The Radiance of Personhood and the Splendor of Chastity

Doug McManaman
Copyright © 2012 by Douglas P. McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

The human being is a person, but to be a person means much more than being an individual. The etymology of 'individual' underscores the fact of being 'undivided', that is, being a single and unified whole. A cat, however, is an individual, and so too an oak tree; but they are not persons. The very word 'person' is from the Latin persona (per: through; sona: sound). Thus, a person is a "through sound". What does this mean? Historically, the sound referred to in the etymology of this word refers to the words that pass through a mask (in the context of the theatre). In other words, a person is communicator, a speaker. He radiates sounds that have meaning, that is, he communicates ideas through words, and in so doing, he enables others to enter into a shared space. A person is one who, by communicating with another person willing to receive that communication, establishes a degree of community. Through communication, persons create and live within a larger reality, a good that exceeds the limits of the individual self.

Since the Middle Ages, "person" has been defined as an individual substance of a rational nature (Boethius). To possess a rational nature is to be capable of apprehending the "reasons for" things, that is, the causes of things. It is the ability to grasp the meaning of a thing's motions or movements. Brute animals perceive motions, but they do not grasp the meaning of those motions. To grasp the meaning of a thing's motions (i.e., sickness, growth, the significance of hand signals, hand writing, etc.) is to apprehend the reasons for the motions of things, that is, the motions of things in terms of their causes. Now there are four causes, so to apprehend the motions of things in terms of their causes includes the agent cause, but it also includes the final cause (the purpose or end of the motion) and the formal cause (what that motion is: i.e., sickness is a pathology, etc), not to mention the material cause. Now, since a cause is a principle upon which something depends, it follows that to understand the reasons for a thing's motions is to understand the principles upon which depend certain motions. And so a person is one who apprehends "necessities", for a cause is the 'reason for' such and such, and so the connection between an effect and its source or principle is a necessary one, that is, it is one of dependence (the effect depends on the cause). This motion depended on that source or principle (waving depended upon that man, and it depended upon his purpose (final cause) of offering a greeting, etc, and so this occurred as a necessary consequence of that, etc.

Let's look at this from another angel. A person possesses the ideas of things; and these ideas are universal. To be able to reason, or to pronounce on the reasons for this or that happening, requires an ability to grasp universal ideas, for there is no reasoning without universal ideas - recall that no conclusion can be drawn from two particular premises, for the middle term must be distributed at least once.

A person possesses universal ideas precisely because his mind is an immaterial power. As a result, persons are capable of complete self-reflection; a person knows that he knows, and he knows that he seeks the 'reasons for' certain facts in his experience. He is aware that he is continually searching for the causes of things, and discovering one cause does not satisfy his intellect entirely, for he continues to seek more deeply into the causes of things. He will only be satisfied when he comes to possess, in knowledge, the cause of that which is absolutely first in things, and that which is first, to which nothing is prior, is being or existence. Man is a seeker, and he seeks to know the sufficient reason for being, and he will not be satisfied until he possesses it.

The 'sound' in persona refers to language, or words spoken, and words have a meaning, which is to say that they have a direction. The meaning of a 'sound' that is a spoken or written word is in the idea inside the mind, the interior word. The interior words or concepts point towards the thing or things outside the mind, because the idea inside the mind is intentional. This means that it signifies or intends the thing outside the mind. The idea is a pure sign whose sole function is to signify or intend. For example, my idea of 'canine' or 'feline' is not what I know, it is that through which I know the particular being outside my mind that is a cat.

To speak is first and foremost to conceive an interior word (idea), and an interior word 'intends' or tends towards some being. Now, to "intend" is to have reference to, to refer to, or to have a relation to. An idea has a relation to the being of which it is an idea. To speak audible words is to radiate something; it is to radiate a different kind of light, namely ideas. The human person is not locked within himself, he radiates his deepest self by communicating what he has become through the ideas he has conceived within himself. He is pregnant with the inner life of ideas, and he communicates those ideas through words. He must radiate, for he "exists for" something beyond himself.

To be a person is to "exist for". That is why a fundamental need of each human person is 'to be important'. The reason is that to be important is to be "important for" someone. And so a person's perfection consists in "existing for" another or others. If there is nothing to which his existence can be ordered, then his existence is felt to be pointless, that is, without a point, without a direction or end. Such an existence is felt to be meaningless; for it is without direction.

Indeed, Sartre is correct in pointing out that man is a 'pour-soi' (for self), because he is conscious of himself, whereas a chair is not conscious of itself, it does not exist for itself, but purely for another. However, man's self-conscious existence is a relational existence, for he is conscious of himself only when knowing something outside himself, something other than himself. His sense of self emerges simultaneously with the knowledge of beings other than him. There is no 'coming to himself' in any kind of self-awareness without being opened up upon the world outside himself. He is a pour-soi primarily because he is a 'for another'.

And so, a person is a being who knows, who possesses ideas. But to know the nature of a thing is to become that thing in an immaterial way. The nature of the being I know exists in me immaterially and thus universally. And so, knowledge is a kind of self-expansion. In knowing something, I become more than what I am (my mind is that being immaterially), without ceasing to be what I am (I am still a human being).

That fundamental thrust to "exist for" that is at the root of the need to be important is also at the root of the need to expand through knowledge. As Aristotle said, 'all men by nature desire to know', that is, they desire to become more than what they are without ceasing to be what they are. The human person has a natural appetite or desire to 'exist for', that is, to exist in relation to a reality outside his own mind. Thus, he is not sufficient unto himself. No man is an island, as Irish poet John Donne wrote. If the human person does not exist "for somebody", he is of no importance. But a person is essentially a 'for another', and so to exist without a sense of importance is a kind of 'death'; like a sun that has ceased to radiate, or a sun that radiates without anything there to receive its illumination.

In other words, the human person has a need to be loved and to love. He has a need to know he "exists for", which means he knows he is important for someone or others and is thus loved, and he has a need to "exist for", which means he has a need to love (to illuminate in some way).

Now, as was said above, in knowing anything, the human person becomes what he knows. But when he loves another, he wills the good of the other as another self. His self-knowledge enables him to know that this 'other' is a being, a person, a knower like me, and he too has a natural desire to exist for, that is, a natural desire to be important. And so I can choose to acknowledge his importance and to will his good (the true goods he desires) as if he were me. In loving him, I expand, for I become that other self, and I affirm his 'existence for'. I actually treat him as another me, without ceasing to be me. In love, there is a going out of the self into the other, without actually experiencing all that he experiences. I will his good for his sake.

To be a person is to be capable, therefore, of a two-fold expansion: one of knowledge, and the other of love. Knowledge and love are relational.

Now because the human person is rational and since love is not love unless it is freely given, the human person has a freedom that other things do not possess. Every other thing below man has a natural inclination towards its own perfection, and it will realize that perfection or maturation as long as conditions are right. In other words, if we water a plant and make sure it gets enough sunlight, it will grow to become fully what it is. The same is true for brute animals, although their care might require a little more than water and sunlight.

The human person, on the other hand, is inclined towards his own perfection, but he has the ability to freely determine himself towards a course of action that will inevitably destroy him. His fundamental thrust as a 'person' is to 'exist for' others, but he may choose an existence that is entirely self-centered (he may choose to exist primarily for himself). In doing so, he freely chooses to live in a way that is contrary to his nature. The result of such a general course of action is greater unhappiness, for a person's happiness is directly proportionate to the degree of his self-expansion.

Some Fundamental Needs of the Human Person

The human person has a fundamental inclination to possess truth. But truth is a relation; it is the conformity between what is in the mind of the person and what is (the real). And so the human person has a fundamental need to be measured by the real, that is, to be enlarged by the real or to conform to the real, to have it exist in him according to his specific mode of being (as a knower). But, he also has a fundamental inclination to be known. In other words, he has a need to be loved. As was said, he needs to "exist for", that is, to be "important for", another or others.

The human person, because he is essentially relational, has a fundamental need for justice, which means "rightly ordered social relations". Injustice is a disorder. Now we naturally love the whole more than we love the part. We see this, for example, when a person under attack suffers defensive wounds. He places his arms in harm's way to protect the whole. Now although the human person is not reducible to a mere part of the social whole - for he is a whole unto himself - , nonetheless, he is still a part of a larger whole, and he naturally loves the good of the whole more than he loves himself. That does not mean, however, that he is necessarily a just person. In order to be a just person, he must choose to act according to that natural love, and not contrary to it, that is, he must freely choose acts that are consistent with a love of the whole that is greater than the love of self, and that is not always easy, for he has a quasi-natural inclination to seek himself (the wounds of Original Sin).

The human person has a fundamental inclination to happiness; for he is a seeker. He seeks to know the sufficient reason for the very existence of things, and in every one of his choices he ultimately pursues a happiness that is final, eternal, and sufficient unto itself. He knows, albeit confusedly and generally, that there is an ultimate end that is the sufficient reason for being, that is eternal and sufficient unto itself, and he knows, perhaps confusedly and pre-consciously that this sufficient reason for being is intelligent, good, and beautiful, and thus personal, since he experiences the world as intelligible, desirable, and beautiful. Each human person naturally knows through a pre-conscious and rapid reasoning process that God exists (although he may not necessarily know this to be God), and he has a need to be always searching for God until He is found.

Now the human person has a moral sense, or a sense of duty. In other words, the human person is a moral agent, and he has moral needs, that is, a moral inclination. He needs to become more than what he is through the free decision to love that which is other than himself, and he cannot fulfill this need if all he chooses to pursue is the delectable good - which is a good that only he can enjoy. He knows that he is not the only person in the world, that there are others who are like him, namely human persons who have the same basic needs or inclinations. He understands through his own self-knowledge or self-consciousness that there is often a tension within himself, a tension between his own appetite for the delectable good, which is a private good, and another good that is larger than himself - the good of the other or others. He recognizes a fundamental moral "ought" and that he ought to treat another in a way that agrees with (or is true to) what the other actually is. For example, if he is a human person equal in dignity to me, then I ought to treat him as such. I ought not to reduce him to the status of an instrument for my own private good, because I know from within that such behavior is repugnant to me - for I desire to be "important for" someone in an absolute sense, not relatively and for a short time only, like the existence of a pencil or a flashlight, which has importance only when needed, and not in itself; for no instrument is loved for its own sake.

The common good or the good of the whole cannot be achieved unless each person responds faithfully to that sense of duty to freely love the whole more than the self. And so I have a need for integrity or integration. In other words, I not only desire order within the social whole - even though I choose in a way that frustrates that order - , I also desire order within myself, among the various aspects of myself, such as my passions and reason, and between my choices and my already established moral identity (character) - even though I choose in a way that is contrary to right reason. My sense of duty includes bringing order from within me because it is not possible to bring about order within the social whole unless there is order within each of the parts of the whole, especially in light of the fact that a person, who is part of the social whole, is a whole unto himself with many aspects (i.e., intellect, will, the emotions of the sensitive appetite, his established character, and his potential acts).

Now this shared or common good of the social whole includes much more than economic prosperity; the human person is a moral agent, he has a fundamental need for moral integrity. He is part of a larger moral order, for he is part of a community of moral agents, namely human persons. Nevertheless, a community of morally disordered persons will inevitably have negative economic repercussions, and that is because man is more than a consumer, he is a person - if he were a mere consumer, moral integrity wouldn't matter. And so if we reduce the human person to a consumer and regard economic prosperity alone as the ultimate perfection of the individual, we will inevitably experience the never ending frustration of economic failure, to some degree at least - for injustice and human selfishness are costly (for they generate mistrust, excessive caution, an atmosphere of alienation and over competitiveness, anxiety, despair, etc).

And so "the good", or the moral order, is much larger than my own private good, that is, my own "delectable good". Moreover, my own personal good depends upon the good of the whole (the moral order) and how I freely choose to relate to it; and so it follows that the way I choose to relate to the moral order is the way I freely establish my relationship with God, who is the lawgiver behind the natural moral law (man's sense of duty and all its moral implications or precepts). My choices determine my moral identity (moral character), the kind of person that I am - which is not the same as my personality (I do not "make" my personality, but I do make myself to be a certain kind of person by my own free choices). Either I freely choose to love God and the moral order more than I love myself, or I freely choose to love myself above all, contrary to my deepest need. My happiness thus depends upon moral choices that incorporate me into something much larger than myself; I need to "exist in" something larger than myself, and I can only do so on condition that I freely choose to "exist for" something other than myself, and on condition that others freely and gratuitously receive the gift of my existence.

My character, in turn, affects the way I see the world: "As a person is, so does he see" (Aristotle). If I choose a self-centered existence, I begin to see you as a means to my own private ends; if I am an unjust person, I see any course of action that demands from me some kind of sacrifice as an injustice; if I am a prideful and arrogant human being, I see whoever is smarter than me as a threat; if I am a lazy lout, I regard those who are willing to spoon feed me as my friends, and those who demand I take some initiative as my enemies, etc.

And so although I have a need for justice, my choices might be made for the sake of my own "delectable good", and the result is deficient character, or vice, which are bad character traits (habits), such as cowardice, intemperance, impatience, arrogance, vanity, dishonesty, leniency, etc. So although I desire a just social order, my choices help to prevent that, because they are selfish, but I never end up seeing or acknowledging that. And so I have become my own worst enemy; for I need to love and be loved, but my choices are unloving and they give rise to resentment in others, and so I end up alienating myself from others, to some degree.

Personhood and Sexuality

Intense passion, such as the passion of sexual satisfaction, is very different from the general state of human happiness or well-being. It is very difficult to make this clear for those who do not already know this from within; for it usually takes years of life experience and a keen sense of self-awareness to grasp the distinction. But the distinction is clear and obvious to those who choose to love the moral good (the moral order) more than they love themselves.

The most a brute animal can expect in terms of happiness is the perpetual satisfaction of its sense appetites. The human person, on the other hand, also has passions, but his emotions have a much wider range. The human person can get excited about objects outside the animal's range of cognition: we get excited about the prospect of flying overseas to visit historic places and museums, we can get excited about commitments that promise a great deal of hardship, but which have as their object the good of another or others, such as the prospect of having and caring for a baby or a large family, or serving a community in some way. Human emotions are personal; the passions are humanized when taken up into the life of the intellect and will, and so they have a need to be guided by reason. The emotions become most fully what they are when they are disposed to obey reason and the demands of the moral order.

Consequently, it is possible to experience pleasure that is momentary and intense, but which leaves one in a lesser state, that is, unhappier in the end, because the act which produces the pleasure does not lift the person into a larger reality. Allow me to employ an analogy that compares the moral life to a soccer game. Exercising my dazzling skills as a soccer player before a large crowd of people might be pleasurable, but skillfully contributing to a play of which I am only a part and which ends with another player scoring a goal for the team, bringing about the larger good of victory for everyone, in the end brings me a greater good and thus a greater happiness - because we naturally love the good of the whole more than our own individual good. But if my emotions are so disordered that I am inclined to my own delectable good and choose on the basis of that inclination, that course of action leaves the team frustrated with me, although it flatters my ego and brings me momentary enjoyment. In the end, it deprives me and the team of victory. And so my acts ought to be taken up into something larger, namely the order of the game itself, ordered to a common good (victory).

Again, this is difficult to communicate to those who have not experienced the subtle difference between this general and underlying state of moral well-being that we can call joy, and the pleasure of intense passion and the relief it often provides; and so to continue the analogy, it is difficult to persuade the egotistical player that a greater happiness can be had by ordering his activity to the shared good of the team. And the distinction is especially difficult in the area of sexuality, not so much in extreme cases of adultery or casual sex - most people of relatively decent character understand the morally repugnant nature of these acts - , but more so in reference to sex acts performed in the context of a committed relationship that is not marital, or masturbatory acts that are mutual and between married couples. It is particularly difficult because committed friendship is a good thing that promotes the fullness of one's personal existence, and the sexual act is often regarded as a genuine part of that relationship, sharing in its goodness. The following discourse, however, aims to clarify how such acts are really not at all genuine parts of such non marital friendships but are additions that actually erode and harm them, and that the wisest and most prudent course of action for a young man or woman is to keep oneself for one's spouse, to practice fidelity even before marriage, and to avoid masturbatory acts within marriage (i.e., oral sex, anal intercourse, or sexual intercourse that is merely a response to an urge). I am aware, however, that the only ones who are going to appreciate the reasoning in all of this are those who genuinely love the moral good more than they love their own feelings of complacency, those whose lives are already freely ordered towards the source of all that is good, namely God, who is Goodness, Truth, and Beauty Itself; outside of that, all moral discourse defending traditional sexual morality, no matter how precise and true to reality, will appear thin and unduly scrupulous.

Having said that, let me begin by pointing out that sexual union in its full meaning is not a union of parts, but a union of persons. The sexual act has a meaning much greater and richer than the sexual acts of brute animals. The sex acts of brute animals are ordered towards the preservation of the species, they are instinctual, and the animal experiences nothing more than vehement desire and the passion of satisfaction. For many people as well, that's all sex is on the human level. But the only way to make any sense out of traditional sexual morality is to keep in the forefront of the mind that sexual union is a union of persons.

The basic orientation of a morally good life, one that responds faithfully and completely to the moral sense, is a relational one, an existence that radiates beyond the self. It involves not merely knowing, but loving the other and others as another self, to will his good and the good of the whole, not for my sake or for my own delectable good, but for the sake of the good as such. All my passions must be ordered to that end, and when they are ordered to that end, they serve reason, and when they are made to serve reason, my passions become fully humanized. I become an ordered person within a larger order, as a working starter motor or distributer contributes fully to the functioning of an engine (such analogies fall short in that man is indeed a part of the whole, but not a mere part).

Some genuinely human acts (freely willed) result in intense pleasure, and such pleasure is part and parcel of the act for a reason. A brute animal is not conscious of the reason in its case, but the reason is present in the very instinct that drives him, and only a rational creature can detect the reason - i.e., for the preservation of the individual, and the preservation of the species (i.e., eating is for the sake of the preservation of the individual, and sexual desire is for the sake of the preservation of the species).

A human person's desire for food is also for the preservation of the individual; a brute animal does not know this, but a person is capable of knowing this and ordering his appetite to that end. We eat to live, and to live is good. Thus, his appetite ought to be ordered, freely and intelligently, for the sake of his own preservation, thus for the sake of his over-all health. Unhealthy eating is thus disordered. Excessive eating is also disordered, for it contributes to the individual's demise (i.e., diabetes, heart condition, clogged arteries, etc.). In other words, such a person's appetite is inclining him to do something which results in the opposite of what it is intended to achieve. But there is also a moral component here. Man is a moral agent. A man with a disordered appetite lacks complete self-possession. He lacks control; he is controlled by his sense appetite, and so his behavior is somewhat less than fully human, in that it is less under the dominion of a will subject to reason. He is becoming self-indulgent, pleasure oriented, a slave to passion, to some degree at least.

Joy, however, results from a life of virtue, because a life of virtue is an ordered life, a life that is taken up, as a result of the free moral choices of the person, into something larger than the individual person, namely the common good of the civil community as a whole. A person who is ordered within himself, through the possession of fortitude and its parts as well as temperance and all its parts, is a person who can be inserted within the civil community as a whole as a healthy part of the social whole. He is one who loves the common or shared good more than the delectable good. If he loves the moral good, then he wills order from within himself (he wills to cultivate temperance and fortitude, or integrity) and wills to take his place within the civil community, for the sake of the common good of the civil community. The intemperate, generally speaking, freely choose the delectable good over the shared good, or the good of the whole; for they are somewhat indifferent to how their own emotional state affects the civil community. In fact, it can be argued that they don't even love their own moral good enough - their character. They care more for how they "feel". Disordered acts, such as intemperate acts, i.e., gluttonous acts, are indeed pleasurable and provide a sense of relief, but because they are not ordered to their proper end and are rooted in an excessive love of one's emotional complacency, they distort the character, that is, they destroy its proportion. The moral character becomes lopsided, comparable to a rather large beer belly, or another disproportioned area of the body.

It is the same for sexual acts. The goodness of these acts, like all human acts, consists in their order within a larger whole. The first point is that sexual acts are ordered towards the preservation of the species, and so in the human being, the will must be freely ordered to that end, towards the good of the whole, not merely the delectable good of the self. This does not mean that the sexual act must always issue in children; it means that this end is the key to understanding the complete meaning of the act.

The sexual act is delectable, but the reason for that is the end, which is the species, the civil community as a whole, or the common good - if the sexual act were not desirable, would the species be preserved? The union of marriage is for the sake of the common good of the civil community, and the family is its basic unit, and so he ought to love his wife for her own sake, and that love must be part of his love for the common good of the civil community as a whole, and vice versa. He marries her to care for her, because she cannot care for herself when she is with child. She and her child need his protection, which is much more than financial. His love of her is a great service to the civil community as a whole. The two must love one another not as a means to an end, but as an end, but at the same time marital love is a part of a wider love of the civil community as a whole, for marriage is ordered to the common good of the whole.

And so his sexual act, to be fully personal (persona), must be an expression of that marital union, that is, ordered towards it. His commitment to marriage is a good much larger than himself considered individually, a commitment which among other things promises hardship, difficulty, and sacrifice. The act is pleasurable, but the end he ought to intend is not his own pleasure, but something beyond himself, namely the good of his spouse, the expression and celebration of that marital love. That marital union is much more than a friendship. It is a vow to be a one flesh union, which is an institution, and an institution of persons is for the sake of the common good (the public welfare). A child is the fruit and testimony of that one flesh union.

Masturbatory acts simply bring pleasure, the pleasure of orgasm. They have no capacity to be ordered towards anything beyond the pleasure of orgasm; for they are neither unitive nor are they procreative. They are inevitably closed in on themselves, comparable to the act of eating for the mere taste of food. But the act of sexual intercourse between a husband and wife who have given themselves completely to one another for the sake of an institution ordered towards the good of the civil community, do not result in pleasure alone, but in something more. This is a sexual act of mutual self-giving in which the two receive the entire gift of self (including fertility). It is a sacrificial act, albeit a pleasurable act, and that is because marriage itself is sacrificial; it is a giving that includes a great deal of hardship, because it involves begetting and raising children - which is a difficult task - , self-denial, learning to adjust to another's ways, flexibility, etc. The act of sexual intercourse between the married couple is an act of marriage; not all sexual acts that can occur between a married couple are marital acts, that is, acts of the social institution that marriage is. Oral and anal intercourse, for example, lack an order towards the larger social reality that marriage is. They might in some way resemble the marital act, but they lack its complete meaning or direction. The act of marital self-giving results in intense pleasure, but it is an essentially self-giving act, for it is a complete giving of one's bodily self, which includes one's fertility, and it is a giving that is completed by the free decision to receive the total and personal self-giving of one's spouse. The result is a union of persons, not merely a union of parts. Acts of self-giving, genuinely charitable acts - whether they are accompanied by pleasure or not - cause a genuine expansion of the self and thus bring about a greater sense of integration or integrity, and thus a greater joy.

Non-marital intercourse and masturbatory acts cannot achieve that; all they achieve is pleasure. But because the will consents to the act - which is a less than fully human action, since it is not ordered to a union of persons and procreation, thus not ordered to the civil community as a whole, as is marriage and its acts - , the person is left in a diminished state, not so much the state of an expanded self, but a shrunken self, a more dis-integrated self (the passions are not integrated towards an end proposed by reason, but are indulged in for the sake of sensible satisfaction), and the result might be more pleasure, but a depressed or empty state of sorts. It is the opposite of joy, a subtle sorrow or sadness, the emotional state of having become shrunken (for the act is directed ultimately to the self, that is, to pleasure, which is in the self).