The Anonymous Christian

I had been visiting the Lonergan workshop in Boston this last week, well really only about 1.5 days of it. I had to return home for family reasons, however I enjoyed my short visit and the talks I was able to attend.

In one of the talks, Karl Rahner’s notion of the anonymous Christian was raised and I would like to highlight something that seems to be missing from discussions of this Christian. The anonymous Christian, at least in its best form, is the person who has never had a true encounter with Christianity, yet, God has moved this person’s heart, and this person has responded positively to God. Hence, this person is in a graced stated. But he or she does not really know it.

There are many advocates of the anonymous Christian (which the speaker was quick to point out is not Anonymous Christianity — Christianity is a believing body that is deliberate and knowing. Christianity cannot be anonymous). And there are many detractors. I probably stand a bit toward the detractors, though I would side with Augustine on all counterpositions (or heresies). As Augustine notes, all heresies possess some truth, and manytimes a profound truth. Likewise, all counterpositions advocate some truth. Now, I am not saying the Anonymous Christian is a heresy. But, the way it has come to be used by many certainly verges on one. I would argue that there are some elements of it as a position that need to be purged.

So what is it that needs to be purged? The key purging in my mind needs to take place upon a further conclusion that regularly follows the idea of an anonymous christian. If one can be a Christian without Christianity, then there really is no pressing need to become or be a Christian, let alone a Catholic. Karl Rahner himself I do not think can be rightly accussed of this position. And there are others who avoid it as well, and they argue that it is better to become explicitly Christian because then at least one knows a bit more about what one is.

However, there is a more subtle argument rooted in a philosophical framework for which Rahner is partly responsible and which does seem to lead to this conclusion. Life is really about a transcendental response, not a categorial one. Categories define, delimit, judge, and these are all finite. These are not what life is about. In fact, if one overly adheres to the particular categories that define our experiences and judge our insights, then one has become derailed. This includes overly adhering to any type of faith, whether Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or any other religious set of beliefs. The categories never can be made into anything definitive, anything that will hold one’s trust in any obligatory or mandatory fashion. Categories are mere pointers, suggestions, and if they take one away from the transcendental eros of the spirit, then they have become gods.

If one holds this basic position on the transcendental ground of the soul and its contrast with the categorial, then one must say that the aim of our beings is beyond all that we know, believe, and to which we respond. It is even beyond the other whom we love, because we know that other and love that other in categorial ways. Hence, the endpoint of humanity and history really is not the Catholic faith. The end point is beyond the Church, beyond Christianity, beyond all the names and person’s who we categorize in this world. Could Rahner be responsible for this ultimate rejection of Christianity and the Catholic faith?

Hence, it is not only the conclusion that needs to be purged, but a key premise. It is this categorical minimization of all categories that I would argue needs to be purged and replaced with a substantially different understanding of the relation of the transcendental element of the human soul and its realization in answers.

So, what is a better understanding of this relationship between the transcendental basis of the soul and its categorial realization? It is true that fundamental in all human beings is this transcendental ground of our being–especially if one generously understands this transcendental nature as rooted in the transcendental notions as Lonergan comprehends these. At the same time, these transcendental grounds are merely a beginning. They have aims, and these aims are answers.

In addition to the orientation of the transcendental to answers, thinking of the answers or categories as merely provisional pointers also needs to be recast. Can some insights be true, forever true? If one says yes, has one rejected transcendence? Notice, that there exists a bit of a confusion. The fact that I went to the bank today is forever true. God is three persons is forever true. God is unrestricted being, goodness, and love, is forever true. What does it mean to transcend these statements? Have I derailed my being into a categorial abyss in holding such claims?

At times, old categories do need to be released for new. Old wineskins cannot hold the new wine. Sometimes, the categories are not released and discarded, but merely transformed like Newton’s notion of mass for Einstein’s. Other times however, the old categories simply remain old, and never need to be revised or rejected. It will always be true that I wrote this blog.

Self transcendence does not require that all categories and all answers necessarily be overcome and rejected for something better, even if self-transcendence require that one continue to develop.

I guess, in the end, I am trying to make the case that the virtually unconditioned can be reached in certain contexts. Thus, I am trying also to make the case that there exists not only a permanence of the trancendental ground of the human soul, but a permanence in the meaning of some answers, such as dogmas (Lonergan argues this point).

Adhering to these permanent answers results in a departure from the exclusive devotion to the transcendental and thus from the anonymous Christian, and calls one to move to the sanctified soul that is increasing its sanctification via divine gifts that transform us. One can argue that we are in dire need for upholding the belief in an explicit outer Word. The outer Word mutually self-mediates the life, health, healing, and growth of the inner word and the capacity for self-transcendence. However, for this to work, we need to know that Word and its manifestation in words. This manifested Word needs to have a permanence to it. And though the manifested Word belongs to the categorial, it never needs to be rejected for something better. It can command obiligatory and mandatory trust, for the duration.

To put this a bit more descriptively and concretely, a soul animated by the Holy Spirit, moved by the heart of flesh will not go far without the mediation of the true outer Word. In other words, without being mediated by God’s entrance into the world mediated by meaning, then one will remain at best, anonymous, and probably not even that for long. Only in the united missions of the Son and of the Holy Spirit does one thrive. It is difficult enough remaining faithful to the inner call when one knows this explicitly. As well, the anonymous Christian is not going to embark on the great mission of evangelization. He or she is never going to proceed to speak or write about the profound wisdom that reorientes one’s soul. Prayer will barely be intentional and disorientingly existential. One will never write theological treatises upon the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Church, salvation history, the City of God, nor on spiritual development. One will be forever in ignorance of one’s own self and of the meaning of life and of history in any but the most rudimentary fashions. It really is a dangerous place to be, and a rather unfruitful place as well, save that it will respond with great joy at finding the true outer Word of God. This person will not be able to benefit from all the profound insights that have linked the way of achievement with the way of gift, the way of reason with the way of true faith. Thus, such individuals will be shut off from the Tradition and its catholicity. The purpose of such gifts of the Holy Spirit is to draw us to an authoritative outer word that can bring us along to our true destiny. As John Henry Newman noted well, the fact of Revelation implies the need for an authoritative carrier of that Revelation. Without that authority, no one, not even the genius of earth, will find that Revelation in the end. One will be left on the verge of despair, wondering whether there really is an answer. Without the permanence of some of these key answers, at least those rooted in the Divine entrance into the world mediated by meaning, then we really are lost. And we too can ask with Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” It is the permanence of some answers that is missing in many of the discussions about the anonymous Christian. Anonymity needs a dressor of sycamores like Amos if it is going to bear fruit.

When does the human person begin to exist? Part 9, the conclusion

by David Fleischacker

In this entry, I will end up repeating some of the same conclusions as in the last two blogs, however, with a slightly different focus, and a basis from which to answer the challenge in the last blog.

I would like to refer the reader to chapter 8 in INSIGHT, section 3 on “Genus as Explanatory.” Specifically, I am looking at the section in which Lonergan addresses the possibility of the emergence of a new and higher genus of things. He is worth quoting at this point,

Consider, then, a genus of things, Ti with explanatory conjugates, Ci, and a consequent list of possible schemes of recurrence, Si. Suppose there occurs an aggregate of events, Eij that is merely coincidental when considered in light of the laws of things, Ti, and of all their possible schemes of recurrence, Si. Then, if the aggregate of events, Eij, occurs regularly, it is necessary to advance to the higher viewpoint of some genus of things, Tj, with conjugates, Ci and Cj, and with schemes of recurrence, Sj. The lower viewpoint is insufficient for it has to regard as merely coincidental what in fact is regular. The higher viewpoint is justified, for the conjugates, Cj, and the schemes, Sj, constitute a higher system that makes regular what otherwise would be merely coincidental. (Insight, 255 – 256)

This point that Lonergan makes presents us with the heart of the solution that is required in order to make the case that human neurological and sensate schemes possess a regularity that cannot be explained adequately by neurological (biological) nor sensate conjugates and their schemes. Thus, what is taking place in phantasm is something that does not really make sense from standard sensate conjugates and schemes. The standard schemes are for sensing, reproducing a sensation, or creatively constructing something that could be sensed. Phantasm, though a pattern within neurological and sensate schemes, requires an appeal to the higher conscious acts of question and answers to explain it. In other words, when a person asks a question, many neural processes are triggered, and one cannot explain these with the experience of some sense object or desire for food. One has to turn to the question itself in order to explain the neural patterns and why these exist and exist as these do.

Furthermore, I would like to add some points slightly beyond Lonergan’s quote above. Self-transcendence not only explains a particular set of neurological and sensate regularities, but it brings about a horizontal development in the neurological and sensate capabilities as well. Mathematics provides an analogy. Algebra expands arithmetic in order to reach its goals. For example, one can say

8 + 10 = 10 + 8

6 + 5 = 5 + 6,

9 + 12 = 12 + 9

etc., etc., etc.,

This is arithmetic. However, in arithmetic alone, there really would not have been much reason for carrying out such activities. Only in algebra, which is looking to resolve problems in a different manner does one want to discover such laws as “A + B = B + A.”

This solution in the human beingA Thought ExperimentA thought experiment might help to create a plausible understanding of this dependence of the expansion of the lower neurological and sensate manifolds upon the higher self-transcending levels of consciousness.

Let me start with a simple statement rooted in Lonergan’s proposals regarding higher and lower levels in Insight. Every conscious act has its underpinning neural correlate. A sufficiently different conscious act will result in differences within the sensate, which in turn will have differences in neural patterns. Hence, a question about a tree will trigger different neural patterns than the experience of seeing or touching the tree.

Let us say that neural pattern X is discovered. Now, the pattern emerges whenever intelligent creature A is asked about the color of the ball present at which s/he is looking upon. Now, in the brain of this creature, there is already operative pattern Y, which results from the focused attention upon the ball. It was discovered to be a similar pattern within a dog, friendly creature B, and a monkey, curious creature C. In all three, this pattern Y is correlated with the visual perception of the ball. However, the question stirs up other patterns. When the friendly creature B and curious creature C are asked the same question, they too have certain patterns that get triggered, but there are some significant differences from that which gets stirred up in intelligent creature A. Intelligent creature A has a variety of patterns in the cerebrum that are triggered which are not found in the friendly or the curious creature. These further neural patterns are linked to questions and insights and these recur whenever the question is asked. And one never finds these patterns in the friendly or curious creature, neither of which even possess these particular neural possibilities in the first place (as a note I would expect some significant neural differences between the dog and the monkey as well).

Let us say some further experiments have discovered a few more things about these neural patterns in the cerebrum of the human being. Normally, patterns can be explained by various types of sensate and neural “causes.” The seeing of the ball or the desire for food trigger neurological processes or sensate ones. However, in the human being, some of movements in the frontal lobes do not have such an explanation in the end. Even though these might accompany seeing and tasting, these possess a liberty of movement that cannot be reduced to these initial processes. Rather one has to appeal to higher acts of self-transcendence in order to understand these movements. One must appeal to the questions for understanding and insight, questions for reflection and reflective insight, or questions for deliberation and evaluative insight that the human subject is freely raising (as well as concepts, judgments of fact, and judgments of value, etc..).

The expansion of neural and sensate manifolds under self-transcendence.Let us now continue this thought experiment, and turn from the coincidentality of the neural and sensate manifolds toward their development.

As was mentioned earlier, just as algebra expands the “doing of arithmetic,” so self-transcendence is going to expand the neural and sensate manifolds. This would happen not just in individuals, but in the human species over its history.

In the IndividualOnce questions and answers begin to awaken in the child, the neural manifolds will shift in support of these developments. For example, prior to birth a massive growth of neural connections takes place, far beyond those connections which will be needed. During the first five or so years after birth, this growth is “weeded down.” What gets used, stays, what does not reduces. This period is a period in which the child is literally forming her or his brain through interaction with the immediate environment and culture. Maria Montessori calls this the “absorbant” sensitive period in human development. The mind can be described as a kind of sponge, but literally it is being interiorly formed from the neurons on up.

Just before adolescence another growth of neurons is taking place, similar to that which takes place before birth. The front lobes are massively being reintegrated with the rest of the brain, allowing for a new kind of absorbent period.

In the human speciesNow both the structures of the first growth and the second have neurological, biochemical, and genetic grounds. However, I would like to suggest that these roots were guided by prior generations of self- transcending subjects. Over the millennia, neural patterns that allow for greater rates of self-transcendence increase the probabilities for survival and expansion, and thus, the self-transcendending species sees an evolutionary improvement over time in the neural structures of the brain that support the sensate capacities that underpin acts of self-transcendence. Thus, neural processes and their correlative sensate activities will develop in the brain that have come to be via the higher order of successful self- transcendence. Thus, from the first stage of an individual, he or she possesses developmental orders that come from the self-transcending subjects of the past. This means, that even the genetic and biochemical make-up of the first cell, the zygote, possesses this ordered development.

However, once the neural and sensate matrices arise in the individual that can support actual self- transcendence, then individuals self-transcendence comes to have a new role in shaping the neural and sensate manifolds. Then, for example, the “weeding down” in the first five years after birth and in the early years of adolescence is guided by the subject’s acts of self-transcendence (mediated within the community and its history).

So, both the neural and sensate manifolds have been guided by self-transcending subjects of the past and then further guidance comes from the self-transcending individual in conscious and intentional relation to community and its history. This is a rather differentiation way of looking at nature and nurture.

Notice, that this is not claiming that the underlying neural and sensate manifolds cause self-transcendence. But they are the matrix in which such self-transcendence takes place. As Lonergan argues, human intelligence is intrinsically independent of the empirical residue, though extrinsically dependent upon it. And it is this extrinsic dependence that calls for the kinds of neural and sensate advancements in the human species in the same way as algebra calls forth arithmetic advancements. It seems highly improbable that these advancements could be explained by neural or sensate operations alone, and thus it is highly probable that they have an intrinsic dependence for their intelligible meaning upon self-transcendence (constituted by the transcendental notions).

What does this mean for the larger question at hand?It simply means that from the first stage of development in the human being, the prior generations of self- transcending subjects contribute the basic biochemical and genetic order that has an intrinsic relationship to self-transcendence. In other words, one cannot understand adequately the genetic and biochemical layout even of the zygote without appeal to their formation in relationship to prior generations of self- transcending subjects. Hence, though it is not “guided” by the current self-transcending acts of the zygote, simply because these have not yet emerged, the developmental orientation toward a differentiation of neural and sensate patterns require an appeal to something more in the end, and that more is an orientation toward self-transcendence brought about by an inheritance from the past.

Now, in earlier blogs I had argued that in a developing kind of thing, the first stage of development is the first moment in which that thing exists. However, in those blogs, I could not argue as directly that in stages prior to actual self-transcendence of the individual a human person existed. I did argue that a human person is a person whenever a “this” has an intrinsic (by “intrinsic” I mean it only becomes explanatorily intelligible via self-mediating relationship to self-transcendence. Now, in light of this blog, some further provisional statements and conclusions can be made:

1. A human person begins in the first stage of a “unity-identity-whole” that possesses an intrinsic relationship to intellectual, rational, and moral self-transcendence.

2. Since every stage of development prior to actual self-transcendence cannot be adequately explained without appealing to self-transcendence, every stage of human life has an intrinsic relationship to self- transcendence (though that relationship does change).

3. Thus, the zygote also has an intrinsic relationship to intellectual, rational, and moral self-transcendence (of past self-transcending subjects).

4. The zygote is the first stage of human development (I have not formally made this argument, but it can be done from biological studies).

5. Therefore, a zygote is when the human person begins to exist.

Actually, there are a few more premises that could be introduced and detailed, but I trust that it is sufficient to make the point. Much work can be done in detailing all of these links. I have just picked up a few new texts on brain development and the frontal lobes, which should add some of the latest discoveries. I have tried to simplify the arguments to give pointers more than thorough treatments of the brain and brain development. However, for readers interested in doing more, I would recommend starting with some introductory texts on the brain and brain development, then going to the latest research on the prefrontal cortex and its development. This usually will give more than sufficient detail to underpin some of the general statements I have made in these blogs.

When does the human person begin to exist? Part 8, a challenge to the last blog.

by David Fleischacker

I am hoping now to return to this line of thought again, after a bit of a delay because of a busy semester and a paper and a trip to South Korea.

In the last blog, the argument lead up to a possibility. Simply possessing a potentiality for phantasm was sufficient for that which possesses this potentiality to be intrinsically linked to an intellectual nature. The reason for this is because the phantasm as such, though an operation of the imagination, has a pattern or order to it that goes beyond the imagination. Lonergan’s definition of a circle in INSIGHT illustrates this point. The cartwheel as a cartwheel is either a direct manifestation of a sense object or it is a remember recreation of the sense object. However, a cartwheel as such is not a phantasm. One has to start increasing the quantity of spokes, decreasing the width of the spokes, decreasing the hub, etc., and move each of these toward the ultimately unimaginable, toward points and lines. The imagination has to be ordered in a dynamic fashion in order to provide the materials for an insight. This dynamic ordering of the cartwheel is no longer just a cartwheel, especially as insight emerges. In fact, by then, the image of the cartwheel has all but disappeared.

Thus, when the imagination along with the underlying neural manifolds reaches a point that it is potentially formable into a phantasm, one then can say that a real potentiality has arrived. However, until questioning actually awakens, this potential in the neural manifolds and imagination, real as it may be, will not move toward phantasm and become actuated in a phantasm.

The Challenge

A simple question however challenges this view. Could such plasticity of the imagination emerge from merely sensate needs alone? In other words, could the motor-sensory integrations that arise because of typical animal sensate operators and operations (a zoological system on the move) be sufficient for a neural plasticity that then could be formed into phantasm as well? For example, would the development of the frontal lobes as found in human beings have taken place even without the emergence of intelligence? When not participating in an actual phantasm, would the neural manifolds exist as they do without any need to appeal to the capacity for self transcendence? Now notice, this is not about whether an actual phantasm requires a higher explanation, but whether the potentiality of the neural structures for participation in phantasm require more.

Next blog: my response. (originally, I had planned on putting this answer up with the above, but it is rather long, and I am hoping to shorten it.

When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 7. The Human Person: As Body and Mind

By David Fleischacker

In the last blog, I had mentioned the final steps in reaching a conclusion. Ignore that, at least in part.

In this current installment, I have chosen to examine the relationship between the body and the mind in the matured human person. Most of us would hardly argue whether a grown, awake, intelligent adult is a human person. Yet not so clear is the relationship of the body and the mind in terms of being intrinsically related to an intellectual nature. And until this becomes a bit clearer, I cannot begin to answer the question about when the human being begins to exist.

The Human Mind as Intrinsically Independent and Extrinsically Dependent on the Empirical Residue

[As a note of profound gratitude, I would like to thank Fr. Joseph Flanagan for highlighting the meaning of the spiritual in INSIGHT during the year long courses I had with him in 1990 on that book. Fr. Flanagan’s pointers have been a starting point of deepening reflection for me over the years. The following discussion is simply another example of that deepening.]

In INSIGHT, Lonergan notes that human intelligence develops in relationship to the sensate, which in turn, emerges within the neural manifolds, and one could continue on down, to the chemical and sub-atomic, and even the quark. So, on the one hand, the development of human intelligence simply cannot take place without images or what St. Thomas calls phantasms, which in turn only happen within neural manifolds in particular places, times, continuums, and coincidental aggregates. At the same time, from these particular manifolds of neurons and images, human questions and insights have a liberty that stretches to the universe and beyond. Our questions intrinsically intend intelligibilities, truths, and goods, or in general the transcendentals of intelligibility, truth, and goodness. Together, the integrated intentionality constituted by these transcendental notions forms the basic human capacity for self-transcendence. What emerges from this capacity has a universal and invariant character that can include the concrete and particular. Insights and judgments abstract from the empirical residue to reach universals and the virtually unconditioned, and thus have a kind of liberty from that residue.[for more on these, see Lonergan’s account of the invariant character of insight in chapter 2 of INSIGHT and of the virtually unconditioned in chapter 9 of INSIGHT] This liberty is what Lonergan means when in INSIGHT he technically defines the spiritual as that which is intrinsically independent of the empirical residue. Intrinsically independent because the mind intrinsically intends the transcendental notions not the particularities of the images and neural manifolds. At the same time, it is extrinsically dependent, because it cannot reach its aim without that particularity.

Is the human body intrinsically independent of the spiritual capacity for self-transcendence?

All of this however points to the fact that human intellectual, rational, and moral development of the capacity for self-transcendence is intrinsically independent of and extrinsically dependent on the body–its organic and motor-sensate, and affective facets as well as its embeddedness in the empirical residue. However, this relation of the mind to the body does not allow one to understand and know whether the human body is intrinsically independent of the capacity for self-transcendence and its realization. This reminds one of St. Thomas point that God is intrinsically independent of us, but we are not intrinsically independent of God in our existence. At the same time, it reminds me of St. Thomas point that the rational nature of the human being informs the body which means the body has an intelligibility that comes from the rational nature above.

There is another way of raising this question. Is the human body intrinsically intelligible without reference to the intelligibility of the capacity for self-transcendence and its realization in the self-transcending acts of understanding, judging, and deciding? If the body is intrinsically independent, then one cannot say that an intrinsic link to an intellectual nature occurs in the human body. Thus, when a human being is merely an organic or zoological being, he or she is not a human person. On the other hand, if such an intelligibility exists, then one can say that this being who is not currently intellectual, rational, and moral is still a human person.

Phantasm and Insight

Non-heuristic sense objects

One way to develop this answer is to examine the relationship that the phantasm has to insight. The images that are phantasms are distinct from those that are merely sensate. Sensate type images are either direct integrations of neural responses to sense objects the apple as seen–or they are creative remembrances of those objects the apple as remembered–or creative constructions of potential sensate objects that have never actually been sensed the cubicle apple. Notice that in each case there is a greater liberty from the material manifolds. The second is free from the actual sensation of the object in a particular physical place and time but not free from memories of the object. The third is free from both a sensation of the object and even from a memory of it though it is not free from some previous sense experiences. If one has never had eyes to see or ears to hear, then no visual or auditory creative constructs can be formed.

In all three cases, the empirical residue is a constitutive component of the images. Every actual, remembered, or potential sensate object has a particular spatial or temporal element, as well as individuality. And though the imagination has a kind of freedom to create these residues, especially as one moves to the second and third types of sensate objects, the objects it creates cannot be without these residues.

Intellectual Images – Phantasms

Images need not be limited to sense type objects, and this is precisely what takes place in the formation of a phantasm. A phantasm is an imaginative object that has become formed in such a manner as to allow for the emergence of an insight. For example, in understanding the algebraic law that A + B = B + A, the data requires that one do and then examine a series of arithmetic activities, such as 1 + 2 = 2 + 1; 4 + 10 = 10 + 4, 8 + 54 = 54 + 8, etc., etc., etc.. Thus, the phantasm in this case is formed by doing arithmetic based on symbolic representations of numerical elements and mathematical operations. Notice, that the kind of patterning of the imagination that takes place cannot be explained either as a perception of an actual sensate object, as a memory, or as a creative construct of a potential sensate object. Instead, this kind of imaginative play is ordered toward insight. And that patterning of the imagination is an intelligibility that requires an understanding of higher levels of intellectual life. The phantasm as a phantasm would not exist without the insight and it would not be what it is without the insight. Yet, it belongs to the imagination, and hence is embedded in neural manifolds and the empirical residue. Without the act of insight, the underlying phantasm is merely a strange coincidental aggregate of neural events and images. The reality is that it is not random or strange, and needs the higher order for explanation.

What this indicates is the body, at least that part of the body that has become informed as a phantasm, is informed by the insight, and thus cannot be understood in its form or pattern without that insight. This indicates an intelligibility of the body that intrinsically requires an appeal to intelligence itself. Thus, the phantasm is intrinsically linked to our human intellectual nature.
Intellectual Body without phantasm?

This then raises another question. Does this intelligible link between the phantasm and intelligence exist when no phantasm actually exists? If I am in a deep sleep, or in a kind of non-intellectual conscious state, does my vegetative and sensate being still exist in a manner that possesses an intrinsic form that requires an appeal to higher conscious operations? The answer in my judgment is yes.
Evidence 1: The Potentiality of the Imagination and Brain for Phantasm

What is the evidence? Well, I think in general one could point to the real potentiality of the imagination to be informed as a phantasm. When the imagination is not actually informed as a phantasm, it does not thereby become limited in its capability to form a phantasm. In other words, it does not regress to being able to rise no higher than sensate type images and constructs. This also means that the neural manifolds that underlie the potentiality for forming the phantasm have this same plasticity. I suspect that the great power of the associative regions of the brain, and the motor and sensory cortices along with the front lobes point to this plasticity as well, and as the structures of the brain become better known, this link will become clearer.

Evidence 2: The Memory of Habituation of the Imagination and Neural Patterns by Phantasm

Also, once a phantasm has been created, and the neurons and their synaptic linkages have switched into long term patterns for long term memory, then literally, the brain has become habituated to these phantasms. Even when these patterns are not operative as phantasms, the stability of the neural linkages remain. And like the phantasm, these underlying neural patterns cannot be explained except in relationship to the higher insights, reflective insights, and evaluative insights that inform them [I think the neural patterns involved in evaluative insights include a combination of the manner in which the affective/emotional dimensions of the brain are integrated into the higher parts of the brain, especially the frontal lobes. Thus the phantasm sublated by evaluative insight includes higher brain integrations of these intentional affect elements, which is what neurologically allows for the sublation of the affective into the rationally self-consciousness, or the level of decision]. Thus, even the memory patterns of these phantasms are intrinsically informed by these higher conscious operations and thus have an intrinsic link to an intellectual nature.

Thus, an intrinsic link of the body to an intellectual nature is found both in the potentiality of the human imagination and human brain for phantasm as well as in the memory patterns of the imagination and neural structures that had emerged as a result of phantasm.

So, even when we are in a deep sleep, or in a sensate state in which we are not thinking, understanding, judging, and deciding, our bodies are still in a neural and imaginative potentiality and state that is intrinsically linked to our capacity for self-transcendence and its realization.

Yet, we have not reached our final answer. The relation of phantasm and the higher conscious operations regards the matured human adult and not when the human person begins to exist. However we have made one further step toward the resolution of this question. One can point out that the intrinsic link to an intellectual nature can begin even when a real potentiality for phantasm begins. But a real potentiality includes development, and such finality for development can be both horizontal and vertical. The implications of this need to be explored, and that is for the next blog.

When does the human person begin to exist? Part 6: The human person as developing

by Dr. David Fleischacker

In the former 5 parts of our inquiry, we had explored the meaning of the Thomistic definition of person as a “distinct subsistent in an intellectual nature.” A person needs to be distinct from mother or father or brother or sister or friend or enemy. A person is a subsistent, a that which is, a concrete unity. A person is intrinsically linked to intelligence, reasonableness, responsibility, and love. And now to turn to the next stage, what is specifically human about this person?

The HUMAN person

As Developing:

In the former blog entry, it was noted that the intelligence of human beings develops. It starts as a mere potentiality, a mere capacity that grows through the years. In other words our questions for understanding, insights, definition and symbolic formulations of insights, our questions for reflection, reflective insights, judgments, questions for deliberation, apprehension of values, judgments of value and the good, and decisions unfold, shift, grow, and undergo transformations and even conversions over the years.These growths can be horizontal expansions of common sense, of the dramatic formation of human living, or of the artistic realms. These growths can undergo expansions into new modalities of stewarding the world mediated by meaning, such as takes place in the move into theory and explanation, and then again into a higher differentiation of consciousness that Lonergan identifies as the shift to an explanatory interiority or the “Third Stage of Meaning.” And within each higher stage whether theory or interiority, horizontal developments can take place. Differentiations of the sciences, and ultimately of metaphysics can be articulated and explored, and then used to guide and direct our lives within creation and history.

Most comprehensively, the human being can be characterized in terms of the full range of our questions and the full range of notions that constitute the aims of these questions. Lonergan defines this totality as the capacity for self-transcendence. We are beings that seek intelligibility, truth or being, and the good. This capacity drives our development and this capacity defines our aims. Its fulfillment is what we desire, and such fulfillment would bring ultimate happiness. Thus, to find that which would bring about such fulfillment would be to adhere to that which would be our true happiness. This ultimately means to be in love with one who is unrestricted intelligence, truth, and goodness.

Thus, the human being is intrinsically intellectual because the human being is intrinsically constituted by a relationship to understanding the intelligible, to judging that discovers the true, to evaluation and deliberation that beholds the good and grounds true freedom, and most comprehensively to a capacity for self-transcendence that yearns to be actuated in a love that truly completes it, in a love of God as God who has first flooded our hearts with love, and placed us into a context to love our neighbor and our enemy in a manner that transforms our world.

Our development is one that brings about a religious self-transcendence in faith, hope, and love; a moral self-transcendence that forms into the moral virtues; an intellectual self-transcendence that forms into the intellectual virtues. Human beings are human persons because of this intrinsic link to intellectual life, one that is “one the way” toward ultimate human perfection in another that is perfection itself.

But when do we begin?

Of course, these all refer to the developments of the human mind, will, and heart and we are looking for the beginning of the human person. When does this intrinsic link to developing intelligence, reason, deliberation, love begin? Part of the difficulty in answering this question is a difficulty raised two blog entries ago, in part 4. The human being is not merely an intellectual, rational, responsible being. We are in-carnated, infleshed, and that infleshment is in two related levels that develop. On a first level emerges the organic. Early in life we undergo multiple differentiations of cells and cell systems. At the beginning, we are but a single cell, then a few cells, and out of this grows the circulatory, the muscular, the immunological, the digestive, the neurological, and a number of other interrelated systems. With the trees we share growth, feeding, and other organic systems. On a second level arises the motor-sensory-affective developments. Increasing integrations of the body, especially through the neurological, blossoms forth into a motor-sensory set of operations that give rise to sensate living within this world. With the animals we share sensory perceptions of our spatial-temporal niches of life, and the ability to transform those niches with our motor responses in the context of passions and emotions.

But are these vegetative and sensate dimensions of our existence intrinsically linked to intelligence, rationality, morality, love?

Next Expected Blog Entry: March 1

For those who are interested, I think the conclusion of this current question should take place in the following order, each one to be published one week after the former.

1. When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 7. The Human Person: the relation of the mind to the body

2. When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 8. The Human Person: the relation of the body to the mind

3. When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 9. The Human Person: The relation of the zygote and fetus to the adult mind.

4. When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 10. The Human Person: The CONCLUSION

When does the human person begin to exist? Part 5: “In an Intellectual Nature”

By David Fleischacker

“In an Intellectual Nature”

As we move toward the final installment that will complete the current inquiry that began over a month ago, we now turn to the last terms in the Thomistic definition of person: “In an intellectual/rational nature.”

St. Thomas identifies three types beings that are intellectual: God, Angels, and Human beings. God is the only being that is perfect in act, whose “essence” is Existence. Whose essence is an infinitely existing intellectual and rational Being. Angels on the other hand are created, and in their creation their forms are specifically unique. Each angel, in other words, is its own species. Human beings in contrast are intellectual beings that are on the “horizon of Being.” They start as mere potentialities in intelligence, and through the collaboration of the human race, they move toward the act or perfection of their minds and wills. Thus, they form one species, one race.

Still, what is meant by intelligence and rationality? Our understanding of these terms requires that we start with what is most known to us, which neither is God nor angels, but ourselves. We must start by understanding the nature of our own minds first, then analogically we can ascend to angels and to God. Of course, our goal here regards the human person, not the ascent to angels and God.

A small problem regularly arises however In discovering our own minds. Augustine was fond of pointing out in his Confessions, and a host of other writings, that many of us start in a distorted way in relationship to our minds. We tend to be “out of doors”, and understand all of reality in terms of images and pictures. We cannot fully be blamed for this, since we start living with our senses, and our knowledge starts in the senses. As Lonergan notes, in our earliest years of life we begin “in the world of immediacy.” And though our destiny is much different, we share with the animals this sense type knowledge of the world, and like the animals we transform that world with our motor responses.

However, as Augustine goes on to note, the very power by which we come to know even things in our senses is beyond the senses, and beyond the bodily. Our minds search for understanding, truth, and even wisdom. We can seek the good and the beautiful. We can search for the truly Wise and beautiful Beloved in whom we “move and live and have our being.” This very capacity to move toward the transcendentals and The Transcendent are not only the basis for our exploration of this world, but more fundamentally these relate us interiorly to God. Constitutive of our being is the fact that we are a “light of Being” as St. Augustine notes, or an Agent Intellect, to use the Aristotelian and Thomistic term. Our potentialities as intelligent knowers is realized through this light, as is our potentialities as seekers of truth and goodness.

To transpose this into Lonergan’s terms and relations, the human subject raises questions for understanding in an immediate relation to intelligibility, questions for reflection in an immediate relation to truth and being, and questions for deliberation in an immediately relation to the good. These questions are fundamentally an illumination of conscious existence, a kind of light of intelligibility, a light of truth, and a light of goodness. As lights these underpin, penetrate, and transcend any particular finite intelligibility, finite truth, and finite good. As underpinning, these lights start as a “known unknown” seeking answers. As penetrating, these lights illumine a known known. As transcendent, these same lights then become the source of further illuminations, further explorations, and hence they are the principle of transcendence. Ultimately, if one begins to question the very meaning and possibility of intelligibility and wonders if there is an unrestricted intelligibility that explains everything about everything; if one begins to wonder if there is an absolutely unconditioned Truth and Being that could provide the foundations for all contingent or conditional truths and beings; if one begins to wonder if there is an absolutely unconditioned Good that provides the basis for all finite goods, then two realizations open up. First, the strange and unrestricted potentiality of the human rational soul that cannot be happy without the realization of that potentiality. And secondly, that realization is not in the self, but in another, in the Unrestricted as Unrestricted, in God as God.

As a note, these short summaries of St. Thomas and Lonergan are merely pointers to their works up to which one needs to begin the magnificent climb if one really wants to grasp the fuller analogical meaning of an intellectual and rational nature. The human ascent to the metaphysical mind and its wisdom, and then beyond to the Transcendent is a profound if difficult and at times seemingly impossible journey. It cannot be recommended enough however.

So, where does this leave us with the question at hand? An intellectual and rational being is one in whom intelligibility, truth, and goodness are illumined, and ultimately theese are underpinned by love itself. This love binds intellectual, rational, and moral subjects to each other through the intelligible, the true, and the good. What this means for us, is that any being which has some intrinsic link to being intelligent, to being reasonable or rational, to being moral, to being in love is the key to understand the meaning of “in an intellectual nature.”

Why intrinsic? One could say that artifacts, for example, are linked to intelligence, rationality, and morality, and even love, but they are not intellectual/rational beings because these are not constituted by an interior relationship or an intrinsically intelligible relationship to intelligence, reason, responsibility and love. Only God, angels, and human beings fit the profile.

God is intrinsically linked as a total and unrestricted identity to intelligence reasonableness, goodness, and love because God is an unrestrictedly intelligent and intelligible Being, an unrestrictedly reasonable and true Being, an unrestrictedly responsible and good Being. “God is love.” Each of these are completely one with another as well. God’s intelligence and intelligibility is God’s reasonableness and truth is God’s responsibility and goodness is God’s love.

Angels are intrinsically linked to an intellectual nature in another way. They are not unrestricted. They are contingent and created. At the same time, their intellectual, rational, and moral beings are fully realized. They do not develop. Intrinsically, their realized intelligence, rationality, and moral existence constitute each angel in a unique way. In turn, this provides a way for distinguishing one from the other, hence each is a unique species unto itself. (Of course, I am using St. Thomas’ position on angels).

Finally, human beings are intrinsically linked to intellectual and rational life as well. But how? That is to be the topic of the next installment.

When does the human person begin to exist? Part 4 The basis of the unity-identity-whole in an explanatory viewpoint.

by David Fleischacker

In the last installment on January 11th, a question was posed at the end.

“The question then becomes more precisely what is required to grasp intelligently and affirm reasonably the unity of a concrete unity, a subsistent being? Since all insight requires an adequate image or phantasm, what kind of image or phantasm is needed for the emergence of the insight that recognizes a unity-identity-whole?”

Expanding the question in terms of Conjugate Forms, the Unity-Identity-Whole, and Development.

In chapter 8 of INSIGHT, Lonergan succinctly presents the cognitive discovery of the unity-identity-whole, and then how the knower can move to an explanatory differentiation of the unity-identity-whole, the thing in its various conjugate forms (as both genus and species). The highest set of conjugate forms define the kind of thing that is unified. He makes it clear that the “direct insights” which understand these highest conjugate forms are not the same as those insights which grasp unity-identity-wholes.” Later in the book, a nuance is added to the differentation of things. In chapter 15, “Elements of Metaphysics,” Lonergan introduces a further heuristic structure, that had been implicit in certain parts of the book earlier, including chapter 8, namely genetic/developmental method. And he subsequently integrates that which is known developmentally with the notion of the thing. A developmental thing changes through sequences of changing conjugate forms, yet it is one and the same through the entire process from beginning to end. So the same thing is both acorn and, later, Oak.

Now these developmental insights are distinct from insights into conjugate form and central form (central form = unity-identity-whole). Since our purpose here is to identify when the human person begins to exist, and the human person is a developing kind of thing, we need to examine what place development holds in our inquiry.

Another way of posing this question is how does a thing, as it develops, remain one and the same. A zygote of an animal, for example, has rather indeterminate organic or vegetative features, and nothing more. It is not yet a sensate being. When it sufficiently develops to possess neural cells and ganglia, and then a brain, and thus begins to acquire the ability to sense, it has become a new kind of thing. Is this a substantial change? Is it an annihilation of an old unity-identity-whole and the creation of a new one? Now, as said above, Lonergan states that it is one and the same, even through the same thing changes from a lower set of conjugate forms (eg. Organic) to a higher set (psychic/sensate).

Now notice, that if one stops at this point, then one can only say that the same thing is an organic thing at stage one, then the same thing becomes a sensate/psychic kind of thing at stage two. This means that the same thing comes to possess a different kind of nature. Thus, when one wants to define a thing, does one then need to use multiple definitions depending upon the stage of development? The ramifications of this, for our question at hand, is that one must wonder if a human person, which needs to be a rational/intellectual being, exists only when a certain kind of thing reaches a stage at which rational life is in act, or at least has the power to act. This would seem to support the theory of delayed-hominization. It means that at one stage, I am merely an organic kind of thing (vegetative), then I become a sensate kind of thing (animal), and later a rational kind of thing. I am one and the same throughout these three major shifts, yet quite different at each stage. It also means, however, given the definition of person with which we are working (a distinct subsistent in an intellectual nature), that I am not a human person until that third stage.

Defining a Thing Developmentally

However, the notion of development, especially as it is related to horizontal and vertical finality (For more on the meaning of finality, see INSIGHT, chapter 14, and I would also recommend his treatment of it in Third Collection, in the essay “Healing and Creating in History), introduces some new ways for defining something. One can come to define “what” something is not only by the highest actually operative conjugate forms in their schemes of recurrence, but by the potency of the highest actually operative conjugate forms in their schemes of recurrence. Any developing being that is at any stage prior to full maturity is a system that is an operator because it not only possesses a regular set of schemes of recurrence, but it is setting itself up for either horizontal (just as a deductive or homogenous expansion can take place in arthmetic, so an organism can “expand” its organic operations) or vertical (just as one can move from arithmetic to algebra, so a organism can expand from vegetative/organic operations to motor-sensate operations) changes.

The Highest Finality of a Potency as That Which Unifies all the Data in a Development

Because every potency is defined by its relation to form and act, and because those relations can be horizontal and vertical, one can define a thing by the highest potency that constitutes it (I say highest, because in a complex matured organism, the maturation of stem cells which maintain and heal tissues include operators, but these are not the highest operators of the organism as a whole). Now notice, that the highest potency of a developing thing is the same from its beginning to its completion, even though at the earliest stage that potency is vertical and later it became horizontal, and then perhaps, once maturity was reached development stops. In this last stage, the same potency is still a constituent of the being, though now it is a fully realized potency. This is why a particular developing kind of thing can be defined by the highest finality that belongs to its potency.

Thus, one is not forced to limit a definition of a unity-identity-whole to a particular set of actual highest conjugate forms, or, in other words, to a particular stage of development.

[As a note, the finality of a particular thing is different from the universe as a whole, not so much because emergent probability is different, but because in a thing, the particular sequences of development have been delimited within a particular flexible developmental range, whereas in the finality of the universe, no such delimitation has taken place, but rather it includes the possibility of a multiplicity of things and ranges of developing things this as well would be worth another blog article!].

Hence, in defining a zygote of a dog, therefore, one can define it in various ways, but most appropriately I would argue, one wants to define it as a developmental kind of thing, and thus by means of the kind of potency the “dog” zygote possesses, and more specifically, the highest orientation of the potency, which is a vertical orientation toward specific motor-sensory-affective integrations and operations. Thus, if one defines a dog as that which has a particular finality in its potency (which could only be specified after an explantory account of all the developemental stages of the dog takes place in the scientific community), a finality that opens up to a particular combination of motor-sensory-affective integrations/operations, then one can say that this zygote which is one and the same with the fully matured dog is also the same in its developmental nature, and thus possesses the nature of a dog.

[If you have never done so, it is worthwhile taking the extended time needed to work through some specific examples of eucharyotic cells, DNA, a general understanding of biochemical schemes, cell differentiation, and the emergence of differentiated tissues, especially neural tissues and brain development. The emergence of motor-sensory-affective possibilities from these earlier stages is rather fascinating even though knowledge of it is still limited.]

Recognition of a Unity-Identity-Whole in an Explanatory viewpoint requires not only that all the data be individual, but that these data be link in some fashion

This resolves a thorny issue in my mind regarding the recognition in an explanatory framework that something is a unity-identity-whole. From the explanatory viewpoint, the data that form a unity-identity-whole cannot be just individual data, but rather these must be linked to each other in some fashion. For Lonergan, this link is the highest set of conjugate forms that are operative in a set of data (see chapter 8 and 15). Whatever data are united in that highest set of conjugate forms (or it could be one form) all belong to the same thing in all of their particular aspects. In a developing kind of thing however, which undergoes emerging sequences of higher conjugate forms, the actual conjugate forms of a particular stage do not provide the unification with the data of earlier or later stages. Something else is needed. And that need is provided by turning to the highest developmental potency (or finality) of this particular being, which is the same at all of its stages. This developmental potency developmentally unifies all the data from beginning to end.

How a Developmental Unity-Identity-Whole is grasped by understanding and affirmed in judgment

Now this developmental unity, like a unity of data integrated through the highest set of conjugate forms, is not the same as the “unity-identity-whole”, since it regards data as similarly understood, not data as individual. In an explanatory framework, once one has worked through the developmental sequences of some being, a range of intellectually patterned experiences then is generated that lead to the unity-identity-whole insight as explanatorily grounded (this can be reached for some things through descriptive conjugates as well but this is for another blog since we are interested in the explanatory definition of person). As a note, this is much like how the “doing of arithmetic” provides the experiential matrix for getting insights into algebra. Likewise, one can verify in judgment this unity-identity-whole by going back and reflecting upon the relationship of this insight into the central form and its basis in the data as developmentally unified.

Final Conclusion

Thus, to return to the initial question stated at the end of the last blog. The meaning of a “that which is”, a “subsistent,” requires a unity, and that unity is a unity-identity-whole. This unity-identity-whole in a data has its roots in the data as intelligibly united either through some highest set of conjugate forms, or, if it is a developing kind of thing, through the highest reaches of the potency for development (horizontally and/or vertically). However, it is not that data as “similarly understood” but that data as individual.

If one can reasonably affirm a unity-identity-whole, one can reasonably know that such a reality exists. And if such a reality exists, subsistences exist. The next set of questions turn to the meaning of “in an intellectual/rational nature.” Following that, we can turn to human subsistents in an intellectual nature, and finally turn to develop an answer to our original question: “When do human persons begin to exist?”

When does the human person begin to exist? Part 3: The reality of the concrete unity-identity-whole.

By David Fleischacker

In part 2, I began to examine the notion of the “subsistent” and noted that one key element in a subsistent is the unity of the reality — it needs to be a “that” or a “this” not a “those” nor a “these.” However, both a relational metaphysics and a reductionist metaphysics seriously challenge this key notion of unity. At best, unity becomes a mere epiphenomena, a being of reason, but not a reality. If the reality of the subsistent is going to be salvaged, the reality of unity needs to be substantiated.

Lonergan’s solution turns to the notion of reality, not as that which is lowest in the universe of being (perhaps quarks or some more basic form of energy), or even relational beings, but “that which is grasped intelligently and affirmed reasonably.” This is a bit of a sound bite behind which are the levels of understanding and judgment which are explored more thoroughly in the first half of INSIGHT. When one raises questions for understanding, receives an insight, and then defines that insight, one has “grasped intelligently.” And when one raises questions for reflection, reflects back upon the relation of insight and image/data, then receives reflective insight and pronounces judgment, one has “affirmed reasonably” the understanding. Thus anything–and that means anything–any property, any feature, any experience that can be understood and affirmed in judgment is real.

The cognitive elements are included in the definition of the “that” simply because then one can understand what is meant through a heuristic definition. This heuristic apprehension is needed for a cognitive/rational being to understand the meaning of being (which is possible because our beings are beings that are “lights of being” or “agent intellects participative in divine being”). Hence, to use a traditional language, we understand the meaning of being by the analogy of Being.

Thus, what is key for solving the problem about the reality of the unity-identity-whole is that it be a “that” which can be grasped intelligently and affirmed reasonable, and is real even if not understood or known by anyone.

With this meaning of “real” in mind, neither the lowest, most basic component of things (the ultimate focus of a reductionist metaphysics), nor the relations of things (the focus of a relational metaphysics) preclude the possibility of a unity that also is real, since it too can be grasped intelligently and affirmed reasonably. If one can mean some meaning with the words “this” or “that” then that meaning is rooted upon an insight, and if this insight is affirmed reasonably to be a “this” or “that”, then one can know that one’s meaning refers to a real unity that is identified by the “this” or “that.” Hence just as one can grasp intelligently and affirm reasonably the lowest component of all things, and just as one can grasp intelligently and affirm reasonably the relations of things, so one can grasp intelligently and affirm reasonably the unity necessary to be a thing. Neither reductionist nor relational metaphysics are adequate because neither is capable of accounting for all that is real in this universe. (As a note, Lonergan dialectically analyzes the reductionist position in a number of places in INSIGHT).

The question then becomes more precisely what is required to grasp intelligently and affirm reasonably the unity of a concrete unity, a subsistent being? Since all insight requires an adequate image or phantasm, what kind of image or phantasm is needed for the emergence of the insight that recognizes a “unity-identity-whole”?

When does the human person begin to exist? Part 2: To be a subsistent, or not to be.

By David Fleischacker

Last week, in the search for the answer to this factual question about when a human person begins to exist, I had turned to the definition of a person developed by St. Thomas Aquinas, with the hopes that it would add significant precision in the search for an answer. And in initiating that search, the meaning of the first term of the definition had been explored. A person is distinct from others. A child must be distinct from his or her mother, as well as others, in order to be a person. Now we turn to the second term in St. Thomas’ definition of person; subsist.

A subsistent, as far as I can tell, is a being in all of its concrete unity. It is not just a part of a being, such as the molecules or the biological systems of cells that compose it, or the unity of it. It is the entire, concrete, existing being, which as such, exists in itself and not in another as St. Thomas highlights.

As a human person, this means that all of my parts, all of my being, including my thoughts, my will, my memories, my character, my personality, my body, legs, eyes, arms, ears, my unity, identity, whole, my individuality, my perfections and lack thereof, all belong to my concrete existing being. These are parts of me, unified in me, which allows me to say these belong to me, not as a possession of mine, but rather as a constituent part of my being. These parts are the parts of a complex composition that is me and which thus allow me to say in a very subjective and objective way that these parts are me, such that if someone were to harm a part, I would then say you have hurt me. These parts are constitutive and compositional, not merely add-ons to my being. I, and all that composes me, am a concrete unity. I am a subsistent being.

And yet, all of this can be challenged. Perhaps the most difficult element of subsistence, at least for me, is the question about the unity of the concrete being. What if the very notion of unity is merely that, a notion, and not real? A number of philosophers and scientists in the post-modern era, especially ecologists, have highlighted the relational element of all events and things, including people. If the relational is all that is real, then unity is merely a notion and these relationally consistuted parts and pieces are just that, relationally consitituted parts and pieces. There is no unified subject, no individual. Individualism is an idea of the past. And subsequently, with the loss of a real concrete unity, there is no meaning to subsistent being.

One can go on to add premises that destroy the notion of the subsistent by giving a multitude of examples that highlight the relational in this world. My lungs for example do not operate and really do not make sense except in relationship to oxygen and carbon dioxide cycles, and the plants and trees that form part of those cycles. Even the biochemical cycles in my body do not make sense as independent elements without understanding the relationship these possess to various forms of energy in the ecosystem (eg. Such as Kreb’s cycle and a large bowl of food). As a human being I am a social being. I am the son of so and so, a teacher, a student, a consumer, a friend, and on and on. All relationally defined terms. When I look at my being, from the sub-sub-atomic to the most meaningful elements, I understanding nothing but relational events and activities. Even my own mind is constituted by transcending notions that seek the intelligible, the true, and the good, transcending terms that are not me. And this transcending orientation is not restricted, which implies a relation to some unrestricted being. So, isn’t what is real, what is concrete, simply a relational reality? There is no independent, individual unity that is distinct from others, that subsists. Rather what exists is a web of relationships that expand throughout the galaxy, and to the universe as a whole, and onward to the divine.

One could also destroy the subsistent by traveling the way of the reductionist. Looking at a human being, one could focus upon the chemical, or the sub-atomic, or the sub-sub-atomic. One sees just an aggregate pile of molecules, once in a while statistically interacting with each other in some type of reaction. There is no overarching unity from this point of view, and hence one begins to argue that there is no larger thing that mysteriously brings everything together. The larger unity becomes a mere epi-phenomena, more conceptual than real. And as Lonergan pointed out, beings of mere reason are not subsistent.

Notice, how this also destroys the notion of individuality, and along with it the reality of distinctness, and the cognitive ability to distinguish. A relational reality is not really a distinct being, an individual.

The objections to the notion of subsistent thus can be serious. If it does not exist, then the meaning of person really does not hold. People really do not exist. This long standing Western tradition that affirms the reality of the person and of people should be cast into a grave. Human beings as persons cannot be. Like the chemical reductionist, Derrida the linguistic reductionist is right. My mother is no longer a person. I am no longer a person. And Tertullian and the tradition he helped initiate was wrong all along. The three what in God cannot be three divine persons.

Yet, a reality seems to persist. I want to be a person, with a name, a concrete biography, a son, a friend, a student, a teacher, and ultimately a child of God. And for me to be these things I must be an I, not just as an epiphenomena or a merely subjective conscious I, but as a real objective unity. I not only want to be related to others but I also want to be distinct from them, and to be a concrete unity, a subject who can love, and be responsible, and truthful, and intelligent.

The solution? Let us leave it for the next installment.

When does the human person begin to exist? Part 1: To Be Distinct

By David Fleischacker

In answering the factual question “When does the human person begin to exist?”, a first step is to examine what is meant by “person” as such. Lonergan’s work on Christology and Trinitarian Theology lends us a great deal of precision in answering this question. Though we cannot pretend to present the profound explanatory and interior accounts of person developed especially in Lonergan’s piece on the ONTOLOGICAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL CONSTITUTION OF CHRIST, nor of his development of its meaning in his systematic exposition of person in THE TRIUNE GOD: SYSTEMATICS, I think it would be good to begin with one of the most prominent definitions of person from which Lonergan springs, namely that developed by St. Thomas Aquinas.

In developing his systematic account of the Holy Trinity, Aquinas defines person as a “distinct subsistent in a intellectual nature” In order to understand St. Thomas’ definition one must come to understand all of the key terms in the definition and with these understood, one can then proceed to the meaning of human person, and finally to the question of fact that concludes as to when the human person begins to exist. Along the way, we will explore the transposition of the meaning of person from faculty psychological of the 13th century into the exposition of person through the more recent interiority analysis as found in Lonergan, and the subsequent metaphysical clarification of the meaning of person.

So, we shall begin with the first term, “distinct.” Ultimately it bears upon such questions as when is the child distinct from the mother? At the moment a zygote is formed? When the infant is sensitively conscious? When the infant is intellectually, rationally, and morally conscious?

First Question: What is the meaning and importance of “distinct”?

The Importance of the Subjective Ability to Distinguish

Being able to ground the fact that some feature or thing is distinct from another cognitively requires the ability to make “absolute” judgments such that one can say that A is and B is, and then move to comparative judgments, such as A is not B. Epistemologically, these comparative judgments result in what Lonergan calls the principle notion of objectivity and when the A is a “unity, identity, whole” and “B” is a unity identity whole” (or more technically, an actually existing central/substantial form) and A is not B, then one objectively knows that two distinct things exist. We can ask, for example, is this tree that tree, or this dog that dog. If one says no in each case, then one has factually distinguished different things and arrived at some degree of objectification of the real world. Notice, if such judgments are not possible, then one cannot really become “attuned” to this universe and world, since such attunment requires that people, persons, and things become distinguished and related. Without these judgments, we would not recognize ourselves as distinct from anything in this world, nor the distinction of friends and family from each other, nor the distinction of one culture from another, nor a tree from a pond, nor a cell from a mountain.

The Criterion or Ground for Distinguishing

One can then turn from the need for comparative judgments to the basic criterion that ground these comparative judgments. For example, in making the comparative judgment of fact that one tree is not another, one could be making the distinction based upon the difference of species of trees. One is an oak, another a maple, hence these are distinct. However, in addition to the distinction based on species of tree, there is a simple fact of material difference, this tree here and now is not the same as that tree over there. These trees occupy different experiential spatial regions. Hence, even if these two trees were the same species, say maple, and the same age, say 25 years old, and even had grown in precisely the same way over the years right down to the order of the sub-atomic quarks (yes, this would be impossible), these would still be different just because of the different spatial-temporal differences. Likewise for dogs. Dogs can be distinct from each other on a number of traits, but say that two dogs were identical to each other in everything except the spatial-temporal regions that these dogs occupy. These dogs would be distinct “things” on that basis alone.

When one turns to the Holy Trinity, the question of the basis of distinction becomes rather interesting. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not distinct from each other on the basis of genus, species, Being, Intellectual disposition, hair color, physical size, or because each occupies a different spatial-temporal region. So what is the basis of the distinction between these three? The answer to this, since at least St. Augustine (I believe book seven of De Trinitate) has been mutually opposed relations which results in the irreducibility of the terms of the relations to each other (Actually, I have found similar answers in St. Gregory of Nyssa). “Relations” without opposition do not result in such distinctions. For example, friendship is based on two relationships, the first being based on friend one who seeks the good of friend two. The second on friend two who seeks the good of friend one. However these are not mutually opposed in kind. Rather, it results in two relations similar in kind, which means that the two terms of the relations are the same (term one being friend one, and term two being friend two). Friendship is a relationship that results in “two friends.” Father and son however are likewise rooted in relations but these are mutual opposed, because the relation of paternity and the relation of filiation are different in kind from each other, and these result in two irreducibly different terms, “father” and “son”, not two fathers or two sons. This becomes the basis for saying why one is not the other in the Holy Trinity. The Father “begets” the Son and thus has a relationship of paternity to the Son. The Son is begotten of the Father, and thus has a relationship of filiation to the Father. Mutually opposed relations is the key.

The Conclusion is that different kinds of things might need different grounds that allow human beings to understand the difference cognitively and that actually cause these things to be distinct metaphysically.

The Ground for Distinction of Human Beings Cognitively and Metaphysically

Our concern at the moment is not with the ground of the distinction of three Persons in the Trinity, but rather the meaning of “distinct” as such, and in turn how it grounds the distinction of human persons, and then how this distinction bears upon when human persons begin to exist.

The basis upon which one human being is not another is not easy to identify metaphysically as the following two questions illustrate. “Is the basis of the distinction between human beings the genetic uniqueness of a person?” “Is it that each man, woman, and child possesses a self-conscious unity?” Notice how neither of these grounds for distinction work because neither provides a definitive principle of difference. Theoretically, human beings could be genetically identical, hence that does not quite work. Likewise, even in possessing a “self-conscious unity”, one cannot use that feature to conclude that one person is not another because both “self-conscious” human beings would be the same in this feature of “self-conscious unity.” Furthermore, one is not always a “self-conscious unity” and this provides further evidence that this cannot be a principle of difference.

Now, as with trees and dogs, one can argue that human beings are distinct from each other on many grounds: Biographical, cultural, and biological differences would allow one to say why one human being is not another. In the end, however, one human being could be completely identical to another biographically, culturally, and biologically (even down to the sub-atomic quarks), and yet each would be distinct from the other. The solution? Though I do not think this solution can be reached yet with clarity, I can point to Lonergan’s answer. Each human being possesses a difference rooted in one feature of the empirical residue, which Lonergan calls “individuality.” Cognitively, individuality is a residue in intellectually patterned experience that is identifiable when one grasps that a human material-rational-spiritual unity exists. Metaphysically, individuality is part of central (substantial) potency, and this difference in individuality is what metaphysically causes human beings to be distinct from each other. Notice though, I have slipped in something that needs to be made more precise first, namely “material-rational-spiritual unity” on the cognitive side, and “central (substantial) form” on the metaphysical side, and clarification of these will come when we treat the subsequent terms — “subsistent in an intellectual nature” — in Aquinas’ definition of person and work this out as it exists in human beings.

For now, we just need to note that in order for a human person to be a person, this person must be distinct and hence distinguishable in some fundamental fashion from others, including from one’s mother. Is the zygote a distinct being from the mother while in the womb in which the zygote “lives and moves and has its being (relatively speaking).” Or is the child not distinct until some later age, when he or she has rationally and morally decided to be distinct?

Hence, the next question for the next posting: What does “subsistent” mean and how does it bear upon the question “When does a human being begin to exist?”