Why do people do inhuman things

The gift of thoughtfulness

But what is man?

An unfortunate cross between angels and cattle. You brag about sanity and you never use it.

This is how the Swiss naturalist and poet Albrecht von Haller saw it in the 18th century.

Everyone is an abyss!

The playwright Georg Büchner believed that in the 19th century.

Man is the measure of all things.

So the Greek philosopher Protagoras almost five hundred years before our era.

"Asking the question, what is a person, characterizes people. That means that people are living beings that are able to step back, look at themselves, make themselves an object and ask, who am I. And that is a basic human structure, a basic competence of our existence that enables us to lead a conscious life. Which is a very high good. "

Says Dr. Sven Murrmann. The philosopher, political scientist and publisher teaches as a lecturer in the Studium generale at Hamburg's Bucerius Law School.

"What is man? That this is a question down through the centuries. But that, in my opinion, all the answers to these questions, what is human in man, what is inhuman in man, what is superhuman in man, that all of these Answers always come from historical situations. "

That would mean what is human or inhuman varies over the centuries. A thesis that Dr. Kai-Michael Hingst, philosopher, psychologist, legal scholar and also lecturer at the Bucerius Law School contradicts.

"The possibilities of humans, let us think of the inhuman, to live out their shadowy side, have certainly increased to an insane degree through the achievements of modern technology. But that does not mean that humans have not always lived out this side exactly. In the descriptions of battles in Homer we find the cruelest description of how one attacked and murdered the other with or without divine help. "

Kai-Michael Hingst is therefore primarily concerned with the question of the essence of the human being.

"I think that there are basic human structures that we cannot deny. This includes not only determination by reason, that is, reason, which humans as animal rationales like to focus on. Flattering oneself. But also that Determination through instincts, through the unconscious, through emotions are at least as important when we look at people as a whole, as natural beings. "

A moral philosophy that wants to do justice to people would have to take into account not only reason, but also the human dark side. And each individual is called to reflect holistically as a natural being. Kai-Michael Hingst:

"This topic has already moved the ancient Greeks, when we think of the sentence above Apollo at Delphi, know yourself. That can only help the individual if he learns more about himself."

According to Immanuel Kant, man himself is a person who knows, sums up the Frankfurt philosophy professor Dr. Martin Seel.

"Even if knowledge has its limits. It is someone who has to decide whether to act one way or another. And it is someone who can also hope a lot from himself, from life and maybe also, Kant thinks of religion, from you Life beyond the life we ​​know. "

Man, says Martin Seel, has virtues and vices. Those who want to walk the path of virtues and do justice to themselves and others in life have no straight path ahead of them. Again and again he comes across forks in the road, in situations in which he has to make a decision. The path of vice, a life without consideration for others, is apparently clearer. But:

"Someone who follows his own interests radically, who believes he is doing something good for himself. Even then he can be wrong. This has been discussed since ancient times. In Plato's Gorgias dialogue, Polos, one of Socrates' interlocutors, says : How, you don't want to be a tyrant? The tyrant as the epitome of someone who can do what he wants. And Socrates says: No, the tyrant is a poor sausage. He can't trust anyone. He can't rely on anyone , not even rely on his palace guard. Not to mention the atrocities he commits to others. "

According to Martin Seel, what people understand by morality is relative. Different individuals have different biographies, dispositions and also weaknesses. There is no one who is only just.

"Someone who at the end of his life folds his arms and says, I have nothing to blame, I did everything right in bringing up my children, I want to see him. And such a person would not be anyone we would call human. That means that the doubt about the correctness of one's own decision is an essential sign of a moral awareness. "

Man is capable of self-doubt. But also to cruelty, war, crime. Cain slew Abel. Today the Hutu murder the Tutsi in Rwanda, says the philosopher Sascha Suhrke from the Zeit Foundation. He co-designed the series of lectures.

"This is a particularly terrible example because people hit their neighbors with machetes. People with whom they lived for a long time. But of course that was also a war that was sparked in this country by very clever inhuman propaganda. One may don't forget that people can be manipulated. "

Today we know: Social conditions favor or inhibit moral action. And philosophers are no longer the only ones to ask about the essence of human beings. Sascha Suhrke:

"It's also a question of theology, of brain research. Also, of course, of physics and other disciplines. We don't just get around the question of humans from a philosophical point of view, but at all."

With the development of science, the responsibility of the people has multiplied, claims Dr. Friedrich Wilhelm Graf, Professor of Systematic Theology and Ethics at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich. Example: death.

"Today there is no longer such a thing as natural death because we have a wide range of medical options for extending life. So we have to think about how we define death, what we understand by dying in dignity, how we deal with the question that certain people say they don't want to live any longer, etc. "

In order for people to be able to take responsibility at all, they need two elementary gifts that are unique to humans: the ability to communicate with others verbally and the ability to be thoughtful.

"We can distance ourselves from our own immediacy. And thoughtfulness, I find, is a very important and often healing virtue."

In this sense, it is part of a successful life for the ethicist Friedrich Wilhelm Graf to make use of this gift of thoughtfulness and reflection. But even if all people actually did that, there could never be a perfect society.

"Most of them have a longing and a longing for perfection. But they define perfection very differently. One person would like to have breakfast at nine o'clock in the morning and the other to stay in bed until lunch. These are different designs of the good life."