The Irreducibility of the Human Person
A Catholic Synthesis
Imprint: Catholic University of America Press
Catholic philosophical anthropologists have defended views of the human person on which we are irreducible to anything non-personal. For example, it is not the case that we are nothing but matter, souls, or parts of society. But many Catholic anthropologies have overlooked ways in which we are irreducible and so have not given an adequate account of the uniqueness of each human person. This book presents a philosophical portrait of human persons that depicts each way in which we are irreducible, with the goal of guiding the reader to perceive, wonder at, and love all the unique features of human persons. It builds this portrait by showing how claims from many strands of the Catholic tradition can be synthesized. These strands include Thomism, Scotism, phenomenology, personalism, nouvelle théologie, analytic philosophy, and Greek and Russian thought. The book focuses on how these traditions’ claims are grounded in experience and on how they help us to perceive irreducible features of persons. While many metaphysical claims about persons are defended, the picture of persons that ultimately emerges is one on which persons are best grasped not through abstract concepts but through aesthetic perception and love, as unique kinds of beauty.
This book also explores irreducible features of our subjectivity, senses, intellect, freedom, and affections, and of our souls, bodies, and activities. It includes discussions of divine simplicity and causality, and of the nature of angels, matter, organisms, and artifacts, all of which must be understood to fully grasp our irreducibility. In showing how to synthesize various traditions’ claims, the book also offers new solutions to a number of debates in Catholic philosophy. These include debates over natural law, the natural desire to see God, the separated soul, integralism and personalism, idealist and realist phenomenology, and scholastic accounts of the act of existence.
"I can think of few if any books so comprehensively synthetic. Spencer draws from traditional – and nontraditional – Thomism, the personalist tradition, phenomenology (which overlaps with but is not identical to personalism), the Fathers, the work of thinkers in Eastern Christianity, and several contemporary secular sources; it is a work of extremely impressive breadth and learning."~Christopher Tollefsen, University of South Carolina
"Mark Spencer has produced a remarkable work of reconciliation. He proposes to harmonize strands of thought in the Catholic philosophical tradition that are too often at odds with each other. In particular, he wants to harmonize the work of those who take seriously the modern turn to the subject, with the work of pre-modern Catholic thinkers who smell subjectivism in the turn to the subject and who want to build on a more "objective" and "metaphysical" basis. Spencer wants to capture the truth in each position, and to root out the onesidedness (he speaks of the reductionist tendencies) in each. On this basis he wants to work towards a new Catholic synthesis. This is an original project, and much needed in a world in which Catholic philosophers seem to prefer refuting each other to harmonizing their views. Spencer also maintains the original idea that this new synthesis is achieved by a certain kind of aesthetic imagination. Spencer brings to his ambitious project a vast knowledge of the different movements of thought within the Catholic tradition."~John F. Crosby, Franciscan University at Steubenville
"Mark Spencer has given us a tour de force, an extremely ambitious and irenic work of synthesis in which he attempts to sketch out a philosophical portrait of the human person, attentive to beauty, that does not suffer from various opposing kinds of reductionism. He brings phenomenology, Thomism, Scotism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Nouvelle théologie, and analytic philosophy into dialogue as he ventures into debates on metaphysics, aesthetics, ethics, nature and grace, affectivity, liturgy, and eschatology. In doing so he also proposes synthetic solutions to many nodal metaphysical and anthropological problems, including the interactions of divine causality and human freedom, divine simplicity and energeia, and the spiritual soul and the body, here and in heavenly beatitude."~Lawrence Feingold, Kenrick-Glennon Seminary
"Mark Spencer is a rising star among Catholic philosophers. This is a big book in every sense. In confident and accessible prose, Spencer argues that the mystery of human personhood can best be understood by drawing together perspectives and schools of thought often deemed incompatible: phenomenology and traditional metaphysics, Thomism and Scotism, Balthasar and Aquinas, and many more. Sure to provoke a number of arguments due to the extraordinary range and boldness of the work, this book succeeds in showing that its 'aesthetic method' has a tremendous amount to offer to the study of human (liturgical) personhood in its manifold dimensions. A rich, exciting, vastly erudite, and immensely fruitful debut."~Matthew Levering, James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology, Mundelein Seminary