Lonergan and Aquinas and Questions about Using a Faculty Psychology

by Dunstan Robidoux, OSB

In the works of Aquinas and, sometimes, even in some of Lonergan’s writings, one finds references to human conscious life in words which traditionally belong to a psychological language which today is not viewed with much favor. In the bulk of his work, in the context of his intentionality analysis, Lonergan adverts to human conscious life in terms which usually speak about acts of experiencing, understanding, judging, deliberating, and doing. But, in contrast, Aquinas tends to speak more simply about intellect and will, or about the difference between theoretical and practical reason. Cf. Lonergan, Second Collection, p. 79. In Aquinas, a faculty psychology can be detected. Intellect and will are viewed as distinct faculties and, as one attends to them, other distinctions can be made so that one can say that this is not that. One is not the other.

In some descriptive language that Lonergan uses, with respect to what is meant by faculty psychology, Lonergan notes that faculty psychology tends to separate things when it speaks about the inner life of human beings. Cf. Method in Theology, p. 120; Philosophical and Theological Papers 1965-1980, p. 37. The distinctions made tend to detract from grasping how very many things are related to each other in the life of the human psyche and how different elements all rely and depend on each other. In Lonergan’s own words (p. 37):

A faculty psychology divides man up; it distinguishes intellect and will, sense perception and imagination, emotion and conation, only to leave us with unresolved problems of priority and rank. Is sense to be preferred to intellect, or intellect to sense? Is intellect to be preferred to will, or will to intellect? Is one to be a sensist, an intellectualist, or a voluntarist?

Then, in moving to an explanation, Lonergan notes that Aristotelian psychology existed as a kind of deduction or subordinate science. Cf. Papers, p. 395. Its basic terms were crafted as adaptions of basic principles as these were derived from metaphysics as “first science” or “first philosophy.” The human soul is a special kind of form; the body, a special instance of matter. One reaches the human soul by adding specifications or differences that distinguish the human soul from other kinds of souls. The human being is soon defined as a rational animal. Rationality sets human beings apart from plants and animals. And so, by this approach, a hierarchy gradually manifests itself with respect to the structure of the human psyche. A rational human soul tends to present itself as a basic first principle. This principle is identified as the mind or intellect. All various human desires or appetites are then understood in terms of how they relate to the life of the human mind. An ordering of desires is postulated in a manner which tends to separate purely intellectual desires from other kinds of desire. Intellectual desires are commonly distinguished from purely volitional or appetitive desires. Lower desires serve higher desires or, by a mediation that is effected by higher desires which sustain the life of the mind, lower desires are subordinated to serve higher purposes and goals. In the wake of Socrates’s footsteps, it is said that reason rules will. If one knows the good, one does the good. But, from a contrary standpoint which works from Christian belief and an Augustinian teaching which speaks about the formative power of love within human individuals and human history, it is suggested that our desires or passions rule our reason. Our desires move us ultimately either toward God or toward our ruin and self-destruction. It is said thus that “a person ‘is’ what he or she loves.” Cf. Augustine, Tractates on the First Letter of John 5.7-8; 2,14. Without love, we are lost.

Hence, as Lonergan argues, by an analysis which attempts to grasp how one thing leads or follows from another, linear relations are postulated in arguments which cannot too easily speak about a play or interaction that reveals a far much more complex reality which is constitutive of the life of human beings as subjects. By not attending to our experience of consciousness through our self-consciousness, interrelated intentional operations are not attended to. They are commonly not noticed and identified.

In thinking then about Lonergan’s account and as one compares it with contemporary accounts, one finds that, by and large, it agrees with contemporary understandings which speak about separations and a lack of relation between elements. According to an interpretation gleaned from internet sources (http://employees.csbsju.edu/esass/facultypsychology.htm):

Faculty psychology conceived of the human mind as consisting of separate powers or faculties. It viewed the mind as a separate entity, as something apart from the physical body. A popular form of this theory held that the mind consisted of three separate powers: the will, the emotions, and the intellect. The mind (especially the intellect) was seen as a kind of muscle and, by exercising it, one could strengthen to control the will and the emotions.

However, as one engages in a close and careful reading of Aquinas’s texts, one might wonder if Aquinas is being adequately understood if one places too great a weight on his use of a language which speaks about faculties. Yes, certainly, Aquinas speaks about intellect and will and about the difference that distinguishes theoretical reasoning from practical reasoning. However, at the same time, textual evidence can be cited to the effect that Aquinas also speaks about necessary, ongoing interactions between acts of sense and acts of the intellect and necessary, ongoing interactions between acts of the intellect and acts of the will in the life of human beings.

On the necessity of a constant, ongoing interaction between acts of sense and acts of understanding, Aquinas notes that the proper object of human inquiry is always an intelligibility that is embedded in materiality. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 12, a. 11. The nature of this object helps to explain why human knowing always requires an interaction between the exteriority of sense and the interiority of intellect– as Aquinas often speaks of it. Cf. In 2 Scriptum super libros sententiarum, d. 20, a. 2, ad 3; In 3, d. 14, a. 3, sol. 3; Summa Contra Gentiles, 2, 96, 10; Sententia super librum De caelo et mundo, n. 2; and Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, a. 8. Because the human intellect relies on what sense can do to help and encourage its reasoning activities, it can then be argued that thinking and reasoning is done by human beings and not by minds or intellects. Human personhood cannot be identified with the existence of the human intellect, mind, or soul. Cf. Francis Selman, Aspects of Aquinas (Dublin: Veritas, 2005), p. 105. In a self-assembling way, human understanding discursively functions through a constant, ongoing interaction a rebus ad animam, “from things to the soul” by way of reception and, conversely, ab anima ad res, “from the soul to things” by way of motion. Cf. De Veritate, q. 10, aa. 5-6; Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, a. 8. Acts of sense continually interact with acts of understanding. The composite structure of human cognition explains why human knowing knows things that possess a like composite structure.

Similarly, with respect to interactions between intellect and will, Aquinas argues that the human will does not exist separately from a life of the intellect. Knowing and willing move each other in a reciprocal relation between the two which excludes the primacy of reason over the will (as, since Socrates, the Greeks would have it) and also excludes the primacy of the will over the intellect (as many modern thinkers would have it: Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Nietzsche, and Freud). In one’s understanding, one’s desires and inclinations are known and, in one’s desires and affections, one moves toward inquires which seek understanding. Cf. De Veritate, q. 9, a. 10, ad 3, 2ae ser. Willing moves knowing for the good which can be achieved either purely in knowing, or by and through a knowing that leads to other kinds of activities. Cf. De Veritate, q. 22, a. 12; De Malo, q. 6, a. 1: “I understand because I will to do so.” Two partial causes act together in the life of the will to move human willingness. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 9, a. 1; a. 3. Though reasoning and understanding, a particular object or end is specified as something which should be desired by our willing it. But, at the same time, the will moves itself in possessing an intelligible nature of its own. A distinct set of first principles is constitutive of its inner life. In the order of our desires, some kind of concrete good is always being desired by us as often as we may err in determining what goods we should desire and seek to attain. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 1, a. 7. An order of actions which is constitutive of the life of the will gives the will a characteristic form or structure that is normative for all of its operations, although, at the start of things, an appetibile or “seekable” specifies the object of a particular striving. Cf. Rhonheimer, Natural Law and Practical Reason, p. 26; p. 32; p. 71. Will exists within reason even as it can never be compelled by any act of reasoning and understanding to do a given task. Cf. In 2 Scriptum super libros sententiarum, d. 25, q. 1, a. 2; De Veritate, q. 22, a. 6; Summa Contra Gentiles, 3, 10, 17; De Malo, q. 3, a. 3; Peri Hermeneias, 1, 14; and Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 81, a. 3, ad 2; q. 82, a. 2. Knowing and willing condition each other in a mutually causal way through a form of reciprocal or mutual priority which Aquinas explicitly identifies. As Aquinas argues in the De Veritate, q. 14, a. 5, ad 5 (trans. F. Crowe, Three Thomist Studies, p. 82):

…will and intellect have a mutual priority over one another, but not in the same way. Intellect’s priority over will is in receiving (in via receptionis), for if anything is to move the will it must first be received into intellect…. But in moving or acting (in movendo sive agendo) will has priority, because every action or movement comes from the intention of the good; and hence it is that the will, whose proper object is the good precisely as good, is said to move all the lower powers.

More succinctly, in the Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 83, a. 3, ad 3, the same point is averred:

The intellect precedes the will, in one way, by proposing its object to it. In another way, the will precedes the intellect, in the order of motion to act, which motion pertains to sin.

Hence, as one compares Aquinas’s position with that of Lonergan on the relations which exist among the different elements that, together, are constitutive of human psychic life, one finds substantial common agreement. Both acknowledge a mutual conditioning which exists in the interior life of human beings. In the reality which exists, everything happens through a constant interaction that obtains between different material and spiritual elements. As much as one might want to distinguish elements apart from each other and then determine why one element should not be confused with another, one must acknowledge the reality of basic relations which are necessary if anything at all is to happen. Each element exists so that another can properly exist and function. The sensing is for the sake of understanding and, for the sake of growth in understanding, one must return to one’s sensing. Similarly, with respect to knowing and willing, each exists for the sake of the other. Without knowing, willing cannot build or construct anything and, conversely, without willing, no one can give their lives in efforts that are dedicated to a search for knowledge and wisdom.

Lonergan admits that, yes, he engages in an intentionality analysis. He argues that, by doing so, he can accomplish two tasks. He can distinguish a hierarchical ordering of things which exists in the life of the human psyche. Cf. Papers, p. 396. In borrowing from Aristotle an understanding of human inquiry which distinguishes between different types or sets of questions, he can distinguish distinct levels or stages of human conscious operation in the structure of human cognition. Cf. Lonergan, Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas, p. 26. Certain things do normally follow from each other or come after each other. And yet, within this same ordering, a mutual conditioning accounts for interactions that move things forward in the life of human beings. No element exists separately from another even if all the elements can be properly distinguished from each other. In Lonergan’s intentionality analysis, a development presents itself but as an achievement that is grounded in a number of earlier achievements in the history of catholic thought.

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