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Philosophy of Education

Personalism and Education: A Philosophical Retrospect/Prospect

Thomas O. Buford
Furman University

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ABSTRACT: Committed to the metaphysical thesis that Person is first, working within the Liberal Protestant Consensus, and believing that our minds are capable of grasping reality (to some degree), Boston Personalists have followed two roads in developing their thought: ratio and poeisis. The former is represented by Bowne and Brightman with their emphasis on reason (empirical coherence, for Brightman), and the latter by Bertocci with his emphasis on creativity. Though Bowne and Brightman were deeply concerned with education, it was Bertocci who wrote on the subject, and his focus was on moral education. My interest, however, is not in developing Bertocci's position. Rather I shall state the essentials of a Personalist view of moral education within the poeisis tradition. To do that I shall address this question: "Must one know to be good?" I shall discuss that question by examining the life of the developing moral person and the place of knowledge in that life. As this discussion unfolds, we shall see the educational ideal of Boston Personalism.

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Personalism deeply influenced education in America during the first two-thirds of the twentieth century. Their influence was felt through the liberal Protestant consensus, which was the intellectual framework for higher education, and which they helped forge. (1) During the twentieth century forces eroded that consensus, and by the late1960's its influence was weak. Many of us can remember the attack in the late 1960's on the Establishment waged by counterculture forces, specifically Woodstock. The result is that something is now missing that was in place fifty years ago. Let's call it the Center, the content of which was a theological understanding of the persons and their world, certain books, and the commitment to educating the intellect to know. Along with that Center went a view of person and an understanding of what moral education could mean if it were attempted. What I want to do is consider a part of what has been lost, specifically that view of persons and their moral education. My reason for this is more than historical; we may have cast aside a view of persons and moral education that ought to be given more careful consideration. To do that I want to discuss a Personalist (that form of Personalism known as Boston Personalism) view of education, particularly moral education.

Committed to the metaphysical thesis that Person is first, working within the Liberal Protestant Consensus, and believing that our minds are capable of grasping reality (to some degree), Boston Personalists have followed two roads in developing their thought: ratio and poeisis. The former is represented by Bowne and Brightman with their emphasis on reason (empirical coherence, for Brightman), and the latter by Bertocci with his emphasis on creativity. Though Bowne and Brightman were deeply concerned with education, it was Bertocci who wrote on the subject, and his focus was on moral education. My interest, however, is not in developing Bertocci's position. Rather I shall state the essentials of a Personalist view of moral education within the poeisis tradition. To do that I shall address this question: "Must one know to be good?" I shall discuss that question by examining the life of the developing moral person and the place of knowledge in that life. As this discussion unfolds, we shall see the educational ideal of Boston Personalism.

Structure of Persons

We turn first to the life of the developing moral person. What can we say about that life? Humans are creative-finders. Being instinctually deprived and thus open to the world in a way that animals are not, they create structures for themselves. (2) They may be stable as in traditional societies or unstable and open to change, as in modern societies. Yet in their effort to overcome their instinctual deficit in their relation to the world and to provide safety for themselves, they craft a world, including institutions. The exercise of this capacity requires imagination and embodiment. This means that selves must "come up with," imagine what is not already available to them in the world and with ways of realizing those possibilities. The realization of the possible requires embodiment, the suggestiveness of the "medium" in which we live physically and socially. Selves and institutions are nothing more than abstractions if they remain only in the imaginative mind of the artist and on the drawing board of the draftsman. They must be instantiated by "artists" in contexts that will support them. But what is the place of creatively — finding in the formation of our moral personhood? (3)

First, as a creative-finder a person is an agent. We not only initiate actions but we have the potentiality to act in a wide variety of ways. We shall call these "activity potentials." An activity potential is that which a person is able to do in a situation that calls for it. Persons have the following activity potentials: "sensing, remembering, imagining, thinking, feeling, emoting, wanting, willing, oughting, and aesthetic and religious appreciation." (4) To possess the activity potential of sensing means, for example, that one has the potentiality to see the color of the Aegean sea, even though one has never actually seen it. If one were in a position to see it, one would be able to do so. It is also possible for a person not to possess an activity potential. A blind person does not have the activity potential of sight. We call these activity potentials a complex unity because rarely is one potential developed without involving the others. Persons do not simply see; they also think about what they see, appreciate what they see, and remember what they see. And we must remember, that as agents with activity potentials, those potentials actualize in a suggestive and limiting context. For one to sense there must be something that is sensed. We cannot sense a red male cardinal as just any color we arbitrarily choose. The bird sets limits to the actualization of my activity potential, seeing.

Second, as creative-finders we are self-conscious of this complex of activity potentials as belonging to ourselves. And as belonging, these activity potentials are owned. They are mine. However, the fact that they belong to me does not mean they are consistent with each other or that they work well together. Rather, they "belong" in the sense that they are all owned by one person, me. But what is the person to whom these activity potentials belong? For them to belong to me there must be a unifier to whom they belong. To ignore belonging as implying a unity leaves us with simply unrelated experiences as the activity potentials actualize their potentiality. That could leave us with the following oddity: I could hit my finger with a hammer today and I could remember tomorrow that I hit my finger with a hammer yesterday and the two experiences have nothing to do with each other. But, of course they do; I connect them. Both belong to me and I am aware of that. The self cannot be only a succession of experiences, as Hume contended. There can be no succession of experiences without the experience of succession. Unless there is someone to whom they belong and who acts as unifier, change and the interrelation of the activity potentials are incoherent. A person is a unity-in-continuity.

Does this mean that a person is an entity that has the capacity to possess these characteristics? No, a person is not an entity; a person is nothing other than the experiences it has. No unchanging, mathematically identical soul unifies our activity potentials. While the complex unity of activity potentials is nothing apart from the self, the self is not reducible to this complex unity. The self is "a self-identifying unity in change, a self-identifying being and becoming." (5) We find that we are a self-conscious unity amid complexity. What does this mean?

Third, as creative-finders our identity is rooted in our experience of the continuity of "nows." We are self-consciously aware that we are both self-identifying and being-becoming. We are self-conscious of ourselves as complex unities who have identities and that remain through change. "The unity that is undeniable is the complex now of self-experience, a present that is no mathematical point but a saddle-back span, a telic moment erlebst that gives way to another moment." (6) How are these "nows" to be interpreted? They are our experience of ourselves as temporal beings. The most rudimentary experience we have of ourselves is our now, our duration. As enduring, we are continuous with the past and the future. For this reason we call this view a temporalistic view of the person. But how are the nows connected to form our ongoing continuous selves? It seems at first sight that reason is the best candidate to connect them. But reason is not the experiential basis for our conviction of a continuous self, an identity. What evidence do we have that there is an identity among our nows, that we are the same persons at the beginning of Franz Liszt's Les Preludes as we are at the end of it?

On the one hand, the experiential basis of our belief that we are identical through change is the experience of "again." The "now" that I am conscious of recurs again. "Againness" is rooted in memory, especially recall, as in recalling a person's name that you are talking to. This is the power both to form an image, an individual in the midst of the flux of sensation, and to recognize now the reoccurrence of that individual.

On the other hand, as we connect our nows as happening again we may be in error. But to be in error requires the identity of persons. Only persons are able to refer an experience to an object or to claim knowledge of an object. If my student advisee, Reed, says that he is better suited to being a salesman rather than an accountant, Reed believes something and refers it to himself. He may be wrong about himself. Let's assume that he is, and that he would make a better accountant than a salesman. The error was dependent on something being in Reed's consciousness: "only a being who can be aware of x, continue to be and become as he refers the x experienced beyond itself, and thus be the 'locus' of whether or not his reference is correct—only such a unity-in-continuity, only such a being-becoming, can render the very occurrence of error intelligible." (7) Only a person who remains self-conscious through nows, who has identity, can be in error.

Fourth, and finally, as creative-finders we direct our lives towards ends. We want to become doctors, salesmen, laborers, or whatever, and we work toward those goals. We may be wrong or "misdirected" about those goals. But we must believe that persons who purposively and imaginatively guide their successive experiences relative to ends are continuous and self-identical through those telic successive experiences. (Define the latter as tendencies toward and aversions from some object in the environment.)

Thus, as a creative-finder I am an interrelator of nows, a self-identifying, imagining interrelator whose nature it is to act and be acted upon. A person as being-becoming is deeply rooted in the constitutive imagination focused on the "medium" within which it lives. What are we to make of a person as an interrelator that forms her personality?

Let's consider the nature of personality, how it arises, and then its relation to persons. A personality can be defined as "that organization, by a self-identifying person, of those psychophysical wants and abilities that uniquely characterizes his expressive and adaptive adjustments to his environment." (8) How does the personality arise? Personalities are not mere products of their environments or mere unfoldings of capacities. Personality develops due to persons' responses to and understanding of themselves and their public environment. As human beings, persons have needs, tendencies, potentialities, and interests. Individuals select from their own capacities and telic tendencies. We select among these tendencies and the environmental options available to us. Telic tendencies include drives, propensities, needs, and motives, both innate and learned. Such tendencies are psychophysiological in character and include the "bodily me" as well as some aspects of self-identity and ego enhancement discussed earlier. Telic tensions, conflicts, and anxieties do not occur between individuals and their environments (social and physical). Rather, "they have their locus within the person whose dynamic, telic nature encourages the different meanings and values he gives to what surfaces in his constant interaction with some environment." (9) Personalities are the products of knowing-wanting agents who interact with their private and public environments in the attempt to satisfy their own selections and abilities.

What is the relation of person and personality? There is an interrelator (Descartes' crucial insight is correct), but this interrelator is not a timeless, unchanging, substantially identical being. Persons are being-becomings. They objectify themselves, become, in relation to their environment. In so doing their activity potentials through interaction with the total environment are formed into a relatively coherent becoming. This is the personality. No personality, no person. Likewise, no person, no personality.

We can now understand "poeisis," the metaphor drawn from art and its relation to the formation of personality. Both the imagination and medium play central roles in the formation of both the person and personality. If the self is to be understood as a complex time-binding interrelation of activity potentials, the act of relating is an act that brings something into existence that was not there before. The person is agent; but the person is deeply the constitutive imagination on the basis of which the "medium" (the total environment) is explored and the elements of the self are both interrelated and related to that medium. No image no relations; and no relations no personal identity. (10) Further, the self that forms its personality as it interacts with its environment must consider possible ends towards which to move, and that requires the creative imagination. It could be that the self forms its personality dyadically as in traditional societies. But even then it recognizes itself as numerically other than the persons in their community. Or it could be that the self forms its personality monadically as in modern, industrial society. In that case it attempts to form its personality independently of other persons even though it may be influenced by them. The modern personality is the peculiar development of the self as it relates to the specific environment, social, political, economic, moral that is found in the West since the sixteen hundreds. Thus, the temporalistic personalist helps us to understand how the self develops a personality and in so doing helps us to develop the metaphor of "medium" that is necessary to the imaginative development of the self, to creatively finding a self.

Summary: We now have before us an interpretation of the person as creator-finder. We have seen that the imagination and "medium" are central to the self's formation of itself as a personality. To bring into existence what was not there before, a person must imagine possibilities. The self is constrained by a "medium," which we have seen, both suggests and constricts by setting boundaries. Now we must discuss that which directs and unifies the activity potentials of the self, its telic and regnant ideals.

Values and the Good

At the heart of the Personalist view of persons is that they are complex time binding unities with regnant ideals. As moral agents persons are "capable of thinking and conducting [themselves] in accordance with the ideals of truth and value." (11) But how do these ideals arise? To understand that we must discuss the Good and its place in the life of persons as creative-finders.

Persons are willing, feeling, emotive, wanting selves, as well as oughting ones. This means that oughting is an activity potential. Oughting does not arise from knowledge; neither does it arise from the person herself, as if it were made by that person or by society. As Bertocci says, " . . . any person mature enough to conceive alternatives, who decides that x-value is better than y-value, never experiences 'I ought to choose y' (even though it may turn out that he does choose y)." (12) But what ought persons to choose?

What is the good for persons? This good has two components, the first of which is that persons are ends. This means that "were persons not capable of thinking and willing in relation to the alternatives consonant with their affective-emotive tendencies, they would have no reason for treating themselves as ends; they could reasonably be treated as things. Only that person can be an end in himself who can be an end for himself. This is the baseline of a personalistic theory of the good and therefore of education." (13) However, this is not enough. It remains empty until a person "decides what values and ideals are the best for persons, . . . until we articulate an ideal of personality that ought to be realized as far as possible (meliorism) in the context of the raw materials [read "medium"] of personal experience. . . . The personalist's next question must be: How shall we reason about the actual good open to persons, by which all educational choices, formal and material, ought to be guided?" (14)

We must keep in mind that values are the wantings, strivings of persons. But some wants are prized over others. We must evaluate them in the situations in which we find ourselves. As we do so we find them forming patterns. "Any value pattern we discover will be a description about persons in their world, or of the world with persons left in it. The ideal of the life good to live will be a consequence of man's relating himself in thought and action to his own activity-potentials and to his environment, as conceived and as it really is." (15) Once we see this we find that some values are cardinal and support the development of others. These cardinal ones are existence, health, and truth-values. These values are not concoctions of impulse that can be dismantled in preference to others. "To live at all is to live 'in connections' we can't escape; our problem—the fundamental one in education—is to discover the framework, so to speak, of connections among our value—and disvalue—experiences." (16)

To live lives good to live also requires that we discipline ourselves by our ideals. That is our character. "Character . . . is a simple word for a person's complex, learned, moral dispositions to face value conflicts that inevitably or purposely arise in and around his efforts to discover and increase values in his own life and that of others." (17) Succinctly, persons ought to discover the best of which they are capable and strive to achieve it in the face of whatever difficulties present themselves in their environments.

The achievement of these values, however, also involves affiliative and vocational values. Persons find that their values are not only deeply "rooted in, but rendered more worthwhile by, their associations with others." (18) And "the job one has, the work one does 'for a living,' may well take its place alongside of family-experience as the gymnasium in which most persons shape their personalities." (19) However, vocation is broader than work to earn a living. It is one's calling, which is to actualize the purpose that allows for the full actualization of his individuality.

And what is the interrelation of these values? There is no hierarchy here. Our lives move and change as we creatively grow within and in response to our environments. Different values come to the front to guide us at different times in our lives. It is best to think of a symphony of values. "Hence the question always is: Which orchestration of values will not foreclose values unnecessarily?" (20) As Bertocci says, "The goal in life, the meaning of happiness, cannot be 'serene' fulfillment but a melioristic 'creative insecurity'. . . . His task, ultimately of self-education, is the task of finding where he is, and how far he can go, in relation to the total human venture in value realization." (21) "The moral life consists not in a flight from insecurity, but in risky but blessed creativity, guided by a larger, imperfect vision of what man and the universe can be." (22) Though the Personalist can develop a view of the life good to live on the basis of a person's Lebenschauung, it points to a grounding in a view of Being as Person.

Knowledge, the Good, and Persons

The universe is deeply moral and we can know its structure through the revelation of God in the Judeo-Christian tradition. But we are not left to faith alone. Appealing to German Romantic thought, particularly Kant and Hegel, we can argue that the universe is moral and knowable by reason and experience. Nature is God's creation and by our own devices, notably science, we can learn what God placed there. Humans, made in the image of God, are best guided by reason as they interpret experience as well as being instructed by it. But left to reason and experience alone persons drift and find no stable meaning in life. (Scientific standards and procedures are not enough to build a life on.) Only on the basis of their purposive, aiming, valuing activity can persons find meaning. But values are not private or limited to society. Written in the heart of reality are moral patterns that are universal and available to all persons. By grasping these moral values a person can integrate them into her life, thereby finding the meaning that seems so elusive. Though a person, thinking philosophically can grasp them, any person through the Judeo-Christian faith, particularly the Protestant tradition, can grasp them and find in them meaning for their lives.

This reformulation of the tradition of the calling aids persons to find answers to the deepest questions of their lives, specifically, Who am I? What am I to be? What am I to do? And in answering them one supposedly overcomes the truncated and splintered personality and finds rich identity. What gives our lives unity are values, purposes that transcend us and to which we commit ourselves. Writing in 1908 Josiah Royce, the great Harvard philosopher wrote, ". . . the answer to the question, 'Who are you?' really begins in earnest when a man mentions his calling, and so actually sets out upon the definition of his purposes and of the way in which these purposes get expressed in his life. . . . To sum up, then, I should say that a person, an individual self, may be defined as a human life lived according to a plan." (23) Further, we search for "some cause, far larger than ourselves, to which we are fully ready to be loyal.". (24) When we find that cause we come to our full moral consciousness, we find unity for our lives; and we also find our calling. It should not be assumed that the cause to which one is loyal will actually fully and finally unity and integrate one's life. Edgar S. Brightman wrote in 1925 that ". . . our incomplete and fragmentary minds give rise to an ideal of a full and complete personality, that this ideal is the only one that fulfills the demands of coherent thinking, and hence that the perfect personality is real." (25) And what is the relation of that cause, that which is supremely valuable to that perfect personality, to God? God is the home of universal values. They are the fundamental principles in terms of which God created, sustains, and redeems the world. And only they can provide the unity a purposive, aiming person seeks. Though our limited, finite, individual minds seek unity, only God is fully integrated, unified personality.


Now, let me summarize. A Personalist answer to our question can be seen within the central personalist concern regarding the education of the whole person. The whole person rests on character and truth, the two rails on which the moral personality rests. Let's summarize what we have said by focusing on the original question, "Must one know to be good?"

Person is a time-binding, complex unity of activity potentials, governed by ideals, "a fighter for ends" (William James).
For persons to be good, to be a rich, full personalities, they must know those ideals that give their lives coherence.
If one were to claim to be virtuous and did not know that the values chosen were the best for the fully developed personality, that person cannot escape the charge that they could be acting badly while they thought there were acting virtuously.
Hence, one must know the good to be good.

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(1) For a full discussion of the significance for higher education of the liberal Protestant consensus see George Marsden, "The Soul of the American University," in George M. Marsden and Bradley J. Longfield (eds.), The Secularization of the Academy (New York: Oxford UP, 1992): 9-45 and George M. Marsden, The Soul of the American University, From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief (New York: Oxford UP, 1994).

(2) See Arnold Gehlen, Man in the Age of Technology. Trans. Particia Lipscomb (New York: Columbia UP, 1980) and Max Scheler, Man's Place in Nature. Trans. with an Introduction by Hans Meyerhoff (New York: Beacon, 1961).

(3) In what follows we shall be heavily dependent on the work of Peter A. Bertocci, especially his essay, "The Essence of a Person." We agree with Bertocci and Bowne that the starting point in our search for the nature of the person is experience and reasoning within experience. It makes no sense to go beyond what experience supports; yet, we must seek the most coherent account of experience as we find it. We want to achieve the most inclusively systematic hypothesis regarding the nature of persons, their identity, and their unity.

(4) Peter A. Bertocci, "The Essence of a Person." The Monist 61.1:458.

(5) Ibid., 460.

(6) Ibid., 461.

(7) Ibid., 463.

(8) Peter A. Bertocci, "The Person, His Personality, and Environment." Review of Metaphysics 32 (1979): 606.

(9) Bertocci, "The Person, His Personality, and Environment" 606.

(10) Vico is right. The central imaginative universal is Jove. From it all else human develops. The self finds itself in and through sacred story. See Stephen Crites, "The Narrative Quality of Experience." Journal of the American Academy of Religion 39 (September 1971): 291-311.

(11) Peter A. Bertocci. "A Personalistic Philosophy of Education." Teachers College Record. 80.3 (February 1979): 489.

(12) Ibid., 490.

(13) Ibid., 491.

(14) Ibid., 492.

(15) Ibid., 495.

(16) Ibid., 497.

(17) Ibid., 499.

(18) Ibid.

(19) Ibid., 501.

(20) Ibid., 503.

(21) Ibid. 504.

(22) Peter A. Bertocci. "Education and the Vision of Excellence." University Lecture 1959-1960. Boston: Boston UP 1960: 26.

(23) Josiah Royce, The Philosophy of Loyalty (New York: Macmillan 1908, 1918): 168.

(24) Ibid.,170.

(25) Edgar Sheffield Brightman, An Introduction to Philosophy (New York: Holt, 1925):210).

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