Individuality and Personality

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An indivdual (from Latinindividuum "indivisible, single thing") in the broadest sense is anything exists as a distinct entity. In particular, it means a person (from Latinpersona; Greekπρόσωπον prosopon "face, visible form of man") who is different from other people and has his or her own needs or goals, rights and duties. The Latin word persona, derived from personare ("to sound through") was already used in antiquity to refer to the actor's mask through which the actor's voice sounds through and which characterises his specific role. In a broader sense, persona came to refer to the official position of a person or to his or her personality in general.

From a spiritual scientific point of view, individuality and personality must be clearly distinguished from each other. The spiritual individuality of man progresses through repeated earth lives in the course of its development. In each of these individual earth lives it reveals itself as a very specific, unmistakable personality.

„What is individuality? Individuality is that which rises in the world full of content. If I have a content-filled future thought, if I form an image of what I am inserting into the world, my personality may be powerful or weak, but it is the carrier of these ideals, the shell of my individuality. The sum of all these ideals is the individuality which shines forth from the personality.“ (Lit.:GA 53, p. 285)

The intellect plays a significant role in the formation of the personality:

„The present has developed the personality. The personal is the characteristic, the meaningful aspect of the human being. All other differentiations, even the differentiations between man and woman, are overcome. Today there is only personality, without any other differentiation. Let us bear in mind that humanity had to pass through this point of passage; and let us bear in mind that what we call personality here is called lower manas in the Theosophical world-view: that is the power of thought which relates to the immediate world. Man is therefore a personality in so far as he belongs to the world of the senses, and to this world of the senses belongs also the combining intellect. Everything that man can think out of the intellect, which elevates his personality, we must raise to a higher level if we wish to comprehend it in its true essence.“ (S. 309f)

And yet the intellect is only a (necessary) diversion to the realisation of the actual spiritual individuality:

„The understanding is therefore only a diversion and does not lead out of the world of the senses. But where the spiritual world shines into this world: in the great works of art, in the original ideas which go beyond everyday needs, or where something of what we call the theosophical world-view shines in, something higher shines in; then the human spirit does not merely become a processor of what is all around it, but then it is a channel through which the spirit flows into the world. He brings something productive into this world. Every individual human being is a channel through which a world of spirit pours out. As long as man seeks only the satisfaction of his needs, he is personality. When he does what leads beyond that, he is individuality. We can find this source only in the single individual; man is the mediator between the spiritual and sensual worlds, man mediates between the two. This is the twofold way in which we can face the human being.

As a personality we are all basically the same: the intellect is perhaps a little more developed in one, a little less in another. But it is not so with individuality. That's where a person becomes a special character, where everyone brings something special to his mission. If I want to know what he is to be as a personality in the world, if I want to know what he can be as an individuality through his originality, then I must wait until something flows into this world through this channel from the spiritual world. If this influence is to take place, we must regard every human being as an unsolved riddle. Through each individuality the original spiritual power flows to us. As long as we regard man as a personality, we can regulate him: If we speak of general duties and rights, we speak of personality. But if we speak of individuality, we cannot force man into a form; he must be the bearer of his originality.“ (S. 311f)

In the Greco-Latin epoch, man had to learn to grasp himself in his body as an individual personality and thereby develop his I-consciousness, which requires reflection through the physical body. Today, in the age of the consciousness soul, man must become more and more conscious of his individuality, which belongs to the spiritual world:

„Whereas in the fourth post-Atlantean age man had to strive with all his might to become conscious of the I in the physical body, the man of our fifth post-Atlantean period must work towards becoming conscious that the I belongs to the spiritual world. And the expansion of the consciousness of the I over the spiritual world, that is spiritual science.“ (Lit.:GA 158, p. 112)

The persona, the personality, is the initially transient enveloping nature with which the imperishable core of being surrounds itself for its earthly incarnation and gives it its unique imprint through a lifelong personality development. From a Christian perspective, it is rightly pointed out that only individuality and personality together make up the whole human being and that Christ's work of redemption, which was only made possible in its full extent by the Mystery of Golgotha, encompasses precisely this whole human being. The physical, etheric and astral bodies, as well as the soul's elements, belong to the nature of the human being, insofar as they are subject to transience. The sentient soul, the intellectual or mental soul and that part of the consciousness soul which is only directed towards the sensual world is transient. That part of the consciousness soul which is directed towards the spiritual world is absorbed into the eternal nucleus of the human being, which consists of his higher, spiritual members, i.e. the spirit self (Manas), the life spirit (Buddhi) and the spirit man (Atma). The human I forms the borderline between the envelope nature and the eternal core of his being. During his life on earth, the ego works on the spiritualisation of his shell nature - and what the I can spiritualise in this way is finally absorbed into the eternal nucleus of the human being. Through the resurrection of the body in the form of the completely spiritualised body shells, perfect immortality is only won for the whole human being, encompassing individuality and personality, which is only completed with the complete spiritualisation of the physical body into spiritual man. With this, a complete inversion of the whole human being has taken place, through which the innermost, the I or the individuality has turned outwards and thus at the same time itself has become an immortal persona, the innermost core of which is the resurrected spiritualised physical body. Only in this way is the full image of God intended according to Gen 1:26 realised, which makes man an individualised image of God endowed with freedom, who as a Trinity encompasses Father, Son and Holy Spirit in unity of essence, just as the human I then embraces the spirit man, the life spirit and the spirit self and thereby becomes a whole human being.

„Let us now consider the nature of the personality. Basically we have four human shells, but they are not to be imagined as onion skins: the physical body, the etheric body, the astral body and within it that which the human being works out for himself, his refined astral body, that on which the human I has already worked. We have these four shells. But in them lies the eternal core of man's being, the so-called spiritual trinity: Manas, Buddhi, Atma - spirit self, life spirit and spirit man. These pass from earth-life to earth-life and then go up to higher levels of existence. The last outer shell is that which is expressed in the personality. It has another meaning, and this it has received more and more in the development of humanity. If we go back to ancient times, we find that in earlier centuries men gave less and less importance to individuality, but personality became more and more powerful. It is easy today to confuse the concepts of individuality and personality. Individuality is the eternal which passes from earth-life to earth-life. Personality is that which man brings to his formation in one life on earth. If we want to study individuality, we must look at the basis of the human soul; if we want to study personality, we must see how the core of the being lives itself out. The core of the being is born into the people, into the profession. All this determines the inner being, it personalises it. In a person who is still at a subordinate stage of development, little of the work on his inner being will be noticeable. The manner of expression, the type of gestures and so on are just as they are from his people. But those are the advanced people who give themselves the mode of expression and gestures from within themselves. The more a man's inner being can work on his outer being, the more highly he develops.

One could say that this is how individuality is expressed in the personality. He who has his own gestures, his own physiognomy, even in his actions and in relation to his surroundings a peculiar character, has a distinct personality. Is this all lost at death for later? No, it does not. Christianity knows very well that this is not the case. What is understood by the resurrection of the flesh or of the personality is nothing other than the preservation of the personal into all subsequent incarnations. What man has attained as a personality remains with him because it is incorporated in the individuality and this carries it on into the following incarnations. If we have made something out of our body that has a peculiar character, then this body, this power that has worked there, rises again. As much as we have worked on ourselves, as much as we have made out of ourselves, is still with us. To bring this knowledge fully to man's consciousness is something that has not yet happened. That will happen through Theosophy.“ (Lit.:GA 54, p. 398ff)

As a spiritual individuality, man lives in the realm of the Spirits of Wisdom; but love, the actual goal of earthly existence, can only be developed by man as an earthly personality. The sense of personality had to mature through many incarnations. The fruits of this development are absorbed in spiritualised form into the eternal spiritual individuality of man. The fact that this can happen in the right way is due to the fact that the Christ has firmly united himself with earthly development through the Mystery of Golgotha.


References to the work of Rudolf Steiner follow Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works (CW or GA), Rudolf Steiner Verlag, Dornach/Switzerland, unless otherwise stated.
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Index to the Complete Works of Rudolf Steiner - Aelzina Books
A complete list by Volume Number and a full list of known English translations you may also find at Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works
Rudolf Steiner Archive - The largest online collection of Rudolf Steiner's books, lectures and articles in English.
Rudolf Steiner Audio - Recorded and Read by Dale Brunsvold - Anthroposophic Press Inc. (USA)
Rudolf Steiner Handbook - Christian Karl's proven standard work for orientation in Rudolf Steiner's Collected Works for free download as PDF.