What is a human being? What does it mean to be a human being? How do we know? How do we know when human actions are good, beautiful, or true? Big questions. Questions the answers to which guide what human beings do–everyone, everywhere, everyday–whether they are aware of this guidance or not. If these questions so deeply and continuously impact everything, maybe it would be good to be aware of what they are, who is asking then, what answers people are coming up with, and how those answers impact each of us. Maybe.
The above books, in chronological order, provided a highly recommended excursion through the development of a way of looking at these big questions. In his political philosophy, Locke provides an early view, in the 1600s, of human beings capable of making healthy decisions on their own, without divine guidance from the king or church. Locke’s Essay provides the moral-philosophical foundations of this view of the human being–what a human is, how humans understand the world, and how this knowledge influences what humans are capable of deciding.
Kant provides a very logical structure, in the 1700s, for understanding what a human being should do, based on reason, an expression at the end of the age of enlightenment, furthering the idea that human beings are completely capable of developing their own moral philosophy. Kant explores, through reason, the emerging terms of freedom, the rights and duties of people and of the state, and their relationship to the law.
Lewin applies the emerging concepts of energy fields and topology in the early 1900s to the behavior of human beings, finding that there is both the inner experience and an outer structure or environment, which mutually influence each other, and, to a great part, influence the behavior of the human being. The human being has its own internal processes and is influenced by and influences its external environment, a region around it, and this interplay influences the human’s behavior. This takes the purely rational human or the purely influenced human and blends them.
Bauman in the new millennium brings the fluid nature of reality into the question of what humans are and what they are capable of, finding that both the descriptions of humans and the structures that support them are based on static, stable frameworks, whereas reality is fluid, and so should be the understanding of humanity and structures of the individual, work and the community.
Bartow brings back the questions of long ago to today, developing a picture of the human as the natural manifestation of spirit, conscious and unconscious of the reality the human being interacts with and as part of. This framework blends what is known from modern science and the wisdom traditions about what makes up reality and the role of human beings in it.
Building on the foundations placed by the lines of this evolution of thought about human beings, we are developing today a picture of the human being, of Homo lumens, as a being full of potential, a potential that the human being can choose to manifest. Homo lumens experiences value in life through the vibrancy of five primary relationships (self, other, group, nature, spirit). We know this from our own experience. We can also see, from our own experience, which we can validate with external evidence, how well our agreements support the experience and outcomes we want from our efforts together. We see that most of these choices are unconsciously accepted, and they can be more consciously chosen. The start of a moral philosophy based on the abundance of potential in humans and nature, towards a more vibrant experience in more harmonic interactions that lead to far more interesting experiences and far more impactful and resilient social forms.
While these are challenging reads, they are well worth the effort, to see where we have come from in our understanding of being human, where we are now, and where we might be heading. Honing our axiology of what we are, and how we can live the life available to us.