Judgment, Part II

The Virtually Unconditioned

Bernard Lonergan explains, "To grasp evidence as sufficient for a prospective judgment is to grasp the prospective judgment as virtually unconditioned" (Insight 305). This term might be slightly intimidating, but it's an important idea, and not a difficult one to understand.

The "conditioned" is the element to which the question for reflection is put: is it, or is it not so? "By the mere fact that a question for reflection has been put, the prospective judgment is a conditioned: it stands in need of evidence sufficient for reasonable pronouncement" (Insight 305).

So if one can say, "A is so if x, y, and z," then 'A' is a conditioned, and 'x,' 'y,' and 'z' represent the conditions. If the conditions are fulfilled, the conditioned is affirmed. It is, then, "virtually unconditioned." It is not that it does not have conditions -- in which case it would be "formally unconditioned" -- it is simply that the conditions happen to be fulfilled.

To determine if the conditions are fulfilled, we ask questions. When there are no further questions, we know we have identified the conditions, and, provided the questions we have can be answered, we will have sufficient grounds for a judgment.

Rashness and Indecisiveness

There are two opposing tendencies that sometimes hinder the process.

We say that a person is being rash when they conclude that the conditions for a particular judgment have been fulfilled without actually having apprehended that this is so. Or, they might suppose that the fulfillment of one or more conditions is sufficient, while ignoring any others that must also be fulfilled. As Lonergan explains,

it is not enough to say that the conditions are fulfilled when no further questions occur to me. The mere absence of further questions in my mind can have other causes. My intellectual curiosity may be stifled by other interests. My eagerness to satisfy other drives may refuse the further questions a chance to emerge. (Insight 309)1

For example, someone who affirms the inerrancy of the Bible on the grounds that "God would not deceive," has made the judgment based on a single condition: the Bible is inerrant if God would not deceive. Of course, there are further relevant questions: is God responsible for the content of the Bible? Often that particular condition is ignored (or is presupposed as fulfilled, in a prior oversight), and a rash judgment is the result.

"As there is rash judgment, so also there is mere indecision" (Insight 310). This is when one postpones making a judgment, even when there is sufficient evidence to do so. Terry Tekippe, in his helpful book What Is Lonergan Up to in Insight?, summarises the difference between rashness and indeciveness as follows: "The one person rides rough-shod over any further relevant questions; the other is never satisfied that there might not be one further relevant question still to be discovered" (80).

So, between these two extremes, we find the characteristics of a correct judgment: all of the conditions are known; they are known to be sufficient; they are known to be fulfilled.

There is, as Lonergan points out, no simple formula for striking "a happy balance" between these two extremes, or for knowing when it has been reached. But he does attempt "an analysis of the main factors in the problem and an outline of the general nature of their solution":

In the first place, then, one has to give the further questions a chance to arise. The seed of intellectual curiosity has to grow into a rugged tree to hold its own against desires and fears, conations and appetites, drives and interests that inhabit the heart of man. (Insight 310)

In other words, there has to be a commitment to truth that can overcome any of the desires and fears, etc., that might drive someone to accept something other than truth.

Moreover, every insight has its retinue of presuppositions, implications, and applications. One has to take the steps needed for that retinue to come to light. (Insight 310)

So, as in the example cited earlier about the inerrancy of the Bible, allowing the presupposition that God was responsible for the content of the Bible to come to light might have prevented a rash judgment.


One might object that, in making judgments in everyday life, one does not go through such a rigorous thought process. Lonergan acknowledges that this is the case:

I do not mean, of course, that concrete living is to pursue this logical and operational expansion in the explicit, deliberate, and elaborate manner of the scientific investigator. But I do mean that something equivalent is to be sought by intellectual alertness, by taking one's time, by talking things over, by putting viewpoints to the test of action. (Insight 310)

And, of course, one's desire to know the truth has to supercede one's desire to maintain any particular belief, should that belief be mistaken.


[1] This "eagerness to satisfy other drives" would include, as I discussed briefly in the previous post, a desire to believe that something is or is not true, prior to evaluating whether or not it actually is.

Works Cited



Post a Comment

<< Home

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