Philosophy of Man

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PHILOSOPHY OF MAN
PROF. M. SAEED SHEIKH
“Man” seems to have been quite a neglected subject in the history of Western philosophy; more attention has been paid to God and universe than to man. Though there are many reputable histories of the specific branches of philosophy; and even of some of its special subjects such as logic ethics, aesthetics, politics, law and history, a “history of the philosophy of man” has yet to be written and even vet to be conceived. True “man” has sometimes been discussed as a part of this or that theory or system in ethics, politics or education, but such subsidiary discussions by their very nature remain controlled by the requirements and presuppositions of a particular theory or system. All this strikes rather ironical in view of the fact that, to the great Socrates; first of the founders of Western philosophy, the central theme of philosophy was not the world, but man. Socrates’ deep concern for the well-being of man makes him look like a prophet moving amongst the Greeks. In the celebrated Platonic Dialogue; the Apology, Socrates is reported to have gone to God, only to be graced with a special message for his fellow men. This Divine message exhorted the Athenians to “ take the greatest possible care of their souls and not to ruin their lives by letting the care of the body and of the “possessions” take precedence over the good of the soul. Nay, they must make their souls as good as possible, making them like God”. Socrates is, however, better known to us for his detailed and meticulous analyses of the moral qualities of man; such as justice, goodness, courage, temperance and so on. But what is more important for us to note here is the woeful fact that nowhere in ‘all the twenty-eight platonic Dialogues, we find Socrates giving as a definition of man. Perhaps even for Socrates, man was too much of a mystery, and a veritable riddle to be comprehended through a philosophical definition. Both Plato and Aristotle, after Socrates, ventured to give us definitions of man; but these definitions, with due deference to these two great masters, unfortunately, are no longer tenable on empirical grounds. Plato’s definition of man as a political animal, perhaps, reflects only the intensely political atmosphere of the city-states of his days. We in our own days know fully well that man in the pre-literate and primitive societies has neither state nor politics. Aristotle’s definition of man as a social animal, very sadly, casts a slur on his otherwise well-established reputation as “the founder of a systematic and comparative Zoology”. Sociability cannot be said to be the real hallmark of man to distinguish him from the animals. Some of the animals, at quite a lower rung of the evolutionary ladder, manifest as much sociability in their behaviour as man. The social insects like termites, ants, bees and wasps live in colonies and give clear evidence of group-integration and division of lab our; they have their kings and queens and workers and soldiers much as the human beings have. The definition of man as a rational animal not only carries the formidable authority of Aristotle but also the weight of a long tradition running throughout the ages. This definition of man, to my mind, is more prescriptive than descriptive. It exhorts man to think rationally rather than describe the fact of man’s actually thinking rationally. But it is an imperative or a command, and a good command indeed but for that very reason not a definition. It may be insisted that Aristotle, in his definition has made an empirical statement of the kind that man by virtue of the quality of rationality (differentia) inherent in him, always thinks rationally. In that case this definition is not satisfactory, because it is an incomplete definition which has taken “rationality” as the sole distinctive quality of man as it differentiates him from the animals. There are, however, other similar unique qualities of man...
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