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.

Insight, Method, and the Trinity

On Holy Saturday morning at 10:30 am, we will be discussing INSIGHT, chapter 14, section 3 (Method in Metaphysics).  We will link it to METHOD IN THEOLOGY, chapter 1, section 1, as well as METHOD IN THEOLOGY, chapter 5, intro and section 1. As well, we will discuss a few points of how method is linked to the Trinity.

Two Rival Notions of Being: Rosmini, Heidegger, Rahner, and Lonergan rev. ed.


In the theology of Antonio Rosmini (d. 1855), one finds an understanding about human cognition where human beings work from an initial, ideal, indeterminate notion or idea of being which underlies and penetrates every kind of human inquiry and which is necessarily presupposed by all our acts of human knowing.  This notion of beign is implied in every judgment.  Cf.  Gerald A. McCool, Catholic Theology in the Nineteenth Century: The Quest for a  Unitary Method (New York: Seabury Press, 1977), p. 120.  Without it, nothing can happen in human knowing.  This idea exists in an “essentially objective” manner as an intellectual object which immediately and perennially illuminates the mind from without without necessarily eliciting or effecting any effect in how one's mind is supposed to respond.  Cf. Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913 ed., s.v. “ Rosmini and Rosminianism,” by D. Hickey.  This ideal, initial, indeterminate notion of being is self-evidently and intuitively known by us through a form of mental seeing which can never err since, by this seeing, no judgments of any kind are being made (the seeing exists before or prior to any judgment) and errors only exist whenever we make judgments.  What is seen in this notion of being is distinct from and is opposed to the mind that sees.


In the self-revelation of being which occurs, as noted, the mind makes no contribution of its own because what exists as “an unconditionally necessary object cannot derive its intelligibility from a contingent mind.”  Cf. McCool, p. 120.  However, in any later knowing of anything that can be known initially through an act of sense, the human mind works with this ideal notion of being to apply it to a datum of sense, converting this datum into an object of experience.  In human knowing, a process of objectification  creates divisions between subjects and objects.  The existence of a real distinction here between an intellectual object and any act of mental seeing which occurs in intuition (a real distinction between knower and known) accordingly recalls the fact that, for us, a similar real distinction exists between light as it exists in a material, external way and any eye which sees or beholds the light which it externally sees.  Only by an abstractive species of thinking can human beings come to realize that an initial, indeterminate notion of being exists innately within one's mind to guide it from within as a species of inner light.  Without its already existing within one's mind as the “form of one's understanding” or as the “light of one's intelligence,” no kind of inquiry can occur about any given topic or issue.  Cf.  McCool, p. 122.


These things being said, however, it is not with point that Rosmini's notion of being closely resembles Heidegger's notion of being (as this has been adapted by him from the notion of being which one finds in the philosophy of Edmund Husserl).  Cf. Michael Sharkey, Heidegger, Lonergan, and the Notion of Being, pp. 9-16, unpublished paper, presented at a meeting of the Lonergan Philososphical Society, Baltimore, Maryland, November 6, 2010.  In Heidegger's own words, when the being of something is to be determined through inquiry, the being which is to be determined is “in a certain way already understood.”  It exists as a “preunderstanding” that is given to one even if it exists as “unoriented and vague preunderstanding.”  Cf. Martin Heidegger, History of the Concept of Time: Prolegomena, tr. Theodore Kisiel (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985), pp. 143-144, as cited by Sharkey, pp. 9-11.  While Lonergan speaks about an a priori notion of being that is purely heuristic and which is without any kind of conceptual or formal content (“notion of being” versus “concept of being”), in Heidegger's notion of being, various texts here and there refer to a prior understanding of being which is already given and operative in human inquiry and which is not to be confused with determinate anticipations of being which exist either as assumptions, or as prejudices, or as prior understandings in the context of a particular inquiry which is seeking to solve a problem or to move toward some degree of growth in the content of one's understanding.  In any given inquiry which we conduct as human beings in the concrete world, an anticipated conceptual content commonly accompanies a genuine search for growth in understanding and truth which, per se, as a search for understanding and truth, is to be identified with Lonergan's heuristic notion of being and the operation of this notion within the dynamic of human inquiry.  All human beings ask questions in a context that is partially guided and determined by presumptions and prejudices and by previous acts of understanding which legitimately exist as a prior partial knowledge of being.  Heidegger speaks about the presence and the activity of “fore-understanding”: a fore or pre-understanding which refers to the “fore-structure of understanding.”  Cf. Gadamer, Truth and Method, pp. 265-255, citing Heidegger, Sein und Zeit [Being and Time], pp. 312ff.  And indeed, if we turn to Aristotle, Aquinas, and Lonergan, we find that the same point is made although in different words and within the context of a different conceptualization.  No attempt to seek an understanding about anything occurs or proceeds from any prior total lack of understanding.  Cf. Aquinas, Sententia super Physicam, 1, 1, 7; Sentencia Libri De anima, 3, 14, 8; De Malo, q. 6, a. 1; Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 85, a. 3; 1a2ae, q. 97, a. 1; Frederick E. Crowe, “Law and Insight,” Developing the Lonergan Legacy: Historical, Theoretical, and Existential Themes, ed. Michael Vertin (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), p. 275 & n. 22.  Certain things are already understood and known and, about certain things, no questions need to be asked.  From a partial understanding of being, one only moves toward greater understanding or one tries to move toward a greater understanding.


However, if acts of prior understanding or if acts of prior misunderstanding are distinguished from an unqualified a priori which simply refers to a prior understanding of being (a prior act of understanding which is to be equated with an a priori understanding of being), then one is dealing with a different kind of hypothesis (i.e., a different kind of claim).  Hence, to the degree that Heidegger adheres to a point of view which holds to an a priori notion of being which exists as an a priori understanding of being (an understanding which somehow already exists and which has been intuited in some way and whose meaning is but gradually unpacked and specified through subsequent inquiries that one might be making), it follows that Heidegger's notion of being presupposes or points to a notion or understanding of cognition which thinks in terms of dualism, confrontation, and intuition.  Human knowing is grounded in a mysterious, prior confrontation of some kind (a confrontation that exists between a subject and an object).  An inquiry into the Husserlian roots of Heidegger's notion of being best indicates how or why Heidegger is able to speak about a prior indeterminate notion or sense of being that is somehow later drawn out or explicated when, in one's later acts of understanding, one moves from an initial experience or understanding of being as a totality into articulations or explications of this totality which distinguish parts or elements within the totality of being and which also indicate how these parts or elements are related to each other in certain ways.  Categories are invoked as means that can be used to distinguish parts or elements from each other although in a manner which can indicate how these same parts or elements are, in fact, related to each other.  With respect to the possible transitions which can occur as a potential human knower moves from a sense of the whole to a sense of parts or aspects that can related to each other in a certain way, see Sharkey, p. 11, who distinguishes, in Husserl's understanding of human cognition, three different kinds of intuition which appear to exist together (“there from the beginning” in sensible experience) but which yet allow one to move from one kind of intuition to another as one's attentiveness shifts back and forth (from whole to part and then back to whole).  “Sensuous intuitions” are distinguished from “synthetic categorial intuitions” and these, in turn, are distinguished from “ideational categorial intuitions.”


Hence, later on, when we move from philosophy to theology, if we can correctly argue that Heidegger's Husserlian notion of being exerts a determining influence within the Trinitarian theology of Karl Rahner (however partial is this influence), we can perhaps conclude that, in Heidegger's notion of being, we can find clues or suggestions which can help explain why Rahner tends to refrain from working with psychological analogies in his proffered systematic theology of the Trinity.  If, in some way, knowing tends to be conceived in terms of some kind of intuition or, better still and perhaps more accurately, if knowing is being regarded in a way which has not fully separated itself from an intuitional understanding of cognition (an understanding which reduces all human acts of knowing to a simple single act that is akin to an act of sense), then this sense or understanding about the nature of human cognition cannot be used too easily as a fit analogy for thinking about how one might want to think and speak about processions within God (a plurality of processions which points to three persons while yet also pointing to the truth of God's essential oneness).  For a fit analogy, for a better analogy, one must more fully and explicitly enter into the details of a discursive understanding of human cognition (an understanding which knows that human knowing consists of a plurality or assembly of different acts which are all ordered to each other in a way which evidences an internally constitutive, dynamic, inner unity).  Cf. Conversations with Michael Sharkey, November 6, 2010; Conversations with Roland Krismer, November 29, 2010.


By way of a conclusion, however, which can possibly indicate how a bridge can be conceived to exist between Lonergan's understanding of being and the understanding of being that is commonly found in the transcendental philosophy of Martin Heidegger, Emerich Coreth, and Karl Rahner, one can take Lonergan's notion of being and ask about its conditions of possibility.  Why does it exist or what is its ground?  In his cognitive theory, Lonergan identifies a heuristic notion of being which can be found to exist as an operative principle within the dynamics of human cognition.  But, if one asks about the grounds of this notion (where this notion comes from or why it exists), one is compelled to give an answer which refers to a metaphysics and the existence of a certain kind or type of being.  A being or ontology of things explains why certain things act in the way that they do (why they are the subjects of certain acts and why also they are the recipients of other kinds of acts).  Human beings exist in a certain way.  They have come to exist in a certain way.  From a more thorough understanding about the nature of human cognition, one naturally moves into some kind of ontology or metaphysics.  And so, as one engages in this line of inquiry, on this basis, one can speak about Being or the existence of things as a fundamental presupposition.  The order of Being enjoys a certain priority (it exists as a legitimate point of departure) although, as we have already noted, a simple prior understanding or knowledge of being (prior to the existence of any kind of inquiry) is to be sharply distinguished from a partial prior understanding and knowledge of being that is always operative to some extent in human acts of inquiry and understanding.  Lonergan cannot argue and he does not argue that his notion of being exists as an absolute.  It exists rather as a relative.  It exists as a conditioned since it is explained by an order of being that is already given and which is always present.  In the context of Lonergan's own thought, in the context of his analysis, from a fuller understanding of one's self as a human knower, one properly moves into a metaphysics.  One can begin to understand the priority of metaphysics as this relates to the kind of priority which one discovers when one adverts to the existence of a pure desire to know that is found to be operative within the structure of our human cognition.


 With respect thus to the existence of two priorities, as one begins to discover why one should speak about a priority which exists with respect to metaphysics, by asking questions about the grounds and the conditions of possibility for the existence of metaphysics, one is soon led to a set of answers which now refer to acts of understanding.  If the being of things is intrinsically intelligible, it exists on the basis of some kind of rational ground.  But, rational grounds presuppose an existence of reasons and considerations which can only exist within minds (within acts of understanding).  In other words, as one understands the priority of metaphysics, one understands the priority of acts of understanding (the priority of cognition vis-a-vis the priority of metaphysics).  And so, as we try to think together the tradition of thought that is found in Lonergan (and which is exmplified in his heuristic notion of being) and the tradition of thought that is found in the insights of Heidegger, Coreth, and Rahner (and which refer to other notions of being), it seems that the best solution is an approach which thinks in terms of a reciprocal or mutual priority.  The mutual priority or mutual causality which one finds in how Aquinas understands the relation which exists between intellect and will (understanding and willing) serves as a similarly useful device for understanding why, in one sense, one can properly speak about a contrasting heuristic notion of being as this is found in the context of Lonergan's thought and why, in another sense, one cannot speak about a contrast if it is conceived to exist as an absolute.  Within the tradition of German transcendental thought, differences exist among different thinkers and sometimes one wonders if these differences are explained more by the use of different starting points than by deficient understandings that are had about the nature of human understanding.  If Lonergan's heuristic notion of being is more adequately understood as a relative, if the conditions of its existence can be more adequately understood, a context can be created that could better mediate the insights of Lonergan's thought into the corpus of transcendental thought as this exists within the German speaking world.  From a transformation that can occur from within the context of traditional transcendental philosophy, more good can be effected.  More good can be expected.