What Makes Man Truly Human?
Glenn Rey Anino
Department of Philosophy
University of San Carlos
 
 
Human beings would live confidently as human if their proper knowledge of what it is to be truly human comes into light. Hence, it is necessary in this essay to raise the fundamental question: What makes man truly human? I will begin by considering that humans share the characteristics of an animal based on the perspective of biology. In this argument, man has an appetite like that of an animal to desire something for its satisfaction and survival. Science calls it as instinct, e.g., man desires food when he is hungry. Moreover, this is not what man wholly is. Though he is like anything else we find in nature, he is at the same time more than to an animal. To defend this claim perhaps it is useful to quote Jostein Gaardner who once wrote:
“When these basic needs have been satisfied- will there still be something that everybody needs? Man cannot live by bread alone. Of course everyone needs food…but there is something else- … and that is to figure out who we are and why we are here?”[1]          
This passage wants to emphasize that even though there is a primacy for the satisfaction of our needs; we do not remain here at this level because we have another desire which is more important than food. This is true for human because he is endowed with reason peculiar to him as human. This power manifests in man in his capacity to ask himself about himself. Questions such as who am I and what am I living for are concrete examples. Dog and cat may play but only man asks. We may ask: what is the significance of questioning in relation to man? Sartre says:
“Every question presupposes a being who questions and a being which is questioned... The question is a kind of expectation, that is, I expect from this being a revelation of its being or of its way of being.”[2]
Sartre follows the Socratic motto “Know Thyself” and “the unexamined life is not worth living”[3] as the beginning of all discoveries and understanding of man. For Sartre, man is an open-ended being because he is a questioner about himself. He always discovers something new about himself. It is in the discipline of questioning that man knows who he is and what he can be because man can give an answer to the questions. The moment that we know about ourselves of who we are and why we are here follows the motivation of our action. This action is to figure out what we want to become in our life. Both man and other animals are born in similar condition of nature but both do not end in similar way, that is, man is the only being  who is capable of changing the course of his life. Animals may die without accomplishing anything aside from what we expect them to do naturally. But in the case of man, he is able to have a difference contrary to what we expected. Man discovers the reality that he is a “being-in-the-world”[4] because he dwells in the world but how he looks at the world is different from what it really is. In this given argument, man is free.
            To be free is to consider that each individual is the author of himself through the choices he makes.[5] It is manifested in the ability of man to control and determine his own plan in the future because he is a “being- ahead- of – itself.”[6] Only man prepares what is for tomorrow. In this case then, man is in charge of his own life and be responsible for its consequences not only for himself but also to all people. Freedom without a corresponding responsibility is caprice. We cannot separate ourselves from the relationship of other people. This is what Marcel means by saying “to exist is to co- exist.”[7]
Thus, what makes man truly human is his capacity of understanding himself as a free and responsible being. Through responsibility, man is able to understand that he lives with more concern towards others who are also free. Then the realization of an authentic and truly remarkable man is possible.
 
Footnotes:
[1] Jostein Gaardner, Sophie’s World, translated by Paulette Moller (London: Phoenix House, 1994), 12.
 
[2] Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology, translated by Hazel E. Barnes (New York: Philosophical Library, 1943), 35.
 
[3] Plato, Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Symposium, translated by Moses Hadas (Chicago: Regnery Gateway, Inc., 1953), 3. Here, Socrates is urging his fellow Athenian to live a noble and moral life. This can be done by doing the highest good of man which is to know oneself through self- examination. The moment that one’s life is examined man can establish a firm ground for his actions because a person needs knowledge if something is to be done. It follows that “to know good is to do good.” The reason why Socrates insists on knowledge of oneself is that the good is virtue and virtue is knowledge. To be a virtuous man then is to be knowledgeable.
However, Sartre does not completely follow the line of thought of Socrates. What he agrees with Socrates is only the primacy and necessity of revealing or knowing oneself and also it does not follow that a person is morally good only because he know what is the good.
 
[4] Martin Heidegger argues: “The compound expression ‘Being-in-the-world’ indicates in the very way we have coined it, that it stands for a unitary phenomenon. This primary datum must be seen as a whole.” Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1962), 76. Being-in- the- world is terminology coined by Martin Heidegger to refer to the nature of human-existence or Dasein.  To be in the world is to concretely find oneself that he exist and stays in the world as an area of its making.


[5] In this case, man is free in a way that he is the source of all values that he is going to live for. Value is not just equated to something material or sensory values but those values that are not apart from the question of being, what does it mean to be, or from life. In the existentialist perspective, value is that which a person lives and dies for or it is the answer to the existential and important question: what am I living for. In this case, value is related to truth for how can a person happen to live and to die for something that is false.


[6] This is one of the characters of man as Dasein according to Heidegger. It means that man is capable of planning his future which is ahead of his present time. This is only possible when man understand his own facticity or throwness into the world. He knows that he is born in a certain and specific condition and understands his facticity as not of his own making. By understanding, he also accepts. Through this, the world has already a meaning but Dasein reinterprets the given meaning of world by creating a new meaning depending on his project towards the future. Despite of man’s throwness, he is still free to choose how is going to appropriate meaning for himself towards future possibilities.


[7] Each existentialist has its different degree on recognizing the role of other individual but they meet at one point of realization that they do not exist alone in the world. For Marcel, to be a truly human is to value the subjectivity of others in a community. Man is not a solitary being because he is surrounded a community where there are many subjects like him and is called for an active participation with others. In his essay, Manuel B. Dy, Jr. said: “For Gabriel Marcel, esse est co-esse: to exist ies to co-exist, to participate in the fullness of Being (God) through love, fidelity and faith.” Manuel Dy, “Existentialism and Man’s Search for Meaning” in Philosophy of Man, edited by Manuel Dy (Makati City: Goodwill Trading Co., Inc., 2001), 33.
 






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