What it means to be Human
The issue of human beings and what it means to be human has been present for centuries and for millions of years. Therefore, it is no surprise that philosophers argued and formed philosophies to deduce what it really meant to be human. This paper, therefore, will look at four of such philosophers who came up with different understandings of what human or what being a human means. The philosophers of interest in this case include such people as Descartes, Browning Cole, Dalai Lama, and Sartre all discussed in Kessler’s Voices of Wisdom.
Descartes raises essential questions as to what means to be a human being. As he argues his points, he points out to several major questions in philosophy like the issue of mind and body, the question if the meaning and existence of the soul and the question of human thought. From the brief statements he makes, it is possible to develop a perceptive of what makes or defines human beings and their nature in terms of the interaction of the mind, soul and the body in view of this philosopher.
One of the main arguments that the philosopher makes is that the human being is composed and made up of the soul and body, and he thinks of the two to exist in a substantial union or relation. To him, the human being is, therefore, not a body attached to a soul, or the other way round, rather as an entity that consists of a necessary soul and body. Losing one of these two, therefore, renders one inhuman. To him, hence, death results to inhumanity, as it separates the body from the soul. He also considers that fact that there is a reality in existence outside his own mind and that of humans because it exists or takes place in God’s mind.
To Descartes, therefore, a human being is defined not only by the body, but also by the soul, and the existence of a reality outside the minds of the humans, which exists in the mind of God. The existence if the reality of the minds of humans and that of God is seen when he argues that, ‘so Descartes believed he had established with absolute certainty the existence of his mind as a mental substance and the existence of a perfectly good God…’ (Kessler 462).
Browning Cole is another philosopher seen in Kessler’s book talking about the nature of humanity. She believes that the mind and the body are somehow bound or infused together, the thoughts of an individual exists in the mind and body. This is to mean that to this particular philosopher, for the embodied self, the mind and the body overlap and interact with each other, and the area where the mind and the body overlap and meet is where the thoughts of human beings, as well as, their self or their humanity exists. Therefore, if the body and the mind of an individual are linked together or are bound together, and if the thoughts of human beings exits within both the body and the mind, then the embodied self of humans would be a solution to the issue of mind of body presented by other philosophies.
She looks at the arguments of Plato and Descartes on humanity and human beings and concludes that an individual or human has within themselves a critical power dialectic in which their mind must win over their body and must trumpet this victory in constructs of rationality that is pure by means of which its reality and soundness id ratified and demonstrated. She argues that even though this general dialect is played out and witnessed in numerous cultures from popular morality to religion to existentialism even though it is far from being identified as an isolated peculiarity (Kessler 479).
Dalai Lama is another philosopher featured in this book with essential teachings on what it means to be human and humanity. Most of his arguments on how to be human, and what it means to be human are based on ethics. To him for one to be a fully functional human being, they must express certain ethical values, actions and behaviors. For instance, humans must have compassion, they must have the ability to love and they must take or view the world or the universe as an entity that they are part of and not as separate from them. These are profound, though, simple teachings that this philosopher, and spiritual leader, advices to all those individuals who want to be more human by bringing more love, understanding and compassion to the other people and their lives.
To Lama, most religious entities have the same ideologies if love, compassion and moral ethics all which are added on through spiritual practice, practice of which makes those who practice it better and whole human beings. Lama, therefore, was insistent on highlighting and teaching moral precepts as a way to perfect the functions of the body, mind and speech. The main goal of the teachings and the arguments of this great philosopher is unselfishness of human beings. The philosopher wanted to lead his followers away from deeds and actions that are negative caused by ignorance and introduce them to paths of good. The basic teachings and notions of Lama and his notions on what it means to be human, is that human beings should follow the paths that make them more tolerant, less selfish and more compassionate, as these are the features that define humanity.
Sartre is another essential philosopher in understanding what it means by being human. One of his key beliefs and arguments on humanity was based on existentialism, which led him to formulate the belief that essence comes after existence. Generally, this means that human beings are defined and formed by how they act or by their actions. This is to mean that an essential human nature is not present. Therefore, being a human being is an act of continuously becoming something or someone as shaped by the decision we make and our actions. According to this philosophy, human beings are continuously evolving and do not stop evolving until they die. According to him, one of the motivations of humanity is the fear of death, because death means the end of evolving and, therefore, the end of existence. The philosopher also took an approach to free will that was radically different from the approaches made by earlier philosophers. He thought that since humans were mainly defined by how they acted, then they were completely free. To him, every action a human being makes is made by him alone and the responsibility of being in complete control of how he acts lead to fear. Sartre argued that this existential fear is the price we have to pay for the freedom we have as human beings (Kessler 246- 48).
Kessler, Gary E. Voices of Wisdom: A Multicultural Philosophy Reader. New York: Cengage Learning, 2008. Print.