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.

Aquinas’s Distinction between Natural Being and Intentional Being

by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB

In Aristotle, De Anima, 3, 4, 430a 3-4, one finds a discussion which argues that in human cognition, if material coordinates or material properties are somehow omitted or abstracted out (perhaps one can say “bracketed”), an identity exists between an act of understanding and what is understood.  The act of understanding possesses a spiritual or immaterial nature as does also what is understood as this refers to a spiritual or immaterial intellectual nature.  According to an editorial translation of Aristotle’s text (as this is given in Lonergan’s Verbum, p. 84, n. 118), it is said that “in the immaterial order, the understander and the understood are identical.”  Another translation reads: “…in things separated from the material, intellect and what is understood by it are identical.”  Cf. Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima, trans. Kenelm Foster and Silvester Humphries, p. 216.  In the Latin of a translation which Lonergan gives both in “Christ as Subject: A Reply,” Collection, p. 179, n. 50 and in Verbum, p. 84: in his quae sunt sine materia idem est intelligens et intellectum.  Turning to Aquinas’s commentary, however, one finds an elaboration and specification of meaning which goes beyond what Aristotle had said when, in a more simple way, he had spoken about the presence of an identification.  Citing Aquinas’s Latin: species igitur rei intellectae in actu, est species ipsius intellectus; et sic per eam seipsum intelligere potest.  Cf. Sentencia Libri De anima, 3, 9, 724.  In a more accurate English translation than would otherwise the case if species were to be translated as “concept,” because of a real distinction which exists between an intellectual form or nature and a concept as an inner word (species and concept do not refer to the same reality), one best avers that, according to Aquinas: “the species or form of something which has been understood [referring to the intelligible nature of a given thing] is also a species or form [an intelligible nature] which exists within one’s understanding.”  An identity exists between what is being understood and one’s act of understanding (provided, as Aquinas notes, that what is being understood through one’s act of understanding is what is being truly or actually understood in one’s act of understanding). One’s act of understanding should not be understanding something else (something which is other than what one’s act of understanding should be understanding).   The introduction of a qualification in Aquinas points to a difference which opens up a discussion on what distinguishes Aristotle’s understanding of cognition from that which one finds in Aquinas and Lonergan.

In terms of the difference between Aristotle’s understanding of human cognition and what Aquinas and Lonergan understood about understanding, it is to be noted as a point of departure that, in Aristotle, a human knowledge of reality occurs through a kind of participation which gradually reaches down into the depths of a person’s soul.  If, on the other hand, knowing were to be understood as something that is akin to some kind of confrontation which occurs between an act of sense and what sense experiences in terms of some kind of datum (a datum of sense), in this kind of knowing, all knowing would occur through an externalized sensible form of extroversion.  Reality would exist as some kind of external world which one sees or contemplates.  Now, if one shifts into an Aristotelian interpretation about what happens when acts of sense are operative in a human person as a subject, one begins to get into an understanding of human cognition which begins to think in terms of identity.  On the level of sense, knowing occurs through an interchange which occurs between acts of sense and the various possible data of sense.  Aristotle would more familiarly speak about agent objects who act from without to move or elicit an act of sense in a human subject.  In any given act of sense, what is sensed exists as the term or the content of an act of sense.  In the familiar Latin phrasing which summarizes this position: sensible in actu est sensus in actu (“the sensible in act is the sense in act”).  Cf. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 14, a. 2, cited by Lonergan, Verbum, p. 84, n. 115.  By identity at a sensible external level, a human subject begins to participate in something which is other than himself.  To a sensible degree, this other becomes part of a person’s subjective being, part of a person’s subjective life (through a form of consciousness which is characterized by acts of sense).

However, later, through an act of abstractive understanding (or “simple apprehension” as many Thomists would say), in abstracting a form from matter, at an intellectual level, a second kind of identity is experienced and known.  The inner sense or meaning which belongs to something that is other than a knower begins to live within the inner life or the inner consciousness of a knower.  The intelligible in act is the intellect in act.  Intelligibile in actu est intellectus in actu.  Cf. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 14, a. 2, cited by Lonergan, Verbum, pp. 83-84, n. 114.  At a deeper level within the human soul, at an intellectual level, a person is joined with something that is other than himself.  A sensible material identity is succeeded by an intellectual immaterial identity.

However, as questions arise which now ask if a knower knows that he or she is cognitionally joined to something which is other than him or herself and which is truly known (something which exists independently of whether or not it is being known by him or her as a knower), a species of reflection is initiated which begins to reveal that the principle of identity cannot be employed as a sufficiently satisfactory explanation for the kind of knowing which occurs in human cognition.  By itself, the principle of identity cannot explain why, in human knowing, a form of self-transcendence exists (a form of self-transcendence which unites human knowers as subjects to objects which are other than subjects but which, through knowing, are participated in by human subjects).  Admittedly, as questions arise about truth and as individuals engage in acts of inquiry which can lead to acts of judgment about the truth of a given idea or theory, through a truth that is rationally affirmed, a person is joined to a world of real things which is ontologically other than one’s being (either as simply a being or as a being who also exists as a subject).  In the reflective understanding of judgment, a second form of immaterial identity makes its presence felt.  Through the mediation of a truth, something of reality enters into a person’s soul.  In a judgment, a person knows that he or she is joined to something which exists in its own right (it is real) and that such a thing does not exist as a function of its being known by one’s activity as a knower.  The reality of something, however, which exists independently of whether or not it is being known by a knower is not to be exactly equated with the reality which comes to exist within the knowledge of a given knower.  A cognitive identity exists between a knower and what is known but this cognitive identity is not to be equated with a perfect form of identity which would exist if adverts to the meaning of an ontological or metaphysical identity.

 The distinction which exists here is a real distinction that Aquinas adverts to when, in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 56, a. 2, ad 3, he distinguishes between the natural being of a thing and the intended being of a thing as this exists within the cognition of a knower: esse naturale versus esse intentionale. The intended being of any given thing, by its being intended, points to the intentionality or the spirit of inquiry which exists within human cognition.  A cognitive desire works through an ordered set of different cognitional acts to move a potential human knowers toward a knowledge of real objects (or real things) which are other than a given knower.  Knowing occurs through an immaterial form of appropriation which creates an identity between a knower and what is known.  However, at a more fundamental level, one cannot provide an adequate account of human knowing if one cannot speak about the role of intentionality within the performance of human cognition.  Through various forms of reflection that are intended by the questions that one asks, certain distinctions can be made which, otherwise, would not be made.  Cf. Verbum, p. 84, n. 116.  In the distinction which Aquinas draws, one finds a point of departure for the intentionality analysis which Lonergan undertakes in his Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas although this analysis is most fully done in his Insight: A Study of Human Understanding where one finds that a clear distinction is drawn between a notion of being and a concept of being.  Lonergan’s notion of being, as a cognitive intention, is directed toward knowledge of reality and this notion is to be identified with Aquinas’s esse intentionale.  

Essence in Aquinas and Lonergan

 by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB

 
Given a certain indebtedness that one finds in both Aquinas and Lonergan toward Aristotle, one best attends to developments in meaning as regards essence if one first begins with Aristotle and, from there, move to changes that occurred in Aquinas and Lonergan.
 
In Aristotle’s Metaphysics (1017a 8-35), one finds two notions of being where, on the one hand, being refers to an affirmation which says that something is true and, because it is true, real and, on the other hand, being also refers to an attributed property where being is identified with essence (the essence of a thing).  A thing’s being or its substance is its essence.  Cf. Aquinas, Sententia super Metaphysicam, 5, 9, 885-897.  For Aristotle, being is form and form is being (in Greek,  ousia).  Cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics, 7, 17; Lonergan, Insight, pp. 390-391.  Why this is so is because form causes being by giving being to matter within the physical or material order of things that is constitutive of the naturally existing world.  Cf. Sententia super Metaphysicam, 5, 2, 775: “form gives being, and matter receives it.”  Nothing exists apart from its specific determination through the agency of an active principle which is the causality of a form.  This form unites itself to what is able to receive it (and so some kind of passive principle is indicated).  Matter and form, in joining together to constitute an essence (or what is an essence) constitute a specific kind of being or thing, a specific kind of substance.  A “this” instead of “that,” comes into existence.  Substance is essence, the “what it is” of a given thing.  For a full explanation of the reasoning which led Aristotle to identify substances in terms of essences, see Michael Novak’s, “A Key to Aristotle’s ‘Substance’,” Substances and Things: Aristotle’s Doctrine of Physical Substance in Recent Essays, ed. M. L. O’Hara (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1982), pp. 188-208.  
 
However, as one shifts into Aquinas, one finds a differentiation or a shift in interpretation which effects changes in the meaning of essence.  Two points can be distinguished through both refer to changes in understanding which have to do with the meaning or nature of form.  In the first change, for a particular reason, it is argued that essences can no longer be viewed simply as substances (as a given union of form and matter).  Previously, in the history of thought, for both Plato and Aristotle, forms were seen to exist in an eternal way.  But, as the world ceased to be seen as an eternally existing thing, when it was seen as a purely contingent thing (given Christian belief in the world’s creation by God), form lost its primacy as an adequate principle of explanation.  A higher, explanatory principle was needed and, for Aquinas, this principle referred to act as an act of existence or being which is to be correlated with an act of rational judgment that affirms whether or not a proposed understanding or meaning is a true understanding or meaning: true or real because of a reduction to first principles of sense and intellect which ultimately specify an extrinsic cause which, in itself, is wholly lacking in any contingency.  Cf. Bernard Lonergan, The Ontological and Psychological Constitution of Christ, trans. Michael G. Shields (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), p. 53.  In metaphysical terms, act of existence is to be sharply distinguished from essence or, more specifically and properly, it is to be sharply distinguished from a finite essence which refers to the essence of a contingent thing (as this exists as a union of form and common matter).  Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 54, a. 3.  Understanding a finite essence does not necessarily include understanding its being or existence.  Concrete or real being or existence cannot be caused or derived from a nature or essence (with respect to the being of contingent things) even if, admittedly, one can say that natures and essences exist in a qualified sense as hypothetical entities which have been discovered or postulated and which can be employed by minds as explanatory conjugates.  Cf. Lonergan, Ontological and Psychological Constitution of Christ, p. 11; p. 53; p. 164.  However, an explanatory principle is not a concretely existing being or thing.  It lacks the fullness of reality which belongs to the simple existence of concretely existing things although its existence is ordered in some way toward receiving an act of being or existence, an act which is the existence of a given thing or being.  As referred or ordered toward possibly receiving an act of existence, an explanatory principle or essence exists as “either as an accident, or as an intrinsic principle of being, or as a possible being, or as a being in the mind.”  Cf. Incarnate Word, p. 165.  Hence, as an explanatory, second kind of being by which that combines with a first, explanatory being by which that exists in form, nature, or essence (cf. Incarnate Word, p. 157), an act of existence or an act of being adds something to a finite essence by joining with an essence as that by which something is to create a new situation: a being or substance now fully is or exists.  A substance or thing is thus not simply an essence.  It is not an embodied form.  It is not that by which it is but it is what is or that which is (a union which joins essence with act).  An Aristotelian understanding of substance is supplanted by a Thomist understanding which associates what something is with the fact of its being or existence.  What something is does not always refer to a nature, form, or essence.  Cf. Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 29, a. 4, ad 2; 3a, q. 17, a. 1, ad 7; q. 17, a. 2 & ad 4; Lonergan, Incarnate Word, p. 151; p. 158.
 
In a second point, while, admittedly, Aquinas retains language which says that form is the cause of being (see Aquinas, Sententia super Metaphysicam, 7, 17, 1667-1668), in other texts, Aquinas engages in an analysis which cognitionally speaks about form 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; Summa Contra Gentiles, 2, 75, 13.  It is a mode or a principle of understanding: it is a causa cognoscendi.  Cf. Summa Contra Gentiles, 1, 53, 2 & 4: “though this species the intellect comes to be in act.”  It is a cognitive tool which is not to be identified with what is understood or known (the id quod intelligitur which exists as 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).  Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 56, a. 2, ad 3; 1a, q. 85, a. 2.  In contrast with form, the id quod intelligitur is an essence.  It is the quiddity or “whatness” of a material thing.  Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, aa. 7-8; q. 85, a. 5, ad 3; a. 8; q. 86, a. 2; q. 89, a. 1.  While form and essence both exist as principles of explanation, a real distinction can be drawn between them which helps us understand why a real distinction should be drawn between acts of understanding and acts of conceptualization which proceed from originating acts of understanding.  By first understanding a form, one then understands an essence.  Form exists as the quo est; it is that “by which something is” (in Latin, quo aliquid est).  Cf. Aquinas, In 1 Scriptum super libros sententiarum, d. 8, q. 5, a. 2; De ente et essentia, 4; Sententia super Metaphysicam, 5, 10, 904.  From an apprehension of form comes an initial act of understanding.  However, as acts of conceptualization proceed from prior acts of understanding, an inner word or definition is formed which unites an abstracted, universal form with a generalized species of matter which is typically referred to as “common matter.”  As Aquinas argues in one place, in moving from an act of understanding about what a human being is, one moves from an intelligibility or a form that has been abstracted from a particular instance of human beingness (from “this flesh and these bones” as this exists in a given human being).  But, in then moving to a general definition which specifies an essence (a definition which applies to all human beings whatever or however they exist), one joins a universal formal component to a material component which must refer to all possible instances of human embodiment: to “bones and flesh” rather than to “this flesh and these bones.”  Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 85, a. 1, ad 2.  By an analysis which delves into the order of human cognition, form and essence are more clearly distinguished from each other through a form of real distinction which carries over into better understanding about why a real distinction exists between acts of understanding and acts of conceptualization.  Essences exist as correlatives of conceptualization; forms, of acts of understanding.
 
In the more differentiated analysis of Lonergan, essences fall into classifications which distinguish one kind from another.  Lonergan speaks about three kinds which appear to be basic (different kinds of essences being determined by different kinds of conceptualization).  Cf. Lonergan, Understanding and Being, pp. 165-168.   The humanity of a given person is not the same as humanity in general or humanity per se which, as a general property or predicate, refers to what you have if a certain species of intellectual nature is joined to a certain kind of body which is common to all human beings.  However, as should be obvious, one cannot speak about the humanity of a given human being in any kind of critical way unless one begins with a critical understanding about what is meant by humanity.  In establishing a meaning for humanity as this thus exists in a definition, one takes an abstracted form or idea and one conceives of it or one speaks about it in a way which joins it to a species of common matter.  An abstract essence refers to the kind of conception which one has if, in one’s acts of conceptualization, one attends to only those aspects or conditions which are crucial and which must be operative if, in any given instance or experience of material conditions, one is to come to an understanding which grasps a universal significance (as this is present in the apprehension of an intelligible form).  If, for instance, one attends to how one has obtained an insight into the circularity of a circle (an understanding about what is the circularity, the intelligibility of a circle), one must attend to relations which exist on a plane surface if one looks at how a center point is related to a circumference through radii that are all equal in length and of an infinite number.  Equality in length combined with infinity in number reveal an intellectual necessity (an intellectual necessity which points to a mathematical law) and this intellectual necessity explains why a circle must always be perfectly round.  Once this necessity is understood, one has grasped the nature of roundness or the nature of circularity as this exists with respect to a circle.  The common matter in this case refers to any size of circle which can be drawn or imagined to exist on a plane surface.  From any imagined circular configuration of points and lines on a plane surface, one can come to know the essence of any or all circles.  See Lonergan’s Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, pp. 31-37, for a fuller account about how one can move from images or phantasms to a self-transcending act of understanding which grounds an act of conception that is able to generate an explanatory meaning for what exactly is a circle.
 
On the basis then of an abstract essence, one can take this kind of essence and apply it to particular instances and thus, by such an application, obtain a meaning which refers to a particularized essence. In thinking about the humanity of any given person, an abstract meaning is joined with an instance of individual matter and, from the union of these two principles, one gets a meaning for specific humanity which exists as a function of these two principles in how they interrelate with each other.  The humanity of any given person always varies and differs as one moves from one person to another and, yet, the humanity which one person has is not necessarily less than the humanity which another person has.  In other words, as one moves from person to person, humanity exists as a concrete variable which changes as persons change in how they live and act.  In the transfer or shift which occurs as one moves from an abstract notion of essence to a particularized notion of essence, a reverse kind of return is made to the experience and data of sense.  However, as Lonergan notes, if one attends to what Aquinas refers to when he speaks about the formal object of the human intellect (which is being or truth) but what Lonergan identifies as a notion of being (an intention of being) which shapes and moves all human inquiry toward a knowledge of being or truth, a third kind of essence can be identified: an essence which exists in itself as a species of being.  Cf. Understanding and Being, pp. 167-168.  For examples, Lonergan speaks about “man” or “this man” and not about any kind of humanity which can exist in either an abstract or in a particularized way.  In other words, as one thinks about the finality of human understanding (as human knowing undergoes a completion which it receives when affirmative judgments are made), abstract and particularized essences becomes realities or beings in their own right (things or substances which exist in more than a conceptual way) although they do not exist as only as compositions of form and matter.  In his day, Aristotle had conceived of substances as compositions of matter and common form.  But, in the understanding which Lonergan proposes, it is now possible to identify essences with concretely existing substances (or concretely existing things). In a way, it can be said that Lonergan returns to an earlier association which one finds in Aristotle although with a key difference which refers to an isomorphic relation which exists between human judgment, as a cognitional principle, and act, as a metaphysical principle.  Essences are real; they exist as things if constituted by a material component, a formal component, and an actual component.

40 Years Since Humanae Vitae: A Metaphysical Distinction

by Dr. David Fleischacker
 
As with men, the organic and psychic life of women possesses an intelligibility that begins with the finality to conceive life.  And as in men, the lower levels are intrinsically oriented toward higher levels of intellectual, rational, volitional life, with an obediential potency to a life of sanctified grace in faith, hope, and love.
 
Before continuing with the female procreative schemes, I would like to bring some clarification to the nature of finality within the human body. This also requires a slight expansion in the notion of emergent probability as it was developed in INSIGHT, in the chapter on development (chapter 15). 
 
Schemes of Recurrence vs. Schemes of Development within Things
 
The slight expansion results from the need to make a distinction intrinsic to complex organisms between schemes of recurrence and schemes of development, both of which maintain the life of the organism.   One might think of a mature organism as a flexible range of schemes of recurrence.  This is certainly true in part.  The mature cells of the circulatory or the respiratory systems form schemes of recurrence (though many of these are only “completed” in higher conscious levels).  The respiratory system supplies oxygen and removes carbon dioxide from the circulatory system.  If oxygen decreases in an environment, the respiratory system will increase its rate to maintain the particular need for oxygen in the organism (this is also linked to neural processes).  So, the respiratory system has a “flexible” way of responding to the environment.  Likewise, the needs of other cell systems in the body for disposing carbon dioxide and increasing oxygen increase the rate at which the circulatory system operates.  Hence, as one exercises, one’s heart rate will increase (again, this is also linked to the neural system).  Then, this in turn will cause increased rates in the respiratory system. One breaths harder.  This also points to a vast flexible range of schemes of recurrence that allows us to operate in different manners in different environments.
 
However, the maintenance of our organic systems is not through schemes of recurrence.  Rather, it takes place through adult stem cell systems, which are related to these systems developmentally rather than functionally (or correlationally).  These adult stem cells possess a developmental finality that is oriented toward maintaining the organic cells systems and their ability to operate in flexible ranges of schemes of recurrence.[1]
 
In addition to maintenance however, the stem cells help to increase the flexibility of the schemes of recurrence of the cell systems. Muscle stems cells will increase their rates to adjust to greater muscle needs.[2] The circulatory stem cells will shift and expand to adjust to changing needs of the circulatory system.
 
Thus, these schemes of development (as opposed to schemes of recurrence) rooted in stem cells function both in maintaining and in increasing the flexibility of matured schemes of recurrence.[3] Complex organic systems that possess stems stem cells are thus comprised of both schemes of recurrence and schemes of development.
 
 
Returning to the Procreative Schemes of Recurrence and of Development
 
Thus the procreative system, like other organic systems, is comprised of both schemes of recurrence and schemes of development (biologists call these schemes of development “developmental pathways”).  Just as adult stem cells provide for the maintenance and increase the flexibility of adult cell schemes of recurrence, so the procreative stem cells provide for the maintenance and the increased flexibility, and the development of the human race. Thus they have a developmental relationship to that which is the conscious realization of the finality of the universe as a whole.  The procreative system thus has a magnificent horizontal and vertical finality intrinsic to it, because it has a developmental relationship to the creation and formation of adult human beings and to the fullest realization of the finality of this universe.  Adult human beings are integrations of many levels of intelligibility from inorganic and organic life through all the levels of conscious existence, and therefore the procreative system has vertical intelligibilities intrinsic to it as well.  Furthermore, human beings are “systems on the move,” which is why they are not merely single individual species defined by a non-developing set of conjugate forms, but rather, human beings are ongoing horizontal and vertical unfoldings of intellectual, rational, and volitional operations. Procreative systems therefore also possess an intelligible finality to the human person as an intellectual, rational, and volitional “system on the move.”
 
A few consequent notes on The Procreative Schemes of Development, Emergent Probability, and the Scale of Values.
 
The procreative system comes to possess one of the most far reaching intelligibilities within the order of emergent probability as a whole. Emergent probability has a general finality of increasing systematization or intelligibility and meaning, as Lonergan argues in INSIGHT, especially chapter 4, and more precisely in the later chapters on metaphysics.  The human person is the height of the increasing intelligibility of this universe, and it is elevated all the more by the fact of grace and the actuation of the capacity for self-transcendence in a love that is without bounds.  The procreative system therefore is one of the key elements that makes possible a being who is on the horizon of truth, being, and the good, and who thus comes to be the conscious realization of the finality of the universe as a whole.  This finality intrinsic to the procreative schemes of development is thus incredible.  And though it is beyond the current blog, I would like to add a pointer to the objective moral value of the procreative schemes. When one bases the horizon of the good on the horizon of the true and the intelligible as Lonergan does, then the level of intelligibility is proportionate to the level being, which in turn is proportionate to the level of objective goodness.  This elevates the procreative schemes to one of the most important schemes within this universe.
 
As I will discuss in the next few blogs, the woman’s procreative schemes are central to the emerging perfection of this universe and of the human race and all of the persons that comprise it.

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[1] The word “system” can include both the schemes of recurrence and the schemes of development. Thus, one can distinguish in these organic systems between that which is functionally related (defined by mutually related conjugate forms) and developmentally related.
[2]This is true not only for organic systems, but higher systems as well. One can think, for example, about how values are maintained in society.  Human beings are higher systems on the move, and for a variety of reasons, the way this takes place is by expansion and replacement.  The birth of the young, and their education into citizens, family members, members of culture, and religion not only maintains the life of these “institutions” but also gives those institutions a principle for greater flexibility in its mode of operation in the world and it gives those institutions the possibility of development.  In general, once someone has reached a certain level of maturity, change slows down. This stabilizes the system, and gives it endurance.  If maturation was good on the whole, then the overall life of the system will be better.  If it was a decline however, then the entire system will become less stable.  This is true in organic systems as well as in human systems.  The longer cycle of decline that Lonergan explains in INSIGHT illustrates this point.  Voegelin, in his account of ideological societies, points out that the greater the ideological structure of the society, the shorter its life.  Hence, modern ideologies, especially those that are tyrannies such as the Nazi regime, or modern dictatorships, are short lived.  Only societies increasing attuned to the “Beyond” have endurance to them.  One can point out that these same insights are found in the revelations of the Old Testament.  Societies that have apostatized will become destabilized and eventually destroyed either by an internal or external enemy.
[3]On a technical note, schemes of recurrence are grasped by combining conjugate forms (known by implicitly defined relations) and their statistical emergence and ongoing existence.  Developmental recurrences add finality to the intelligibility of how they operate.  The relationship of a stem cell and a mature cell is one of development. Thus, it is not the systematic relationship of one cellular conjugate form to another that has been actualized, but rather the relationship between the cellular conjugate forms of a stem cells and those of a mature cells, which is one of developmental finality.

Lonergan and Aquinas: Isomorphism and Proportionality

by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB

The Thomism of Lonergan’s philosophy and theology is accepted by some and rejected by others. On the one hand, Lonergan says about himself that he spent eleven years “reaching up to the mind of Aquinas.” Some of his writings are replete with references to Aquinas. But, at the same time, others argue that something is very wrong with Lonergan’s study of human cognition (his intentionality analysis). Lonergan is accordingly often referred to as a Kantian. He is seen as a promoter of subjectivism and so, as a Kantian, it is said that, in Lonergan, no joining exists between subjectivity and objectivity. From Lonergan’s subjectivity, one cannot move into objectivity. Metaphysics has no foundation.

Now, in addressing this question, it has to be admitted that a fully adequate discussion is no small undertaking. One would have to understand Kant’s own position thoroughly before entering into a similar study of both Aquinas and Lonergan and about how the thought of all these thinkers relates. Such a project cannot be attempted here. However, in order to raise a few questions and to suggest where lines of convergence can possibly be detected, I would like to speak about Aquinas and Lonergan in terms of a number of restricted issues and topics. My presupposition will be the thesis that Lonergan’s thought is not as original as some would believe. In order to understand Lonergan’s thought, one best begins with Aquinas. While some admittedly argue that, to understand Aquinas, one best begins with Lonergan, I will argue to the converse. By reading Aquinas, one best creates conditions that will lead to a better understanding of Lonergan’s thought and a grasp of its true significance.

In Lonergan’s Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, principally in the context of a discussion which speaks about metaphysics as science, it is argued that an isomorphic structure exists between knowing and being. Or, in the words of a more traditional language, a connatural relation exists between the order of human knowing, on one side, and the order of being or reality, on the other. For every element that can be distinguished in the structure of human cognition, a correlative element can be identified in the structure of the known (a known which Lonergan refers to as “proportionate being”). Every metaphysical element is grounded in a corresponding element or act that, as individual, is partially constitutive of the knowing which belongs to human cognition. In Insight (and elsewhere), Lonergan argues against a theory of knowledge which alleges that human knowing is some kind of simple, single act (i.e., a species of intuition). On the contrary, human knowing is complex and, at times, cumbersome. It is constituted by a number or a series of different acts that have each different natures and which are all related to each other in a self-assembling pattern that is normative for human beings. Where Lonergan speaks about experiencing, understanding, and judging as three levels that succeed and sublate one another in the structure of human knowing, three correlative metaphysical components can be distinguished in terms of potency, form, and act. A critical metaphysics is grounded or established on the basis of a critical understanding of human cognition–an understanding that is arrived at through a very personal form of inquiry which emphasizes the importance of self-understanding. Begin an inquiry into metaphysics by first developing a strategy of inquiry which leads toward self-understanding.However, given Lonergan’s theory of an isomorphic relation between the structure of human knowing and the structure of what is known (which can be articulated in a much more sophisticated fashion than what is given here), let us look at Aquinas’s notion of proportionality as this relates to what he has to say about how human knowing is related to what human knowing is able to know. On understanding this notion of proportionality (as Aquinas understood it through his own acts of understanding), one can then think about it and ponder it and ask if a connatural relation exists between it and Lonergan’s theory of isomorphic relations. Is Lonergan’s theory of isomorphism a development of Aquinas’s notion of proportionality?

With respect then to Aquinas’s notion of proportionality, it should be noted that Aquinas begins with an understanding which Aristotle had had. “It is as ridiculous to say, the soul alone understands, as to say, alone it builds or weaves.” Cf. De Veritate, q. 19, a. 1. Knowing is a co-operative effort. It involves both soul and body since human knowing occurs in a being that is formed by two principles. Soul (anima) is united to body (corpus) whereby the soul takes a body and then converts it into a certain kind of body which lives and functions 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. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, a. 4. Hence, human beings exist as incarnate spirits. Anima mea non est ego. “My soul is not I.” Cf. Expositio et Lectura super Epistolas Pauli Apostoli, In II ad I Cor., 15, lect. 2, no. 924. The soul gives a form or structure to the materiality of the body in order to order the body to the soul and, from this form or structure, the knowing of the human soul derives its characteristic form or structure. Cf. Summa Contra Gentiles, 2, 83, 26. Human knowing emerges as a function of the structuring of the human soul in terms of how human beings exist as embodied beings.

Hence, given the structure or nature of human knowing, Aquinas argues that certain conclusions can be properly drawn about a relation or proportion which exists between knowing and being. As Aquinas notes in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 12, a. 4:

A thing is known by being present in the knower but how it is present is determined by a knower’s way of being. How something knows depends on how it exists. Hence, if the way of being of a thing which is to be known is beyond what belongs to a knower, knowing such a thing would be beyond the natural power [or natural potency] of the knower.

Cognitive activity, as performed by human beings, has its own proper object (specified as an intelligibility that exists within matter). “A thing’s mode of knowing depends on its mode of being. But our soul, as long as we live in this life, has its being in corporeal matter; hence, naturally, it knows only what has a form in matter, or what can be known by such a form.” Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 12, a. 11. Between the mode of being and the mode of knowing, a proportion, proportio, or correlation can be discovered and this proportion between the mode of a subject’s being and the mode of its knowing carries over into a proportion that is reflected in the order of being or reality which is the subject matter of ontology or metaphysics.

In different texts Aquinas speaks about a proportionality in the structure of knowing. One text in the Summa Contra Gentiles, 2, 96, 5 directly speaks about proportionality when it says that “the mode of a thing’s proper operation corresponds proportionately to the mode of its substance and nature.” Italics mine. And then, with respect to a proportion which exists between the order of knowing and an order or structure in that which is known, in the In 4 Scriptum super libros sententiarum. d. 49, q. 2, a. 1, ad 6, an earlier text, Aquinas refers to a proportion which should exist between the order or structure of knowing and a like order which should exist in the order of what can be properly and connaturally known. “The potency of the one knowing has to be on a level with the knowability of the thing known.” In the Super Boetium De Trinitate, q. 1, a. 2, ad 3, the same kind of point is reiterated when it said that “some kind of proportion is needed between the knowing power which exists in a knower and what is known as a knowable object.” The reason given is that “the knowable object exists as a kind of actuality within the knowing power of a knower.” Later texts in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, a. 7; a. 8; q. 85, a. 1; and a. 8 specify how a connatural, proportional relation should be understood to exist between human knowing and what a human knower knows. A proportion or correlation naturally and properly exists between the embodiment of the human soul (the soul informing a body) and the embedded existence of forms within matter which are the proper object of human knowing. As Aquinas goes on to note in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 88, a. 1, “our intellect in its present state of life has a natural relationship to the natures of material things,” or, more precisely, as Aquinas states it in Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 108, a. 5, “something is said to be in a certain thing by the proper mode when it is adequate and proportionate to its nature.” Cf. Frederick E. Crowe in Three Thomist Studies, ed. Fred Lawrence, p. 223, nn. 51-52.

With respect to human beings then, and also with respect to angels and God, a distinct strict proportion exists between the knowing of a certain type of subject, on the one hand, and what is being known by the same subject, on the other hand. In the context, for instance, of a strict proportion which exists between a created intellect and a created form, a created intellect can possibly come to exhaustively understand a created form but, with respect to an uncreated form, this is impossible. Cf. Lectura super Ioannem 1, 18, lect. 11, nn. 208-21, as cited by Jean-Pierre Torrell, Saint Thomas Aquinas Volume 2 Spiritual Master, p. 51, n. 69. Uncreated forms can only be properly and adequately understood by uncreated acts of understanding.

On the basis then of the embodiment which properly belongs to the character of incarnate human existence, given then what Aquinas says about human sensible experience and first and second operations of the human mind, Aquinas distinguishes between objects of sense and objects of intellect in a way which indicates that, for every element which exists in the cognitional order, a corresponding element can be posited in the ontological or metaphysical order. See Crowe, p. 212. While, for instance, the object of human sensible experience is an object as it exists in corporeal matter (presenting itself as a form as it exists in corporeal matter; Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 85, a. 1: forma prout in materia corporali existit; [forma] prout est in tali materia), the object of human understanding is a form that has been grasped as a quiddity, essence, or “whatness” which exists in corporeal matter (cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, a. 7; Super I Sententiarum, d. 19, q. 5, a. 1, ad 7). In the context of inquiry, a sensible or material form, present in an image or phantasm, is first grasped by an act of sense, but it is grasped in a manner which then hopefully triggers an act of understanding that then apprehends the meaning of an intelligible form which specifies what something is. Cf. Sententia libri Ethicorum, 6, 9, 1239. Sensible form is to be distinguished from intelligible form. And then, thirdly, when a second operation of the mind begins to ask about the possible truth or reality of a given essence or form, in the reflective understanding which occurs in judgment, its term is the positing of existence or being: esse or actuality. Cf. Super I Sententiarum, d. 19, q. 5, a. 1, ad 7; De Veritate, q. 4, a. 2; q. 3, a. 2; q. 14, a. 1, pp. 208-9; Sententia super Metaphysicam, 6, 4, 1232. As Aquinas summarizes his thesis in the Super Boetium De Trinitate, q. 5, a. 3:

The intellect has two operations…which 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 a species of proportion which speaks about a correlation between the order of knowing and the order of being, acts of sense are correlated with potency (they reveal potency), acts of understanding with form (they reveal form), and acts of judgment with act (they reveal act or actuality).

However, as the ordering which exists within knowing also reveals a like ordering in the structure of reality, a mutual or reciprocal form of proportion can be specifically identified. It informs the species of proportionality which, in Aquinas, correlates every cognitional act with a corresponding metaphysical principle or element. In this specification, acts or elements within a set cannot be understood apart from each other and how each relates to the other. As every act of sense is ordered to first acts of understanding which, in turn, are ordered to second acts of understanding present in judgment, their metaphysical correlatives are also similarly ordered. Potency is ordered to form and form to act. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 54, a. 3. Everything which exists in material things exists as a composite of potency, form, and act and, conversely, every act of knowing is a composite of experiencing, understanding, and judging. Each act or element exists as it is because each is mutually ordered to all the other acts or elements. Citing some of Aquinas’s own words, “what is intrinsically ordered to something else ‘cannot be understood apart from that other’.” Cf. Super Boetium De Trinitate, q. 5, a. 3.

In turning then to how Aquinas goes on to speak about this ordering, in the Sententia super Metaphysicam, 9, 5, 1827-9, he notes that one discovers relations of mutual proportion among metaphysical principles through correlative relations of mutual proportion which also exist as differentiations within the structure and process of human cognition. The difference, for instance, between potency and act is illustrated and paralleled by the difference between sleeping and being awake. Capability or potentiality is distinguished from an act or operation which refers to a realized state of being. Since, cognitionally, for instance, the form of a material thing can only be understood (or apprehended) if it is detached from a material thing through an act of abstraction which functions by way of an interaction between sense and intellect, the form of a material thing (as a metaphysical principle) is understood as something which cannot exist apart from its union with matter (although the form of an immaterial thing can be understood apart from any union with matter). Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 79, a. 7. An awareness of transitions in human cognition reveals a metaphysical principle which speaks about transitions that move from potency to act. Hence, by way of application in metaphysics, it can be said that potency stands to form as the organic body to the soul, the will to habitual righteousness, the possible intellect to habitual knowledge, the ears to hearing, and an eye to sight. Cf. De Potentia, q. 1, a. 1, Sententia super Metaphysicam, 9, 5, 1827-9; Lonergan, The Incarnate Word, p. 140, an unpublished manuscript translated 1989 by Charles C. Hefling, Jr. from the Latin of the De Verbo Incarnato. Form is act (first act) in relation to potency, but in relation to an act of being or operation (second act), it is a second species of potency. The first act of form is not to be confused with the second act of being or operation. By extension, in the relation which exists between form and act, it can be said that “as sight stands to actually seeing, [the faculty of] hearing to actually hearing, habitual knowledge to actually understanding, habitual righteousness to actually willing rightly, soul to actually living,…form stands to act.” Cf. Incarnate Word, p. 140. Through a reflection that is grounded in cognitive self-consciousness, metaphysical principles can be identified and all can be understood in terms of how they are all ordered to each other.

By way of conclusion then, Aquinas’s notion of proportionality derives from Aquinas’s experience of himself as a thinking, knowing subject. The subjectivity of his understanding is seen to participate in a wholly natural way in an objectivity that his understanding is naturally directed toward. No inherent, unbridgeable gap necessarily exists between the subjectivity, on the one hand, and objectivity, on the other. The subjectivity of a thinking, knowing being is joined to the objectivity of what can be known through a person’s subjectivity. The human spirit moves into objectivity through its self-transcending operations. Through our initial desires and aspirations, we are immediately joined to a world that is greater than ourselves. And then, by our activities which emerge as responses to what we want and desire, we can be joined ever more intimately to this same greater world which transcends our finite human existence. Within ourselves, unrestricted desires serve as a point of connection. In thinking about Aquinas’s notion of proportionality, we can rightly ask if Lonergan’s theory of isomorphism is essentially taken from Aquinas’s notion of proportionality. Is Lonergan’s theory genuinely Thomist?