Thursday, September 18, 2008

On Personalism

The term “person” comes from the Latin persona, originally meaning “mask, actor, or dramatic role,” for per-sonare (to “sound through”) describes the use of masks as a kind of megaphone to amplify the voices of actors in an open-air theater. The term gained special importance in early Christian theological controversies about the proper description of the members of the Divine Trinity and the unity of divine and human natures in Christ. Boethius devised what has become the classical definition of “person” as “an individual substance of a rational nature” in order to include within a single term divine and angelic as well as human beings. As suggested by this definition, personalists have regularly emphasized both the dignity that attaches to all persons by virtue of rationality and the status of persons as individual beings or substances.

Boethius' definition, however, is vulnerable to attack from the likes of utilitarians such as Peter Singer. The work on the selfhood of the human person developed by John F. Crosby contains within it a profound refutation of any utilitarianism - as Peter J. Colossi has recently shown - and serves as a corrective to Boethius' definition.

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