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The Human Being - Fulvio De Vita

The Human Being

By Sasha Volkoff, Jorge Pompei, Vito Correddu, Fulvio De Vita
Rapporteurr: Fulvio De Vita


A new civilization is emerging.
For the first time a world civilization.
Just like the start of each new civilization, it’s not yet clear and defined. Rather, it’s a fleeting signal, a light wind, a growing sensitivity in its primitive stage, almost naive, like a babble of a newborn baby.

But brave and sensitive men and women know that the moment has come, that the next few years will be critical, and from today onwards they will take on the task to speak out about it without fear or unnecessary prejudices.

Over the millennia of human evolution from prehistoric times to date, there have been multiple conceptions of the cosmos, the human being, nature and divinity. Some of these ideas have lasted for centuries; others have disappeared because of neither social nor personal utility; and others have been transformed. Only in a few instances we find cosmological conceptions wherein the existence of the very common human being has a central position.

The different views on the position of the human being in the cosmos and the very concept of “human being” have had enormous effects on the evolution and organization of each and every society. If our interest is to lay the foundations of a new civilization, it is essential to revise the current views so that it will reflect the ways of being-in-the-world and the values of the new historical moment.

In the beginning, we find the human being at the mercy of natural phenomena and as such, the image he has of himself is that of a being subjected to the natural environment, a prey of events and of the powerful entities that control him.

We often observe the human being subjected to divine laws where his daily existence is a mere product of an alien will. Over time, the gods were personified in royal powers of divine origin, or in the priestly caste, whose only interest was to maintain the status quo, while the autonomy and freedom of human beings were already limited starting from the image itself that men had of their own existence. On the other hand it is interesting to note that in some ancient myths like those of Gilgamesh and Prometheus, man rebelled against the gods in search of a new condition.

In the East,  original Buddhism does not speak of preconceived "truths", but rather of the very existence of the human being. The enunciation the Four Noble Truths – suffering, the source of suffering, the elimination of suffering and the path leading to the cessation of suffering – gave rise to a very interesting moment in the development of those civilizations.

In Europe, the transit from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance shows a clear example of how the concept of human being can change radically with obvious social consequences.

In the Christian Middle Ages, the Earth is a place of sin and suffering, a vale of tears into which humanity has been thrown away because of Adam, a place one desires to escape from. Man himself is nothing and he alone can do nothing. History is not the memory of men, peoples, civilizations, but a journey of atonement which leads to redemption from original sin. The Earth is motionless at the center of the universe and the social organization is consistent with this closed cosmological and hierarchical vision. [1]

The humanists overturn this view of a vile, degraded human nature to contrast it with the exaltation of man as a physical and spiritual whole. By the end of the fifteenth century, man acquires a religious dimension and eventually takes on a cosmic significance. Marsilio Ficino says: "... and the human genre in his entirety tends to become everything, because he lives (in) the life of everything. Thus, Trismegistus was right to call man a great miracle.”[2]
In the centuries that followed, the work of Descartes has a two-fold consequence: on the one hand the progress of science, that studies nature beyond the senses; on the other hand the development of a speculative philosophy which seeks “truth” in metaphysical abstraction. In this period, the idea starts growing that consciousness is passive before towards the world, where man is an entity that acts in response to the stimuli of the natural world. Even the historicist currents -that favor activism and the transformation of the world- conceive human activity as the result of external conditions, conditions outside consciousness.

Today, these old prejudices are reappearing and attempt to establish themselves in a new guise, that of neo-social Darwinism, whose distinguishing criteria -the struggle for survival and natural selection, favor the more powerful. In its latest version, this zoological view transplanted into the human world asserts a dialectics based on natural economic laws that regulate all social activities. So, once again, the human being disappears from sight and is transformed into an object. [3]

It is only in the twentieth century that Husserl with his phenomenological method, together with the philosophers of existence and some currents of cultural anthropology, tries to recuperate the concrete aspect of human existence. There also appear the first formulations of the so-called “anthropic principle” in physical sciences, which is a crucial turning point (at least as an attempt) in the interpretation of the scientific world and the human being.

We can then observe how the concept of the human being has developed, from a being subject to the laws of nature to a human being who, today, rises above the natural. A historical leap from the magical and allegorical explanation of events to the scientific explanation, even though still confined within the limits of positivism. What still remains as the last frontier to overcome is the concept of death, which stands as an impassable barrier in the future of every individual.

It is essential for Universal Humanism that the vision the human being has of himself and his position in the cosmos substantially changes in order to lay the foundations of a new civilization. The old ideas must be overcome by the light of a new awareness, for they are unsustainable and contradictory whether for the specialist or for the man in the street.

Based on a direct experience that each one of us has of him or herself, Universal Humanism recognizes in the human being the fundamental characteristics that drag him towards the future and have allowed him to get to this point: the unbending intention to overcome pain and suffering, and the great freedom and possibility of the conscience to do so.

The first thing that we can see is that the consciousness is active, in the sense that it is not a sort of container that collects the events that happen in the world, a simple “reflection” of the world, but it has the ability to structure the world according to an intention, to a precise direction. So we see that for the consciousness the world comes to be in an intentional way. Such a world is therefore subject to change as far as the consciousness “intends” to build it.

In this first observation, the consciousness discovers that it is capable of inventing the world starting from, yes, conditioning elements such as memory, but with an ability of futurization that is not to be found in any other animal species. Thus, we are not merely facing a “rational animal” able to socialize and communicate, but rather a being that finds within himself the ability to imagine and build the future by humanizing the world,  that is, to build it according to his intention.

Here are, then, the two essential elements in a conception of human being that may serve as foundation of a New Civilization: the development of freedom and temporality.

It is also important to consider that the world is not “separated” from consciousness, but rather both are part of the same structure in a constant, dynamic relation: while consciousness is structured by an ever changing world, consciousness -in turn- structures the world, transforming it.

We realize then that while the environment for an animal is the natural environment, the environment for the human being is socio-historical; and man ponders about his environment and contributes to its transformation and maintenance.

This concept has little to do with that of a passive consciousness that is subjected a, external “nature”. It is rather a consciousness that is creative and transforming, open to the world, active, intentional, that launches itself towards the future. In this sense, if have to speak of the nature of the human being, we will speak of change and transformation.

Certainly the world of a primitive man, a man of the Middle Ages or even a man of the last century is not the same as today’s world. The world is ever transforming, in an evolving manner, and the theories according to which the “natural laws” of history and economics impose a pattern of behavior, in a sort of modern social Darwinism, have nothing to do with the human being.

We have seen how consciousness structures the world on the basis of an intention, continuously futurizing new possibilities. We also discover now that this intention has always got a direction towards what we call happiness. And what is the intention towards happiness if not precisely the overcoming of pain and suffering?

Pain is what the body suffers, and science -in its thousands of years of evolution- has sought and still seeks to eliminate it. It is a clear direction, that of science, and we should not to be distracted by its current application that is in the service of destruction and eventually forego the fact that men have expressed in science their intention to overcome pain.

Suffering, instead, refers to the mind and to all that creates contradiction in the human psyche. Fear of the future, the lack of choice, lack of freedom, violence, resentment and, deep down,  the lack of a profound meaning in life.

Although the overcoming of mental suffering has not advanced to the same degree as science has, the attempts that man has done, and continues to do, to give meaning and sense to his existence cannot be denied. Thus, we find that every civilization has developed its major systems of thought, its cosmology, and its own mystics in which human beings recognize themselves personally and socially.

It is precisely in this tendency towards overcoming suffering that we find the ability of the consciousness to reflect upon itself and overcome its limitations. Only by becoming aware of its conditioning limitations, can consciousness gain access to the unfathomable depths of the Mind and have experiences that go beyond the mechanical aspects of the psyche. Experiences that in several moments of history substantially contributed in the progress towards overcoming suffering and the evolution of knowledge. Indeed, despite their apparent inconsistency in terms of the current rational thinking, these experiences have given meaning and significance to individuals and peoples.

Perhaps our task here is precisely to outline the bases for the new evolutionary leap that human beings need, following the direction that is already imprinted in our consciousness.

If human consciousness is capable of futurizing thanks to its enormous temporal scope and if intentionality allows consciousness to project a meaning outside itself, then the fundamental characteristic of man is to be, and to build, the meaning of world.

Finally, allow me to quote a phrase from Silo’s book Humanize the Earth:

“Namer of a thousand names, maker of meanings, transformer of the world, your parents and the parents of your parents continue in you. You are not a fallen star but a brilliant arrow flying toward the heavens. You are the meaning of the world, and when you clarify your meaning you illuminate the earth. I will tell you the meaning of your life here: It is to humanize the earth. And what does it mean to humanize the earth? It is to surpass pain and suffering; it is to learn without limits; it is to love the reality you build!”
I cannot ask you to go further, but neither should it offend if I declare, “Love the reality you build, and not even death will halt your flight!”…[4]

[1] Salvatore Puledda, Interpretazioni Storiche dell’Umanesimo, Multimage.
[2] M. Ficino:  Theologia platonica de immortalitate animorum, XIV, 3. Citato da G. De Ruggiero: Storia della Filosofia. Rinascimento, Riforma e Controriforma, Roma-Bari 1977. Vol. I, pag. 117.
[3] Silo, Dizionario del Nuovo Umanesimo, Opere Complete Vol. II, Essere Umano.
[4] Silo, Umanizzare la Terra, Opere Complete Vol. I

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