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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Philosophy 101

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Plato contends further that our immaterial and immortal soul survives our bodily death and therefore we are spiritual beings as well as rational beings. Plato decrees that human beings are thoughtful beings who can discern both good and bad and therefore once we die, those who lived principled and pure lives will rise to higher planes and be with the gods as a result of their conscious rational choice they have made to live pure and intellectual lives as opposed to living impurely. 

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The early Judeo- Christians Philosophers also waded into the debate on human nature with St Augustine leading the discourse .The Judeo-Christian view holds that human beings are made in the image of our Lord and therefore are capable of rationalising and distinguishing between right and wrong, good and evil and it’s up to us to decide whichever we want to do with our God-given minds to do good or evil. Augustine said that our competitions is not in itself in ourselves but between our disciplined and undisciplined self, good and evil self and it’s left to us human beings to either decide to be good and pure and love God and neighbour or decide to turn out on all this and turn away from God and be evil. According to Judeo Christian view as human beings if we lived pure and good lives we suffer just a bodily death but our souls if we lived a pure life continue to live in higher planes in heaven amidst abundance and heavenly place in eternity. Conversely Judeo Christian view also has it that if we failed to use our ability to discern and live a spiritual life after the death of our bodily life goes into a state of penury and destruction quite different from the life a more spiritual and kind human being will have after his death. 

With the advancement in science and philosophy this view of human nature rooted in earlier western civilisation has suffered some monumental challenge from scientists like Charles Darwin who came up with the theory of evolution and cast aside whatever the earlier western philosophers and Judeo-Christian thinkers have based their philosophy on. Darwin posits three major ideas that, as animals, we are born with traits that are quite different from those of our ancestors and are therefore passed onto us. He adds further that animals are mired in constant battle for survival which therefore does two things; leads to the survival of the fittest and the extinction of the weak and the development of totally new features and characters quite different from our earlier ancestors as a result of changing needs for survival and adaptations to our environments. Darwin’s theory infers that humans are animals and in a way as human beings we could have evolved from earlier being to be and think how we think now as a result of evolution. Darwin also theorises further that as human beings, if we had evolved from the capabilities that our earlier non-human predecessors had then, there is no difference between man and higher mammals in their faculties of thinking .Darwin dismisses the idea of human beings being demigods or being kind of superior beings but are just an improvement on the cognitive powers of non-primates that preceded us as human beings. He says that humans are not made in the image of God but in the image of primates that preceded us. To add more weight to his argument Darwin adds that the fossilised remains of ancient animals and plants found in the deep crusts of the earth show that animals and plants go through slight changes over ages as a result of the need to adapt to new environments and survival modes. Darwin’s assertion that human beings are neither superior nor carved out for a higher purpose than other animals has not gone without challenge from supporters of the traditional western view of human nature. Modern thinkers argue that Darwin’s use of fossils from the deep crusts of earth to justify his theory is wrong because a study of the fossils afterwards proves otherwise and it has shown that most new species of animals and plants seem to appear out of the blue and suddenly without any trace of earlier ancestral primates . Other critics argue further that the fact that Darwin made a monumental mistake to think that human beings are not made for a purpose.

Philosophers like Henri Bergson (1859-1941) and Pierre hard de Chardin (1881-1955) contested that the process of evolution is not just a random process but directed by a conscious divine being who did whatever he did for a purpose. In fact other scientists wade in that the complicity of human organisms including human being couldn’t be without a design and the work of an intelligent force at work. Critics further argue that the intricacies of human thought and our ability to reason in different forms and languages go to show our uniqueness and intelligence above any other animals as opposed by Darwin. Descartes in his thesis “discourse on method” that what distinguishes humans from brutes is that human mind can arrange different words together and make statements which no other animals are capable of doing. 

Another theory that challenges the traditional western philosophy of human nature was led by Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980).Sartre argues that there are no universally accepted views about what human are but all he knows is that we are free, rational beings under the control of any force(s) but us and whatever happens in our lives and becomes of us are our own creation and we have the innate capability to create and attract the kind of life we want for ourselves. Sartre expounds further that human beings direct their own life and are pretty much in control of whatever becomes of them and to therefore pretend that our conditions and predicaments are brought forth by some super natural or outside forces is to act on ill faith. Sartre believes that the self is not really rational or material or a creation of God but instead an undertaking that possesses a subjective life, it is the sum not of everything that happens to it but of everything it ever does. He concludes that in sense we are not made but made by the choices we make and indeed to be human is an engagement in self-recreation. Traditional western view of human nature has not been without criticism from feminists who believe that it is unfair for women to be thought of as intellectually inferior to me and thus the western view of human nature has done a historical injustice to women.


Alhassan Darboe is an award winning Gambian journalist based in the United States. He was the winner of the maiden Black History Month Essay competition organised by the American Embassy and worked as a journalist with Today newspaper.


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