Judgment in Aquinas and Lonergan

by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB

When Lonergan speaks about judgment in terms of affirmation and negation (one affirms, for instance, that something is so or one affirms that something is not so), he speaks differently from Aquinas who had tended to speak about judgment in terms of notions which refer to composition and division (compositio et divisio).  Cf. Giovanni B. Sala, “Intentionality versus Intuition,” Lonergan and Kant: Five Essays on Human Knowledge, trans. Joseph Spoerl, ed. Robert M. Doran (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), p. 101.  As Aquinas, for example, speaks about two basic operations of the human intellect (which is his way of speaking about the structure of human understanding), in the Super Boetium De Trinitate, q. 5, a. 3, he says as follows:

The intellect has two operations, one called the “understanding of indivisibles,” by which it knows what a thing is; and another by which it composes and divides, that is to say, by forming affirmative and negative enunciations.  Now these two operations correspond to two principles in things.  The first operation has regard to the nature itself of a thing, in virtue of which the known thing holds a certain rank among beings, whether it be a complete thing, as some whole, or an incomplete thing, as a part or an accident. The second operation has regard to a things’s act of existing (esse), which results from the union of the principles of a thing in composite substances, or, as in the case of simple substances, accompanies the thing’s simple nature.

In his St. Thomas Aquinas Philosophical Texts (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), p. 221, n. 604 , Thomas Gilby translates this same text as follows:

Of the two phases of mental activity, the first is the understanding of essential meanings, while the second is a judgment, either affirmative or negative.  A dual reality corresponds to these activities: to the former corresponds the nature of a thing, according to its state of being, complete or incomplete, part or accident, as the case may be; to the latter corresponds the existence of the thing.

 In the explanation which Aquinas gives about what happens in judgement, in judging that something is so, an intellect composes or unites.  It compounds, joins, or puts together.  Cf. De Veritate, q. 1, a. 3; Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 3, a. 4, ad 2; q. 16, a. 2.  In judgment, a predicate is truly united with a subject.  A form signified by a predicate is joined with a subject to form a proposition.  And so, similarly, in saying that something is not so, an intellect divides or separates.  It says that a form signified by a predicate is not truly joined with a subject.  In Aquinas, judgment is spoken about largely in metaphysical terms.  Cognitive operations are alluded to but they not too frequently directly spoken about.  When Aquinas, for instance, speaks about being or existence, he speaks about being or existence as the act or actuality of an essence, or as the act or actuality of being.

However, in turning to Lonergan, one finds an account which clearly distinguishes between a synthetic element which always exists in any given judgment and a process or act of affirming or denying a proposed synthesis in a given judgment–a synthesis which has already been understood or grasped by prior acts of understanding before questions later arise which ask about the truth or falsity of one’s prior act of understanding.  Cf. Lonergan, Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas, pp. 62-63.  When Aquinas uses the language of Aristotle to speak about judgment, an initial meaning which is communicated suggests that every judgment creates or discovers a synthesis or relation which, before, had not been known or experienced as a rational possibility.  But, when Lonergan speaks about the difference between acts of direct understanding and acts of reflective understanding, he speaks about judgment in a manner which gives to it a more precise, a more specific meaning.  Acts of direct understanding as acts of understanding reveal or present connections or relations between things that are not sensed but which are understood within one’s acts of understanding.  In every act of abstractive understanding, one can speak about a mental synthesis which reveals itself.  Cf. Verbum, p. 63.  But later, through a judgment as an act of reflective understanding, a connection which has been understood and which is first inwardly postulated within one’s act of understanding is either affirmed or posited or, on the other hand, it can be denied or negated.  In every affirmative judgment, a synthesis which is first given in an idea and as an idea is taken and then, through one’s discursive self-reflection which goes back and attends to what one has done in one’s thinking and understanding, this synthesis is converted into a rationally known truth or a rationally known fact.  Through the truth which is affirmed, a person as a knower is then joined to a world of real objects.

Hence, through a differentiation which Lonergan introduces into how Aquinas speaks about the nature of human understanding (through a differentiation which is introduced into Aquinas’s understanding of judgement), in his theology of God Lonergan is able to say that God is not simply ipsum intelligere (Intelligence itself or Understanding itself).  Cf. The Triune God: Systematics, p. 187.  It is true, of course, to say that God is ipsum intelligere.  He is the source of all understanding as an unrestricted uncreated act of understanding from which all else comes and flows.  However, if understanding properly exists as a rational positing or as a rational affirmation of intelligible relations, one can speak of God not only as ipsum intelligere but also as ipsum affirmare (as an unrestricted act of affirming or as an unrestricted act of judging).  To speak of God as the highest being, the highest truth, and the highest good means that one can speak of him as an unrestricted act of understanding (an unrestricted act of meaning), as an unrestricted act of judging, and as an unrestricted act of loving.  The meaning, the truth, and the goodness all exists supremely in God–God as an pure act (actus purus) whose lack of potentiality is such that it is wholly lacking in any restrictions or limitations.

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