published on January 15, 2016
On the Habit of Seeing Persons
In Existence and the Existent, Jacques Maritain speaks about the difficulty of knowing persons as subjects. Typically we know persons as objects, or “from without,” and this explains why we describe people as instantiations of various qualities that can be shared in common with others. But according to Maritain, “To be known as object . . . is to be severed from oneself and wounded in one’s identity. It is to always be unjustly known.” In this paper, I consider the epistemological means by which knowing persons as subjects is possible. I argue that we can find parallels between knowing persons and what Maritain refers to as the “intuition of being” (the appreciation of existence as a distinct metaphysical principle), and that reflecting on these parallels can help us to see a solution to the problem of knowing persons—just as the act of existence (or esse) is not known through a concept, but through a judgment that separates what a thing is from the act by which it exists, so too, I argue, one’s subjectivity is known not through a concept but through a judgment that separates one’s shareable qualities from the self/person underlying these qualities.