Part 4: Statistics and Finality in Finality, Love, and Marriage

By David Fleischacker


In part two of this series, I mentioned that the “repetitive” element of the physical, vital, and sensitive spontaneity is differentiated into schemes of recurrence based on classical laws and statistical probabilities, and then schemes of development with one stage being not only an integrator but also an operator, hence possessing a finality, for later stages.

Concrete plurality and statistics

One element that does seem to stay the same between 1943 and 1957, though is explored more fully in Insight, is the relationship between the concrete plurality and its statistical possibilities that constitutes the potentiality that is horizontal and vertical finality.

As to the difficulty that frequently procreation is objectively impossible and may be known to be so, distinguish motives and ends; as to motives, the difficulty is solved only by multiple motive and ends; as to ends, there is no difficulty, for the ordination of inter­course to conception is not a natural law, like ‘fire burns,’ but a statistic laws which suffices for an objective ordination.[1]

It is important to note that even though the relationship of the conjugal act to conception is statistical, it has an objective ordination to the end of adult offspring. If one backs up in the article a bit, this statistical element is linked to a concrete plurality.

This we term vertical finality. It has four manifestations: instrumental, dispositive, material, obediential. First, a concrete plurality of lower activities may be instrumental to a higher end in another subject: the many movements of the chisel give the beauty of the statue. Second, a concrete plurality of lower activities may be dispositive to a higher end in the same subject: the many sensitive experiences of research lead to the act of understanding that is scientific discovery. Third, a concrete plurality of lower entities may be the material cause from which a higher form is educed or into which a subsistent form is infused: examples are familiar. Fourth, a concrete plurality of rational beings have the obediential potency to receive the communication of God himself.[2]

Notice the use of “concrete plurality.” From my reading, it has the same meaning as coincidental manifold in Insight. When a coincidental aggregate is understood in its finality, both horizontal and vertical, then that aggregate is a coincidental manifold. In each case, an aggregate of activities or materials have the potency to be formed into some higher order. In the types mentioned in the quote above, the second, third, and fourth are of particular interest in this essay. The parental contributions to the generation of an adult offspring provide a material that causes the vegetative and even motor-sensory levels in their child. But the motor-sensory level provides but a dispositive cause for the emergence and activation of intellectual, rational, and moral consciousness. This is because intellectual, rational, and moral consciousness is “headed toward the systematization, not of the particular animal that I am, but of the whole universe of being.”[3] These higher levels of consciousness cannot be caused by the lower sensitive manifold because these are intrinsically independent of the empirical residue. In other words, these are spiritual and thus the lower sensitive level is incapable of being a “material cause.” But the sensitive level is still a manifold, and needs to be for the higher levels of consciousness to operate (insight is into phantasm, for example, and cannot take place without phantasm). In other words, the higher orders of spiritual consciousness are extrinsically dependent upon the empirical residue, and thus the lower has a dispositive causal relationship to the higher. [4] Then, finally, in the reception of divine revelation, a concrete plurality of human beings as a community form the recipient of that gift, hence the relationship of that concretely plurality to the gift is a vertical finality of obediential potency.


Conjoined plurality and emergence

In every case, the concrete plurality must form a set of conditions for the emergence of a conditioned, whether on the same horizontal order or of a higher vertical order. So, there is a need for some kind of unification of the concrete plurality in order for the conditioned to emerge. A bit later in the essay, Lonergan will call this unity a conjoined plurality.

But vertical finality is in the concrete; in point of fact it is not from the isolated instance but from the conjoined plurality; and it is in the field not of natural but of statistical law, not of the abstract per se but of the concrete per accidens.[5]

This quote was discussed in the last blog with regard to “statistical law.” But now I want to draw attention to the conjoined plurality. Notice how the isolated instance is not the point of potentiality for vertical finality, but rather it is the conjoined plurality that forms that locus. This is ABSULUTELY key. There needs to be a coming together of the right conditions for vertical finality to become a real potentiality. These conditions and their convergence each have a frequency, and thus as well, an ideal frequency rooted in the ranges of possibilities. As organisms become more complex, this range increases just as there is an increasing flexible circle of ranges of schemes of recurrence, and one might add, of development. [6]

The conjoined plurality arises in a statistical manner, with actual frequencies converging on an ideal. And it is true whether one speaks of instrumental, dispositive, material, or obediential potency. All involve frequencies of conditions and the conditioned. If one does not have the right distribution of molecules within a tree, then carving it into a canoe will result in failure. There has to be an ideal distribution of the molecules that allow for what descriptively we would call a “straight tree with its grains running evenly. Or there has to be the right distribution of molecules in a bio-soup if there is to be the likelihood of the emergence of a self-replicating molecule.[7] Or sensitive images need to be in the right disposition if there is to emerge an insight. Or the individual receptive of divine revelation need to have the right disposition and sets of relationships to receive a public, communal divine revelation.

The statistics is a necessary element in finality. In Insight, Lonergan works this out metaphysically.

Finally, the foregoing account of potency, form, and act will cover any possible scientific explanation. For a scientific explanation is a theory verified in instances; as verified, it refers to act; as theory, it refers to form; as in instances, it refers to potency. Again, as a theory of the classical type, it refers to forms as forms; as a theory of the statistical type, it refers to forms as setting ideal frequencies from which acts do not diverge systematically; as a theory of the genetic type, it refers to the conditions of the emergence of form from potency.[8]

Notice here that he is saying in an extremely succinct manner how correlations that define conjugate forms, along with statistical ideals frequencies and finality (as well as development) are linked in terms of the basic metaphysical elements (potency, form, and act). This could be further unpacked into his theory of generalized emergent probability. Concrete plurality is naming a situation in which frequencies that converge on an ideal frequency provide the potentiality for the emergence of forms from potencies, hence new acts, with their frequencies. This is all articulated in general metaphysical terms and relations which reveals with precision a close unity between statistics and finality. That close relationship, as the quotes above indicate, already existed in Finality, Love, and Marriage, and Insight. Obviously, Insight has unpacked and expanded upon all the elements involved in this relationship, but fundamentally, the link seems the same. A statistically distributed plurality provides a probability for emergence, and the potency of this plurality for emergence is finality.

Fecundity, statistics, and finality

Now let us turn to fecundity and its realization.

….the actuation of sex involves the organistic union of a concrete plurality, and as such it has a vertical finality.[9]

Fecundity that is differentiated into two sexual genders is actuated through the “organistic union” of these genders.  In other words, it is in this union that vertical finality of fecundity emerges.  In a later blog, I will discuss the range of this vertical finality, because it includes both an intrinsic self-transcendence within the subjects who are sublating this finality into higher levels and ends of the human subject (notice how easy this will be to translate into the higher orders of conscious intentionality), as well as a  vertical finality within their “adult offspring.”  At the moment however, I want to highlight that the statistical features of this organistic union require that these be a union of two semi-fecundities.  It is the actualization of fecundity that is under consideration, and for that to take place within a plurality of semi-fecundities means that a unification has to take place for the actualization to be initiated.[10]

In short, the fact of a statistical, conjoined plurality or coincidental manifold is neither an elimination of the finality to an adult offspring nor to the finality to higher orders within the man and the woman and the child, but rather, it is the central locus of that finality.  It is the potentiality that is that finality.[11] It is that conjoined plurality (the conjugal act itself) that is integrated into the higher levels and ends of marriage.  Understanding this locus that is elevated is what would lead one to say as Lonergan did in Finality, Love, and Marriage that the “statistical law” that is found in the relationship of the conjoined plurality to concenption

…suffices for an objective ordination.[12]


[1] Finality, Love, Marriage, 46 footnote 73.

[2] Finality, Love, Marriage, 20.

[3] Insight, 515.

[4] Insight, 516.

[5] Finality, Love, Marriage, 22.

[6] Insight, 459.

[7] This is just one theory of the emergence of life, life being anything that can “reproduce” itself.

[8] Insight, 432 – 433.

[9] Finality, Love, Marriage, 43.

[10] There are other ways of course, given modern technologies, to actuate the adult offspring, but these usually involve by-passing and hence failing to actuate one or the other, or both of the semi-fecundities as such.  More on that later – once I finish exploring the meaning of this essay, I will then turn to some of its ramification in lights of current questions and debates. And of course, there are ways to eliminate the finality to an adult offspring by through hindering the actuation of one or the other or both of the semi-fecundities. Both by-passing and hindering involve a loss of the conjoined plurality within the man and the woman as subjects.

[11] Lonergan links potency and finality in Insight, 444-451.

[12] Finality, Love, Marriage, 46 foot 73.

Part 3: Statistics in Finality, Love, Marriage

By David Fleischacker

Dedicated to Br. Dunstan Robidoux, OSB on his birthday

Lonergan does discuss statistics within this 1943 essay, however, it is clear that he has not developed the notion of statistics to the level one finds in Insight 14 years later.  But it is not as far as one might think. Yet, one wonders if this will undo much of what he says in this essay regarding the role of finality within marriage. The next few blogs will answer that query explanatorily. But, the short answer is that it does not. I would argue that his expansion of the notion of statistics in Insight reinforces his notion of finality, and hence a key piece of the argument based upon that notion in this 1943 essay.  For this blog, we will focus just on the six times that Lonergan uses the term statistics in Finality, Love, and Marriage, and in the next blog discuss its relationship to finality.

Use 1: Statistical Law

Lonergan’s first use of the term “statistics” (actually “statistical”) takes place within his development of vertical finality.

But vertical finality is in the concrete; in point of fact it is not from the isolated instance but from the conjoined plurality; and it is in the field not of natural but of statistical law, not of the abstract per se but of the concrete per accidens.[1]

Notice the notion of “conjoined plurality” which reminds one both of coincidental manifolds or coincidental aggregates and its role in statistics in Insight, as well as the non-systematic convergence of conditions upon a conditioned.[2] Both the non-systematic convergence, and the coincidental aggregates are grounds for statistical probabilities. Both are based on acts of forms of potencies.  Every act can be examined in terms of its frequencies.  One could specify the frequency of some act within a particular spatial-temporal time frame, such as death rates within a particular region over a year. This is the absolute type of frequency.  There is as well a relative type which is discovered in terms of the alternative sets of conditioneds that can arise within a set of conditions.  In other words, the relative type of statistical probabilities are those based upon the possibilities of things and the realization of their conjugate forms in relation to the actualization of other things and the realization of their conjugates within a set of conditions.  This is how conjugates set boundary conditions for statistical probabilities.[4] In the absolute type of statistic, it is not the relative rates of alternative conjugates, but the rate of a conjugate within a particular spatial-temporal frame of reference. The relative rates are based upon possibilities that arise from converging conditions.  A simple illustration of the absolute rates are the standard birth rates which include boundaries set within space and time, and thus are not merely boundaries set by classical laws or systematic processes. Birth rates include the empirical residue (spatial-temporal given-ness) as part of what they mean.  In contrast, getting the genes for green or brown eyes (hence the proteins that give color to the eyes) is based upon the conjugates themselves (the alleles) and thus is based on the possibilities of conjugate forms (alleles) as setting the boundary conditions.

Use 2: Statistical Law

The second is found in a footnote to the first.

There is a noteworthy affinity between modern statistical law and the contingens ut in maiori parte, between modern ‘chance variation’ and the contingens ut in minori parte.[5]

This, I think, is getting at some of our common sense descriptive terms that refer to statistical frequencies. When we say it happens all the time, or it rarely happens, or it happens for the most part, or it happens once in a while… we are using statistically based descriptive terms. Descriptive because we do not have an insight into actual probabilities.   Lonergan is simply noting how the notion of “statistics” has its history within the tradition and was not entirely absent until it became popular in gambling and genetics.

Use 3: Statistical Infallibility

In the third use of statistics in the article, it falls within the hierarchies of the three ends of human existence which sets up the context for the three ends of marriage.  The three ends divide into three levels, and the first level is focused on “nature”—which he limits to “physical, vital, sensitive spontaneity” (a restricted sense of the term as Lonergan notes)—it is repetitive, spontaneous in its formation of community, and efficient in how it operates. At first glance, there does not seem to be any role of statistics, yet in his discussion on “efficiency” he mentions how it operates with “statistical infallibility.”

While nature with the ease of a superautomaton pursues with statistical infallibility and regularly attains through organistic harmonies its repetitive ends, the reason and rational appetite of fallen man limp in the disequilibrium of high aspiration and poor performance to make the progress of reason a dialectic of decline as well as of advance, and the rational community of men a divided unity of hatred and war as well as the indivisible unity of fraternity and peace.[6]

One can think of the simple example of a coin toss.[7]  As long as both sides of the coin have a negligible difference in mass distribution, then the fact of two sides sets the boundary conditions for the probability around which multiple random tosses will oscillate.  One can then specify the “likelihood” of getting heads or tails on any random toss.  The point is this that the more the tosses, the more it approaches the probability or ideal frequency. That increasing movement to the ideal frequency is likely the “statistical infallibility” that Lonergan has in mind when he uses this term.  And when organisms operate, they use this type of ideal frequency to live.  There are ideal frequencies of water supplies, food supplies, zones of protection, and many other needs of the organism for survival which are provided around a statistical probability upon which the organism depends for its existence. In evolutionary terms, one might say that a sequence of organisms adapted themselves to these ideal frequencies.  With the introduction of molecular biology, which really grew rapidly after Lonergan wrote this essay, one comes to a deeper sense of the role of ideal frequencies within the molecular and biochemical pathways of the organism. Everything makes use of these probabilities.  Most of us, for example, have heard of the Krebs cycle.  The cycle is not a physical machine, but it is a kind of chemical one, which operates not only using specific types of atoms and molecules within a controlled environment (mitochondria), but the statistical frequency of these molecules occurs in such a manner as to set the rates of ATP production.  ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate) is the energy molecule of every cell.   This production has to occur at certain rates which increase or decrease with the needs of the cell and cellular activities (it increases for example if we get up from sitting and go for a walk).  The point is this that if you have high enough frequencies of events (such as coin tosses) you will make the ideal rate that you want.  In an everyday way you can call that a kind of infallibility. The fewer the events, the further you might diverge from the ideal. Unlike the Krebs cycle, water and food supplies for most organisms are not always numerous events in a given spatial-temporal frame of reference, and hence there can be periods of draught or starvation. But over the long run, there is an ideal around which actual frequencies of such supplies oscillate unless the “boundary conditions” change – such as when an oasis becomes a desert.

So, in the points that Lonergan makes about nature – hence about physical, vital, and sensitive spontaneity, along with the actuation of the spontaneity, which has an end in the emergence and maintenance of life, one does find some hints of the statistical element.  It is repetitive and this includes a kind of statistical infallibility that makes it so.  This means that the link of the physical, vital, and sensitive spontaneity and its horizontal finality to its ends involves a statistical element.

Since fecundity is a particular feature of physical, vital, and sensitive spontaneity, one can assume that it too has a statistical infallibility, at least when one examines the entire human race as a whole.  There will be repetitive conceptions and births, and adult offspring because of this statistical probability.


Use 4: Statistical spontaneity

The fourth quote is found on the same page, and makes a similar point though he is using it to complete his contrast of the three ends of the human person.

It is not the statistical spontaneity of nature, nor the incoherent liberty of man, but the gratuitous action of God.[8]

Here the contrast is how the end that is natural has a statistical element to it that is not deliberate and rational nor is it the same as the operations of God.  This does not add anything significant to our discussion about statistics.


Use 5: Statistical laws and probabilities

In the fifth use, he is discussing the concrete plurality of a man and a woman who come together in union, and how this united concrete plurality is the point at which vertical finality resides that is then integrated into the higher levels and ends of the human person (I will treat of this in a latter blog).  He then goes on to illustrate this vertical finality within the non-human worlds of life – vegetative and sensate life.

Further, the actuation of sex involves the organistic union of a concrete plurality, and as such it has a vertical finality. Such an upward drive follows from our general theory. In the vegetal and animal kingdoms it has its verification in the measure of truth that may be attributed to theories of evolution in terms of statistical laws and probabilities regarding combinations of genes through random mating.[9]

The key here is that he is formulating a connection between statistical laws and probabilities with the emergence of new species and even new genii.  The concrete plurality refers to the plurality of genetic alleles and combinations.  In Insight, when Lonergan is linking the lower manifolds to vertical relationships, he calls the manifold a coincidental manifold. These operate in a statistical manner with regard to inheritance.  And in turn, this provides a finality.  He was obviously aware of what became known as the Modern synthesis in evolutionary theory, which linked Darwin and Mendel in the late 1930 and early 40s.


Use 6: Statistical Laws

The last quote actually raises some questions.  It focused upon the level of nature, but moves from the statistical relationship of nature to its end in the emergence and maintenance of life, and specifies this to the level of fecundity, organistic union, and adult offspring. It is found in a footnote.

… As to the difficulty that frequently procreation is objectively impossible and may be known to be so, distinguish motives and , ends; as. to motives, the difficulty is solved only by multiple motive and ends; as to ends, there is no difficulty, because the ordination of inter­ course to conception is not a natural law, like ‘fire burns,’ but a statistical law which suffices for an objective ordination.[10]

What is the question that this raises?  Lonergan refers to natural law, and links fire and burning.  This account of fire and burning is a descriptive account, and he calls it a law.  But explanatorily, fire burning involves both conjugate forms and statistical realizations of those forms (in terms of chemical and physical changes), so that in the explanatory context, there is a statistical element to fire burning. Likewise, regarding the relationship between the conjugal act and conception, the relationship involves a set of correlations as well as statistical frequencies of those correlations. So, metaphysically, there is no different between the fire burning and conception.  Both involve conjugate forms with a certain frequency of actualization that diverges non-systematically from an ideal frequency.  I would argue that there is a bit of development at this point in Lonergan’s thought from the point of view of this essay to his writing of Insight. In Insight, I would argue that he linked together natural law and statistics more thoroughly, and instead of natural law as descriptively formulated, he differentiated classical laws and statistics. In chapter 10 of Insight, the “self-affirmation of the knower,” Lonergan reveals this development.

Cognitional process does not lie outside the realm of natural law. Not merely do I possess the power to elicit certain types of acts when certain conditions are fulfilled, but, also with statistical regularity, the conditions are fulfilled and the acts occur.[11]

Still, is there a truth in what he is saying?  Sure.  In this case, he seems to say that something that is natural has a relationship to its end that has a kind of determinate certainty to it that other types of events do not have. He might very well have in mind “statistical infallibility” with regard to “fire burns.” It is a bit like asking “What is the probability that the sun rises each day?”  Not everything however does have that kind of regularity, and when you limit the spatial-temporal boundary conditions sufficiently on certain types of events, then the regularity is not so regular.  This is what happens when one moves from a large population to individuals on just about any type of event, including the realization of the end of fecundity. So when one looks at a single couple, and asks about the probability of their being able to realize their fecundity, then one no longer speaks of statistical infallibility.   But this is not surprising.  When one looks at the thousands of conditions needed for fecundity to take place, and that each of those conditions requires a certain ideal frequency, then the regularity that one might call “statistical infallibility” belongs not to the individual, but to the species.

This particular sixth quote however reveals something crucial in Lonergan’s entire argument in the essay, namely the link of statistics and finality.  In the next blog, due to arrive on June 11th, I will explore the relationship of statistics to finality within Finality, Love, and Marriage.

[1] Finality, Love, Marriage, 22.

[2] In Insight, the phrase “coincidental manifold” gains significance as Lonergan develops his notion of a thing, and the higher and lower orders of conjugates, in which the lower provide a coincidental manifold that can be systematized by the higher (262-263). He develops it more precisely in chapter 15, “Elements of Metaphysics,” where he develops explanatory genera and species (437), finality (444), development (451-452).  Coincidental aggregates is used earlier in relationship to statistics as is the notion of the non-systematic.

[4] Insight, 103.

[5] Finality, Love, Marriage, 22 footnote 16.

[6] Ibid., 39.

[7] The understanding of a coin toss and its final outcome largely is descriptive for most people, but fortunately the descriptive and explanatory accounts of both a coin toss and its final resting place in being either heads up or down result in a similar result. In other words, the descriptive conjugates and explanatory conjugates for this sequence of events results in the same set of events.  Sometimes descriptive accounts are significantly differentiated by explanatory accounts, and hence the “statistical” accounts end up being different. This is true of human height for example, which is caused by a multiplicity of explanatory conjugates—many genes and environmental factors.

[8] Finality, Love, Marriage, 39.

[9] Finality, Love, Marriage, 43.

[10] Finality, Love, Marriage, 46, footnote 73.

[11] Insight, 330.

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

by David Fleischacker

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

The R-Series, it differentials, and its characteristics

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

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

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

As repetitive, one thinks of

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Z-Series: A Type of R-Series

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

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

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

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

[2] Finality, Love, Marriage, 38.

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

[4] Finality, Love, Marriage, 39.

[5] Insight, 126 – 127.

[6] As in gender, not the act.

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

by David Fleischacker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] Finality, Love, Marriage, 42.

[3] Finality, Love, Marriage, 41.

[4] Finality, Love, Marriage 42.

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


40 Years After Humanae Vitae: Observations on the Female Procreative Schemes, The Organic Level


by Dr. David Fleischacker

As with men, the organic and psychic procreative 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 intelligibility.  Another, way of saying this is that the lower levels of organic life possess intrinsic orientations toward higher levels of intellectual, rational, volitional life, and an obediential potency to a life of sanctified grace in faith, hope, and love. 

Hence, as with the general way of proceeding established earlier, starting with the lowest levels of the procreative order to the highest, we will begin examining the women’s body in its organic structure with one exception, the neurological schemes.  I will deal with the female neuro-schemes in a later blog, because the complexity requires separate treatment.


The female procreative order

The physiology of the women has a number of key elements that relate it to the conjugal union with a man, to the creation and formation of a new human being, and to nurturing the existence of the new life once born. For example,

  • The ovaries provide a place for the developmental growth and maturation of oocytes.
  • The uterus provides for the early formation of a child in the womb and the mother’s mammary glands for the early post-natal life of the child.
  • The woman's body is bio-physically and bio-chemically structured for receiving the spermatozoa of the man and then facilitates the movement of the spermatozoa toward the oocyte.

These features point to the key elements of the female procreative schemes.  Explanatorily, much more is involved.  As has been recognized in earlier blogs, procreativity is an intelligibility that really belongs to the entire unity of a man and a woman. Hence, it is something that is an intelligibility that involves the integration of many of the recurrent schemes of correlation and recurrent schemes of development in the body.  It is closely linked to the neural system, the endocrine system, the circulatory and respiratory systems, the muscular system, the skeletal system, and it is protected by the immune system.  It is not merely a part of the body, but rather it is an ordered intelligibility of the many parts of the human body.[1]

Prior to the woman's own birth, her body came to form all of the oocytes she will ever possess.  However, it will take until adolescence before her body forms to a degree to support the formation and the nurturing of a new life.  Once she reaches procreative maturity, her body has undergone a series of changes that have capacitated her to receive a man and his spermatozoa and to mature her own oocytes for 1) release, 2) fertilization, 3) implantation, 4) growth in the womb, and then 5) growth as an infant.  Many of the biochemical schemes involved in all of these stages are simply unknown.  However, many have been learned in the last few decades because of the high profitability and the demand for the “reproductive” and contraceptive industries.

As was mentioned in earlier blogs, the oocyte is structured to receive one and only one spermatozoa.  Here is a small refresher. The zona pelucida that surrounds the oocyte is species specific (meaning that spermatozoa from another species could not penetrate it).  Furthermore, once a spermatozoa has worked its way through the zona and becomes incorporated into the oocyte, the egg shifts its structure to hinder the entrance of other spermatozoa. Hence, the oocyte has a functional and schematic relationship to the spermatozoa. This scheme forms a new type of being, one that has an intrinsic developmental finality and this finality is oriented toward the mature human adult. On their own, the spermatozoa and the oocyte do not possess this developmental capacity.[2]


Now let us turn to the woman's body.  Oocytes are found within the ovaries.  Since the woman's body is the location where the first 9 months of life are formed, her body is on a kind of recharge cycle that is roughly one month in length (interestingly, I did read one study that argued that if a woman is in a largely natural light environment, her cycle will line up with the cycles of the moon).  This recharge cycle is needed because of how her body has to prepare itself for the possibility of nurturing a new life which requires a tremendous amount of energy to accomplish.  Without the recharge cycle, the woman’s body would be in a constant state of fertility, which would require for example a constant release of a sufficiently matured oocytes, a constant state in which the uterus is prepared for implantation, a constant state of readiness that would burn tremendous amounts of calories and other nutrients far beyond her normal human intake.  From a scientific viewpoint, here are some of the steps involved in the cycle.


Follicular Phase → Luteal Phase

Relationship to creation of new life

Let us begin our explorations of the monthly cycle of a woman with the follicular phase.  This phase derives its name from the follicles which reside within the woman's ovaries.  Each follicle contains an oocyte which is surrounded by a kind of protective sheath of cells (granulosa cells).  At the beginning of this phase, hormones trigger some of the follicles in the woman's ovaries to begin to mature, which means that the oocyte grows in size, adding components that would be needed for fertilization and by an embryonic human being.  When the maturation of the follicle begins to take place, the granulosa cells divide and increase in number, forming multiple layers around the oocyte, and between these layers an atrial pouch forms that fills with fluids, rich in hormones. This process leaves just one layer of granulosa cells around the oocyte. At the same time, these cells secrete a layer of thick gel around the oocyte called the zona pellucida. 14 days after the follicular phase begins, the most mature follicle will burst open, releasing the oocyte with its zona pellucida and the one layer of granulosa cells. This release marks the end of the follicular phase and the beginning of the luteal phase. The remaining part of the follicle then forms into a corpus luteum.  Blood vessels have permeated this corpus, and the cells begin to produce progesterone and some estrogen, which then travel into these blood vessels and subsequently into the body, triggering various responses.  One of the important responses in the woman’s body is the modification of the uterus, creating a special lining suitable for implantation and the growth of a young child.  If no fertilization results, then the entire scheme returns to the follicular phase to begin the cycle anew.  The entire meaning of these schemes is oriented toward the creation of new life.


Relationship to man

One can also focus on a variety of other changes that take place in the woman's body.  Some of these  relate the woman to a man.  The woman begins to secrete a mucous that is designed to facilitate the conjugal act.  The woman's olfactory senses come to respond to male pheromones in a new way.[3]  During the conjugal act, the triggering of similar schemes as found in the male body results in the expansion of blood vessels in a variety of places in her body. It also results in a contraction of muscles in her body that work to move the spermatozoa more completely into her body, and into the regions that have been prepared to direct and facilitate the movement of the spermatozoa toward the oocyte.


Luteal Phase → Pregnancy

 If conception of the zygotic person takes place and implantation occurs, the woman's body then begins another set of changes that prepare for her role in forming the young boy or girl in her womb, and subsequently in nursing and caring for him or her in the first years of life.[4]  The implantation itself triggers various changes, including the release of a hormone that keeps the uteral lining from disintegrating and shedding. Even her brain will undergo significant changes to facilitate both bonding as well as increased abilities to attend to the needs of the child within the environment (thus, this facilitates increases in some of the cognitive abilities of the woman as well—more on that in a later blog).


Pregnancy → Birth

 Once the child is born, the preparation taking place in the woman's mammary glands during pregnancy then gives way to small quantities of breast milk called colostrum, specifically designed for the needs of the newborn. Then, the nutrients shift to “milk” for the duration of nursing.  Interestingly, during nursing, the nerves triggered release two hormones from the pituitary gland in the brain: prolactin and oxytocin. Prolactin then triggers the mammary glands to pull proteins and sugars from the blood stream to produce the milk.  Oxytocin results in triggering cells in the breast to contract and push the milk out.  Oxytocin also causes cells in the uterus to contract, thus shrinking it.[5] Nursing also inhibits a hormone needed for the maturation and release of new oocytes, hence the reason that many, though not all, women who are nursing will not become pregnant until nursing ceases.


Far more can be said about many of these interlocking procreative schemes, however, the few mentioned here should be sufficient to give the reader an appreciation of the close integration of many events that take place in the women’s body and which form the procreative organic schemes. 


[1]This language follows the neuro-scientist Shewmon who has argued for a variety of “wholistic” properties that belong to the body as a whole, and really require the integration of a variety of different parts of the body. Hence, for example, healing of the body requires the operative integration of many systems, and is really not a property of just one part of the body.  Likewise, the procreative life of the body is not merely the result of the uterus or the vagina or the ovaries. It really is an feature of an integration of many schemes.

[2] As a note, this key fact is one of the grounds for claiming that the human person begins at this point, though because of the intrinsic independence of the human capacity for self-transcendence from the empirical residue, this is not as easy as one might suppose.  I presented this in an earlier set of blogs (“When does the human person begin to exist?”)

[3] As a note, recent studies in the last few years indicate that women will be more attracted to men with a greater complementarity in their immune systems.  This complementarity however is not found if the woman is taking the contraceptive pill.  For one summary of this, see this BBC article:

[4] The argument that the zygote is a human person was made in another set of blogs entitled “When does the human person begin to exist?”  In this blog, I started with St. Thomas' definition of a person.

[5] You can find a summary of these points at Another interesting study linked oxytocin to bonding. Here is a summary of it.

Embryonic Stem Cells, Adult Stem Cells, and Medical Treatments

by Dr. David Fleischacker

Only adult stem cells work in adult tissues. Embryonic stem cells work in embryos, not mature organisms.

The Term “Stem Cell”

Unfortunately, the technical language that develops within a discipline does not always suggest what it should, especially when it is used in the general public. I think this is the case with the use of “stem cell” for both Embryonic and Adult stem cells. The term itself is not a problem, since stem cell suggests an originating cell. To that degree, the language is fine. Both embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells are origins of more mature types. However, in people’s minds, the use of the term suggests a greater relationship between the two types of stem cells than actually exists.

The relationship I believe that has been created for the political arena is that embryonic stem cells could be directly inserted into the same locations as any adult stem cell, and they will do the same thing as those adult stem cells. It is like a one stop solution, since embryonic stem cells are sold as cells which can become any type of cell in the body. However, this one stop solution simply is not true. Embryonic stem cells are designed to work properly at the beginning stages of the organism, not at its mature stage. Conversely, the adult stem cells work properly at the mature stage, not at the beginning stages. Swapping adult stem cells with embryonic stem cells does not work therapeutically for all kinds of genetic, biochemical, and organic reasons.

The Developmental Relationship between Embryonic Stem Cells and Adult Stem Cells

There is of course a relationship between embryonic and adult stem cells, one that is developmental. Stems cells of any type have a relation of finality to the mature types into which they emerge. In Embryonic stem cells, one is speaking of cells that exist early on in the life of the organism which then unfold into all of the various cells types of a mature organism, which includes adult stem cells. As this unfolding takes place, a variety of genetic, biochemical, and organic changes take place (one might be surprised that genetic changes take place. This refers to the actual packaging of the DNA molecules which causes shifts of the actual genes that can be transcribed). Adult stem cells in contrast maintain and heal the various organic systems in the body, and thus have significant differences in the genetic and biochemical schemes that are operative. In short, there are a variety of developmental stages between embryonic and adult stem cells. These stages effect a series of developmental shifts with all the accompanying changes that take place in the genetics and biochemistry of the cells.

Adult Stem Cell Therapy. There is NO Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy.

Thus, theoretically, embryonic stem cells can lead to the creation of adult stem cells, and then potential therapies from diseases that are treatable by healthy adult stem cells. But this is the key, one cannot simply use an embryonic stem cell directly in an adult without problems. ONLY adult stem cells can be used in adult tissues (and ones that would not be rejected as “foreign” cells by the immune system).

In embryonic stem cell therapies used in animal experiments, many of the troubles found are related to control of cell division and maturation. In these experiments on animals, embryonic stems cells sometimes function in the right way in adult tissues, at least in part, however they lack the rather nuanced schemes for equilibrium. What happens when equilibrium schemes fail to work properly? One of the results in these animal experiments is cancer (cancer is uncontrolled cell growth). Unfortunately, when we read of the healing successes that occur in these animal experiments that result from embryonic stem cells, the conclusion is not added in, namely that the animal then died of cancer.

The medical point thus is simple to make. For embryonic stem cells to be of medical use, they have to be “developed” into adult stem cells so that they operate properly within adult tissue systems. There is no magic to this. However, there are no such therapies derived from embryonic research yet, because little is still known about how embryonic stems cells develop into adult stem cells, and even less about creating treatments from the knowledge of these stages. In contrast, adult stems cells are already adult stem cells. They can be used in adult tissues, because that is where they are derived (as long as the standard problems of rejection by the immune system are resolved). Thus, there is no magical reason why over 100 types of human stem cell therapies exist in this world which are derived from adult stem cell research, NOT embryonic stem cell research. In fact, not a single human therapy has been developed from embryonic stem cell research. There is no magical reason to this either.

So, if you have some hope that embryonic stem cell research will prove more medically valuable, it simply is not true. Only adult stem cells work properly in adult tissues. It is a simple fact already known in the stem cell community. And it is much easier to develop therapies from adult stem cells than from embryonic, and thus, the likelihood of eventually creating embryonic stem cell therapies is minimal.

And of course, this simply addresses the direct pragmatic outcomes of stem cell research. It does not address the ethics of the means, especially when the means on the one side is the destruction of an embryonic child. That, is a topic for another blog. People might be willing to kill others for medical benefits, others might be willing to kill for scientific benefits. But killing human life for scientific or medical benefit necessarily proceeds from a hardened heart.

When does the human person begin to exist? Part 9, the conclusion

by David Fleischacker

In this entry, I will end up repeating some of the same conclusions as in the last two blogs, however, with a slightly different focus, and a basis from which to answer the challenge in the last blog.

I would like to refer the reader to chapter 8 in INSIGHT, section 3 on “Genus as Explanatory.” Specifically, I am looking at the section in which Lonergan addresses the possibility of the emergence of a new and higher genus of things. He is worth quoting at this point,

Consider, then, a genus of things, Ti with explanatory conjugates, Ci, and a consequent list of possible schemes of recurrence, Si. Suppose there occurs an aggregate of events, Eij that is merely coincidental when considered in light of the laws of things, Ti, and of all their possible schemes of recurrence, Si. Then, if the aggregate of events, Eij, occurs regularly, it is necessary to advance to the higher viewpoint of some genus of things, Tj, with conjugates, Ci and Cj, and with schemes of recurrence, Sj. The lower viewpoint is insufficient for it has to regard as merely coincidental what in fact is regular. The higher viewpoint is justified, for the conjugates, Cj, and the schemes, Sj, constitute a higher system that makes regular what otherwise would be merely coincidental. (Insight, 255 – 256)

This point that Lonergan makes presents us with the heart of the solution that is required in order to make the case that human neurological and sensate schemes possess a regularity that cannot be explained adequately by neurological (biological) nor sensate conjugates and their schemes. Thus, what is taking place in phantasm is something that does not really make sense from standard sensate conjugates and schemes. The standard schemes are for sensing, reproducing a sensation, or creatively constructing something that could be sensed. Phantasm, though a pattern within neurological and sensate schemes, requires an appeal to the higher conscious acts of question and answers to explain it. In other words, when a person asks a question, many neural processes are triggered, and one cannot explain these with the experience of some sense object or desire for food. One has to turn to the question itself in order to explain the neural patterns and why these exist and exist as these do.

Furthermore, I would like to add some points slightly beyond Lonergan’s quote above. Self-transcendence not only explains a particular set of neurological and sensate regularities, but it brings about a horizontal development in the neurological and sensate capabilities as well. Mathematics provides an analogy. Algebra expands arithmetic in order to reach its goals. For example, one can say

8 + 10 = 10 + 8

6 + 5 = 5 + 6,

9 + 12 = 12 + 9

etc., etc., etc.,

This is arithmetic. However, in arithmetic alone, there really would not have been much reason for carrying out such activities. Only in algebra, which is looking to resolve problems in a different manner does one want to discover such laws as “A + B = B + A.”

This solution in the human beingA Thought ExperimentA thought experiment might help to create a plausible understanding of this dependence of the expansion of the lower neurological and sensate manifolds upon the higher self-transcending levels of consciousness.

Let me start with a simple statement rooted in Lonergan’s proposals regarding higher and lower levels in Insight. Every conscious act has its underpinning neural correlate. A sufficiently different conscious act will result in differences within the sensate, which in turn will have differences in neural patterns. Hence, a question about a tree will trigger different neural patterns than the experience of seeing or touching the tree.

Let us say that neural pattern X is discovered. Now, the pattern emerges whenever intelligent creature A is asked about the color of the ball present at which s/he is looking upon. Now, in the brain of this creature, there is already operative pattern Y, which results from the focused attention upon the ball. It was discovered to be a similar pattern within a dog, friendly creature B, and a monkey, curious creature C. In all three, this pattern Y is correlated with the visual perception of the ball. However, the question stirs up other patterns. When the friendly creature B and curious creature C are asked the same question, they too have certain patterns that get triggered, but there are some significant differences from that which gets stirred up in intelligent creature A. Intelligent creature A has a variety of patterns in the cerebrum that are triggered which are not found in the friendly or the curious creature. These further neural patterns are linked to questions and insights and these recur whenever the question is asked. And one never finds these patterns in the friendly or curious creature, neither of which even possess these particular neural possibilities in the first place (as a note I would expect some significant neural differences between the dog and the monkey as well).

Let us say some further experiments have discovered a few more things about these neural patterns in the cerebrum of the human being. Normally, patterns can be explained by various types of sensate and neural “causes.” The seeing of the ball or the desire for food trigger neurological processes or sensate ones. However, in the human being, some of movements in the frontal lobes do not have such an explanation in the end. Even though these might accompany seeing and tasting, these possess a liberty of movement that cannot be reduced to these initial processes. Rather one has to appeal to higher acts of self-transcendence in order to understand these movements. One must appeal to the questions for understanding and insight, questions for reflection and reflective insight, or questions for deliberation and evaluative insight that the human subject is freely raising (as well as concepts, judgments of fact, and judgments of value, etc..).

The expansion of neural and sensate manifolds under self-transcendence.Let us now continue this thought experiment, and turn from the coincidentality of the neural and sensate manifolds toward their development.

As was mentioned earlier, just as algebra expands the “doing of arithmetic,” so self-transcendence is going to expand the neural and sensate manifolds. This would happen not just in individuals, but in the human species over its history.

In the IndividualOnce questions and answers begin to awaken in the child, the neural manifolds will shift in support of these developments. For example, prior to birth a massive growth of neural connections takes place, far beyond those connections which will be needed. During the first five or so years after birth, this growth is “weeded down.” What gets used, stays, what does not reduces. This period is a period in which the child is literally forming her or his brain through interaction with the immediate environment and culture. Maria Montessori calls this the “absorbant” sensitive period in human development. The mind can be described as a kind of sponge, but literally it is being interiorly formed from the neurons on up.

Just before adolescence another growth of neurons is taking place, similar to that which takes place before birth. The front lobes are massively being reintegrated with the rest of the brain, allowing for a new kind of absorbent period.

In the human speciesNow both the structures of the first growth and the second have neurological, biochemical, and genetic grounds. However, I would like to suggest that these roots were guided by prior generations of self- transcending subjects. Over the millennia, neural patterns that allow for greater rates of self-transcendence increase the probabilities for survival and expansion, and thus, the self-transcendending species sees an evolutionary improvement over time in the neural structures of the brain that support the sensate capacities that underpin acts of self-transcendence. Thus, neural processes and their correlative sensate activities will develop in the brain that have come to be via the higher order of successful self- transcendence. Thus, from the first stage of an individual, he or she possesses developmental orders that come from the self-transcending subjects of the past. This means, that even the genetic and biochemical make-up of the first cell, the zygote, possesses this ordered development.

However, once the neural and sensate matrices arise in the individual that can support actual self- transcendence, then individuals self-transcendence comes to have a new role in shaping the neural and sensate manifolds. Then, for example, the “weeding down” in the first five years after birth and in the early years of adolescence is guided by the subject’s acts of self-transcendence (mediated within the community and its history).

So, both the neural and sensate manifolds have been guided by self-transcending subjects of the past and then further guidance comes from the self-transcending individual in conscious and intentional relation to community and its history. This is a rather differentiation way of looking at nature and nurture.

Notice, that this is not claiming that the underlying neural and sensate manifolds cause self-transcendence. But they are the matrix in which such self-transcendence takes place. As Lonergan argues, human intelligence is intrinsically independent of the empirical residue, though extrinsically dependent upon it. And it is this extrinsic dependence that calls for the kinds of neural and sensate advancements in the human species in the same way as algebra calls forth arithmetic advancements. It seems highly improbable that these advancements could be explained by neural or sensate operations alone, and thus it is highly probable that they have an intrinsic dependence for their intelligible meaning upon self-transcendence (constituted by the transcendental notions).

What does this mean for the larger question at hand?It simply means that from the first stage of development in the human being, the prior generations of self- transcending subjects contribute the basic biochemical and genetic order that has an intrinsic relationship to self-transcendence. In other words, one cannot understand adequately the genetic and biochemical layout even of the zygote without appeal to their formation in relationship to prior generations of self- transcending subjects. Hence, though it is not “guided” by the current self-transcending acts of the zygote, simply because these have not yet emerged, the developmental orientation toward a differentiation of neural and sensate patterns require an appeal to something more in the end, and that more is an orientation toward self-transcendence brought about by an inheritance from the past.

Now, in earlier blogs I had argued that in a developing kind of thing, the first stage of development is the first moment in which that thing exists. However, in those blogs, I could not argue as directly that in stages prior to actual self-transcendence of the individual a human person existed. I did argue that a human person is a person whenever a “this” has an intrinsic (by “intrinsic” I mean it only becomes explanatorily intelligible via self-mediating relationship to self-transcendence. Now, in light of this blog, some further provisional statements and conclusions can be made:

1. A human person begins in the first stage of a “unity-identity-whole” that possesses an intrinsic relationship to intellectual, rational, and moral self-transcendence.

2. Since every stage of development prior to actual self-transcendence cannot be adequately explained without appealing to self-transcendence, every stage of human life has an intrinsic relationship to self- transcendence (though that relationship does change).

3. Thus, the zygote also has an intrinsic relationship to intellectual, rational, and moral self-transcendence (of past self-transcending subjects).

4. The zygote is the first stage of human development (I have not formally made this argument, but it can be done from biological studies).

5. Therefore, a zygote is when the human person begins to exist.

Actually, there are a few more premises that could be introduced and detailed, but I trust that it is sufficient to make the point. Much work can be done in detailing all of these links. I have just picked up a few new texts on brain development and the frontal lobes, which should add some of the latest discoveries. I have tried to simplify the arguments to give pointers more than thorough treatments of the brain and brain development. However, for readers interested in doing more, I would recommend starting with some introductory texts on the brain and brain development, then going to the latest research on the prefrontal cortex and its development. This usually will give more than sufficient detail to underpin some of the general statements I have made in these blogs.

When does the human person begin to exist? Part 8, a challenge to the last blog.

by David Fleischacker

I am hoping now to return to this line of thought again, after a bit of a delay because of a busy semester and a paper and a trip to South Korea.

In the last blog, the argument lead up to a possibility. Simply possessing a potentiality for phantasm was sufficient for that which possesses this potentiality to be intrinsically linked to an intellectual nature. The reason for this is because the phantasm as such, though an operation of the imagination, has a pattern or order to it that goes beyond the imagination. Lonergan’s definition of a circle in INSIGHT illustrates this point. The cartwheel as a cartwheel is either a direct manifestation of a sense object or it is a remember recreation of the sense object. However, a cartwheel as such is not a phantasm. One has to start increasing the quantity of spokes, decreasing the width of the spokes, decreasing the hub, etc., and move each of these toward the ultimately unimaginable, toward points and lines. The imagination has to be ordered in a dynamic fashion in order to provide the materials for an insight. This dynamic ordering of the cartwheel is no longer just a cartwheel, especially as insight emerges. In fact, by then, the image of the cartwheel has all but disappeared.

Thus, when the imagination along with the underlying neural manifolds reaches a point that it is potentially formable into a phantasm, one then can say that a real potentiality has arrived. However, until questioning actually awakens, this potential in the neural manifolds and imagination, real as it may be, will not move toward phantasm and become actuated in a phantasm.

The Challenge

A simple question however challenges this view. Could such plasticity of the imagination emerge from merely sensate needs alone? In other words, could the motor-sensory integrations that arise because of typical animal sensate operators and operations (a zoological system on the move) be sufficient for a neural plasticity that then could be formed into phantasm as well? For example, would the development of the frontal lobes as found in human beings have taken place even without the emergence of intelligence? When not participating in an actual phantasm, would the neural manifolds exist as they do without any need to appeal to the capacity for self transcendence? Now notice, this is not about whether an actual phantasm requires a higher explanation, but whether the potentiality of the neural structures for participation in phantasm require more.

Next blog: my response. (originally, I had planned on putting this answer up with the above, but it is rather long, and I am hoping to shorten it.

When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 7. The Human Person: As Body and Mind

By David Fleischacker

In the last blog, I had mentioned the final steps in reaching a conclusion. Ignore that, at least in part.

In this current installment, I have chosen to examine the relationship between the body and the mind in the matured human person. Most of us would hardly argue whether a grown, awake, intelligent adult is a human person. Yet not so clear is the relationship of the body and the mind in terms of being intrinsically related to an intellectual nature. And until this becomes a bit clearer, I cannot begin to answer the question about when the human being begins to exist.

The Human Mind as Intrinsically Independent and Extrinsically Dependent on the Empirical Residue

[As a note of profound gratitude, I would like to thank Fr. Joseph Flanagan for highlighting the meaning of the spiritual in INSIGHT during the year long courses I had with him in 1990 on that book. Fr. Flanagan’s pointers have been a starting point of deepening reflection for me over the years. The following discussion is simply another example of that deepening.]

In INSIGHT, Lonergan notes that human intelligence develops in relationship to the sensate, which in turn, emerges within the neural manifolds, and one could continue on down, to the chemical and sub-atomic, and even the quark. So, on the one hand, the development of human intelligence simply cannot take place without images or what St. Thomas calls phantasms, which in turn only happen within neural manifolds in particular places, times, continuums, and coincidental aggregates. At the same time, from these particular manifolds of neurons and images, human questions and insights have a liberty that stretches to the universe and beyond. Our questions intrinsically intend intelligibilities, truths, and goods, or in general the transcendentals of intelligibility, truth, and goodness. Together, the integrated intentionality constituted by these transcendental notions forms the basic human capacity for self-transcendence. What emerges from this capacity has a universal and invariant character that can include the concrete and particular. Insights and judgments abstract from the empirical residue to reach universals and the virtually unconditioned, and thus have a kind of liberty from that residue.[for more on these, see Lonergan’s account of the invariant character of insight in chapter 2 of INSIGHT and of the virtually unconditioned in chapter 9 of INSIGHT] This liberty is what Lonergan means when in INSIGHT he technically defines the spiritual as that which is intrinsically independent of the empirical residue. Intrinsically independent because the mind intrinsically intends the transcendental notions not the particularities of the images and neural manifolds. At the same time, it is extrinsically dependent, because it cannot reach its aim without that particularity.

Is the human body intrinsically independent of the spiritual capacity for self-transcendence?

All of this however points to the fact that human intellectual, rational, and moral development of the capacity for self-transcendence is intrinsically independent of and extrinsically dependent on the body–its organic and motor-sensate, and affective facets as well as its embeddedness in the empirical residue. However, this relation of the mind to the body does not allow one to understand and know whether the human body is intrinsically independent of the capacity for self-transcendence and its realization. This reminds one of St. Thomas point that God is intrinsically independent of us, but we are not intrinsically independent of God in our existence. At the same time, it reminds me of St. Thomas point that the rational nature of the human being informs the body which means the body has an intelligibility that comes from the rational nature above.

There is another way of raising this question. Is the human body intrinsically intelligible without reference to the intelligibility of the capacity for self-transcendence and its realization in the self-transcending acts of understanding, judging, and deciding? If the body is intrinsically independent, then one cannot say that an intrinsic link to an intellectual nature occurs in the human body. Thus, when a human being is merely an organic or zoological being, he or she is not a human person. On the other hand, if such an intelligibility exists, then one can say that this being who is not currently intellectual, rational, and moral is still a human person.

Phantasm and Insight

Non-heuristic sense objects

One way to develop this answer is to examine the relationship that the phantasm has to insight. The images that are phantasms are distinct from those that are merely sensate. Sensate type images are either direct integrations of neural responses to sense objects the apple as seen–or they are creative remembrances of those objects the apple as remembered–or creative constructions of potential sensate objects that have never actually been sensed the cubicle apple. Notice that in each case there is a greater liberty from the material manifolds. The second is free from the actual sensation of the object in a particular physical place and time but not free from memories of the object. The third is free from both a sensation of the object and even from a memory of it though it is not free from some previous sense experiences. If one has never had eyes to see or ears to hear, then no visual or auditory creative constructs can be formed.

In all three cases, the empirical residue is a constitutive component of the images. Every actual, remembered, or potential sensate object has a particular spatial or temporal element, as well as individuality. And though the imagination has a kind of freedom to create these residues, especially as one moves to the second and third types of sensate objects, the objects it creates cannot be without these residues.

Intellectual Images – Phantasms

Images need not be limited to sense type objects, and this is precisely what takes place in the formation of a phantasm. A phantasm is an imaginative object that has become formed in such a manner as to allow for the emergence of an insight. For example, in understanding the algebraic law that A + B = B + A, the data requires that one do and then examine a series of arithmetic activities, such as 1 + 2 = 2 + 1; 4 + 10 = 10 + 4, 8 + 54 = 54 + 8, etc., etc., etc.. Thus, the phantasm in this case is formed by doing arithmetic based on symbolic representations of numerical elements and mathematical operations. Notice, that the kind of patterning of the imagination that takes place cannot be explained either as a perception of an actual sensate object, as a memory, or as a creative construct of a potential sensate object. Instead, this kind of imaginative play is ordered toward insight. And that patterning of the imagination is an intelligibility that requires an understanding of higher levels of intellectual life. The phantasm as a phantasm would not exist without the insight and it would not be what it is without the insight. Yet, it belongs to the imagination, and hence is embedded in neural manifolds and the empirical residue. Without the act of insight, the underlying phantasm is merely a strange coincidental aggregate of neural events and images. The reality is that it is not random or strange, and needs the higher order for explanation.

What this indicates is the body, at least that part of the body that has become informed as a phantasm, is informed by the insight, and thus cannot be understood in its form or pattern without that insight. This indicates an intelligibility of the body that intrinsically requires an appeal to intelligence itself. Thus, the phantasm is intrinsically linked to our human intellectual nature.
Intellectual Body without phantasm?

This then raises another question. Does this intelligible link between the phantasm and intelligence exist when no phantasm actually exists? If I am in a deep sleep, or in a kind of non-intellectual conscious state, does my vegetative and sensate being still exist in a manner that possesses an intrinsic form that requires an appeal to higher conscious operations? The answer in my judgment is yes.
Evidence 1: The Potentiality of the Imagination and Brain for Phantasm

What is the evidence? Well, I think in general one could point to the real potentiality of the imagination to be informed as a phantasm. When the imagination is not actually informed as a phantasm, it does not thereby become limited in its capability to form a phantasm. In other words, it does not regress to being able to rise no higher than sensate type images and constructs. This also means that the neural manifolds that underlie the potentiality for forming the phantasm have this same plasticity. I suspect that the great power of the associative regions of the brain, and the motor and sensory cortices along with the front lobes point to this plasticity as well, and as the structures of the brain become better known, this link will become clearer.

Evidence 2: The Memory of Habituation of the Imagination and Neural Patterns by Phantasm

Also, once a phantasm has been created, and the neurons and their synaptic linkages have switched into long term patterns for long term memory, then literally, the brain has become habituated to these phantasms. Even when these patterns are not operative as phantasms, the stability of the neural linkages remain. And like the phantasm, these underlying neural patterns cannot be explained except in relationship to the higher insights, reflective insights, and evaluative insights that inform them [I think the neural patterns involved in evaluative insights include a combination of the manner in which the affective/emotional dimensions of the brain are integrated into the higher parts of the brain, especially the frontal lobes. Thus the phantasm sublated by evaluative insight includes higher brain integrations of these intentional affect elements, which is what neurologically allows for the sublation of the affective into the rationally self-consciousness, or the level of decision]. Thus, even the memory patterns of these phantasms are intrinsically informed by these higher conscious operations and thus have an intrinsic link to an intellectual nature.

Thus, an intrinsic link of the body to an intellectual nature is found both in the potentiality of the human imagination and human brain for phantasm as well as in the memory patterns of the imagination and neural structures that had emerged as a result of phantasm.

So, even when we are in a deep sleep, or in a sensate state in which we are not thinking, understanding, judging, and deciding, our bodies are still in a neural and imaginative potentiality and state that is intrinsically linked to our capacity for self-transcendence and its realization.

Yet, we have not reached our final answer. The relation of phantasm and the higher conscious operations regards the matured human adult and not when the human person begins to exist. However we have made one further step toward the resolution of this question. One can point out that the intrinsic link to an intellectual nature can begin even when a real potentiality for phantasm begins. But a real potentiality includes development, and such finality for development can be both horizontal and vertical. The implications of this need to be explored, and that is for the next blog.

When does the human person begin to exist? Part 6: The human person as developing

by Dr. David Fleischacker

In the former 5 parts of our inquiry, we had explored the meaning of the Thomistic definition of person as a “distinct subsistent in an intellectual nature.” A person needs to be distinct from mother or father or brother or sister or friend or enemy. A person is a subsistent, a that which is, a concrete unity. A person is intrinsically linked to intelligence, reasonableness, responsibility, and love. And now to turn to the next stage, what is specifically human about this person?

The HUMAN person

As Developing:

In the former blog entry, it was noted that the intelligence of human beings develops. It starts as a mere potentiality, a mere capacity that grows through the years. In other words our questions for understanding, insights, definition and symbolic formulations of insights, our questions for reflection, reflective insights, judgments, questions for deliberation, apprehension of values, judgments of value and the good, and decisions unfold, shift, grow, and undergo transformations and even conversions over the years.These growths can be horizontal expansions of common sense, of the dramatic formation of human living, or of the artistic realms. These growths can undergo expansions into new modalities of stewarding the world mediated by meaning, such as takes place in the move into theory and explanation, and then again into a higher differentiation of consciousness that Lonergan identifies as the shift to an explanatory interiority or the “Third Stage of Meaning.” And within each higher stage whether theory or interiority, horizontal developments can take place. Differentiations of the sciences, and ultimately of metaphysics can be articulated and explored, and then used to guide and direct our lives within creation and history.

Most comprehensively, the human being can be characterized in terms of the full range of our questions and the full range of notions that constitute the aims of these questions. Lonergan defines this totality as the capacity for self-transcendence. We are beings that seek intelligibility, truth or being, and the good. This capacity drives our development and this capacity defines our aims. Its fulfillment is what we desire, and such fulfillment would bring ultimate happiness. Thus, to find that which would bring about such fulfillment would be to adhere to that which would be our true happiness. This ultimately means to be in love with one who is unrestricted intelligence, truth, and goodness.

Thus, the human being is intrinsically intellectual because the human being is intrinsically constituted by a relationship to understanding the intelligible, to judging that discovers the true, to evaluation and deliberation that beholds the good and grounds true freedom, and most comprehensively to a capacity for self-transcendence that yearns to be actuated in a love that truly completes it, in a love of God as God who has first flooded our hearts with love, and placed us into a context to love our neighbor and our enemy in a manner that transforms our world.

Our development is one that brings about a religious self-transcendence in faith, hope, and love; a moral self-transcendence that forms into the moral virtues; an intellectual self-transcendence that forms into the intellectual virtues. Human beings are human persons because of this intrinsic link to intellectual life, one that is “one the way” toward ultimate human perfection in another that is perfection itself.

But when do we begin?

Of course, these all refer to the developments of the human mind, will, and heart and we are looking for the beginning of the human person. When does this intrinsic link to developing intelligence, reason, deliberation, love begin? Part of the difficulty in answering this question is a difficulty raised two blog entries ago, in part 4. The human being is not merely an intellectual, rational, responsible being. We are in-carnated, infleshed, and that infleshment is in two related levels that develop. On a first level emerges the organic. Early in life we undergo multiple differentiations of cells and cell systems. At the beginning, we are but a single cell, then a few cells, and out of this grows the circulatory, the muscular, the immunological, the digestive, the neurological, and a number of other interrelated systems. With the trees we share growth, feeding, and other organic systems. On a second level arises the motor-sensory-affective developments. Increasing integrations of the body, especially through the neurological, blossoms forth into a motor-sensory set of operations that give rise to sensate living within this world. With the animals we share sensory perceptions of our spatial-temporal niches of life, and the ability to transform those niches with our motor responses in the context of passions and emotions.

But are these vegetative and sensate dimensions of our existence intrinsically linked to intelligence, rationality, morality, love?

Next Expected Blog Entry: March 1

For those who are interested, I think the conclusion of this current question should take place in the following order, each one to be published one week after the former.

1. When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 7. The Human Person: the relation of the mind to the body

2. When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 8. The Human Person: the relation of the body to the mind

3. When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 9. The Human Person: The relation of the zygote and fetus to the adult mind.

4. When does the Human Person Begin to Exist? Part 10. The Human Person: The CONCLUSION