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preface || intro || 1 ||  2 || 3 || 4 || 5 || 6 || 7 || 8 || 9 || 10 || Epil || Biblio

Foundations of Philosophy


Searching for Foundations

"In the first stage conscious and intentional operations follow the mode of common sense. In a second stage besides the mode of common sense there is also the mode of theory, where the theory is controlled by logic. In a third stage the modes of common sense and theory remain, science asserts its autonomy from philosophy, and there occur philosophies that leave theory to science and take their stand on interiority." (1) [23]

Preliminary Exercises.

(1) Spend five minutes with your mind fixed on one idea only. Afterwards ask yourself, did you succeed? What happened? Describe the experience.

(2) Choose a paper or essay that you have written recently. Review the rough notes you wrote from the beginning in the original plan; work through the different revisions, additions and subtractions to the final product. Note the blind alleys that you explored; the insights when things fitted together; the frustration of not finding your way out of the confusion; the joy when it was all accomplished.

(3) What goes on in your mind when you study? Are you sometimes distracted? What kind of an activity is daydreaming?

(4) Enumerate in writing all the mental activities that you can identify from your own internal experience.

There seems to be a fundamental obligation upon us to live at the level of our times. The foundations of our philosophy must be up to the challenges and level of our times. The present state of philosophy has been described as a wasteland, a crisis, a disaster area. It is certainly characterized by major disagreements and much confusion. In order to assess our times, it is necessary to be clear about where we are coming from, where we are now, and what successes and failures are characteristic of contemporary culture. We will offer here a panoramic outline of Lonergan's three stages of meaning as they have unfolded in history, (2) for the sake of noticing, not the myriad detailed ups and downs of the history of philosophy, but the fundamental mentalities underlying all this diversity. One can discern distinct stages; these are stages of development. Our analysis will help to identify the pattern of this development, to recognize that, as a world culture, we are now in transition from the world of common sense and theory to the age of interiority, the third [24] stage of meaning. Our foundations must be, not from the world of common sense or of theory, but from interiority.

Our first analysis is historical in that we review stages of historical development. But it should also be personal in that each one of us experiences these stages in our own intellectual biographies. We emerge as conscious, thinking, acting, learning human persons acquiring the mentality which we will call 'common sense' from our family and society. Our first painful encounter with the world of theory usually occurs through mathematics, geometry, algebra, or one of the sciences. If we continue to study the sciences, philosophy, theology, mathematics, or specializations within these fields, we become accustomed to the rarified atmosphere of theory. Later perhaps we wonder whether theory gives us the final truth, if there is something beyond theory. And so we are led on to interiority.

The final sections of this chapter introduce us to that new possibility by shifting our attention away from the content of what we know to the activities by which we know. Our aim, then, is to take cognizance of what is going on around us, to learn from failures, seize opportunities, and reorient our own thinking towards the third stage of meaning with all that it promises.

1. Stages of Meaning

The psychologist Kohlberg has identified six stages of moral development which he calls punishment and obedience, instrumental relativist, good boy/nice girl, law and order, social contract legalistic, and universal ethical principle. He is open to the possibility of a seventh. (3)

His claim, which seems to be verified, is that the unfolding of these stages is invariant and successive: that each stage occurs one after the other, no stage can be skipped, the order cannot be reversed or changed. The dynamic to move from one stage to the next stage is the experienced inadequacy of the present stage. Development is towards autonomy, integration and interiorization of moral norms and behavior. However, one can become fixated, can stop developing, at any stage. [25]

Kohlberg's principles of moral development provide us with a useful model for our consideration of the stages of intellectual development. We, too, hold that our stages are invariant, successive, and directed towards of interiorization and autonomy. Every person and every culture starts with the mentality of common sense and may remain there. It is the inadequacies of the commonsense mentality that call forth theory, whether it be of the metaphysical, epistemological or scientific type. Theory solves the problems of the inadequacies of common sense but eventually reveals its own inadequacy and calls forth the additional realm of interiority. To concretize this progression we will briefly identify the unfolding and emergence of these three stages of meaning in history. We will then be in a position to assess our current situation.

1.1 Common Sense in Traditional Cultures

The term 'common sense' usually refers to a down-to-earth, practical, sensible attitude. Webster's defines it as 'sound and prudent but often unsophisticated judgment.' Here we will employ a slightly different meaning: that of an undifferentiated, practical, short-term mentality. What follows is an anthropological account of the characteristics of this mentality. Later, we will analyze what is at the root of this mentality of common sense and why it differs from theory; in that context we will give a technical definition of description and explanation.

Under the term 'traditional cultures' we include the early Greek mythologies, the people of the Old Testament, early American-Indian cultures, African traditional cultures, the early Celts, Australian Aborigines, early Egyptian and Babylonian civilizations, and many others. Despite the enormous diversity of languages, beliefs and achievements of these cultures, we are justified in classifying them together because they all share a commonsense mentality in our meaning of that term.

These were simple societies in the sense of being undifferentiated or compact. (4) There was a fluid overlapping and intermingling of political and social, religious and moral, economic and practical affairs. Specialized institutions were not yet needed; education and socialization were an informal handing on of traditions in songs, [26] ceremonies and prescribed or ritual ways of doing things. Economic institutions consisted simply of practice in how to cultivate, to cook, to exchange and to develop in certain skills.

Oral cultures developed languages rich in proverbs, nuance, personal relations, and attention to the practical details of food and work, but lacking in precision, definition and distinction, mathematical terms of reference or abstractions. The predominant reality was personal relations: the primacy of the community, belonging to the group, identifying with the clan. The wider cosmos tended to be interpreted along the lines of the family: the Sun as the father, the Moon as the mother, the stars as the children. Symbols and myths appealed to feelings and imagination; they were easy to remember and pass on. These provided the answer to global questions about God, life, death, sickness, origins and destiny.

Compactness of all areas of life did not allow of clear differentiation and so we note dangerous confusions between symbol and symbolized, image and real, dreams and waking consciousness, desire and fulfillment. The sun, the mountains, the moon, or a Golden Calf may be used to symbolize the divine, but in such cultures they frequently become the object worshiped rather than a symbol of the divine. Frazer coined the phrase contagious magic to describe damage inflicted on the image of a person which is supposed to affect the person himself. (5) Dreams in the Old Testament can be so impressive that they are understood to make meaningful reference to what is going to happen in the future. Blessings or curses are expressions of strong desires of love or hatred; they must be effective of what they signify; they are sent out and cannot be called back. Thus, wishes are confused with fulfillment.

The rhythms of nature are mostly cyclical: the day, the month, the seasons, the year, birth and death. One generation succeeds another. Life is lived in harmony with these recurrent cycles; a linear historical idea of progress is quite alien. The Gods, the divine, the Spirits of the Ancestors, Spirits of places, Earth, River -- all inhabit a spiritual universe which is very close to the physical one. Religion, superstition and empirical thinking overlap and intermingle; the failure of a crop might be attributed to bad farming methods, anger [27] of an ancestor, witchcraft of a jealous neighbor, punishment from God, or any combination of these.

The languages of such traditional cultures are poor in terms like conscience, consciousness, intention, feeling, psychic tension, soul, intellect and will, freedom and responsibility. Internal states are usually alluded to by using symbols of reference such as head, heart, breath or bowels. The internal tends to be projected into theophanies, conversations with the Gods, divine signs, and commandments on stone. Freedom is usually understood as submission to Fate. Beliefs were expressed in myth and ritual and handed on from generation to generation.

These cultures were practical in that the struggle to survive was the first priority. The environment was often quite hostile; technologies were primitive; challenges were many. Some achieved extraordinary feats, such as the pyramids or the cities of the Maya.

Common sense does not exclude the distinction between true and false, right and wrong, good and bad. These criteria were operating, but only implicitly, and they could not be made explicit. The criteria were operating, but not in all areas, not at all times. Inadequate distinction between image and idea, dream and reality, the symbol and the real, results in permanent confusion. Disasters, for example, were sometimes attributed to natural causes, at other times to superstition, sorcery or divine punishment. These inadequacies eventually called forth the realm of theory.

1.2 Threefold Breakthrough to Theory

We seem to have a limited tolerance for confusion and ambiguity, especially if it threatens our survival. The need for clarity, for distinction, for control, for something better than common sense, leads to the breakthrough to theory. We will consider in turn, (1) the early Greek breakthrough to logical, metaphysical thinking; (2) the threefold philosophical breakthrough to modern epistemological theory; (3) theory in what we call the Scientific Revolution.

1. Greek breakthrough to metaphysical theory.

The early Greeks had a rich mythology much of it borrowed from their neighboring cultures. (6) Critical questioning of these myths about the [28] gods and their intervention in human affairs was the beginning of the end for them, however. It did not seem reasonable or fitting that Gods should get drunk, or marry and have children, let alone that thunder should be Gods' indigestion. There emerged schools of thinkers attempting to give alternative explanations as to why things happen as they do in our universe, how the heavenly bodies move, why do some things change and others do not, how one element can change into another, what everything is made of. Gradually, different answers were given to these questions; these positions were discussed, refined and the new way of philosophy emerged. Philosophy became fully theoretical at the time of Aristotle. Words and meanings were clearly defined in grammar, rhetoric, the logic of propositions and arguments. Principles and definitions and distinctions were clearly drawn and laid down; these were then expanded into a system of interrelated terms and relations. Having once developed a theoretical system for his philosophy, Aristotle applied it to physics, ethics, astronomy, biology, botany and all the known sciences of the time. This was an achievement of enormous importance; it provided the intellectual basis of our western civilization: all Aristotle's books became standard textbooks for the universities of the Middle Ages.

The development of geometry is a good example of shifting from commonsense descriptions to systematic theory. Starting with clear definitions, axioms and principles, Euclid applied these to the straight line, triangle, circle and other plane figures; then on to three-dimensional figures. In the process he applies his principles, develops, expands, explores, deduces, tests, proves, until he arrived at the required conclusion. This impressive example of theory has acted as a model for many theoreticians and even today is often our early introduction to theoretical thought.

What has happened? A new control of meaning has emerged, has become explicit. Words are given a precise meaning, arguments are formalized, systems are set up, deductions are made, politics is differentiated from ethics, logic from grammar, and the practical from the theoretical. Many of the basic confusions of the common sense stage are cleared up. It is now possible to say what you mean and mean what you say. Arguments can be settled by appealing to [29] forms of correct argument rather than just repeating traditional beliefs. Many great achievements in architecture, literature, and technology become possible.

The Greek legacy of theory was incorporated in the Christian vision of the Middle Ages. Aristotle's texts became the basic textbooks for the medieval universities. In Aquinas theology became theoretical and relied on metaphysical categories; some aspects of Aristotle's system had to be refined or corrected to fit in with a Christian interpretation of the world. This development in theology brought to it all the advantages of theory in clarity, precision, and appropriate distinctions between faith and reason, theology and philosophy, nature and grace. Used as a handmaiden of theology, the philosophy of Aristotle made possible a better understanding of the divine mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the sacraments and the action of grace.

This legacy was carried forward within the tradition of Scholasticism in universities and seminaries under the influence of the Catholic Church, until the time of the Second Vatican Council. But it has to be said that the openness of earlier thinkers was lost in the formalization and systematization of the textbooks. Theory was considered to be the final answer; it was thought that truth could be permanently sealed in immutable propositions and definitions, that uniformity was unity, that truth could be controlled by deductive logic. There was only one culture; all cultures had to conform to that ideal model. This was the predominant attitude in the context of Scholasticism at the time of the Vatican Council.

2. Threefold breakthrough to epistemological theory.

Modern philosophy began by rejecting the confused Scholasticism that emerged from the Middle Ages, and setting up a system of philosophy independent of theology or the authority of the Church. The pillars of this movement were Descartes, Hume and Kant. These founded systems of philosophy which were self-sufficient, theoretical and critical; they did not need any religious belief, only a belief in reason and sensation. Three quite different systems emerged with consequent traditions being established. The focus of all of them was the limits and power of human knowing; epistemology became the beginning and end of philosophy. All [30] three systems are theoretical but they reject the metaphysical thinking of Scholasticism and concentrate on epistemology.

Descartes (1596-1650) (7) was optimistic about the powers of human reason alone and held that by applying his method you could arrive at clear and certain conclusions about man, God, the sciences and mathematics. He used his way of methodic doubt to eliminate all presuppositions and establish his philosophy on indubitable foundations. The one thing you cannot doubt is your own existence and so he coined the famous dictum, 'I think, therefore I am.' From here he proved that God must necessarily exist and because he is good could not allow us to be fundamentally deceived by our senses. If the senses can be trusted then the discoveries of science and mathematics can be accepted. Descartes aimed at a total single integrated system incorporating philosophy, the empirical sciences, mathematics and medicine. He produced a theory of rationalism which has had an enormous influence on subsequent generations. Descartes is often called the father of modern philosophy because of this turn to the subject with which he began his whole work.

We can take David Hume (1711-1776) (8) as typifying empiricism. This theory of human knowing starts on an opposing premise, namely, that all knowledge is sense knowing. Surely the closer we stick to the obvious observable evidence of the senses, the more certain our knowledge and the less disagreement there can be. This involves abandoning metaphysics, theology, ethics, and even challenging the empirical sciences. The human mind is very limited in its capacity to acquire truth. Whatever ideas we have are derived from sensation and they are put together by laws of imagination rather than by intelligence. Hume studied the activities of the mind in order to show how all our knowing can be traced back to sensation and is valid only if we can do so. His is an alternative theory to that of Descartes; it is a theory in that there is a first principle and a method of procedure. Empiricism has also been very influential, even up to the present day.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) (9) felt that both these systems were extreme, so he set about establishing a synthesis. He was preoccupied with the a priori conditions for the possibility of human knowing. He accepted Hume's principle that our only contact with [31] the world is through sensation, by which we know the phenomena. But he could not accept that this was the whole of knowing; surely the mind contributes something, constructs or imposes forms on reality. Kant showed how sensation and the mind combine in the knowing of sensibility, understanding and reason, establishing a highly sophisticated theory of knowledge that might be called subjective idealism. It incorporated elements from rationalism and empiricism but set up a coherent alternative to these extremes.

These three figures are the pillars of modern philosophy; each established a tradition of followers who developed or refined or corrected his position. Even contemporary philosophers define themselves by whether they agree or disagree with these basic positions. Each position is theoretical and systematic; there are principles from which they start, methods to be followed and rules of logic to be observed. Each claims to be true, to be the one and only truth and is incompatible with the others. Each tradition developed with constant refinements, adaptations, changes. Each manifests the advantages of the theoretical mode in having coherent, systematic, precise principles and method. But each also shows the disadvantage of the theoretical in that it cannot account for itself, cannot deal with contrary theories, and is subject to constant revisions and changes.

3. Theory in the Scientific Revolution. (10)

Concurrently and not entirely unrelated to these epistemological efforts there emerged theories concerning the physical world in the Scientific Revolution. This is yet another form of theory with five particular characteristics: induction, mathematics, measurement, technology and method.

The first scientists appealed to the data of sensation as their authority, either by direct observation or by the creation of experiments to produce the significant data. They no longer appealed to authority figures such as the Church or Aristotle. This meant an emphasis on inductive methods, that is, moving from particular observed cases to generalizations about all cases. The development of astronomy illustrates the importance of systematic, precise, long-term observation; only such observations could establish the heliocentric as opposed to the geocentric system. Using [32] data from observatories that were set up from the 14th century onwards, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton were able to formulate and verify their theories. Galileo illustrated the importance of experimentation with his laboratory of pendulums, levers, inclined planes, etc.

Mathematics began to develop on its own and to be applied to the material world. The Greeks had been content with geometry. Now there emerged trigonometry, algebra, and calculus. Pythagoras had dreamed of reading the universe in terms of mathematical laws; now it seemed to be possible. Aristotle had concentrated on using the four causes as his schema for reading the material world. Now it was mathematical correlations which seemed to unlock the mysteries of how matter behaves.

Measurement became important for accurate observations and precise experiments and for useful applications of inventions. The Greeks had produced profound geometrical systems which were coherent, systematic, rigorous, deductive and brilliant. They were fascinated with the intrinsic properties and relations of geometrical figures, but obversely, they showed little interest in actual measurements. It would not strike them to solve a problem by actually measuring or counting. Compare this to the obsession of Galileo in measuring the distance and time traversed by his falling bodies.

Many scientific discoveries had immediate practical applications in making of instruments, in aiding navigation, in building pumps, weapons, houses, roads, etc. This slowly produced a technology which changed the way we live but also was a principle of verification and progress. Every time a new machine worked, it proved the theory on which it was designed. At the same time it produced a new situation and new data so that improvements could be successively incorporated. The history of the motor car shows a constant stream of refinements and improvements based on actual experience.

The early scientists had nobody to tell them what method to follow; they rejected philosophy and Aristotle and had to work things out for themselves. Their method emerged by a process of trial and error; what was important was what worked. It was only [33] later that they began to reflect on the principles underlying their procedures.

Science evolved its own form of theories verified by observations or experiment. It has been highly successful and continues to develop.

4. Common Sense after Theory.

While theory brings a new way of thinking into the world, it does not replace common sense. However, when theory is applied, it adds to the objects or content considered by common sense intelligence. The mentality we identified as that of common sense continues with its emphasis on the practical, the short-term, the lack of clear definitions and distinctions. But the content inevitably changes. There is a trickle-down effect of theories of philosophies and sciences through education, through the mass media, through popular culture. There are the skills which must be learned to participate in a technology governed by scientific theory. Most tasks which were performed by farmers or fishermen or the like have been transformed by technology and require a minimal understanding of the principles behind them.

But the undifferentiated nature of common sense remains, with its confusions. For common sense, images can be more important than verified facts, appearance more important than substance; how a politician presents himself on television may be more important that what he is really like in actuality. The function of the psychiatrist is often similar to that of the witch doctor in traditional societies; the astrologer is similar to the diviner; belief in Alien abductions is on a par with belief in witches changing into animals. The medicine man of traditional society can be compared to practitioners of fringe medicine today, full of assurances and comfort but offering remedies of dubious efficacy.

1.3 Transition to Interiority

1. Crisis in Theoretical Mode.

It seems that all the theoretical realms that we have identified are in crisis today.

First, the huge structure of Catholic Scholastic philosophy and theology has collapsed under the influence of historical studies, and [34] exposure to modern sciences and modern philosophies. It has almost disappeared. What is to take its place in the universities and seminaries, in the moral arguments and doctrinal articulation of the Christian faith? Some have recourse to modern philosophies, some to a benevolent eclecticism, some claim that we do not need theories any more. I would suggest that the only way from now on to articulate the Christian faith in a manner appropriate to these times is to move into the world of interiority, the third stage of meaning.

Secondly, each of the three competing epistemological theories developed a tradition which has evolved and changed, borrowed and rejected, improved, added and subtracted. It is openly admitted that contemporary philosophy is in a state of crisis; (11) a vast variety of quite contradictory positions are proposed. There is even a problem of communication between the groups as they have no common tradition, terminology or beliefs underlying them. Philosophy seems to have become a wasteland where deconstruction is more evident than construction. Why is it that these classical epistemological systems have collapsed? What is the common base on which all philosophers can unite? What are they all doing by which we call them philosophers? Is there a way that philosophy can become verifiable?

Thirdly, while scientific theory continues to develop, there too problems have arisen. The early rejection of philosophy by scientists and the declaration of independence of Galileo actually led to the assumption of a philosophy of materialist determinism, i.e. that there is only matter and it obeys laws of mathematics. But the old problem of what is real resurfaced and could not be answered. Are the laws of physics real even though we cannot see them? In what sense are they real? Which is the real world, that of common sense perception or the world of atomic particles and scientific laws? Varieties of positions are taken, from hard realism, to soft realism, to idealism. (12)

The discovery of uncertainty in quantum mechanics was the occasion for a further crisis. The assumption that everything was determined and followed the classical type of law was now in question. Could probabilities be included in science? Does God play dice with the world? To what extent does the scientist construct or [35] invent his laws; does the mind or person contribute anything to the knowing process? Is the logic of discovery a matter of being objective or do subjective elements intervene? (13)

The very rationality of the procedures of science was called into question by Kuhn. (14) He claimed that the paradigm shifts which mark the history of scientific discovery were not simply a matter of intelligence, but of chance and community influence; that the dynamic of science is governed by Foundations which decide what research will be funded, rather than by the intelligence of the individual scientist.

The basic attitude of scientists had been reductionist, an attempt to explain the whole in terms of the part. That attitude began to be challenged by holists, who hold the reverse opinion, and process philosophy, which holds that there is only process and no stability of things at all.

The naiveté of the claim that science can do without philosophy is revealed in this morass, and the discipline of philosophy of science arose in this century to try to deal with these kinds of problems. It is clear that scientists have provided no satisfactory answers and that science does need a comprehensive philosophic framework if it is to flourish and solve these theoretical problems. (15)

The advantage of theory over the commonsense stage of meaning is the clarity, the precision, the control that it confers by way of mathematics or logic over the field covered by its principles and method. But the disadvantage is that theory cannot account for itself. Theory cannot account for a succession of theories, it cannot identify the criteria for choosing between conflicting theories. Theory cannot account for its origins or compare itself with common sense. For that something more is needed: interiority.

2. Towards Interiority.

Many positive elements in contemporary philosophy point in the direction of interiority. Existentialist philosophies have accustomed us to examining subjective experiences: they reject the system builders and return to the concrete, existential subject in all his drama of choice, death, boredom, anxiety, meaninglessness, creating of meaning, and internal struggles. It was immensely popular and appealed to a felt [36] need to articulate inner experiences. The phenomenologists incorporated the systematic description of mental activities into their method; it was Husserl who coined the term 'intentionality analysis,' meaning a description of mental activities as these intend external objects. (16) Phenomenological method is often focused on subjective states: feelings, mental activities, artistic expression, etc.

We have become accustomed to talking about consciousness, conscience, subjectivity. Eugene Webb identifies six philosophers of consciousness, Michael Polanyi, Bernard Lonergan, Eric Voegelin, Paul Ricoeur, Rene Girard and Soren Kierkegaard. (17) Consciousness is central to the thought of each of these philosophers, even though each has a different notion of consciousness. Study of the human sciences has made us more aware of our existence in history, how meaning and language change over time, that no static system can escape the ravages of history. Cognitive psychology has made some contribution to the study of knowing and learning processes.

In the mentality of common sense there is a process of discernment between what is true and false, what is moral and immoral, what works and what does not work. But the process is implicit. It is difficult to put it into words, to check on how it operates, to objectify the procedures to be followed; hence the application of this commonsense discernment is haphazard and uneven. In the mentality of theory the procedures of discernment are stated explicitly either in logic or in mathematics. Enormous clarity and rigor can be attained within the scope of its principles, procedures and conclusions. But, as we have seen, theory is nevertheless incapable of giving an account of its own limitations, its relation to common sense, and the criteria by which we discriminate between conflicting theories. The crisis in classicism, contemporary philosophy and contemporary science seem to be rooted in the intrinsic limitations of the theoretical mentality. The crisis of contemporary times seems to cry out for a further perspective, a third stage of meaning, the realm of interiority.

3. What is Interiority.

Interiority is not just another theory but a 'theory' about theories; it is not more of the same but is rather a shift to a new perspective, a different approach, a total reappraisal. It is a [37] going beyond common sense and theory, not in the sense of negating their value and leaving them behind, but in the sense of appreciating their specific but limited contributions. Let us state briefly four characteristics of this third stage of meaning.

Firstly, interiority is characterized by awareness of the actual processes of human intellectual knowing and by reflection on the multitude of mental activities which together constitute human knowing. It calls for a self-knowledge not just of our feelings and dreams, our motivations and character, but of the very processes by which we see, hear, think, imagine, remember, criticize, evaluate, conclude, and judge. Grasping the activity of human understanding is the main characteristic of interiority; not as it happens in others but as it happens in oneself. This is not just another theory about human knowing; rather, it is judging of all theories about human knowing in the light of the data of consciousness.

Secondly, if we grasp the activity of human intelligence then we understand the source of all languages, cultures, common sense conclusions, philosophical systems, empirical science, historical knowledge, mathematics and the multitude of products of human intelligence. Grasping the source of this infinite variety of products means that we can see that they have something in common, they conform to a common structure, that even though they seem to be contradictory they can also contribute to a single goal of comprehensive understanding of all things in the unity of a single perspective. Nothing is beyond the intention of understanding; nothing can be excluded in principle. We cannot fully understand everything but we can intend, desire, name, point at, move towards an understanding; we can grasp our unlimited desire to know and compare it with the limits of achievement.

Thirdly, awareness of how understanding unfolds reveals that there are norms which are immanent and operative in that unfolding. The rules for correct understanding are immanent in intelligence; this is how the mind works, how it is designed. We can know when we have reached a correct conclusion; we do not need somebody to tell us. We do not need to depend ultimately on an Authority, on a Teacher, on a Tradition. We can attend to the data; think the matter through to the end; assess the relation between the conclusion and [38] the evidence for the conclusion; ask all relevant questions; exclude all alternatives; and posit the conclusion as certain, highly probable or just probable. We can take responsibility for our own conclusions. Conclusions are reasonable, defensible, and demonstrable; they are not the result of an arbitrary choice, nor of blindly following a tradition. We have a criterion for being authentic in our common sense, our theory and our interiority: it is to be faithful to the deepest and best inclinations of our heart and mind.

Fourthly, we do make mistakes, but strangely we can reflect further and discover our own mistakes. Systematically, then, we can investigate the typical sources of misunderstandings and false judgments. We can notice that we did not attend to all the data, and read all the reports, or that we jumped to conclusions on insufficient evidence. We can recognize that we did not think the thing through, realize the implications of a statement, clarify precisely what we meant, delimit clearly the extent of our competence. We can recognize when temperament interfered either rashly in pushing us into premature conclusions, or timidly in unreasonable hesitation in positing a conclusion. We can recognize many biases, prejudices, ulterior motives, much twisted affectivity, which interferes with the proper unfolding of the process of knowing. And going to the basic root of all misunderstanding in philosophy and science, we can recognize the dialectic operating in our knowing between elementary animal knowing with its criterion of the real in sense and properly human knowing with its criterion of the real in correct understanding and affirmation.

2. From Content to Activities

The crucial breakthrough to interiority involves shifting our attention from the content of what we know to the activities by which we do the knowing. So that there will be no misunderstanding, we first deal here with the notions of shifting attention, of awareness, of being conscious, and of consciousness. Then we will distinguish how conscious activities can be grouped into various patterns of experience. Employing our method of systematic self-appropriation, we focus our attention upon becoming aware of the intellectual pattern of experience. We [39] conclude the chapter with a kind of slogan that summarizes the essence of the method and what it promises to achieve.

1. Awareness, consciousness.

A number of terms can be used here and they are almost synonymous. To be aware of, to attend to, to be conscious of, are expressions we use when we are focusing our attention on something. We will give a very precise meaning to the terms 'conscious' and 'consciousness' and use them always in that sense.

Most of us have no difficulty distinguishing between being conscious and being unconscious. If you are sound asleep and not dreaming you are unconscious. If you get a severe blow to the head, you will probably be unconscious. If you are undergoing a major operation, then you hope that the anesthetist will make you unconscious. When you are conscious you are aware of what is going on around you, of who you are and what you are doing. When you are unconscious you are not aware of anything, neither of yourself nor of objects other than yourself.

Consciousness is simply the abstract noun taken from the experience of being conscious. When you are unconscious, you have lost consciousness; when you recover from a blow on the head you slowly regain consciousness; when you are put under anesthetic you slowly lose consciousness. There is nothing esoteric or complicated about consciousness; it is an experience with which we are all familiar.

To be conscious, of its very nature, means not only to be aware of objects but in the same act, at the same time, to be conscious of the self as the subject being aware of the object. These are not two separate acts, one of awareness of objects, another of awareness of the subject. The crucial thing about being conscious is that in the same act by which we become aware of objects we are concomitantly aware of ourselves as the subject. In a sense you can say that machines can be aware of objects: radar 'sees' objects, sonar 'hears' sounds, check-out machines 'read' bar codes. But few would suggest that such machines are conscious; they can react to objects but there is no concomitant awareness of the self. When we are aware of objects we are at the same time implicitly aware that we are the subjects of this awareness. 'To be conscious' does not refer to [40] any specific mental activity but to a quality that pertains to many mental activities. It simply refers to the experience that in all our daily activities from waking to working to eating to studying to going to sleep again we are indirectly aware of being the subject of all these activities.

The term consciousness is often given other meanings: sometimes it refers to 'anything that goes on in the head'; sometimes it refers to the activities themselves of thinking, feeling or knowing. There are a variety of theories about consciousness which make it very mysterious and complicated. For us, it is simply a given that we can attend to our surroundings and at the same time be aware of ourselves as the subject who is attending.

There are also degrees of consciousness. There are things of which we are fully conscious, others on the periphery of our consciousness, and still others of which we are completely unconscious. We can be totally unaware of an empty stomach; or slightly aware of hunger; or we can be totally preoccupied with hunger to the exclusion of all else. It is a little like vision. We are looking at a central spot or focus of seeing and are directly and fully aware of that; additionally, we are aware of a penumbra around that particular focus, but only if something moves or catches our attention within that penumbra do we notice it. Then, there are things on the periphery of our vision that we hardly notice at all.

We could perhaps talk of layers of consciousness. We are conscious of many things at one time, but only one thing is fully in focus; the others are at various degrees of awareness. If we are driving a car and answering the phone at the same time, we are aware of many things but in varying degrees; we put the driving on automatic and attend to the call; but if there is a pedestrian crossing we forget the caller and attend to the brake.

To some extent we can control this focusing of our consciousness. We are not normally conscious of our breathing, but if you are training to become a professional singer you learn to control your breathing. A proficient typist will not normally be conscious of the movements of the fingers; but if you are changing to a new keyboard you must make a conscious effort to control finger movements. Studying a classic painting we can shift our [41] awareness from the colors to the proportions, to the shapes, to the feelings expressed. Doing research in the library, on the other hand, we strive to focus our attention on our work but are distracted by plans for the holidays or images from movies we have seen recently. We have not as much control as we would like. Try to concentrate on one image or idea for five minutes and you will discover how hard it is.

Our account of consciousness is not a philosophical theory but a matter of experience. To be conscious is something that is given, not something acquired by learning. To be conscious is simply to be aware, to be attentive, to be experiencing. If you do not recognize the experiences to which I have been referring, then, you have either misunderstood the terms or have failed to refer them to your own experience. There are not many people who would claim to be reading a book and unconscious at the same time.

2. From content to activities.

Usually the orientation of our conscious activities is outwards towards external objects. The infant is almost entirely oriented by way of the senses towards objects to be grasped, touched, thrown, or put in the mouth. We are most at home in the world of objects in that sense. Our senses orientate us massively outwards towards what can be seen, heard and touched in the external world. When asked to give examples of acts of understanding, most students give practical example, e.g. how to mend a leaking pipe, how to control mosquitoes, discovering short cuts to make work easier, how to fix a computer glitch.

Piaget traces the intellectual development of the infant in terms of what kind of operations he/she can perform on objects. (18) In the sensorimotor period (1-2 years of age) the infant can grasp, hold, suck, walk, etc. In the preoperational stage (2-7 years of age) the infant can apply these basic abilities to a new range of objects through assimilation and adaptation; talking, comparing, connecting means and ends. In the concrete operations period (7-11 years of age) the young child can deal with groups, classify, number, and judge. It is only in the formal operations period (11-15 years of age) that the young person can apply abstract laws to a variety of objects to determine, for example, which objects will float in water and why; this presumes the ability to apply the laws of specific [42] weight and flotation correctly. Piaget's analysis illustrates how powerfully we are orientated to objects, and how our intellectual development is linked to the kind of operations we can perform on objects. Even in calculus, physics and the human sciences, we are merely using more and more sophisticated techniques and laws to perform further complicated operations on objects.

Can we go a step further than the 15 year old capable of formal operations on objects to focus on the operations, the activities themselves? Can we become as aware of the mental activities by which we perform operations as we are of the objects upon which we perform operations? If we can talk intelligently about our dreaming, can we similarly talk intelligently about our thinking, understanding and knowing? It is our contention that we can; this is the key to moving from the world of theory to that of interiority. What actually happens when we understand something? What kinds of activities are involved? What comes before and what comes after and what is the usual sequence of events? These are all questions which can only be answered by shifting our awareness from the contents to the activities of our minds.

This does require a special technique. It is easy to focus on objects because they are sensible and relatively permanent. But the activities of our minds are fleeting, passing, hard to pin down. We cannot freeze an act of understanding like a biologist and put it under the microscope. How then can we pin down such an intangible operation? We can only do it at a second remove. First, we work on a puzzle, attempt various solutions and finally find the correct solution; secondly, we shift our attention from the problem to the activities by which we solved it. A football player will normally focus on getting the ball, marking the opponent, seeing a gap, tackling, defending, attacking, etc. But the following day he can replay the videotape and discuss why he did this, what was in his mind when he did that, etc. He can think back and become more aware of what was going on. We play football and we can analyze how we play football. Similarly, we first focus on understanding some problem; secondly, we analyze how we moved from the problem to the solution; what strategies and tactics we used; which were successful and which were failures. [43]

Can we divide all mental activities into rough groups even at this early stage? When students are asked to name mental activities they can usually list thirty to forty, and it is not difficult to sort these out into groups. The external senses are the most obvious. We can group the activities of seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling and feeling together; these are activities of senses operating on external sense objects. But there are also the internal senses, principally imagination and memory. Remembering is an activity of calling to mind events and objects of the past. Imagining is usually an activity of picturing some absent object or constructing an image of something that does not exist. In addition to these, we have a great variety of activities such as questioning, evaluating, conceiving, perceiving, classifying, defining, judging, knowing, understanding, meditating, contemplating, choosing, loving, and hating. All of these seem to be transitive; they are activities that must have an object.

Even though it is difficult to shift attention from objects to activities, there is a preliminary indication that this could be a very fruitful way to go and might give us some kind of integrating unity for which we are seeking. Objects which can be seen are for all practical purposes an infinity; there is no limit to the number, shape, color or size of the objects that might be seen; but the seeing is the same one single activity for all the objects. Concepts are also a quasi-infinity, but if we have a grasp of the activity of conceiving, then we have grasped something that is in common to them all. Judgments are many but one activity produces them all. Our knowledge of objects overflows libraries and encyclopedias, but there is one set of activities by which they are all known. If we can get a grasp on how these different activities of seeing, understanding, conceiving, judging combine into authentic human knowing then we will in some way be able to grasp a unity behind all the difference of objects.

3. Data and Facts.

First of all let us differentiate data from facts. 'Data,' (sing. datum) is derived from the Latin verb 'to give' and simply means 'what are given, the givens'. We will use the word data to refer to what are simply given in experience. We are using it in the sense of raw data, what are given by way of experience, before [44] the intervention of intelligence or interpretation or systematization. 'Data' is often used in the sense of information stored on index cards or in economists' reports; for the sake of clarity we will try to avoid this usage.

Facts are much more complicated and involve affirmations of what is and what is not the case: for example, this is a table; GNP has increased by 5%; it is not raining. Facts include affirming the truth and presuppose many activities of intelligence and reason. Justifying the activity of affirming the truth of factual statements comes much later in the text, where we deal with judgments and reflective understanding. Hence in our usage data are given in experience and are preintellectual, preconceptual and prejudgmental. Facts on the other hand are judgments and presuppose the cognitive operations of understanding and judging.

4. Data of sense and of consciousness.

Data of sense refers to the data given in the experience of the external senses. They are what is seen, tasted, heard, felt, and smelled. The first part of scientific method is to get the data, by observation, experimentation or exploration. Data are given at the level of experience before interpretation or selection or interference. Data of sense are data about the external world, usually about objects and their properties. They constitute the subject matter of the various empirical sciences.

As we have seen above, we can shift the focus of our consciousness from the objects of the external senses to the activities by which we apprehend these objects and to the subject performing these activities. Data of consciousness, then, are the data given in the awareness of mental activities and the awareness of the subject of these activities. We can become aware of the activities of dreaming, feeling and understanding, and so these are as much data as are the data of sense. Just as the biologist will describe his specimen, dissect it, study its structure and its parts, so we can describe the activities by which we come to know, we can distinguish different activities from one another, we can relate them together in an intelligible sequence. That is the purpose and aim of this text. [45]

Our approach is empirical without being empiricist. An empirical scientist will normally appeal to the data of sense to verify his theories; the data of sense are his proper domain. Our subject matter is the data of consciousness, the myriad of mental activities of which we can become conscious. We focus on such activities, become aware of them, describe them; we classify the different activities, we note similarities and differences; we understand the relationship between the parts and eventually present an explanation of what I am doing when I am knowing. But our first task is to attend to the data; our interest is in the data of consciousness; our focus is on the activities we perform when we are studying and coming to understand. Everything that we say is verifiable by reference back to personal experience; the invitation is to check everything that is said about the activity of knowing against your own experience of coming to know.

In contrast to this there is a common mistaken empiricist position which claims that only the data of sense are real. There is also a common assumption among many contemporary philosophers that mental activities are private, therefore not observable, therefore not verifiable. Some even claim that it is meaningless to talk about mental acts. There is a massive prejudice that brushes aside this whole area of data as if they did not exist.

The Greek sceptics used complicated, convoluted arguments to claim that movement was impossible; the most effective answer was simply to walk across the room; let us do just the same with the data of consciousness. Let us show that it is possible and fruitful to apply the principles of empirical method to the data of consciousness. Just as the claims of empirical science can be verified in the data of sense, so all our statements about knowing can be verified with reference to the data of consciousness.

3. Patterns of Experience

Even a cursory glance at our mental activities reveals a chaos of fantasies, images, desires, memories, anxieties, hopes, feelings, affections, symbols and ideas. Doing some of the exercises at the beginning of this chapter will help you to become aware of this [46] buzzing, blooming confusion of activities in our minds. A literary device called 'stream of consciousness' is often used by modern writers to catch this confused movement of interrelated elements that constitutes the polyphony of our psyche. Perhaps James Joyce and William Faulkner have given us the most vivid portrayals of this internal drama. (1) Our internal experience does encompass a multitude of activities and it will be our first task to disentangle these so that we can focus on the activities related to thinking and knowing.

What is our own experience of this 'stream of consciousness'? Is it a chaos? Are we controlled by our instincts? Can we disentangle this confusion? Our aim in this section of the text is to pick out certain patterns of experience, i.e. typical constellations of activities that usually go together. We need to identify these different patterns so that we will be able to recognize and isolate the pattern in which we are most interested, namely, those activities related to human understanding. All we mean by a pattern is that a number of activities are interrelated with one another in such a way as to form what could be called a group. These are not watertight categories and they allow for a certain flexibility and overlapping. (20)

One can distinguish a biological pattern of experience, namely, a group of activities, purposes, and feelings which form a certain unity in terms of the person as an animal who has inherited the basic instincts, sensations and needs of the higher animals. The higher animals have both internal and external senses, the five external senses as well as rudimentary memory, imagination and instinct. Animals can react to stimuli and co-ordinate activities towards a goal such as building a nest or catching a prey. Goals are determined by the needs of survival: food, self-preservation, propagation of the species, security. Konrad Lorenz has studied aggression in ducks in its relation to mating, self-preservation, pecking order and territoriality. (21) In his final chapter he wonders whether what he has discovered in ducks applies to human beings, and he finds that it does. We are animals; we share the same basic senses, external and internal, with animals; we have to solve the same problems of survival, security, and propagation of the species as animals. There [47] is, then, a pattern of activities at this level which we share with animals.

Humans, however, are more than animals. One can distinguish a practical pattern of experience, the aspect of getting things done. It would seem that, historically, the use of tools, fire and weapons was the first manifestation of human difference. In our modern lifestyle most of our time is spent in the practical mode of experience, working in the factory, office, school, home, field, etc. Here there are typical activities interrelated in view of achieving a common purpose of producing, making, constructing, building, etc. Here we are concerned with usefulness, efficiency, practicality, producing results with a minimum of input and labor. In this pattern of experience we develop skills, technologies, tools, co-operation, progress in practical affairs. We are being intelligent, but it is for the purpose of solving practical problems, making life easier and better.

We can further distinguish an interpersonal pattern of experience. There is a set of activities and feelings which are characteristic of humans relating with humans. I suppose the average person spends about twenty years being socialized before he can be considered a mature, responsible and autonomous person in society. Most of this is learned from parents and siblings, by imitation, by correction, by peer pressure, by friendship and love and hate. We are formed by all these kinds of relationships; and in turn we will form others by the way we relate to them. We are socialized into our family, our local community, and enculturated into our ethnic group and our nation. There are a great variety of different kinds of relationship; a man and a woman are present to one another in a different way as strangers, as an engaged couple, as celebrating their golden anniversary. A child is present to its parents in a different way than it is present to a stranger. The interpersonal gives color, tone, and feeling to our behavior.

We can also distinguish an aesthetic pattern of experience. This is the joy of sensing and understanding liberated from the discipline of logic or verification and guided simply by the search for beauty and harmony. It is playing with images, contrasts, unities and disunities, whether in the field of color or sound or shape. It is the difference between poetry as opposed to prose, literature as opposed [48] to history, painting as opposed to map making. It involves feelings, sensing, skills, intelligence, inspiration and catharsis. We all have some experience of enjoying music, the release of play after work, the beauty of a magnificent sunset. It is this freedom for joy and beauty which distinguishes the aesthetic pattern of experience from the intellectual.

We can distinguish a mystical pattern of experience in which the activities of worship, prayer, adoration, love, exercises of charity, spiritual reading and meditation form an interrelated series of activities. It is an orientation towards mystery, God, the ultimate, not by way of thinking but by way of admiring, worshiping, being in love and praying. The mystical pattern can be peripheral to our lives or actively cultivated. In the monk or mystic it normally is the dominant pattern. When in the mystic pattern cognitional activities are present but are sublated to the goal of mystical union with God.

One could go on distinguishing other possible patterns of experience, but let us concentrate on the one that most concerns us: the intellectual pattern of experience. Here we want to disentangle that basic set of operations which are interrelated with one another and constitute our understanding and knowing. It is the pattern of activities centering on questioning, understanding, studying, doing research, writing reports, gathering information, stating facts. It starts with questioning and moves forward under the influence of further questioning in a relentless search for knowledge and truth. The intellectual pattern of experience is not a single activity, but a related set of activities in which we include seeing, imagining, remembering, relating, understanding, classifying, conceiving, expressing, defining, stating, affirming and denying. It will be our task to concentrate on this pattern of experience, to disentangle it from the myriad of other psychic activities and impulses and, in time, to define how the various operations of this pattern coalesce to form the unity of a single knowing. Our interest for the moment is to become aware of this distinct set of operations in our own experience, and to disentangle it from all other psychic activities. [49]

4. Intellectual Self-Appropriation

If you make an effort you can usually recall and recount a dream you have had. With some practice you can describe in detail the sequence of images in the dream, the feelings which were associated with the images, the connection between the events, and your role as spectator or participant in the dream. Since the original work of Freud on The Interpretation of Dreams many other books have been written about dreams; it has become a basic method of psychotherapy to work through dreams; many theories have been spun about the cause of dreams, the significance and function of dreams, principles for the interpretation of dreams. Everyone presupposes that we can remember and study our dreams.

Dreams are relatively easy to remember because they are composed of images and feelings and usually, in their own bizarre way, describe some sort of narrative. Our aim in this part of the text is to apply the same methodology to the study of the activity of understanding. If we can describe our dreams why should we not be able to describe our own activity of understanding? Admittedly, the images of a dream are very vivid and leave a strong impression. The activity of understanding is more difficult to capture, more recondite, more spiritual, more abstract; but, in principle, it is the same sort of procedure as recalling one's dreams. In this section we establish more clearly the methodology involved in studying the act of understanding in this way.

To 'appropriate' means to take possession of, to make one's own. In some contexts, unfortunately it means to steal, to manipulate, to instrumentalize. For us, to appropriate one's intellectual activities is to become aware of them, to be able to identify and distinguish them, to grasp how they are related and so to objectivize or make explicit this process. Therefore, we will sometimes use the term intellectual self-awareness instead of self-appropriation. First we perform the activities; then we shift the focus of our attention from the content to the activities; then we name, describe and classify the activities into groups of operations; finally we identify the unity of these activities which constitutes knowing. [50]

It is common enough in spirituality and counseling to become aware of one's feelings, motives, character and personality. A large area of psychotherapy seems to be concerned with bringing unconscious repressed feelings and traumas back to consciousness so that they can be dealt with. Becoming aware of one's feelings puts one in a position of being able to identify and heal those that are damaging and to reinforce and enhance those that are positive and loving. There are various movements based on techniques to achieve self-awareness in these different fields. It seems to be very acceptable and even fashionable.

Intellectual self-appropriation is a more difficult challenge. In itself it is not entirely new, but to make it the explicit base of one's whole philosophy is new. It does seem to promise a great deal; if the appropriation of one's feelings and motives can be so healing and rewarding for psychological growth, then may we not expect that the awareness of our activities in understanding will be able to purify, strengthen and guide those activities as well?

We use the term 'intellectual' because what makes us different from animals is that we can think, understand, know and decide freely. The operations we intend to make explicit here are the operations which constitute us as human beings; they are nearer to the self than are our feelings. To be human is to think, to know, and to decide for oneself. Our focus here is upon this most critical aspect of our being.

For us the privileged place where we have access to the intimate experience of knowing is our own consciousness. The data which provide the basis for any explanation of human knowing are the data of consciousness. I cannot experience what is going on in your mind, but I can describe what is going on in my own. I can relate that to you and we can see whether we are talking about the same thing. The privileged place of reference for the study of knowing is not in books but in one's own mind. That is where we have direct and immediate access to the activities that constitute human knowing. Earlier in this chapter we outlined three opposing and contradictory theories of human knowing. Are they correct or not? Just as the scientist verifies his theories by pointing to data of sense, so we propose that these theories can be shown to be correct or not by [51] referring to the data of consciousness. On that criterion, as we shall see, all three systems seem to be inadequate.

We have already indicated how we can shift the focus of our attention away from objects in the external world to the activities by which we sense, understand, and know these objects. That is something that you can only do for yourself. You cannot do it while you are reading this text because then you are focusing on objects; but you can do it after you have read a passage, as you quietly reflect on whether it squares with your own experience of knowing. This is not a text that can be skimmed; it is not intended that you to memorize, or learn, or pick out the concepts for the purpose of repeating in an exam. It is in invitation to an intellectual journey. It calls for personal effort, involvement and reflection.

The journey starts with the simplest possible examples of the joy of direct insight. We have all had such insights; it is just a matter of adverting to them. The aim of the text is to bring to awareness the experience of thinking and knowing, to make explicit the criterion that is operating, and then to make that criterion a guide for all our knowing of what is real. We will work our way, step by step, through the experiences of direct insights, inverse insights, formulating and conceiving, affirming and reflecting, and end with the experience of intellectual conversion and the implications that has for metaphysics, for the physical sciences, for the human sciences and for theology.

If you are a biologist who wants to study the anatomy of a frog, it is relatively easy to get a dead frog and start dissecting. If you do not finish you put the frog back in the refrigerator and resume the work at any time you wish; the body of the frog will be there to dissect. However, if you are studying the activity of understanding, the subject matter is not so readily available. The act of understanding is intangible, internal, dynamic, spiritual. How do we get hold of it?

The technique we are suggesting to promote this self-awareness is to ask you to do some preliminary exercises before each chapter. The first thing is to do the exercises; the more important aspect is to reflect afterwards on what went on in your mind as you were solving the problems. We cannot focus our awareness on objects and activities at the same time; what we are proposing is to attend to the [52] problem or puzzle or exercise first, then, later, to reflect back on the images, clues, frustration, drawings, rough work, which lead eventually to the solving of the problem. The second part is more important than the first.

The examples are chosen specifically for each chapter and the subject matter of the chapter will be those experiences. If you have done the exercises we will have something to talk about; you will recognize the meaning of our terms in your own experience and will be able to check the validity of what we say against that experience. The reason for choosing a majority of examples from mathematics and the sciences is that such examples are the clearest and most precise available. There is understanding in the study of history or literature but it is harder to find isolated, clear and precise examples to illustrate the process of reaching it.

There is nothing sacred about these particular examples; you can substitute examples from your own experience, from your own profession or specialization. We are performing acts of understanding all the time; it is a matter of isolating these activities where they occur in a relatively pure form and becoming aware of them. Formal education often emphasizes memorizing, learning and techniques, smothering the joy of understanding so that we don't even notice it. It may help too to look at other areas where the joy of discovery is more evident. Games of chess, cribbage, solitaire, bridge, crosswords, and mathematical puzzles of various types are not a bad place to start. But there must be some personal experience of problem-solving, whether of those in the text or those of your own devising, which is to be the subject matter of each chapter.

We conclude with a slogan that expresses succinctly what we are about:

"Thoroughly understand what it is to understand, and not only will you understand the broad lines of all there is to be understood but also you will possess a fixed base, an invariant pattern, opening upon all further developments of understanding." (22)

The subject matter of our study is 'what it is to understand.' We intend to isolate this activity, describe it and understand it. The act of understanding is the moment of illumination, the flash of insight, the experience of finding the correct solution. It is the central activity of us as human, the key to everything else. The kind of understanding attained in math, in literature, in history, in philosophy, may be slightly different; but it is the one activity of understanding. Astronomers study the stars; biologists study frogs and insects; we, in our task of intellectual self-appropriation, study acts of understanding.

The phrase, 'the broad lines of all there is to be understood,' reminds us that there is something in common in all areas of human investigation. If it is the same act of understanding that is operating in the empirical sciences, in philosophy, in literature and in history, then there will be something in common in all these areas. If the activity is the same, then the objects understood must in some way be the same.

If we discover the basic pattern of operations involved in knowing, then, we will have found 'a fixed base, an invariant pattern, opening upon all further developments of understanding.' We are looking for a foundation for our philosophy ; perhaps this 'fixed base' is what we are looking for. It is an invariant pattern because no matter how much the objects may differ the act of organizing intelligence maintains the same structure. If we can become aware of that structure of the act of understanding we will in some way be able to anticipate all further developments of understanding. Whatever new discoveries are made in the future, whatever new technologies, whatever progress may be made in science or philosophy, it can only be done through deeper understanding. But if we already know what understanding is, then these new discoveries cannot be entirely new; they may be new in content but they won't be new in the activity by which they are understood. [54]

Comments on Exercises.

(1) It is very difficult to concentrate on one idea for any length of time. You will usually find that your mind wanders, that it is distracted, that it moves along from image to memory to fantasy almost at random. You realize with a start that you are miles away and bring yourself back to the starting point only to find that such concentration cannot be sustained. There is a ceaseless activity of images, memories, desires, fantasies, ideas, persons, questions, emotions, worries, all fighting for attention. The intellectual pattern of experience introduces some measure of temporary control and direction over this stream of consciousness.

(2) To catch intelligence at work, we have to go behind the finished product. Understanding is usually a matter of moving from confusion to clarity. To appreciate the act of organizing intelligence it is useful to go back to the beginning when all was confusion and trace your steps as little by little you sorted out the confusion, picked out the key elements, saw how they all fitted together, and reached a conclusion. It is useful to preserve your notes in order to be able to recapitulate this process. When we have understood we tend to forget the difficulty and the struggle that we went through; we are surprised that other people do not catch on. But understanding makes a slow and bloody entrance.

(3) The human mind can be active at different levels at the same time. When you are studying you should be thinking, concentrating on the matter at hand, learning and remembering. The flow of images and memories should be under control. When we look for an example it should pop into our minds; when we seek a suitable image we should be able to construct or find it under the influence of intelligence. But often imagination takes over and we find ourselves daydreaming about football, friends, holidays, etc. Strangely it can be just when we are relaxing that we come to understand.

(4) You might come up with something like the following: hoping, listening, waiting, imagining, seeing, feeling, fearing, [55] wishing, desiring, smelling, hearing, hating, loving, thinking, concluding, defining, knowing, believing, deciding, choosing, valuing, talking to yourself, dreaming, longing, arguing with yourself, pretending, intending, wanting, affirming, denying, assenting, deducing, counting, enumerating, naming, calculating,... to name but a few.

End Notes

1 Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology, (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1972), 85.

2 Method in Theology, 85-99.

3 Lawrence Kohlberg, Collected Papers on Moral Development and Moral Education, (Cambridge, Mass: Moral Education and Research Foundation The Primal Vision: Christian Presence amidst African Religions, 1973).

4 See John Taylor,, (London: SCM Press, 1963). A useful example of an author who has a wonderful grasp of the unity and compactness of simple societies.

5 James George Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, (London: Macmillan, 1922).

6 Henri Frankfort, Before Philosophy: The Intellectual Adventure of Ancient Man; An Essay on Speculative Thought in the Ancient Near East, (Penguin Books, 1954). Discusses the move from myth to thought in Egypt, Palestine and Greece.

7 Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method and the Meditations, (Penguin Books, 1968). His writings are very readable and accessible. Discourse four gives a synopsis of his position.

8 David Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, (Indianapolis: Hackell Publ. Co., 1993).

9 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, (New York: St Martin's Press, 1965). Trans by Norman Kemp Smith. Difficult reading for beginners in philosophy.

10 Herbert Butterfield, The Origins of Modern Science, (New York: Free Press, 1965). This is very readable, a classic on the subject.

11 Michael H. McCarthy, The Crisis of Philosophy, (New York: State University of New York Press, 1990). Also Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981).

12 See E. A. Burtt, The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1924, 1980) and Roy Bhaskar, A Realist Theory of Science, (Sussex, Harvester Press, 1978).

13 Compare Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, (New York: Harper & Row, 1959, 1968) and Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974).

14 Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962). Also Paul Feyerabend, Against Method, (London: Verso, 1988).

15 To mention two basic texts: R. Harré, The Philosophies of Science: An Introductory Survey, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985). A. F. Chalmers, What is this thing called Science? (Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1978). 

16 Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) wrote, Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology, The Crisis of European Science and Transcendental Phenomenology, Formal and Transcendental Logic, and The Idea of Phenomenology.

17 Eugene Webb, Philosophers of Consciousness, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988).

18 John Phillips, The Origin of Intellect: Piaget's Theory, (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1969).

19 James Joyce, Ulysses, (Paris: Shakespeare & Co, 1924). William Faulkner (1897-1962) wrote classics such as Go Down Moses, As I Lay Dying, Light in August, Requiem for a Nun.

20 Insight, 204-211. There is some flexibility in slicing the apple as regards patterns of experience and so my account differs slightly from that of Lonergan.

21 Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression, (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1966).

22 Insight, 22.


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