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The self

Thursday, 12 May 2022

St Maximus on Dr John Dunn. The self
Thoughts prompted by the writings of St Maximus

The essential characteristics of man are common at the universal, but never circumscribe one self, unless as a prison (I’ll come to this later).

For example, Peter, John and Paul are human beings and being a rational animal is an essential characteristic of such humanness. Rationality is essential for being the entity a human being; necessary, but not sufficient to be a self.

The essential characteristics are the forms which exist by themselves, while the
self indicates a someone of those forms, i.e. someone, the self, who carries the forms in the concrete sense.

The individual has essential characteristics that are common, while in addition he has the personal characteristics of being that belong to himself.

The essence has only the essential characteristics of the species, whereas the individual has in addition that which shows the someone.

Peter is in all respects human being; there is nothing in Peter that is not human. On the other hand, to be human being is not in all respects to be Peter.

There is a distinction between being something and someone.

Let us move on from essential characteristics, which might be misinterpreted as being static, to modes of activity. The same principles apply.

There are modes of activity common to all. We are all active as being something. However when an individual gives form to a mode of activity, he manifests himself as a someone.

The character of being an individual is to give character to the mode of activity.

A human being is an individual when he assumes the modes of activity common to all, with a potentiality of power, in such a way that he gives form to those activities as belonging to himself, as a someone.

In order to be an individual an entity must be a someone who gives form to a mode of activity.

This condition is necessary but not sufficient.

A materialist would say that man is an essence with properties. Even if the properties are not unique to individual, the combination is unique. For example, one man differs from another because of the different time,place and circumstances in which they live. In this sense, man remains a something, an instantiation of properties, however unique.

But being something is to be distinguished from being someone.

In addition to being an entity, a something, distinguished by a set of properties, who gives form to modes of activity, each is created, not only as man, but also as a
self.

Here we need the doctrine of man being created in the image and likeness of God. It brings with it a distinctive dynamics, but also a mystery, since what we are in our deepest self is hidden in the divine intention for our being, as a selves.

To be a self is not our achievement, but rather a gift from God

There is something to be achieved from our own effort, namely, how we give form to the modes of activity.

However, something is given before any activity occurs. The mystery of an individual’s selfhood is kept in the mystery of the divine being.

When ever we act out the potential that we are given by God, we give form to the mode of action in accordance (or discordance) with the divine intention for our being, as a
self.

It is possible to live as divinely intended, but one may also lead a life of delusions separated from one’s true purpose.* (He can of course be imprisoned within these delusions by others, but this must be dealt with elsewhere.)

The true self is kept in God and the true principles contemplated by Him.

One’s self as a mystery is to be achieved in a stretching out for God

This self is not an autonomous entity, a collection of properties however unique, haunting a ready-made world; it is, rather, an entity that is realised in a life characterised by being in accordance with divine intention.

* (For my personal record) In future work I will relate these delusions back to Massimo Scaligero’s concept of disconnection from the Logos in reflected thought.


© John Dunn.







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