by fiatadmin on December 23, 2019

Abigail Adams Institute Faculty Colloquium

Margarita Mooney, Ph.D.
Professor of Practical Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary
Founder and Executive Director, Scala Foundation

Dates: February 28 and 29, 2020
Cambridge, MA

By Invitation—Please contact Margarita if you wish to know more about attending this colloquium.

What do current political debates, cultural changes and institutional shifts have to do with debates about the very essence of what it means to be human? This seminar will consider important academics, theologians, and engaged social critics who all shared an enduring concern about affirming the dignity of each person while also affirming that our full human personhood develops through relationships characterized by self-giving, communities of virtue, and an opening our souls to divine transcendence. 

The common commitment to the person as a subject and object of free action, and the person as a center of meaning and value, and endowed with dignity by a creator inviolable nature of the person has translated into varying political and ethical projects of enormous significance in the 20th century. This colloquium will raise questions will focus on the nature of inter-subjectivity, communion and love; and the relationship between these questions and culture and politics in modernity, in particular debates on freedom, identity, authenticity, education and politics. 

Session I: Introduction to Personalism

Personalism is a term used to refer to a philosophical approach to social and political questions that emphasize the inviolability of the person, the fundamental relationality of persons, and the person as a subject and object of free action, and the person as a center of meaning and value, and endowed with dignity by a creator and has the capacity for love  and self-communication.  The objectives of this first session are 1) to review the main ideas and thinkers associated with personalism broadly speaking; 2) to discuss why a personalist view of philosophical anthropology matters for modern culture and society; and 3) reflect on whether and how personalism is relevant to our work as teachers and scholars. In this session, we will read both the introductory and concluding chapter to the Burgos book on personalism and two recent popular pieces on personalism’s continuing relevance today. Burgos’s introduction to personalism is theoretically deep while covering a broad range of authors. His conclusion attempts to synthesize major currents in personalism, acknowledge major critiques, and argue for personalism’s continuing relevance in modern politics, society and culture. Brooks and Mooney discuss how personalism may form a response to the fragmentation in American culture and education.

Juan Manuel Burgos, An Introduction to Personalism. The Catholic University of America Press. 2018. “Chapter 1: Origins” (pp. 1-30). 

What are the major similarities that lead one to identify a school of philosophy called personalism? If theistic commitment were so important to many personalists, must one be a theist to be a personalist? How might personalists respond to the critique that theism reduces man’s freedom by making him dependent on an external actor? What were some other philosophical schools of thought personalists were united in critiquing? If personalism arose as a response to liberal individualism and various forms of atheist revolutionary philosophy and politics (Marxism and communism), what are the major political movements or philosophical currents today that might explain the resurgence of interest in personalism?

Juan Manuel Burgos, An Introduction to Personalism. The Catholic University of America Press. 2018. “Chapter 4: Personalist Philosophy: A Proposal” (pp. 178-233). 

What are some of the main criticisms of personalism? In spite of the weaknesses of personalism, why is the question of the human person particularly relevant for modernity? Is personalism too radical, or not radical enough in its critique of modernity? Should the biographies (religious commitments, political project, social engagements, etc.) of famous personalists become relevant to our assessment of the value of personalism for politics, culture and communities of faith today? 

David Brooks. “Personalism: The Philosophy We Need.” New York Times, Op-Ed page, June 14, 2018. (1 page)

Margarita Mooney. “Being Human in the Modern World: Why Personalism Matters for Culture and Education.” Published by the online journal by Public Discourse, June 25, 2018. URL:  (3 pages)

Why do Brooks and Mooney think that personalist philosophy is relevant to American society? What might a person-centered view of education look like?

Session II: Philosophical Anthropology and the Crisis of Modernity

The objectives of this session are to: 1) to identify different understandings of philosophical anthropology in modernity; 2) consider some ways that those understandings of philosophical anthropology have impacted culture, politics, education, the family, and communities of faith; 3) understand the relationship between philosophical anthropology and the shift from divine transcendence to divine immanence; 4) to examine the result of a philosophical rejection of metaphysics on culture and politics.

Max Scheler. “Man and History.” Chapter IV, pp. 65-93 in Philosophical Perspectives. Translated from the German by Oscar A. Haac. Boston: Beacon Press, 1958. (28 pages)

According to Scheler, what are the five versions of philosophical anthropology at work in modern thinking? How do each of these views human interactions with other animals, God/the divine, and inanimate objects? Which of these five views of the person have come to dominate in particular fields of the university (economics, philosophy, humanities, natural sciences, etc.?) Are there other views of the human person we can identify today that are not mentioned?

August Del Noce, Crisis of Modernity, Chapter 1 “The Idea of Modernity” pp. 1-18.

Why is divine immanence and how is it different than divine transcendence? Why does del Noce think that the philosophy of modernity ends a denial of divine transcendence or metaphysics, and why was a shift from divine transcendence to divine immanence so significant for politics and culture? How are the political movements del Noce (not only political revolutionary movements but also the ascendance of scientific rationalism more generally) related to the shifting philosophical anthropology described by Scheler (in particular the shift from homo sapien to homo faber)? Why does del Noce think that so much of modern culture has been reduced to power struggles?

Session III:  Emmanuel Mounier

Emmanuel Mounier was one of the leading French personalists (along with Jacques Maritain and Gabriel Marcel). Mounier was also one of the first to refer to himself as a personalist and publish a book with personalism in the title. The goal of this session to understand some of the political, cultural and social forces that personalists critiqued. In this session we also begin to ponder the relationship between subjectivity, inter-subjectivity, and freedom in social and political relationships. 

Emmanuel Mounier, Personalism. London: Routledge and Kegan, 1952. pp. “Informal Introduction to the Personal Universe,” (pp. vii-xx) “Embodied Existence”, (3-16) and “Communication,” (17-32);  (45 pages)

Juan Manuel Burgos, An Introduction to Personalism. The Catholic University of America Press. 2018. “Chapter 2: French Personalism” (pp. 64-84 on Emmanuel Mounier: Communitarian Personalism). (20 pages)

Why does Mounier claim that personalism opposes determinism and idealism? What does Mounier mean we need to grasp man in his totality? What are some approaches to knowledge that can help us grasp man in his totality? What is Mounier’s view of the relationship between person, community and freedom? What kind of social progress or political order is compatible or incompatible with Mounier’s view of the person? According to Mounier, are there ways in which our nature as humans is weakened or diminished by our social relations or mis-use of freedom? If the person is ultimately fulfilled through communication with others—both inter-subjective and embodied, material forms of exchange—does that necessarily lead to socialism? In translating values into political action, does Mounier’s personalism open more doors to collectivism than to upholding individual freedom? It is possible to critique individualism without embracing a totalitarian form of collectivism or communitarianism?

Session IV: Love, Identity and Being

The goal of this session is to compare personalist thinkers on identity and love with other modern currents in philosophy, including existentialist and post-modernist views of the person, subjectivity and identity. Some general questions across the readings are: What is the relationship between self-love and self-giving or personalists and existentialists? Is there a difference between inter-subjectivity and inter-dependence? Is dependence on God radically different than inter-dependence among humans? How do inter-dependence and inter-subjectivity matter for social and political order?

Dietrich von Hildebrand. The Nature of Love. Translated by John F. Crosby with John Henry Crosby. South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press. 2009. Pp. 203-208; 211. (6 pages)

What are difference views of subjectivity in transcendent and immanent humanism, or theocentric versus egocentric (or anthropocentric) views of humanism? Why does von Hildebrand claim that happiness is unattainable for someone who remains in pure immanence? Does von Hildebrand see an important distinction between our interactions with material objects and what moves us to act from love? What are some ways we can weaken our subjectivity?

Jean Paul Sartre. “Existentialism is a Humanism.” (selections) Translated by Philip Mairet. 1946. (2 pages)

Why and/or how does existentialism view subjectivity freedom differently than personalism (or at least theistic personalism as we are mostly discussing in this colloquium)? Is existentialism at odds with personalism with regards to identity?

Charles Taylor. “The Sources of Authenticity.” In the Ethics of Authenticity, pp. 25-29. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. (4 pages)

What makes for an authentic human identity? How has this changed over time? Is there a relationship between the different understandings of authentic human identity and the five types of philosophical anthropology identified by Scheler in session 1?

Max Scheler. “Ordo Amoris.” In Selected Philosophical Essays. 98-105. Translated by David R. Lachterman. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1973. (18 pages)

If Ordo Amoris is both normative and factual/descriptive, how do we go about ascertaining and judging the system of value-assessments in any given social order? What is the relationship between the Ordo Amoris and the love of God? In what way do we share in the responsibility of helping others come to understand their identity and destiny? How is Scheler’s view of subjectivity different from that described by Taylor, Sarte, or other modern thinkers?

Juan Manuel Burgos, An Introduction to Personalism. The Catholic University of America Press. 2018. “Chapter 3: Other Personalist Currents” (pp. 119-137 on the German personalists—Hildebrand, Scheler, Stein, Buber and Levinas)  (18 pages)

Session V: Karol Woyjtla and Edith Stein 

Our fifth session is devoted to two 20th century figures whose were both students of philosophy who followed religious vocations and became saints (Saint John Paul the Great and Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross). Both were deeply involved in Catholic education and culture as a means and restoring a sense of human freedom grounded in a relationship with a Trinitarian God, redemption from sin, growth in virtue through grace and freedom. They both struggled against totalitarianism, and Stein was executed at Auschwitz. Both were influenced by Edmund Husserl, and sought to integrate Thomism with phenomenology, and applying it to social and political ethics as well as identity, love and marriage and the social and political movements that they participated in.

Jay Martin. “The Personalist Awakening in 20th Century Catholic Moral Thought.” Church Life Journal (University of Notre Dame Institute for Church Life) . July 18, 2018. (10 pages)

How does Martin say the personalist philosophy of Wojytla arose from a broader critique of Kantian ethics? In what ways does Martin argue Wojytla builds on and extends Thomist philosophy of the person?

Karol Wojtyla, “Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being.” Pp. 209-217. (18 pages)

Why does Wojtyla think that human experience breaks down the dichotomy between the objectivistic and subjectivistic view of the human person? What is the tension Wojtyla defines between the irreducible uniqueness of the human person and the need to reduce the human person to an object in the world? Why is it so important to think of human experience in both an objective and subjective sense? In what sense is human action both objective and subjective? Do we agree with Wojtyla that our human experience tells us that we are a subject, a person, as he understands it? Why are values freely pursued so central to his understanding of human freedom?

Edith Stein. “The Image of the Trinity in Creation: Body, Soul Spirit, the ‘Interior Castle.’ Pp. 102-106 in Finite and Eternal Being. Translated by Walter Redmond. Forthcoming. (4 pages)

Is the soul or inner life that Stein describes similar to what Wojytla describes as the irreducibility of the person? Why does the image of a castle serve as a metaphor for our interior lives? On what is human freedom conditioned? In what way is human subjectivity a gift? What is consciousness of self and how is it related to consciousness of God?

Juan Manuel Burgos, An Introduction to Personalism. The Catholic University of America Press. 2018. “Chapter 3: Other Personalist Currents” (pp. 100-115 on the Polish personalists and Karol Wojytla)

Session VI: Person-Centered Education and Pedagogy

Our final session focuses on Jacques Maritain, who is known more for his political philosophy than his writings on education we consider in this session. As described by Burgos, Maritain’s influence extended well beyond intellectual circles: his thought was influential in international politics and Catholic understandings of religion in modernity. 

Jacques Maritain, Education at The Crossroads. Chapter 1, “The Aims of Education.” and  Chapter 2, “The Dynamics of Education,” pp. 1-57. (57 pages)

What are some of the errors in understanding the ends of education described by Maritain? What do conceptions of the human person (philosophical anthropology) have to do with the ends of education? According to Maritain, what should be the role of the teacher in education? What educational practices support the proper ends of education? What do the practices of our own educational institutions say (explicitly or implicitly) is the end of education? Is it possible in our own educational institutions to be the kind of teacher Maritain describes?

Juan Manuel Burgos, An Introduction to Personalism. The Catholic University of America Press. 2018. Chapter 2: French Personalism (pp. 39-55 on Jacques Maritain: Thomistic Personalism). (16 pages)

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