From Newton to Dalton: Physics to Chemistry

David Fleischacker, Ph.D.

[May 26, 2009]

If Newton’s physics and Dalton’s chemistry are related as a lower to a higher viewpoint, there must be some point of contact, just as numbers and operations were the points of contact between arithmetic and algebra. It seems that this point is mass. Newton and Dalton dealt with masses within the context of “relative weight.” Newton related objects in terms of masses, distances, accelerations, and forces, especially his well-known discovery of the law of gravitation. Dalton discovered patterns in the “relative weights” that lead him to some postulates about atoms and compounds. A significant difference arises though. Newton studied large objects, large meaning what can be seen such as marbles and planets. Dalton studied gases and mixtures of solids and liquids (especially gases), and then made postulates about objects that cannot be seen. The objects that they studied seem very different, so how can they be related as lower and higher viewpoints?

Before drawing some conclusions, a closer examination of Newton and Dalton is in order.


1. Isaac Newton: The Law of Gravitation

Newton studied the relation of objects in terms of mass, distances, accelerations, forces, and the gravitational constant. If we specifically examine his equation for universal gravitation, his focus will become clear. The equation requires little space to write,

F = (Gm1m2)/d2

Explanation of this formula requires far more than writing it out, and though a full explanation will not be given here (any physics text book will give an explanation and some examples, along with some problems to solve), some identification of each of the terms is in order.  In brief, “F” stands for force. “G” for a gravitational constant that is relevant for any mass. “m1” stands for a mass. “m2” stands for a second mass. “d2” is the square of the distance between the masses. The equation relates only two masses. Relating more would be far more complicated. It says nothing about what kind of masses are used, whether they are planets or marbles. Furthermore, it is supposed to be true of any masses whatsoever, hence it received the title of the universal law of gravitation. But, in the concrete, rarely, if ever, are only two masses involved. This law presupposed something similar to the “vacuum” that is presumed in Galileo’s law of falling bodies In that law, without friction a feather and a marble would fall to the earth in the same amount of time. In Newton’s law, without any other masses, presumably, the equation would hold true. However, just as with object falling on earth are effect by friction, so planets are affected by a number of other masses in addition to the earth or sun. So, this law really does not fully explain the motions of any particular planet (In fact, Newton realized it did not explain the data better than Ptolemy’s circular theories, though it was a simpler explanation). Yet, it is an important first step, just as distinguishing acceleration from velocity was an important step toward the law of inertia, the notion of mass, and the law of gravitation.

2. John Dalton: The Atomic Theory and Relative Weights

Dalton developed a new atomic theory of mass from their weight relationships. He writes “In all chemical investigations, it has justly been considered an important object to ascertain the relative weights of the “simples” which constitute a compound.”(1) He goes on “Now it is one great object of this work, to show the importance and advantage of ascertaining the relative weights of the ultimate particles, both of simple and compound bodies, the number of simple elementary particles which constitute one compound particle, and the number of less compound particles which enter into the formation of one or more compound particle. Dalton, like Newton, speaks of “two bodies,” but unlike Newton, Dalton adds the concern with their combination, not their gravitational relation.

“If there are two bodies, A and B, which are disposed to combine, the following is the order in which the combinations may take place, beginning with the most simple:

1 atom of A + 1 atom of B = 1 atom of C, binary.

1 atom of A + 2 atoms of B = 1 atom of D, ternary.

2 atoms of A + 1 atom of B = 1 atom of E, ternary.

1 atom of A + 3 atoms of B = 1 atom of F, quaternary.

3 atoms of A + 1 atom of B = 1 atom of G, quaternary.” (Page 112)

Then he adds, “etc., etc.”

This is rather similar to what happens when one is discovering algebraic patterns within arithmetic.

Dalton then proceeds to discuss the actual relative weights of different substances that were known. Hydrogen was given a base weight of 1, and to this all the other “simples” or “ultimate particles” can be determined. Carbon is five times the weight of hydrogen, hence it has a relative mass weight of 5. Oxygen is seven times hydrogen, so it has a relative weight of 7. Water is a binary combination of hydrogen and oxygen, so it has a relative mass weight of 8. From this, he then unites the rules for combining bodies with their discovered relative weights to formulate another law which presupposes the law of the conservation of mass. The weights of binary, ternary, and quaternary compounds should be equal to the combined weights of the “simples” that constitute the compounds. Still, analyzing and synthesizing these “simples” and compounds is not an easy matter, and Dalton develops some rules of thumb.(2)

After developing these rules of thumb, Dalton then proceeds to explain which actual weights are combinations of simples, binaries, ternary, etc., and what those simples, binaries, ternaries, etc., might be. For example, he then discussed how one might reason that water is a binary of hydrogen and oxygen.


3. The Higher Viewpoint

So, what is the link between Dalton and Newton? The link can be grasped by paying closer attention to the experiments and theories each relied upon and developed. Newton’s law of gravitation applied not only to planets but to any mass object. The gases, solids, and liquids of the chemist are some of those objects. Gases, liquids, and solids have weight, and weight is a combination of a mass and gravitation. Newton was concerned with relationships between any masses, relationships which were defined in terms of their respective distances, and the changes in their velocities (or lack of such changes). So, he described force as a product of mass times acceleration, or force as a product of a gravitational constant multiplied by the two masses, then divided by the distance between them. Dalton does not use Newton’s law of universal gravitation as the lower viewpoint in which he discovers patterns and laws of a higher viewpoint.  He only uses the notion of weight, but because he refines it in terms of relative weights, the real difference is due to a difference of mass.  When developing “relative weights” what really distinguishes the objects is the mass, because the “gravitational component” is equal.(3) So, what distinguishes Newton’s concern from Dalton’s is that Dalton wanted to discover patterns of different mass relations, Newton wanted an explanation of weight itself.  It would be many centuries before the actual formulas of physics could be utilized in the lower viewpoint as a phantasm or image for the higher viewpoint of chemistry.(4) At this point, problems in the combining of weight was the starting point for chemistry just as negative numbers, fractions, and other arithmetic problems were the starting points for algebraic rules.

Dalton’s concerns or horizon form a higher viewpoint because he is developing new principles and laws regarding weights and the combining of weights into compounds.(5) He is not developing a fully elaborate higher viewpoint of all aspects of Newton’s theories and formula’s, but it is a higher viewpoint with regard to one dimension, and that is weight, and implicit in weight, mass. (I will continue to articulate this point in further revisions of these notes because the point of “physics” at which Dalton’s viewpoint arises is much like the initial development of the higher viewpoint of algebra from the problems of negative numbers or of calculus from the power rule, and ignoring all the other areas of arithmetic from which algebra can formulate its new rules, or the other areas of algebra, from which calculus can build its rules).

A further inquiry would bring us to grasp the relationship of Dalton and Mendeleev. Is Mendeleev’s periodic table a higher viewpoint to Dalton’s atomic theory, or is it a homogeneous expansion? That is a further question, which would be worthwhile to investigate.

  1. John Dalton, “A New System of Chemical Philosophy,” in Breakthroughs in Chemistry, ed. Peter Wolff (New York: A Signet Science Library Book, 1967), 111.
  2. Dalton lists seven rules. “1st. When only one combination of two bodies can be obtained, it must be presumed to be a binary one, unless some cause appears to the contrary. 2nd. When two combinations are observed, they must be presumed to be a binary and a ternary. 3rd. When three combinations are obtained, we should expect one binary and the other two ternary. 4th. When four combinations are observed, we should expect one binary, two ternary, and one quaternary, etc. 5th. A binary compound should always be specifically heavier than the mere mixture of its two ingredients. 6th. A ternary compound should be specifically heavier than the mixture of a binary and a simple, which would, if combined, constitute it; etc. 7th. The above rules and observations equally apply, when two bodies, such as C and D, D and E, etc. are combined” (115).    As a note, Dalton was also one of the first to develop symbols of these “simples” and compounds (recall the need for phantasm to obtain insight).
  3. If the masses of the objects were greater, then they would affect the overall gravitational force, but like most of the objects that Galileo studied, there mass is insignificant (which is why “light” and “heavy” object fall to the earth with the same acceleration, baring any significant friction). These relative masses would hold even if the gases, liquids, and solids were on a different planet, or on the moon, hence the real term that distinguishes is the difference of the masses between the gases, liquids, and solids.
  4. Gases became important because they, as a matter of fact, were able to be produced from mixing substances, and these gases tended to be divided into what we now call elements. Dalton was one of the first to postulate that these were elements, or as he named them, “simples.”
  5. Also, notice the similarities to arithmetic and algebra. Arithmetic wanted to get numbers through the operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, powers, and roots. Algebra discovered patterns in adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, powering, rooting. Similarly, Newton wanted to related masses through distances, accelerations, gravitational constants, and forces. Dalton discovered some patterns in a particular range of these related weights (that range being limited to the weights of gases, solids, and liquids on earth that can “combine”).

When Does the Human Being Begin to Exist? Special Question 1: Is There a Valid Argument to Say that Human Life Begins at Implantation?

By Dr. David Fleischacker

[This springs from a series of blogs titled “When does the human being begin to exist?” which I had written starting in December, 2007. I had drafted this piece in 2008, but just now finished it.]

Some will argue that an embryo becomes a human being at implantation in the uterine wall. In the business world, this became one of the arguments for those selling the contraceptive pill as well as the morning after pill. These companies could argue that their pill was not an abortifacient, because though it might prevent implantation (as one of the ways for preventing a pregnancy), this did not kill a human being because that “this” was not yet human.

To a philosopher who reads through a biology text on implantation, the argument may sound a bit arbitrary at first glance. Why is something different after implantation? However, there are some biological reasons for saying this. This becomes apparent if one examines the various developmental stages of the embryo.

Early Stages of Development

In any mammal, the first stage of development begins at the moment of fertilization. Sperm entered into an oocyte through a protective layer originally created by the mother called the zona pelucida (or the ZP as it is usually labeled). For many types of animals, the entry location of the sperm then determines a polarity to the cell. Polarity refers to different layouts of the biochemical schemes and constituents of the cell, such that as it begins to divide, these materials begin to cause differences in the way subsequent daughter cells function. Such differences in subsequent daughter cells that are created through mitosis are called cell differentiation. As the zygote begins to divide, the daughter cells form a mass of cells scattered within the housing of the ZP. This is called the morula stage. As cell division continues, some of the cells begin to form a ring called the trophoblast just on the inside of the ZP. Other cells come to fill the inner ring and a blastocoel forms pushing these inner cells to one half of the ring, leaving the fluid called the blastocoel on the other half. This is the beginning of the “blastocyst” stage.

Many texts will identify the “inner cell mass” as that which becomes the adult organism, because it is from this that the matured cell systems of the organism develop. The cells that form the trophoblast are not the source of cells that continue into adulthood. However, not all of this inner cell mass will become the adult either. Once the blastcyst bursts the ZP, it is now possible for the blastocyst to unite with the wall of the mother, which usually occurs in the uterus (though if it bursts from the ZP in the fallopian tube, it could bond at that location causing an ectopic pregnancy). Some of these cells will form part of the placenta with some of the cell schemes attaching to the uterine wall, others to form the amniotic cavity. In other words, only some of these cells of the inner cell mass will become the matured adult systems.

When implantation occurs, there is a further determination or differentiation of these cells such that one can then identify specific cells that will become the adult. This process leads to the gastrula stage where some of the cells then form into a primitive streak and into a node of cells that become important for the induction of further differentiation of cells. Because of this differentiation that determines cell fates, twinning is no longer possible, and hence, this is the reason that some will argue that life begins at this point of differentiation.

The basis for saying human life begins at implantation

The notion implicit in this search for the beginning of life is the search for the determined originating cells that will lead to the matured systems of the adult, such as the circulatory and immune systems. In the zygote, the cell is not yet determined, it could be split multiple times and thus form twins or triplets. Likewise for the morula and blastocyst stages. So in many standard textbooks, a particular life or thing does not yet exists at these earlier stages.

Hence in the language of many textbooks, the “real embryo” is that which arises from those cells which have reached a stage of determined fate.

Shifting the Basis to the beginning of the Unity-Identity-Whole (see Chapter 8 of INSIGHT for more on Unity-Idenity-Whole)

The argument needs to shift seeking the origin of human life from that of the “fate determined cells directly leading to the adult organism” to the origin of the “unity-identity-whole.” One way to think through this is in the following way: At different stages of existence, one and the same being has different relationships to its environment. This is rooted in Lonergan’s point that the unity is a unity in changes (INSIGHT, chapter 8). One sees this after birth. In early stages, young infants nurse from the mother’s milk which has nutrients suited to these first post-natal stages. As the infant grows into a child, a young calf, a kit, or some other pre-adult creature, its abilities to relate and interact with the environment expand in such activities as the food it eats and its mobility. This ongoing horizontal and vertical differentiation and expansion of the creature to the environment is no less true in human beings who have the lengthiest sequence of stages of growth from infancy through childhood, adolescence, and into various phases of adulthood. It is the same unity-identity-whole through all these developmental changes.

This is true as well for the unborn. A zygote is largely related to the zona pleucida, that protective coat of cells formed by the mother when the oocyte was first formed. As the zygote divides within the context of the ZP, it grows until the ZP bursts, at which stage (during the blastocyst stage) it has interiorly differentiated sufficiently to become related to the uterine lining and the environment of the uterus. Hence, differentiations of cells and cells systems at each stage are really part of one and the same being, but having different purposes. The embryonic stage, for example, includes the cell systems that form the trophoblasts, which will then form the amniotic cell system as well as the placenta cell system. These are not distinct from the being of the embryo, but rather “parts” of that whole, in the same way that the immune system and the circulatory system are “parts” of the whole adult organism. The functional meaning of these cell systems at this early stage are grounded upon unity with the entire growing embryo and fetus. Separate these from the whole, and these will loose their wholistic properties. The plancenta for example is not merely an aggregate of cells, but rather it is like the digestive and respiratory systems tied together. The cells of the digestive system and the cells of the respiratory system collaborate in a functional whole which is quite different from each of the properties of the individual cells composing these systems (no one cell digests and no one cell respires). Likewise for the placenta and its role in exchanging nutrients and respiration. Each cell has a function that is part of a whole order of cells. Disconnect the placenta from its relationships both to the mother and to the other cells in the embryo, and it looses this higher intelligible meaning. The cells may still survive for a time, but not in a united way that makes them part of a nutritive scheme. And this nutritive scheme is one that belongs to the unity called the embryo.  It is not a scheme of the mother even though it is related to the mother.  Again, this is much like the lungs which have a relationship to the atmosphere that is breathed. The lungs are schemes not of the atmosphere, but of the creature that breaths.

In contrast

Thus, though implantation does bring about some differentiating cell schemes, it is not the beginning of a new unity-identity-whole, but rather the continued differentiation of an already existing unity-identity-whole. The somewhat confusing language in the world of developmental biology and thus in many text books has led to these ideas that the embryo was distinct from some of these temporary “parts” of the embryo.  However upon closer examination, the “embryo” as a unity is not one distinct thing and the  trophoblastic set of cells another. Furthermore, though this confusion suggests that implantation might be a valid starting point for the organism, the argument here is to eliminate that confusion and shift to the origin of the unity-identity-whole that develops. [Note: Though this point is more or less correct, to be more precise, it is a shift that looks not merely at fated originating cells that will develop into adult schemes, but to a unity-identity-whole that is differentiated both by its current integration and unfolding through its operators into its next stages, and then asks, what is the first stage of “this thing”].  Hence one is moving away from defining this thing and its starting point in terms of a developmental stage, and shifting really to a search for the initial stage with its finality for all the subsequent stages. It does not mean that cell fate is not relevant, but it puts it within the different functions of the cells and cell systems that relate the intrinsic cell schemes to the chemical and cellular world of the creature. Hence, in this larger functional set of relationships in which the unity-identity-whole thrives, the cells that form the placenta and other support functions are just as much a part of the unity as are the cells that form the primitive ectoderm that come to constitute the systems of the adult creature. The fact that they “disappear” at latter stages does not change the central form to which they belong at these earlier stages.

This shift results in turning not to implantation as the starting point of a living thing, but the zygote, since the zygote has the real finality to develop into a mature adult organism (even if twinning occurs). This argument was made in an earlier blog with greater precision however and does not need to be made here.

Lonergan and the Shift to Method

by David Fleischacker


Method can be looked at as technique. This of course entirely misses the meaning of method as Lonergan conceived of it. For Lonergan, method is a set of heuristic conceptions that morally guide human self-transcendence, and hence are based on the structure of self-transcendence.

Historically, the cultural need to articulate method arises from the breakthroughs of modern science. It is a great wonder how such a stream of breakthroughs was possible. The answer was the discovery of a fruitful method. To articulate this, even imperfectly as an inductive method (see Bacon for instance), has its fruits.

It is imperfect because it tends to attend only to a few elements of the human subject, most of which are organs that look out onto the world for sensory experiences.  A more comprehensive understanding of the human person will lead to a more profound method. Lonergan makes this shift from an account of the human subject as one of self-transcendence to a resulting transcendental method.  His comprehensive understanding of the human subject is the source of this shift.

Key in his understanding of the human subject are the transcendental notions and their unity. These notions articulate the heart and soul of human presence but we only begin to glimpse the scope of these through a long sequence of steps that Lonergan calls self-appropriation. It requires a heightening of attention to one’s own conscious operations, and when we begin to attend these operations, we begin to discover patterns and overarching structures that ultimately  1) spring from the transcendental notions, and 2)  unite to form a capacity for self-transcendence.  And unless you are going to live for 3000 years, I would suggest you need a guide, and INSIGHT is a good place to start.

If you start with INSIGHT, you should either have already been actively doing math and science, or you will need to do so. Also, you will need to exercise a great deal of common sense and if you have not really done so in life by building and using technologies, building and participating in family, civic, or ecclesiastical economies, or participating in civic or ecclesiastical polity, you should be prepared to do so or at least watch and explore others who do.  Likewise, you will need to study history, and even master one or two of its major trends.  The history of philosophy is a good one. In other words, you need to become more in order for the kind of self-appropriation to take place which is necessary to become an authentic philosopher in the vein called for by Lonergan.

If you do, then such things as a heuristic notion, implicit definition, inverse insight, the empirical residue, higher and lower genera of things, emergent probability, the integral heuristic structure of proportionate being, functional specialization, transcendental method, and dialectic will all come to make perfect sense.  So will notions like isomorphism.   These are explanatory articulations that arise through the kind of self-transcendence that happens when you do math, science, and common sense, then you attend to the interiority of these doings, discover that interiority, and formulate it, and affirm it.  Then, with this self-discovery in mind, you can develop precepts that guide you and others in your existential unfolding.

As you explore the interiority of a scientist, a philosopher, a theologian, an artist, a man or woman of common sense, and you discover how these are united, you will discover more and more the profundity of the transcendental notions and the capacity for self-transcendence.   As you discover the unity of correlations and probabilities into schemes of recurrence and schemes of development, you will discover more and more the profundity of the meaning of central and conjugate potency, form, and act, and the entire nature and character of metaphysics.  Furthermore, you will grasp with greater significance the relationship of interiority and the universe of being.  And as this opens up into human freedom and the free participation of the unfolding of this universe of being and of the unfolding of the human subject in that being, you will discover the existential isomorphism that exists between a self-transcending subject and the entire order of the universe.

Link this existential isomorphism to a divine entrance into the world mediated by meaning and regulated by value, by both unpacking the interiority of this entrance (sanctifying grace, the theological virtues) and the sublation of the world of proportionate being into a transcendent order, then one moves into a supernatural existential isomorphism.  Such individuals provide us with precepts for eternity.

Now that is the kind of method for which Lonergan would call. And it is not a technique, but really an attunement to mystery.


Gender Ideology, Evolution, and Finality

I just returned from a fantastic conference on gender ideology in Denver. I use ideology in the Voegelinian sense, as a deformation of the metaxy or the in-between. Eric Voegelin formulated the in-between as an account of the human subject and community. Our conscious existence is a tension between the beginning and the beyond, the immanent and the transcendent. For those familiar with Lonergan, it has a kind of symbolic appeal to the nature of the human subject, though it lacks the precision found in Lonergan, namely that of formulating the human subject as one who is a capacity for self-transcendence and the different levels of this capacity. Yet, it captures a basic truth, a truth which helps to articulate the character of the modern ideology surrounding gender identity and freedom.

I recall reading somewhere in Voegelin that modern ideology tends toward the transcendent or the beyond, and then naively thinks itself to be beyond the beginning or the immanent. What this means is that in modern ideologies, the beginning and the immanent are evils. In gender ideology, the limits of the body are an evil to be transcended. Evil of course is not a word that most gender ideologists would accept as a description of what they are doing to the body. But in my claiming this of the ideology, I would appeal to the ideology’s mode of operation. To start, something that causes unhappiness or a kind of privation in one’s soul is an evil. And according to gender ideology, being born with the “wrong body” is seen as privating one of happiness. Thus, it is an evil.

Now let’s translate this into Voegelin. The body is part of what Voegelin would call the beginning or the immanent. It has its roots back into the foundations of the world and it ties us to that foundation. It also is that reality in and through which we transcend and have our conscious existence, and so when it limits the kind of conscious existence that we want, gender ideology would proclaim that the  immanent reality of the body must be sublated in the Hegelian sense and discarded as the rubbish of an enslaved past. That would be the mode of operation in someone fully habituated to the life lived in the atmosphere of gender ideology.

The ideology also suffers what Voegelin calls the immanentization of the Transcendent. The Transcendent is the source of true and authentic happiness. Only in the Transcendent exists beatitude. To attempt to establish ultimate and everlasting beatitude in the immanent is the kind of deformation that takes what belongs to the Transcendent by storm. This violence is the only mode of operation available to the modern ideologues. Natural emergence would never be allowed because what is natural would be seen as hindering our freedom and hence our happiness. This violence has been the tactic of all modern ideologies such as the French and Communist Revolutionaries, the Nazi fascist movement, and the assortment of totalitarian uprisings whether in Asia, Africa, Europe, or the Americas. Gender ideology really is no different. It cannot use the art of authentic persuasion to reach its ends. It has to mutilate the body and use the power of civil law to totalize it goals.

Though I do enjoy Voegelin, I think one can arrive at a deeper explanatory account of the modern ideologies, including that of gender ideology, using Lonergan. His discovery of the levels of conscious intentionality, the nature of the capacity for self-transcendence and its actuation, and how this participates in the finality of the unfolding universe of being as one of generalized emergent probability provides a heuristic, and hence a horizon, that opens the doors and windows for a comprehensive account of ideology and its modern sexual manifestation.

What I am saying here is really more of a project to be completed. Some years ago, I had worked through the coming-to-be of the human person (see blogs back in 2008). One of the things that I began to think through was a transposition of evolutionary biology’s account of sexual differentiation into Lonergan’s notion of finality. The modern evolutionary theorist has noticed for example the emergence of bi-sexual differentiation within higher level species of plants and animals. This differentiation provides selective advantages (to use evolutionary terms) – advantages which include more adequate diversity in genetic alleles that allow for greater adaptabilities of the species to environmental needs and changes. More precisely, I think the right range of probabilities in the mixing and remixing of alleles that takes place through sexual reproduction provides for the right kind of plasticity needed for higher orders of intelligibility to have adequate probabilities for emergence and fitting probabilities of survival (much like carbon and some other atoms have the right statistical distributions of electrons to allow for the adequate emergence and survival of molecules that can interact to form organic systems–where as atoms such as the inert gases do not). Using Lonergan, one can dramatically expand the meaning of species and of the nature of evolutionary causality. The conjugate forms for example that constitute the things as a species within an explanatory genera (see chapter 8 of INSIGHT) are necessary to account for the developmental sequences one finds within evolutionary trees. One can also turn to the reality of finality within potencies to help further expand the developmental operators and trends that arise within evolution. And these are just a couple of the examples of how one can expand the heuristics found in most evolutionary theories using Lonergan’s account of both proportionate being (being that can be known by the human mind) and the nature of the human subject within that world of being.

With regard to gender ideology, an explanatory account of sexual differentiation and its sublation (Lonergan’s notion not Hegel’s) into higher levels of conscious intentionality would provide a first set of clarifications of the relationship of organic sexual schemes of development with motor-sensory, intellectual, rational, and volitional operators and operations.

The finality that leads to and springs from sexual differentiation would provide a further set of clarifications, and I think it would also be the key to revealing the magnitude of the deformation of gender ideology. Sexual differentiation in the human species is for the individuals, but it also regards the entire species. Its intelligibility requires that one introduce the operators that link generations of parents and grandparents to children. Concretely coming into existence as a male or a female takes place within a set of probabilities that is sequentially linked into a finality that springs from the entire order of the universe, an order that includes its concrete spatial and temporal residues (see chapter 4 of INSIGHT to glimpse more of this). When one decides to “change out” one’s concrete sexual differentiation through gender re-assignment, one is actually privating oneself and others of the finality in which one came to be. I am not proving this point right now, but giving you some conclusions that I had discovered some years ago.

To point you toward the evidence that led me down this trail, let me mention a notion developed by evolutionary theorists. The emergence of a new trait is followed up by a rapid perfection of that trait over relatively few generations. In evolution, few can mean thousands of years rather than millions depending on the complexity of the organism – the more complex multi-cellular organisms require longer periods of time to evolve. Something like a virus or bacteria however evolves in much shorter periods of time. This rapid perfection of a mode of operation within its operator means that certain kinds of operations in the human body reached a type of perfection long ago (even before the emergence of the human species). Sexual union based on sexual differentiation is one of those. If you look at plant sexual differentiation, it is a bit undifferentiated with many plants having both male and female components (and the number of chromosomes is a bit loose as well). As one moves to higher and higher animals, there is a set of clarifications of the male and female differentiations. One can describe these perfections or clarifications as a refinement of the nurturing operators and schemes on the one side of the differentiation (which we call female), and the refinement of protective operators and schemes on the other (which we call male). This gives all kinds of selective advantage to a community of the species (to use evolutionary terms again).

What this means is that human sexual differentiation arises from within an evolutionary series of developments as a perfection upon which then builds the higher levels of being in the human subject. For the human subject to then “decide” that this differentiation is a false limitation, and is really an evil and something hindering one, is to fail to realize the kind of perfection that sexual differentiation has become within the order of the entire finality of the universe. Again, this has to be argued more thoroughly, and so I give to you simply a project to consider. Sexual differentiation is a fundamental differentiation upon which the emergence of conscious intentionality within the finality of the entire generalize emergent structure of the universe is taking place. Treating it as something that can be changed or even discarded at will is to join the Hegelian and Marxian revolutionaries, which when you look at history has a deeply disturbing root in hatred born of an even deeper root of despair and darkness.

Insight into Chemistry: Introduction

by David Fleischacker

In Insight, Lonergan makes use of chemistry as one of the examples of higher and lower genii of things in this universe.  Biology is a higher integration of a coincidental manifold of chemical occurrences and schemes.  What I would like to do is to examine the history of chemistry to catch glimpse of the breakthroughs that led to its discovery.  The periodic table is a brilliant construct.  Before Mendeleev provided us with this final version, there were precursors, and before these precursors, there were a series of breakthroughs both in the way that sense data was gathered and in the way that the upper blade heuristics operated, upper blades of both classical and statistical heuristic structures, the former being formulated in terms of the relationships of matter and the latter being formulated in terms of reaction rates.  Even earlier, there was a series of descriptive breakthroughs with developing explanatory postulates that painted a complex path to modern chemistry.

Here are a few areas that I would like to explore.

  1. Whether there exist deductive and homogeneous expansions in chemistry.
  2. The role of inverse insights in chemistry.
  3. The degree to which classical and statistical heuristic structures developed in chemistry.
  4. The relationship of chemistry 1) to physics, 2) to biology (and on up).
  5. The explanatory conjugates in Chemistry.
  6. Schemes of recurrence in Chemistry.
  7. The nature of judgements in chemistry (eg. Provisional analytical principles)
  8. Epistemology in chemistry, especially in terms of the principle notion of objectivity.
  9. Vertical developments that emerged following the breakthroughs into modern chemistry, both heading down into quarks and heading up into DNA and replication.
  10. Chemistry and metaphysics – potencies, forms, and acts, along with generalized emergent probability.
    1. In this context, I would like to explore energy in chemistry (and whether Lonergan is right in suggesting a link between energy and finality.

Chemistry: A Deductive Expansion

I will begin by saying something about the first half of #1 above.

Lonergan introduces deductive expansion in chapter one of Insight to illustrate a particular type of development within mathematics.  It is deductive when the same operation is used over and over again.  Hence, when one adds over and over again:  1 + 1 = 2, 2 + 1 = 3, 3 + 1 = 4. Etc., etc., etc..  This type of deduction using addition can lead one to a viewpoint that is symbolized by addition tables. The key is that the mode of the expansion is entirely limited to a single operation, addition.

In Chemistry similar types of development take place.  Descriptively, one finds the growth of qualitative measures, that then became the “operation” used to investigate certain types of materials or substances. Examples include solubility in water and related to this, the formation of precipitates.  Salt and sugar dissolve in water for example. Wood and iron do not, at least in any rapid time frame.  One can take known substances, and see if these are soluble. Of course, one could switch water with acids, bases, or alcohols.  One could go on to mixing liquids or gases or gases with liquids, as well as liquids with solids.  Now, at first, it was not clear that solids, gases, and liquids are different forms of certain elements and molecules, but seeing the qualitative (descriptive) outcomes of such interactions is a general mode of operation that one finds in early chemistry (eg. Alchemy and medical chemistry).

Another kind of deductive expansion arose with the development of quantitative analysis in chemistry.  Basically, these sprung from long known units of measure, such as weight, volume, temperature, and to a lesser degree pressure.  One sees Boyle for example introducing the relationship of volume and pressure of gases.  You see a number of individuals introducing various means for measuring weight.  So a general operation was to quantify something.  I suppose one could argue that the real operation was a particular mode of quantifying, such as weight or volume.  One can repeat such an operation upon a number of different substances – gold, wood, water, etc., etc., etc..  This gets to be a bit more difficult with gases, but with some creativity it is not impossible with a bit of creativity. How does one weigh smoke for example? And is smoke a gas?

The point thus far is to show how there are developments like deductive expansions even in the early stages of chemistry.  Explanatorily, one also sees similar expansions.  In Dalton, one finds a proportionality of mass combinations. There are basic elements that combine in specific and definite ways with each other such that a particular substance is always composed of the same set(s) of elements, and hence have the same based masses.  Water is always formed of two hydrogens and one oxygen.  This is a deductive expansion that is even closer to math, because it says that adding particular elements in a certain manner always results in a particular compound of those elements that has specific properties because of how these elements are combined.

As a result, one can see how elements can be combined in twos or threes or fours.  And the masses of these compounds always equal the sum of the masses of the elements.  Of course, there is more to be discovered, because not just any element can be combined with any other element. Hence, this is where chemistry diverges from math.  In math, any number can be added to any number.


This is just a first set of observations about chemistry and its development, both descriptively and explanatorily.  I will return to this every so often and hopefully have something to say.

John Dalton’s Table of Elements and Compounds

A Descriptive Metaphysics: An Analogy for the Science of Metaphysics

By David Fleischacker, PhD
First Draft

Metaphysics as a science seeks to build a comprehensive and generic viewpoint of the universe that is thus far known. How? It finds common features of all sciences and the common features of the objects of those sciences, and melds these features into an integral unity, a horizon of being.

I think it might be easiest to start getting a sense of metaphysics by setting up an every day analogy that will help to point to a more complete metaphysics.

Here are the points that I would like to invite reflection upon:

1. Events: including things, persons, and activities.
2. Frequencies of events: “How often does X take place?”
3. Webs of events and their frequencies.
4. Developmental stages and sequences of webs.

If we stay within our everyday lives, and come up with some examples of these points, I think we can go a long way toward developing a generic view of our worlds. This will be only a descriptive, everyday view, however the reason I chose these points is because these provide analogies for understanding Lonergan’s metaphsics.

An event is person or thing involved in some activity in our everyday worlds. In order to understand that event, we would need to begin raising some questions: What, why, how, where, when type questions. If I asked you “Who is so and so?” In answering the question, you might give me a name? Then I might be curious as to know why the person is here, or what this person does. All of these questions would be expansions of the same type of question, a question that helps me to understand the event. These types of questions can thus be called “questions for understanding.” What kind of questions do you think fit this type in your language?

Notice that in answering questions for understanding, we came to know this event (person, place, or action) through our senses. We can come to describe this event with our senses in a multitude of ways. If it is a thing, I might describe it by its color or shape or how it is to be used. If it is a person, I might describe what he or she looks like, or what the person does. If it is an action, I might describe the movements involved, or the sounds made. We can make use of any of our senses to answer this question for understanding.

Notice how much of the world is known to us in this manner. The inviting landscape that surrounds Seoul, the beautiful clothing, the sense of dignity in the people, the smell of the air, the design of the buildings, the layout of the campus, the smell of the Cherry blossoms, the excitement of students. All of this comes to us through our senses, and we can describe it in language, in art, in poetry, in business terms, and in many other ways. For all of us, this forms the greater part of how we understand the world around us.

Frequencies of events: A second type of question: How often?

I would like you to think about some of the phrases in your language that match the following ones:

“It happens every day”
“It rarely happens at all”
“It happens once in a while”
“It happens too much”
“She does this all the time”

Notice that each one of these statements is an answer to the basic question “How often?” It does not mean that we have quantitative numbers like someone in the fields of statistics would seek. But descriptively, we get a sense of the regularity of events and things in life. This is important for us to live. Think about your own life for a minute, and how you develop many daily expectations based on your past experiences that result in this sense of how often things take place. If you run a grocery store for example, and children are always dropping the jar of jam in one of the isles of the store, then you probably will make some changes in the placement of the jars, so as to reduce this type of an accident. Around your apartments or homes, many things get placed because of your sense of frequency. For example, you probably have a place to hang your coat near the entrance door rather than up in the attic or in the farthest room from the front door, simply because that is the regular (or frequent) location where you will need to put on your coat or take it off. How you setup a kitchen, or a school classroom, or a library, is closely tied to frequencies of use of different items or the frequencies of various activities. If we had no sense of “how often” things or events happen, we literally would be constantly building and setting up places, roads, farms, industries, museums in an impractical manners.

The relationship of “questions for understanding” and “questions for frequency” (“how often?”)

Notice that this second question, “How often?” really cannot be answered unless one has first answered the question for understanding. Only when we have some sense of the event (person, thing, action) can we then start paying attention to it and get a sense of its frequency or regularity. Some events may only occur once in the whole of history. They might be short lived or last for thousands of years. Others might recur over and over again each day, even each minute, like our breathing. Notice, that for me to get a sense of how often breathing takes place, I need to have formed some basic understanding of breathing first. Only subsequently, if I am paying attention to it, will I get a sense of its frequency. Let us look at another example, the frequency of people that drive on a road to the market. Notice, that the first step is that I have to understand “road” and “driving” and “people.” Then, if I am paying attention to this road and the drivers on it day in and day out, over a certain number of days and weeks, and I am also paying attention to the numbers of drivers on other roads day in and day out, then I will start to get a sense of whether this particular road is unusually busy compared to others or not. In the end, I will end up with simple conclusion, such as “This is a busy road.” It is a statement based upon many everyday observations of the roads over many days and week. I may not be counting this like a mathematician but I am forming memories.

The Web of Events and Their Frequencies

The third point that I would like to focus upon is webs of events and their frequencies. All of us have a sense of some of the webs of life. The interconnections of events (people, things, actions) in our homes, or neighborhoods, our work environments, our economic life, our political worlds are webs. A sense of a web begins to develop when we connect one event to another. In special cases, these events form into types of regular cycles, regular patterns of connections between events. When we grew up for example, in our neighborhoods, we started to get a sense of how neighbors and activities impacted each other. We began to get a sense of the interconnections of events and their frequencies. Perhaps when you rode your bicycle past the neighbor’s dog, he always barked at you, then kept on barking for another ten minutes, until one of the neighbors calms the dog down. The reason the dog barks at you is because he wants you to come and throw a stick which he loves to fetch, and you have thrown this stick for this dog many times over the years……

Think about some of these webs in your life. The point here is to get a sense of the generic meaning of “web” and cycles of events and their frequencies.

Families, economies, political orders, churches, volunteer organizes are all examples of vast webs of people and things involved in numerous activities. For example, if one increases the frequency of production in an industry, perhaps pollution increases, if pollution increases, then diseases of the lungs increase, if diseases of the lungs increase more people die. Or in another example, if people are driven by ultimate meaning and purpose, by a love that is unrestricted, and this impacts everything that is done, it increases the charitable acts that they perform day in and day out, it results in greater generosity in the simple and daily interactions with others. Such acts of charity awakens desires that fulfill and quiets desires that destroy. It results in changing the web and habits of one’s own life and in the world around.

Absence of the knowledge of a web makes us awkward in situations. We do not know what to expect from others, we do not know what they are doing or where they might be going, and what they might be expecting from us. This happens whenever we move to a new place, or start a new job, or a new family. It takes time to learn these webs, and notice how we cannot really live easily and well until we learn the web.

Developments of Webs

The last type of questions that I would like to explore in our everyday lives can be expressed as How does this web change over time? This can include when and why it came to be? Or when and why did it disappear? As with our everyday sense of family life, of business, of our neighborhoods, and our political orders, we also, especially as we grow older, gain more and more a sense of how these cycles or webs in life change. If we have paid close attention, we begin to grasp various stages of these changes as well. We might see how one stage in the growth of our grocery store or our in an auto industry led to the next. We might see how one stage in the growth of government led to the next. Though we might not have worked this out as a historian, one might have had enough experience, and paid attention to those experiences, remembering the events and their frequencies, and their formation into webs, and then changes in events and their frequencies over time, in order to get a sense of what was going forward from one web to the next, and why things changed. It leads one to an everyday sense of the stages of development of one web into another.

Web 1  Web 2  Web 3  Web 4 etc., etc., etc..

Notice how important this is as well. If we never get a sense of the stages of our lives, we probably cannot help our children through those stages. We remain bewildered by the changes, confused as to what to do next, just as if we had entered a new society for the first time, or a started a new family. Someone who is starting a business, and has no sense of how to start then grow such a “web” will most likely fail. If someone has no idea how children grow intellectually, then they will be at a loss as to how to setup a proper educational system, since such a system is a web designed to provide children with an environment to awaken the natural desire to know and learn, and exercise responsibility.

Creating a General Descriptive “View” of this Universe

Now I would like to focus us back upon the kind of general view of life that this creates. Notice that it is rather open ended. Events regard anything and anyone that can be known through our senses. The “how often” also regards anything that can be described through our senses. The web recognizes that every event and its frequency has many connections with others, and thus forms into vast web. Furthermore, then entire world that we know in these webs develops along stages. Thus, the more we know about such development, the more we can predict the most likely stages that will unfold in the future.

This view of events, frequencies of events, webs, and developments thus orients us in our worlds. If we want to learn about anything from family life to political life to religious life, we know how to start and build our views of a situation. Here are a few properties and consequences of this general view of life.

1. The world is filled with events and their frequencies, some of which form into regularly recurrent cycles. The sun regularly rises, then sets, goes around the earth only to rise again, then set again. People regularly need to eat, agricultural systems get setup, and thus on a regular basis, in a linkage of webs, food is distributed to stores, people buy the food, and prepare it.
2. The existence of one web can set the stage for the growth of more webs. Hence the creation of the steam engine set the stage for the creation of steam-boats and steam driven trains.
3. Thus, the universe as descriptively perceived is a series of webs that set stages for future webs, and it does so with greater or lesser regularities.
4. World process seems to go in various directions, though when developmental stages are present, then it goes with some degree of regularity in a certain direction of growth, though this is not guaranteed by any means. One can see a great business on the rise, and then something happens unexpectedly, and it collapses. A church can be serving many people one decade, then through failures decline in a day, and close its doors. A great family growing in character and virtue can be rendered asunder by many causes.
5. If enough time exists, then it seems likely that many possible events and their frequencies, and webs might come to be. It also seems possible that many webs will not necessarily lead to any new kinds of development either. Dead ends are possible. One might make a new kind of DVD machine, only to watch it end up in the pile of other technologies that never made it.
6. Webs that are further down the line in terms of stages will be expected to be fewer in number on the whole, because more needs to take place before these come to be. Hence, one would find more societies to possess more farms than to possess universities.
7. If something has more stages, then one will need more time or resources. Hence, for example, one will need many more years of life to develop a sense of metaphysics than a sense of arithmetic.

The Motherly Impulse

by David Fleischacker

Generally, one thinks of nurturing when one thinks of motherhood. Usually I find a guttural revolt against this idea today. Yet intrinsically “to nurture” is a good thing. I would like to give some thought as to what this means in relationship to motherhood. To nurture involves feeding and caring for basic needs but also the spiritual needs of another. In other words, it is a type of mutual self-mediation (To read about mediation, see Lonergan, “The Mediation of Christ in Prayer”). I would argue that starting in the organic matrices of the female body, there is a special attunement for nurturing. Even the neurons in her skin are far more numerous than in a man. Her senses are designed to be attracted spontaneously to details about the body and disposition of another. Girls can read faces more accurately at a much younger age than boys (boys do not catch up until age 40 on average — at least in some studies I have read). These needs stir sympathy in a woman much more rapidly than in a man. [Though for another blog, men more often than not are stirred to sympathy through their mothers and wives and sisters.]

Socially, this care impulse leads a woman to want to create a physical and personal space about her that is inviting. She takes care of it to reveal the dignity in another for which she naturally cherishes. She has a finality that is fulfilled when she can illuminate their worth and fulfill the conditions for their existence and their flourishing. This can get distorted of course, like all good things, but intrinsically it is supremely good, and its privatization is a supreme evil in a culture.

Psychologically, the motherly care stirs a warmth and love in the recipient of that care. It communicates to them their inherent dignity and worth. It lets them know that their lives matter, because the care is coming from a beautiful creature whom God has made and sent to care for them. A motherly smile and embrace can undo anger and bitterness. It can open up the heart to higher things. Through simple meals and gifts of nurture–another human being comes to thrive.

The mother is created to care about all the details of those who come into her realm. Naturally and most intimately it is “her man” and from this relationship, his children conceived in her body. I say “his” because I think it highlights the nature of begetting and bearing at the moral level and the depth of the bond between a man and a woman. It is hers too of course, and the man will stand in awe of “her” children. It is hers as received, even though the egg was formed in her. It is his seed, and his act to love her. She of course may have called him forth. And in the bonds of marriage, this bond has a sacred character, found in the promise in God’s witness of “until death do us part.”

The descriptive conjugates that develop regarding the motherly impulse must be multiple. There would be conjugates naming various desires of course, as well as her body and its contours, and how it changes during adolescence, and her apprehension of caring for a child, and for loving a man, as well as falling in love. There are conjugates of family too.

When I think of how we have degraded life in the home, it is incredible. We have made everything in it seem trivial, and thus a burden. How sad. We have really targeted the mother in the home–turning everything she does into a land of waste and a life not worth living. But in fact the opposite is true. Every act of love in the home provides conditions for the existence and thriving of her husband and her children, her neighbors and extended family, and even her own well-being. This includes the simple things that analogically extend from her own bodily schemes of care and protection of the unborn, whether that is the order of the kitchen and a place for everything in it, or the cleansing of the body, the routines of washing clothes, and the cooking that transforms and mold hearts.

Providing such conditions is a participation in the divine light that shines in the world upon each individual who comes into that house. They are called by name in that light. It shows each person that even their bodies and psyches are sacred and pondered within the mother’s heart.

It is built into the body of a woman to be radically attentive to others in this world, to see easily into their hearts and souls, to see even the littlest of physical, psychic, and spiritual needs.

As a note I do not want to say men can do none of these things, but at this point I just want to focus on the glory of a woman.

The woman’s body is structured to receive so as to give. Her body is the space in this universe in which life comes to be and then has its first days and months nurtured and protected. Her body feeds the new life so that it will grow and develop.

It is important to realize how the human heart works here. The essence of the human person is a capacity to self-transcend. A person lives through all of the conjugate forms, schemes of recurrence, integrators of lower levels and operators for higher, all within the unity that is the subject, the concrete person.  Below summarizes the higher and lower levels of proportionate being (see Insight for more). All of these come together in the human person.

  • Faith and love
  • Decision
  • Judgment
  • Understanding
  • Experience
  • cellular conjugates
  • chemical conjugates
  • subatomic conjugates

The woman’s body has a form made to receive the seeds of life, to call these forth from her man, to be awakened in her own intentionality and life by this calling and reception. Even chemically and organically this is true–from the hormonal responses to the illumination of regions and cortices of the brain and how neural demand functions transform conscious attentiveness. I wish these could be discussed in their beauty rather than in the light of the fall and the horizon of concupiscence, and modern gender theories.

When the seed has transformed the egg, and life comes into existence–yes existence!–Then the mother’s body becomes the child’s home. Warmth and sustenance are provided from the very schemes of the woman’s body, designed for this right down into the quarks and quark compounds emergent upon which are the atomic and atomic compounds, the cells and cell compounds of her body.

During gestation, her psyche undergoes a transformation rising from an increased rate of synaptic formation in various parts of her brain, prompting her, calling her from the depths of her being to rise into the glory of motherhood. Literally her brain increases its synaptic connections so that she will develop more rapidly in her concrete insights that will constitute some new schemes of motherhood, and so she will form a vibrant horizon of affectivity that will call forth acts of love and care. In other words, when all is allowed to come forth, this organic realization of her motherhood emerges into a neural set of schemes which bursts forth into a generous affectivity that re-orients motor-sensory operators toward a new attentiveness to the growing life inside of her.

Her growing affectivity also spontaneously turns to her beloved and calls forth from him and awakens in him this growing intention in her toward the new life. She awakens him with the goodness and glory of life. [And of course the reverse can happen as did happen with Eve and Adam.]

This new set of operators turns to the physical world to build a home that will welcome the new life. It will provide protection and nurturing of all the needs of the newborn. It will communicate to the world the love of this new one. It will bring about shifts of habits–all of which have been organically and psychically prepared in the body of the woman. As a note, I know there are similar neurological and psychic shifts in the man which I suspect is tied to his commitment and bond to her–but I have not seen studies on this.

Of course, culture can help these neurological and psychic reorientations to thrive or it can crush them.  And there are potential for deformations at every single point along the way.

The mother also then finds something glorious about which to converse with others, namely the new life growing within her. Those who care about life will wonder and be in awe about her. They will come to her, embrace her, confirm her, raise her up into the light of being. She has become one in whom life comes into existence. Her mother and father will come alive to this as well as should his parents.  But lurking around the corner is a massive if.  All of this mutual self-mediation of the glory of a new one and the glory of motherhood only rises to its rightful heights if the scale of values constitutive of their moral horizons are properly formed.

One can see this welcoming of life throughout Scripture. Think of the sadness women and men in the old testament experience at infertility. Sometimes the shame goes too far–and others would mock the barren woman, and she would even think of herself in this highly negative light. But sadness would be a proper response, as would the turning to God with wonder about her fate and hope for the gift of a child. Children were her glory and rightly so. And how blessed a man is with a good and faithful wife and the gift of children conceived in her and born of her (think of the Psalms and Proverbs).

When we turn to the New Testament, this glorious element of motherhood reaches heights unheard of before. Mary of course is that central icon, The Mother, the woman of the fiat, the one in whom God was conceived in her womb, the one from whom the source of all life is born. This dignity bestowed on a woman is a great and beautiful mystery. And look at what it calls forth from Joseph! Even before he has his revelation from Gabriel, he is moved by her and will not divorce her publicly. Already, her intrinsic virtue is calling him forth. Once he is illumined to what has been given to her, he immediately becomes her protector, her husband, whose heart is now filled with her and the fruit of her womb.

And think of how her own son brings life to her. His death will be a sword through her heart because his heart became sin for us, our sins, the sins of all humanity, and these sins form the blade. But he makes all things new. He is the eternal fruit, life, and salvation of all. And she is his mother.

God created Mary, the woman, who would be the sacred temple in which he would enter this world. He became us so that we might become like him. We too are the fruit of a womb, conceived into existence in the womb, born of a woman.

Even more so are consecrated virgins in the likeness of Mary as the mother of God. They bear the Son into the world. The firstborn of their consecrated wombs is the eternal Word of God. Eternity flows through them with motherly tenderness to each person who enters their midst, and their hearts sing of their man from whom they have received life into their souls and bodies. They are his betrothed in a personal and intimate way. They have entered the inner love and exchange of our triune God. The fruit of the womb is theirs, and their hearts will be pierced with the sins of the world, sin which rejects their beloved and the fruit of eternity which flows through them.

The motherly impulse in each and every woman springs from the finality of each and every quark of their being. It rises with greater and greater degrees of freedom until it reaches the apex of a state of being in love with the unrestricted one. In the biochemistry of their genetics this bursts forth into cellular differentiations and entire cellular systems that constitute their hormonal cycles, their biophysics, the bio-schemes of their womb, and the neural structures of their body. It bursts forth into sensitivity with attentiveness, trust, and affective love. It calls forth caresses and nurturing, which then rises into the intrinsic freedom of the spirit, which transcends the empirical residue in the world of common sense, artistry, drama, intelligence, culture, personal life, and faith. If fully integrated as in Mary, the finality becomes an operator of God’s maternal love in this world, and an integrator of the Trinification of the world, of each individual, of family life, of parishes, and of a civilization of love that is in a pilgrim state as a sacrifice within the cities of Cain and civilizations of death.

Oh how glorious is the motherly impulse of a woman.



I would like to say a little bit about how I am making most of these arguments in this blog.

  1. From the generic intelligibility of the levels of consciousness.
  2. From the generic intelligibility of metaphysics or generalized emergent probability.
  3. From specifying these generic intelligibilities to a) Higher and lower viewpoints, b) Higher and lower levels of schemes and things.

Though I have read studies that move from higher and lower levels into species with regard to female cycles, I am not discussing those here except in a generic fashion. I do have some other blogs that have looked at some of these–see for example 40 years since humanae vitae, female procreative schemes.

Perfection in Suffering on the Cross: A Transcendental-Metaphysical Analysis

[If you had seen this piece during the first hour it was posted, I apologize for the confusion. I dictate these blogs into a program, and then edit them.  What you saw was the unedited version.]

by David Fleischacker 

“….and he was made perfect through suffering”

Hebrews 2:10

Good Friday seems to be an obvious misnomer, at least when I was a kid I always thought so. Once one realizes that the crucifixion of our Lord is the greatest act of love, then one begins to glimpse why it the greatest and most perfect good. But why through suffering? Lonergan’s insight into sin as an act of inauthenticity can shed light on the magnitude of this goodness, and on why it must take place through suffering.  To see this, we must first understand the nature of inauthenticity, which means we must understand the nature of the transcendental notions and why these are so important.

Setting the Stage of Suffering: The Transcendental Notions

The transcendental notions are at the root of why the transcendental precepts ring true to all of us. Just to recall those precepts–they form a hierarchy-[and I do mean a sacred order by this term, not its degradation in today’s culture to a negative bureaucratic term.]

The Transcendental Precepts

  • be loving (highest)
  • be responsible
  • be reasonable
  • be intelligent
  • be attentive (lowest)

 For those who have studied Lonergan, you know that these precepts articulate the way of perfection of the levels of consciousness. Each level is distinct because it is governed by a different fundamental operator and integrator of development (see chapter 14 of Insight for more info on operators and integrators). One gets a first glimpse into these operators when attending to the wonder at the root of our questions–hence as Lonergan distinguished in Insight-wonder sorts into questions for -understanding and questions for reflection–the first leads to insights, the second to judgments. Hence asking questions for understanding and getting insights is equal to being intelligent. And asking questions for reflection and making true judgments is equal to being reasonable. As those of us who have been around Lonergan for a while know, he later added questions for deliberation and decisions which when perfected are equal to being responsible. He also suggested a fifth level which is really tied to the entire capacity for self transcendence and its actuation in a state of being in love. This fifth level is a bit different than the others, because it not merely emerges from them, but both is a comprehensive perfection of one’s horizon and it is the starting point and orientation of every level of one’s horizon. It completely embraces every operator or integrator, and every operation and integration in the human subject from the lowest levels to the highest. It is a kind of alpha and omega of human existence. This is why it is a little bit more than a level. In any case it is what underpins the precept “be loving.”

 To expand one’s apprehension of these acts of wonder so as to see that these are not merely questions but operators and integrators, one can shift one’s attention to the interior fact that the same wonder is also the same that gazes upon an answer, and it is the same that moves beyond any finite answer. In Plato and Augustine, this is why wonder is more aptly called an interior spiritual light–the light of being. With Aristotle and St. Thomas, it is called the agent intellect. The symbol of light is a wonderful image because a light source is that by which we are able to look for something, and then, it is the same reality by which we gaze upon something found, and finally, it is the same reality by which we can look again for something new.

Realizing that questions really are operators and integrators is not easy.  We all start in the world of the senses and I, like many others, became trapped in that world. Plato describes this in his book the Republic.  All human beings are born in the cave.  They do not understand how they know, what they know, or the source by which they know.  Only with great difficulty does a brave soul break the chains of the cave, and then move from the cave into the bright light of the sun.  This is a wonderful description of what it is like to turn to and then discover the landscape of interiority. But once one does make this leap, the world of one’s own soul begins to open into something far more grand than anything seen with the eyes.

Included in this grand interior landscape is the lights that illuminate it. Those lights are the wonder that is both the operator and integrator of that landscape, and as Lonergan argues, it sorts into three types already mentioned–questions for understanding, questions for reflection, questions for deliberation. The union of these three into a whole is the real character of the essence and heart of the human subject, a character which is defined by Lonergan as the capacity for self transcendence (see chapter 1, Method in Theology). And if this capacity is not actualized by a love that is the true alpha and omega of one’s soul, one dwells in a dark abyss staring off into the unrestricted reaches of nothingness.

Lonergan more precisely called these fundamental operators and integrators the transcendental notions. They underpin, penetrate, and go beyond all operations and integrations in the subject. They start as questions, discover answers, and through these the subject transcends to new questions. In short, they are transcendental because they make it possible for a subject to self-transcend and even yearn for that which is absolutely Transcendent, our Lord, and more supernaturally, to receive the absolutely Transcendent as a gift called the beatific vision.

Linking the Transcendental Notions to the Finality of All that Exists

In Insight, Lonergan makes an amazing statement about the human mind that helps us to move an inch closer to understanding the kind of suffering Jesus experienced on the cross. Namely, Lonergan writes that in human beings the finality of the universe becomes conscious.  Linking this to the transcendental notions reveals a profound unity in the whole of the created world.

In order to move toward this link, let us first say something about the nature of finality. Finality is rooted in the potency of the universe, in each of its parts and as a whole.  That potency is one of emergent probability. In transcendental terms, it is an emergent probability of intelligibility, being, and goodness. Are you beginning to see the link to the human person? When the human being as part of that emergence is infused with the transcendental notions, then there emerges a creature that is a self-conscious intelligibility that is intelligent, a self-conscious being that is reasonable, and a self-conscious good that is responsible. And the unity of it all? A potentiality that is actuated in love.  The actuated orientation of finality in its highest reaches is a state of being in love. If you have been following these points, hopefully you can see what individuals like St. Thomas are thinking about when they say that all things have God as their end. 

Transcendental Notions: Created Participations in the Divine Light

There is a profound mystery in the transcendental notions. Nothing in this world can cause them. They emerge almost as if from nothing.  There are just there.  And they are a great power in us.  What begins to dawn on the humble soul is that these lights must come from something great.  And as one discovers that they have no intrinsic bounds, and they give us that yearning to understand all that could be understood, and know all that has being, and enjoy all that is good, we begin to wonder about the “hither” of all things and of these yearnings.  It is the question of God that arises when we move to this state.  And when we begin to discover the good without bounds, the true without conditions, the intelligible that is total, we discover as well the real source of these interior lights, the transcendental notions.  They are created participations in the Good, the True, the Intelligible, that is responsible without bounds, reasonable without conditions, intelligent that is total, and loving with mercy that embraces death on a Cross.  This discovery sheds a more magnificent light upon the finality that has become conscious in us.

Oh what a great good each child, each woman, each man is in this world! We are in the image and likeness of our Creator.

Sin and Evil as a Violation of Finality

Human beings as illumined by the transcendental notions have a radical freedom that introduces the potentiality for the sinister. That radicality is the possibility of violating finality. Human beings can turn against the transcendental notions, they can betray the interior lights. In short, they can fail to be intelligent, to be reasonable, to be responsible, and to be loving. This betrayal reverberates into the fabric of the entire universe of being.  Even the quarks that are sublated in our atoms and cells, in our neurons, and elevated into the realm of consciousness are privated by sin of a vertical finality that they were made to enjoy.  This is the nature of evil. And this is just one person. We could go on to discuss how these acts of inauthenticity are then mutually self-mediated to others and the fabric of our universe.

Original Sin and the Deformation of the Finality of the Universe

The doctrine of Original Sin tells us that at the beginning of the human race, sin entered the world through one man and one woman that led them from the harmony and joy of the garden into the cities of Cain. Speculating on how that sin is transmitted from one generation to the next, St. Augustine narrowed the culprit to a disorder that exists between men and women in the procreative act–concupiscence. The heaven and earth were doomed to be corrupted until the end of time.  This reality led the inspired prophets to hope for a new heaven and a new earth.

The Revelatory discovery of the fallen state is complemented by a profound inverse insight that helped the Greeks to discover evil as a privatization of being. With Lonergan we can transpose this privation into a violation of the finality of intelligibility, being, and goodness. A surd is introduced into history and the cosmos. Things really are not as they should be. In our own souls, we directly recognize such violations as a turning away from the light, a light that is a voice which we commonly know as the voice of conscience. And because those lights are a created participation in the divine light, conscience is also recognized as the voice of God in our own souls.

To summarize, inauthenticity is a betrayal of the finality of one’s own soul, and since one’s soul is a conscious realization of the finality of the universe, it is a betrayal of the finality of the universe. Every sin is such a betrayal.

Authentic Suffering as a Response to Evil and Sin

Now we can turn to the character of suffering. I remember the first time that I began to realize that suffering was not intrinsically evil. I was brought up in life to think so and of course, I was a good son of our world.  Suffering was the great evil to be avoided, and  in mercy, we must help others to avoid it too.

There is a truth in this. Suffering is not where we should be. However, St. Augustine taught me something different about suffering. He helped me to understand the church’s disposition to suffering that had always puzzled me. Why embrace the cross? Why lift our sufferings up to the Lord? Why did Jesus suffer unto his death?

St. Augustine taught me that suffering is not intrinsically evil but good. It is that which is good responding to evil. Suffering is the seeking and yearning for healing. This is why it is good. Even our physical bodies operate this way. Pain sensors tell us something is wrong. They prevent further harm. They get us to change behavior to avoid damage and/or to allow for healing. If my hand did not hurt when I put it on a burning stove, I would destroy it.

Suffering the Evil in Others

Human beings can suffer the evils of others. This should be a kind of surprise until you realize that the interior lights, the transcendental notions, mean that we are the kind of creature in which potentially the entire universe that exists could dwell. And that which is more beautiful and profound will dwell in us in a way more beautiful and profound manner. This is why our friends and family are so much a part of us. And what hurts them hurts us. If a good friend dies, part of us dies. When we encounter violations of the finality in others or in creation, this violation is ours because of the nature of who we are. It becomes and is my privation, even if it was your sin. Your sin becomes my sorrow [just as is the opposite true — your good becomes my good (if I do not have envy).]

 So suffering evil is the yearning that evil be overcome and that goodness be restored. This is why authentic suffering is actually good. We should be sorrowful over any and all acts of inauthenticity, and any and all violations of the finality of creation.

Jesus’ Suffering on the Cross

Now let us return to the suffering of Jesus on the cross. That suffering was a response to the sin of the world that dwelt in the soul of Jesus. Jesus is present to all acts of inauthenticity throughout history, and as present, these dwell in him through his subjectivity. This begins to explain the depth of what Jesus meant on the Cross when he proclaimed “My God my God why have you forsaken me?” HBy becoming one of us, all of our privations became his.  He yearned for the healing of the privation of all sin, of all inauthenticity, of the totality of deformed and fallen creation. This was the depth of his love and begins to shed light upon what he meant when on the Cross he turned to his Father, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”

Sin is a radical darkness that betrays the light. It turns one against the One who is the source of the transcendental notions.  It is not a mere turning either, but active turning against.  Inauthenticity has a dramatic and murderous plot to it. This begins to explain why we are the cause the crucifixion of our Lord in every act of sin. 

But Why is This the Way of Perfection?

Now we have to introduce one other element to explain why Jesus was perfected in his suffering, and why we are too. 

Self-transcendence that is authentic and unfolds with the finality of emergent probability is a great good. However this is natural. It is expected. It flows from what should be. But there is an even greater set of goods which are authentic responses to evil. In other words these are acts of suffering, which really yearn for the reconciliation of the sinner and the healing of evil. They are a gift, a surprise, and intelligibility that goes beyond natural finality. It is to be intelligent in the darkness of the unintelligent, to be reasonable in the lies of the unreasonable, to be responsible in the wickedness of the irresponsible, to be loving in the hatred of life exuding from those privated of love. Virtues such as courage and temperance would not be if it were not for evil. The authentic response to evil bears forth a good that is beautiful and magnificent, beyond what nature provides. The greatest of course is to die for one’s enemy as Christ did for us. This is a perfection that transcends the natural finality of this universe and is highly intelligible, true, and good.  It is the magnitude of God’s love for us.

Finality, Love, Marriage: Tensions and Contradictions in Love, Part 9

by David Fleischacker, Ph.D.

I have decided to return to an earlier sequence of blogs that are commentaries on Lonergan’s 1943 essay, “Finality, Love, and Marriage” — an essay which can be found in the 4th volume of his collected works.  My objective is twofold; 1) to understand Lonergan’s intentions in the essay, 2) to examine what will happen to the essay in light of Lonergan’s later writings on Insight and Method in Theology.

This blog will examine a single paragraph in the essay — section 2.2 — titled “Tension and Contradictions.”  I will start with a quote,

“But besides this multiplicity of aspects, to be verified in any instance of love, there also is a multiplicity of appetites and of loves generating within a single subject tensions and even contradictions.”

Section two of this essay as a whole is focused on the “concept of love.”  In 2.1, Lonergan articulated how love is “the basic form” of all appetite, and how appetite is a principle that unites subjects both in seeking and enjoying a common end.  In 2.2, the section we are considering in this blog, Lonergan brings up the simple fact that appetites are never single in the human subject.  These multiple appetites have multiple ends that are loved and that unite subjects in both seeking and enjoying.  But because of this multiplicity there are “tensions and even contradictions.”

If love is the basic form that unites subjects, why then does it cause tensions and contradictions.  Let us begin the answer by starting with a more precise understanding of the multiplicity.  Notice Lonergan’s three examples of appetite.

  1. Hunger
  2. maternal instinct
  3. rational appetite

The proper object of the first is “my goal” — more specifically nourishment of my body. The proper object of the second is the good of the child.  The proper object of the third is the “reasonable good.”  The way to these objects is specific as well, hence food for the first, care of the child for the second, and the discovery of the reasonable good for the third.

One can imagine that the appetite for my good, the appetite for the good of another, and then an appetite for what is absolute will find themselves in conflict some day if not every day. However Lonergan notes that the third appetite  is the doorway to a liberation from this interior war.  The third “moves on an absolute level to descend in favor of self or others as reason dictates.” (as a note, Newman says this in a number of his writings).  Somehow, reason will discover and project a harmony in the multiplicity.

What happens in the later writings of Lonergan help to expand and fill out the way that reason transcends “on an absolute level” the tensions and contradictions, and can “descend” to set a harmonious order of human action in the multiplicity of appetites.

Insight and Appetite

In Insight, Lonergan seems to have the same notion of appetite operative even though he is heading into a transposition of faculty psychology into intentionality analysis.  One sees this transposition in

  1. Lonergan’s formulation of image and affects via Freud and depth psychology.
  2. His linking of image and affect to neural demand functions.
  3. The linking of image, affect, and neural demand functions into patterns of experience.
  4. The three levels of human development that are interlocking higher and lower levels of integration and operation (organic development, psychic development, and intellectual development) — (chapter 15)

And this list is not exhaustive. These developments provide a glimpse into Lonergan’s deepening understanding of the nature of the levels and the relationships of the levels of being within the framework of the development of the human person.  Lonergan does not yet use the language of horizon, but but he is using “view” and “viewpoint” which reminds one of Newman’s use of the terms (and a number of other figures over the previous century).

In Insight, the language about the mind itself is transposed into intentionality.  Data of sense is combined with data of consciousness to provide the starting point for self-understanding and self-knowledge.  With the clarification of the notion of being (chapter 12), which transposes the agent intellect–and the manifestation of that notion in questions for understanding and questions for reflection, concepts, and judgments–the nature of the mind itself is more directly reflected in the terms and relations.  This in turn provides a basis to answer the most fundamental problems of modernity and post-modernity in their challenge to epistemology and metaphysics.

This shift to interiority analysis greatly expands upon Lonergan’s articulation of “reason.”  Insight and Judgment constitute the acts which when rightly exercised are isomorphic with being.  His explorations of insight in math, science, common sense, and philosophy provide a deeper understanding both of the harmony and unity of intelligence and reason.  When he shifts to an explanatory account of epistemology and the general character of metaphysics in the second half of the book, he completes the circuit which allows one to discover not only the harmony of the mind, but the harmony of being within a framework of generalized emergent probability.   This significantly expands what can be said about unity and plurality of appetites, and the contraditions they might generate, and why reason can objectively discover a unified order in the multiplicity of appetites.

Let me suggest the heuristic solution to discovering this harmony.  In Insight,  occurrences and events fall within the framework of systematic and non-systematic process, which is developed more precisely into schemes of recurrence, conditioned series of schemes, and at the height of generic intelligibility, emergent probability itself.

If one shifts from a mere multiplicity of occurrence (hence a statistical apprehension defined by classical correlates) to emergent process, then one begins to grasp a horizon-scape (land, water, sky) in which these appetites are naturally ordered.  Hunger for example is within the nutritional cycles of the cells and cellular systems of the body.  Eating is part of these systems in its sublation into the cultural mores of a people.  The same is true of all appetites.  They have their natural rhythms and cycles. These really do form a harmony within the context of generalized emergent probability, which incorporates even dead ends and catastrophes (see chapter 4 of Insight).  But even dead ends and catastrophes do not involve a real conflict of appetites, even if a conflict of appetites can cause catastrophes. The gravest catastrophes result in death, and no one subject to death has an appetite for such an end.

Yet, to the casual observer, there does seem to be real conflicts. Are these objective? If so, how?  The answer is yes.  Ultimately for such a conflict of appetites to occur, there needs to be a free subject who can violate the intelligible order of emergent probability.  Intentionality analysis reveals the culprit.  It is the fallen spirit.  The one who rejects the light of intelligibility, being, and the good.  In other words, the subject who fails the dictates of seeking and finding understanding, truth, and value.  Such failures of spirit (spirit = that which is intrinsically independent of the empirical residue) will result in a failure to descend to unite the multiplicity of appetites into their order within the emergent world.  In turn, this failure will descend into the fabric of the polis and even the cosmos.    That is a larger scope of tension and conflict however than we find in section 2.2.  Yet, this larger expanse of being and the world that can be known by reason sheds some light on the source of the tensions and conflicts.  Motor-sensory and intersubjective appetites will conflict when a wise order is privated. That natural and wise order is one of emergent probability.

Method in Theology and Appetites

In terms of Method in Theology, the tensions and contradictions of the appetites can be easily transposed into intentionality analysis. Every cognitional and moral operator and operation is both conscious and intentional. As conscious, these intellectual, rational, and volitional levels of operators and operations intrinsically allow the subject to be self-present, but not necessarily understood and known.  As intentional, one can transpose the relationship of a specific appetite to a specific object.  Hunger can be transposed into the intention of food, motherly care into the intention of the well being of the child, rational appetite into the intention of intelligibility and being.  No conceptual revolution here.

Some areas of appetite are expanded in Method.  Borrowing from Dietrich von Hildebrand, Lonergan constructs a simple generic map of affective appetites — non-intentional states and trends are organized under one column, intentional feelings under another (and these sort into those at the level of sensate experience–pleasure–and those at the level of decision–value).   This generic pattern is further expanded when Lonergan focuses upon the intentional feelings that respond to value. In chapter two, he formulates the scale of values — vital, social, cultural, personal, and religious/transcendental.  One can see the beginnings of this scale in 2.2, with the examples mentioned above.  Hunger belongs to vital values, motherhood to intersubjective and social values (one could argue personal emerges as well), and rational appetite constitutes a type of cultural value (descriptive as well as explanatory).  Both in Insight, and more so in Method, the scale is expanded in scope.

Arguably the most significant transpositions and expansions found in Insight and Method are the Transcendental Notions (only that of Being is explicitly formulated in Insight, and in Insight it is identified as a notion, which falls within the framework of heuristic notions which are components of heuristic structures).  These notions are integrators of systems and operators of development.  This shift to the transcendental notions allows Lonergan to recast a more developed understanding of the dialectic of human development.  In Insight, that dialectic sprung from a tension of levels (eg. sensate and intellectual).  In Method, is becomes more precisely articulated as a dialectic of authenticity and inauthenticity. To return to 2.2, the tension considered is on the same level, that of motor-sensory appetite and conflicts between these appetites.  However, as the essay proceeds, Lonergan will move to a dialectic closer to that found in Insight, but not quite as precise.

The transition from this essay to Insight and Method will not in the end contradict or undermine the general arguments of the essay, but rather will strengthen the arguments as will be seen when we move to further sections.  Lonergan’s later writings provide a more penetrating heuristic for understanding the general character and specific features of the nature and life of marriage.

Next commentary on this essay will be upon friendship — 2.3.