Personalism: Its Rationale, Characteristics, and Goals

Personalism, as I define it, is a philosophical trajectory centering around issues pertaining to the human person. Personalism, as a trajectory, was developed as a distinct view which opposed both Individualism and Collectivism respectively. As such, there are many different forms of Personalism: there is Thomistic Personalism, Atheistic Personalism, and etc. In what follows, I’m going to provide an idiosyncratic form of Personalism which outlines its rationale, marks, and the goals of the Personalist project.

The Rationale for Personalism

Personalists tend towards a skeptical view of various forms of individualism and collectivism. Personalists, therefore, reject crass formulations of ethical egoism – that the individual is to live for himself to the expense, neglect, or ignorance of others (and its correlate, ethical Capitalism). Further, they reject forms of Collectivism which seek to subjugate the human person to institutions, nations, or ideologies (take Nazi Germany as an example). Its rationale is essentially that these philosophies and ethics fail to uphold the dignity of the human person which is necessary to realize personal and social happiness.

The Marks of Personalism

Thus the chief mark of Personalism is the utilization of the concept of the “person” as an organizing principle for various facets of the human-experience in philosophical form. Personalists tend toward the beliefs that the person is radically distinct from non-persons in dignity and depth; this is chiefly because the human person is rational, moral, and free. He is rational, pertaining to his ability to abstract reality and utilize language to communicate abstractions. He is moral in that he is consciously aware of the distinction between good and evil. And he, unlike mere animals, is free to transcend the vegetative and sensitive facets of his nature; in other words, he is not wholly determined by his environment. Personalists also emphasize that the person is only every fully actualized in the community of persons; the human person is, in essence, a lover and one who needs to be loved. He is fashioned to give and to receive. He is one who is dependent upon the other and whom the other is dependent upon for full flourishing; at every level the Personalist emphasizes interdependence between persons.

The Goals of Personalist Philosophers

The goals of Personalist philosophers are as varied as the forms Personalism takes. That being said, there is a substratum of continuity among them; positively, they seek to formulate a philosophical structure which maintains the dignity, centrality, and nature of the person. Negatively, they seek to refute, confound, and destroy any philosophy which stands against the dignity of human persons. This being the case, a Personalist may engage in the refutation of the legitimacy of abortion, the ideology of Fascism, or the indifference of corporatism. In whatever the case, whether theoretical or practical, the aim is always to uphold the dignity of the person.

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