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in contemporary bourgeois philosophy, a theistic school that regards the person as the fundamental creative reality and the highest spiritual value and views the world as the manifestation of the creative activity of the ultimate person—god.

Personalism developed in the late 19th century in Russia and the USA. Later, in the 1930’s, a personalist school emerged in France and other countries. Personalist ideas were developed in Russia by N. A. Berdiaev and L. Shestov, and to some degree by N. O. Losskii. The founders of American personalism were B. P. Bowne and J. Royce. Their followers (W. Hocking, M. Calkins, E. S. Brightman, J. Wright Buckham, F. C. S. Schiller, and R. T. Flewelling) rallied around the journal The Personalist, which was founded in 1920 by Flewelling. Headed by E. Mounier and J. Lacroix, the French personalists, including P.-L. Landsberg, M. Nédoncelle, G. Madinier, and P. Ri-coeur, were associated with the journal L’Esprit, founded in 1932. Among the representatives of nonreligious personalism were B. Coates in Great Britain and W. Stern in Germany.

In personalism the principles of idealist monism and Hegelian-inspired panlogism are juxtaposed with idealist pluralism—the idea of a multiplicity of existences, minds, wills, and personalities. Thus, personalism maintains the principle of theism—that is, the creation of the world by the ultimate person (god), who endows it with the capacity to develop. For the personalists, the primary factor is not the truth-knowing subject of classical philosophy but the human personality in all the fullness of its particular manifestations and in all its unreproducible individuality. “Personality” is a fundamental ontological category, the central manifestation of being, in which voluntary activity is combined with continuous existence. From the personalist point of view, however, the sources of the personality do not lie within itself but in the infinite unitary principle, god. There is an analogy between these personalist precepts and Leibniz’ monadology (seeMONAD), which, in the final analysis, was advanced as a form of theodicy. Personalism entrusts the task of orienting man in the world to religious philosophy, which is supposed to find the meaning of existence from the point of view of the human will, by reference to the higher principle, god.

The spread of personalism is a symptom of the crisis in the positivist world view and of the increasing strength of irrational-ist tendencies. In Russia, personalism developed as part of the literary and philosophical idealist movement of the early 20th century. Its representatives considered the person, as distinct from the masses, to be the sole subject of history and the vehicle of culture. They were also among the first to theorize about mass culture and mass society. The person was juxtaposed with society and its claim to determine the entire life of the individual. Personal destiny was juxtaposed with the theory of progress. The theoretical basis for the development of personalist ideas in Russia was the attempt to find a “third line” in philosophy that would eliminate the antithesis between materialism and idealism, subject and object. Berdiaev and Shestov insisted on the inadequacy of all doctrines of the personality that emphasized its relation with nature or society and failed to regard the personality as an end in itself. From the personalist point of view, the possibility of affirming the unique or nonrepeatable “I” is ruled out by the fact that the individual is bound up in a complex network of social relations and is subordinate to social changes.

Personalism makes a distinction between the concepts of the individual and the personality. A human being as a member of a species, as a member of a society, is an individual. Nothing can be known of this biological or social atom, which is merely an element or part defined by its relation to the whole. The human being as a personality can be self-affirming only through the expression of free will, through a will that overcomes the finitude of human life and all social barriers and that seems to spring from within the personality. Thus, the concept of “free will” underlies personalist doctrine. From the personalist point of view the question of the laws of social development cannot be answered by rational knowledge. The answer always comes from the person and presupposes exertion of the will, choice, and moral judgment. “The heart of the problem is not to achieve a form of organization of society and the state in which society and the state would grant the human person freedom, but to affirm the freedom of the human person from the unlimited power of society and the state” (N. Berdiaev, Sud’ba cheloveka v sovre-mennom mire, Paris, 1934, p. 25).

At the end of the 19th century the principle of the active, willful individual attracted the attention of American philosophers. The first generation of American personalists (Bowne, G. H. Howison, and Calkins) opposed the absolute idealism then popular in the USA—the idea of the subordination of the individual to an impersonal cosmic order. Brightman and Flewelling subsequently developed to its fullest extent the thesis of “the world of the personality”—a world “greater” than that of nature, and the true arena of being.

The chief representative of French Catholic personalism, Mounier, proclaims the Christian doctrine of the personality as the basis for a revolutionary change in the life of mankind, which would make it possible to create a “society of personalities,” a kind of Christian commune. According to this brand of person-alism, the relationship between the person and reality is a hostile one. Consequently, the life of the person begins with the breaking off of contact with the environment. The person must withdraw into himself in order to “concentrate.” Mounier asserts that the internal qualities of the person, his “calling,” his “intimate life,” must unite him with other persons and protect him and society from totalitarianism and individualism. The person’s chief means of self-assertion is self-improvement.

American and French personalism differ somewhat in their conception of social problems. The American school works within the framework of a recognition of the crisis of modern society and modern man and places its hopes on the viability of Western culture, substituting the task of personal self-improvement for the consideration of social problems. By contrast, the French school focuses on social doctrine (Mounier) and preaches the ideal of the medieval commune as the polar opposite of urban civilization. An anticapitalistic orientation is characteristic of French personalism, with its overtones of pessimism. Mounier has written about the general crisis of capitalism, which will lead to its destruction. He has called for social rebirth in a “personal-ist and communal revolution,” as distinct from a socialist revolution, which would result in collectivism. As conceived by Mounier, the revolution should be simultaneously spiritual and economic and should lay the foundation for the flowering of the human personality in a society free of conflict. A revolution of this kind is considered to be the eventual outcome of the spread of the personalist doctrine.

Personalism is an attempt to give concrete expression to the Christian ideal of the personality under the conditions of modern capitalist society, in which alienation prevails and the individual is dominated and enslaved by hostile social forces. The history of personalism shows that its program for social and spiritual change is Utopian. At present, personalism has lost much of its influence, and the basic problematics with which it deals have been taken up by neo-Thomism and, in particular, by existentialism.


Bykhovskii, B. E. Amerikanskii personalizm v bor’be protiv nauki i ob-shchestvennogo progressa. Moscow, 1948.
Sovremennyi ob”ektivnyi idealizm. Moscow, 1963. Pages 350-421.
Knudson, A. C. The Philosophy of Personalism. New York, 1927.
Lacroix, J. Marxisme, existentialisme, personnalisme. Paris, 1950.
Stefanini, L. Personalismo filosofico. Rome, 1945.


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