What is the Personalist Project?
We are a non-profit organization based in West Chester, PA, dedicated to the spread of Christian personalism. Personalism is philosophy that focuses attention on the truth about the nature and dignity of persons—a truth directly at stake in the deepest and most difficult problems afflicting our society today. It can be understood at least in part as a the philosophical contemplation of man “from within,” as a unique and irreplaceable self—a moral agent who “possesses himself,” is free and responsible to dispose over himself, and who lives his life in relation to other persons and to the world of objective goods and values.
This way of approaching persons throws new light on the philosophical tradition and brings it into fruitful contact with contemporary thought and society, not least by challenging prevailing destructive ideologies at their root.
Here is Karol Woytyla (later John Paul II) in a letter to his friend, the theologian Henri de Lubac, from behind the iron curtain in 1968:
I devote my very rare free moments to a work that is close to my heart and devoted to the metaphysical sense and mystery of the person. It seems to me that the debate today is being played out on that level. The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed in a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person. This evil is even more of the metaphysical order than of the moral order. To this disintegration planned at times by atheistic ideologies we must oppose, rather than sterile polemics, a kind of “recapitulation” of the inviolable mystery of the person.
But it is not only by resisting what is false and evil that personalism does its work. It also recognizes and helps elicit and illumine what is good in the modern world’s characteristic interests and aspirations—its preoccupation with selfhood and authenticity, its yearning for freedom, its focus on questions of sexuality and relations between men and women, its longing for love, its resistance to authoritarianism and paternalism…
With its attention to the interior aspect of persons, Christian personalism contributes, too, a new depth and perspective in ethics, with dramatic implications for such fields as science and medicine, politics, economics, art and culture, inter-religious dialogue, environmentalism, and so on.
Not less importantly, personalist philosophy has proven to have a profound personal impact on those who encounter it, because it sheds beautiful and compelling light on the meaningfulness of human life and the possibility of our attaining to truth and goodness as individuals and in communion with one another.
[The] encounter with personalism was for me a spiritual experience that left an essential mark, especially since I spontaneously associated such personalism with the thought of St. Augustine, who in his Confessions had struck me with the power of all his human passion and depth.
- Pope Benedict XVI, Milestones
Without naively or arrogantly pretending to hold all the answers to the riddles of existence, philosophy can—by deepening and clarifying our understanding of reality (and partly by leading us beyond itself)—teach us how to live in better solidarity with ourselves, with others, with the whole created order, and with God.
Benedict XVI’s new encyclical, Spe Salvi, says this about philosophy in the ancient world:
Philosophy at that time was not generally seen as a difficult academic discipline, as it is today. Rather, the philosopher was someone who knew how to teach the essential art: the art of being authentically human—the art of living and dying.
An important aspect of our mission, then, is to help restore in practice the original sense of philosophy as a search for wisdom and as “care for the soul,” rather than exclusively a professional academic discipline. We want to reach ordinary thoughtful people, who would like to give some time and attention to “the permanent questions:” Who am I and why am I here? Why is there suffering in the world? Is there a God?—and who would like to do it through reading great books and in conversation with other living minds asking the same questions.
Here is a note from a friend, an R.N. and a mother of five, about her discovery of personalist philosophy:
I loved reading von Hildebrand, Newman, JPII, Pieper, etc. and relating to my fellow students…all the info, which isn’t bland ‘info’ but material that sits like seeds in the soul and gets nourished by relationships, prayer, life, suffering, the sacraments, everything. Personalism enriches life in a manner I never thought possible…and gives one a new sympathy with the hearts/suffering of others.
We are interested in all thinkers, past and present, who have contributed to this movement within philosophy (Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, Pascal, Kant, Scheler, Marcel, Mounier, Peguy, Weil, Kierkegaard, Therese of Lisieux, Maritain, Buber, Edith Stein, von Balthasar, de Lubac, Pieper, and Ratzinger, to name just a few) but we have three particular guiding lights: John Henry Newman, Dietrich von Hildebrand, and Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II.
No profession of faith is needed to engage with these thinkers and these ideas—only an open mind and a sincere commitment to pursuing truth.
A more complete statement of our philosophical views is coming soon, together with more information about leading personalists, links, suggested reading, article archives, bibliographies, and, we hope, a lively discussion forum.