Personalism: The Philosophy We Need

Pollsters see in terms of broad demographic groups. Big data counts people as if it were counting apples. At the extreme,

  • evolutionary psychology reduces people to biological drives,
  • capitalism reduces people to economic self-interest,
  • modern Marxism to their class position and
  • multiculturalism to their racial one.
  • Consumerism treats people as mere selves — as shallow creatures concerned merely with the experience of pleasure and the acquisition of stuff.

Back in 1968, Karol Wojtyla wrote, “The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed in a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person.” That’s still true.

.. Doing community service isn’t about saving the poor; it’s a meeting of absolute equals as both seek to change and grow.

.. The first responsibility of personalism is to see each other person in his or her full depth.

.. personalism asks, as much as possible, for I-Thou encounters: that you just don’t regard people as a data point, but as emerging out of the full narrative, and that you try, when you can, to get to know their stories, or at least to realize that everybody is in a struggle you know nothing about.

.. Descartes tried to separate individual reason from the bonding emotions.

.. people are “open wholes.” They find their perfection in communion with other whole persons. The crucial questions in life are not “what” questions — what do I do? They are “who” questions — who do I follow, who do I serve, who do I love?

.. The reason for life, Jacques Maritain wrote, is “self-mastery for the purpose of self-giving.” It’s to give yourself as a gift to people and causes you love and to receive such gifts for others. It is through this love that each person brings unity to his or her fragmented personality. 

.. personalism is a middle way between authoritarian collectivism and radical individualism.

.. A company that treats people as units to simply maximize shareholder return is showing contempt for its own workers. Schools that treat students as brains on a stick are not preparing them to lead whole lives.

.. today’s social fragmentation didn’t spring from shallow roots. It sprang from worldviews that amputated people from their own depths and divided them into simplistic, flattened identities. That has to change.