Revisiting Personalism and Existentialism

Personalists view the personality (and I would add, the nature and consciousness of the person) as the key to understanding reality. Everything by way of meaning, purpose, and significance basically boils down to the self, individual, or personality. Notions of value, existential meaning, morality, and beauty, too.

Much as Kant suggested, individuals are reservoirs of intrinsic value. (Some would add, infinite.) That is why, as in my previous “The Law Is an Ass” blog entry, we should all bemoan the unjust punishments meted out in kangaroo courts today. Nothing is of sufficient value, say the Personalists, to replace a human being. (Shades of Donne’s “No man is an island.”)

My life, changed significantly, forever, when I first encountered the writings of the Existentialists in university. In later years, I would teach Camus`s “The Guest” and L’Etranger, and share with students their views re. the centrality of choice. It was not difficult for an only child and individualist to identify with their views that man is alone, isolated, and alienated to a large degree.

Much like a tabula rasa we add to, man is not born with any given nature per se, and develops it as he goes through life, much like Meursault in L’Etranger, making choices and decisions. So life is a process and man is very much always in the making, Existentially speaking. Man makes himself through his choices; in that sense, he chooses himself, his life.

For the Existentialists, as for me again on many days, life looks largely subjective, irrational, chaotic, and absurd. But Truth can often be found, more often than not, inside, in the self. The acts of thinking and consciousness are central to finding whatever meanings, purpose, and significance. (Again, Truth is empirically a subjective reality and ideal.)

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