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Several definitions have been posted with an attempt to define the word human being. This has brought a lot of misunderstanding especially in the field of philosophy of anthropology. A human is defined as an individual substance of a rational nature. This definition is viewed as a clear definition of human beings by Western philosophers. However, due to changes that have taken place in the field of philosophy, the question of what a human being is still given much emphasis. Utilitarian communities always see human beings as goods for the market place. It is of great importance to find out specifically when we are mentioning about when we say “human being”. It is important to acknowledge some philosophers such as Emmanuel Mounier and Gabriel Marcel who try to incorporate the knowledge of St. Thomas Aquinas, which agree with our fist definition of human being.
A human being is viewed as more than an isolated person body. According to Maritain, the human being should be seen in terms of relation to other human beings. It is a dynamically interior individual which has the ability to grow deeply in himself or herself through the others with whom she or he interacts. This still post the question whether human being is just merely a person substance of rational nature. The empiricists need to check into the relational aspect of the human being’s rational nature as other human being nurture the growth of human being. There is need for them to shift their focus from emphasizing on the rational nature, putting more emphasis on consciousness as important to being a human being. Phenomenologist would always emphasize this relational aspect. They view “journey” through life as the relation that exist between substantial human being in a society, thus asserting the essential union of relation and substance.
St. Thomas Aquinas defines the human being within the limits of the Trinity as it features in the Triune God while other philosophers emphasize on the relational aspect, within the discourse of human being and community. In fact philosophers such as Gabriel Marcel debate that this relational aspect of human being is a productive and loving aspect that is foundational to the human being. In his definition Gabriel explicitly acknowledge God as the pinnacle of this loving, subsisting relationship, unlike other like Maritain who only emphasis the loving relation without identifying God as the paradigm.
In order to appreciate the definition of the human being, there is need to know the distinction between individual and personality. While individual is material, personality is spiritual. There is distinction between soul and body in that when death takes place, the anima separata ceases to be a human being. Therefore, the human being in order to be fully a human being, there must be both soul and body so that when the Final Resurrection occurs, these bodies and souls are brought together again thus a human being again. Though the body (material person) is equally important, it is the lesser of the two according to Maritain. On the other hand, personality is the substance in which the spiritual soul communicates to human being. It signifies the ability to reflect concerning oneself, the interiority of oneself. Though both individuality and personality necessarily constitutes the human being, personality is unified while the individuality is separated in a multiplicity with scattered parts.
It is also imperative to understand how the communion or close relation take place between human beings. When human beings are extremely interior, then it has to be an expression of the interior life with one another. The interior understanding of one another during a dialogue is strengthens by expression of this interior life with one another. This is where communication becomes very important. In its essence, personality requires a dialogue among souls. People become more separated the more incommunicable they exist, thus deep communication among such souls rarely take place. However, human beings do not qualify to be so just because of the communication since intelligent animals such as chimpanzees and dolphins do have clear communication. Maritain argues that it is improper to call colonies or animal groups’ societies. For instance, bee and beehives has public goo and not a reciprocal common good in the midst of bees. Human beings acquire character through the training provided by the community such as through social institution like school, political parties, family, church and social-economic conditions. Therefore, man is a political animal due to his rationality. There is a reciprocal effect in a common good situation. When the man is developing character, he contributes to the society, while the bee only contributes to the hive (public good), without acquiring character development from the hive. Hence, it is clear that animals do not exist in a society.
A lot of arguments have result whether severely mentally-handicapped human beings also have common good in the society. People will argue that they have nothing to offer to the society, and similarly the society has nothing to offer them, hence do they really qualify to be human beings from our definition. This can be dismissed on the grounds that it is negative since one need to be human being if at least one time he or she was self conscious.
Studies have indicated that elderly people seem less lonely and happier if they have pets. Pets have the ability to communicate through their body language, hence keeping elderly people lively and entertained. Whether severely mentally-handicapped, human beings remain to be a person. This explains why people pay respect to a dead person at a funeral. Another example is derived from the animals that are taken to mean something to someone do not qualify to be human beings because of the same reason. Mental handicap is an accident that human beings suffer and therefore do not need to disqualify one to be a person. They are potentially different though they might have suffered the whole of their lifetime. They remain to be reflective people. On the other hand, a dog that is severely handicapped that is healed would not qualify to be reflective human being. It would become a dog which it was meant to be and nothing else.
In some of these definitions presented by philosophers, there are other dimensions that they have not touched such as suffering, pain and happiness. Happiness has several dimensions that are not only material and capitalistic pleasure. It was once quoted that Americans are the loneliest of people. This statement could be true. If we look at the isolation felt by many Americans who have resort to computer simulation games and neglected to talk to their neighbors. This proves that there is no direct link between happiness and material well-being.
According to philosopher, Arustippus happiness is the total pleasure revealed around tangible factors such as taste, hugs touch, social attributes etc. Thus, he believed physical pleasure such as lack of pain is better than mental pleasure. In addition, he believed that happiness is void where pleasure lacks. Therefore, the philosophy of happiness is equal to physical pleasure and the ownership of things that offer or provide pleasure .Thus it is referred to as “Hedonism” meaning to delight, one of the oldest theories of happiness.
According to Maritain (1966), soul is a very important aspect in the definition human being. He asserts that there is uniqueness to each individual above just DNA individuality. However, it is not featuring in most definitions since some philosophers do not clear believe in the soul. In the modern society, people should see human being as autonomous. Haman beings have experiences with fellow human beings for the benefits of the society as well as others who benefits from the influence of the man. The growth of the person has very characteristics which benefit the community, whatever these qualities may be (Gabriel, 1951). No one is a position to judge qualities that are worse or better for the community. It is believed that societies can gain experience from any characteristics of an individual as it is illustrated in history. Every human being is considered important in a society. This contradicts utilitarian approach that does not give an individual an opportunity to justify his or her utility empirically. This is considered disrespectful to human beings.
In conclusion, human beings are special beings different from other animals various ways. For instance, they are able to form a society. Other animals however may only be considered to only exist in a group. Personality is trait that really distinguish human beings form other animals. It requires dialogue among soul. This cannot be exhibited by other animals such as chimpanzees and dolphin though they are presumed to be communicating among their group. In my opinion, I feel that soul needs to be emphasized by the philosophers with regards to definition of human beings. It is the inner oneself that make whole the person. The definitions posted above are in some way correlated except that some tends to ignore some very important aspects. This is because different philosophers have different beliefs. It is also important to note that the beliefs of one really play an important role in the definition of who a human being is. However, the rational nature of human being need to clearly illustrated together with both body and soul.