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Homo Faber

In Latin literature, Appius Claudius Caecus uses this term in his Sententiæ, referring to the ability of man to control his destiny and what surrounds him: Homo faber suae quisque fortunae ("Every man is the artifex of his destiny").

Homo Faber

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In older anthropological discussions, Homo faber, as the "working man", is confronted with Homo ludens, the "playing man", who is concerned with amusements, humor, and leisure. It is also used in George Kubler's book, The Shape of Time as a reference to individuals who create works of art.[1]

Homo Faber (German: Homo faber. Ein Bericht) is a novel by Swiss author Max Frisch, first published in Germany in 1957. The first English translation was published in Britain in 1959. The novel is written as a first-person narrative. The protagonist, Walter Faber, is a successful engineer traveling throughout Europe and the Americas on behalf of UNESCO. His world view based on logic, probability, and technology is challenged by a series of incredible coincidences as his repressed past and chance occurrences come together to break up his severely rational, technically oriented ideology.

The transition from pre-human to human has, for a long time, been associated with tool use and construction. The implicit self-definition of humans in this is that of planned control over life world. This is reflected on in the work of Hanna Arendt on the homo faber and the novel by Max Frisch of that name. However, this definition has become problematic in a number of ways: Planned tool use has been seen to occur outside the human species, and the focus on control of the environment has become suspect because of the environmental crisis. The burial practices of Homo naledi indicate high-level self-awareness and social communication, with little tool use being evident. This article asks whether this might be an occasion to redefine our conception of what it means to be human away from the focus on mastery and control and towards including trust, also religious trust, as the true mark of humanity.

The phrase homo faber was coined by Appius Claudius Caecus, who formulated its meaning in the sentence 'Homo faber suae quisque fortunae' (Every human is the maker of his or her destiny) (World Heritage Encyclopedia s.d.). Homo faber thus stands for human as the makers, the makers of instruments and the makers of their own life.

Beyond labour, by making instruments that persist, we create a human-designed world that separates us from the purely animal, and so are homo faber, who creates a truly human life world for themselves.

However, because the homo faber creates instruments, the purpose of these instruments is not yet defined. For Arendt, the purpose of the action of humans, in order to be truly human, must be the freedom to act as a human, and therefore humanity comes to itself only as a zoon politikon, acting in the public realm out of and for freedom.

Max Frisch wrote a novel with the name Homo faber: Ein Bericht (Frisch [1969] 1957). The main character, Walter Faber, starts out as a hardnosed Swiss engineer, believing in nothing but science, causality and chance, and dismissing the concept of 'an experience'. He sees computers as the true pinnacle of rationality, because these are without emotions or experiences, simply calculating data in a causal, reproducible manner. Through a number of improbable coincidences and decisions that seem to make little sense, he meets up with the brother of a friend from student days. Travelling to the plantation in South America to meet this friend, he finds that this friend has committed suicide. On the journey, he meets a young woman with whom he begins a relationship. He then finds out that she is his daughter, of whose existence he had been unaware. She is bitten by a snake, and though he takes her to hospital, she dies of skull fracture complications because of a fall. In the end, he realises the beauty he has missed in life - though the novel ends inconclusively. The novel has, among its many facets, the implication that simple manipulative and dominating, tool-like rationality is insufficient for true humanity.

Homo faber stands, in this article, for the human being who controls his life through mastery of the world. Both Arendt and Frisch suggest that humans must be more than just homo faber - because instrumental domination cannot, in the long run, be a purpose - it must serve something more.

Similarly, the human quest for instrumental domination is detrimental to societies because the accumulation of power, most easily measured in terms of wealth, as a primary goal of life results in wealth and power imbalances that undermine both human dignity and the stability of social systems. The increasing wealth gap and the consequent poverty levels are publicly recognised to be a threat to social stability. Thus, homo faber as human self-concept is problematic.

It is this openness to something more than that which is necessary for survival that I mean when I coin the term homo credente - the person of faith, the human being which finds itself in relation to something greater, from which it derives itself and to which it returns. It is this more that enables us to experience the world not only in terms of utility but to have experiences of beauty, of wonder, when we see moonlight on the sea or the opening of a flower, or a bird singing. It is this more than utility and domination that informs the novel of Frisch and the philosophy of Arendt and Heidegger.

In the discourse of science and religion, the attempts to include the mystery of the 'more', the transcendent, into the ambit of a scientific understanding of the world have not led to any definite answers. I suggest that this is necessarily so: The sciences, which proceed on the basis of measurability and repeatability, fundamentally are associated with calculating thinking, with reason in as far as it relates to instrumental domination of the world. The close co-operation of science and technology is indeed part of their very nature. But humans do not, and cannot, live only in order to acquire the instruments that ensure their survival and domination of their world. To the contrary, humans need purpose so that what they do in their life, including the use that they make of the world, may have meaning. It is in relation to something more than mere survival that humans can make meaningful sense of their world. It is the self-definition in this relation - for humans are fundamentally social beings of relationship - to the transcendent, to the mystery out of which, and to which one lives that I denote by speaking of homo credente.

Val, A., 2016, 'Deliberate body disposal by hominins in the Dinaledi Chamber, Cradle of Humankind, South Africa?', Journal of Human Evoluation 96, 145-148. [ Links ]World Heritage Encyclopedia, s.d., Homo Faber, viewed 09 November 2016, from _faber [ Links ]

Humans, more than any other species, have been altering their paths of development by creating new material forms and by opening up to new possibilities of material engagement. That is, we become constituted through making and using technologies that shape our minds and extend our bodies. We make things which in turn make us. This ongoing dialectic has long been recognised from a deep-time perspective. It also seems natural in the present in view of the ways new materialities and digital ecologies increasingly envelop our everyday life and thinking. Still the basic idea that humans and things are co-constituted continues to challenge us, raising important questions about the place and meaning of materiality and technical change in human life and evolution. This paper bridging perspectives from postphenomenology and Material Engagement Theory (MET) is trying to attain better understanding about these matters. Our emphasis falls specifically on the human predisposition for technological embodiment and creativity. We re-approach the notion Homo faber in a way that, on the one hand, retains the power and value of this notion to signify the primacy of making or creative material engagement in human life and evolution and, on the other hand, reclaims the notion from any misleading connotations of human exceptionalism (other animals make and use tools). In particular, our use of the term Homo faber refers to the special place that this ability has in the evolution and development of our species. The difference that makes the difference is not just the fact that we make things. The difference that makes the difference is the recursive effect that the things that we make and our skills of making seem to have on human becoming. We argue that we are Homo faber not just because we make things but also because we are made by them.

If we could rid ourselves of all pride, if, to define our species, we kept strictly to what the historic and the prehistoric periods show us to be the constant characteristic of man and of intelligence, we should say not Homo sapiens, but Homo faber. In short, intelligence, considered in what seems to be its original feature, is the faculty of manufacturing artificial objects, especially tools to make tools, and of indefinitely varying the manufacture. (Bergson 1998 [1911], 139)

This recognition however, namely that other animals also habitually accumulate or modify durable materials, well supported by evidence for advanced manual manipulative abilities in pre-Homo hominins (Kivell 2015) and by the famous feats of termite-fishing chimpanzees and hook-crafting crows, by no means implies that the notion Homo faber lost its power or that this notion should be abandoned. As mentioned, many species make use of tools but no other animal presents anything resembling the immerse variety and complexity of the technical relationships we see in the case of humans. No doubt there is continuity in the way animals build their nests and humans build their houses, or in the way primates select, modify and use a wide variety of plant materials (leaf, wood, twig, grass) for extractive foraging, social interaction and self-maintenance (Haslam et al. 2009). However, there are also important differences that must be given serious consideration before any meaningful comparisons can be made. Though it is both tempting and productive to draw comparisons with the different ways primates and other animals use and engage with their material environments (e.g. using percussive or probe tools to process hidden foods), we must also distinguish ourselves, since we are so different too (Roux and Brill 2005; Tallis 2011; Malafouris 2010c, 2012a). 041b061a72

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