Personalism as ghostbuster

When personalism is claimed as a breakthrough it has more to offer than short-term concern with the sexual fulfilment of individuals. The clue is the imputation of atomism. A main point, even the main point, that personalists want to make is the denial of atomism. Something has gone wrong, at least with the vocabulary.

Personalism considered as the most promising way of understanding what human beings are should be contrasted, not with traditional or radical sexual morality, but with rationlist dualism. Philosophers since Descartes had let themselves get into the habit of looking on people as 'selves', lone intellectual beings, who each had to think his own way out of solipsism if he were to have any grounds for believing that the physical world was real or that there were any other people, 'other minds', in it. Wittgenstein broke the grip of this theory of knowledge. Gilbert Ryle in The Concept of Mind (1949) let in a wind of change to blow away the bad habits of solipsism. 'The ghost in the machine' could retire from active service and the wholeness of the person could come into its own.

Pesonalism offers the rediscovery of a proper emphasis on embodiment; on minding as well as knowing; and on persons in relation to one another not solipsistically divided. Instead of lone thinkers trying to discover whether there are any other minds, we are human beings learning from each other about the world and how to live in it. 'I participate, therefore I am' can replace 'I think, therefore I am' (Taylor 1963:49-50; Oppenheimer 1973:11824, 131-9; 1988:30-60; Pobee 1979:49). Knowledge based on lonely theorizing has nothing but lonely theorizing to build on, so that awareness of other people remains puzzling. Unless relatedness is built into the foundations of our identity it will hardly fit into the superstructure. Solipsism given an inch takes an ell: we need a less abstract comprehension of what persons are. Since more women have found a voice it seems less of a philosophical solecism to notice the interdependence of human beings from their babyhood.

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