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What does it mean to be human? This is a question that has fascinated philosophers, artists, scientists and ordinary people for centuries. Some might say that being human is defined by our biological characteristics, such as having a brain, a heart, a body and a Soul. Others might argue that being human is more than just a physical state, but also a moral, spiritual and cultural one. But what if there is another way to think about humanity, not as a fixed and static category, but as a dynamic and evolving one? What if humanity is not something we are born with, but something we strive for? In this article, we will explore the idea of humanity as an aspirational quality for transcendence, that is, the ability to go beyond our limitations and reach new heights of excellence, creativity and Wisdom. We will examine how different thinkers and traditions have conceptualized this notion of humanity, and how it can inspire us to live more fulfilling and meaningful lives.
What is humanity?
Humanity is a complex and multifaceted concept that can be understood in different ways. One possible definition of humanity is the quality or state of being human, which implies having certain characteristics that distinguish humans from other animals, such as rationality, morality, creativity, language, culture, and sociality. Another possible definition of humanity is the collective term for all human beings, which implies a sense of Unity, Diversity, Interdependence, and responsibility among the members of the human species. A third possible definition of humanity is the expression or manifestation of human values, ideals, and aspirations, which implies a recognition of the dignity, worth, and potential of every human being, as well as a commitment to promote human rights, justice, peace, and solidarity in the world.
What the great thinkers have to say
The question of what it means to be human has fascinated philosophers, scientists, and artists for centuries. How do we define ourselves in relation to other animals, nature, and society? What are the values and virtues that guide our actions and aspirations? How do we balance our individuality and our sociality? These are some of the questions that the great thinkers have explored and tried to answer.
One of the concepts that has been central to the humanistic tradition is humanitas, which was coined by the ancient Romans to describe the education and cultivation of a well-rounded citizen. Humanitas meant the development of human virtue, in all its forms, to its fullest extent. The term thus implied not only such qualities as are associated with the modern word humanity —understanding, benevolence, Compassion, mercy—but also such more assertive characteristics as fortitude, judgment, prudence, eloquence, and even love of honour.
Another concept that has shaped our understanding of humanity is the looking glass self, which was proposed by the American sociologist Charles Horton Cooley in the early 20th century. According to this theory, our self-concepts and identities are a Reflection of how other people perceive us. We imagine how we appear to others, how they judge us, and how they feel about us. We then develop our Sense of self based on these imagined reactions. This means that our humanity is not a fixed essence, but a dynamic and social construction.
A third concept that has influenced our view of humanity is the Meaning of life, which is perhaps the most fundamental and elusive question of all. Different thinkers have offered different answers to this question, depending on their world-view, values, and goals. Some have argued that the Meaning of life is to serve humanity, to help others, to seek knowledge, to express creativity, to find happiness, or to fulfil a Divine plan. Others have suggested that there is no inherent Meaning to life, and that we have to create our own Meaning through our choices and actions.
These are just some of the concepts that the great thinkers have used to explore humanity as applied to the individual. They show us that humanity is not a simple or static category, but a complex and evolving one. They challenge us to reflect on who we are, what we value, and what we aspire to be.
Humanity and Self-transcendence
Humanity is a complex and multifaceted concept that can be understood in different ways. One possible way to approach it is to consider how it relates to the individual and Self-transcendence. Self-transcendence is the phenomenon of experiencing one’s self as expanding both backward and forward in time; a feeling of connectedness to all of humanity, the earth, and the cosmos; and a turn toward existential concerns such as the Meaning of life and future death.
Some may argue that humanity is an aspirational quality that requires Self-transcendence. In other words, to be truly human, one must go beyond one’s narrow Self-interest and Ego and embrace a larger Perspective that encompasses the common good and the transcendent values. According to this view, humanity is not a given, but a goal that can be achieved through cultivating virtues such as Compassion, Wisdom, courage, justice, and transcendence. These virtues can help an individual to become more mindful and overcome their obstacles and distractions by allowing them to go beyond what is going around them and achieve a state of Self-transcendence.
However, others may challenge this idea and suggest that humanity is not an aspirational quality, but an inherent one. In other words, to be human is to be limited, flawed, and mortal, and there is no need to transcend these aspects of oneself. According to this view, humanity is a natural condition that can be accepted and celebrated without striving for perfection or transcendence. This view may emphasize the importance of Authenticity, creativity, Diversity, and resilience as human qualities that do not require Self-transcendence. These qualities can help an individual to express their unique self and cope with their challenges and uncertainties without losing their sense of identity or Purpose.
Therefore, whether humanity is an aspirational quality or not depends on how one defines humanity and Self-transcendence. There is no definitive answer, but rather a spectrum of perspectives that can enrich our understanding of ourselves and others. Ultimately, each individual may have to find their own balance between embracing their humanity and transcending it.
Benefits of self-transcendent humanity
Self-transcendence is a phenomenon that involves expanding one’s Sense of self beyond the personal and individual level. It can be seen as a way of relating to Something greater than oneself, such as humanity, nature, the cosmos, or The divine. Self-transcendence can have positive effects on one’s well-being, such as enhancing life Purpose, optimism, Self-esteem, and connectedness with others. It can also help one cope with existential challenges, such as finding Meaning in life and facing death.
Some of the benefits of Self-transcendence for humanity are:
- It can foster a sense of global citizenship and social responsibility, as one recognizes the Interdependence and commonality of all human beings.
- It can promote ecological Awareness and environmental stewardship, as one appreciates the beauty and value of nature and its source.
- Furthermore, it can inspire creativity and innovation, as one transcends the limitations of conventional thinking and explores new possibilities.
- It can facilitate spiritual growth and transcendental experiences, as one seeks to connect with a higher power or reality.
- It can enhance moral development and Altruism, as one acts with Compassion and generosity towards others.
Self-transcendence is not a fixed state, but a dynamic process that can be cultivated and practised. Some of the ways to achieve Self-transcendence are:
- Engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfilment, such as hobbies, arts, sports, or volunteering.
- Practising mindfulness and meditation, which can help one become more aware and present in the moment.
- Seeking out challenges and learning opportunities, which can help one grow and overcome obstacles.
- Developing relationships with people who share similar values and goals, or who can offer support and guidance.
- Exploring different perspectives and cultures, which can broaden one’s horizons and understanding.
- Reflecting on one’s life story and legacy, which can help one find Meaning and direction.
Challenges of self-transcendent humanity
One of the challenges of self-transcendent humanity is to balance the pursuit of individual and collective growth with the respect for the Diversity and dignity of all living beings. Self-transcendence is a character trait that relates to the experience of spiritual aspects of the self, such as the identification of the self with the universe conceived as a unitive whole.
According to Huxley, Self-transcendence is the potential of humanity to transcend itself—not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity. However, this does not mean that Self-transcendence implies a loss of individuality or Uniqueness. Rather, it means that Self-transcendence enables a more Profound understanding of one’s place and Purpose in the larger scheme of things, and a greater appreciation of the interconnectedness and Interdependence of all life forms.
Self-transcendence can also foster a sense of Meaning and Purpose in life, especially in the face of existential challenges such as mortality and suffering. However, Self-transcendence also poses some risks and difficulties.
For instance, how can self-transcendent humanity deal with the ethical and moral implications of technological advancements that aim to enhance human capacities and extend human lifespan?
How can self-transcendent humanity ensure that such enhancements are accessible and beneficial to all people, not just a privileged few?
How can self-transcendent humanity avoid falling into the trap of hubris or narcissism, thinking that it can overcome all limitations and control all aspects of reality?
Furthermore, how can self-transcendent humanity respect the Diversity and autonomy of other living beings, while also recognizing their common origin and destiny?
These are some of the questions that self-transcendent humanity needs to address to achieve a Harmonious and sustainable coexistence with itself and with the rest of creation.
If you are interested in learning more about humanity and Self-transcendence, here are some weblinks that discuss these topics in more depth: