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Personhood Theory: A Sketch

I hate the label "personhood theory," but it is the only concise label I have been able to think of in sixteen years.[1]

1. Personhood theory addresses the (personal) microcosm of lived experience. It focuses on three dimensions of the personal microcosm:

i. Self (consciousness) "bonded to" "objectivities" (surroundings). Both palpable objectivities (I pick up a drinking glass) and imaginative models. The boundary between these zones moves continually.

ii. Self as a monitoring hierarchy. (Alertness, lucidity) Judging that you have awakened from a dream, or that the apparition you see is an illusion. Steering one's attention and action purposively.

iii. Self as longitudinal thematic identity, one's "biographic" identity.

2. The inquiry begins as a journalism carried on in natural language. (After all, natural language is the only vocabulary for self and the life-journey, excluding doctrinal jargons.)

However, this beginning gets drastically radicalized.

3.a. Referring heuristically to the history of ideas, we learn that belief-systems about objective reality--even at the common-sense level--have changed massively over the centuries. The layperson is not aware of this because the details of e.g. scientific belief in the time of Aristotle or in twelfth-century England are studied only by experts. Personhood theory is devoted to getting underneath these changing belief-systems. So it rejects the use of already-codified "knowledges" as building blocks. It proceeds entirely by unravelling "the obvious" (presumptive cultural competence). See (5).

3.b. To posit subject-object polarity as an absolute is one of the delusively plausible tenets which defines the European endeavor called philosophy. As for personhood theory, it addresses subject-object polarity in the course of an open-ended destabilization which is not required to advocate and confirm present-day common sense.

4. The person-world premise is offered as a perspective-of-totality. Here the totality is self "bonded to" "objectivities." The claims are made for the personal microcosm--not for "my mind"--because my environs and my body are constituents. In other words, to narrow the frame to the personal microcosm is not at all to narrow the frame to mind. The analysis commits to conceiving the totality as palpably conscious (individuated palpable consciousness is always a constituent). This forces extreme realignment relative to common sense.

Any conception of the totality as disjoined from, and excluding, individuated palpable consciousness is found to be an incoherent reductionist fiction. To take one example, natural science as a theory is instantly destroyed by this premise.

5. Beginning as a journalism of the personal microcosm in natural language, personhood theory requires drastic methodological departures to support the above positions. It has to be made to devolve from the presumed cultural competence of "you the reader"-- rather than building dogmatically on supposed objective premises.

6. After acquiring the analysis, one may step to a higher level of credulity and inject the person-world portrayal into the common notion of the multiplicity of minds (counterpart sentiences). (That is, imagine personhood theory to generalize about person-worlds.) All the same, the incoherence of generalizing about minds has been spelled out and remains explicit. The lattice of minds is not objectively posited. (And no doctrine ever knew a lattice of minds objectively except as an incoherent fiction.)

7. On the foregoing basis, personhood theory offers a "holistic epistemology" which finds a circular or scrambled causation between belief-systems, on the one hand, and self-respect, morale, and other personal affections, on the other. At the same time, personhood theory is required to dovetail with a campaign to break the framework of objectivity intellectually, without reference to the knower's interests.

8. Subject to clarification of the terminology, we address: biographic identity; character (your responsibility for your goals and preparation for life); your sense of morality and beauty; romantic affection; "attitude highs" and timelessness; comportment-to-death; dispiritedness; emotional sensitization relative to art.

9. Three overwhelming considerations made the "insane extremism" of personhood theory palatable.

a. Pure scientists were telling us in the back rooms that they knew their knowledges were false and they didn't care.[2] Additionally, they had stunted their own faculties in obvious ways. More broadly, the most important precondition for the sciences, "the ethics of inquiry and judgment," was marginalized as irrational and meaningless; while at the same time (as was just said) the scientific posture on cognitive ethics, that of god-like integrity, was a deliberate sham.

b. Because of the triumph of what amounts to behaviorism, there was no framework to explore personalistic subjectivity empathetically for its "phenomenology." The prevailing culture made the topics in (8) into jokes.

c. The opportunity for a reconstitution of "reality" reaching deeply into common sense was already evident from meta-technology, mentioned in (7). That gave permission for the "insane extremism" of personhood theory. At the same time, it was intolerable to go on borrowing notions of the self and the life-journey from psychology and sociology.

(c) 1996 Henry A. Flynt, Jr.

[1]Also, person-world analysis, the person-world premise.

[2]In no way does this observation underestimate the scientists' ingenuity or technical effectiveness.