Thursday, 30 November 2017

Looking at the Sun: Chapter Summary

Missing Solitude
by Julian Stern

Personalism is relational. It is – to a significant degree – a reaction against the non-relational, whether that is the somewhat solipsistic philosophies of Descartes or Wittgenstein, or the pretended neutrality and ‘view from nowhere’ philosophies of rationalism. I am relational too (even if some of my relations may beg to differ), and have worked for many years in education – in schools and universities – trying to understand relationships, dialogue, and community. To be included, and to feel included, in a community is important to educational institutions. 
That is why I was surprised when a young child, when asked when he felt most included in school, said that it was when he was left alone, to work on his own.
I spent years, after hearing that remark, trying to understand how a personalist like me – a relational, dialogic, communal philosopher – could explain solitude. I came up with two related answers. One is that, when in solitude, most of us are in relationships. If we are sitting reading a novel, we are in relationships with the characters in the novel; if we are wandering through the Lake District, we are in relationships with nature (daffodils, anyone?); if we are – continuing the Romantic theme – sitting quietly in a graveyard, we are in relationships with dead people, the people we miss, perhaps. And in all of these activities, we may also be thinking about ourselves, in relationship with ourselves.
The second answer is that at some point, in solitude, we may end up in a state where we are not thinking about others, we are not thinking about ourselves, we are just ‘being’, in enstasy. Enstasy is the opposite of ecstasy: enstasy means being comfortable within yourself, whilst ecstasy means transcending yourself. There are forms of yoga described as ‘enstatic’ yoga, but actors and athletes will experience something like this when they get ‘in the zone’ before a big performance, soldiers may experience something like this before battle. Children – yes, I asked children – say they experience enstasy most often after something: the day after their birthday, the moments after they finish a lot of homework. 
Without the relational solitude, we forget – and feel cut off – from people who are dead, from nature, from ourselves. Without the enstatic solitude, we forget that we also simply exist, we are, we are of a universe. 
Personalism is relational. If it is to involve relationships with the distant, the dead, the far-away, then it needs relational solitude. If it is to involve a sense of existing, then it needs enstatic solitude. So personalism is indeed relational, and therefore needs its solitude. Me too. The alternative, I think, is a form of suffering called ‘loneliness’. When personalism misses solitude, it helps create loneliness, and there are some personalists who – like me – spent so much time talking about relationships, dialogue and community, that they simply missed solitude. That’s what I’ve written about in my chapter in Looking at the Sun

Friday, 24 November 2017

Looking at the Sun: Chapter Summary

Philosophical Implications of the Concept of the Trinity

by Jan Nilsson

My chapter takes its point of departure in the difference between Western and Eastern theology of Trinitarianism. While the Western branch traditionally has taken a more static approach, the Eastern tradition is more dynamic and relational. This difference in emphasis can be observed both in the teaching of the Trinity and in its anthropological consequences for the teaching of man as created in the image of God.
In recent times the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann has criticized the definitions of the Trinity found in the confessions of faith. According to Moltmann the creeds do not imply the dynamic and relational aspects, which were implicit in the Trinitarianism of the early Church. Moltmann criticizes the use of the static concepts of 'substance' and 'subject' in the history of Trinitarian thinking and promotes the concept of ‘perochoresis’ in his revision of the concept of the person. The Greek word 'perochoresis' contains meanings such as 'to circle around one another', 'to give room for' etc. In other words this is a more inclusive concept in comparison to the traditional philosophic concepts of 'substance' and 'subject'.
Finally, with point of departure in the Greek theologian John Zizioulas, this paper demonstrates how the relational concept of person found in the doctrine of the Trinity implies the distinctiveness or 'otherness' of the person. In an apophatic (negative) theological tradition such as the orthodox the distinct persons of the Deity are first of all defined in terms of what they are not in relation to the others. In Zizioulas' thinking the person is thus defined on the basis of his or her distinctiveness or otherness in relation to the individuals of the surrounding community. Consequently, a community of persons can only exist by virtue of the mutual difference or ‘otherness’. In Zizioulas’ words "Communion does not threaten otherness; it generates it."

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Looking at the Sun: Chapter Summary

From Selfhood to Personhood: Personal Flourishing in the Trinitarian Likeness

by Daniel Gustafsson

As a poet, I am interested in the contributions that poetry, as well as theology, can make to our understanding of personhood. The aim of this paper is to invigorate personalist thought by engaging the poet and painter William Blake in dialogue with contemporary Orthodox theology. What follows is a brief summary of the main narrative of the paper, which broadly follows the story of Albion in Blake’s masterpiece of illuminated poetry, Jerusalem: the emanation of the giant Albion.

I am in you and you in me. mutual in love divine [1]

Blake’s existential and ontological profession of mutuality testifies to a rare and profound attainment: a triumph of a genuine inter-personal existence over a solipsistic and self-centred one. We need to think away from the idea of selves to the idea of persons. We need to live away from the confines of an individualist-collectivist dichotomy to the expansive reality of personal relations – in the image and likeness of a God who, as Trinity, is not only personal, but crucially also a relation; in the words of David Bentley Hart, “a perichoresis of love, a dynamic coinherence of the three divine persons, whose life is eternally one of shared regard, delight, fellowship, feasting, and joy.” [2]

The Spectral Self
Albion, when we meet him, is separated from his beloved Jerusalem, and subjected to the oppressive influence of his Spectre. The agent of reductionism and over-rationalisation, the Spectre is at the same time industry and individualism, solipsism and scientism; a composite figure of the ills and evils that threaten the personal mode of existence.
Albion is in a state of ‘Selfhood’; the very opposite of a flourishing Personhood. Thus, his situation resonates with Christos Yannaras’ diagnosis of modern man. According to Yannaras, “The ’modern age’ [in the shadow of Western philosophy] is characterised by humanity’s imprisonment in complete subjectivity and at the same time by its effort to obtain absolute objectivity, centred, in both cases, on the individual.”[3] This is an apt philosophical diagnosis of the condition in and against which both Blake and his characters labour. Albion is a victim of the Western philosophical tradition. This is a fallen state: a shrunken state. Sundered from the relations that both sustain and enrich him, he is less than what he can and is called to be.

The Trinitarian Person
For Christian thought, the question of what it means to be a person is the question of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God. Here, a proper Trinitarian vision of God, as against a monistic or philosophically abstract conception, will have significant implications for how we understand human personhood. “Since the image of God in man is a Trinitarian image,” writes Kallistos Ware, “it follows that man, like God, realises his true nature through mutual life. The image signifies relationship not only with God but with other men.”[4]
The person in thrall to his Selfhood, however – and indeed whole disciplines developed under the influence of the Spectre – not only entertains a false image of himself and of others, but also creates a false image of God. Crucially, therefore, the critique of notions of the person as a self-subsisting and self-enclosed entity, goes hand in hand with a critique of the abstractly conceived god of the philosophers. The true God of dialogue and communion is Jesus, whom Blake has addressing us thus:   
I am not a God afar off, I am a brother and friend;
Within your bosoms I reside, and you reside in me[5]
The problem is that, as this God of relation and revelation has been supplanted by the philosopher’s god, this has resulted also in a static and monistic idea of man. What is needed, for a richer view of personhood, is a God who is both second-personal and Trinitarian; both in relation to us and relation in himself. Only such a divine image and likeness, I argue, can sustain the profoundest intuitions of personalist thought; such as this claim by Mounier: “One might almost say that I have no existence, save in so far as I exist for others, and that to be is, in the final analysis, to love.”[6]

Blake knows that for the fruition of our personhood we must perpetually break out of ourselves in ek-static affirmation of divine goods and in love of others – such, indeed, is our true mode of existence:  
Such are the Laws of Eternity that each shall mutually
Annihilate himself for others good […] & put off
In Self-annihilation all that is not of God alone[7]

Conclusion: Mutual Freedom and Mutual Love
“True being,” writes John Zizioulas, “comes only from the free person, from the person who loves freely […] by means of an event of communion with other persons.[8] This is a profound insight for personalist thought. It is also one of the fundamental meanings of Blake’s art, where redemption through self-annihilation is rooted in freedom and where personality is transfigured in mutual love.      
Importantly, mutual love entails mutual sacrifice; and Blake’s Jesus here reveals God as truly a self-emptying God of love:  
if God dieth not for Man & giveth himself
Eternally for Man Man could not exist. For Man is Love:
As God is Love […]
nor can Man exist but by Brotherhood[9]
Thus we may look to the thinkers here engaged with as profound sources of inspiration – for the affirmation of a person called to attain the likeness of a Trinitarian God of abundant relationality; a person whose mode of existence is dialogic and ecstatic, and who flourishes in communal transfiguration. A person, in short, who may in truth profess:

                                                      I am in you and you in me. mutual in love divine

[1] William Blake, The Complete Illuminated Books (New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000), 301.
[2] David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 155.
[3] Christos Yannaras, Person and Eros, trans. Norman Russell (Brookline: Holy Cross
Orthodox Press, 2007), 10.
[4] Ware, The Orthodox Way, 53.
[5] Blake, The Complete Illuminated Books, 301.
[6] Mounier, Personalism, 20.
[7] Blake, The Complete Illuminated Books, 287.
[8] Zizioulas, Being as Communion, 18.
[9] Blake, The Complete Illuminated Books, 393.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Looking at the Sun: Chapter Summary

Ricoeur’s Reconsideration of Personalism
A New Perspective

by Dries Deweer

Ricoeur was considered a representative of the personalist movement in his younger years. Nevertheless, he later also supported the criticisms on personalism. The extent to which Ricoeur succeeded in integrating these two elements – loyalty and criticism – in his work shows us a way of regarding personalism as a tenable philosophical position and an important input in contemporary philosophy. In my chapter I analyze Ricoeur’s criticism of personalism, in order to show – against the dominant interpretation – how his work ultimately remains loyal to the personalist movement by developing a hermeneutical phenomenology of the human person that answers the problems of personalism in a way that respects its core ideas. These problems are:

(1) the neglect of the difference between interpersonal and institutional relations:
The personalist and communitarian ideal displayed the inclination to think of communities after the example of direct interpersonal relationships. Mounier and Maritain considered communities to be an extrapolation of friendship. Along the same line, Scheler presented his community ideal of the so-called Gesamtperson as kind of relationship of love. Ricoeur warned about the dangers of such an ideal of the small community. For, the distinction between politics and ethics is implicitly wiped out, while the distribution of power that is essential to politics is a matter of justice and not a matter of friendship or love. Besides, it also restricts the idea of a community to relations with persons with a face, persons with whom we can relate in a direct way. Hence, personalism curbs the enlargement of the idea of a community to institutional relations with any anonymous fellow human being, the enlargement to relationships where the other has no face, but nevertheless has rights.

(2) the lack of conceptual clarity:
Ricoeur observed that personalism, despite all good intentions, had never reached the same degree of conceptual clarity as the doctrines that it was supposed to match.

(3) the vulnerability to structuralist criticism:
Ricoeur found that personalism, by putting itself in the line with doctrines such as existentialism and Marxism, was exposed to the crushing criticism of structuralism. Structuralism characterized all of these doctrines as instances of humanism, in others words as doctrines that see the subject and its history at the source of meaning. This perspective was subverted by the structuralist focus on underlying systems where the meaning of social reality is produced by the differential relations within the totality of the system itself, independent of particular persons and the history that is determined by these systems. This new approach of philosophy seemed to make the subject and its history philosophically irrelevant, and with it all preceding philosophical currents that were founded on these elements, such as personalism.

(4) the dependence on a fixed Christian hierarchy of values:
The Nietzschean footing of contemporary philosophy implies a frontal attack on the Christian foundations of the concept of the person and the Christian value absolutism. With regard to this criticism, Ricoeur had especially Jacques Maritain and Max Scheler in mind, two personalist philosophers that explicitly characterized their personalism as a Christian philosophy. Although Ricoeur acknowledged that Mounier remained uncommitted in this regard, in order to allow both Christian and agnostic interpretations, he was convinced that this effort was in vain. One way or another personalism fell victim to the nihilist devaluation of all higher values.

I argue that Ricoeur eventually answers all four of these problems in his own reconsideration of personalism. The first problem finds an answer in Ricoeur’s distinction between the socius and the neighbor, which he later elaborated in the threefold structure of his so-called little ethics. The second problem was resolved in the dissociation of the concept of the person from the personalist doctrine, by means of the characterization of personhood as an attitude. The third problem was addressed by Ricoeur’s confrontation with structuralism as a necessary detour for a new understanding of the human person. Finally, Ricoeur took the edge off the fourth problem by presenting personal commitment as a matter of a risky conviction that makes the person commit himself to a transcendent cause that only receives a hierarchical value on the basis of the commitment itself.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Looking at the Sun: Extract from the Introduction

Setting the Scene
by Simon Smith

The title of this volume, Looking at the Sun, comes from a line in Austin Farrer’s Faith and Speculation.[1] The line and the image were chosen for the beneficial light they cast upon personalism as a distinct way of doing philosophy. By that light, then, we should like to take a few moments to set the personalist scene, in order that readers unfamiliar with this philosophical tradition may be equipped for the several tête-à-têtes to come.
And yet, in saying so, we have already led the reader astray: we have referred to personalism as a “way of doing philosophy.” This is not strictly accurate; for, in reality, there is no single way that all personalists follow, no one methodology they all apply. When Jacques Maritain, a significant figure in European and especially Catholic personalism, surveyed the field, he encountered “at least, a dozen personalist doctrines, which at times have nothing more in common that the word ‘person’.”[2] In fact, Maritain may well have been underestimating the numbers. There are almost as many personalist doctrines as there are personalist thinkers.[3] Equally, however, Maritain may have miscalculated the differences between them. There are many things that bind these thinkers together. There is, for example, a vital challenge to reductivism in all its forms: the desire to vehemently resist the impersonal and depersonalising influences that seem to dominate, not only the cloistered world of academic scholarship, but also real life.[4] More than this, at the root of all forms of personalist thought there is a fundamental commitment to the idea that, logically and epistemologically, morally and metaphysically, persons are at the heart of things. Thomas O. Buford put the point best when he identified persons as “the supreme value and the key to the measuring of reality.”[5]
This brings us back to our title. Farrer was evidently alluding to Plato when he talked about the sun. This image points to the philosopher’s highest goal, the pinnacle of truth and goodness. The sun is that which transcends the world of illusions and shadows, and in transcending, illuminates it. Faith and Speculation is a work of philosophical, more specifically, pragmatic theology; we should not be surprised, therefore, to find that Farrer practices on the theological possibilities of his borrowed image, using it to rebut any faux Wittgensteinian interpretation of religious language. Twentieth century philosophers and theologians hoped to rescue ‘God-talk’ from positivist reduction by designating it a language game. Nowadays, faced with an ever more aggressive atheism, it is dubbed a “non-overlapping magisterium”, which may sit alongside, but must never interfere with, the physical sciences. In either case, Farrer would respond with a simple “No.” “The theologian,” he insisted, “is not picking a colour from the rainbow; he is looking at the sun.”[6] Theology is not merely one discourse, or language game, or magisterium, among others. Rather, it seeks to go beyond the entire spectrum of physical science and worldly knowledge to offer a conception of reality, which underpins all further notions of the finite. The sun is Plato’s symbol for the fundamental grounds of truth and goodness, and so the only proper subject of real knowledge. Likewise, in Farrer’s hands, it represents a metaphysically basic level of understanding. This is the notion we want to borrow for our scene setting.
No doubt, well brought up readers have felt their philosophical hackles rising at this sudden shift from infinite to finite. An appeal to metaphysical basics may be all very well for pragmatic theology, but here, in a philosophy of persons, the leap seems unaccountable at best. The well brought up reader need not worry unduly, however. Certainly, any metaphysically inclined readers might reasonably wonder whether a proper account of ‘personhood’ could be formulated without some attempt to make sense of the language affirmative of God. One might even argue that person-concepts are inherently religious: to be, or rather to become, a person is essentially – and literally – an act of lived faith.[7] For our present purposes, however, no such bold statements are required. Instead we shall simply reverse the metaphysical emphasis, thereby softening the claim. Our philosophy of persons and our theology are intrinsically interconnected because persons supply the analogical key to religious language. In its very immediacy, our experience, indeed our embodiment, of ‘personhood’ supplies the clue, the model, and the primary datum required for making metaphysical sense of the cosmos. To conceive a God of grace and providence, of creation and salvation, we have no other clue than our own capacity to reflect them, that is, to represent them, as far as we are able, within our own capacity to act. There too lies the model, in adumbrated form. We should not know the meaning of divine creativity if we were incapable of creative action, most especially, perhaps, that creative action wherein we ourselves are made. In turn, those acts may supply the data, the evidence of a divine will at work. If such encounters do not embody that will, that work, then, as Farrer observed, “nowhere in the universe do we directly meet the divine love.”[8]
For John Macmurray – another of the of the twentieth century’s great personalist thinkers – the “Form of the Personal” is utterly foundational; its expression in and as the practice of religious faith is the most “fully concrete expression” of that form.[9] This is because, in lived belief, we find the primal connections wherein persons come to be. In such connections, we discover the images and ideas through which a life may be lived to its moral, spiritual, and intellectual limits. Most importantly, of course, in such connections we encounter the others who convey those images and ideas, who enact and embody them, and in so doing, share with us the means by which we might make ourselves in their image. From this, it follows that other expressions of the Form of the Personal – specifically, Macmurray tells us, art and science – are inevitably abstract and derivative. They discount from the concrete relation of self and other, do not encounter the other directly and immediately, but only as a shadow, a reflection of some narrower aspect of experience or as the subject of some narrower mode of self-conception and description. Indeed, Macmurray would go so far as to suggest that the physical sciences are the most abstract and, therefore, the most subjective because they rely, not on the direct encounters from which real experience is made up, but on idealised conceptual constructs and diagrammatic representations.[10]
Macmurray’s influence, his insistence on the primacy of the personal, is clearly detectable in several of the works in this collection. His writings have played a significant role in David Treanor’s anti-reductive, anti-utilitarian analysis of end of life care, on James Beauregard’s reflections on technology, and on my own anti-metaphysical metaphysics. The reader may also detect a connection between Macmurray and Farrer. In this case, the influence was more direct: Macmurray was Farrer’s tutor at Balliol College, Oxford. Just here, we find a crucial personalist motif in action: the interconstitutive relation of teacher and student; the intertwining of personalities which, as they inform one another, also in-form one another; the creative participation of one mind in the development of another. Little wonder they shared a person-centred approach to philosophy.
The vital interplay of persons, finite and infinite, might suffice to make our person-concepts metaphysically basic. The idea comes home, however, in a more immediate and, as it were, more personal manner. Our concept of persons supplies the key to the deepest and most intransigent philosophical mysteries we are likely to discover in ourselves, not least those arising from our talk about minds and brains. This sounds like an ill-concealed tautology, and so it might be if it were meant to signal Gilbert Ryle’s kind of bluff common sense towards those mysteries.[11] That way lies disaster and defeat. We could not hope to fend off the logical and empirical reduction of ‘personhood’, ever more keenly felt with the rapid advance of neuroscience, by closing our eyes to them. To talk about whole persons and their behaviour instead of brains and minds is not to address the special problems those sciences have raised in recent years. But let us not play false with Professor Ryle; he had a good part of the answer when he fixed on human behaviour; if he had only thought to apply it. For in human behaviour, which is to say, personal action, we find the physical extension of personal consciousness, the ‘I’ embodied. Further, given that action is always and necessarily interaction, we find the ‘I’ embodied in a world of other ‘I’s. In personal action, that is, we have the clue, the model, and the primary datum required for making psychophysical sense of ourselves.[12] For personal action and the personhood it embodies are logically and epistemologically basic.
At this point, the reader may be wondering at the wisdom of placing so much philosophical weight on the narrow shoulders of the simple human subject. So ephemeral a concept is surely not robust enough to supply the hoped-for moral and metaphysical key.
In fact, the reader may be surprised to discover that many personalists would agree. Persons may well be able to carry that weight, for persons are an incontrovertible reality; they cannot be denied without self-stultification. The human subject, on the other hand, is an abstract concept; unnecessarily abstract for so concrete and constant an element in everyone’s experience. Although we have no desire nor, indeed, any right to legislate on language, such abstractions seem likely to generate nothing but misunderstandings.
The danger here lies in taking such abstractions for realities and allowing logically unsanitary habits of thought to tempt us into the cardinal sin of classical metaphysics, which Whitehead named the “fallacy of misplaced concretion.”[13] Should we be led into temptation, we are liable to find ourselves thinking of persons in terms of their separateness, their distinct individuality. Let us be clear, then: when speaking of persons and personalism, we do not mean any kind of abstraction; perhaps especially not the isolated egoism advocated, in their different ways, by the likes of Max Stirner and Ayn Rand. We do not mean the kind of social, political, and moral individualism, so often masquerading as so-called ‘enlightened self-interest’, the kind of individualism which flowered during the last two centuries with, let us say, mixed results.[14] We do not mean the kind of individualism which dominates Western and, increasingly, global culture, fuelling rapacious capitalism and consumerism. Nor do we mean the kind which has infected every branch of Western thought, from the “dog-eat-dog dogma” of “selfish genes” and “survival of the fittest” to the rationalist’s utilitarian reduction of human life and human values to the mere calculation of cost vs. benefit.[15]
We cannot do justice to such bold claims in this brief introduction. Fortunately, there is no need to do so; the reasons for holding such views are better and more fully expressed by our authors. For the present, suffice to say that such individualism is rejected primarily because it is, as indicated, reductive. It separates the self – emotionally and psychologically as well as politically and morally – from its natural context: that is, the community in which it comes to be and subsequently blossoms. Reduced to a kind of bio-mechanism bent on – rightly so, we are told – the satisfaction of desire, concerned with our own self-interest, however enlightened, we are encouraged to reject the very other-orientation which is the underlying framework of properly personal existence. There lie the seeds of moral relativism. Embracing relativism not only forecloses on moral discussion, but also on morality itself. Once there is nothing more to moral rectitude than what I or my society believe, then there is nothing more to be said or done. The foreclosure of morality completes the bankruptcy of human personality. That will hardly do. Who we are and hope to be is inextricably intertwined with others, embedded in the relationships through which we body forth our identities. ‘Morality’ is the name we give to our thought and talk about our conduct within those relations. ‘Morality’ is the tool we use to understand that most basic of experiences. In short, moral relativism denies the fundamental experience of being human, an experience which takes shape in our responsibilities to and for others.
This should not be taken to mean that, in response to the depersonalising forces of rationalism and relativism, all personalists subscribe to moral absolutism. If there is another thing most personalists agree on, it is the risks of overweening certainty. Rather, as Buford’s work on global bioethics indicates, the tendency seems more often towards an honest recognition of a plurality of perspectives. This is then coupled with the articulation of those underlying, universal features which express the common and shared truths of ‘personhood’ in all its manifestations.[16]
Just as we do not mean the socio-political individual when we speak of persons, nor do we mean the metaphysical subject-self, the self-in-itself.[17] For that, too, is an abstraction and a logically incoherent one at that. This is because to conceive ‘personhood’ as radically subjective, is to conceive ‘personhood’ isolated from all possible knowledge and reference. Knowledge and reference require concrete connection but what something is in itself is, ex hypothesi, what it is apart from all connection.
The underlying assumption here is, broadly speaking, empirical, more properly, ‘activist’ or ‘voluntarist’, insofar as knowledge is presumed to be a co-efficient of activity. As any teacher knows, learning is a by-product of doing. In claiming knowledge of this self-in-itself, we should be claiming knowledge of something about which we could do nothing at all; for that matter, something which could do nothing about us. The disconnection is complete; the self lies forever out of epistemological reach, transformed into a kind of psychological square-circle.[18]
May we not still appeal to direct awareness or experience of our own cogitating ego, such as Descartes claimed to have? That, as Descartes himself discovered, leaves us radically separated from other persons once again. Perhaps I am immediately aware of my own subjectivity, but how can I know whether you are too? I have no access to your subjectivity; so how can I know if it is there or not? By analogy perhaps?[19] You walk and talk and think, just as I do. Is it not reasonable to assume that you are, indeed, a genuine subject then? But the radical subject is what it is apart from such activity. Since I cannot know whether my own actions are expressive of my essence, I am not entitled to extend the inference to you. The self-in-itself offers no analogical hook on which to hang such judgements.
Even if we were entitled to draw conclusions concerning the reality of your interiority based on your activity, our problems would not be solved. Assuming we could avoid behaviourist reduction – difficult enough under the circumstances – we should still wonder how we know what analogies are; more importantly, how do we know what it means to be a person, at all. To say “from one’s own case” is no answer, for now we must explain how we know what it means to be a case in the first place. Any attempt to do so will inevitably find itself thrown back on the resources of a social context from which this construct seeks to exile us. It is in such a context that we first learn to talk and think, to do and so to know. Otherwise put, the logical and epistemological tools we use to explore our world and ourselves are invested in us by other persons. It is only after they have planted these seeds, after they have taught us how to tend them and make them grow, that we are able to abstract ourselves, play at being ego-isolationists. Shorn of those resources, this self-in-itself has neither others nor objects to occupy it. About what, then, does it think? What is the content of its experience, its knowledge? Well might one wonder.
Insist, nevertheless, that there is a core of irreducible and inexpressible subjectivity, and the question remains, how do you know? How do you know that this personal experience cannot be shared with others? How can you be sure that it is not, as seems more likely, a lack of linguistic facility? That I find myself faced by the ‘inexpressible’ may signify nothing more than my inability to express myself. After all, history is positively overflowing with writers and artists who have sought to capture the heights and depths of human experience with considerable poetic precision. It is difficult to imagine how, as Daniel Gustafsson suggests below, the likes of William Blake could be considered anything but eminently successful in this endeavour.
Ultimately, then, when faced by this notion of radical subjectivity, we are left wondering how it came to be and how anyone came to know about it. To respond that it just is (there) and that one just does know, is hardly the sort of answer to gladden the philosophical eye, still less satisfy those bent on reducing ‘personhood’ to its neurological, biochemical, or merely physical constituents. But what other answer could such subjectivism have to offer?
So much for radical subjectivism and socio-political egoism. They are nothing but shadows and illusions, logical, moral, and metaphysical abstractions, empty of sense and meaning. Now the Cartesian hangover is clearing, its ghosts and phantoms flee before the light of our borrowed image, the sun.
Our point, here, is a simple one. As the sun is Plato’s image for truth and reality, so too it is ours, for the foundational truth and reality of ‘personhood’. Our every experience is framed in personal terms. How could it be otherwise? All our experiential apparatus, from the perceptual to the logico-linguistic, testifies to it; they are ours and no one else’s; they supply our only access to the world of others and objects. All our various ways of seeing and understanding and describing are devised within, indeed, are expressions of, the matrix of personal relations wherein persons are born and learn to be. This matrix of relations is, in short, the necessary co-efficient of every thought and every action, all human experience. Even those descriptions and discourses where no effort has been spared to isolate and abstract the personal, to refine our thought and reduce our presence, cannot step out, as Charles Conti puts it, from “under the sun”.[20] The practice of science remains grounded in those primary relations. Its discoveries are the result of free action, notwithstanding their frequently materialist and determinist content. They must be so, otherwise the scientist’s own claims would, themselves, be nothing more than causal consequences of the interplay of natural forces. In and of themselves, causal consequences are incapable of bearing meaning, even that ascribed to materialist and determinist claims. More than this, the discoveries of science are the result of primary faith commitments made by the scientist. They are commitments to the history and tradition in which she has been trained; to the community in which she now participates, taking responsibility for its judgements; to the belief that the truth is ‘out there’ somewhere; and ultimately, to the idea that the epistemological tools we bring to bear will be up to the job of finding it.[21] Without such personal commitments the scientist cannot do her job. Macmurray may have considered the sciences to be the most abstract level of thought and action but it remains, nevertheless, one in which personal reality takes shape.
In the end, of course, scientists are not the only ones who need their faith commitments. Philosophers, too, must have theirs. This idea, that ‘personhood’ and all its manifestations in personal action are logically, epistemologically, and, indeed, metaphysically basic, is one of ours. It informs the essays in this volume as they seek to shed light on their chosen aspects of it. It informed our gathering in York and drives the Forum under whose auspices we came together.
Here, then, under the image of this sun, our Personalist scene is set. All that remains for us to do is to introduce those who are to play their parts upon it: our authors.


[1] Austin Farrer, Faith and Speculation (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1967), 20.
[2] Jacques Maritain, The Person and the Common Good. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1947), 12.
[3] For excellent summaries of the many different ways or approaches to personalism, see Thomas D. Williams and Jan Olof Bengtsson’s article “Personalism”, in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =; and Thomas O. Buford’s “Personalism” in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessed 26/02/2017,
[4] For a more detailed discussion of these reductive and depersonalising influences, particularly as they are at work in modern philosophy and theology – much to the detriment of lived faith – see S. Smith, Beyond Realism: Seeking the Divine Other (Delaware/Malaga: Vernon Press, 2017).
[5] Thomas O. Buford, “Personalism” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessed 26/02/2016,
[6] Farrer, 20. In this context, the phrase, “non-overlapping magisteria” appears to have been coined by Stephen Jay Gould; see his essay of the same name in The Richness of Life, 584-598, (London: Vintage, 2007).
[7] That was certainly Farrer’s view; Charles Conti, too, has made the case, elegantly and convincingly, in his Metaphysical Personalism (Oxford: Clarendon, 1995). Indeed, the religious or, perhaps better, divinely inspired and extended nature of persons was also the crucial element of Ludwig Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity, trans. George Eliot, (New York: Harper & Row, 1957); and his Principles of the Philosophy of the Future, trans. M. H. Vogel. (Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Co. 1986). So much is the central thesis of Beyond Realism, itself an attempt to supplement and extend Farrer and Conti.
[8] Farrer, A Science of God? (London: Geoffrey Bles Ltd, 1966), 100. See also Finite and Infinite (2nd Edition. Westminster: Dacre Press 1959) and Faith and Speculation on the personal analogy.
[9] John Macmurray, Reason and Emotion (London: Faber and Faber, 1962), 86. “The Form of the Personal” was the title of his Gifford Lectures for 1953-4. These were published in two volumes as The Self as Agent (London: Faber and Faber, 1957) and Persons in Relation (London: Faber and Faber, 1961).
[10] Macmurray, The Self as Agent, 200. For a conception of science as a prototypical expression of human freedom in community, cf., although not necessarily in search of conflict, Polanyi’s The Logic of Liberty (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1998) and Science, Faith and Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964). For further discussion of Polanyi’s view on this, see S. Smith’s “Unfair to Social Facts: John Searle and the Logic of Objectivity” in The Balkan Journal of Philosophy 6:1 (2015) and “Authority and Practice: General and Specific Authority in Science and Society” in Freedom, Authority and Economics, ed. R. T. Allen (Delaware/Malaga: Vernon Press, 2016).
[11] See Ryle’s The Concept of Mind (London: Hutchinson, 1960).
[12] That, in fact, is what Farrer did in the central chapters of Finite and Infinite and then, in greater detail, his Gifford Lectures for 1956-1957, published as The Freedom of the Will (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1960). By locating the seat of consciousness, not in the brain, as is traditional, nor any other thing, but in personal action, Farrer resolved that classical dichotomy and realigned mind and body. Personal action locates the agent immediately and unmistakably in a social situation, suggesting that consciousness or ‘personhood’ does not exist in the self at all but rather flowers in and as interpersonal transactions.
[13] Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (New York: Free Press, 1978), 18. There is also the risk that our understanding of persons might be supposed to have some underlying biological bias, ‘persons’ being intrinsically or inevitably members of the species homo sapiens. We shall not pursue the contentious question of whether non-human animals such as dolphins and the great apes could, in some sense, be persons. Instead, we need only ask whether our concept ‘person’ necessarily rules out the possibility of non-human persons, thereby leaving us open to Peter Singer’s charge of “speciesism” (Peter Singer, Practical Ethics (Cambridge: CUP, 1993), 55-68; 105-107). Personalists, like other philosophers, may well have their doubts about dolphins. Yet, should we ever encounter other life forms capable of being, as Stuart Hampshire put it, “interested in recalling their own past and parentage” and, perhaps most importantly, of wanting to “tell each other stories,” few would deny that they were, in some crucial sense, persons; see Stuart Hampshire, Innocence and Experience (London: Penguin, 1992), 44.
[14] See, for example, Stirner’s The Ego and His Own revised edition, John Carroll (London: Jonathan Cape, 1971); and, perhaps most famously, Rand’s The Fountainhead (London: Penguin Books, 2007) and Atlas Shrugged (London: Penguin Books, 2007). This egoism is a corollary of the decisive shift away from notions of absolute truth and authority and the embracing of radical scepticism which, in tandem, characterised the 18th and 19th centuries. As Polanyi points out in The Logic of Liberty the rise of totalitarianism was an inevitable consequence of this shift. Fascism and Marxism defined concepts such as ‘truth’, ‘authority’ and ‘reality’ as power relations to be wielded by a socio-political elite. In the late 20th century a refinement has been added as such notions are understood almost exclusively in terms of economic value.
[15] For the expression “dog-eat-dog dogma” see Robert Newman’s Entirely Accurate Encyclopaedia of Evolution (Glasgow: Freight Books, 2015; Kindle Edition) 518. The phrase “survival of the fittest” was coined by Herbert Spencer in his Principles of Biology, first published in 1864, which sought to draw parallels between Spencer’s economic theories and Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
[16] For a preview of this programme and its far-reaching implications, see Thomas O. Buford, “What Can Personalism Contribute to Bioethics?” Appraisal 10:4 (2015) 7-17.
[17] In all conscience, this is not a view that can be ascribed to all personalists; it is a bold claim and many would reject it vehemently. Juan Manuel Burgos, the prominent Spanish personalist, is one who argues that “experience of the self reflects in an existential way the irreducible subjectivity of the subject, what each person is; what, in its deepest root, is not transmissible. It is not possible to fully communicate to others one’s own subjective world” (“Integral Experience: A New Proposal on the Beginning of Knowledge,” In the Sphere of the Personal: New Perspectives in the Philosophy of Persons, eds. James Beauregard and S. Smith. (Delaware/Malaga: Vernon Press, 2016) 43). Burgos’ conception of the self is complicated considerably, not to say confused, by the fact that he also and simultaneously holds that human experience is “external and objective” and therefore, one supposes, can be “communicated to and observed by others” (43). Burgos goes on to state that this apparent inconsistency does not, in fact, result in the fragmentation, or more likely, the dissolution, of the self. Exactly why it this is, is not, however, explained. More seriously, perhaps, for the intelligibility of Burgos’ construction is his insistence that, while the person is ontologically prior to any relation – and so is a person in se – persons are also, in some sense, essentially or ontologically constituted by love. However, these two claims are not compatible for the simple reason that love is essentially social, a relation in which self and other are co-opted in mutual becoming. The idea of love that could be held perpetually in abeyance is not coherent. These latter claims occurred in Burgos’ paper “A New Personalistic Proposal: Modern Ontological Personalism (MOP)” which was presented first at the 12th International Conference on Persons, Lund (Sweden) August, 2013; and then at the British Personalist Forum 3rd International Conference, Philosophies of the Person: New Horizons and Perspectives, York (UK) June, 2016.
[18] For a more detailed exposition of this issue, and of an ‘activist’ or ‘voluntarist’ epistemology, see “A Convergence of Cosmologies: Personal analogies in Modern Physics and Modern Metaphysics”, below.
[19] For the analogical argument to other minds, see Bertrand Russell, ‘Analogy’ in Essays on Other Minds, ed. Thomas O. Buford (Illinois: University of Illinois Press: 1970) 3-8. For a response, see the Introduction to Beyond Realism, 6-7.
[20] Conti, xxv.
[21] See Polanyi’s Science, Faith and Society and Personal Knowledge, esp. Ch. 7: “Conviviality”.