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

Foundations of Philosophy

Epilogue: Building on the Foundations

Establishing foundations is important but as yet you do not have a building. In this epilogue let us look briefly at the kind of building these foundations will take, how can the position on cognitional theory and epistemology be expanded into a metaphysics, and ethics, and what is the role of the philosopher in culture and society. This can only be a sketch of possibilities but indicates again the fruitfulness of the approach we have adopted.

1. Expansion into a metaphysics. Metaphysics is often conceived as a branch of philosophy, an ontology, dealing with being qua being, the most abstract of all concepts. However, it seems better to conceive metaphysics as first philosophy, as the peak of the philosophic enterprise, as the most comprehensive view of the whole, the integrating framework for all science, knowledge and life. The difficulty is how can this integrating framework be attained as it is impossible for any one person to be knowledgeable in all fields. Perhaps we have prepared the way in the distinction we have drawn between activities and content; the activities are an invariant pattern; the content is a quasi infinity of objects to be experienced, understood and judged. We can use a heuristic technique to develop this integral integrating framework for all our knowing.

The pattern of relations existing between the activities of knowing will be reflected in the pattern of relations existing between the known contents. The invariant components of the structure of human knowing we have identified as experiencing, understanding and judging. But each component as an activity also intends a content and so we can move to what is experienced and call it 'potency', what is understood and call it 'form' and what is affirmed [344] and call it 'act'. These traditional metaphysical terms can now be defined heuristically: we have determined the activities of knowing and can now define the metaphysical elements as the content intended in these activities. Our desire to know is unlimited; and so we can define being as the objective of the pure desire to know. We do not just sense, we must sense something; that something we call potency. We do not just understand, we must understand something; that we call form. We do not just judge, we judge something to be true; this we now call act. Just as there are invariant activities in the structure of the one knowing so there is an invariant structure of potency, form and act in the unity of a proportionate being.

Are forms a chaos or is there some order? Are our acts of understanding a chaos or are there different kinds of acts of understanding? There seems to be a fundamental difference between an inclusive act of understanding which grasps a unity in all relevant data and an abstractive act of understanding grasping a relation between selected aspects of the data (see chapter five on Things and Properties). There seems to be an act of understanding which grasps things, substances, central forms; and another act of understanding which grasps relations between aspects of the data, namely, accidents, properties, conjugate forms. So the traditional distinction between substance and accident can now be formulated heuristically and elaborated in terms of central and conjugate potency, form and act.

Is there a chaos or a hierarchy in the kinds of existing substances? Is there a hierarchy or a chaos in our acts of understanding? We have noted the characteristic of successive higher viewpoints, where later insights incorporate earlier insights into a higher meaning or unity. So there is a possibility of a systematic unity of the sciences based on the principle of successive higher viewpoints. Physics, chemistry, biology, botany, zoology and anthropology would seem to constitute a hierarchy of successive higher viewpoints dealing respectively with atoms, molecules and compounds, cells, plants, animals and humans. And so we seem to have a heuristic definition of what was traditionally defined as genera and this can be further differentiated into species and individuals. [345]

Is the material universe static or dynamic? Well, is the activity of understanding static or dynamic? In a multitude of ways we have noted that the desire to know is dynamic; we move from experiencing, to understanding, to judging. We move on to other matters. At a certain point we introduce higher integrating frameworks. We are continually correcting, expanding, integrating, developing our understanding. The desire to know operates as a principle of finality in the unfolding of our knowing. A similar principle of finality seems to be operating in the known universe. An evolutionary perspective is taken for granted in all the sciences; there seems to have been a continuous emergence of higher integrations from earlier or simpler manifolds. Lonergan avoids the term evolution preferring the term 'emergent probability' to stress that this dynamism unfolds, not on determinist lines, not as a pure chance, but on the basis of varying schemes of probability.

What has metaphysics to say about method? There is only one universal method applicable in all circumstances, times and places: to be attentive, intelligent and reasonable and responsible. We can then subdivide methodologies into classical and statistical, genetic and dialectic. Each specialization can then devise the particular methodologies appropriate to getting a correct exegesis, diagnosing an illness, identifying an algae, etc. Metaphysics has something to contribute to the sciences in terms of method and criteria of truth. The scientist is the one competent in matters of particular answers to specific questions. This visualizes a relationship of complementarity between the metaphysician and the empirical scientist where they both need one another.

2. Expansion into ethics and politics: the question of values. In our introduction we explicitly bracketed the question of values in favour of concentrating on the one thing at a time, namely, appropriation of cognitional structure. Having done that can we extend the same method to deal with values, choice, decision, good and bad, right and wrong?

In Insight Lonergan is thinking in terms of three levels of cognitional operation ; his approach to the possibility of ethics is based on extension of rationality from knowing to doing. But in Method in Theology his vision has been expanded into five levels of [346] intentional consciousness as represented in the following diagram. This fully recognises the human person as not only knowing but also deciding, acting, implementing and oriented to God. The levels are related to one another on the principle of sublation; higher levels perfect, go beyond but respect the integrity of lower levels.

Having used the method of self-appropriation to establish our philosophical foundations, we can now use the same method to identify and understand the imperatives and activities proper to the level of moral decision making. At each level we can distinguish an imperative, a goal and a criterion of having reached that goal.

At the level of understanding the imperative is to be intelligent, meaning to seek for the intelligible, try to understand, formulate clearly and distinctly. The goal is simply the intelligible, the laws, definitions theories and explanations considered simply in themselves as possibilities. The criterion that we have reached this goal is that no further pertinent questions arise: we experience a drying up of further questions, we have eliminated alternatives, it is sufficiently clear and precise. [347]






In Love

(Religious Values)

V. Religious






(Moral Values)

IV. Level of

of Value



of Values




(Cultural Values)

III. Level of



of Fact



(Social Values)

II. Level of






(Vital Values)

I. Level of







Diagram of Precepts, Values, Levels of Conscious Operation, Questions, Cognitional Activities, and Products.

At the level of judging the imperative is to be reasonable, meaning a critical evaluation of the evidence that justifies the conclusion, the answer to the question, is it true, does it exist, can it be affirmed. The goal now is the real, the true, the actual universe and the laws and relations that can be correctly affirmed to be operating. We distinguish a remote criterion of truth in the proper unfolding of the desire to know and a proximate criterion in the reflective grasp of the sufficiency of the evidence for a conclusion.

Now at the fourth level in parallel fashion we can distinguish between the imperative, be responsible, the goal in the realization of true values and the criterion as a peaceful conscience.

The moral imperative, 'be responsible', does not come into existence by being proved rationally; it is an aspect of the [348] spontaneous unfolding of the human spirit; the desire to know is fully the desire to know the truth, to seek the good and make the world a better place to live in. Our method in ethics is not to deduce obligations from the nature of things as in natural law ethics nor to start with universal categorical imperative as in Kant; but to start with the concrete subject in whom the moral imperative is already immanent and operative.

The goal is the actualization of true values. Many activities are involved in doing this. Questions for value arise spontaneously as, should I do this? which is the better course of action? is this right or wrong? how should I behave? We pass through a process of deliberating, evaluating, weighing the elements, looking for advice, attending to our intentional response to the alternatives, consulting our conscience. This process comes to an end in a decision; but the fullness of actualization is only present in the execution.

The remote criterion operating is conscience. It has been very difficult to define what is meant by conscience because it is presumed to be an activity in itself. For Lonergan conscience is consciousness at the level of moral decisions.[1] Consciousness is an awareness of the subject concomitant with an awareness of the object or the activity. This awareness of the subject accompanies all cognitional and volitional activities. This awareness of self includes an awareness of the imperative 'to be responsible' operating in the unfolding of the human spirit. Hence it is an awareness of oneself as responding to value, making correct judgments of value, deciding and implementing these judgments; also an awareness of oneself as falling short of these demands, as rationalizing, as compromising, as evading, as simply failing. It is an awareness accompanied by feelings of guilt when we fail and feelings of satisfaction when we respond positively. This awareness is present when the moral question arises, in the process of deliberating, in the decision, in the execution and afterwards.

A proximate criterion would be the correctness of the judgment of value itself. Judgments of value presuppose judgments of fact; the higher levels presuppose the lower, but go beyond them. The judgment of value is similar in structure to the judgment of fact but differs in content as it deals explicitly with values. According to [349] Lonergan there are three things required for a correct judgment of value, knowledge of human reality, intentional response to value, and "the initial thrust towards moral self-transcendence constituted by the judgment of value itself."[2]

To make correct value judgments we must be familiar with the social, medical, economic, aspects of the matter; understand the alternatives, the consequences, the means and the ends. To make judgments about just wages, debt relief, inflation, one should have a knowledge of economics. To pronounce on matters of fertility presumes a correct medical understanding of the factors involved.

Feelings have a positive role to play in making moral decisions. Lonergan is trying to pin down this role and uses the phrase intentional response to value. Not all feelings have moral import. But we should feel angry at instances of injustice; we should be revolted by acts of genocide; we should be overjoyed at the triumph of good.

The third factor in making judgments of value is the most difficult. The problem is that we are responsible for the sensitivity or lack of sensitivity of our conscience. Each correct response to true value constitutes us as a better moral person and hence more sensitive to true values and hence better able to make correct value judgments. Each failure to respond to true values constitutes us as people with a less sensitive conscience and less competent to judge in moral matters. We freely and responsibly produce the one and only edition of ourselves. Our moral development unfolds in stages as Piaget and Kohlnberg have shown. As we pass through each phase we become responsible for what we are as moral persons. Each act and each phase leaves its mark on our psyche, on our feelings, on our understanding and on our conscience. We fully agree with Aristotle that the final moral criterion is what would a truly good and wise man do in the same circumstances.

I feel this is an unexplored area where much work needs to be done. Contemporary moral philosophy is even more unsure of itself than other areas of philosophy, if that is possible. This may be a cause or symptom of common cultural confusion about moral values and behavior. My conviction is that the method, the foundations, [350] the approach of self-appropriation needs to be applied urgently and in great detail to the field of moral philosophy.

3. Role of Philosophy. What good does the philosopher do? How does he relate to his culture and people? What is the difference between culture and philosophy? Is philosophy practical? Is philosophy one or many?

Perhaps we are accustomed to think of the philosopher as an individual of genius working in splendid isolation and providing original solutions to all the questions of philosophy. We perhaps expect him or her to be competent in every area, to be familiar with all previous great philosophers and to give permanent definitive answers. However, the situation now is that specialization is taking over; the philosophical enterprise has many parts and no one individual can be competent in them all. It is more appropriate to thing of the enterprise of philosophy as an on-going collaboration in view of appropriating critically the truth and values of the past and mediating them to the present and the future. The role of the philosopher is to identify, evaluate, criticise and communicate correct truth and values to the specialist, to the educated and to everybody in the culture. Lonergan has outlined how this ongoing collaboration of specialists can work together in the theological context. I would like to transpose this into the field of philosophy and indicate the meaning of the specializations and how they work together towards a common goal.

Subject specialization divides a discipline as to the matter taught, for example, Wittgenstein, logic, medieval philosophy, etc; with that we are already fairly familiar. Functional specialization divides the tasks to be done on the basis of levels of cognitional operation which we have identified as experiencing, understanding, judging and deciding; with this kind of specialization we are not so familiar. But it does make sense and helps us to understand the enterprise of philosophy as unfolding in two phases, appropriating the past and mediating to the present and the future.

Research. Here we are concerned with the data, the authenticity of texts. Which texts are corrupted, which is the oldest, which is the most authentic? It involves producing critical texts, research into the context of the times, the language, the architecture, anything that [351] will be of help to determine the authenticity of the texts. There are still texts of Aristotle which are disputed. Errors of dating had a big influence on the role of Denis the Areopagite, the Pseudo-Dionysius, in the Middle Ages. Much of the data on the language, culture, economy etc will be of relevance to the correct interpretation of a text.

Interpretation. What is the correct meaning of the text in the context of the times. What kind of a person was the author, what did he intend to say, what was the error to be refuted, why was the text written, how was it to be understood in the language of that time? Answering these questions calls for a science of hermeneutics, understood as aiming at the correct understanding of the text.


Diagram of Functional Specialties

Answering these questions calls for a science of hermeneutics, understood as aiming at the correct understanding of the text.

History. What was going forward over time. What was being developed, what was being neglected or misunderstood. History is not just a huge videotape of everything that was happening; it is a continuous process of reinterpreting the achievements and mistakes of the past. [352]

Dialectic. How is it that intelligent and sincere philosophers arrive at so widely divergent

conclusions? What is the source of such disagreements? Is it a real disagreement or just a matter of words? What procedures can be used to pinpoint areas of disagreement and produce agreement.

This is phase one, appropriating the past, discriminating between development and decline, evaluating the work of individual philosophers. One can specialize and spend ones whole life in any one of the above and still be making an important contribution to philosophy. Most of the above involves scholarship, the study of the history of philosophy, learning from the past; it does not yet explicitly involve taking a personal philosophical stand.

Foundations shifts the focus to where do you personally stand on the issues of knowing, being and the real. For us it is initiated by intellectual conversion which grasps the power of the human mind to know the real by experiencing, understanding and judging; and moral conversion by which we can distinguish true values from false. This text lies in this functional specialty. We are making explicit the role of conversion as constituting the foundations for later specialites. It is a philosophy of critical realism.

Doctrines or Truths. Where do we take a stand? What do we know with certainty, with high probability, with low probability? What do we know by immanently generated knowledge or by belief? Here we distinguish the basic unrevisable foundations and the truths of the sciences which are open to basic revision and are probably approximations to the truth. The truth of a heuristic is different from the truth of a scientific judgment.

Systematics. This framework of judgments and conclusions gives rise to further questions, invites deeper understanding, suggests follow-up and a variety of ways of relating things together.

Communications. This includes communicating to fellow philosophers at their own level in their own language with arguments appropriate to their level of sophistication. It involves also communicating to the leaders in the society, the educated, the scientists, the makers and breakers of the culture. But it also aims at communicating to everyone in the society who absorb the beliefs [353] and values of the culture. This involves familiarity with the media, the improving means of communication, strategies in getting across a message that people are not inclined to accept.

Hence I think it is clear that the enterprise of philosophy needs not just one specialist but a host of specialists co-operating together. The tasks involved can all be called philosophical but there are only parts in an overall framework. Our grasp of cognitional structure is the foundation for our understanding of the differentiation and the unity of these tasks.

Is there one philosophy or many? There is one humanity, one set of activities of questioning, understanding, judging, deciding and being open to God's intervention. There is one set of imperatives, to be attentive, intelligent, reasonable, responsible, and in love. There is one hierarchy of values vital, social, cultural, moral and religious. These apply to all people at all time and in that sense there is one philosophy.

But the applications of these foundations to particular problems, times and places will take many forms. There is a legitimate pluralism based on the variety of cultures whether they be at the stage of common sense, theory or interiority. There is a positive pluralism based on the varied differentiations of consciousness, the theoritician, the mystic, the scholar, the artist. There is a diversity of specializations of tasks, of audiences, of needs and problems. In this sense you can talk of a pluralism of philosophies; you can talk of an African philosophy, a Greek philosophy, a philosophy of education, etc.

Unfortunately too there is an illegitimate pluralism based on the absence of intellectual and moral conversion. There has to be a discrimination between correct and mistaken philosophies. If the process of human knowing is incorrectly conceived as understanding alone, or experiencing alone, or as based on the imaginary model of in here and out there, huge mistakes will follow in metaphysics and consequently in ethics. The hardest of the functional specializations are dialectics and foundations where these patent disagreements have to be traced to their source, uncovered, brought into the open and if possible resolved. [354]

4. Role of philosophy in Africa. Culture is the actual beliefs and values informing the way of life of a people. It will have its external aspects in the clothes, customs, ways of building, language, economy, organization, groups and subgroups etc. It will have its internal aspects, beliefs in religious matters, priorities, values, accepted norms of behaviour punishment and reward. It will have its good and bad aspects as any society is a mixture of good and bad people; it may be progressing or in decline in any or all areas of the culture. It may be developed or just beginning. There are cultures at a local level but we can also talk of a world-wide emerging culture; that is a set of basic beliefs and values about the inalienable rights and duties of each person. Most of us live in an intercultural context moving from one country to another, from one language to another, from one culture to another. Culture is the actual beliefs and values of the people in all its various aspects. In Africa you have a rich diversity of traditional cultures, with an overlay of influence from modern Western cultures through formal education, and even signs of the influence of post-modernity in the cities and universities.

Philosophy is a kind of critique of culture. Lonergan defines the role of theology as mediating "between a cultural matrix and the significance and role of religion in that context."[3] Perhaps we could define the role of philosophy as mediating between a cultural matrix and the significance and role of truths and values in that matrix. The philosopher is not isolated from his cultural context; he arises out of that context and communicates to the persons of that milieu. He mediates the best of the philosophical truths and values of the past and transposes them into terms relevant to present problems.

To communicate to an audience you must first be able to understand the audience, whether it is a primary school class, a church congregation, a post-graduate degree course, or a whole culture. If the philosopher wants to communicate to his contemporaries he must understand their culture, their beliefs and values, their problems and ambitions, their images and feelings. Philosophy has one set of roots in the past, the texts, the great philosophers, the history of philosophy; but it has another set of roots in the present, the actual culture in which he and his contemporaries live. [355]

Cultures in themselves are not reflective or self-critical. It seems to me the role of the philosophy to reflect on the ethical and scientific beliefs of his times and evaluate them critically. Public opinion is easily swayed by television portrayals of dramatic events, manipulated by advertisers, pop stars, talk show hosts, and gurus of various kinds. Politically correct language and behaviour may be what is accepted but is not necessarily either true or good. We shift from Victorian prudery to contemporary permissiveness as Paris fashions move hemlines up and down. The role of philosophy is to reflect on changes in beliefs and values critically.

African philosophy is usually divided into three groups; the ethno-philosophers uncover the philosophy implicit in the traditional culture of the area; the sage philosophers interview those respected by the traditional culture as wise men and make that African philosophy; the professional philosophers are usually trained in some Western philosophy but are now teaching in African universities.[4] Which is the true African philosopher? There seems to be some competition for the title. It seems to me that the philosophical enterprise should be understood more widely and specialists seen as complementary rather than competing. The appropriation of Africa's past is an essential task in the enterprise; it is not the whole of philosophy; it would seem to be phase one of the functional specialties we have outlined. The real difficulty is in phase two, where do we take a stand? The drawbacks of professional philosophy are that though they are importing some valuable developments in philosophy they also bring the decline, the confusion, the narrow-mindedness of contemporary Western philosophy to Africa.

Lonergan's philosophy is the only intercultural philosophy that I know of. It is founded on the very structure of our knowing and choosing. It is comprehensive, practical in the sense of long term practicality. It distinguishes clearly between the foundations in the structure of the unfolding human spirit and particular applications and implications in varying cultures and places and times. These foundations should help students to take a stand in the midst of varying cultural traditions, religious denominations, theories of development. All the great philosophers of the past have had an [356] enormous influence on the culture of succeeding generations but it takes decades, centuries and even millennia for that influence to percolate through the society. Lonergan is such a great philosopher.

It is difficult to draw this text to a conclusion. I think we have succeeded in laying the foundations of what we can know of it. We have discovered the potential of our own minds through self-appropriation and take a stand in the midst of a confused and confusing contemporary situation. But once the foundations are laid the implications and possible applications of the method keep tumbling out. Our guiding conviction has been that the crisis of the present time is caused by the transition from the second stage of meaning to the third, from theory to interiority. Once that has been negotiated all sorts of possibilities open up, a reoriented empirical science, a critical methodical philosophy, an ongoing theological enterprise, a progressive ethics and politics that goes to the root of the matter, a human science that recognizes the richness of what it is to be human, a culture that fosters attentiveness, intelligence, reflection, responsibility and authentic religious values. There is no end to the new possibilities that arise not only in education but in living. However our principle has been to do one thing at a time. Surely the first thing is to lay the foundations. Then the implications and possibilities can be worked out again step by step with all the detail and argument called for in each area. Rome was not built in a day. Lonergan always thought about the long-term challenge rather than short-term solutions to particular problems. The Lonergan enterprise must take up these various challenges to heal and create as we move into the third stage of meaning.

1. Lonergan, METHOD IN THEOLOGY, 268.

2. Lonergan, METHOD IN THEOLOGY, 38.

3. Lonergan, METHOD IN THEOLOGY, xi.

4. Ochieng'-Odhiambo, F., African Philosophy: An Introduction, Consulata Institute of Philosophy Press, Nairobi, 1997.


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