2. SO IT BEGINS
• Defining what is human: very, very hard!
Stakes and requirements are very high
• What we can try: point out core traits
You find a human being wherever you find trait x
• But we’d like something more
Is there something human beings never go without?
Some kind of beacon: recognizing humanity even when everything else fails.
• What is it that makes us special?
3. A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
• Martin Heidegger on Dasein:
The entity that asks the question about the meaning of Being («The very asking of this question is an entity's
mode of Being; […] This entity […] which includes inquiring as one of the possibilities of its being, we shall
denote by the term “Dasein”» – Being and Time, §2)
The entity in whose being, that very being is at stake («Dasein is an entity […] distinguished by the fact that, in
its Being, that very Being is an issue for it. […] Only the particular Dasein decides its existence» – Being and
• By the way, what on earth is Dasein?
A German verb, literally being-there, often translated as existence when used as a noun.
A neutral term for us all. That entity «which each of us is himself». Not man, but something that man is always.
4. A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY (REPEATING)
Heidegger echoes (with a twist) two ancient and well-known characterizations of the human being:
• Animal rationale / Ζῷον λόγον ἔχον (The rational animal / The animal endowed with language)
Traceable back to the origin of Greek philosophy, the formula is commonly attributed to Aristotle (it is a
Handle with care! Vast disagreement about the nature of rationality/language, meaning shifts through the ages
We don’t just live out our life; rather, we understand situations and events as meaningful, and we inquire about
reality out of doubt, curiosity or amazement.
• The free creature (Free will as the distinguishing trait of the human being)
Origin in early and medieval Christian thought; great success throughout modernity
Not free as in free beer; rather, we are bound to take choices. In a way, animals are more free (but quality matters!)
Our being is entrusted to ourselves ( moral responsibility!)
5. (BUT I STILL HAVEN’T FOUND)
WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR
• There is a third line of thought
Running through Plato and the Platonic tradition, also Aristotle
Not always explicit
The question of happiness (or the good life)
Plotinus’ argument: happiness is only relevant for human beings
Going beyond needs: pleasure is not enough for human beings
A different kind of pleasure: Platonic eros
Can we find here a different account of humanity?
6. AND LOVE IS A STRANGER
Doing some justice to Platonic love:
• What my friends think it is:
Commonly interpreted as a non-sexual, intellectual, close relationship: not erotic
Sometimes even a pejorative: “not real love”
• What it really is:
Attraction towards truth and beauty in all its manifestations
Driving force in the search for, and definitive acquisition of, the Good
Erotic love of intellectual realities
Plato is telling us that love (eros) is involved in every aspect of human life («In general, indeed, it is all that
desire of good things and of being happy Love most mighty and all-beguiling» Sym. 205d)
7. AND LOVE IS A STRANGER (WHO’LL BECKON YOU ON)
• Christian thinkers elaborate and put a unique spin on the theme
Peculiar attention to moral and personal freedom
Whole new concept of love, with much greater importance («God is love» 1 John 4:8)
• Augustine of Hippo: love is the guiding principle of human life; life is a search
• Bernard of Clairvaux: human desire is unlimited
• Thomas Aquinas: traits and objects of desire
Human desire is meaningful
Human desire is delightful
Its proper purpose is communion
9. LOOKING FOR SOMEONE
• Two “classical” traits of human life:
Understanding, language and meaning: a life of questions
Freedom and self-responsibility: a life of choices
• A third trait emerges: unlimited desire, or appetite beyond need
Living outside and beyond the closed loop of needs
Life as a search, happiness as fulfillment, meaning as the medium
Love and communion as the highest end of life
• Which is more fundamental?
10. LOOKING FOR SOMEONE (I GUESS I’M DOING THAT)
• Offspring of desire:
The very asking of questions and taking choices and loving people
Specifically: the particular questions we ask, choices we take, and people we love
The urge of communication and the whole of culture
• Special features of desire (with respect to other traits):
Source of uniqueness (the essence of personality: my own take on life!)
Source of unity and multiplicity (no instance of something general, intrinsic distinction of desires, otherness)
Contradiction of death (unlimitedness admits no end)
• What makes us special; what makes us someone
11. DOING THE WALK OF LIFE
• Three great ways of life:
Desire meets the understanding: contemplative life, search for truth
Desire meets freedom: ‘enterprising’ life, search for good
Desire meets love: caring life, search for unity
• No one can do without the last (“No one would choose to live without friends”)
14. FUNDAMENTAL PERSONAL RIGHTS
• Is it possible to derive some personal rights from the traits we have outlined?
• Yes, if we seek to ensure the possibility of following and fulfilling our desire:
Right to life
Right to personal freedom (property, freedom of movement etc.)
Right to be heard (marriage, due process, etc.)
• From these three, all others descend
15. SO YOU THINK YOU CAN TELL?
• Actually not: humanity is not a matter of empirical testing
Must be acknowledged: that’s a choice
Fundamental possibility of freedom: denying the other’s humanity
• Personal rights are justified rationally but not absolutely grounded
• My own desire is wounded in killing and abusing others
Asking for what I would not concede is self-contradictory and self-destructive
Desire if listened to commands respect of the golden rule
Again, if you are willing to listen
16. THANK YOU!
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
Propellerheads feat. Shirley
I STILL HAVEN’T FOUND WHAT
I’M LOOKING FOR
U2 – The Joshua Tree
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE
Nancy Sinatra – Nancy in London
LOOKING FOR SOMEONE
Genesis – Trespass
WALK OF LIFE
Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler –
Brothers in Arms
WISH YOU WERE HERE
Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
J. F. Crosby, A Neglected Source of the Dignity of
Persons, in Personalist Papers, CUA Press 2012
Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Plato, Philebus or On pleasure
Id., Phaedo or On the Soul
Note that I’m not looking for certainty.
Aristotle on the divinity of happiness and the need for it to be peculiar to man; Plotinus on the homonymy of life and the meaning of happiness.
Aristotle on the supreme Good and the “intimate and inalienable” definition; Plato on the nature of the Good and “living like sponges”
That is, “delight”. Aristotle on the pleasures of virtue, Plato on intellectual pleasure, eros
Augustine (4th-5th century):
Life is a search
«My love is my weight; by it am I brought wherever I go» Confessions XIII, 9, 10
«The whole life of a good Christian is an holy desire. […] Let us desire therefore, my brethren, for we shall be filled» Homilies on the First Epistle of John IV, 6
«You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You» Confessions I, 1, 1
Bernard (12th century mystic): the true object of desire, how I’ll reach it anyways in the end.
Thomas (13th century theologian and philosopher):
Will proper is the rational appetite
Rational means it can appetize things in their reality, because of what they are, that is in themselves
Therefore it’s radically different from utilitarian and technical reason
The proper act of the Will is dilectio (dilection): its essence is taking delight in its object. Gone the object, gone the delight.
Dilectio is properly directed unto persons only; then unto objects in relation to a person.
The reason things are important to us; curiosity!
Therefore religion, science and philosophy
Poetry, contemplative arts, games, cuisine, storytelling, traditions
Decorative arts = CUSTOMIZATION
From a first person perspective: OTHERNESS
They ask a question, tell a story
They mix pigments: the chimp just mixes
A human being makes 50 shades and starts using them in very specific ways
Not chance nor technology
From unlimitedness, and the need to search, and the need for contemplation, a right to life
From uniqueness and the intrinsic otherness, and the need for action and choice, a right to personal freedom
From the need for communication and the centrality of communion, a right to be heard (not to do as you please)