Topic One: What is Philosophical Anthropology?

Topic One: What is Philosophical Anthropology?


This question may be answered in a number of ways:
It may be answered by simply saying that philosophical anthropology is the philosophical study of man. Even though this may sound simplistic, it introduces us to important dimensions of the meaning of Philosophical Anthropology: Philosophical Anthropology has two components: Philosophy and Anthropology; Anthropology is the substantive component and tells us of the subject-matter. Philosophy is the qualifier or adjectival component that tells of the method of study.


Anthropology is derived from two Greek words: anthropos – man (human being, human person). And so etymologically, we can say that anthropology is the study of man. Philosophy is also derived from two Greek words: Philos – love, and Sophia – wisdom, and has therefore been defined as love of wisdom. We define philosophy however as a dialogic involvement with life and reality. It is as such the reflective possession and expression of experience.


While philosophy provides the method then, anthropology tells us that the object of study is man. Interestingly, man is also the subject that studies in anthropology. There is therefore a coincidence of studying subject and object of study in anthropology.


Summation: Philosophy is dialogic involvement with life and reality. Anthropology is the study of man. Man is the studying subject as well as object of study. Philosophical anthropology may be defined therefore as man’s dialogic involvement with himself.


Again, the question, what is philosophical anthropology may be answered by a comparative approach, by comparing philosophical anthropology with other types of anthropology. Of course, the first step is to ask: Are there other types of anthropology? We discover that, besides philosophical anthropology, there are two broad divisions of anthropology: physical anthropology and cultural anthropology. Physical anthropology is further divided into evolutionary and demographic anthropology while cultural anthropology is subdivided into archeology, ethnology and linguistics.


Comparatively then, all these types of anthropology share something: They are all ‘study of man’. And yet there must be something that distinguishes them one from the others. These differences can be seen in the perspectives of the various types and more in the methods that each adopts in the study of man. Again, it would seem that there is another subtle difference between philosophical anthropology and the other types of anthropology: while the anthropological method is used to study man in the other types of anthropology, the philosophical method is used in the case of philosophical anthropology.


This question may further be addressed by a detailed study of philosophy and of anthropology, and then of their relations in order to uncover the peculiar contribution of philosophy to anthropology which makes this particular anthropology philosophical.


Man as the Subject-Matter of Philosophical Anthropology


“Man is the supreme question for man” says Battista Mondin. Man is a questioning animal. He asks questions about anything he can perceive or conceive. He raises questions about the universe, God, society, good, truth, etc. Each of these questions however derives its importance only in relation to our being. The being of man gives meaning to any question whatsoever.


The question of the being of man is therefore of fundamental value and meaning, since it is from it that other questions derive their relevance. Since this is the case, we cannot be indifferent to the question of our being. This question of our being is the concern and subject-matter of anthropology.


This question is very old and yet always new. It is not a question that will be answered by abstract speculation because it arises everyday in our lives. And so it is personal to everyone and cannot be seen as an impersonal or generic matter.


The discoveries of the new sciences may seem to make this ultimate concern with man irrelevant or outdated. Again, the contemporary events and currents of our world that dehumanize man may have affected the perception of the absolute value of the human person; Mondin thinks however that “the more the spirit and events of time put him in question, the more problematic the question becomes; the more anxious he becomes to understand himself, his nature, origin and destiny”


Who is Man? As a rational inquiry, this question cannot belong to the experimental sciences. It belongs exclusively to philosophy to conduct the rational inquiry into the mysteries of the being of man, the mysteries of suffering, death, self-transcendence etc. Nevertheless, the methods and findings of such human sciences as psychology, ethnology, history, sociology, etc. have provided rich data for the inquiry of philosophical anthropology.


Max Scheler observes the paradox that “the increasing multiplicity of the special sciences that deal with man… tend to hide his nature more than they reveal it” This makes the task of philosophical anthropology more difficult.


The question, who is man, is both simple and complex. It is simple, or rather it ought to be simple because the object of study is not far from us. Indeed, the object of study is we ourselves. And yet the extreme complexity of the human being complicates the study.


Today our world is engulfed in crises of various dimensions. However, this crisis is basically cultural: a crisis that questions the very humanity of man. Periods of socio-cultural crisis call upon the philosopher to return to the roots of the being of man in search of fundamental and functional solutions. Such is the summon of philosophical anthropology today.


My Star Students

This week I present to you my star student:

Miss Takyiwah Kathleen Bannerman,

in her interesting reviews.


A Review by...

Food for thought

If you desire the best ... work for the best of all.