Theorists have for a long time tried to come up with a definition of a human being. Since time immemorial, there have been attempts aimed at looking into detail as to what a human being is and the characteristics that define this ‘being.’ Various definitions have come up with the aim of bringing into the light the aspect of human being. In this paper, I seek to assert that a human being is a societal construction of an individual who satisfies all the characteristics of a human being as described by the society and one who has the capacity to exhibit these characteristics; and has the ability to thrive in conditions meant for individuals of such a group. Due to this definition, the understanding of a human being might change from a generation to the next.
There are many characteristics of a human being. One of this is that the human must have the ability to adapt to his environment. There are different pieces of evidence that agree to this. One of them is the Darwin’s theory of evolution. As explained by Darwin (1), there is the theory of natural selection. This theory has it that the modern humans are as a result of a line of serial changes and adaptations which led to the current state of man. Darwin indicates that there was the theory of natural selection where only the fittest survived. Survival for the fittest, therefore, became the new way through which man got used to his environment. Those with the best coping skills survived while those without just had to pass away.
Human beings also have to value the life of others who are like them. They have to have a sense of moral uprightness and a need to follow ethics in whatever they do. If anything, sanctity of life has to be upheld by all means (Moor and Parker, 120). According to Singer (125), there is the belief that life is sacred. As such, no human is supposed to taker the life of another. Of course, there are controversial arguments with reference to this, such as the debate as to whether abortion should be allowed and whether life begins at conception. All these debates arise because human beings seek to make sure that they do not go against the sanctity of life. They have to always make sure that those of their kind are preserved.
Again, the aspect of being able to manifest the characteristics which are agreed by the society as traits of a human being is a factor that really comes into play. Just to indicate how important it is to manifest these characteristics, there is the depiction of ‘humans’ in the film ‘I am a Legend.’ In this 2007 film directed by Francis Lawrence, there is a depiction of a time in which all human beings were infected by a genetically engineered measles virus. This virus changed them in that the infected people started exhibiting characteristics that were not considered ‘human.’ Their name was even changed and they were referred to as Darkseekers. In this film, it is argued that only one ‘human being’ remained. This is despite the fact that there were thousands of Darkseekers who were just human beings infected by a deadly virus. As a matter of fact, the remaining un-infected human beings did not have a problem with killing the already infected ones. They were seen as inhuman. This just indicates how important it is for human beings to manifest the socially accepted behaviors of a human being. Failure to do so leads to rejection and loss of the right to life.
As indicated earlier, there is a possibility that the definition of human being changes from generation to generation. Singer (132) indicates that life is taken as sacred. This is based on the religious teachings which have it that God is the giver of life and, therefore, no one is supposed to take it. With reference to this, McKibben (1) brings out an argument that future human beings might want to ‘play God.’ This is based on the fact that in the modern era, human beings want to have children who are so much like them. McKibben (2) indicates that due to this, humans might want to produce ‘designer babies’ who have the characteristics admired by their parents. This seems to combine both the Darwin theory as well as the creation theory. Humans will want to play a part in making their children more competitive to survive in the harsh world (Moor and Parker 67).
Characteristics Setting Human Beings Apart
There are certain ways in which human beings are different and superior from other beings. This can be seen in the explanation given by McKibben (3). Human beings are so intellectually developed. Not only do they have an organized societal order, they also have the ability to manipulate the genetic composition of other lives on earth. An alteration in the DNA composition is a strategy that has been employed for this purpose. However, it is quiet frightening that there are attempts in modifying babies in the future. This is an issue that has brought major ethical controversies.
With reference to ethical considerations, this is another factor that sets human beings apart. According to Singer (135), human beings have a sense of ethical obligations towards each other. They do not find the need to act cruelly towards each other or to treat each other as lesser beings. This makes them more civilized and orderly as compared to the other animal species. Respect for life is the greatest of these. The moment a human being deviates from this rule, he has to be eliminated before causing harm to others. This is the case depicted in the 2007 film by Lawrence. The mutants ceased being treated as humans the moment they stopped acting so and took up animal characteristics.
In conclusion, the discussion above reveals that a human being is an individual who competently lives within a society and manages to manifest characteristics associated with individuals in that group. Some of the characteristics of human beings include higher intelligence, being orderly, and civilized as compared to other species. They also have to have a high degree of morals and ethical considerations. Some of the characteristics that set humans apart from other species include the ability to live in an orderly and organized society, greater intelligence which allows them to manipulate the environment around them. This intelligence has also made it possible for man to manipulate the genetic composition of other forms of life around him. It appears as if the move is inclined towards the alteration of human DNA so as to produce ‘designer babies,’ an issue that has brought about much controversy.
Darwin, Charles. Chapter IV Natural Selection; or the Survival of the Fittest. (Attached).
Lawrence, Francis. (Director). I Am Legend. 2007. (Film).
McKibben, Bill. Design a Kid. (Attached).
Moor, B. N., & Parker, R. Critical Thinking. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Ryerson. 2012
Singer, P. Writings on Ethical Life. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000.