Plenary: Modern Ontological Personalism


Juan Manuel Burgos (San Pablo): Nod to the broadness of personalism and impossibility of describing it as a unitary philosophy. Some commonalities, some differences. Burgos is now proposing a new form of personalism to replace the following variants:

1. Communitarian personalism

2. Dialogical personalism

3. American (idealist) personalism

4. Classical ontological personalism

Structural features of MOP:

The concept of person as a Christian concept. This divided persons from nature. Aquinas, following Aristotle, gives more value to substance than to persons. Other anthropological and ethical concepts. Treating man as a biological entity denies him freedom, subjectivity, et cetera. Personalism has been heavily reliant on phenomenalism, but need not do so. Subjectivity cannot be understood objectively.

Personalism and Modernism

Descartes’ skepticism gave rise to various forms of idealism and subjectivism.

Personalism and Metaphysics

No problem in accepting being as the ultimate explanation of reality. No use of Aristotelian categories. But personhood is the starting point for any categorization of reality.

Personalism and Philosophy

Philosophy detached from social concerns. But philosophy sold both understand and transform reality.

Anthropological Aspects of MOP

From Descartes through Nietzsche, Marx, and so on, philosophers did not recognise persons as of primary importance. MOP transforms a “what” to a “who.” Dualism cannot account for many mental states (dreams, imagination, etc). So we need to also posit the existence of a psyche. So we now have a tri-dimensional concept of person.

Interpersonal Relations

Crucial to MOP, following Buber. We cannot think of ourselves outside human relations. We are thus constructed through relationships. There cannot exist an “I” without a “You.” Following Aristotle, many forms of personalism defines God as pure thought , since to act would imply a lack of something. Burgos also assumes that all persons can be unproblematically categorized as biologically male or female AND as man or woman.

Comments: This paper covered a lot of ground at a rapid pace, and was presented with a very strong accent. But given dualism’s recent and precipitous fall from philosophical favor, I’m surprised Burgos would advance a tripartite theory without explaining how it can solve problems that dualism can’t without inheriting all the problems associated with dualism, to wit: the interaction problem, the relative explanatory paucity of dualism compared to materialist neuroscience, etc.

In reply, Burgos argues that nature is distinct from humans and it is therefore impossible to understand humans (persons) from a natural viewpoint. But this position seems wholly incompatible with scientific understanding of human biology. (But I suppose he obvious reply that if there’s even one detail science can’t explain, then we can ignore it and look fro answers elsewhere.)


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