Part 2: Fecundity within Human Process:  A few important distinctions and relations, but no big insights.

by David Fleischacker

This is the second installment on a series that will give focused attention to statements and sections of Lonergan’s 1943 essay, Finality, Love, and Marriage. The focus in this blog is to highlight that fecundity and its realization belongs primarily to organistic and sensitive nature.

The R-Series, it differentials, and its characteristics

When Lonergan shifts to articulating the nature of marriage, he wants to situate its specific potentialities and activities within the larger context of the hierarchy of human process. How does fecundity fit into this? His answer begins by differentiating this hierarchy into three ends – life, the good life, and eternal life.[1] Subsequently, he sorts out three sets of human activities, each set being related to a particular end.

The emergence and maintenance of human life is repetitive.  But the attainment of the human good life is a historical development, a unique process, not repeated for each individual, as is life, but a single thing shared by all individuals according to their position and role in the space-time solidarity of man.  Finally, the end of eternal life stands completely outside both the measurable time of repetitive life and the ordinal time of the progressive good life.[2]

Both the ends and the levels of activities form a hierarchy.  The first end and level is the base upon which the second builds, and then the first and second are the bases upon which the third builds.  A later blog will deal with this in detail along with further differentiations that Lonergan develops later in life.  Our focus at the moment is upon the first level which he unpacks as “physical, vital, sensitive spontaneity” (R) which is actuated (R’) in order to effect the emergence and maintenance of human life (R”).  He calls this level the level of “nature” which is of course a rather restricted use of the term “nature.”  Nature has three characteristics.  It is repetitive, spontaneous, and efficient.

As repetitive, one thinks of

  1. One’s heart beats circulating the blood in a recurrent cycle throughout the body.
  2. Being born.
  3. Eating and drinking.
  4. Muscle movements that can repeat.
  5. The growth from young undifferentiated bodies into mature bodies.

Given that Lonergan identifies all physical, vital, sensitive spontaneity as cyclical, it does not seem that he had worked out organic development yet, so any types of repetition were identified as mere cycles, rather than grasping that some are really organic developments.[3] Hence I include in the sampling above both schemes of recurrence (1 and 4) as well as schemes of emergence (2), development (5), and decline (3).  All can be described as repetitive however, and I think this more undifferentiated notion of scheme is what Lonergan had in mind at this point in his life.

Nature is also spontaneous, and Lonergan’s meaning in this text is in terms of community.  “By organistic spontaneity I would denote the mutual adaptation and automatic correlation of activities of many individuals as though they were parts of a larger organic unit.”[4]  He is speaking of how organisms move into a set of relations without “deciding” to do so, and going through the process of deliberation.  It arises out of their repetitive nature, and thus is “spontaneous” in that sense.

Finally, nature is efficient.  Lonergan’s contrast in this case is with human failure and inefficiency.

While nature with the ease of superautomaton pursues with statistical infallibility and regularly attains through organistic harmonies its repetitive ends, the reason and rational appetite of fallen man limp in the disequilibrium of high aspiration and poor performance to make the progress of reason a dialectic of decline as well as of advance…

This property is understand in terms of the contrast with human failure and falleness. However, later in his life,  Lonergan will modify how “nature” is efficient. In Insight, Lonergan will introduce how these natural processes include dead ends and failures, all of which are included in a world that runs along the lines of emergence probability.[5]  Yet his basic point is right.  Nature, as in its physical and organic processes, is distinct from a rational life that is fallen.

The Z-Series: A Type of R-Series

Now we can turn to fecundity and its context.  I developed only the first level of the hierarchy of human process, because that is the level into which fecundity fits.  Lonergan unpacks fecundity in the same way that he unpacks nature.  Fecundity and sex[6] (Z) is actuated in the organistic union of man and woman (Z’) and has a horizontal end in adult offspring  (Z”).  Lonergan identifies fecundity and its realization as an essential aspect of nature.  Fecundity as a potential that is differentiated into the semi-fecundities of male and female belongs to “physical, vital, sensitive spontaneity” (R). The organistic union belongs to an actuation of a “physical, vital, sensitive spontaneity” (R’).  And adult offspring belongs to the “emergence and maintenance of human life” (R”).   In short, Fecundity, symbolized by the Z-series, is simply one facet, and a crucial one, of nature, symbolized by the R-series.

No big points here, but some important distinctions and relations to make.

Next blog will be delivered in one week, on June 4, 2015.  The plan at this moment is to give a bit of exegesis on the good life and its activities, and how marriage relates to that end within the hierarchy of human process.

[1] For those who are familiar with Augustine, Augustine builds on the Greek life and good life by the addition of the Christian notion of eternal life.

[2] Finality, Love, Marriage, 38.

[3] Lonergan does introduce the “progress” of organic development in Insight, 463-467.

[4] Finality, Love, Marriage, 39.

[5] Insight, 126 – 127.

[6] As in gender, not the act.

Part 1: Finality, Love, and Marriage: Gender, Fecundity, and Horizontal Finality (Z’ to Z”)

by David Fleischacker

I have been re-reading “Finality, Love, and Marriage” written by Lonergan in 1943.[1] It is quite an interesting piece once you explore the details and interconnections of the work. Given the upcoming Synod of the Family in Rome, I would like to begin exploring what Lonergan might contribute to a deeper understanding of family life.  Just to get started here are a few of the terms in the piece that I would like to begin commenting upon though not necessarily in the order given,

  1. fecundity,
  2. semi-fecundity,
  3. the passive aspect of love,
  4. the immanent aspect of love,
  5. the active aspect of love,
  6. natural law,
  7. statistics,
  8. concrete plurality,
  9. horizontal and vertical finality,
  10. hierarchy,
  11. organistic spontaneity,
  12. friendship,
  13. charity,
  14. projection,
  15. transference,
  16. the three ends of life,
  17. three levels of life,
  18. grace,
  19. reason,
  20. sexual differentiation.

I will start with fecundity since it is crucial for developing a “viewpoint of marriage.”[2] More specifically, I would like to start with the horizontal finality of fecundity to adult offspring at the organistic level and its differentiation into two sexes, what Lonergan symbolizes as; Z–> Z’ –> Z”.[3]

…. As far as human operation is concerned, [fecundity] is primarily on the level of nature, and its ultimate term is the repetitive emergence of adult offspring.  but sex is more complex.  Not only is it not a substance but it is not even an accidental potency as intellect or sense.  Rather, it is a bias and orientation in a large number of potencies, a typical and complementary differentiation within the species, with a material basis in the difference in the number of chromosomes, with a regulator in the secretions of the endocrinal glands, with manifestations not only in anatomical structure and physiological function but also in the totality of vital, psychic, sensitive, emotional characters and consequently, though not formally, in the higher nonorganic activities of reason and rational appetite. But for all its complexity sex remains on the level of spontaneous nature, and there, clearly, one may easily recognize that in all its aspects it definitely, if not exclusively, has a role in the process from fecundity to adult offspring.  For elementally sex is a difference added to fecundity, dividing it into two complementary semi-fecundities.[4]

Fecundity is the real capacity to generate a new central potency-form-act of the same species.[5][2] And because fecundity involves activation of the fecundity to effect the emergence of a new thing of the same species, and that new emergence has to undergo development from an indeterminate but directed dynamism to a determinate mature adult offspring, the fecundity has a horizontal finality to adult offspring.  And in human beings, like all higher level organic creatures, this fecundity is differentiated into two semi-fecundities or “sexes” which then need to come together in “organistic union” in order to activate the realization of fecundity.

In all organisms that have sexual differentiation, the differentiation involves the creation of complementary gametes that then need to be united to form some kind of a seedling or egg, and then this seedling or egg needs to develop into a mature adult.  Thus, there are a number of steps along the way by which fecundity is both real and then by which it is realized.  It is real if it has formed gametes and there exists a way for the unification of those gametes and this unification can then grow into an adult offspring. In plants, sexual reproduction involves the formation of pollen and ovules.  It is quite a beautiful process to learn about.  Fecundity is partially realized once these gametes are united.  In plants, these gametes can be united in a variety of ways, through the wind for example (grasses) or through water currents (seaweed) or through animal vectors (bees). As well, the “parents” might help to facilitate that unity, such as do the stigma and style in plants.  Following the formation of the seed, it then needs to be formed until it is ready to be released.  And the release of the seed may make use of wind or animals for dispersal.  Think of the exciting helicopter seeds that float down from maple trees or the pine cones that fall from pine trees. Once that seed is “planted” and then grows and differentiate into a mature adult, fecundity has been fully realized. With animals, the process is improved and differentiated because of motor-sensory operations. The chaos of the wind and water is reduced by the motor-sensory union that takes place through mating schemes that involve “attraction and locomotion” as Lonergan noted in order to enhance the effectiveness of reproduction and thus reducing the amounts of bio-energy needed while increasing the collaborative unity between the parents that works toward the successful generation of adult offspring.  After mating, in the simple animals, the formation of the egg is usually the end of the parent’s role.  The process of development is short, and a simple egg is sufficient to provide the “womb” needed for maturity (many fish leave the eggs hidden in the rocks).  But in more differentiated organisms, the development following the formation of the egg is more complex just as it was with the union of the parents in mating schemes or ritual. And so more help is needed. A simple unattended egg is not sufficient. Parents may need to be present not only to protect the egg (or warm it if they are warm blooded) but to be presented after being hatched in order to feed and, in higher animals (including birds), train their young in basic skills.  In general, as one moves to higher and more differentiated organisms, one has to introduce more elaborate schemes for the unfolding of fecundity to adult progeny, from mating rituals to raising the young.

Stage Simple organisms – single celled Plants Simple animals More differentiated animals
Pre-conception interactions Not really relevant. May grow flowers to help attract carriers but no interaction of parents. Simple mating rituals with little to no connection formed between the parents. More elaborate mating rituals that involve a more vibrant union of the parents.
Post-conception interactions Not really relevant. None. Very little if any post-conception protection or care. More elaborate post-conception protection and care with a differentiation of parental roles and tasks.

In short, the more developed the organism, the more elaborate the process from fecundity to adult offspring, and the more differentiated the roles of the parents in mediating that movement from its beginnings to its end.  A rich and differentiated fecundity sets up different roles and tasks in the parents who produced the complementary gametes. And as one thinks about it for a minute, Lonergan could not be more right in saying that with sex (as in gender–a semifecundity–not the act) “one may easily recognize that in all its (gender sex) aspects it definitely, if not exclusively, has a role in the process from fecundity to adult offspring.”

My next commentary will be one week from now, Thursday, May 28,2015.

[1] Bernard Lonergan, Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, volume 4, Collection, University of Toronto Press, 1988, 17 – 52.

[2] Finality, Love, Marriage, 42.

[3] Finality, Love, Marriage, 41.

[4] Finality, Love, Marriage 42.

[5] Central potency, form, and act are the metaphysical formulation of the notion of a thing (a unity, identity, whole). Lonergan argues as well that this notion is one of the most development and principle meanings of substance.  See Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, chapter 8 and chapter 15, sections 1 – 2.


At death, are we still persons? Some argue that St. Thomas would say NO.

I heard yesterday of a current debate taking place within Thomist circles about what St. Thomas held regarding the corruption of the human person at death.  For those who think St. Thomas was a corruptionist, it goes something like this, a human person, essentially, is a composition of body and soul. And hence, when we die, the body decomposes, and thus the person ceases to be a human person until the resurrection.  This does not mean that the soul dies. It continues on for this group, but the soul is only a part of the person, and is inadequate alone to constitute the being that continues after death as a human person.  Another group of Thomists hold that the person stays intact and that what is central to the human person is the soul.  The corruptionists counter that if the human person is centrally located in the soul, then one is tending toward a kind of dualism.

I suppose in this discussion, it partially depends on what is meant by person and soul.  I will need to read a bit more about this. No solutions to the problem at this point, except I will put together a few notes on what I think Lonergan might say.

1. Lonergan does have some notes on this in his writings. For example, in Insight, Lonergan discusses the possibility of continued existence after disembodiment when he turns to the question about whether the central form of the human being is material or spiritual in chapter 16 — section 4.3 on the unity of man–toward the end of this section. He argues that this form is spiritual because a spiritual central form can unite what is spiritual (intrinsically independent of the empirical residue) and the material (intrinsically dependent on the empirical residue), but a material form could not unite both.  This spiritual central form is what makes the separation of the soul and the body possible at death, while the unity-identity-whole of the subject remains in tact.  He then goes on to speculate how the person could continue given the extrinsic dependence that cognition and volition has upon the sensate, which is material, and thus presumably is lost at death.

2. Lonergan does not define person in Insight, but he does in other places.  In his christiological and Trinitarian writings, he repeats St. Thomas, the person is a distinct subsistent in an intellectual nature.  Nature here would then be understood to refer to the “kind” of thing that something is.  In the case of the human person, we are a rational beings that are realized through a conversion to the image/phantasm that allows for the emergence of the higher operations of consciousness.  These spiritual operations, in the human being, are naturally realized within the material, and thus have a very real extrinsic dependence upon the empirical residue.  Extrinsic is used to say that intrinsically there is a liberty in the transcendental notions (also known as the light of understanding, being, the good, or the Agent Intellect) from that empirical residue, which is why the human person can abstract from that residue and discover patterns, and verify those patterns, and make decisions in relationship to those abstractions.  Thus, human nature, in its concrete natural state is a unity in a couple of ways — first through the central potency, form, and act which is a spiritual  unity of something that is both spiritual and material — the concrete living human subject.  Second, the spiritual operations of the human subject arise via the transcendental notions of intelligibility, being, and goodness, and these arise through a conversion to the phantasm, evidence gathered from data, and these then manifested to the intention of the good.  Hence, the central unity is of body and spirit, and the operations of the spirit do need the body.  This is the concrete nature of the human subject.

3. The question then becomes whether the fundamental meaning of the person remains after death and before resurrection. I would say yes (this is not to say that St. Thomas would say yes, but more that Lonergan would say yes), because the meaning of person is still relevant even for the disembodied soul.  St. Thomas’ definition refers to a distinct subsistent with a rational/intellectual nature.  Even though the disembodied soul of a human being is incomplete in its natural creation, it still possesses a rational intellect.  Furthermore, this creature still remains distinct from other creatures, and from other human beings.  It still possess a central form that is in act.  That form is essentially spiritual, and it is rational.  It would be constituted by the transcendental notions of intelligibility, being, and the good. It would still possess a capacity for self-transcendence, which in the saints would be exercised quite regularly as they pray for us on earth.  When one asks “what” is this creature, one must say it is rational, and thus its nature is still a rationale “whatness” (again, even if incomplete in its natural ability to exercise that nature because now “phantasms” and the other material elements needed to realize spiritual operations is absent).

4. A comment on St. Thomas’ definition of person.  The definition works for God, angels, and the human beings.  The mode of person in each is different of course, which is why it is an analogical definition.  As analogical, I would tend to say that the same definition is used, precisely the same, in each of these three different modes of beings.  However, the mode is different. So, if the same definition is used, then distinct, subsistent, intellectual/rational, and nature all mean the same.  Since the disagreement that started this blog does not seem to regard the first three (distinct, subsistent, and intellectual) then it must reside in the last.  Does the complete nature in how the being naturally exists need to be intact in order for the definition to be fulfilled..??  If so, then the human person is corrupted at death.  If the “nature” refers more to the kind of being that continues to exist however, then the human person remains intact in the disembodied state.  Notice here that the debate then, is not about realities, but about the meaning of terms.  Does one want to attach personhood to a full “nature” or to something that is of an “intellectual kind.”  If the latter, then disembodied human beings are persons.  If the former, then they are not.  But still, even if not, they are rational beings, subsistent, distinct.  They can rationally converse. They can pray for us.  We can ask them to pray for us.  That is significant even if we do not want to call these creatures persons, because they are still distinct subsistents that are rational.

Just some thoughts.  As I read more about the debate, maybe I will have more to say.  It seems important because it fits into a larger context about clarifications regarding the human person and hominization. The solution to this impacts a number of other topics (eg. death, the infusion of the soul, etc.).

October 19, 2013 Insight Session: Mystery and Myth, immanence and transcendence in the world mediated by meaning

Notes for our Insight Session today.

David Fleischacker

Finally, we are resuming our Insight seminar, after a break since June 1.  In June, we had started into a discussion on the first few sections of chapter 17 of Insight.  We are now entering into some highly fruitful points of differentiation and integration within the field of metaphysics that will blossom forth into later writings of Lonergan, especially his discovery of functional specialization that he lays out in METHOD IN THEOLOGY.

For now, let us get a sense of the relationship between the known and the unknown, and the “paradoxical known unknown.”  In Method, Lonergan develops a notion of horizon (initiated by Heidegger?) that lays out the human horizon in terms of the four levels of consciousness, with the upper three being sorted into the known known, the known unknown, and the unknown.  This second known unknown is when questions have emerged that as yet have no answer.  These questions, if we meditate upon them for a bit, point to the profound reality of the human soul as being a capacity for self-transcendence.  When we manifest the experience of the known unknown, we do so in different ways depending upon the level of consciousness involved.  As manifestations, these are symbols–as Lonergan defines symbols in Insight in section 1.1 (ch. 17).  So, the question for understanding is the known unknown at the level of understanding.  Similarly, at the level of judgment, the question for reflection is a symbol, manifesting the known unknown at that level.  At the level of decision, the question for deliberation is a manifestation of the known unknown in how to participation in the transformation of being as the good.  These linguistic carriers of meaning however are not the only symbols of the known unknown. One could examine how the known unknown is manifested in intersubjective, artistic, and incarnate carriers, as well as what Lonergan means by symbol in Method in Theology. Distinct from images as symbols, however, are signs, which are manifestations of the known unknown as linked to interpretations of the known unknown (“signs” as defined in 1.1 of ch. 17 of Insight).  Then the image becomes a carrier not of the known unknown as such, but rather of the interpretive reading of the known unknown.  Lonergan makes the bold claim that the interpretations of the known unknown manifested in sign are the foundation of all religious and even anti-religious movements.  He writes,

“Moreover, precisely because of its relation to the known unknown, the image can be interpreted as sign in manners that are as numerous and diverse as human ingenuity and human contrariness.  So it is that the full range of interpretations includes not only the whole gamut of religions but also the opposite phenomenon of anti-religious feeling and expression, not only anti-religious views but also the intense humanistic idealism that characterized liberal display of detachment from all religious concern, not only elevated humanisim but also the crudely naturalistic nationalism that exploded in Germany under the fascination exerted by a Hitler, not only such social aberrations but also the individual aberrations that led Jung to declare that very commonly psychoneural disorder is connected with problems of a basically ‘religious’ character.” (INSIGHT, 534 in original print).

Interpretations of the known unknown, as the source of religions as well as ideologies becomes a concern with metaphysics in terms of how it relates to the finality of the universe as it has become conscious within the human subject, and then lived within the unfolding of human society and history.  Lonergan wants to articulate the principles of metaphysics as relevant to human interiority and meaning (“meaning” meaning the comprehensive account of meaning that Lonergan develops).  This helps to close the loop that Lonergan has mentioned in moving from cognitive theory, through epistemology, onto metaphysics, and then back to human interiority (including cognition) but in a metaphysical metaphysical context.

There is one other point that I would like to mention for which this chapter sets an important stage, not only in Lonergan’s own life as he heads toward his notion of functional specialization in the 1960s, but for all of us, as we move into the third stage of meaning– mediating meaning in terms of method and metaphysics, and that method being differentiated into functional specialization.  The human soul is a dynamic potentiality for self-transcendence, constituted in a basic capacity by the transcendental notions, symbolically expressed in the transcendental precepts.  It highlights the real need for appropriated the immanent by entering the world mediated by meaning of the past (the first four functional specializations in METHOD IN THEOLOGY) and for springing into the transcendent by engaging the world of emergent meaning as we operate in the present and lay the groundwork for the future (the second four functional specializations).  If we only live in the past, the immanent, we fail to live in mystery and we fail to self-transcend as we should.  If we try to live in the transcendent, in mystery, without the past, if we try to transcend without building on the achievements and gifts of the past, especially those permanent meanings, then we fly off into movements as one finds symbolized by Hitler.  At the same time as we lay the groundwork for the third stage of meaning (where we moved beyond mediating the world by common sense–the first stage, and theory–the second stage), we need to keep our eyes on some later chapters in Insight that will formulate the problem of evil and lay out for us the need for a higher integration that transcends our own natural capacity for self-transcendence–a higher integration that is needed if we hope to have any real ability to enter into an adequate mediational role springing from a functionally specialized mode of operation that keeps us from oppressive reactionary conservativism that shuts down authentic transcendence or violent liberalism that forgets key features of its past and creates some form of ideology and totalitarianism.  In short, without a Divine entrance into the world mediated by meaning, human beings will generate multitudes of systems of oppressive reactionary conservatism (as a note both what we call progressive liberals and reactionary conservatives in modern political life do this) or multitudes of mythic-sign-forms of liberalism ranging from the silly to the violent.

Potency: Aristotle, Aquinas, Lonergan


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.

Distinctions grasped by negative judgment

Insight Forum: Saturday September 29, 2012

On Saturday, September 29th, we will begin chapter 16, Metaphysics as Science in INSIGHT.  The point of the chapter is to reveal the power of the method of metaphysics that Lonergan has put forth in the prior two chapters.  In the last chapter, Lonergan deduced the metaphysical elements from the structure of knowing.  The basic reason that grounds this possibility is the isomorphism between knowing and the known. The human mind is the "light of being." In chapter 16, Lonergan is going to show how some traditional metaphysical discussions can be worked out with certitude and clarity if one follows what he has been doing.

The first traditional discussion into which he dives is the notion of distinctions.  The grasp of a distinction is rooted upon a negative judgment.  This is important.  A positive judgment (X is true) is the ground for grasping being.  A negative judgment distinguishes being (X is not Y).  This should harken us back to the principle notion of objectivity. This is key, key, key to grasping the clarity that Lonergan achieves.

Metaphysically, one can discuss distinctions in terms of distinct ACTs of forms in potencies.  In chapter 15, there were six metaphysical elements: central potency, central form, central act, conjugate potency, conjugate form, and conjugate act.  These then became the basis for discussing development. The distinction of metaphysical terms and relations, and then their concrete realization in generic, specific, and individual beings of this universe are grasped by negative judgments, and because judgments are isomorphic with being, the content of these judgments affirm distinct acts.  

It is from this fundamental isomophism that Lonergan then proceeds with relative ease to discuss notional, problematic, real, mixed, adequate, and inadequate distinctions.