Person, Personality. The word person has an interesting history.
Originally it signified a mask, and was given to that worn by actors,
appropriate to the character which they represented, answering to the
Greek πρόσωπον, a face, which was applied in the same way. From this it
passed to the character sustained, as in the phrase dramatis personœ.
Hence a man was said to sustain such and such
a person according to the part which he had to play in
such and such circumstances. A further development of meaning
took place in Roman law, wherein it was applied to the parties
in a lawsuit, and in criminal cases to the agent as compared
with the act. All this would of itself, I think, tend to bring
it to its ultimate and prevailing sense, that of a single
intelligent subsistence, even had it not come to that very
early, as may, I think, be easily shown.
There are passages in Polybius, in the New Testament, and in the Apostolical Fathers, to say
nothing of Cicero, where it can hardly be understood in any other. Hence the parson—the persona exemplaris of his parish. It also had at times
the meaning of a distinguished or dignified character. This last,
however, is but collateral and accidental to its main history, which
undoubtedly brought it to the meaning already stated, and which it
habitually bears with us. In this its ultimate force it has thus been
denned: "An intelligent agent, having the distinctive character of I,
Thou, He; and not divided nor distinguished into intelligent agents
capable of the same characters."(1)
The theological must also have had a considerable bearing on the general
history of the word. The Latin formula for the Trinity was and is "three Persons and one God," and the discussions both of the truth,
itself against its gainsayers, and of the terms by which it was to be
expressed, which were the sources of misunderstanding between East and
West most naturally led to inquiries
into what is meant by the words person and personality.
As applied to us they involve, no doubt, the notion of separate
substance in each individual. But though this be so in our case, we must
regard the fact as but an accident of created being. In God the
accidents which make distinct personality-involve division of substance
do not exist, but the distinction of personality is none the less, real.
Nay, we cannot doubt that the distinction is clearer and the
personalities fuller than with us. To discuss this, however, would be
beyond the limits of the present occasion.
Personality is a most important element of morals. To distinguish
between persons and things is a primary condition of all ethical
inquiry. And so too, the distinction lies at the basis of good law.
Hence the wrong of slavery, and the evil of arbitrary power.
(1) WATERLAND, "Second Defence of Some Queries," Works, vol.
III p. 339.