Being human or being a person

Eli Szein
13 February 2022

What are we? There are many answers to this question, both individually and collectively. But what I’m wondering is what we are before we become what we are in society, when we are in contact with others. And the answer that comes to mind is tabula rasa: the Latin expression to mean clean slate.

A brief digression before going back to the clean slate. I like the distinction that Echeverría makes in Language Ontology, when he differentiates being a human being from being a person. What he says -paraphrased of course- and to which I humbly adhere- is that we think about human beings from a biological perspective, taking a look into our components and their interactions. While being a person is related to our individual identity, which is construed through language and our actions.

What we all have in common among ourselves is that we are human beings, with more or less similar functions, while as persons, our differences can be profound. At the beginning of our lives and even at the dawn of civilization, there was some sort of tabula rasa that has been transforming into what we are now: the different persons and cultures that live on this planet.

I think that sometimes we forget that we share with the rest of the people our humanity. For having different opinions, we place ourselves in a position of moral superiority, with full rights to invalidate others, to deny them their right to have an opinion, or even in some cases their right to even exist. When doing that deep down we’re doing nothing more than dehumanizing each other. Doing that means that deep down, or even superficially, we haven’t grasped the fact that we are all humans.    

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