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Introduction to Philosophy of the Human Person

Reading Materials

What is Philosophy?
The term Philosophy is attributed to an Ancient philosopher named Pythagoras, as he is said to
be the first to use it when he differentiated the three classes of people who attended the ancient
Olympic Games as:
1. Lovers of gain;
2. Lovers of honor ;
3. And lovers of knowledge or wisdom.
According to Pythagoras, the third class of people is the best kind hose to the games as they
spectator who seek to arrive at the truth. They neither seek profit (as represented by the first class of
people who sells their wares for money) nor complete in the games for honor (as represented by the
second class of people). He called this class of people as philosophers.
The etymological definition of philosophy is derived from philosophia which is a combination of
the Greek terms Philos (love) and Sophia (wisdom). Thus philosophy means “love of wisdom.”

The Major branches of Philosophy

Philosophy covers a wide range of subjects. The following are the major branches of philosophy.

It is derived from the Greek term Ethos which means “Moral Philosophy,” it is concerned about
human conduct. In a normative study, it deals with norms or standards of right and wrong applicable to
human behavior. It is considered as prescriptive as it prescribes what people ought to do rather describe
what people do.

It comes from the Greek word aisthetikos which means “sensitive” or “perceptive.” It is
concerned with the analysis of aesthetic experience and the idea of what is beautiful. In aesthetics,
philosophers analyze whether beauty is based on utility, experience, form, pleasure, or expression.

It comes from the Greek word epistēmē which means “knowledge.” Thus, it deals with various
problems concerning knowledge.

It is a study of reasoning, incorporates the analysis of the methods of deduction and induction to
provide the rules on how people ought to think logically.

It is literally means “after physics.” Te early Greek philosophers claimed that it is the study of the
nature of reality.

Brief History of Philosophy

Pre-Socratic Period

Thales of Miletus – he is known as the first Greek philosopher and the father of philosophy (and
cosmology). He regard as the first to engage in the inquiry of searching for causes and principles of the
natural explanation and divine components. By observing nature, he believed that the earth floats on
the water, as it is considered as the first ultimate substance.

Anaximander – he claimed that the world is made out from “boundless” which both the first
principle and the substance of the universe.

Anaximenes – he argued that air was the fundamental element. Through the process of
rarefaction or compression, the air surrounds earth in a more or less compressed state.

He believes that the cosmos is a structured system ordered by numbers. Things become
knowable because they are structured in this way; the structure can apparently be expressed in a
numerical ratio.

Socrates and Socratic Schools

He left no writings at all and yet he has greatly influenced western philosophical tradition
through Plato’s Dialogue. Socrates is best known in his Socratic Method. It is a method of question and
answer which aims to provoke the one being asked to think for himself or herself and to clarify his or her
conceptions about what is asked. He is also regarded as the one who urged self-examination and
claimed that “the unexamined life is not worth-living.”

His philosophical ideas are found in his Dialogue which are accounts of what he is concerned with
as influenced by his teacher named Socrates. One of his famous work is the Republic, it discusses his
social and political philosophy and his belief that the Greek City-states to flourish must lead by the
philosopher kings and that justice is best manifested if persons would do what is suited to each of his or
her soul. One of his presentations is the so called “allegory of the cave” where in it depicts the story of
what a certain philosopher is.

He believes that the perceptual and cognitive faculties of people are dependable; such belief
places humans in direct contact with the world which is to be studied and therefore engaged in
substantive philosophy. For him, human beings philosophize because they wonder about the world, and
as they do, more things of their experience appear puzzling.

Medieval Period: Scholasticism

This period in the history of philosophy is described as the confluence of the so called faith and
reason. The philosophers in this period used philosophy as the handmaid of theology. It is concerned in
proving God’s existence and understanding what is man in relation with God. The scholasticism directed
its inquiry on how reason can be used to provide proofs that God exists. One of the scholastic
philosophers is St. Thomas Aquinas who is famous for his influential work Summa Theologica which
explains his views on the creation and government of the universe, the origin and nature of man, and
human destiny.

Modern Period: Rationalism, Empiricism, and Kant’s Philosophy

This period in the history of philosophy is recognized to be concerned about problems or issues
on knowledge. It is often described as dominated by the two school of thought – rationalism and
The rationalists Renē Descartes, Baruch Spinoza, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz believe
that reason is the sole source of knowledge.

The empiricists believe that aside from reason, experience is also a source of knowledge.
Immanuel Kant
In the Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, it examined the extent to which human
reason is capable of a priori (formed beforehand) knowledge.

Contemporary Period: the analytic and the continental Tradition

Analytic Tradition
This school of thought dominated English speaking countries which is concentrated on
logical analysis of language to solve the problems which beset Philosophy. The conception of analytic
philosophers differs from each other. Russell’s conception involves an analysis of meaningfulness of
descriptions as opposed to names that designate or denote subject.

Continental Tradition
This philosophical tradition dominated the English-speaking countries outside the analytic
tradition during the 19th and the later 20th centuries. The German idealism, phenomenology and
existentialism, hermeneutics, structuralism, post-structuralism, and the French feminism are some of
the movements within this tradition. What is common to this movement is their belief that the scientific
method is insufficient to provide an explanation of the world.

The Value of Philosophy

Philosophy, according to Bertrand Russell, primarily aims at knowledge. The knowledge it aims at
is the kind of knowledge which gives unity and system to the body of the sciences, and the kind which
results from a critical examination of the grounds of a person’s convictions, prejudices, and beliefs.

Methods of Philosophy
The first philosophers engaged in philosophy because of their curiosity and desire to understand
the world.

Philosophy as Speculation/Speculative Thinking

Speculation is derived from the Latin term specula which mean “watch tower.” It implies a vision
above that of an ordinary person. Literary speaking, being atop a lighthouse or a building’s rooftop
seems to make you unordinary because it is not every day that you can find yourself in such situations.
The term speculation allows you to expand your perspective by encouraging you to see the
bigger picture by participating in the world and using your experience as source of ideas.
Speculation is sometimes considered as detached because it is an activity best done alone and
inn isolation. It is often result of contemplation which you can do on your own. However, it is still said to
be a philosopher’s vision because to speculate also means to participate in the world and use the
experience as basis or resource of ideas.
Philosophy as Critical Thinking/Analysis
To criticize means to “judge” and/or to “analyze.” Philosophy, as critical thinking or analysis,
questions, judges, and evaluates any and all principles and premises that may be gained through
speculation. A speculative insight through rational inquiry allows one to gain clarity of knowledge and
insights which are more valuable because they are tempered by reason and dialectic.
One mode of critical analysis is logical, where philosophical problems are solved through a
careful analysis of the logical structure of the philosophical assertions.
Another mode of critical analysis is linguistic, where meanings of words are analyzed for their
clarity and consistency. Linguistic analysis requires a clear definition of words to avoid ambiguity or
vagueness and therefore ensures clarity of claims.

Philosophizing has to involve both the speculative and the critical aspect of looking at things
since philosophy is directed toward a holistic perspective and a broader view of explaining the world.
Through speculation, insights begin and are formed. Insights become clearer if they are subjected
to critical analysis or evaluation.

Philosophy as Reflective Inquiry

John Dewey, in the book How We Think, characterized reflective thinking as “a kind of thought
where the grounds for the belief is deliberately sought and the adequacy to support the belief
Reflective thinking is “meaning-making” process where the learner deliberately seeks the
adequate grounds for his or her beliefs through understanding the connections between one experience
with another experience and ideas with a progression of gaining a deeper understanding.
Reflective inquiry has to happen in a community where each member serves as a support to one
another in validating personal experiences a valuable, in seeing things in a “new” way and in engaging in
the process of inquiry.
John Dewey believes that part of the work of a good thinker is to have an awareness of his/her
attitudes and emotions and have the discipline to harness and use them to an advantage.

The Value of Truth

Do you believe that you are a rational? The critical aspect of doing philosophy is inquiry. When
you reason, you find an explanation adequate to prove that what you believe is true. Reason itself
requires a test that what you espouse is consistent with the world.
The Nature of Belief
Belief, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, refers to the acceptance that a statement is true or
that something exists. It is considered as firmly held opinion or conviction. The traditional concept of
belief which can be traced as far back as St. Augustine’s period, characterized it as “to believe is nothing
but to think with assent.” Thus if you believe that the sum of 12 and is 19, then you comprehend and
affirm that the proposition is true whether you are considering it at a particular moment or not.
Belief is the acceptances that something is true-a firmly held conviction-and as St. Augustine
claimed, “to think with assent.”
Believing as propositional attitude is directed toward the propositions or statements about the
object of belief-the object of belief is the representation of the fact found in the world. It has the
structure: S believes that P is true, where S is the person and P is the representation of the belief.

The Nature of Truth

The following theories will help you to understand the nature of truth and how each theory is
used to determine the truth of beliefs or propositions.
The Correspondence Theory of Truth
The correspondence theory of truth states that the key to truth is the relation between
propositions and the world. This means that “a belief is true if there exists an appropriate entity-a fact-
to which it corresponds. If there is no such entity the belief is false.”
Coherence Theory of Truth
This theory of truth states that the truth of any proposition consists in its coherence with some
specified set of propositions. This means that the truth conditions of a proposition are based on other
propositions. In simpler terms, the coherence theory of truth insists that a belief is true if and only if it is
part of a coherent system of beliefs.
Pragmatic Theory of Truth
This theory of truth holds that a proposition is true if it is useful to believe. Thus, utility is the
essential mark of truth. Truth is arrived or based on beliefs that lead to the best “payoff,” that give the
ultimate benefit or advantage that promote success.

Opinion’s Purpose
Renē Descartes, a reationalist philosopher claimed that “we have the obligation to withhold
assent from all propositions whose truth we do not clearly and distinctly perceive.”
Cognition, according to Plato, has four distinct segments: imaging, belief, thought, and
knowledge intuition. These segments are the basis of how beliefs are formed to become either opinion
or intellect. The first segment is imaging or conjecture which refers to the pictures and other images in
the lowest level of reality. The second is belief which is based on the perception of ordinary physical
objects. The last two segments of cognition are knowledge and thought. Thought is in the intelligible
realm, a step higher that belief. It is directed toward simple forms of shapes, numbers, and other
mathematical entities.

Who is the Human Person?

Human nature as three aspects: Somatic (human being’s material composition) behavioral
(human being mode of acting), and attitudinal (human being’s inclinations, feelings, ideas, convictions,
and prejudices or biases.
The human being is an organism composed of organs engaged in the activities which constitute
its being the sort of thing it is.
Theories on Human Nature
The Human Person as an Immortal Soul
In one of the dialogues of Plato “Phaedrus,” Socrates asserts that “every soul is immortal, for
that which moves itself is immortal, while what moves, and is moved by something else stop living when
it stops moving… this is the very essence and principle of a soul, for every bodily object that is moved
from outside has no soul, while a body whose motion comes from within, from itself does have a soul.
The Human Person as a Composite of Body and Soul
Aristotle in his book De Anima, it involves between the soul and the body. In order to understand
this relation between the soul and the body, Aristotle distinguished three kinds of substance: matter,
shape or form, and the product both (composite of form and matter). He added that of the kinds of
substance, there are natural bodies which have either life or do not have. If the natural body has life, it is
meant to have self-nutrition and growth and decay. Hence, every natural body which has life in it is a
substance in the sense of a composite. Your natural body is matter. As a corporeal being, the human
person is material which is an affirmation of the somatic aspect of human nature-the human body has
organs which are so well organized and ready for their different functions for nutrition and growth.

The Human Person as a “Thinking Think”
Renē Descartes asserted that the human person is a thinking thing. The mind is, a thinking thing-
distinct and un-extended; and that the body is a non-thinking thing-distinct and extended; and that his
reality is how distinct he is from the body, and he can exist without it.
The being in itself is the being which constitute an absolute plenitude; it can neither be derived
from the possible nor reduced to the necessary.
Human nature is pure mind and having a body is an accident. There is a clear and distinct idea of
a consciousness that through the mind, one thinks of the self existing without extensions.
Human Condition
Human condition is defined as the inevitable positive or negative events of existence as a human
being. Through human condition, a person realizes how it is to be human.
Man as Freedom
Jean Paul Sartre, a French philosopher, publishes Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological
Essay on Ontology, one of the best known books on existentialism. According to Jean Paul Sartre “Man is
free because he is not himself but presence to himself.”
Existentialism is a philosophical tradition that focuses on the centrality of the human person’s
existence. Existentialists advance philosophical ideas that are said to be directed toward the goal of
understanding the human condition through these themes; existence, authenticity, anxiety, freedom.
Life’s absurdity, and man’s situatedness.
The ontological proof for the existence of man is a consciousness as the knowing being in his
capacity as being. Consciousness posits a transcendent being.

The Nature of the Human Person as an Embodied Spirit

The soul is the first principle of life of those things which live. Living things are “animate.” The
soul is the body’s moving principle, but the soul is not a body itself.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas in his book Summa Theologica “the body is not of the essence
of the soul; but the soul by the nature of its essence can be united to the body, so that, properly
speaking, not the soul alone, but the composite, is the species.
According also to Aristotle in his book De Anima II, it states that the “soul is the source of these
phenomena and is characterized by them, viz. by the power of self nutrition, sensation, thinking and
movement; further, since it is the soul by which primarily we live, perceive and think-it follows that the
soul must be an account and essence, not matter or subject… it is the soul which is the actuality of a
certain kind of body.
It is revealed that the soul makes man animate and yet it is not a body. The soul is incorporeal;
hence, no part of it is material. The soul is definitely subsistent; it is the first principle which animates
living things. The soul is incorruptible because it has existence “per se” and can neither be generated nor
conquered by accident.

The Human Person and His Environment

The Human Person in Relation to His/Her Environment
Humans as Masters of the Environment
Lynn White, professor of medieval history at Princeton, wrote in 1967 that the source of
ecological crises is primarily due to the Judeo-Christian tradition rooted on the anthropocentric attitude
traced back from the book of Genesis. White claims that what people do about their environment
depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them. Human ecology is
deeply conditioned by beliefs about nature and destiny-that is, by religion. Christianity in its western
form is anthropocentric in nature. It is believed that through Christianity, it was established that Adam
and all humans thereafter are made master over nature because humans are created in “God’s image.”
Humans as Stewards of the Environment
Patrick Dobel, suggests that the Judeo-Christian belief that nature exists for the sole purpose of
serving human beings must be put under closer scrutiny as it implies an attitude of antagonism and the
separation of both God and humans from Earth. Instead, he believes that the Judeo-Christian attitude is
an ethics of stewardship. It is geared toward harmony with the world without abandoning humanity
commitment to social justice.

Respect for nature

Biocentric egalitarianism is a theory which calls for respect for nature as its central moral
attitude. It proposes a life centered system as opposed to the anthropocentric view. This general
outlook to be taken must be an attitude of respect towards individual organisms considered as entities
having inherent worth. This belief is what must determine humanity’s moral relation with Earth’s wild
communities of life.
In this theory, human actions affecting the natural environment and its nonhuman inhabitants
are determined right on the basis of the consequences which are favorable (or unfavorable) to human’s
well being or they are consistent (or inconsistent) with the system of norms that protect and implement
human rights. It implies as a Prima Facie (at first view before investigation) moral obligation of humans
to the natural environment-wild plants and animals as members of earth’s biotic community. This means
that each human person is bound to protect or promote their good for their sake.
Paul Taylor, in his article “Biocentric Egalitarianism,” presented the consequences of the good
(well-being) and inherent worth of an entity as important ideas necessary to having the attitude of
respect for nature as part of an individual’s moral outlook. Accordingly, this respect entails the
acceptance that every organism, species, population, and community of life has a good of its own which
moral agents can intentionally further; in other words any entity can be benefited or harmed. It further
means that what is good is what enhances or preserves life and what is bad is detrimental to life.
By inherent worth, Taylor refers two general principles-the principle of moral consideration and
the principle of intrinsic value. The 1st principle states that wild living things deserves concerns and
consideration of all moral agents by virtue of their being members of earth’s community of life. The 2nd
principle states that regardless of what kind of entity it is, if it is a member of the community of life, the
realization of its good is something intrinsically valuable. The well-being of each entity is judged to have
value in and of itself.
The attitude of respect for nature is drawn from the above principles. This attitude will then lead
to the biocentric outlook where these four main components are spoused:
1. Humans are thought of as members of the earth’s community of life, holding that membership
on the same terms apply to all the nonhuman members
2. The earth’s natural ecosystem as a totality is seen as a complex web of dependent on the
sound biological functioning of the others

3. Each organism is conceived as a teleological center of life, pursuing its own good in its own
4. The notion that human by their very nature as superior must be rejected since it is a
groundless claim
This view removes the anthropocentric view and takes out the so called arrogance toward nature
because humanity is simply a part of a biotic community where his/her functions depend on the
functions of other organism as well. This perspective reinforces the virtue of humility because if people
will realize the implication of this perspective, they will accept that they are a part of a complex whole
only. To practice the attitude of respect for nature is to realize that a person’s well being is affected by
the well-being of other organisms.

Aleli M. Caraan. Introduction to Philosophy of the human person. Makati City: DIWA Learning
Systems Inc., 2016.