Matter as a Cause of Knowing in Aquinas and Lonergan

by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB

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

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

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

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

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

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

Form as a Cause of Knowing in Aquinas and Lonergan

by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB

When commenting on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Aquinas repeats what Aristotle says that form (forma) is ratio.  Cf. Sententia super Metaphysicam, 8, 1, 1687.   Form is an “intelligible structure.”  In Aquinas, species as “intelligible species” (species intelligibilis) commonly refers to form. Form as species, as Lonergan speaks about it, refers to the “intelligibility of data.”  Cf. Lonergan, Collection, p. 284.  Or, to use a term that originally derives from Aristotle, form is eidos or morphê.  Cf. Lonergan, Caring About Meaning, p. 45; Topics in Education, p. 171.  For both Aristotle and Aquinas, eidos as form refers to what is known not through sense perception but through an act of the mind, through nous.  Cf. Patrick H. Byrne, Analysis and Science in Aristotle (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), p. 198, p. 200. Even if some intellects can engage in acts of understanding without using any images or phantasms, no intellect is able to understand anything apart from an intellectual species or form.  Cf. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 3a, q. 11, a. 2, ad 1.  Form, like essence, refers to a principle of explanation but in a manner which says that by first understanding a form or intelligible species, one then understands what something is in terms of its essence.  Form is the quo est; it is that “by which something is” (quo aliquid est).  Cf. Sententia super Metaphysicam, 5, 10, 904.  As the cause or mover (movens) of understanding, it is that “by which the understanding understands” (quo intelligit intellectus).  Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 85, a. 2.  It exists as a principle or cause of understanding (it is a causa cognoscendi) whereby one moves from the order of knowing toward the order of being, reality.  Cf. Summa Contra Gentiles, 1, 53, 2 & 4.

As a cognitive tool or, more precisely, as a reason or explanation, form is not to be identified with what is understood or known, signified as the id quod intelligitur, which is the proper object of the human inquiry and the primary object of human understanding, and which also exists outside the mind as that about which questions are being asked.  In the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 56, a. 2, ad 3, Aquinas distinguishes between the form or species of a thing that exists within somebody’s  mind and the natural or real existence of a thing which exists apart from whether or not it is understood and known by anybody’s understanding (i.e., an intelligent being).  The form or species of a thing, as it exists in the mind of a knower, is referred to as an “intelligible existence” which is cognitively intended.  Hence, “intelligible existence” is to be associated with “intentional existence.”  See also Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 85, a. 2.  In discussing the difference between form as a reason or intellectual principle and what is being understood through form as a reason or intellectual principle, in “Intellectual Honesty in Aquinas and Lonergan,” (a paper presented at the Third International Lonergan Workshop, Erbacher Hof, Mainz, Germany, January 2-7, 2007),  p. 11, William Murnion elaborates on Aquinas’s meaning by distinguishing between what is secondarily understood and what is primarily understood.  A species or intentional likeness is what is secondarily understood while a thing to which an intentional likeness or species refers is what is primarily understood.  By means of form, an embodied form is understood and this embodied form refers to a world that exists beyond the reasoning of a human intellect although this same world is encountered in a self-transcendent way through a self-transcending acts of understanding. Cf. James B. Reichmann S. J., Philosophy of the Human Person (Chicago: Loyola Press, 1985), p. 106.  In attending then to what Aquinas says in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 85, a. 2, Aquinas draws a critical distinction which allows him to escape from a form of subjectivism that would regard the human knower as a self-enclosed subject whose understanding and knowing is a purely private affair that is disconnected from possibly understanding and knowing anything which exists outside the human mind.  Form as “that by which something is understood” must be clearly distinguished from “that which is understood” since their identification would imply that what is understood exists only within the operations of the human mind and not also outside of it.  Cf. Giorgio Pini,  “Scotus on the object of understanding,” pp. 6-10; “Scotus on concepts,” pp. 5-6 (two unpublished papers).

To understand a bit more clearly how form functions as a principle of mediation in human knowing, in his The Divine Initiative: Grace, World-Order, and Human Freedom in the Early Writings of Bernard Lonergan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995), pp. 100-102, J. Michael Stebbins discusses how Lonergan explains how quod and quo are to be clearly distinguished from each other.  Quod refers to the object of a rational operation.  It is, for instance, something which is grasped in terms of its meaning or intelligibility.  However, quo refers to a reason which explains why something has been grasped as the term of an act of understanding or willing.  For one’s initial acts of understanding, for one’s judgments, for one’s acts of faith, hope, and charity, one has reasons of some kind.  Rational acts are distinguished from all other kinds of acts because of this difference in consciousness.  In every rational act, there exists an awareness or an experience of reasons and an awareness or an experience of the sufficiency of one’s reasons.  With respect, for instance, to ethical decision making, reasons specify a motive or purpose which explains why it is right and good that a given object should be desired and sought for in the willing which one does because of the understanding that one come to enjoy.  In Phenomenology and Logic: The Boston College Lectures on Mathematical Logic and Existentialism, ed. Philip J. McShane (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003), p. 105, Lonergan argues that, in both Aristotle and Aquinas, in explanatory syllogisms, one finds a middle term which refers to an act of understanding that apprehends a form or meaning and that through the mediation of an act of understanding (cognitively speaking) or through the mediation of a form (metaphysically speaking), persons move from sensible experiences of data to meanings as these are experienced in acts of conceptualization (which spring from prior acts of understanding).  Form, as a metaphysical principle, is to be correlated with a species of intellectual act which refers to acts of direct understanding that detach a form as an intellectual or spiritual component from matter which exists as a material principle or material component.

In contrast thus with form, the id quod intelligitur (the “that which is understood”) is an essence.  It is the quiddity of a material thing (quidditas rei materialis) which is constituted by a form joined to matter (i.e., matter as common matter).  While the form of a thing can exist both within a mind and within data of sense, its embodiment as essence precludes the proper functioning of any form of human understanding which ceases to be joined to a world that exists extramentally (outside the mind).

Understanding the Proceeding of an Intellectual Emanation in its Uniqueness

 by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB

If intellectual emanation cannot be properly understood in terms of cause and effect, it follows that, if one is to understand the meaning or nature of an intellectual emanation, one must identify some other kind of relation which properly exists (a relation which allows us to understand how it can be properly said yet that, from an act of understanding, another act emerges). As has been noted, from every act of understanding, a word (an inner word) is produced. In a processio operati, a verbum comes or “flows from intelligere.” Cf. Frederick E. Crowe, The Doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity (Willowdale, Ontario: Regis College, 1965-66), p. 145-146. But, what is the nature of this flowing? How does it differ from any kind of causal relationship?
To understand this, one might begin by adverting to an insight which Aquinas had about the relation which exists between natural law and natural reason. One the one hand, if one thinks about the meaning of natural law as this applies to the created order of things, one can conceive of it as something which already exists. The natural order of things is governed by natural laws and, if one wants to live wisely within the created order of things, one attends to the natural laws of things. The intelligibility of things is something which one tries to understand. In this school of interpretation, if is also argued that human reason exists as a contingent, created thing. And so, if one is to think and reason about things in a proper way, one must abide by the natural laws of human reason (laws which already exist and which govern how our reasoning should properly function). However, by way of contrast, let us attend to what Aquinas says about the relation between law and reason. From the intrinsic reasonableness of law, one should be able to argue that its origin lies in reason which functions as the basic principle of law. As Aquinas briefly puts it: “natural law is constituted by reason.” Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 94, a. 1. Natural law exists as a work of reason. It is an opus rationis. It is an ordering of the natural reason: an ordinatio rationis naturalis and, because it is such an ordering or ordination, it can be properly argued that this ordering “reflects the inner dynamics of human knowing, and all the flexibility and plasticity to be found there.” Cf. Martin Rhonheimer, Natural Law and Practical Reason: A Thomist View of Moral Autonomy, trans. G. Malsbary (New York: Fordham University Press, 2000), pp. 276-278. Hence, from this, it can be argued that the functioning of human reason exists as a subjective principle which is to be equated with natural law: natural law not as an external known order of things, but as a knowing act of the human reason or intellect which knows other things (not excluding itself). Cf. Rhonheimer, pp. 11-12. Natural law should not be viewed as an objective order of things that is then subjectively known by our human reasoning and knowing since the ordering of reason which occurs in our reasoning activities also suggests that natural law can be properly identified with human reasoning in its acts of ordering and directing. Human reason exists as a natural act. And so, its term is a natural law of some kind (natural reasoning constituting the natural law). In other words, as one attends to the origins of law as one finds this in reason, one realizes that human acts of reason function as a point of origin for laws in general. Our acts of reasoning and understanding are constitutive of law; they are constitutive of intelligibility in a manner which points to a real distinction between intelligibility and intelligence.
By attending then to the intelligence or law originating abilities that are constitutive of human understanding (and which function as an analogy for moving toward a partial understanding about the sense and meaning of divine understanding), one can begin to understand why the intelligence of our understanding is so unlike the existence and character of any other point of origin that can be possibly identified in the created order of things. Created human understanding possesses a freedom which does not belong to any other created thing which exists in the world that is given to us through our experience. One can properly argue that it possesses a certain kind of autonomy. In concrete instances that one can advert to, for instance, intellectual emanations occur when acts of defining arise from acts of understanding, acts of judging from acts of grasping the sufficiency of evidence, and acts of choosing from the practical judgment.” Cf. Bernard Lonergan, The Triune God: Systematics, p. 143. Where questioning spontaneously emerges within human subjectivity as an act that can lead to acts of reasoning in a search for possible experiences of understanding, acts of conception, judgment, and choice emerge in a context that is already being conditioned by understanding and the freedom which comes with understanding. If one wants to talk about law, understanding qua understanding reveals a law that is peculiar to acts of cognition of general. While a given act of understanding can possibly reveal a specific law which intelligibly relates two or more things that exist within the material order of things, an understanding of one’s understanding reveals an all encompassing transcendental law that is operative within human cognition–a transcendental law which intelligently and reasonably joins one kind of act with another in an emanating or radiating series of acts. Each succeeding act exists proportionately as each act corresponds with the act which had been its proximate point of origin. Cf. Lonergan, Triune God: Systematics, p. 143. In the word used by Frederick Lawrence (while apparently quoting and translating from the Latin text of Lonergan’s Triune God: Systematics):
The kind of lawfulness operative here is not fully determined by any nature, genus, or species, but is ordered to transcendentals: “being (= the concrete, whole, existing), the one, the true, the good….” “For this reason, the intelligent part is the mistress of itself, determinative of itself, autonomous…” (emphasis added) The transcendental desire to know is the instance in the created universe of an entity that “gives itself the law.”
Cf. Frederick Lawrence, “Expanding Challenge to Authenticity in Insight: Lonergan’s Hermeneutics of Facticity (1953-1964), Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy & Education vol. 15, no. 3 (2004): 430-431. As human cognition accordingly moves from acts of understanding into an order of conceptualization which defines or formulates what has been understood, as it moves into judgments about truth and falsity following acts of understanding that have grasped a sufficiency in evidence, and as it also moves into selections or choices that are grounded in practical judgments on what it is that one should do in the course of one’s life, it reveals a shift in human consciousness as a human being moves from spontaneity into forms of deliberate self-constitution. As Lawrence speaks about what exactly is happening here (and as I try to summarize what he says):
As emanating acts emerge from acts of understanding and as different acts of understanding gradually move a person through different kinds of knowledge, a trajectory is revealed within the life of human persons. We begin to constitute a proximate proportionate principle within ourselves (a habitual form of thinking and acting) which bestows an autonomy upon our intelligence, our reasonableness, and our freedom. The flow of intelligible emanations, as these proceed, constitutes acts which steadily grow in consciousness and which become more autonomous than they would otherwise be. A material order of living (which is governed by a way of life that largely responds to outer circumstances) is replaced by a spiritual order of living (which is governed by personal decisions that decide about how one should think, understand, and know). Even human inquiry becomes less spontaneous as later questions are asked after they have first been considered and carefully thought about.
For these reasons then, as one attends to the unique kind of causality which exists with respect to understanding (a causality which should not be understood in terms of cause and effect), one can begin to speak about a real distinction which exists between the proceeding of intellectual emanations and all other kinds of proceeding. From a model which attends to causal or natural processes, one has a very inexact approximation which one could try to use in order to understand the kind of process which exists in an intellectual emanation. But, with such an approach, one will not attend to the fact that, in intellectual emanations, a process exists which is creative of law (a process which exists as “the very idea of intelligible law”). It is “the pure case of intelligible law” as acts of understanding exist which are already in act. Cf. Crowe, pp. 145-146. From understanding, relations can be found which think in terms of cause and effect or relations can be brought into being which are ordered in a manner which thinks in terms of cause and effect. 

Understanding the Proceeding of an Intellectual Emanation in its Uniqueness Employing a Thomist Distinction

 by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB 

In attempting to understand the nature of an intellectual emanation as one kind of intellectual act comes from another kind of intellectual act, in the kind of analysis that Lonergan engages in and in the kind of language that he uses, he says that, from an act of understanding which is itself conscious, a second conscious act emerges in a procession which occurs within one’s conscious understanding–a procession which is intrinsically and entirely rational and which, because of its intrinsic rationality, is to be identified as an emantio intelligibilis–an intelligible or rational emanation which belongs to the intelligence in act of an intelligent subject. Cf. Lonergan, “Consciousness and the Trinity,” Papers 1958-1964, p. 136; Edward M. Mackinnon, “Understanding according to Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.,” The Thomist 28 (1964): 103; Frederick G. Lawrence, “The Hermeneutic Revolution and Bernard Lonergan: Gadamer and Lonergan on Augustine’s Verbum Cordis – The Heart of Postmodern Hermeneutics,” Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy & Education vol. 19, nos. 1-2 (2008): 61. As a rational emanation, conception is thus not best identified or understood in terms which prefer to speak about some kind of causation (involving a relation between cause and effect) or about some kind of “automatic or quasi-mechanical process.” Cf. Mackinnon, p. 103. A word, an inner word, “proceeds because of understanding.” It reflects an act of understanding–a conscious rational awareness which knows that something has been understood through an act of understanding which is being revealed–from an act of understanding which has already occurred. In a way, this word receives from an act of understanding. It is occasioned but it is not caused by an act of understanding even if one can say that the proceeding of an inner word is produced by an act to understanding. Cf. Frederick E. Crowe, The Doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity (Willowdale, Ontario: Regis College, 1965-66), p. 145-146.
To understand, however, why certain critical distinctions need to be made here which, apparently, do not need to be made, one can perhaps turn to a distinction which Aquinas makes that can shed some light on how or why one should avoid language which thinks about intellectual emanation in terms of cause and effect. With respect to the difference then between causality and the kind of proceeding which exists in an intellectual emanation, in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 33, a. 1, Aquinas defines what he means by “principle.” He says that it is “that whence another proceeds.” But, a principle is to be distinguished from a cause (q. 33, a. 1, ad 1 & 3) because cause suggests that a difference exists between a cause and an effect: an effect is something lesser than a cause (it is a different kind of being) and an effect depends or relies upon its cause. Causa portior est effectu; the cause is greater than the effect. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 16, a. 1, ad 3; q. 88, a. 3, ad 2; q. 95, a. 1. See also Summa Contra Gentiles, 3, 77, 6. However, a principle possesses a wider meaning since it refers to what is first, or to what is a point of origin for a given set or order of things. As Aquinas notes as an example taken from mathematics, “a point is the principle of a line.” While a principle can be a cause, in its wider significance, it primarily refers to a first term which orders subsequent terms into an ordered set of related elements. In the language that Lonergan uses, “more generally, principle has been defined as what is first in any ordered set, primum in aliquo ordine.” Cf. Lonergan, “Natural Knowledge of God,” Second Collection, p. 126. On the basis thus of this understanding, a principle as a first term does not imply that any second or third term ad infinitum is of lesser importance or value than the first term. No difference in reality is to be postulated or concluded. A principle admittedly refers to a point of origin but not necessarily to a specific cause. Hence, if one thinks about the relation between an act of understanding and an emanating act of conceptualizing, one can legitimately speak about one act coming after another. However, one does not speak about a lesser stature that belongs to an act of conception even as it comes after or proceeds from an act of understanding. An act of understanding exists as a point of origin. But, the intelligibility that is grasped by an act of understanding is not greater than the intelligibility that is experienced in an act of conception as one apprehends the meaningfulness of a concept or inner word which is the term of an one’s act of conception. With respect then to how one might think about processions within God, by thinking in terms of principle and avoiding any talk about cause, one avoids a theology of the Trinity that recalls the earlier theology of Origen (d. c. 254) who had spoken about divine processions in terms which suggest a cause and effect relationship. In the eternal generation of the Son from the Father, the divinity received by the Son from the Father is less than what the Father more fully possesses. And so, for these reasons, Origen had encouraged views which suggested that, respectively, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit possessed a lesser divinity than that belonging to God the Father. Heretical consequences naturally ensued through theologies which were touched by subordinationist assumptions and Arian conclusions. Cf. Lonergan, The Way to Nicea: The Dialectical Development of Trinitarian Theology, trans. Conn O’Donovan (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1976), p. 60.
By taking Aquinas’s understanding of principle (the difference between principle and cause) and by adapting Aquinas’s notion of principle in a manner which combines it with created experiences of rational consciousness, one creates conditions that should further reveal why, in intellectual emanation, a kind of proceeding exists which stands on its own, apart from every other kind of proceeding.

Judgment in Aquinas and Lonergan

by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB

When Lonergan speaks about judgment in terms of affirmation and negation (one affirms, for instance, that something is so or one affirms that something is not so), he speaks differently from Aquinas who had tended to speak about judgment in terms of notions which refer to composition and division (compositio et divisio).  Cf. Giovanni B. Sala, “Intentionality versus Intuition,” Lonergan and Kant: Five Essays on Human Knowledge, trans. Joseph Spoerl, ed. Robert M. Doran (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), p. 101.  As Aquinas, for example, speaks about two basic operations of the human intellect (which is his way of speaking about the structure of human understanding), in the Super Boetium De Trinitate, q. 5, a. 3, he says as follows:

The intellect has two operations, one called the “understanding of indivisibles,” by which it knows what a thing is; and another by which it composes and divides, that is to say, by forming affirmative and negative enunciations.  Now these two operations correspond to two principles in things.  The first operation has regard to the nature itself of a thing, in virtue of which the known thing holds a certain rank among beings, whether it be a complete thing, as some whole, or an incomplete thing, as a part or an accident. The second operation has regard to a things’s act of existing (esse), which results from the union of the principles of a thing in composite substances, or, as in the case of simple substances, accompanies the thing’s simple nature.

In his St. Thomas Aquinas Philosophical Texts (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960), p. 221, n. 604 , Thomas Gilby translates this same text as follows:

Of the two phases of mental activity, the first is the understanding of essential meanings, while the second is a judgment, either affirmative or negative.  A dual reality corresponds to these activities: to the former corresponds the nature of a thing, according to its state of being, complete or incomplete, part or accident, as the case may be; to the latter corresponds the existence of the thing.

 In the explanation which Aquinas gives about what happens in judgement, in judging that something is so, an intellect composes or unites.  It compounds, joins, or puts together.  Cf. De Veritate, q. 1, a. 3; Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 3, a. 4, ad 2; q. 16, a. 2.  In judgment, a predicate is truly united with a subject.  A form signified by a predicate is joined with a subject to form a proposition.  And so, similarly, in saying that something is not so, an intellect divides or separates.  It says that a form signified by a predicate is not truly joined with a subject.  In Aquinas, judgment is spoken about largely in metaphysical terms.  Cognitive operations are alluded to but they not too frequently directly spoken about.  When Aquinas, for instance, speaks about being or existence, he speaks about being or existence as the act or actuality of an essence, or as the act or actuality of being.

However, in turning to Lonergan, one finds an account which clearly distinguishes between a synthetic element which always exists in any given judgment and a process or act of affirming or denying a proposed synthesis in a given judgment–a synthesis which has already been understood or grasped by prior acts of understanding before questions later arise which ask about the truth or falsity of one’s prior act of understanding.  Cf. Lonergan, Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas, pp. 62-63.  When Aquinas uses the language of Aristotle to speak about judgment, an initial meaning which is communicated suggests that every judgment creates or discovers a synthesis or relation which, before, had not been known or experienced as a rational possibility.  But, when Lonergan speaks about the difference between acts of direct understanding and acts of reflective understanding, he speaks about judgment in a manner which gives to it a more precise, a more specific meaning.  Acts of direct understanding as acts of understanding reveal or present connections or relations between things that are not sensed but which are understood within one’s acts of understanding.  In every act of abstractive understanding, one can speak about a mental synthesis which reveals itself.  Cf. Verbum, p. 63.  But later, through a judgment as an act of reflective understanding, a connection which has been understood and which is first inwardly postulated within one’s act of understanding is either affirmed or posited or, on the other hand, it can be denied or negated.  In every affirmative judgment, a synthesis which is first given in an idea and as an idea is taken and then, through one’s discursive self-reflection which goes back and attends to what one has done in one’s thinking and understanding, this synthesis is converted into a rationally known truth or a rationally known fact.  Through the truth which is affirmed, a person as a knower is then joined to a world of real objects.

Hence, through a differentiation which Lonergan introduces into how Aquinas speaks about the nature of human understanding (through a differentiation which is introduced into Aquinas’s understanding of judgement), in his theology of God Lonergan is able to say that God is not simply ipsum intelligere (Intelligence itself or Understanding itself).  Cf. The Triune God: Systematics, p. 187.  It is true, of course, to say that God is ipsum intelligere.  He is the source of all understanding as an unrestricted uncreated act of understanding from which all else comes and flows.  However, if understanding properly exists as a rational positing or as a rational affirmation of intelligible relations, one can speak of God not only as ipsum intelligere but also as ipsum affirmare (as an unrestricted act of affirming or as an unrestricted act of judging).  To speak of God as the highest being, the highest truth, and the highest good means that one can speak of him as an unrestricted act of understanding (an unrestricted act of meaning), as an unrestricted act of judging, and as an unrestricted act of loving.  The meaning, the truth, and the goodness all exists supremely in God–God as an pure act (actus purus) whose lack of potentiality is such that it is wholly lacking in any restrictions or limitations.