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Chalcedonian Personalism

Rethinking the Human

Colin Patterson

We all have a sense of what it means to be a person, but how do we conceptualize that intuition? What is the connection between a person and their human nature? Where does mind fit in to the picture? This book draws upon the work of Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar, both of whom developed a perspective on these questions that is grounded in the early Church’s teaching on Christ and the Trinity. The possibilities of that teaching for understanding human personhood were generally lost for about fifteen centuries, but Ratzinger, in a bold assertion, believes that its retrieval has the power to challenge and reshape the whole of human thought.

The first part of the book offers an account of how von Balthasar and Ratzinger arrived at their theological understanding of personhood, paying particular attention to nineteenth- and early twentieth-century personalist thought. The second part draws out a number of the implications of this work and, in doing so, makes use of recent psychological theory. Finally, as a means of bringing into the picture the related philosophical notions of self, freedom and the soul, the book introduces and explores the concept of a «semblant».

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Chapter 9: Case Study I: Free Will


← 252 | 253 →CHAPTER 9

Case Study I: Free Will

We have passed over the semblant notion of free will so far since it is of such great importance that it deserves a chapter of its own. Introducing this chapter, I will endeavour to sketch the main contours of its place within Western philosophical literature, but to keep my treatment of freedom to manageable lengths I will consider in turn three types of theory: so-called compatibilism, libertarianism, and theories that treat free will as a defective notion. These will be discussed through the thought of prominent proponents of each, and against that background, I will then describe a concept of free will as a semblant concept that aims to avoid the limitations of each of these types of theory. The underlying theoretic basis, of course, will be the Chalcedonian theory of personhood proposed in the earlier chapters. To conclude the chapter, the relative usefulness of the notion of free will offered here will be highlighted against some of the limitations of the other theories.

Forms of freedom

Isaiah Berlin’s theory of the two concepts of liberty, positive and negative, though focussed primarily on their political incarnation, has been a springboard for broader reflection on the notion of freedom.1 In a more general context we might think of negative liberty as referring to that free space ← 253 | 254 →within which one can exercise choice without the interference of others, including the state. Positive liberty...

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