Commentary: Ft. 28 Ch. 1 Lonergan’s Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas

Footnote 28 in Lonergan’s Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas

The full text of this footnote in Bernard Lonergan’s Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas is given as follows: “See In I Sent. (Op. Ox.), d. 35, q. unica, n. 7 (ed. Vives, X, 544). Scotus argues that the divine ideas cannot be accounted for by adding notional relations to the divine essence; for the object precedes the knowing, and relations that precede knowing are not notional but real. The argument does not touch Aquinas’s real position, which is that the object as known is not prior and that the relations pertain only to the object as known.” My italics. In attempting an exegesis of this text, to try and explain its meaning, I shall focus on two elements that exist within it: two elements that conceptually point to the presence of two core elements. According to Lonergan’s judgment, in Scotus’s understanding of human cognition, “the object precedes the knowing” and in Aquinas, a contrary point of view can beregarded as a species of first principle in his understanding of human cognition where, for him, “the object as known is not prior.” If something else is prior, it should not be conceived as a real object. It should not be seen to exist as a known object. The object, as known, is constituted by our acts of cognition; principally, by our acts of reflective understanding (our acts of judgment).

To try and understand the difference in these two positions, I would like to argue that it would be wise to grasp what could be true in arguing or believing (with Scotus that “the object precedes our knowing” and what could be true in arguing or believing that the object, as known, is constituted by our acts of cognition, our acts of sensing leading to acts of direct understanding and then, from there, to acts of reflective understanding. We would want to move toward some kind of higher viewpoint that would allow us to notice where the truth lies or how the truth is distributed and how, at the same time, this difference or dispute points to two differing views about the nature of human cognition. Bluntly put, one point of view thinks in terms of intuition; the other, in terms of a discursive form of human reasoning. If, to intuition, a meaning or a definition is ascribed which says that it refers to a non-rational form of human cognition, then, from this point of view, we can begin to understand why a real distinction should be drawn between these two schools of thought. The truth of one position would seem to point to the errancy of the other position. One is true; the other, false.

We begin then with an initial take on why it is said by some that the “object precedes knowing” while others say that the “object is constituted by knowing.”

As an initial point of departure, please note thus that, when Lonergan speaks about our human experience of acts and different objects that are intended by our different acts and how we can move from these experiences to conclusions which would speak about the probable existence of that which exists for us as the human mind, the human intellect, the human will, and the human rational soul, he postulates the probability that this type of analysis was employed in the inquiries of both Aristotle and Aquinas. This approach is, of course, likely since we cannot assume or believe that Aristotle and Aquinas were lacking in the experiences of understanding which properly belonged to them as human subjects (experiences of understanding which would differ from the kind of experiencing which would exist in their various acts of human sensing). However, if, in some way, it can also be argued that both Aristotle and Aquinas were interested in engaging in a type of inquiry which wanted to ask about the conditions of possibility which need to be discovered and acknowledged by us if, at bottom, we are to understand why our acts of sensing and why our acts of understanding exist in the way that they do, then it cannot be denied that some available textual evidence points to a metaphysical kind of analysis which begins with a sense or an initial apprehension of being which exists for us as a species of a priori, relative to the asking of questions in a manner which is constitutive of our human cognition. Cf. Verbum, p. 58, n. 207, quoting Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, 2, 83, 31. This experience or awareness of being (that which is or that which simply exists) does not follow or emerge in the wake of our later acts of reflective understanding. If being is intelligible, it follows that being is known (we can argue that it is best known) through our subsequent acts of understanding, our acts of direct understanding leading to later acts of reflective understanding which would exist as affirmations or negations of being through the mediation which exists whenever we refer to the kind of act which exists in our acts of judgment. However, as we advert to our experience of self, we cannot deny that our acts of sensing and our acts of inquiry presuppose something other which is simply given to us (a kind of “is” which refers to something which is quite other than ourselves, an other that we cannot deny without being involved in some kind of internal performative contradiction). We know, of course, that we know different instances of being through our judgments. But, if we begin with an initial a priori awareness of being which exists as a kind of pre-condition to our later acts of human cognition, is it not right to argue that, from this awareness of being as it exists without a specific determination of it (it is known by us in a vague manner), from this awareness, can we conclude that, within the context of our self-reflection, this awareness of being is to be associated with what we mean when we went to speak about “being” in a non-differentiated general sense? Cf. Roland Krismer, email, January 3, 2015.

Obviously, something other is initially given to us (it is the context of our individual being and existence) and if, in a metaphysical context, this being, as other, is taken up and then viewed as a species of first principle from which a number of conclusions and deductions can then be drawn, then, in addition to a cognitional form of analysis which moves us from our cognitive experience of self as a species of first principle from which a number of conclusions and deductions can also be drawn – an analysis which moves toward consequent apprehensions of being and which seeks to transpose or to reduce our apprehensions of being into elements and relations which immediately exist for us within our cognitive experience of self – we can also get into a form of analysis which is specifically metaphysical (and not cognitional). Instead of a situation where a context is determined by a principle which says that the subject knows an object (an object is constituted by a subject through the acts of a given subject), a situation is to be adverted to where another context is determined by a principle which says that an object influences or moves a subject. Some kind of object creates a given kind of subject. From objects, we move to acts. Indeed, in the metaphysics of Aristotle and Aquinas, both say that nothing in a condition of potency is able to realize itself. No potency can move from how it exists as a potency to how it would exist as within a condition of act. The potency of our human understanding in fact points to a kind of priority which is to be admitted when our analysis shifts toward an order of being (an order of real objects) which exists independently of whether or not it can be known by us through an order which would refer to the order of our human cognition (the order of our human knowing versus the kind of order which exists within the order of being). From the order of our human knowing, yes, we can move toward an order which exists within the proportionately known known which exists, for us, as the order of being or the order of reality (the order of metaphysics). However, the priority of being over knowing as we experience this priority, to some extent, explains and at the same time it also justifies the value of working with a form of analysis which begins with the order of being (the given of being) as a way that can move us toward the order which exists when we get into the structure of acts which is constitutive of our human cognition. The advantage of starting with this approach is the awareness which we would have that our human knowing exists within a larger horizon which already exists, a horizon which needs to be attended to and known for what it is if our human knowing is to benefit from an awareness which knows that this context conditions and informs the contours and the content of our individual human knowing, giving it a direction and an orientation that it might not have otherwise if our sole point of departure were to be an awareness that is only concerned with the givens of our inner consciousness of self as this consciousness refers to our various acts and data of consciousness. Cf. Roland Krismer, conversation, December 31, 2014.

As thinking, knowing beings (as thinking, knowing subjects), we exist within a world which has already been formed: the objects which are constitutive of a naturally existing human world that is joined to a naturally existing physical, chemical, biological world act upon ourselves to elicit inquires and investigations which can lead us toward a better understanding of this same world. Nothing which exists within our world (and nothing which exists within ourselves) is adequately explained if we cannot work with a form of analysis which moves from a species of metaphysical understanding toward a species of cognitional analysis and then, from there, back toward a species of metaphysical analysis. As Aquinas would have it, an ongoing form of interaction is constantly operative for us as we move between inner and outer conditions or as we find that, as human subjects, we are always caught within an interplay which pertains to the existence of inner and outer conditions. We never engage in any kind of inquiry without having a prior knowledge of some kind. We begin with acts of understanding which we already have (acts of understanding that we have not to work toward) and, from this understanding, we hope to add to the understanding and knowledge of things which we already have.

These things being thus said, if we acknowledge that, in the context of our concrete experience of life, we have both kinds of knowledge (a prior knowledge of things prior to inquiry and a later knowledge of things that is reached later through inquiry), then, from this context, we can speak about two notions of object. A first notion speaks about an object that exists apart from our human knowing and which determines our human knowing and a second notion of object speaks about an object as it exists within the context of our human knowing and which is constituted by the different acts that are constitutive of our different human acts of cognition. Bluntly put, and as a kind of introductory summary, for those who regard knowing as a species of confrontation between a subject and an object, “everything that is known, is known inasmuch as it is an object” while, on the other hand, for those who subscribe to an understanding of cognition which thinks in terms of an identity which exists within a knowing subject, “everything that is known, is known inasmuch as it is in act.” Cf. Fred Lawrence, “Jerusalem and Athens in Lonergan’s Integral Hermeneutics,” Divyadaan (2008): 95. In the later kind of knowing, knowing exists as a kind of perfection. To some extent, human knowers change (they are inwardly changed to some extent) when, within their experience of cognition, they participate in the greater or the other reality of the being of a thing which they have come to understand and know. In other words, if we are to understand how we can speak about two different notions of object and how they can be distinguished and related to each other in a way that can join these two notions into a higher unity that we can understand, we can attend to an understanding of human cognition which begins with an elementary understanding of our human cognition (an understanding which points to a notion of being which thinks of it or which would want to conceive of it to exist as a species of external, outer object) and then, from there, we can move to a notion of object which is informed by forms of cognitive experience which differ from the givens of sense whenever we refer to our acts of sense and the content or the data that come to us through our different acts of sense. We refer here to a form of cognitive experience which exists where an objective order of things can begin to participate in the subjectivity of a given knower through a change which occurs within the subjectivity of a knower in a way which joins object and subject into a union which, previously, had not been known. It had not existed in any kind of prior way.

To understand a notion of object which thinks of it as something which is quite other than ourselves and which exists independently of ourselves, we can begin thus with a strong, common temptation which suggests to us, as human beings, that human cognition should be viewed as essentially a simple, single act of intuition which is best understood if it is seen as fundamentally akin to the nature of what happens in ocular acts of perceiving and seeing. An elementary object acts from without as an agent object to elicit a response from the passivity of an elementary subject: a knower who exists only as a sensing subject or who tends to think or believe that his or her knowing exists essentially as an act of sensing. Cf. Lonergan, Insight, p. 207. Within this context, partially for reasons of simplicity, it is so easy for us to say that knowing is just taking a look: we see what is there to be seen and knowing happens by way of what comes back to us from our taking a look. Cf. Lonergan, Understanding and Being, p. 159. An object or objects are seen to be already constituted (they fully and entirely exist in their being and reality) before they are attended to by us and before they are grasped by us through our later acts of understanding and the subjective species of operations which exists when we refer to our various acts of understanding. In general, between knower and known, an unbridgeable gap exists. Between knower and known, a confrontation exists. Necessarily, it exists. Knowing does not happen within a subject but in a way that exists from outside a subject or by way of bracketing a subject’s existence (putting it to the side). Nothing happens within a subject in a way which could point to the necessity of a contribution that a subject would make or should make in any acts of cognition that are truly proper to us as human subjects. In this type of approach, we would not need to speak about a need for some kind of development that would or should occur within the life of a subject. Knowing does not exist within the life of a subject and it does not require any kind of change in the life of a given subject. The less a subject understands and knows, the better. A subject then would be more open to pure acts of reception as these would exist by way of agent objects that would be acting from without to effect a stimulus of some kind in the consciousness of a would be knower (whether we would wish to refer to a sensible consciousness or some kind of intellectual consciousness which is thought to resemble the kind of consciousness which belongs to our acts of sense).

As an aside thus (and also by way of illustration), from the priority of objects over subjects (or, in other words, from the apparent obviousness of this priority), we can then understand why, in Plato, it would naturally follow for him that Ideas, Forms, Natures, Concepts, or Essences must always subsist in themselves in a very distinct world which is constituted by these same Ideas, Forms, Natures, Concepts, or Essences. Hence, Ideas, “the Ideas are ta ontõs onta, what really is.” Cf. Lonergan, Early Works on Theological Method 1, p. 70. Within this context, if we should want to refer to a possible relation which could possibly exist between ideas and our human acts of understanding, ideas exist or they are seen to exist as instances of objective being (as esse obiectivum) and not as terms or as objects which are constituted by the acts of understanding that have been given to us. If the Ideas that we happen to know about subsist in themselves, not so or much less so is this the case when or if we should try to refer to how Ideas, Forms, Natures, Concepts, or Essences are all joined to each other in a manner which is constitutive of an already existing general scheme of things (an order or world-order as distinct from individually existing Ideas, Forms, Natures, Concepts, or Essences). Within this context (the priority of objects over subjects), we can only move toward a general order or a general scheme of things (understanding or knowing about a general order of things) if we first attend and work with separately existing Ideas, Forms, Concepts, or Natures that we somehow already initially know: Ideas, Forms, Natures, Concepts, or Essences which exist independently of our acts of understanding (be they human or divine). Ideas first exist on their own and, as persons, we can contemplate these same ideas or we can understand these same ideas. Cf. Ronald Vardiman, “Notes on Conceptualism,” n.d. The absence of acts of understanding which can explain or point out why this “x” could be related to this “y” or why the existence of “x” is conditioned by the existence of “y” and why too the existence of “y” is conditioned by the existence of “x” – these absences of understanding all serve to explain why Ideas, Forms, Natures, Concepts, or Essences cannot be understood from within a context which would want to know about the existence of real relations: how, in themselves, for instance, a relation or a connection between elements “x” and “y” is constitutive of the being or the meaning of an Idea, a Form, a Nature, a Concept, or an Essence. Cf. Brian Himes, “Lonergan’s Position on the Natural Desire to See God as Corroborated by Aquinas’s Doctrine of Creation by Participation and His Nominal Definition of God as Ipsum Esse,” Boston College, School of Theology and Ministry, June 30, 2011, pp. 6-7,’s%20Position%20o% 20the%20Natural%20Desire%20to%20See%20God.pdf (accessed November 4, 2013).

This order or priority of objects over subjects which we find in Plato accordingly explains why Plato speaks about a “first order of ideas” that refers to Ideas or “intelligibles” and a “second order” which refers to gods who contemplate this order of Ideas or “intelligibles.” Cf. Lonergan, Understanding and Being, p. 237; Ontological and Psychological Constitution of Christ, p. 255; Early Works on Theological Method 1, p. 70. If you will, we can say that the priority of objects over subjects in Plato is used by him to construct a theology which reflects this order in the subsequent order of relations which exists within his theology. Easily, for us, we go from an understanding that we have about the nature of our human cognition into a theology is grounded in the depth of understanding which we may have or not have as this understanding refers to the nature or the order of our human cognition.

In the subsequent history of philosophy and in developments after Plato, a conception of knowing which thinks in terms of confrontation and the priority of object over subject can accordingly be found in thinkers such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Plotinus and then later on in how it seems that St. Augustine speaks about the dynamics of our human cognition. See, for instance, Peter Beer, Introduction to Bernard Lonergan, pp. 170-171, on how Clement of Alexandria and Origen both conceive of human knowing in terms which speak about a spiritual looking or gazing that occurs through an intellectual or spiritual kind of seeing as this occurs employing the “eyes” of our minds, the “eyes” of our understanding. In medieval philosophy, Duns Scotus was a prominent exponent of this same point of view about the nature of our human cognition (our human knowing occurs intuitively and by way of a species of confrontation through the presence of some kind of spiritual or intellectual form of seeing which beholds truths or realities that are somehow seen) and, in modern philosophy, this same point of view is perpetuated in the philosophy of Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant. Prominent 20th Century exponents include Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger despite a common interest which each has in showing how our human intentionality (our cognitive human desire) functions as a constitutive element within our human cognition, eliciting or pointing to a development in the life of a human subject (a human being who would be existing as a human subject). Cf. Linus Kpalap, “The Knower and the Known,” unpublished paper given at Sogang University, Seoul, Korea, June 3, 2010, p. 7.

In terms thus of a history of subsequent ramifications which have occurred within the later development of Catholic theology, see also Georges Van Riet’s study of epistemology as this has existed amongst Thomists since early in the 19th Century. Van Riet’s L’epistemologie thomiste: Recherches sur le probleme de la connaissance dans l’ecole thomiste contemporaine (Louvain: Editions de l’Institut Superieur de Philosophie, 1946) divides the cognitional theory of Thomist philosophers into two basic divisions: “those whose epistemology is fundamentally a matter of confrontation” (“seeing and confronting”) [primacy of object over subject] and “those who hold an epistemology that is based upon understanding, comprehension, intelligence” [an object as known exists as the term of an act of reflective understanding]. Cf. Lonergan, Understanding and Being, p. 103; p. 177. Amongst Catholic philosophers, if, following Scotus, knowing is seen essentially as “taking a look,” acts of judging are said to be the “taking [of] a look.” Being or reality is that which is looked at. It is that which can be perceived. And so, for Etienne Gilson, understanding (or judging) is but a form of seeing. Judging exists as a species of intuition and it can be referred to in terms which speak about judgmental intuitions: “By our senses we perceive the sensible, but intellect can see being in the sensible.” Lonergan’s italics. Cf. Lonergan, Early Works on Theological Method 1, p. 119, quoting from E. Gilson, Réalisme thomiste et critique de la connaissance, p. 225. The judgmental intuition which we find in the cognitional philosophy of Etienne Gilson and Joseph Owens clashes, however, with the judgmental finality which we can find within the cognitional philosophy of Bernard Lonergan and Karl Rahner. Cf. Michael Vertin, “Rahner, Lonergan, Knowing, and Teaching,” paper presented to the Catholic Theological Society of America, June 2004, pp. 3-4. In both Gilson and Owens (and also in William of Ockham), if we should want to speak about judgment and exercises of judgment, judgments of existence would say about reality that something is present or that it is given: something is directly seen or perceived. Instead of a judgment which would say that “this is” or that “this reality exists,” it would be said instead that “a reality is present there,” or “there is a particular reality there,” or a reality is “situated there,” or “an existent reality is present there.” Acts and data of sense are not transcended by any acts of the human mind which would move towards “that which is” or “that which exists” since these same acts of the mind (intellect, understanding, judgment) only co-operate with human acts of sense simply or only to affirm that which is already grasped by us in our human acts of sense. Cf. Early Works on Theological Method 1, pp. 119-120; Marie-Dominique Philippe, Retracing Reality A Philosophical Itinerary, trans. Brothers of St. John (London: T & T Clark, 1999), p. 154; p. 156. The kind of passivity which exists with respect to our acts of sense is extended and we say that it is applied to all our acts of understanding and judgment in a way which alludes to a like passivity (a radical form of passivity) which seems to exist with respect to all our differing acts of cognition and so, by this means or by this omission, no notice is taken about how, in our human inquiry, active potencies can be properly alluded to: potencies, movements which point to operative forms of efficient causality which exists within our human cognition: activities which would immediately point to a work of constitution which occurs within our human cognition as we engage in acts, actions or activities which set us apart as knowers from every other kind of cognition (whether the knowing of animals, the knowing of angels, or the knowing which only belongs to God).

The partial absence of passive potency within our human cognition (according to relative determinations of it) serves thus to explain why it can be said that the objects which we know through our cognition are known through apprehensions of intelligibility and truth that are constitutive to some degree (to a degree which should be recognized). Through inquiries that lead to direct acts of understanding, an intelligible universal component is detached from sensible material components and this kind of separation supposes an interest and efforts on our part to achieve this kind of desired separation (even as we admit that our acts of understanding exist as receptions and not as activities which we can simply do through our willing of them). In another but similar way too, through inquiries that lead us to acts of reflective understanding, through the kind of self-reflection which occurs in our prospective acts of judgment, we advert to conditions of possibility which need to be given or fulfilled if we are to move from apprehensions of meaning to apprehensions which know that an understood meaning is to be viewed as a true meaning (a real meaning). In our self-reflection, we look for evidence which could exist for us as a species of first principle, triggering an act of understanding which could exist as an affirmative conclusion or affirmative judgment. One kind of first principle refers to basic laws of reason (for instance, with respect to the law of contradiction, does a contradiction exist within my reasoning as I move from premisses to conclusions?) and a second kind of first principle refers to grounding acts and date of sense (am I presently experiencing a datum of sense or a datum of consciousness which points to the truth of a given conclusion?). In the mere givenness that exists within our acts of sense, through the kind of immediacy which exists within this givenness and also through the mere givenness or the immediacy which exists when we refer to the basic laws of our human reasoning, perhaps here, in a limited way, we can speak about how our acts of cognition can be seen to exist in a way which points to intuitions. Where immediacy exists within our human cognition, we are tempted to speak about our acts of cognition as if they exist as intuitions although, on the other hand, where immediacy does not exist within our human cognition, within this context, we are tempted to speak about the discursiveness of our human cognition: its gradualness and its condition of incompletion as we move from something that we know to something that we can come to know by an addition that possibly we can make to the sum which we already know. Every advance in our understanding and knowledge points to the possibility of other possible advances and how or why our cognition exists as a combination of active and passive potencies that, in some way, work together to reveal how, through our subjectivity, it is possible to move toward experiences of objectivity that are given to us within a range of data which refers to the data of our consciousness, the inner consciousness which we have of ourselves as human beings (experiencing, understanding, and knowing). Outer, external objects or other, external things come to exist within our consciousness of self through the experience of intelligibility that exists within ourselves through the consciousness of self which exists within ourselves.

By way then of a kind of conclusion, we can notice that experiences of immediacy in cognition suggest or point to an understanding of cognition which thinks in terms of intuition. The kind of immediacy which exists in sense resembles the immediacy which we can also experience when we allude to the fundamental laws that are constitutive of our human acts of reason: the laws of identity, excluded middle, and contradiction. Sometimes too, if immediacy is regarded as a legitimate species of first principle, some acts of understanding can be regarded as intuitions. Upon self-reflection, we know that many of our acts of understanding have not to be gained or acquired in any way through any of our human efforts. They already exist and sometimes our knowledge of them is revealed to us in other contexts when we advert to a question that we are asking and when we realize that our question or our questioning is supposing something else that we do not question: a something else that we already understand and know. Our experience of immediacy in our human cognition accordingly suggests that intuition is not entirely alien to the performance of our human cognition. A place exists for it.

However too, it is to be admitted that the asking of questions, the onset of human inquiry, is to be regarded as another kind of first principle which points to the incompleteness or the discursiveness of our human cognition. In a manner which differs from animal kinds of knowing, our human cognition does not exist as something which is already given to us as some kind of inborn pattern or instinct. In contexts where instinct determines the behaviour of any kind of living thing, it is not necessary to think about alternative courses of action and to think about whether or not a given course of action should be put into effect rather than some other possible course of action. In instinct, we find a species of determination. Similarly, by way of another contrast, it is not said about angels or of God that their knowing is characterized by any form of potentiality. It is said that, although a creature, an angel does not need to ask any questions. Everything has already been given to an angel from another kind of intellectual being who, also, is without any need or compulsion to ask questions and engage in any inquiries. Everything is fully understood. Everything is fully known. Hence, for us, as human beings, the lack of completeness in our knowing when this is coupled to the possibility of growth which belongs to us as human knowers – together, these two variables point to a discursiveness that is peculiar to us in the kind of cognitive life which properly belongs to us as contingent human beings. The discursiveness of our cognition sits as the center of things within our cognitive life and intuitions exist more or less as boundaries or as a kind of frame that surrounds the discursiveness of our cognitive operations. Our knowing always begins with an understanding of things and a seeing of “things” (a perception of bodies) that we already have (an understanding that we have no need to ask questions about) and the working out or the development of our cognition through acts that lead from our acts of sensing to our acts of direct understanding and then from there to our acts of reflective understanding – these acts all lead us toward acts of cognition that possess an obviousness or an unquestionableness which, in its own way, points to an immediacy or the mere givenness of content and data that seems to come across as an intuition (as a species of intuitive grasp) even as we admit that these experiences of immediacy are conditioned by prior acts of inquiry which point to the discursiveness of our human cognition. Whenever we have anything which appears to us as something which is self-evident, we associate the experience of self-evidence with the deliverances of intuition although, as we have already indicated, inquiries are often needed before a given meaning or a given truth can be regarded at some point as something which should be self-evident to us in our experience of understanding. Paradoxically, through the inquiry and the discursiveness which belongs to our various human acts of reasoning, we can come to know about the existence of immediacy within human cognition and also about the absence of immediacy which exists within our human cognition and so, by this means, we can come to know about the nature of our human intuition and how it relates to a more fundamental second nature which refers to the discursiveness of our human reasoning and how a strategy of acts exists within the structure or the form of our human acts of inquiry. Conceptually or abstractly, an exclusivie disjunction exists between an understanding of human cognition which speaks about intuition and another understanding of human cognition which speaks about its discursiveness. However, when we attend to the data or the experience of our human performance as this is given to us in our experience of self, we find where these two understandings of cognition have a grounding which points to an order which joins these two kinds of cognition with each other although, as noted, the greater context is an understanding which points to a discursiveness which is properly distinctive of the kind of cognition which belongs to us as human beings whenever or as we exist in our subjectivity as living human subjects.