Humanities

On Being Human

Understanding the essential characteristics of the human experience

Susan sitting in a dark room, smiling

Understanding the essential characteristics of the human experience

Thought-provoking questions like “What is it to be human?” are what UNC-Chapel Hill’s Edna J. Koury Distinguished Professor in the Department of Philosophy professor tackles in her work. SusanWolf critically examines the core characteristics that humans possess that other living organisms do not, and she looks at hypothetical creatures that may also have these characteristics but lack the element of emotion. From holding perspectives to craving sociability, Wolf has identified various concepts that are significant to the human experience and set humans apart from other living organisms.

Wolf also noted that it’s possible for philosophers, if they’re not careful, to exclude people from humanity for being different. Wolf remains open to new ideas and wants people to push back if they disagree with her conclusions or feel like she isn’t considering a demographic.

“There’s no consensus on this view, but I don’t think of philosophy as aimed at solving problems, so much as at articulating problems,” Wolf said. “It is worthwhile to just think through certain kinds of questions. It makes you more conscious of who you are, as an individual and as a human, even if you don’t get to an end to the inquiry.”

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