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Foundations of Philosophy


Reflective Understanding

The needed higher viewpoint is the discovery, the logical expansion and the recognition of the principle that intelligence contains its own immanent norms and that these norms are equipped with sanctions which man does not have to invent or impose.1

Preliminary Exercises.

  1. If the letters A and B represent any propositions, does the conclusion follow from the two premises?

    If A, then B. But A. Therefore B.

    If A, then B. But B. Therefore A.

    Think of concrete examples.

  2. A sick person goes to Doctor A and is not cured. He goes to Doctor B and is cured. Is Doctor B a better doctor than Doctor A?
  3. If you have sufficient evidence for a conclusion is it reasonable not to affirm that conclusion? [216]

    Is there any case when you can affirm a judgment without sufficient evidence?

  4. If pairs of black socks and pairs of white socks are mixed in the ratio of three to four, how many single socks do I have to draw blindfolded to guarantee getting a matching pair?

(5) The letters represent the numerals from zero to nine. Find the numerical values of the letters in this addition sum:

   H O C U S
+ P O C U S


1. Introduction

We have explained what is meant by a judgment; now we wish to outline the structure of the reflective insight on which the judgment depends, and from which it proceeds. We are in a sense going backwards to the insight which produces the judgment. We do it this way for pedagogical reasons. It is relatively to identify what is meant by a judgment, but it is more difficult to identify the reflective understanding on which it depends. That is our task in this chapter.

At the level of direct understanding we recognized the question for intelligence, leading to the direct insight, leading to the formulation. We note an analogous progression at the level of judgment where questions for reflection, lead to reflective insights which issue in the judgment. It will be helpful to keep these parallels in mind as we strive to identify the reflective insight in our own cognitional experience. We have already compared questions for intelligence asking for further understanding and questions for reflection asking for a yes or no answer. We have also compared the conception or hypothesis, the term at the level of understanding, to the judgment which is the term at the level of judgment. Now we will concentrate on the comparison between the direct insight and the reflective insight.

What are the grounds for uttering a judgment? It is easy to affirm conclusions, to have strong opinions about anything and everything, [217] but what is the foundation for these positions? There is a common assumption of our contemporary culture that judgments are the result of arbitrary choice. There is often an assumption that we can choose our moral values or life style; that we choose our opinions about religion or science; that we choose our cultural beliefs and values. Serious arguments will break down when one party simply asserts, 'well, that is my culture,' or 'if that makes you happy so be it.' If arbitrary choice is the basis for judgment, then there is little point in arguing. Arguing presumes there is a rational basis for conclusions. If that is the case then, what is true for me must be true for you. But if arbitrary choice is operating there is no basis for excluding one of contradictory alternatives; different views might indeed be incommensurable, having no common origin and no common basis for discussion. The challenge of this chapter is to uncover this rational process as it actually operates and to show that choice is not the basis for judgments of truth.

In studying direct insight we noted that the actual moment of illumination is followed later by the expression of the insight in terms of a definition or a formulation. First the idea is grasped; then concepts are formulated, made explicit, put into words, expressed in a definition, written down and explained to others. Similarly at the level of judgment, you have first the grasp of the connection between evidence and conclusion and then that is expressed in a judgment. There is a parallel between the process from direct insight to formulation and the process from reflective insight to judgment. Both are discursive processes moving from a question through a series of individual activities, eventually reaching an answer.

There is a rational process which produces judgments. We noted already the heuristic structure by which the mind proceeds from the question to the answer, from the known/unknown to the known, from a puzzle to a solution. We noted this in the production of ideas from images and concepts from ideas. The same heuristic is operating here as we move from the reflective insight to the judgment. We know that if we have no evidence for something we are merely guessing. We know that if we have sufficient evidence for a judgment it is silly not to make the judgment. In between silliness and guessing we have the process of weighing the evidence [218] for the making of a reasonable judgment. But weighing the evidence is a metaphor borrowed from physical procedures of using scales and measuring weights. We need to go somewhat beyond vague metaphors to identify precisely and in explanatory terms what the structure of the reflective insight is that grounds the judgment.

Spontaneously we ask the question, is it true? and proceeds to assemble the evidence or counter-evidence for a judgment. Young children tend to believe anything; but then slowly, inexorably, inevitably, the question emerges in their minds, is it true? Tell a good fishy story in a pub; very entertaining but nobody believes it is true. Spontaneously we sort out what is reasonable from what is unreasonable. There is something about this activity that we cannot be taught, if it is not there already. Our aim here is to identify this spontaneous critical questioning, and then to objectivize, to pin down and say precisely what is the process by which we move towards satisfactory answers.

In the general case, reflective understanding is a review, a looking back at the processes involved in direct insight to check whether proper procedures have been followed, whether anything has been left out; it is a kind of critical checking as to whether a conclusion is warranted; it is a reflection on the sufficiency of the evidence for the conclusion. It is checking whether the question has been answered and whether the criteria set in the question have been satisfactorily met. The reflective insight is a single insight which gathers together a multiplicity of data, insights, propositions, hypotheses and grasps the rational necessity of positing a judgment.

If you go back over any of the exercises given in previous chapters, you should be able to identify this process of checking which takes place spontaneously yet is difficult to identify and isolate. Not any old answer will do. We automatically discard answers which do not satisfy the demands of the question. We want to be right. But how do we know that we are right? Review the conditions set by the question and ask, are they fulfilled in your answer? Is there any other answer that would satisfy? Has any data or condition been forgotten? Were the calculations correct? Mathematicians are taught to check their answers by working backwards through their calculations to the problem posed. In [219] earlier chapters we concentrated on identifying direct insights; now we can use the same examples to identify reflective insight issuing in a judgment.

There is an imperative which is immanent and operative in this procedure. There are norms which are operating and they do not come from outside, they are not imposed on us, they are already there. You should not affirm something for which there is insufficient evidence; you should not withhold judgment when there is sufficient evidence. That is not just a logical rule; it is more than that. The desire to understand is purposive; once understanding is reached, we spontaneously ask if it is the correct understanding, if it is true. This imperative constitutes and obligation which we will examine in detail.

We will start with a description of the process of reflective understanding; then we outline the general schema of terms and relations which will help us later when applied to particular examples. Finally we will consider the criteria by which we know that we have reached a correct judgment and illuminate our treatment by a contrast with other theories of judgment.

2. Description of Reflective Insight

1. Five Characteristics. Because it is an act of understanding, the process of reflective insight will include all the five characteristics of direct insight which we have already identified in chapter two. Reflective insight is intelligence at work; it is grasping a relationship, a unity, a connection. The scope and depth of our reflective insights will depend on the tension of inquiry. Do we ask the relevant questions? Are we serious enough to do the research? Are we concentrating on the problem? The insight will come suddenly and unexpectedly while we are to some extent passive; it may not be as dramatic as the direct insight. It will pivot between the abstract and the concrete; we verify our judgments by reference to the concrete; theory is verified in instances. Reflective insight is a function of the inner conditions of inquiry, education, intellectual habits, context, and formulation of the problem, rather than outer circumstances such as what kind of typewriter you are using, or the [220] state of the weather. It passes into the habitual texture of the mind; our judgments put together who we are, what we stand for, and set the context for further questions and answers.

The reflective insight is, however, more complicated than the direct insight. Direct insights are included in a reflective insight as part of the content. Reflective insight reviews the whole ensemble of data, images, ideas, concepts, propositions, connections, and relations to pass judgment on the whole intellectual process. Reflective insight gathers into a unity a vast multiplicity of factors. But it does focus on one aspect, namely the sufficiency of the evidence for the utterance of a correct judgment. It is because so many factors are involved that it is difficult to identify and appropriate the procedure of reflective understanding. We tend not to see the wood for the trees; there are so many factors involved in the evidence or argument that we fail to see the unity grasped by reflective understanding.

2. Critical Question. It is the question which sets the criterion which the correct answer must satisfy. We have distinguished between questions for intelligence and questions for reflection. Typical questions for reflection are, is it true? is it correct? is it really so? does it really exist? is John really sick? The critical question is searching for the truth; truth is what is found when questions for reflection are answered correctly.

3. Unity in Multiplicity. Etymologically, the phrase 'to reflect' means 'to turn back upon.' We use the term 'reflective' in the sense of looking back over, reviewing, checking back, overviewing a whole process. This is what reflective insight does. We have a bright idea, or a possible hypothesis, a complicated theory. But is it true? With this critical question the person begins to review all the evidence from the very beginning; to line up the arguments; to check on the data; to look for counterexamples, loopholes, mistakes, confusions. If he is satisfied, he has grasped the sufficiency of the evidence and prepares for the expression of the judgment.

Reflection as it is used here is does not mean a comparison between what is in the mind and what is outside the mind to check whether they correspond. Sometimes the question of truth is posed in this imaginative form. We are incarnate subjects and are quite incapable [221] of getting outside our minds in such a way that we could be able to compare ideas in the mind to those outside. For us reflection means reviewing the process of knowing from the sense data, to the understanding to the judgment; all these activities are conscious, and so we can notice whether anything has been left out, whether proper procedures were followed, etc. In this sense we do look back upon the activities of knowing.

The assembling of the evidence can be a very complicated affair. Galileo was convinced that the heliocentric theory of Copernicus was correct and that the geocentric theory of Ptolemy and Aristotle was wrong. But where was the evidence to prove it? On either hypothesis mathematical calculations from the movements of the planets were highly complicated. The fact that the moon had mountains, the sun had spots, that Jupiter had moons, tell against Aristotle's astronomy but not necessarily against his geocentrism. Galileo presented the phenomenon of the tides as his clinching proof that the earth was moving; the tides were supposed to be the sloshing around of the waters of the oceans because of the movement of the earth. In fact this is not the correct explanation for the tides. Galileo had much circumstantial evidence but he was in fact jumping the gun, as there was no convincing argument at that time for heliocentrism. So it took millennia to assemble all the relevant data on the movements of the planets, and to sort out the arguments for the correct judgment between a heliocentric and a geocentric astronomy. The judgment itself is a simple yes or no; but the evidence can be voluminous and highly complicated.

The unity which is grasped in this multiplicity is how these data, calculations, observations constitute evidence for the conclusion. Reflective understanding focuses on the relation between the evidence and the conclusion. No matter how complicated the evidence or the arguments, the only interest of reflective understanding is the connection between, on the one hand the data, the arguments, the evidence and, on the other hand, the conclusion. That is the unity expressed simply by the yes or no of the judgment.

The connection between the evidence and the conclusion may not be certain or necessary. It will often be given in the form of probabilities; there are various degrees of probability from highly [222] probable to barely possible. Reflective insight preserves the correct proportion between the evidence and the conclusion. If it is a theorem from Euclid, then, if you grant the principles then the theorem follows certainly and necessarily and must be posited as such. If it is a law of classical science that has been verified over and over again, then it must be posited as so highly probable as to be almost certain. If it is a statement of average life expectancy based on data of a census which has been carried out carefully, then the conclusion can be affirmed even though it is only expressing a probability. If there is not sufficient evidence to reach a conclusion, reflective insight can only issue in an 'I do not yet know' answer.

4. Intelligence is the criterion. There are many extraneous influences which push towards either an affirmation or a denial. Temperament and feelings as well as prejudice and self-interest may push us very strongly in one direction or another. The affirmations of persons who are temperamentally prone to jump to conclusions may often be correctly called rash judgments. Other persons are careful, do not want to commit themselves, are afraid of making a mistake; these hesitate to pass a judgment even though the evidence is overwhelming and thus are called indecisive or timid. The criterion that should be operative in the passing of a judgment is the reflective grasp of the connection between the evidence and the conclusion, and extraneous interference should be put aside. That connection is grasped by intelligence, not by imagination, not by feeling, not by desire, not by sense.

5. The Critical Mode. The question for reflection, is it so? puts us in the critical mode, as opposed to the brainstorming mode. In that mode we are verifying our conclusions by working backwards through our calculations, reasoning, arguments to the data on which they are based. Everything is criticized and evaluated. Were the samples pure? Is the calculator working properly? Were the interviews carried out by competent persons? Is there a possibility of crosschecking? Are there counter-examples? Are there exceptions? These are not necessarily questions for reflection but they are motivated by the question for reflection and are ultimately in view of the yes of no of the final judgment. In the normal process of thinking out a solution we move very quickly from suggesting possibilities, [223] to evaluating and rejecting them, to looking for further possibilities. We move from direct insights to reflective insights and back again; that is the nature of discursive movement towards a correct solution.

3. General Form of Reflective Insight

1. Definition. Having described above some of the qualities of reflective understanding, we can now define it as the act of understanding which grasps the sufficiency of the evidence for a prospective judgment. It is an intellectual grasp or insight; its precise focus is the sufficiency of the evidence for the judgment; the judgment is only prospective because it can be expressed as a judgment only after the reflective grasp of the sufficiency of the evidence.

The question now is whether there is a general form of the reflective insight. Is the same kind of reflective insight present in common sense examples, in the natural sciences, in statistical method, in philosophy, in mathematics? If it is the same in all these different cases then what is its general form? Can we outline a general case and then apply that to all the particular examples? Is there a universal form or structure to the reflective insight as such?

It seems that there is. The hint for Lonergan seems to have been the discovery that all the figures and modes of the syllogism can be expressed in the form of the hypothetical syllogism. 2From there it is not hard to include other kinds of argument such as induction, concrete judgments of fact, mathematics, and all other branches of knowledge. To elaborate on this we will start with a general schema of terms and relations and later apply it to particular examples.

2. Terms and Relations. Any prospective judgment is a conditioned. 3 It need not necessarily be true. But if the conditions are fulfilled, then it will be true. It is a contingent truth. A conditioned judgment, then, is a prospective judgment which depends on certain other conditions in order to be true.

The 'virtually unconditioned' is a conditioned in which the conditions have, in fact, been fulfilled. We use the term 'virtually unconditioned' to distinguish it from 'formally unconditioned'; the [224] formally unconditioned has no conditions whatsoever, so it is foolish to ask if they are fulfilled. Necessary being (which we usually call God) is the only instance of a formally unconditioned judgment. No other judgment is entirely without conditions; all other judgments are true only if certain conditions are fulfilled.

We use the term 'virtually' unconditioned in the sense that the judgment is unconditioned 'in virtue of the fact' that there is sufficient evidence; it is unconditioned 'because' the conditions have, in fact, been fulfilled. Instead of 'virtually unconditioned' we could also say 'actually unconditioned' or 'factually unconditioned' or 'verified'. The judgment is conditioned in itself but now the conditions have been fulfilled and we can posit the judgment as true, as a virtually unconditioned. (We are not using the phrase virtually unconditioned in the sense of 'almost' wall is white unconditioned; as in he has virtually won the election, meaning that to all intents and purposes he has won the election but there are a few technicalities to be seen to.)

There is then:

  1. A conditioned, namely, a prospective judgment.
  2. A link between the conditioned and its conditions.
  3. The fulfillment of the conditions.

(4) The virtually unconditioned.

The conditioned is transformed into the virtually unconditioned if there is a link between the conditions and the conditioned, and if the conditions are fulfilled. Reflective understanding directs attention to the conditions to see if they are really fulfilled and to the link that binds them to the conditioned. If everything is in order, then, the conditioned, which we started with, can now be affirmed. It can be affirmed as certain, highly probable, probable or merely possible depending on the assessment of the evidence and the link between the evidence and the conclusion.

This is just a schema of terms and relations that is handy to have around when we come to particular examples. It does express the general form of the reflective act of understanding. It makes explicit the conditions on which the prospective judgment depends in order [225] to be affirmed as true. Spontaneously when we have a question for reflection, we ask what kind of evidence would be needed to show that it is true; then we go to see if that evidence or data exists; if the evidence is sufficient and linked to the conclusion we answer the question in the affirmative. We are objectivizing the spontaneous activities of critical inquiry in a technical terminology and formal structure.

3. Hypothetical Syllogism. Can all the different modes and figures of the syllogism be reduced to one general form? It would seem that they can and this general form would seem to be the form of deductive inference.

Where A and B represent one or more propositions, the deductive form is:

Question Is B so?

Major Premise If A, then B.

Minor Premise But A.

Conclusion Therefore B.

B is the conditioned; it is the prospective judgment. The link is represented by the major premise, If A, then B. This asserts that there is a link between the conditions and the conditioned. The minor premise, But A, asserts that the conditions are fulfilled. The judgment follows by rational necessity. In the hypothetical syllogism, if we posit the antecedent, the consequent follows. This is an example of positing the antecedent. Think it out for yourself. If the two premises are given the conclusion must follow of rational necessity. It is not a matter of choice. There is something very basic and inevitable about this reasoning process.

This is the most basic form of the syllogism because for any other valid syllogism the premises can be represented by A and the conclusion by B. Any other syllogism could then be presented:

Question Is this syllogism valid?

Major Premise If the premises are true, the conclusion follows. [226]

Minor Premise But the premises are true.

Conclusion Therefore the conclusion follows.

Inductive arguments can also be presented in this form. In inductive argument can be presented in the form:

Question Is this inductive conclusion true

Major Premise If the evidence gathered by observation or experiment is sufficient, then the conclusion follows.

Minor Premise But the evidence gathered by observation or experiment is sufficient.

Conclusion Therefore the inductive conclusion follows.

Let us move to applying these schemes of terms and relations to more concrete examples of reasoning towards a conclusion.

4. Application to Typical Cases

1. Concrete Judgments of Fact. It might appear from the above that all judgments are reached by syllogism and hence by deduction. If that were so then every premise would be a judgment and would be validated by another syllogism, and you could go on to infinity. Where does our knowing start? Are we open to the skeptics' criticism that we must have an infinity of syllogisms, the argument from infinite regress. We answer that the fulfilling of the conditions may not be a judgment but may be given in sense presentations.

One could hardly imagine a simpler judgment than, 'the wall is white.' This is so simple, in fact, that some philosophers would not consider it a judgment at all. For them it would be a datum, a given in the senses, an item of sense knowledge. But we have already distinguished between data and facts: data are given in sense presentations but in themselves do not constitute a judgment: animals can perceive colors but do not utter judgments. A fact is a judgment passed on presentations through the mediation of understanding and definition. [227]

Identifying and affirming a color is a case in which the fulfilling conditions are not some previous judgments but direct sensory experience. If you want to check, you look again, you look more carefully, with discrimination. But the looking is accompanied by understanding. We have learned the meaning of 'white' and distinguished it from creamy, gray, blue, etc. We have learned to classify our sensory experiences and if we have studied art and painting we can do this at a very sophisticated level; one can dispute over where to classify a particular color. This reflects on the difficulty of pinning down descriptive knowledge in any precise way. We can have disputes not because we are seeing different colors but because our definitions of colors differ. The fulfilling of the conditions need not be a judgment but can be given in sense experience.

Disputes in the natural sciences can be resolved back into the data of sense. That is the plank on which the strength of the sciences is built. But disputes in the area of philosophy or cognitional theory can be traced back to the data of consciousness. We are making assertions about how we understand and reason. You are invited to ask yourself are these assertions true. To answer that question you are invited to become aware of the spontaneous activities of your own mind as you struggle to solve a problem or answer a question.

In simple judgments of fact the link between the conditions and the conditioned is given in cognitional process; it need not be a separate judgment. What is it that links the prospective judgment with its fulfilling conditions? We have shown how questioning of data given in the senses leads to direct understanding, and how questions for intelligence are followed by questions for reflection leading to the judgment. This is a very basic and inevitable process in knowing. The dynamic linking the experiencing, the understanding and the judgment is the questioning of intelligence and reflection. The one question applied to some aspect of data leads to understanding a possibility which is seen as only a half-way house as we continue to seek the evidence that will turn the possibility into a judgment. There is a parallel between the basic technical terms and relations we identified above, and the very [228] structure of our minds as questioning, experiencing, understanding and judging.

We ask questions about sensory experiences of color. We have to learn and identify the names of the different colors. We have to recognize the borderline that distinguishes different primary and secondary colors. We have to check whether our understanding is correct by recourse to a teacher or a color panel. This is all presumed when we utter a simple judgment that 'the wall is white.' Children do not need a course in cognitional theory to learn their colors. The fulfilling conditions are given in the seeing; the link between questioning, experiencing, understanding and judging is given in the structure of our knowing.

The link then is not a judgment but the very structure that is immanent and operative in cognitional process. The judgment is one act that proceeds from reflective understanding which scoops up into a unity the sensory experience, the definitions of color, and the relation between them.. We do not have to learn the procedure of asking questions, seeking understanding and how to pass judgments. That procedure is spontaneous. But we do have to learn the content of each particular judgment of fact, no matter how rudimentary.

This example is relatively simple but the same principle applies whenever the fulfilling conditions are given in sensory experience. Einstein's theory of relativity would hardly be classified as rudimentary. Yet the crucial verification was performed by looking through a telescope at the apparent position of a star during a solar eclipse. The seeing in this case was guided by high precision instruments, extremely accurate calculations of where the star should be on Newtonian principles, and calculations of how the sun might deflect the light as postulated by Einstein's theory. For all the acumen and sophistication, without the seeing there would have been no evidence for the verification.

2. Commonsense Judgments. We make many commonsense judgments every day as a matter of course. Because they belong to the field of common sense, they are full of analogies and metaphors, undefined terms and vague generalizations. Arguments in the context of common sense can go on for ever; evidence is presented [229] in bits and pieces; valid arguments intermingle with dubious inferences; who shouts the loudest or the last usually wins. Common sense procedures are not the result of analysis or critical reflection, they are spontaneous but confused. Usually they are approximately correct, they work for the most part and are successful. There is a body of experience and custom built up over years that we rely on. But the underlying spontaneous procedure of common sense is to seek for evidence, look for a link between the evidence and the conclusion, and to be reasonable in positing a conclusion or solving the problem.

3. Classical Method. In classical science verification is attained by noting that the concrete measurements converge on the abstract laws. Judgments are based, not on the expectation of a perfect coincidence between the abstract and the concrete, but on the expectation of a convergence. We have already given a detailed description of Galileo working out the law of natural acceleration so let us stay with that example and use it to call attention to the process of reflective insight in classical method.

Galileo was convinced that Aristotle was wrong, wrong on the principle that the heavier the body is the faster it will fall, and wrong on the principle that a body falls faster and faster because it is getting nearer to its natural place of rest. But it is not enough to say that somebody is wrong, you have to produce evidence. Again, there is an issue of correct judgment, and there are consequences one way or the other. Galileo had many enemies and he knew that his findings would be carefully scrutinized. He was motivated to check very carefully each step of the way because if he issued hasty or wrong conclusions he would soon be exposed.

One can imagine the care he took. The critical reflective mode is operating from the beginning and influences all the experiments and activities to the conclusion. He carefully thought out his methods. He took all possible care with his apparatus, his measuring, his timing, and his calculations. He repeated the experiments again and again. He changed the length and measured the time; he changed the time and measured the length. He pushed to the maximum length that the apparatus would allow. He tried different inclinations of the plane. He tried different ways of measuring the time. At one stage he [230] was using his pulse. He also used a sand clock. He was also worked with a bucket of water with a small tap that could be turned on and off; the time was measured by the amount of water that flowed while the tap was on. He tried the experiment with different materials. He worked on the tables of correlations and always found that the distances were proportionate to the time squared. He considered other possibilities. Eventually the further questions were exhausted; it was getting boring; there was sufficient evidence; it was time to publish and move on to other areas of research.

If you formalize his reasoning it comes out like this:

The conditioned: It seems that the nature of a free fall is such that the distances are proportionate to the time squared.

The link between the conditioned and the conditions: If the nature of a free fall is such that the distances are proportionate to the time squared then an indefinite series of measurements of a free fall will show that concrete results converge on the abstract formula that the distances are proportionate to the time squared.

The fulfilling conditions: He did a series of measurements which converged on the law that the distances were proportionate to the times squared.


The virtually unconditioned: The nature of acceleration is that the distance traveled is proportionate to the time squared.

Experiments have continuously confirmed this law. Results have continued to converge on the abstract law. The more sophisticated the equipment and the more accurate the measurements, the closer actual measurements converge on the dictates of the law.

4. Statistical Method. We considered the hypothetical case of a social survey designed to see if there was a significant statistical correlation between incidence of lung cancer and cigarette smoking. This we took as a typical example of statistical method issuing in abstract laws from which the concrete cannot diverge systematically. Let us continue with that example to make more explicit the role of reflection in the whole process. [231]

It is well known how open to abuse such surveys are. Vital issues are at stake effecting the lives of many people. The process is open to bias from interest groups, interference from governments, personal prejudice of the surveying team, etc. Special precautions have to be taken from the beginning not only that truth be attained but that it be seen to be attained. Surveys are large-scale operations and cannot easily be duplicated; the results of a survey have to be presumed to stand as it may not be possible ever to duplicate the process or check the results by other means. The methods that can be used in social surveys are never as precise or controllable as experiments in a laboratory. But it is important that this difficulty which is inherent in social surveys be not compounded by sloppy method, or deliberate prejudice.

The important thing to note, from our point of view, is that the process of reflection permeates the work from the beginning. Critical questions have to be asked from the very beginning and at every step along the way. Although we have represented reflective understanding as coming after direct understanding at the third level of cognitional process, we should not think that in a process like a social survey we wait until the end to ask, is our insight correct. It will not be correct unless all the procedures and preliminary judgments and definitions are informed by the same detached reflective mode. We have to ask at each step of the way, Is this the correct procedure? Is this the correct way to ask the question? Is this the right size sample to use? Are these calculations based on probability theory correct? A mistake at any stage of the process vitiates the final results.

Having followed all the correct procedures and checked over all the results at the end of the process it is possible to make a reflective assessment of the link between the conditioned and the fulfilling conditions. Putting everything together in the final report with a synopsis of the significant findings it is possible to say Yes, the evidence justifies these conclusions. The all-embracing reflective understanding grasps the unity between the multitude of conditions and the final conclusions. The evidence is such that we can affirm a certain conclusion with a given degree of probability. [232]

4. Judgment on the Correctness of Insight4

Our examination of concrete judgments of fact revealed that the fulfilling conditions for a judgment are often given in presentations rather than in previous judgments. Further, they revealed that the link between the conditioned and the fulfilling conditions can be given in cognitional structure itself. Experience, understanding and judgment work together, as we have indicated briefly already. Understanding mediates between the levels of experiencing and judging. How do we know that our understanding is correct? How do we know that our definitions of color are correct? The purpose of this present section is to explore these questions.

Our appeal, again, is not to some theory of knowledge but to our own experience of knowing. If you have tried to do the addition sum suggested in the preliminary exercises, hocus, pocus, presto, you will have been involved in a series of individual insights. Some of them will be correct; you think a little and realize that they must be correct and, secure in that knowledge, you move on to the next step. For instance, it is not difficult to see that P must be equal to one. There are no single numbers which, when added together along with one, will give you twenty. So that the P of presto must be equal to one. All other possible values are excluded. No further questions arise. There is no need to delay over the matter; you move on to the next clue. Write down everything you know about the values of the letters. Substitute the values that you know. Look for clues. Is there any other letter that we can pin down? You can say that the letter O is even; any number added to itself gives an even number. What about R? It must be either 1 or 0. But it can't be 1 because P is already 1. So it must be 0.

You might then focus on H and say it must be 9. But must it? Consider other possibilities. Ask further questions. Oh, yes, it could be 8, if there is a carry one from the previous column. After that it is a matter of trial and error. The important thing is to recognize the point at which you know that you are right and must be right, and the point where you are still considering possibilities and still asking questions. In mathematical examples it is very clear when we have reached a correct insight because there is a checking process that shows that it is correct and a complete closing off of further [233] questions indicating that nothing further could interfere with the conclusion already reached. A mistaken insight is open to be overturned by the asking of further questions and the realization that we left out some possibility or necessity.

Note then that insights give rise to further questions. There may be questions about the matter in hand which have not been settled and other possibilities have to considered and checked. Or our questioning may conclude that the matter in hand has been solved and further questioning on that matter is fruitless, so we spontaneously move on to further matters which have yet to be understood.

Hence we introduce an operational distinction between vulnerable and invulnerable insights. We operate spontaneously on the principle that an insight is invulnerable if no further pertinent questions arise that could overthrow it. Contrariwise, an insight is vulnerable if there are further pertinent questions to be asked and answered about the matter in hand. This is a law immanent and operative in cognitional process. Go over your experience of solving any of the puzzles and you will notice it at work. You know that a student in class has solved a puzzle, when you see him relaxed, gazing about the room, getting bored as he waits for the others to find the solution. He has no further questions to ask and it is boring to spend more time on the matter.

This criterion has to be treated with some care. It is not as easy as it sounds. An insight is invulnerable if no further pertinent questions arise, but we have to allow the questions to arise. We have to be open to all possibilities, we have to be able to ask the relevant questions, we have to have the time and the interest to follow up the further questions, we have to be able to exclude other distractions as we pursue our investigation to the end. Questions can come to an end for many reasons other than that we have reached an invulnerable insight. So we have to lay down further qualifications.

Give further questions a chance to arise. The first insight, however brilliant and exciting, may not be correct. You have to ask the question for reflection, is it true? is it correct? and that may reveal that something has been left out and the whole process has to [234] start again. A judgment is a rash judgment if it is made hastily with too little reflection and no time for further questions to arise.

We try to prevent further questions arising if we are unwilling to change our established position and feel that asking further questions may undermine our position. So we avoid the further question by reinforcing our limited stance, digging in our heels; we resort to rhetoric and prevent reflection. Openness to all further questions is a characteristic of the pure desire to know and is the knife that cuts through prejudice, bias and dogmatism. We can avoid all mental activity by indulging in a well-meaning activism which aims at changing the world without first understanding it.

We noted before that each individual judgment is dependent on a context of other judgments. Our present judgments are dependent on our past judgments. Our judgments are linked to our direct insights and our various experiences. There is a whole context of our education, mental habits, ways of thinking, opinions, and judgments that has been built and intertwined over a lifetime. There can seem to be a vicious circle here. Single judgments depend for their validity on a context of prior judgments. But if the prior judgments are wrong or warped or biased, how do we get out of the mess? This is something like the problem of the hermeneutical circle. To understand the whole of a book you have to first understand the parts; but you cannot understand the parts without understanding the whole. This seems to lead to a logically impossible position.

We would solve this by appealing to the self-correcting process of learning. How, in fact, does our understanding develop? It develops in small painful increments. We get a vague idea of the whole from the table of contents and we get a vague idea of the part by skimming the first chapter. We go back to the whole and have a better understanding as we return to the parts. It is the process of learning that breaks the supposed vicious circle.

It is the same with a context of judgments that has gone a little bit awry. We do not have to reject the whole lot in order to start again afresh. Descartes recommended the system of methodic doubt; discard everything that can be doubted and, if there is anything left, start there. This seems rather radical especially as, if you start doubting everything, there is no obvious place to stop. But Newman [235] suggested an alternative procedure; accept in general what you reasonably can, but if you spot a mistake dig it out root and branch. He was recommending the self-correcting process of knowing. Keep asking questions, be open to alternatives. If there is an incoherence it will eventually be exposed. If there is a mistake, then, it will show up by not fitting in with other data. We can learn from our mistakes. Why did we overlook such data, what other mistakes might have been made; correct the context and see how that effects other things. The context that is skewed can be straightened out, reoriented, and purified.

The process of reflection tends to be discursive not deductive. It is discursive in the sense that we proceed step by painful step; we often take two steps forward and one backward. Questions in one area tend to a limit where we are satisfied that we have sufficient evidence; maybe in another area we turn up evidence that would have a bearing on the previous material. We go round in circles, we move up spirals, we go over our tracks, we make mistakes but the later context will often reveal them to be mistakes. Our thinking is rarely deductive; we rarely proceed logically from premises to conclusions. That may be the form in which we present our conclusions but that is not how the whole process of questioning, imagining, formulating, defining, reflecting, evaluating, etc. goes on. Our minds conduct a kind of mixed up conversation with ourselves in which there are many voices, many levels, many desires operative, but the general orientation is towards the reflective understanding leading to judgment.

Interference with the process of knowing usually comes from the motive force, from the temperament, the intention, the self-interest of the knower. Rashness and indecision are usually rooted in temperament. Some people are prone to jump at the first possibility; they have not the patience to wait, to think, to reflect. Others have sufficient evidence but are paralyzed by fear of being wrong. They are so afraid of making a mistake that they do nothing and affirm nothing. The ditherer cannot make up his mind.

More serious distortions can be introduced by twisted motivation. To live continuously by the pure desire to know and to be open to all questions is a rare achievement. More common is [236] taking up a position that one likes and then finding the evidence to bolster it.

6. Immanent and Operative Norms

Our appeal from the beginning until now has always been to our awareness of the activities of knowing. We will continue that focus here in our consideration of reflective understanding. By now we should be familiar with the experience of the process or stages of knowing; the puzzlement with data which does not fit together; the attempt to organize data into some schema of cause, correlation, theory or explanation; continuous failure and frustration as nothing seems to check out; sudden and unexpected insight; we think we know; we check back again over everything; we know; we reflect further and we know that we know. In solving a simple mathematical puzzle these stages are compacted into a minute of intense intellectual activity. In solving a historical problem such as the assassination of John Kennedy these stages can be extended over years of painstaking research and we may never reach the point of really knowing for sure.

The naturalist fallacy claims that you cannot argue from a statement of 'what is' to a statement of 'what ought to be'. What we are doing, however, is showing that there is an obligation and an imperative operative in asking questions and seeking answers. It is simply a fact that these obligations operate; observation and attention to the process of knowing reveals these norms operating. It is the nature of the case that these imperatives bind. We know what a thing is by knowing how it operates. We have been observing the activity of knowing as it unfolds in experiencing, understanding and judging; it is in correctly understanding that activity which justifies us in talking about the nature of human understanding. We can experience and observe imperatives at work in this unfolding; we are entitled to conclude that they are immanent and operative in the very structure of human knowing.

What norms are operating which move us from one stage to the next in that process of coming to know? What norm is satisfied when we reach the stage of knowing that we know? What norm is [237] not satisfied when we have a very likely hypothesis but there are still loose ends? We can distinguish between the experience of a problem which is not solved, is still open: we have doubts about the possible solutions and the experience of closure, of everything fitting together, of the problem being solved, everything has been checked and rechecked, it is boring to waste more time on the matter.

The dynamic is the desire to know which pervades all the activities and is satisfied only when knowing is reached. The stages of knowing have their own immanent and operative norms; we can name them simply as, be attentive, be intelligent and be reasonable. We call these norms immanent because they are part of the very structure of knowing; they come from the inside rather than from the outside and they must be operative in any human knowing. They are not imposed from outside: they are not an invention of philosophy or logic or scientific method. They are not learned; rather, all learning presupposes the operation of these obligations. Knowing contains its own immanent norms of operation. Guided by what we have already discovered about the complete process of knowing let us extract and identify these immanent and operative norms.

Be attentive. In general this means to be alert, to notice data which might prove significant, to be sensitive, to use all the senses, to exploit their potential to the full, to extend the range of the senses by using instruments. Our knowing begins in sense experience and continues to depend on the senses for verification. All scientific conclusions must have some sensible consequences, you must be able to point to some data through observation, experiment or research.

This is an imperative to be attentive to all the data, not to exclude on a priori grounds any of the data. Most scientists attend to the data of the external senses; they rule out of court appeals to mental activities as unverifiable. But we find the data of consciousness are equally part of what is given in experience. Just as we can attend to dissecting a frog, so we can attend to dissecting the act of understanding. It is obscurantism to brush aside data just because it does not fit within our already established categories.

Significance is grasped by intelligence. Animals have senses and are attentive but only to what is relevant to their survival and the [238] satisfaction of their needs in the biological pattern of experience. Our senses are under the guidance of the desire to know, in the context of the intellectual pattern of experience. Our seeing is guided by the question which directs us to what is relevant, significant, of possible importance. Our searching is guided by the expectations of theory. We reject entirely the principle of the empty head: that the senses should not be interfered with by theory and should be left on their own, raw sensation. Empiricists seem to adopt this position in the name of 'objectivity.' We consider that the work of intelligence is not interference but necessary guidance to understanding the intelligible in the sensible.

All the data must be explained. It may not be explicable in terms of classical laws, but then we have recourse to statistical method. There are degrees of intelligibility attainable in different areas, from description to explanation, from different kinds of causality; we do not expect the same precision in ethics as in mathematics.

Be intelligent. Think things through to the end. Our ideas must be coherent, they must fit together with the data, the facts, definitions of our own discipline and other areas of study. Logic is useful to determine the coherence of definitions, divisions, arguments and conclusions within a given system. Mathematics usually plays the same role in the empirical sciences. One of the normal developments in thinking is to move from confusion to clarity. We discover many inconsistencies by simply clear, straight thinking about a problem. Solving the mathematical sum, hocus pocus presto, does not require mathematical genius but it does call for clear, straight thinking about what you know and what you do not know.

The simplest explanation, all else being equal, is to be preferred. Entities are not to be multiplied without necessity. Theories must imply sensible consequences; otherwise they remain as imaginable possibilities.

The process from individual insights to conceptualization, to generalization, to abstraction, is thinking out the implications of the insight. It is not easy to delimit precisely our generalizations. Ideas such as justice, honesty, virtue need to be defined if you are to work out a system of ethics. We discussed this process in Developing [239] Understanding: Formulation. Here we are drawing attention to the imperative to be clear, precise, sophisticated, differentiated, coherent in moving towards correct formulation. It is an imperative which is intrinsic to the process.

Being intelligent means being open to possibilities, looking at a problem from every angle, making connections. Often our imagination and memory confine us to limited perspectives; they act as blinkers excluding other possibilities. Intelligence is an infinite openness to make or to become all things.

Be Reasonable. We can assert as true only that for which there is sufficient reason or justification. The critical question arises spontaneously; possibilities have to be evaluated in terms of the question, are they verified? Judgment is the criterion of the real, not imagination, not our sense of the real, not feeling, not tradition, not prejudice, not profit. These and many other extraneous influences tend to skew the process from evidence to conclusions. Truth is not a question of shouting the loudest, thumping the table; it is not determined by opinion polls or majority votes.

It is not a matter of choice. It is a question of living in the real world and not the world as we would wish it to be. It is moving from fiction to fact, from alchemy to chemistry, from astrology to astronomy, from legend to history, from superstition to science, from quackery to medicine. We do not have a choice about the world we live in. We might succeed in choosing our truths for a while, but eventually reality catches up with us.

Affirmation adds only the yes or no of judgment; it does not include an image to go along with it; affirming the suitability of an image is often a separate affair. To affirm that a person has a soul is a judgment; to imagine it as a ghost in a machine is quite another.

These three norms are operative at every stage of knowing and in every discipline or subdivision of knowing. They operate at the level of common sense; an argument in a pub in its own confused way applies these norms. If you are caught in a contradiction you have lost; someone points out data which has not been considered; counterexamples are produced; someone demands a better [240] definition of the terms; etc. The norms operate in a more refined way in science, in the human sciences, in philosophy.

They operate in all cultures, at all stages in the development of cultures. Even the mythological mentality is expressing what is and what is not, in terms of symbols and myths. Ultimately these terms will not satisfy as they are too vague, too imaginative, involve contradictions, are too undifferentiated, but there is no culture which does not try to understand correctly human life, destiny and the world. To understand correctly means to attend to the data, to the given, to what is experienced; to understand it, to make sense of it, to identify and distinguish elements, beginning and end, etc; and to understand it correctly, to reach truth, to distinguish it from untruth, to be able to point to evidence of its truth.

These immanent and operative norms are also sanctions; those who violate the norms are punished. There is a self-correcting process at work in the unfolding of any area of human knowing. We might have a favorite theory and come across some data which does not fit in with it; we can ignore it, but that is obscurantism, intellectual blindness; we become incoherent, wanting to know but not willing to face the facts. We might have our own theory but someone else expounds a better theory; what do we do? We can bury our head in the sand ostrich-like, we can ignore the opponent's theory, pretend it does not exist, stick doggedly to our guns. But everyone recognizes this as blindness, as dogmatism, as lack of intellectual honesty.

There is something fundamentally wrong with being inattentive, unintelligent, or unreasonable; it is not the wrongness of breaking a law but of a subject being incoherent and self-contradictory. You cannot really argue between being attentive and inattentive, intelligent and stupid, reasonable and unreasonable. Any argument presupposes that we are trying to be attentive, intelligent and reasonable. There are very few authors or writers who explicitly espouse a position of being stupid or unreasonable! These norms are immanent and operative; we are naming them, making them explicit, identifying them, distinguishing them, showing how they operate. We are making explicit what is already there implicitly. We are not inventing rules or laws; but expressing what is already there. [241]

7. Criterion of Truth

Our approach to the question of truth is not by declaiming dogmatically from the housetops what it is; but by observing how we are in fact bound by the imperatives of attention, intelligence and reason. It is only in correct judgment that we attain to truth: at the level of understanding we get a possible hypothesis; at the level of experiencing we get data or presentations. How do we know that we have reached a correct judgment? In answering this question we will distinguish a proximate and a remote criterion of truth.

1. Proximate criterion of Truth. Truth is only attained in a correct judgment; correct judgments are generated by reflective grasp of the virtually unconditioned. The immediate criterion of truth, then, is reflective understanding, as it grasps the sufficiency of the evidence, the link between the evidence and the conclusion, and the rational necessity of positing the conclusion as certain, probable or merely possible. In the immediate context we know that we have reached the truth if we have sufficient evidence and that evidence entails the conclusion. We have already examined in sufficient detail the form of this reflective grasp of the virtually unconditioned.

How do we know that there is a sufficiency of evidence? It is only reflective understanding which can determine the correct proportion between the evidence and the conclusion. Sometimes in mathematics or geometry the evidence will justify a certain, necessary conclusion; sometimes it will warrant a highly probable conclusion; sometimes we have to be content with a moderately probable opinion. The only universal appeal we can make is to the operative norms of be attentive, intelligent and reasonable. We cannot lay down specific rules because these will only apply in specific cases. The only universal appeal we can make which applies in all fields, at all times, in all cultures, is to the process of reflective understanding and the norms that operate within that structure. We will elaborate on this when we deal with Cognitional Structure.

2. The remote criterion of truth. Individual judgments usually depend on the context. The context can be very wide indeed; if the context is in itself skewed then the individual judgment will not be [242] reliable. How do we ensure that the context is correctly oriented, that it is not itself mistaken or deformed? We appeal to the general context of all knowing where the dynamic which is operating is the pure, detached, unrestricted desire to know. It is the proper unfolding of that desire which is the remote criterion of truth. It is the implementation of that desire which guarantees that the overall context of our individual judgments is sound. The desire to know is the source of the imperatives of being attentive, intelligent and reasonable.

By pure we mean that the context is free from prejudice and bias. It is not too difficult to imagine how prejudice and bias can distort the context and lead to wrong conclusions. We examined the process of doing a social survey as an example of statistical method; we pointed out the precautions and care that must be taken. But the overall context of the survey can be totally distorted if it is being carried out by an interest group which has already determined what the conclusions are going to be. You do not ask policemen to investigate corruption among the police; you do not invite criminals to reform the criminal justice system; you do not ask cigarette companies to do research on the connection between smoking and lung cancer; we do not usually trust a public opinion poll carried out by one political party.

Motives can be pure or they can be mixed or they can be totally devious. We have explained in detail rational process; but all of this depends on decisions and the motives behind these decisions. Intelligence can be used by a thief to perfect his thievery; or by a scientist to forge desirable results; or by a demagogue to stay in power. For rational process to reach a correct result we have to presume that the context of motivation and intention is wholesome.

By detached we mean that the searcher is open to all possibilities, is willing to accept the truth whatever it may be. We are presuming an intellectual honesty in research, in thinking, in use of data, in publishing the whole of the story, in acknowledging mistakes, in admitting the limitations of our knowledge.

There is a very fundamental way in which the context of a judgment can be warped by a dialectic operating in us between [243] different kind of knowing. We will elaborate further on that theme in the chapter on Intellectual Conversion.

8. Clarification by Contrast

It might be a useful exercise to contrast our position with those of the relativists, the skeptics, the empiricists and the logicians.

1. Relativism. We have admitted that descriptive knowing is of its nature relative to the knower; hence we have admitted that descriptive knowing is relative to the perspective of the observer. But we can escape these limitations by way of explanatory knowing, relating things to one another. There are many forms of legitimate pluralism, a pluralism of cultures, of differentiations of consciousness, of historical periods. In some sense our knowing is related to our culture, to our stage of development, to our use of language. All that is admitted. But we do not and cannot coherently admit that all our knowing is completely relative and hence has no ultimate or absolute value at all.

Relativists sometimes argue that in order to know one thing, we have to know everything. Because everything is related to everything else you cannot isolate one area from the rest; everything is tied together. But our experience of knowing belies this argument. We can solve simple puzzles and know that we have reached a correct solution. We can devote ourselves to a historical or scientific subject; we learn all there is to be learned; we do our own experiments and investigations; we become masters in the field; we are competent to distinguish between what we know with certainty and what we can only guess. There comes a point when we do know and we know that we know; an area closes itself off from other areas and we become proficient, we pass correct judgments. Despite our experience of the limitations of our knowing there are some things we can know with certainty and that experience disproves the contentions of the complete relativists. Once you have solved even a simple mathematical puzzle for yourself and know that it is correct then the claim of the absolute skeptic collapses.

Some think that any valid knowing must be certain and absolute knowing. But most of our knowing concerns various degrees of [244] probability; that is the human condition; probable knowing is valid human knowing. Some ask for too much; they ask that we must prove that we cannot be mistaken in order to posit a judgment. But that is not the way human knowing works.

A complete relativist position is incoherent. If one claims that ideological influences totally undermine the validity of our knowing, then the same ideological influences undermine the relativist position. Arguments which deconstruct on the basis of ideology can be equally turned against the deconstructionist. But this is just revealing the fundamental incoherence of a complete relativist position. There is an incoherence between the content of what is being said and the performance of the assertion.

2. Skepticism. There are various grounds for skepticism; let us deal with them one by one.

Firstly, the skeptics have an overpowering sense of the failure of the project of human knowing; they point to the effort that has been put into science and philosophy and the wide range of disagreement and contradiction that are still present. If the greatest minds have produced so little, how can we consider the enterprise of knowing worthwhile, how can we trust the results, how do we know who is right? We would tend to admit that the history of philosophy has been a story of disagreement and contradiction; this does not prove that it is worthless, but only that it is difficult. Our approach is to trace these disagreements back to their source. For us the source is a confusion about human knowing; if we can sort out clearly what human knowing is, then we can compare that with what others think it to be and unravel the apparent contradictions. This will become clearer when we deal with intellectual conversion.

Skeptics, like relativists, point to the mistakes that have been made and claim that this proves that neither sense knowledge nor intellectual knowledge is to be trusted. But the making of mistakes only proves that we are not infallible; it does not undermine the validity of the knowing process. The point we would emphasize is that we can recognize mistakes as mistakes. There is a criterion of truth which is operative and, in the light of that, we can recognize that some data has been overlooked, some concept was incorrectly defined, some text was wrongly interpreted. There is a [245] self-correcting process of learning; mistakes can be made but further research, or reflection, or data will usually reveal an incoherence, hence the suspicion that a mistake has been made, leading to a recognition of the mistake, identifying the reason for the mistake and a resolve not to make the same mistake again. There is an absoluteness about the truth of any judgment which will be explored when we deal with absolute objectivity.

Complete skepticism is also incoherent. To claim that we can know nothing involves a contradiction between the content of the assertion and the assertion itself. The content is saying that we can know nothing; the performance is making a judgment, claiming to know. The only coherent complete septic is the one who keeps silent, as Aristotle pointed out long ago.

3. The Verification Principle. This was an attempt within the empiricist tradition to formulate clearly a criterion of truth. The verification principle was stated at the beginning of this century as something like, the meaning of a proposition is identical with the method of verifying it', or 'a proposition means the set of experiences which are together equivalent to the proposition's being true'. The idea was to eliminate all propositions which could not be directly verified in some sensible experience. The background was an empiricism of the kind espoused by John Locke and David Hume.

But the ambiguity here lies with what is meant by 'to verify'. Hume did all in his power to reduce all the activities of human knowing to the level of sense imagination and memory; intelligence was simply the laws of association of ideas at work. To verify, for him, meant sensible experience and nothing more, because there was nothing more. The tradition has found it very difficult to follow out this program coherently. There have been constant revisions and contradictions. What does 'to verify' mean? Is one sensory experience enough to verify a proposition? Is one counter-example enough to invalidate a proposition? What happens if the experiment of its very nature cannot be repeated? What happens to a proposition like Newton's first law of motion, where a single experiment cannot be set up to prove it because you cannot in principle exclude [246] extraneous influences? How many cases of white swans do you have to 'see' to verify the proposition that all swans are white?

These difficulties led to a series of reformulations of the principle but none of these faced up to the root problem. Some said that repeatability was the crucial criterion; some that predictability was the key; others that falsifiability was the real test of verification.5 Most contemporary studies in the philosophy of science are wallowing in the mud of empiricist presuppositions about knowing. All seem to presume that verification is an operation of sensible experience. No one has made explicit the processes of direct and reflective understanding involved in any process of verification.

We have distinguished three levels of cognitional activity, those of experiencing, understanding and reflection. For us verification is an act of reflective understanding which occurs at the third level of cognitional activity and presupposes and builds on the other two as well as subsuming them into the unity of a prospective judgment. Verification does not take place at the level of 'seeing' but at the level of judging. We return to a fundamental theme of this text that any truly human knowing is a compound of experiencing, understanding and judgment. The empiricists are suffering from a confusion between 'seeing' as a cow sees, and 'seeing' as a man sees: namely, as he senses, understands and judges.

A further fundamental problem with the verification principle is where does it come from. Can the principle itself be verified? What sensible experience could possibly verify such a principle? On what authority is this principle invoked rather than any other principle? There is again a fundamental contradiction between the content and the performance of the verification principle.

9. Rehabilitation of Reason

One could go on forever considering various defective theories of knowledge - they are multitudinous - but let us conclude. Our position has been built on the facts of our experience of understanding correctly. From the beginning of this text our constant appeal has been to the data of your own consciousness. Have you been able to recognize the characteristics of direct insight, [247] the difference between image and idea, the transition from description to explanation, the phenomenon of inverse insight and statistical method and finally the experience of reflective insight leading to the judgment? We have discovered that all correct human knowing is a compound of the activities of experiencing, understanding and, finally, judging.

Particularly important even though difficult has been the awareness of reflective understanding generating a judgment. This is where thinking becomes knowing, where possibilities are affirmed or denied, where the process of human knowing comes to a term. Our examination of judgments reveals the strengths and also the weakness of human knowing. It does not issue in infallible judgments; it does occasionally give what can be called certain judgments, but for the most part we are dealing with varying degrees of probability. But that is human knowing; it is not unreasonable to deal with probabilities. There is a criterion of progress in the application of the norms which are immanent and operative in our consciousness. We move towards higher degrees of probability; we extend our knowing to new areas; our knowing moves from descriptive to explanatory, from confusion to the clarity and precision of definition. By way of higher viewpoints we understand more deeply, more comprehensively; by way of inverse insights we get an indirect grasp of the unintelligibilities of our world and of mistaken theories about it.

Reason is not highly respected in most contemporary philosophies. The optimism of rationalists like Descartes and his followers has been discredited. The Age of Reason, with its expectations of unending progress, replacement of religion and superstition with Science and Reason, controlling disease and the economy, has also come and gone. Reason has been equated with deductive reasoning, with formal logic, with the conferring of certainties, with unrealistic expectations for human knowing and for social progress. As a reaction, contemporary philosophy is characterized by a distrust of reason, an undermining of any certainties, almost an espousal of the irrational, and choice considered as the grounds of judgment. [248]

The fact that reasoning has been somewhat misunderstood and misused is no excuse for going to the opposite extreme. Reason for us means the discursive process leading to judgment. Sometimes it is inductive, sometimes deductive; sometimes it works by analysis, sometimes by synthesis; sometimes it is descriptive knowing that is sought, sometimes explanatory. Aquinas compared reason to intelligence as movement to rest; reasoning was movement towards understanding. Reasoning involves activities such as assembling ideas and facts, analyzing and synthesizing, imagining and remembering, dividing and defining, accepting and rejecting, going backwards and forwards. The formal presentation of correct processes of reasoning in logic should not be confused with the actual process of discovery and understanding as they take place in fact. Our actual reasoning is a confused conversation; a medley of voices; an overlapping of data, ideas, images, examples; sometimes going round in circles.

But there is a purposiveness to our reasoning; it is aimed at knowledge and is not satisfied until knowledge is attained. We are very much aware of the limitations of our knowledge, but still it is knowing and it is knowing that we know. There is a need to rehabilitate reason in the sense of the immanent and operative obligation to be reasonable. It is reflective grasp of the virtually unconditioned which is the immediate criterion of truth; it is the proper unfolding of the desire to know which sets the remote criterion for that truth. We do have a limited grasp of truth. But we can distinguish certainty from probability from possibility; we can recognize our mistakes and correct them. We can know the limits of our knowledge; like Socrates we can be aware of our own ignorance; but none of that is a council of despair because there are some things we know that we know; we have discovered a method of moving from the unknown to the known; reason in the end is vindicated; it is its own criterion of what is true or false. [249]

Comments on Exercises.


  1. The reasoning in this first hypothetical syllogism is correct. We do not say it is correct because the rules of syllogism are observed; we do not say it is correct because Aristotle, or Aquinas or a teacher says it is correct. You have to see it for yourself that it has to be valid and is the basis of all our reflective understanding.


    The second one is strictly speaking not correct; it is the fallacy of positing the consequent. The conclusion does not necessarily follow. Take a general example. If my theory is true, then certain sensible consequences will follow. But certain sensible consequences follow. Therefore my theory is true. But the sensible consequences might perhaps be explained by a different theory..

  2. This is just an example of the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, namely, if something follows after something else then it is caused by that. There are many reasons why people get sick and many reasons why they get better. If you take medicine and get better it does not follow necessarily that the medicine is the cause of your getting better - even though it normally is.
  3. We usually recognize that if there is sufficient evidence it is unreasonable not to make a judgment. There can be many motives and fears which inhibit us from passing judgment but it is not reasonable behavior. Perhaps the only exception would be in the field of religious faith where love seems to have a priority over rational knowledge.

(4) Don't be distracted by useless information. Imagine what you get when you pick. What is the difference between the socks?

(5) This problem was dealt with in the text. [250]

End Notes

1. Insight, 234.

2. See "The Form of Inference," in Collection, edited by Frederick Crowe and Robert Doran, Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, vol 4 (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1992). Lonergan is also much indebted to John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1979) and his illative sense. He was also familiar with the work of Peter Hoenen, see Reality and Judgment according to St. Thomas (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co, 1952)

3. Insight, 305-306. I find this terminology of conditioned, conditions, virtually unconditioned cumbersome but there does not seem any way to avoid it. It might give the impression that reflective insight is a matter of logic, which is far from the case.

4. Insight, 308-312.

5. See Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, (London: Harper & Row, 1959). He espouses falsifiability but is immersed in the whole empiricist assumption that verification is a matter of sensation.

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