“If this is man…”
“All our estimable qualities come from nature alone; all that we are, we owe to nature. The only question is how to gauge it.” – Julien Offray La Mettrie, Man a Machine. The French physician-philosopher suggests that one is shaped by the nature or the environment one has been placed in. Furthermore, he suggests that estimable qualities attribute to the constitution of man. A man’s constitution can be described as the general physical and often times the psychological makeup (La Mettrie would describe this as man’s “estimable qualities”) of man, especially the body's ability to remain healthy and mentally withstand disease or hardship (nature, as a possible description by La Mettrie). Now, with the understanding of the aforementioned ideas consider “if this is a man who has been stripped away from reality and stuck behind barbed wire, works in the mud, does not know of peace, fights for a scrap of bread” (Primo Levi, introductory poem), undergoes the days-on-end process of being dehumanized, how does this man still retain a personality? Primo Levi in Survival in Auschwitz suggests the survivability of man undergoing mental and physical torture must establish some moral code within a society and adapt to the idea of comfort relative to their environment, thereby retaining some sanity. Man was never born with the ability to think but rather man, through experience and observations, developed this trait and as a consequence adapted a set of morals unique to certain conditions. “Some of them beat us from pure bestiality and violence, but others beat us when we are under a load almost lovingly, accompanying the blows with exhortations, as cart-drivers do with willing horses” (Pg 67). Levi’s description of the concentration camps in Survival in Auschwitz and, for the most part the conditions under which the Jews of the Holocaust were compelled to surrender themselves too, were not that of the “ordinary moral world” (Pg 86). “Words like ‘good’, ‘evil’,...
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