Infallible Church and the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian (This is a PDF)
by David Fleischacker
As I was thinking about the meaning of a “conjoined union,” the key kind of potency in such a union is not merely finality, but a kind of realized finality. Realized because it is then sublated within the higher levels of being and/or consciousness. The “conjoined” refers to a set of conditions that converge, and out of which convergence some type of event emerges. All conditions arise from previous conditions except when something is created from nothing, which is accomplished solely by a divine act. The conditions can be completely unique, hence fully non-systematic, or they can arise with various kinds of regularities. In Insight, Lonergan called these regularities “schemes”. I would like to note three types of regularities.
1. Source regularity. When a regular set of events arises from a resource that has a significant supply of the conditions needed for the occurrence of the event, then we have source regularity. Examples include the energy emitted from the sun and gasoline — though there is a circular scheme with this later examine but we are developing schemes upon it which are beyond the circular rate of renewal. You can think of this as a one way trip. It is a kind of entropy, but along the way things happen. We are not talking of circular schemes here, in which the sets of conditions end up replenishing the originating point. Rather, this is a sufficient pool that then provides a regularity of subsequent events that can be calculated statistically, although usually there is a slow decline of the statistical regularity until the source is depleted. These are non-renewable resources, and depending on the overall structure of the universe, it may be on this kind of a course.
2. Circular schemes of recurrence. This is what most reader’s of Insight think about in terms of regularity. When we think of event A fulfilling conditions for the occurrence of B, and B of C, and C of A, or any more complicated sequence such that the conditions form a cycle or circuit. These would be renewable resources. However, Lonergan would say that these schemes of recurrence fall within a larger non-systematic environment. Hence, as long as the conditions remain the same, this circular or even flexible range of circular schemes will remain intakes. The “remain the same” means both that the positive conditions remain in place, and that no interfering conditions come online.
3. Schemes of development. Some things become “regular” because of regular schemes of development. Examples include the regular formation of adult offspring, or the regular sequence of ecosystem development (for example when a fire burns a number of acres), and the ecosystem undergoes a kind of rebirth. One of the more interesting and recent discoveries is that of stems cells. These have a development relationship to matured functional cells within multi-cellar organisms. These system maintains the cell/organ systems in multi-cellular organisms.
Whenever conditions come together and an event or new thing arises, they form a conjoined union of a plurality. One can calculate the statistical probabilities of such conjoining of conditions that leads to an event or a thing–though sometimes this proves to be impossible on a practical level. And, in every case, one can discover a finality in the potency of the pluralities. Whether the plurality is one of hydrogen and oxygen molecules in an kind of aggregate that contains some electrical energy being exchanged, or one is speaking of the male and female semi-fecundities, there is a finality in all of these conditions that includes both horizontal–if these stay within the same genus of correlations and functional relations (and this would include both deductive and homogenus types of expansions — see chapter 1 of Insight)–or vertical if one examines the relationship from a lower to a higher genus.
With these convergence of conditions whether through source regularity, circular schemes of recurrence, or schemes of development, we can further clarify Lonergan’s introduction of conjoined plurality in his 1943 essay. He notes that a specific finality arises in the conjugal act (conjoined plurality of two semi-fecundities) that is to adult offspring on the one hand and to higher orders of reason and charity within and between the man and the woman on the other. The conjugal act follows the pattern of a source regularity that then follows up with a scheme of development. Why this specific act? Because this specific act is the coming together of two correlative pluralities (male and female semi-fecundities), that is then a realization of the finality of these pluralities. Why a realization? Because this conjoining in the conjugal act is what can be sublated into the higher orders both of reason and charity that constitute the relationship of the man and woman properly as husband and wife (there are other ways of conjoining man and woman as well, but these have other horizontal and vertical finalities), and that is then a realization of a key step in the horizontal finality to adult offspring, and a vertical finality with the adult offspring to an educated adult offspring and a Christianly educated adult offspring.
I will treat more about this relationship of horizontal and vertical finality in the next blog.
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.
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.
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.” 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.  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.
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. 
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. 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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
 Finality, Love, Marriage, 46 footnote 73.
 Finality, Love, Marriage, 20.
 Insight, 515.
 Insight, 516.
 Finality, Love, Marriage, 22.
 Insight, 459.
 This is just one theory of the emergence of life, life being anything that can “reproduce” itself.
 Insight, 432 – 433.
 Finality, Love, Marriage, 43.
 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.
 Lonergan links potency and finality in Insight, 444-451.
 Finality, Love, Marriage, 46 foot 73.
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. 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.
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
- One’s heart beats circulating the blood in a recurrent cycle throughout the body.
- Being born.
- Eating and drinking.
- Muscle movements that can repeat.
- 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. 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.” 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. 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 (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.
 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.
 Finality, Love, Marriage, 38.
 Lonergan does introduce the “progress” of organic development in Insight, 463-467.
 Finality, Love, Marriage, 39.
 Insight, 126 – 127.
 As in gender, not the act.
by David Fleischacker
I have been re-reading “Finality, Love, and Marriage” written by Lonergan in 1943. 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,
- the passive aspect of love,
- the immanent aspect of love,
- the active aspect of love,
- natural law,
- concrete plurality,
- horizontal and vertical finality,
- organistic spontaneity,
- the three ends of life,
- three levels of life,
- sexual differentiation.
I will start with fecundity since it is crucial for developing a “viewpoint of marriage.” 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”.
…. 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.
Fecundity is the real capacity to generate a new central potency-form-act of the same species. 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.
 Bernard Lonergan, Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, volume 4, Collection, University of Toronto Press, 1988, 17 – 52.
 Finality, Love, Marriage, 42.
 Finality, Love, Marriage, 41.
 Finality, Love, Marriage 42.
 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.
Morality of Markets
How does one go about connecting the idea of morality with markets? The Latin root word moralis means proper behavior of a person in society, literally pertaining to manners. But a market is not a person. It is a place. The word market, which first started to appear in our vocabulary in the 12th century was initially used in the sense of a meeting at a fixed time for buying and selling livestock and provisions. The Latin word mercatus is a root word meaning trading, buying and selling. When you try to put the two words together, see what they have in common, on the surface, the commonalities are not obvious.
However, upon reflection, there is a common denominator between morality and markets. Both are built on the same foundation, human action. Economics by definition is a social science that studies how individuals, governments, firms and nations make choices on allocating scarce resources to satisfy their unlimited wants. In our economy, called a market economy, we allocate scarce resources such as land, labor, capital, and technology through the marketplace. A market is a place where vast numbers of human actions occur daily. Meanwhile, morality is the determination of what human actions should be done and what should not be done. It is the distinction between what is right and what is wrong. Using these deeper and more specific definitions of the terms morality and markets, the relationship between the two is much easier to identify.
Ethics is a branch of philosophy dealing with what is morally right or wrong. It is a subset of morality, a study of how we can go about judging our human actions. According to the economist Henry Hazlitt, reflection reveals that economics and ethics:
“…are, in fact, intimately related. Both are concerned with human action, human conduct, human decision, human choice… There is hardly an ethical problem, in fact, without its economic aspect. Our daily ethical decisions are in the main economic decisions, and nearly all our daily economic decisions have, in turn, an ethical aspect.”
Economics, in our classroom experience of it, separates morality from science in neat compartments. From the very beginning, in an academic study of economics, discussion of “what should or ought to be” is called normative economics. While the study of “what is,” the way things are in the real world, is called positive economics. We define terms and conveniently move on, concentrating our time and effort on the positive side. We do this because this kind of approach is more pragmatic. We do this because it is easier to create mathematical models that predict what will happen as a result of specific human actions in terms of dollar value. There are no mathematical equations capable of telling us whether our human actions are right or wrong.
In our schools and universities, embracing this “positive” view of economics, we have appointed Neoclassical economics as the best and most useful way to study the real world. Neoclassical economics, the dominant and most current economic paradigm, is an approach to economics that relates supply and demand to an individual’s rationality and his or her ability to maximize utility or profit. Using economics, for example, you can very accurately, using mathematical models, predict how much a lifesaving cancer drug will cost to develop in two years’ time and what price you should charge per dose when you are done to make a profit of a certain percent. However, while this kind this kind of approach is efficient and effective in explaining and interpreting how things work, there is a cost. Neoclassical economics provides little insight into the morality of such an action. For example, if our cancer patient is a single mother with four children and carries no health insurance, we are provided no insight into whether she should be charged at all. As Oscar Wilde wrote, “Now-a-days, people know the price of everything, but the value of nothing.” Or, in economic speak, the analysis provided by Neoclassical economics today is most often “value free.”
It was Adam Smith who wrote: “Man is an animal that makes bargains: no other animal does this – no dog exchanges bones with another.” Exchange is a basic and necessary part of our existence. By itself, there is nothing wrong about that. In economic terms, the simple definition of a market is a place where exchange takes place. A market is a place where we trade goods and services. On the surface, it sounds innocuous. However, from a philosophical perspective, wherever there is human action, there must be preceding it, an exertion of will. This will is a first cause, or the primary force propelling any human action. Without this first cause, a human act would not come into being.
This is a cause for concern. One must wonder whether we are willingly or unwittingly committing economic acts? The famous economist John Maynard Keynes wrote: “Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.” If we are simply buying goods, promoting economic policies, and designing market structures “value free,” devoid of moral considerations, without thought, without awareness of detail, then are we not following the scribbles of “madmen in authority?” If so, we commit the sin of commission daily and with profound effects.
Any trade or exchange results from a human decision. It is a willful act, voluntary in a free enterprise system. That means we are free every time we make a purchase to evaluate it from a moral perspective. Consider a list of market exchanges that originate from an article in the Atlantic Monthly listed below. As you read the list, form an opinion on whether you make the trade based on your personal philosophical, ethical, moral, religious beliefs:
o A prison-cell upgrade: $90 a night. In Santa Ana, California, and some other cities, nonviolent offenders can pay for a clean, quiet jail cell, without any non-paying prisoners to disturb them. Is it right for convicted felons with extra cash to buy comfort?
o Access to the carpool lane while driving solo: $8. Minneapolis, San Diego, Houston, Seattle, and other cities have sought to ease traffic congestion by letting solo drivers pay to drive in carpool lanes, at rates that vary according to traffic. Is it right for individuals to buy the right to inconvenience others?
o The services of an Indian surrogate mother: $8,000. Western couples seeking surrogates increasingly outsource the job to India, and the price is less than one-third the going rate in the United States. Is it right to outsource work to cheaper third world locales?
o The right to shoot an endangered black rhino: $250,000. South Africa has begun letting some ranchers sell hunters the right to kill a limited number of rhinos, to give the ranchers an incentive to raise and protect the endangered species. Is it right to sell the right to hunt an endangered species, in limited numbers, if the money raised from killing a few saves the herd?
o Your doctor’s cellphone number: $1,500 and up per year. A growing number of “concierge” doctors offer cellphone access and same-day appointments for patients willing to pay annual fees ranging from $1,500 to $25,000. Is it right if a single mother on welfare with four children and no discretionary income to have less access to health care than a healthy and single twenty-something who happens to have a great job and an extra $25,000?
o The right to emit a metric ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere: $10.50. The European Union runs a carbon-dioxide-emissions market that enables companies to buy and sell the right to pollute. Is it right to let a company pay to pollute?
o The right to immigrate to the United States: $500,000. Foreigners who invest $500,000 and create at least 10 full-time jobs in an area of high unemployment are eligible for a green card that entitles them to permanent residency. Is it right to put entrepreneurs at the end of the immigration line?
o Sell space on your forehead to display commercial advertising: $10,000. A single mother in Utah who needed money for her son’s education was paid $10,000 by an online casino to install a permanent tattoo of the casino’s Web address on her forehead. Temporary tattoo ads earn less. Is it right to use the human body as a permanent billboard?
o Serve as a human guinea pig in a drug-safety trial for a pharmaceutical company: $7,500. The pay can be higher or lower, depending on the invasiveness of the procedure used to test the drug’s effect and the discomfort involved. Is it right to use human beings in medical tests even if they are willing and the drug tested saves lives?
o Fight in Somalia or Afghanistan for a private military contractor: up to $1,000 a day. The pay varies according to qualifications, experience, and nationality. Is it right to pay others to defend our homeland?
o Stand in line overnight on Capitol Hill to hold a place for a lobbyist who wants to attend a congressional hearing: $15–$20 an hour. Lobbyists pay line-standing companies, who hire homeless people and others to queue up. Is it right to pay for political access?
The simplistic notion that economics can be neatly separated into positive and normative camps is a fallacy. Our current free enterprise system is founded upon the idea that the ability to trade freely, to freely make economic decisions, is the highest moral order. By allowing people to freely choose, without coercion, they will naturally bring about the most good, with the market guided by an “invisible hand.” However, this perspective implies the moral agent, the consumer, invested the time to consider moral consequences before the trade. It implies a will to do the right thing at the expense of inconvenience. Or to quote Edmund Burke, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
In response, another way to view the economy is as a social ethical structure. (See the graphic entitled “Our Economy as a Social Ethical Structure” below.) Value judgments are embedded in all economic systems (capitalist, free market, socialist, planned communism, or fascist) and in every economic decision and corresponding action taken. Our individual moral perspective, or absence of one, is embedded in every exchange. Our economic system is driven by a series of crucial daily moral decisions that largely occur automatically and by default. However, a simple default decision, taken without measure is not a substitute for moral evaluation. Whether we desire it or not, each exchange or purchase we make implies a moral order. Trade by trade, we build an economic order. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Or as from the Gospel of Luke 6:35, “When good men do nothing, they get nothing good done. To be good, one must do good. The Lord commands his people to do good.”
Next, consider the fundamental economic questions that every economic order must answer before individual actors can get to work. What to produce? How to produce it? How much to produce? Who gets what is produced? In economics, we say there are no free lunches. This means that to do anything we must expend time, money and resources. Every good we make or thing we buy requires resources, costs money, and has a cost. In a world of unlimited wants, and scarce resources, by definition, every economic decision taken is a tradeoff. If we decide to make guns, we have less resources available for butter. If we invest in automated teller machines and industrial robots, employers have less money available to hire unskilled laborers. If we commit more farmland to raise more beef cattle, we have less capacity to grow fruit and vegetables. If we pay our top executives multi-million dollar bonuses on top of six or seven figure salaries, there is less money available in the budget to raise the minimum wage.
After we answer these fundamental questions, we go on to address some new and critical macro problems that arise naturally out of our individual decisions. Problems that an economy must address include allocation, distribution, scale, and the quality of relationships. Allocation is about deciding how natural and human resources will be employed in the production of our various goods and services. Do we utilize a free market economy or a planned state system? Distribution is about deciding who gets what of all the things produced. Do we decide everyone is paid equally or by how productive they are in their job? Scale is about preventing problems caused when market activity gets so large that it threatens the stability of the system (economic or ecological). Do we outlaw the production of automobiles if we determine that carbon emissions from vehicles is the root cause of global warming? Finally, quality of relationships is about ensuring trust and cooperation between persons involved in economic activity. Do we legislate morality in the workplace, in the form of gender laws, affirmative action, and prohibitions about practicing religion at work in the name of harmony? In his article Morality of Markets, Kenneth Melchin states: “For economic activity to function in service of human relations, participants need habits and virtues for fostering trust, cooperation, and good will, and this must be cultivated and supported by civil society.” How we address or solve these core problems determines the fundamental quality of our economic system.
After making our choices in the first three phases, we further refine the elements of markets. Think of this as how we manage our particular economic system. These four elements include definition of laws, provision of essential goods and services, morality of individuals and groups, and our view of civil society. They work together to complete the Social Ethical Structure that animates our system of exchange.
The four elements of markets are what we most often take for granted. First, the definition of laws is about prohibiting certain activities because they are too abusive to be allowed or because there are better or worse ways of doing that action and thus regulation makes some ways of acting illegal. For example, we outlaw slavery, human cloning, or operating a restaurant without a food license. All economic systems, capitalist, communist, libertarian, or socialist have practices that they want to outlaw, the question is which ones. Second, the provision of essential goods and services is about identifying which goods and services are so essential that they ought to be provided to everyone regardless of their ability to buy them. Here a libertarian may say that police or national defense are two examples of a very short list. Meanwhile, to a liberal democrat, universal healthcare and social security are obvious essential goods. Third, the morality of individuals and groups is about our ideas on the true definition of morality. Who and how will we define our beliefs about what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior? In a communist society, the church is outlawed, a critical plank of Marxian ideology. Each economic system defines its own proper moral code. Fourth, the civil society is about how as a community of citizens we are linked by common interests and collective activity. Here, for example, a Libertarian may view social arrangements such as important but voluntary agreements. From a more liberal perspective, critical social arrangements are viewed as compulsory. Fundamentally, each element works to create and define our moral universe, forming a Social Ethical Structure.
It is our responsibility to ensure that we take the time to build this structure properly, one brick at a time. There are no “value free” decisions available to us in a free enterprise system. There are no actions to take without tradeoffs or consequences. There are only free human actions based upon our freewill that lead to inevitable moral consequences.
Introduction to Economics
Lonergan Institute for the “Good Under Construction”
April 11, 2015
As the request of Mr. Richard Kral, I have been asked to give an introductory talk about economics and what we hope to do in this seminar, this forum, that we would like to set up in such a way that it would bring persons together in a way that would lead to fruitful, collaborative work. If we think about it, we all know that we can each do more in our individual labors if we can find that we are working with others (other persons) who, more or less, are on the same wavelength. Interested in certain questions, working from the same basic set of first principles. We remember what Aquinas says about first principles. A first principle is not the same thing as a cause. A first principle is what is first in an ordered set of variables. The choice of an apt starting point determines how a larger number of variables are to be positioned, relative to each other. So much depends on the wise choice that we can make about what should be our initial point of departure. The variables that are subsequently ordered do not possess any lesser reality, they do not exist at a lower level than that which one has as an initial, basic, first principle.
We attend then to the question of economics and, as I attend to this question, we can all be inspired to a certain extent perhaps by the work and labors of G. K. Chesterton. He wrote a book about St. Thomas Aquinas (it is still in print) and it is rated as the best introduction to Aquinas that one can find although it is written by an amateur. Chesterton always referred to himself as a journalist. He was not schooled in theology. Not a professional theologian. Yet, his book on Aquinas is seen to be one of the best books ever written about him. And so, in dealing with economics, we can be inspired by the thought that, even if we might not have much of an understanding of economics, even if we have not engaged in a thorough study of economics, perhaps it is possible to present a number of observations that are not lacking in value and which can possibly help others, leading us into a fuller study of economics.
I would like to make the following observations.
First, economics exists as a human science. Instead of attending to instances of matter in motion or internal changes which would refer to chemical transformations, it attends to a species of datum that has been brought into being by the actions of many human subjects (many human agents) acting together in a cooperative fashion to fashion a social order. Economics attends to something which is constitutive of our human world although it would not be wise to believe that economics exists as the only variable. In Aristotle, we can find reflections which join economics to political science and ethics. These other variables need to be attended to if we are to understand our human world and the kind of order which can exist within it. To emphasize the importance of economics to the exclusion of other variables is to operate from a species of philosophical outlook which appears to be indebted to a philosophy of mind and being which would have to be described as sensate and materialist. That which is real is that which I can sense with my various acts of sense. These things being said thus, because economics attends to something which belongs to our world (something which we have brought into being), we hesitate and ask about the value of attending to an understanding of economics. In the so-called “hard sciences” (we think especially of physics and chemistry), throughout our human world, we find universal agreement about how we should do good work in physics and chemistry. All the specialists know how they are to proceed (how they should proceed) and what kind of intellectual demands must be met. A common agreement exists with respect to questions of method and this agreement makes for collaboration world wide and so, as a consequence of this collaboration, progress can be more easily made and the fruits of our labors can be more readily communicated to other persons. However, even as we admit or say that economics is to be viewed as the science of economic exchange, we all know that all the human sciences are seen to exist in a manner which detracts from its possible value for us. In comparison to the methodological developments that have informed the development of the so-called “hard sciences,” in the human sciences and, for us, in economics, no agreement exists about how we can distinguish between good and bad economics. No universal agreement exists with respect to questions about method in economics. And so we begin our labors with a certain foreboding, an anticipation of futility, a sense of possible failure. Maybe, yes, we can gain some degrees of understanding. In Germany, in the 19th Century, in a tradition of reflection that began with the hermeneutical philosophy of Friedrich Schleiermacher, it was eventually said that, while the “hard sciences” seek explanation, the human sciences are geared to understanding (to possible growth in human understanding). The two differ since, in the current condition and state of the human sciences, no explanatory clout exists (nothing that can be compared to the rationalities that are present in the “sciences of nature”). Among the various human sciences, the kind of understanding which exists has not reached a plateau or some kind of breakthrough which can speak about explanation as distinct from understanding. In economics, we have a commonsense type of understanding. We can understand the intelligibility of individual events. But, our understanding of events is not correlated with laws or sets of laws that can specify a specification of meaning which can cut across different periods of time and space and culture. A commonsense understanding of anything aways refers to the meaning of concrete circumstances. But, when we refer to theoretical apprehensions of meaning, we refer to apprehensions of meaning which always transcend current conditions. We begin to move toward a higher level when we begin to look for a set of meanings that can explain a large variety of changing economic conditions. Put bluntly, we would want to move (1) from description to explanation and then from explanation back to description and then within this context (2) we would want to know how we can make good decisions which could add to the betterment of our economic situation. Ideally, we would want to move from a cycle or a chaos of recurrent booms and busts toward an ordering of variables that can point to a greater measure of intelligibility which, possibly, can begin to exist for us within our economic order. The healthier a given economic order, the greater the possibility or the likelihood that other forms of human flourishing will begin to emerge and exist.
Second, to emphasis a point that I have already hinted it, economic activity is to be regarded not as constituted by the acts or actions of living beings who happen to exist as men and women but by acts or actions which exist essentially as human acts, human actions (proceeding from human subjects). In the context of his own day and expression, Aquinas used to distinguish between the acts of a man and acts which exist as human actions. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that somewhere Aquinas speaks about a man who is reading a book or focusing on some kind of work, and a fly moves towards him in a way which triggers an automatic negative response. A man lifts or moves his hand to ward off the presence of an unwanted fly. Yes, a human being does something (an act, an action) but the act, the action, is not to be regarded as essentially a human act. Animals can engage in like movements that serve to keep flies at a distance. But, their actions lack moral content. They cannot be seen to exist as human acts, as moral acts that are chosen after a number of different options are considered and constructed for the purpose of achieving a given end. A lack of foresight and deliberation points to acts or actions that are not properly human. Hence, if this real distinction is applied to economic activity, we notice that economic activity is not supposed to exist in a way that is lacking in human reflection, deliberation, and choice. When intelligibility is introduced into a set of material conditions, a change occurs. Perhaps we should speak about a transformation. The general object is always the achievement of some kind of good that, allegedly, betters and improves our human condition. This good is supposed to exist as an intelligible thing, as the product of intelligent movement (intelligence in act). Something exists as a good which has been desired. A given action possesses moral value because of an intelligibility that is now present which had not existed before. Think here for an example about how gardens differ from wilderness, undeveloped land. In the tilling and fertilization of the soil, human intelligibility is added to physical, chemical, and biological conditions (the intelligibility which exists within these conditions) and the happy result is the emergence of something that is more wonderful, more lovely, and more beautiful than what had previously existed. I belabor a perhaps obvious point in order to point toward a possible meeting which needs to occur between the requirements and demands of economic life and a more general type of demand or need which points to moral considerations and how a human type of living differs from other types of living. In any kind of moral life, we always move from that which we understand and know to that which we bring into being for perhaps the first time. If our economic activity is to benefit our lives as human beings (if our lives are to be human in the full and proper sense), then, in some way, there needs to be some kind of understanding or a meeting that can join ethics and economics with each other. The communication of good which can exist in a society is best fostered if the good of economics is distinguished from the good of technology and if these goods can be distinguished from the kind of good which exists in political life (the good which refers to the functioning of a political order). A better understanding of the kind of moral good which exists in economic activity should lead to an understanding which can order the good of economic life to the existence of other goods. Greater clarity in the ordering of different moral goods through the intelligibility that is known to exist in this ordering should lead to a better division of authority and responsibility within a given society and, as a consequence of this, a consequent lessening of confusion when decisions of various kinds have to be made with respect to the functioning of a given social order which exists as a society. When we look at our world, have we been creating a situation where economic and political goods are often put together and confused with each other? Have unwise decisions been made in the economic order because of dysfunctions that have existed within a given political order? Can we admit that unwise decisions are made within the political order when efforts are made to effect economic changes for reasons that are irrelevant to the good of functioning which should exist within economic life?
Third, a growing interest in economics comes to us somewhat recently in the life of the Church. We know that, according to Church teaching, souls are brought to God through a life of faith that is informed by charity. The holy Council of Trent speaks about a faith that is informed by good works. Another way of speaking speaks about the salvific value of faith and good works. The two must go together. And so, it seems that, with the work of Bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler (d. 1877), the German bishop of Mainz, a concern for social justice begins to emerge in a way that is to be differentiated from the sufficiency of charity. In other words, it is said by some that some understandings of charity are not sufficient in dealing with questions that have to do with social justice issues and the necessity of social justice within the framework of a given society. It is said about Bishop Ketteler that he was the first person in the hierarchal life of the Church to speak about questions of social justice in the wake of the industrial revolution. We know, from our history, that the Industrial Revolution began in the United Kingdom approximately in 1780 and that it lasted into Queen Victoria’s reign, until about the 1840s. Let us say that the first phase of the Industrial Revolution came to an end at about the time of the first International Exhibition that was organized by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, in the 1850s. This revolution later spread to the European continent. We think of northern France, the Benelux countries, and Germany. Traditional society was uprooted. Economic life began to move away from the dominance of an agricultural economy. The meteoric rise in agricultural productivity that had begun to occur in the 18th Century freed a growing number of potential workers who could now engage in other kinds of occupation. The population of cities swelled. A new form of economic organization disrupted an organization of society that had existed for many centuries. The uprooting and dislocating of many persons led to experiences of human suffering that called for a new kind of pastoral response which perhaps can be described as a more intense form of pastoral concern. Beginning the 1880s in western Europe, it is said too that, during these years, fewer and fewer persons began to practice their Catholic faith in any kind of regular way. Then, 80 years later, a similar noticeable fall in the rate of Mass attendance began to appear in the US and Canada (in the 1960s). Under the influence of Bishop Ketteler, in 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued Rerum novarum, the first papal encyclical which attempted to deal with these technological and economic changes. Simply put: the free operation of market forces must be tempered by moral considerations. As the Pope avers:
Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice.
Although it can be argued that the teachings of Rerum novarum are grounded in teaching that comes down to us from scripture and tradition (St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas), the articulation and application of this teaching to the existence of new conditions as this applies to the rise of a new economic order has created a context for explicit forms of reflection which now ask about the nature of economic life and about how, as human beings, we can create an economic order which is most suited to encourage forms of human flourishing that can lead to the building a new human culture: a culture that would be essentially open to God and which would rely on supernatural specifications of meaning and being as the best means that can lead to transformations of life which would most fully actuate the potentiality of our human existence.
Fourth, the turning of the Church’s teaching office toward a more explicit interest in the solution of economic and social problems has enhanced or perhaps we can stay that it has generated an interest in how we should think about economics. In the English speaking world, if we should want to speak about a Catholic school of economics, we can perhaps best speak about the distributionism of Catholic writers as we find this in the works and labors of Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton. Belloc died in 1953 and it is said that he wrote and published about 150 books. Yet, despite the number, we find a rather high level of quality in the analysis that we can find in how he deals with social and political issues. In his writings a strong animus exists against both the Protestant Reformation and its many consequences. He rejected the mindset of the English establishment as it existed in his day and he was not too appreciative of the old English Catholic upper class. With Chesterton (George Bernad Shaw spoke of them as “Chesterbelloc”), he argued against the value of a form of economic organization which turned large numbers of persons into “wage slaves.” Like Marx, he held that the industrialization of the human economic order encouraged a sense of alienation among working people and this alienation served to undermine the good of our human community, leading to political consequences which exalted the authority of the state. For both Chesterton and Belloc and others, the model is some kind of return to the life of medieval guilds and a form of economic organization that favored small businesses and an ownership of property that was distributed among large numbers of working people. The ideal agricultural unit is the family farm. In the cities, we should have small shopkeepers and persons who work together in small groups to make quality products. A bias exists against any kind of central planning, whether we refer to state forms of central planning or the kind of influence or monopoly that is exercised by large corporations. In this orientation and bias, we find a point of view that flows through the economic philosophy of Bernard Lonergan. Amongst Catholics, the kind of economic idealism that presents itself to us in the distributionism of Belloc and Chesterton continues to remain with us. Lonergan’s favorite economist, the one he felt closest to, was E. F. Schumpeter. “Small is beautiful.”
Fifth and lastly, the Church is confronted by two problems. First, how can economic reforms be encouraged in a way which does not turn the life of the Church into something that is meant to serve temporal causes? The Church rises or falls to the degree that it can encourage its members and adherents to live a life that transcends the “things of this world.” The faithful Catholic is encouraged to take a somewhat playful attitude toward the things of this world. Earthly, temporal goods do not enjoy any kind of ultimate importance although how a given person lives within our world is of ultimate importance in determining the eternal destiny that a given person will enjoy in the life that is to come. Second, to the degree that an explanatory understanding of economics does not exist, the Church’s pronouncements will come across as a form of moral idealism. It is all very well to say that all persons should be paid a “family wage.” Persons should be fairly paid and they should be able to live in a dignified manner on the kind of salary which they earn. However, how does one construct an economic order where it will be possible to pay persons fair and decent wages without consequences that could lead to bankruptcy? If proposals are made that are not grounded in a good understanding of the nature of economic life, their implementation will lead to a worsening of economic conditions and this worsening will have consequences and ramifications with respect to the existence of other human goods. To the degree then that the Church manifests an interest in the nature of economic equity, to the same degree will there grow a need for an understanding of economics that can transcend cultural differences and which is always applicable in human situations despite what changes can occur within the order of our human technology. If a theological understanding of the Church’s faith can suffer from cultural biases of one kind or another, cannot the same thing be said about coming to a better understanding of economic activity as this exists among human beings?
In the hope of moving toward an explanatory understanding of economics, we begin (hopefully) with good descriptions of human economic life. If good explanation is, in general, preceded by good descriptions, for this reason, we begin with accounts that attempt to provide some good descriptions. Our object and purpose is a macro-economic theory which can serve as a basis or a point of departure for explaining all the different changes (accelerations and decelarations) which belong to our economic life. Identify the key variables and see how they relate to each other. Move from apprehensions that attend to how things relate to ourselves as human subjects and move toward determinations which attend to how variables exist among themselves (apart from how we exist as human subjects).
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.