The Signature Figure of Philosophy
By now, our faithful minifig Eliza has gone through numerous transformations, to the point where, materially speaking, she shares nothing in common with the plastic figure we first talked about near the beginning of this chapter. Her identity, including the assorted changes to her component composition, is directly determined by the decisions and actions undertaken by the AFOL building and rebuilding her as part of his newest MOC. The reason why she has not dipped out of existence, to be replaced with another fictional character, is because her builder still views this particular minifig as “Eliza,” the same character he has been diligently working on this entire time.
In many ways, the LEGO minifigure is given a distinguished position within the construction system by differing so dramatically from the rest of the bricks and other components utilized within it. Whereas LEGO, as a whole, is perhaps best represented by the classic four- or six-stud brick, the minifigure is composed of elements like the yellow head or hairpiece—individual bricks which are molded into fairly detailed recreations of the features they were built to mimic. While most LEGO bricks lack complex parts or moveable bits, these features come as standard for minifig torsos and legs that are intended to be posed in any number of imaginative ways.
Some philosophers have begun to place a similarly unique emphasis on the position of human persons within reality, even going so far as to claim that personal existence is the central concept and defining measure of the world in which we find ourselves. Encompassed under the umbrella term “personalism,” these thinkers and movements seek to bring a renewed focus to the singular role of personal existence within philosophical discourse.7 Rather than viewing human persons as problems to be hammered out through rigorous debate, they see personal life as the key to explaining all things, as the measure by which all other ideas and theories must be judged.
One of the major elements of personalism is an increased emphasis on the role of human action and choice in determining the nature of human existence. Confronted by many of the questions discussed in previous sections, personalists have chosen to avoid the philosophical pitfalls we’ve reviewed by focusing less on the static, unchanging nature of a person’s being and more on their efficacious nature as willing actors making various choices. Put more simply, it isn’t that who you are determines what you do; rather, what you do shapes precisely who you are.
Within the LEGO community, prolific builders traditionally use LEGO minifigures as a sort of “artist’s signature” in their MOCs. These unique minifigs are referred to as “signature figures” (or “sig- figs”) and often blend elements from both reality and fantasy to showcase the AFOL who created them. While many of these sigfigs mimic the physical traits of their creators, they can also showcase fantastical elements like a singular costume or unique accessory in order to capture a defining characteristic of their creator that might not be obvious from physical appearances alone. For instance, a sigfig for your diligent author could be a plain, brown-haired minifig with a goatee and a tacky sweater (representing how I usually look in real life) or a jetpack-equipped robot figure with an Egyptian headdress and a pizza (representing some of my other hobbies outside of LEGO and philosophy).
Sigfigs are what they are simply because their creators have chosen them to be so. It doesn’t matter how much or how little they actually look like the AFOLs who put them together, just so long as those builders intend to represent themselves using that particular combination of LEGO pieces. The identity of these sigfigs rests on their builder’s decision, which is precisely why the same figure can vary between MOCs and why an individual builder can have an entire collection of sigfigs to represent herself.
Whereas LEGO minifigures get this unitive narration of their lives from the decisions and actions of their builders, human persons combine these two aspects in one self-creating whole. The human person, in other words, is both the builder constructing his sigfig and the unique minifigure meant to represent such a creator. I, the author of this chapter, am both the actual writer of these words and the agent who determined that these particular words be written as opposed to any others. This powerful combination of both willing agent and active doer unites the discrete elements of human life into the coherent whole of the acting human person. As the prominent personalist philosopher Max Scheler (1874-1928) puts it, “[T]he person is the concrete and essential unity of being of acts of different essences,” which renders him, basically, as “the ‘foundation’ of all essentially different acts.”8
Far from being an assured thing, humanity’s personal freedom is a gift that must be constantly guarded and maintained. While the average LEGO minifig is most often destroyed by having its pieces pulled apart and thrown back into the bin, authentic human personhood is largely lost by the apathy and lack of care exhibited by those who possess it. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was among the first to highlight this fact. In works such as The Single Individual and Concluding Unscientific Postscript to the Philosophical Fragments, Kierkegaard made passionate appeals for individuals to set themselves apart from the crowd, to actively choose the kind of existence they wished to live rather than merely settle for the common tripe loved by the masses.9 Such rhetoric closely matches many of the opening lines from The LEGO Movie, which not-too-subtly lampoons the consumerism of a mass society wherein no one aspires to anything higher than watching the latest episode of “Where Are My Pants?”