October 19, 2013 Insight Session: Mystery and Myth, immanence and transcendence in the world mediated by meaning

Notes for our Insight Session today.

David Fleischacker

Finally, we are resuming our Insight seminar, after a break since June 1.  In June, we had started into a discussion on the first few sections of chapter 17 of Insight.  We are now entering into some highly fruitful points of differentiation and integration within the field of metaphysics that will blossom forth into later writings of Lonergan, especially his discovery of functional specialization that he lays out in METHOD IN THEOLOGY.

For now, let us get a sense of the relationship between the known and the unknown, and the “paradoxical known unknown.”  In Method, Lonergan develops a notion of horizon (initiated by Heidegger?) that lays out the human horizon in terms of the four levels of consciousness, with the upper three being sorted into the known known, the known unknown, and the unknown.  This second known unknown is when questions have emerged that as yet have no answer.  These questions, if we meditate upon them for a bit, point to the profound reality of the human soul as being a capacity for self-transcendence.  When we manifest the experience of the known unknown, we do so in different ways depending upon the level of consciousness involved.  As manifestations, these are symbols–as Lonergan defines symbols in Insight in section 1.1 (ch. 17).  So, the question for understanding is the known unknown at the level of understanding.  Similarly, at the level of judgment, the question for reflection is a symbol, manifesting the known unknown at that level.  At the level of decision, the question for deliberation is a manifestation of the known unknown in how to participation in the transformation of being as the good.  These linguistic carriers of meaning however are not the only symbols of the known unknown. One could examine how the known unknown is manifested in intersubjective, artistic, and incarnate carriers, as well as what Lonergan means by symbol in Method in Theology. Distinct from images as symbols, however, are signs, which are manifestations of the known unknown as linked to interpretations of the known unknown (“signs” as defined in 1.1 of ch. 17 of Insight).  Then the image becomes a carrier not of the known unknown as such, but rather of the interpretive reading of the known unknown.  Lonergan makes the bold claim that the interpretations of the known unknown manifested in sign are the foundation of all religious and even anti-religious movements.  He writes,

“Moreover, precisely because of its relation to the known unknown, the image can be interpreted as sign in manners that are as numerous and diverse as human ingenuity and human contrariness.  So it is that the full range of interpretations includes not only the whole gamut of religions but also the opposite phenomenon of anti-religious feeling and expression, not only anti-religious views but also the intense humanistic idealism that characterized liberal display of detachment from all religious concern, not only elevated humanisim but also the crudely naturalistic nationalism that exploded in Germany under the fascination exerted by a Hitler, not only such social aberrations but also the individual aberrations that led Jung to declare that very commonly psychoneural disorder is connected with problems of a basically ‘religious’ character.” (INSIGHT, 534 in original print).

Interpretations of the known unknown, as the source of religions as well as ideologies becomes a concern with metaphysics in terms of how it relates to the finality of the universe as it has become conscious within the human subject, and then lived within the unfolding of human society and history.  Lonergan wants to articulate the principles of metaphysics as relevant to human interiority and meaning (“meaning” meaning the comprehensive account of meaning that Lonergan develops).  This helps to close the loop that Lonergan has mentioned in moving from cognitive theory, through epistemology, onto metaphysics, and then back to human interiority (including cognition) but in a metaphysical metaphysical context.

There is one other point that I would like to mention for which this chapter sets an important stage, not only in Lonergan’s own life as he heads toward his notion of functional specialization in the 1960s, but for all of us, as we move into the third stage of meaning– mediating meaning in terms of method and metaphysics, and that method being differentiated into functional specialization.  The human soul is a dynamic potentiality for self-transcendence, constituted in a basic capacity by the transcendental notions, symbolically expressed in the transcendental precepts.  It highlights the real need for appropriated the immanent by entering the world mediated by meaning of the past (the first four functional specializations in METHOD IN THEOLOGY) and for springing into the transcendent by engaging the world of emergent meaning as we operate in the present and lay the groundwork for the future (the second four functional specializations).  If we only live in the past, the immanent, we fail to live in mystery and we fail to self-transcend as we should.  If we try to live in the transcendent, in mystery, without the past, if we try to transcend without building on the achievements and gifts of the past, especially those permanent meanings, then we fly off into movements as one finds symbolized by Hitler.  At the same time as we lay the groundwork for the third stage of meaning (where we moved beyond mediating the world by common sense–the first stage, and theory–the second stage), we need to keep our eyes on some later chapters in Insight that will formulate the problem of evil and lay out for us the need for a higher integration that transcends our own natural capacity for self-transcendence–a higher integration that is needed if we hope to have any real ability to enter into an adequate mediational role springing from a functionally specialized mode of operation that keeps us from oppressive reactionary conservativism that shuts down authentic transcendence or violent liberalism that forgets key features of its past and creates some form of ideology and totalitarianism.  In short, without a Divine entrance into the world mediated by meaning, human beings will generate multitudes of systems of oppressive reactionary conservatism (as a note both what we call progressive liberals and reactionary conservatives in modern political life do this) or multitudes of mythic-sign-forms of liberalism ranging from the silly to the violent.

Distinctions grasped by negative judgment

Insight Forum: Saturday September 29, 2012

On Saturday, September 29th, we will begin chapter 16, Metaphysics as Science in INSIGHT.  The point of the chapter is to reveal the power of the method of metaphysics that Lonergan has put forth in the prior two chapters.  In the last chapter, Lonergan deduced the metaphysical elements from the structure of knowing.  The basic reason that grounds this possibility is the isomorphism between knowing and the known. The human mind is the "light of being." In chapter 16, Lonergan is going to show how some traditional metaphysical discussions can be worked out with certitude and clarity if one follows what he has been doing.

The first traditional discussion into which he dives is the notion of distinctions.  The grasp of a distinction is rooted upon a negative judgment.  This is important.  A positive judgment (X is true) is the ground for grasping being.  A negative judgment distinguishes being (X is not Y).  This should harken us back to the principle notion of objectivity. This is key, key, key to grasping the clarity that Lonergan achieves.

Metaphysically, one can discuss distinctions in terms of distinct ACTs of forms in potencies.  In chapter 15, there were six metaphysical elements: central potency, central form, central act, conjugate potency, conjugate form, and conjugate act.  These then became the basis for discussing development. The distinction of metaphysical terms and relations, and then their concrete realization in generic, specific, and individual beings of this universe are grasped by negative judgments, and because judgments are isomorphic with being, the content of these judgments affirm distinct acts.  

It is from this fundamental isomophism that Lonergan then proceeds with relative ease to discuss notional, problematic, real, mixed, adequate, and inadequate distinctions. 

A question about evil and the intrinsic independence of the human intellectual, rational, and volitional spirit from the empirical residue. But only a question.


by Dr. David Fleischacker

For those who are interested, I have been continuing to work on the topic of my last blogs regarding the male and female.  I am exploring the neurobiology of the brain and its differentation into the male and female orders. It is complicated as you can imagine, and I am waiting for some insights that pull much of it together.  But because it has been some time since I last posted, I thought I would pose another question that I am currently pursuing as well.

Here it is: Does the evil caused by the sin of the human person who is extrinsically dependent but intrinsically independent of the empirical residue transfer its dialectical disorder to the material world?  Does, for example, the knife used by the murderer come to be in a violation of emergent probability when the murderer uses it to murder a victim?

Let me explain the question a bit. Hopefully you are familiar with some traditional thoughts about the nature of evil, such as the affirmation that evil is a “privation of being” or a “privation of the good.”  It lacks intelligiblity.  It is a distortion of a good and is not an intrinsic substance nor does it have any “being.”  (It can be a privation of order that should be.)

The question I pose seeks an insight into the relationship between evil, the spiritual, and the material as these are articulated in INSIGHT. In INSIGHT, Lonergan presents the material as that which is intrinsically conditioned by the empirical residue.  The spiritual is intrinsically independent from the empirical residue.  The human being however is both material and spiritual. As spiritual, the independence from the empirical residue is understood by examining the “notion of being” or to use the language of METHOD IN THEOLOGY, the ‘transcendental notions’–intelligibility, being, and value.  The notion of being makes it possible to abstract intelligibilities and truths from the empirical residue (thus these are intrinsically independent of space and time, of the continuum, etc..), even though judgments of facts are concrete (some philosophers/theologians have thus called these concrete universals because they deal with specific realities and acts of being). One could say the same about judgments of value–these too are intrinsically independent of the empirical residue even if these are concrete as well.

Though the human spirit is intrinsically independent of the empirical residue, it is extrinsically dependent upon that which is intrinsically conditioned by the empirical residue, namely our material psychic and organic schemes of recurrence and schemes of development. One grasps this dependence when understanding the relationship between

  • the image (phantasm) and insight, or
  • the symbolic element in gathering evidence for judgments of the correctness of insights or judgments of fact, or
  • the symbols and affects involved in judgments of value or the good.

Images, symbols, and affects are intrinsically conditioned by the empirical residue.

The question at hand becomes more challenging when we point out the relationship between evil and emergent probability. The coming into being or the elimination from being of a central act or conjugate act is not necessarily a privation, but can be an absence.  If emergent probability can explain the absence or elimination of these acts, then this is no evil.  If evil has meaning, it must be something that actually violates generalized emergent probability and thus falls into the realm of absurdity. This violation would be the meaning of “privation.”

So, where do we find such privations?  In INSIGHT, arguably, the only “real” evil is that which falls under dialectic, because dialectic has introduced an absurdity into the unfolding finality of the human operator.  Generalized emergent probability is violated when there is a failure to pursue the “notion of being” as one should.  Put into the language of METHOD IN THEOLOGY, whenever there is a violation of the transcendental precepts, there is a real privation that takes place. Evil that is ultimately evil arises from the spiritual and only from the spiritual (that which is intrinsically independent of the empirical residue).

As a note, that which is intrinsically dependent upon the empirical residue, namely the material, cannot initiate a violation of emergent probability because it simply does not have the degree of freedom needed to do so. (this is another argument I suppose, but it is rooted upon the need to have this intrinsic independence from the empirical residue, otherwise what emerges always is explained within emergent probability).

Thus, the human person, as spiritual, can initiate an act of evil that is a real violation of the emergent probability. This is “sin.” So, to repeat the question stated at the beginning,

Does the sin of the human person who is extrinsically dependent but intrinsically independent of the empirical residue transfer its dialectical disorder to the material world?  Does, for example, the knife used by the murderer come to be in a violation of emergent probability when the murderer uses it to murder a victim?

An older manner of posing this question is whether physical evils are actually evils in the end (such as natural disasters)?  Can material disruptions and destructions or absences ever be “privations of being or the good” even when these are “caused” by the human person? Or to put this another way, do these “material disruptions” point to genuine evil caused by the spiritual or do these actually participate in the evil caused by that which is spiritual, and hence violate emergent probability?

By the way, the answer to this question has some interesting ramifications for those interested in whether there exists conversions ontologically below the intellectual (eg. affective, neural conversions).

At this point, I only want to raise the question.  I think one could argue that there is a potential that some of that which we call physical evil is itself a violation of emergent probability, however one must turn to a doctrine such as the Fall in original sin to begin exploring that possibility, because then one moves to a spiritual initiation of a larger absence within the whole emergent order of the universe.

Online books updated

In the "Online" tab above, you can find that the books by Msgr. Richard Liddy and by Fr. Brian Cronin have been updated into pdf and kindle formats.

Material is not the visible, Spiritual is not the invisible.

by David Fleischacker

There is a simple yet important distinction made by Lonergan regarding the meaning of the material and the spiritual.  I remember in Fr. Joseph Flanagan's class on INSIGHT at Boston College that he gave a definition of the spiritual which intrigued many of us. This definition was given long before we came to understand its meaning.  The spiritual, he said, is that which is "intrinsically independent of the empirical residue."  The material is that which is intrinsically dependent or limited by the empirical residue. Many of us however define the material and the spiritual in terms of the visible and invisible rather than the empirical residue.

Because of this common union of the visible and invisible with the material and spiritual, it helps to put the visible and invisible in their proper places and Lonergan develops a distinction which accomplishes this task. That distinction is between description and explanation.  Descriptive knowledge relates things to us, through our motor-sensory experiences. It is almost by definition visible or at least tied to the visible (or motor-sensible). Explanation in contrast relates things to things, via an abstractive process from images/symbols/phantasm.  This type of knowledge intentionally goes beyond our sense knowledge to grasp things independently of our senses.  The explanatory is literally not visible, hence it is invisible (not motor-sensible).

This distinction between the descriptive and the explanatory is important because Lonergan's definition of the material and the spiritual requires both a clear shift into the explanatory, and then a clear articulation of explanation in terms of cognitive theory and then metaphysics. In other words, cognitively, when one

  1. grasps the nature of explanatory insights and implicit definitions, and
  2. then how these insights abstract from experience patterned by the desire to grasp the nature or forms of things, and
  3. that in certain types of abstraction, a residue is left behind, left unexplained (=empirical residue)

…then one is prepared for the shift to to understand the meaning of the material in its cognitive elements. And cognitively, when one grasps that some forms and the modes of operation of these forms operate independently of this residue, then one is ready to grasp the meaning of spiritual.  

And in other words, metaphysically,  when one

  1. comes to understand potency, form, and act, and
  2. that potency provides a limitation to form, and
  3. that some types of potency include limitations in space and time, continuums, random divergences from ideal frequencies, inertia, and individuality

… then one is ready to understand matter metaphysically. And metaphysically, when one grasps that some forms have capacities not limited by space and time, by continuums, by random divergences from ideal frequencies, by inertia, or by individuality, then one is ready to understand the spiritual metaphysically.

After strenously exercising one's mind in INSIGHT (at least for most of us who are rather dull), and having shifted into a cognitive and metaphysical account of explanatory understanding and forms, material beings can be understood as those which are intrinsically conditioned by the empirical residue (prime matter in ancient language) and spiritual beings are those which are intrinsically independent of the empirical residue.

Once you understand these meanings of material and spiritual, you can then understand the title of this blog, and the same answer explains both clauses.

  • The "material is not the visible,"
    • Why? because material intelligible forms and the acts of these forms are known by explanatory understanding and judgement, not by descriptions of motor-sensory experience.
    • Hence, these material forms and acts of these forms are invisible.  
  • And likewise, the "spiritual is not the invisible"
    • Why? because material intelligible forms and the acts of these forms are known by explanatory understanding and judgement, not by descriptions of motor-sensory experience.
    • Hence, these material forms and acts of these forms are invisible yet not spiritual.