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HOW DO YOU Know THAT YOU

KNOW THAT YOU ARE A


HUMAN BEING?
Strictly Philosophical
By:
Uche Onyekwelu CCE

Let’s Try It
This is a vast philosophical question. It encumbers many aspects of philosophy, as it
calls also for a critical reflection. However, we may not be totally wrong if we say
that this question centres properly on Philosophical Anthropology and Epistemology.
This is said because the former deals with the phenomenon and metaphysics of man,
while the latter concentrates on knowledge. But since this question is of a general
philosophical enterprise, it calls also for other branches of philosophy (like
Metaphysics, Ethics) or other ways of attempting it.

So, “how do you know”- is epistemological; “that you know”- is metaphysical, which
is embedded in “that you are a human being”- which is anthropological. However,
response from Ethics would not be redundant since it is the science that shows and
ensure man’s moral and categorical imperative. So what do you think? Let’s move the
refection forward.

Epistemological Response
As a branch of philosophy, epistemology is the science that uses knowledge to show
the certainty, possibility and accessibility of knowledge through the organ man. In
other words, man introspectively delves into his interior being and with his mind’s
antenna searches to know the meaning of himself. By so doing he becomes conscious
of himself, and like Descartes he asserts that he is, he exists through his thinking-
“Cogito Ergo Sum”- I think therefore I am. So through this thinking of man, he begins
to comprehend his existence and by so doing becomes conscious of his existence
which implies his becoming a human being.

Furthermore, the very fact of man’s existence tells him that he knows that he really is.
As an aid to himself, he goes into reminiscence, thereby remembering most events
that characterize his life. Through this reminiscence, he comes to the profound point
of demarcation between “how he knows” and “that he knows”. So, a distinct and
succinct recognition of this point validly asserts his presence; and as Heidegger will
say- “the Presence at Hand”. By this, he comes to know that he knows that he is a
human being through “reminiscence”- a Platonic concept.

More so, one knows that he knows that he is a human being by his awareness of his
body and the activities that go on in his soul. The body as the material part grants
disposition and mobility to the soul, while the soul through its faculties, work in
diverse ways. For the soul comprises- the Vegetative, Sensitive and Rational faculties.
The Vegetative faculty accounts for biological growth and reproduction; the Sensitive
faculty accounts for the activities of both the external and internal senses (External
senses- sight, touch, taste, smell, hearing; Internal senses- common sense,
imagination, estimative or cognitive sense, memory); the Rational faculty accounts for
the activities of the Passive and Active Intellect. So through “simple apprehension” of
objects of knowledge, through “judgement” of the objects of knowledge and through
“reasoning” ( which are the fundamental operations of the human mind by which man
proceeds to new knowledge from the previous knowledge), one can know that he
knows that he is a human being.

Response from Philosophical Anthropology


Philosophical Anthropology is the branch of philosophy that centres on man- his
reasoning, components, composite, structures and his metaphysics. The concentration
here is on man, who is the supreme question for man. Thus we say that the question of
man follows the metaphysics of man.

So with regard to the question- “How do you know that you know that you are a
human being” – philosophical anthropology responds by positing the concept and fact
of “Evolution”. Through evolution, man knows that he is aware that he is a human
being. He does so by considering his developmental stages from prebiological stage,
through his biological stage, primate stage and his current stage as a full rational
human being. That is to say, from his stage of “homo habilus” through “homo
erectus”, and then to his current stage of “homo sapiens- the thinking man”. All these
are evidenced in man’s anatomy, palaeontology, genetics and biogeography.

In furtherance, an attempt to the question can be made by recourse to the concept and
fact of “Self-Consciousness”. Through his self-consciousness, man knows that he is a
human being in thought. By knowing that he is a thinking being, he then knows that
he is a human being. However this knowing is an immanent activity says Bernard
Lonergan, that is to say, ontologically and epistemologically, nothing is known except
in the content immanent within the act of knowing (lonergan, B. “Insight, p.235). This
immanent content affirms his consciousness which in turn informs him of his
knowledge of knowing that he is a human being.

Also the fact of “Auto-Transcendence” (also a metaphysical concept) attempts to


answer this question; for man always wants to go beyond the natural givenness of
nature. So this interior push and pull in man is a fact that tells him that he knows that
he is a human being since only human beings have this move to transcend the
spatiotemporal world, think in this way and respond in such a measure. That is why
Battista Mondin says that “man gathers self from himself, reveals to himself the
radical given-ness of self in all his ontological condition” (cf. Philosophical
Anthropology; Theological Pub. India, 1985, p.97). Through this then, he transcends
matter, time, space and the world, and is extended towards the infinite, the eternal and
the absolute.

Ethics Says
It has been a progressive belief that the beingness of man is surrounded by moral
principles for his actions. This x-rays the role of Ethics as the first part of the
philosophy of human affairs. Thus it deals with responsible actions of humans. These
actions of humans, when responsible, show that humans act from freewill. That is to
say, a human has control of his acts which indefatigably reiterates the fact of his
knowing that he knows that he is a human being. For it is only a human being who
can make choices of acts as well as acting from free will and providing guidance for
the moral strategies against ethical slaughter. That is why Francis Njoku holds that:

Activity is morally good when it attests to and


expresses the voluntary ordering of the person to
his ultimate end and the conformity of a concrete
action with the human good as it is acknowledged
in its truth by reason (cf. Njoku Francis, “Studies
In Ethics”, Claretian Publication, Lagos: 2006,
p.55).

So, this voluntary ordering of a human’s activity can be seen as a sine qua non
(condition without which) of actualizing an authentic moral conclusion or end. This
provides the ground for moral surety and subsequently discards every immoral
abortifacient morass. It in turn answers the basic question by asserting the
knowableness of a being’s moral knowability of his human-beingness.

As I leave
Attempts have been made to answer the basic question on- “how do you know that
you know that you are a human being”. To this, we recoursed to some branches of
philosophy. We visited Epistemology by using the tools of introspection, awareness,
the soul, fundamental operations of the mind and other viable tools. We also invited
Philosophical Anthropology, extracting from it the concepts of evolution, self-
consciousness, auto-transcendence and others. Thirdly, we anchored on Ethics by
showing the principles of man’s moral actions, volition to actions, free-willism in
man, and other insights. All these were used to attempt the question. The use of
Metaphysics proper was not extant as such (even though some traces of it were seen
in the arguments). It is an intentional omission. So then you are invited to respond to
the above question from the Metaphysical perspective.

However, our tripartite dimension, as responses to the basic question, show the
possibility of the fact that a human being can know that he knows that he is a human
being. However this does not mean that our answers to this question are exclusively
all embracing. This is said because there are other ways of attempting this question.
Nevertheless, we have posited the three ways which we have also found to be viable,
philosophical and scholarly measures of attempting the question of – “How do you
know that you know that you are a human being? Therefore I invite you to plunge into
this question.

PHILOSOPHERS, WHAT HAVE YOU TO SAY? I need


your response.

Uche Onyekwelu CCE.


15th November, 2008.