Eco-Communitarian Personalism


Walter Muelder (1907-2004), Dean of Boston University School of Theology from 1945 to 1972, was a mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr. and one of the theological and philosophical giants of the Boston Personalist tradition, which provided the philosophical grounding for King’s social thought and action. I was very fortunate to take the last two classes ever taught by Muelder in the fall semesters of 1992 and 1993.  He was one of the most important teachers and mentors for me in my own development as a person. If you were fortunate enough to ever know him or learn from him, you understand why he had such an impact on me and so many others.

Perhaps more than any other Boston Personalist, Muelder emphasizes the communitarian nature of the person. Muelder describes the person as a socius with a private center, affirming both the person’s relations to the community and the integrity of the person’s experience. The person-in-community does not exist outside of relations with the community, but the person is also not just the sum of his or her relations. According to Muelder, “Wholes have qualities which the parts (components) do not have.” (Muelder, “Person as Embodied and Embedded.” Presentation to the Personalist Discussion Group of the American Philosophical Association, Dec. 28, 1994), Muelder’s recognition of the reality and value of non-human experients allows him to expand his notion of community to include all of life. Thus, his position may be described as an eco-communitarian personalism that affirms the person-in-ecological-community. Muelder’s view of our intimate connection with nature and his view that non-human beings are also centers of value activity, led him to adopt Albert Schweitzer’s position that human persons should practice a “reverence for life.”

Just as Muelder’s and King’s communitarian personalism provided a philosophical grounding for the great civil rights movements of the past century, eco-communitarian personalism provides a compelling philosophical grounding for thought and action in the make or break century in which we live as the only sustainable way forward is for us to live as responsible persons within ecological community. Without a diverse and healthy ecological community, human flourishing will be impossible.


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