• Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881-1983) was one of the most influential Jewish thinkers of the 20th century.  We believe that his thought may be even more important in the 21st century.

Personality and the Whole Self

Wed, 07/02/2014 - 8:50pm -- Mel Scult

The concept of personality stands as one of the fundamentals of Kaplan’s philosophy and as the primary underpinning of his concept of salvation. Personality, for Kaplan, refers to the total self, the spiritual self, the moral self and the soul, all of which are sacred. Personality does not refer to our ability to attract the other. It is a spiritual term for Kaplan, referring to the whole person. Kaplan speaks of “spiritual health” as the goal of personality.

Personality represents the urge toward “life abundant” and the will to achieve it. Personality is an accomplishment for Kaplan and refers to the extent to which we achieve wholeness, self-fulfillment, self-realization, and self-actualization. All these are synonyms for Kaplan.

The worth of an institution may be measured by the degree to which it embodies modalities of achieving the fulfilled or the complete self.

To achieve personality means to fulfill the potential implied in our being created in the image of God. Our fulfillment, the whole or integrated self, is our goal and our destiny. All living things have a will to live, but human beings have more than that, which Kaplan calls the life abundant. This phrase refers to our ability to transcend ourselves in every way, both individually and collectively. It is the core of the religious quest in general and of Judaism in particular. Personality is the goal, and the mitzvah system is the means.

In short, personality must be understood as one of the fundamental concepts of Kaplan’s system, next to his concepts of God and the Jewish people. They are all integrally related.

Here are Kaplan’s own words on the subject, from an August 8, 1940 diary entry:

Also the concept "personality" takes on concrete meaning, when viewed in relation to the human will to live or the will to salvation. The term "personality" has been defined in dozens of ways. ... The particular sense in which the term is discussed here is the … moral and spiritual one, that sense in which it is made synonymous with soul and treated as sacred. That is the sense too in which its attainment is deemed the acme of human achievement and that which gives worth to society and its institutions. In reality it is the inner psychological product of successful striving for the life abundant or salvation. It is the consummation of the human differentia. Whereas "values" represent the significance of specific experiences from the standpoint of their relation to the will to salvation, "personality" stresses the significance of that will itself. To the extent that the human being has such will, he has the capacity to be a "person," and to the extent that he has strived for salvation, he has personality. In that sense, personality is the image of God and the destiny of man.

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