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• Lonergan's Insight

Dr. David P. Fleischacker

  1. Intellectual desire/wonder
    1. The question and the clue
    2. The question as framework
      1. Descriptive questions
      2. Causal questions
      3. Explanatory questions
    3. Questions as constituting our horizon of that which we know we do not yet know.
    4. Potentially unrestricted
  2. Image/Experience
    1. Questions always start with images or experiences (data of sense, data of consciousness).  Something crosses our path and we ask what or why.  We look at a cart wheel and then wonder what explains roundness (notice how most would not approach a cartwheel with this type of question)
    2. We then begin to "shape" and form our images/experiences in our search for an insight that explains.
    3. Experiences
  3. The Insight:  grasps the pattern.
  4. Conception/definition
    1. Expresses the Insight, tries to manifest it so as to recreate it in others.  It also sets the stage to reflect upon the adequacy of the insight.  If one does not express, formulate, define, then one cannot ask whether the insight is true or false.
    2. Different types of definition
      1. Descriptive
      2. Artistic/symbolic
      3. Nominal
      4. Explanatory
        1. "The Definition wants to state in the general case what is necessary and sufficient to have the insight"
        2. Moves from the particularity of the insight to the universal:  tries to hit upon all that is essential for the insight
      5. Implicit:  terms define relations, relations define terms, insight fixes both (this is the most precise type of definition because it is the only one that includes nothing beyond what is absolutely essential for the insight)
    3. Examples
      1. Circle
      2. Atoms
      3. Gene
      4. Algebraic properties
      5. A virtue
        1. recognizing that someone possesses courage requires an insight that many times people simply do not really know how they received.
        2. The definition of courage would allow a person then to recognize the key elements involved in having the insight.
        3. As a note, this insight into a human virtue is not through "data of sense" alone, but through a "symbolic feedback" attentiveness into the data of consciousness that uses data of sense in a symbolic manner (specifically seen/heard actions of self and others as courageous).

Notes on Insight
Ch. 1, Secs. 1&2
Dr. Ron Vardiman

Lonergan begins with Descartes’ conviction that intellectual mastery is achieved by “a slow and steady accumulation of little insights”.  It is important to remember this, as he then goes on to the example of Archimedes, who had a very large and striking insight.  This is not typical; though all insights are sudden, many are so small we do not notice them, and it is their gradual accumulation which brings an answer to the question or problem we are working on.  One may take the example of the Japanese number puzzles (Sudoku and Kakuro) which must be solved one number at a time.  This need for accumulation of insights is the reason that long preparation is required to do research into difficult problems.

Insight, Lonergan indicates, pivots between the concrete and the abstract.  It works both ways; Archimedes’ insight was concrete (practical) but drew on both abstract and concrete elements.  Most of Lonergan’s examples go from the concrete to the abstract.

Concepts emerge from insights as the verbalization of our mental organization of a set of related insights.  Note that the insight itself is non-verbal, a sort of intellectual seeing of order, relationships, causes, etc…  The root cause of insight, indeed of all intellectual activity, is the question.  Aristotle says “All men by nature desire to know”.  This presupposes what humans long ago discovered, that there is an intelligibility in the things of the world, that answers to questions can be found.

An image is necessary for the insight, that is, we must have a mental image (St. Thomas Aquinas calls it a phantasm) into which we see something we had not seen before.  This may be due to new data, or simply looking at it in a new way. Lonergan says “the pivot between images and concepts is the insight.  But what does the image consist of, and how is it formed?  Lonergan has little to say on this, so we shall examine the question more closely later.

Definitions - The most primitive definition is the nominal, it simply puts a name to something, whether concrete or abstract.  It presupposes some familiarity with the thing named.  A set of nominally defined terms may become linked by an insight, which can lead to an explanatory definition. Note that an insight, while explaining something, does not have to yield an explanatory definition.  If the nominal definition of terms is dropped, we have an implicit definition, with the relations defining the terms.  This allows a greater degree of generality, that is, it abstracts from concrete elements.  However to relate a circle of implicitly defined terms to reality, either a nominal definition or an experience of the terms is required.  Thus the terms empirical presentations, inquiry, insight and conception are implicitly defined by their relations, but are understood by one’s experience of them by self appropriation.


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