Magazine article New Oxford Review

Karol Wojtyla's Personalist Philosophy: Understanding Person and Act

Magazine article New Oxford Review

Karol Wojtyla's Personalist Philosophy: Understanding Person and Act

Article excerpt

Karol Wojtyla's Personalist Philosophy: Understanding Person and Act. By Miguel Acosta and Adrian J. Reimers. Catholic University of America Press. 260 pages. $65.

The question of the self and how a person relates to the larger world has been a topic of debate for some time, although issues of autonomy, human rights, and personal dignity in the past 50 years have made the question especially acute. We see the power of the state to refashion our lives, and the power of corporations to refashion our desires, and we want to know how we fit into the larger picture and if anything of the self can remain in the midst of these various forces. Certainly some of the most heated policy debates of recent years have revolved around questions of the self - what constitutes personal identity and its legitimate expression, what rights does an individual have (especially in an increasingly pluralistic society), and what is the source of one's dignity and worth throughout life? Since World War II, the philosophy of personalism has attempted to wrestle with these very topics. Throughout his pontificate, St. John Paul II reflected extensively on the dignity of the person. And now, Miguel Acosta and Adrian Reimers, in their book Karol Wojtyia's Personalist Philosophy, explore how these reflections were influenced by personalist thought and were an extension of the philosophical project that Karol Wojtyła (later Pope John Paul II) began from his earliest days as a philosopher.

One of the basic problems of looking at Wojtyła's philosophy is justifying why one should do so. Unlike Benedict XVI, whose theological writings prior to his pontificate were well known (if not always well received), John Paul II was a more obscure figure within philosophical circles before his election as pope. As a result, it is at least fair to ask whether we would be quite so concerned with his thought had he not been pope, and whether his writings from prior to his pontificate have significance beyond a historical footnote. Acosta and Reimers acknowledge this in their introduction, noting that "the simple fact that his work was done in the Polish language prevented it from being widely known." However, the philosophy Wojtyła developed during his philosophical career influenced not only his own papal writings but Church documents from before his pontificate - documents that have been analyzed and debated to such an extent that Wojtyła's "philosophy has spread throughout the world and is being developed in institutes, research centers, and universities." Whether his philosophy was popular before his papacy, it has become highly influential since then; it proposes a serious way of looking at the world, and therefore deserves to be examined.

Moreover, Acosta notes in the first section of the book that "like the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, Wojtyła's philosophy is open to theology, and in some points the faith illuminates his philosophical conceptions." Tracing the progression of Wojtyła's interests - from literature to scholastic metaphysics to phenomenology and theology - we see how he developed a "Christian philosophy" in the classic sense. …

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