Monday, June 27, 2011

What is a human being?

Søren Kierkegaard writes, through his pseudonymous author Johannes Climacus, in  Philosphiske Smuler (Philosophiske Crumbs) "Let us now, as a starting point, make a bold Proposition, let us suppose that we know, what a human being is" (s.39 ). This proposal has a double bottom, because we do not know what a man is. We must at least assume so. He shows here, like so many other places, his association with Socrates. What a man is hanging together the question weather truth can be learned or not.

When Kierkegaard makes the bold suggestion that we assume that we know what a human being is, it's because of the polemic that Socrates has on his own time, a contemporary who thinks they know what a human being is. Socrates says that our starting point is ignorance about what a human being is. We must begin by admitting just that it and to ask questions. It is in the concessive ignorance that we can pose the question of what a human is. And Kirekegaard responds in the same book that "A human being is existing!" (p. 103). But what does it mean to exist? Implied as a human being. The question is not what it means to be human in general, but "what it is, that you and I and the Him is human being for himself!" (Postscript, p. 103).

Time has forgotten what it means to be a human being. What time has forgotten must be something specific. However, Kierkegaard does not give any answer. Forgetting has to do with forgetting to ask the question. It is very unfortunate that we as a society think we know what a human being is and hence have stopped asking the question. The question of what a human being is has unfortunately lost its meaning.

Normally, a problem must be solved or cleared of the way so we can get on with a reply. The problem regarding what a human being is is however lost. We must agaian begin with the question of what a human being is and show our ignorance, an ignorance that allows room for questions. The answer to what it means to exist, is a question which can only be answered by the one who understands the problem or the difficulty of what it means to exist. What it means to exist can only be answered by the individual by him/herself.

Choosing oneself does not mean to create itself. A human being is given the task to be oneself, and this can only done by losing oneself. Freedom as an opportunity (anxiety) emerges when a self can relate to him/herself. In the book Sickness unto Death, Kierkegaard describes a human being as a synthesis or a relationship. Freedom is the opportunity to respond differently than you did before or how you think others expect you to be. Sickness unto Death is a despair, a despair where one is not oneself. Such despair is not a state you end up in, but something you incur. 

A human being is a self - which is given the task of becoming oneself. The fundamental choice every human being has is to choose oneself, meaning to become oneself. Anxiety, which we all experience from time to time, provides the opportunity to discover oneself as a self, but also that one is unfree in fear because one is not oneself.

The first question posed in the book Sickness unto Death is "what is a human being." The answer unfolds that a human being is a self. Self is a relationship that relates to itself and with the relationship you are in. Becoming oneself requires a separation from oneself and first then are you able to come back to itself - in the sense of finding oneself, or to take itself back. Becoming oneself requires courage to accept oneself. But first you must learn to recognize oneself, over and over again.

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