A swipe at defining “personality”

The definition has three parts:

a.) The physical, conscious and unconscious factors

b.) that divide up the human population into characteristic beliefs, responses, and actions

c.) without dividing it as better or worse or perfect and imperfect.

a.) That personality involves our conscious life is beyond dispute, but it is also conditioned and determined by both physical and unconscious factors. By “physical” I include sex differences and body type morphology, but not chronic illness (divisions into better and worse are divided from personality traits as such), along with personality traits we see as parallel in other non-human animals. There are blurry lines of division here.

b.) Personality has to be defined as the manifold responses to one environmental event.  The extent to which events themselves must be incorporated into personality (a la Walter Mischel) is disputed, but we assume we can include them in this part of the definition.

Notice that the definition requires that personality traits divide the population. This eliminates anything universal to all human beings. Things belonging to irascibility, concupiscence, or universal human reactions are precluded. While it is certainly true that sexual desire or the desire for power and respect will determine a great deal about what we believe and do, these are not personality traits in the sense we are interested in since they are common to all. We make an exception with respect to the unconscious factors that determine personality, since in this case we are forced to study universal traits of the unconscious. There are two reasons for this: (i) since these traits are unconscious, we need to spend some time with those factors that are general and common to all persons to get the lay of the land before we make more subtle distinctions; and (ii) this area of personality research is relatively new and so it has not moved much beyond the general.

c.) This part of the definition universally overlooked. Skills and moral characteristics also divide persons, but these are not the subject of “personality” as such. The characteristic responses to a fire will be different among skilled firemen, brave and cowardly persons, depressed persons, etc. but these do not give us insight into personality as it is studied in psychology. In all these cases, the division is into good and bad or perfect and imperfect. The distinctions into, say, introvert and extravert, male and female, passive and aggressive etc. do not fall on these lines.

%d bloggers like this: