Virtuvian Man by Stanford University/public domain
Virtuvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci Public Domain
By Richard Girard
"Man knows only when he is satisfied and when he suffers, and only his sufferings and his satisfactions instruct him concerning himself, teach him what to seek and what to avoid. For the rest, man is a confused creature; he knows not whence he comes or whither he goes, he knows little of the world, and above all, he knows little of himself."
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749--1832) Quoted in: John Peter Eckermann, Conversations with Goethe (1836).
"What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god--the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals!"
William Shakespeare (1564--1616) Hamlet, in Hamlet , act 2, scene 2.
"We say nothing essential about the cathedral when we speak of its stones. We say nothing essential about Man when we seek to define him by the qualities of men."
Antoine de Saint-ExupÃ©ry (1900--1944) Flight to Arras , chapter 23, (1942).
What is a Human Being? And why must we both ask and answer this question?
This is one of the most important questions in philosophy. We can easily become lost by the minutiae of the subject as Antoine de Saint-ExupÃ©ry suggests. We can also be overwhelmed by the broad picture as Goethe and Shakespeare have implied in their quotes.
I have discussed the coming epoch of the majority of human beings in the United States--and eventually the other Western Democracies--being reduced to a condition of virtual involuntary servitude in my February11, 2012 OpEdNews article, " I Am Spartacus! "
"Georg W.F. Hegel described this fact in his Philosophy of Right (p. 42), 'The slave knows not his essence, his infinitude, his freedom; he does not know himself in his essence, and not to know himself is not to think himself. The self-consciousness, which by thought apprehends that itself is essence, and thus puts away from itself the accidental and untrue, constitutes the principle of right, morality, and all forms of ethical observance. They who, in speaking philosophically of right, morality, and ethical observance, would exclude thought and turn to feeling, the heart, the breast, and inspiration, express the deepest contempt for thought and science.' In other words, when a human being has no time to think, only to feel, and to react to base emotion, without consideration of consequences, he has been reduced to the status of slave.
In Rome, and throughout history, a slave has had no intrinsic value. To continue with Hegel's observations on slaves throughout history, 'Thus in Roman law, for instance, no definition of man was possible, because it excluded the slave,' ([Hegel], op. cit., p.22). The slave could be killed, mutilated, tortured, raped, starved, beaten and abused without any legal recourse, because they were property. This was equally true two thousand years later in the Antebellum South."
The devaluation of any member of the human race to the status of a mere "thing," the expunging of the individual human's intrinsic value, is a grave danger to any civilization. Today, we risk the very concept of the Humankind being destroyed by the legal convention of corporate personhood. The exaltation of a "thing"--the corporation--to an equivalent status of personhood, devalues the status of human beings.