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What Is This Quintessence Of Dust? The Concept Of The ‘Human’ And Its Origins

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Chapter Summary

Our understanding of the word 'human' changes radically, not only from one historical era to another but also with context. Plato in a lecture defined 'man' as a 'two-footed featherless animal'. Humanity has at times been defined, among other ways, in terms of the use of fire, the taboo against incest, politics, the making of tools, the understanding of death, and the use of language. 'Adam', the name of the first man according to the Bible, may come from the Hebrew adamah, meaning 'soil', though that is uncertain. Animals can serve as a contrast to human beings because they resembles a great many respects, but these similarities are often used to highlight an essential difference, which may be anything from a taboo against incest to speech. If we consider 'humanity' in a more extended sense, its major opposite becomes not 'animals' but 'nature'.

Keywords: animals; Hebrew adamah; humanity; Plato



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