To be human

Japan and China colored

-the personification of Japan and China as illustrated by Hideki Himaruya from the anime Hetalia: Axis Powers

We’ve lived our lives for a long as we can remember, meekly following the life that is suggested and constructed by the society and little by little we learn how to accept things without question. However, there will always come a time when injustice, confusion and curiosity will find its way into our minds and hearts and urge us to question… “What does it really mean to be called a human in the first place?”.

We are told from the very beginning that we are human but as children, naturally, we will never question our parents of what it really means to be a human or “What defines a human?”, we just simply swallow the fact that we are what they said we are and the creatures that talk, walk and look like us are the same beings. This issue became good roots for philosophical questions and I find that Existentialists are one of the most, should I say, advisable sources in order to get a clear idea on what the terms “existence”, “human”, “consciousness” means.

According to Jean-Paul Sarte, a world renowned philosopher who is commonly dubbed as the father of Existentialist philosophy, suggested that it is hard to simply put your belief on one side for there are grey areas into which “humans” fall into.

Being-in-itself and being-for-itself have mutually exclusive characteristics and yet we (human reality) are entities that combine both, which is the ontological root of our ambiguity. The in-itself is solid, self-identical, passive and inert. It simply “is.” The for-itself is fluid, nonself-identical, and dynamic. It is the internal negation or ‘nihilation’ of the in-itself, on which it depends. Viewed more concretely, this duality is cast as ‘facticity’ and “transcendence.” The “givens” of our situation such as our language, our environment, our previous choices and our very selves in their function as in-itself constitute our facticity. As conscious individuals, we transcend (surpass) this facticity in what constitutes our “situation.” In other words, we are always beings “in situation,” but the precise mixture of transcendence and facticity that forms any situation remains indeterminable, at least while we are engaged in it (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2009)

There’s also another philosopher by the name of Descartes who argues that human existence is known through consciousness and questioning. “I think therefore I am” which hints a separation of the mind and the body. It’s true that we can define ourselves because of our unique logic but who are we to say that other living creatures do not think like us? And what do we call those people who can’t think for themselves like the people with mental incapability? They look human, talk or sound like human, they came from humans! …but with this rule, is it safe to say that they aren’t human?

we are left to think about our existence but sometimes it drags us down because the truth is bigger than us

we are left to think about our existence but sometimes it drags us down because the truth is bigger than us

I, personally, go for the belief of Sarte because I believe that one cannot just simplify such a big concept as “being human”. Perhaps this belief of mine is influenced by the “heresy of paraphrase” that were used by scholars in the art of literature, which happens to be a field (according to the new critics) that focuses on life and humanity itself. A lot of factors are needed in order to create a one big human and simply stating consciousness or aesthetics alone can prove our being human is entirely a difficult stand to grasp. Again, I would use the new critics’ concept “organic unity”, which states that all of the factors which make up a good literature such as irony, paradox, etc. (in this case we use experience, consciousness, aesthetics) all bundles up together to form one story (or one human) as a whole without anything sticking out like a sore thumb.

Related to my earlier discussion, another question comes into mind”What separates us from a resemblance of a human?”

If I was asked “What do you mean by resemblance of a human?”, well the answer is simple. I’m talking about androids or robots designed to be very human-like to the point of confusion but it’s not only androids, animals with a distinct logic as similar to ours are also in question (such as dolphins and perhaps the monkeys in some way). I’m having difficulty about this topic but I think the proper way to analyze this is through Existentialism and Personalism.

Personalism in the broader sense does not consider the person as the object of an original intuition, nor does it conceive of philosophical research as beginning with an analysis of immediate personal experience and its context. Rather, in the scope of a general metaphysics the person manifests his singular value and essential role. Thus the person occupies the central place in philosophical discourse, but this discourse is not reduced to an explicitation or development of an original intuition of the person. The person does not justify metaphysics but rather metaphysics justifies the person and his various operations. Instead of constituting an autonomous metaphysics, personalism in the broader sense offers an anthropological-ontological shift in perspective within an existing metaphysics and draws out the ethical consequences of this shift. (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2009)

In the anime adaptation of Time of Eve (イヴの時間 Eve no Jikan), androids were thought to be emotionless and simply follows their master’s orders because “they were made to serve”. However, a cafe called Time of Eve was able to blur the distinction between human and robots by means of eliminating the android’s ring or halo above their heads (which is their way of identification). What is was surprising is that the robots which were thought to have no personality actually had one. Of course this story is only fictional but it also makes the audience think “what separates us from these things we made to look like us?”. Personalism’s stand is that we are defined by our personality and that a higher power, metaphysics, is what influences and dictates our being. I haven’t really heard of androids or animals with a “personality” so perhaps this sort of belief is true but of course this is still open for further study and discussion.

All in all, it is really up to us to decide on what to believe on. We have certain paradigms which will help us think and evaluate our thoughts but it does not entirely mean that we have to sink into extremes that will have a bad effect on us. Humans are distinguished through their experience, personality, aesthetics, faith or religion, consciousness, logic and power. I firmly believe that we are not completely human without these factors. One characteristic cannot stand for itself for what is consciousness without form? what is form with personality? what is logic without faith or belief? all of these must have “organic unity” in order for us to be human.

note: the media that were used here belongs to me (except for the last picture of Akiko from Eve no Jikan) 🙂