purpose of this brief paper is to elucidate on the concept of the person as a
member of a communal or civil society. It will try to answer the issue as to
what makes a person a person, and the corollary issue as to how the person
should be related to communal society.
appears to be the case that the concept of the person is more primitive
than the Cartesian concepts of mind and body. As a substance the person
has both the material and psychical predicates [Strawson].
Properly speaking, it is a category
mistake to assert that the mind thinks or the body walks [Ryle].
It is the person who thinks and the person who walks.
It could be argued, I think within reason, that the person is a body
incarnate or an embodied spirit [Marcel]. What
is important is to view the person as a unity, that is, as one substance, not as
two substances. Moreover, we are
taking about a live natural person. Someone
who dies is still a person, but we call him a dead
person. A zombie is not a
person, but may appear as one. A
sleepwalker is a person who walks during his sleep, and is not a zombie though
he may appear like one. A cyborg is
not a person in the natural ordinary sense though he may appear as one.
person is not an island unto himself. For
his survival and belonging needs, he is not simply a mere member of a
socio-cultural group—a mere individual—but he cooperates with the members of
that group. In short, he is also a
person is a historical being in that he develops a personality as he grows up
and circulates within the members of his family, his peer group, his
neighborhood, his school, his church, and eventually within the society-at-large
[Dondeyne]. He lives in a spatio-temporal
setting. He develops in the process
patterns of feeling, of thinking, and of doing things.
He develops habits.
person is also a cultural being. “Culture”
is rather a broad term as it includes anything in a given society.
A broad definition of it is that culture is the sum-total of what mankind
did in the past, is currently doing, and will be doing in the future.
Culture includes religion, philosophy, science, technology, art,
education, politics, etc. The person develops socio-cultural relations within society.
person is “thrown” into a socio-cultural world which is not of his own
making [Heidegger]. As a child
grows up, he uncritically imbibes or absorbs what is just there.
Hardly does he doubt the wisdom of the rules in society.
Construed broadly, rules can be political, ethical, religious, legal,
professional, etc. There are also
localized rules that he may encounter later as ihose of his school and his peer
group. In the process of growing
up, he simply tacitly follows
these rules. In this sense, he is
passive. When he becomes critical
at some point in his life, he starts rejecting some of these rules and selects
those which are useful to him. Those
he has explicitly accepted he
follows [Locke]. In this sense, he
is active. Some of the rules he
discards are harmless, but others—such as legal rules—can be harmful.
If caught, he can be imprisoned or executed.
national cultures are mixed cultures although there are dominant traits within
the given culture. As such the
person accepts many of the native cultural traits while accepting likewise some
of the foreign cultural influences that enter into his society.
The person, in other words, is generally a cultural hybrid in
contemporary society. Basically, the person is a microcosmic culture that reflects,
in some meaningful respects, the culture-at-large (macrocosmic culture).
In a manner of speaking, the individual person is culture writ large.
The person is an individual, not a crowd. A crowd, of course, is composed
of individuals, but each of them loses his individuality in the crowd. It is
easy to point the responsibility of an action to him than to a crowd. It is
argued that the crowd renders the individual completely impenitent and
irresponsible [Kierkegaard]. In ordinary language, there is a sense in which the
individual and the person are used synonymously.
But there is also a sense in which the term individual is used to denote
a selfish person. In this extreme
usage, an individual is said to be not a person in the real sense because the
real person cares for the others as he cares for himself [Heidegger].
a person is not an island unto himself, he will have to relate himself to
society. It is contended that
society is prior to the establishment of government.
Even if government is dissolved, society remains and can establish
another government [Locke]. If
society is prior to government, then the person exists as a social being since a
society is composed of persons. There
is cooperation in society and competition only arises when private property is
introduced. Coupled with
competition is individual self-interest. The
desire to acquire more property, and therefore more wealth, becomes the tendency
of those who have more. Rugged
bourgeois individualism becomes the impetus towards acquiring more wealth.
Moreover, bourgeois exploitation of the workers can result from such
bourgeois individualism. The
capitalist government or state can be coercive in that it exists basically to
protect private property. If the
workers can hardly bear the economic exploitation, then a revolution may erupt
to topple capitalist or bourgeois government.
The workers will then set up a dictatorship which will protect their
interests in a totalizing manner [Marx]. When this happens the collective will
then become primary and the individual may become secondary.
Although theoretically, the collective is set up to protect the interests
of the individual, it may turn out in practice that the interests of the
individual may be sacrificed for the interests of the collective.
In this regard, the individual may cease to be a real person or its
quality as a real person may be diminished.
When is a person a real person? A
distinction is sometimes made between the person as object and the person as
subject. It is also claimed that
the person as object is the subject matter of science while the person as
subject is the subject matter of philosophy.
When science objectifies the person, makes it definable and classifiable,
then it ceases to be a real person [Jaspers]
The person as subject is free and self-creating.
He also transcends his finitude. He
is forward-moving and not a finished project.
It is also argued that the person tries to fill the nothingness between
what he is at present and what he wants himself to be in the future.
The person may even create his own values to make his life meaningful
Meaning in life, it is contended, holds only in the relation between the
subject and another subject. Unless
the subject is somehow related to the Other in some significant ways, then
meaning exists between both subjects. There
is no authentic meaning in life in an isolated subject [Buber].
In this regard, the fundamental structure of the person is care which is
a concern for what he is to be, for being “thrown,” and for being entangled
with current preoccupations [Heidegger].
Is subjectivity or human freedom the essence of the person?
It would seem so. But there
is another view which puts emphasis on loving one’s fellowmen as he loves
himself [Jacinto]. In this view, if
one loves his fellowman, then he can care for him.
Loving one’s neighbor as oneself is more primary. In our ordinary
experience, care presupposes love. But
why should one love his neighbor? Because,
according to this view, he is like himself—a human being. Being human, or humanity, is therefore the essence of a human
person. When the person forgets his
humanity he becomes tyrannical, authoritarian, exploitative, mean, enslaves
others, degrades others, and so on. When
he does not forget his humanity, the person as subject is free and can love and
THE PERSON IN COMMUNAL OR CIVIL SOCIETY
A civil society is a communal group or a tribal society.
It lies between the family and the state.
It is prior to the state but becomes the contemporary focus because it
serves to answer the requirements of a contented life of the person as subject
in terms of freedom and participation in communal living.
In other words, it avoids the excesses of extreme individualism and the
coercive power of the state. The
person works in solidarity with other members of the community in order to
participate in the governance to achieve the various communal goals for the
common good. The end is for the
entire society to flourish (subsidiarity) [Mclean].
My interest in this paper is the clarification of the concept of the
person in relation to his being an individual and a social person.
There is no discussion on other aspects of the person as in personal
identity which appears to me as mainly epistemological or religious or legal in
nature, and can be taken for granted in the meantime. However, there are two more things which I want to comment
First, I tend to replace Humanity with Personness as the essence of the
human being. If God is likewise a
being, then Personness can both apply to man and God.
The Being of being (man or God) is therefore Personness.
Second, while I am in full agreement with the view that the person as
subject is a subject matter of philosophy, I do not seem to be happy with the
view that man as object cannot likewise be a subject matter of philosophy but
only of science. The person as a
unity has both psychical and material predicates, that is, both consciousness
and body. A philosophical
reflection of consciousness or subjectivity and freedom (man as subject) can
likewise be made of the body (man as object).
The position taken by Marcel and Merleau-Ponty on this matter, I think,
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