Almost 50 Years Since Humanae Vitae: Statistics and Finality in Conception

[this was a piece drafted in 2008 when I had been publishing a series on Humanae Vitae.  I had not published this one yet–and now that we are heading toward 50 years since Humanae Vitae, I thought it might be good to get these going again.]


There are a number of factors that effect the statistical probabilities for conception. Sometimes individuals have used statistics to undermine the Catholic teaching against contraception.  Usually the arguments claim that since there is not a direct causal relationship between the conjugal act and conception but rather only a “statistical” one, and contraception simply changes the statistical relationship, then in some circumstances contraception would be ok.  However, this is to fail to understand the nature of the statistical relationship of the conjugal act to conception along with the nature of the moral act involved in this relationship.  In this blog, I intend on developing the nature of statistics and its impact on understanding conception.

The Nature of Statistics

In general, the enriching intelligibility of statistics is centered upon ideal frequencies and rates. These ideal frequencies in turn are based upon the actualization of conjugate forms (events). In any given situation, events that take place do so with certain frequencies. One might say that every type of event has its ideal frequencies, and sometimes that ideal might be all but negligible, and other times it might be quite high. Part of what influences the particular ideal frequency depends upon the spatial and temporal framework, along with the particular ranges of events and their ideal frequencies that currently constitute that situation with its spatial-temporal boundaries. So, for example, one could ask what is the frequency of births. Now, that is meaningless until one starts to set spatial-temporal boundaries. For example, one could say births in a year, within the United States. In addition to the spatial-temporal boundaries, one should know something about the events within that spatial temporal boundary as well. If all that one wants is an actual frequency, then one would just need to count the actual births in a particular spatial-temporal set of boundaries, however, in order to get to ideal frequencies, more needs to be known.  There needs to be a move that grasps an intelligible rate that even abstracts from concrete space and time.

Lonergan notes that there are two ways to get to this ideal frequency (Chapter 2, INSIGHT);

  1. empirically from measure frequencies of events of certain types
  2. or from a knowledge of the given conjugate forms and their realization in events.

The first can be illustrated by the monk, Gregor Mendel, when he counted actual manifestations of traits in pea plants and their progeny. Notice that his starting point already set him in a direction that would allow him to abstract an ideal rate from mating events within concrete space and time (as a note, sometimes one does want to start with concrete space and time as part of the measure, but to reach full ideal frequencies, one needs to break from this so as to return to it with a concrete inference of statistical laws).  For example, he does not in the end ask “how often does one find rough or smooth seeds within a year in such and such a territory.”  Rather, he sets the boundary as another type of event rather than space and time, namely that boundary being the mating of pea plants.  The concrete location, such as Austria or Hungary, and the duration in the region is no longer of interest.  The parents of the seeds are the interest. And in the end, this leads him to some interesting correlations (namely genotype to phenotype–which is an explanatory definition–see ch. 1 of INSIGHT) The more actual frequencies he gathered, the more numbers began to converge on ideals (3:1, etc.).

The second is illustrated by flipping a coin. One knows ahead of time that in flipping a coin there are two outcomes, and unless one side is weighted more than the other, all things equal, the coin has a 50:50 chance of being heads or tails (notice that the concrete space and concrete time is present, but not part of the focus in this either).

One can make a similar move in genetics once the theory of dominant and recessive alleles developed. One can calculate the reason why their is a 3:1 ratio for certain traits when mating two heterozygote pea plants. Thus, if one knew the theory first, one could predict the ideal frequency prior to even counting frequencies. In the case of Mendel, it was the ideal frequencies which led to the theory, but the reverse can happen in science as well. One might just know that there are two possibilities when “something happens”, and thus be able to predict the statistical outcome.

However, our concern with statistics is not so much prediction, but its occurrence within concrete situations. When we ask, for example, what is the statistical probability for conception, one can specify any number of situations. In each case, knowing the statistics tells us something about the situation that we otherwise would not know. And the ideal frequency of various events within a situation is something objective about the situation (if a concrete inference of statistical laws is made, which is similar to a concrete inference of classical laws–see ch. 2 of INSIGHT for more). The situation, with all of its species of events, and with its non-systematically related sets of events, creates a situation in which coincidentality is part of the situation. Now, this is not the place to repeat all of Lonergan’s arguments on this, but his sections in chapters 2, 3, and 4 of Insight provide rather convincing pointers to the coincidental aggregation of events within a spatial-temporal manifold. This coincidentality has its roots in what Lonergan calls the empirical residue (Lonergan’s transposition of the traditional meaning of prime matter).

Statistics and Conception

Thus, the statistical probability of conception informs us of something objective about one facet of world process. Conception is the union of the oocyte and the spermatozoa. The formation of the zygote is the particular actualization of concern. The probability of its occurrence is the ideal frequency of its occurrence. Of course, to understand this probability, one needs to specify further factors. For example, one could be just asking this frequency in a given population in a particular region, during a particular time frame, say San Francisco over the course of a year. At the same time, one might be narrowing this a bit, let us say to individuals in the world who are married, or individuals who are not married. Or one might compare various religious groups in the world, and their conception rates. One might have political agenda, or perhaps they might be interested in sorting out various biological difference between ethnic groups (always a dangerous subject!), for good or bad purposes. Notice as well that as one learns more and more factors that might shift the rates, one can further specify these factors, and study sub-groups. So, let us say, that one wants to study the rates of conception for males who have had measles during their life, or perhaps who have been promiscuous during their teenage years. Likewise, one could examine women, and sort them out according to smoking or dietary habits, or perhaps look at certain psychological dispositions. Notice, that the list of sub-factors seems limitless, and this is because there are so many factors that condition conception.

To give a sense of this, let’s name a few more factors:: the rates of production of spermatozoa, the days on which an oocyte is released into the fallopian tubes, the general state and health of the woman’s and man’s bodies, the character of the relationship between the man and the woman (and various psychological states as well), the work habits and home life of the man and woman which influence their marital activities. Many of us recognize for example, that a couple who hate each other and never stay together in the same home will find themselves living in a situation with virtually no possiblity of conception. On the other hand, a young couple, celebrating the honeymoon of their marriage, and seriously desiring to be part of the creation of new life together, and who possess healthy bodies, have a significantly better probability of conceiving.

[I do want to note that many of the factors effecting the probability for conception are identified in a descriptive manner, and thus to become more precise, a shift to theoretically differentiation is needed (which would also significantly multiply the number of factors actually involved). This theoretical differentiation using explanatory conjugates is the level  of probability of which I am concerned in the end.]

Now, one of the points that I would like to highlight is that at any given context of conditions, a couple has a particular statistical probability for conception. This probability however does shift because of numerous factors each day, some of which might be based on regular schemes of recurrence (such as the woman’s fertility cycle), and other on non-systematic components relative to their own organic schemes of recurrence, say certain bacteria or viruses that the man or woman might have contracted that might reduce the production of spermatozoa or perhaps harm the ability to complete the maturation of the oocyte before it is released into the fallopian tube. Regarding the regular cycles in the life of the man and the woman, the statistical probabilities for conception probably hover around certain sets of ideal frequencies during the fertile stages of their adult lives. When the occyte has been released, and the woman’s body prepares itself for the possibility of conception and implantation, which then changes her psyche in relation to the man (yes, this really does happen), and in turn, changes the man’s psyche in relation to her, along with the moral and religious contexts that impact the relationship on a regular basis as well, then one could probably formulate the ideal frequencies of conception. Changes in the lifestyle, in the physical well-being, also change this, as does age, but in the end, there are given objective probabilities for conception between the couple during the course of their lives together and at each stage of their lives together.

Finality and Statistics: The real heart of the matter in conception

If statistics deals with ideal frequencies of the actuation of conjugate forms and of the emergence and existence of things, finality introduces development of those conjugate forms, their ideal frequencies, and of things. Now, let us begin to examine some of the different ways that statistics impacts and relates to finality. Finality deals with a direction of development. Earlier stages possess a set of conjugate forms and their distribution and integration that results in an unfolding sequence of stages of development. The zygote possesses within it a variety of elements that, given the right environment, will unfold into a multi-cellular being, with a variety of higher or vertical intelligible orders of being. So, what starts as a zygote with largely undifferentiated organic schemes that operate within a narrow range of conditions unfolds first in a series of horizontal developments of differentiated organic schemes (eg. new functioning systems such as circulation, digestion, endocrine, exocrine, immunological, etc, systems). Then as the neural system advances, it makes a first vertical leap into motor-sensory operations, with affective re-sponses and pro-sponses through a growing sensory apprehension while in the womb.  As imagination and memory grow and develop, this then prepares the stage for another vertical leap, one into the world of understanding, judgment, and decision (see the blog on the “beginning of the human person” for more precise treatments of this leap as well as challenges to it, since it involves the capacity to transcend the empirical residue).

In each of the horizontal and vertical developments, each stage has a statistical probability for emergence and survival. Earlier stages had made the probability of the current stage likely, but not absolute. The operators (for more on operators, see chapter 15 in INSIGHT) in the earlier stages for these later stages are what shift the entire likelihood of emergence. So, though the emergence of something with a neural structure is very unlikely in this universe, in the zygote of a frog or a cat or a human being, this likelihood is significantly increased, almost systematically. Now, this is not technically a system, because it really is a set of developmental operators. Hence, it is not a scheme of recurrence that brings about these developments. Operators are different than schemes. But they are similar in that these bring about the same kind of development if other events are equal, just as the scheme brings about the same sets of events if other events are equal. Hence, in a development, just as with a scheme, the regular frequencies of various types of events are needed. For example, in order for Kreb’s cycle (a scheme of recurrence) to operate, various proteins, glucose, and other molecules need to be supplied in a statistically regular manner. If the rate of glucose declines, then the rate of kreb’s cycle will decline. If certain proteins are not made regularly, likewise, the cycle will not work regularly. Likewise for development. If the probabilities of events in certain schemes are not maintained, development will cease. If certain proteins are missing, adolescent changes will not take place.

One thing to note however, is that even if later stages do not in fact emerge, the finality of the earlier is not changed. Proper development requires “other events being equal” and just because development fails because other events are not equal does not change the finality. A zygote for example, may fail to continue its development because it fails to implant in the wall of the womb, a failure which may have been made likely because of some chemical deformation of the wall of the womb. This does not change the finality of the zygote however. Or to take another example, human intelligence has a finality for understanding and truth. That finality is manifested in the question for understanding (at the level of understanding) and the question for reflection (at the level of judgment), and just because a person fails to ask these questions, or perhaps undergoes a severe debilitation later in life (perhaps brain damage) that makes it impossible to ask the questions, does not change the finality. Hence, though finality unfolds in and through statistical probabilities of events, schemes, and things, it does not necessarily change in and through those things. Really, in the end, it only changes when the base conditions that essentially constituted the finality in the first place change. Hence the zygote has that finality, unless one removes the genes, destroys the cellular plasma, or some other detrimental effects that essentially kill the zygote. Then this little being has been destroyed, and his or her finality is gone as well. Likewise, one could substantially change the biochemistry, and thus destroy the direction of development (the finality). To take one last example, one could destroy the finality by replacing the genetics in a substantial manner, so that instead of a cow, one gets a cat (though one would have to change other components of the cell along with the genetics). Then the finality has changed.

How to change the finality of procreative fecundity….

Procreative (or sexual) fecundity also has a finality.  And to destroy this finality would require the destruction of the embodied human person. Descriptively, the sexual makeup of the human person permeates his or her whole being. Explanatorily, nearly every system of the body is impacted by it, especially the neural patterns that are formed. Sterilization, contraception, and other non-substantial changes to the human body simply do not change the sexual finality. Earlier in development, arguably, it is easier to make changes in the finality of sexual fecundity, and thus to change a boy into a girl or vice versa (though having the power to do so would not be right because there is a finality within each person linked to the finality of the entire species and to the generalized emergence of the universe). I suppose, if we were creative enough, and had the right technologies, we would be able to even create an androgenous creature, though I am not sure what that would mean because it would require a much different body and brain than men and women currently possess because of how much each of these are tied into the sexual elements of our beings (and I mean all the way down to the cellular and biochemical layouts). As a note, there are no large, multi-cellular organism that possess such androgeny because it would have detrimental effects on the species as whole.  Pick up a textbook on the importance of bi-sexual procreativity in organisms if you want to read about the “advantages” of this kind of setup. We need the pluralism of the genetics and the diversity of roles in order to flourish.

So what does this mean for conception?

Statistics in short is integral to finality.  One stage of development is constituted by various ideal probabilities of events that in various ways condition each other, sometimes in schemes of recurrence, sometimes in a manner that brings about shifts of schemes, and when these shifts involve changes in the kinds of operations possible, a development has occurred.

When understanding the body of a man and the body of a woman, specifically the procreative schemes that are operative after procreative activation has taken place in adolescence, one discovers a finality that is built upon the ideal frequencies of a variety of events leading up to and including the procreative conjugal act.  Finality is not built upon a mechanistic view of the human body, but upon the potentialities that constitute probabilities of emergence.  Human freedom is involved in shifting these probabilities of emergence.  It is from this point, that one can begin to examine the moral relevance of shifting these probabilities with human decisions.

For those who say that “nature” shifts the probabilities for conception–and therefore it is not wrong for human beings to do the same–have failed to investigate the situation thoroughly and make distinctions.  If one wants to appeal to nature, nature as Lonergan argues is for increasing not decreasing intelligibility.  In other words, the concrete intelligibility of this universe is generalize emergent probability, and once one gets that argument, then one begins to see how central the creation of more human beings is to this universe and this unfolding emergent probability. Then one sees that even nature is striving for more beings that can help increase the generic and specific intelligibilities of the universe.  Conception is key in this.  And thus, “nature” is not disconnected statistically from conception, but rather uses statistical probabilities for emergence to increase conception and the fruits of conception (namely matured adult men and women to use a phrase from Lonergan’s essay on Love and Finality–though Lonergan had not integrated statistics into this piece yet).    Thus, human freedom is a freedom to enhance this probability for emergence and its fruits (unfolding horizontal and vertical developments that arise from this emergence of a human being).   One can continue to examine all of the horizontal and vertical developments that spring from conception, and this will differentiate all of the ways that human understanding, judgment, and decision cooperate with this in the right acts that lead to conception.

As a note, what I have put forth, is not an argument that results in complete support for all the Catholic teachings on marriage and family in relation to the conjugal act, but it does I think eliminate a particular challenge to those teachings, especially as one looks at the challenge of contraception.  One of the arguments in favor of contraception (a deliberate intention to attempt to eliminate the probability of conception through deliberate acts to eliminate one or more of the conditions required for conception while taking place after a decision has been made to engage in the sexual act between a man and a woman) was based upon the statistical elements of conception, but the argument that nature already builds in contraception into the system is not adequate to say therefore human beings can use the same no matter what or how.  Even the unconscious elements of the organism discriminate because of “nature” on what or how the body is prevented from conceiving, simply because emergent probability is part of the intelligibility of this order.  Understanding, judgment, and decision likewise discriminate, not because they have to, but because they should.  The transcendental notions that are intrinsic operators of each of these levels of consciousness constitute exigences of this discrimination.  And when these transcendental operators are operative within the lower manifolds which are intrinsically conditioned by the empirical residue, they do so with a statistical reality that is intrinsic to the finality of this universe, or at least they should do so to be authentic.

Gender Ideology, Evolution, and Finality

I just returned from a fantastic conference on gender ideology in Denver. I use ideology in the Voegelinian sense, as a deformation of the metaxy or the in-between. Eric Voegelin formulated the in-between as an account of the human subject and community. Our conscious existence is a tension between the beginning and the beyond, the immanent and the transcendent. For those familiar with Lonergan, it has a kind of symbolic appeal to the nature of the human subject, though it lacks the precision found in Lonergan, namely that of formulating the human subject as one who is a capacity for self-transcendence and the different levels of this capacity. Yet, it captures a basic truth, a truth which helps to articulate the character of the modern ideology surrounding gender identity and freedom.

I recall reading somewhere in Voegelin that modern ideology tends toward the transcendent or the beyond, and then naively thinks itself to be beyond the beginning or the immanent. What this means is that in modern ideologies, the beginning and the immanent are evils. In gender ideology, the limits of the body are an evil to be transcended. Evil of course is not a word that most gender ideologists would accept as a description of what they are doing to the body. But in my claiming this of the ideology, I would appeal to the ideology’s mode of operation. To start, something that causes unhappiness or a kind of privation in one’s soul is an evil. And according to gender ideology, being born with the “wrong body” is seen as privating one of happiness. Thus, it is an evil.

Now let’s translate this into Voegelin. The body is part of what Voegelin would call the beginning or the immanent. It has its roots back into the foundations of the world and it ties us to that foundation. It also is that reality in and through which we transcend and have our conscious existence, and so when it limits the kind of conscious existence that we want, gender ideology would proclaim that the  immanent reality of the body must be sublated in the Hegelian sense and discarded as the rubbish of an enslaved past. That would be the mode of operation in someone fully habituated to the life lived in the atmosphere of gender ideology.

The ideology also suffers what Voegelin calls the immanentization of the Transcendent. The Transcendent is the source of true and authentic happiness. Only in the Transcendent exists beatitude. To attempt to establish ultimate and everlasting beatitude in the immanent is the kind of deformation that takes what belongs to the Transcendent by storm. This violence is the only mode of operation available to the modern ideologues. Natural emergence would never be allowed because what is natural would be seen as hindering our freedom and hence our happiness. This violence has been the tactic of all modern ideologies such as the French and Communist Revolutionaries, the Nazi fascist movement, and the assortment of totalitarian uprisings whether in Asia, Africa, Europe, or the Americas. Gender ideology really is no different. It cannot use the art of authentic persuasion to reach its ends. It has to mutilate the body and use the power of civil law to totalize it goals.

Though I do enjoy Voegelin, I think one can arrive at a deeper explanatory account of the modern ideologies, including that of gender ideology, using Lonergan. His discovery of the levels of conscious intentionality, the nature of the capacity for self-transcendence and its actuation, and how this participates in the finality of the unfolding universe of being as one of generalized emergent probability provides a heuristic, and hence a horizon, that opens the doors and windows for a comprehensive account of ideology and its modern sexual manifestation.

What I am saying here is really more of a project to be completed. Some years ago, I had worked through the coming-to-be of the human person (see blogs back in 2008). One of the things that I began to think through was a transposition of evolutionary biology’s account of sexual differentiation into Lonergan’s notion of finality. The modern evolutionary theorist has noticed for example the emergence of bi-sexual differentiation within higher level species of plants and animals. This differentiation provides selective advantages (to use evolutionary terms) – advantages which include more adequate diversity in genetic alleles that allow for greater adaptabilities of the species to environmental needs and changes. More precisely, I think the right range of probabilities in the mixing and remixing of alleles that takes place through sexual reproduction provides for the right kind of plasticity needed for higher orders of intelligibility to have adequate probabilities for emergence and fitting probabilities of survival (much like carbon and some other atoms have the right statistical distributions of electrons to allow for the adequate emergence and survival of molecules that can interact to form organic systems–where as atoms such as the inert gases do not). Using Lonergan, one can dramatically expand the meaning of species and of the nature of evolutionary causality. The conjugate forms for example that constitute the things as a species within an explanatory genera (see chapter 8 of INSIGHT) are necessary to account for the developmental sequences one finds within evolutionary trees. One can also turn to the reality of finality within potencies to help further expand the developmental operators and trends that arise within evolution. And these are just a couple of the examples of how one can expand the heuristics found in most evolutionary theories using Lonergan’s account of both proportionate being (being that can be known by the human mind) and the nature of the human subject within that world of being.

With regard to gender ideology, an explanatory account of sexual differentiation and its sublation (Lonergan’s notion not Hegel’s) into higher levels of conscious intentionality would provide a first set of clarifications of the relationship of organic sexual schemes of development with motor-sensory, intellectual, rational, and volitional operators and operations.

The finality that leads to and springs from sexual differentiation would provide a further set of clarifications, and I think it would also be the key to revealing the magnitude of the deformation of gender ideology. Sexual differentiation in the human species is for the individuals, but it also regards the entire species. Its intelligibility requires that one introduce the operators that link generations of parents and grandparents to children. Concretely coming into existence as a male or a female takes place within a set of probabilities that is sequentially linked into a finality that springs from the entire order of the universe, an order that includes its concrete spatial and temporal residues (see chapter 4 of INSIGHT to glimpse more of this). When one decides to “change out” one’s concrete sexual differentiation through gender re-assignment, one is actually privating oneself and others of the finality in which one came to be. I am not proving this point right now, but giving you some conclusions that I had discovered some years ago.

To point you toward the evidence that led me down this trail, let me mention a notion developed by evolutionary theorists. The emergence of a new trait is followed up by a rapid perfection of that trait over relatively few generations. In evolution, few can mean thousands of years rather than millions depending on the complexity of the organism – the more complex multi-cellular organisms require longer periods of time to evolve. Something like a virus or bacteria however evolves in much shorter periods of time. This rapid perfection of a mode of operation within its operator means that certain kinds of operations in the human body reached a type of perfection long ago (even before the emergence of the human species). Sexual union based on sexual differentiation is one of those. If you look at plant sexual differentiation, it is a bit undifferentiated with many plants having both male and female components (and the number of chromosomes is a bit loose as well). As one moves to higher and higher animals, there is a set of clarifications of the male and female differentiations. One can describe these perfections or clarifications as a refinement of the nurturing operators and schemes on the one side of the differentiation (which we call female), and the refinement of protective operators and schemes on the other (which we call male). This gives all kinds of selective advantage to a community of the species (to use evolutionary terms again).

What this means is that human sexual differentiation arises from within an evolutionary series of developments as a perfection upon which then builds the higher levels of being in the human subject. For the human subject to then “decide” that this differentiation is a false limitation, and is really an evil and something hindering one, is to fail to realize the kind of perfection that sexual differentiation has become within the order of the entire finality of the universe. Again, this has to be argued more thoroughly, and so I give to you simply a project to consider. Sexual differentiation is a fundamental differentiation upon which the emergence of conscious intentionality within the finality of the entire generalize emergent structure of the universe is taking place. Treating it as something that can be changed or even discarded at will is to join the Hegelian and Marxian revolutionaries, which when you look at history has a deeply disturbing root in hatred born of an even deeper root of despair and darkness.

Insight into Chemistry: Introduction

by David Fleischacker

In Insight, Lonergan makes use of chemistry as one of the examples of higher and lower genii of things in this universe.  Biology is a higher integration of a coincidental manifold of chemical occurrences and schemes.  What I would like to do is to examine the history of chemistry to catch glimpse of the breakthroughs that led to its discovery.  The periodic table is a brilliant construct.  Before Mendeleev provided us with this final version, there were precursors, and before these precursors, there were a series of breakthroughs both in the way that sense data was gathered and in the way that the upper blade heuristics operated, upper blades of both classical and statistical heuristic structures, the former being formulated in terms of the relationships of matter and the latter being formulated in terms of reaction rates.  Even earlier, there was a series of descriptive breakthroughs with developing explanatory postulates that painted a complex path to modern chemistry.

Here are a few areas that I would like to explore.

  1. Whether there exist deductive and homogeneous expansions in chemistry.
  2. The role of inverse insights in chemistry.
  3. The degree to which classical and statistical heuristic structures developed in chemistry.
  4. The relationship of chemistry 1) to physics, 2) to biology (and on up).
  5. The explanatory conjugates in Chemistry.
  6. Schemes of recurrence in Chemistry.
  7. The nature of judgements in chemistry (eg. Provisional analytical principles)
  8. Epistemology in chemistry, especially in terms of the principle notion of objectivity.
  9. Vertical developments that emerged following the breakthroughs into modern chemistry, both heading down into quarks and heading up into DNA and replication.
  10. Chemistry and metaphysics – potencies, forms, and acts, along with generalized emergent probability.
    1. In this context, I would like to explore energy in chemistry (and whether Lonergan is right in suggesting a link between energy and finality.

Chemistry: A Deductive Expansion

I will begin by saying something about the first half of #1 above.

Lonergan introduces deductive expansion in chapter one of Insight to illustrate a particular type of development within mathematics.  It is deductive when the same operation is used over and over again.  Hence, when one adds over and over again:  1 + 1 = 2, 2 + 1 = 3, 3 + 1 = 4. Etc., etc., etc..  This type of deduction using addition can lead one to a viewpoint that is symbolized by addition tables. The key is that the mode of the expansion is entirely limited to a single operation, addition.

In Chemistry similar types of development take place.  Descriptively, one finds the growth of qualitative measures, that then became the “operation” used to investigate certain types of materials or substances. Examples include solubility in water and related to this, the formation of precipitates.  Salt and sugar dissolve in water for example. Wood and iron do not, at least in any rapid time frame.  One can take known substances, and see if these are soluble. Of course, one could switch water with acids, bases, or alcohols.  One could go on to mixing liquids or gases or gases with liquids, as well as liquids with solids.  Now, at first, it was not clear that solids, gases, and liquids are different forms of certain elements and molecules, but seeing the qualitative (descriptive) outcomes of such interactions is a general mode of operation that one finds in early chemistry (eg. Alchemy and medical chemistry).

Another kind of deductive expansion arose with the development of quantitative analysis in chemistry.  Basically, these sprung from long known units of measure, such as weight, volume, temperature, and to a lesser degree pressure.  One sees Boyle for example introducing the relationship of volume and pressure of gases.  You see a number of individuals introducing various means for measuring weight.  So a general operation was to quantify something.  I suppose one could argue that the real operation was a particular mode of quantifying, such as weight or volume.  One can repeat such an operation upon a number of different substances – gold, wood, water, etc., etc., etc..  This gets to be a bit more difficult with gases, but with some creativity it is not impossible with a bit of creativity. How does one weigh smoke for example? And is smoke a gas?

The point thus far is to show how there are developments like deductive expansions even in the early stages of chemistry.  Explanatorily, one also sees similar expansions.  In Dalton, one finds a proportionality of mass combinations. There are basic elements that combine in specific and definite ways with each other such that a particular substance is always composed of the same set(s) of elements, and hence have the same based masses.  Water is always formed of two hydrogens and one oxygen.  This is a deductive expansion that is even closer to math, because it says that adding particular elements in a certain manner always results in a particular compound of those elements that has specific properties because of how these elements are combined.

As a result, one can see how elements can be combined in twos or threes or fours.  And the masses of these compounds always equal the sum of the masses of the elements.  Of course, there is more to be discovered, because not just any element can be combined with any other element. Hence, this is where chemistry diverges from math.  In math, any number can be added to any number.


This is just a first set of observations about chemistry and its development, both descriptively and explanatorily.  I will return to this every so often and hopefully have something to say.

John Dalton’s Table of Elements and Compounds

A Descriptive Metaphysics: An Analogy for the Science of Metaphysics

By David Fleischacker, PhD
First Draft

Metaphysics as a science seeks to build a comprehensive and generic viewpoint of the universe that is thus far known. How? It finds common features of all sciences and the common features of the objects of those sciences, and melds these features into an integral unity, a horizon of being.

I think it might be easiest to start getting a sense of metaphysics by setting up an every day analogy that will help to point to a more complete metaphysics.

Here are the points that I would like to invite reflection upon:

1. Events: including things, persons, and activities.
2. Frequencies of events: “How often does X take place?”
3. Webs of events and their frequencies.
4. Developmental stages and sequences of webs.

If we stay within our everyday lives, and come up with some examples of these points, I think we can go a long way toward developing a generic view of our worlds. This will be only a descriptive, everyday view, however the reason I chose these points is because these provide analogies for understanding Lonergan’s metaphsics.

An event is person or thing involved in some activity in our everyday worlds. In order to understand that event, we would need to begin raising some questions: What, why, how, where, when type questions. If I asked you “Who is so and so?” In answering the question, you might give me a name? Then I might be curious as to know why the person is here, or what this person does. All of these questions would be expansions of the same type of question, a question that helps me to understand the event. These types of questions can thus be called “questions for understanding.” What kind of questions do you think fit this type in your language?

Notice that in answering questions for understanding, we came to know this event (person, place, or action) through our senses. We can come to describe this event with our senses in a multitude of ways. If it is a thing, I might describe it by its color or shape or how it is to be used. If it is a person, I might describe what he or she looks like, or what the person does. If it is an action, I might describe the movements involved, or the sounds made. We can make use of any of our senses to answer this question for understanding.

Notice how much of the world is known to us in this manner. The inviting landscape that surrounds Seoul, the beautiful clothing, the sense of dignity in the people, the smell of the air, the design of the buildings, the layout of the campus, the smell of the Cherry blossoms, the excitement of students. All of this comes to us through our senses, and we can describe it in language, in art, in poetry, in business terms, and in many other ways. For all of us, this forms the greater part of how we understand the world around us.

Frequencies of events: A second type of question: How often?

I would like you to think about some of the phrases in your language that match the following ones:

“It happens every day”
“It rarely happens at all”
“It happens once in a while”
“It happens too much”
“She does this all the time”

Notice that each one of these statements is an answer to the basic question “How often?” It does not mean that we have quantitative numbers like someone in the fields of statistics would seek. But descriptively, we get a sense of the regularity of events and things in life. This is important for us to live. Think about your own life for a minute, and how you develop many daily expectations based on your past experiences that result in this sense of how often things take place. If you run a grocery store for example, and children are always dropping the jar of jam in one of the isles of the store, then you probably will make some changes in the placement of the jars, so as to reduce this type of an accident. Around your apartments or homes, many things get placed because of your sense of frequency. For example, you probably have a place to hang your coat near the entrance door rather than up in the attic or in the farthest room from the front door, simply because that is the regular (or frequent) location where you will need to put on your coat or take it off. How you setup a kitchen, or a school classroom, or a library, is closely tied to frequencies of use of different items or the frequencies of various activities. If we had no sense of “how often” things or events happen, we literally would be constantly building and setting up places, roads, farms, industries, museums in an impractical manners.

The relationship of “questions for understanding” and “questions for frequency” (“how often?”)

Notice that this second question, “How often?” really cannot be answered unless one has first answered the question for understanding. Only when we have some sense of the event (person, thing, action) can we then start paying attention to it and get a sense of its frequency or regularity. Some events may only occur once in the whole of history. They might be short lived or last for thousands of years. Others might recur over and over again each day, even each minute, like our breathing. Notice, that for me to get a sense of how often breathing takes place, I need to have formed some basic understanding of breathing first. Only subsequently, if I am paying attention to it, will I get a sense of its frequency. Let us look at another example, the frequency of people that drive on a road to the market. Notice, that the first step is that I have to understand “road” and “driving” and “people.” Then, if I am paying attention to this road and the drivers on it day in and day out, over a certain number of days and weeks, and I am also paying attention to the numbers of drivers on other roads day in and day out, then I will start to get a sense of whether this particular road is unusually busy compared to others or not. In the end, I will end up with simple conclusion, such as “This is a busy road.” It is a statement based upon many everyday observations of the roads over many days and week. I may not be counting this like a mathematician but I am forming memories.

The Web of Events and Their Frequencies

The third point that I would like to focus upon is webs of events and their frequencies. All of us have a sense of some of the webs of life. The interconnections of events (people, things, actions) in our homes, or neighborhoods, our work environments, our economic life, our political worlds are webs. A sense of a web begins to develop when we connect one event to another. In special cases, these events form into types of regular cycles, regular patterns of connections between events. When we grew up for example, in our neighborhoods, we started to get a sense of how neighbors and activities impacted each other. We began to get a sense of the interconnections of events and their frequencies. Perhaps when you rode your bicycle past the neighbor’s dog, he always barked at you, then kept on barking for another ten minutes, until one of the neighbors calms the dog down. The reason the dog barks at you is because he wants you to come and throw a stick which he loves to fetch, and you have thrown this stick for this dog many times over the years……

Think about some of these webs in your life. The point here is to get a sense of the generic meaning of “web” and cycles of events and their frequencies.

Families, economies, political orders, churches, volunteer organizes are all examples of vast webs of people and things involved in numerous activities. For example, if one increases the frequency of production in an industry, perhaps pollution increases, if pollution increases, then diseases of the lungs increase, if diseases of the lungs increase more people die. Or in another example, if people are driven by ultimate meaning and purpose, by a love that is unrestricted, and this impacts everything that is done, it increases the charitable acts that they perform day in and day out, it results in greater generosity in the simple and daily interactions with others. Such acts of charity awakens desires that fulfill and quiets desires that destroy. It results in changing the web and habits of one’s own life and in the world around.

Absence of the knowledge of a web makes us awkward in situations. We do not know what to expect from others, we do not know what they are doing or where they might be going, and what they might be expecting from us. This happens whenever we move to a new place, or start a new job, or a new family. It takes time to learn these webs, and notice how we cannot really live easily and well until we learn the web.

Developments of Webs

The last type of questions that I would like to explore in our everyday lives can be expressed as How does this web change over time? This can include when and why it came to be? Or when and why did it disappear? As with our everyday sense of family life, of business, of our neighborhoods, and our political orders, we also, especially as we grow older, gain more and more a sense of how these cycles or webs in life change. If we have paid close attention, we begin to grasp various stages of these changes as well. We might see how one stage in the growth of our grocery store or our in an auto industry led to the next. We might see how one stage in the growth of government led to the next. Though we might not have worked this out as a historian, one might have had enough experience, and paid attention to those experiences, remembering the events and their frequencies, and their formation into webs, and then changes in events and their frequencies over time, in order to get a sense of what was going forward from one web to the next, and why things changed. It leads one to an everyday sense of the stages of development of one web into another.

Web 1  Web 2  Web 3  Web 4 etc., etc., etc..

Notice how important this is as well. If we never get a sense of the stages of our lives, we probably cannot help our children through those stages. We remain bewildered by the changes, confused as to what to do next, just as if we had entered a new society for the first time, or a started a new family. Someone who is starting a business, and has no sense of how to start then grow such a “web” will most likely fail. If someone has no idea how children grow intellectually, then they will be at a loss as to how to setup a proper educational system, since such a system is a web designed to provide children with an environment to awaken the natural desire to know and learn, and exercise responsibility.

Creating a General Descriptive “View” of this Universe

Now I would like to focus us back upon the kind of general view of life that this creates. Notice that it is rather open ended. Events regard anything and anyone that can be known through our senses. The “how often” also regards anything that can be described through our senses. The web recognizes that every event and its frequency has many connections with others, and thus forms into vast web. Furthermore, then entire world that we know in these webs develops along stages. Thus, the more we know about such development, the more we can predict the most likely stages that will unfold in the future.

This view of events, frequencies of events, webs, and developments thus orients us in our worlds. If we want to learn about anything from family life to political life to religious life, we know how to start and build our views of a situation. Here are a few properties and consequences of this general view of life.

1. The world is filled with events and their frequencies, some of which form into regularly recurrent cycles. The sun regularly rises, then sets, goes around the earth only to rise again, then set again. People regularly need to eat, agricultural systems get setup, and thus on a regular basis, in a linkage of webs, food is distributed to stores, people buy the food, and prepare it.
2. The existence of one web can set the stage for the growth of more webs. Hence the creation of the steam engine set the stage for the creation of steam-boats and steam driven trains.
3. Thus, the universe as descriptively perceived is a series of webs that set stages for future webs, and it does so with greater or lesser regularities.
4. World process seems to go in various directions, though when developmental stages are present, then it goes with some degree of regularity in a certain direction of growth, though this is not guaranteed by any means. One can see a great business on the rise, and then something happens unexpectedly, and it collapses. A church can be serving many people one decade, then through failures decline in a day, and close its doors. A great family growing in character and virtue can be rendered asunder by many causes.
5. If enough time exists, then it seems likely that many possible events and their frequencies, and webs might come to be. It also seems possible that many webs will not necessarily lead to any new kinds of development either. Dead ends are possible. One might make a new kind of DVD machine, only to watch it end up in the pile of other technologies that never made it.
6. Webs that are further down the line in terms of stages will be expected to be fewer in number on the whole, because more needs to take place before these come to be. Hence, one would find more societies to possess more farms than to possess universities.
7. If something has more stages, then one will need more time or resources. Hence, for example, one will need many more years of life to develop a sense of metaphysics than a sense of arithmetic.

New Seminar in Political Philosophy, Announcement

On May 10, after compline which concludes at about 7:40 pm, a new seminar in Political Philosophy will convene, headed by David Alexander, reading through Ryszard Legutko’s The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies.  All interested persons are welcome to participate either by Skype or by attending in person.  Notes will be posted as they are composed, session by session.  The meeting on May 10 will look at the first two chapters.

The Motherly Impulse

by David Fleischacker

Generally, one thinks of nurturing when one thinks of motherhood. Usually I find a guttural revolt against this idea today. Yet intrinsically “to nurture” is a good thing. I would like to give some thought as to what this means in relationship to motherhood. To nurture involves feeding and caring for basic needs but also the spiritual needs of another. In other words, it is a type of mutual self-mediation (To read about mediation, see Lonergan, “The Mediation of Christ in Prayer”). I would argue that starting in the organic matrices of the female body, there is a special attunement for nurturing. Even the neurons in her skin are far more numerous than in a man. Her senses are designed to be attracted spontaneously to details about the body and disposition of another. Girls can read faces more accurately at a much younger age than boys (boys do not catch up until age 40 on average — at least in some studies I have read). These needs stir sympathy in a woman much more rapidly than in a man. [Though for another blog, men more often than not are stirred to sympathy through their mothers and wives and sisters.]

Socially, this care impulse leads a woman to want to create a physical and personal space about her that is inviting. She takes care of it to reveal the dignity in another for which she naturally cherishes. She has a finality that is fulfilled when she can illuminate their worth and fulfill the conditions for their existence and their flourishing. This can get distorted of course, like all good things, but intrinsically it is supremely good, and its privatization is a supreme evil in a culture.

Psychologically, the motherly care stirs a warmth and love in the recipient of that care. It communicates to them their inherent dignity and worth. It lets them know that their lives matter, because the care is coming from a beautiful creature whom God has made and sent to care for them. A motherly smile and embrace can undo anger and bitterness. It can open up the heart to higher things. Through simple meals and gifts of nurture–another human being comes to thrive.

The mother is created to care about all the details of those who come into her realm. Naturally and most intimately it is “her man” and from this relationship, his children conceived in her body. I say “his” because I think it highlights the nature of begetting and bearing at the moral level and the depth of the bond between a man and a woman. It is hers too of course, and the man will stand in awe of “her” children. It is hers as received, even though the egg was formed in her. It is his seed, and his act to love her. She of course may have called him forth. And in the bonds of marriage, this bond has a sacred character, found in the promise in God’s witness of “until death do us part.”

The descriptive conjugates that develop regarding the motherly impulse must be multiple. There would be conjugates naming various desires of course, as well as her body and its contours, and how it changes during adolescence, and her apprehension of caring for a child, and for loving a man, as well as falling in love. There are conjugates of family too.

When I think of how we have degraded life in the home, it is incredible. We have made everything in it seem trivial, and thus a burden. How sad. We have really targeted the mother in the home–turning everything she does into a land of waste and a life not worth living. But in fact the opposite is true. Every act of love in the home provides conditions for the existence and thriving of her husband and her children, her neighbors and extended family, and even her own well-being. This includes the simple things that analogically extend from her own bodily schemes of care and protection of the unborn, whether that is the order of the kitchen and a place for everything in it, or the cleansing of the body, the routines of washing clothes, and the cooking that transforms and mold hearts.

Providing such conditions is a participation in the divine light that shines in the world upon each individual who comes into that house. They are called by name in that light. It shows each person that even their bodies and psyches are sacred and pondered within the mother’s heart.

It is built into the body of a woman to be radically attentive to others in this world, to see easily into their hearts and souls, to see even the littlest of physical, psychic, and spiritual needs.

As a note I do not want to say men can do none of these things, but at this point I just want to focus on the glory of a woman.

The woman’s body is structured to receive so as to give. Her body is the space in this universe in which life comes to be and then has its first days and months nurtured and protected. Her body feeds the new life so that it will grow and develop.

It is important to realize how the human heart works here. The essence of the human person is a capacity to self-transcend. A person lives through all of the conjugate forms, schemes of recurrence, integrators of lower levels and operators for higher, all within the unity that is the subject, the concrete person.  Below summarizes the higher and lower levels of proportionate being (see Insight for more). All of these come together in the human person.

  • Faith and love
  • Decision
  • Judgment
  • Understanding
  • Experience
  • cellular conjugates
  • chemical conjugates
  • subatomic conjugates

The woman’s body has a form made to receive the seeds of life, to call these forth from her man, to be awakened in her own intentionality and life by this calling and reception. Even chemically and organically this is true–from the hormonal responses to the illumination of regions and cortices of the brain and how neural demand functions transform conscious attentiveness. I wish these could be discussed in their beauty rather than in the light of the fall and the horizon of concupiscence, and modern gender theories.

When the seed has transformed the egg, and life comes into existence–yes existence!–Then the mother’s body becomes the child’s home. Warmth and sustenance are provided from the very schemes of the woman’s body, designed for this right down into the quarks and quark compounds emergent upon which are the atomic and atomic compounds, the cells and cell compounds of her body.

During gestation, her psyche undergoes a transformation rising from an increased rate of synaptic formation in various parts of her brain, prompting her, calling her from the depths of her being to rise into the glory of motherhood. Literally her brain increases its synaptic connections so that she will develop more rapidly in her concrete insights that will constitute some new schemes of motherhood, and so she will form a vibrant horizon of affectivity that will call forth acts of love and care. In other words, when all is allowed to come forth, this organic realization of her motherhood emerges into a neural set of schemes which bursts forth into a generous affectivity that re-orients motor-sensory operators toward a new attentiveness to the growing life inside of her.

Her growing affectivity also spontaneously turns to her beloved and calls forth from him and awakens in him this growing intention in her toward the new life. She awakens him with the goodness and glory of life. [And of course the reverse can happen as did happen with Eve and Adam.]

This new set of operators turns to the physical world to build a home that will welcome the new life. It will provide protection and nurturing of all the needs of the newborn. It will communicate to the world the love of this new one. It will bring about shifts of habits–all of which have been organically and psychically prepared in the body of the woman. As a note, I know there are similar neurological and psychic shifts in the man which I suspect is tied to his commitment and bond to her–but I have not seen studies on this.

Of course, culture can help these neurological and psychic reorientations to thrive or it can crush them.  And there are potential for deformations at every single point along the way.

The mother also then finds something glorious about which to converse with others, namely the new life growing within her. Those who care about life will wonder and be in awe about her. They will come to her, embrace her, confirm her, raise her up into the light of being. She has become one in whom life comes into existence. Her mother and father will come alive to this as well as should his parents.  But lurking around the corner is a massive if.  All of this mutual self-mediation of the glory of a new one and the glory of motherhood only rises to its rightful heights if the scale of values constitutive of their moral horizons are properly formed.

One can see this welcoming of life throughout Scripture. Think of the sadness women and men in the old testament experience at infertility. Sometimes the shame goes too far–and others would mock the barren woman, and she would even think of herself in this highly negative light. But sadness would be a proper response, as would the turning to God with wonder about her fate and hope for the gift of a child. Children were her glory and rightly so. And how blessed a man is with a good and faithful wife and the gift of children conceived in her and born of her (think of the Psalms and Proverbs).

When we turn to the New Testament, this glorious element of motherhood reaches heights unheard of before. Mary of course is that central icon, The Mother, the woman of the fiat, the one in whom God was conceived in her womb, the one from whom the source of all life is born. This dignity bestowed on a woman is a great and beautiful mystery. And look at what it calls forth from Joseph! Even before he has his revelation from Gabriel, he is moved by her and will not divorce her publicly. Already, her intrinsic virtue is calling him forth. Once he is illumined to what has been given to her, he immediately becomes her protector, her husband, whose heart is now filled with her and the fruit of her womb.

And think of how her own son brings life to her. His death will be a sword through her heart because his heart became sin for us, our sins, the sins of all humanity, and these sins form the blade. But he makes all things new. He is the eternal fruit, life, and salvation of all. And she is his mother.

God created Mary, the woman, who would be the sacred temple in which he would enter this world. He became us so that we might become like him. We too are the fruit of a womb, conceived into existence in the womb, born of a woman.

Even more so are consecrated virgins in the likeness of Mary as the mother of God. They bear the Son into the world. The firstborn of their consecrated wombs is the eternal Word of God. Eternity flows through them with motherly tenderness to each person who enters their midst, and their hearts sing of their man from whom they have received life into their souls and bodies. They are his betrothed in a personal and intimate way. They have entered the inner love and exchange of our triune God. The fruit of the womb is theirs, and their hearts will be pierced with the sins of the world, sin which rejects their beloved and the fruit of eternity which flows through them.

The motherly impulse in each and every woman springs from the finality of each and every quark of their being. It rises with greater and greater degrees of freedom until it reaches the apex of a state of being in love with the unrestricted one. In the biochemistry of their genetics this bursts forth into cellular differentiations and entire cellular systems that constitute their hormonal cycles, their biophysics, the bio-schemes of their womb, and the neural structures of their body. It bursts forth into sensitivity with attentiveness, trust, and affective love. It calls forth caresses and nurturing, which then rises into the intrinsic freedom of the spirit, which transcends the empirical residue in the world of common sense, artistry, drama, intelligence, culture, personal life, and faith. If fully integrated as in Mary, the finality becomes an operator of God’s maternal love in this world, and an integrator of the Trinification of the world, of each individual, of family life, of parishes, and of a civilization of love that is in a pilgrim state as a sacrifice within the cities of Cain and civilizations of death.

Oh how glorious is the motherly impulse of a woman.



I would like to say a little bit about how I am making most of these arguments in this blog.

  1. From the generic intelligibility of the levels of consciousness.
  2. From the generic intelligibility of metaphysics or generalized emergent probability.
  3. From specifying these generic intelligibilities to a) Higher and lower viewpoints, b) Higher and lower levels of schemes and things.

Though I have read studies that move from higher and lower levels into species with regard to female cycles, I am not discussing those here except in a generic fashion. I do have some other blogs that have looked at some of these–see for example 40 years since humanae vitae, female procreative schemes.