"The Nature of the Human Person: An Historical Inquiry"

Team Leader: Wilfred M. McClay
Sun Trust Chair of Excellence in Humanities and Professor of History
University of Tennessee, Chattanooga

Team Members List.


Clearly there are many things that we silently or unconsciously presume when we invoke the concept of the human person. It is equally clear that the conception of the human person is not a static ideal and is vulnerable to change. In fact, there are two processes at work in the contemporary world that promise to undermine many current assumptions about the human person, and to make the matter far more problematic than it has ever been before. First, there is the phenomenon of the ever-shrinking globe, which has brought the world's diverse peoples into close and continuous contact. The rapidly expanding global economy is ushering in a new world that is economically integrated without being culturally or politically cohesive, and is therefore likely to lead to growing social unrest, massive personal displacement, and pervasive individual anxiety. Second, there is the ever-accelerating advance of the various forms of biotechnology, which offer great promise for healing chronic illness and enhancing and lengthening life, but which also will inevitably erode and challenge the integrity of the human person.

The history team will undertake an inquiry into the origins, development, present status and future of this fragile concept. As such, it will examine the extent to which the concept is dependent upon the metaphysical or cosmological basis provided by either the traditional Western religious systems (primarily Judaism and Christianity), or by a normative conception of "nature"-- normative frameworks that have largely been left behind in the advance of secular modernity and postmodernity.

The following questions are representative of the line of inquiry team members will pursue.