attempt to find what is essential to the person in this way would overlook what was most essential to him.
Go further: if “rational” is proportionate to “being”, then it is not obvious that it can serve as a specific difference. Powers are understood through their objects. In fact, they are really just the object itself in one of its modes.
Set out a Porphyrian tree with “irrational” and “rational” as the last division. So we’ve reached the human person. But what is the lesson? Is it that man is a part of reality or that we locate anything in the context of the totality of things? Taken in the second way, the totality itself becomes our one essential partner in locating any nature. On this account, the whole tree becomes the specific difference of a man. This is a metaphor, since it is not the difference of some concept but of being. This is another way of separating man from all other things, since neither animals nor angels make such trees. The animal has no communion with being, the angel’s communion doesn’t require tree-making. Say it another way: some start the Porphryian tree with “being”. We know you can’t, for it admits of no differences. But the sense in doing so is that we must locate all things within that field, and so we essentially relate to the field of being. Our attempt to locate things moves by way of things (sc. concepts) that are never adequate to the field from which we essentially start, and so to attempt to define man through such concepts is essentially inadequate.