An Adequate Conception of Personhood as the Foundation of Political Theory
Ellis, Patrick B.
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Within the Western political tradition, two distinct conceptions of human being have emerged. According to one account, men and women are deemed to be social in nature. Aristotle once referred this by claiming man to be "social animals". This fact is made evident in every day life. Each and every individual may find him or herself situated within a vast network of intimate friends and family and everyday acquaintances. Interaction with others becomes a fundamental aspect that allows one to understand how it is he is to express himself and care for others outside of the private sphere. Within an intimate circle of friends there are various unwritten, but well understood, rules that guide our actions accordingly. At the same time, human beings have been understood as purely rational and detached individuals, with certain abilities and responsibilities to protect others from outside interference in their private lives. In other words, we may be thought as beings capable of taking a stance that is free from cultural influences within political actions to ensure universal freedom. However, which facet of our nature are we to employ in politics? The political arena represents a vague area in which there has grown a great conflict centered around which conception of "personhood" if any we ought or necessarily utilize. Representing the first view, the communitarian viewpoint believes that our relationships not only make up our identities but also provide the basic blueprint for a better conception of how a political system should operate. The second point illustrates the liberal stance and reflects the belief that it is only through the stripping away or removal of cultural ideals from political systems will justice and equality be recognized. The cornerstone to liberal political systems is the belief that humans are first and foremost lone rational agents, while communitarians believe that humans are socially embedded individuals that rely on a community to provide them with the tools to be effective within the political arena. The communitarian/liberalism debate introduces the need for an adequate concept of "personhood" for the purposes of conceiving a political theory.