The human person: central controversy of the ageThe present age is a time of great controversy about the human being, controversy about the very meaning of human existence, and thus about the nature and significance of the human being. We know that such situations in history have frequently led to a deeper reflection on Christian truth as a whole, as well as on particular aspects of it. That is also the case today. The truth about the human being, in turn, has a distinctly privileged place in this whole process. After nearly twenty years of ideological debate in Poland, it has become clear that at the center of this debate is not cosmology or philosophy of nature but philosophical anthropology and ethics: the great and fundamental controversy about the human being.
The Person: Subject and Community
Nov. 30, 2011, at 11:10am
This Friday evening we will host the first of our First Friday Reading Circle for Personalist Project members. We'll be discussing the first four chapters of Dietrich von Hildebrand's classic, Liturgy and Peronality. Those who live in the area are welcome to join us at our home. Those who can't make it in person can listen to the podcast of Jules' introductory remarks, which we'll post at the member center over the weekend. There, too, you can comment or raise questions on what you read and hear.continue reading
Nov. 28, 2011, at 9:55am
When Joe Paterno was fired and the streets of the school's town erupted in outrage, my immediate reaction was: "What is the matter with those students?!"
Mary Graw Leary offers some answers over at the Witherspoon Institute's Public Discourse.
She thinks the main reason is the widespread sexualization of children in our culture. I think that's the main reason the abuse of children is so wretchedly commonplace. But the main reason the Penn Students responded as they did, is, I suspect, something different. I suspect it has to do with basic moral immaturity and ego-centrism (likewise lamentably widespread in our culture). They view Paterno according to what he means to them. They like …continue reading
Nov. 27, 2011, at 4:03pm
I find in the latest issue of the Claremont Review of Books a review of a book titled Family Politics: The Idea of Marriage in Modern Political Thought, by Scott Yenor. According to the review, it is "a philosophic reflection on the troubles of the modern family"—a critique of the post-Enlightenment view of marriage in light of John Paul II's teachings on the subject.
Being an intuitive rather than a methodical thinker, I am, I fear, rather prone to snap judgments. Nor is it fair to evaluate a book by a single review. But, with those caveats in mind, let me say that this review inclines me to think I won't much care for the book. I suspect it of being marred by two bad tendencies often …continue reading
Nov. 24, 2011, at 8:06am
Black Friday has been encroaching on Thanksgiving Thursday for many years now, and this year, it seems, will be no different. There are some conflicting reports about the exact opening hours of various retail chains, but the trend is clear. According to one article
Sears will be open on Thanksgiving morning, while Toys 'R' Us will open its doors at 10 pm Thursday, its earliest Black Friday opening ever. Walmart's jumbo-sized supercenters won't close at all.
Many Americans are not happy with this trend, but they seem powerless to stop it. Their objections and petitions are easily brushed aside by an appeal to what consumers want. "Our guests," says a Target representative, as if it is all …continue reading
Nov. 20, 2011, at 10:53am
"Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted up you ancient doors, that the King of Glory May come in!"
This being, in the Catholic Church, the great Solemnity of Christ the King, a couple of quick reflections—or fragments of reflections, since I am writing on the fly—on its implications for personhood.
The first is a question: Apart from the fact that we are told in Scripture "we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God," can we establish through philosophical reflection that the very concept of personhood entails royalty?
The second is about justice. I love this verse in Isaiah: "Say to those whose hearts are frightened: fear not, here is your God. …continue reading
Nov. 17, 2011, at 8:29am
On Tuesday Jules and I drove in to New York City for a Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project event. It featured a talk by his widow, Alice, on his life-long fight against relativism: "Relativism in the intellectual sphere and relativism in the moral sphere."
She spoke of her husband's dramatic and often very difficult life. "When I met him, he was a refugee. He had lost everything, because of his fight against Naziism, and yet, he radiated joy." His joy came from his faith, and his total confidence that "truth would win in the end."
She contrasted this joy with the kind of shallow optimism that brushes problems aside, that doesn't take evil seriously, that imagines that everything's …continue reading
Nov. 16, 2011, at 8:50am
In this fascinating segment of Uncommon Knowlege posted at National Review Online today, Peter Robinson asks Hillsdale Professor Paul Rahe what has happened to the American experiment? How is it that the greatest democratic system in history has been systematically subverted? His answer, in a word, is "progressivism", and he identifies Hegel as its source.
Thanks to Hegel, says Prof. Rahe, the idea spreads that government should be conducted by "rational administrators"—an elite whose role it is to caretake the rest. This is of course in direct opposition to the American ideal of self-government.
The administrative state grows by "offering a helping hand" and "with that helping hand, …continue reading
Nov. 16, 2011, at 6:00am
To help prepare the faithful for the new translation of the mass, our parish priests have lately taken some time out of their homilies each week to read part of an official document (I don't know where they got it) explaining what the most significant changes are, and why they were made.
The section read this week included a change made to the words of institution:
The previous translation of the Mass referred to Jesus' blood having redemptive value "for all." The new translation replaces the words "for all" with "for many."
"For many" is apparently closer to the Latin text of the mass, and also in greater continuity with the Tradition. More importantly, it
…remains closer to Jesus' …
Nov. 15, 2011, at 8:52am
Last weekend I visited our daughter, Rose, in Steubenville, where she was stage manager for the drama department's production of A Midsummernight's Dream. As with everything of Shakespeare's, I found the play repleat with personalist significance.
Our professor, John Crosby, who wrote the book on personal selfhood, taught us to think of the "self-possession of the human person" in terms of the right to "dispose over my own existence." (This is not the full "what and how" of personal existence, but it is a defining aspect.)
Since that phrase is ever in my head when thinking about the nature and dignity of the person, I was particularly struck by an early line of the play:
Egeus is …continue reading
Nov. 14, 2011, at 11:46am
Since the Church in the English-speaking world is about to be renewed by the introduction of a new translation of the novis ordo, it seems a good moment to delve into Dietrich von Hildebrand's great classic Liturgy and Personality, which unfolds the unrealized depths and riches in the Liturgy, in the human personality, and in the mysterious relation between the two.
Accordingly, the first four sessions of our newly re-instituted First Friday Reading Circle gatherings for members will be dedicated to it. If you'd like to participate either by coming to our home on December 2, or by reading along and listening to Jules' introduction to the text via podcast, be sure to become a member.
For …continue reading
Nov. 12, 2011, at 1:35pm
Steve Jobs, whose genius I've long admired and whose biography I've been listening to lately, was well known for his desire to simplify products and make them more user friendly. (There is a friendly and funny spoof on this, by the Onion.) "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication," Apple's first brochure proclaimed. But simple is not to be confused with simplistic. True simplicity, Jobs knew, comes "from conquering complexities, not ignoring them."
This put me in mind of a chapter on "True Simplicity" in Dietrich von Hildebrand's classic work, Transformation in Christ—a context about as far removed from computers as can be imagined. Von Hildebrand makes a similar distinction within the …continue reading
Nov. 12, 2011, at 7:08am
Last night, looking for a mom's potluck dinner, I went to the wrong address. I knew it must be wrong when I saw so few cars. But movement at the window gave me the courage to ring the bell. The woman who answered saw me standing there with a bottle of wine and a doubtful look on my face.
"This isn't the Swifts, is it?"
She didn't recognize the name, but she did recognize my perplexity. She opened her door wider and said, "Come on in. We'll figure it out."
I had the street number wrong. But now I was doubting that I was even looking for the right house. Maybe the party wasn't at the Swift's at all. I said to her, "If there's no one there, can I come back and use your phone?" …continue reading
Nov. 10, 2011, at 10:12am
Last night the Personalist Project hosted a lecture in our home by Catholic psychologist and marriage counsellor, Dr. Peter Damgaard-Hansen, titled: "The art of loving your spouse, and what to do when you can't." We'll be posting it soon for members.
It was a treasure trove of deep practical wisdom. One line among many that struck a chord with me was: "It's okay not to be able to love; It's not okay to be unloving."
For me this resolves a difficulty I experience constantly, especially in parenting my children. I often feel crushed by the weight of my responsibility toward them and sort of wail inwardly to God, "I can hardly be responsible for myself, morally--what were you thinking …continue reading
Nov. 5, 2011, at 6:36am
The idea that there are intrinsically evil acts—acts that are always and everywhere wrong no matter what the circumstances or consequences may be—is often challenged by appeals to extraordinary cases, real or imagined. Killing one innocent person, it is said, though obviously wrong in most cases, may be justified if it is the only way to save fifty others. Or adultery, though morally bad in general, can hardly be considered wrong in the case of Mrs. Bergmeier, for whom it was the only way to get out of prison and rejoin her family.
I have always found such arguments troubling, especially when they are used extensively in the classroom. Rather than nourishing, clarifying and strengthening …continue reading
Oct. 31, 2011, at 2:11pm
Reading Ian Ker’s biography of G.K. Chesterton this morning, I learned some things about his beloved wife, Frances. For one, she was prone to depression; grey, wet weather effected her terribly. Yet her faith was deep and true, and essentially personalistic.
Here is Fr. Ker, quoting from her journal:
Unlike her husband, who enjoyed rain and grey skies, Frances felt like a new person ‘because the sun is shining’, which made her feel ‘warm with the thought of all I have and warmer with the thought of all I am going to have and warmest of all with the thought that Love thought well to include me in his list of favored persons’.
Oct. 18, 2011, at 1:36pm
He shows the limits of the distinction (favored by liberals and libertarians) between public and private acts.
Theorists of public morality—from the ancient Greek philosophers and Roman jurists on—have noticed that apparently private acts of vice, when they multiply and become widespread, can imperil important public interests.
(And this is not yet to mention the still deeper moral truth that even my most secret and isolated sinful act has repercussions for others; that every wrong, no matter how small and hidden, proportionately lowers the …continue reading
Oct. 16, 2011, at 12:01am
In a book on hospice care for the dying called Final Journeys, I came across these lines:
When I first meet people who are adjusting to a terminal diagnosis, I never try to diminish their emotions. “Yes, this is terrible news and it’s very, very sad,” I say. “You don’t need to make excuses for the way you feel. You have a right to feel this way.” These words identify and recognize the struggle the dying person and family are going through. Validation is one of the first and most important tools for opening a different door. [Emphasis added.]
It struck me as a true and beautiful insight, and a typically modern one. It reflects the “turn toward subjectivity” that is a major hallmark of our …continue reading
Feb. 10, 2011, at 1:26pm
Cleaning off my laptop desktop today, I find this passage from a James Bowman review of the movie My Summer of Love. Good food for thought.
Writing in The Times of London about the Michael Jackson trial, Oliver James, a psychologist, notes that “The thing about people with borderline personality disorder, which I believe Jackson has, is that they have a weak sense of self — as evidenced by the need to change his skin color, his erratic moods and the fact that he thinks he is Peter Pan. They are constantly acting out different personalities, which means that the boundary between fantasy and reality is blurred.” As in other ways, however, in this Michael Jackson stands for so much …
Jan. 20, 2011, at 3:12pm
An acquaintance from many years back, in Steubenville, sent a note just now:
I just came across today, by accident as it were, one of the old articles
which you wrote for the university concourse some time ago.
I thought I would write you to let you know that I think your assessment of this matter was “spot on”! It’s too bad that so many people are still tying themselves up in knots trying to figure this one out. I’d encourage you, if you haven’t already done so, to republish this article on the
personalist project web-site. Hope all is well.
I think perhaps I have posted it here before, but, no harm in repetition.
The topic of came up for me again too recently, when my newly engaged …continue reading
Dec. 29, 2010, at 3:48pm
Murray had a keen intellect, steeped in the classical and Western traditions once common among Jesuits of his stature. He was comfortable arguing politics, theology, national defense policy and history. He challenged assumptions of both the Left and Right. He offered precise and subtle arguments that have been used and, sometimes, misused by both sides in debates over different issues over the years. But his faith in the inherent reasonableness of God and man is a welcome tonic to the corrosive anti-intellectualism, power politics and relativism of the present age.