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Foundations of Philosophy



Cognitional Structure

Knowing, accordingly, is not just seeing; it is experiencing, understanding, judging, and believing. The criteria of objectivity are not just the criteria of ocular vision; they are the compounded criteria of experiencing, of understanding, of judging, and of believing. The reality known is not just looked at; it is given in experience, organized and extrapolated by understanding, posited by judgment and belief. 1


Preliminary Exercises.

(1) Arrange the numerals from one to nine in the boxes such that vertically, horizontally and diagonally the sum of the numbers will be fifteen.


  1. Are computers intelligent? What is the difference between the 'intelligence' of a computer and the understanding of a human being
  2. Should philosophers be able to verify their conclusions? Is it the same process of verification as in the empirical sciences?
  3. A. Pick out some experiment that you remember performing in physics, chemistry, botany or biology.

B. Identify the activities that you performed during the course of the experiment.

C. How was the final verification related to the previous activities?


1. Introduction

We have examined the parts in great detail; now it is time to put them together. This chapter will be a summary of what we have done so far, a kind of synthesis and a reprise of all cognitional activities. There is a basic unity of knowing. It is not the unity of a single activity, but the unity of a multiplicity of activities bound together in the dynamism of the structure of knowing. We will be showing how all the pieces fit together into this dynamic unity. The preliminary exercises are designed to help you to identify both the parts and the whole in your own consciousness.

A structure is a whole made out of functionally interrelated parts.2 Our clearest image of a structure is a house, with a foundation, two stories and a roof. The parts have their own integrity but are also subsumed into the unity of the whole. The whole is dependent on the parts; the parts can only exist within the whole. Of course, like most images, that of a building limps when it comes to details. Particularly, the image of a building does not reflect the dynamic aspect of knowing. The image of levels, on the other hand, does catch the idea of dependence of the higher on the lower, although this should not be taken too literally.

What we are trying to do in this chapter is to set up a completely explanatory account of the process of knowing. We want to define each of the basic activities of knowing in themselves and in their relations to one another. We want to set up a network of terms and relations such that the terms define the relations and the relations [253] define the terms. Our procedure will be analogous to the setting up of the Periodic Table of Elements, or Aristotle's schema for the virtues.

Because we have been doing self-appropriation we will be able to verify these terms in our own experience. We will be able to apply this schema to our own activities, to illuminate the order, system, relationships that are already there. It will be not just a theory out of the blue, not just a model that is handy to have around, rather, it will be a whole structure that can be verified in our own cognitional activities. It will be a special kind of theory based on the data of consciousness.

Although we are constantly tempted to simplify, to consider knowledge as a single activity at a single level, we will emphasize again that knowing is a combination of a multiplicity of activities. It is truly rare that any theory of knowledge respects the richness and complexity of human knowing; but every attempt to oversimplify distorts and destroys the whole enterprise. In this chapter we will unify the many activities in a way that respects the full reality and richness of human knowing.

We are at last in a position to present a diagram (see below). This is an attempt to show how the activities and levels are related. Each of its terms will be defined in the text; the diagram indicates schematically how they are related to one another. We are concentrating here on the first three levels of cognitional operations. That is the area that comes within the direct aim of this text. In the Epilogue we will present a diagram incorporating the further dimensions of deciding and loving to fill out the fullness of the human context. [254]

  1. Data: Perceptual


Free Images.


  • Questions for




  • Questions for




Diagram of Three Levels of Cognitional Process.



2. Cognitional Structure

1. Level of Experiencing. By this we mean the level of sensible experience, variously referred to as sensible presentations, sensible impressions, the given as given, what is received through the senses. We include the experiences of hearing, seeing, tasting, feeling, smelling, as well as the internal sensing of memory and imagination and coordination; we include experiences of pain, hunger, depression, etc. as well as the common emotions of anger, fear, anxiety, joy, etc.

The biological basis of most of our sensations is structurally similar to that of the higher animals. Our eyes are not basically dissimilar from those of a cow, nor are our other outer senses. Animals have a memory as they can remember sights and sounds and smells; they seem to have a basic imagination as they know their way home. They also have some capacity for conscious control and coordination of response. They have some kind of consciousness as we have defined it; an awareness of objects with a concomitant awareness of some center of coordination: there is a difference between a dog that is asleep and one that is awake. This basic substratum at the sensible level of nerves, neurons, cells, brain, is an inheritance we share with the animal population.

An infant starts off almost exclusively at the level of experience or sense. He/she is a bundle of emotions, feelings, needs, responses [255] to stimuli, etc. The early years of a child have been compared to those of a monkey and other animals; the only distinguishing feature of the human at this stage is that he develops more slowly and continues to be dependent on the parent for a longer time. Then, over time, intelligence emerges in the form of manipulating objects, control over motor activities, recognizing objects and people, reacting to stimuli and, finally, in language. Gradually objects are identified, classified and correlated; the past is distinguished from the present and future; objects or people who are absent are remembered and distinguished from those who are present. Intelligence begins to direct the senses, fill the memory, control the imagination and little by little transform sensible experience.

This is why it is so difficult for an adult to have a 'pure' experience: it is difficult to isolate a sensation that has not in some way been influenced by the enhancing and transforming influence of intelligence. Do we see as cows do? The infrastructure of retina, optic nerve, brain, neurons, etc. is the same but our seeing is transformed by identifying, classifying, distinguishing, defining, controlling, etc. which are all activities of intelligence. A BBC documentary tried to recreate for us what a fish sees as he swims through the water, based on the size of the lens of its eyes, its perception of color as studied in experiment, the distance of objects, effect of water on light rays from the surface, etc. But even after such recreation of the seeing of the fish we are not able to achieve more than the illusion of seeing as a fish sees. Our seeing differs from that of the fish not only in the size of lenses, focusing and perception of color; but fundamentally in the intervention of intelligence by which we automatically recognize things and properties and distinguish them from one another. Insofar as we are using intelligence, we have moved out of the biological pattern of experience. Thus, while the eyes function biologically, they are controlled or mediated in this function by intelligence which attends to and selects the data, then processes it according to its ends.

Some philosophy textbooks use the phrase 'sense knowledge.' What do they mean? If they mean sensation as such without any intervention of intelligence then we would have to call this animal knowing to distinguish it from properly human knowing. Lonergan [256] uses the term elementary knowing3 to describe a 'knowing' at a level which prevails in the animal kingdom. To the extent that such an infrastructure continues in humans we might justify use of the term elementary knowing, but only on the proviso that it be strictly distinguished from that more properly human knowing which includes understanding and reflecting.

Another meaning of the ambiguous term sense knowledge would make it equivalent to concrete judgments of fact. Statements such as, 'It is raining,' 'this is heavy,' 'the book is white,' are often considered so rudimentary as to be activities of sensation. But for us, if statements are affirmed as judgments, they are fully human knowing and involve the whole structure of experiencing, understanding and judging.

We started the appropriation of cognitive operations by identifying direct insights. It is only when we have done that that we can define experience as 'that into which we have insights.' Experience provides the raw materials for insight; insight is into presentations and incorporates those elements of sensation which are essential for the insight. The essence includes common matter (as the scholastics used to put it), namely, material elements such as flesh and bones in the definition of man. Understanding has to have a content: what do you understand? Understanding presupposes the prior level of experiencing; we have insisted that you cannot have insights without images which are sensible.

In the diagram level I is that of Experiencing where data and perceptual images are received. Free images refers to the power of the imagination to construct images out of the material already received. It is doubtful that animals have free images, as it is usually under the influence of intelligence that we construct images of things never seen. It is a crucial function of human imagination to be able to consider various possibilities and changes in the given images. Utterances seem to refer to the grunts and groans, sighs and cries, screams of anger or fear which are the sensible preparation for human speech.

2. Level of Understanding. Experiencing is something we share with animals; what moves us beyond animals is the questioning of experience, not the formulated question but the inquiring, striving, [257] searching attitude of intelligence. This provides the dynamic that slowly transforms our experience and moves us towards understanding. It is spontaneous, it is not taught, it is the dynamic precondition of all understanding and judgment. Questioning is about data of experience and is moving towards understanding and judging.

For Lonergan this untaught questioning is the pure, detached, and unrestricted desire to know. It is pure in the sense that it is at the heart of all our other desires and ambitions. It is detached in the sense of not seeking self-interest or personal profit or satisfaction; we do not use detached here in the sense of not caring about what happens, or having no emotions about something.

It is unrestricted in the sense that, in principle, we can ask about everything and anything; there is nothing about which we cannot ask questions. It is true that our minds are limited in what they can actually know, but it is also true that we aspire to know everything and can ask questions about anything. We may not know God by his essence but we can certainly ask questions about him. Aristotle talked about the natural desire to know; Aquinas talked about the natural desire to know God. Lonergan talks about the pure, detached, unrestricted desire to know, and this desire to know implicitly includes God.4

We ask about what we have experienced. We have to ask about something; there has to be some content to our questioning. There are no questions without a content; questions occur in the concrete when something stirs our curiosity. We are all familiar with the ten-year-old and his incessant 'why?' questions. But they are all about particular things and places, and there is no end to it. There is no point in the development of human understanding when there are no more questions to be asked.

Our first kind of questions are questions for understanding. We ask, what is it? why does it do that? where is he? who is that? how does that work? We are looking for causes, reasons, explanations, correlations, classifications, definitions, divisions, hypotheses, bright ideas. We are looking for more information that will help us to understand. We can be looking for direct or inverse insights, classical or statistical laws, understanding of history or mythology [258] or logic or mathematics or religion. We are trying to distinguish sense from nonsense, the relevant from the irrelevant, the important from the unimportant, the significant from the insignificant, as we have already discussed in the chapters on understanding.

The insight is the central moment of breakthrough when intelligence becomes effective. Insight arises from the questioning of the data given in sensible experience. It occurs or happens at a different level in cognitional structure from the level of experience, but is not separate from it; insight is into data but goes beyond sense. The simplest way to recognize this is to refer to your own experience, your own self-appropriation, which should be fairly advanced by now. Insight is the magic moment of breakthrough that we prepare for, hope for, move towards, but can never force to come automatically. Insight grasps the universal in the particular, the intelligible in the sensible, the abstract in the concrete.

Insight incorporates elements from experiencing into a definition or concept. There is a material aspect to a definition: the definition of a circle incorporates lines, points and planes. The definition of a tree may include many components from physics and chemistry as well as biological distinctions between different kinds of cells, structures of cells, and the complicated sub-systems that define a species of tree. A definition must always be a definition of something.

We therefore distinguish insight from formulation. Insight comes first but the correct formulation may come much later. The formulation is expression in words or concepts that is systematic. Archimedes had an insight in the baths of Syracuse but it may have taken him days to work out explicitly the laws of displacement and specific density implicit in his procedure. Most people can recognize a circle but not so many can correctly define one. Formulation adds expression to the insight, makes it explicit, puts it into words, makes it clear. On the same lines, we have distinguished idea from concept. The idea is what is understood; the concept is what is conceived. Conceptualizing is very similar to formulation: it is putting the idea explicitly, systematically, clearly, abstractly. Conceptualizing can be considered as formulation. [259]

We are affirming here a basic priority of insight to language. As we see it the insight comes first while the effort to express it adequately, fully, and clearly might take some time. It is important to emphasize this, as many philosophies of language seem to regard language as ultimate. But for us language is a means of expressing insights. Language is not ultimate but shifts and turns according to the dictates of understanding. We can confer new meanings on old words; we can invent new words to express new concepts; we can recognize in history the shift in the meaning of a word. What is fundamental is meaning, not the words used to communicate meaning.

This is not to say that language has no effect on our thinking, far from it. We are educated into a language and a language does impose its own provisional limitations, structures, deficiencies, and to some extent concepts. Language is a symbol system and symbols can be appropriate or inappropriate. But the point is that we can break out of our language, invent new concepts, go beyond the bounds of out tradition. We do this by creative insight.

At some point we realize that our insights however brilliant and exciting only give possibly relevant hypotheses. We have to raise the further question for reflection; we have to move into a critical mode. Our intelligence is purposive, is not usually satisfied with thinking possible objects of thought but wants to know what is real. Inexorably we move to the level of reflection.

3. Level of Judgment. The question for reflection is a question like is it so? or is it true? which looks for a yes or no or anything in-between kind of answer. It is a new sort of question, one that is not looking for further information or further understanding but is moving into a critical mode and asking is our understanding correct? Is it merely a bright idea or is it a verifiable idea? The question arises spontaneously but we can short-circuit the system by not letting it arise or by substituting other criteria for the criterion of sufficient evidence.

The structure of the act of reflective understanding we have examined in detail. Reflective understanding is an insight into the sufficiency of the evidence for a conclusion and the sufficiency of the link between the evidence and the conclusion. It is adding no [260] new insights other than the insight into the connection between the conditioned and its fulfilling conditions. It is not a comparison between the world in-here and the world out-there in order to see if they correspond. Often in mathematics when you get the answer to a problem you have the possibility of checking the answer by working backwards from the answer to the problem to confirm that the answer is correct. This is the kind of act that is involved in reflective understanding.

The uttering of a judgment is a further act, one which can be delayed by factors such as fear, bias, prejudice, selfishness, etc. If we are temperamentally very timid we may delay judgment unnecessarily; if we are very impulsive we may have passed judgment before all the evidence was in. But in a normal mind governed by the pure detached unrestricted desire to know, the judgment emerges in response to the reflective act of understanding and utters the final yes or no that is a term in human knowing.

It is a term only in the sense that that particular problem has now been solved, for it may set off a chase for further questions and problems and information that are related to the first. Yet it is a term because in each increment to our knowledge we have moved from experiencing to thinking to knowing.

3. Dynamic Unity of Functions


Cognitional structure constitutes a whole made out of parts. In the course of our self-appropriation we have identified different activities and divided these activities into three levels. There is a progression from each activity that we have identified to the next and also there is a progression from each level to the next. The lower levels are incomplete without the higher; the higher are impossible without the lower.

The unity of a building or of a motor car or of a symphony is somehow imposed from without. But cognitional structure is self-constituting. It puts itself together. It builds itself up. It is a unity from within, a synthesis of parts and not just a juxtaposition. [261]

In knowing, it is not only the activities involved which form a unity but also the subject of all these activities joins them together in a unity. It is the same subject who performs each activity. If it were not the same subject who experienced and who understood, then who would reflect upon the correctness of the insight in relation to the data and the question?

Consciousness, as we have explained, is an awareness immanent in cognitional operations. As well as experiencing the book being white, I am aware of my experience of the book being white. As well as experiencing the joy of insight, I am also aware of my experience of joy in insight. As well as experiencing reflective understanding I am also aware of my experience of reflective understanding. I am the same subject of all of the different operations. As well as being aware of the objects of the operations we can be aware of the experience of the operations. But it is the same subject who is aware at the different levels and also aware of the unity of the one subject of all the activities.

The levels can be separated only in the sense that the lower levels can occur without the further levels necessarily following. You can experience many things but it does not always necessarily follow that you understand them all. If no question arises, then it ends there. When we do understand something, that goes beyond experience, sweeping it up into a higher activity. Yet, similarly, the forward movement can stop there; you have a bright idea and that is all that you have. The further question may not arise. If it does not then you are left with a mere object of thought and that is it. Understanding does have an integrity of its own. The process can stop there. You can have a direct insight without having a reflective insight; this is understanding, but it is not yet knowing.

The structure of cognitional activities is dynamic. This is where the metaphors of a building or an automobile really limp. The parts of cognitional structure are themselves not bricks or wheels, they are activities. Activities are in motion; they are not static; they move on to other activities; they are dynamic. The whole is also dynamic in that knowing is never satisfied. Our desire to know is unrestricted. We can ask about anything and everything, and we do. As soon as we have solved one problem we move on to another; we are forever [262] digging deeper; there is no end to it. We are always either progressing or declining. We can stem the flow of further questions; our curiosity can be blunted, our enthusiasm can wane, our energy can wear out. We can settle for the more restful cocoon of a fixed viewpoint. But in principle our desire to know is unrestricted and is never fully satisfied.

Nor does everything always work smoothly and efficiently. We can be quite confused by a mass of data. We can be asking the wrong questions and barking up the wrong tree. We can make mistakes in our assumptions, in our calculations. We can have oversights when we simply do not see what is relevant. We can reach mistaken conclusions either because our data is defective, or our definitions are not correct, or because we have not taken some point into account. We can go through long periods of frustration and confusion before things come into focus. An intelligent person catches on quickly, sees the relevant point, clears away the confusion and moves on. One less intelligent may be left floundering and have to make up with hard work what comes easily for others.

Although there is a unity in human knowing it is not the unity of simplicity. It is not a unity that does not have parts but a functional unity of components or interrelated parts. Human knowing is not an intuition, not a seeing interiorly and intellectually which is analogous to physical seeing in that we just open our eyes and perceive what is there to be seen. Neither is it knowledge of sense alone. Experiencing is part of our human knowing. In animals it is what constitutes knowing; in humans it is the biological foundation on which all our human knowing is built. Nor is it understanding alone as if human knowing consisted in having bright ideas, nor is it judgment alone, as judgment is inconceivable without understanding and experiencing. Empiricists tend to reduce all knowing to the level of experiencing. Idealists tend to reduce all of human knowing to the level of understanding. Rationalists tend to reduce all of human knowing to the level of reflection alone. But here we want to embrace the full complexity of human knowing in all its integrity and richness. [263]

Human knowing is a complicated, protracted affair involving many different activities at three different levels of operation. Our thinking is discursive; it proceeds through different activities over a period of time. There is such a temptation to try to oversimplify the process and to conflate the three levels into one, but that can only fail. The data of human consciousness shows clearly the many sided, complicated, discursive emergence of human knowing through questioning of data given in sense experience. It is important to emphasize this, as most theories of knowledge try to simplify by denying some of the components involved. Our self-appropriation will have shown us that we know by way of complex sequence of operations which can be distinguished into successive stages within one knowing.


4. The Way Up and the Way Down

We can also distinguish between the 'way up' and the 'way down.' The way up is the process we have been concentrating on as we have moved from experiencing to understanding to judging. But there is also a way down, by which higher levels exert an influence and a control on lower activities. Let us try to delineate these two movements more clearly.

We can best define the relations between the levels in terms of sublation. This is a term introduced into philosophy by Hegel but used here in a slightly different sense. We will identify three elements in a sublation.


..what sublates goes beyond what is sublated, introduces something new and distinct, puts everything on a new basis, yet so far from interfering with the sublated or destroying it, on the contrary needs it, includes it, preserves all its proper features and properties, and carries them forward to a fuller realization within a richer context.5

Relating sublation specifically to cognitional structure, Lonergan says,


..intentionality analysis that distinguishes four levels of conscious and intentional operations, where each successive level sublates previous levels by going beyond them, by setting up a higher principle, by introducing new operations, and by preserving the integrity of previous levels, while extending enormously their range and their significance.6 [264]

The act of understanding sublates the act of experiencing. (1) Understanding goes beyond experience, introduces something new, is a higher integration, a higher unity or organization or relation. Understanding cannot be reduced to experiencing; it is a new reality. (2) It does not destroy or invalidate the level of experiencing; experience at the level of sense has its own place and validity and value. Most animals survive quite successfully with experiencing alone. To emphasize understanding is not to denigrate experiencing. (3) On the contrary, our understanding incorporates elements of experience to subsume them into a new unity. It does confer a higher control or criterion. It confers a new and higher value on experience. Not only has experience a perfection at its own level of being, but it leads the way to understanding and attains a new level of perfection.

Similarly judgment sublates understanding. (1) It does introduce something new, different, beyond, higher. Judgment cannot be reduced to understanding. We encounter a new kind of question, a different type of insight, and an original expression in a judgment. It is a movement from thinking to knowing. (2) But judgment would be impossible without understanding. Understanding is not destroyed or denigrated or left behind. It has an integrity of its own at its own level within its own limits of thinking. (3) Judgment enhances understanding, gives it added value in view of a higher goal.

The way up as we have called it is the normal process of learning by achievement, what we have called immanently generated knowledge. But there is a reverse process, a way down. There is a way in which judgment exercises a control which reaches back through understanding to pattern our experiencing. And there is a way down which is characteristic of belief, used in the technical sense that we have defined. Let us consider each of these in turn.

Basic scientific method can be defined as theory verified in instances. Verification is characteristic of the level of judgment, theory is characteristic of the level of understanding, and instances occur at the level of experiencing. Some philosophers of science think that the observer should approach the observed with no theoretical assumptions or presuppositions at all. They suggest that theory interferes with the objectivity and neutrality of observations [265] and experiments. Theory is considered to be a kind of prejudice or subjectivity which might interfere with the observations. They advocate a kind of theory-free observation. This is really the principle of the empty head: the emptier your head is of ideas, theories, hypotheses, possibilities, the more accurate and neutral will be your observations.

For the empiricist verification takes place at the level of experiencing. If you see something, that is the verification; there is no difference between data and factual. For us verification is at the level of judgment incorporating elements of understanding and data: theory verified in instances. It is the theory which guides experiments to produce sensible occurrences which will be significant. It is extremely important to consider a wide range of possibilities, to define the hypothesis clearly, to devise strategies of verification.

There is no interference with the integrity of the level of experience when theory sets a problem which can only be verified by a return to a precise, particular aspect of data that was not adverted to before. Did Einstein's theory interfere with the observation of the apparent position of the star during the eclipse? Provided the seeing sees what is there to be seen and the whole of what is there, and does not indulge in wishful thinking, then experience is being incorporated into science and there is no problem.

There is also the way down of belief, in the sense defined earlier. Most of our traditions we accept on the authority of our parents and leaders rather than on the basis of immanently generated knowledge. Belief is a kind of short cut to knowledge. It is legitimate; it is part of the normal collaboration in progress of knowledge. It is basically a good thing, although it is open to abuse. It is a way down because it starts with judgments, ideas, and principles that are accepted on trust. The tradition or culture of a group does set the context in which knowledge is pursued and this context does have an influence on our interests, priorities, our way of thinking, etc.

Cognitional structure is an integrating framework in which we can grasp the unity between these two different movements. There [266] are in fact constant ups and downs in the actual process of solving any serious problem. It is not that we have to eliminate one way or the other, the knowing process is too complicated for that. Our knowing is discursive, a kind of conversation, a shifting from one level to another, a constant interplay of images, ideas, concepts, hypotheses, affirmations, corrections, refinements. We have identified a self-correcting process in knowing, which proceeds in spirals rather than straight lines.

Lonergan's exposition in Method in Theology exploits this distinction between movements up and down to the full. The first phase of theology he represents as the way up, proceeding from data through interpretation to history to dialectics and conversion. There follows, then, a second phase, a way down, by which this conversion becomes foundations and leads to doctrines, systematics and communications. Nor does this process pertain only to knowing in the discipline of theology; it has relevance also in the areas of science and philosophy, wherever a tradition is first appropriated and then handed on.

We have reached an account of cognitional structure that is explanatory. Within the multiplicity of intentional activities we have been able to discern a basic pattern of operations. We have spent chapters describing these activities and inviting you to identify these activities in your own consciousness. We are at the point where we can claim to have reached an explanatory account of these components of the one human knowing. The terms we are using are experiencing, understanding and judging. We have defined them in their relations to one another, relations that we have called sublation. We have defined questioning as the dynamism that moves us from one level to another. This identification of implicitly defined terms and relations puts us in a position to be very precise and accurate in identifying the mental operations involved in human knowing. We can see how all the components fit together, we can identify the different levels of activity, we can identify the distractions that tend to lead us astray chasing after red herrings.

The pattern that we have discovered is not just an option. It is not neutral; it is obligatory. There is only one structure of human knowing and it is this one. This is a normative pattern of operations: [267] we have to be attentive, be intelligent, and be reasonable in order to succeed in moving from questioning to correct knowing. There are few people who would dare to lecture on astronomy by boasting about how little they have observed the stars; there are few who begin a book by boasting of how unintelligent they have been in their preparation and presentation; there are few people who would be proud to be called unreasonable. There is no choice between inattention and attention, stupidity and intelligence, unreasonableness and reasonableness, as there might be between different fashions or menus or careers. To be an authentic human being is to try to be attentive, to be intelligent, and to be reasonable.


5. Not Open to Basic Revision


This account of cognitional structure is not open to basic revision, by which we mean that the structure of terms and relations which are implicitly defined in the diagram is not open to fundamental change. One cannot conceive of another level being interposed, nor of a level being left out, nor of the order of the movement being changed or reversed. In its basic structure we are asserting that our account of human knowing cannot be wrong.

We are not saying that this account cannot be improved. Hopefully it will become easier and more common to become aware of activities of knowing, to improve the terminology available, to compare and contrast various accounts. There may be many subtleties that could be included. As people become more familiar with self-appropriation there ought to be a great improvement in methods of teaching, in the choice of examples, in depth of awareness of what is going on within us when we know. Perhaps cognitive psychology will break free of its behaviorist presuppositions and become a very fruitful source for the study of the subtleties of intelligence in act. But whatever improvements might arise, there can be no change that will subvert, replace or fundamentally alter the structure in its basic outline. In case this sounds like an arrogant claim, let us hasten to justify it by showing that any attempt at basic revision will only serve to reinforce the structure. [268]

Cognitional structure is basically unrevisable because any attempt at revision invokes the very structure it is trying to replace. Let us try to imagine that new data has come to light about human knowing, perhaps on account of better empirical studies, or better methods, or better instruments or more systematic observation; there is some new data about human knowing that are not accounted for in the above structure.

But if there are data that are not accounted for in a present theory we have to go in search of a more comprehensive theory that will account for the old data as well as the new. We have to try to think of a theory, an explanation, a set of terms and relations, which will be sufficiently comprehensive to include all the data.

Not any old theory will do; it has to be correct, true, verifiable. We do not want to be mocked by our fellows, we want to present something that is cogent, convincing, that will stand up to attack. If we are claiming to replace one theory with another then we have to have a reasonable account of why the second is better.

And so we see immediately that any hypothetical reviser will not be able to challenge our account of cognitional structure without invoking the experience of data, the intelligent formulation of theory and the verification of theory by recourse to data. There is something that is very basic and unavoidable about the three levels of experiencing, understanding and judging. Even a hypothetical reviser must be attentive, intelligent and reasonable.


The same argument can be presented in terms of the a priori conditions for the possibility of any judgment of fact. If there is to be a judgment of fact what are the conditions under which it must occur? A judgment can only be a proposition that is affirmed to be true on the basis of sufficient evidence. We have earlier used the terminology of a conditioned, a link between the conditioned and its conditions, and the fulfillment of the conditions.

If a judgment is to be affirmed, it is presumed that something is being affirmed. What is being affirmed? The 'what?' question is a question for understanding, for intelligence. It is intelligence that defines, classifies, relates, and puts together theories and explanations; a judgment cannot be uttered without intelligence. It is [269] intelligence that grasps the conditioned as a possibility and the link between the conditioned and its fulfilling conditions.

But what is understood? Understanding presupposed something to be understood. What is the raw material for understanding? Understanding presupposes a range of data to be brought into a unity. It presupposes a multiplicity of data of sense, which is both the raw material for understanding and the reference point for the verification of judgment; this is the field of fulfilling conditions.

If a concrete judgment of fact occurs, it is absolutely necessary that there is a judgment, an understanding of the terms and conditions of the judgment, and an experience of data as the raw material of understanding and the reference point for the verification of the judgment. The judgment in question may be a contingent judgment. The statement that it is raining, is a contingent statement in that it is not necessarily raining, but simply as a matter of fact at the moment. But if you affirm that it is raining, then it necessarily follows that you have understood what you are affirming and verified your hypothesis by reference to sensible experience.

A concrete judgment of fact is one of the simplest types of knowing. We could easily analyze any other knowing and also show by means of it that knowing involves judgments based on understanding of experience that is verified. This procedure simply shows in another presentation that cognitional structure as outlined is unavoidable, unrevisable and invariant.

This structure of human knowing is invariant in the sense that wherever human knowing occurs, there will be present three levels united into one knowing. This is not just what often occurs but what always and what must by definition occur. Common and basic to every realm of knowledge, the three-in-one structure is found in all areas of human knowing even though each area has a method and an object proper to itself. It is common to the natural sciences as theory verified in instances, and to the human sciences in a more complicated fashion because as well as the data of sense there is the data of consciousness to be taken into account. It is the substructure of the practical sciences and productive technologies. It underlies our use of language, our learning of a language and our study of the [270] philosophy of language. It is the basis of philosophy understood as a higher viewpoint, but still human knowing.

Included among these realms of human knowing is transcendent knowledge, our knowledge of transcendent reality, namely, God. In this case the data of sense is only indirectly involved; there can be no direct sensible experience of God in the way that there is direct sensible experience of a table or an atom. This three-fold structure even underpins our theology, presupposing all that we have said while going on to add other significant dimensions. Having grasped the underlying structure of all human knowing, we can see some basis for the unity of all human knowing as well as for those differentiations that define specific sciences and specializations.

6. Cognitional Structure and the Theoretical Sciences

In the context of our contemporary culture the empirical sciences are highly respected. They are considered to be successful, methodical, objective, the most trustworthy kind of knowledge. All you have to do is call in a scientific expert to prove your point or get a computer print-out to bolster your argument. By contrast the assertions of philosophers are often considered to be unverifiable, personal speculation, unreliable opinions and the polar opposite of the precise, verifiable formulas of science. In the light of the position we have now reached, let us contrast the procedures of the empirical scientist with the procedures we have recommended for the philosopher and evaluate how they match up on specific points of method. Which is the most reliable? the most certain? the most foundational?

1. Effects of new data. In the empirical sciences there is always the possibility of new data requiring adjustments or extensions of a theory. Much of the history of science consists in these constant adjustments as new data emerges. New data can totally overthrow an existing theory, as the use of the telescope showed that Aristotle's theory of the perfection of the heavenly was simply mistaken. New data can require extensions, or adjustments, or qualifications, or exceptions be made to existing theory. So a scientific theory is 271] always open to revision because of the possibility of further contrary data becoming available.

Does this apply to cognitional theory? Can our account of human knowing be overthrown by further data becoming available? The data on which we have grounded our account of human knowing are the data of consciousness. We have been concerned with identifying activities rather than contents. The contents could embrace an infinity; but there is a basic simplicity and unity about the activities. There is one activity of physical seeing, but there is an infinity of shapes, colors, forms to be seen. There is one activity of human understanding but a quasi infinity of relations, causes, connections, substances, etc to be understood. There is one form of reflective understanding leading to a judgment but the content of the judgment includes all that has been known, is known or could be known. It is not necessary to explore all the contents of the act of understanding to grasp its basic nature. It is necessary, as we have seen, to examine some examples very carefully; we need to identify, appropriate, discriminate and relate these activities. After attaining a facility in self-appropriation, there comes a point of diminishing marginal returns where examining further examples adds little or nothing to our understanding. Hence new data has a very limited effect on the conclusions of cognitional theory. We have exhaustively examined the relevant data, allowed further questions to arise, and found that every example of human knowing, past present and future must conform to this basic pattern of operations. No conceivable new datum of consciousness can arise to require a radical revision of our cognitional structure.

2. Basic revision of terms and relations. Empirical sciences are open to basic revision of their principles and axioms whereas cognitional theory is not. Scientific theory to be explanatory must rest on certain basic axioms, definitions and assumptions. Euclid clearly defined these for himself before setting up his system of theorems and corollaries. But where did these principles and postulates come from? What if you revise them? If you start from other principles you get different systems of geometry. Today there are many such systems. Newton assumed a certain basic understanding of time and space; Einstein changed this basic [272] understanding and produced a new physics. A science is always open to basic revision because the principles on which it is founded can be reexamined and redefined. Paradigm shifts are to be expected in the development of the empirical sciences; such shifts do not prove the irrationality of scientific method; on the contrary, at times, a total shift in presuppositions, concepts, axioms and definitions is necessary for the progress of science.

By contrast we have already indicated how our account of cognitional structure is not open to basic revision because any attempt at revision reinforces the unavoidability of the basic structure.

3. Description and Explanation. We have seen that all of the sciences proceed from description, to explanation in the technical sense, and return to description. In other words the empirical sciences start by relating things to our senses, move to relating things to one another, and finally return to relating things to our senses. In the normal unfolding of empirical science there is a divergence between description and explanation. Explanation introduces a hypothetical element, a supposition, and a theory, which is then verified by reference back to the data of sense. But the hypothetical element introduced is never totally eliminated by the verification. Galileo repeated his experiments many times, but he did not perform the experiment for every distance, or for every time period, or for every possible material. He did it for a sufficient number of times to reach a reasonable conclusion.

What is important for us here is to note the significant difference between the procedure of the empirical sciences and the procedure of cognitional theory. We noted that the empirical sciences start with description, move to explanation and then return to description. But cognitional theory is an area where description and explanation coincide rather than diverge. Description we have defined as relating things to ourselves; explanation we have defined as relating things to one another. Hence we can see that description in the case of the data of consciousness is also explanatory. If relating things to myself is description and we admit that myself is also a thing, then relating things to myself is a particular case of relating things to one another. Hence the movement away from description to explanation [273] does not happen in cognitional theory because these two procedures of knowing converge rather than diverge. What we are doing in cognitional structure is explanatory in the sense of relating things to one another; but also descriptive in that one of these things is oneself.

Because of this convergence in cognitional theory between description and explanation, when we begin to define cognitional activities we do not move away from description. That hypothetical element which is usually introduced by way of explanatory definition is eliminated, because our explanatory definitions are also descriptive definitions. Each and every instance of knowing is a verification of the explanation that we have given in cognitional structure. As Lonergan puts it, "explanation on the basis of consciousness can escape entirely the merely supposed, the merely postulated, the merely inferred."7

4. Antecedent/Consequent. In empirical science the logical form of the demonstration is often in the form of positing the consequent. Strictly speaking the logic of this procedure is invalid. In the hypothetical syllogism you can posit the antecedent and the consequent follows; but you cannot on logical grounds alone, posit the consequent and claim that the antecedent follows. The form of positing the consequent is:

If A, then B. If he is an Irishman, then he eats porridge.

But B. But he eats porridge.

Therefore A. Therefore he is an Irishman.

Galileo for instance was following the same kind of reasoning. If his law of acceleration is correct, then, measurements will be expected to conform to that law. The measurements come out as expected. Therefore the law is verified. Strictly speaking this is not valid. The only reason that it seems valid is that it is very difficult to visualize any other law which would explain these measurements, but that does not prove that such a law does not exist. In the example of the Irishman it is easy to see that there might be other people who eat porridge who are not Irishmen. Much of classical scientific thinking is under the shadow of positing the consequent. [274]

But in the case of self-affirmation we will find that the basic logical form of the argument is in the form of positing the antecedent. >From the antecedent the consequent follows of necessity. This is explained when we consider self-affirmation in the move from subjectivity to objectivity.

5. Intelligible/Intelligent. We can attain a valid knowledge of substances, causes, laws, essences, etc. Our universe is contingent not necessary; whatever knowledge we attain happens to be the case but could have been different. The intelligibility we grasp is extrinsic, passive, secondary. Often the scientist attains correlations and not causes; that x follows y but not why x follows y. Even Aquinas acknowledged the difficulty we have in knowing material substances, even though they are the proper object of human intellect. We know them from the outside.

By contrast our knowledge of our own process of knowing is a grasp of intelligence in act, that is of our being intelligent. The laws of the mind are not imposed from outside, not passive, not extrinsic but intelligent and rational process in itself. We learn of intelligence not from the outside but form the inside as active intelligent beings. The imperatives of be attentive, be intelligent and be reasonable are not rules imposed on the mind by logicians, but the intelligent and rational process in its unfolding. We too are contingent and could have been different, but in fact we are intelligent; by that divine spark we grasp the passive extrinsic intelligibility of our universe.

6. Belief. In empirical science, surprisingly, we are usually dependent on belief. No scientist can ever repeat all the experiments of his predecessors. Nor can he check all the research of his colleagues. Nor can he check the reliability of his tables, instruments, and equipment. Science is a collaboration of specialists. Much has to be taken on trust; it is a matter of belief rather than immanently generated knowledge. Hence it is open to mistakes, prejudice, fraud, self-interest of others.


But in cognitional structure we are relying on our own immanent experience, understanding and judging; we do not have to rely on what any scientist or philosopher says about knowing. We reach a personal foundation which cannot be skewed by others. [275]

In our opening chapter we examined how the breakthrough to theory represented an advance over the inadequacies of commonsense knowing. We also indicated briefly that theory itself involves deficiencies which are the source of the present crisis. We are now in a position to compare theory and interiority more precisely and to indicate how interiority goes beyond theory. The above comparisons have shown that scientific theory is always open to basic revision because of possible revision of principles or paradigms; it is always open to adjustments and revision because of the possibility of new data; scientific theory attains probabilities rather than certainties, because of using the method of positing the consequent, because of the hypothetical element which cannot be eliminated, because in understanding any concrete event a combination of classical and statistical methods must be used, and because science often attains correlations rather than real causes; and because science is now a collaborative effort and one can never personally verify everything for oneself.

However, we have seen that explanation based on the data of consciousness escapes many of these limitations. Our grasp of the dynamics of cognitional structure is not open to basic revision; it may be improved or facilitated but not overthrown; in self-appropriation we grasp directly intelligence in act; it is a personal experience and in no way dependent on belief. We seem to have found the personal normative foundations what we were looking for in the introduction. Theory based on the data of sense suffers the limitations outlined above; theory based on the data of consciousness is special; it is not theory but interiority. It is a leap into the third stage of meaning with all the advantages mentioned above.

All these points show that, paradoxically, we can be surer of our conclusions about the structure of knowing that we can be about the conclusions of empirical sciences. In a culture where science is so highly respected and where theories about knowing are so diverse, this is a surprise. Yet it highlights the fruits of the method of self-appropriation; we can establish for ourselves the foundations of our knowing and put into perspective the actual contents of the known. [276]


7. From Consciousness to Self-Knowledge


We have seen that consciousness is simply an awareness of the subject that is concomitant with an awareness of objects. Consciousness is awareness immanent in cognitional operations. We have noted that it is the one subject that is the unifying factor between all the levels of consciousness and all the activities at the different levels. There is an awareness of the "I" that accompanies all of our conscious activities.

But this is only an awareness, it is only an experience; it is only the data of consciousness; it is not self-knowledge. Knowledge is a compound of experience, understanding and judgment; thus, knowledge of the self can only be a knowledge that conforms to our structure of knowing. 'Know thyself' has been an adage from Socratic times but is extraordinarily difficult of attainment. In this section we will sketch out how one moves from consciousness of the self to knowledge of the self.

Consciousness is awareness; it is an experience concomitant with cognitional activities. We can talk of consciousness at different levels. We are aware at the purely empirical level when we are awake but conscious only of feelings, imaginations, sensations, and emotions as we might be when sunbathing on a pleasant afternoon. We are aware of the sensations and also of ourselves as the subject of the sensations.

We are also conscious when we are studying, researching, exploring ideas and concepts, looking for solutions, taking notes, reading a book, listening to a lecture, trying to understand. There exist a multitude of activities in which we can be involved and concomitant with them all is the awareness that it is "I" who is doing the understanding. This is still an experience of our own understanding.

When we reflect about the truth of a scientific theory, or a historical generalization, or a mathematical puzzle, we are conscious at the level of reflection. Reflection means asking a specific question about correctness or truth; it involves a personal commitment, brings thinking to a term in knowing. We are aware of [277] ourselves as subjects performing the activities of reflection and judgment.

First we experience our experience, understanding and judging. We are aware of these activities. The data of consciousness is first experienced simply as data. In most people it will ever remain simply as an experience, simply as a data that has not been identified or analyzed or appropriated. But we have embarked on a program of self-appropriation. So we took this data of consciousness as our starting point. We didn't stop looking out in order to look in; we heightened our awareness of the data of consciousness; we shifted the focus of our attention, precisely so that we could begin to understand it. So we moved from experiencing cognitional acts to understanding them.

Thus we identified the different activities involved in having an insight. We went on to distinguish different kinds of insight. We recognized the peculiar form of the inverse insight and the limitations of a statistical method. We recognized the uniqueness of the reflective insight leading to judgment and examined many different kinds of judgment. We learned to understand our experience of knowing; it was no longer consciousness simply as an experience, but a consciousness that we were able to identify, talk about, name, define, outline the characteristics of, etc. In other words we were trying to understand the data of consciousness: we were moving from the level of experience to the level of understanding.

But understanding raises the question of judgment, so we worked out a theory, a set of terms and relations by which all the different activities could be related, made sense and had a place. But is our account of cognitional structure correct? Why are other accounts false? How do you show that our account is true and verifiable? We have compared the procedures of empirical sciences with the procedures we have followed and found that cognitional theory is more reliable, verifiable and foundational. We complete the reduplication of the structure by which we experience cognitional activities, understand their nature and variety and judge that our account is true. Thus we have moved from consciousness of the self to self-knowledge. [278]

Comments on Preliminary Exercises

(1) The key box is the central one because it is involved in so many of the additions. It seems it should be a number somewhere in the middle to allow many combinations reaching to fifteen…

(2) Computers can follow rules but cannot discover new rules. Computers can calculate rather than understand. Computers are intelligent only in the limited sense that they are a product of human intelligence. There is a huge literature on Artificial Intelligence, but most of it suffers from a very limited appreciation of the creativity and inventiveness of human intelligence.

(3) An experiment in a teaching context is usually a demonstration of the truth of something already known. Note how all of the activities of cleaning, heating, weighing, comparing, calculating etc. are swept up into the unity of a single judgment.

End Notes

1. Method in Theology, 238.

2. See B. Lonergan, "Cognitional Structure" in Collection, 205-221. Also William Danaher, Insight in Chemistry, (Lanham: University Press of America, 1988), The Structure of Knowing, 47-55. Also Vernon Gregson, Lonergan, Spirituality, and the Meeting of Religions, (Lanham: University Press of America, 1985), The Subject as Method, 23-58.

3. Insight, 275-279.

4. Collection, "The Natural Desire to See God," 81-91.

5. Method in Theology, 241.

6. Method in Theology, 340.

7. Insight, 334.

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