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Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, Volume 3 (Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan) Paperback – April 6, 1992
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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to help complete his project. (For that you also will have to read (& read between the lines of) his 'Method in Theology.' But this is one of the most seminal and breath-taking works written in the 20th century. My opinion is---don't miss it. And seek out others who are working on it; those who
have the daring and spirit that you acquire while slowly trying to make sense of it; of yourself.... Best wishes on this. And for whatever road you wind up choosing.
Lonergan has, what I think, is a really important insight that, for some reason, has gone virtually unnoticed in the history of philosophy. Lonergan realizes that knowing, or cognition, is not the same thing as seeing or taking a look. It is amazing how many philosophical problems are the result of treating knowledge as if it were the same thing as simply taking a look. Why, for example, does Kant argue we have no access to the noumenon? Because it can never be an object of sensible intuition. Kant's ideal of knowledge is based on sensible intuition, but, in reality human knowing is really three interrelated sets of operations: experiencing, understanding, and judgment. Experience provides the data for our questioning. However, experience is not just a neutral stream. There are different patterns of experience and those different patterns of experience give rise to different sets of questions and different sets of insights.
Understanding is the second step involved in human cognition. Understanding is the moment of insight. It is amazing how the moment of insight has been systematically neglected in epistemology. Lonergan brings the moment of insight to the center of the stage. Lonergan rightly points out that insight is more than just the grasp of data. He gives the example of a detective story to illustrate his point. We can have all the clues laid out before us and still be unable to figure out who the culprit is. That shows that the moment of insight is more than just a grasp of data. It is a grasp of the immanent intelligibility inherent in the data and it eventuates in the formulation of an hypothesis.
But our hypotheses can be wrong. That is where judgment comes in. Judgments are answers to what Lonergan calls questions of reflection. Questions of reflection ask "Is it so?" and they are answered either "Yes" or "No". The way we go about answering questions of reflection is by searching for what Lonergan calls the virtually unconditioned. The formally unconditioned is something that is necessary and has no conditions (God's necessary existence, for example). The virtually unconditioned is not absolutely necessary. It has conditions, but those conditions are fulfilled. If we grasp the conditions of something, and we grasp that they are in fact fulfilled, then we grasp the virtually unconditioned and we can answer "Yes" to our question of reflection.
This is the barest outline of the cognitional theory Lonergan works out in this book and, in that simple form, it probably does not seem that impressive. But it is amazing how many long-standing philosophical problems Lonergan is able to solve based on his cognitional theory. I can merely give the barest hint of a few of them here. For example, Lonergan is able to resolve the conflict between various sets of insights: those of common sense and scientific insights for example (this conflict is what the philosopher Wilfrid Sellars called the conflict between the manifest and the scientific image of man). Lonergan is also able to solve Meno's problem through his notion of anticipatory heuristic structures. Lonergan is able to solve the problem of primary and secondary qualities through his distinction between pure and experiential conjugates.
Most importantly, Lonergan is able to solve some important problems in the contemporary philosophy of science. For example, since Kuhn we have known that the history of science is not a linear history of progress. There are discontinuities. This has, in some quarters, given rise to relativistic views. Paradigms are incommensurable and there is no way to adopt a neutral stance to determine which paradigm is superior, etc.. Lonergan is able to account for the dynamic transformation in paradigms without falling into relativism. Lonergan sees the progress of science in terms of the unchanging, but dynamic, structure of cognition itself. Science moves from data, to hypotheses, to new data. The formulation of hypotheses is the moment of insight where concepts are created. We are not, therefore, trapped in our concepts or in our paradigm. Obviously, I cannot really give a one paragraph summary of Lonergan's solution to such an important philosophical problem but I believe Lonergan's account of cognition is able to account for the genuine insights of people like Kuhn without the relativistic consequences.
Lonergan is also able to solve the problem of how we can have knowledge of what is transcendent. This has probably been the single biggest philosophical problem since Descartes. Virtually every major philosopher tried to find a way to solve it. Lonergan is able to solve the problem because he understands knowledge as three operations. What we know is not just what we see but what we judge to be the case. So, the example that Lonergan gives is: I can judge that I exist, I can judge that the typewriter exists, and I can judge that I am not the typewriter. Lonergan solves the problem through real distinctions. Through our acts of judgment we are able to make real distinctions. Lonergan was very influenced by Hegel but this is probably the major point in Lonergan's philosophy where he departs from Hegel.
I do not feel like my summary has really been adequate. There are a ton of interesting insights in this book that I have not even touched upon. In the second half of the book Lonergan develops a metaphysics based on his cognitional theory. Lonergan has interesting things to say about ethics, about myth, and about God. Lonergan also works out an ontology of emergence based on his notion of schemes of recurrence that is able to account for the irreducibility of the higher level sciences (like biology) to the lower level sciences (like physics). There is just so much of permanent value in this book. I recommend that anyone interested in epistemological and metaphysical questions get a copy of this book as soon as possible.
We tend to get trapped in our ways of thinking. We find problems and we try to solve them and we fail to see how the terms of the problem make it irresolvable, or, how background assumptions are getting in the way of solving the problems we are interested in. The best thing that a book can do, I think, is break through those habitual ways of thinking and open up new avenues of research, new means of approach to familiar problems, make new distinctions, and present new possible solutions to old standing problems. I have rarely read a book that was as successful in opening up new avenues of thought, in showing me the arbitrary nature of many of my most long-standing assumptions, than this book by Bernard Lonergan. I give it my very highest recommendation.
1) The Trivium, by Sister Miriam Joseph
2) Introduction to Phenomenology, by Robert Sokolowski
This book establishes the fundamental patterns of human understanding in an applicatory manner rather than simply and only explanatory.