Paradox of Human Being: Human Humanness and Human Animality

Essay / Natural laws enabled to use the principle of wheel. But the power which is considered by one part of the humanity as the outcome of the Creator’s work and by the other one as the simple natural evolution did not use this principle in biological practice. No species began to move on wheels. Only the man (who is often the object of disputes whether he is an animal or a particular entity) recognized the usefulness of the principle of wheel and (himself slow and weak in motion) started using the wheel as an assistant and helper, even as a crutch. This crutch was so useful that it became the basis of all the traffic moving the world. From the point of view of biological principles, the wheel was neither normal nor natural. However, the wheel grew into one of the elements enabling the control of the world. Thus, it stands against the natural order of the world but, at the same time, it supremely confirms this order. The use of wheel signifies evolutionary inability in the biological sense. On the other hand, it confirms the principle of development, because the man, the biologically deficient discoverer of wheel, outside himself (by the use of wheel) outperforms himself and breaks down the dominance of biological principles.

So, is human being an animal or a particular entity? The wise observer undoubtedly notes that the question is incorrectly asked, because in such a case the answer in a way either – or is inherently absurd. But the historian must bitterly admit that silly answers to even dumber questions often played a decisive role in the historical process. So-called “evidences” of different and mutually opposing kinds (once with the hallmark of divine origin, once originating from the results of alledged scientific research) served as a reason to oppress the adversary and all types of otherness. Nevertheless, paradoxically, the internal logic (or rather illogicality) of their arguments brought too often the evidence of the statement and, at the same time, also its denial. Thus, the scientific statement “man belong to animals” is undoubtedly valid from the point of view of the biology of life processes. But, if it is transferred to a broader framework, it acquires absurd connotations. Such a statement inherently contains the negation of itself, because the human being is the only species which knows the term “animal”. It was just the man who constructed the concept of animal as an abstraction obtained by observing the animal kingdom. Therefore, he will be the only one to consider himself as an animal and, in fact, the only animal with the identity of animal.

And so the human being became the only animal knowing the category ‘animal’ and the only one which is capable of reaching the identity of animal. The man invented words and concepts to grasp, sort and describe animals and plants, the outside worlds and the realm of his imagination, intellectual processes and emotional states of mind. The word was an imperfect reflection of what was intended to be expressed by it. Fernand de Saussure, one of the founders of structuralist linguistics, rightly noted it when he pointed out at the arbitrary and random relationship between the signifier (signifiant)and the signified (signifié). Nevertheless, the word was the only workable means how to grasp the world. Therefore the man started to use words despite the fact that they distort the described reality or even (as Michel Foucault metaphorically said) that they unscrupulously violate and rape the described objects. 

From the very beginning, words and concepts contained and concealed in themselves something extremely exciting – the potential of fantasy, play and abstract thinking. In fact, what cannot be expressed by language, it cannot even be grasped by our intellect. In this context, both fictional imaginary worlds and mathematics as the language of the highest abstraction arose. Similarly, the truth on the one hand and the lie on the other emerged as categories of our mind. The first verses of the Biblical Gospel of John starting by the phrase “in the beginning was the Word… [Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος] ” (which was a subject of countless dogmatic disputes over centuries) may therefore have (ifalittle heretical reasoning is applied) not only theological but also philosophical and historical significance. Actually, these verses aptly identify the origin of what we call civilization, even of what we call man. Because a man without words is not a genuine human being in the strict sense. 

Unfortunately, the man soon forgot that words and concepts are just and only vessels in the hands of his mind and imagination from which he can drink beverages of various types and contents. He mistakenly began to assume that everyone had wine just in the goblet and black tea just in the mug. At that moment, the role of the man on the one hand and the word on the other interchanged and it became reversed. What a paradox – the man, the creator of words and concepts, very often became a toy in the hands of his creations. He grew into involuntary slave in the realm of concepts, words and language, of that language which according to the writer Albert Camus became the source of misunderstandings (le langage est source de malentendus).

The young philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein exerted great efforts to apply the principles of exact science in the realm of words. It was certainly a remarkable and heroic attempt. But it was doomed from the beginning to failure. That effort was expressed by the slogan from the conclusion of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus which says that “whereof one cannot speak [clearly], thereof one must be silent “. Wittgenstein thus absolutized the importance of the informative function of speech at the expense of its poetic-aesthetic component which plays an important role in the way how man perceives the world. However, the whole above mentioned approach was revised by Wittgenstein himself in later years in his Philosophical Investigations. Wittgenstein probably took into consideration that his postulate (if perceived in a strict way) would necessarily mean a worldwide silence accompanied by a complete disappearance of speech and communication. But it was not all. Moreover, he perhaps realized even the fact that the exaggerated emphasis on logicality and clarity of language and words have the potential to produce unintended paradoxical consequences, very different and distant from the original well-intentioned goal. The danger consists in the fact that logicality and clarity of words can become an argument in the hands of dogmatists, namely an instrument used against those who point out at the real diversity and ambiguity of the world.

Paradoxically, the ambiguity of words on the one hand and the attempt at their clarity on the other often lead to similar consequences, namely to unintended misunderstandings. “Clarity of words” is inevitably a contradiction in terms since words don’t show the potential for clarity. Similarly, the world that we can see and observe does not have the potential to be authentically described by concepts, words or by any other human system of characters and symbols. Two contradictory meanings are often not two opposite points on the one and the other side of the line, but they rather move back and forth in different directions around the circle. A little esoteric? No, no, history. In history, seemingly contradictory pairs as strength-weakness, victory-defeat, success-failure are not opposite and distant categories. On the contrary, they are very close together. Moreover, such seemingly contradictory terms and concepts were often almost interchangeable. The philosopher and first Czechoslovak president T. G. Masaryk was well aware of this when he commented on his own life prospects during his student years and said: “I’m going to be either a famous personality or a total outsider and loser.”

Naturally, the relationship between the concept of man and the concept of animal is significantly different than in the case of such pairs as strength-weakness or victory-defeat. Many human generations felt a natural need to ask about “human humanness” and “human animality”, just as theologians tried to search for the relationship between “God’s divinity” and “God’s humanness”. For instance, the title of the representative anthology of texts by the Protestant theologian Karl Barth (God’s Divinity and God’s Humaneness) chosen by Czech translators aptly demonstrates it. But the relation between human humanness and human animality was unhappily born of dogmatized terms and words (as is often the case wherever words take power over the surrounding reality). It was born of the naïve desire for wine poured exclusively in goblets and for black tea poured exclusively in mugs. In fact, it was a dubious desire for objective determination of either–or, namely such an ‘either’ and such an ‘or’ that represent two opposite points of the line. Unfortunately, only few of the mankind are able to perceive the categories ‘either’ and ‘or’ as deeply as the philosopher Søren Kirkegaard who placed this pair of words in the title of his seminal work. ‘Either’ and ‘or’ represent necessarily very complicated philosophical categories and their use for the solution of such precarious and confusing question as the relationship between human humanness and human animality is leads inevitably to fatal results.

The choice for humanness ignored biology, hindered the development of medical science and the reason in general. Consequently, it caused the loss of countless lives. The choice for human animality, for its part, vulgarized the observation of the animal kingdom and in its naïve notion of “survival of the stronger” which tried to measure the human strength and power in Newton’s units inevitably led to the cataclysm of the gas chambers. The naivety of the idea of Newtonian-looking “power” in the biological sphere was aptly described by the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm (by the way, a Jewish émigré who was forced to flee Germany from the Nazi regime in 1933). In his 1941 book Fear of Freedom (in the USA known under the title Escape from Freedom), he interpreted the biological defects not as a weakness, but as a potential of its sort. He noted that in the case of man, it is just the biological insufficiency that represents the main precondition for the development of civilization. Thus, biological defects are in fact a potential source of human strength, both in comparison with other species and in comparison with other members of the human society.

For a great part, contemporary society freed itself from the futile quarrel perceiving human humanness and human animality as two contradictory concepts. The whole question of their relationship could be regarded as an impractical and irresolvable philosophical dispute in the style of ancient Greek apories. After all, such a perception of this issue, devoid of the fatal either–or would be most desirable. Nevertheless, there is one great paradoxical but. This but consists in the fact that many decisions (both in the everyday life and in long-term historical processes) cannot be made without the logic based on either–or. The choice between human humanness and human animality is in fact necessary and inevitable in many decision-making processes. Such a choice is indispensable if we put the question of whether the man himself and his activities are a natural factor in the nature, or the human species is rather an external element whose activities disturb the natural world. The question of human humanness and human animality answered in the either-or way plays an important role in all current discussions and disputes about the sustainability of development, the climate change, the use of natural resources or the impact of man on biodiversity. Hence the controversy over how much to protect the wilderness from human civilization. Hence the dispute whether the entire human economy is an inherent part of the natural process and its evolution (or rather its disturbance). These discussions are in fact not new. For instance, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, they belonged to important starting points of modern geography as a scientific discipline – while Paul Vidal de la Blache considered human species as a classic natural factor, Friedrich Ratzel regarded the human activity as an element dynamizing natural constants (through the flows of goods, information, etc.) and thus as an rather external element in the nature.

Although we intellectually know and emotionally feel that the use of either-or is rationally impossible and meaningless in these cases, we simultaneously understand that either-or cannot be avoided. Why? Since it’s necessary precondition for the choice of the way how we are going to act. We know that our choice always ignores and neglects a significant part of reality. This all in the situation in which mathematical weights or percentages cannot be assigned to human humanness and human animality with a view to facilitate decisions for the first or for the other. As a result, we are inevitably facing the powerlessness in the search for good solution.

So, the human speciesfaces once again absurdity and paradox because basic questions cannot be answered objectively. Thus, the man inevitably opts for emotional or ideological decisions. Paradoxically, however, these decisions are nearly always justified in a rationalising way. For this purpose, the man takes to the aid the subspecies of words with the most objective looks to which he gave the name number. He operates and conjures with percentages and weights. He pretends to quantify qualitative problems. He uses ingeniously chosen terms and concepts to defend his decisions not only over other members of his species, but also over himself.  In the end, the emotionality of decision-making is completely trapped in the captivity of concepts, numbers and words whose ingenious structuring creates what we call arguments. In this way, emotionality is rationalized so much that it disappears on its own and ceases to be emotional.

The imaginary contradictions of rational and emotional thus unite. Actually, they have always represented only constructs of our mind because their contradictory looks is nothing more than a result of the work of concepts and words. The question of emotionality and rationality, like the question of human animality and human humanness, returns therefore to the realm of words and concepts where it originated and where it belongs most internally by its logic. It is the empire of which the core is the logos, the logos that was “in the beginning” (Ἐν ἀρχῇ) and stood at the birth of man and his civilization. That’s the logos through which, according to the Gospel of John, “all things were made” (πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο). That’s the logos which (if it is perceived completely untheologically) gained throughout history the power over man (its originator), over that man whose civilization became (according to the philosopher Jacques Derrida) a logocentric civilization, at least in its European variant.

Quoting this post (recommended format): SCHOLZ, Milan: Paradox of Human Being: Human Humanness and Human Animality. Version 1.1. In:, published 18th January 2021, updated 24th January 2022,

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