Community & Government

What It Means to Be Human

Cornel West

Lesson time 16:24 min

To understand humanity, you must first understand yourself. In this lesson, Cornel shares how to embark on a candid journey within and discover a better understanding of self.

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Topics include: Philosophy: A Joyful Adventure • The Counterweight of Philosophy • Formation, Cultivation, and Maturation


[MUSIC PLAYING] - I think it's very important to always acknowledge that our word humanity comes from the Latin, humando, which means burial and burying. It's tied to humility to be on the Earth, tied to the Earth, and to recognize that no matter how smart, rich, mighty we are, there are forces beyond our control. And humility is simply a honest and unflinching acknowledgment of the fact that there are forces coming at you over which you have no control so that as human beings, as organisms, as precious persons on the way to burial, and burial is simply the way in which the quick and the alive acknowledge the significance of those who are no longer quick and alive. So you put them in burial. That's the highest form of acknowledgment of their significance. That's why the dehumanization of a people, the worst you could ever do is to deprive the dead bodies of burial. That's what happened to our precious Jewish brothers and sisters during the Holocaust. That's what happened to enslaved Africans in the United States. When you deprive even the living of their right to finally at the end acknowledge how much they love the person who has died, that's an ultimate act of dehumanization. And so, therefore, humanity and humility simply says that, lo and behold, in the face of these forces over which we have no control at least we can try to have some nobility, some kind of acknowledgment of significance at the end. And while we are living to recognize no matter how much power we have, how much status, style, charm, charisma, all the things of the world, in the end they are impotent in the face of humando. So life has a way of humbling, so it's a good idea to be humble even before the catastrophe comes to your place. Prepare yourself. Ripeness is all back to Shakespeare's King Lear with Edgar. What does it mean then to be ripe in the face of one's death, one's betrayal, all disease, all the different forces over which in the end we do not have control, including the burial and what the burial will be like of our own bodies. So that philosophy in some sense can be viewed in its mature form as refusing to be, death denying, death ducking, and refusing to be-- refusing to engage the inescapable realities of life. It can be political. It can be ideological. It could be cultural. It could be psychic. It could be existential and biological. Philosophy must embrace all of those realities if we're going to learn how to really love wisdom, to live wisely, to see broadly, to feel deeply. And as we have been stressing over and over again in this class, philosophy is about trying to see differently, feel more deeply, act more courageously. Those are the fruit of the fallible human quest for truth, goodness, beauty, and then if you choose to be religious, of the holy. You can be in Ethiopia. You can be in China. You can be in Argentina. You can be in Haiti. You can be in South Africa. You can be in Chicago to raise the questions...

About the Instructor

Cornel West is one of the most profound, diverse, and intellectual thinkers of our time. Now he’s inviting you into the depths of his brilliant mind to teach you how thinking like a philosopher can help you navigate your personal relationships, your decision-making, and your everyday life by looking at the world from a completely different point of view.

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Cornel West

Distinguished philosopher Cornel West teaches you how to think more deeply, connect more closely, and live a more fruitful and meaningful life.

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