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The human condition encompasses the totality of the experience of being human and living human lives. As mortal entities, there are a series of biologically determined events which are common to most human lives, and some which are inevitable for all. The ongoing way in which humans react to or cope with these events is the human condition. However, understanding the precise nature and scope of what is meant by the human condition is itself a philosophical problem.
The term is also used in a metaphysical sense, to describe the joy, terror and other feelings or emotions associated with being and existence. Humans, to an apparently superlative degree amongst all living things, are aware of the passage of time, can remember the past and imagine the future, and are intimately aware of their own mortality. Only human beings are known to ask themselves questions relating to the purpose of life beyond the base need for survival, or the nature of existence beyond that which is empirically apparent: What is the meaning of existence? Why was I born? Why am I here? Where will I go when I die? The human struggle to find answers to these questions — and the very fact that we can conceive them and ask them — is what defines the human condition in this sense of the term.
Although the term itself may have gained popular currency with The Human Condition, a film trilogy directed by Masaki Kobayashi which examined these and related concepts, the quest to understand the human condition dates back to the first attempts by humans to understand themselves and their place in the universe.
Universal or common eventsEdit
As intimated above, human existence includes several events that are inevitable for all human subjects. They may be divided into two broad groups, the first referring to unavoidable stages in the development and eventual death of the human organism, the second referring to events which, though they are common to most humans (and are, to a certain extent, considered requisite to a normal human existence), are not in themselves inevitable. The former events include:
- prenatal existence
- early childhood or prepubescence
- middle childhood
- late childhood or preadolescence
- young adulthood
- middle age
- old age
Of the second group, one might include:
Humans can have some degree of sentient self-awareness of these events. Different cultures treat these events in different ways. Many religions and philosophies attempt to give meaning to the human condition. The human condition is the central subject of much literature, drama and art.
In most developed countries, improvements in medicine, education, and public health have brought about marked changes in the human condition over the last few hundred years, with increases in life expectancy and demography (see demographic transition). Probably one of the largest changes has been the availability of contraception, which has changed the sexual lives of human beings, especially women, and attitudes to sexuality. Even then, these changes only alter the details of the human condition. In some of the poorest parts of the world, the human condition has changed little over the centuries.
Negative usage of the termEdit
This term is sometimes used with a pessimistic or derogatory air, to imply that the human condition is in general a wretched one or that it cannot be improved. This can be associated with the ubiquitous phrase "only human," as far as pertains to its implications of inferiority to an unspecified comparative source. This can also be compared to the phrase "mere mortals" in a more declamatory or melodramatic mode of speech. Negative views of the "human condition" also may arise out of cynicism towards human civilization. The far-reaching implications of that philosophical inclination, however, are beyond the scope of this article.
- The Denial of Death
- Erik H. Erikson
- Hannah Arendt
- Human nature
- Human self-reflection
- Man's search for meaning
- Maslow's hierarchy of needs
- Rite of passage
- Seven ages of man
- Seven deadly sins
- A Species in Denial
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