Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Individuality and Personhood

I would like to thank several recent contributors, especially Rob, for posting several important topics that are a catalyst for my considering further the nature and essence of Catholic Legal Theory. I am also most grateful for the recent postings of Professors Robby George and Doug Kmiec brought in by MOJ regulars. Through these discussions, we see again how the “trigger” or “hot button” issues of the day are or may challenge not only Catholic Legal Theory but the Church, herself.

I have been trying to think why is there this conflict that today seems inevitable when the rule of law and democratic society are examined by a wide variety of thoughtful individuals given the context of topics like abortion, war, terrorism, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, etc.? I hasten to add that I read quickly a number of the Beckett Fund collection that are linked to Rob’s post “More on church autonomy and same-sex marriage”.

For me, the conflict, or the coming train wreck as some describe the growing controversy, emerges from a fundamental disagreement about the nature of the human person. If I may borrow from the work of Jacques Maritain and others here, this conflict (or coming train wreck) pits one conception of human nature that is based on “the person” against another that is concerned about “the individual.” Many may argue: aren’t they the same? In a way, I suppose so, but it is important to see the vital distinctions that others, such as Maritain, have identified and that can open, I believe, not only doors for CLT but also hope for avoiding the conflict—the train wreck—that is taking its toll on society, on the law, and on us.

Put simply, the notion of “the person” looks at the human being physically, spiritually, and metaphysically. With this background in mind, one sees the essence of human existence as being defined by the self in communion with something beyond the self. On the other hand, “the individual” is the autonomous being who, when all is said and done, is alone. Yes, “the individual” wants rights, equality, autonomy, etc. But there is little beyond the self that determines what the self wants, what the self is, and what the self needs. With “the person” there is much more. When supporters of these two views are asked: what is important to the human being; what is the human being’s destiny; etc.?, very different answers will appear. These answers are powerful, and they fuel the conflict; they propel the trains on the collision course.

I, for one, conclude that it is the notion of “the person”, as briefly defined here, that is crucial to our nature as human being and our destiny. It is therefore vital to understand why “the person” rather than “the individual” is at the heart of why we have law and why we have its rule. But, I hasten to add that there is another view inexorably racing in the opposite direction on the same track. This is one instance in which I hope I am very wrong, but after having taken account of many recent important postings on this site and those external discussions that have been linked, I find that I may not be—wrong.    RJA sj


Araujo, Robert | Permalink

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