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Nikos A. Nissiotis

"Secular and Christian Images of Human Person"

Theologia 33, Athens 1962, p. 947- 989; Theologia 34, Athens 1963, p. 90-122.

II. Scientific approaches to the Human Person and their Challenge to Christian Anthropological Visions

2. Psychosocial models as images of man.

It is remarkable how one of the most anthropological sciences, psychology, has been permeated by this mechanistic outlook in science during a later period of modern history, especially when determinism and causality are shaken by new scientific researches. It is astonishing how in our days a counter-revolution in psychology has joined mechanical patterns of scientific investigation of the 18th century. In this sense, it joins also contemporary global affirmation of the pure objectivity of society enjoying full qualitative priority over the particular human subject and its freedom.

It looks as if psychology and sociology realized later than the natural science their independence from philosophy. In order to justify and accentuate this emancipation they entirely refused all kinds of conceptual theoretical systems of thought regarding man and adopted the purely objectivisation of his psychic operations. This psychology refused all introspective investigation because of its lack in objectivity without which an applied scientific knowledge cannot exist. Psychology in contrast to concern with consciousness and introspection, or with experiment and observation of psychic reactions in the three fields of the soul —• cognitive, volitional and emotional — now follows the data given objectively by the behavior of the individual. Disregarding hereditary psychic facts, it occupies itself with the example of the exclusive mechanistic method of science and the data collected by observation of the behavior of each subject. This attitude is accompanied by the same optimistic view of evolutionary humanism as in the past. John B. Watson expresses it clearly on the part of behaviorists of all times: «Give me the baby and my world to bring it up in and I'll make it crawl and walk. I'll make it climb and use its hands in constructing buildings of stone or wood; I'll make it a thief, a gunman... The possibility of shaping in any direction is almost endless...» (1).

Certainly, this is another image of human person manipulated by scientific objectivity. The human person risks becoming empty of deeper, inner qualities, because only external, objectifiable data can afford a sure ground of scientific investigation. Man has, in reality, his authentic model and the means to conform to it outside his psychic and conscious structure. Introspective examination proves to be a vanity and an illusory operation. Psychology through this radical behaviorism, refusing the dimension of depth for the sake of pure objectivity in the service of scientific methodology, offers another image of man depending upon processes outside his conscious self-determination and existential condition and decision. «Objective» can easily mean and become here functional and mechanistic. It is a self-alienating process in which the image is supplied by objective models suggested or imposed on him from outside, as convincing, realistic, psychically healthy images to be massively realized on the model of industrial mechanical production. Introspection, self-examination and concentration, meditation and recollection are regarded as means irrelevant to psychological scientific appreciation of man's inner life. The value of the human person consists in repeating the objective model by consciously behaving according to it.

Together with this kind of objectivisation in psychology through behaviorism, sociology also as a new science and for the sake of achieving precise scientific knowledge enjoying objectivity has emphasized in an almost radical way the pure objectivity of the social phenomenon. From the early times of sociology, by Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer the evolution of society has been proclaimed as moving from the religious and mythical through the rational and metaphysical to the positive and industrial stage or from a primitive mono-molecular to a modern poly-molecular status. Studying society, as the new, rising event in the modern scientific world, one has to apply pure scientific methods. Therefore, the social phenomenon has to be accepted by the sociologist as objectively as the natural phenomenon is by the scientist in natural sciences. No wonder that progressively, due also to the creation of big urban und industrial centers, this objectivity has been adopted as the criterion of defining man as simply part of an objective societal whole, governed by its own rules and norms. Against any religious, philosophic and humanistic anthropocentricity a new collective, mechanical, self-evident and autonomous concentration upon society has been introduced into all spheres of science, anthropology, economy and political ideology.

Again, man, as a distinctive human person with his existential
choices, struggling to assert his freedom as one of the highest qualities of his being, has withdrawn to a secondary, inferior position of simple participation in this global, anonymous and massive new reality of «society». Inside this collective, machine-like objective reality, truths and values are created and spread out in a convincing obligatory way.

Society possesses a qualitatively different nature of knowledge, morals and normative principles of life. It enjoys full priority and autonomy over the subjective human individual person, whose qualification depends now upon his ability to share, to contribute and to follow what is happening sociologically and objectively. Technical rationalization, methodical planning, evolutionary biological and intellectual progress, as well as pure objectivity grasped by scientific observation have replaced, little by little, ontological affirmation of human being. Freedom became a readiness of the human person to submit to external, anonymous, social principles and events.

As in behaviorist, psychology, sociology now will proclaim the conformity and adaptation of the individual as a human person and existence to group models, standards and norms. The objectively and collectively valid principles, the generally accepted fashion and mode will gain priority over the existential, the ontological, the subjective and exceptional characteristics of the deeper essence of man as a person. Functional rationality, behaviorism, objectivity as a unique rule of scientific investigation of reality, engineering and management for the sake of maximum possible production have succeeded on the basis of reason in offending the freedom of human being. The individual has been degraded to the role of a particle of a gigantic personal organism with an inner mechanical order in the form of modern industrial society. This is the sole ground, source and generator of progress, a demythologising reality and a fountain of all goods securing prosperity and healthy state of mind against all kinds of «fantasies» and «illusions» of transcendence and metaphysical beliefs.

This scientific trend towards concentration on society modified the focus of the center of values from its anthropocentricity to an anonymous collective «external» center of power. Man unconsciously becomes neutral towards values and weak in his free choices. Everything happens by necessity and chance. The concern for order and discipline for the sake of the common good and the bureaucratic administration will gradually replace free ethical decision, experience of inner personal struggle for the sake of meditation, reflection and spirituality. Man has happily abandoned himself to the secure forces of protection and order from outside his troubled inner self. Many problems will be thus resolved, many deficiencies of economic and social structures will be corrected, an improvement of public health will be secured, easier communications on a world scale will be developed, but at the same time, parallel to this progress, a progressive emptiness of self from deeper cultural, aesthetic and ethical values will gradually occur. The proprietor of values is now the anonymous society and its dominating function (2).

In the same direction of development the final step towards pure objectivity has been realized in social and economic systems in sociology professing the value of collective interests over subjective aspirations towards free choice for the sake of strict social order and justice. Political ideologies will determine the value of the human person simply and uniquely by man's sharing in the common effort to increase the general welfare in economic life. This radical application of objectivity in sociology will interpret the history of culture, traditional ethics and religion as an illusory life-product of economic relationships or as their superstructure. The personality of man is calculated and qualified only by his work as a basic factor of economic growth and by his contribution, in this way, to the welfare of the whole society.

On the other hand, also, in the non-ideologically socialized countries, professing and supporting individual human rights, declaring that science can be rightly developed only within a democratic state, it is the freedom of science, it is the illogical production of all kinds of goods, it is the greedy consumption, it is the unlimited economic growth which define the human person. Progress has become synonymous with the welfare state and cultural values have been subordinated to the manifold application of technology for the sake of economic expansion and security. Technocracy dominates in planning social life and computerized systems efficiently relate conflicts of interest between groups. The human person is losing his identity and consciousness as a qualified being with a distinctive origin and a higher destination. Technology makes man lose his immediate contact with surrounding nature, because it helps him to dominate it and utilize it from a distance through a .highly devised system of applied knowledge. Technology makes man look at himself in a different way, at a distance from his existential problem. Mastering nature in this way, he risks becoming too weak to master himself. Losing his inwardness and spontaneity, he is to achieve individual satisfaction by an extroverted movement. Human intelligence must serve a pre-determined accurate system, comprising the best of man's scientific achievement with the highest range of efficiency as its proof.

It is well known that for this reason all kinds of scientists and philosophers following thinkers like Sören Kierkegaard, have in the past criticized scientism, systematization, radical rationality and superficial• optimistic forecasts of the future and more do so at the present moment. This attack comes from all parts of anthropological sciences as well as from all kinds of political ideologies and represents a general dissatisfaction especially regarding the image of the human person as being threatened in its own basic constitution (3). We have to confess that there is a kind of fatalism in this criticism in the face of an irreversible process of depersonalization and irresistible mechanisation of life.

It seems to me, however, that the problem is too complicated to be faced only by this radical criticism. The threats against the individuality and the inherent worth of man are definitely there. But we have to admit that science in our technological age cannot be massively negated as depersonalizing. It is true that technology can cause all these negative effects on human personality, but it is also true that technology is «a way of humanizing the world of matter in time and space» (4), and reshapes the terrific potentialities of humanity. Certainly, it can manipulate human beings, but it can also, always in the service of humanity, reshape human life and social structures and favor positive developments in all areas of application of knowledge in all realms of science, in genetics, in medicine as well as in agriculture, and in food-production.

Finally, the most interesting thing is that technologically applied science penetrates all realms of life changing social conditions and creating new life styles for the individual. And this is a direct challenge to all kinds of anthropologies, which are not willing simply to join the ongoing criticism, but which are ready to accept this challenge and rethink their concept of the human person today. It is necessary, though, to understand fully this kind of challenge at this moment by trying to follow the new trends in the self-appreciation of scientific research and work. The science of today abandons more and more the deterministic and mechanistic framework of the past described above. This change creates a new possibility of dialogue with Christian anthropology about the quality of the human person.


1. Quoted by Floyd Matson, ibid., p. 30.

2. Margaret A. Boden: «Examples of schizophrenia, as well as the bewildering variety of psychological malfunctions associated with amnesia or with damage to the speech-era of the brain, thus indicate the subtle complexities of the computational basis of normal «free behavior». (Human Values in a Mechanistic Universe. In «Human Values». Edited by G. Vesey, The Harvester Press, Sussex 1978, p. 153).

3. Against the domination of man by society as an impersonal machine people from all different systems of thought, ideologies, philosophies and anthropologies have raised their criticism. The most representative in this context is definitely Herbert Marcuse with his book: «The One Dimensional Man».

4. Paulos Gregorios, The Human Presence, p. 89.

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