Feature

29 answers to the question 'What is a human being?'

We humans are such complicated creatures

Who are we? Why do we exist? What is our essential nature? These questions have been pondered by humans for a long time, and we still haven't figured it out. But we have come up with a few theories. We're either pretty smart, pretty ridiculous, pretty inconsequential, or pretty big jerks. Or perhaps some combination of all of those things:

1. "The image of God." (Book of Genesis)

2. "A god in ruins." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

3. "The measure of all things." (Protagoras)

4. "An intelligence served by organs." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

5. "A reasoning animal." (Seneca)

6. "But a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed." (Pascal)

7. "A tool-using animal." (Thomas Carlyle)

8. "A tool-making animal." (Benjamin Franklin)

9. "An ingenious assembly of portable plumbing." (Christoper Morley)

10. "Nature's sole mistake." (W.S. Gilbert)

11. "But breath and shadow, nothing more." (Sophocles)

12. "This quintessence of dust." (Shakespeare)

13. "A featherless biped." (Plato)

14. "The naked ape." (Desmond Morris)

15. "An animal that makes dogmas." (G.K. Chesterton)

16. "A political animal." (Aristotle)

17. "Animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to overlook what he indubitably ought to be." (Ambrose Bierce)

18. "The symbol-using (symbol-making, symbol-misusing) animal, inventor of the negative (or moralized by the negative), separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making, goaded by the spirit of hierarchy (or moved by the sense of order), and rotten with perfection." (Kenneth Burke)

19. "The only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be." (William Hazlitt)

20. "The only animal that contemplates death, and also the only animal that shows any sign of doubt of its finality." (William Ernest Hocking)

21. "The only animal for whom his own existence is a problem which he has to solve." (Erich Fromm)

22. "The only animal that learns by being hypocritical. He pretends to be polite and then, eventually, he becomes polite." (Jean Kerr)

23. "The only animal whose desires increase as they are fed; the only animal that is never satisfied." (Henry George)

24. "The only animal which devours his own kind, for I can apply no milder term to the governments of Europe, and to the general prey of the rich on the poor." (Thomas Jefferson)

25. "The only animal that laughs and has a state legislature." (Samuel Butler)

26. "The only animal that can remain on friendly terms with the victims he intends to eat until he eats them." (Samuel Butler)

27. "The Animal that Blushes. He is the only one that does it or has occasion to." (Mark Twain)

28. "A noisome bacillus whom Our Heavenly Father created because he was disappointed in the monkey." (Mark Twain)

29. "The poorest, clumsiest excuse of all the creatures that inhabit this earth. He has got to be coddled and housed and swathed and bandaged and upholstered to be able to live at all. He is a rickety sort of a thing, anyway you take him, a regular British Museum of infirmities and inferiorities." (Mark Twain)

Recommended

6 charming homes in Queens, New York
House
Feature

6 charming homes in Queens, New York

The Check-In: Yosemite drops reservations, and more
Christmas travel.
Feature

The Check-In: Yosemite drops reservations, and more

The Week contest: Lustful ghost
Shadow of a man with his hand pressed against glass.
Feature

The Week contest: Lustful ghost

The best new Christmas-themed books for your holiday reading
A book.
Briefing

The best new Christmas-themed books for your holiday reading

Most Popular

World's 1st hydrogen-powered jet engine could mark turning point for aviation industry
A Rolls-Royce engine seen during an airshow.
Flying High

World's 1st hydrogen-powered jet engine could mark turning point for aviation industry

Russia asks India to send supplies as sanctions derail Moscow's economy
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Asking for Help

Russia asks India to send supplies as sanctions derail Moscow's economy

Everything to know about the storm poised to pummel the South
Tornado
Storm Watch

Everything to know about the storm poised to pummel the South