Friday, November 30, 2012

Spaemann on Persons, 1

I'm enjoying Robert Spaemann's recent article in Philosophisches Jahrbuch. I hope to have something to say about it soon. After I've finished it. Philosophy in German still takes me some time.

The gist of it so far: the common overemphasis on the root of the term "person" in dramatic roles ignores the better part of the word's history—namely, its use in grammar, as applied to theology, and subsequently by analogy to anthropology. The human being is a person by virtue of self-relation in community, echoing the structure of the Trinity. This self-relation is principally manifested in the phenomena of promising, regretting, and forgiving, each of which demonstrates (1) the capacity for second-order desires and (2) the special dignity of the freedom involved in relating oneself to oneself.

As I read the section on promising, I kept thinking how interesting it would be to compare it to Nietzsche's inquiries in the Genealogy of Morals, according to which the history of human society is a history of man's becoming a creature with the right to make promises. Then Spaemann cited it himself. A little glibly, though, since he doesn't address Nietzsche's historical contention that promise-making is a gift mankind give itself by means of generations of cruelty. So maybe something to work on there.

Spaemann also sharply distinguishes personhood in the radical sense from personhood in the sense of counting or having standing in a community of persons. I'd like to know why. That is, the distinction is clear enough but I would think there would be some overlap, considering the dignity involved in second-order desires.

It's actually the first I've read from Spaemann, so I don't know how much of this would already be familiar to Anglophone readers of, say, Persons. I have the feeling I'm just scratching the surface of something as I read this article.