Lonergan and Aquinas: Isomorphism and Proportionality

by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB

The Thomism of Lonergan’s philosophy and theology is accepted by some and rejected by others. On the one hand, Lonergan says about himself that he spent eleven years “reaching up to the mind of Aquinas.” Some of his writings are replete with references to Aquinas. But, at the same time, others argue that something is very wrong with Lonergan’s study of human cognition (his intentionality analysis). Lonergan is accordingly often referred to as a Kantian. He is seen as a promoter of subjectivism and so, as a Kantian, it is said that, in Lonergan, no joining exists between subjectivity and objectivity. From Lonergan’s subjectivity, one cannot move into objectivity. Metaphysics has no foundation.

Now, in addressing this question, it has to be admitted that a fully adequate discussion is no small undertaking. One would have to understand Kant’s own position thoroughly before entering into a similar study of both Aquinas and Lonergan and about how the thought of all these thinkers relates. Such a project cannot be attempted here. However, in order to raise a few questions and to suggest where lines of convergence can possibly be detected, I would like to speak about Aquinas and Lonergan in terms of a number of restricted issues and topics. My presupposition will be the thesis that Lonergan’s thought is not as original as some would believe. In order to understand Lonergan’s thought, one best begins with Aquinas. While some admittedly argue that, to understand Aquinas, one best begins with Lonergan, I will argue to the converse. By reading Aquinas, one best creates conditions that will lead to a better understanding of Lonergan’s thought and a grasp of its true significance.

In Lonergan’s Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, principally in the context of a discussion which speaks about metaphysics as science, it is argued that an isomorphic structure exists between knowing and being. Or, in the words of a more traditional language, a connatural relation exists between the order of human knowing, on one side, and the order of being or reality, on the other. For every element that can be distinguished in the structure of human cognition, a correlative element can be identified in the structure of the known (a known which Lonergan refers to as “proportionate being”). Every metaphysical element is grounded in a corresponding element or act that, as individual, is partially constitutive of the knowing which belongs to human cognition. In Insight (and elsewhere), Lonergan argues against a theory of knowledge which alleges that human knowing is some kind of simple, single act (i.e., a species of intuition). On the contrary, human knowing is complex and, at times, cumbersome. It is constituted by a number or a series of different acts that have each different natures and which are all related to each other in a self-assembling pattern that is normative for human beings. Where Lonergan speaks about experiencing, understanding, and judging as three levels that succeed and sublate one another in the structure of human knowing, three correlative metaphysical components can be distinguished in terms of potency, form, and act. A critical metaphysics is grounded or established on the basis of a critical understanding of human cognition–an understanding that is arrived at through a very personal form of inquiry which emphasizes the importance of self-understanding. Begin an inquiry into metaphysics by first developing a strategy of inquiry which leads toward self-understanding.However, given Lonergan’s theory of an isomorphic relation between the structure of human knowing and the structure of what is known (which can be articulated in a much more sophisticated fashion than what is given here), let us look at Aquinas’s notion of proportionality as this relates to what he has to say about how human knowing is related to what human knowing is able to know. On understanding this notion of proportionality (as Aquinas understood it through his own acts of understanding), one can then think about it and ponder it and ask if a connatural relation exists between it and Lonergan’s theory of isomorphic relations. Is Lonergan’s theory of isomorphism a development of Aquinas’s notion of proportionality?

With respect then to Aquinas’s notion of proportionality, it should be noted that Aquinas begins with an understanding which Aristotle had had. “It is as ridiculous to say, the soul alone understands, as to say, alone it builds or weaves.” Cf. De Veritate, q. 19, a. 1. Knowing is a co-operative effort. It involves both soul and body since human knowing occurs in a being that is formed by two principles. Soul (anima) is united to body (corpus) whereby the soul takes a body and then converts it into a certain kind of body which lives and functions as a result of the soul’s causality. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 75, a. 1. The body is needed by the soul if the soul’s intellectual operations are to occur. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, a. 4. Hence, human beings exist as incarnate spirits. Anima mea non est ego. “My soul is not I.” Cf. Expositio et Lectura super Epistolas Pauli Apostoli, In II ad I Cor., 15, lect. 2, no. 924. The soul gives a form or structure to the materiality of the body in order to order the body to the soul and, from this form or structure, the knowing of the human soul derives its characteristic form or structure. Cf. Summa Contra Gentiles, 2, 83, 26. Human knowing emerges as a function of the structuring of the human soul in terms of how human beings exist as embodied beings.

Hence, given the structure or nature of human knowing, Aquinas argues that certain conclusions can be properly drawn about a relation or proportion which exists between knowing and being. As Aquinas notes in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 12, a. 4:

A thing is known by being present in the knower but how it is present is determined by a knower’s way of being. How something knows depends on how it exists. Hence, if the way of being of a thing which is to be known is beyond what belongs to a knower, knowing such a thing would be beyond the natural power [or natural potency] of the knower.

Cognitive activity, as performed by human beings, has its own proper object (specified as an intelligibility that exists within matter). “A thing’s mode of knowing depends on its mode of being. But our soul, as long as we live in this life, has its being in corporeal matter; hence, naturally, it knows only what has a form in matter, or what can be known by such a form.” Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 12, a. 11. Between the mode of being and the mode of knowing, a proportion, proportio, or correlation can be discovered and this proportion between the mode of a subject’s being and the mode of its knowing carries over into a proportion that is reflected in the order of being or reality which is the subject matter of ontology or metaphysics.

In different texts Aquinas speaks about a proportionality in the structure of knowing. One text in the Summa Contra Gentiles, 2, 96, 5 directly speaks about proportionality when it says that “the mode of a thing’s proper operation corresponds proportionately to the mode of its substance and nature.” Italics mine. And then, with respect to a proportion which exists between the order of knowing and an order or structure in that which is known, in the In 4 Scriptum super libros sententiarum. d. 49, q. 2, a. 1, ad 6, an earlier text, Aquinas refers to a proportion which should exist between the order or structure of knowing and a like order which should exist in the order of what can be properly and connaturally known. “The potency of the one knowing has to be on a level with the knowability of the thing known.” In the Super Boetium De Trinitate, q. 1, a. 2, ad 3, the same kind of point is reiterated when it said that “some kind of proportion is needed between the knowing power which exists in a knower and what is known as a knowable object.” The reason given is that “the knowable object exists as a kind of actuality within the knowing power of a knower.” Later texts in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, a. 7; a. 8; q. 85, a. 1; and a. 8 specify how a connatural, proportional relation should be understood to exist between human knowing and what a human knower knows. A proportion or correlation naturally and properly exists between the embodiment of the human soul (the soul informing a body) and the embedded existence of forms within matter which are the proper object of human knowing. As Aquinas goes on to note in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 88, a. 1, “our intellect in its present state of life has a natural relationship to the natures of material things,” or, more precisely, as Aquinas states it in Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 108, a. 5, “something is said to be in a certain thing by the proper mode when it is adequate and proportionate to its nature.” Cf. Frederick E. Crowe in Three Thomist Studies, ed. Fred Lawrence, p. 223, nn. 51-52.

With respect to human beings then, and also with respect to angels and God, a distinct strict proportion exists between the knowing of a certain type of subject, on the one hand, and what is being known by the same subject, on the other hand. In the context, for instance, of a strict proportion which exists between a created intellect and a created form, a created intellect can possibly come to exhaustively understand a created form but, with respect to an uncreated form, this is impossible. Cf. Lectura super Ioannem 1, 18, lect. 11, nn. 208-21, as cited by Jean-Pierre Torrell, Saint Thomas Aquinas Volume 2 Spiritual Master, p. 51, n. 69. Uncreated forms can only be properly and adequately understood by uncreated acts of understanding.

On the basis then of the embodiment which properly belongs to the character of incarnate human existence, given then what Aquinas says about human sensible experience and first and second operations of the human mind, Aquinas distinguishes between objects of sense and objects of intellect in a way which indicates that, for every element which exists in the cognitional order, a corresponding element can be posited in the ontological or metaphysical order. See Crowe, p. 212. While, for instance, the object of human sensible experience is an object as it exists in corporeal matter (presenting itself as a form as it exists in corporeal matter; Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 85, a. 1: forma prout in materia corporali existit; [forma] prout est in tali materia), the object of human understanding is a form that has been grasped as a quiddity, essence, or “whatness” which exists in corporeal matter (cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, a. 7; Super I Sententiarum, d. 19, q. 5, a. 1, ad 7). In the context of inquiry, a sensible or material form, present in an image or phantasm, is first grasped by an act of sense, but it is grasped in a manner which then hopefully triggers an act of understanding that then apprehends the meaning of an intelligible form which specifies what something is. Cf. Sententia libri Ethicorum, 6, 9, 1239. Sensible form is to be distinguished from intelligible form. And then, thirdly, when a second operation of the mind begins to ask about the possible truth or reality of a given essence or form, in the reflective understanding which occurs in judgment, its term is the positing of existence or being: esse or actuality. Cf. Super I Sententiarum, d. 19, q. 5, a. 1, ad 7; De Veritate, q. 4, a. 2; q. 3, a. 2; q. 14, a. 1, pp. 208-9; Sententia super Metaphysicam, 6, 4, 1232. As Aquinas summarizes his thesis in the Super Boetium De Trinitate, q. 5, a. 3:

The intellect has two operations…which correspond to two principles in things. The first operation has regard to the nature itself of a thing, in virtue of which the known thing holds a certain rank among beings, whether it be a complete thing, as some whole, or an incomplete thing, as a part or an accident. The second operation has regard to a things’s act of existing (esse), which results from the union of the principles of a thing in composite substances, or, as in the case of simple substances, accompanies the thing’s simple nature.

In a species of proportion which speaks about a correlation between the order of knowing and the order of being, acts of sense are correlated with potency (they reveal potency), acts of understanding with form (they reveal form), and acts of judgment with act (they reveal act or actuality).

However, as the ordering which exists within knowing also reveals a like ordering in the structure of reality, a mutual or reciprocal form of proportion can be specifically identified. It informs the species of proportionality which, in Aquinas, correlates every cognitional act with a corresponding metaphysical principle or element. In this specification, acts or elements within a set cannot be understood apart from each other and how each relates to the other. As every act of sense is ordered to first acts of understanding which, in turn, are ordered to second acts of understanding present in judgment, their metaphysical correlatives are also similarly ordered. Potency is ordered to form and form to act. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 54, a. 3. Everything which exists in material things exists as a composite of potency, form, and act and, conversely, every act of knowing is a composite of experiencing, understanding, and judging. Each act or element exists as it is because each is mutually ordered to all the other acts or elements. Citing some of Aquinas’s own words, “what is intrinsically ordered to something else ‘cannot be understood apart from that other’.” Cf. Super Boetium De Trinitate, q. 5, a. 3.

In turning then to how Aquinas goes on to speak about this ordering, in the Sententia super Metaphysicam, 9, 5, 1827-9, he notes that one discovers relations of mutual proportion among metaphysical principles through correlative relations of mutual proportion which also exist as differentiations within the structure and process of human cognition. The difference, for instance, between potency and act is illustrated and paralleled by the difference between sleeping and being awake. Capability or potentiality is distinguished from an act or operation which refers to a realized state of being. Since, cognitionally, for instance, the form of a material thing can only be understood (or apprehended) if it is detached from a material thing through an act of abstraction which functions by way of an interaction between sense and intellect, the form of a material thing (as a metaphysical principle) is understood as something which cannot exist apart from its union with matter (although the form of an immaterial thing can be understood apart from any union with matter). Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 79, a. 7. An awareness of transitions in human cognition reveals a metaphysical principle which speaks about transitions that move from potency to act. Hence, by way of application in metaphysics, it can be said that potency stands to form as the organic body to the soul, the will to habitual righteousness, the possible intellect to habitual knowledge, the ears to hearing, and an eye to sight. Cf. De Potentia, q. 1, a. 1, Sententia super Metaphysicam, 9, 5, 1827-9; Lonergan, The Incarnate Word, p. 140, an unpublished manuscript translated 1989 by Charles C. Hefling, Jr. from the Latin of the De Verbo Incarnato. Form is act (first act) in relation to potency, but in relation to an act of being or operation (second act), it is a second species of potency. The first act of form is not to be confused with the second act of being or operation. By extension, in the relation which exists between form and act, it can be said that “as sight stands to actually seeing, [the faculty of] hearing to actually hearing, habitual knowledge to actually understanding, habitual righteousness to actually willing rightly, soul to actually living,…form stands to act.” Cf. Incarnate Word, p. 140. Through a reflection that is grounded in cognitive self-consciousness, metaphysical principles can be identified and all can be understood in terms of how they are all ordered to each other.

By way of conclusion then, Aquinas’s notion of proportionality derives from Aquinas’s experience of himself as a thinking, knowing subject. The subjectivity of his understanding is seen to participate in a wholly natural way in an objectivity that his understanding is naturally directed toward. No inherent, unbridgeable gap necessarily exists between the subjectivity, on the one hand, and objectivity, on the other. The subjectivity of a thinking, knowing being is joined to the objectivity of what can be known through a person’s subjectivity. The human spirit moves into objectivity through its self-transcending operations. Through our initial desires and aspirations, we are immediately joined to a world that is greater than ourselves. And then, by our activities which emerge as responses to what we want and desire, we can be joined ever more intimately to this same greater world which transcends our finite human existence. Within ourselves, unrestricted desires serve as a point of connection. In thinking about Aquinas’s notion of proportionality, we can rightly ask if Lonergan’s theory of isomorphism is essentially taken from Aquinas’s notion of proportionality. Is Lonergan’s theory genuinely Thomist?

40 Years after Humanae Vitae: Part 4, The Oocyte

by Dr. David Fleischacker

The oocyte (the unfertilized egg) has an interesting formation. Before a little girl is born, all of the oocytes that she will ever possess have already been formed in her body, already preparing for the potential creation of her own child. These oocytes are formed via the first stages of the process of meiosis, a process which already relates this young unborn girl organically to the male complement of the human race. [In general, for any organisms, mitosis results in the division of a cell into two like daughter cells. In contrast, the ultimate result of meiosis is to create cells with one half of the DNA make-up of the original, so that it can then be united with one half the DNA make-up of another organism, so as to create a new being with its own DNA make-up distinct from the parents. Furthermore, in the case of more complex creatures in which diverse ecological and social roles enhances the life of the species, sexual differentiation nuances the context of meiosis, such that then the two contributers of DNA to the progeny are male and female.]

These oocytes are found in the girl’s ovaries, linked to follicles that help to provide nutrition, immunity, and protection. At birth, this little girl will possess 1-2 milliion of these oocytes. Later, when the girl becomes a woman, and begins to release these oocytes, the release is into an environment that has prepared the way for conception and growth of a new human being. The fertility cycle of the woman’s body goes through two basic stages, the first prepares her body to increase the likelihood of conception. This includes everything from her relationship to man (it literally changes her organic and psychic make up in relationship to men), to how her body will bio-chemically and organically receive, filter, guide, and capacitate spermatozoa. The second phase provides a “womb” for the development of a fertilized egg. It provides a place to bind (through the umbilical chord), and to be protected, warmed, nourished. I will treat some of these later, but at the moment, our focus is on the oocyte itself.

The oocyte contains chromosomes, mitochondria, and other bio-chemical/molecular elements that have a variety of functions, some of which keep the oocyte alive and healthy in its maternal environment, others which have a functional relationship to future development of the zygote that results from the fusion of the oocyte with a spermatozoa.

Functional Relations to the Spermatozoa

In examining the relationship between the oocyte and spermatozoa, there are many elements known, and many more that are unknown. However, given the large reproductive industry in the US (and the world) much is known already about the biochemical and organic, and even psychological elements that effect the likelihood of union between a spermatozoa and an oocyte.

Here are just a few samples of what is known that highlight the functional relationship. On the surface of the oocyte are cilia that will be involved in binding the spermatozoa, and eventual fusion. Surrounding the oocyte like a protective atmosphere is the zona pellucida (ZP). The ZP contains proteins that both bind and transform the spermatozoa (technically called the acrosomal reaction), that releases further enzymes from the spermatozoa which then increases its activity so that it can makes its way through the ZP and get to the surface of the oocyte. These proteins will only bind spermatozoa of the same species. Thus, only human spermatozoa will bind human ZP.

Once the spermatozoa has ungone its transformation, and reached the oocyte, the cilia on the cell wall of the oocyte pull it in and bind it (other proteins are involved in this process), at which point the spermatozoa undergoes further transformation, and begins to fuse with the oocyte. Once fusion takes place, then the contents of the spermatozoa are incorporated into the oocyte itself, thus forming a zygote.

The formation of the zygote then immediately triggers a variety of reactions. Meiosis that had begun before this young mother was born is completed, and followed by mitosis, which creates two daughter cells in which the DNA from the oocyte and the spermatozoa are now united.

The spermatozoa not only contributes the DNA complement for a new human being but also other factors that are necessary for continued development, for example the centrioles that form the centrosome, which is crucial for cell division, differentiation, and development.

It is interesting to note that the “packaging” of the chromosomes in the spermatozoa is complementary to the packaging of the chromosomes in the oocyte. This packaging happened in a certain fashion such that once it was fused with an oocyte, only certain genes will be transcribed and thus provide needed proteins that complement the proteins made by the oocyte. It is the complement together that allows for the zygote to begin its ongoing division and development.

So notice, the oocyte is “designed” or formed as a functional complement to the spermatozoa. The ZP is designed to bind and transform a specific species of spermatozoa. The cell wall of the oocyte was designed to unite with spermatozoa, and then fuse with it. The DNA form a complement that is crucial for the future development of the human being.

Developmental Relations of the Oocyte: Its finality

The genetic make-up and life of the oocyte possess a form which is really aimed at the creation and then further development of a new human being. To a biologist, this may be obvious, but in a culture which makes use of the reproductive system (and its vertical integration into the psyche — which I have not addressed yet) for shared pleasure alone, this is easy to forget. The oocyte was not designed to protect the woman, or to help digestion, or to provide skeletal components, or endrine functions, or neural functions, or contribute to any other systems in the body, or to provide pleasure for the sake of pleasure. It is for the reproduction of a new human being. This “reproduction” results from the union of an oocyte and a spermatozoa, a union which results in a developing entity, a development which unfolds into all the systems of the human body: the circulatory, skeletal, neurological, immune, etc.. In turn, the neurological systems become the matrix for the vertical emergence of motor-sensory conscious intentionality. And moter-sensory conscious intentionality in turn becomes the lower matrix upon which emerges intellectual, rational, and moral consciousness (these are not caused by the emergence of the motor-sensory consciousness however, as I argued in an earlier blog dealing with when the human being begins to exist). To put this in a slightly older language, vegative life unfolds to give rise to sensate life, and sensate life then provides a dispositive cause for rational life. In a later blog, I intend on bringing this finality out more fully, after treating the moment of conception.

In short, the oocyte is functionally related to the spermatozoa, and in union with it, it has a horizontal relationship to all of the systems of vegetative life, and a vertical relationship to sensate and rational life.

St. Thomas on why there are only three Persons when there are four mutually opposed relations in the Holy Trinity

by Dr. David Fleischacker

In the first part of the Summa Theologicae, question 30, article 2, St. Thomas is presenting the intelligible grounds for the existence of three and only three Persons of the Holy Trinity. It is a rather fruitful passage to come to understand, and it reveals some of the real power of the analogy that St. Thomas was using to understand the Holy Trinity. If Tertullian and St. Augustine are famous for asking “three what?” And answered “three persons,” St. Thomas now asks the further question, “Why three persons?”

Could an analogy actually help to explain this point? The better the explanatory capacity of an analogy, the more it is going to help us understand. This analogy was based upon the interior procession of the act of understanding to the act of the word, and then from word to will/love. 

St. Thomas shows that if we suppose this set of processions to be in God, then there are three persons. And, one can even go on and say what these three would be like.  The two processions result in four relations, since each procession results in two mutually opposed relations.

Though the general question regards why only three persons exist when there are four relations, within this context, another question emerges.  Why are the two relations of the second procession [the procession of love] distinct from the two relations based on the first procession [the procession of intellect]? Earlier in the Summa, St. Thomas had proposed that in each procession, there are two mutually opposed relations. However, each of the first two relations [filiation and paternity] are not mutually opposed to either of the second two relations [spiration and “procession”]. Hence, how are filiation/paternity distinct from spiration/procession if not seemingly based on mutually opposed relations? The answer requires that one link the two processions, and that the mutually opposed relation of one set be identified with one or both of the relations in the other set.  Thus, spiration is either paternity, filiation, or both; or “procession” (passive spiration) is paternity, filiation, or both.

Here is the main body of that second article that I found particularly interesting:

I answer that, as was explained above, there can be only three persons in God. For it was shown above that the several persons are the several subsisting relations really distinct from each other. But a real distinction between the divine relations can come only from relative opposition. Therefore two opposite relations must needs refer to two persons: and if any relations are not opposite they must needs belong to the same person. Since then paternity and filiation are opposite relations, they belong necessarily to two persons. Therefore the subsisting paternity is the person of the Father; and the subsisting filiation is the person of the Son. The other two relations are not opposed to either of these, but are opposed to each other; therefore these two cannot belong to one person: hence either one of them must belong to both of the aforesaid persons; or one must belong to one person, and the other to the other. Now, procession cannot belong to the Father and the Son, or to either of them; for thus it would follows that the procession of the intellect, which in God is generation, wherefrom paternity and filiation are derived, would issue from the procession of love, whence spiration and procession are derived, if the person generating and the person generated proceeded from the person spirating; and this is against what was laid down above (27, 3 and 4). We must frequently admit that spiration belongs to the person of the Father, and to the person of the Son, forasmuch as it has no relative opposition either to paternity or to filiation; and consequently that procession belongs to the other person who is called the person of the Holy Ghost, who proceeds by way of love, as above explained. Therefore only three persons exist in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

A hermeneutical note

I would like to focus on the boldface part of the quote above with the following question. Why would linking the the relation of “procession” with Father and Son result in the procession of intellect issuing from the procession of love? One thing I want to highlight is that the inversion takes place when one considers both the Father and the Son to be a result of the relation of “procession”, not just the Father or just the Son. The small clause “or to either of them” results in a similar problem but through a slightly different logical route which I will discuss below.  However, if you notice the next sentence is refering to both the generator and the generated, hence the Father and the Son together.

The Problem

Now to return to the problem. The relation of “procession” regards the relationship of love to that from which it proceeds, the spirator.  St. Thomas is proposing a problem. If one is going to say that the relation of “procession” [as a note, I will put the relation of procession in quotes] belongs to the Father and the Son, then one must say that the procession upon which the Father and Son were based comes from the procession of love. Earlier, he had argued that in us, the procession of love comes from the procession of intellect. So, why would the relationship of the two processions become inverted?

The meaning of procession, relation, and mutually opposed relations

In general, the meaning of procession is to come forth from an origin.  So, the second term comes forth from the first.  Now, in the procession of intellect, what comes forth from the first is an image of the first.  Hence, a word.  Since an image of another that comes forth from that other is the meaning of generation or begetting, this procession is one of begetting or generation.  And, since paternity means “that which generates or begets a generated or begotten, then the relations of the first to the second is that of paternity. Likewise, since filiation means that which comes from another as an image of the other, then the relation of the second term to the first is filiation.

Notice, thus, that paternity and filiation are mutually opposed relations.  They are NOT relations that are equal.  Two friends, for example, are equal in their generic meaning, insofar as they are “friends.” Friend one has a relationship of friendship to friend two.  And, friend two has a relationship of friendship to friend one.  The meaning of friendship in both relations is equal.  Hence, these are not mutually opposed in meaning. In contrast, paternity is defined in an unequal and opposite relationship to filiation.  Hence, they cannot be switched and mean the same thing.

Why the inversion.

Understanding this mutual opposition of the relationships, and how both are based on the same procession, is key to understanding the logic of the problem St. Thomas has presented.

Like paternity and filiation, spiration [active] and “procession” [passive spiration] are each mutually opposed relations based on two different but related processions.  If “procession” (passive spiration) were the same as the Son and the Father, then they come from the spirator. However, if they come from the spirator, then they are based on the procession of love.  However what they “mean” as Father and Son is based upon the procession of intellect, because only this procession gives mean to paternity and filiation, thus one must also conclude that just as they, so the procession upon which they are defined issues from the procession of love.

What about equating passive spiration (procession) with Son? Or with Father?

One could push the exploration of this question however in directions further than that stated by St. Thomas. Instead of identifying passive spiration with both the Father and Son, what happens when it is identified with just one or the other? Well, other, similar problems emerge. One does not immediately conclude to the inversion of the relations of the processions, but one does run into some conflicting problems. For example, if the Son comes both from begetting and spirating, then the Son would then be both a word and something that is not a word (namely love).  Likewise, if the Father was both begetter and spirated, then the relation of the Father and Son would be rather bizarre.  Since the Son would not be in mutual opposition to his spirated Father, he would be one who spirates the Father.  So, the one who the Father begets, is also the one who spirates.  Thus, the Father, through the Son, also spirates, who? Himself.  So, the Father is both spirated and spirator, which conflicts.

One can keep exploring the logic of this confusion, and in every case, conclude that neither one nor both the Father and the Son can be passively spirated (and thus be the relation that St. Thomas calls
procession).
So who is based on spiration and who on procession? 

Hence the Father and the Son are the Spirator, and hence are based on spiration.  The Holy Spirit is spirated and based on “procession.”

What if only the Father or only the Son is based on spiration? 

One could further wonder why are both the Father and the Son linked to spiration, and not just one or the other. In short, conflicting intelligibilities and doctrinal positions emerge when identifying spiration with either the Father alone or the Son alone. Because then one would say that procession is opposed to the one but not the other. Intelligibly, if spiration is equated with the Father, then the Son is opposed to spiration, and not to procession. Thus, the Son is both a word and something which cannot be a word, namely love.  Likewise, if spiration is equated with the Son, then the Father would be in an opposed relation to spiration, thus he would be identical with the relation of procession.  In turn, the Father would be both spirated and begetter.  Thus, as the begetter of the Son, who then spirates the spirated, he also spirates himself by begetting his Son (a problem in reverse from what we ran into earlier).  This means that he is not opposed to spirator, but if the Son is the spirator, and the Father is not, then the Father cannot be spirator. Doctrinally, it means that either the Son or the Father are not distinct from the Holy Spirit, which is opposed to the dogmatic position. 

Thus, what is left is that both must be the spirator.  An analogical explanation which provides the intelligible grounds for the fililoque in the Church creed.

40 years after Humanae Vitae: Part 3, a note on counterpositions

by David Fleischacker

This last week, I gave a little talk on the role of the Church in the conversion of St. Augustine, and in preparation for this, I read through the first number of books of his Confessions. It reminded me of an important point that Lonergan makes regarding the notion of development and finality, and also of the difficulty of breaking from the deformations of the human soul that hinder the emergence of an understanding of the fullness of the intelligibility of conception.

Books seven and eight in the Confessions are particularly revealing. Augustine spoke many times of his inability to understand even himself, let alone God and evil prior to his conversions described in these books. What is amazing in all of this, is that theoretically, we can understand ourselves, evil, and the basic meaning of God through the natural light of our own reason. However, because of our distortions in life, we become blind to them. Augustine’s own “swirling mists of lust” (Rex Warner translation), kept him tied to the “out of doors” and would not allow him to grasp anything beyond immediate sensory and imaginative types of knowledge. He “pictures” God, Jesus, and his own soul as being made of this type of material spread throughout the universe. He created, as he says, merely figments of his imagination about his soul and God. And in the end, this means he understood virtually nothing about these non-imaginable realities.

The way many of us live in relationship to our bodies and to our procreative abilities indicates a similar type of distortion in our own minds, which ends up slanting our heuristic anticipations, which in turn distorts and severely limits the answers we discover when thinking about men, women, conception, children, family, and many other important facets of our humanity.

So, it is with a bit of fear and trembling that I continue to enter into this exploration of the intelligibility of conception.

We are in need of the same conversions through which Augustine passed. In book seven, chapter ten of his Confessions, he describes one of the first major stages of his conversion. It was a conversion of his mind, opening it from its material entrapment into the brighter and much larger world of the incorporeal. It was dispositively prepared for by the prayers and graces that came from his mother and Ambrose, his initiation into the catechumenate of the Catholic Church, and his reading of the Platonists. Through both grace and reason, God then prepared him for a moment of divine love that would flood his heart and open his mind. It allows him to grasp the very meaning of God for the first time, and along with it himself, the meaning of evil, and the deformations of his own soul caused by his own sin. However, this first conversion does not turn around his will, a second and more important type of conversion which he then describes in book eight.

Thus, I think for many of us, like Augustine, we need to pray for “the medicine of the Church” to heal our faith and to open our minds to the intelligible and true.

These conversions have direct bearing upon the topic at hand, perhaps more than many other intellectual and moral challenges in our modern world. Lonergan notes in his sections on metaphysics, that one of the reasons he put the notion of development (and its normativity rooted in operators) so far along in INSIGHT is because this notion is especially impacted by the counter-positions in philosophy. Since finality is a crucial element in the notion of development, exploring it within any facet of this universe requires a thorough-going intellectual conversion to the intelligible and the true, and how we become attuned to these through understanding and judgment.

And arguably one of the greatest and most powerful sources of the dialectic that causes intellectual and moral inauthenticity is that linked to the procreative dimension of human life. Thus, these conversions are in particular need for the current topic.

Understanding the fullness of the meaning of conception requires among correlative and statistical insights, insights into finality, both in relationship to the man and woman through whom generation occurs, and in relationship to the child that comes to be conceived and then has the potential to grow into adulthood, and even eternal life. If one’s heuristics are distorted by concupiscence, then there is little hope for breaking through into these intelligibilities.

Thus, with a note of caution, we proceed.

40 Years since Humanae Vitae, Part 2: Finality and Spermatozoan

By Dr. David Fleischacker

Sometimes, when one begins a journey, one never knows how it will entirely end. In part, this is true for what will be following in the subsequent blogs on Humanae Vitae. However, I have also been thinking about this for many, many years, and so a bit of it is simply presenting parts of a large forest that I have traveled through, and to which I have returned on occasion. Conception has continued to unfold in increasing degrees and realms of intelligibility. I must admit that it is a bit daunting to know how to introduce this forest to others until one has walked around the forest for some time, and come to know all of its fauna and beauty, and then thought for an even longer time at how to begin the introduction. So, this is my first attempt at introducing the intelligibility of conception as it has begun to illuminate my mind over the years.

I have decided to start with biology and biochemistry, not the whole of it, but some pointers. I will not go through all of the details of the experimental studies and the actual formula and equations, some of which I have read, many of which I have not. But I will give sufficient pointers to the intelligibility that is gained and how it relates to the question at hand on the meaning of conception. This will include the biology of the spermatozoa, the oocyte, the egg, the male body, female body, both in terms of the conjugate forms as well as the statistical realization of these forms. It will also require turning to the higher and lower levels of the forms (chemistry to biology for example), and moving up to the very highest levels of human conscious existence.

So, to take a cue from INSIGHT, when Lonergan was quoting positively from Descartes (which of course was not true for all that Descartes had to say), we need to start with small problems and work to larger ones. In intelligibity, what comes first is the general heuristics: The questions. And the questions then begin to modify along the way as intelligibility then begins to rise up, bit by bit, until the entire forest comes into view. Hence the forest does not come into view without careful attention to the parts. One cannot miss it by paying attention seemingly too much to the parts. One only misses it if in the end understanding does not emerge.

And, thus, let us begin with a simple starting point: the spermatozoa and the oocyte. In this blog, I will focus upon the first.

The Biological and Biochemical Structure of Spermatozoa: a functional relationship to the oocyte and the Woman’s body

Many of us have seen pictures of male sperm. But to understand the male “seed,” one needs to examine its biochemical structure. In the frontal end of the spermatozoa is a pocket of enzymes. Contained within the head of the spermatozoa is genetic material. And toward the tail end of the head is a group of mitochondria that surround the actual tail which protrudes. Mitochondria provide ATP, a high energy molecule that fuels the cells and their activities. In addition, the spermatozoa has molecules on its surface that react in various ways to its environment.

There is much more as well, but these few pieces of information give us an interesting starting point to raise some questions. What is the function of the enzymes? What is the function of the genetic material? What is the function of the mitochondria and their distribution? What is the function of the surface molecules?

One cannot answer these questions by looking at the spermatozoa alone. Observing its behavior under the microscope only gives a small part of what is needed to understand it as a whole. On a slide, it would move about for a time, depending upon the environment, and then die. Nothing would be learned about the enzymes in the frontal end or about the genetic material inside. More elaborate experiments would reveal the particular nucleotide sequences of the genetic material, the particular chemical structure of the surface proteins that react to the environment, and all the chemical and biophysical details about the mitochondria and how they drive the propulsion of the tail. Yet, dropping it onto a petri dish, studying it under a microscope, breaking it down into all of its biochemical cycles simple does not explain what it is, even if these biochemical studies prepare the way. In all of these cases, a fundamental intelligibility is still missing.

It is only when we examine it in relation to the woman’s body and the unfertilized egg that we begin to understand its form. The relationship to the woman’s body and to an unfertilized egg begins to expand the needed phantasm for insight. The frontal end enzymes dissolve a protective coat surrounding the unfertilized egg. And many, many sperm are need in order for this softening to take place. Some of the surface proteins set in motion a set of chemical and biophysical changes which allow the sperm to move up the fallopian tube drawn toward the egg. The genetic becomes an intrinsic constituent of the egg, if it is fortunate to enter. Even the mitochondria and the tail are related to this entire process, because biochemical schemes of which they are part relate ultimately, through those surface proteins mentioned earlier, to the egg itself. They literally help to propel the spermatozoa in the right direction, guided by the radar detecting surface proteins.

In other words, without a relationship to the woman’s body and oocyte, those enzymes really have no purpose or meaning. The genetic material is meaningless. The surface proteins would likewise be senseless, and really would not help the creature to do much except within the protective environment of the woman. In other words, the entire cellular form of this cell is designed to become united with an egg, and not just anywhere, but in and through a woman’s body (or in other words, to the schemes of recurrence of the woman’s body — I will examine this futher in a later blog, once I examine the statistical element in these relationships). Thus, in answering these questions, one discovers that each of these parts possess an intelligibility that only makes sense in relation to both the environment in which they operate and the destiny to which they are aimed.

The Genetic Material of the Spermatozoa: A relationship of finality to the zygote and its unfolding stages of development

The genetic material reveals a finality. It contains within it a complement of chromosomes, haploid in number relative to the full set found in standard human cells. In these chromosomes are found millions of nucleotide sequences, some of which have intelligible relations to protein formation (Proteins are complex molecules that help to carry out many functions in an organism (eg. to help catalyze chemical reactions), and hence are called genes. Now, some of these genes are found in many different species of animals, such as those involved in encoding proteins for DNA synthesis–which takes place when a cell divides into two, and both cells need to have the same “genetics”). Others tend to be unique to one creature, the human being, and some even unique to either the male or female form of our species. Most of these genes are inactive, some will remain so permanently, others will be activated when they become integrated into the egg, others only if they happen to be within cells that have differentiated along a certain line of development, and become part of a particular cellular system (skeletal, muscular, circulatory, immune, etc.). The point in all this, is that the genetic material only has a formal intelligibility that becomes developmentally actuated within a human being. Thus, this genetic material only makes sense or means something in its relation to a human being. This is quite interesting, because it means that even within the spermatozoa, the genetic material contains real existing pointers to human life, and only this “pointing” makes sense of this material and why the male body forms this spermatozoa as it is.

In other words, in its operating, the spermatozoa has a functional relationship for integration into an oocyte (more technically, it is one of the reproductive conjugate forms), and ultimately into a horizontal finality that unfolds a zygote into a differentiated multicellular system. It also has vertical relationships, however those will be dealt with in the appropriate blogs.

A Concluding Note

It is important to highlight that the pointers to the biochemistry and genetics of the spermatozoa belong to larger patterns in the reproductive schemes of human beings, and hence, one cannot really understand the spermatozoa and its “meaning” until all of these–and even higher yet–level schemes have been sufficiently understood, especially those that are the highest, which really then identify the kind of “thing” to which these schemes belong.

40 Years since Humanae Vitae: Lonergan, conception, and contraception. Part 1.

by Dr. David Fleischacker

Since it is the 40th anniversary of the publication of Humanae Vitae this year, I thought it might be worthwhile to explore one of the key issues linked to this encyclical, that of contraception. However, before such an issue is addressed, I thought it might be worthwhile to investigate the intelligibility of conception in order to provide a more adequate context for addressing contraception.

Part of what raises my own interest is a private letter written by Bernard Lonergan in September, 1968. It is a letter that has been in circulation in a variety of contexts, and subsequently, it needs to be carefully examined.

In this private letter to a priest, Lonergan is addressing the shifts in Catholic moral theology that he understands as taking place regarding the marital act. One of the shifts is a rejection of the Aristotelian understanding of the relationship between the marital act and conception. He is also highlighting the differentiated unity brought out in Vatican II and in Humanae Vitae between the procreative and the unitive (or mutual love) ends of the conjugal act.

Seemingly, the thrust of the private letter raises into serious question the position that the Church has taken against contraception. At least that is how I have seen some others make use of it. However, in the letter itself, there are no statements as far as I can tell that directly reject the Church teaching regarding contraception. There are statements in the letter that reject any positions based soley on the Aristotelain understanding of the relationship between the conjugal act and conception. However, it does not immediatelly follow that the position of the Church is wrong. Did Lonergan personally make this conclusion?

Whatever the case of Lonergan’s position in 1968, it would be worthwhile to remember a few points.

1. In 1968, there existed a great deal of confusion at that time regarding the issue. The new emphasis on the unitative end of the conjugal act and its relationship to the procreative end was not explanatorily clear to many people.

2. A private letter to a commrade that barely develops the issue historically, philosophically, and theologically should have virtually no weight of authority. Using this letter to justify any position without any real explanatory and scholarly support would border on a type of authoritarianism based on Lonergan’s name alone, something that I think would be a bit unsettling to him and should be to any of us.

So, what would I like to do? I would like to draw out further questions using the full weight of Lonergan’s philosophy, and some of the insights that would shed light upon the meaning of both conception and contraception. Already, I see many questions not raised in the letter which a more thorough treatment of the subject would demand. Here are just a few:

1. What precisely are the contributions of horizontal and vertical finality in understanding conception and contraception?

2. What does conception and what does contraception do to the relationship between the man and the woman psychologically, sociologically, spiritually, etc., etc., etc.?

3. The few references to the statistical relationship between the conjugal act and conception given in the letter need to be spelled out in far more detail. What could modern biology contribute to understanding this relationship?

4. In terms of the statistical relationship of conception, and its finality, what precisely at the level of decision is the liberty of the man and likewise, what is the liberty of the woman? As an observation, how natural family planning changes the statistical relationship is rather different than how a contraceptive changes that relationship, because the decisions involved are rather different. Hence, this has an existential ramification that needs to be explore.

So, in light of finding further questions, and exploring those questions, at least philosophically, I would like to proceed on a new set of blog questions starting with the intelligibility of conception and in this context, the meaning of contraception.

Mediated and Immediate Sublations

The following thought falls under metaphysical musings.

About 14 years ago, I had written a paper for the late Fr. Stephen Happell dealing with the landscape of consciousness and the different regions and mountains where insights, judgments, and decisions take place within science and the imagination. At least that was the metaphor that came to mind in describing the layout of how various insights, judgments, and decisions relate to each other. One of the insights that had come to me at that point and has continued to grow whenever I think of higher and lower levels is how the higher directly informs a particular range of the lower, then through that directly sublated lower level, it can mediate other regions of the lower levels.

There are many examples that each of us should be able to recognize in ourselves. The farmer has insights and makes decisions immediately in relationship to certain sensate patterns, which in turn take place immediately within certain neural patterns, which in turn take place within certain biochemical and biophysical schemes. However, through the neural, biochemical, and biophysical schemes, the farmer can move muscles and turn his body, look in another direction, walk toward the barn, start the farm equipment. Within his body, these movements are mediate with respect to the conscious acts themselves. The muscle itself was not immediately part of the conscious activities. Hence, it comes to be “informed” by the consciousness in a mediated fashion.

To put this a bit more technically, Lonergan defines mediation in his essay entitled “The Mediation of Christ in Prayer” as a relationship between a property, characteristic, aspect, or feature that is immediate in one term, and mediated to another. Hence, in the case of a watch, the energy is immediate in the spring, but in the moving hands of the clock, it is mediate. Likewise in conscious things, the conscious activities are immediate in certain neural patterns, and then the features of consciousness (insights, judgments, decisions), become mediated within other parts of the body. Only mediately does my hand comes to be sublated within my conscious decision to type, but the neurons involved in this conscious decision are sublated immediately.

This is not much different than how through the immediate power and movement of the muscles in the legs, movement of the whole body takes place, hence movement is mediated in the rest of the body. However, in this case, I am simply focusing on how a lower level can become either immediately or mediately sublated into higher levels. This all takes place within a single unity-identity-whole.

Hence our entire biochemical, cellular, neural being becomes sublated into conscious life, but it does so either immediately or mediately. And there are other parallels in all living beings (beings that possess various types of self-mediating capacities).

The Anonymous Christian

I had been visiting the Lonergan workshop in Boston this last week, well really only about 1.5 days of it. I had to return home for family reasons, however I enjoyed my short visit and the talks I was able to attend.

In one of the talks, Karl Rahner’s notion of the anonymous Christian was raised and I would like to highlight something that seems to be missing from discussions of this Christian. The anonymous Christian, at least in its best form, is the person who has never had a true encounter with Christianity, yet, God has moved this person’s heart, and this person has responded positively to God. Hence, this person is in a graced stated. But he or she does not really know it.

There are many advocates of the anonymous Christian (which the speaker was quick to point out is not Anonymous Christianity — Christianity is a believing body that is deliberate and knowing. Christianity cannot be anonymous). And there are many detractors. I probably stand a bit toward the detractors, though I would side with Augustine on all counterpositions (or heresies). As Augustine notes, all heresies possess some truth, and manytimes a profound truth. Likewise, all counterpositions advocate some truth. Now, I am not saying the Anonymous Christian is a heresy. But, the way it has come to be used by many certainly verges on one. I would argue that there are some elements of it as a position that need to be purged.

So what is it that needs to be purged? The key purging in my mind needs to take place upon a further conclusion that regularly follows the idea of an anonymous christian. If one can be a Christian without Christianity, then there really is no pressing need to become or be a Christian, let alone a Catholic. Karl Rahner himself I do not think can be rightly accussed of this position. And there are others who avoid it as well, and they argue that it is better to become explicitly Christian because then at least one knows a bit more about what one is.

However, there is a more subtle argument rooted in a philosophical framework for which Rahner is partly responsible and which does seem to lead to this conclusion. Life is really about a transcendental response, not a categorial one. Categories define, delimit, judge, and these are all finite. These are not what life is about. In fact, if one overly adheres to the particular categories that define our experiences and judge our insights, then one has become derailed. This includes overly adhering to any type of faith, whether Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or any other religious set of beliefs. The categories never can be made into anything definitive, anything that will hold one’s trust in any obligatory or mandatory fashion. Categories are mere pointers, suggestions, and if they take one away from the transcendental eros of the spirit, then they have become gods.

If one holds this basic position on the transcendental ground of the soul and its contrast with the categorial, then one must say that the aim of our beings is beyond all that we know, believe, and to which we respond. It is even beyond the other whom we love, because we know that other and love that other in categorial ways. Hence, the endpoint of humanity and history really is not the Catholic faith. The end point is beyond the Church, beyond Christianity, beyond all the names and person’s who we categorize in this world. Could Rahner be responsible for this ultimate rejection of Christianity and the Catholic faith?

Hence, it is not only the conclusion that needs to be purged, but a key premise. It is this categorical minimization of all categories that I would argue needs to be purged and replaced with a substantially different understanding of the relation of the transcendental element of the human soul and its realization in answers.

So, what is a better understanding of this relationship between the transcendental basis of the soul and its categorial realization? It is true that fundamental in all human beings is this transcendental ground of our being–especially if one generously understands this transcendental nature as rooted in the transcendental notions as Lonergan comprehends these. At the same time, these transcendental grounds are merely a beginning. They have aims, and these aims are answers.

In addition to the orientation of the transcendental to answers, thinking of the answers or categories as merely provisional pointers also needs to be recast. Can some insights be true, forever true? If one says yes, has one rejected transcendence? Notice, that there exists a bit of a confusion. The fact that I went to the bank today is forever true. God is three persons is forever true. God is unrestricted being, goodness, and love, is forever true. What does it mean to transcend these statements? Have I derailed my being into a categorial abyss in holding such claims?

At times, old categories do need to be released for new. Old wineskins cannot hold the new wine. Sometimes, the categories are not released and discarded, but merely transformed like Newton’s notion of mass for Einstein’s. Other times however, the old categories simply remain old, and never need to be revised or rejected. It will always be true that I wrote this blog.

Self transcendence does not require that all categories and all answers necessarily be overcome and rejected for something better, even if self-transcendence require that one continue to develop.

I guess, in the end, I am trying to make the case that the virtually unconditioned can be reached in certain contexts. Thus, I am trying also to make the case that there exists not only a permanence of the trancendental ground of the human soul, but a permanence in the meaning of some answers, such as dogmas (Lonergan argues this point).

Adhering to these permanent answers results in a departure from the exclusive devotion to the transcendental and thus from the anonymous Christian, and calls one to move to the sanctified soul that is increasing its sanctification via divine gifts that transform us. One can argue that we are in dire need for upholding the belief in an explicit outer Word. The outer Word mutually self-mediates the life, health, healing, and growth of the inner word and the capacity for self-transcendence. However, for this to work, we need to know that Word and its manifestation in words. This manifested Word needs to have a permanence to it. And though the manifested Word belongs to the categorial, it never needs to be rejected for something better. It can command obiligatory and mandatory trust, for the duration.

To put this a bit more descriptively and concretely, a soul animated by the Holy Spirit, moved by the heart of flesh will not go far without the mediation of the true outer Word. In other words, without being mediated by God’s entrance into the world mediated by meaning, then one will remain at best, anonymous, and probably not even that for long. Only in the united missions of the Son and of the Holy Spirit does one thrive. It is difficult enough remaining faithful to the inner call when one knows this explicitly. As well, the anonymous Christian is not going to embark on the great mission of evangelization. He or she is never going to proceed to speak or write about the profound wisdom that reorientes one’s soul. Prayer will barely be intentional and disorientingly existential. One will never write theological treatises upon the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Church, salvation history, the City of God, nor on spiritual development. One will be forever in ignorance of one’s own self and of the meaning of life and of history in any but the most rudimentary fashions. It really is a dangerous place to be, and a rather unfruitful place as well, save that it will respond with great joy at finding the true outer Word of God. This person will not be able to benefit from all the profound insights that have linked the way of achievement with the way of gift, the way of reason with the way of true faith. Thus, such individuals will be shut off from the Tradition and its catholicity. The purpose of such gifts of the Holy Spirit is to draw us to an authoritative outer word that can bring us along to our true destiny. As John Henry Newman noted well, the fact of Revelation implies the need for an authoritative carrier of that Revelation. Without that authority, no one, not even the genius of earth, will find that Revelation in the end. One will be left on the verge of despair, wondering whether there really is an answer. Without the permanence of some of these key answers, at least those rooted in the Divine entrance into the world mediated by meaning, then we really are lost. And we too can ask with Pontius Pilate, “What is truth?” It is the permanence of some answers that is missing in many of the discussions about the anonymous Christian. Anonymity needs a dressor of sycamores like Amos if it is going to bear fruit.

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

by David Fleischacker

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

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

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

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

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

8 + 10 = 10 + 8

6 + 5 = 5 + 6,

9 + 12 = 12 + 9

etc., etc., etc.,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by David Fleischacker

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

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

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

The Challenge

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

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