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THE INCOMMUNICABILITY OF HUMAN PERSONS JOHN F. CROSBY, III Franciscan University of Steubenville Steubenville, Ohio I PROPOSE TO explore the idea that persons do not exist as replaceable specimens of or as mere instances of an ideal or type, but rather exist in some sense for their own sakes, each existing as incommunicably his or her own.1 I undertake this study in the conviction that the incommunicability of persons is profoundly characteristic for them precisely as persons, and has a major role to play in any philosophy of the person. And there is an entirely different reason which attracts me to this subject. I think that most of what I have to say here can find acceptance across a broad spectrum of philosophical positions. At a time when thinkers are increasingly suspicious of universally valid truth about man, when many of them think that a vision of man is proper only to some tradition and valid only within that tradition and not beyond it, one can offer a salutary challenge to one's contemporaries by showing a centrally important truth about persons which, as I say, can be accepted by philosophers coming from the most various points of view. Suppose that you were to minimalize the death of someone by saying that at least the human species did not die with him or her, as if the immortality of the species more than compensated for the mortality of this individual : everyone understands that you would thereby radically depersonalize the deceased. Or suppose that you were grieving over the death of someone dear to you, and a friend tried to comfort you with the thought that the 1 My thanks to Josef Seifert, William Frank, Damian Fedoryka, and Katryna Fedoryka for their comments on earlier drafts of this study. The text of this article forms Chapter Two of my book, Essay on Personal Selfhood, which is close to completion. 403 404 JOHN F. CROSBY, III particular excellences of the deceased, which awakened your love, also exist in other human beings who are still living, as if you could continue to love in them what you had loved in the deceased . Again, everyone understands that if you treat people having excellences as if they were replaceable specimens of those excellences , then you lose your grip on them as persons. But why is this ? Why is personhood driven out of human beings as soon as their species-membership, or their particular excellences, are thought to predominate in them? What is that incommunicability of each person which is obscured as soon as persons are thought to be only specimens? One commonly thinks that this aspect of personal selfhood has been recognized only in modern thought; in fact it was recognized already by St. Thomas Aquinas. Creatura autem rationalis divinae providentiae substat sicut secundum se gubernata et provisa, non solum propter speciem, ut aliae corruptibiles creaturae : quia individuum quod gubernatur solum propter speciem, non gubernatur propter seipsum; creatura autem rationalis propter seipsam gubernatur, ut ex dictis manifestum est. Sic igitur solae rationales creaturae directionem a Deo ad suos actus accipiunt non solum propter speciem, sed secundum individuum.2 Notice that Aquinas teaches here the metaphysical ultimacy of personal incommunicability; it exists even before God in the sense 2 " Now, a rational creature exists under divine providence as a being governed and provided for in himself, and not simply for the sake of his species, as is the case with other corruptible creatures. For the individual that is governed only for the sake of the species is not governed for its own sake, but the rational creature is governed for his own sake, as is clear from what we have said (ch. 112). And so, only rational creatures receive direction from God in their acts, not only for the species, but for the individual." Summa Contra Gentiles, III, ch. 113 (Bourke translation). By the way, Chapters 111-114 of Book III seem to me to constitute the most " personalist " passage' in the entire corpus of St. Thomas. The modern reader sees to his amazement that St. Thomas here has already made his own the Kantian idea that each person in a sense exists for his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 403-442
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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