For me, the whole point of doing philosophy, of understanding who we are and what we are as humans, and of understanding our lives can be compared to the simple act of writing that as a student, I can very much relate to. I personally love to write, especially in my native language, Tagalog. Each time I decide that I want to write, I can think of the best beginning and end that would perfectly support my chosen topic. However, as I write, I tend to stop. In the course of my writing, the ideas and thoughts that I previously had seem to cease and I cannot go on.
I often find myself thinking and wondering what would be the best direction I can take to be able to reach that perfect ending that I had in mind. I get confused a lot and most of the time, I become undecided. Now that I think about it, this is no different from the life that we live as individuals, and as part of society. As humans, we always already know that our existence in this world has a definite beginning and end—that is, birth and death. We know for a fact that our time on this earth is limited; that we are mere mortals.
And it is precisely because of this fact that we often find ourselves worrying, and sometimes even fearing, the idea of death. We are very anxious of making our lives worthwhile so that we can say to ourselves in the end that we have lived a good life. We will all end up with the same fate and there is nothing we can do about it. In the end, what would matter is how we have lived our lives—what we have done, what we have achieved—in reaching that end which is death. In other words, what matters is the direction that we have chosen for ourselves in living the life that we want.
However, for me, there is no better achievement that a man can get than to understand who he is and what he is as a person. In our lives, we would often be confronted with different challenges, we would be introduced to various cultures, ideas, and concepts, and we would meet people who differ from us. All these experiences, and their influences, can change the way we view our lives, and even the way we view the world. These, too, can have an effect on the direction that we have chosen for ourselves. We will get confused. We will doubt if the path that we are on is the right one.
This confusion—doubt— now leads us to the main argument of this essay. This will revolve around the idea that we, humans, are thinking beings and that we are capable of discerning what is right from wrong—that we have the ability to make decisions for ourselves in living our lives. This essay will explain the relationship between the idea that we are thinking beings and why we do philosophy, why we question, the problem of philosophy, our existence, the existence of others, language, and self-understanding. We, humans, have always been curious about our surroundings. We never fail to wonder.
We have this innate characteristic of wanting to know how things work. This natural curiosity could be traced back to the Greeks. During the ancient times, the Greeks were always in awe and in astonishment for nature. They concentrated on what is there—on reality as it presented itself. What mattered for them was the nature of things: how they worked, and what it is that is already contained in each thing. In other words, they valued the substance or the whatness of things. For ancient thinkers, things existed by acting out their substance—their whatness—which remained potentially in them.
In applying the notion of substance to human beings, Aristotle asked, “What is the substance of being human, and how is it acted out? ” Aldo Tassi gave an answer to this question by saying that, “The world of Aristotle is populated by entities each of which possesses a nature enabling it, by virtue of its relationship to other things, to be or to develop what it is. The terms by which anything is are already fully contained in each thing and if we are to do justice to things, we must allow ourselves to be engaged by these terms.
Looking at the nature which man displays in the various relationships he enters into with his fellowmen, it becomes apparent that the political order is the context which gives the greatest scope for man to be or to develop who he is in relation to his fellows (Tassi 1985, 190). ” The nature of the human being for Aristotle, then, was to speak—to be in relation with others. According to him, persons must engage in politics. It is where man finds his purpose. Man, therefore, is a political animal; a rational animal. Now, what I have done so far is prove that we, humans, are hinking beings. What I am trying to get at here is prove that it is because of this idea that we are able to understand and direct our lives. For the next part of this essay, I will try to prove why thinking leads us to self-understanding. First, it is precisely because we are thinking beings that we do philosophy. During the earlier part of this course we have established that what we do in philosophy is thinking. However, it has not come to me until now that there seems to be a problem with this argument. Do we do philosophy because we think or do we think because we do philosophy?
Philosophy is something that we do, perform, and commit. Along with many other sciences, it is an activity. But in order to be able to perform something, we have to have a foundation—perhaps knowledge—about a certain activity. Therefore, I firmly believe that we have to have the thought first before we can do philosophy. However, we would not really explain what is around us if we do not ask ourselves first what it is that surrounds us. In other words, we question. The human person is defined by an infinite thirst for knowledge, for the truth, for life and for love.
According to Karl Rahner, we are defined by the dynamism of transcendence. We have an a priori tendency to go beyond ourselves, to transcend objects, and to constantly seek to find more and more knowledge to find the truth. It is already innate in human nature to seek to discover mysteries that are sometimes beyond our knowing. According to Kavanaugh, there is an assumption that all individuals are driven to authenticate who they are. The initiation of philosophy, therefore, is the act of questioning—particularly the kind of questioning that asks “Who am I? Questioning, for me then, is a life-long experience that we do until the end. “Every man wants to know himself and do something about himself. (Kavanaugh 1970, 21)” The self is closest to us but it is that which we are most unfamiliar with. This unfamiliarity with who and what we are necessitates our need to question. We need to be open to what and who we are. However, as we age, the way we view the world changes, the kinds of questions we ask change,and together with these, we change. The same thing goes for the things we write about.
I have experienced a lot of times, while writing, the feeling of being uncertain about what to say next. I ask myself, “Is this the best statement to follow that previous one? ” Sometimes, I even have doubts if what I am writing coheres with the whole idea of the topic. And when I run out of things to say, I seek help from others. I either ask them about their opinions or ideas or go to the library to research. Now, if I may relate this to philosophy, it stems from the fact that we, humans, are thinking beings that the problem of philosophy arises. Philosophy is not an acquisition of knowledge.
However, in a considerably long period of time now, this is what seems to be the impression that people have about philosophy. We often see philosophy as a science of learning things just for the sake of learning them. Moreover, the astonishment, the harmony, the correspondence of humans to the nature of things has been lost through time. Our relation to the whatness of things has been obscured and confused. Before, people wondered what their place in the world was. They wanted to know what their purpose was and they understood themselves based on what is there. Today, we are faced with a completely different scenario.
Nowadays, people ask “What is the place of that thing in relation to me? ” From a cosmocentric view of the world, men have shifted to an anthropocentric one. This view of the world can be mainly attributed to the French philosopher Rene Descartes. He recognized the fact that error exists and therefore, he felt the need to be critical and asked himself, “How can I distinguish what is true from what is false? ” For modern thinkers, “natural” observation was not enough; it was necessary to put nature “on the rack”—that is, to manipulate nature—in order to know anything with certainty.
As Tassi quoted Francis Bacon, “simple observation is not sufficient to give us scientific knowledge. We must vary the circumstances in order to induce nature to give up her secrets; that is, we must put nature ‘on the rack. ’ (Tassi 1982, 185)” Descartes did this by doubting everything outside the “I” and his way of “paying attention” explicitly showed how much he wanted to avoid uncertainty—error. With his universal methodic doubt, Descartes was able to come up with the conclusion that his proposition, “I am, I exist, is necessarily true each time I pronounce it, or that I mentally conceive it. Gallagher 1984, 32)” With this, we are led to the coincidence of thought and existence. What good Descartes has contributed to philosophy is that he introduced the idea that it is precisely because we, humans, think that we exist. However, when Descartes has proven the certainty of the “I” when he said that “all beings which think exist,” his next task of proving the existence of the not-“I” has become very problematic. He failed to realize that human consciousness, or knowledge, is bipolar. For Thomas Aquinas, the subject can only know if it has already known its object.
Therefore, we always already are aware of the existence of that thing which we think of or talk about. As Edmund Husserl stressed in his concept of intentionality, to be conscious is to be related to something—that which consciousness intends. “The nature of a conscious act is such that the act is reference to another. It intends, or tends out to its other; the intelligibility of consciousness is its intentionality. (Gallagher 1984, 49)” Now, the whole idea of existence can be perfectly elaborated by going back to the act of writing as an example. Why do we write in the first place?
For me, personally, people write because they do not want to be forgotten. They want, in the smallest of ways, to leave something that would last forever. This is precisely because we know that we are mortals. For some, writing is their way of telling the whole world that they exist. They want to express how they feel and they want to be heard. Sometimes, we write because we want to escape the complexities of the reality that we are in and we create our own world with what we write. Here, we try, as much as possible, to change whatever it is that we do not like about our own realities.
Therefore, writing proves the existence of the person who writes. On the other hand, we write because we have an audience. We write because we always intend for someone to read our work. If one’s main purpose in writing is to prove his existence, then this gives us the idea that he wants to prove his existence to someone other than himself. In other words, what we write is supposed to be shared. Otherwise, if one keeps it to himself, he does away from the main purpose of his writing. Simply put, the act of writing proves the existence of the “I” and the non-“I. If we go back to Aristotle’s concept of the nature of the human being, that is, to speak and be in relation to others, then we can say that by performing the act of writing, we are serving our purpose as humans. With this, several questions arise: “How exactly do we write? How do we relate to others? How do we speak to them? ” This is where the concept of language comes in. We can never separate man from language. “We can only think in a language, and just this residing of our thinking in a language is the profound enigma that language presents to thought. Gadamer 1976, 62)” Therefore, it is precisely because we are thinking beings that we are able to communicate with one another. Language has constituted a big part in our discussion of the philosophy of the human person. This may be attributed to the fact that it is in the presence of language that we exhibit our nature and serve our purpose and consequently, become humans. As Gadamer puts it, we are always already familiar with language. “We are always already at home in language, just as much as we are in the world. Gadamer 1976, 63)” And, when we talk about language, we cannot avoid the concept of speaking. Like consciousness, when we speak a language, it is always intended towards someone. Language is always shared. “Whoever speaks a language that no one understands does not speak. To speak means to speak to someone. (Gadamer 1976, 65)” Because of thing sharing of language, when we speak, the words we utter are always open to interpretation. The same thing goes for writing. When a person writes, it cannot be helped that what he knows will affect the output of his work. After all, it is his work.
Whatever cultural backgrounds that person is from and whatever his beliefs are, all this will greatly influence the kind of writing that he does. However, once a person has written something and has shared it to the whole world, the text suddenly acquires its own entity. It now has its own being. “Writing renders the text autonomous with respect to the intention of the author. What the text signifies no longer coincides with what the author meant. (Ricoeur 1986, 83)” It is when we write that we get to express what we like, what we believe in, and how we want certain things to be.
It is when we write that we understand ourselves better—just like when we read. I believe that our writing mirrors our lives. It reflects the way we view the world, the kind of person we want to be, and where we want to be. We understand ourselves when we write. We write because we have a language. We have a language because we think. Remember what I said about fearing that we might not have lived our lives to the fullest when confronted by death. In the end, it is all a matter of choice. After all, we are a rational being. Only we have the right to direct our lives.
Yes, at times we will doubt, we will ask if we are on the right path. But, whatever path we choose to take for ourselves, it will be right depending on how we look at it—how we interpret it. Ayn Rand said, “Man has been called a rational being, but rationality is a matter of choice — and the alternative his nature offers him is: rational being or suicidal animal. Man has to be man — by choice; he has to hold his life as a value — by choice; he has to learn to sustain it — by choice; he has to discover the values it requires and practice his virtues — by choice. ” Works Cited