When does the human person begin to exist? Part 3: The reality of the concrete unity-identity-whole.

By David Fleischacker

In part 2, I began to examine the notion of the “subsistent” and noted that one key element in a subsistent is the unity of the reality — it needs to be a “that” or a “this” not a “those” nor a “these.” However, both a relational metaphysics and a reductionist metaphysics seriously challenge this key notion of unity. At best, unity becomes a mere epiphenomena, a being of reason, but not a reality. If the reality of the subsistent is going to be salvaged, the reality of unity needs to be substantiated.

Lonergan’s solution turns to the notion of reality, not as that which is lowest in the universe of being (perhaps quarks or some more basic form of energy), or even relational beings, but “that which is grasped intelligently and affirmed reasonably.” This is a bit of a sound bite behind which are the levels of understanding and judgment which are explored more thoroughly in the first half of INSIGHT. When one raises questions for understanding, receives an insight, and then defines that insight, one has “grasped intelligently.” And when one raises questions for reflection, reflects back upon the relation of insight and image/data, then receives reflective insight and pronounces judgment, one has “affirmed reasonably” the understanding. Thus anything–and that means anything–any property, any feature, any experience that can be understood and affirmed in judgment is real.

The cognitive elements are included in the definition of the “that” simply because then one can understand what is meant through a heuristic definition. This heuristic apprehension is needed for a cognitive/rational being to understand the meaning of being (which is possible because our beings are beings that are “lights of being” or “agent intellects participative in divine being”). Hence, to use a traditional language, we understand the meaning of being by the analogy of Being.

Thus, what is key for solving the problem about the reality of the unity-identity-whole is that it be a “that” which can be grasped intelligently and affirmed reasonable, and is real even if not understood or known by anyone.

With this meaning of “real” in mind, neither the lowest, most basic component of things (the ultimate focus of a reductionist metaphysics), nor the relations of things (the focus of a relational metaphysics) preclude the possibility of a unity that also is real, since it too can be grasped intelligently and affirmed reasonably. If one can mean some meaning with the words “this” or “that” then that meaning is rooted upon an insight, and if this insight is affirmed reasonably to be a “this” or “that”, then one can know that one’s meaning refers to a real unity that is identified by the “this” or “that.” Hence just as one can grasp intelligently and affirm reasonably the lowest component of all things, and just as one can grasp intelligently and affirm reasonably the relations of things, so one can grasp intelligently and affirm reasonably the unity necessary to be a thing. Neither reductionist nor relational metaphysics are adequate because neither is capable of accounting for all that is real in this universe. (As a note, Lonergan dialectically analyzes the reductionist position in a number of places in INSIGHT).

The question then becomes more precisely what is required to grasp intelligently and affirm reasonably the unity of a concrete unity, a subsistent being? Since all insight requires an adequate image or phantasm, what kind of image or phantasm is needed for the emergence of the insight that recognizes a “unity-identity-whole”?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *