Understanding Human Nature: Examples from Philosophy and the Arts

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Understanding Human Nature: Examples from Philosophy and the Arts

ABSTRACT: Ours is not the first time philosophers have looked to art for examples to illustrate their arguments. One example would be Kierkegaard, who turned to Mozart’s operas in an attempt to expose what he called the aesthetic realm of existence. I hold that if Kierkegaard lived today, he would consider the main character of Nikita Mikhalkov’s Dark Eyes (1987) as a prototype of the aesthetic way of existence. In order to support my thesis, I first discuss Kierkegaard’s theory of the three spheres of existence. I look especially at what he considers to be the main feature of the aesthetic stage, as well as the figure of Don Giovanni in Mozart’s opera. Second, I will look at the character of Romano Podroni in Dark Eyes. Finally, I will point out what makes these two characters prototypes of the aesthetic existence: the inhuman way in which they live the temporal dimension of human existence.

1. Kieregaard’s theory of the spheres of existence

The question of human existence is the focal point of all Kierkegaard’s thought. For Kierkegaard, existing meant becoming more and more individual, but this is not given to all human beings in the same measure, because we may be living in an inauthentic way. The fact that someone belongs to the species homo sapiens does not guarantee that that person leads a human existence. In fact, Kierkegaard seems to think that few people — or at least, a minority of people — genuinely live as human beings.

So, what does Kierkegaard mean by living in a fully human way? In his view, existence is above all something that has to be shaped. People must make themselves if they want to be themselves. “A man cannot evade this self-realisation; that would be as impossible as evading one’s very self — wich is really the same thing, as the self is the same as self-realisation”. (1) The self cannot be itself unless it is creating itself. So, the fact that people have to form themselves means that human existence is a task. (2)

Kierkegaard writes of three basic stages in this process of self-realisation: the aesthetic stage, the ethical stage and the religious stage. (3) All human beings are currently at one of this stages, depending on the extent to which they have achieved their life-project. Each stage is a way of seeing life, a way of understanding the world.