IB Philosophy | What it means to be human

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The Self

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45 Terms


The Self

Refers to the individual as a distinct entity with a unique personality, consciousness, and identity.

  • The concept has been debated by philosophers throughout history, with some arguing that it is an illusion or a social construct, while others maintain that it is a fundamental aspect of human existence.

  • Explored by various philosophical traditions, including existentialism, phenomenology, and Eastern philosophy.

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What does one must posses to be given moral consideration

  • Concept is used to distinguish human beings from other animals or entities

  • Philosophers argue that it pertains to having a certain kind of soul or consciousness, while others emphasize the importance of social and cultural factors

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The Other

Refers to a person or group that is perceived as different or alien from oneself

  • often used to describe process of creating an identity by defining what one is not

  • tendency to view others through the lens of one's own cultural norms and values

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What we are

  • fundamental essence of reality, including the physical world and human existence

  • explores the relationship between humans and the natural world and examines concepts such as causality, existence, and identity

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Who we are

  • a being within a moral community and deserve moral consideration

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Human Nature

  • Human nature refers to the inherent characteristics and traits that define the behavior and thinking patterns of humans

  • Rationalist Approach

  • Empiricist Approach

  • Essentialist Approach

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Rationalist Approach (Human Nature)

The nature of humans

  • emphasizes role of reason and rationality in shaping human behavior and understanding

  • believe humans are inherently rational beings, capable of using reason to understand the world around them

  • make decisions based on logical analysis

  • characterized by a capacity for reason and a desire for knowledge and understanding

  • essential to our ability to make sense of the world and our place in it

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Plato’s theory of human nature

  • nature is connected with our soul and ability to learn through our souls rather than our bodies and habit

  • soul is separated three different parts

    • appetite, spirit, hunger

  • soul is site of reason

  • soul is eternal

  • body is mortal

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Aristotle’s theory of human nature

  • all human functions contribute to eudaimonia ‘happiness’

  • human form is fully realized at the end of the generative process

  • substance is a particular thing and it’s properties

  • substance is matter and properties/secondary categories are form

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Empiricist Approach (Human nature)

Humans in nature

  • the senses are the ultimate source of human knowledge

  • human experience is a condition to reach fulfillment of life

  • participation is responsible for making a person who they are

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David Hume on human nature

Empiricist approach

  • A treatise of human nature

    • passion rather then reason govern human behavior

    • all human knowledge is founded only by experience (there is no innate thoughts)

  • Critique

    • belief in causality cannot be justified

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Belief in Causality (constant conjunction)

We perceive that one event causes another, when they are only conjoined.

  • drawing inductive causal inferences requires that the future will be like the past which cannot be grounded in prior experience

  • A custom, mental habit that is used often in place of logic

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Essentialist Approach (Human Nature)

Idea of essence

  • everything has a definitive set of attribute that are essential to it’s identity

  • all things have an essence that makes us what we are

  • sort groups of people into permanent categories under belief nature gave them those characteristics


  • fail to account individual human behavior

  • leads to stereotypes and racism

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Descartes theory on human nature

We are rational thinking spirits i.e the cogito that I think therefore I am


  • cannot be investigated by science

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Darwinian Theory of Human nature

We are an evolved primate that are only rational because of evolution

  • can study and predict behavior because they are observable

  • human hormones (observable biological traits of human)


  • humans are not just behavioral

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Often associated with autonomy and responsibility, and is a complex concept that has been debated by philosophers throughout history

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Free will (Freedom)

Our ability to choose between different courses of actions with complete autonomy

  • linked to ideas of moral responsibility and praise

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Determinism (Freedom)

All human action can be amounted to an antecedental causes that are external to our will

  • have no free will

  • cannot be held morally responsible


  • cannot take praise

  • why do we all argue that we are autonomous

  • our society is built on the framework of free will and responsibility

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Libertarianism (Freedom)

All humans are free and is completely autonomous

  • we have moral responsibility

  • not controlled by others or causal forces


  • eating when hungry is influenced by antecedent causes

  • how can we predict behavior then?

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Existentialism (Freedom)

We are defined by our existence and the choices we make, which requires complete free will

  • since we exist for ourselves our identity is dependent on our choices and actions

  • thus we have to be responsible for our actions and choices since we have the capacity to do whatever we want

  • however this comes with existential anxiety because in order to fully have freedom is to realize life is ‘meaningless’ and everything we do is completely up to us

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Compatibilism (Freedom)

Free will(moral responsibility) is compatible with determinism

  • ability to act freely comes from our desires, beliefs and extent of our awareness of external forces

  • enter causal processes as an active determinant


  • completely incompatible ideas

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The idea that the self is the only thing that we can ever know

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The “Other” and the “look” (The self and the other)

When we are caused to view one self as an object from the view of another being

  • looking at someone through a key hole only through the perspective of yourself and someone walking which opens up the question of what your actions look like to other people

  • Hell is the other people (Sartre)

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Bad Faith (Freedom)

Habit of deceiving oneself into thinking one does not have complete free will and acting on that belief

  • acting inauthentically

  • actions we make to deny our freedom

  • mauvaise foi

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The Self and the Other

  1. an individual's sense of identity

  2. those who are different from oneself

The concept explores the relationship between the two, including how those different from oneself is perceived and treated

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Descartes on the Self and the Other

Essential Self = a thinking entity

  • the thinking self is. . .

    • nonmaterial, immortal, conscious being, independent from physical laws of nature

Other = other individual own’s body / you can never bridge your own consciousness with another

  • the other is. . .

    • theoretical for we can never empirically be shown such an ‘other’

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Buddhist philosophy on the Self and the Other

The self = no self

  • we are not separate autonomous beings

  • all things should be enlightened together out of compassion because the individual is empty and are not separate from them

  • constantly changing and evolving

Other = not a fixed entity

  • you cannot meet one without meeting the other

  • ever changing and evolving

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Existentialism on the Self and the Other

Self is defined in relation to the other

  • the other is necessary for the self to become self aware

  • fundamentally interconnected and interdependent

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Mind and Body

Philosophical debate that explores the relationship between consciousness and physicality

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Dualism (Mind and Body)

Mind and body are two separate entities that interact with each other

  • Descartes would say the mind is a non extended substance and exists independently in the body which is a substance subject to laws of physics

  • interact through the pineal gland

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Materialism/physicalism (Mind and Body)

the mind is dependent on physical processes

  • everything that exists is material

  • everything can be explain through physical/material matter

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Idealism (Mind and Body)

reality is found in man’s mind

  • fundamentally mental or spiritual in nature

  • material world is an illusion

  • mind and body are not separate entities but two different different aspects of a larger, mental reality

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Behaviorism (Mind and Body)

A mind is just the body / a body’s behaviors

  • without a body a mind cannot exist


  • cognition matters

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Functionalism (Mind and Body)

Mental states are defined by causal roles relative to sensory stimulation

  • the mind / mental responses fill a role

  • provided what stimulation the mindd is given it will respond in a way to fulfill a certain function

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What makes an entity unique and distinguishable from others

Philosophers have debated. . .

  • what constitutes the self, how identity is formed, and whether it is fixed or fluid over time.

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Locke’s Memory theory (Identity)

Continuity of consciousness, which is our memory, is what makes a person the same person over time

  • rejects the soul because the same consciousness can travel from one soul to another and ‘reincarnation’

  • rejects the body because you can lose a limb and still be the same person


  • memory loss

  • the drunk man (can’t remember what he did while drunk)

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Body Theory (identity)

You are identified by your physical body, that is what defines you

  • continuity in physical states

  • recognition


  • cut off a limb, are you still you?

  • how can a blind person identify that person

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Brain Theory (Identity)

A person is identical with itself if psychological processes occur and are realized within the same brain

  • person is identical to the brain


  • put the brain in someone else

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Soul Theory (Identity)

A person is identical with it’s immaterial soul

  • can argue that since we cannot perceive the soul you cannot argue that it doesn’t exist

  • appeals to subjective intuition


  • can argue that since we cannot perceive it, we cannot prove it this theory in any way other then subjective feeling of continuity of the ‘soul’

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they are the same

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Locke’s theory on personhood

A person’s remaining the same is reliant on memory and consciousness

  • same person as you were yesterday if you were kept same consciousness/memories from both times

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John Noonan’s genetic criterion (Personhood)

You are a person if you have human dna

  • if you do not then you are not a person


  • each cell with human dna would be a person

  • animals?

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Mary Ann Warren’s five criteria for determining a person

A being incapable of communicating is not a person or is not yet. Criteria to being a person. . .

  • consciousness

  • reasoning

  • self-motivated activity

  • capacity to communicate

  • self-awareness


  • Even if a human has DNA if they have no capabilities in any of these criteria (amputee, mute, down syndrome) then they are not considered a person

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Social Criterion (personhood)

You’re a person whenever society recognizes you as a person or whenever someone cares about you

  • you matter when you matter to someone

  • allows for society’s understanding of a person to change over time


  • what happens if no one cares for you, are you not a person?

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Peter Singer on personhood

Based on sentience and ability to feel pleasure and pain

  • wrong to cause unnecessary pain to anything that can feel so if it can’t feel it can’t morally matter


  • fetuses and people in vegetative state aren’t persons but animals would be

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