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Personhood as Ongoing Gift from Others and to Others

  • Joseph A. Bracken (a1)

Human personhood should be understood as a gift from and to others as well as a permanent and unchanging attribute of what it means to be a human being, for this understanding of human personhood fits better within a contemporary systems-oriented approach to reality. Likewise, for Christians it can also be seen as derivative from a more contemporary process-oriented understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity, namely, as co-constitutive members of a transcendent community or archetypal life-system. Finally, given the individualistic character of contemporary Western culture, an emphasis on the interdependence of entities on one another rather than on their independence from one another seems to be more needed at the present moment.

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1 See Bracken, Joseph A. SJ, “Personhood and Community in a New Context,” Horizons 35, no. 1 (2008): 94–110; Bracken, , “Personhood in Classical and Process-Oriented Metaphysics,” Horizons 41, no. 1 (2014): 96115.

2 See Bracken, Joseph A. SJ, The World in the Trinity: Open-Ended Systems in Science and Religion (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014); also Bracken, , “Incarnation, Panentheism, and Bodily Resurrection: A Systems-Oriented Approach,” Theological Studies 77, no. 1 (2016): 3247.

3 Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I, q. 29, a. 4.

4 Johnson, Elizabeth A., Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love (London: Bloomsbury, 2014), 260–87.

5 Ibid., 267.

6 Deane-Drummond, Celia, The Wisdom of the Liminal: Evolution and Other Animals in Human Becoming (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014).

7 Ibid., 59. Deane-Drummond cites here Aquinas, ST I, q. 78, a. 4.

8 Tanner, Kathryn, God and Creation in Christian Theology: Tyranny or Empowerment? (New York: Blackwell, 1988), 92.

9 Johnson, Ask the Beasts, 161–62.

10 Ibid., 164.

11 Deane-Drummond, The Wisdom of the Liminal, 19.

12 Ibid., 56–71, 141–51, 257–75.

13 Tanner, God and Creation in Christian Theology, 90–104; see also Aquinas, ST I, q. 22, a. 2, ad 2.

14 Aristotle, Metaphysics 1028b36; Aquinas, ST I, q. 29, a. 2.

15 See here Deacon, Terrence W., Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (New York: W. W. Norton, 2012), 175–81.

16 Deacon, Incomplete Nature, 190–97.

17 Cf. Whitehead, Alfred North, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, ed. Griffin, David Ray and Sherburne, Donald W., rev. ed. (New York: Free Press, 1978), 7. Whitehead substitutes Creativity for the Power of Being, but otherwise the relationship between God and this primordial activity is virtually the same. See also my article Being: An Entity, an Activity, or Both an Entity and an Activity,” Journal of Religion 96, no. 1 (2016): 7793.

18 Aristotle, Metaphysics 1031a16.

19 Aquinas, ST I, q. 29, a. 4.

20 Aristotle, Metaphysics 1088a20–25.

21 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 34.

22 Ibid., 90–91.

23 Aristotle, Metaphysics 1033a3–b9.

24 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 108–9.

25 Cf. Clayton, Philip and Peacocke, Arthur, eds., In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being: Panentheistic Reflections on God's Presence in a Scientific World (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004).

26 Neils Henrik Gregersen, “Three Varieties of Panentheism,” in Clayton and Peacocke, In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being, 19.

27 Johnson, Ask the Beasts, 147–48.

28 Aquinas, ST I, q. 29, a. 4.

29 Ibid., q. 9, a. 1.

30 Cf. Murphy, Nancey and Ellis, George F. R., On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 6263.

31 Ibid., 206–8.

32 Deacon, Incomplete Nature, 175.

33 Ibid., 182–205.

34 Ibid., 183 (emphasis in the original).

35 Hartshorne, Charles and Weiss, Paul, eds., Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1931), 1:409.

36 See here Morris, Simon Conway, The Runes of Evolution: How the Universe Became Self-Aware (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2015). He explains the inbuilt directionality of the cosmic process toward self-awareness through convergence, i.e., use of the same basic patterns of self-organization and growth among divergent species widely separated in space and time: “When evolution needs an arm, then there really is an ‘optimal design.’ That's the way the world works” (9); also Whitehead, Process and Reality, 244. The provision of divine initial aims to material constituents presupposes, of course, that they are actual entities, momentary self-constituting subjects of experience that can be internally influenced in this way. Deacon and other naturalistically inclined philosophers of science tend to reject the Whiteheadian concept of actual entity because for them it is too close to the suspect notion of panpsychism (Deacon, Incomplete Nature, 77–79). But how else is one to explain the unexpected emergence of new forms of existence and activity within nature except through pure chance (which is really no explanation at all)?

37 Kauffman, Stuart, At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self-Organization and Complexity (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 47.

38 Hoffmeyer, Jesper, Biosemiotics: An Examination into the Signs of Life and the Life of Signs, trans. Hoffmeyer, Jesper and Favereau, Donald, ed. Favereau, Donald (Scranton, PA: Scranton University Press, 2008), 188–97.

39 di Bernardo, Mirko, “Complexity and the Emergence of Meaning in the Natural Sciences and Philosophy,” Theology and Science 13 (2015): 245–59, at 248 (emphasis in the original).

40 Ibid., 252.

41 Ibid., 255.

42 Ibid., 256.

43 Clayton, Philip, Mind and Emergence: From Quantum to Consciousness (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 9.

44 Ibid., 145.

45 Ibid., 146.

46 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 27–28.

47 Clayton, Mind and Emergence, 201.

48 Johnson, Ask the Beasts, 267.

49 As mentioned above, in note 6, Deane-Drummond makes this point clear in her book The Wisdom of the Liminal.

50 Gunton, Colin E., The One, the Three, and the Many: God, Creation, and the Culture of Modernity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 164.

51 Ibid., 169. See also Macmurray, John, Persons in Relation (London: Faber, 1961), 17, 69.

52 Gunton, The One, the Three, and the Many, 171.

53 Ibid., 172. Reference is to Prigogine, Ilya and Stengers, Isabelle, Order Out of Chaos: Man's New Dialogue with Nature (London: Fontana, 1985), 95.

54 Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, 173.

55 Ibid., 166–73.

56 Whitehead, Process and Reality, 99.

57 I have used this model for the understanding of the relation between the One and the Many in many earlier publications, but perhaps most notably in The One in the Many: A Contemporary Reconstruction of the God-World Relationship (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001) and Subjectivity, Objectivity, and Intersubjectivity (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Press, 2009).

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