Why personalism?

A historian of human thought realizes that human thought develops, deepens and enriches itself over the centuries and millennia. Thoughts appear in various shapes, descriptions and directions, but even the most brilliant, fade in the course of time, lose their power, fall, and give way to new ones, although many of them claim to be unique, ultimate, and absolute. The mystery of thought is ultimately incomprehensible. Besides, there is an increasing number of doubts as to whether the great philosophical and theological systems are still valid and whether they shouldn’t be put aside together with old myths. It is often said that aristotelianism, platonism, augustinianism, thomism, idealism, marxism, evolutionism, and other maximalistic systems are no longer valid.

However no deep human thought – and no true science, philosophy or theology – can exist or function correctly in a society without a system of thought, which would give it structure and verify that it is not in contradiction with the truth. Of course, minimalistic systems such as sophistry, scepticism, relativism, eclecticism, nominalism, positivism, empirism, phenomenalism, criticism, analytical philosophy, linguisticism, hermeneutics, structuralism and in recent times postmodernism, deconstructivism and others may be more numerous, but they do not create a new epoch of thought, but only a secondary phase of criticism, an attempt to verify maximalistic systems and they do it by preparing the field for new systems.

Great systems have always searched for a clear, certain, and reliable starting point. Such starting points have been: the elements, nature, the splendor of reality, matter, movement, light, thought, ideas, love, time, space, experience, life, the soul… And so many new systems with their variations have arisen. Starting from the Renaissance man moves more visibly to the centrestage of thought, and since then has appeared not only as a thought, a reason, consciousness or will, but as the whole reality of a human being, that is as a person.

Today almost every form of knowledge develops an anthropology according to which a human being is ‘a person’ /prosopon, persona/ and this can be called ‘personalism’. But personalism in the full meaning of the term is about a more. The reality of a person is the starting point of that system. It is the interpretative key to understanding reality and the basis of action (praxis) and the transformation of the world.

This is no vicious circle: in systematical and universal personalism one does not start from the end, which is the definition of ‘a person’. Just as in anthropological personalism the knowledge, nature, and description of the person is the culmination of the study of the human person, so in the universal personalistic system one begins with an original experience of the person as directly and personally experienced and this we call ‘a person’. This starting point is both simple and complex at the same time. Some of the various elements are: body and soul, constant and variable structures, ‘I’, and ‘non–I’, subsistence and substance, unity and variety, and others. And only at the end does one arrive at a definition that “a person is Somebody who subsists” or that it is “an existence as Somebody.” Either way existence and consciousness are combined in a person.

Strictly personalistic systems have existed in the past: Antonio di Rosmini-Serbati /1797–1855/, John Henry Newman /1801–1890/, Charles Renouvier /1815–1903/, Borden Parker Bowne /1847–1910/, Ralph Tyler Flewelling /1871–1960/, Edgar Sheffield Brightman /1884–1953/, William Stern /1871–1938/, Emmanuel Mounier /1905–1950/ and others. But there were also personalisms that were incomplete and many of them descended from kantianism and German idealism, both of which lack realism. So we need to welcome the modern, general personalistic trend and create a realistic, really universalistic personalism. Personalism imposes on us in a way, especially in a situation when the human person is threatened by the technical world. One needs to construct it adequately. It is a great challenge for today and for our future, also for the whole of Christian thought. We invite you to cooperate.

I would like to thank everyone in the Theological Department of the University of Cardinal Stephen Wyszyński (UKSW, Warsaw) in Radom, Poland, and especially I am grateful to Rev. Prof. Ignacy Bokwa, the Dean and Rev. Prof. Bogumił Gacka, Chairman of Christian Personalism for your epochal decision to launch a special biannual “Personalism.” I hope that this biannual will bridge science, philosophy and theology in this age of personalization, and it will be of service to both Christian and Human thought.

God bless you!

General Editor
Rev. Prof. Czesław Stanisław Bartnik
Warsaw, Lublin, Radom 2001.09.08, BIRTH OF MARY

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