Philosophy of the Human Person

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  • Topic: Existentialism, Martin Heidegger, Phenomenology
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PHILOSOPHY OF THE HUMAN PERSON

“Philosophy bakes no bread.”

So goes an old saying that pops up time and again especially in nonphilosophical circles. The statement, more often than not, serves as an indictment of any rational exercise that seems so detached from the more existential concerns of practical life. To all appearances, the criticism is correct. But then, it is perhaps equally correct to admit that no bread would ever have been baked without philosophy. For the act of baking implies not only a working knowledge of the nature of bread as such (what it is and what it is made of) and the process of producing it, but also a consideration of the ‘why’ of the very act of baking bread. On a grander scale, it involves a decision on the philosophical issue of whether life is worthwhile at all. Bakers may not have often asked themselves the question—“Why am I doing this?”—in so many words. But philosophy traditionally has been nothing less than the attempt to ask and answer, in a formal and disciplined way, the great questions of life that ordinary people put to themselves in reflective moments.

The Nineteenth Century was one such reflective moment. It was more than just an arbitrary chronological milestone in the history of philosophy. For it marked the beginning of a new Weltanschauung which, characterized by extreme diversity, is fundamentally a search for the meaning of life. Although it did not reach its fullest expression until the 20th century, its roots can be traced back to the first half of the past century. It was at that time when PHILOSOPHY OF MAN was born.

PHILOSOPHY OF MAN is an inquiry into man as a person and as an existent being in the world. Historians of philosophy commonly identify three major expressions of this absorbing interest in human existence. The first is a movement which first manifested itself in Germany a few years after World War I, and later spread on to France and Italy, so that immediately after World War II, it became influential not only in professional philosophical and academic circles but also in contemporary literature and representative socio-religious movements. What started out with the Danish philosopher-theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, primarily as a protest against the intellectualistic partiality of German Idealism which implied the diminution of the dignity of man gradually evolved into a number of philosophies customarily classed collectively under the blanket-heading EXISTENTIALISM. Preoccupied with the individual as a conscious self and free agent, Existentialists urge man towards a total engagement with life, a personal involvement in the concrete situation, and a radical commitment to authentic existence. The exaltation of the dignity of the human person as he lives his day-to-day existence—this is the enduring value of Existentialism. The second major expression is closely associated with Existentialism and is considered as its prime philosophical approach to the problem on human existence. Known as PHENOMENOLOGY, it has become the contemporary way of doing philosophy. It was founded by the German mathematician-philosopher, Edmund Husserl, at the beginning of the past century as an unassailable and universal foundation for and a new direction in philosophy. Originally a method of “intuition of essences,” it was applied by Martin Heidegger, Husserl’s disciple, to the study of the predicament of human existence. From being transcendental consciousness, then, the essence of existence became historicity and time. In its broadest meaning, Phenomenology signifies a descriptive philosophy of experience. Beginning with the conscious subject, the Existential Phenomenologists would use Phenomenological description in their philosophical writings, reflecting on the problems that arise from their subjective awareness and personal experiences, and...
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