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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Human Actuality, Human Essence, and Human Existence: In Search of a Condition of Adequacy for Humanistic Studies

Chin-Tai Kim.

Some philosophers of existence have contended that human existence cannot be properly understood through any properties, natural or cultural, but only through human freedom and its manifestations. In saying this they imply that no properly determined concept of property can apply to human freedom. To assess this claim, we cannot avoid asking what a property is, why freedom cannot be one, and whether humans are free in the requisite sense.
Existentialists make another claim, namely, that humans lack an essence. This claim may follow from the premise that an essence is a property or a concatenation of properties but human freedom is not.
There is a concept of human essence as that which determines a being to be human. Thus conceived, humans may have an essence that is not a property. The thesis that humans are free and that human freedom, though it is not a property, is the human essence, is not conceptually absurd.
It can be argued that neither human freedom nor any of the human properties can be called the human essence even in the loose sense of a determinant of being human, further that the human actuality that one attempts to understand through properties or through freedom has a primordial structure that makes the interpretive duality possible but is not itself adequately understood through either term of the duality.
This presentation attempts to answer the question whether and how we can access the primordial human actuality, what we should expect to discover, and what wisdom about the conduct of humanistic inquiry we should expect such discovery to yield.


Chin-Tai Kim  (United States)
Professor of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy
Case Western Reserve University

Received a BA degree from Brown University and a PhD degree in philosophy from Harvard. Currently Professor of Philosophy at Case Western Reserve University. His fields of research and publication include Descartes, Kant, Brentano, epistemology, metaphysics, foundations of ethics, philosophy of religion, comparative philosophy, East and West.

  • Human actuality

(Virtual Presentation, English)