Approaching the Human Person

Ethical Perspectives 6 (1):45-54 (1999)
Abstract
In an intentionally provocative essay published in the journal Esprit (January, 1983) on the occasion of its fiftieth anniversary, I ventured the following slogan: “Death to personalism; long live the person!” I was attempting to suggest that Mounier's formulation of personalism was, as he himself readily admitted, connected with a certain cultural and philosophical constellation which is no longer ours today: existentialism and Marxism are no longer the only opponents. They are no longer even opponents at all, against which personalism would be required to define itself, at the risk of becoming one or another system or `ism'. I concluded my essay with the following citation from Mounier's Qu'est-ce que le personnalisme?: “We are witnessing [...] the first meanderings of a cyclical course where the explorations pursued to exhaustion along one path are are given up only to be rediscovered farther on, enriched by this forgetting and by the discoveries for which it cleared a path” (p. 11). In addition, I wanted to say that the person is still the most appropriate term to designate those investigations for which neither the term `con-sciousness', nor `subject', nor `individual' really apply, for the various reasons that I invoked at the time. I would like to discuss some of those investigations here, beyond the point reached in that essay, where I restricted myself to defining the person by an attitude in Eric Weil's sense, or as one would say in hermeneutics, by the everyday understanding that we have of it. Following Paul Landsberg, I used the criteria of crisis and commitment, adding to the latter certain corollaries such as fidelity over time to a higher cause, and acceptance of alterity and difference within personal identity. Now I would like to make use of contemporary investigations into language, action and narrative in order to provide the ethical constitution of the person with a substratum and roots, comparable to those explored by Emmanuel Mounier in Traité du Caractère. In this sense, the present study is an extension of Mounier's book
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