The possibility of a Thomistic personalism

Paul Louis Kucharski, Fordham University


Jacques Maritain once observed that "nothing can be more remote from the facts than the belief that 'personalism' is one school or doctrine." Nevertheless there are several distinguishing features of any genuine personalist philosophy: a belief in the unbridgeable divide between persons and non-persons, and in the inalienable dignity of the former; an emphasis on a person's incommunicability or uniqueness; a defense of the "personalist norm," which states that persons ought to be affirmed or respected for their own sakes; and, finally, the rejection of any political system that subordinates a person to the social whole or, conversely, that marginalizes a person's obligations toward the common good. My dissertation considers the possibility of a Thomistic personalism – that is, the possibility of developing a personalist philosophy compatible with the metaphysical anthropology of Thomas Aquinas. I argue that such a project is not only possible, but beneficial (and even necessary) for both the personalist and the Thomist. A truly personalist philosophy will deepen our understanding of the manner in which persons ought to be treated, and this requires, I argue, certain realist commitments (like the ones defended by Aquinas) regarding our ability to know beings as they are in themselves and to know goodness as a genuine feature of reality. Such commitments are necessary because to show genuine respect for persons one must first understand what kind of thing a person is and what ends or goods constitute a person's true flourishing. At the same time, I argue that Thomists should incorporate personalist insights regarding the incommunicability and irreplaceability of persons in order to avoid inadvertently reducing the unique person to a mere instance of his nature, or to a mere instantiation of certain qualities. Such a reduction would involve, to borrow the language of Levinas, doing violence to the other. I also argue that personalist arguments supplement a natural law approach to morality by giving us a better understanding of the manner in which persons encounter moral norms as a concrete challenge and call to be met with an authentic and personal response.

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Recommended Citation

Kucharski, Paul Louis, "The possibility of a Thomistic personalism" (2013). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3611871.