Black, White, and Gray: What is Personalism? A Rectification of Individualism and Collectivism - Margarita Mooney
... I was intrigued by the philosophy that could critique both the idea that economic prosperity is the final ends of individuals and societies and, at the same time, coherently argue against a collectivist system that denies private property, stifles free speech, and suppresses freedom of religion.
When I sat down to study Catholic social doctrine for the first time, what intrigued me was that the works I read started with basic questions such as: what is the good of human persons? What types of development uphold human dignity? Much of neoliberal economics seemed to be based on very utilitarian questions: what economic system will produce the greatest amount of goods and wealth? In achieving that goal of creating greater wealth, it seemed like almost any means could be accepted as long as the goal of generating utility was achieved by individuals unencumbered by others in their actions.
In contrast, collectivism, such as that practiced in communist countries, upholds the good of the group–also normally defined in material terms–over the good of individuals. Although some the goals of social solidarity may be laudable, I found the means of denying individual dissent, disallowing free expression, and the general coercion and manipulation rampant in communist systems to be an affront to human dignity. ...
... According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, personalism is a term that refers to at least 20 different philosophers and other scholars who, in general, defend the inviolability of the person, stress the fundamental relationally of persons, see the person as a subject and object of free action, and emphasize the person is a center of meaning and value. Schmeising emphasizes the theological influences and religious backgrounds of many personalists (including many converts from atheism to Catholicism such as Maritain and Edith Stein). Perhaps because of the metaphysical training of many personalists, personalists argue for the importance of both body and spirit to understanding the person, thus opens them up to the reality of transcendence.
Personalism contrasts with Marxist materialism and other forms of collectivism in which the individual is subsumed to the communal and the individual has no inherent worth. Personalism, by contrast, argues that a person can never be simply the means to another end, but each person must be treated as an end in and of himself. Liberal individualism too often conflates utility and value, but personalism also rejects the utilitarian idea that a person’s utility is the same as his value. Another way of stating that a person’s worth is not reducible to the profit she or he makes is expressed when Schmeising quotes Maurin as saying “the foundation of the economy should be the ‘person, not profit.’” (p. 23)
To the extent that our economic system is flawed, Schmeising states that Maurin and other personalists would argue that we can’t fix our economic problems on by re-organizing economic structure, but we must also re-organize the economy around spiritual or human values as well. In this sense, Schmeising identifies Nobel laureate Amartya Sen’s work on human development as being influenced by personalists insights. ...
I continue to struggle with how to articulate my own views on economics but I have come to the conclusion that my perspective is some variety of Christian economic personalism. The person is the central point of reflection. Individuals have the ability to subjectively reflect on their circumstances and, with some degree of autonomy, make choices. While humanity may collectively reflect the image of God it is also true that each individual is also a reflection of that image and therefore to be treated with dignity and respect. We are more than mere animals with material needs. While we are individuals we are made for community, and indeed we cannot become human individuals without community. Furthermore, we have an imperative to live in harmony with others and to seek the welfare of others as we seek our own welfare. I look forward to Money's promised posts.