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preface || intro || 1 ||  2 || 3 || 4 || 5 || 6 || 7 || 8 || 9 || 10 || 11 || 12 || Conclusion

Transforming Light


I have recounted the historical origins of Lonergan's thought in his early interest in logic and mathematics and in the writings of Newman, Plato, Augustine, Aristotle and Aquinas.

The many hints and clues from these sources as to the nature of the human mind came together in Lonergan's intellectual conversion of the mid-1930's. That conversion found expression in his writings on Aquinas in the late 1930's and the 1940's. That event found expression in a growing focus on modern scientific method and in his notes on radical intellectual conversion in 1951. There he focusses on a systematic account of human knowledge, what he later will define as characteristic of the third stage of meaning, the stage of interiority.

By 1953, when he was scheduled to depart from Canada to teach in Rome, Lonergan had finished the writing of Insight.

I worked on Insight from 1949 to 1953. During the first three years my intention was an exploration of methods generally in preparation for a study of the method of theology. But in 1952 it became clear that I was due to start teaching at the Gregorian University in Rome in 1953, so I changed my plan and decided to round off what I had done and publish it under the title, Insight, A Study of Human Understanding.

Strangely enough, Lonergan never uses the term, intellectual conversion, in Insight. Even though the term "radical intellectual conversion" had played such a prominent role in his notes on "Intelligence and Reality," the term is not found in his "great work," Insight.


Perhaps because of the religious overtones of the word "conversion?" After all, Insight is written not just for believers, but for "any sufficiently cultured consciousness?" As he states in the introduction, the aim of the book is pedagogical: to bring a person to the "startling" and "strange" breakthrough involved in coming to understand the structures of their own knowing. His primary aim is neither logical nor metaphysical, but rather

a development that can begin in any sufficiently cultured consciousness, that expands in virtue of the dynamic tendencies of that consciousness itself, and that heads through an understanding of all understanding to a basic understanding of all that can be understood.

It is obvious that Lonergan is aiming at effecting in the reader of Insight a similar breakthrough to the one he had experienced when he grasped the real distinction between essence and existence in connection with Bernard Leeming's course in the 1930's.

But what is a "sufficiently cultured consciousness" that he envisions as the audience of Insight? There is no doubt that for Lonergan in Insight a "sufficiently cultured consciousness" is one that is familiar with the modern sciences. A "sufficiently cultured consciousness" today is a consciousness quite different than that of the early Christians; it is a consciousness quite different than the Aristotelian consciousness. Its most outstanding characteristic is the emergence of the autonomous modern sciences that are independent of modern philosophy. That is the reason why so much of the early chapters of Insight consist in the analysis of scientific and mathematical consciousness.

The ultimate aim of Insight is exceedingly high and wide, eventually encompassing metaphysical questions: questions about the nature of the universe and the existence of God; questions about the spirituality, immortality and freedom of the human person, etc.. But clarity on those issues begins with the clarity on one's own understanding of one's own understanding. The point is to identify the act of understanding in one's own experience and to come to distinguish it from all the other mental operations that precede and follow from it. The point is also to discern and to distinguish between the act of understanding and all the other "existential" elements that can enter in and interfere with that act of understanding.

The point here, as elsewhere, is appropriation; the point is to discover, to identify, to become familiar with the activities of one's own intelligence; the point is to become able to discriminate with ease and from personal conviction between one's purely intellectual convictions and the manifold of other, "existential" concerns that invade and mix and blend with the operations of intellect to render it ambivalent and its pronouncements ambiguous.

Our aim in this chapter on Insight is not to review the whole book, an impossible undertaking. Insight is a work that must be read and wrestled with on its own. I myself have read it through a number of times and each time it is a new book filled with new treasures.

Our aim here is rather to point out the significance of Insight in the light of Lonergan's own early intellectual conversion. Basing ourself mostly on the introduction, we aim to point out the significance of Insight as Lonergan's invitation to others to undergo the same intellectual transformation that took place in him in the middle 1930's.


In the introduction to Insight Lonergan states that there is a major "psychological problem" involved in the process of coming to understand our own understanding. The problem, as he describes it elsewhere, is that we develop as animals before we develop as human beings and consequently, from our earliest years, we confuse our properly human knowing with the knowing we share with other animals. The confusion between these two kinds of knowing is at the origin of the various schools of philosophy.

In each of us there exist two different kinds of knowledge. They are juxtaposed in Cartesian dualism with its rational "Cogito, ergo sum" and with its unquestioning extroversion to substantial extension. They are separated and alienated in the subsequent rationalist and empiricist philosophies. They are brought together again to cancel each other in Kantian criticism. If these statement approximate the facts, then the question of human knowledge is not whether it exists but what precisely are its two diverse forms and what are the relations between them.

Because these two types of knowing exist in us, there results two main types of philosophical realism, one half-animal and half-human that is the basis for materialism and the philosophies of immanentism, idealism, relativism; the other a fully human realism, that has been called, in the context of our times, a critical realism. Speaking of what elsewhere he will call intellectual conversion, Lonergan says:

For the appropriation of one's own rational self-consciousness, which has been so stressed in this Introduction, is not an end in itself but rather a beginning.  It is a necessary beginning, for unless one breaks the duality in one's knowing, one doubts that understanding correctly is knowing.  Under the pressure of that doubt, either one will sink into the bog of a knowing that is without understanding, or else cling to understanding but sacrifice knowing on the altar of an immanentism, an idealism, a relativism.  From the horns of that dilemma one escapes only through the discovery (and one has not made it yet if one has no clear memory of its startling strangeness) that there are two quite different realisms, that there is an incoherent realism, half animal and half human, that poses as a half-way house between materialism and idealism and, on the other hand, that there is an intelligent and reasonable realism between which and materialism the half-way house is idealism.

Recall here Lonergan's early fear that he was becoming an idealist when he broke through from his early nominalism. I experienced that same fear as I wrestled with Insight.

Consequently, according to Lonergan, a major psychological problem exists in our knowledge of ourselves, and because of that psychological problem, Insight is written from a pedagogical point of view: to bring about the slow deliberate identification of the psychological problem and its decisive resolution in the fully adequate affirmation of ourselves as knowers.

The hard fact is that the personal psychological problem cannot be solved by the ordinary procedure of affirming the propositions that are true and denying the propositions that are false, for the true meaning of true propositions always tends to be misapprehended by a consciousness that has not yet discovered what an Augustine took years and modern science centuries to discover.

What is needed is an overcoming of the psychological problem through an adequate understanding of human understanding. Insight aims at bringing about a development in the human person as he or she works through the book. Constantly Lonergan asks the reader to attend to his or her own experience as they understand or fail to understand, to substitute one's own examples for the examples used in the book, to attend most of all to oneself in one's own conscious activities.

On a first level, the book contains sentences on mathematics, on science, on common sense, on metaphysics. On a second level, the meaning of all these sentences, their intention and significance, are to be grasped only by going beyond the scraps of mathematics or science or common sense or metaphysics to the dynamic, cognitional structure that is exemplified in knowing them. On a third level, the dynamic, cognitional structure to be reached is not the transcendental ego of Fichtean speculation, nor the abstract pattern of relations verifiable in Tom and Dick and Harry, but the personally appropriated structure of one's own experiencing, one's own intelligent inquiry and insights, one's own critical reflection and judging and deciding. The crucial issue is an experimental issue, and the experiment will be performed not publicly but privately. It will consist in one's own rational consciousness clearly and distinctly taking possession of itself as rational self-consciousness. Up to that decisive achievement, all leads. From it, all follows. No one else, no matter what his knowledge or his eloquence, no matter what his logical rigour or his persuasiveness, can do it for you.


As we have noted, in the 1940's, after so many years in the study of the ancients, particularly Thomas Aquinas, Lonergan took the methodologies of the sciences as the explicit focus of his reflection. Why? Well, for one reason, one could not just ignore the all-pervasive presence of the sciences in the modern world. Science was - and is - the paradigm for what it means "to know" in our world.

Indeed, the very success of the modern sciences was due to their declaring their independence from the ancient Aristotelian science that penetrated into the warp and woof of Aquinas' thought. Modern science declared its independence from philosophy in general and from Aristotelian philosophy in particular. The basic thrust of modern science is empirical: to stake out the realm of sensible data as its own and to exclude from its purview any questions that do not have sensible consequences.

The problem for Christians, of course, has been that the successes of modern science seemed to support a materialist philosophy of the universe. On the other hand, in Lonergan's view the very development of modern physical sciences was leading beyond this view of science.

Consequently, among the most prominent aspects of Insight are the numerous examples from modern mathematics and modern science. Just the sight of the differential equations can strike terror into someone who picks up the 785 page book for the first time! Nevertheless, in his introduction Lonergan gives three reasons for his prominent use of mathematical and scientific examples.

The first reason, as we mentioned previously, is clarity and exactitude: if one seeks a clear and distinct apprehension of the activities that mark the different levels of consciousness,

then one must prefer the fields of intellectual endeavor in which the greatest care is devoted to exactitude and, in fact, the greatest exactitude is attained. For this reason, then, I have felt obliged to begin my account of insight and its expansion with mathematical and scientific illustrations and, while I would grant that essentially the same activities can be illustrated from the ordinary use of intelligence that is named common sense, I also submit that it would be impossible for common sense to grasp and say what precisely common sense happens to illustrate.

The second reason for invoking scientific examples is the criterion of the real implicit in scientific operations. In a passage similar to the one above, Lonergan links Augustine's intellectual breakthrough in the spring of 386 with the project of modern science.

For the present enterprise is concerned to unravel an ambiguity and to eliminate an ambivalence. St. Augustine of Hippo narrates that it took him years to make the discovery that the name, real, might have a different connotation from the name, body. Or, to bring the point nearer home, one might say that it has taken modern science four centuries to make the discovery that the objects of its inquiry need not be imaginable entities moving through imaginable processes in an imaginable space-time. The fact that a Plato attempted to communicate through his dialogues, the fact that an Augustine eventually learnt from the writers whom, rather generally, he refers to as Platonists, has lost its antique flavor and its apparent irrelevance to the modern mind. Even before Einstein and Heisenberg it was clear enough that the world described by scientists was strangely different from the world depicted by artists and inhabited by men of common sense. But it was left to twentieth-century physicists to envisage the possibility that the objects of their science were to be reached only by severing the umbilical cord that tied them to the maternal imagination of man.

In the early chapters of Insight Lonergan's analysis of scientific consciousness is at the same time a refutation of mechanistic determinism. The key issue is the personal and systematic appropriation of the distinction between imagination and insight. The key issue is the distinction between a naive understanding of knowing as "taking a good look" and a differentiated understanding of human knowing as constituted by activities of experiencing, understanding and judging.

The problem set by the two types of knowing is, then, not a problem of elimination but a problem of critical distinction. For the difficulty lies, not in either type of knowing by itself, but in the confusion that arises when one shifts unconsciously from one type to the other. Animals have no epistemological problems. Neither do scientists as long as they stick to their task of observing, forming hypotheses, and verifying. The perennial source of nonsense is that, after the scientist has verified his hypothesis, he is likely to go a little further and tell the layman what, approximately, scientific reality looks like!

The confusion of insight and visual imagination has been at the root of the disastrous interpretations of modern science during the last several centuries. But the development of modern classical and statistical science during the last several centuries has absolutely demanded this distinction. Thus, Lonergan points out the world of difference between a systematic unification of physical laws and an imaginative synthesis.

As systematic unification does not include imaginative synthesis, so it does not even guarantee its possibility. It is true enough that images are necessary for the emergence of insights, but images may be not representative but symbolic, not pictures of the visible universe but mathematical notations on pieces of paper.

The point is that we cannot reach a representative image of what scientific reality looks like. Scientific explanation of its very essence transcends imaginative representation: it relates things to each other in their systematic correlations and not to our visual imagination.

In Insight Lonergan analyzes the various canons or implicit rules in the practice of scientists that keep science on the track of explanatory understanding. One such canon, the canon of parsimony, forbids the empirical scientist from affirming what, as an empirical scientist, he does not know. This has a relevance to the human tendency, present in the scientist as in anyone else, to try to visually imagine the objects of his science. For

the canon of parsimony excludes any problem concerning the picture of objects too small to be sensed. For the image as image can be verified only by the occurrence of the corresponding sensation. Thus, the visual image of a small ball can be verified only by seeing a small ball, and the visual image of a wave can be verified only by seeing a wave. When the sensations neither occur nor can occur, all that can be verified are certain equations and the terms implicitly defined by such equations.

The progress of empirical science is from description, that is, the relationships of things to us and to our senses, to explanation, the relationships of things among themselves. This possibility of moving from description to explanation implies the possibility of grasping "things," that is, "unities-identities-wholes" in which both descriptive and explanatory attributes or conjugates can be verified. It is understanding's ability to grasp "things" that makes it possible to go from description to explanation and from scientific explanation back to the concrete implementation of scientific insights.

But what is a thing? For starters, it is not a "body." A body is the correlative of our extroverted biological consciousness. It is, as Lonergan says elsewhere, "the sure and firm-set earth on which I tread." It is the sensible environment that is already constituted as the objective of biological desires and fears. It is "out there," full of sensuous dangers and opportunities. It is as "real" as a saucer of milk is real for a kitten while a painting of a saucer of milk, still less, the chemical analysis of milk, is, for the kitten, "unreal."

By a "body" is meant primarily a focal point of extroverted biological anticipation and attention. It is an "already out there now real," where these terms have their meanings fixed solely by elements within sensitive experience and so without any use of intelligent and reasonable questions and answers.

And yet human understanding can grasp dimensions of reality far beyond the possibilities of a kitten. A chemical analysis of milk can grasp real dimensions of milk that can have profound and far-reaching implications for the whole human family. The practice of the sciences illustrates that human understanding can penetrate to the "inwardness" of things - an imaginative term used in Verbum to indicate understanding's ability to go beyond imagination.

There are, then, two kinds of human knowing. One is a mixture of human knowing with the knowing we share with the higher animals; the other a distinctively human knowing. It adds understanding and, as we shall see, judgment, to human sensation and imagination.

The problem set by the two types of knowing is, then, not a problem of elimination but a problem of critical distinction. For the difficulty lies, not in either type of knowing by itself, but in the confusion that arises when one shifts unconsciously from one type to the other. Animals have no epistemological problems. Neither do scientists as long as they stick to their task of observing, forming hypotheses, and verifying. The perennial source of nonsense is that, after the scientist has verified his hypothesis, he is likely to go a little further and tell the layman what, approximately, scientific reality looks like! Already we have attacked the unverifiable image; but now we can see the origin of the strange urge to foist upon mankind unverifiable images. For both the scientist and the layman, besides being intelligent and reasonable, also are animals. To them as animals, a verified hypothesis is just a jumble of words or symbols. What they want is an elementary knowing of the "really real," if not through sense, at least by imagination.

This is the "psychological problem" spoken of in the introduction to Insight. Such is the origin of the "cover story" that has accompanied the successes of the natural sciences during the last few centuries. Mechanistic reductionism has interpreted the sciences as giving us pictures of the "already out there now real" atoms and sub-atomic elements that are the ultimate constituents of the universe. And the "cover story" continues as Carl Sagan repeats it for popular television audiences and Stephen Hawkins writes a book on a popular "history of time" that, for the benefit of his audiences, contains no mathematical formulae!

But the meaning of Einstein's relativity theory and Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is that an explanatory account of our universe transcends any imaginative synthesis we can invent. And the reason for this is that understanding transcends imagination.

As he expressed the issue in 1955:

Further, while this immanence of intelligibility in the sensible has been a potent factor in the traditional attachment of scientists to a mechanist view of reality, the outstanding fact of the contemporary scientific situation is that this deep-rooted tendency is now being overcome by the inner development of science itself. From the days of Galileo the real object of the scientist was thought to be some imaginable stuff or particle or radiation that moved imaginably in some imaginable space and time. But relativity has eliminated the imaginability of scientifically conceived space and time; and quantum mechanics has eliminated the imaginability of basic processes. Whether he likes it or not, the scientist has transcended imagination.


A third reason for the prominent use of scientific examples is that scientific method itself is just a specialized application of the object of Lonergan's interest, that is, "the dynamic structure immanent and recurrently operative in human cognitional activity."

The first half of Insight, then, is an analysis of myriad examples of both scientific and common sense knowing in terms of the three levels of cognitional activity: experiencing, understanding and judging. Each level is defined implicitly: that is, by its dynamic relationships to the other levels: thus, human understanding presupposes experience and completes it and is itself presupposed by experience and completed by judgment.

Bringing together all the various influences on his own thought, both ancient and modern, Lonergan sees all their positive elements exemplified in the elements of scientific method.

Accordingly, it will be from the structural and dynamic features of scientific method that we shall approach and attempt to cast into the unity of a single perspective such apparently diverse elements as:

1) Plato's point in asking how the inquirer recognizes truth when he reaches what, as an inquirer, he did not know,

2) the intellectualist (though not the conceptualist) meaning of the abstraction of form from material conditions,

3) the psychological manifestation of Aquinas' natural desire to know God by his essence, 4) what Descartes was struggling to convey in his incomplete Regulae ad directionem ingenii, 5) what Kant conceived as a priori synthesis, and

6) what is named the finality of intellect in J. Maréchal's vast labor on Le Point de départ de la métaphysique.

It is an amazing program: to use scientific method as a means of illustrating what ancient and modern philosophers had sought to express about the nature of our human spirits. It is a tremendously ambitious program: from an analysis of mathematical and scientific understanding to move on to the wider context of common sense understanding with its personal and social implications; after treating of things and human judgment to move on to affirming the invariant structure implicit in all knowing; to treat the notions of being and objectivity and the metaphysics and ethics that flow from the structure of human knowing; to conclude with an analysis of general transcendent knowledge, the existence of God implicit in our human knowing; and finally, special transcendent knowledge, the structure of a divine solution to the problem of human living.

Hence, after working through chapters on the dynamic structure of experiencing, understanding and judging present in scientific and common sense examples, Lonergan asks how it is possible for us to know ourselves as such. What is meant by "introspection?" Do we look into ourselves and intuit our inner being?

To this, with more than a touch of irony, Lonergan replies:

Hence, while some of our readers may possess the rather remarkable power of looking into themselves and intuiting things quite clearly and distinctly, we shall not base our case upon their success. For, after all, there may well exist other readers that, like the writer, find looking into themselves rather unrewarding.

As he says elsewhere:

Thus if knowing is just looking, then knowing knowing will be looking at looking.

On the contrary, human consciousness is not some kind of "inner look." It is, rather, our presence to ourselves on various levels that makes it possible to ask questions about our human knowing and deciding. It is the reality of consciousness that makes it possible for the reader to know whether what has been written is true.

To affirm consciousness is to affirm that cognitional process is not merely a procession of contents but also a succession of acts. It is to affirm that the acts differ radically from such unconscious acts as the metabolism of one's cells, the maintenance of one's organs, the multitudinous biological processes that one learns about through the study of contemporary medical science.

It is this experiential "self-presence" on various levels that constitutes the underlying unity of our cognitional activities.

Indeed, consciousness is much more obviously of this unity in diverse acts than of the diverse acts, for it is within this unity that the acts are found and distinguished, and it is to the unity that we appeal when we talk about a single field of consciousness and draw a distinction between conscious acts occurring within the field and unconscious acts occurring outside it.

What do I mean by "I?" The answer is difficult to formulate, but strangely, in some obscure fashion, I know very well what it means without formulation, and by that obscure yet familiar awareness, I find fault with various formulations of what is meant by "I." In other words, "I" has a rudimentary meaning from consciousness and it envisages neither the multiplicity nor the diversity of contents and conscious acts but rather the unity that goes along with them.


As we noted, the first ten chapters of Insight present the structure of human knowing in both its scientific and common sense forms as containing the three cognitional levels of experiencing, understanding and judging. But up to this point, on an explicit level, it has all been just an hypothesis: the hypothesis that every instance of truly human knowing consists of these three levels. Chapter eleven asks if the hypothesis is true.

Chapter eleven asks whether any true judgments occur and it attempts to meet the issue by asking whether I am a knower. The "I" is the unity-identity-whole given in consciousness; a "knower" is one who performs the operations investigated in the previous ten chapters; the reader is asked to find out for himself and in himself whether it is a virtually unconditioned that he is a knower. The alternative to an affirmative answer, as presented in Method in Theology, is the admission that one is a nonresponsible, nonreasonable, nonintelligent somnambulist.

What Lonergan is seeking to explain is the genuine meaning of introspection and self-knowledge. This process is significantly more complicated than "looking inside ourselves." As he wrote sometime later in an effort to present the core of Insight:

Thus if knowing is just looking, then knowing knowing will be looking at looking. But if knowing is a conjunction of experience, understanding, and judging, then knowing knowing has to be a conjunction of (1) experiencing experience, understanding and judging, (2) understanding one's experience of experience, understanding, and judging, and (3) judging one's understanding of experience, understanding, and judging to be correct. On the latter view there follows at once a distinction between consciousness and self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is the reduplicated structure: it is experience, understanding and judging with respect to experience, understanding and judging. Consciousness, on the other hand, is not knowing knowing but merely experience of knowing.

The process of self-knowledge, or the self-affirmation of the knower, consists in coming to know ourselves by paying attention to and coming to correctly understand those moments of "heightened consciousness" known as understanding and judging and deciding. On this account all our cognitional acts can be conscious yet none or only some may be known. Thus, most people know what seeing is, but are mystified when asked what understanding is. They do not know themselves as understanding, still less as judging. Such self-knowledge - the aim of all Lonergan's philosophy - is not easily come by.

Different cognitional activities are not equally accessible. Experience is of the given. Experience of seeing is to be had only when one actually is seeing. Experience of insight is to be had only when one actually is having an insight. But one has only to open one's eyes and one will see; one has only to open and close one's eyes a number of times to alternate the experience of seeing and not seeing. Insights, on the other hand, cannot be turned on and off in that fashion. To have an insight, one has to be in the process of learning or, at least, one has to reenact in oneself previous processes of learning. While that is not peculiarly difficult, it does require (1) the authenticity that is ready to get down to the elements of a subject (2) close attention to one's own understanding and, equally, one's failing to understand, and (3) the repeated use of personal experiments in which, at first, one is genuinely puzzled and then catches on.

There is a clear distinction, then, between the self-knowledge that comes from genuine introspection and the conscious presence of the subject to himself or herself that is prior to such introspection.

I have been attempting to describe the subject's presence to himself. But the reader, if he tries to find himself as subject, to reach back and, as it were, uncover his subjectivity, cannot succeed. Any such effort is introspecting, attending to the subject; and what is found is, not the subject as subject, but only the subject as object; it is the subject as subject that does the finding.

Lonergan calls this basis of philosophical method "self-appropriation." For our conscious activities are not "out there." We are involved in them whether we want to be or not, and the more we resist this conclusion, the more we employ those same activities to resist it. For these activities of experiencing, understanding, judging and deciding with their concomitant activities are ourselves as empirically, intellectually and rationally conscious. By them we constitute ourselves in the world.

Proper philosophical method, then, is basically pedagogical: calling attention to the activities that people are constantly engaged in without normally adverting to them. The fact that we are consciously constituted by these levels does not mean that we know them, or still less, live in the light of that knowledge. The central philosophical thrust, then, should be to show that these invariant anticipations and activities of human consciousness are in fact always operative in human living (art, science, common sense living, etc.) in such a way that even their denial involves their employment.

This appeal to the inevitabilities of reasonable self-knowledge is in line with Aristotle's method of analyzing the skeptic's statement that we cannot really know anything. If that were true, he asserts, the skeptic's only recourse would be the mute silence of the vegetable, not statements purporting to be intelligent and reasonable.

Similarly, according to Lonergan, a cognitional schema of experience, understanding and judgment cannot coherently be revised, for the very notion of such a revision implies these three levels of conscious activity.

A revision appeals to data. It contends that previous theory does not satisfactorily account for all the data. It claims to have reached complimentary insights that lead to more accurate statements. It shows that these new statements are either unconditioned or more closely approximate to the unconditioned than previous statements. Now, if in fact revision is as described, then it presupposes that cognitional process falls on the three levels of presentation, intelligence, and reflection; it presupposes that insights are cumulative and head toward a limit described by the adjective, satisfactory; it presupposes a reflective grasp of the unconditioned or of what approximates to the unconditioned. Clearly, revision cannot revise its own presuppositions. A reviser cannot appeal to data to deny data, to his new insights to deny insights, to his new formulation to deny formulation, to his reflective grasp to deny reflective grasp.

Not only are the "I" and its cognitional operations to be affirmed, but also the pattern in which they occur is acknowledged as invariant, not of course in the sense that further methodical developments are impossible, nor in the sense that fuller and more adequate knowledge of the pattern is unattainable, but in the sense that any attempt to revise the patterns as now known would involve the very operations that the pattern prescribes.

We have described Lonergan's model of the normative dimensions of human consciousness; we have tried to communicate the meaning he gives to the term "self-appropriation." But, as we stated in the beginning, we will not have succeeded in communicating our meaning if the reader believes this be an easy task or one that can be accomplished in a short period of time. As he later says in Method in Theology:

Our purpose is to bring to light the pattern within which these operations occur and, it happens, we cannot succeed without an exceptional amount of exertion and activity on the part of the reader. He will have to familiarize himself with our terminology. He will have to evoke the relevant operations in his own consciousness. He will have to discover in his own experience the dynamic relationships leading from one operation to the next. Otherwise he will find not merely this chapter but the whole book about as illuminating as a blind man finds a lecture on color.

In a footnote to the above quote Lonergan distinguishes between a presentation of the model of the levels of human consciousness and the slow process of self-appropriation.

Please observe that I am offering only a summary, that the summary can do no more than present a general idea, that the process of self-appropriation occurs only slowly, and usually, only through the struggle with some such book as Insight.

The value of Lonergan's Insight is precisely that it was written with this pedagogical aim in mind: beginning with over three hundred pages of examples from mathematics, the sciences and common sense living that illustrate the inevitable operations of human consciousness.

Because Insight aims at a personal development, it aims at what of its very nature is a slow process.

Essentially, it is a development of the subject and in the subject and, like any development, it can be solid and fruitful only by being painstaking and slow.

Several times in his writings Lonergan mentioned the many years John Henry Newman took to find his intellectual way to becoming a Roman Catholic. His own intellectual conversion took many years. It is indeed a painstaking and slow process. Insight was written to facilitate that process.


Lonergan once noted that intellectual conversion, or the lack thereof, are objectified in terms of "positions" and "counterpositions." A basic position in metaphysics will be arrived at:

(1) if the real is the concrete universe of being and not a subdivision of the "already out there now";

(2) if the subject becomes known when it affirms itself intelligently and reasonably and so is not known yet in any prior "existential" state; and

(3) if objectivity is conceived as a consequence of intelligent inquiry and critical reflection, and not as a property of vital anticipation, extroversion and satisfaction.

On the other hand, it will be a basic counter-position if it contradicts one or more of the basic positions.

Let us say that Cartesian dualism contains both a basic position and a basic counter-position. The basic position is the cogito, ergo sum...On the other hand, the basic counterposition is the affirmation of the res extensa; it is real as a subdivision of the "already out there now"; its objectivity is a matter of extroversion...

The counter-positions invite reversal, not merely because of an explicit contradiction with anyone else's stated thought, but in virtue of the implicit contradiction with the processes of one's own thought.

Thus, Hobbes overcame Cartesian dualism by granting reality to the res cogitans only if it were another instance of the res extensa, another instance of matter in motion. Hume overcame Hobbes by reducing all instances of the "already out there now real" to manifolds of impressions linked by mere habits and beliefs. The intelligence and reasonableness of Hume's criticizing were obviously quite different from the knowledge he so successfully criticized. Might one not identify knowledge with the criticizing activity rather than the criticized materials.

There is no getting around the place from which we start and that is the implicit intelligence and reasonableness of any assertions we make. "The directives of the method must be issued by the self-affirming subject to himself." The key to any explicit metaphysics, then, is an adequate self-knowledge by which the latent metaphysics present in human operations becomes explicit. The key is an intelligible and true account of our intelligence and reasonableness.

Metaphysics, then, is not something in a book but something in a mind. Moreover, it is produced not by a book but only by the mind in which it is. Books can serve to supply the stimulus for a set of precise visual experiences, to issue through experiences an invitation to acts of insight, to lead through the insights to a grasp of the virtually unconditioned. But books cannot constitute the visual experiences, nor necessitate the insights, nor impose the attainment of the high moment of critical reflection that through the unconditioned reaches judgment.

In chapter sixteen of Insight Lonergan asks the question, just what are the metaphysical elements? What are, for example, potency, form and act? He answers simply:

They express the structure in which one knows what proportionate being is; they outline the mould in which an understanding of proportionate being necessarily will flow; they arise from understanding and they regard proportionate being, not as understood, but only as to be understood.

There follows a very important corollary.

If one wants to know just what forms are, the proper procedure is to give up metaphysics and turn to the sciences; for forms become known inasmuch as the sciences approximate towards their ideal of complete explanation; and there is no method, apart from scientific method by which one can reach such explanation.

My own scholastic philosophical training had implied that philosophers had some sort of "intuition of forms" or even "intuition of being" that others did not have. The metaphysician is exposed to the ever recurrent danger

of discoursing on quiddities without suspecting that quiddity means what is to be known through scientific understanding.

On the other hand, there is an extremely important role the philosopher or metaphysician can play in the unification of the sciences.

If the metaphysician must leave to the physicist the understanding of physics and to the chemist the understanding of chemistry, he has the task of working out for the physicist and chemist, for the biologist and the psychologist, the dynamic structure that initiates and controls their respective inquiries and, no less, the general characteristics of the goal towards which they head.

The danger for the scientist in a particular area, of course, is to pronounce on areas beyond his competence or on the structure of the universe as a whole. Only someone who has spent time on a metaphysics rooted in an adequate self-affirmation of the knower can do the latter.

The high and lofty aim of Insight, then, is summarized in the introduction in the following way:

The last phrase has the ring of a slogan and, happily, it sums up the positive content of this work. Thoroughly understand what it is to understand, and not only will you understand the broad lines of all there is to be understood but also you will possess a fixed base, an invariant pattern, opening upon all further developments of understanding.

It is in this sense, then, that all Lonergan experienced himself and all he wrote in Insight on the natural sciences and philosophy opened out to his study of the methods of historical scholarship and human science in Method in Theology and in his reflections at the end of his life on human economics.

Kant's Copernican revolution marks a dividing line. Hegel turned from substance to subject. Historians and philologists worked out their autonomous methods for human studies. Will and decision, actions and results, came up for emphasis in Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Blondel, the pragmatists. Brentano inspired Husserl, and intentionality analysis routed faculty psychology. A second stage of meaning is vanishing, and a third is about to take its place.


In an article published in 1958, "Insight: Preface to a Discussion," Lonergan replies to several questions raised by the publication of Insight. In the course of the article he distinguishes between two meanings of "the real world." On the one hand, it can mean the universe of being to be known by the totality of true judgments. On the other hand, it can mean "one's own little world."

In this sense each of us lives in a real world of his own. It contents are determined by his Sorge, by his interests and concerns, by the orientation of his living, by the unconscious horizon that blocks from his view the rest of reality.

This horizon of "one's own little world" plays a powerful role in shaping one's consciousness.

To each of us his own private real world is very real indeed. Spontaneously it lays claim to being the one real world, the standard, the criterion, the absolute, by which everything is judged, measured, evaluated. That claim, I should insist, is not to be admitted. There is one standard, one criterion, one absolute, and that is true judgment. Insofar as one's private real world does not meet that standard, it is some dubious product of animal faith and human error. On the other hand, insofar as one's private world is submitted constantly and sedulously to the corrections made by true judgment, necessarily it is brought into conformity with the universe of being.

In a important footnote to the above, Lonergan speaks about the fundamental factor in the differentiation of philosophies in Insight as a specifically philosophic conversion.

I am inclined to believe, however, that this constant and sedulous correction does not occur without a specifically philosophic conversion from the homo sensibilibus immersus to the homo maxime est mens hominis (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1-2, q.29, a.4c.). This existential aspect of our knowing is the fundamental factor in the differentiation of the philosophies in Insight.

I have no doubt that the specifically philosophic conversion Lonergan refers to here is the radical intellectual conversion he first wrote of in 1951 and the intellectual conversion so prominent in his writing after the publication of Insight. Thus, although he never refers to it by name in Insight itself, still, years later in 1972, he will sum up the focus of his work in this way:

Insight insists a great deal on the authenticity of the subject, on his need to reverse his counter-positions and develop his positions, on the importance, in brief, of intellectual conversion.




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