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What Does it Mean to Be Human?

What does it really mean to be human? Without a doubt, this is one of the most fundamental questions that society and bioethicists have had to confront especially with the developments that have taken place in recent years. It is evident that unprecedented changes have been taking place in societies in different parts of the world. For instance, the ongoing wars in countries such as Syria, Libya, and Iraq, and the humanitarian crisis that has followed has made many people to questions what it really means to be human. Moreover, the numerous terrorist attacks that are taking place all over the world point towards something unusual about humanity. On the other hand, the proliferation of technology has not just changed society; it has also had an impact on what it means to be human. In this paper, I argue that although answering the question “what does it mean to be human?” is not straightforward; there are many factors that determine what makes us human. They range from the relations we have with all around us to contributions we make in our fields of specialization.What Does it Mean to Be Human?

Does science provide an answer to the question: what does it mean to be human? No, it doesn’t. Paleoanthropologists have often categorized human beings with other species especially Homo sapiens or the genus Homo. On the other hand, others have argued that we belong to subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens. Such differences of opinion indicate complete absences of evidence given that scientists seem unsure of which facts to consider when deciding the groups of primates that should be categorized as human.

It is important to note that different people have a varying definition of “human”. As we continue to live in this world, we constantly grow and change. Eventually, some of us find purposes in our lives by helping other people, while the rest find the same purpose by simply focusing on themselves and finding ways to make their lives better. Therefore, while some individuals might focus on developing their external environment, others pay more attention to the internal environment. To be human is to belong to a unique species that has superior mental development. Members of this particular species display diverse characteristics that make them human. They conceive that moral prudence and the voice of conscience are natural laws that work by urging us to do the right actions and shun evil.

From the creation stories, we learn that mankind is a moral creature and he makes choices that can result in real consequences. In Genesis, for example, God does not set any limits on the actions of all His creation. In chapter 2 verse 16 and 17 states that the man and the woman were free to eat the fruit of any tree in the garden of Eden except the tree that had the knowledge of good and evil. From the creation story alone, it is evident that human beings are expected to live by a specified moral standard. In the creation story, mankind has been elevated to become moral creatures capable of making choices. Sometimes, the wrong choices will be made. Therefore, to be human is to commit mistakes and to seek forgiveness. Occasionally, people end up performing evils tasks may get another chance to learn from their actions. Being human, therefore, involves having flaws or imperfections.

From another perspective, being human can be described as existing in society. Apart from existing as an individual, a human being will also be shaped by those around him. Therefore, a close connection exists between humanity on one hand and biology and culture on the other. We live in a culture. However, the manner in which we live is also shaped and influenced by our biological traits. According to Heinze (2009), human beings shape their sociality through history that is created when they relate to each other as organic beings. His statement clearly indicates the need for people to be active in the world. Moreover, it indicates that human beings are part of the culture and have their bodily features rooted in the social world in which they live.

From my understanding, however, there are three different attributes that must be considered when defining what it means to be a human. Human beings are what they are because they exhibit the following three aspects: First, they are bodily. That means they have a physical organic body. Second, to be human is to exist as a living being. Third, to be human is to exist with temporal continuity. This means to be human is to have a history and exist as a being in time and space. All people have a history. Our bodiliness is the most fundamental aspect of this history. Therefore, at the basic level, humans refer to embodied beings, or simply put living, physical organisms. The existence of human beings as an organism starts at conception and is genetically constituted. It is from this start point that we become endowed with the power and growth potential associated with us. What Does it Mean to Be Human?

Given that people have constantly been changing over the years, there is no single definition of what it means to be human that can be found. Although it may be argued that human beings were created equally, it is also evident that humans do not have the same identity. In the Treatise on Sacred Doctrine, Thomas Aquinas discusses the conscience of man. In that text, he defines conscience as a guiding spirit that is intertwined with a soul and serves to lead it from evil. Human beings commit mistakes in their lives and it is these mistakes that make the world to change. With these mistakes comes regret and forgiveness, two important necessities that identify us as humans. From the epistles of Paul, we learn that conscience is closely linked with sin as the apostle indicated that the conscience of some has already been defiled.

From Joseph story, the Book of Ruth, and the Gospel of Mark, we learn that to be human requires us to put others ahead of us. It entails being conscious of both ourselves and those around us. Joseph, for examples, was cautious of the consequence of sleeping with Potiphar’s wife. He was aware that such an action would be a show of disrespect for his master. In the Book of Ruth, we learn about the close relationship that existed between Ruth and Naomi, and the care that Boaz gave to Ruth when she and Naomi returned to Israel from Moab. From these examples, it is evident that to be human is to be conscious of ourselves and also those around us, and attribute that enables us to function properly within our civilization. When the natural want to be concerned about one another is absent, our civilization will collapse. It is this conscience that enables us to distinguish what is good from what is bad. In The Meditations, Marcus Aurelius attempts to define the manner in which we should live and our responsibility on earth (Rutherford, 1989). He urges people to avoid pleasure, develop a purpose for their lives, and live courageously in order to achieve that purpose. It is these qualities that make us human.What Does it Mean to Be Human?

Additionally, to be human is to have emotions. At some point in our lives, we all become envious, fearful, angry, or even feel grieved. These are but some of the emotions associated with human beings. Mankind is also sociable and sympathetic. These emotions contribute to the course taken by the natural world. They result in a sense of competition that makes us strive and persevere. However, it is the feeling of compassion that we develop towards others that sets us apart us humans. In the gospel of Mark, we learn about the compassion that Jesus had to the cripples, the sick, and all sinners. Without compassion, love cannot exist and without love, the human race will stop to live and instead only exist.

It is evident that the question “what does it mean to be human?” cannot be answered in a straightforward manner. This is because there are many factors that determine what makes us human. They range from the relations we have with all around us to contributions we make in our fields of specialization. Moreover, the definition of “human” varies from one person to the other. To be human requires that an individual becomes aware of the laws and rights that guide them to do the right thing. To be human also means to belong to a unique species that has superior mental development. To be human is also about committing mistakes and seeking forgiveness. It is also about existing in a society where an individual is shaped and influenced by the people around him. Additionally, to be human requires us to put others ahead of us. It is to be conscious of ourselves and also those around us.



Heinze, M. (2009). Helmuth Plessner’s philosophical anthropology. Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology16(2), 117-128.

Rutherford, R. B. (1989). The meditations of Marcus Aurelius: a study. Oxford: Clarendon Press.