EXPERIENCE OF BEING AND HORIZON OF BEING†
according to Emerich Coreth and Bernard Lonergan.
by Giovanni B. Sala S.J., Bonn-Gallarate
Transcendental method already has a history within Neo-scholasticism, and its characteristics have recently been recounted by Otto Muck S.J. In the reditus ad subiectum [turn to the subject] which is central to transcendental method, consciousness plays an obviously important role. All authors-who try to come to a critical understanding of human cognition and metaphysics with this method-attend to the structure of human consciousness, with its dynamism and its significance for knowing and for all the activities of the human spirit. The goal of our reflections here is to articulate the meaning of consciousness within the philosophical problematic that has been systematically developed by Emerich Coreth and Bernard Lonergan in terms of the transcendental method.
We restrict ourselves to a topic discussed in Coreth’s Metaphysics and Lonergan’s Insight that has wide ramifications. Because this point is so central in their thought (which is why it attracts our interest), we believe it will help us in understanding these systems of thought in a fundamental way and in articulating their meaning more clearly. The reason why we have chosen these two authors lies less in wanting to make an arbitrary comparison and more in the conviction that there is an inner relation between their two systems of thought. While Coreth, by his use of the transcendental method, carries out a brilliant deduction (moving from the reality of the question to the horizon of being as its ultimate a priori condition), Lonergan, for his part, tries to formulate the relation between the horizon of being and human consciousness as it is actuated on the intellectual level.
I. ANALYSIS OF CORETH
1. From the Question to the Horizon of Being
For Coreth, the question is the starting point for analyzing human cognition. The starting point is not a concept that we have about the question, nor is it a statement about it. Rather, it is the question as performance, as a fact in the life of each single person who has gone beyond the purely biological pattern of experience. The question alone is a beginning that justifies itself, since every initial position which one chooses in order to analyze cognition will necessarily imply the question about its starting point. Moreover, the question, and it alone, determines the method by which one’s inquiry is to be carried out. Since the question marks the beginning of inquiry, the question about the beginning (which presents itself to us as first in the critical grounding of human cognition) becomes the question about the question. The question reflects on itself, and thus indicates that this self-reflection is the method of one’s analysis.
The method by which Coreth consistently develops his whole metaphysics is therefore a questioning about the performance of questioning itself. Therefore, it does not try to find out if the performance is itself possible, since this question is already answered by the performance itself, which is unquestionable. Coreth wants rather to find out how and through what means this performance is possible. While an animal deals with sensible data without transcending purely biological concerns, the human being finds himself a victim of his sense of wonder as he unavoidably experiences tensions that emerge in his many questions that ask “why?”. These experiences, moreover, accompany him throughout his entire life: from the initial stage of insatiable curiosity present in a child’s life to the later stages present in the wisdom and experience of old age which, yet, retains the sense that there is much to be learned. Why does the human person not succeed in suppressing his inner unrest and his constant asking of questions which goes beyond the experience of pure facts and the dominance of purely biological concerns? Why is he not able to prevent becoming a question or a problem to himself? Such a question is already a transcendental question: a question about the conditions of possibility for that activity of cognition which is the asking itself. That which is questioned and for which an answer is expected is the question as such in so far as it is the initial base which does not refer to something prior in cognition. It is that which precedes inquiry. Our question here is about that element a) through which inquiry is an unavoidable reality in human mental life, and b) which is constitutively involved in every particular performance of questioning. Such an element gives questioning a meaning independently of whether or not a particular question makes any sense or is perhaps lacking any rational basis. This is what Coreth turns into the goal of his inquiry when he asks about the transcendental conditions of questioning as questioning.
In the first chapter of the Metaphysik, he develops his project. The condition of the question as question is not only full ignorance but also, and just as much, a radical knowledge. The ignorance is complete. That the starting point of human cognition is a tabula rasa [erased board] is found in the common experience of all persons. However, the knowledge is also complete though it is implicit and inarticulate and thus in need of determination and specification. In order to be able to ask questions, lack of knowledge alone is not sufficient. An animal does not know, but cannot ask any questions. For us, in order for our questioning to be meaningful, for it to have a direction so that we can immediately recognize that what we have found is exactly what we have been asking about or seeking, we must (already) know. Hence, the question is internally determined through cognizant ignorance (a knowing ignorance) “which, knowing about its own not-knowing, goes beyond the limit of its knowledge to anticipate the not-known. From our intelligent ignorance, the desire for knowledge originates and from this desire for knowledge our questions originate.” This ignorance or not knowing which knows or, in a word, this pre-knowledge that makes questioning possible, Coreth refers to as the “horizon of the question” (a designation that he borrows from Husserl). Consequently, the specification of this pre-knowledge, which is approached by transcendental method, amounts to the specification of the horizon within which a question arises and within which the entire process of cognition is carried out.
This pre-knowledge, in so far as it is the basis of the question in general (i.e., the movement that transcends the known toward what is not known), is a “pure” prior knowledge. It is pure because it possesses no objective content and therefore is not a posteriori. It does not emerge from experience. Since we pose questions about the ultimate condition of the possibility of questioning and hence about the whole range of knowing, such a condition cannot be the result of knowledge itself. Each content only explains why a specific question exists. However, such a content is not able to explain the basic movement beyond the known toward what is not known (namely, why a particular question is being asked). This pure prior knowledge is a knowledge - its type and manner we will explain further below - of what is not known so that it makes possible the movement of the spirit toward what is not known, and this movement is the question.
In addition, this prior knowledge proves to be prior knowledge about the questionable in general since we can ask about all that is, all that is questionable. This first specification about our pure prior knowledge as prior knowledge about the totality of all that is questionable is not a tautology, though it may seem so at first glance. The reason plainly is that, by the manner of our procedure, the questionable gradually emerges as an ultimate category which cannot be subsumed under a more general category, but which can be more clearly determined. Such is the goal of the steps constitutive of the transcendental method: Being is understood as correlative of the basic dynamism of our intellect. In other words: intelligence is inside reality insofar as only by and through it can reality be defined.
This questionable is being since nothing belonging to the questionable can withdraw itself from the question whether it “is” and what it “is.” However, being (contingent being) exists through its participating in Being (esse).† Thus, prior knowledge - on account of which we can ask questions about all that is questionable - is about Being. For human beings, Being is always already meaningful. Though the human person is born no less than an animal as tabula rasa, he is one who is always already understanding being. For the human spirit, being has meaning. Therefore he is able to emerge from his initial ignorance. He is able to ask questions. Being is the horizon of our questioning, and so it is the horizon of human inquiry and cognition. It constitutes the basic Apriori of our spirit. Spirit is spirit, i.e., it knows and wills because it is drawn by this pure prior knowledge of being; nobody is able to teach this pre-knowledge to him because it is what gives every human being the possibility of learning.
Before we ask the crucial question about the origin of the horizon of being, following Coreth, we mention two basic characteristics of our pure prior knowledge of being. The statement that the toward-which of questioning is being expresses the absolute demand made by a question. We want to know if something “is” and what it “is”: we do not want to know what it is or how it is in relation to us or to any other limiting condition but, rather, we want to know something as it is in itself (i.e., as transcending any condition). The being about which we ask questions is that which we cannot sidestep or skirt. It is an absolute that, insofar as it is and to the extent that it is, excludes non-being. Moreover, as being, it can only be unconditioned if it is unlimited; if there are no further dimensions of reality beyond being whereby a being would be completely different from what it is within our limited horizon. In other words, because being intends the whole of reality, a knowing carried out within the horizon of being, even though it is the knowing of an individual, restricted being, it possesses an absolute validity which depends on no other further condition be it on the part of the knowing subject, or on the part of any other reality. “What ‘is’ or ‘exists’ refers as such to the whole of reality; it “is,” as it were, on the level of all reality. Later on, we will return to this fundamental characteristic referring to the unlimitedness of being when we examine the meaning of consciousness as the ground of the horizon of being. Above all else, however, we now want to understand why the question about the transcendental conditions of the question leads in the long run to consciousness as the origin of our pure pre-knowledge of being.
The way of thinking opened up by the question about the horizon of being was developed as a transcendental condition of being, in his first twelve paragraphs. In paragraph thirteen, Coreth asks a question about origin: from where does this horizon of being as, simultaneously, both unlimited knowledge and ignorance, takes its origin? How does it come about that we anticipate the whole which we are seeking so that everything, from the onset, receives meaning for us with respect to being, which is later recognized as such when an individual question finds its answer? If we correctly understand him, Coreth gives the following answer: the origin of the horizon of being cannot be only a purely anticipatory knowing, a prior or foreknowledge or sketch of the knowable. Rather, it must be a knowledge that possesses its known as something that “is.” It is only owing to this possession that I can recognize or detect being. By it, therefore, being gains a meaning for me. Now this knowledge, which possesses the known, is knowledge of the performance itself: “As I engage in the performance of my questioning, I directly know about it as a truly proper performance. I know, that I ask; I know, that I am engaged in asking and am performing the asking; I know, that I am executing the performance of this asking. I know that the performance of my questioning “is,” that it exists as being in itself. A being is given in the performance of asking and knowing and this being coincides directly with knowing, in the knowledge of performance. The performance knows itself as being and being knows itself as performance. The knowing posits itself as being, and the being carries itself out as knowing - in the immediate unity of being and knowing in the performance.”
Because of this identity of being and knowledge in the performance of questioning, Coreth refers to an immediate experience of being where being and knowing coincide. On this luminous identity of being with itself, our pure prior knowledge of being is based: “From the immediate experience of being and the certainty of performance (the being of performance), I know about the being of the performance and I know, from it, about being or the meaning of being in general. It is the origin of a sketch or design for the horizon of being in general. Only within it is inquiry possible: questions about the other as being or knowledge of the other as being.”
2. The horizon of being and the experience of being in consciousness
Therefore, we have already arrived at consciousness. Just when the horizon of our questioning and our knowing is reached, Coreth asks about the transcendental condition which grounds the all-embracing prior knowledge that we have referred to as the horizon of being. This he finds in consciousness: in the identity of being and knowing which accompanies each act of our cognition and on account of which each act of cognition is a conscious act. The question necessarily stands at the beginning of this long process leading to cognition. In so far as the question is conscious, however, this implies that there is a point at the center of our intellectual spirit where being, questioning, and knowing coincide in an immediate identity. Being is illuminated from within itself. From this point, spirit or intellect is able to sketch the horizon of illumination [Gelichtetheit], an illumination on the basis of which everything that is first asked about and which is afterwards known enters into the field of being.
Let us try to determine more precisely how our horizon of being is grounded in the experience of being given in consciousness. The difficulty which understandably presents itself in our efforts to clarify this fundamental point in our investigation of human cognition, by means of the transcendental method, is that we find ourselves faced with a circulus vitiosus [vicious circle], or, at least, with the fact that we have not sufficiently clarified how pertinent elements are related to each other. As has been shown by our previous line of thought, questions and knowledge about individual beings only arise within the horizon of being which is prior to this questioning. Hence, Coreth speaks of a pure prior knowledge of being; of an a priori horizon of being. As he notes, “An a priori horizon forms the precondition for the possibility of the performance of questioning, knowing or other behavior which is directed toward particular knowledge of being.” “The pure anticipation of the question as question does not head for being in particular but for being as a whole, i.e., for the pure horizon, within which alone one can ask about being and know being in particular.” “Questioning is only possible if, pre-knowing and anticipating, I already know being in general and the meaning of being in general.”
In paragraph thirteen, however, it is said that it is only from that experience of being which is my questioning that I am oriented toward being and have a sense of the meaning of being in general. I thus have the horizon of being within which all questioning about all other things as being is possible and, therefore, within which questioning is possible in general, since every human question asks about being. But is the “first” question not within the horizon of being since, in the end, it cannot but be a question about being? Does it not intend being? When Coreth asks about the origin of the horizon of being, he asks about the empty and, yet, anticipatory knowledge of being that constitutively enters into the asking of every question. Obviously, this origin, whatever it may be, must take precedence over the horizon of being. As Coreth himself says: “This origin must itself be a knowledge. In fact, it must be a knowledge of being from which I can know about being in general and its meaning; from which I can draw up the horizon of being in general in my pre-knowledge. If, however, this prior knowledge lies at the origin of an outline of being, then it cannot be only a prior knowledge with respect to an outline of what can be known but, rather, it must be a knowledge in terms of possessing the known. The known, here, is to be understood as something which ‘is', that is located in being and which can illuminate the meaning of being in general.” Coreth then determines that this real being, which allows us to anticipate everything that is recognized as being, is our knowledge of our performance. This knowledge, which is not actuated in the [particular] question in a fully articulated manner (since every question involves a co-knowledge which determines the question as this or that), is knowledge about the being of the question itself: “Actuating the performance of my own questioning, I directly know of it that it is a truly proper performance.”
This performance that a) I actuate as being, b) I know as being, and c) from which I outline the horizon of being which makes possible the asking of each question and every instance of concrete human knowing, is not very clear to us. Point a) offers no difficulty; however, point b) requires further examination. In what sense can one say that I know by asking questions that my questioning “is”? The main difficulty does not lie here, however. In our judgment, what needs above all to be clarified is point c): the “from which,” i.e., the relation between the horizon of being in general and my knowledge of my question as being.
II. ANALYSIS OF LONERGAN
1. Cognition as structure
Having thus ascertained the problem, we move on to Lonergan. We believe that his analysis of consciousness supplies all the elements for indicating where the origin of the horizon of being can be found. We begin with a psychological analysis of consciousness itself, on the basis of the data that our conscious acts present. Such an analysis will lead us to an understanding of the importance that consciousness has for human cognition.
What is consciousness? Lonergan defines it as follows: “Sui suorumque actuum experientia stricte dicta atque interna [an internal experience, in the strict sense, of oneself and one’s acts].” Perhaps this definition ex abrupto [abruptly] is not able to explain much. It seems better to answer the first question with a second question: what is knowing? Explaining this complementary question is the fact that consciousness itself is a factor in knowing. It is a quality that is immanent in cognitive and appetitive acts. It is an element that lies beyond and beside the objective content of acts. Lonergan’s answer to our complementary question is as follows: human knowing is not a simple, mysterious kind of confrontation where subject and object stand before each other. Instead, it is a structured activity composed of elements, in which no single element constitutes the whole of cognition since each element is a part of the whole.
The essential elements of this structure are as follows: experience, insight, and judgment. Neither experience nor insight nor judgment constitutes proper human knowing if examined apart from the others. All three, together, form a structured natural unit which is human knowing. Therefore, one must distinguish between knowing in a general sense and human knowing in a proper sense. With respect to knowing in general, meaning accrues with every element in the process of knowing: in sensing, conceiving, and imagining; in subsequent wonder and amazement; in inquiring and understanding; in the critical reflection which reaches the sufficient evidence needed for judgment; and, finally, in judging. But proper human knowing is judging which presupposes that the preceding process has been rightly carried out, and which unites the previously named elements. In a word, human cognition occurs in rational (justified) judgment.
In rational judgment, we know being, that which is. In the prima mentis operatio [first mental operation], we grasp what we know not as being but as intelligible. Prior to this first grasping, we know what we grasp with our senses as something experienced; i.e. as purely given, pure datum. On the level of judgment, both the given and the intelligible are known in terms of being. In the early phases of knowing, however, i.e., at the level of experiencing, they are not yet grasped as being. The reason for this is clear: if being, in its concrete determination, were already known by sensory perception alone, there would be nothing more to come to know. Insight and judgment would be superfluous activities of our human spirit because they would have nothing more to know. The same situation obtains with respect to the level of insight if one ascribes the real knowing of being to the prima mentis operatio.
2. Consciousness as quality immanent in the acts of cognition
Having indicated the structure of our cognition, we now turn to the characteristic that is immanent in the different moments of cognition: namely, to consciousness. First of all, we maintain, negatively speaking, that this quality is not to be understood as a type of inner vision whereby a person becomes conscious of himself by a kind of looking, the way one comes to know outer things by looking or gazing at them. Let us now positively consider the individual acts that constitute cognition. With respect to every one of them, we must distinguish between act and content: for example, between seeing and color, or between insight and idea. Despite differences of content, we perceive an apparent similarity between seeing and hearing: a similarity that, for instance, does not exist between seeing and growing hair. Because of this similarity, there is not just a number of unrelated acts in the knowing subject, but rather acts which combine to form a single knowing (for example, the knowing of a body as something that at the same time is both audible and visible). In all cases, what is involved are conscious acts.
In this common property is grounded the natural unity of wondering, inquiring, understanding, critical reflection, reflective understanding, judgment, and, over and above that, the unity of choosing, deciding, and acting. Characterizing this activity is the fact that all these acts are conscious. Hence, consciousness is the identity which is immanent in the difference and variety present within the process. Despite this difference and variety of elements present within one’s cognitive process and within one’s appetitive acting, there is one thing which, on the one hand, is actuated by and through these different elements and which, on the other hand, goes beyond them as the invariable point of reference for these many acts.
The function of consciousness in the entire process of knowing can also be grasped by means of another term (apart from the paired concepts of unity and multiplicity): presence. There is the local presence which is typical of bodies. There is the presence of the object which is typical of the objects of cognitive acts. Finally, still remaining within the field of cognition, we speak of the presence of myself to myself. It is the presence of the subject ex part subiecti [from the side of the subject], i.e., not as an apprehended object which, in this case, would be identical to the knowing subject, but the subject as a subject.
As, a moment ago, we noted that no unity of the psychological subject is given without the variety of its acts as well as of its contents, so, now, there can be no third kind of presence without the second kind: there can be no presence of oneself to oneself without an object being present. Conversely, as without referring to unity there can be no meaning in talk about variety, so, also, there can be no presence of the object without the presence of the subject. Briefly stated, there is no knowing without consciousness. It makes no sense to speak of unconscious knowing. Hence, it is meaningless to say that a subject without consciousness really sees colors through an unconscious act of seeing. If we now say that the seeing subject is conscious and that it must be conscious in order to be able to see, by this we do not mean that the subject itself also is among the objects which it sees. Rather, we say that the subject is present to itself through the fact of its seeing colored objects. The subject is present to itself by an orientation of one and the same act of seeing, an orientation which is opposed to the orientation that act has to its object and which complements it. We designate this orientation as ex part subiecti.
The Thomist principle is well known: unumquodque cognoscitur secundum quod est actu [everything is known insofar as it is in act]. This means that the no less effective but hidden premise unumquodque cognoscitur secundum quod est obiectum [everything is known insofar as it is an object] must be denied. Being known and being an object are not congruent. In other words, not only objects are known. If, therefore, it is indeed true that unumquodque cognoscitur secundum quod est actu, it naturally follows from this that, whenever sense perceptions or intelligent acts occur, an object is known, and whenever the senses or the intellect are in act, knowledge of the subject is also given. The sensually perceptible and the senses however (as well as what is intelligible and the intellect) are in act by one and the same act (we say they are in act through the species impressa [impressed species]) and, so too, the subsequent second act. Thus, object and subject are known in and through one and the same act. They are known as complementary elements of the total act of knowing. The sensually perceptible (or what is intelligible or true) is known ad modum obiecti [in the way of the object], while the senses (or the understanding) are known ad modum subiecti [in the way of the subject], i.e., as the perceiving subject (or, respectively, as the thinking or judging subject).
If consciousness is the presence ad modum subiecti given in each psychic act as a component of that act, it becomes comprehensible how the consciousness which accompanies each act will also differ according to the ontological manner of being of each act. Hence, Lonergan distinguishes four levels of consciousness: the empirical, the intellectual, the rational, and the responsible levels; which are to be correlated, respectively, with perception, the prima mentis operatio [first mental operation], the secunda mentis operatio [second mental operation], and the willing which follows a judgment of value. In this sense, consciousness is not to be merely identified with a pure and simple “realization” of itself. Instead, its meaning refers to a dynamic presence which presents itself in the different performances or activities of the human spirit.
dynamic presence to oneself begins with feeling, perceiving, or presenting any
content: such is empirical consciousness. In and through these acts, the subject
is given to itself without having an insight about itself and, a
fortiori, without arriving at a rational judgment about itself and therefore
knowing itself sub ratione entis [under the formal aspect of being].
Below, we will deal in greater detail with the fact that this negative element
is always given with consciousness. Consciousness
is not knowledge of oneself, either sub ratione intelligibilis [under the
formal aspect of intelligibility] or sub ratione veri [under the formal
aspect of truth].
Nevertheless, the positive element, the givenness of itself to itself,
the experiencing of itself by itself through its act, changes according to the
nature of the act in question.
soon as the spirit or mind becomes aware of data (the content of empirical
consciousness), it shows itself in what Aristotle named the beginning of all
science and of philosophy: in astonishment and wonder and in its expression,
which is the question. Here occurs
the fundamental jump from the level of sensibility to that of intellectual or
spiritual consciousness. We are speaking of intellectual consciousness in a
general sense, so that it includes both the specifically intellectual and also
the rational and moral consciousness. By this jump, not only is a quantitative
enlargement of consciousness reached but, more importantly, a qualitative
elevation of consciousness: The spirit reveals itself.
It seizes possession of itself as spirit.
We can further our examination of consciousness by considering how it operates on the second level, which we call the level of intelligence. Here the subject reveals itself as an inquirer that wants to understand what things are and why or for what reason they are. Moreover, it wants to define things, i.e., through a verbum interius [internal word], of which the external word is an expression which seeks to state the essence of the thing: not like a student who repeats a definition by heart, but like one who can give a definition because he has had an act of understanding. The subject, however, is not content with adding an intelligibility which orders or arranges the data. In addition, it wants to determine if this hypothetical order has a counterpart in the data. The subject is not content with bare theory but wants to determine what is real. Such a consciousness is what we refer to as rational consciousness.
This intensification of consciousness comes to the climax in rational self-consciousness which exists in a subject when a choice and a decision are made. In the activities of rational consciousness, the human spirit seeks and finds the groundedness of the products of its insight, so that they are not only given as thought “beings” but as real “beings” without restriction or external condition. In the process of knowing, the person is also confronted with the being of values which are the object of a possible personal choice, namely, as the goal of our will. Here, a person seeks the groundedness of his own acts, so that he becomes a being (grounded in reality) as prescribed by his internal norms, of which the external word is an expression. For this reason, Lonergan calls the consciousness that goes beyond the bare judgment rational self-consciousness. It is actuated rationality which requires the agreement of doing with knowing.
Having shown the characteristics of the different levels of consciousness, it will not be useless to refer to the unity of consciousness, since these different levels supplement each other to form a natural unity despite their basic differences. This unity is shown in the unity of the object: “what is perceived is the same as what is inquired about; what is inquired about is what is understood; what is understood is what is formulated; what is formulated is what is reflected on; what is reflected on is what is grasped as unconditioned; what is grasped as unconditioned is what is affirmed.” The validity of this demonstration on the basis of the object of our knowing is preceded by the unity of consciousness as a still more fundamental fact. Indeed, speaking about conscious acts is an abstraction since, concretely, consciousness is consciousness of the acting subject. It is the psychological subject that is present to itself, that recognizes itself sub ratione experti [under the formal aspect of the experienced], according to its various psychological acts. This is a first datum of consciousness, the absence or distortion of which is so abnormal that, as in schizophrenia, it constitutes one of the major psychological illnesses.
III. CONSCIOUSNESS AS THE NOTION OF BEING
1. Wonder as the dynamic opening of spirit in performance
Now that we have attended to the data of consciousness and, to some extent, have understood what human consciousness is, we examine the meaning of consciousness for a critical theory of knowledge. After having reached the horizon of being as the a priori condition of each question and, thus, of every act of knowing, Coreth asks about the origin of this horizon of being. With our analysis of Lonergan, we believe that now we can give an answer to this question: the origin is situated in intellectual consciousness; indeed, we can say that the horizon of being - this anticipatory knowledge which is a priori and unthematized - coincides with intellectual consciousness.
We said that the human person - in contrast with animals - falls into wonder and astonishment on encountering sense experience. It is also possible to imagine a human person who does not wonder and is content to give himself to the biological stream of life through the immediate contents of sense perceptions (as in watching a film). Occasionally, a person even wishes to enter such a dream world in order to escape from all the burdens of life. However, that is not our normal condition. The Humean world of pure sensations presents itself to us as a riddle or mystery which ought to be opened and, with almost statistical regularity, we experience this tension of the spirit which we have referred to as wonder and amazement.
is this wonder, besides the fact that it presents itself each time in a
different manner? It is an event in which the human mind “touches” itself -
we said above that consciousness is essentially self-awareness
(self-experience). It is the self
given to itself, but not in the sense of self-knowledge and self-possession, in
this act of questioning and in all other acts of the psychological subject. It
is a self given to itself, which precedes every intelligent and rational
answer and even every determination and formulation of this wonder provided by
an inner word. This experience of amazement and wonder means that we are given
to ourselves in our infinity, but only according to a potentiality which strives
in a dynamic movement toward the whole. Hence, it is only potential.
It is defined by its potentiality. This
presence of itself to itself in such a limitless and active potentiality is
exactly our pre-knowledge of being. It is our horizon of being, our intentio entis intendens
[intending intention of being].
If one likes, one can speak, with Coreth, of a pre-knowledge of being as a
possession. However, we do not have
or possess being in the sense of the entirety of the goal that we strive for; if
we did, we would have infinite understanding and so be infinite being itself.
Nor can we speak of knowledge of a limited, individual goal - a single
instance of being such as my performance of questioning - because this limited
cannot ground the infinite horizon of being.
Rather, this infinite pre-knowing is an operative principle, the presence
of the principle of an infinite striving which has its measure from the infinite
object of its striving.
times, Coreth points out the unlimited range of our questioning.
“Is questioning, in principle, fundamentally restricted to a limited
range of possibility? This question
answers itself in the performance of questioning: if I question whether the
possibility of my questioning has limits, then I am already asking whether I can
ask questions beyond the possible boundaries of my ability to ask questions. In
this question, however, all possible limits to the ability to ask questions are
already overstepped. The question transcends all possible boundaries. The ability
to pose questions has no limits...the horizon of being able to ask questions at
all is therefore the absolutely all-embracing, unlimited horizon.”
We have already seen that the absoluteness of being is founded upon the
unlimitedness of being, the absoluteness of being which we mean in our question
“is it so?” and which we achieve or reach when we have arrived at a rational
Lonergan, for his part, does not attach any less weight to the unlimited
dynamism which grounds and penetrates all of our cognitive activities.
However, although he does not direct his attention to the formulated
question, he dedicates himself to examining the background from which each
individual question arises and which finds its expression in the question:
namely, the pure desire to know. This
desire is not the only desire from which human activity derives.
Yet, in contrast to every other desire that fights for control of the
human heart, it is a pure desire for knowledge, as it exists in itself, a desire
rather for the content of knowledge than for any personal satisfaction which a
person receives in the act of knowing. In this sense, it is a detached,
disinterested desire with an import such that, if a person gives it free rein in
his life, his whole life (in its conscious and unconscious dimensions) will be
taken up and absorbed by its claims. This
desire is characterized by two properties: firstly, its striving is unlimited;
and, secondly, it is the opening up of the meaning (= notio, which we
will soon explain) of what is striven for, the being.
The unlimited dynamic of consciousness and the heuristic definition of being
The unlimitedness of the realm to which our mind turns in seeking knowledge is important both for epistemology and for metaphysics. Every doubt about it comes to nothing but another acknowledgment of the unlimitedness of this pure desire to know. To say that we do not know and will never know certain things is nothing other than an admission that our desire and our questioning not only reach beyond the limit of all previously achieved knowing, but also beyond the limit of all possible answers. If there exists a limit to possible answers, then this means that there is a limit to the fulfillment of our desire for knowledge, so that human understanding finds itself before an unfathomable mystery in which each question is condemned to remain without any sufficient answer. But the dynamic of our understanding has advanced to this point: namely, beyond every limit. Thus our desire, our striving for knowledge, has no limits or boundaries. To doubt, to question, and to speak of what absolutely cannot be known is a contradiction because it presupposes that we are in possession of a “category” which allows us to grasp the unknowable object that is implied by our question. This category is the pure desire to know.
After having emphasized the pure desire to know, Lonergan defines being in terms of this desire: “being is the objective of the pure desire to know.” For us, the only possible insight into the all-embracing reality lies in grasping the connection between being, as all-embracing reality, and our desire for knowledge which, in the same manner, is also all-embracing. The connection consists in the fact that the desire to know is directed toward all of reality so that being coincides with what we seek to know.
From this it becomes evident that Lonergan’s definition of being is grounded in the identification of what is real with what is rational. The entire examination of human cognition in Insight does nothing other than point out and reject the manifold ways by which the polymorphism of our consciousness tries to suggest a sense of reality as what we would recognize in advance of our rational judgment, therefore prior to and independently of the last and concluding element in our process of knowing. The unconditionedness of reality is correlative to the unconditionedness of the original question and of the absolute goal reached in judgment. Within the unlimited and therefore absolute sphere that is determined by the desire for knowledge, differentiations between this and that, between me and the other, emerge; a material being emerges as something “out there” and is opposed to other material beings; restrictions of all kinds and types emerge whereby something “is,” but only under a limited and restricted point of view: whether logical, mathematical, hypothetical, phenomenological, etc.
This definition of being can appear both arbitrary and questionable, but it refers to a fact that is unavoidably operative in every human being. To doubt whether being so defined is really being, to look for another and more correct definition, means that the validity of the above definition is being presupposed: being is the actual objective of our desire for knowledge; it is what we recognize in rational judgment. For every person, being is the answer to his question for understanding and his question for reflection.
The epistemological consequences deriving from the psychological analysis of our unlimited pure desire to know are as follows: already, at the beginning, one overcomes every form of immanentism and idealism. Intellectual consciousness, in its dynamic character, is bound by no principle of immanence: “Because the intention is unrestricted, it is not restricted to the immanent content of knowing, to Bewusstseinsinhalte [contents of consciousness]; at least, we can ask whether there is anything beyond that, and the mere fact that the question can be asked reveals that the intention which the question manifests is not limited to any principle of immanence. But the answers are to questions, so that if questions are transcendent, so also must be the meaning of corresponding answers.”
The question about the objectivity of human knowing, about a knowing that overcomes immanentism and relativism, is thus not solved through dogmatically accepting or assuming a reality which is “already out there now”; hence, an irrationally understood reality. Perhaps one will say that affirming such a reality is not dogmatism, but rather belongs to those evidences, which one must assume, since not everything can be proved. What we want to deny here, however, is not the spontaneous evidence which points to an external world, nor the rationality of a statement grounded on such evidence. What we deny is the rationality of that sense of reality which underlies this statement. What we actually know by means of insight and rational reflection in the performance of our intentio intendens [intending intention], or - in other words - what we have come to know because we have understood and have rationally affirmed, is interpreted, according to this opinion, as something which was already known in a stage that precedes the act of questioning and reflection. We have come to know it because we have seen or heard it, or have touched it. If such a sensism or materialism is too blatant, then one falls back into an immediate “intellectual” intuition of being in sense data. But this intuition is neither our intelligent understanding nor our rational judgment but something that precedes these two activities of our spirit. Such an intuition seems, however, to be nothing other than a duplication of empiricist, sensist views. To it one resorts if, in place of an exact analysis of human cognition which is possible only by examining the data of our consciousness, one is content with a familiar and obvious analogy grounded in a sense perception.
contrast, our intellectual activities have “their objectivity, not because
they resemble ocular vision, but because they are what ocular vision never is,
intelligent and rational.”
Therefore, the objectivity of human knowing, i.e., its ability to grasp
being in itself and the unconditioned validity of what is known in judgment, is
founded upon “an unrestricted intention that intends the transcendent, and a
process of self-transcendence which reaches it.”
A person is capable of transcendence because his process of knowing knows
without additional conditions coming from the subject. Intelligibility, within
an unrestricted horizon of being, is pure transparency.
What presents itself within the horizon of being as virtually
unconditioned, i.e., as a conditioned whose conditions happen to be fulfilled,
is an instance of real being, a thing-in-itself.
treats this point also in great detail. The unrestrictedness of the horizon to
which a question refers as its a priori
condition shows that “there is never a closed ‘interior’ space of our
transcendental subjectivity, since our subjectivity, in its performance, is
always already with being in itself in general and this being transcends our
subjectivity. The performance is constituted, in its nature and in its
possibility, by its horizon. The
horizon, however, within which subjectivity carries out its performance, is
always already the horizon of being in general, the horizon of being in
far, in our transcendental reduction, we have pointed out how the unrestricted
dynamism of our cognitive desire is the basis of our intellectual knowing and
becomes effective when our spirit, when confronted with sensibly given data,
breaks forth into wonder and astonishment.
Moreover, we have defined being as the objective of this striving and, by
doing this, we have given reality an expressly rational sense which seems to be
the most fundamental and most valid intention behind idealism.
However, idealism has remained idealism and has fallen into immanence
because it has not advanced to identifying reality with the object of our
intelligent and rational striving. A
study of Kant can show, in a forthright way, the fundamental ambiguity which
explains why all subsequent forms of idealism have locked themselves into some
form of immanentism.
saw clearly that human knowing cannot be attributed to pure perception since, in
human beings, a range of intellectual activities is available which empiricists
have underestimated or completely ignored.
On the other hand, to him, the meaning of reality peculiar to empiricism
and to the uncritical realism that commonsense people take for granted was too
obvious to be questioned. The real
here is an “already out there now,” known not by intellectual and rational
activity, but by a prior activity which rests on the spatial-temporal
extroversion proper to acts of sense.
The only kind of cognitive performance that can achieve such a knowledge
of reality would be a kind based on the pattern of ocular vision; a performance,
therefore, that is neither intellectual nor rational.
With such a view of the meaning of reality and objectivity, naive realists claim
that people quite obviously possess such a faculty of seeing: they associate
thinking, more or less, with using one’s eyes and hold that, by looking or
seeing, we know reality. Against
this position, idealists say that, since they no longer believe in the
effectiveness of such an immediate vision, the knowing as the seeing of
empiricism only leads to a knowledge of appearances; hence our cognition
inevitably moves only within the realm of appearances.
However, between these two schools of thought about cognition, there
exists only one, though weighty, merely de facto difference. Indeed,
both views of human cognition are based on the same principle.
This common principle is an irrational view of reality whereby there is
no immediate relation between knowing and its object, what is real, and
therefore no objectivity except through intuition. For this reason, for Kant and
all subsequent idealists, intellectual activities because they are not related
to reality (which is irrational as shown) have their own reality, a reality of
contrast, since we have indicated the unrestricted horizon of questioning, we
are in a position to point out the rational meaning of reality: reality is the
object of acts by which our unrestricted intentio intendens is actuated,
and so the desire for knowledge turns into actual knowing.
Now, in no way does introspective analysis find a kind of activity in our
intellectual process of knowing that is akin to the activity of eyes engaged in
seeing. Instead, introspective analysis clearly attests to activities that are
unlike seeing: activities such as seeking and inquiring, understanding,
conceiving, critical reflecting, reflective understanding, and judging.
Reality, or being, is therefore all that is grasped by insight and
affirmed rationally in judgment.
3. The dynamism of intellectual consciousness is the notio of being
The second characteristic of the pure desire to know is the fact that it is the notio of its goal, i.e., it is the notio of being. Here, above all, Lonergan’s analysis is able to clarify a point which we find unclear in Coreth. In other words: the sense of wonder that appears when something becomes present to a person is already a knowing of its goal. In what sense? First, because our inquiry consciously directs itself toward the object of its knowing, toward the whole of the knowable. The eye of a fetus, as Lonergan says, is oriented toward seeing. It is a structure that is developed for the purpose of seeing. The fetal eye, however, does not see its future object: body, insofar as it is colored. It possesses no notio of its object. Consciousness itself does not suffice, however, for a notio of being in the sense we speak of here. A hungry organism strives for food: it “knows” its hunger. This consciousness of its own desire for food is still not a notio of food because such a consciousness includes nothing which has to do with understanding or rational judgment. Moreover, each human action that follows a choice is a conscious striving for something. It is consciousness in its highest development. However, knowledge of the object, which is given together with the action is not to be attributed to the act of willing but to the preceding judgment of value. Our pure desire for knowledge, however, is explicitly and rationally conscious of itself and is therefore itself a notio of its goal.
Let us try to specify this basic point more accurately. We have already said that consciousness means knowledge of itself ex part subiecti. It is not a knowing of oneself as an object of cognitive acts, but a knowing of oneself as the principle of these acts. We also said that consciousness, although it is to be always and only understood as experience, unfolds and develops itself according to the ontological perfection of the psychic acts which are being engaged in. Actually, one must say that the ontological differences within consciousness itself decide the ontological differences pertaining to acts. What degree of ontological perfection does the human spirit reveal to itself in its experience of wonder and astonishment? The highest ontological degree: spirit reveals itself as spirit; it experiences itself as spirit. Spirit means unlimitedness; hence, it implies absoluteness and self-luminousness. Where, on the one hand, a part of reality can be given to another so that it does not fully possess itself, on the other hand, what is all can be fully possessed only by itself. It is luminous to itself. It possesses itself through that possessing which we call intelligibility. It is intelligible to itself. What is all is also absolute. Beyond it, there is no other reality which can question it by differently representing its validity. The unlimitedness of our spirit, however, is only potential: potens omnia facere et fieri [able to make and become all things]. Therefore, spirit is not the luminousness of what it is already. Rather, it is the luminousness of what it grasps as it anticipates being in its empty totality. It is absoluteness not in terms of what it is in itself but in terms of being for which it dynamically strives.
What does all this mean for our inquiry? The wonder and astonishment that the human spirit falls into, as soon as it becomes in act on the empirical level, takes concrete form in the questions: “quid sit ? [what is it?]” and “an sit? [is it? is it so?]”. Coreth asks from where does it come that we ask ourselves these questions and that they have meaning for us? From where does our pure pre-knowledge of being come since every question, in the end, is a question about being? The answer to this question seems clear to us: this knowledge belongs to the spirit as such; it is completely a priori. A question, whatever it may be, is exactly this pure pre-knowledge of which Coreth speaks. It is the notio Lonergan speaks about applied to concrete data. The pure pre-knowledge, however, the notio of being, is completely a priori. It is spirit as spirit. We do not have to look for any other source of this knowledge.
The statement that the spirit is the luminousness of what it anticipates means that the question “quid sit?” is nothing the subject could have gathered from an object a posteriori, not even from an object that would be given in the spirit’s knowledge of itself as a result of its asking questions. The same applies to the reflective question “an sit?”. The human spirit can understand the meaning of this question and can therefore ask whether a thing is, not because it already knows about the existence of a thing, not even because it knows its own existence in the performance of questioning, as Coreth seems to affirm. The question about being and, therefore, the question about the absolute, is something that the spirit can pose because the spirit, in its unrestricted openness, is itself already the notio of the absolute. If one is not a priori in possession of this notio, then no data exist that can mediate this meaning to one. No teacher exists who would be able to produce this understanding for another, for a would-be student. One can ask about this or that single being and, with the help of data - a posteriori therefore - one can understand and know it. But, about being in general, about being as the meaning of being in general, one cannot ask because it is the prior condition of every possible question.
consciousness, we have the most actual and the purest element of knowing. It is
true that our knowing, because of its potentiality, strives beyond its
self-identity in so far as our cognition is actuated by a form that differs from
ourselves. Nevertheless, it remains that knowing in its origin - the origin in
which knowing has its ground and toward which it strives in an unrestricted
ascent - is an identity of being with itself.
Now, in consciousness on the intellectual level, there is a unity of
knowing and being. It belongs to spirit not to be dispersed over time and space
but to penetrate itself completely in self-possession. The spirit resembles a
luminous point in which being itself is directly illuminated or revealed.
An other, an object, is known when it enters the field of this light.
knowing of being which intellectual consciousness consists of - what we have
named knowing ex parte subiecti - can also be expressed figuratively in
terms of obverse and reverse. To this purpose, Lonergan falls back on what a
person knows better than anything else: the products of his own work. With
respect to them, one can distinguish between an intelligent plan and the product
based on it. “Before the plan is realized in things, it was invented by
intelligence; before the sequence of productive operations was undertaken, it
was affirmed as worth while for some sufficient or apparently sufficient reason.
In the thing there is the intelligible design, but in the inventor there
was not only the intelligibility on the side of the object but also intelligent
consciousness on the side of the subject. In
the thing there is the groundedness that consists in its existence being
accounted for by a sequence of operations, but in the entrepreneur there was not
only the groundedness of his judgment in the reasons that led to it, but also
the rational consciousness that required reasons to reach judgment. [Therefore]
intelligence and intelligibility are the obverse and reverse of the second level
of knowing: intelligence looks for intelligible patterns in presentations and
representations...In like manner, reasonableness and groundedness are the
obverse and reverse of the third level of knowing.
Reasonableness is reflection inasmuch as it seeks groundedness for
objects of thought...In man’s artifacts there are the reverse elements of the
intelligibility and groundedness, but there are not the obverse elements of
intelligence and reasonableness. The obverse elements pertain to cognitional process on its
second and third levels; they do not pertain to the contents emergent on those
levels, to the idea or concept, to the unconditioned or affirmed; on the
contrary, they characterize the acts with which those contents are coupled, and
so they are specific differentiations of the awareness of consciousness.
Clear and distinct conception not only reveals the intelligibility of the
object but also manifests the intelligence of the subject.
Exact and balanced judgments not only affirm things as they are but also
testifies to the dominance of reasonableness in the subject.”
this analysis it becomes clear what it means to say that we come to a grasp of
intelligent, rational consciousness; this refers not simply to our insight and
rationality, but to the operational characteristics of the cognitive process.
These find their expression in the wonder that emerges with respect to data, in
the inner tension that ends only when the data reveal, even if only
hypothetically, the secret of their intelligibility, an intelligibility on the
basis of which I can grasp those unities and intelligible relations which,
through a process of slow advance and reciprocal completion, explain a whole
range of data. Finally, these operational characteristics and properties of
consciousness find their expression in our dissatisfaction with theories however
brilliant they may be as long as they are not verified in the data themselves.
These features show that the subject seizes possession more and more of
its own abilities. In a word: the notio
of being is the operative intelligible.
of this clearly indicates that consciousness, when implemented on the
intellectual level, is to be equated with the horizon of being.
Asking from where the subject knows Being and the meaning of Being is
therefore not necessary. Initial
wonder in its unrestrictedness means exactly a searching for that which has the
luminosity and the unconditionedness which are characteristic of being.
Now this searching, which is conscious of such a luminosity and
absoluteness, is itself the notio of its own object.
Notio here refers to a certain type and manner of knowing that is
not identical with an actual knowledge about something (which we have in
judgment), nor with thinking about something (which we have in a term or concept
that emerges as the conclusion of the prima mentis operatio).
Rather, it refers to a previous, all embracing anticipatory knowledge.
This pre-knowledge makes it possible for us human beings not only to think
thoughts and to affirm judgments, like a computer which is busy in performing
its calculations (but, differently from men, it is not able to find itself in
them). This pre-knowledge also makes it possible for us to think and judge in
such a way that in the consciousness that we have of ourselves, we find the
norms according to which we know the being that we are seeking. This means that
in reference to ourselves, we have the luminosity that allows us to detect and
recognize an intelligible pattern in data, and we have the absoluteness that
enables us to know that we have arrived at a degree of unconditionedness and
absoluteness that absolutely excludes its opposite, i.e., to recognize when we
have reached being.
4. The dialectic between performance and concept as the dialectic between the notio of being and the phases of knowing ex parte obiecti
Coreth develops his entire metaphysics on the basis of the dialectic between concept and performance, i.e., “between conceptually expressed, thematically articulated knowledge and unexpressed, pre-conceptual knowledge which is unthematically given in the performance.” This unthematized knowledge of being, implicit in the performance of questioning, is of such abundance and fullness that in the movement of our spirit to reach being as other, the still unknown being can never be thematized or fully articulated. Now, we are convinced that the notio of being, about which Lonergan speaks when speaking of knowing ex parte subiecti, and which coincides with notitia sui [knowledge of itself] - the notitia sui which the human spirit has actuated on the intellectual level - not only determines and clears up what Coreth names knowledge of the performance, but also better brings out the two poles of the dialectic.
to Coreth, there is the knowledge of performance as one pole and the concept as
the other. According to Lonergan, as one pole we have the intentio entis
intendens [intending intention of being] and, as the other, the entire
process of knowing in its different phases: from the formulated question for
understanding to inquiry, to the insight, to the concept, to the question for
reflection, to the critical reflection, to grasping the virtually unconditioned
as constituting necessary and sufficient evidence, and, finally, to rational
judgments in which tamquam in medio ens cognoscitur [as in a medium we
know a being]. An individual
judgment, however, only realizes a fraction of our desire for knowledge of
concrete reality in all its fullness. Every judgment is, at the same time, a
starting point for new questions in an ongoing process that never ends.
the second pole of the dialectical movement is not concerned only with the
concept, as if such a restricted focus truly would represent the sum total of
thematized knowing in contrast to the unthematized knowledge of performance.
Rather, and in addition, this pole encompasses all phases of the knowing
process in which the intentio intendens realizes itself, passing from an
anticipatory knowledge ex parte subiecti to an actual knowledge ex
parte obiecti. Obviously, the concept has an important role to play within
this process, since it specifies what we know.
Experience alone is not able to specify what we know, but only presents
materials for our knowing. In a
similar manner, judgment approves or negates what has already been specified. Thus,
the concept is not the final point or stage: in reaching a concept one has not
yet advanced to actual human knowing which seeks knowledge about being, about
we can see how Lonergan understands the quest for being which constitutes the
second pole of the dialectic: the entire dialectical movement of articulation
and thematization has nothing to do with deduction. We do not want to assume on
Coreth’s part that his systematic development of metaphysics, through his
transcendental method, is nothing but some kind of a priori deduction. He refers expressly to the necessity of
returning to experience again and again. Hence, he emphasizes two movements in
transcendental method that are peculiar to metaphysical inquiry: a reductive way
that moves from the immediate realities of consciousness to the conditions
implied therein; and a deductive way which, going out from the Prius
[former, first] that is already grasped in the reduction, wants to bring out the
natural structures of the performance that are derivable from such a Prius
as the prior condition of performance. “Now,
through the use of both elements one ensures that transcendental thinking falls
back again and again on the concrete, on the real as concrete, and, as such, on
directly experienced performance. From
it, it has to proceed and to it, it has to return.
By it, it is rooted in being.”
what has been written, it is not clear to us what Coreth thinks about the
fullness of knowing which is involved in the performance, and which our
reflection can never exhaustively put into concepts, and it is not clear to us
in what sense the content of every new concept is to be derived from the
performance of questioning and its continuation.
In contrast to this, the notio of being described by Lonergan
unequivocally indicates that the a priori
of our spirit, in which the whole of our knowing is grounded, includes no
content from which we could derive our knowing by expressing what our spirit
always already possesses. This a priori
is pure anticipation. It is pure
movement toward the whole of everything, complete poverty. However, it is in its
understanding and rationality already a notio of its object. This total
emptiness is not that of a box, nor that of an empty stomach, but an emptiness
of spirit which, in its self-presence or self-possession as active potency for
the whole, anticipates and so knows the whole that is sought: being.
As Coreth himself says: “knowledge about being in its wholeness is thus
not a full, all embracing, possessed knowledge, but an empty, anticipatory,
outlining knowledge, not knowledge as possessing the known but pre-knowledge as
an outline of what can be known.”
We now hold with Lonergan that such is the case for our a
priori knowledge. It is not
necessary to look for its foundation in a pre-knowledge (it must be a previous
knowledge, if it has to be the origin and foundation) as it seems to be for
Coreth. Such an origin would have
to be a) nothing other than a finite “partial knowledge,” and, in fact, b)
something that we would have independently of and before the horizon of being
and that came before that horizon.”
5. The dynamism of intellectual consciousness and first principles
The apriority that we have found in the notio of being also applies to the first principles of human knowing, since these are nothing but the immanent norms of our notio of being. The statement that these first principles are a priori means that they are not verba interiora [internal or inner words] which express insights into sensible data. Instead, they are inner laws which, ab intrinseco [from the inside], determine the process of knowing. They are not judgments which one might learn in a study of logic or some other instruction and from which every other judgment would follow. Rather, these laws are the very reality of the human subject in so far as it is intelligent and rational. They are the concrete subject itself not only from an ontological perspective but also from a psychological viewpoint – better, they represent the correct view of the spirit since it is a meaningful reality to itself. The intelligent and rational subject means nothing other than being in its luminosity. The reason is that the spirit belongs to a kind that, if it is not already the totality, it is at least the capacity for this totality, i.e., the capacity for being. The first principles are the luminosity of our understanding and the groundedness of our judgments received from the obverse. They are that by which, according to its norms, we can make individual judgments. We can even say that the first principles not only appear on the level of rational consciousness but also already appear on the level of intellectual consciousness in so far as, according to our nature, we can put every insight into a concept in order to arrive at judgment and, thus, at a knowledge of being.
can summarize the apriority of the first principles in Lonergan’s own words as
follows: “The pure desire to know, whose objective is being, is the source not
only of the answers but also their criteria, and not only of questions but also
of the grounds on which they are screened.
For it is intelligent inquiry and reasonable reflection that just as much
yield the right questions as the right answers.”
It is I, who, as an intelligent subject, in my original wonder and
astonishment; it is I who has the urge for being, in fact, for a being which
excludes non-being. Another, less absolute being, if there were such a thing per
absurdum [by an absurd assumption], does not interest me.
It is not the being for which I strive.
experience is not the origin of our notio of being, so is experience not
the origin of first principles. The function of experience within human knowing
is limited to the pure presentation of data upon which our astonishment and
wonder can throw its light, formulating itself in a particular question for
understanding. On the next level of
critical reflection, experience supplies that material evidence for critical
reflection, which allows our thinking of a being to move to a rational
affirmation of the same, i.e., from a knowledge of possibility to a knowledge of
actuality, actuality of being.
of the a priori character of the notio
of being and its inner norms, the first principles, Lonergan speaks about an
autonomy that distinguishes the entire process of knowing.
This autonomy is an autonomy of spirit, in its intelligent, rational, and
moral activity, in so far as the spirit, in its performance, is determined by
transcendental laws. “Transcendental” is the scholastic sense refers to
being and its attributes, in so far as they belong to all being.
In a similar manner, the laws by which spirit is active are
transcendental. In contrast to the limited laws of empirical consciousness, the
laws of the spirit are laws that explain why the human spirit is not closed,
restricted, and, as it were, bound in its cognitive and appetitive activities,
to any one part of reality. Rather,
the human spirit is open to the whole of being and so to the whole of what is
true and good. The actual norm
which intellect must follow in its knowing is not taken from outside, but is the
presence of intellect to itself. This autonomy is effective in all areas to
which the spirit turns, and, most especially in the existential domain where the
person “de se ipso quaerit, et qualis esse debeat intelligit, et
quemadmodum ipse se talem facere possit iudicat, unde procedit electio
existentialis per quam, quatenus hic et nunc in se est, ipse se talem facit
[asks about oneself, understands what kind of person one ought to be, judges how
one can make oneself that kind of person, and from all of this there proceeds an
existential choice through which, insofar as one is able here and now to do so,
one makes oneself to be that kind of person].”
6. Knowledge of performance as the origin of the horizon of being
We hope that we have made sufficiently clear how the horizon of being in the sense of Lonergan’s notio of being is the apriori simpliciter [simply] of our spirit and how no additional question originates within such a view about the origin of this horizon. It itself is, both in its dynamism and in its absoluteness, the ultimate source of our knowing. Despite the ambiguity in Coreth’s formulation of the question, we continue to follow Coreth a bit further because, with his formulation of the question, we can more precisely determine the function of consciousness as the ground of human knowing.
Coreth has reached our pre-knowledge of being as our anticipatory knowledge of
everything that can be questioned, he argues as follows: “Knowledge about
being in its wholeness is thus not a full, all embracing, possessed knowledge,
but an empty, anticipatory, outlining knowledge.
It is not a knowledge as possessing the known, but a pre-knowledge as an
outline of what can be known. Such
a foreknowledge, however, demands an origin of the outline.
This origin must itself be a knowledge; in fact, a knowledge about being
from which I can know about being in general and the meaning of being in
general; a knowledge from which, therefore, I can draft an outline of the
horizon of being as a pre-knowledge. If
it is to be the origin of an outline of being, however, then it cannot only be a
pre-knowledge as an outline of all which is knowable, but it must be a knowledge
possesses the known, the known namely as something that “is”, that is
located in being
and that can illuminate the meaning of being in general.
Such, in fact, is the knowledge of performance.
By engaging in the performance of my questioning, I know immediately about it
as a truly existing performance. I
know that I ask; I know that I am
inquiring and am in the performance of
questioning; I know that I am engaging in the performance of questioning.
I know that the performance of my questioning “is,” that it is
implementing itself as being. In
the performance of questioning and knowing, a being is given which immediately
coincides with knowledge. The performance knows itself as being. Being knows itself as performance. The knowledge posits itself as being and being implements
itself as knowledge - in the immediate unity
of being and knowledge in the performance.”
more precisely, is this knowledge of performance? Two possible interpretations of the genitive in
“Vollzugswissen” [knowledge of performance] present themselves. The first
refers to the objective genitive. The performance is the object of knowing.
It is a performance that is grasped by knowledge as an object. The person
who poses questions (or who thinks, judges, or who, in fact, performs any act of
knowing) knows about its own performance. In
this sense, it seems, the above quoted text must be understood.
At least, several statements suggest as much in this text.
The second interpretation refers to a subjective genitive.
The genitive specifies the performance as knowing: cognitio ex parte subiecti [knowing
on the side of the subject], as we would say with Lonegan.
an article written by Coreth, published in English in a commemorative volume
celebrating Lonergan’s 60th birthday, the translator draws our
attention to the fact that he has translated and so has interpreted Vollzugswissen
as “knowing implicit in performance” or as “knowing concomitant in
refers rather obviously to the subjective genitive. We find the same meaning
where Coreth speaks about knowledge that is included in every performance as
unthematized knowledge: “Whatever the content of our knowing may be, there is,
as antecedent condition of its possibility, a fundamental knowing occurring in
concomitance, not a thematic or objective knowing, but still a knowing that is
simultaneous with the occurrence of thematic, objective knowing . . . this
fundamental knowing is a knowing about Being [das Sein] as condition of
all particular knowing about beings [das Seiende]."
And a little further on he says: “In every act of questioning, of
thinking or of knowing, a primary immediate knowing of Being is included
and is concomitant with the
performance (mitvollzogen) as a condition of the possibility of all
particular knowing of beings.”
seems to us that the ambiguity present in Coreth essentially consists in the
following point: on the one hand, he regards the horizon of being as an ultimate
which grounds both questioning and knowing; but, on the other hand, he wants to
ground further this horizon within the perspective of a critical theory of
seems thus that he looks for something that is prior to the horizon and differs
from it. The horizon itself would therefore no longer be the actual a
priori of our knowing. From an
ontological point of view, one must say indeed that the spirit cannot be present
to itself and reveal itself to itself as spirit unless certain conditions are
fulfilled, first of all the presence of a sensually perceptible thing and,
therefore, the actuation of spirit on the level of empirical consciousness. From
the point of view of intellectual cognition, however, wonder and astonishment is
first: from that point on, we know the sense and meaning of being.
More exactly, wonder itself is our unthematized anticipation of being.
Our intentio intendens, which is present and effective in every phase of
the knowing process, as it goes beyond the level of the senses is the
intellectual consciousness. It
works and gradually unfolds itself. It
is the meaning of being or pre-knowledge about being that is present in each
phase of knowing as knowing ex parte subiecti.
It is the inner and effective norm which is continually forming the
process of knowing ex parte obiecti.
In our opinion, the ambiguity lies here. When Coreth says: “From the immediate experience of being and the certainty of its performance, I know about the being of performance and, from it, I know about being or the meaning of being in general,” it seems that he is referring to a performance of the knowing process which has already gone beyond the empirical level. He thinks quite concretely about the performance which is the posing of a question, (a fortiori, the same would also hold for the other performances within the process of knowing). In this performance of knowing is given an immediate experience and certainty of being: I know myself as being (even if I know this in an unthematic way). From this knowledge, one moves to the horizon of being. One of the motives which inclines us to believe that Coreth ultimately attributes the status of an object to the knowledge of performance is the principle which urges him to get to the knowledge of performance as grounding the horizon of being. For he opposes the knowledge of the horizon of being--the prior knowledge outlining what is to be known--to this other knowledge (the knowledge of performance) which is knowledge possessing the known; hence, he opposes a pure anticipatory knowledge (cognitio ex parte subiecti: the subject that–in the luminousness of itself–is pre-knowledge, notio of its object) to an actually possessed knowledge which, therefore, is to be understood as a knowledge ex parte obiecti. Such an object cannot, of course, represent the totality of being, but is only one part of reality. It is just the object which I know as I recognize myself in the performance of questioning. If Coreth does not understand the knowledge of performance as an objective genitive, in what sense does he then refer to this knowledge as not simply anticipatory (as that knowledge obviously is which forms the horizon of being) but as a knowledge possessing a known? A more exact specification is necessary, but we cannot find it in Coreth.
Lonergan’s analysis we would like to say: each performance of our knowing
process, also an individual question, relies on the actuation of our horizon of
being and follows from it. This,
again, is not due to any particular performance of ours, but occurs as soon as
empirical consciousness is overtaken. The spirit reveals itself to itself as an
active power, able to direct its unlimited striving toward sensibly given data.
The experience of wonder therefore is not exactly identical with the question;
it is something prior to it (a priority that is not to be understood in temporal
terms). It is the breaking forth of
thrust which testifies to the existence and work of the spirit as spirit.
It is true that the “ex parte subiecti“ and, with it, our notio
of being is not given to us without knowledge ex parte obiecti. It thus
occurs together with a question, with inquiry, with understanding, etc.
However, there is a priority of the first before the second.
The first, precisely because it is empty, purely anticipatory, and purely
dynamic, actuates itself in questioning and in each subsequent phase of the
knowing process. For this reason,
it does not seem right to say: “From the immediate experience of being and the
certainty of performance, I know about the being of performance and I know from
it Being or the meaning of Being in general,” since there is no performance without this sense
of being, and because the performance (questioning, subsequent acts, judgment)
posits itself exactly as the performance of this sense or meaning of being; the
sense or meaning of being must implement itself in the different acts, since it
emerges only as an intentio of being.
priority of the original and pure wonder of concrete questions also remains in
every achievement of knowing, be it knowing sub ratione intelligibilis
[under the formal aspect of intelligibility] or knowing sub ratione veri et
entis [under the formal aspect of the true and being]. The intelligible is
intelligible only for a consciousness which is, in itself, the meaning of the
intelligible. The true is true and
being only for a consciousness which is, in itself, the meaning of
unconditionedness, of truth and being.
absolute validity of the horizon of being is grounded in its unlimitedness and
not in the experience of being
Just as a consequence of the ambiguity present in paragraph thirteen, Coreth himself reasserts the same critical objection in the addendum placed in brackets at the end of paragraph thirteen. Is the horizon of being of our questioning and knowing a horizon of unconditional and absolute validity, the horizon of being in itself? Or, is it perhaps only a horizon possessing relative validity, a validity that is only for us, so that we do not reach the thing in itself but only appearances, though we regard these appearances as being in itself, given the necessity of our nature? This is the basic objection that separates critical realism from every form of naive realism, whether uncritical, phenomenalist, or idealist.
this question, Lonergan would answer that, for him, true being, the real, the
being in itself in its unconditional validity, is nothing beyond the object of
our pure desire to know. It is that
which is anticipated by and through our intelligence and rationality which
determine the horizon of being. If
someone were to accuse him of arbitrariness, his response would quite simply be
that, as a person who knows with his head and not merely with hands and eyes, he
rejects every irrational definition of the real.
He would have it that it is easy to prove that every objection that is
not made apertis verbis [with open words] in the name of stupidity
employs the criterion of reality which Lonergan comes to in his heuristic
definition of being as intrinsically intelligible.
at first gives Lonergan’s answer, though he does not expressly speak of the
intrinsic intelligibility of reality: “Strictly speaking, this question can no
longer be put. The reason is that
it has already been proved that the possibility of questioning cannot be
surpressed, given that we can ask questions beyond every possible questioning;
the horizon of questioning is absolutely unlimited...
Therefore, there can exist no other, further region or dimension which
exceeds the horizon of my questioning and knowledge and which abolishes its
absolute validity and which reduces the absolute validity of this horizon to a
relative validity - ‘for me’ and not ‘in itself.’
however, he says - strangely enough - that he wants to respond expressly to this
objection. However, this response,
in our judgment, includes an error: instead of focusing on the intrinsic
intelligibility of reality - maybe under another aspect - it falls back into
intuitive realism, i.e., it implies an irrational conception of being: being as
something known prior to and independently of our acts of understanding and
That such a being would be conceived as “already in here now” instead of
“already out there now,” exchanging extroversion for introversion, does not
make a great difference.
Coreth answers the objection against the absolute validity of the horizon of
being by pointing out that, at least in one case, being in itself is directly
and undoubtedly given to us; and, as a result, the horizon of being as it exists
in itself is secured. “I could
never encounter a single being in the absolute and non-rescindable validity of
its 'existence,' if I could know it only in a limited and, therefore, still a
basically surmountable and surpassable horizon.” “Now,
however, we have been given in immediate self-consciousness – even if only in
the active performance of 'I ask,' 'I know,' 'I want,' etc – as being in
itself in our self-performance, being which is directly given in unquestionable
certainty. If I wanted to question
it, then I would again find myself as the one who questions and who, by that
questioning, knows that he questions and that he posits himself as questioning
and inquiring. I cannot escape from
the self-certainty of my questioning, but again and always I posit the undoubted
certainty of my questioning
performance. Here occurs the
originally immediate being by itself of spirit. In it lies an immediate experience and certainty of being in
itself which has an absolute, non-rescindable validity.”
It seems to
be rather clear that, for Coreth, this being in itself which is given to us
beyond any doubt is my being which I am hic et nunc [here and now] in the
performance of questioning (or in any other psychological act that exists beyond
the purely sensory level of consciousness). It is the being in itself of the
psychological subject in its performance that we are immediately and undoubtedly
certain of. From here there is an easy transition to the conclusion that the
horizon of being is a horizon of absolute validity and the horizon of being in
with which we cannot agree, provided that Coreth’s thought actually
corresponds with our interpretation of it, is the claim that the act by which I
know my performance should structurally differ from every other intellectual
act, by which I know, for example, that this is a typewriter, this is a person,
or this particular historic event has occurred. We believe that one cannot speak
so easily about an immediate experience of being even in this privileged case,
where the object known through immediate experience is myself as questioning,
knowing, or wanting, etc. Without doubt, one can speak of an experience of
being. Yet, we hold that such a way
of speaking can easily lead to error, namely, to the error of ignoring the
psychic data which show that human knowing is a dynamic structure composed of a
number of different activities. One
could then artificially postulate an intellectual seeing by which our knowing on
the level that transcends the senses consists just in this intellectual seeing.
We prefer to adhere strictly to Lonergan’s analysis, which finds that
the first component of our knowing is experiencing, which is to be correlated
with that component of the known which is potency, while the correlate of actual
being is the act of judgment. In
other words: being is never given to us, i.e., our knowing is not related to
being through any activity which one can call sense experience or, on the model
of this experience, mental or intellectual experience.
The relation we have to being is through the unlimited and a priori intentio that we have named the intentio of being.
this sense, in his review of Coreth’s Metaphysik, Lonergan writes
undoubtedly emphasizing the most valuable element in Coreth’s analysis of
human knowing that: “...for Prof. Gilson being or the concept of being is
“seen” in the data of sense. But
for Fr. Coreth being is what is asked about with respect to the data of sense.
So far from being seen in data, being, for Fr. Coreth, is what is
intended by going beyond the data. For
questioning goes beyond an already known to an unknown that is to be known; for
Fr. Coreth, the already known is the datum, and the unknown to be known is
being. Again, for Prof. Gilson, our
knowledge of being is a posteriori: abstract concepts of being and
existence are had by abstracting from sense, and to reach the concrete there is
added to the abstractions his intellectual vision.
But, for Fr. Coreth, being is an a priori, i.e., the intention of
being in questioning bears no resemblance to sensitive or empirical knowledge. What is perceived, is not unknown, not to be known, but
already known. But being as
intended is the exact opposite of the object of perception: it is not already
known; it is unknown; it is to be known.”
If being is therefore not given but is known by going beyond any given datum (whether a datum of external experience or a datum of internal experience), then being is not an “already out there now" reality that is grasped in sense experience prior to every question for understanding and prior to every rational answer. Moreover, being is also not an “already in here now" reality whereby one passes from extroversion to introversion and, by so doing, adheres to a refined form of empiricism or sensism which also ignores the exclusive function of rational judgment in our knowledge of being.
Self-knowledge in the performance of questioning does not differ in its
structure from knowledge of the external world
do I arrive at certainty about myself as an inquirer, a point to which Coreth
attaches such great importance? Exactly
in the same way I come to every other judgment: namely, by experiencing, by
understanding, and by grasping the evidence sufficient for making the rational
judgment, namely that I am asking, thinking, knowing, etc.
We can indicate the differences between judgments about the external
world and judgments about our own performance as a psychic subject under the following four points.
These differences, however, do not eliminate the basic claim that also
self-knowledge occurs through the performance of our intentio intendens,
and that being is known by the actuation of this intention in a rational
difference: The data underlying the judgment “I ask” and similar judgments
are judgments about data pertaining to psychological data and not about the data
of the external senses - they refer to the internal experience which accompanies
every psychological act and which is constitutive of every such act.
This internal experience we have referred to as consciousness. These data
provide material for the activity of inquiry, insight, and formulation, whether
these activities occur in the sciences or in commonsense reasoning. The first refers to what we have been doing in our
philosophical analysis, and also is done in every scientific psychological
analysis. The second occurs when we
make judgments about ourselves as, for example, “I do not understand anything
about mathematics,” “I do not know what I should do,” “On this occasion,
I became very annoyed,” etc. Such
statements, whether they are explicit and analytic as in the case of
philosophical or scientific inquiry or implicit as in the case of commonsense
thinking, are alike in that all are hypotheses.
To take a position with respect to these hypotheses, i.e., to posit the
absolute “yes” of judgment, is the task of the critical reflection which
leads to judgment. Therefore, far
from having human knowledge about my being as a being, as a person who is asking
or having doubts, etc., on the level of internal experience, we reach such a
knowledge not even at the level of an insight or initial act of understanding
which can follow after initially posing questions or entertaining of doubts on
the level of internal experience.
difference: The data for judgments of consciousness are always fully given as
soon as any psychological activity is carried out. A man can be blind from birth and therefore never have had
the data which we refer to as colors and which alone enable him to make
judgments like “this lamp is blue!”. Or,
still more generally: a person, because of spatio-temporal restrictions on his
experience, can be denied a certain sphere of sense experience so that he cannot
arrive at a certain range of judgments by a process of knowing whose origin lies
within him. Nobody, however, lacks those data of consciousness which constitute
the first component of judgments of consciousness. It is possible to make a
selection from within the data of sense, but not in such a way that we do not
feel, do not perceive, do not imagine anything at all. Not only are the contents
of such acts provided to us, but also the consciousness which accompanies and
constitutes these acts. The same
applies to the acts of insight. We can regret having a mind and can reduce its use to a
minimum. However, we cannot
completely wipe it out, because any plan we considered for this purpose would
reveal how we were still involved in understanding and in other psychological
acts. The same applies to critical
reflection and judgment: there is a “rationality identical with us [that]
demands the absolute, [that] refuses unreserved assent to less than the
unconditioned and, when that is attained, imposes upon us a commitment in which
we bow to an immanent Anankê.”
The only way to avoid the psychological data concerning the intellectual
and rational level of consciousness would be for us to reduce ourselves to the
condition of animals, through an operation on our own underlying biological
reality, so that we have completely suppressed the possibility that wonder
(namely, the tension towards that which has been grasped only as a datum) is
able to originate and manifest itself.
difference: Because of the simple existence of the psychological acts, the
judgment of consciousness which, as it were, summarizes all other acts i.e., the
judgment: “I am a knower,”
cannot be denied without internal contradiction. Although this judgment is nothing but a judgment of fact,
just like concrete judgments about the external world, it has the peculiarity
that the negative judgment “I am not a knower” is not possible without
internal contradiction. In this
sense, judgments of consciousness occupy a special position in the analysis of
human knowing. Am I a knower? The
answer “yes” is logical because, if I know, then I also know the fact that I
know. The answer “no” is
illogical because how could I ask the question and answer it if I did not know?
No less illogical is the evasive answer “‘I do not know.’
For if I know that I do not know, then I am a knower; and if I do not
know that I do not know, I should not answer.”
This is how the judgment of self-affirmation differs from every judgment
which refers to sense data: in making the latter, I can judge falsely without
falling into an internal contradiction.
A fourth and last difference between judgments of consciousness and other types of judgment is as follows. We said above that the first component of judgments of consciousness is consciousness itself. If we now consider the data of consciousness on the intellectual level, i.e., the experience of ourselves in and through these acts, then not only are the acts given to us and, with these acts, their corresponding contents ex parte obiecti, but we are also given to ourselves in the original act of wonder and in all the activities which occur through the different phases of knowing, i.e., we are given to ourselves as spirit which, as such, strives for being and which thus possesses the notio of being. The meaning of being reveals itself to us inevitably because it is immanent in every single act. Although consciousness now means experience in the strict sense of the word, one can speak neither of the experience of being nor of the certainty of being in the sense that Coreth seems to do.
cannot speak of the experience of being if, by experience, one understands what
we have emphasized as the first component of human knowing which is finite in
all its performances, and if one gives the sense of objective genitive to
“experience of being”, like when we speak, for example, of the experience of
colors. The being grasped by the intellectual consciousness as notio
is not an actual, objective content, but only the object as desired and sought,
which is known in the unlimited intellectual and rational anticipation that is
the human subject in its act of wondering and in all its subsequent acts.
less can one speak of the certainty of being, because certainty is a quality of
rational judgment. Here, however, we are still in a phase that precedes
judgment. Whereas the act we are
considering here belongs either to the prima
or to the secunda mentis operatio, the notio of being that is
given in and with this intellectual level of activity is not the object of an
insight or a judgment. Rather, it
is, we repeat, only and exclusively the “ex parte subiecti“ of each
intellectual and rational act. It
is clear that one can inquire about this notio and make judgments about
it. Like any other datum, it is
then objectified: but it is not the content of these acts of understanding and
judging that constitutes the notio of being.
Rather, it is what is given in these acts ex parte subiecti and
makes these acts possible. The acts
can be more or less exact and true in regard to their content. One can also fail
to understand this notio, make false judgments about it, and even deny
one likes, one can speak of a certainty of being which exceeds every doubt.
But the reason for this certainty is not some special evidence which
would distinguish this knowledge from instances of knowledge which pertain to
the external world. Rather, it is
the fact that we find ourselves in a phase prior to judgment - simply, in our
experiencing. This experience,
however, in contrast to every other experience, can never be completely formed
so that it can be raised to understanding and judgment. Such an understanding would have to be an insight into the
whole; therefore it would have to be true and hence, if true, an insight that
knows all of reality. However, our
entire psychological experience testifies to us that we do not enjoy such an
insight and that we do not reach such a judgment.
This reveals to us the fact that our knowing is an indefinite process.
It is always engaged in inquiry and in trying to discover realities that
are still unknown. Since it is a matter of experience, we can apply to it the
statement which Lonergan makes in reference to experience in general: “What
can be doubted is the answer to a question for reflection; it is a yes or a no.
But the given is not the answer to any question; it is prior to
questioning and independent of any answers.”
however, one speaks of the judgment of consciousness with respect to oneself as
a knower, then we have already pointed out the spontaneity of such a judgment,
the illogicality of its negation, and, therefore, the certainty which it enjoys.
But, one sees clearly that it has nothing to do with the certainty of any
experience of being from which we can derive knowledge of reality or which we
can somehow thematize. It is the
certainty of the particular being which happens to be my “I”, which knows
and judges according to the fundamental structure that is effective in our whole
process of knowing. In any case, it
is a certainty which does not guarantee the prior horizon of being.
On the contrary, one does not grasp its true meaning, if one does not
grasp it from the horizon outlined by our unrestricted desire to know the
horizon of being.
THE DOUBLE FUNCTION OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN REFERENCE TO BEING
1. Consciousness as experience of oneself
In the preceding section, we took up two aspects or elements which one can distinguish in the knowledge of performance of which Coreth speaks. For us, this differentiation appears to be of the greatest significance in grounding our human knowing in a way which should overcome every form of naive realism: that characterized by extroversion and also that characterized by introversion. These two elements are: the function of consciousness in relation to self-knowledge and its function in relation to all human knowing, and even to the entire psychological life of men.
systematically deals with consciousness in Insight, in the chapter where
he discusses the self-affirmation of the knower and in his theological writings,
when he discusses the problem of Christ’s consciousness in terms of whether
Christ, as a human person, knew himself to be the son of God.
There, his first concern is to emphasize the distinctions which exist
between consciousness and knowing i.e., how consciousness is only one component
in relation to the second; namely, the experiential component which exists
within the dynamic structure of human knowing.
With respect to this aspect - which we do not claim is the most important
one for the concept of consciousness - consciousness is less than knowing. It is not a knowing of oneself sub ratione entis
[under the aspect of something that is] but only sub ratione experti
[under the aspect of something experienced].
It is necessary to make this distinction in order to grasp, in this case
too, knowing as a structure. This grasp comes from an analysis of knowing based
upon the psychological data and not on a naive analogy with the act of seeing.
claim that the subject does not know itself in its psychological acts sub
ratione entis denies that consciousness is a perception.
If one believes that consciousness is a perceiving, then, in every
psychological act, besides the perception of the object, there exists a direct
and immediate perception of the subject and its act.
However, with such a conception of consciousness it is difficult to
explain in what relation, so to speak, the main object stands with respect to
the secondary objects. One would
say that the first is the thematic object, signate [explicitly
designated], whereas the others are merely experienced unthematically, exercite
[in the act], as they accompany the first. This can be understood correctly. But
this correct understanding is endangered unless one gives up equating the known
with an object and pays attention to that dimension of the act of knowing which
is not oriented to an object opposed to it, i.e., the dimension oriented to the
subject. In that way the
unthematic, the experienced exercite, is not conceived as a more or less
obscure object, but as the presence of the subject to itself in its operations.
to us, seems to have an immediate importance for the correct posing of the
question about the objectivity of human knowing. If, namely, one regards
consciousness as a perceiving of oneself and one’s own act ex parte obiecti,
then one comes almost perforce - because what is perceived is limited - to the
conception of a closed inner space. From
there the problem arises about how one might overcome immanentism, given the
falsely posed question: is our knowing restricted to what is directly perceived
in consciousness and is therefore beyond all doubt? Is it restricted to the
contents of consciousness, or is it open to a perception of reality that exceeds
the restricted area of consciousness? If,
however, consciousness does not mean perception ex parte objecti, then
the problem does not arise of shifting from immanent to transcendent objects.
Strictly speaking, consciousness has no content as object.
There is only the question of the transition from what is purely grasped
as datum to the knowing of the same as being.
This is nothing other than the general question: by means of what acts is
human knowing carried out?
If there are no contents of consciousness [in the sense of perception of objects], it is not possible to speak properly of judgments of consciousness. In addition, a fundamental difficulty remains with respect to the term “judgments of consciousness” since it is not clear what is known with these judgments if, ex hypothesi [from this hypothesis], their content, as being, is already known in the immediate perception of consciousness. With greater accuracy, Lonergan names those judgments, which are often referred to as judgments of consciousness, as judgments which belong to the introspective process, the first level of which is formed by the data of consciousness. Consequently, what is known through these judgments is known already in its transcendence, in its being-in-itself since it is known by means of a judgment that corresponds to our intention of being, which is not restricted by any principle of immanence. This does not differ from the way we know the external world.
to this function the experience of oneself can be completely objectified in
self-affirmation, or, generally speaking, in introspective judgments.
In such judgments, the presence of the self to itself is understood and
unconditionally posited. Introspective judgments will differ from each other according
to the different levels of consciousness: “I feel tired” differs from “I
understand nothing about mathematics,” which again differs from “I am sorry
that I acted that way.” In all
cases, however, consciousness as the presence of the subject to itself is
grasped through ordinary or scientific understanding, and this understanding is
consequently grasped and affirmed as correct through reflective understanding.
2. Consciousness as the operative intelligible
We have also spoken about another constitutive element in our knowledge of performance; we can define it as the operative intelligible, referring to that level of consciousness that transcends the purely sensible level. It seems important to us to emphasize this second element because a one-sided focus on the first element could lead to a mere functional understanding of consciousness, and therefore to an emptying of consciousness that acknowledges only one's experience of oneself (experientia sui). That experience would then be known ad modum obiecti in an introspective judgment. In other words, consciousness would be a mere ascertainment of itself which would serve only as the basis of self-affirmation, even if one assumes that the ontological degree or status of this "self" varies according to the different levels of consciousness. The element which we want to analyze here, and which we designate as the operative intelligible, certainly exists in Lonergan. We find it in numerous places in his examination of human knowing where he refers to consciousness as an internal and effective norm in the process of knowing. Nevertheless, the systematic and exact analysis of the first element can lead to a neglect of the second element. The inexhaustible richness of this second element tempts us to overlook it because, in contrast to the first element, an exhaustive objectification of it is never possible.
is consciousness as the operative intelligible in our performance? It is nothing
but the intelligibility and the groundedness of being as the obverse. Therefore,
an examination of this element of consciousness is nothing but a repetition -
whereby we determine more exactly its relation to the other element - of what we
have already said regarding the notio of being.
it is true that consciousness [as inner experience] corresponds to outer
experience, this does not mean that, fundamentally, consciousness is located
only at the level of experience as opposed to the intellectual level.
Rather, consciousness refers to the presence to itself of the subject,
the operative intelligible, in all its performances. We can affirm a parallel:
as we possess objects fully only by means of rational judgment ex parte
obiecti, so the subject can fully grasp itself only ex parte subiecti.
We want not to say that self-affirmation is without value; it is indeed
necessary, but only in order to have a knowledge ex parte obiecti of
ourselves in the same way as we have a knowledge of other objects ex parte
obiecti, so that we can distinguish between ourselves and other objects.
This self-objectification, however, which is absent on the level of
consciousness [as inner experience], does not constitute my full and true
possession of myself. If the self in and of itself is the measure of all things,
one cannot maintain that the subject takes possession of itself only in an
objective knowledge of all other real things. That would amount to destroying
the original meaning of the self which, as operative intelligible, is the focus
of being in performance in so far as, from and of itself, it is the effective
intelligibility and unconditioned that determines its object: being.
statement that the self is the operative intelligible and therefore the focus of
being means that it is a property of cognitive spirit to be able to bring to the
level of actual intelligibility what is not yet actually intelligible in purely
sensible presentations. At this point, the horizon of being with its two
components, the objective and subjective poles and the tension between them
appears to be the human mode of self-possession with respect to being. If the
human spirit were--per absurdum—alone with its own intelligibility, it would
exist as a whole. In fact the
unlimitedness of the human spirit is more intensive than extensive. Its
unlimitedness constitutes it as unconditioned and thus as being, so that if the
human spirit were already, by itself, the whole, it would exist likewise as
something unlimited and absolute. Only if, to the spirit, data – in different
extents – are present, does the intensive unlimitedness of spirit reveal
itself as the ability to ask questions about the other, because the data become
the goal of a tension which arises between the operative intelligible, that is
spirit, and the unintelligible which are the data.
The horizon of being is precisely this tension.
a certain sense, it is therefore true that one can ask about the origin of the
horizon of being. We have
previously noted that, in amazement and wonder, we are given to
ourselves in an unlimited way although, only potentially, as an active potency.
Precisely this self-presence in such an unlimited potentiality
constitutes our horizon of being. Now
we can see more precisely that the spirit is determined as spirit not by its
potency to possess everything but by its self-possession as a whole or entirety.
It experiences itself thus as an intelligible in relation to the whole
which is being. For the spirit,
this experience of being can never be completely absent, whatever the situation
it may be in. Spirit is always the notio
of being of which we have spoken. It
is the experience of being - if we understand experience not as a partial
component of knowing but as the whole of a knowing that is originally presence,
possession of oneself, identity. In
this sense, we agree [with Coreth] that in our knowledge of performance an
identity exists between being and knowing and that this identity lies at the
origin of the horizon of being. Also
we agree that in intellectual consciousness there is given an experience of
being which is a more original and basic grasping of being than that grasping of
being which occurs in judgment. Consciousness
is nothing other than the presence of the operative intelligible to itself, and
it is therefore already an intelligere [act of understanding], since the
self-possession of the operative intelligible can be correctly named an intelligere.
It is, however, an intelligere which differs from the intelligere
ex parte obiecti [understanding (something) as an object] in reference to
empirical data, since it is much more original than this.
If one acknowledges this character of subjective intelligibility and thus
being as the identity of intelligibility with oneself without any
objectification or duality, then all that Coreth says about the experience of
being and the certainty of being in consciousness seems right to us.
having emphasized the original meaning of the I and of being, this operative
intelligible requires also an intelligibility ex parte obiecti.
Only then do we have formally the horizon of being, the notio of
being as intentio intendens, as unthematized knowledge about being.
What is not essential for the spirit as such is, however, constitutive
for the human spirit as spirit in the world. The self-possession of the whole,
the experience of being which is already an understanding of being, carries
itself out in us only in the mode of tension.
This means that our spirit is intelligible in act only when it turns to a
datum which it tries to make intelligible.
Similarly, on the ontological level, the human spirit has its being only
in its giving form to matter. This
throwing of its own light on a datum is the original wonder, the formulated
question, and the entire subsequent process of knowing. In this sense, it is
true that the wonder, the horizon of being formally as horizon, has its origin
in that operative intelligible which is the I.
the tension of the horizon of being, which is to be understood as a pure
anticipation, every experience (whether inner or outer) is only a first and
partial element of human knowing. With
respect to such knowing, self-affirmation is an instance of complete knowing.
Obviously, however, self-affirmation is not the operative intelligible.
The operative intelligible is only the subject formally as subject.
Within the sphere of being, self-affirmation represents the presence of
the subject to itself in consciousness as a particular subject, whereas the
primary function of consciousness exists indefeasibly ex parte subiecti.
In other words: the operative intelligible cannot be other than
The goal of our study has been to formulate the function of consciousness in a critical foundation of human knowing. It seems to us that Lonergan’s Insight and Coreth’s Metaphysik largely agree in their solutions despite their different questions and different cultural context. The reservations which we have expressed, especially with respect to paragraph thirteen in Coreth’s Metaphysik, should serve much more to warn against a possibly false interpretation which would practically nullify the entire work of the reditus ad subiectum [return to the subject] that Coreth had carried out so clearly and systematically, than to lay stress on a real difference between the two authors. We are convinced that, despite the ambiguous positions that we have tried to point out and clarify, Coreth’s train of thought is conducted in a way which exactly conforms to the analysis which Lonergan provides.
have unfolded this train of thought in two steps: moving from the performance of
our cognitive spirit in one of its acts (whether questioning or judgment), it
has appeared that - whatever may be the thematic horizon of this performance (be
it even a restricted and therefore conditioned horizon) - the always
unthematized present and effective ultimate horizon (on the basis of which alone
partial horizons are possible) is the unrestricted horizon of being.
With respect to any thematic horizon, the horizon of being, which is to
be identified with consciousness on the intellectual level, is the ultimate that
we reach by searching for the conditions of possibility for knowing.
It is completely a priori in the sense that it rejects every other ground, if one
looks for such a ground in a particular knowing ex parte obiecti.
In detail we have shown that such a ground is not given in knowledge of
oneself as performing a question. Rather,
such a knowledge is to be obtained only through introspective judgment which
already presupposes the horizon of being.
a second step, we have tried to analyze intellectual consciousness more closely. In it, one can distinguish a secondary function as the
horizon of being, its dynamism, its pure anticipation, from a primary function
as intelligence in act which characterizes the spirit as spirit as of a subject.
In this primary function, we have the original being-by-itself of being and
therefore the self-possession of being, the experience of being: knowing. Here,
we have the unity which precedes the duality of subjectivity and objectivity. It
is in the duality, however, that our spirit must actuate itself as the operative
intelligible, by engaging in wonder, by asking questions, seeking, reflecting in
order to arrive at a knowledge of being the revelation of which is our spirit as
Heidegger would say, consciousness is the place of truth because it is the place
of unconcealment and of the manifestation of being.
† [Originally published as Seinserfahrung und Seinshorizont nach E. Coreth und B. Lonergan, in Zeitschrift für Katholische Theologie 89 (1967) pp. 294-338, this text has been primarily translated from German into English by Mr. Roland Krismer of Innsbruck, Austria and Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB of St. Anselm’s Abbey, Washington, DC although with the invaluable help and assistance of the following three persons. Dr. Michael Hoonhout suggested that this work be done as a special theology project. Dr. Donald E. Buzzelli carefully analyzed our draft texts that drew upon his own understanding and knowledge of the thought of Fr. Bernard Lonergan, Fr. Emerich Coreth, and Fr. Giovanni Sala and, on the basis of this knowledge, he composed a number of interpretive footnotes. He also often raised questions which facilitated a more accurate translation of certain passages. And, lastly, the original author of the German text, Fr. Sala, was able to study and examine a draft translation text in order to suggest rewordings of phrase and term that could more exactly express his meaning in a manner that would benefit English readers. In the production of this translation, a team of persons has worked together over a number of years (more years than what had been initially anticipated).]
Otto Muck, Die transzendentale Methode der scholastischen Philosophie der Gegenwart, Innsbruck 1961. [The Transcendental Method, trans. William D. Siedensticker (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968)].
Emerich Coreth S.J., Metaphysik. Eine methodisch-systematischen Grundlegung, Innsbruck 11961, 21964. The quotations we cite are taken from the second edition, which differs from the first edition only in slight matters of wording. [An abbreviated, truncated English edition of Coreth’s Metaphysik, prepared by Joseph Donceel, was published in 1968 by Herder and Herder, New York, and is simply titled as Metaphysics. This same work also includes a critique written by Bernard J. F. Lonergan: “Metaphysics as Horizon,” 197-219.]
Bernard J. F. Lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, London-New York-Toronto 11957. [Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan: Volume 3, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, ed. Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran (University of Toronto Press, 1992). Citations will be to the original pagination.]
† [Please note that there is a difference
between beings and Being (esse). Besides
individual or contingent beings, there is the act of being, which sometimes
is identified with Being in general.]
The main sources where Lonergan discusses consciousness are as follows: 1. Insight, Chapter XI: Self-Affirmation of the Knower, 319-47, above all, numbers 1-5. For moral consciousness, see Chapter XVIII, 1. 2-1. 3, 598-602; 2. 5, 612-16. 2; De Constitutione Christi ontologica et psychologica, Romae 1956, pars V: De conscientia humana, 83-99 [Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan: Volume 7, The Ontological and Psychological Constitution of Christ, Part 5: Human Consciousness, trans. Michael G. Shields (University of Toronto Press, 2001), 157-89]; 3. De Verbo Incarnato, Romae 1964, edit. 3, 267-310; 4. Christ as Subject: A Reply: Gregorianum 40 (1959) 242-70 [Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan: Volume 4, Collection, ed. Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran (University of Toronto Press, 1988), 153-187]; 5. Cognitional Structure: Spirit as Inquiry, Chicago 1964, 232 to 234 [Collection, 208-211]. In this second section, we publish what we have formulated more extensively in an article: L'analisi della coscienza umana in Bernard Lonergan: Contributo preliminare al problema cristologico: La Scuola Cattolica 91 (1966) 187-213.
This sequence corresponds to Lonergan’s general method: one must look at psychic acts and their nature more exactly before one shifts to a metaphysical analysis or, in our case, to a critical analysis of cognition. See B. Lonergan, The Concept of Verbum in the Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas I: Theological Studies 7 (1946) 392; III: vol. 8 (1947) 404. [Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan: Volume 2, Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas, ed. Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran (University of Toronto Press, 1988), 59, 106].
Therefore Lonergan says that the experientia of which he speaks in the definition of consciousness is a notitia praevia atque informis [previous knowledge that is lacking in form]. It is praevia, in so far as it is presupposed by any introspective, intellectual effort to investigate ourselves. We cannot arrive at any insight about ourselves, that either belongs to everyday life or to scientific thinking, if we are not already given to ourselves. It is informis in so far as the prima mentis operatio is not yet carried out, since that alone adds to the data a form, i.e., an intelligible connectedness.
With these two expressions “intelligent” and “rational,” we refer to spiritual activities, to the prima and secunda mentis operatio. We have already seen that Lonergan strongly emphasizes the difference and, at the same time, the complementarity of these two components in the entire structure which constitutes human cognition. In English, intelligent and rational respectively correspond to the level of intelligence and the level of reflection, to questions for understanding and questions for reflection. Cf. Insight IX: 269-74.
De Constitutione Christi 10ff [Ontological and Psychological Constitution of Christ 11ff]. It is interesting to see in St. Thomas that, although in his philosophical reflections he is obviously outside the problematic of the transcendental method, he nevertheless clearly has seen the connection between the dynamic and unlimited orientation of our intellectual spirit and its formal object, being: “Intellectus autem respicit suum obiectum secundum communem rationem entis, eo quod intellectus possibilis est quo est omnia fieri” [but the intellect regards its object according to the common aspect of being, since the possible intellect is that which becomes all things]; Summa Theol. I Q. 79 A. 7. We would like to say that St. Thomas thinks much more transcendentally and aprioristically than those modern Thomists who do not find any other origin for our notion of being than the data of sense. For them, it is not necessary to look elsewhere for an origin. Naturally, one presupposes a spiritual faculty, the intellect, but all that one can say about this faculty belongs to metaphysics. There are no statements about psychological realities which would belong to a cognitional theory. See B. Lonergan, “Metaphysics as Horizon,” Gregorianum 44 (1963) 312f, 315 [Collection, 195f, 199-201].
With the expression “the notio of being” we name a basic element in human knowing which is fundamental in Lonergan’s analysis. We have not succeeded in finding a more common expression than this which, without ambiguity, shows what Lonergan refers to as the Notion of Being (Insight chap. XII), notio entis [notion of being], or intentio entis intendens [intending intention of being] (De Constitutione Christi ontologica et psychologica 10ff; Ontological and Psychological Constitution of Christ, 11ff). The meaning, we hope, will become clear from our explanations. We do not use the expression “prior or fore-concept [Vorbegriff, in German],” although it is true that the Notion of Being refers to something that is prior to concepts. Modern scholasticism is aware of a pre-conceptual element in our knowing. Lonergan distinguishes between preconceptualism ex part obiecti, i.e., the idea, the content of an insight, and preconceptualism ex part subiecti. The latter is the Notion of Being whose function is broader and far more extensive than the activity of understanding on the level of intellectual consciousness, which utters the verbum interius on the basis of an insight. This notio of being corresponds to Coreth’s pure pre-knowledge of being but with the greater clarity and depth that Lonergan’s analysis is able to show. Therefore, it seems to us that the translation of 0tto Muck (loc. cit. 0. 252) is somewhat misleading when it renders “Notion of Being” as “Concept of Being” [Seinsbegriff in German]. It is misleading if one does not sufficiently emphasize the fact that this concept, in contrast with every other human concept, is not the fruit of an insight into data. It is true that Lonergan, in an early article on Aquinas’s understanding of human cognition (The Concept of Verbum in the Writings of St. Thomas Aquinas I: Theological Studies 7  390f; Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas, 57f), used the expression “concept of Being.” Nevertheless, his description already clarifies unequivocally the fundamental difference between the concept of Being and other concepts. In Chapter XII of Insight, this difference was worked out further when Lonergan decided that it was necessary for him to make a clear linguistic distinction between notion and concept. Finally, in the newer French translation of his study of Verbum in Aquinas where he speaks of the concept d' être, he has added a note which says that, with respect to being, he would now make the following distinctions: 1. notion, 2. concept implicite, 3. connaissance, 4. idée and 5. théorie d'être. Accordingly, the pre-knowledge of being is the notion of being, whereas every concept is a concept implicite d'être [implicit concept of being], since it is formed for the purpose of judging. i.e., knowing being sub ratione entis [in terms of being]. (La Notion de verb dans les Ecrits de Saint Thomas d'Aquin: Archives de Philosophie 26  202 annotation 196).
Lonergan would subscribe to the following considerations voiced by Coreth: “knowledge about being and the meaning of being can never be obtained or explained from other things that confront me as questionable and knowable. Asking about an other in terms of what “is” and a knowledge of an other in terms of what “is” always presupposes a prior knowledge of being, or, to use Heidegger's word: a ‘prior understanding of being’ [in German, ‘vorgängiges Seinsverständnis']” (Metaphysik, 2136, 1163). However, we think that without the more exact determinations and definitions we have made in the course of our work, Lonergan would not assent to Coreth’s conclusion that this pre-knowledge of being “is based on the immediate experience of being and on the immediate certainty of its own performance” (ibid). The performance that Coreth relies on seems to abandon transcendental subjectivity on whose basis alone being can be defined, since the human subject, as the psychological subject, is the locus for the revealing of being. “Knowing is the intrinsic subjectivity of being itself”: Cf. K. Rahner, Geist in Welt, München2 1957, 81-84 [Spirit in the World, trans. William Dych, New York 1968, 67-71].
If one considers how Lonergan understands the notio of being, then the horizon of being plainly appears as something ultimate, which cannot be attributed to anything else that is prior to it. Perhaps, however, one can deepen one’s contemplation of this notio as the a priori of our spirit and thereby accentuate an element that is prior to the horizon of being formally as horizon. We will attempt to take this direction in section IV 2 of this study. Therefore all assertions, which we make about the horizon of being as ultimate, must be understood in such a way that it does not contradict future speculations.
B. Lonergan, De Deo Trino II. Pars Systematica. Romae 1964, 90f. [The author cites a text which now appears in both Latin and English in a recently published translation of Lonergan’s earlier Latin work which is now cited as The Triune God: Systematics, trans. Michael G. Shields, ed. Robert M. Doran & H. Daniel Monsour (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), pp. 178-179.]
Now that we have pointed out the impasse to which Coreth’s thought leads (at least, under a plausible interpretation) and have come to the conclusion here proposed, we note with interest that H. Holz, in a new work about Transcendental Thomism (which for the most part deals with Maréchal) expresses a similar reservation. According to Holz, appealing to the experience of being and the certainty of our self-consciousness implies returning to an intuitive knowledge as the foundation justifying the absolute validity of our knowing. Thus, here too, says Holz, we find a sharp contrast with the basic conception found in Maréchal: Coreth does not perform a reduction of performance to its transcendental conditions, the unlimited and therefore absolute horizon of being, but, instead adheres to a phenomenological examination of the performance of knowing as conscious. (H. Holz, Transzendentalphilosophie und Metaphysik, Mainz 1966, 147. See 121f, 138f, 155, 222-24).
In any case, this position does not solve the problem (that interests us here) of giving reasons for the validity of our horizon as the horizon of being in itself, whether, namely, such a horizon of being follows from the direct, immediate certainty of ourselves in performance or whether it precedes this absolute certainty and thereby makes it possible.
Metaphysics as Horizon 2200-1; 1215-6. In his article Cognitional Structure, through a study of naive realism, Lonergan shows how an immediate relation to reality is grounded in the intention of being. This immediate relation of our cognition is therefore not given in the senses, as the empiricist or the sensist would have it, nor is it given through an immediate intuition of being in sense data, i.e., through an intellectual experience of being based on the model of sense experience. As a result, our activities, whether of the senses or of the understanding, refer to reality in the measure and manner in which they are subsumed under the intention of being. See Spirit as Inquiry 240 [or Collection, 218].
“One might claim that the real is a subdivision in the ‘already out there now’ or, if one pleases, the ‘already in here now.’ On that view, intelligent inquiry and critical reflection, however useful or praiseworthy they may be, necessarily are extrinsic to knowing reality, for extroversion or introversion of consciousness is prior to asking questions and independent of answers to questions.” (Insight XV 3. 2:2523; 1499).
By “I am a knower,” i.e., by self-affirmation and thus by my knowledge of myself as a knower, Lonergan means that I am a “unity-identity-whole” which is determined through the following acts: feeling, perceiving, imagining, inquiring, understanding, formulating, reflecting, grasping of the unconditioned and asserting. (Insight XI:2343-4; 1319).
These objective contents are known either sub ratione intelligibilis if they concern acts of the prima mentis operatio, or sub ratione veri et entis if they concern acts of the secunda mentis operatio.
“What is being? .... being is completely universal and completely concrete; apart from it, there is nothing; and so knowledge of what being is cannot be had in anything less than an act of understanding everything about everything. Correlative to an unrestricted desire to understand, there may be posited either an indefinite process of development or an unrestricted act of understanding.” (Insight XIX 4: 2666; 1642f.)
In his definition of transcendence, Coreth refers to what is directly given in consciousness: transcendence is what exceeds the sphere of consciousness, while the immanent is what is given in consciousness and, therefore, as such does not refer to being in itself (Metaphysik 2518; 1603). Even though Coreth no doubt develops a transcendent realism in his metaphysics as a whole, it seems to us that the definition of transcendence lying at the basis of his concept of consciousness approaches that of conscientia-perceptio [consciousness as perception]. See De Constitutione Christi 91 [Ontological and Psychological Constitution of Christ 173-5].
Although Lonergan, in an in-depth analysis, examines the importance of consciousness for knowing about our knowledge, he never speaks about judgments of consciousness. Therefore, it is not quite correct when 0tto Muck (loc. cit. 0. 247) refers to the judgment that is examined in chapter XI of Insight (Self-Affirmation of the Knower) as a judgment of consciousness. In this context, Lonergan is speaking of consciousness as the means whereby the conditions for an anticipated judgment to become a virtually unconditioned are given in consciousness and are therefore fulfilled.
“Hence we place transcendence, not in going beyond a known knower, but in heading for being, within which there are positive differences and, among such differences, the difference between subject and object. Inasmuch as such judgments occur, there are in fact objectivity and transcendence.” (Insight XIII 1: 2401-2; 1377)
Lonergan's analysis, normative objectivity is fidelity to the pure desire to
know: "Normative objectivity is constituted by the immanent exigence of
the pure desire in the pursuit of its unrestricted objective” (Insight
XIII 3: 2404; 1380).