Iroegbu, Pantaleon - Seat of Wisdom Seminary, Owerri, Nigeria

How do we know ourselves as persons, what is the content of such knowledge and what consequences does this have in us and in our society ? We share the nature of corporeality with animals, for instance, but we do not regard animals as persons like ourselves. Why? All humans share in the nature of being human, i.e., being beings composed of body and soul. Yet each human person is different from the others not in nature (body and soul) but as person. In what then lies the specificity of the human person as person?

We notice ourselves as beings characterized by certain qualities that make each of us a font of dialogue and responsibility in communion with other persons. From experience we see that we are beings that communicate and act together. We are one, a species, a people with one common identity: humanity. Therefore the human person is relationally constituted. Nothing human is strange to any of us, goes the old saying. Reason also makes us aware of certain constitutions for the human person as person--like knowledge, free will and self-consciousness. My self-consciousness can never be another person's self-consciousness. It is unique to me. It is mine, alone. There I am distinct, separate, some say, an absolute. From these we notice the point de depart of the specific differences between different persons that share both the same community and the same human nature. We thus arrive at two broad constitutions of the human person as relatively as well as absolutely constituted.

The human person can further investigate himself and draw consequences from the results of such investigations. The two broad aspects of the human person constitute the Western response of how and in what are we persons, and with what theoretical and practical consequences. The magisterial (Catholic) church adds to the two the transcendental which one can see to be an aspect of the relational and emphasises the consequences for the human race as a family.

The aim of this essay is to analyse and question this traditional thesis by confronting it with another standpoint, one from afar: the African one. Here the human person is understood not simply as absolutely and relationally constituted, but as fundamentally communally constituted. That means the human person is a person because of, and from his or her deep, dynamic involvement in the community in which he or she lives. That community gave persons their existence and their personalities are only definable and realizable in the community with its life-world and values. Consequent on this is a necessary re-definition of the human person. It is not the Western I , a rational substance, apart from others`` but ``I, a communal being, with others`` (Mu na ndi ozo).