Part 2: Fecundity within Human Process:  A few important distinctions and relations, but no big insights.

by David Fleischacker

This is the second installment on a series that will give focused attention to statements and sections of Lonergan’s 1943 essay, Finality, Love, and Marriage. The focus in this blog is to highlight that fecundity and its realization belongs primarily to organistic and sensitive nature.

The R-Series, it differentials, and its characteristics

When Lonergan shifts to articulating the nature of marriage, he wants to situate its specific potentialities and activities within the larger context of the hierarchy of human process. How does fecundity fit into this? His answer begins by differentiating this hierarchy into three ends – life, the good life, and eternal life.[1] Subsequently, he sorts out three sets of human activities, each set being related to a particular end.

The emergence and maintenance of human life is repetitive.  But the attainment of the human good life is a historical development, a unique process, not repeated for each individual, as is life, but a single thing shared by all individuals according to their position and role in the space-time solidarity of man.  Finally, the end of eternal life stands completely outside both the measurable time of repetitive life and the ordinal time of the progressive good life.[2]

Both the ends and the levels of activities form a hierarchy.  The first end and level is the base upon which the second builds, and then the first and second are the bases upon which the third builds.  A later blog will deal with this in detail along with further differentiations that Lonergan develops later in life.  Our focus at the moment is upon the first level which he unpacks as “physical, vital, sensitive spontaneity” (R) which is actuated (R’) in order to effect the emergence and maintenance of human life (R”).  He calls this level the level of “nature” which is of course a rather restricted use of the term “nature.”  Nature has three characteristics.  It is repetitive, spontaneous, and efficient.

As repetitive, one thinks of

  1. One’s heart beats circulating the blood in a recurrent cycle throughout the body.
  2. Being born.
  3. Eating and drinking.
  4. Muscle movements that can repeat.
  5. The growth from young undifferentiated bodies into mature bodies.

Given that Lonergan identifies all physical, vital, sensitive spontaneity as cyclical, it does not seem that he had worked out organic development yet, so any types of repetition were identified as mere cycles, rather than grasping that some are really organic developments.[3] Hence I include in the sampling above both schemes of recurrence (1 and 4) as well as schemes of emergence (2), development (5), and decline (3).  All can be described as repetitive however, and I think this more undifferentiated notion of scheme is what Lonergan had in mind at this point in his life.

Nature is also spontaneous, and Lonergan’s meaning in this text is in terms of community.  “By organistic spontaneity I would denote the mutual adaptation and automatic correlation of activities of many individuals as though they were parts of a larger organic unit.”[4]  He is speaking of how organisms move into a set of relations without “deciding” to do so, and going through the process of deliberation.  It arises out of their repetitive nature, and thus is “spontaneous” in that sense.

Finally, nature is efficient.  Lonergan’s contrast in this case is with human failure and inefficiency.

While nature with the ease of superautomaton pursues with statistical infallibility and regularly attains through organistic harmonies its repetitive ends, the reason and rational appetite of fallen man limp in the disequilibrium of high aspiration and poor performance to make the progress of reason a dialectic of decline as well as of advance…

This property is understand in terms of the contrast with human failure and falleness. However, later in his life,  Lonergan will modify how “nature” is efficient. In Insight, Lonergan will introduce how these natural processes include dead ends and failures, all of which are included in a world that runs along the lines of emergence probability.[5]  Yet his basic point is right.  Nature, as in its physical and organic processes, is distinct from a rational life that is fallen.

The Z-Series: A Type of R-Series

Now we can turn to fecundity and its context.  I developed only the first level of the hierarchy of human process, because that is the level into which fecundity fits.  Lonergan unpacks fecundity in the same way that he unpacks nature.  Fecundity and sex[6] (Z) is actuated in the organistic union of man and woman (Z’) and has a horizontal end in adult offspring  (Z”).  Lonergan identifies fecundity and its realization as an essential aspect of nature.  Fecundity as a potential that is differentiated into the semi-fecundities of male and female belongs to “physical, vital, sensitive spontaneity” (R). The organistic union belongs to an actuation of a “physical, vital, sensitive spontaneity” (R’).  And adult offspring belongs to the “emergence and maintenance of human life” (R”).   In short, Fecundity, symbolized by the Z-series, is simply one facet, and a crucial one, of nature, symbolized by the R-series.

No big points here, but some important distinctions and relations to make.

Next blog will be delivered in one week, on June 4, 2015.  The plan at this moment is to give a bit of exegesis on the good life and its activities, and how marriage relates to that end within the hierarchy of human process.

[1] For those who are familiar with Augustine, Augustine builds on the Greek life and good life by the addition of the Christian notion of eternal life.

[2] Finality, Love, Marriage, 38.

[3] Lonergan does introduce the “progress” of organic development in Insight, 463-467.

[4] Finality, Love, Marriage, 39.

[5] Insight, 126 – 127.

[6] As in gender, not the act.