The Human Condition

April 19, 2022
Submitted By: Brian David Skelly

The Human Condition in Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael 

Please join us online on Wednesday, April 20 from 1 p.m.-2 p.m.for our next WebEx meeting of the University of Hartford Philosophy Club, as Kyle Dickinson, A University of Hartford Junior and Biomedical Engineering Major, discusses Daniel Quinn's 1992 philosophical novel Ishmael(Click on link below to join.) 

Ishmael is a philosophical novel by Daniel Quinn in 1992 pondering the human condition, the impact of human life on the world, and how we got to our present apocalyptic predicament. In particular, the focus is on two contrasting strategies of human survival: the Takers and the Leavers.   

The author pits this dichotomy against the more traditional if anthropologically unjustified terminology of civilized vs. uncivilized, forcing readers to radically rethink our own cultural legacies.    

Ishmael is, in its entirety, fictional and written by the author for the sake of separating himself into two individual beings to discuss the philosophical question of “how did we get this way?”. There’s the author’s perspective who depicts the Takers, and Ishmael (a gorilla) who depicts the Leavers.  

Takers are the people from our civilization, and leavers are people from older systems of civilization – to skip a majority of the book, Takers are a section of people who believe that the world is ours and we own it and therefore can do what we want with it. Leavers are a group of people who believe they belong to the book or to nature, and therefore respect natural cycles and believe they need to respect the world.   

One of the biggest indicators of the Taker mentality is the fact that, to address population issues we do not look at the core of the issue of it being too many people, but we instead just increase the amount of food produced to allow for the carrying capacity of the world to be increased. Ishmael said it best, that if the carrying capacity is 3.5 billion, and you only have 3 billion people, in years times you will have 3.5 billion people and people will still be starving – with this issue just being propagated by the response to increased population being increased food, forming a cycle which drives earth towards destruction being formed.   

The Leaver mentality is quite the opposite, where the population is kept under control because of the carrying capacity of the area, of what they can do without destroying nature too much. They flip the Taker mentality on its head and focus primarily on living in tune with the world and trying to adapt agriculture to the natural methods that the world shows.


WebEx link: 

Meeting Password: ACwqT3MBG33  

Toll-free call-in number: 1-877-668-4493  

Meeting Number (in case calling in): 171 628 0135  

Kyle's career interests including tissue engineering and bioinformatics. His intrigue with Ishmael - part of a trilogy of philosophical fiction - goes back to his high school days and may have influenced him in his choice of Major. 

An ongoing weekly tradition at the University since 2001, the University of Hartford Philosophy Club is a place where students, professors, and people from the community at large meet as peers. Sometimes presentations are given, followed by discussion. Other times, topics are hashed out by the whole group.   

 Presenters may be students, professors, or people from the community. Anyone can offer to present a topic. The mode of presentation may be as formal or informal as the presenter chooses. Please be a part of us as we continue this great tradition online.

Brian D. Skelly, Philosophy