Human Existence and PhenomenologyJune 27, 2021
In ancient Greece, Platon supporters gathered one day and asked, “What is a human?” It is said that they are looking for an answer to the question.
After thinking for a long time, they find the answer: “Man is a hairless biped.” Everyone seems satisfied with this answer. Until the cynical Diogenes entered the conference room with a plucked chicken in his hand and said, “Here, I present you human!” until you say. After this situation, the philosophers gathered again and decided that man is a biped with hairless and wide hooves.
This interesting story from the oldest history of philosophy shows what kind of difficulties philosophers faced from time to time while making general, abstract definitions about human beings. Even without the intervention of Diogenes, it is clear that describing ourselves as hairless bipeds does not fully encompass what it means to be human.
“Philosophy always asks deep questions about being. We should ask these questions by looking at the being, for which being is an issue. That is, to the human being… We are the beings that need to be resolved.”
The question of “How can we analyze being human” has preoccupied philosopher Martin Heidegger as well as ancient philosophers. While answering this question, Heidegger follows a strikingly different method from the philosophers before him. Instead of an abstract definition looking at human life from the outside, it tries to make a definition that can be called an insider’s position and that aims to make a concrete analysis of existence. He says, since we exist in the busiest place of all things – in the middle of life – if we want to understand what it means to be human, we must do this by looking at human life from within this life.
Heidegger is a student of Husserl and follows his phenomenological method. This method is a philosophical approach that looks at phenomena—how things look—through examining our experience of them. For example, phenomenology “What is a human?” does not directly approach the question of “what is it like to be human?” as it approaches.
For Heidegger, this constitutes the fundamental question of philosophy. He was most interested in the ontology (derived from the Greek ontos, meaning “being”) of philosophy, which looks at questions from the point of view of being or existence. Some examples of ontological questions might be: “What does it mean to say that something exists?” or “What are the different kinds of things that exist?”
Heidegger, “What is it like to be human?” He wants to use the question as a way to answer deeper questions about general existence. In his book Being and Time, he claims that other philosophers tend to use very abstract and shallow approaches when asking ontological questions. If we want to know what it means to say that something exists, we must begin by looking at the question from the perspective of beings that are the subject of being. We can assume that cats, dogs, and toadstools are also beings, but they have no curiosity about their existence: they do not raise ontological questions, “What does it mean to say that something exists?” they don’t ask. However, Heidegger states that only one being is curious about these and that he is human. While he says that we are the beings that need to be analyzed, he tells us that if we are going to investigate questions about existence, we should start with ourselves by looking at what existence means for us.
When Heidegger asks about the meaning of existence, he talks about something direct and direct, not abstract ideas. In the first pages of “Being and Time” he says that the meaning of our existence must be connected with time; we are essentially temporary beings. When we are born, we find ourselves thrown here on a path we did not choose. We understand that we have come to exist in a world that existed and continues to exist before us; Thus, with our birth, we are introduced to a historical, material and spiritual environment.
We engage in various pursuits to grasp the meaning of this world. For example, we can learn Latin or pursue true love or decide to build ourselves a house. Through these time-consuming activities we orient ourselves towards different possible futures; We define our existence. But sometimes we realize that all our projects have an outer limit, that all our plans will come to an end at some point, whether they are completed or not. This point is our death point. For Heidegger, death is the outer horizon of our being: everything we can do or see or think lies within this horizon. We cannot see beyond it.
Heidegger’s technical vocabulary is notorious for being difficult to understand, but it comes mostly from his attempt to examine complex philosophical questions, concretely or non-abstractly. He tries to relate these questions to our real experiences. “The farthest horizon of our existence is death.” to say something about what it’s like to live a human life, and something that many philosophical definitions of being human miss.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Ataturk University Sociology Department 1st Class “To Philosophy”