Book Review: Michael Behe’s Darwin’s Black Box

by David Fleischacker

I have been enjoying Michael Behe’s book Darwin’s Black Box (first published in 1996, with an update in 2006).  It brings out a significant challenge in thinking through evolution and so it is worth reading. However, I do not agree with his ultimate conclusion or even his explicit criterion for validating his argument.  The central point of his argument is that once one turns to the molecular and biochemical understanding of organisms, one finds systems with an irreducible complexity that could not result from the gradual steps of evolutionary development. In addition to his presentations of specific biochemical systems that are irreducibly complex, Behe supports his position with the lack of any serious biological arguments that explain such gradual steps that construct these complex biochemical systems.

The merit of his book is that it does raise the validity of evolutionary theory in light of the developments taking place within biology due to studies in biochemistry.  Behe does recognize the provisionality of his argument at times though at other times he presents his conclusions with complete certitude. As well, he recognizes that his insights regard only some biochemical systems, and not all. He does acknowledge that some systems at the molecular level can be explained by evolution so he does not consider his focus to be a comprehensive theory of organic life, but rather a focused inquiry that has ramifications for both intelligent design and for the explanatory scope of evolutionary theory (which he thinks is more limited than the field of biology recognizes)

At the same time, I would argue that the argument suffers a bit. Behe argues that a number of complex biochemical schemes are irreducibly complex.  Irreducibly complex means that key parts of a system contribute to the whole system and that removing any of the parts results in the loss of the function of the system as a whole. This functional whole seems to refer to two possibilities. In one case it is like a scheme of recurrence in which the main focus is upon one of the events in the scheme that is crucial for organic function, such as is the case of ATP in Kreb’s cycle within mitochondria.  ATP is one of the molecules constructed in the scheme of recurrence that we call Kreb’s cycle, and because it is a central energy molecule, it is crucial for many processes in the cell, and thus is sometimes referred to as the functional reason for the whole of the cycle.  Another meaning to functional whole however is what Lonergan would call the higher conjugate form that is built upon a lower matrix of conjugate forms (see explanatory genus and species in Insight – chapters 8 and 15).  So, something like an immune response is a conjugate form that exists within an aggregate of genetic/biochemical events.  In both cases take away one of the “parts” — which could be an event within a scheme or an event within an aggregate that constitutes a lower level matrix for a higher conjugate form–and the “functional whole” is lost.

Irreducible complexity alone is not an argument against evolution.  Part of the suffering is that it lacks an adequate account of the heuristic structures operative in biology and the isomorphic metaphysics that is implicit in those structures.  Key that is missing is the shift from descriptive definitions to implicit definitions, and then how this shift moves into an explanatory horizon that then begins to move into an explanatory account of development, whether of single organisms or organisms within ecological relationships.

Why is the shift from description to explanation such a key piece that is missing in his arguments? Because evolutionary theory was initiated from a series of descriptive traits that had been observed by Darwin and Wallace (and earlier folks who developed different explanations).  Descriptive knowledge identifies characteristics and activities of things through conjugates that are derived from the senses.  So, the blue bird has certain colors and shapes that are used to describe its bodily features, colors and shapes that derive their meaning from a relationship between the bird and our senses.  Our senses are attuned to a rather large range of objects in our spatial-temporal world.  We can see shifts in light patterns with our eyes (and of course the associative cortices and the sensory cortex involved in constructing the input that comes through the eyes), which we can articulate as colors or shapes or sizes.  We can hear shifts in auditory sound waves with our ears. We can smell patterns and changes of the chemicals that are found within our atmosphere through our noses and the chemical make-up of solids, liquids, and even gases that touch the sensory neurons of our taste buds.  Through touch we can feel textures and contours and temperatures.  All material objects that have a certain mass size can be detected by our senses.  Many physical objects in our world fall within our sensory capabilities.   So, when we talk about descriptive knowledge, one of the elements that Lonergan recovers against modernity is the degradation of such knowledge.  It is not imaginary.  It has a validity to it and a crucial place in our lives.

Behe does seem to suffer a bit from this modern mistake.  Descriptive knowledge is not false or misleading.  It is incomplete of course, but it is true as far as it goes.  This happened in physics. Copernicus argued that the sun no longer goes around the earth. But, now one can admit that because of relativity Copernicus was not right, at least entirely.  The sun does rise and set when one sets the frame of reference (the X, Y, and Z of a three dimensional manifold — and one must also include t as a fourth dimension) as one’s own sensory framework, or even the earth.  It is not that Copernicus was entirely wrong. One can set the sun as the center of that frame of reference.  Or one can set the center of the Milky Way galaxy (presumably a black hole).  Behe seems to want to say that in this more primitive descriptive world, one might come up with the idea of evolution, however, when you move to the “black box” of molecular and biochemical explanation, then one moves to reality and away from myth.  I say “seem” simply because of his phrase “black box” though he does not explicitly say that the data of Darwin was unreal.  One correction here is to suggest that discoveries made through descriptive knowledge do have their relevance when put within the right frame of reference. Behe does not adequately deal with the kind of descriptive knowledge that is involved in validating evolution (or the modern synthesis that integrated Mendel and Darwin, since it falls within the realm of explanation constituted by explanatory rather than implicit definitions — see chapter 1 of Insight).

Furthermore, scientific description is not merely another frame of reference based on the relations of things to us, but it is the way that science both collects its data and verifies its theories.  Concrete inferences of laws–whether classical or statistical or developmental–all require implementing and verifying those laws through descriptively articulated data. Ultimately, scientific description and scientific explanation are complementary to each other.  What is discovered and proposed in one cannot ultimately conflict with the other if they are both true (or converging provisionally upon what is true).

With regard to biology, I would argue that many do not adequately understand the stage of development in which it currently resides.  This is largely due to the complexity of the field.  Organisms as Lonergan outlines in Insight, chapter 15, require that one shift into a grasp of operators and development.  And these only arise after one has introduced correlations and statistics.  Furthermore, there are preliminary stages within the descriptive world.  There are descriptive conjugates that are preparatory for explanatory conjugates.  Describing what happens when liquids are mixed or when objects are projected or when the planets move in their orbits prepares the way for the world of correlations. Describing whether something happens for the most part, or infrequently, or all the time prepares the way for ideal frequencies whether these are based on descriptive, explanatory, or implicitly defined conjugates.  And with regard to development, one gets a sense that things grow and change in their descriptive conjugates before one discovers the operators that transform one system of conjugates into another.

At this stage in the development of biology, at least over the last century, I would say it largely resided within the world of explanatory definitions.  In an explanatory definition, one of the terms is descriptive, the other is explanatory.   One good example of this is Mendel. Notice that his theory of genetics incorporated one descriptive term, and one explanatory term.  Phenotype is descriptive. Genotype is explanatory (he use the term hereditary unit).  However, later in the century, genetics moved to implicit definition through Watson and Crick, who related genes to proteins (three nucleotide sequences are paired to an amino acid — the building blocks of proteins). Since their introduction of this implicit definition, there has been a vast expansion taking place.

Evolutionary theory when it was first introduced was like the explanatory definition.  All of the traits mentioned by Darwin are descriptively understood.   As such, they had not reached the level of explanatory definitions, let alone the level of implicit definitions. So what makes it like explanatory? Well, he identified a number of descriptive conjugates that seemed to be related across species through some kind of parental origin.  Notice, this springs from a recognition that organisms do come from other organisms (progeny come from parents), and that progeny are never exactly the same as the parental organism (s).  It is important to note that there is not a clear sense that evolution results or can result in development. Rather, it is the emergence of an adaptive, and advantageous, change.

In the early 20th century, Evolution moved into another explanatory level with the modern synthesis. Once Mendel was discovered, Evolutionary theorists went to work to integrate Mendel’s breakthroughs.  That synthesis was largely generic and heuristic because now biological explanation had to incorporate genetics.  This synthesis took another leap once one introduces molecular and biochemical analysis into the science. I would argue that this latest synthesis shifted the images in which biology operates, and this shift has allowed for recognizing new patterns that constitute organic life, and these patterns are defined implicitly.  Watson and Crick provide only one example.

What Behe catches upon is that the theories that had largely been developed from descriptive understandings of traits seem rather shaky in light of the shifts to molecular/biochemical accounts of the organism. He is right in a certain manner. The complexity of biochemical pathways involved in a number of organic activities are mind boggling.  It is hard to fathom how these could have developed. Behe argues that these are impossible to account for in some kind of evolutionary development.

Where I think he has been mistaken is thinking that one should be able to develop an evolutionary theory of a biochemical process at this stage in the history of the field of biology.  In the transition from explanatory to implicit definitions, it is natural that one first has to development a viewpoint that is constituted by implicit definitions which is adequate before one could then begin grasping the operators that unfold a deductive or homogeneous expansion, or a vertical expansion.

Another element that is missing from Behe, and nearly all other biologists or chemists, is the shift from lower levels of organic life to higher genera of sensate and rational life. This shift is far more difficult than from simple to complex organic processes (a horizontal shift). These are shifts from a lower to a higher level genus. These vertical developments add a new meaning to the complexity of evolutionary development.  If Behe understood Lonegan’s articulation of higher and lower genus and species, he could strengthen his argument more. But then he might also have the breakthrough into generalized emergent probability as well, which would, at minimum, severely modify his view of biochemistry and the basis of his entire argument. I say at minimum because the argument of evolution is still an argument based on evidence, hence one of fact, even if it never rises beyond a provisional analytical principle.

So, what would the shift to biochemical images and implicitly defined organic conjugates do to the validity of evolution?  I think it does weaken it a bit in terms of the degree of certainty that many hold evolution today.  Largely, it still is at the stage of an explanatory definition.  Its terms and its evidence are descriptive conjugates.  We are a long way from reaching the periodic table of organic life.  The traditional set of organic charts (kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species) are based on descriptive traits, though these are being modified daily as a result of biochemistry, molecular biology, cellular biology, and genetics into “evolutionary trees.”  We are even further from developing an adequate set of developmental operators of individuals, species, and genii. In reality, biologists really do not have an explanatory or an implicit definition of species (notice that saying something is reproductively compatible is not saying “what” it is, hence they have not articulated the key explanatory conjugates the form a species within the genera of organic/vegetative/cellular life).

However, just because the development of the discipline of biology is not yet beyond the explanatory definitions in the field of evolution (it has begun to move to implicit definitions in genetics and some other conjugates of biology), does not mean that the explanatory definitions are wrong.  They are based on evidence.   And hence, just because there seems to be some irreducible difficulties when one begins to examine biochemistry and molecular biology, that alone is not sufficient to reject evolution as a theory.  One still has to explain heredity, the differences of progeny from parents, and the ramifications of these differences over time. Evolution is one way to do that.

As Pat Byrne in his essay on “Lonergan, Evolutionary Science, and Intelligent Design,” argues, one of the things that Behe is missing is a grasp of emergent probability [Patrick Byrne, Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia T. 63, Fasc. 4, Os Domínios da Inteligência: Bernard Lonergan e a Filosofia. / The Realms of Insight: Bernard Lonergan and Philosophy (Oct. – Dec., 2007), pp. 893-918]. Emergent Probability, as Byrne notes is ultimately derived from Lonergan’s cognitional theory, not from empirical theories in the sciences and hence it is relatively independent from the development of specific scientific theories. Relatively independent because it is developed from the actual methodological operations involved in the sciences.  Cognitively and metaphysically, the classical and statistical heuristic structures point to the potential of a dynamically oriented developmental universe.  Still, as Lonergan notes, one has to argue what in fact the universe is about.  It does not need to be developmental or evolutionary.  Darwin’s theory has gained much weight through evidence that supports a matrix of descriptive conjugates that relate parents to progeny through generations in an environment where adaptation is possible and probable.  Molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry, and cellular biology are moving biology into the realm of a fully explanatory discipline that is built upon provisionally verified implicit definitions.  This shift is and will continue to bring with it challenges to the old explanatory definitions that had emerged in the field, including that of Darwin and those who advanced his theory in the modern synthesis (note that this synthesis relied on Mendel, not Watson and Crick).  A yet even newer synthesis is arising and Behe’s book highlights the challenges to evolution of this shift even if, in the end, Behe turns out to be wrong and that evolution will rise even stronger once the new explanatory biology matures. But then again, he could be right. Maybe evolution is not right.  I tend to think the evidence supporting the explanatory definitions of evolution theory have a significant weight that is left untouched by Behe’s arguments, and thus provide a valid way of proceeding in biology as it unfolds its new image (symbolic constructs from biochemistry) that is underlying its shift to implicit definitions. I suspect evolution will rise more nuanced in the end, and more like emergent probability, and hence stronger in the end. There many reasons for this beyond biology as well. There is evidence for emergent probability, quite a bit.  There are analogous types of developments in almost all other realms of being (human history, social development, dogmatic development, etc.)

As a note, I have not addressed Behe’s views on intelligent design. That is another discussion and has some serious defects I would argue.  I just wanted to discuss his views of evolution at this point.

Part 5a: Horizontal Finality, a note

… marriage is more  an incorporation of the finality of sex than  of sex itself. (Finality, Love, Marriage, 45)

On vacation, so this will be short.  Horizontal finality refers to the relationship of a initial potency to an unfolding of that potency both deductively and homogeneously on the same genus of being.  Hence, the relationship between the spermatazoa and the oocyte to the multi-cellular organism is one of horizontal finality. This same finality Lonergan argues is what is sublated vertically both into the man and into the woman personally at the levels of understanding, judgment, deliberation, and the actuation of the capacity for self-transcendence.  However, that which is sublated in the man and in the woman is not the zygote, but rather the generative procreative act of the union of the man and the woman. It is that act which is the “conjoined plurality” and most important, it is the finality of that conjoined plurality, that is sublated in a man as a husband, but only when he has committed himself to the woman “until death do us part” and likewise into the woman as a wife, but only when she has committed herself to the man “until death do us part.”  Take note. This finality can only arise in virtue of the conjoining of two semi-fecundities that are ordered toward such a union.  And they can only be sublated within a context of understanding, rationality, and good will that grasps the higher orders of the good life and eternal life which contextualize the conjoined union in a conjugal act.  In other words, a union based on the potency of the conjoined plurality of male and female is much different than any other types of human unions.  It is rooted in the very nature of the semi-fecundities as complementary, and this complementarity is what constitutes the finality.

I cannot depart without mentioning the sad case of the supreme court decision today.  It has been long in the making of course, arguably centuries.  It means that nothing of this natural finality is recognized as constitutive of marriage anymore.  The good news is that the reality of the finality exists whether a state or a people recognize it or not.  It is a bit like the worth of life.  No state constitutes such worth.  A state can only recognize it and it should develop policies that support it. The same is true with regards to the finality constituted by a concrete plurality called male and female.  The state does not constitute it because it is a given within the fabric of the organic world as sublated within psychic, intellectual, rational, volitional, and the finality of the entire universe.  It is sad because such a finality does have a unique and crucial role within the unfolding of the emergent universe, and to not recognize it results in a serious blind spot and deformation within human existence.  It is the strange reality of sin that it can violate the finality of emergent probability.  But never for long without devastating consequences.  History has proven this point.

Just some quick thoughts.

Part 5: Horizontal and Vertical Finality, and further note on Conjoined Plurality in Finality, Love, and Marriage

by David Fleischacker


Quick note on horizontal and vertical finality

I am not going to say much on this today, simply because I am still trying to formulate my findings in a more precise manner.   In Insight, Lonergan is able to develop a formulation of horizontal and vertical in terms of the lower and higher viewpoints and levels of being, and these levels of being are identified as genera.  Hence the developments on a single level of being, a single genus, are horizontal, and the finality of the potency for those developments on that level is horizontal finality. Note that in Insight, the notion of development includes but is not limited to the notion of finality–this is a distinction that Lonergan does not seem to make in 1943 in this essay.  In 1943, Lonergan roots horizontal finality in the essence of the thing.  Thus horizontal finality is cast in terms of a potency within an essence for a set of operations or ends that are proportionate to the essence.  This is getting at the same thing as is found in Insight, but the language is more compact, and he did not introduce the notion of explanatory genera and species to clarify the meaning of horizontal and vertical.  Yet he seems to have something close to a genera in mind when he differentiates the levels of being. I am still working out the precise meaning of this differentiation and how it compares to his formulation in Insight.


Further note on Conjoined Plurality.

One other thing that I do want to add is a further note on “conjoined plurality.”  When one introduces a conjoined plurality (coming together of conditions to inaugurate a conditioned), this constitutes a realized horizontal finality, and this becomes a realized horizontal finality only if it is a sublation into a higher order. In the human being, this realized horizontal finality did not take place because of a circular scheme of recurrence at the level of the conjoining (level of spontaneous nature to use Lonergan’s 1943 language). So what does this mean for the man and woman? The conjoined union of a man and woman does not take place because of organic schemes of recurrence. Rather, one has to move to higher level operations to account for the union. The man and woman have motor sensory operations that bring them together, and these in turn, because they are human, are sublated within yet higher levels of conscious operations.  These motor-sensory operations themselves would not be completed without intellectual, rational, and volitional operations (even if these are minimized to hedonistic utilitarian or narcissistic pursuits).  So, the higher level operations complete the lower.  Let’s put this another way. In contrast, the schemes of procreation in plants are completed by vital, physical, organic schemes. But in human beings one has to introduce motor-sensory operations and intellectual/rational/volitional operations in order to account for the conjoining of the conditions at the level of nature (vital, physical, organic), a conjoining which then inaugurates the finality to adult offspring on the one hand, and a sublating relationship into the life and relationship of the man and the woman on the other.  In short, the conjoined union of a man and woman does not have its origins in organic schemes of recurrence. There are no such schemes. Rather, at the level of organic nature, these remain a plurality, a kind of aggregate, until these conditions are brought together through operations at the level of experience, understanding, judgment, and decision, all of which are rooted in a state and actualization of the capacity for self-transcendence.  And notice that each higher level completes something in the lower.  Understanding grasps a link between conditions and a conditioned, and judgment affirms the link as true.  If these conditions have not been completed, then a decision is an act that fulfills a condition, and if sufficient, a conditioned comes to be, and the decision then transforms “being.”  More can be said on this, but in general without an actuation of the life of reason (of understanding and of judgment) and without the actualization of the moral level, there would not be a human conjoining of these conditions that inaugurate the horizontal and vertical finality of fecundity.

Part 4a: “Conjoined Union” in Finality, Love, and Marriage

by David Fleischacker


As I was thinking about the meaning of a “conjoined union,” the key kind of potency in such a union is not merely finality, but a kind of realized finality. Realized because it is then sublated within the higher levels of being and/or consciousness.  The “conjoined” refers to a set of conditions that converge, and out of which convergence some type of event emerges.  All conditions arise from previous conditions except when something is created from nothing, which is accomplished solely by a divine act.  The conditions can be completely unique, hence fully non-systematic, or they can arise with various kinds of regularities.  In Insight, Lonergan called these regularities “schemes”.  I would like to note three types of regularities.

1. Source regularity.  When a regular set of events arises from a resource that has a significant supply of the conditions needed for the occurrence of the event, then we have source regularity.  Examples include the energy emitted from the sun and gasoline — though there is a circular scheme with this later examine but we are developing schemes upon it which are beyond the circular rate of renewal.  You can think of this as a one way trip.  It is a kind of entropy, but along the way things happen.   We are not talking of circular schemes here, in which the sets of conditions end up replenishing the originating point.  Rather, this is a sufficient pool that then provides a regularity of subsequent events that can be calculated statistically, although usually there is a slow decline of the statistical regularity until the source is depleted.  These are non-renewable resources, and depending on the overall structure of the universe, it may be on this kind of a course.

2. Circular schemes of recurrence.  This is what most reader’s of Insight think about in terms of regularity.  When we think of event A fulfilling conditions for the occurrence of B, and B of C, and C of A, or any more complicated sequence such that the conditions form a cycle or circuit.  These would be renewable resources. However, Lonergan would say that these schemes of recurrence fall within a larger non-systematic environment.  Hence, as long as the conditions remain the same, this circular or even flexible range of circular schemes will remain intakes.  The “remain the same” means both that the positive conditions remain in place, and that no interfering conditions come online.

3. Schemes of development.  Some things become “regular” because of regular schemes of development.  Examples include the regular formation of adult offspring, or the regular sequence of ecosystem development (for example when a fire burns a number of acres), and the ecosystem undergoes a kind of rebirth.  One of the more interesting and recent discoveries is that of stems cells. These have a development relationship to matured functional cells within multi-cellar organisms. These system maintains the cell/organ systems in multi-cellular organisms.

Whenever conditions come together and an event or new thing arises, they form a conjoined union of a plurality.  One can calculate the statistical probabilities of such conjoining of conditions that leads to an event or a thing–though sometimes this proves to be impossible on a practical level.  And, in every case, one can discover a finality in the potency of the pluralities.  Whether the plurality is one of hydrogen and oxygen molecules in an kind of aggregate that contains some electrical energy being exchanged, or one is speaking of the male and female semi-fecundities, there is a finality in all of these conditions that includes both horizontal–if these stay within the same genus of correlations and functional relations (and this would include both deductive and homogenus types of expansions — see chapter 1 of Insight)–or vertical if one examines the relationship from a lower to a higher genus.

With these convergence of conditions whether through source regularity, circular schemes of recurrence, or schemes of development, we can further clarify Lonergan’s introduction of conjoined plurality in his 1943 essay.  He notes that a specific finality arises in the conjugal act (conjoined plurality of two semi-fecundities) that is to adult offspring on the one hand and to higher orders of reason and charity within and between the man and the woman on the other.  The conjugal act follows the pattern of a source regularity that then follows up with a scheme of development. Why this specific act?  Because this specific act is the coming together of two correlative pluralities (male and female semi-fecundities), that is then a realization of the finality of these pluralities. Why a realization? Because this conjoining in the conjugal act is what can be sublated into the higher orders both of reason and charity that constitute the relationship of the man and woman properly as husband and wife (there are other ways of conjoining man and woman as well, but these have other horizontal and vertical finalities), and that is then a realization of a key step in the horizontal finality to adult offspring, and a vertical finality with the adult offspring to an educated adult offspring and a Christianly educated adult offspring.

I will treat more about this relationship of horizontal and vertical finality in the next blog.

Part 4: Statistics and Finality in Finality, Love, and Marriage

By David Fleischacker


In part two of this series, I mentioned that the “repetitive” element of the physical, vital, and sensitive spontaneity is differentiated into schemes of recurrence based on classical laws and statistical probabilities, and then schemes of development with one stage being not only an integrator but also an operator, hence possessing a finality, for later stages.

Concrete plurality and statistics

One element that does seem to stay the same between 1943 and 1957, though is explored more fully in Insight, is the relationship between the concrete plurality and its statistical possibilities that constitutes the potentiality that is horizontal and vertical finality.

As to the difficulty that frequently procreation is objectively impossible and may be known to be so, distinguish motives and ends; as to motives, the difficulty is solved only by multiple motive and ends; as to ends, there is no difficulty, for the ordination of inter­course to conception is not a natural law, like ‘fire burns,’ but a statistic laws which suffices for an objective ordination.[1]

It is important to note that even though the relationship of the conjugal act to conception is statistical, it has an objective ordination to the end of adult offspring. If one backs up in the article a bit, this statistical element is linked to a concrete plurality.

This we term vertical finality. It has four manifestations: instrumental, dispositive, material, obediential. First, a concrete plurality of lower activities may be instrumental to a higher end in another subject: the many movements of the chisel give the beauty of the statue. Second, a concrete plurality of lower activities may be dispositive to a higher end in the same subject: the many sensitive experiences of research lead to the act of understanding that is scientific discovery. Third, a concrete plurality of lower entities may be the material cause from which a higher form is educed or into which a subsistent form is infused: examples are familiar. Fourth, a concrete plurality of rational beings have the obediential potency to receive the communication of God himself.[2]

Notice the use of “concrete plurality.” From my reading, it has the same meaning as coincidental manifold in Insight. When a coincidental aggregate is understood in its finality, both horizontal and vertical, then that aggregate is a coincidental manifold. In each case, an aggregate of activities or materials have the potency to be formed into some higher order. In the types mentioned in the quote above, the second, third, and fourth are of particular interest in this essay. The parental contributions to the generation of an adult offspring provide a material that causes the vegetative and even motor-sensory levels in their child. But the motor-sensory level provides but a dispositive cause for the emergence and activation of intellectual, rational, and moral consciousness. This is because intellectual, rational, and moral consciousness is “headed toward the systematization, not of the particular animal that I am, but of the whole universe of being.”[3] These higher levels of consciousness cannot be caused by the lower sensitive manifold because these are intrinsically independent of the empirical residue. In other words, these are spiritual and thus the lower sensitive level is incapable of being a “material cause.” But the sensitive level is still a manifold, and needs to be for the higher levels of consciousness to operate (insight is into phantasm, for example, and cannot take place without phantasm). In other words, the higher orders of spiritual consciousness are extrinsically dependent upon the empirical residue, and thus the lower has a dispositive causal relationship to the higher. [4] Then, finally, in the reception of divine revelation, a concrete plurality of human beings as a community form the recipient of that gift, hence the relationship of that concretely plurality to the gift is a vertical finality of obediential potency.


Conjoined plurality and emergence

In every case, the concrete plurality must form a set of conditions for the emergence of a conditioned, whether on the same horizontal order or of a higher vertical order. So, there is a need for some kind of unification of the concrete plurality in order for the conditioned to emerge. A bit later in the essay, Lonergan will call this unity a conjoined plurality.

But vertical finality is in the concrete; in point of fact it is not from the isolated instance but from the conjoined plurality; and it is in the field not of natural but of statistical law, not of the abstract per se but of the concrete per accidens.[5]

This quote was discussed in the last blog with regard to “statistical law.” But now I want to draw attention to the conjoined plurality. Notice how the isolated instance is not the point of potentiality for vertical finality, but rather it is the conjoined plurality that forms that locus. This is ABSULUTELY key. There needs to be a coming together of the right conditions for vertical finality to become a real potentiality. These conditions and their convergence each have a frequency, and thus as well, an ideal frequency rooted in the ranges of possibilities. As organisms become more complex, this range increases just as there is an increasing flexible circle of ranges of schemes of recurrence, and one might add, of development. [6]

The conjoined plurality arises in a statistical manner, with actual frequencies converging on an ideal. And it is true whether one speaks of instrumental, dispositive, material, or obediential potency. All involve frequencies of conditions and the conditioned. If one does not have the right distribution of molecules within a tree, then carving it into a canoe will result in failure. There has to be an ideal distribution of the molecules that allow for what descriptively we would call a “straight tree with its grains running evenly. Or there has to be the right distribution of molecules in a bio-soup if there is to be the likelihood of the emergence of a self-replicating molecule.[7] Or sensitive images need to be in the right disposition if there is to emerge an insight. Or the individual receptive of divine revelation need to have the right disposition and sets of relationships to receive a public, communal divine revelation.

The statistics is a necessary element in finality. In Insight, Lonergan works this out metaphysically.

Finally, the foregoing account of potency, form, and act will cover any possible scientific explanation. For a scientific explanation is a theory verified in instances; as verified, it refers to act; as theory, it refers to form; as in instances, it refers to potency. Again, as a theory of the classical type, it refers to forms as forms; as a theory of the statistical type, it refers to forms as setting ideal frequencies from which acts do not diverge systematically; as a theory of the genetic type, it refers to the conditions of the emergence of form from potency.[8]

Notice here that he is saying in an extremely succinct manner how correlations that define conjugate forms, along with statistical ideals frequencies and finality (as well as development) are linked in terms of the basic metaphysical elements (potency, form, and act). This could be further unpacked into his theory of generalized emergent probability. Concrete plurality is naming a situation in which frequencies that converge on an ideal frequency provide the potentiality for the emergence of forms from potencies, hence new acts, with their frequencies. This is all articulated in general metaphysical terms and relations which reveals with precision a close unity between statistics and finality. That close relationship, as the quotes above indicate, already existed in Finality, Love, and Marriage, and Insight. Obviously, Insight has unpacked and expanded upon all the elements involved in this relationship, but fundamentally, the link seems the same. A statistically distributed plurality provides a probability for emergence, and the potency of this plurality for emergence is finality.

Fecundity, statistics, and finality

Now let us turn to fecundity and its realization.

….the actuation of sex involves the organistic union of a concrete plurality, and as such it has a vertical finality.[9]

Fecundity that is differentiated into two sexual genders is actuated through the “organistic union” of these genders.  In other words, it is in this union that vertical finality of fecundity emerges.  In a later blog, I will discuss the range of this vertical finality, because it includes both an intrinsic self-transcendence within the subjects who are sublating this finality into higher levels and ends of the human subject (notice how easy this will be to translate into the higher orders of conscious intentionality), as well as a  vertical finality within their “adult offspring.”  At the moment however, I want to highlight that the statistical features of this organistic union require that these be a union of two semi-fecundities.  It is the actualization of fecundity that is under consideration, and for that to take place within a plurality of semi-fecundities means that a unification has to take place for the actualization to be initiated.[10]

In short, the fact of a statistical, conjoined plurality or coincidental manifold is neither an elimination of the finality to an adult offspring nor to the finality to higher orders within the man and the woman and the child, but rather, it is the central locus of that finality.  It is the potentiality that is that finality.[11] It is that conjoined plurality (the conjugal act itself) that is integrated into the higher levels and ends of marriage.  Understanding this locus that is elevated is what would lead one to say as Lonergan did in Finality, Love, and Marriage that the “statistical law” that is found in the relationship of the conjoined plurality to concenption

…suffices for an objective ordination.[12]


[1] Finality, Love, Marriage, 46 footnote 73.

[2] Finality, Love, Marriage, 20.

[3] Insight, 515.

[4] Insight, 516.

[5] Finality, Love, Marriage, 22.

[6] Insight, 459.

[7] This is just one theory of the emergence of life, life being anything that can “reproduce” itself.

[8] Insight, 432 – 433.

[9] Finality, Love, Marriage, 43.

[10] There are other ways of course, given modern technologies, to actuate the adult offspring, but these usually involve by-passing and hence failing to actuate one or the other, or both of the semi-fecundities as such.  More on that later – once I finish exploring the meaning of this essay, I will then turn to some of its ramification in lights of current questions and debates. And of course, there are ways to eliminate the finality to an adult offspring by through hindering the actuation of one or the other or both of the semi-fecundities. Both by-passing and hindering involve a loss of the conjoined plurality within the man and the woman as subjects.

[11] Lonergan links potency and finality in Insight, 444-451.

[12] Finality, Love, Marriage, 46 foot 73.

Part 3: Statistics in Finality, Love, Marriage

By David Fleischacker

Dedicated to Br. Dunstan Robidoux, OSB on his birthday

Lonergan does discuss statistics within this 1943 essay, however, it is clear that he has not develop the notion of statistics to the level one finds in Insight 14 years later.  But it is not as far as one might think. Yet, one wonders if this will undo much of what he says in this essay regarding the role of finality within marriage. The next few blogs will answer that query explanatorily. But, the short answer is that it does not. I would argue that his expansion of the notion of statistics in Insight reinforces his notion of finality, and hence a key piece of the argument based upon that notion in this 1943 essay.  For this blog, we will focus just on the six times that Lonergan uses the term statistics in Finality, Love, and Marriage, and in the next blog discuss its relationship to finality.

Use 1: Statistical Law

Lonergan’s first use of the term “statistics” (actually “statistical”) takes place within his development of vertical finality.

But vertical  finality is in the concrete; in point  of fact it is not from  the isolated  instance but from  the conjoined plurality; and it is in the  field  not of natural but  of statistical  law, not  of the  abstract per se but  of  the  concrete  per accidens.[1]

Notice the notion of “conjoined plurality” which reminds one both of a coincidental manifolds or coincidental aggregates and its role in statistics in Insight, as well as the non-systematic convergence of conditions upon a conditioned.[2] Both the non-systematic convergence, and the coincidental aggregates are grounds for statistical probabilities. Both are based on acts of forms of potencies.  Every act can be examined in terms of its frequencies.  One could specify the frequency of some act within a particular spatial-temporal time frame, such as death rates within a particular region over a year. This is the absolute type of frequency.  There is as well a relative type which is discovered in terms of the alternative sets of conditioneds that can arise within a set of conditions.  In other words, the relative type of statistical probabilities are those based upon the possibilities of things and the realization of their conjugate forms in relation to the actualization of other things and the realization of their conjugates within a set of conditions.  This is how conjugates set the boundary conditions for statistical probabilities.[4] In the absolute type of statistic, it is not the relative rates of alternative conjugates, but the rate of a conjugate within a particular spatial-temporal frame of reference. The relative rates are based upon possibilities that arise from converging conditions.  A simple illustration of the absolute rates are the standard birth rates which include boundaries set within space and time not merely boundaries set by classical laws or systematic processes. Birth rates include the empirical residue (spatial-temporal given-ness) as part of what they mean.  In contrast, getting the genes for green or brown eyes (hence the proteins that give color to the eyes) is based upon the conjugates themselves (the alleles) and thus is based on the possibilities of conjugate forms (alleles) as setting the boundary conditions.

Use 2: Statistical Law

The second is found in a footnote to the first.

There is a noteworthy affinity  between  modern statistical  law and  the contingens ut in maiori parte, between  modern ‘chance variation’ and  the contingens ut in minori parte.[5]

This, I think, is getting at some of our commons sense descriptive terms that refer to statistical frequencies. When we say it happens all the time, or it rarely happens, or it happens for the most part, or it happens once in a while… we are using statistically based descriptive terms. Descriptive because we do not have an insight into actual probabilities.   Lonergan is simply noting how the notion of “statistics” has its history with the tradition and was not entirely absent until it became popular in gambling and genetics.

Use 3: Statistical Infallibility

In the third use of statistics in the article, it falls within the hierarchies of the three ends of human existence which sets up the context for the three ends of marriage.  The three ends divide into three levels, and the first level is focused on “nature”—which he limits to “physical, vital, sensitive spontaneity” (a restricted sense of the term as Lonergan notes)—it is repetitive, spontaneous in its formation of community, and efficient in how it operates. At first glance, there does not seem to be any role of statistics, yet in his discussion on “efficiency” he mentions how it operates with “statistical infallibility.”

While  nature with  the  ease  of  a 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, and the  rational community of  men  a divided unity  of  hatred and  war  as well as the indivisible unity of fraternity and  peace.[6]

One can think of the simple example of a coin toss.[7]  As long as both sides of the coin have a negligible difference in mass distribution, then the fact of two sides sets the boundary conditions for the probability around which multiple random tosses will oscillate.  One can then specify the “likelihood” of getting heads or tails on any random toss.  The point is this, that the more the tosses, the more it approaches the probability or ideal frequency. That increasing movement to the ideal frequency is likely the “statistical infallibility” that Lonergan has in mind when he uses this term.  And when organisms operate, they use this type of ideal frequency to live.  There are ideal frequencies of water supplies, food supplies, zones of protection, and many other needs of the organism for survival which are provided around a statistical probability upon which the organism depends for its existence. In evolutionary terms, one might say that a sequence of organism adapted themselves to these ideal frequencies.  With the introduction of molecular biology, which really grew rapidly after Lonergan wrote this essay, one comes to a deeper sense of the role of ideal frequencies within the molecular and biochemical pathways of the organism. Everything makes use of these probabilities.  Most of us, for example, have heard of Krebs cycle.  The cycle is not a physical machine, but it is a kind of chemical one, which operates not only using specific types of atoms and molecules within a controlled environment (mitochondria), but the statistical frequency of these molecules occurs in such a manner as to set the rates of ATP production. ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) is the energy molecule of every cell.   This production has to occur at certain rates which increase or decrease with the needs of the cell and cellular activities (it increases for example if we get up from sitting and go for a walk).  The point is this, that if you have high enough frequencies of events (such as coin tosses) you will make the ideal rate that you want.  In an everyday way you can call that a kind of infallibility. The fewer the events, the further you might diverge from the ideal. Unlike Krebs cycle, water and food supplies for most organisms are not always numerous events in a given spatial-temporal frame of reference, and hence there can be periods of draught or starvation. But over the long run, there is an ideal around which actual frequencies of such supplies oscillate unless the “boundary conditions” change – such as when an oasis becomes a desert.

So, in the points that Lonergan makes about nature – hence about physical, vital, and sensitive spontaneity, along with the actuation of the spontaneity, which has an end in the emergence and maintenance of life, one does find some hints of the statistical element.  It is repetitive and this includes a kind of statistical infallibility that makes it so.  This means that the link of the physical, vital, and sensitive spontaneity and its horizontal finality to its ends involves a statistical element.

Since fecundity is a particular feature of physical, vital, and sensitive spontaneity, one can assume that it too has a statistical infallibility, at least when one examines the entire human race as a whole.  There will be repetitive conceptions and births, and adult offspring because of this statistical probability.


Use 4: Statistical spontaneity

The fourth quote is found on the same page, and makes a similar point though he is using it to complete his contrast of the three ends of the human person.

It is not the statistical  spontaneity of nature, nor  the  incoherent liberty  of man,  but  the gratuitous action  of God.[8]

Here the contrast is how the end that is natural has a statistical element to it that is not deliberate and rational nor is it the same as the operations of God.  This does not add anything significant to our discussion about statistics.


Use 5: Statistical laws and probabilities

In the fifth use, he is discussing the concrete plurality of a man and a woman who come together in union, and how this united concrete plurality is the point at which vertical finality resides that is then integrated into the higher levels and ends of the human person (I will treat of this in a latter blog).  He then goes on to illustrate this vertical finality within the non-human worlds of life – vegetative and sensate life.

Further, the actuation of sex involves the organistic union of a concrete plurality, and as such it has a vertical finality. Such an upward drive follows from our general theory. In the vegetal and animal kingdoms it has its verification in the measure of truth that may be attributed to theories of evolution in terms of statistical laws and probabilities regarding combinations of genes through random mating.[9]

The key here is that he is formulating a connection between statistical laws and probabilities with the emergence of new species and even new genii.  The concrete plurality refers to the plurality of genetic alleles and combinations.  In Insight, when Lonergan is linking the lower manifolds to vertical relationships, he calls the manifold a coincidental manifold. These operate in a statistical manner with regard to inheritance.  And in turn, this provides a finality.  He was obviously aware of what became known as the Modern synthesis in evolutionary theory, which linked Darwin and Mendel in the late 1930 and early 40s.


Use 6: Statistical Laws

The last quote actually raises some questions.  It focused upon the level of nature, but moves from the statistical relationship of nature to its end in the emergence and maintenance of life, and specifies this to the level of fecundity, organistic union, and adult offspring. It is found in a footnote.

… As to the difficulty  that  frequently procreation is objectively  impossible  and  may be known  to be so, distinguish  motives and , ends;  as. to motives,  the difficulty  is solved only by multiple  motive and  ends;  as to ends,  there  is no difficulty,  for  the ordination of inter­ course  to conception is not a natural law, like ‘fire burns,’ but  a statistic laws  which suffices  for  an objective ordination.[10]

What is the question that this raises?  Lonergan refers to natural law, and links fire and burning.  This account of fire and burning is a descriptive account, and he calls it a law.  But explanatorily, fire burning involves both conjugate forms and statistical realizations of those forms (in terms of chemical and physical changes), so that in the explanatory context, there is a statistical element to fire burning. Likewise, regarding the relationship between the conjugal act and conception, the relationship involves a set of correlations as well as statistical frequencies of those correlations. So, in an metaphysically, there is no different between the fire burning and conception, both involved kinds of conjugate forms with a certain frequency of actualization that diverges non-systematically from an ideal frequency.  I would argue that there is a bit of a development at this point in Lonergan’s thought from the point of this essay to his writing of Insight. In Insight, I would argue that he linked together natural law and statistics more thoroughly, and instead of natural law as descriptively formulate, he differentiated classical laws and statistics. In chapter 10 of Insight, the “self-affirmation of the knower,” Lonergan reveals this development.

Cognitional process does not lie outside the realm of natural law. Not merely do I possess the power to elicit certain types of acts when certain conditions are fulfilled, but also with statistical regularity the conditions are fulfilled and the acts occur.[11]

Still, is there a truth in what he is saying? Sure.  In this case, he seems to say that something that is natural has a relationship to its end that has a kind of determinate certainty to it that other types of events do not have. He might very well have in mind “statistical infallibility” with regard to “fire burns.” It is a bit like asking “What is the probability that the sun rises each day?”  Not everything however does have that kind of regularity, and when you limit the spatial-temporal boundary conditions sufficiently on certain types of events, then the regularity is not so regular.  This is what happens when one moves from a large population to individuals on just about any type of event, including the realization of the end of fecundity. So when one looks at a single couple, and asks about the probability of their being able to realize their fecundity, then one no longer speaks of statistical infallibility.   But this is not surprising.  When one looks at the thousands of conditions needed for fecundity to take place, and that each of those conditions requires a certain ideal frequency, then the regularity that one might call “statistical infallibility” belongs not to the individual, but to the species.

This particular sixth quote however reveals something crucial in Lonergan’s entire argument in the essay, namely the link of statistics and finality.  In the next blog, due to arrive on June 11th, I will explore the relationship of statistics to finality within Finality, Love, and Marriage.

[1] Finality, Love, Marriage, 22.

[2] In Insight, the phrase “coincidental manifold” gains significance as Lonergan develops his notion of a thing, and the higher and lower orders of conjugates, in which the lower provide a coincidental manifold that can be systematized by the higher (262-263). He develops it more precisely in chapter 15, “Elements of Metaphysics,” where he develops explanatory genera and species (437), finality (444), development (451-452).  Coincidental aggregates is used earlier in relationship to statistics as is the notion of the non-systematic.

[4] Insight, 103.

[5] Finality, Love, Marriage, 22 footnote 16.

[6] Ibid., 39.

[7] The understanding of a coin toss and its final outcome largely is descriptive for most people, but fortunately the descriptive and explanatory accounts both of a coin toss and its final resting place in being either heads up or down result in a similar result. In other words, the descriptive conjugates and explanatory conjugates for this sequence of events results in the same set of events.  Sometimes descriptive accounts are significantly differentiated by explanatory accounts, and hence the “statistical” accounts end up being different. This is true of human height for example, which is caused by a multiplicity of explanatory conjugates—many genes and environmental factors.

[8] Finality, Love, Marriage, 39.

[9] Finality, Love, Marriage, 43.

[10] Finality, Love, Marriage, 46, footnote 73.

[11] Insight, 330.

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.

Part 1: Finality, Love, and Marriage: Gender, Fecundity, and Horizontal Finality (Z’ to Z”)

by David Fleischacker

I have been re-reading “Finality, Love, and Marriage” written by Lonergan in 1943.[1] It is quite an interesting piece once you explore the details and interconnections of the work. Given the upcoming Synod of the Family in Rome, I would like to begin exploring what Lonergan might contribute to a deeper understanding of family life.  Just to get started here are a few of the terms in the piece that I would like to begin commenting upon though not necessarily in the order given,

  1. fecundity,
  2. semi-fecundity,
  3. the passive aspect of love,
  4. the immanent aspect of love,
  5. the active aspect of love,
  6. natural law,
  7. statistics,
  8. concrete plurality,
  9. horizontal and vertical finality,
  10. hierarchy,
  11. organistic spontaneity,
  12. friendship,
  13. charity,
  14. projection,
  15. transference,
  16. the three ends of life,
  17. three levels of life,
  18. grace,
  19. reason,
  20. sexual differentiation.

I will start with fecundity since it is crucial for developing a “viewpoint of marriage.”[2] More specifically, I would like to start with the horizontal finality of fecundity to adult offspring at the organistic level and its differentiation into two sexes, what Lonergan symbolizes as; Z–> Z’ –> Z”.[3]

…. As far as human operation is concerned, [fecundity] is primarily on the level of nature, and its ultimate term is the repetitive emergence of adult offspring.  but sex is more complex.  Not only is it not a substance but it is not even an accidental potency as intellect or sense.  Rather, it is a bias and orientation in a large number of potencies, a typical and complementary differentiation within the species, with a material basis in the difference in the number of chromosomes, with a regulator in the secretions of the endocrinal glands, with manifestations not only in anatomical structure and physiological function but also in the totality of vital, psychic, sensitive, emotional characters and consequently, though not formally, in the higher nonorganic activities of reason and rational appetite. But for all its complexity sex remains on the level of spontaneous nature, and there, clearly, one may easily recognize that in all its aspects it definitely, if not exclusively, has a role in the process from fecundity to adult offspring.  For elementally sex is a difference added to fecundity, dividing it into two complementary semi-fecundities.[4]

Fecundity is the real capacity to generate a new central potency-form-act of the same species.[5][2] And because fecundity involves activation of the fecundity to effect the emergence of a new thing of the same species, and that new emergence has to undergo development from an indeterminate but directed dynamism to a determinate mature adult offspring, the fecundity has a horizontal finality to adult offspring.  And in human beings, like all higher level organic creatures, this fecundity is differentiated into two semi-fecundities or “sexes” which then need to come together in “organistic union” in order to activate the realization of fecundity.

In all organisms that have sexual differentiation, the differentiation involves the creation of complementary gametes that then need to be united to form some kind of a seedling or egg, and then this seedling or egg needs to develop into a mature adult.  Thus, there are a number of steps along the way by which fecundity is both real and then by which it is realized.  It is real if it has formed gametes and there exists a way for the unification of those gametes and this unification can then grow into an adult offspring. In plants, sexual reproduction involves the formation of pollen and ovules.  It is quite a beautiful process to learn about.  Fecundity is partially realized once these gametes are united.  In plants, these gametes can be united in a variety of ways, through the wind for example (grasses) or through water currents (seaweed) or through animal vectors (bees). As well, the “parents” might help to facilitate that unity, such as do the stigma and style in plants.  Following the formation of the seed, it then needs to be formed until it is ready to be released.  And the release of the seed may make use of wind or animals for dispersal.  Think of the exciting helicopter seeds that float down from maple trees or the pine cones that fall from pine trees. Once that seed is “planted” and then grows and differentiate into a mature adult, fecundity has been fully realized. With animals, the process is improved and differentiated because of motor-sensory operations. The chaos of the wind and water is reduced by the motor-sensory union that takes place through mating schemes that involve “attraction and locomotion” as Lonergan noted in order to enhance the effectiveness of reproduction and thus reducing the amounts of bio-energy needed while increasing the collaborative unity between the parents that works toward the successful generation of adult offspring.  After mating, in the simple animals, the formation of the egg is usually the end of the parent’s role.  The process of development is short, and a simple egg is sufficient to provide the “womb” needed for maturity (many fish leave the eggs hidden in the rocks).  But in more differentiated organisms, the development following the formation of the egg is more complex just as it was with the union of the parents in mating schemes or ritual. And so more help is needed. A simple unattended egg is not sufficient. Parents may need to be present not only to protect the egg (or warm it if they are warm blooded) but to be presented after being hatched in order to feed and, in higher animals (including birds), train their young in basic skills.  In general, as one moves to higher and more differentiated organisms, one has to introduce more elaborate schemes for the unfolding of fecundity to adult progeny, from mating rituals to raising the young.

Stage Simple organisms – single celled Plants Simple animals More differentiated animals
Pre-conception interactions Not really relevant. May grow flowers to help attract carriers but no interaction of parents. Simple mating rituals with little to no connection formed between the parents. More elaborate mating rituals that involve a more vibrant union of the parents.
Post-conception interactions Not really relevant. None. Very little if any post-conception protection or care. More elaborate post-conception protection and care with a differentiation of parental roles and tasks.

In short, the more developed the organism, the more elaborate the process from fecundity to adult offspring, and the more differentiated the roles of the parents in mediating that movement from its beginnings to its end.  A rich and differentiated fecundity sets up different roles and tasks in the parents who produced the complementary gametes. And as one thinks about it for a minute, Lonergan could not be more right in saying that with sex (as in gender–a semifecundity–not the act) “one may easily recognize that in all its (gender sex) aspects it definitely, if not exclusively, has a role in the process from fecundity to adult offspring.”

My next commentary will be one week from now, Thursday, May 28,2015.

[1] Bernard Lonergan, Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, volume 4, Collection, University of Toronto Press, 1988, 17 – 52.

[2] Finality, Love, Marriage, 42.

[3] Finality, Love, Marriage, 41.

[4] Finality, Love, Marriage 42.

[5] Central potency, form, and act are the metaphysical formulation of the notion of a thing (a unity, identity, whole). Lonergan argues as well that this notion is one of the most development and principle meanings of substance.  See Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, chapter 8 and chapter 15, sections 1 – 2.


Insight, Method, and the Trinity

On Holy Saturday morning at 10:30 am, we will be discussing INSIGHT, chapter 14, section 3 (Method in Metaphysics).  We will link it to METHOD IN THEOLOGY, chapter 1, section 1, as well as METHOD IN THEOLOGY, chapter 5, intro and section 1. As well, we will discuss a few points of how method is linked to the Trinity.