Hermeneutics of Transposition vs Hermeneutics of Recovery



To move toward an initial understanding about what could be meant by a “transposition of meaning,” one can look at what Matthew Lamb says in “Lonergan’s Transpositions of Augustine and Aquinas: Exploratory Suggestions,” The Importance of Insight: Essays in Honour of Michael Vertin, eds. John J. Liptay Jr nd David S. Liptay (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007): 3-21.  As Lamb cites Lonergan about what happens in transposition, it is one thing to understand or to come to grips with a theological understanding which had been enjoyed by someone like Augustine or Aquinas and which they had spoken about within an earlier context of meaning.  But, after one has truly and properly understood what another has understood and said in the context of their own day, one must find a way to take this same understanding and meaning and bring it into a newer context of understanding and meaning – a new, broader context of understanding and meaning which is the result of later achievements in the history of science and philosophy.  Cf. Lonergan, “Horizons and Transpositions,” Philosophical and Theological Papers 1965-1980, p. 410.  By means of what is new, one takes hold of the old (the old refers to the valid insights of previous acts of understanding) and, by a second step, one raises these true insights to a greater degree of perfection (working with “new notions” present in “science, scholarship, [and] philosophy.”  Cf. Lonergan, Philosophical and Theological Papers 1965-1980, p. 298.  Amid shifts of horizon and changes in philosophical and cultural perspective, a legitimate line of development can be traced as one speaks about the meaning of certain truths in a way which adds to the meaning of the truth that is known in previously known truths.  In this context, one can speak about new meanings being added to old meanings.


In a certain sense then, one might say that, in the language of Paul Ricoeur, through a “hermeneutics of recovery” which goes back and looks for what is “best in the speech, writing, and action” of persons and groups who had lived and worked at earlier times, one engages in a work of interpretation which is akin to what happens in a “hermeneutics of transposition.”  In both cases, one brings meanings into a new context of meaning (into a larger context).  Cf. Lance Grigg and Hugo Meynell, “Reflections on the Essence of Critical Thinking,” Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy & Education 21/3 (2010): 372.  However, while a “hermeneutics of recovery” can be used as an agent of cultural transmission (bringing meanings from an earlier cultural context and tradition into a new current cultural context and tradition through a kind of conversation which can create a fusion of horizons between two different points of view), the creation of a fusion across cultural and historical divides needs to be distinguished from a “hermeneutics of transposition” which seeks not only or merely to bring old meanings into a new cultural context in the hope that changes will fruitfully occur within a given cultural matrix.


Yes, initially, the bringing of old meanings into a new cultural context is what happens and, initially, this is all to the good.  However, more importantly, at a higher level, what is needed is a representation (a new articulation of truths) which, in some way, are already known.  They exist, for instance, within the reception of a given theological tradition or in the reception of a tradition of belief and faith.  But, in their day, these truths had been known through a conceptuality that differs from the kind of conceptuality which is currently operative in a changed cultural order.  The good then which needs to be achieved through transposition refers to a new, higher synthesis of meaning (a new, higher synthesis which urges the necessity of expanding or growing in the depth and width of one's understanding and judgment).  As Pope Leo XIII had urged in his encyclical Aeterni Patrisvetera novis augere et perficere.  One best proceeds in one's thinking and understanding of things if one can augment and perfect what is old by means of what is new.  Cf. Lamb, “Lonergan’s Transpositions of Augustine and Aquinas: Exploratory Suggestions,” p. 4; Lonergan, Philosophical and Theological Papers 1965-1980, p. 298.  To understand what is meant by a “fusion of horizons,” see Gadamer, Truth and Method, pp. 306-307, and other relevant texts in this same work.

Two Rival Notions of Being: Rosmini, Heidegger, Rahner, and Lonergan rev. ed.


In the theology of Antonio Rosmini (d. 1855), one finds an understanding about human cognition where human beings work from an initial, ideal, indeterminate notion or idea of being which underlies and penetrates every kind of human inquiry and which is necessarily presupposed by all our acts of human knowing.  This notion of beign is implied in every judgment.  Cf.  Gerald A. McCool, Catholic Theology in the Nineteenth Century: The Quest for a  Unitary Method (New York: Seabury Press, 1977), p. 120.  Without it, nothing can happen in human knowing.  This idea exists in an “essentially objective” manner as an intellectual object which immediately and perennially illuminates the mind from without without necessarily eliciting or effecting any effect in how one's mind is supposed to respond.  Cf. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913 ed., s.v. “ Rosmini and Rosminianism,” by D. Hickey.  This ideal, initial, indeterminate notion of being is self-evidently and intuitively known by us through a form of mental seeing which can never err since, by this seeing, no judgments of any kind are being made (the seeing exists before or prior to any judgment) and errors only exist whenever we make judgments.  What is seen in this notion of being is distinct from and is opposed to the mind that sees.


In the self-revelation of being which occurs, as noted, the mind makes no contribution of its own because what exists as “an unconditionally necessary object cannot derive its intelligibility from a contingent mind.”  Cf. McCool, p. 120.  However, in any later knowing of anything that can be known initially through an act of sense, the human mind works with this ideal notion of being to apply it to a datum of sense, converting this datum into an object of experience.  In human knowing, a process of objectification  creates divisions between subjects and objects.  The existence of a real distinction here between an intellectual object and any act of mental seeing which occurs in intuition (a real distinction between knower and known) accordingly recalls the fact that, for us, a similar real distinction exists between light as it exists in a material, external way and any eye which sees or beholds the light which it externally sees.  Only by an abstractive species of thinking can human beings come to realize that an initial, indeterminate notion of being exists innately within one's mind to guide it from within as a species of inner light.  Without its already existing within one's mind as the “form of one's understanding” or as the “light of one's intelligence,” no kind of inquiry can occur about any given topic or issue.  Cf.  McCool, p. 122.


These things being said, however, it is not with point that Rosmini's notion of being closely resembles Heidegger's notion of being (as this has been adapted by him from the notion of being which one finds in the philosophy of Edmund Husserl).  Cf. Michael Sharkey, Heidegger, Lonergan, and the Notion of Being, pp. 9-16, unpublished paper, presented at a meeting of the Lonergan Philososphical Society, Baltimore, Maryland, November 6, 2010.  In Heidegger's own words, when the being of something is to be determined through inquiry, the being which is to be determined is “in a certain way already understood.”  It exists as a “preunderstanding” that is given to one even if it exists as “unoriented and vague preunderstanding.”  Cf. Martin Heidegger, History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena, tr. Theodore Kisiel (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), pp. 143-144, as cited by Sharkey, pp. 9-11.  While Lonergan speaks about an a priori notion of being that is purely heuristic and which is without any kind of conceptual or formal content (“notion of being” versus “concept of being”), in Heidegger's notion of being, various texts here and there refer to a prior understanding of being which is already given and operative in human inquiry and which is not to be confused with determinate anticipations of being which exist either as assumptions, or as prejudices, or as prior understandings in the context of a particular inquiry which is seeking to solve a problem or to move toward some degree of growth in the content of one's understanding.  In any given inquiry which we conduct as human beings in the concrete world, an anticipated conceptual content commonly accompanies a genuine search for growth in understanding and truth which, per se, as a search for understanding and truth, is to be identified with Lonergan's heuristic notion of being and the operation of this notion within the dynamic of human inquiry.  All human beings ask questions in a context that is partially guided and determined by presumptions and prejudices and by previous acts of understanding which legitimately exist as a prior partial knowledge of being.  Heidegger speaks about the presence and the activity of “fore-understanding”: a fore or pre-understanding which refers to the “fore-structure of understanding.”  Cf. Gadamer, Truth and Method, pp. 265-255, citing Heidegger, Sein und Zeit [Being and Time], pp. 312ff.  And indeed, if we turn to Aristotle, Aquinas, and Lonergan, we find that the same point is made although in different words and within the context of a different conceptualization.  No attempt to seek an understanding about anything occurs or proceeds from any prior total lack of understanding.  Cf. Aquinas, Sententia super Physicam, 1, 1, 7; Sentencia Libri De anima, 3, 14, 8; De Malo, q. 6, a. 1; Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 85, a. 3; 1a2ae, q. 97, a. 1; Frederick E. Crowe, “Law and Insight,” Developing the Lonergan Legacy: Historical, Theoretical, and Existential Themes, ed. Michael Vertin (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), p. 275 & n. 22.  Certain things are already understood and known and, about certain things, no questions need to be asked.  From a partial understanding of being, one only moves toward greater understanding or one tries to move toward a greater understanding.


However, if acts of prior understanding or if acts of prior misunderstanding are distinguished from an unqualified a priori which simply refers to a prior understanding of being (a prior act of understanding which is to be equated with an a priori understanding of being), then one is dealing with a different kind of hypothesis (i.e., a different kind of claim).  Hence, to the degree that Heidegger adheres to a point of view which holds to an a priori notion of being which exists as an a priori understanding of being (an understanding which somehow already exists and which has been intuited in some way and whose meaning is but gradually unpacked and specified through subsequent inquiries that one might be making), it follows that Heidegger's notion of being presupposes or points to a notion or understanding of cognition which thinks in terms of dualism, confrontation, and intuition.  Human knowing is grounded in a mysterious, prior confrontation of some kind (a confrontation that exists between a subject and an object).  An inquiry into the Husserlian roots of Heidegger's notion of being best indicates how or why Heidegger is able to speak about a prior indeterminate notion or sense of being that is somehow later drawn out or explicated when, in one's later acts of understanding, one moves from an initial experience or understanding of being as a totality into articulations or explications of this totality which distinguish parts or elements within the totality of being and which also indicate how these parts or elements are related to each other in certain ways.  Categories are invoked as means that can be used to distinguish parts or elements from each other although in a manner which can indicate how these same parts or elements are, in fact, related to each other.  With respect to the possible transitions which can occur as a potential human knower moves from a sense of the whole to a sense of parts or aspects that can related to each other in a certain way, see Sharkey, p. 11, who distinguishes, in Husserl's understanding of human cognition, three different kinds of intuition which appear to exist together (“there from the beginning” in sensible experience) but which yet allow one to move from one kind of intuition to another as one's attentiveness shifts back and forth (from whole to part and then back to whole).  “Sensuous intuitions” are distinguished from “synthetic categorial intuitions” and these, in turn, are distinguished from “ideational categorial intuitions.”


Hence, later on, when we move from philosophy to theology, if we can correctly argue that Heidegger's Husserlian notion of being exerts a determining influence within the Trinitarian theology of Karl Rahner (however partial is this influence), we can perhaps conclude that, in Heidegger's notion of being, we can find clues or suggestions which can help explain why Rahner tends to refrain from working with psychological analogies in his proffered systematic theology of the Trinity.  If, in some way, knowing tends to be conceived in terms of some kind of intuition or, better still and perhaps more accurately, if knowing is being regarded in a way which has not fully separated itself from an intuitional understanding of cognition (an understanding which reduces all human acts of knowing to a simple single act that is akin to an act of sense), then this sense or understanding about the nature of human cognition cannot be used too easily as a fit analogy for thinking about how one might want to think and speak about processions within God (a plurality of processions which points to three persons while yet also pointing to the truth of God's essential oneness).  For a fit analogy, for a better analogy, one must more fully and explicitly enter into the details of a discursive understanding of human cognition (an understanding which knows that human knowing consists of a plurality or assembly of different acts which are all ordered to each other in a way which evidences an internally constitutive, dynamic, inner unity).  Cf. Conversations with Michael Sharkey, November 6, 2010; Conversations with Roland Krismer, November 29, 2010.


By way of a conclusion, however, which can possibly indicate how a bridge can be conceived to exist between Lonergan's understanding of being and the understanding of being that is commonly found in the transcendental philosophy of Martin Heidegger, Emerich Coreth, and Karl Rahner, one can take Lonergan's notion of being and ask about its conditions of possibility.  Why does it exist or what is its ground?  In his cognitive theory, Lonergan identifies a heuristic notion of being which can be found to exist as an operative principle within the dynamics of human cognition.  But, if one asks about the grounds of this notion (where this notion comes from or why it exists), one is compelled to give an answer which refers to a metaphysics and the existence of a certain kind or type of being.  A being or ontology of things explains why certain things act in the way that they do (why they are the subjects of certain acts and why also they are the recipients of other kinds of acts).  Human beings exist in a certain way.  They have come to exist in a certain way.  From a more thorough understanding about the nature of human cognition, one naturally moves into some kind of ontology or metaphysics.  And so, as one engages in this line of inquiry, on this basis, one can speak about Being or the existence of things as a fundamental presupposition.  The order of Being enjoys a certain priority (it exists as a legitimate point of departure) although, as we have already noted, a simple prior understanding or knowledge of being (prior to the existence of any kind of inquiry) is to be sharply distinguished from a partial prior understanding and knowledge of being that is always operative to some extent in human acts of inquiry and understanding.  Lonergan cannot argue and he does not argue that his notion of being exists as an absolute.  It exists rather as a relative.  It exists as a conditioned since it is explained by an order of being that is already given and which is always present.  In the context of Lonergan's own thought, in the context of his analysis, from a fuller understanding of one's self as a human knower, one properly moves into a metaphysics.  One can begin to understand the priority of metaphysics as this relates to the kind of priority which one discovers when one adverts to the existence of a pure desire to know that is found to be operative within the structure of our human cognition.


 With respect thus to the existence of two priorities, as one begins to discover why one should speak about a priority which exists with respect to metaphysics, by asking questions about the grounds and the conditions of possibility for the existence of metaphysics, one is soon led to a set of answers which now refer to acts of understanding.  If the being of things is intrinsically intelligible, it exists on the basis of some kind of rational ground.  But, rational grounds presuppose an existence of reasons and considerations which can only exist within minds (within acts of understanding).  In other words, as one understands the priority of metaphysics, one understands the priority of acts of understanding (the priority of cognition vis-a-vis the priority of metaphysics).  And so, as we try to think together the tradition of thought that is found in Lonergan (and which is exmplified in his heuristic notion of being) and the tradition of thought that is found in the insights of Heidegger, Coreth, and Rahner (and which refer to other notions of being), it seems that the best solution is an approach which thinks in terms of a reciprocal or mutual priority.  The mutual priority or mutual causality which one finds in how Aquinas understands the relation which exists between intellect and will (understanding and willing) serves as a similarly useful device for understanding why, in one sense, one can properly speak about a contrasting heuristic notion of being as this is found in the context of Lonergan's thought and why, in another sense, one cannot speak about a contrast if it is conceived to exist as an absolute.  Within the tradition of German transcendental thought, differences exist among different thinkers and sometimes one wonders if these differences are explained more by the use of different starting points than by deficient understandings that are had about the nature of human understanding.  If Lonergan's heuristic notion of being is more adequately understood as a relative, if the conditions of its existence can be more adequately understood, a context can be created that could better mediate the insights of Lonergan's thought into the corpus of transcendental thought as this exists within the German speaking world.  From a transformation that can occur from within the context of traditional transcendental philosophy, more good can be effected.  More good can be expected.

Using Aquinas to Understand Lonergan on the Meaning of Transcendental Laws

Br. Dunstan Robidoux, OSB


In speaking about human cognitive acts and especially about human acts of understanding, instead of speaking about laws of nature and the intelligibility that these laws have, Lonergan prefers to speak about another kind of meaning or, in other words, about another kind of law. A real distinction should be drawn between laws of nature which specify what a given thing can do and what is cannot do and what Lonergan refers to as “transcendental laws”: laws which account for a species of freedom which belongs to human acts of understanding but which does not belong to other created human acts. Cf. Lonergan, The Triune God: Systematics, p. 175. Human reasoning and understanding is not only intelligible. It is also intelligent. It functions as a source of intelligibility not only by discovering laws which already exist but also by functioning, to some extent, as a source or as an originator of law. It brings laws into being through operations that are eminently rational.

This transcendental desire functions as an inner first principle (an inner law) which governs all subsequent cognitive operations. Initially, this transcendental desire emerges in a completely spontaneous way in the lives of human beings. However, as this same desire moves to help create conditions which can move a potential knower toward later possible receptions of understanding, the initial experience of spontaneity which is given in this transcendental desire is supplanted by a second kind of experience which refers to experiences of rationality that are not properly understood if they are simply viewed as spontaneous.

In this context thus, in the context of rationality or, more properly, within experiences of intellectual or rational consciousness, a different kind of freedom is thus experienced by us as human beings. Instead of a freedom which refers to acts which exist because a given thing possesses a certain kind of nature or inner principle of intelligibility (a freedom which is limited because it is determined by a nature or inner principle of intelligibility which a given thing has), a second kind of freedom is experienced which refers to an order of self-constitution which exists within rational human activity as one kind of intellectual act leads to or emerges from another species of intellectual act. A sovereign kind of freedom makes its presence felt when, as human beings, we engage in a creativity which exists within ourselves and which is endemic in our own acts of understanding: a creativity that transcends all other known categories and laws to construct new categories and determine new laws. But, how is this order of self-constitution to be explained? How is its reasonableness to be understood? The transcendental freedom which exists within human understanding is not to be understood as a source of chaos or as a begetter of disorder.

Turning now to what Aquinas has to say in the Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 71, a. 6, ad 4, Aquinas refers to natural law as a species of law which derives from a higher law which is to be identified as God’s eternal law but which also exists, in a secondary way, in laws which are not eternal but which have somehow been created by us in our acts of understanding and judgment. These laws exist in the “natural judgment of human reason” (in naturali iudicatorio rationis humanae). Natural laws exist implicitly within the structure of our human reasoning and so they can be found there if one tries to understand the form or the intelligibility of our human reason. One understands the normativity or the lawfulness of human understanding in its operations and effects if one accordingly attends to the inclinations and ordinations that are most proper to human living and which distinguish human life from the existence and life of other beings. Cf. Summa Theologiae, q. 91, a. 6. Laws exist within created or subordinate things to the degree that these same things are naturally or normally inclined to abide by a higher set of laws which account for the existence and the life of these lesser things. The proper inclinations or ordinations of things reveal not only higher laws to which these things are subject but, most importantly for us, they also reveal these same laws as they also exist within these things as constitutive principles. The participation of a thing in a higher reality which functions as a source or point of origin for law turns the participant (particeps) into an analogous or secondary source of law. And so, as one attends to those special inclinations which distinguish human beings from any other kind of things, one discovers laws which exist within those inclinations: laws that are proper to the created human condition. One discovers laws which are constitutive of human cognition and, at the same time, within these same laws, one discovers laws which are constitutive of divine understanding and knowing.

In knowing about these laws (as partial as one’s understanding may be), one begins to understand a bit more about the difference which should exist between intelligibility, on the one hand, and intelligence, on the other hand. As a given, as something which had been received by something else, intelligibility presents itself as a passive determination. The natures of things exist as intelligibilities.  But, with respect to intelligence, as we think about it, we find that intelligence is essentially active. It is determinative. It functions as a determinating principle. It is a cause of intelligibility in other things in a way which also means that it is also a cause of intelligibility in itself through the operations which it performs. As intelligent operations construct or form a pattern of acts among themselves, an inherent intelligibility is revealed within these acts. An intelligibility is revealed which we can possibly also come to know. And so, for these reasons, it can be properly said about intelligence that intelligence forms or constitutes itself according to laws that are best referred to as transcendental laws which are to be distinguished from the intelligibility of a nature which functions as a principle of limitation. Intelligence in act determines what it does at any given time through decisions which are made because rationally it functions or operates on the basis of an inner principle which governs all of its subsequent operations: an inner principle which Lonergan refers to as a “transcendental desire”: a transcendental desire which can be used as a point of reference for the existence of transcendental laws that are to be identified with the generative laws of human cognition and understanding. Cf. Lonergan, The Triune God: Systematics, p. 175. A cognitional factor helps to explain why human understanding is characterized by a form of transcendence which is best referred to in terms which speak about self-transcendence. But, for a fuller explanation which best shifts into a metaphysical understanding of things that allows one to speak about a form of indwelling which exists within created human acts of understanding. Through the principle of rationality or reasonableness, one can say that higher laws exist within created acts of human understanding: higher laws which serve as a point of departure for moving toward new achievements of human meaning (achievements that are not restricted to current human achievements as these may exist in human life, society, and culture).

Recall a point that Aquinas makes in the Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 66, a. 5, ad 4. The wise man judges between which first principles should be proved and what should not be proved in any given discipline or science and the wise man also judges which principles should be used as a basis from which to construct an ordering of variables in any given science or discipline.

Identity in Human Cognition

It is no easy task to try to understand the principle of identity in human cognition. In order to do so, I would like to proceed by first looking at how confrontation exists in human cognition. In our individual lives and also in the history of philosophy, an understanding of human cognition which talks about confrontation predates a later understanding of cognition which talks about identity. But, if we begin with a contrary viewpoint about the nature of cognition and about how this viewpoint has been articulated in a theory of confrontation, this should make it easier for us to understand how one can properly talk about identity in human cognition. A conception which speaks about confrontation is sublated by a conception which speaks about identity. A concluding discussion will speak about an isomorphic structure which should exist between knowing and being: between the order and elements present in the structure of human knowing and a like order and elements which is present in the structure of what is known in the known. From cognition, one moves into metaphysics.


To begin with what is meant by confrontation, instead of thinking about a definition which one can always attend to (a definition that I can always devise and immediately put out to be read), let us be still for a moment and think about what we are doing right now in our work. As you read these words, you are looking at a flat surface with markings that are etched on it. You are looking at marks which stand or lie before you. You close your eyes and you no longer immediately see them though, no doubt, you remember them and can picture them to yourself. Then, you open your eyes and, readily, you see the markings again. With the seeing, you can return to what you were doing before and you can resume your reading. On the one hand, you are the subject. You are the person doing the seeing. You are opening your eyes and focusing on what stands or lies before you. Walk away from your desk or put aside this present reading, and you see something else. In your seeing and in your walking, you are experiencing yourself seeing and you are experiencing yourself walking. But, on the other hand, when you think about what you are experiencing or about what you are seeing when you are seeing, you can speak about colors, shadows, and shades that you see. You exist on one side as a seer and what is seen exists on the other side. What is seen exists as the object of your seeing. It is other than your seeing. You perceive, you see what you see but you do not assume that what you see exists within you. Yes, you see what you see. There is a kind of communion which exists in this seeing. Both Aristotle and Aquinas speak about a communion between one's seeing or sensing and what is seen or what is being sensed. But, your seeing is always of things that exist outside of you. The seeing, one's sensing always has an extroverted orientation. If we remember anything that we have seen or sensed in some other way, we have an experience which appears to be more interior than what we experience in our acts of sense. But, even with remembering what we have seen or what we have witnessed, the reference is to an experience of some kind that is directed toward something that exists externally or outside of who or what we are.


In thinking then about ourselves and our sense of what it is like to be a seer or a senser, we find that we have an experience which grounds or explains what is meant by confrontation. Subject and object exist in a relation which is juxtaposed with each other. An opposition of sorts exists as a subject sees, touches, hears, smells, tastes something which is other and which exists or comes from the outside. In this type of interpretation or conception, human knowing thus exists as a form of visual seeing. We are in contact with reality if we can see it, if we can contemplate it, behold it. In contemplation, we have a word which is usually used to refer to a kind of spiritual seeing that we can experience in an inward way. In the praxis of contemplation within religion, if we are engaged in contemplative prayer, with the eyes of our mind, we behold, we conjure a sacred scene or tableaux that we are visualizing as we use our imagination. By this means, we attend, we direct our attention to religious mysteries. The attention which we give makes these mysteries more present to us. Our consciousness expands as it attends to things that are seen, metaphorically, with the eyes of our minds (as distinct from what is seen when we refer to the eyes of our body).


In thinking about human cognition in terms of confrontation, two key points are crucial. These need to be remembered if one is going to think about the difference which exists between a notion of human cognition which thinks in terms of confrontation and one which thinks in terms of identity. First, on the model of confrontation and as a conclusion, human knowing is viewed and is thematized to exist essentially as an act of sense. Its activity does not differ from what happens in an act of sense. Or, to put this in another way, the intelligibility which is present in all acts of knowing is an intelligibility that can be reduced to the nature of an act of sense. All acts of cognition exist fundamentally as acts of sense. The same kind of nature obtains. Second, human knowing occurs with an immediacy which is akin to the immediacy which exists in all acts of sense. In the seeing which occurs as one opens one's eyes, in the same sort of way, one's knowing occurs with an immediacy which suggests that human cognition occurs without any kind of struggle or labor. In this type of conception, not much thought is given to any kind of mediation which occurs when, through our acts of cognition, something is being cognitively experienced. From the immediacy that we enjoy in our acts of sense, one easily concludes that knowing is to be equated with intuition (the seeing of intuition). Through an intuition, knowing occurs or it is reduced to some kind of simple act that immediately moves a person from a condition of not knowing to one of knowing.


Having said these things then about how one can speak about human knowing as a species of confrontation, one can now begin to think about how one can move from this notion to one which speaks about identity. In thinking thus about this question and by referring to a transition which one can find as one moves from Plato's philosophy of human cognition to Aristotle's philosophy of human cognition, one can find a pivot (a point of departure) if one attends to a discussion which one finds in the Meno, one of Plato's dialogues. In the Meno, a question and answer conversation takes place between Socrates and a young slave boy who has had no formal training in mathematics. Socrates wants to make a point about the nature of human cognition and how human learning should be understood. He takes a slave boy and begins to solve a mathematical problem by drawing a diagram in the sand as, at the same time, he asks the slave boy short questions as he draws specific lines. By drawing lines and by asking the slave boy questions, he brings the slave boy to the solution of a geometrical mathematical problem. The boy correctly solves a problem though, as noted, this boy is lacking in formal mathematical instruction. For Plato, the whole point of this story is to show that the slave boy knows how to solve a mathematical problem because, in a previous life, before the boy's soul has fallen or been incorporated into a body, the boy's soul, through spiritual eyes, has beheld or has contemplated mathematical forms or mathematical ideas which possess a purely spiritual or intellectual nature and which exist apart from any kind of material incarnation. In the context of an earlier pre-incarnate life, all human beings behold separately existing spiritual or intellectual forms and, in the context of a later incarnate life, when certain experiences awaken one's spirit or one's soul within, one remembers what one has seen and known in an earlier life. Human knowing occurs through remembering the contents of what one has previously seen (what one has previously contemplated).


However, in contrast with this interpretation, Aristotle offers a different kind of argument. The marks or lines which Socrates draws in sand do not awaken a slave boy's memory. The marks serve another purpose. They act as clues (as heuristic clues). As material causes, they help trigger an act of understanding which occurs in the mind of the slave boy. An act of understanding grasps a form or an intellectual content which somehow exists within the drawn image. A drawn image does not direct an inquirer toward a form, an intellectual content, which exists apart from matter. Instead, the drawn image directs an inquirer to grasp that an invisible form or an invisible meaning somehow exists within visible, sensible matter. The forms exists within matter and not apart from matter. If some kind of cognitional proof needs to be alluded to in support of this argument, all one has to do is to think about how one's questioning leads to an imaginative play with material images. All knowing begins with experiences of raw data. But, with inquiry and questions, one imaginatively plays with raw data to produce constructions which exist as rarefied images. One continues to see images or pictures but the images or pictures exist as refinements of raw data. Construct an apt image or phantasm and one will have a material cause which can act to trigger a cognitional act which is not an act of sense but an inner act of understanding. With one's mind, one's understanding receives a form that can never be seen. In the form or nature, an equation joins a set of variables that are understood. An act of understanding has dawned and this act goes beyond, it transcends all acts of sense and all acts of imagination. And, whenever acts of understanding dawn, they grasp a content that can never be seen. It is only understood. An act of understanding possesses a nature of its own; it exists in the way that it does because its intelligibility (its form or structure) is other than the kind of intelligibility which exists in acts of sense.


To understand directly what is meant by identity, one must first attend to the relation which exists between a question which asks about reasons and how, through inquiry, it is possible to find reasons which answer a question that one is asking about a reason which probably explains why something is the way that it is. Take, for example, a question that was posed in the 17th Century by Galileo Galilei. What is the nature of a free fall (the free fall of a falling object)? What is the nature of the free fall of an object falling close to the earth? When we walk outside and see hail falling from the sky, we see that heavy droplets of hail fall at the same time as lighter droplets of hail. Heavy objects fall as the same time as light objects. But, is there not something strange here? Should heavy objects fall sooner than lighter objects? Heavy objects should fall with more speed. Heavy objects and light objects should not fall at the same time. What we see here conflicts with our commonsense expectations. Hence, what is a free fall? What is the nature of a free fall? What is its intrinsic intelligibility? What is its inherent rationality? And so, if we think about the kind of question that is being asked here, we find that a question is being asked that wants to go behind the sensible appearance of things. The object of interest is not how things look or how they appear. One wants something deeper. One wants to know how things are in themselves, how things exist in themselves. One wants to understand something that is known behind, beyond, or despite any appearances. One wants to move from the external, changing appearances of things to something that exists within a thing, something that is constitutive of what a given thing is. In the language of Aristotle, one wants to know about the form or nature of a thing or the form or cause of an event. One wants to know about a formal cause. In the language of modern science as this has developed since the 17th Century, one wants an equation which can state how a set of variables can be related to each other: the relations determine the meaning of the individual terms and the meaning of the individual terms determine the relations. In a context that is common to both Aristotelian science and contemporary modern science, one wants to know about a none obvious principle which does not exist as a datum of sense. It is never seen with one's eyes but it is understood by one's mind. It can be understood through an act of understanding.


To identify what happens in understanding so that one can begin to talk about how identity exists in human cognition, one perhaps best returns to what we do when we take raw bits of data and then imaginatively construct images (sometimes with pen and paper). As noted, this process produces a refinement in the data that we are working with. At some point, an apt image presents itself and this image triggers an internal event within the consciousness or experience that we have of ourselves: an internal event which is experienced as a dawning act of understanding. A solution is grasped in the middle of efforts to solve, for example, a mathematical problem. But, what exactly happens when an act of understanding comes our way and we have an experience of intellectual consciousness?


Please note that, in speaking about the reception of an act of understanding, we are not speaking about acts of understanding as if these are produced by us at will (by our wanting of them). A theory of understanding does exist which claims that our acts of understanding exist essentially as humanly willed products: we produce them as we would want to produce any given thing that we make. As human beings, we are good at making things which satisfy our needs and desires. And so, human acts of understanding have been seen in a similar way. They are actions that we do. We work for an understanding of something by asking questions and gathering information. We work and play with what he have and, according to this view, we come up with an insight, an act of understanding, which reveals a meaning which is not seen but understood. However, if we attend closely to ourselves when we are engaged in acts of understanding, we might begin to realize that our acts of understanding come to us when we least expect them to come. We can spend long periods of time engaged in inquiry and yet we do not come up with a desired solution. The work that we expend does help us; our work conditions us to be able to experience acts of understanding. But, when we see that acts of understanding come to us at unexpected times and often during times of leisure or when we are doing something else that is quite different, we can begin to realize that understanding comes to us as a gift. Aquinas used to speak about acts of understanding coming to us by way of “divine helps.” We properly speak about grace in order to speak about the salvation of our human souls. Grace is also a gift but it is a supernatural gift. It is something that we receive. But, in speaking about our human lives as we try to live in a human way in a manner that is distinct from questions having to do with our eternal salvation, it is best to talk about divine helps which we must suppose if we are to adequately understanding the nature of human cognition in terms of how it happens.


This reception or giftedness of acts of understanding accordingly points an activity or an achievement which refers to what the reception of an act of understanding effects. An act of understanding supervenes. It comes from above and moves within us. As it works with apt images, it separates a material component from an intellectual or spiritual component. As every act of understanding removes or abstracts a formal or intelligible element from any attached material or empirical elements, it immediately presents a meaning which is apprehended as the term or the content of one's act of understanding. In every act of understanding, something is being understood. One cannot have an act of understanding without a term or content which refers to what is being understood in one's act of understanding. What is understood refers to an intelligibility. Intelligence refers to one's acts of understanding. Act and term stand together or they fall together. Nothing is understood without an act of understanding and no act of understanding exists apart from what is understood in a given act of understanding. In other words, a perfect coincidence exists between act and term. Or, in yet other words, in an act of understanding, one can speak about an identity between act and content. Aristotle used to say that the intelligence in act is the intelligible in act. An intelligible only exists if it is the term of an act of understanding and an act of intelligence only exists if its term is an intelligible that is being experienced from within.


But, before we proceed any further, please note that, in acts of sense, one can also speak about an identity between an act of sensing and a content which is being sensed. In Aristotle's language, sense in act is the sensible in act. No act of sensing can exist unless something is being sensed. For instance, if one stands in a dark room that entirely devoid of light, one's eyes may be open but there is no seeing. One's eyes are not seeing anything. But, if any light begins to enter the room, one begins to see something. The image might not be too clear but, whether it is clear or not, one will experience the fact that a perfect correlation exists between one's seeing and something that is seen. A perfect identity exists between them. One cannot have one without the other. With one's mind, one can distinguish between an act of seeing and what is seen by one's act. But, when one must make a judgment about the reality of an act versus the reality of a content (do they each refer to the same thing?), one soon realizes that act and content are inseparable. If you have one, you always have the other. In acts of sense, an identity exists at the level of sense which is other or which is different than the identity which exists in an act of understanding (at the level of understanding). In these identities, one experiences cognitive identities: a cognitive identity between what is being known in sense and understanding and the sensing and understanding that one is experiencing as an internal kind of experiencing. However, a cognitive identity is not the same thing as a metaphysical identity. What is seen by an act of seeing can exist independently of whether or not it is being seen by any one who is engaged in an act of sense. In fact, it exists separately from its being seen by a given act of seeing. And, in the same way, what is being understood by a given act of understanding can exist separately from whether or not it is being understood by a given human subject. If one wants to speak about any identity between a cognitive form of identity and a metaphysical form of identity, one can only begin to speak about such things if one thinks about what happens in human self-understanding. In self-understanding, what is being understood is the self who is engaged in self-understanding. Admittedly, more often than not, the self-understanding is incomplete. Not all of one's self is being understood. And so, if we want to talk about perfect self-understanding, we have to talk about God. Only in God's self-understanding do we have a perfect identity between God as he exists in his reality and God as he exists as an act of understanding.


The raising of a question which asks about the kind of relation that exists between the understanding of something and the being of something accordingly serves as a point of departure for talking about a third kind of cognitional human act. If questions asking about what and why help lead persons to forms of thinking and analysis which can lead them to the possible reception of an act of understanding, a second kind of question asks if something is really so. Is something really true or is it false? Instead of what or why, the object of focus shifts to questions that ask about truth. If an idea is true, a potential knower cognitively participates in reality. A cognitive form of identity exists between what one is doing as a knower and something which happens to be real. The pivot or point of mediation is a truth which is known to be a truth or, conversely, a falsehood which is known to be false. Any falsehood which is known to be false is known through a reflective act of understanding which exists as a judgment, a reflective act of understanding which knows a truth to be true and a falsehood to be false. In either case, in a judgment, in a reflective act of understanding, a potential knower participates or communes with something that is found to be real. Without an act of reflective understanding, a knower could be participating, a knower could be in communion with an order of real objects. But, such a person would not know if he or she is truly in communion with a world of real objects. For a full discussion then about how we can speak about identity in human cognition, no account can be complete without attending to the nature of a reflective act of understanding and what happens in a reflective act of understanding.


In turning then to the nature of reflective acts of understanding, it is not without point to note that it is one thing to be aware of reflective acts of understanding and another thing to be able to speak intelligently about the nature of reflective acts of understanding. It is an achievement to be able to realize or to sense that reflective understanding differs from acts of abstractive understanding. In his Posterior Analytics, Aristotle speaks about a first operation of the human mind and a second operation of the human mind. In the philosophy of mind which one finds in St. Augustine, material acts of sense are distinguished from another kind of act which refers to acts of the mind. Judgment occurs if or when one refers to a set of eternal reasons that one looks at or inspects. We know truths by looking at ideas from a viewpoint which refers to eternal reasons. In the language of St. Augustine, a language is employed which is derived from Plato and from how Plato spoke about the difference which exists between the world of sense and the world of ideas. A real or critical knowledge of things is only given if one works from a viewpoint which refers to ideas as these exist in a transcendent manner (as these exist apart from or beyond a world which is constituted by material objects and which can be known by us in a material way if we refer to spatial and temporal coordinates). Plato's understanding of judgment presumes or perhaps we can say that it assumes that truths are known by a species of human activity that is fundamentally akin to what happens in acts of sense. The confrontation which occurs or which exists whenever anyone sees or looks at an external, outer object is replicated at a higher level by a mental, intellectual, or spiritual form of seeing which is imagined to exist when we think about outer, external, eternal ideas and how we can speak about our knowledge of them. The awareness that we have of ideas which never change is explained by a species of apprehension which suggests that we have had some kind of inner mystical experience. In the context of our current lives, we somehow see the truth of things. A light has shone within our minds. A light has been cast upon us or upon our world to reveal where real truth exists. We have mysteriously seen this light and the mysteriousness of our experience helps to explain why it is so difficult to us to speak about what has happened (what we have experienced). An awareness of truth exists within us. But, if we work with language, with a conceptuality which is grounded in acts of sense and which has arisen to explain what happens in our acts of sense, we cannot too easily explain what happens when we want to speak about the reflective understanding of judgment and how judgment exists as a specific kind of activity.


However, if we turn to the kind of discussion that we can find in Aquinas and if we can attend to what we do when we need to move toward a critically grounded act of reflective understanding, we can speak about how judgment operates as an act which differs from an act of sense or any later act of understanding which brings an idea or theory into our consciousness of self. As Aquinas used to speak about these matters in the De Veritate, in every perspective judgment, we have to think back on ourselves. In a way, we need to examine ourselves. We need to examine our cognitive conscience, our cognitive consciousness. We look at how, in an initial act of understanding, we have moved from an experience of sense to the experience that comes to us as an idea or theory. A transition has occurred. But, if we need to be sure about the rightness of what we have done through our cognitional acts, we need to move back toward a basis or foundation which functions as our cognitive ground (a basis or foundation whose truthfulness no one can dispute). And so, Aquinas speaks of judgment as a reduction to first principles: first principles as these exist in grounding acts of sense and first principles as these exist in basic laws of the mind which are common to all human beings (to the degree that a given human being exists as a rational human being). As our thinking through understanding has moved from what we already know as something which is not questioned to something new which we think that now we know as a consequence of the questions which we have been asking, can any contradictions be found? Is our thinking in our understanding consistent with the demands of a first principle which says that it is impossible for something both to be and not be in the same way and at the same time? Are there any rational gaps in how we have moved from one bit of knowledge or understanding to another? And then, after engaging in a logical form of self-reflection, as we work back from the kind of understanding that is given to us in possible answers to what and why questions, can we point to a basis which refers to a datum of sense? Is there a grounding act of sense that each of us can possibly experience and which points to the verification of a proffered idea or theorem? In judgment, verification exists in a public way through acts which all persons should be able to participate in. As a reflective act of understanding, judgment always exists within individual persons. But, each individual should be able to refer to the same set of logical laws which all are to observe (they are common to all) and each individual should be able to experience the same acts of sense which move a potential knower to an awareness that experiences the same set of material conditions. From acts of sense our human cognition begins and toward acts of sense our cognition moves or concludes. A recurrent cycle or circuit is continually operative.


The reduction that we find in Aquinas finds a reflection in a similar kind of reduction which we find in Lonergan's understanding of judgment. In an act of reflective understanding, as Lonergan understood this species of act, one moves into a form of self-reflection which notes that something is true if certain conditions have been met, if certain conditions have been fulfilled. Among contingent things, things are true or things exist because certain conditions exist. Nothing exists in an absolute sense. Nothing exists in a manner which is wholly without prerequisite conditions. If one wants to talk about the existence of something which is wholly lacking in any contingency, then one must speak about God. Only God exists in an uncaused manner. Only God exists as an absolutely unconditioned. But, if one turns to the existence of conditioned things and if one asks about the truth of conditioned things, then one must speak about prospective acts of understanding in judgment which think about conditions and which say that, yes, this is true on the basis of these conditions and if they happen to be fulfilled. In judgment, one first notes that a relation exists between a conditioned and conditions. When we think about the possible truth of an idea or theory, one looks back and, as one attends to one's initial acts of understanding, one notes what relation exists between a conditioned and conditions. An “if…then” type of structure or order presents itself. Then, as one adverts to conditions, one turns to one's experience to see or to ask if it is possible to speak about fulfilled conditions. If something is true if and only if because a particular condition has been fulfilled or is given in some way and if, for instance, the condition is one's experience of a certain datum of sense, if one then notices in one's experiencing that one is experiencing the datum in question, then one can move into a rational affirmation which says that something is indeed the case. Something is so. An idea exists as more than an idea. It now exists as a truth (as a true idea). In the technical language which one finds in Lonergan's analysis, a true idea exists as a virtually unconditioned. An idea is conditionally true but its conditions happen to be fulfilled. In the transition which occurs as a person moves from the experience of a bright idea to an idea which is known to be true, a person participates in something which is real. In a cognitive manner, an identity exists between a knower and what is known by a knower. In every reflective act of understanding, a measure of self-transcendence takes a knower from a prior world of data and a later prior world of ideas into a world of real things (a world of real objects). A knower shares in a world which is greater than him or herself. This world ontologically or metaphysically differs from him or herself (philosophers speak about a real distinction which is other than a verbal difference or a difference which can exist between thoughts or concepts). But, through acts of self-transcendence that are present in human cognition, a knower enters into a universe of being. In a judgment, an existence of something is posited. An existence is known.


Between the universe of being or, more precisely, between the universe of being which is intended by human desires for understanding and knowledge and which is known in an piecemeal fashion by human acts of sensing, understanding, and judging, an ordered relation can thus be adverted when we think about a possible correspondence or a possible correlation which exists between one kind of cognitive act and a correlative which refers to a metaphysical element. In the analysis which one finds in Aquinas, Aquinas speaks about a proportionality which exists between human acts of cognition and a set of metaphysical principles which refer to what is known in a given kind of cognitive act. Put bluntly, human acts of experiencing are to be correlated with potency as a metaphysical principle; human acts of understanding are to be correlated with form as a second metaphysical principle; and human acts of judgment are to be correlated with act as a third metaphysical principle. Potency, form, and act exist as metaphysical principles while experiencing, understanding, and judging exist as cognitional principles. Aquinas speaks about a proportion between these two orders. The Latin refers to proportio. In the language which one finds in Lonergan, it is said that an isomorphic structure exists in the relation between the structure of human cognition and a parallel structure which refers to the order of being, the order of reality. An understanding about the structure of human cognition leads to an understanding about the structure of being or reality. From a critical understanding of human cognition, one moves to a verifiable metaphysics.


Please note in closing, however, that one must take great care in the language that one uses in speaking about this relation. When we speak about correspondence or correlation, we can begin to think in dualistic terms. Rather easily, we can begin to think in terms which assume that, in human knowing, a confrontation or an opposition exists between a knower and what is known. But, this is not the type of meaning which we should grasp with our understanding if we are going to understand why Aquinas speaks about an order of proportion between knowing and being and why, in turn, Lonergan speaks about an isomorphic relation within the context of his analysis. In human cognition, by the self-transcendence which exists in it and which is proper to it, a union exists between knowing and being. Being is greater than knowing although, at the same time, it has to be admitted that knowing participates in being which, to some degree, it always knows through the limited judgments that it is making at any given time. An overlap between knowing and being can be properly adverted to. Two kinds of being can be spoken about if we think about cognitional being and ontological being. If human cognition is not understood in terms of an identity which exists within it through the different kinds of acts which occur within it, then a severance is introduced between human cognition and metaphysics. The world of real objects or real things would exist in a manner that would be apart from human cognition. If a world of real objects exists, it would exist as an unknowable and if a world of real objects exists as an unknowable, there is no point in thinking that metaphysics exists as a legitimate science. One best attends to other things.

Moving through Conceptuality with Acts of Understanding: Augustine, Aquinas, Lonergan


To understand a bit better what could be meant by saying that acts of understanding, by their very nature, always transcend material variables and conditions, one can verify the meaning of such a claim or, on the other hand, one can discover the meaning of such a claim, if, for instance, as a thought experiment, one moves into the theology of St. Augustine and one carefully reads and studies it in order to locate and identify some of St. Augustine's principal insights (insights as one finds these in the understanding which he evinces in his theology). For instance, if one takes St. Augustine's understanding of moral evil and sin, an understanding is offered which refers to moral evil and sin as the absence of any meaning or significance. Sin, evil is the absence of any kind of intelligibility. Sin, evil exists as a privation, as an absence of being. It is that which should not be. At times, in his texts, Bernard Lonergan refers to moral evil as a “false fact.” Hence, as one encounters understandings of this kind which cut across historical and cultural barriers, one realizes that, by their very nature, acts of understanding possess a degree of ahistoricity. Yes, they are conditioned by their circumstances of origin and emergence but, no, they are not determined by the influence of these same circumstances. An act of understanding is one thing. A proffered conceptualization is another. Acts of understanding exist in a self-transcending kind of manner and this self-transcendence explains why they can be enjoyed by any person who experiences degrees of self-transcendence in one's own life through the acts of understanding which one may happen to have.


In looking back into the theological tradition, it can be admitted that an insight or an act of understanding can be expressed in the words and the language of an inadequate philosophy. The conceptuality which is employed might not be too sound or accurate. Misleading connotations can be suggested. Witness, for example, how St. Augustine speaks about human judgment in a manner which relies on Platonic cognitional conceptions. One knows a truth by contemplating or by looking at a set of higher eternal reasons which, in some way, one sees or beholds from a distance. From the context of a lower viewpoint, one ascends or looks upwards toward some kind of higher viewpoint that is given or beheld by a seeing which now occurs within one's mind. Cf. Lonergan, Verbum, p. 85. In the kind of language which Augustine uses, in our human knowing one does not simply believe or hold to what one's bodily eyes may see since “what is not so seen is more truly seen, for what is [physically] seen belongs to time, but what is seen with the mind and soul belongs to eternity.” Cf. Augustine, Tractatus de Mysteriis, nos. 8-16, as cited by Matthew Lamb, Eternity, Time, and the Life of Wisdom (Naples, Florida: Sapientia Press, 2007), pp. 32-33.


When speaking about his own analysis, Augustine refers to a process of self-reflection which leads him to speak about a cognitional movement which he finds within the depths of his soul (a cognitional movement that takes him from instances of sensible experience to instances of intelligible experience as this is given to him through lightning flashes or quick glimpses that suddenly and unexpectedly reveal the presence and workings of a higher “intelligible and intelligent light.” Cf. Lamb, p. 32. As Augustine had noted in his Confessions: although the mind “generates all images,” it is not itself an image. It possesses a “totally different nature.” It exists as a “spiritual presence or light” which is able to know that what is real is not to be identified with what exists as a body. Cf. Confessions, 7, 1, as cited by Lamb, p. 32; 7, 1-13, as cited by Lamb, n. 16, p. 35. The human mind exercises a specific causality of its own and in a manner which verifies a traditional maxim (in the words which Leibniz uses to express this maxim): “there is nothing in the intellect that was not first in the senses, except the intellect itself.” Cf. Loemker, G. W. Leibniz 556, as cited and quoted by Tim Lynch, “Human Knowledge: Passivity, Experience, and Structural Actuation: An Approach to the Problem of the A Priori,” Method: Journal of Lonergan Studies 17 (Spring 1999): 77.


In the words of Augustine's conceptuality, in the human knowledge of any truth, a “changing mind” is contrasted with what never changes. It is changed by “unchanging, eternal truth.” Tentative acts of understanding, to the degree that they exist as true acts of understanding, are all grounded in eternal reasons which, in Augustine, are to be regarded as first principles although, in the conceptuality of his language, Augustine does not speak about first principles, “first principles” being a designation which Aquinas uses in order to speak (in a more differentiated manner) about grounding acts of sense and intellect (acts of sense and intellect which function as the first principles of one's human cognition in all its subsequent acts). Acts of human reason are normed by fundamental laws of thought that govern how one's mind can rationally move from one proposition or thought to another proposition or thought without risk of contradiction. Through this kind of approach, however, which moves from Augustine to Aquinas, a transposition is effected which allows one to move from the philosophy of mind present in Augustine to the philosophy of mind present in Aquinas (in a manner which transcends what differences may exist). The context is a prolongation or a continuity which is to be adverted to and which exists more profoundly and more deeply than the existence of any difference.


By way of the understanding which Aquinas brings to his discussion, the eternal reasons of Augustine undergo a kind of shift because of how they are being interpreted. In Aquinas, they come to exist as a set of cognitive first principles that one normally observes as fundamental precepts whenever one is engaged in good cognitive praxis in one's human cognition. By an analysis that speaks about first principles and different kinds of first principles, the eternal reasons of St. Augustine receive an articulation which adds to what is known about them as one thinks about how they were understood by St. Augustine. Or, if one wants to speak in another way about the kind of change that is occurring here, one can say that Aquinas's analysis unpacks a meaning for eternal reasons which, perhaps, Augustine had been attempting in vain to identify and to spell out in the context of his theology. He could not do certain tasks too well with the kind of cognitional philosophy which he had inherited and which he was borrowing from the Platonic tradition in philosophy that was then prevalent in his day.


In Augustine's philosophy of mind, one finds that human knowing does not exist as some kind of simple, single act which is to be equated with a philosophy of mind which thinks about knowing in terms of a simple act of intuition. Augustine's distinctions with respect, for instance, to the difference between “understanding and judging, conception and truth” all point to a philosophy of cognition which realizes that human knowing exists as an ordered structure of different kinds of acts which are all necessarily related to each other. Cf. Lamb, n. 12, p. 34. Not only, on the one hand, does the human mind have a nature which differs from that which belongs to acts of sense but, on the other hand, it has to be said that the human mind has a nature which points to a number of different operations that cannot all be reduced to each other. If, for instance, one looks at how, in the De Trinitate 15, 11, n. 20, Augustine distinguishes an inner or mental word (a word which exists as a concept) from words which exist as audible sounds and from words which exist as remembered, imagined audible sounds (an “inner word” is other; it exists as the term of rational or mental operations), then one finds evidence which indicates that, in Augustine, beyond sensible activities and operations, one can find operations that point to a higher level of cognitive activity which is specifically mental, rational, or intellectual. One kind of operation accounts for images; another, for concepts. Cf. Crowe, “Some Background Notes to Lonergan's Insight,” Lonergan and the Level of Our Time, p. 18; p. 25.


In conclusion then, as these examples may well thus illustrate and perhaps demonstrate, acts of understanding function as privileged points of access for anyone who is interested in moving into the understanding and wisdom which has come down to us from earlier developments in philosophy and theology. The intellectuality or the spiritual character which belongs to acts of understanding explains why, through later acts of understanding which other persons can have, a person in one age and time can begin to enter the mind and soul of other human beings who have lived in earlier ages and times and who have yet also truly enjoyed acts of understanding which have united them to a world of real objects – a world which exists whether or not it is known by any given human being through human acts of understanding and judgment.

Lonergan’s Notions of Consciousness Derived from St. Augustine’s Notions of Presence

In the De Trinitate, 10, 3, 12, St. Augustine distinguishes between two kinds of presence (which have been interpreted as two kinds of object). A first kind refers to something which exists as the terminus or term of a cognitional act (whether one speaks about an act of sense or an act of reason). As Augustine notes, this is the kind of presence which exists if one sees one's face in a mirror. One's face, as seen in a mirror, is experienced as an object, an external object. It exists cognitionally as an other. It is other than one's act of cognition although it also exists as the term of one's cognitive act. A second kind of presence or object, however, refers to an experience of self-presence. As Lonergan translates the wording of Augustine’s discussion as he cites Augustine's text in The Incarnate Word, p. 182: “But when it is said to the mind: ‘Know yourself,’ then it knows itself in the very act in which it understands the word ‘yourself’; and it knows itself for no other reason than that it is present to itself.” In his Summa Contra Gentiles 3, 46, 8, Aquinas refers to this insight of St. Augustine: “And so, according to Augustine’s meaning, our mind knows itself through itself, in so far as it knows concerning itself, that it is. Indeed, from the fact that it perceives that it acts it perceives that it is. Of course, it acts through itself, and so, through itself, it knows concerning itself that it is.” On the basis of the kind of wording used, Augustine and Aquinas do not speak directly about consciousness although, if one refers to how Lonergan talks about these two kinds of presence as they were known by Augustine and Aquinas, he refers to presence by way of a transposition which speaks about consciousness and the existence of different theories about consciousness. Presence, the presence of something suggests a metaphysics; consciousness, an understanding of cognition.

Before venturing into a more specific explanation that one might allude to in the context of Lonergan's work and interests, an historical note helps us understand why, for instance, Augustine and Aquinas did not explicitly speak about consciousness and self-consciousness (as we directly speak of these things and as Lonergan also speaks of them). Owen Barfield’s History in English Words (Inner Traditions International, April 1986), pp. 169-171, looks at the vocabulary of the “self” and notes how developments in our concept of the human self (especially since the 16th Century) have had fructifying consequences for developments in language so that we can now speak more precisely about the interior life of the human self in a manner which can distinguish between different parts and elements and which can also speak about the relations which also exist between different parts and elements. Citing one summary that speaks about this development (Fr. John Eudes Bamburger, “Retreat conference given at St. Anselm’s Abbey, Washington, DC,” August 22, 2009, unpublished):

Plato and other Greek philosophers had but a partial grasp of the concept of the self as we know it. Although the first glimmerings of the modern self appear in the High Middle Ages under the form of such words as the individual and the person yet it functions under many occult influences. It is only after the Reformation and especially at the end of the 16th Century that such a series of words as self-consciousness, self-conceit, self-love, self-liking, self-command, self-esteem, self-knowledge, and other hyphenated forms of self appear. Descartes, in 1664, made the thinking self the source of knowledge and most philosophers since his time have assumed the same stance. It was shortly before this date that Locke…adopted the new word “consciousness” and defined it as “perception of what passes in a man’s own mind.” Coleridge was the first to use the term “self-conscious.”

In turning then to proximate reasons which can be identified in Lonergan's thought, because consciousness exists as a human experience which all persons can relate to and identify, it can be regarded as a fundamental point of departure for discussions which would want to move through consciousness to whatever can be known about a human subject. But, if Augustine and Aquinas speak about two kinds of presence or two kinds of object, they are referring to a metaphysical difference which translates into a cognitional difference that distinguishes between two notions of consciousness. The experience of one kind of object suggests a particular species of consciousness and the experience of another kind of object, another species of consciousness. But, without a clear understanding of differences, one will not understand how these two notions or two kinds of consciousness are ordered to each other and how one species of consciousness conditions another. One will not understand why one cannot have one species of consciousness without also having the other. Difficulties in this area create problems for theology if an inappropriate notion of consciousness is employed as an analogy to find deeper meanings than that what is initially given through the proclamation of a revealed truth. The unity of God's being is not well understood if the unity of God's consciousness is not adequately fathomed, if its unity finds no echo in how we, as human beings, experience and find unity within the orientations that we find in our own consciousness. In Christology, Christ's incarnation and suffering death cannot be too well understood if it is not possible to argue that Christ's consciousness of self should be regarded as a precondition for a consciousness which refers to a consciousness of objects that is other than a consciousness of self as this is given in Christ's acts. Without this prior consciousness of self as this occurs through specific acts or by reason of specific, no consciousness of objects can be properly attributed to Christ's consciousness. On the cross, it cannot be said that Christ truly knew pain, that he truly suffered from any pains that were inflicted on him by the kind of death he suffered. Without a good understanding of consciousness that we each have as human beings, we cannot so easily join ourselves to Christ's consciousness in a manner which more fully joins us to the life of a divine being. The availability of our consciousness coupled with its malleability or changeability reveals a point of access which encourages forms of self-examination. We ask about the kind of person which we have become through our acts and we also ask about the kind of person which we can become through our acts. Through changes of consciousness, we can draw closer to God. We become more conscious about the depths of our interiority.

Aquinas’s Distinction between Natural Being and Intentional Being

by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB

In Aristotle, De Anima, 3, 4, 430a 3-4, one finds a discussion which argues that in human cognition, if material coordinates or material properties are somehow omitted or abstracted out (perhaps one can say “bracketed”), an identity exists between an act of understanding and what is understood.  The act of understanding possesses a spiritual or immaterial nature as does also what is understood as this refers to a spiritual or immaterial intellectual nature.  According to an editorial translation of Aristotle’s text (as this is given in Lonergan’s Verbum, p. 84, n. 118), it is said that “in the immaterial order, the understander and the understood are identical.”  Another translation reads: “…in things separated from the material, intellect and what is understood by it are identical.”  Cf. Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima, trans. Kenelm Foster and Silvester Humphries, p. 216.  In the Latin of a translation which Lonergan gives both in “Christ as Subject: A Reply,” Collection, p. 179, n. 50 and in Verbum, p. 84: in his quae sunt sine materia idem est intelligens et intellectum.  Turning to Aquinas’s commentary, however, one finds an elaboration and specification of meaning which goes beyond what Aristotle had said when, in a more simple way, he had spoken about the presence of an identification.  Citing Aquinas’s Latin: species igitur rei intellectae in actu, est species ipsius intellectus; et sic per eam seipsum intelligere potest.  Cf. Sentencia Libri De anima, 3, 9, 724.  In a more accurate English translation than would otherwise the case if species were to be translated as “concept,” because of a real distinction which exists between an intellectual form or nature and a concept as an inner word (species and concept do not refer to the same reality), one best avers that, according to Aquinas: “the species or form of something which has been understood [referring to the intelligible nature of a given thing] is also a species or form [an intelligible nature] which exists within one’s understanding.”  An identity exists between what is being understood and one’s act of understanding (provided, as Aquinas notes, that what is being understood through one’s act of understanding is what is being truly or actually understood in one’s act of understanding). One’s act of understanding should not be understanding something else (something which is other than what one’s act of understanding should be understanding).   The introduction of a qualification in Aquinas points to a difference which opens up a discussion on what distinguishes Aristotle’s understanding of cognition from that which one finds in Aquinas and Lonergan.

In terms of the difference between Aristotle’s understanding of human cognition and what Aquinas and Lonergan understood about understanding, it is to be noted as a point of departure that, in Aristotle, a human knowledge of reality occurs through a kind of participation which gradually reaches down into the depths of a person’s soul.  If, on the other hand, knowing were to be understood as something that is akin to some kind of confrontation which occurs between an act of sense and what sense experiences in terms of some kind of datum (a datum of sense), in this kind of knowing, all knowing would occur through an externalized sensible form of extroversion.  Reality would exist as some kind of external world which one sees or contemplates.  Now, if one shifts into an Aristotelian interpretation about what happens when acts of sense are operative in a human person as a subject, one begins to get into an understanding of human cognition which begins to think in terms of identity.  On the level of sense, knowing occurs through an interchange which occurs between acts of sense and the various possible data of sense.  Aristotle would more familiarly speak about agent objects who act from without to move or elicit an act of sense in a human subject.  In any given act of sense, what is sensed exists as the term or the content of an act of sense.  In the familiar Latin phrasing which summarizes this position: sensible in actu est sensus in actu (“the sensible in act is the sense in act”).  Cf. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 14, a. 2, cited by Lonergan, Verbum, p. 84, n. 115.  By identity at a sensible external level, a human subject begins to participate in something which is other than himself.  To a sensible degree, this other becomes part of a person’s subjective being, part of a person’s subjective life (through a form of consciousness which is characterized by acts of sense).

However, later, through an act of abstractive understanding (or “simple apprehension” as many Thomists would say), in abstracting a form from matter, at an intellectual level, a second kind of identity is experienced and known.  The inner sense or meaning which belongs to something that is other than a knower begins to live within the inner life or the inner consciousness of a knower.  The intelligible in act is the intellect in act.  Intelligibile in actu est intellectus in actu.  Cf. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 14, a. 2, cited by Lonergan, Verbum, pp. 83-84, n. 114.  At a deeper level within the human soul, at an intellectual level, a person is joined with something that is other than himself.  A sensible material identity is succeeded by an intellectual immaterial identity.

However, as questions arise which now ask if a knower knows that he or she is cognitionally joined to something which is other than him or herself and which is truly known (something which exists independently of whether or not it is being known by him or her as a knower), a species of reflection is initiated which begins to reveal that the principle of identity cannot be employed as a sufficiently satisfactory explanation for the kind of knowing which occurs in human cognition.  By itself, the principle of identity cannot explain why, in human knowing, a form of self-transcendence exists (a form of self-transcendence which unites human knowers as subjects to objects which are other than subjects but which, through knowing, are participated in by human subjects).  Admittedly, as questions arise about truth and as individuals engage in acts of inquiry which can lead to acts of judgment about the truth of a given idea or theory, through a truth that is rationally affirmed, a person is joined to a world of real things which is ontologically other than one’s being (either as simply a being or as a being who also exists as a subject).  In the reflective understanding of judgment, a second form of immaterial identity makes its presence felt.  Through the mediation of a truth, something of reality enters into a person’s soul.  In a judgment, a person knows that he or she is joined to something which exists in its own right (it is real) and that such a thing does not exist as a function of its being known by one’s activity as a knower.  The reality of something, however, which exists independently of whether or not it is being known by a knower is not to be exactly equated with the reality which comes to exist within the knowledge of a given knower.  A cognitive identity exists between a knower and what is known but this cognitive identity is not to be equated with a perfect form of identity which would exist if adverts to the meaning of an ontological or metaphysical identity.

 The distinction which exists here is a real distinction that Aquinas adverts to when, in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 56, a. 2, ad 3, he distinguishes between the natural being of a thing and the intended being of a thing as this exists within the cognition of a knower: esse naturale versus esse intentionale. The intended being of any given thing, by its being intended, points to the intentionality or the spirit of inquiry which exists within human cognition.  A cognitive desire works through an ordered set of different cognitional acts to move a potential human knowers toward a knowledge of real objects (or real things) which are other than a given knower.  Knowing occurs through an immaterial form of appropriation which creates an identity between a knower and what is known.  However, at a more fundamental level, one cannot provide an adequate account of human knowing if one cannot speak about the role of intentionality within the performance of human cognition.  Through various forms of reflection that are intended by the questions that one asks, certain distinctions can be made which, otherwise, would not be made.  Cf. Verbum, p. 84, n. 116.  In the distinction which Aquinas draws, one finds a point of departure for the intentionality analysis which Lonergan undertakes in his Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas although this analysis is most fully done in his Insight: A Study of Human Understanding where one finds that a clear distinction is drawn between a notion of being and a concept of being.  Lonergan’s notion of being, as a cognitive intention, is directed toward knowledge of reality and this notion is to be identified with Aquinas’s esse intentionale.  

Matter as a Cause of Knowing in Aquinas and Lonergan

by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB

In conformity with Aristotle’s understanding of human cognition, Aquinas argues, with respect to human cognition, that “it is as ridiculous to say, the soul alone understands, as to say, alone it builds or weaves.”  Cf. Aquinas, De Veritate, q. 19, a. 1.  Knowing exists as a co-operative effort which involves both a formal principle and a material principle since human knowing occurs in a being that is formed by two principles.  Soul (anima) is united to body in a way which takes a body and then converts it into a certain kind of body which lives as a result of the soul’s causality.  Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 75, a. 1.  The body is needed by the soul if the soul’s intellectual operations are to occur (if they are to be in act).  Cf. Summa Contra Gentiles, 3, 129, 7; Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, a. 4.  In other words, through acts of sense, human beings have something to begin to think about, ponder, and understand; and also, through sense, human beings have something to go back to when they need to ask about the validity or the probable truth of an idea that has been grasped and understood in an initial act of understanding.  Cf. De Veritate, q. 12, a. 12, ad 6; q. 12, a. 3; q. 10, a. 9; Quaestio disputa De anima, a. 13, para. 7.  All human understanding and knowing begins with sensing and with what is known through acts of sense.  Cf. De Potentia, q. 3, a. 5, ad 1; Sententia super Physicam, 1, 1, 8; Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 12, a. 12.  In the kind of language which Aquinas uses: sense knowledge functions as the matter of the cause.   Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, a. 6, as cited roughly by Bernard Lonergan, Triune God: Systematics, pp. 577-579.  For these reasons then, it can be argued that what is known initially as matter through acts of sense functions serves as a first or initial cause of knowing.  As a point of departure, it can be viewed as both a remote cause and an extrinsic cause of human cognition (among other remote and extrinsic causes which can also be identified if one engages in cognitive self-reflection)

However, as one turns to thinking about material causality as one moves more closely to experiences of acts of understanding, one encounters an analysis in Aquinas which Lonergan takes up and formulates in his own way.  See, for instance, Lonergan, Caring About Meaning, pp. 1-2.  As Aquinas had argued: when a sense is acted upon by an external object, a phantasm or sense image is produced and this phantasm or immaterial sensible image exists in a bodily organ as an immaterial sensible trace, impression, or likeness that cannot exist without the receptivity of an incarnate, embodied sensing organ.  Cf. Quaestio disputata De anima, a. 1, para. 11; Sentencia Libri De anima, 2, 24, 551.  About phantasms, when Aristotle talks about the meaning of phantasia [N"<J"FÆ"], fantasy, or imagination in the De Anima, 3, 3, he notes that it is a word which derives from phaos, the Greek word for light since, of our five senses, sight is the “most highly developed.”  Hence, when we think about our five external senses (our seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, and smelling) we tend to think that seeing is paradigmatic and, so, we tend to take the words which aptly refer to seeing and apply them to our other senses.  In this context, “phantasm” immediately suggests an image that is derived from something that is seen although, subsequently, this term has been used to refer to any impression that has been created by the receptive activity of all our other senses.  However, as Aquinas argues in the Summa Contra Gentiles, 4, 11, 4 and in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 78, a. 4, this sensible impression does not remain in the senses (the organs of sense).  Through the impact that it makes, it touches the human imagination and, as a consequence, it passes from the imagination into the recollection of things past which is human memory.

In his analysis, Aquinas distinguishes between phantasms which are produced by sense as a receptor and phantasms which are not produced by sense but by activities which transcend sense and which are not essentially passive but active.  Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, a. 6, ad 2.  In a context that is formed by acts of inquiry and reasoning, the received matter of sense is taken and played with; its is reshaped and reconfigured in a manner which tries to encourage the reception of a possible act of understanding.  In his literal expression, in the Sententia super Metaphysicam, 7, 17, 1668, Aquinas speaks about “cause of the matter” which, in Lonergan’s interpretation, can be interpreted as a cause which disposes a phantasm or image to be ordered or to have a form or structure which than acts, as a material cause, to help trigger an act of understanding within the human intellect.  Cf. Lonergan, Triune God: Systematics, pp. 593-595.  See also Lonergan, Topics in Education, p. 171.  In other words, within a given thing which exists as a composite of matter and form, the intelligible ordering of things which exists within a given thing in terms of its form accounts for how conjoined matter is itself ordered or configured.  By imaginatively attending to possible configurations of matter in a manner which works initially from one’s acts of sense, conditions are created whereby possibly apt images can be discovered.

As Aquinas and Lonergan speak about what is happening, images function as necessary points of departure.  An object is imagined before it is understood.  Images are sought: apt images since apt images (as constructed by our acts of imagining) readily suggest a relation of parts or elements which cannot be sensed but which can be apprehended by an act of understanding.  An act of understanding emerges once one has constructed an image which moves one’s understanding to apprehend a meaning which goes beyond a particular image but which is somehow reflected by an image.  Images function here as representative carriers of meaning.  Cf. De Veritate, q. 2, a. 5, ad 5, ad 7.  Cognitionally speaking, they differ from any datum of sense (as matter) and, as a rarefied abstracted form of matter, they also differ from any form or nature that is understood through an image.  Within cognition, images communicate more than what is simply given in the likeness of an image.  Cf. Summa Theologiae, 2a2ae, q. 180, a. 5, ad 2.

For a bit of corroboration and by way of examples, this symbolism of images which exists as a datum of human consciousness can be verified in aesthetic experience and in common religious practice where believers are encouraged to venerate images which function as icons to reveal an unseen, higher world of meaning.  In Aquinas’s words: motus autem qui est in imaginem, prout est imago, non consisti in ipsa, sed tendit in id cujus est imago (“movement to an image does not stop at the image, but goes on to the thing it represents”).  Cf. Summa Theologiae, 2a2ae, q. 81, a. 3, ad 3.  In other words, an imagined object reveals an object which cannot be entirely imagined but which is grasped because it is understood as imagination works to present an object that is understood within a proffered image or phantasm.  Cf. Aquinas, Quaestio disputata De anima, a. 15; Lonergan, Understanding and Being, p. 165.   An act of understanding grasps a meaning or an intelligibility that exists immanently within an image.  As through the medium of light, the sense of seeing beholds objects that are now seen, in the same way, through a form of intellectual light manifest in an act of understanding, a phantasm is informed by a meaning as, at the same time, this same phantasm triggers an intellectual act which grasps a meaning in the phantasm which has been imaginatively presented to it.  Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 15, a. 2; Lonergan, Verbum, p. 91; Triune God: Systematics, p. 579; Incarnate Word, p. 171.  The phantasm, as an agent object, moves the human intellect.  Cf. Lonergan, Verbum, p. 150.

However, about speaking about the role of material causality in human cognition, Aquinas and Lonergan both argue that acts of understanding cannot be adequately explained if one only attends to experiences of matter as these can be given through the action of material causes.  As Aquinas notes in the Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 26, a. 2, every act of understanding is an operation, and because it is an operation, it cannot be caused by something which is not itself an operation.  What a given thing is in terms of its nature conditions its operations since the reception of a form within a given thing specifies what kind of operation can properly occur in a given subject.  Cf. In 4 Scriptum super libros Sententiarum, d. 49, q. 3, a. 2 sol, cited by Lonergan, Triune God: Systematics, p. 551.  However, if one wants to identify all the different causes that account for acts of understanding as they occur in human subjects, beyond noting how the inquiries and questions of agent intellect play a positive role in leading a person to acts of understanding and how apt images help to trigger acts of understanding by working through one’s imagination, one must also look for operations which are correlative for the occurrence of acts of understanding in contingent human beings.  Like explains like.  Like causes like since what is less in being or reality cannot explain what possesses more being or reality.  What exists cannot be explained by what does not exist and so, for this reason, for a complete understanding of what happens in human cognition, other acts of understanding must be postulated and identified if human acts of understanding are to be fully accounted for: acts of understanding as these occur in teachers and instructors and the kind of understanding which already always exists in God’s understanding.  As Aquinas briefly states his position (in metaphysical terms): “potency is actualized by something already in act.”  Cf. Sentencia Libri De anima, 2, 11, 372.  Nothing in a state of potency is able to transcend its potency through its potency.  Hence, in the final analysis, since contingent acts of understanding are not able to account for themselves, a full explanation demands the postulation of an ever present non-contingent form of understanding within which all human acts of understanding participate.  Human understanding always exists as a participation in divine understanding (cited by Aquinas as a “remote cause” in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, a. 4, ad 3).