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  personhood: being person-al: person-ality

gary e. davis
March 3, 2021
1 I’m a person, one might indicate, but really I’m Gary. I am. My friend Gene is a person, but
I don’t readily know an occasion where I’d think that about him; or indicate it to him. Who needs to be told that they’re a person?

2 However, the point easily comes up in conflict: “I’m a person,” not a servant or object, etc.—though, fascinatingly, children love to personify things (which has a deep anthropological background).

3 Which is more important: being human or being a person? Who needs to make the point that we’re human—outside of scientific contexts or rights claims that are equivalent to claims about being a person?

4 Exactly: What matters for rights is that one is a person. A human rights claim is about what baseline conditions of life to which being a person entitles oneself.

5 Yet, how person-al can one be? We commonly think about a goal of one’s “personal best” in learning, for achievement, or for athletics. That’s about owning the goal: It’s “personal.” But the tacit dimension is that persons do “that.” Persons achieve or learn, due to potential that’s there because it’s natural for persons to be potential. Being a person is person-al being.

6 Seeking insight from the lexical item isn’t very useful—but it’s interesting: The Latin root associates to masking, and the modern derivative definitions tend to return to that: definitely being more about appearance than about being oneself.

7 The basic (originally English) sense is “1 a : an individual human being” (Merriam-Webster Unabridged). That’s what’s not helpful: Being an individual human really isn’t what we want
to mean by being a person—as, say, “1 c : …distinguished from an animal or thing.”

8 No wonder, though, that the etymology trends toward “4 a (2) : …a specified kind of bodily appearance.” Then, etymological time tends to confuse sense of self (5 a : the individual personality…: SELF”) and “5 b : bodily presence.”

9 In other words, quite normally, one feels—or can feel—a living difference between (a) one’s presence with and to others and (b) one’s sense of self which participates in any number of interpersonal relatings (ephemeral) and ongoing relationships.

10 Indeed, one easily feels that there’s more to oneself than what is “8 a : …characterized by conscious apprehension, rationality, and moral[/ethical] sense.”

11 Yet, something obscure is expressed by “8 b : a being possessing or forming the subject of personality.” Think about that: Personality forms a subject of itself; or itself as subject to personality.

12 More sensibly, that’s about what’s normally called selfidentity (normally hyphenated, which I avoid, except for recursive reference). A nebulously holistic, life-long sense of Self forms selfidentity among (and beyond) innumerable interpersonal presences.

13 So, I see my longstanding distinction between Self (of a life), self (as cohering self-presence “these days”), and [inter]personal meaning (relative to—limited to myself in—ongoing relationships) evident in the standard definition of ‘person’, which registers anthropological ambiguity as the etymological refining of Self differentiation troped by ‘person’.

14 Personhood is potentially about a differentiable sense of oneself (oneSelf) which ‘person’ tends to imply, but which is readily missed by casual use of ‘person’. ‘Personness’ isn’t in the Unabridged dictionary (though it turns up in Wiktionary), but there is the -ness of a person—person-ality—whose domain (-hood) can be importantly differentiated.

15 Given one’s potential for understanding oneSelf as selfidentity cohering innumerable interpersonal relations, good sense could be made of the coinage personity or a conception of it all as personism: about the individuational potential of onself to become articulately Self-differential, i.e., to grow into understanding oneSelf as permanently differentiated relative to relationships with others: friend apart from family member apart from one’s self-made intimacies, apart from parenting, apart from professional identity, apart from social solidarities, apart from civil passages.

16 Furthermore, that normative (lexically standardized) sense of Self-differential actualization is enriched by the normative (lexical) sense of ‘personality’ as embodied domain implied by the definition, firstly as a sense of personhood or person-ality: “1 a : the quality of state of being a person…” That’s beyond “individual human being” for ‘person’. Indeed, person-ality is “1 a : …being…not an abstraction…; …[rather, being] capacity for the choices…of an individual person,” i.e., an individuated (“capacity”) being, including “5 a : the complex of characteristics that…individualizes or characterizes him in his relationships with others.” Or her and hers.

17 That internality which shows externally is also “5 d : (1) the totality of an individual’s emergent tendencies to act…self-consciously or…meaningfully influence,” which also associates with virtue: exemplary “6 a : distinction or excellence of personal or social traits…commanding notice, admiration, respect, of influence…”

18 All of this suggests generally that lexical meaning of a term is a centripetal complex of historical associations which have become normative. But that centripetality implies a sphere of connotation (or connotative implicature) which belongs to the centrifugal actionality of its referential employment (which has become normative).

19 For person-ality of a living person, that centrifugality is the affecting (having effect) and effecting (fulfilling aims) that person-ality requires of life in order to be individuated or exemplary or admirable.

20 But that implicature—historically centripetal and actionally centrifugal—has the converse standing to be an oriental (action orienting) base for the cohering of its associability. Lexical definition is metonymic of its item’s associability, thereby potentiating understanding relative to one’s ability to appreciate the meaning, a potential which is integral to literary interest, i.e., for figurativeness or tropical richness, aura, numinous presence.

21 A person “here” is already always of its life and of a life-relative world: the world of that life, the life of a world in “The” multiplex world we share, We share.

22 The better appreciation of a person-ality is about the better-ness of the lifeworld of oneself, oneSelf or about another that is, in principle, Self-differentiated and broadly capable (individuated and maybe virtuous, i.e., admirably exemplary).

23 A personal life is of oneSelf, whatever the degree of interpersonal involvements. That a given person-ality—to others and to oneself—is a life is actually secondary to the actuality of being oneSelf engaged in making, sustaining, and having made “my” life. Life as such (what bioanthropology prospects) doesn’t imply the intelligence and engagement that person-ality is—except, for bioanthropology, inasmuch as person-ality is mapped into inquirial interest retrojectively, as highly individuated inquirer looking for Self in the evolution of person-al life, like sages prospecting gods possessing one.

24 So, a notion of Selfworld is better for understanding person-ality than the traditional notion of lifeworld.

25 The person-al life of oneSelf is, at best, abundantly interpersonal. One’s selfidentity (of ever-openly mysterious life-historical self-conception of Selfality) coheres the manifold of relating as the active futural cohering of reflections and conceptions Itself, of oneSelf in one’s times (as if It all gives cohering across Time, times, landscapes, and horizons).

26 A person’s life is composed of importances, ordinary conceptions, ideals, aspirations, caring (with intimates, family, friends), potential endlessness of individuation (learning never ends), neighborliness, cultural identities, mindfulness, creativity, solidarities, political time (one hopes)—and more, of course.

27 Ephemerally, there are the personas that serve passing situations, born of childhood’s gaining of play stances, which mature into interpersonal stances for specific situations and improvisations that make the day go well.

28 Life itself can seem to be dramactional (re: profession and interpersonal days, as well as for living creatively), as [inter]personal relating can be fairly instrumental (good and fair) to satisfying the purposes of oneself with “us” through the day. The once-pretending child becomes the improvising dramatist who, at best, flourishes in an organized way (full of purposes within the Purposiveness of The Life).

29 The personifying of childhood becomes the valuing maker and bettering keeper of what belongs to person-al life—or (and then) to dramatic art—or to “spirituality” (It giving time and being) felt as Selfidentically as loves one lives to enhance.

30 Life can happily seem to be a supreme fiction on the way to actuality (as if one’s claims of health are already fully valid for flourishing; or belief in “democracy” is already well grounded for social confidence).

31 The horizons of conceivability may be personified with hopes for humanity. Even intelligences on faraway planets await us to be able to comprehend what happens to intelligence millions of years beyond our aspiring acceleration of conceivability.




  Be fair. © 2021, g. e. davis