What is the Essence of a Person?

To think is to attempt to grasp a circle of abundance that is moving and maintain its energy for a while in a given portion of spacetime. It is possible that everything is true only for a moment. 2+2=4 is true every time I write, say or count it, but in-between these moments what guaranties us that it remains true? Does not truth imply a human gaze? What is the sound of 2+2=4 when no one is looking? One might say, the calculator continues to perform and to use logic while we sleep. But that machine itself corresponds to our gaze; it is an exteriorization of our perspective and codes. A machine allows us to keep our glasses on while we are sleeping…

What is the essence of a person if everything flows? Certainly not her name, because a name is not a verb. The God of the Old Testament was smart enough to have a name that was a verb, but we? We are consciousness, as posited in phenomenology. Husserl writes that our consciousness is absolute inasmuch as it perceives here and now. We are here, but that is a universal essence, and Hegel would say that it is therefore empty, since you, reader, can say “I am here”, and someone else can say at the same time “I am here” and yet, simply put, you are not in the same place. Is your feeling of being here the same? Perhaps not. Perhaps what constitutes the essence of a person is her mode of being here, her style of being here? Perhaps each human has a different mode of being here? There are not two humans who are in the same spacetime. You cannot be in my body and therefore you must occupy a slightly different spacetime. But this does not mean that each of us always displays a constant style of being here. Or if we do, we are not necessarily aware of it since we cannot perceive ourselves as someone else, or only in some rare cases or moments.

It might be possible to say that each person has a specific style of being here, but then might not the notion of style become quite shallow? When we speak of the essence of a person, we seem to be wanting more than just a way of moving into spacetime. Because an object also possesses such a moving line, even if it moves less often.

Certainly, the object cannot shape itself; it cannot give meaning and purpose to itself. We believe we can. For example, the entire economic domain of self-development presupposes the idea that we can give meaning to our lives, that we can shape our purpose. Most people however, despite investing much time and money in personal development, do not seem to achieve permanence of purpose and clarity of purpose at the same time. Let us say that one million humans in the world will tomorrow realize that they should dedicate their life to justice. The next day, probably only 10% of them will still be having that thought of full dedication to the ideal of justice, and the day after 1%. Most people are transitory in their philosophical engagement, probably because they are too occupied in maintaining a semblance of identity in their daily life, for example with the people they now, the people they would like to know, or the people they are avoiding.

We are constantly being observed by others, our family, our colleagues, our culture and even those who ignore us. The actors on television, whom we believe we are watching, are watching us by apparently ignoring us, thus maintaining, like bodyguards or better, mindguards, our domestic and standardized identity. We think we forget about ourselves when we watch a movie, but in fact we are by most movies or news reports reminded of our normality, of our average humanity. Some rare bizarre experiences transport us to the threshold of an altered state of consciousness, but that does not last because all the objects or persons in our environment are also here to remind us about our default state of being, a state of prematurity, a state of being minor in the sense of Kant. We are not autonomous yet.

What is then the essence of a person? I ask this well aware of the anti-essentialist dominant worldview in philosophy and culture of the last half century. I could rephrase the question slightly differently: what is essential in you, given the fact that everything is in a creative flux and that you are unfinished? We are born premature, and does not this fact remain a part of our essence for the rest of our life? Yet this supposed incompleteness, this state of possibility, and, therefore, self-creative power defines us all. It cannot be said to be your essence in particular, or the essence of John or Maria only.

One might conclude that only a few rare people grow enough, become mature enough that they attain a personal immutable conceptual constellation, a philosophical and yet personal structure of values that remains the same despite the multiversal ground of change, possibility and prematurity of the Real. Only a few beings would become eternal and unique, and not even by themselves, perhaps, but because we make them so! We become biographers of their singularity, we mystify them, we create a myth out of their more or less advanced work towards uniqueness, because we desire that uniqueness for ourselves but we believe we cannot attain it.

I believe we are all book characters, much more idiosyncratic than we think. We are just missing a good narrator. As a philosophical counselor, I let people talk with me and I help them, slowly, to become the author of the book of themselves. 

What is the essence of a person? The fact that they can, with some work, with much passion, craft the narrative of their autobiography.

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