A Man of Flesh and Bone

In the book, Tragic Sense of Life, Miguel de Unamuno, a Spanish philosopher uses the term “el hombre de carne y hueso”, which means in English “Man of flesh and bone“. The word “el hombre” means “human being” or “man”. In this case, “el hombre” means “human”. In addition, “el masculino” is used as an equivalent of the word “man” in Spanish, if sexual aspect is important in context.

Unamuno begins his reflections with the observation – I am a man; no other man do I deem a stranger (Unamuno, 2005, 417). In this way, he paraphrases: Nothing human is alien to me. For Unamuno, every man is unique.

Man of Flesh and Bone in the Face of Death

One is a subject to the inexorable laws of nature as other creatures. It means a human being as the same biological creature as animals with all the consequences of this.  It particularly stresses death as the tragic dimension of human existence.

Death gives a certain fragility to human life. It is unavoidable despite all human intelligence. Death takes human lives with ruthless consequences. Although different life conditions and genetic pools the pure coincidence decides about human life or death sometimes. We can extend human life through human wisdom, but death is inevitable for everyone. 

What is death for Unamuno? It is an unpredictable and terrifying point of the final destruction of human life. 

Human Activity of Man of Flesh and Bone

In Spanish, a man of flesh and bone means el hombre de carne y hueso (Unamuno, 2017, 23). In literal translation – a man of meat and flesh. Word “meat” even stronger than “bone” links man to the violence of nature and its material and biological reality.

As a part of nature, a man of flesh and bone shows the psycho-physical activity to satisfy his needs. On the one hand, Unamuno talks about trivial activities, such as hunger or sleep needs. On the other hand, Unamuno remembers more sublime forms of activity, such as thinking, feeling, and playing games. So, human activity has a multilevel character.  

Man of flesh and bone in Contact with Others

In the last part of the definition, a social context appears. Man of flesh and bone is the one who is seen and heard by other beings. What does it mean? Everyone is an object of observation for others. It is worth remembering that perception is a complex problem. It is not a perception limited to sensory impressions. With Unamuno’s theory, it is a question of a multilevel (physical, psychological, and spiritual) perception.

Only seeing others as similar beings allows you to feel like a man of flesh and bone. But what does it mean: be similar to others? By perceiving the other in a well-known for him/her situation, one learns to understand the feelings of others. In this way, he/she learns empathy (R.Ingarden, E.Stein). He/she also realizes that the other person can understand him/her. This discovery changes the human existential situation. No one is condemned by any longer to loneliness in his own world (W. Leibnitz). A harmony with another human being is possible.

Everyday Experience of Man of Flesh and Bone

According to Unamuno: The man we have to do with is the man of flesh and bone – I, you, reader of mine, the other man yonder, all of us who walk solidity on the earth (Unamuno, 2005, 424). What can be hidden under this surprising concept? Probably, it is life experiencing full hardships and challenges. In the Spanish original, there is another wording pensamos sobre la Tierra (Unamuno, 2017, 32). “Pensar” means to think, to intend, to imagine. So it is rather a metaphorical meaning, adapting to the own needs of the surrounding reality.  In other words, life noticed as a struggle with everyday reality impresses realism in Unamuno’s theory.

A man of flesh and bone is someone who has his/her own history and experiences. In this way someone concrete – neighbor, acquaintance, friend, or relative. According to Unamuno, the anonymity of the philosophical subject is no longer present in philosophy. One who is thinking and feeling is a subject of his/her own existence, which is the same unique as mine. 


Summing: “A man of flesh and bone” is the subject of Unamuno’s philosophy. It is one who experiences everyday life on many levels of existence. It embeds one in the realities of this world. One is the main subject to the inexorable laws of nature – life and death. One can realize in social life. Unamuno man is one whom I pass on the street, or whom I meet personally.

Sources

Unamuno M. de (2017). Del sentimiento trágico de la vida, Online Edition Librorio from David Garcia, 1912 Edition,

Unamuno M. de (2005). Tragic Sense of Life, Trans. J.E. Crawford Flitch, The Project Gutenberg EBook

Abenita

I have gained an MA in philosophy at UKSW University in Warsaw. Philosophy is my passion, especially existentialism. My second fascination is the Theory of Positive Disintegration by Kazimierz Dabrowski as a connection of the psychological knowledge with a philosophical perspective.

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