What is humanity

Johann Gottfried Herder

"Humanity letters"


Like many of his contemporaries, the philosopher and theologian Johann Gottfried Herder dealt with the question of true humanity during the Classical era. In his work “Letters for the promotion of humanity” published in 1793, he first looked for synonyms that define the term “humanity”, but immediately rejected them and then clarified his personal conception of humanity.

However, the synonyms 'human rights', 'human obligations', 'humanity', 'humanity', 'human dignity' and 'human love' identified by him are ultimately useless:

Human rights and human obligations are only common in linguistic usage when the two terms interact, "... both relate to each other ...", which makes it impossible for him to combine the two interlinked terms into a conceptual unit that defines humanity .

Furthermore, according to Herder's view, the synonym mankind he found is too much related to man himself; a difference between the terms human and human cannot therefore be recognized, which leads Herder to reject the term, since to him the human being as an illustration of humanity appears too low. For the same reason he also rejects humanity, which has "... so often attached a connotation of baseness, weakness and false pity ...", so it leads too strongly into the emotional area.

The same problem can be found with human dignity and human love as with human rights and obligations. In addition, Herder confirms his antipathy towards the twin events of these pleonasms by arguing that love is too primitive and emotional to be an accurate definition of humanity. A further underpinning of his aversion is the fact that the human race has in part not yet achieved or not yet achieved perfect dignity.

After Herder did not succeed in describing the complex concept of humanity in the form of synonyms, he came to the conclusion that humanity is the "... character of our sex ..." which, although innate, is nevertheless intensified again and again got to. He even goes so far as to describe humanity as "... the treasure and the result of all human endeavors ... [as well as the] art of our sex ...". For the philosopher Herder, the term humanity describes the essence of man and includes everything that defines him, represents him and thus differentiates him from other living beings, such as animals. According to Herder's views, humanity is the consciousness and understanding of man, on which he bases his actions and justifies them. In addition, he has the potential to be able to learn from the experiences of others and the culture and history of people and, for example, to adopt behavior patterns, which is collectively referred to as transfer solution competence. Also to be found in the essence of the human being are properties such as the ability to criticize and reflect that no other being has. According to Herder, ethical norms and values, which are connected with the conscience of people and without which a social life in society would be largely impossible, belong to humanity. The human ability to empathize with other people and to feel a certain compassion, the gift of empathy, also belongs to the character of the human being and thus to humanity. Herder manifests humanity as something that has to be continually worked on, "... the education for it is a work that has to be continued incessantly.", Otherwise human beings have all the qualities that make up their essence and character , loses again and can no longer be human but rather something similar to the animal kingdom.

“The divine in our sex is education for humanity ...”, with the striving for humanity we consequently approach an ideal, even something divine. It should be noted here, however, that this (humanity) ideal can never be fully achieved by humans, but they should never and may not stop striving for it and trying to get closer to it.

In summary, it turns out that Herder researched a number of synonyms for the definition of humanity, but immediately negated them for the reasons given. Ultimately, Herder comes to the conclusion that he should retain the all-encompassing concept of humanity and only refine it through his individual presentation.