October 19, 2013 Insight Session: Mystery and Myth, immanence and transcendence in the world mediated by meaning

Notes for our Insight Session today.

David Fleischacker

Finally, we are resuming our Insight seminar, after a break since June 1.  In June, we had started into a discussion on the first few sections of chapter 17 of Insight.  We are now entering into some highly fruitful points of differentiation and integration within the field of metaphysics that will blossom forth into later writings of Lonergan, especially his discovery of functional specialization that he lays out in METHOD IN THEOLOGY.

For now, let us get a sense of the relationship between the known and the unknown, and the “paradoxical known unknown.”  In Method, Lonergan develops a notion of horizon (initiated by Heidegger?) that lays out the human horizon in terms of the four levels of consciousness, with the upper three being sorted into the known known, the known unknown, and the unknown.  This second known unknown is when questions have emerged that as yet have no answer.  These questions, if we meditate upon them for a bit, point to the profound reality of the human soul as being a capacity for self-transcendence.  When we manifest the experience of the known unknown, we do so in different ways depending upon the level of consciousness involved.  As manifestations, these are symbols–as Lonergan defines symbols in Insight in section 1.1 (ch. 17).  So, the question for understanding is the known unknown at the level of understanding.  Similarly, at the level of judgment, the question for reflection is a symbol, manifesting the known unknown at that level.  At the level of decision, the question for deliberation is a manifestation of the known unknown in how to participation in the transformation of being as the good.  These linguistic carriers of meaning however are not the only symbols of the known unknown. One could examine how the known unknown is manifested in intersubjective, artistic, and incarnate carriers, as well as what Lonergan means by symbol in Method in Theology. Distinct from images as symbols, however, are signs, which are manifestations of the known unknown as linked to interpretations of the known unknown (“signs” as defined in 1.1 of ch. 17 of Insight).  Then the image becomes a carrier not of the known unknown as such, but rather of the interpretive reading of the known unknown.  Lonergan makes the bold claim that the interpretations of the known unknown manifested in sign are the foundation of all religious and even anti-religious movements.  He writes,

“Moreover, precisely because of its relation to the known unknown, the image can be interpreted as sign in manners that are as numerous and diverse as human ingenuity and human contrariness.  So it is that the full range of interpretations includes not only the whole gamut of religions but also the opposite phenomenon of anti-religious feeling and expression, not only anti-religious views but also the intense humanistic idealism that characterized liberal display of detachment from all religious concern, not only elevated humanisim but also the crudely naturalistic nationalism that exploded in Germany under the fascination exerted by a Hitler, not only such social aberrations but also the individual aberrations that led Jung to declare that very commonly psychoneural disorder is connected with problems of a basically ‘religious’ character.” (INSIGHT, 534 in original print).

Interpretations of the known unknown, as the source of religions as well as ideologies becomes a concern with metaphysics in terms of how it relates to the finality of the universe as it has become conscious within the human subject, and then lived within the unfolding of human society and history.  Lonergan wants to articulate the principles of metaphysics as relevant to human interiority and meaning (“meaning” meaning the comprehensive account of meaning that Lonergan develops).  This helps to close the loop that Lonergan has mentioned in moving from cognitive theory, through epistemology, onto metaphysics, and then back to human interiority (including cognition) but in a metaphysical metaphysical context.

There is one other point that I would like to mention for which this chapter sets an important stage, not only in Lonergan’s own life as he heads toward his notion of functional specialization in the 1960s, but for all of us, as we move into the third stage of meaning– mediating meaning in terms of method and metaphysics, and that method being differentiated into functional specialization.  The human soul is a dynamic potentiality for self-transcendence, constituted in a basic capacity by the transcendental notions, symbolically expressed in the transcendental precepts.  It highlights the real need for appropriated the immanent by entering the world mediated by meaning of the past (the first four functional specializations in METHOD IN THEOLOGY) and for springing into the transcendent by engaging the world of emergent meaning as we operate in the present and lay the groundwork for the future (the second four functional specializations).  If we only live in the past, the immanent, we fail to live in mystery and we fail to self-transcend as we should.  If we try to live in the transcendent, in mystery, without the past, if we try to transcend without building on the achievements and gifts of the past, especially those permanent meanings, then we fly off into movements as one finds symbolized by Hitler.  At the same time as we lay the groundwork for the third stage of meaning (where we moved beyond mediating the world by common sense–the first stage, and theory–the second stage), we need to keep our eyes on some later chapters in Insight that will formulate the problem of evil and lay out for us the need for a higher integration that transcends our own natural capacity for self-transcendence–a higher integration that is needed if we hope to have any real ability to enter into an adequate mediational role springing from a functionally specialized mode of operation that keeps us from oppressive reactionary conservativism that shuts down authentic transcendence or violent liberalism that forgets key features of its past and creates some form of ideology and totalitarianism.  In short, without a Divine entrance into the world mediated by meaning, human beings will generate multitudes of systems of oppressive reactionary conservatism (as a note both what we call progressive liberals and reactionary conservatives in modern political life do this) or multitudes of mythic-sign-forms of liberalism ranging from the silly to the violent.