Isomorphic Existentialism

Existential Isomorphism

By Dr. David Fleischacker

I would like to make a simple statement. The finality of the human person is one of existential isomorphism.

Why Existential?

I am sure some will think that I have committed an error in tying the word existential to isomorphism.  Some would be disturbed if they knew what I meant.  Some of the dead might twitch a bit. Nietzsche I am sure would turn in his grave. Most of the 20th century existentialists might will themselves to rise from the dead and burn me at the stake and insist that God is still dead. They might call upon their leader — Friedrich, Friedrich, where art though — so that he could lead them in their inquisition with his sharpened words and golden pen.   So, let me be clear as to my fears of the power of these willful mongers.  Will to power and its maturation in the 20th century notion of self-realization are not what I mean by linking the two terms. Yet, there is a truth in the 20th century existentialists that I would like to return to the world of being and goodness and beauty.  As St. Augustine said about heresies, there is always a great truth in them which is why they can arrest people and capture their imaginations.  The same is true I would argue with Existentialists such as Sartre.  That nugget of truth is that human beings do have something to do with their coming to be in this world (or in their self-destruction).

In other words, I want to recover the rightful place of human freedom or decisions.  I want to place it back into a normative framework of a naturally ordered universe that has its nature in a finality that is oriented as Lonergan argues in Insight toward increasing intelligibility and being and goodness. These transcendentals are the norm of the normativity of all existence, especially when they become conscious and active in the human soul as an actuation of the capacity for self-transcendence.  It takes wisdom to figure this out.

So, what about isomorphism?

In Insight Lonergan argues that the structure of cognition is isomorphic with that of being.  Hence, intellectually patterned experience, insights into conjugate and central forms, and judgments affirming those insights as true are isomorphic to conjugate and central potency, form, and act of beings.

J (judgement)   –>    Conjugate and Central Act

U (understanding)–>    Conjugate and Central Form

E (experience)–>  Conjugate and Central Potency

It is not just any E, U, and J that matters to this isomorphism.  The relevant conscious and intentional operations are those that have moved into explanatory accounts of this world–hence insights that emerge in intellectually patterned experience, and then are verified in judgments about the truth of those explanatory insights.

What this means is that in true explanatory knowledge, the human soul has come to be a mirror (as St. Thomas notes) of that which it knows, and it knows that which it knows by becoming a mirror to that which it knows.

Adding the term “existential” goes beyond what Lonergan does in Insight. And as mentioned, I want to expel it of the licentious willfulness that one finds in 20th century existentialist philosophers. I want to recover an older meaning of existence found in St. Thomas and Aristotle, one that links together being and becoming into a harmonious unity.  The act of will is only an act of will when it is based on an intelligibility, and thus it is an authentic volitional act when rooted on form, not on nothingness (which actually is impossible because we cannot create from nothing).  It really combines some of Lonergan’s later developments in Insight with those of his later life, namely the link of metaphysics and its isomorphism with intellectually patterned consciousness to the moral order and the level of decision.  In short, when decisions are based upon the fullness of the cognitive isomorphism with being, then one’s decisions shift one to an explicit participant in the unfolding potency of being [as a note, even one who operates in the world of common sense is a participant in the unfolding potency of being, but only implicitly.  Common non-sense however is evil because it is a failure to participate in this finality of the universe.], and thus participate in a moral isomorphism with the emergent universe and its finality.

I would like to add one other piece that identifies a more complete existential isomorphism, namely when the entire neural and motor-sensory operations, along with their landscape of emotions and passions join in on the isomorphism. For this to take place, the neural and motor-sensory levels need to reach an integrity in which they are intelligibly ordered in the higher levels of the moral and cognitive isomorphism (see what Lonergan does in his last chapter in Insight “Special Transcendent Knowledge”).  In other words, all levels of development when united in a sublating or subsuming fashion into the highest reaches of conscious intentionality form an authentic existential isomorphism of the soul with an emergent universe.

Interestingly, the university when setup right has as its specific end this existential isomorphism in which the totality of the person (organic and neural, motor-sensory, intellectual, rational, volitional, religious) is mediated toward this unity with the finality of the universe.

Just a thought that has tremendous ramifications.

Trinitarian Reflections: The Transcentdental Notions and God, blog 1

by David Fleischacker

About two years ago, I started a new notebook on linking together the University and its life with that of the Holy Trinity.  One of the areas that I wondered about was whether the Transcendental Notions (TN) could provide any type of analogy for understanding the three persons of the Holy Trinity.  There are after all, three transcendental notions that Lonergan develops which are spiritual in nature, hence intrinsically independent of the empirical residue.  These spiritual transcendental notions are Lonergan’s transposition of the agent intellect found in Aristotle and St. Thomas, and of the Light of Being (conscience, mind, etc) as found in the Platonists and St. Augustine (as a note, Augustine was clearly not a Platonist once you get into his head more thoroughly even if he learned much from them and borrowed some notions from them).

One of the immediate difficulties of course which one finds noted in Lonergan is that in finding an analogy for the Holy Trinity, we need to deal with acts or operations, not with anything in potency.  The TN are a kind of potency, but much different than normal.  These actually have the power or capacity to bring about self-transcendence.  In St. Thomas (and Aristotle), these “lights” of the mind have the power to illumine, hence they act as agent causes.  Most potencies do not have such capabilities.  Hence the reason these lights are in a kind of actuality as well.  Notice how some of the metaphysical terms and relations get stretched (but not violated! or confused).  The TN are in a potency in relationship to the operations that arise, but in relationship to the potencies in the human subject to receive these operations they are in act.  Many would say that this imprecision of the metaphysical terms and relations is why one needs to leave out the metaphysical, and turn to intentionality analysis. That is true in part, but if one does so, one as Lonergan notes in Insight, needs to run the full circuit, and return to metaphysics, both to refine the metaphysics, but also to articulate the intelligibilities discovered as belonging to being.  To stay merely with a cognitive apprehension of conscious and intentional life leaves one ignorant of its “reality.”  So the circuit does need to be run.

The reason I mention the circuit is because if one is to transpose the analogies for the Holy Trinity found in St. Thomas, then one needs to deal with some of the metaphysical points that he makes, such as God is pure act, and hence we need to find analogies in act that help us, and this is true of the Persons as well as of God.  The Father is pure act, as is the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Hence, are the TN in act enough for them to be used as analogies?

The TNs, though in a kind of potency, are also the “light” that makes possible the conscious and intentional operations.  This means that in some manner, they are more in act than the operations.  They underpin, penetrate, and transcend all operations.  Still, there must be a reason that Lonergan did not turn toward these as analogies. He stuck with operations (eg. apprehension of the good, judgment of value of the good, love/decision of/for the good). I suppose one could argue that these operations are in part constituted by the TN, as the TN penetrate them.  We could look at what that “penetration” means.  It of course is not physical, but spiritual.  Descriptively, it “illumines” the operation.  It is what “receives” the operation.  It is what “beholds” the operation.  The TN is not only light, but also an intentional focus, hence can be described as the “eye” of the mind as well.  I am tending to think that the TN is both light and eye (hence not distinct as these are physically in us — but I could be wrong).  I suppose one could say the “eye” is the conscious subject as awakened in a TN and thus seeking an answer, hence waiting for an operation that mediates the answer.  Then once the operation emerges, the subject as beholding the operation in the TN is an eye that beholds.  The subject is however conscious through the TN, and thus the TN constitutes both the horizon and the subject as a gazing subject.

One of the areas that I explored a couple years ago in my notebook was whether there was a sufficient distinction and set of relations between the TN to result in some kind of analogy that sheds light upon the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Thus, does the TN of intelligibility have a kind of relationship to that of being/truth such that the former begets that latter.  Of course, this does not happen without an operation. And it does not happen without the subject moving (raising the question for reflection).  Likewise does the TN of goodness spirate from the TN of being?  I cannot repeat all of the reflections here, but I can say that my reflections were not conclusive.  I do intend however to start publishing these reflections in this particular sequence of blogs.

Even if I discover that those reflections do provide an interesting analogy, there is still the further question about whether the analogy is an improvement upon that of the operations as such.  I have a suspicion that they do not, but they might help to deepen my understanding of the operational based analogy (apprehension of the good, judgement of value of the good, decision for the good).  Part of my reason for this suspicion is that God as pure act is the cause of the light that is in us, which we call the TNs.  The TNs do allow us to grasp the unrestricted nature of the operations in God, but those are operations in God, not TNs.   Just a few thoughts.

More later.

Commentary: Ft. 28 Ch. 1 Lonergan’s Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas

Footnote 28 in Lonergan’s Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas

The full text of this footnote in Bernard Lonergan’s Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas is given as follows: “See In I Sent. (Op. Ox.), d. 35, q. unica, n. 7 (ed. Vives, X, 544). Scotus argues that the divine ideas cannot be accounted for by adding notional relations to the divine essence; for the object precedes the knowing, and relations that precede knowing are not notional but real. The argument does not touch Aquinas’s real position, which is that the object as known is not prior and that the relations pertain only to the object as known.” My italics. In attempting an exegesis of this text, to try and explain its meaning, I shall focus on two elements that exist within it: two elements that conceptually point to the presence of two core elements. According to Lonergan’s judgment, in Scotus’s understanding of human cognition, “the object precedes the knowing” and in Aquinas, a contrary point of view can beregarded as a species of first principle in his understanding of human cognition where, for him, “the object as known is not prior.” If something else is prior, it should not be conceived as a real object. It should not be seen to exist as a known object. The object, as known, is constituted by our acts of cognition; principally, by our acts of reflective understanding (our acts of judgment).

To try and understand the difference in these two positions, I would like to argue that it would be wise to grasp what could be true in arguing or believing (with Scotus that “the object precedes our knowing” and what could be true in arguing or believing that the object, as known, is constituted by our acts of cognition, our acts of sensing leading to acts of direct understanding and then, from there, to acts of reflective understanding. We would want to move toward some kind of higher viewpoint that would allow us to notice where the truth lies or how the truth is distributed and how, at the same time, this difference or dispute points to two differing views about the nature of human cognition. Bluntly put, one point of view thinks in terms of intuition; the other, in terms of a discursive form of human reasoning. If, to intuition, a meaning or a definition is ascribed which says that it refers to a non-rational form of human cognition, then, from this point of view, we can begin to understand why a real distinction should be drawn between these two schools of thought. The truth of one position would seem to point to the errancy of the other position. One is true; the other, false.

We begin then with an initial take on why it is said by some that the “object precedes knowing” while others say that the “object is constituted by knowing.”

As an initial point of departure, please note thus that, when Lonergan speaks about our human experience of acts and different objects that are intended by our different acts and how we can move from these experiences to conclusions which would speak about the probable existence of that which exists for us as the human mind, the human intellect, the human will, and the human rational soul, he postulates the probability that this type of analysis was employed in the inquiries of both Aristotle and Aquinas. This approach is, of course, likely since we cannot assume or believe that Aristotle and Aquinas were lacking in the experiences of understanding which properly belonged to them as human subjects (experiences of understanding which would differ from the kind of experiencing which would exist in their various acts of human sensing). However, if, in some way, it can also be argued that both Aristotle and Aquinas were interested in engaging in a type of inquiry which wanted to ask about the conditions of possibility which need to be discovered and acknowledged by us if, at bottom, we are to understand why our acts of sensing and why our acts of understanding exist in the way that they do, then it cannot be denied that some available textual evidence points to a metaphysical kind of analysis which begins with a sense or an initial apprehension of being which exists for us as a species of a priori, relative to the asking of questions in a manner which is constitutive of our human cognition. Cf. Verbum, p. 58, n. 207, quoting Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, 2, 83, 31. This experience or awareness of being (that which is or that which simply exists) does not follow or emerge in the wake of our later acts of reflective understanding. If being is intelligible, it follows that being is known (we can argue that it is best known) through our subsequent acts of understanding, our acts of direct understanding leading to later acts of reflective understanding which would exist as affirmations or negations of being through the mediation which exists whenever we refer to the kind of act which exists in our acts of judgment. However, as we advert to our experience of self, we cannot deny that our acts of sensing and our acts of inquiry presuppose something other which is simply given to us (a kind of “is” which refers to something which is quite other than ourselves, an other that we cannot deny without being involved in some kind of internal performative contradiction). We know, of course, that we know different instances of being through our judgments. But, if we begin with an initial a priori awareness of being which exists as a kind of pre-condition to our later acts of human cognition, is it not right to argue that, from this awareness of being as it exists without a specific determination of it (it is known by us in a vague manner), from this awareness, can we conclude that, within the context of our self-reflection, this awareness of being is to be associated with what we mean when we went to speak about “being” in a non-differentiated general sense? Cf. Roland Krismer, email, January 3, 2015.

Obviously, something other is initially given to us (it is the context of our individual being and existence) and if, in a metaphysical context, this being, as other, is taken up and then viewed as a species of first principle from which a number of conclusions and deductions can then be drawn, then, in addition to a cognitional form of analysis which moves us from our cognitive experience of self as a species of first principle from which a number of conclusions and deductions can also be drawn – an analysis which moves toward consequent apprehensions of being and which seeks to transpose or to reduce our apprehensions of being into elements and relations which immediately exist for us within our cognitive experience of self – we can also get into a form of analysis which is specifically metaphysical (and not cognitional). Instead of a situation where a context is determined by a principle which says that the subject knows an object (an object is constituted by a subject through the acts of a given subject), a situation is to be adverted to where another context is determined by a principle which says that an object influences or moves a subject. Some kind of object creates a given kind of subject. From objects, we move to acts. Indeed, in the metaphysics of Aristotle and Aquinas, both say that nothing in a condition of potency is able to realize itself. No potency can move from how it exists as a potency to how it would exist as within a condition of act. The potency of our human understanding in fact points to a kind of priority which is to be admitted when our analysis shifts toward an order of being (an order of real objects) which exists independently of whether or not it can be known by us through an order which would refer to the order of our human cognition (the order of our human knowing versus the kind of order which exists within the order of being). From the order of our human knowing, yes, we can move toward an order which exists within the proportionately known known which exists, for us, as the order of being or the order of reality (the order of metaphysics). However, the priority of being over knowing as we experience this priority, to some extent, explains and at the same time it also justifies the value of working with a form of analysis which begins with the order of being (the given of being) as a way that can move us toward the order which exists when we get into the structure of acts which is constitutive of our human cognition. The advantage of starting with this approach is the awareness which we would have that our human knowing exists within a larger horizon which already exists, a horizon which needs to be attended to and known for what it is if our human knowing is to benefit from an awareness which knows that this context conditions and informs the contours and the content of our individual human knowing, giving it a direction and an orientation that it might not have otherwise if our sole point of departure were to be an awareness that is only concerned with the givens of our inner consciousness of self as this consciousness refers to our various acts and data of consciousness. Cf. Roland Krismer, conversation, December 31, 2014.

As thinking, knowing beings (as thinking, knowing subjects), we exist within a world which has already been formed: the objects which are constitutive of a naturally existing human world that is joined to a naturally existing physical, chemical, biological world act upon ourselves to elicit inquires and investigations which can lead us toward a better understanding of this same world. Nothing which exists within our world (and nothing which exists within ourselves) is adequately explained if we cannot work with a form of analysis which moves from a species of metaphysical understanding toward a species of cognitional analysis and then, from there, back toward a species of metaphysical analysis. As Aquinas would have it, an ongoing form of interaction is constantly operative for us as we move between inner and outer conditions or as we find that, as human subjects, we are always caught within an interplay which pertains to the existence of inner and outer conditions. We never engage in any kind of inquiry without having a prior knowledge of some kind. We begin with acts of understanding which we already have (acts of understanding that we have not to work toward) and, from this understanding, we hope to add to the understanding and knowledge of things which we already have.

These things being thus said, if we acknowledge that, in the context of our concrete experience of life, we have both kinds of knowledge (a prior knowledge of things prior to inquiry and a later knowledge of things that is reached later through inquiry), then, from this context, we can speak about two notions of object. A first notion speaks about an object that exists apart from our human knowing and which determines our human knowing and a second notion of object speaks about an object as it exists within the context of our human knowing and which is constituted by the different acts that are constitutive of our different human acts of cognition. Bluntly put, and as a kind of introductory summary, for those who regard knowing as a species of confrontation between a subject and an object, “everything that is known, is known inasmuch as it is an object” while, on the other hand, for those who subscribe to an understanding of cognition which thinks in terms of an identity which exists within a knowing subject, “everything that is known, is known inasmuch as it is in act.” Cf. Fred Lawrence, “Jerusalem and Athens in Lonergan’s Integral Hermeneutics,” Divyadaan (2008): 95. In the later kind of knowing, knowing exists as a kind of perfection. To some extent, human knowers change (they are inwardly changed to some extent) when, within their experience of cognition, they participate in the greater or the other reality of the being of a thing which they have come to understand and know. In other words, if we are to understand how we can speak about two different notions of object and how they can be distinguished and related to each other in a way that can join these two notions into a higher unity that we can understand, we can attend to an understanding of human cognition which begins with an elementary understanding of our human cognition (an understanding which points to a notion of being which thinks of it or which would want to conceive of it to exist as a species of external, outer object) and then, from there, we can move to a notion of object which is informed by forms of cognitive experience which differ from the givens of sense whenever we refer to our acts of sense and the content or the data that come to us through our different acts of sense. We refer here to a form of cognitive experience which exists where an objective order of things can begin to participate in the subjectivity of a given knower through a change which occurs within the subjectivity of a knower in a way which joins object and subject into a union which, previously, had not been known. It had not existed in any kind of prior way.

To understand a notion of object which thinks of it as something which is quite other than ourselves and which exists independently of ourselves, we can begin thus with a strong, common temptation which suggests to us, as human beings, that human cognition should be viewed as essentially a simple, single act of intuition which is best understood if it is seen as fundamentally akin to the nature of what happens in ocular acts of perceiving and seeing. An elementary object acts from without as an agent object to elicit a response from the passivity of an elementary subject: a knower who exists only as a sensing subject or who tends to think or believe that his or her knowing exists essentially as an act of sensing. Cf. Lonergan, Insight, p. 207. Within this context, partially for reasons of simplicity, it is so easy for us to say that knowing is just taking a look: we see what is there to be seen and knowing happens by way of what comes back to us from our taking a look. Cf. Lonergan, Understanding and Being, p. 159. An object or objects are seen to be already constituted (they fully and entirely exist in their being and reality) before they are attended to by us and before they are grasped by us through our later acts of understanding and the subjective species of operations which exists when we refer to our various acts of understanding. In general, between knower and known, an unbridgeable gap exists. Between knower and known, a confrontation exists. Necessarily, it exists. Knowing does not happen within a subject but in a way that exists from outside a subject or by way of bracketing a subject’s existence (putting it to the side). Nothing happens within a subject in a way which could point to the necessity of a contribution that a subject would make or should make in any acts of cognition that are truly proper to us as human subjects. In this type of approach, we would not need to speak about a need for some kind of development that would or should occur within the life of a subject. Knowing does not exist within the life of a subject and it does not require any kind of change in the life of a given subject. The less a subject understands and knows, the better. A subject then would be more open to pure acts of reception as these would exist by way of agent objects that would be acting from without to effect a stimulus of some kind in the consciousness of a would be knower (whether we would wish to refer to a sensible consciousness or some kind of intellectual consciousness which is thought to resemble the kind of consciousness which belongs to our acts of sense).

As an aside thus (and also by way of illustration), from the priority of objects over subjects (or, in other words, from the apparent obviousness of this priority), we can then understand why, in Plato, it would naturally follow for him that Ideas, Forms, Natures, Concepts, or Essences must always subsist in themselves in a very distinct world which is constituted by these same Ideas, Forms, Natures, Concepts, or Essences. Hence, Ideas, “the Ideas are ta ontõs onta, what really is.” Cf. Lonergan, Early Works on Theological Method 1, p. 70. Within this context, if we should want to refer to a possible relation which could possibly exist between ideas and our human acts of understanding, ideas exist or they are seen to exist as instances of objective being (as esse obiectivum) and not as terms or as objects which are constituted by the acts of understanding that have been given to us. If the Ideas that we happen to know about subsist in themselves, not so or much less so is this the case when or if we should try to refer to how Ideas, Forms, Natures, Concepts, or Essences are all joined to each other in a manner which is constitutive of an already existing general scheme of things (an order or world-order as distinct from individually existing Ideas, Forms, Natures, Concepts, or Essences). Within this context (the priority of objects over subjects), we can only move toward a general order or a general scheme of things (understanding or knowing about a general order of things) if we first attend and work with separately existing Ideas, Forms, Concepts, or Natures that we somehow already initially know: Ideas, Forms, Natures, Concepts, or Essences which exist independently of our acts of understanding (be they human or divine). Ideas first exist on their own and, as persons, we can contemplate these same ideas or we can understand these same ideas. Cf. Ronald Vardiman, “Notes on Conceptualism,” n.d. The absence of acts of understanding which can explain or point out why this “x” could be related to this “y” or why the existence of “x” is conditioned by the existence of “y” and why too the existence of “y” is conditioned by the existence of “x” – these absences of understanding all serve to explain why Ideas, Forms, Natures, Concepts, or Essences cannot be understood from within a context which would want to know about the existence of real relations: how, in themselves, for instance, a relation or a connection between elements “x” and “y” is constitutive of the being or the meaning of an Idea, a Form, a Nature, a Concept, or an Essence. Cf. Brian Himes, “Lonergan’s Position on the Natural Desire to See God as Corroborated by Aquinas’s Doctrine of Creation by Participation and His Nominal Definition of God as Ipsum Esse,” Boston College, School of Theology and Ministry, June 30, 2011, pp. 6-7,’s%20Position%20o% 20the%20Natural%20Desire%20to%20See%20God.pdf (accessed November 4, 2013).

This order or priority of objects over subjects which we find in Plato accordingly explains why Plato speaks about a “first order of ideas” that refers to Ideas or “intelligibles” and a “second order” which refers to gods who contemplate this order of Ideas or “intelligibles.” Cf. Lonergan, Understanding and Being, p. 237; Ontological and Psychological Constitution of Christ, p. 255; Early Works on Theological Method 1, p. 70. If you will, we can say that the priority of objects over subjects in Plato is used by him to construct a theology which reflects this order in the subsequent order of relations which exists within his theology. Easily, for us, we go from an understanding that we have about the nature of our human cognition into a theology is grounded in the depth of understanding which we may have or not have as this understanding refers to the nature or the order of our human cognition.

In the subsequent history of philosophy and in developments after Plato, a conception of knowing which thinks in terms of confrontation and the priority of object over subject can accordingly be found in thinkers such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Plotinus and then later on in how it seems that St. Augustine speaks about the dynamics of our human cognition. See, for instance, Peter Beer, Introduction to Bernard Lonergan, pp. 170-171, on how Clement of Alexandria and Origen both conceive of human knowing in terms which speak about a spiritual looking or gazing that occurs through an intellectual or spiritual kind of seeing as this occurs employing the “eyes” of our minds, the “eyes” of our understanding. In medieval philosophy, Duns Scotus was a prominent exponent of this same point of view about the nature of our human cognition (our human knowing occurs intuitively and by way of a species of confrontation through the presence of some kind of spiritual or intellectual form of seeing which beholds truths or realities that are somehow seen) and, in modern philosophy, this same point of view is perpetuated in the philosophy of Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant. Prominent 20th Century exponents include Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger despite a common interest which each has in showing how our human intentionality (our cognitive human desire) functions as a constitutive element within our human cognition, eliciting or pointing to a development in the life of a human subject (a human being who would be existing as a human subject). Cf. Linus Kpalap, “The Knower and the Known,” unpublished paper given at Sogang University, Seoul, Korea, June 3, 2010, p. 7.

In terms thus of a history of subsequent ramifications which have occurred within the later development of Catholic theology, see also Georges Van Riet’s study of epistemology as this has existed amongst Thomists since early in the 19th Century. Van Riet’s L’epistemologie thomiste: Recherches sur le probleme de la connaissance dans l’ecole thomiste contemporaine (Louvain: Editions de l’Institut Superieur de Philosophie, 1946) divides the cognitional theory of Thomist philosophers into two basic divisions: “those whose epistemology is fundamentally a matter of confrontation” (“seeing and confronting”) [primacy of object over subject] and “those who hold an epistemology that is based upon understanding, comprehension, intelligence” [an object as known exists as the term of an act of reflective understanding]. Cf. Lonergan, Understanding and Being, p. 103; p. 177. Amongst Catholic philosophers, if, following Scotus, knowing is seen essentially as “taking a look,” acts of judging are said to be the “taking [of] a look.” Being or reality is that which is looked at. It is that which can be perceived. And so, for Etienne Gilson, understanding (or judging) is but a form of seeing. Judging exists as a species of intuition and it can be referred to in terms which speak about judgmental intuitions: “By our senses we perceive the sensible, but intellect can see being in the sensible.” Lonergan’s italics. Cf. Lonergan, Early Works on Theological Method 1, p. 119, quoting from E. Gilson, Réalisme thomiste et critique de la connaissance, p. 225. The judgmental intuition which we find in the cognitional philosophy of Etienne Gilson and Joseph Owens clashes, however, with the judgmental finality which we can find within the cognitional philosophy of Bernard Lonergan and Karl Rahner. Cf. Michael Vertin, “Rahner, Lonergan, Knowing, and Teaching,” paper presented to the Catholic Theological Society of America, June 2004, pp. 3-4. In both Gilson and Owens (and also in William of Ockham), if we should want to speak about judgment and exercises of judgment, judgments of existence would say about reality that something is present or that it is given: something is directly seen or perceived. Instead of a judgment which would say that “this is” or that “this reality exists,” it would be said instead that “a reality is present there,” or “there is a particular reality there,” or a reality is “situated there,” or “an existent reality is present there.” Acts and data of sense are not transcended by any acts of the human mind which would move towards “that which is” or “that which exists” since these same acts of the mind (intellect, understanding, judgment) only co-operate with human acts of sense simply or only to affirm that which is already grasped by us in our human acts of sense. Cf. Early Works on Theological Method 1, pp. 119-120; Marie-Dominique Philippe, Retracing Reality A Philosophical Itinerary, trans. Brothers of St. John (London: T & T Clark, 1999), p. 154; p. 156. The kind of passivity which exists with respect to our acts of sense is extended and we say that it is applied to all our acts of understanding and judgment in a way which alludes to a like passivity (a radical form of passivity) which seems to exist with respect to all our differing acts of cognition and so, by this means or by this omission, no notice is taken about how, in our human inquiry, active potencies can be properly alluded to: potencies, movements which point to operative forms of efficient causality which exists within our human cognition: activities which would immediately point to a work of constitution which occurs within our human cognition as we engage in acts, actions or activities which set us apart as knowers from every other kind of cognition (whether the knowing of animals, the knowing of angels, or the knowing which only belongs to God).

The partial absence of passive potency within our human cognition (according to relative determinations of it) serves thus to explain why it can be said that the objects which we know through our cognition are known through apprehensions of intelligibility and truth that are constitutive to some degree (to a degree which should be recognized). Through inquiries that lead to direct acts of understanding, an intelligible universal component is detached from sensible material components and this kind of separation supposes an interest and efforts on our part to achieve this kind of desired separation (even as we admit that our acts of understanding exist as receptions and not as activities which we can simply do through our willing of them). In another but similar way too, through inquiries that lead us to acts of reflective understanding, through the kind of self-reflection which occurs in our prospective acts of judgment, we advert to conditions of possibility which need to be given or fulfilled if we are to move from apprehensions of meaning to apprehensions which know that an understood meaning is to be viewed as a true meaning (a real meaning). In our self-reflection, we look for evidence which could exist for us as a species of first principle, triggering an act of understanding which could exist as an affirmative conclusion or affirmative judgment. One kind of first principle refers to basic laws of reason (for instance, with respect to the law of contradiction, does a contradiction exist within my reasoning as I move from premisses to conclusions?) and a second kind of first principle refers to grounding acts and date of sense (am I presently experiencing a datum of sense or a datum of consciousness which points to the truth of a given conclusion?). In the mere givenness that exists within our acts of sense, through the kind of immediacy which exists within this givenness and also through the mere givenness or the immediacy which exists when we refer to the basic laws of our human reasoning, perhaps here, in a limited way, we can speak about how our acts of cognition can be seen to exist in a way which points to intuitions. Where immediacy exists within our human cognition, we are tempted to speak about our acts of cognition as if they exist as intuitions although, on the other hand, where immediacy does not exist within our human cognition, within this context, we are tempted to speak about the discursiveness of our human cognition: its gradualness and its condition of incompletion as we move from something that we know to something that we can come to know by an addition that possibly we can make to the sum which we already know. Every advance in our understanding and knowledge points to the possibility of other possible advances and how or why our cognition exists as a combination of active and passive potencies that, in some way, work together to reveal how, through our subjectivity, it is possible to move toward experiences of objectivity that are given to us within a range of data which refers to the data of our consciousness, the inner consciousness which we have of ourselves as human beings (experiencing, understanding, and knowing). Outer, external objects or other, external things come to exist within our consciousness of self through the experience of intelligibility that exists within ourselves through the consciousness of self which exists within ourselves.

By way then of a kind of conclusion, we can notice that experiences of immediacy in cognition suggest or point to an understanding of cognition which thinks in terms of intuition. The kind of immediacy which exists in sense resembles the immediacy which we can also experience when we allude to the fundamental laws that are constitutive of our human acts of reason: the laws of identity, excluded middle, and contradiction. Sometimes too, if immediacy is regarded as a legitimate species of first principle, some acts of understanding can be regarded as intuitions. Upon self-reflection, we know that many of our acts of understanding have not to be gained or acquired in any way through any of our human efforts. They already exist and sometimes our knowledge of them is revealed to us in other contexts when we advert to a question that we are asking and when we realize that our question or our questioning is supposing something else that we do not question: a something else that we already understand and know. Our experience of immediacy in our human cognition accordingly suggests that intuition is not entirely alien to the performance of our human cognition. A place exists for it.

However too, it is to be admitted that the asking of questions, the onset of human inquiry, is to be regarded as another kind of first principle which points to the incompleteness or the discursiveness of our human cognition. In a manner which differs from animal kinds of knowing, our human cognition does not exist as something which is already given to us as some kind of inborn pattern or instinct. In contexts where instinct determines the behaviour of any kind of living thing, it is not necessary to think about alternative courses of action and to think about whether or not a given course of action should be put into effect rather than some other possible course of action. In instinct, we find a species of determination. Similarly, by way of another contrast, it is not said about angels or of God that their knowing is characterized by any form of potentiality. It is said that, although a creature, an angel does not need to ask any questions. Everything has already been given to an angel from another kind of intellectual being who, also, is without any need or compulsion to ask questions and engage in any inquiries. Everything is fully understood. Everything is fully known. Hence, for us, as human beings, the lack of completeness in our knowing when this is coupled to the possibility of growth which belongs to us as human knowers – together, these two variables point to a discursiveness that is peculiar to us in the kind of cognitive life which properly belongs to us as contingent human beings. The discursiveness of our cognition sits as the center of things within our cognitive life and intuitions exist more or less as boundaries or as a kind of frame that surrounds the discursiveness of our cognitive operations. Our knowing always begins with an understanding of things and a seeing of “things” (a perception of bodies) that we already have (an understanding that we have no need to ask questions about) and the working out or the development of our cognition through acts that lead from our acts of sensing to our acts of direct understanding and then from there to our acts of reflective understanding – these acts all lead us toward acts of cognition that possess an obviousness or an unquestionableness which, in its own way, points to an immediacy or the mere givenness of content and data that seems to come across as an intuition (as a species of intuitive grasp) even as we admit that these experiences of immediacy are conditioned by prior acts of inquiry which point to the discursiveness of our human cognition. Whenever we have anything which appears to us as something which is self-evident, we associate the experience of self-evidence with the deliverances of intuition although, as we have already indicated, inquiries are often needed before a given meaning or a given truth can be regarded at some point as something which should be self-evident to us in our experience of understanding. Paradoxically, through the inquiry and the discursiveness which belongs to our various human acts of reasoning, we can come to know about the existence of immediacy within human cognition and also about the absence of immediacy which exists within our human cognition and so, by this means, we can come to know about the nature of our human intuition and how it relates to a more fundamental second nature which refers to the discursiveness of our human reasoning and how a strategy of acts exists within the structure or the form of our human acts of inquiry. Conceptually or abstractly, an exclusivie disjunction exists between an understanding of human cognition which speaks about intuition and another understanding of human cognition which speaks about its discursiveness. However, when we attend to the data or the experience of our human performance as this is given to us in our experience of self, we find where these two understandings of cognition have a grounding which points to an order which joins these two kinds of cognition with each other although, as noted, the greater context is an understanding which points to a discursiveness which is properly distinctive of the kind of cognition which belongs to us as human beings whenever or as we exist in our subjectivity as living human subjects.

Inner Words as Objects of Thought (without footnotes)

Some Notes on the Inner Word as an Object of Thought

by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB

In a review of arguments that Lonergan marshals, Lonergan contrasts the necessity of an inner word in human understanding with the absence of such a necessity in divine understanding (where God exists as an unrestricted act of understanding). Key is the discursiveness of human reason. The absence of any discursiveness in divine understanding and knowing (or, in other words, the simplicity of God’s existence as an act of understanding) explains why we cannot conclude that the proceeding of an inner word necessarily exists in God.1 If an inner Word necessarily exists within God, its basis or ground is an actuality that exists without the necessity of there having to be any reasons or considerations which exist as prior conditions that need to be attended to and fulfilled. The unconditionedness of divine things can be spoken about or conceived in thoughts and words by us in the thinking and speaking that we do although this unconditionedness or this simplicity cannot be understood by us through any acts of understanding which exist in us because these acts (our own acts of understanding) always exist as conditioned acts and no conditioned act of understanding is able to understand an unconditioned act of understanding. Conditioned acts of understanding have have been brought into being through conditions which have been fulfilled or which must be fulfilled if anything is to happen in terms of the possible reception of an act of understanding. If A, then B. But A, therefore B.

Before attempting to understand more deeply why it is not possible for us to move from our contingent acts of self-understanding toward an understanding of God which demonstratively proves the existence of a Divine Word, we can simply note that, for us, inner words need to proceed for us if our understanding is to move toward satisfactory completions of one kind or another. First, without the proceeding of an inner word from a prior, direct act of understanding, we cannot have an idea or a meaning which we can detach from its point of origin (a point of origin which refers to its originating act of understanding). An idea or meaning cannot exist as an other that we can think about, ponder, and question in order then to think about what kind of reality perhaps exists in a given thing or in a given event. No further thinking can occur unless an initial idea or meaning has been transposed into an externalized form through an act of conceptualization that follows in the wake of a prior act of understanding. By this means, a form or inner meaning, through a conceptualizing act of understanding, can now exist as a negotiable point of reference, as a communicable concept, and as a datum of consciousness which differs from a datum of consciousness that is simply present to us in the experience of that which exists as an idea or meaning (the term of a direct act of understanding).2 Through the proceeding of an inner word, we can begin to transcend the initial identity which always exists in our every act of understanding (an identity which exists between an act of understanding and that which is being understood by us in an act of direct understanding). Through an inner word, an idea or meaning can be taken and worked on to see if it can be viewed later as a fact, as a true idea or as a true meaning. Through the forming of an inner word, an idea or meaning can also be re-combined with a material component as this exists in a generalized specification of matter which refers to common matter, and so, by this means, we can apprehend a meaning which defines and points to a thing which we can later judge to see if it truly and really exists.3

Second, specifically with respect to our acts of reflective understanding as this exists in judgment, without the proceeding also of an inner word from a prior act of reflective understanding, we cannot move from an apprehension about a sufficiency in evidence toward an affirmation that can speak about the truth of an idea or meaning.4

Third, without the proceeding of inner words that can accumulate into communicable bodies of knowledge, human learning cannot develop in a way which can lead to growth in the development of a tradition of thought which characterizes how progress can be made in the development of the various natural and human sciences. Without inner words, a universalized human order of meaning cannot begin to arise in a manner which can lead to the creation of a higher order of control for us as human beings as we try to find a way to live with each other in a context that already exists for us within a world that is constituted by physical, chemical, and biological nature. Inner words encourage the asking of new, additional questions and the later, possible receptions of newer acts of understanding which can reveal new ways of thinking about our world and about new possible actions that we can take to change the world that we are currently living within. From an order of meaning that tends to be immune from radical changes in the meaning of things, apprehensions of value can also come and these can also act as a stabilizing influence in the conduct of our lives (despite what trials and difficulties might come our way).

Fourth and lastly, without the mediation of inner words, we would not have a point of departure for moving into analogical forms of inquiry which encourage the reception of analogical acts of understanding. As inner words reveal an inner life which exists within our limited human understanding of things and a dialogue within our understanding which reveals an orientation which is directed toward unrestricted experiences of meaning and truth, inner words begin to function in a different manner. A denotative order of significance yields to a form of attribution which takes a properly understood predicate and which then properly applies it to two or more analogates as when we should say, for instance, that in human beings understanding exists and that in God understanding also exists.5 Understanding applies differently; it has a different meaning when we think about human understanding and then when we think about divine understanding although, as regards both God and ourselves as human beings, understanding exists as a real thing. It is a real property. And so, through this form of signification, inner words can be employed to speak about some meanings which are real although we do not adequately understand what these meanings mean when we work from meanings which are only adequately understood within a context of conditions as these exist within our concrete, contingent human life. Throughout, in the context of Lonergan’s discussion, because the proper object of our human cognition is not to be equated with the final or formal object of human cognition,6 inner words are to be regarded as provisionally necessary for our human cognition if our human knowing is to move from point A to point B in the reach or the progress of human understanding and knowing (if human knowing is to move from limited acts of understanding toward more comprehensive acts of understanding).

In conclusion thus, at this point, it can be said that the completeness of divine understanding (the absence of any discursiveness in the manner of its operation) precludes identifying any reason or consideration which would suggest that, in divine understanding, some kind of inner word must be postulated to exist if divine understanding is to exist and function in its own proper way. In divine understanding, no gap needs to be bridged, no movement or shift needs to occur in moving from a proper object of understanding toward any final object of understanding. Everything already exists within God since, within God, an absolute identity exists between God’s intentional, cognitive being and God’s natural, ontological being.7 The absence of any discursiveness in divine knowing reflects a perfect identity in divine understanding which, in turn, reflects a perfect identity in the nature of God’s being, God’s existence. The simplicity of God’s understanding points to the simplicity of God’s being (God’s being who exists as an unrestricted act of understanding). From God’s unrestricted self-understanding, everything else flows. Everything is understood. God’s being as an unrestricted act of understanding primarily exists as divine self-understanding since, in the life and being of God and unlike how human beings think and understand, nothing exists outside of God which God must first understand before he can then attend to the possibility of having any self-understanding. In the self-understanding which God has of himself and because God exists as the first principle or point of origin of every other thing that exists or can exist, everything which can possibly emerge from God is already fully understood. A knowledge of the latter (the secondary objects of God’s understanding) is given or subsumed within God’s knowledge of the former (God’s understanding of himself).8 In an explanation which can be gleaned from Aristotle’s reflections: in understanding something which is most intelligible, easily and immediately, we understand everything that possesses lesser degrees of intelligibility.9 If, on the one hand, our human self-understanding typically begins with an understanding of external things (external objects) and then, from there, we move more inwardly toward our self-understanding, a converse movement typifies the kind of understanding which refers to God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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