Reality or Being — Are these the same?

by Dr. David Fleischacker

This one is more for those who have studied Lonergan a bit.  Sorry to those who have not.

Though most today might think of being and reality as the same, what is meant by both today is not the same as that of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas. For them, Being is not only “that which is,” but a that which is that is necessarily intelligible. Being is intelligible and actual intelligibility is being. And just because you can name something does not mean it is intelligible, hence just because you can name something does not mean it exists.

In contrast to intelligible being is that which is not.  Statements do not get any easier to make which are true. Darkness is an easy example because its descriptive correlate has a relatively easy explanatory basis. It is the absence of any visible light waves.  We can name it but it has no intelligible being (at least in the visible range of light — there may be being beyond the visible light spectrum as a note).  More difficult are those absences that seem so real there must be something intelligible.  So, for example, inertia seems like it must have some kind of intelligibility.  After all great minds searched for the answer to the  cause of inertia for centuries upon centuries. But in the end it belongs to the empirical residue (see chapter 1 of Insight) and one likely will need an inverse insight to get that it lacks intelligible being (also see chapter 1).  More difficult is something like evil. But it too lacks intelligibility.  In fact it not only lacks intelligible being, but it is a privation of being and so introduces the absurd. In either case, these lack intelligibility and thus cannot have being.

Here is another way to get at the same point.  Let’s make a distinction between being and reality.  Let’s say that reality includes experiential absences, partial constitutive components of being (eg. the empirical residue), privations of intelligible being, and concrete being that is intelligible.  This makes it a larger category than being because it includes named nothingnesses and absences and privations.  Concrete and real being that is intelligible however is only “part” of this world, a larger world that really is not.

The import of grasping what the ancients meant by being and us moderns do not has a number of ramifications.  Without realizing the ancient meaning of being, disciplines like metaphysics will be misunderstood.  Evil will make no sense.  Why?  Because the ancient statements about being cannot be applied to nothingness, absences, and privations without being unintelligible.  And so us proud moderns will tend to think that these ancients were simply careless and unintelligent.  But it is the reality of moderns that is lacking.

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