by David Fleischacker
Description and Explanation: Mendel’s Pea Plants
One good illustration of the dynamic relationship between description and explanation is found in Mendel’s breakthrough into genetics. Description to recall is articulating how a thing relates to us. Explanation is relation things to things. At least that is a starting point for defining description and explanation, we can become more precise later.
Mendel’s attentiveness to the descriptive features of pea plants provided him with a starting point that led him to his formulation of an explanatory term that gave an account for some of those features. We know these features as phenotypes. Every phenotype is a descriptive conjugate or set of conjugates. The color and shape of the peas and pea pods, the flower color and their positions, as well as the size of the plant were all observable traits. Color, shape, and size are traits that relate something to us, through our motor-sensory being. Furthermore, there is something important about the particular traits Mendel selected. Each were found in one of two forms (eg. tall or short, green or yellow), and never in some type of mixed combination. One could as well control these traits through proper breeding. This provided a fruitful ground for asking questions, expanding observations, building explanations, testing those explanations, and asking further questions. It was what I would call a rich descriptive matrix.
This real reason that this matrix was rich is because it was one of those zones in the world of description that provides a starting point for launching into the world of explanation. One finds the same kinds of zones in other scientific breakthroughs. Certain descriptive accounts of gases led to atomic theory. Moving projectiles and other similar falling objects that had a high density and relatively low friction level provided that matrix for early modern physics. Though pea plants are not the only living thing that could have provided the zone for this breakthrough into genetics, they were Mendel’s zone.
In starting with a rich descriptive matrix, notice that one is starting with conjugates in act. A conjugate in act just means that one is dealing with real, experienced existing descriptive traits. In Mendel’s case, he went a bit further and counted the actual frequencies of the alternatives of the seven descriptive conjugates. He counted how many pea plants were tall and how many were short given various crossings of parents. He could mate two tall plants or two short plants, or a tall and a short plant, and then count the frequencies of the tall and short characteristics in the offspring. He did this for all the traits. He performed thousands of crosses. Notice that in counting, he also had to organize his findings into columns allowing for the discovery of patterns. And patterns is what he found, those patterns now familiar to all of us, namely that these traits were found, depending on the parents, in distinctive ratios — either all one trait, all the other trait, three quarters one trait and one quarter the other (3:1) or half one trait, half the other (2:2).
Notice, thus far, I have stayed entirely with descriptive conjugates. Both the actual frequencies and the surmised ideal frequencies (eg. 3:1) are based on those descriptive features. Explanation comes later, along with an explanatory account of the statistical frequencies. The next blog will be on how these frequencies of descriptive conjugates led to the explanatory conjugates in Mendel’s moving mind.
by David Fleischacker
One of the areas that I have found to need further articulation in Lonergan’s writings is that of the scope and the relationship of explanation and description. Description is rooted in an account of things in relationship to the human motor-sensory operations. How much of the universe can we discover through description? What are the types of patterns that can be discovered? How does description come to grasp unity-identity-wholes? Which types of unity-identity-wholes can be discovered by description?
Explanation in contrast is more comprehensive and its natural limit is proportionate being, though through analogy it contributes to explanatory accounts of Revelation. In general, via Lonergan’s articulation in INSIGHT, explanation deals with the relationships of things to each other.
Also, as one fills out the scope of description, what more precisely is the relationship between description and explanation, not just generically, but in a variety of fields. There are likely patterns that will be discovered. In INSIGHT, there is a generic account of the movement from description to explanation in the first chapter, via the account of explanatory definitions and then the move to implicit definitions. This is advance in chapter 8, the chapter on things. Things can be discovered and articulated in terms of descriptive and explanatory conjugates. More will be able to be said however through studies of interiority as various fields of study historically unfolded, such as in physics, chemistry, and biology.
The import on such an articulation of the relationship of description and explanation is twofold; on the one hand it will allow for a deeper grasp of the capacity of description to know being, on the other it will clarify the path that one must take to reach explanatory knowledge which liberates one more fully into the full scope of proportionate and analogical knowledge of being.
If you glance through the liturgy of the hours and the divine office, you will notice the frequency that the word light is used. Of course, it is in the context of prayer, and it is an attribute of Jesus Christ and of all the persons of the Holy Trinity. It is not by accident. Light in the physical world is the closest analogy to the spiritual that is found. Aristotle recognized that sight is the most liberated of the senses and the one that is closest to the nature of the human mind, especially what he called the Agent Intellect and Plato called the light of Being that illumines our minds and allows us to search out and then gaze out upon the world of being that is behind and beyond the world of appearances. St. Augustine also picks up on on this light and expands it from the light of being to the light of conscience, the light of faith, and the light of glory. Light is at the very essence of the human soul. St. Theresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) picks up on this in her book The Science of the Cross, and recognizes that this inner light is the essence of the human soul, and it is the inner region of the soul where God dwells, and unfortunately, the place from which we as human beings tend to be exiled. Which means we are exiled from our selves. But Christ wants us home, to return to abide with Him forever. God is light. And so are we.
In terms of the transcendental notions then, these are the differentiate lights that Lonergan has articulated in an explanatory manner. As long as we exist, that can be actuated. But they can also remain merely as a capacity for self-transcendence. When the interior question for understanding arises with regard to an experience, then this light has awakened. It is the same quest in which an insight emerges, and this can then be described as an illumination or an ah-ha experience. Notice how this parallels physical light. When light shines off into space with nothing to illumine, it seems dark. But as soon as something comes into its realm, like a moon, then it illumines the object, and suddenly our eyes have something to see. The same with the quest for understand. And insight (act of understanding) allows the eye of the mind (as Augustine frequently uses the term), and eye intrinsic to the quest (a question is intrinsically conscious and intentional) to see (intend) something. Furthermore, once seen, then we can speak it, and this parallels the need to conceive of the insight.
Once the insight is conceived, then a new transcendental notion can be actuated in our capacity for self-transcendence. There are two sequences of actuated quests here. The first regards the correctness of the insight. Is my insight into a representative democracy correct? The second is whether we have a factual object understood by the insight. Is our country a representative democracy? The first has to be answer correctly before the second can be answered factually. Both arise in the quest for truth or being. To answer this quest for truth, first one needs to gather evidence and then reach a kind of insight into whether the evidence is sufficient. Lonergan calls this a reflective insight, which traditionally is named a grasp of sufficient evidence. Such an insight then allows one to answer the quest and pronounce a judgment. Yes, that is the meaning of democracy. Or yes, we live in a representative democracy. Or maybe I realize that I do not understand the nature of a democracy, or that we do not live in one. These too are judgments, answers the that quest “Is it so?”
As the mind rises into the world of truth and being through judgment, then the possibility of a new light or transcendental notion emerges. Judgments of fact attune us to the world that is. Judgments on the correctness of insight not only make possible a grasp of judgments of fact, but also these open up to us worlds of possibility and even probability. We can then wonder about doing something in light of the possibilities that could become factual. There is as Lonergan articulates a scale of feeling that intentionally awakens to objects of fact and objects of possibility. Naturally, these response to the greater possibility (the greater intelligibilities and factualities) with more vibrancy or more commonly, with more energy. This can become vastly disordered of course. But nonetheless, our entire souls awaken within this light of goodness, of value, to the possibilities of our creative free participation in the coming to be of this world, and even facets of our own existence. Appreciation, thankfulness, and love respond to this world of intelligible facts that are good. Free decision is the possible response to intelligible possibilities and probabilities that then brings about factual goods. This light is that of conscience. It is the full realization of the transcendental notion of value. As the landscape of intelligibility grows, the landscape of possibility, probability, and factuality grows. That is the growth into an entire scale and horizon of the good.
Ultimately it also is the expansion of the actuation of the entire capacity for self-transcendence that then awaken to the question about unrestricted answers to the potentially unrestricted quests. That is as Lonergan articulates in chapter 4 of Method in Theology, the emergence of the question of God. If one has been appropriating one’s own interiority, one realizes as well that this is also an awakening to the very inner essence of one’s own soul, to the capacity for self-transcendence. As that capacity becomes actuated, its full actuation, the full actuation of the transcendental notions, which is aptly described as an unspeakable illumination through God’s outpouring love who gives himself as a Triune self to the subject, is then a state of being in love without conditions.
I want to bring this back to the liturgy of the hours and divine office now. This unfolding of this liturgy throughout the year cultivates the human subject, and through it, God tills the landscape of one’s horizon at all levels of conscious intentionality, from experience up through moral acts to purify the totality of one’s soul so that it is more and more permeated by the transcendental notions. Then one becomes more and more a light in this world.
The liturgy of the hours and divine office however as liturgical however revolve around an even more potent set of lights. Those lights correctly understood and entered are the sacraments. The sacraments are gifts from God that literally started in the motor sensory world that if rightly received permeate the entire human subject from the lowest to the highest levels of conscious intentionality, and these do so by actuating the capacity for self-transcendence in its state of being in love without restriction. This state as long as it lasts and as much as it is lived from then increases the realization of each transcendental notion as it awakens along the paths of emerging conscious intentionality, and it transforms the entire landscape of conscious intentionality. The Eucharist is the supreme realization of all of this. One literally is moving into the inner reaches of the Holy Trinity. This is why it is described as an eternal banquet. At a mass, one’s motor-sensory being literally participates in a physical encounter with that which has been transubstantiated into the ascended incarnate Son of God who opened the doors for humanity to enter the inner life of the Holy Trinity. We are literally able to move closer in space and time to this reality. This reality though emerges into all levels of conscious intentionality through acts of faith and gifts of grace. The Father sends His Son into us through their Holy Spirit, literally and spiritually. Is this necessary? No. It is a gift and promise. God makes it possible for us to receive him into our beings in a manner similar to how Mary when Gabriel came to her and she proclaimed her fiat. The Son was then literally conceived in her. When we sit in the physical presence of the Holy Eucharist, the body-soul-humanity-divinity of the Son, God promises to enter us if we are rightly ordered, receptive, and pure. It reaches its height when we say and Amen to Him, and we are feed physically and if rightly purified, spiritually with Him. As incarnate beings, this way of being given the Son then illumines the totality of our conscious intentionality in a manner like nothing else. We can then understand what someone like John Henry Newman meant when he said that our presence in and reception of the Holy Eucharist is the closest we get to heaven while on earth. It is heaven, the eternal banquet. Now that is a light.
Just some thoughts.
By David Fleischacker
I am aware of at least two theological teachings that make significant use of the notion of indwelling. The first deals with the indwelling of God in the soul, and most would think of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The second deals with the mutual indwelling of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To indwell is a profound notion, and I think Lonergan can help us unpack it.
In volume 2 of the Triune God–the one on systematics–and in a number of other places, Lonergan writes about how the known is in the knower, and the beloved in the lover. It is this type of presence and consciousness that articulates what happens to us when we know and love God, and each other.
To grasp the full scope of this, one must fully break with the extroverted notion of knowing. In the extroverted notion, the object remains “outside” of the knower, and hence love of the object also is perceived as a love of that which is outside of one. But once one shifts to the interior nature of the act of understanding that has been affirmed true in judgment, then that which is understood indwells in the human subject. This indwelling takes place because understanding and knowing (Judgment) is isomorphic with the form and act of the reality understood and known. When the judgment is not merely a judgment on the correctness of understanding (eg. understanding the nature of democracy), but rather is a judgment of fact (eg. this is a democracy), then the reality thus known as fact indwells in the knowing of the knower. It is a presence of the reality that constitutes the realization of the subject. The “other” really is in one, and even more precisely, constitutive of one.
Then, with this cognitive indwelling, there arises the possibility that the reality can dwell within the very orientation of one’s capacity for self-transcendence. This is what it means for something known to dwell in one’s heart. This is the more complete realization of indwelling.
Existentially we have all experienced this indwelling at some point in our lives. When we have first fallen in love, witnessed the birth of one of our children, or said yes at one’s wedding, one has experienced an indwelling. The same experience happens when a loved one dies. We feel like we have died. The basis of these experiences is the nature of how realities come to dwell in each of us. This is a profound reality.
When we turn to faith, and to a Transcendent being, we then begin to realize the greatest meaning and character of indwelling. The mystics are some of the most articulate, but because few have glimpsed such a level of indwelling, few have any insight into what they mean. Individuals like Saint Theresa of Avila, Saint John of the Cross, or more recently, Saint Theresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) give us glimpses into the way that God lives at the center of the human soul (this by the way is explained in understanding the transcendental notions and how these notions are created participations in unrestricted intelligibility and intelligence, being and rationality, goodness and responsibility), and that our journey to God is simultaneously a journey into the authentic self. But to travel this route, much has to be purified and opened up, something which the mystics can teach us far beyond what one finds in Lonergan. But using Lonergan’s call for interiority analysis can help to further clarify this journey within an explanatory context. One can link the Christian mystics to Lonergan’s way of self-appropriating our cognition, our volition, and most profoundly our capacity for self-transcendence as it culminates in a state of being in love with God. This would allow one to develop an explanatory account of indwelling. Here, all that I have done is given a few clues.
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.
link to:Lonergan’s Notion of Truth
by Dr. David Fleischacker
Lonergan’s explanatory formulation of the interior structure of judgment dismantles one of the great culprits of the modern world that has left vast reaches of the Western world in a dark age. It is dark because it thwarts self-transcendence precisely in one of the great powers of the human mind. Judgement makes possible a real presence of a person to that which is. It mediates a true encounter with intelligible being. In other words, authentic judgment allows being to dwell within one. This darkness is the real forgetfulness of being. Heidegger was only partially right. He did recognize something that was true about the fallen state of us. But he still left one with out the ability to enjoy and rejoice in the goodness of even the littlest beings in the world. Those little, finite beings–trees, rocks, the human body, stars, planets–were merely ontic things. For him Being– the Ontological–was all that mattered, and even that notion lacks in Heidegger the liberty that Lonergan comes to discover. It is after all a transcendental notion.
When one proclaims that all is mere perspective, or one announces that one can never be sure of what truly is, or one thinks of reality as out there but not in here (in my head), then one is proclaiming that being is fundamentally unknown. It is as Kant said, in the noumena. This is the darkness in which today we are chained and enslaved. It is a self-inflicted cave of own’s own mind, and if one is completely honest, then Derrida is right, even that cave is a mere trace. It too resides in the darkness. Even my own thoughts flow in the differance of lost presence.
For most, I think the world of entertainment and work keeps them from facing this haunting darkness which they have absorbed since their day of birth. Many do escape into a world of common sense and do not bother with these questions. But if pushed in a direction they do not like, then as an instinctual mechanism of self-defense, they pull out the darkness of the no-nothings.
I remember one day saying to a friend, “don’t you know that you can’t find happiness in hockey — he loved hockey to the neglect of nearly everything. He was able to deconstruct my simple quest with one stutter of his vocal cords and a brush of air sent my way in the wave of a hand. I knew what he meant. He meant you can’t really know the answer to what you are asking. Don’t bother me with it.
Lonergan does not answer this deconstructive shallowness with the same brush of air and grunt. No such simplicity can be found with his response. Yet, amazingly, in one book he sends to the grave this particular darkness for any who want freedom from these chains that have been growing and entangling the Western world for 500 or more years. I suppose one could argue that it has been longer and started with the nominalists, but the other day, someone I know — Dr. Chris Blum — pointed out rightly that without the founders of modernity (Descartes, Hume, Kant, etc.), these nominalists would have been forgotten.
Lonergan in one book opens the doors to the cave. That book is Insight. He let’s in some light. We can discover that the shadows and traces of being are not our genie lamp. With the great skill of a gifted surgeon, Lonergan, at the beginning of the book, asks the reader to examine in themselves the act of understanding. It begins a journey into a massive world of interiority and self-appropriation. The attentive and careful reader who takes this journey is not asked to trust the writer in the end, though one must trust along the way. He leads the reader from insight in math and science to that of common sense and things, all before he turns to the excavating work of exploring judgment.
It is a brilliant plan as anyone knows who has seriously read the text. His first eight chapters remove the rocks that block the path to light and freedom, and then finally he removes the hinges of the locked doors of the cave.
Starting in chapter 9, he then begins to open the door. In chapter 11, the reader gets asked to walk out of the cave unless he or she is too afraid to do so and simply refuses to see the beauty and the landscape of being.
In the next couple of chapters, through the notion of being and then of objectivity, Lonergan provides an explanatory account of why we can be present to being, and why being can dwell within us. It gives the subject who has dwelt in the cave of the modern world a new wineskin and a new garment. More technically, it is a new heuristic foundation to taste the beauty and glory of the real universe of being.
I could repeat Lonergan’s answer with regard to the conditions required for true judgments and the principle notion of objectivity, and why these happen in us all the time. But for the full meaning of these explanatory formulations to burst forth and make sense, one really does need to travel down all of those earlier chapters of Insight first.
Hence, this blog you are reading is merely an invitation to those who have some inkling that perspectivalism and relativism are unhappy conclusions, and that traces of others are not so joyful as their real presence in filial and agapic bonds of love.
By the way, for those who are not able for various reasons to move into the explanatory account of the freedom and light of true judgment, do not worry. Lonergan’s account reveals that good sound judgment gives you that liberty even when you are unable to explain why. You really can love–in a mutual indwelling presence–your friend, your spouse, your child….and God, even if the how remains a mystery.