Philosophy & Religion Science

Philosophy Monday: Lonergan Part 1

The following is a series of short essays based on an assignment I had with Dr Braman at Boston College. Since Lonergan’s philosophy has surely impacted me in ways that I know not of, and since so many people have trouble delving into his work, I thought it most responsible to share the following.

The activities of questioning, understanding, imagining and remembering are particularly important for us to realize.

As knowers, and particularly as academics, it may seem that the mental processes leading to moments of insight are the most basal and elemental activities of our minds, but the reality is a bit more complex. Insight, the flash of a solution in the problem, prescinds from a set of multifaceted cognitive processes such as questioning, understanding, imagining, and remembering.

Questioning is the defining activity of an intelligent knower and issues forth when an intelligent knower is faced with data. Autonomously, the cognitive activity of questioning engages as the knower experiences data. Questioning is a mechanism of progress—a progress that leads to moments of insight, improved understanding, and ultimately higher viewpoints. The activity of questioning brings about a tension of inquiry within the knower. This tension, together with the proper interior orientation, sets up the conditions necessary for the moment of insight. The insight is then verified and leads to understanding and an improved horizon.

Understanding, according to Lonergan, is the grasping of the intelligible among the sensible. The activity itself impacts the knower’s horizon by opening up the possibility of further questions and by providing new ideas and concepts from which other problems may be solved. Understanding becomes a permanent resultant of the data at hand whether the insight be normal, inverse, or reflective. Understanding is not a guaranteed outcome and may never come for certain sets of data for some individuals.

Intelligent inquiry requires both imagination and memory in order to solve intellectual problems. The activity of imagination provides a “stream of images” (3.1) that can provide alternative connections and ideas from which to solve the problem. Imagination is especially operative under the brainstorming mode of intelligence when novel relations are necessary. Memory and the process of remembering constitutes a reflective mode of intelligence wherein the current situation is compared to previous situations in the hope of uncovering a shared solution. Cronin writes that “similars are similarly understood” (4.3) because problems with related features will have answers with related features, even if it can be difficult to collate a priori. Together, imagination and memory provide a wealth of potential, yet new, solutions suitable to the situation on hand.

In a Truthless world, biases direct our relationship with the community.

The four basic biases are dramatic, individual, group, and general. The dramatic bias is the distortion of the self such that the internal is preferred over the external, and the self is in need of decentering. General bias “eschews theory for the sake of practicality” (Braman 113), which limits the realization of higher viewpoints. Group bias prioritizes the views of the group over the views of the individual, and individual bias is its converse prioritizing the views of the self over the group; both of which reduce the types of questions asked.

These biases disrupt the dialectic of community by “[militating] against any notion of authenticity” (Braman 70). Authenticity is the self-transcendence, in which you live your life how you ought to rather than how you want to. In order to be authentic, the individual must live according to the values of her hypergood while participating and contributing to the community. This authenticity is lost when the subject is unable to determine the proper course of action or otherwise lacks the proper understanding. The root of all mistaken belief lies “in the scotosis of the dramatic subject” (Braman 83). A scotosis, or ‘blind-spot’, is precisely the effect of the various forms of biases that limit the search for understanding that the basic horizon embodies.

The dialectic of community is the synergistic connection which exists between the individual and the community in which she is in. The individual should strive to be authentic, purposed, and subjective; yet these qualities are only manifest inside a community of other individuals. The community de-centers the subject and helps facilitate the religious conversion so characteristic of authenticity. But as we have seen in the previous paragraph, biases of the individual distort and disrupt the connection of the individual to the community by in-authenticating the subject. The group and individual biases distort the connection between the individual and her community by favoring the beliefs of one over the other. Both the general and the dramatic bias detracts from the search for understanding and restricts the knower’s horizon. Although every person suffers from all of these biases, the extent to which they become manifest ranges considerably. It is the job of each of us individually to minimize our scotosis in order to participate fully and authentically in the dialectic of community.

The notion of objectivity and how authentic subjectivity can be the norm of objectivity.

Lonergan’s objectivity is neither objective in the way Kant would have liked, nor the moral relativism proposed by thinkers such as Hume. Instead, Lonergan supports a framework where authentic subjectivity forms the basis for objectivity.

Authenticity emerges when one’s life is lived according to the values instantiated by the three conversions: intellectual, moral, and religious. Intellectual conversion consists of asking questions as an intelligent knower—to seek understanding continuously. Moral conversion is all about choosing the goods we ought to and not those options which we simply want. The final conversion, religious, must follow after the other two and represents the highest level of conversion. Religious conversion de-centers the subject and moves the concerns of the self to an external, transcendent love. Through completion of all three of these conversions, a knower can exist authentically; and therefore, separate the worthwhile from the worthless.

By living her life according to this moral structure, the knower transcends the self and sees clearly the way in which she ought to live her life. The authentic knower will then be able to make valid claims about what is good, true, and worthwhile: claims that are underpinned by a unified, yet subjective, foundation. Authenticity is critical in this assessment since it represents the retrieval that Taylor proposes in order to escape from the distortions of moral relativism.

Becoming an authentically oriented knower, chooser, lover and doer.

Taylor and Lonergan both recognize the difficulty of living is in knowing what one ought to do when the options of what one can do are so varied. In order to become an authentically oriented knower, one must properly arrange one’s values according to a moral framework while maintaining an unbiased and questioning intelligence.

Lonergan suggests that the best way to become authentically oriented is by understanding the way you understand. This meta-cognitive step requires the knower to pay attention to the moments of insight encountered whenever the knower’s horizon expands or changes to become more aligned with the basic horizon. To orient the knower’s horizon requires a series of conversions with the ultimate goal of an expansive, authentic horizon. These conversions—intellectual, moral, and religious—stamp a moral direction into the horizon and lead the knower to authenticity.

Taylor sees the difficulty of being authentically oriented as lying within the individuality of the modern project. Taylor proposes to make a retrieval of the classic sense of the self where subjectivity is not discarded. The modern project, with philosophers such as Kant, rejected any conception of subjectivity by claiming it would just lead to moral relativism. Taylor hopes to reestablish the classical ideas, such as Rousseau’s le sentiment de l’existence, where an authentic self—attuned to its own existence—would set the bar for practical reason. The configuration of the retrieval, for Taylor, requires the knower to determine her own hypergoods and then to validate her choices while choosing amongst a multitude of goods by referencing the hypergoods. These hypergoods provide a metric against which all other goods can be assessed. This arrangement provides for a subjective morality while preventing the slide into moral relativism.

While Taylor and Lonergan each have their own separate formulas for achieving authenticity as a knower, both methods pivot between the subjectivity of the knower and a grounding of common humanity. Through being authentic, you will become a more fulfilled knower, chooser, lover, and doer. All four of these activities require both agency and confidence in the correctness of the action. The agency is fulfilled for the authentic knower since she will seek the proper understanding in carrying out the activity. Likewise, this knower will be confident that all the questions have been asked, that she can effectively decide which option one ought to choose while also morally serving a concern external to the self.

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