Potency: Aristotle, Aquinas, Lonergan

Potencynotes

This paper exists as an excerpt belonging to a much larger work which attends to how acts of sensing, understanding, and judging are to be correlated with the metaphysical principles consisting of potency, form, and act. These reflections are constantly subject to revision as understanding hopefully advances and as better forms of expression come to mind.

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

by David Fleischacker

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

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

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

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

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

And in other words, metaphysically,  when one

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

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

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

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

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

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

by David Fleischacker

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

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

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

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

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

And in other words, metaphysically,  when one

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Identity in Human Cognition

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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