A brief body of text describing the document and making preliminary remarks
Description of Document
This document is A Treatise Concerning Personality and is my doctoral dissertation. Well this one isn’t. This is my blog. But I have a lot of information people want me to share in my dissertation, and I imagine it’ll be easier for some to take in blog form.
The title of a document can communicate a lot, and it’s most often the only part people see. Many works of Philosophy have been titled “A Treatise Concerning X” for various X. If I were to point to two direct models, though, George Berkeley’s A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge and David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature would be good choices. This title is only four words, so we can afford the space to discuss each.
The first word, “A”, is meant to indicate that this document isn’t the definitive treatise to personality, but rather one of many. Of course I think it’s the best one yet, but I don’t need to tell you that in the title. It is a doctoral dissertation and as such is the first major work of my academic career, my philosophical debut album if you will. While I intend to get some good work done here, I’m also eager to get on to the future projects, so it’s easy enough to accept the future obsolescence of this work.
The second word, “Treatise” indicates that this is an extended written work that will elaborate at length on a single topic. My aim will be to provide a detailed understanding, though certainly not complete as I don’t believe a text fully covering personality can be written, at least not in under one hundred volumes, which I do not have time to write. As you can see in the Table of Contents, I present three hundred pages here.
The third word, “Concerning” is a preposition that here indicates the relation between this treatise and personality is that of genre and topic.
The final word, “personality”, is thus essentially the focus of the entire treatise. To try to start on a similar page, though, I’ll initially describe personality as the way people are. So all together, this document is an extended written work that aims to provide a detailed understanding of the ways people are.
I don’t want to make this any more difficult to read by adding a lengthy preface. I do, however, need to note upfront that I frequently refer to people by personalities. While in everyday speech I don’t refer to people as, say, “paranoids” and “schizoids”, and if I were to be completely precise in every instance I would indeed write “persons with a paranoid personality” and “persons with a schizoid personality type”, but that would make this text much longer and much more cumbersome. As I am endeavoring to describe all personalities, I take it that this doesn’t treat any particular group unfairly.
Everyone is different. The ways we think, feel, and act in this world tend to follow some common patterns. In this work, I try to figure people out. I do so in four chapters. The first focuses on personality itself and sets out to create a map of the space of the different personalities. It does so primarily by following Theodore Millon’s 2011 Disorders of Personality. The second chapter focuses on one of the main factors that shape personality, dissociation. It does so primarily by following The Haunted Self. The third chapter turns outward to provide context for personality. The fourth chapter then turns to evil.
The guiding motivation in my research here is simply to understand how people work. I’m, quite bluntly, very weird, and my mind gives me an experience of life that’s really quite different from that of most of the people I’ve encountered. More on me later; what’s important about my unusual experience here is that because I experience everything from my own perspective, the “default” of my model of how minds operate is based a lot on my own. This is normal, of course, but combined with being an outlier, it creates the position of not knowing which parts are the weird parts. Studying philosophy has been interesting in part because it gives me a view into how people think about things. Like I said I study psychologists, I also study philosophers. Having students to teach in Philosophy classes has given me the opportunity to have serious discussions about substantive yet accessible and widely meaningful topics with a wide variety of people.
Psychology has an obvious claim to this endeavor as well, but so do History, Art, and Medicine. Philosophy is perhaps, though, the most promiscuous discipline, as there’s a Philosophy of Psychology, Philosophy of History, Philosophy of Art, Philosophy of Medicine, Philosophy of Philosophy, and pretty much any other discipline you can imagine. Note the title page of this Dissertation says I’m submitting this for the “Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy” degree, and you’ll notice pretty much every other Ph.D. dissertation says “Doctor of Philosophy in” whatever field it’s in, and the reason for that is that, mostly in the past, the study required for the degree includes knowledge of the field’s philosophy. So that rather quickly marries Philosophy to most disciplines. This gives me, a philosopher, just about the best excuse one can find for polymathy in today’s hyperspecialized academy. There are still clear signs of my philosophical training, but there’s also still signs of my mathematical and musical trainings from before that, and those don’t seem to get in the way but rather aid in making sense of how the bigger picture all fits together.
This is all pretty academic so far, which seems bound to miss a lot of what people are. So I’ve taken dives into different arts and musics, tried whatever new things with whoever has been friendly enough to share some experiences, and browsed far corners of the Web. I occasionally make direct use of some of this in the Treatise. Movies, television, and video games all provide some especially rich ideas of personality. Some video games try to simulate people, which also provides some explicit models of personality to look into.
To introduce the main text, I should give a brief idea of what I’m talking about. I distinguish humans from persons. Humans are the animals, the biological machines made of cells. The only persons we have a consensus on being real are human, and we’ll indeed focus almost entirely on human personality. However, gods, angels, aliens, machines, and all kinds of things can be persons in fiction. Some people argue that in this world there are divine, mechanical, or non-human animal persons. That is beyond the scope of this work. Personality, then, can be understood as a person’s way of being.