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Human self-reflection

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Title: Human self-reflection  
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Subject: Introspection, Aufheben, Names for the human species, Outline of thought, Reflective practice
Collection: Consciousness, Humans, Philosophy of Life, Self
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Human self-reflection

A lady seated by herself
This penultimate scene of the Admonitions Scroll shows a palace lady sitting in quiet contemplation, presumably following the admonitions in the accompanying lines:[1] "Therefore I say: Be cautious and circumspect in all you do, and from this good fortune will arise. Calmly and respectfully think about your actions, and honor and fame will await you."

Human self-reflection is the capacity of humans to exercise introspection and the willingness to learn more about their fundamental nature, purpose and essence. The earliest historical records demonstrate the great interest which humanity has had in itself. Human self-reflection invariably leads to inquiry into the human condition and the essence of humankind as a whole.

Human self-reflection is related to the philosophy of consciousness, the topic of awareness, consciousness in general and the philosophy of mind.

Contents

  • History 1
    • Prehistoric times 1.1
    • Ancient Orient 1.2
    • Classical antiquity 1.3
    • Middle Ages 1.4
    • Renaissance 1.5
    • Modern era 1.6
  • Comparison to other species 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4

History

Prehistoric times

Prehistoric notions about the status of humanity may be guessed by the etymology of ancient words for man. Latin homo (PIE *kþonyon) means "of the earth, earthling," probably in opposition to "celestial" beings. Greek ἂνθρωπος (mycenaean *anthropos) means "low-eyed," again probably contrasting with a divine perspective.

Ancient Orient

From the 3rd millennium Old Kingdom of Egypt, belief in the eternal afterlife of the human Ka is documented. From the earliest times, man made out a claim of dominance of humanity alongside radical pessimism because of the frailty and brevity of human life (In the Hebrew Bible, for example, dominion of man is promised in Genesis 1:28, but the author of Ecclesiastes bewails the vanity of all human effort).

Classical antiquity

Protagoras made the famous claim that "Man is the measure of all things; of what is, that it is; of what is not, that it is not". Socrates gave the (doubtlessly tongue-in-cheek) definition of humans as "featherless bipeds" (Plato, Politicus). More serious is Aristotle's description of man as the "communal animal" (ζῶον πολιτικόν), i.e., emphasizing society-building as a central trait of human nature, and "animal with sapience" (ζῶον λόγον ἔχον, animal rationale) , a term that also inspired the species' taxonomy, Homo sapiens.

Middle Ages

The dominant world-view of medieval Europe, as directed by the Catholic Church, was that human existence is essentially good and created in "original grace," but because of concupiscence, is marred by sin, and that its aim should be to focus on the beatific vision after death. The 13th century pope Innocent III wrote about the essential misery of earthly existence in his "On the misery of the human condition" – a view that was disputed by, for example, Gianozzo Manetti in his treatise "On human dignity."

Renaissance

See Renaissance humanism.

A famous quote of Shakespeare's Hamlet (II, ii, 115-117), expressing the contrast of human physical beauty, intellectual faculty, and ephemeral nature:

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

René Descartes famously and succinctly proposed: Cogito ergo sum[2] (French: "Je pense donc je suis"; English: "I think, therefore I am")[3]

Modern era

The Enlightenment was driven by a renewed conviction, that, in the words of Immanuel Kant, "Man is distinguished above all animals by his self-consciousness, by which he is a 'rational animal'." In the 19th century, Karl Marx defined man as "labouring animal" (animal laborans) in conscious opposition to this tradition. In the early 20th century, Sigmund Freud dealt a serious blow to positivism by postulating that human behaviour is to a large part controlled by the unconscious mind.

Comparison to other species

Various attempts have been made to identify a single behavioural characteristic that distinguishes humans from all other animals. Many anthropologists think that readily observable characteristics (tool-making and language) are based on less easily observable mental processes that might be unique among humans: the ability to think symbolically, in the abstract or logically, although several species have demonstrated some abilities in these areas. Nor is it clear at what point exactly in human evolution these traits became prevalent. They may not be restricted to the species Homo sapiens, as the extinct species of the Homo genus (e.g. Homo neanderthalensis, Homo erectus) are believed to also have been adept tool makers and may also have had linguistic skills.

In learning environments reflection is an important part of the loop to go through in order to maximise the utility of having experiences. Rather than moving on to the next 'task' we can review the process and outcome of the task and - with the benefit of a little distance (lapsed time) we can reconsider what the value of experience might be for us and for the context of which it was a part.

See also

References

  1. ^ McCausland, Shane (2003), First Masterpiece of Chinese Painting: The Admonitions Scroll,  
  2. ^ Descartes, René; Principia Philosophiae (1644), Part 1, article 7:"Ac proinde hæc cognitio, ego cogito, ergo sum, est omnium prima & certissima, quæ cuilibet ordine philosophanti occurrat."
  3. ^ translated, René Descartes ;; notes, with explanatory; Miller, by Valentine Rodger; Miller, Reese P. (1983). Principles of philosophy (Repr., with corrections. ed.). Dordrecht: Reidel.  
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