Humanism and Theoretical Pluralism: A Response to Christian Smith's What is a Person?

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Christian Smith's What Is a Person? calls for a normative turn in sociology—the grounding of sociology in a theory of human nature. While offering a systematic account of a thick view of personhood—what it should look like, how it can be applied, and why it is needed—the book proposes a critical realist personalism as the best metatheoretical direction for sociology. The author of this essay agrees with the main questions and direction of Smith's project. However, by historicizing the origins and sociological implications of personalist moral theory, the author problematizes the personalism that is one of the foundations of Smith's project. She contrasts personalism with humanism, suggesting that the latter might possess both the normative robustness and comparative potential needed for contemporary sociological theory and practice. She ends her response to Smith's book by raising questions about the relationship between critical realist personalism and theoretical pluralism.