1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Personality

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PERSONALITY (from Lat. persona, originally an actor’s mask, from personare,[1] to sound through), a term applied in philosophy and also in common speech to the identity or individuality which makes a being (person) what he is, or marks him off for all that he is not. The term “person,” which is technically used not only 1n philosophy but also in law, is applied in theology (Gr. πρόσωπον) to the three hypostases of the Trinity. It was first introduced by Tertullian, who implied by it a single individual, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost were three personae though of one and the same substance (unitas substantiae). The nature of this unity in difference exercised the minds of the early Christian theologians, and was the subject of many councils and official pronouncements, according as emphasis was laid on the unity or on the separateness of the persons. There was perpetual schism between the Unitarians and Trinitarians (see for example Sabellius). The natural sense of the word “person” is undoubtedly individuality; hence those who found a difficulty in the philosophic conception of the three-in-one naturally tended to lay emphasis on the distinctions between the members of the Trinity (see Heresy; Monarchianism, Logos, &c.). A further theological question arises in Connexion with the doctrine of immortality (q.v.), and it is argued that immortality is meaningless unless the soul of the dead man is self-conscious throughout.

In philosophy the term has an important ethical significance. The Greek moralists, attaching little importance to individual citizens as such, found the highest moral perfection in the subordination of the individual to the state. Man, as πολιτικόν, is good only when he is a good πολιτής. Subsequent ethical systems on the contrary have la1d stress on the moral worth of personality, finding the summum bonum in the highest realization of the self. This view is specially characteristic of the Neo-hegelian school (e.g. T. H. Green), but it belongs also in various degrees to all intuitional and idealistic systems. Utilitarian universalistic hedonism and evolutionist ethics so far resemble the Greek theory that they tend to minimize the importance of personality, by introducing ulterior reasons (e.g. the perfection of the social organism, of humanity) as the ultimate sanctions of moral principles, whereas the intuitionists by making the criterion abstract and absolute limit goodness to personal obedience to the a priori moral law.

Still more important problems are connected with the psychological significance of personality. What is the origin and character of the consciousness of the self? The consciousness of the identity of another person is comparatively simple; but one’s own individuality consists partly in being aware of that ind1v1duality; a man cannot use the word “I” unless he is conscious of the unity of his “self,” and yet there is involved in the word “I” something more than this consciousness. In what does the unity of the “self” consist prior to its being recognized in consciousness, how does the consciousness arise? The answer to this problem is to be found—in so far as it can be found—in the subject-object relation, in the distinction between the external world and the subjective processes of knowing and willing which that relation involves. I will something, and afterwards perceive a corresponding change within the unity of my external world. Hence, we may suppose, arises the consciousness of a permanent self and not-self. It should be observed that self-consciousness varies according to the intellectual development, and the term “personality” is usually connected only with the self-consciousness of an advanced type, not, for example, with that of an animal. Even among human beings there is considerable difference. The most elementary form of human self-consciousness includes in the self not only the soul but also the body, while to the developed self-consciousness the physical self is part of the external or objective world. Finally it is necessary to refer to the Kantian distinction of the pure and the empirical ego, the latter (“the Me known”) being an object of thought to the former (“the I knowing”).

From the use of the term “person” as distinguishing the self from the not-self arises the phrase “personal equation” for those peculiar characteristics or idiosyncrasies which have to be taken into account in estimating the value of an individual judgment or observation. This phrase, which is commonly used in any connexion, was f1rst applied to the errors detected in the astronomical observations of a Greenwich observer named Kinnebrook in 179 5. The recognized fact that the greater or less inaccuracy is habitual to individual observers has been investigated, e g. by Bessel (Abhandlungen, iii. 300) and by Wundt (Physiol. Psychol.), and machines have been devised which make allowance for the error caused by the personal equation (see Micrometer).

For the psychological problem, see Psychology. For the problems connected with sub-conscious action, &c, see Subliminal Self, Trance, Hypnotism; Telepathy.

  1. So Gabius Bassus in Gell Noct Att. v. 7, I. Since, however, it is difficult to explain persōna from persŏnare (Skeat suggests by analogy from προςωπον the Greek equivalent), Walde, in Lateinisches etymologisches Worterbuch (1906), suggests a derivation from Greek ζώνη, a zone. In Roman law persona was one who had civil rights. For the ecclesiastical persona ecclesiae, see Parson.