Lonergan, More Precisely

In my last post I explained why Bernard Lonergan said that genuine, objective knowing is the result of nothing other than one's attentive experience, intelligent understanding, and reasonable and responsible judgment.

He called this invariant pattern of operations "transcendental method" -- a term used by several others (Kant, Maréchal, Rahner, etc.), but not in quite the same way. Today I'm going to describe the stages of understanding and judgment with greater precision.

The Level of Understanding

Whenever we encounter any kind of data -- whether data of sense or data of consciousness -- it comes to us first as mere scraps of information. The prompts the question for understanding -- "what is it?"

The question for understanding is answered with an insight. Insight is a sudden release from the tension of inquiry, when we get the point, when we see the solution. The insight culminates in a concept. Distinguishing between insights and concepts is not easy, but I tend to think of the insight as the event, and the concept as the product of this event.

The Level of Reflection

Judgments occur on the level of reflection. Like the level of understanding, this level begins with a question -- the question for reflection -- "is it so?"

The answer to the question for reflection is simply "yes" or "no." This is where we make a judgment about the accuracy of our concept that was the answer to the question for understanding.

Between the question for reflection and the judgment comes the reflective insight -- when it becomes clear to us whether there is sufficient evidence to affirm our concept or not. If not, we have to reformulate our concept until we find one we can affirm.

We therefore find six distinct stages within the two levels:

Level of Understanding
  1. Question for Reflection - "What is it?"
  2. Insight
  3. Concept
Level of Reflection
  1. Question for Reflection - "Is it so?"
  2. Reflective Insight
  3. Judgment
An Example

Imagine you are entering your house through the front door, and you hear an unfamiliar telephone ring. You wonder -- "what is it?"

The first thing that pops into your head is that it could be the TV. You've had an insight culminating in a concept.

But you're not sure if this is right. No one else is home right now, so there's no reason why the TV would be on. This is confirmed when you get into the living room, and find that the TV is, in fact, off. You have to conclude that, no, it is not the TV.

Meanwhile, the phone is still ringing, and it is clear that it's coming from the kitchen. Then you remember -- you got a new phone, and you hadn't heard it ring yet. This is a second insight, culminating in a second concept. In this case the judgment is almost instantaneous -- just as soon as you thought about it, you realised that it is true. But you still go through the process.

Inverse Insights

Sometimes we do not come to an understanding because we realise that there is nothing to understand. These are called inverse insights. Imagine someone was to ask you, "how do you draw a square circle?" When you realise that this is not possible, you have had an inverse insight. In this case, the fault lies not in the answer, but in the question.



Post a Comment

<< Home

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.