By Douglas Anele
Man (in the sense in which it includes woman of course) has been characterised in different ways by philosophers since antiquity. For example, man is said to be a homo faber, homo economicus, homo politicus, and homo sapiens.
These definitions highlight various capacities and potentialities of man, with the implication that the human species is a bundle of actualisable possibilities. From a slightly different perspective, the question has been raised in connection with the mode of being characteristic of the human essence: is man essentially an individual that happens to exist in the midst of others or is he fundamentally a social being, or what some existentialists call “a-being-with-others”?
Delineating and characterising the dialectical relationship between the individuality and sociality of man is one of the central problems of socio-political philosophy, ethics and the philosophy of law. Certainly, a human being is an individual entity that can be differentiated from other entities, with unique biological attributes and mental dispositions.
Yet, man’s most distinctive attributes which set him apart from the rest of the animal world (and, indeed, from the rest of the universe) are primarily social. The capacity to invent and use language (both written and spoken) is clearly based on the sociality of man. Consequently, a sizeable number of philosophers, such as Marxists and existentialists, claim that man is primarily a social being, and have constructed elaborate weltanschauungs which seek to describe and justify their claims.
In as much as no one can deny the individual dimension of man, it must be acknowledged that without others a human being is completely helpless. As Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher stated, a man who has no need of society is either a god or a beast.
In fact the concept of a man totally isolated from others seems somewhat odd, incoherent and historically unrealistic. For one thing, it takes a man and a woman to produce another human being, which implies that at the very beginning of a person’s life, the existence of others is presupposed.
And given that every human being is, at any point in time, the joint product of “nature and nurture,” there can be no doubt that belongingness is at the very core of human existence. Despite his occasional flight of fancy into the arcane world of transcendental reduction executed by pure consciousness, Edmund Husserl, a patron-saint of phenomenology, recognises the importance of man’s sociality by positing that I, we and the world belong together.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, in his Phenomenology of Perception, suggests that a phenomenological description, instead of disclosing isolated, self-sufficient subjectivities, reveals continuities between intersubjective life and the world. Also Martin Heidegger, despite the headache-inducing terminology he uses to project his philosophy, hammers on the same theme as Husserl and Merleau-Ponty.
Heidegger says that the life-world is an interpenetration of three domains, namely “surrounding world,” “with-world,” and “self-world.” Accordingly, dasein (man), as world-experiencing is always already “being-with.” The idea that the self, the world, and others belong together, reciprocally illuminate one another and can only be properly understood in their interconnectedness is not exclusive to phenomenologists.
The existentialist philosopher, Martin Buber, made the social dimension of man the centerpiece of his influential work, I and Thou, whereas D. Davidson, in Subjective, Intersubjective, Objective, affirms that the basic problems of how a mind can know the world of nature, how it is possible for one mind to know another, and how it is possible to know the contents of our own minds without resorting to observation or evidence are inextricably interwoven.
Our brief excursion into the rarefied field of philosophy provides a solid foreground for understanding belongingness as an essential feature of human existence. Every human being belongs to, or is a member of, a family, social group and, since the evolution of civil societies, countries.
Without the sense of belonging to a social group, a person would become lonely, isolated and disoriented, for it is in the company of others that he can actualise latent possibilities of being human embedded in him. We are what we are to a large extent because others are there to help and encourage us.
It is true that one would be better off without people of questionable character such as liars, cheats, back biters, haters, hypocrites, enemies of progress and so on. Still, there are great human beings that have added value to our lives one way or another; people who through one word of encouragement or simple acts of kindness have moved us to a higher level in the journey through life.
In line with the above, and as is customary with me in the New Year, I wish to acknowledge and celebrate those that made a positive difference in my life the preceding year. First and foremost, I wish to express sincere appreciation and gratitude to my wife, Ijeoma, and my two daughters, Nwanyioma and Nwadiuto. There is no doubt in my mind that 2012 would have been existentially hollow for me without their love, support and occasional disagreements.
Sometimes family life can be demanding, stressful and annoying; but these are inconsequential in comparison with the joy, laughter and belongingness that a peaceful home brings. I am not a perfect husband and father; but my spouse and children know that I am trying.
My sister, Ihuoma, and Emeka, together with Vivian and Dr. Amankwe have been providing much-needed care for my father in the village. I thank them profusely. I painfully remember the late Vice-Chancellor of the great University of Lagos, Prof. A.B. Sofoluwe. Even though he is no longer with us, I still admire his humility, kindness and desire for progress in my academic career.
Prof. Sofoluwe is an inspiration to many, and I hope those of us that knew him have learnt the necessary lessons about life from his down-to-earth lifestyle. My sincere gratitude goes to the new Vice-Chancellor, Prof. R.A. Bello and the Dean of Post Graduate School, Prof. L.O. Chukwu, for their kindness to me last year. They are hardworking good men and I wish them success in all their endeavours in 2013 and beyond.
Bashorun Innocent Egwim, Ralph Obiduba (a student of the occult sciences), John Ikube, Mike Enyinnaya Charles Edosomwan and Dr. Isaac Nwogwugwu – you are friends indeed. I appreciate the Dean, Faculty of Arts, Prof. Duro Oni; my colleagues Peter Osimiri, Debo Gbadebo, Philo Egbe, Dan Ekere, Drs. Chukwuemeka Isambor, Adeyemi Daramola, Ropo Akinsoji, Uche Udeani, Emeka Ezike (and his wife), Chris Osegrenwune, Modestus Onyeaghalachi, Ademola Adeleke, Iwu Ikwubuzo, Nkem Onyekpe, Tony Okeregbe, and many others.
Profs. H.O.D. Longe, Princewill Alozie, Agwonorobe Eruvbetine, Duro Ajeyalemi, Ben Oghojafor, Ngozi Osarenren, R.T. Akinyele, Olu Obafemi – thank you for your encouragement. Uncle Sam Amuka-Pemu, publisher of Vanguard Newspapers, acting big man Fred Udueme (AGM Brand), Jide Ajani (Editor, Sunday Vanguard), Abel, Kundus, and all the good people that assisted me one way or another whenever I visited Vanguard Newspapers – thanks from the bottom of my heart.