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Author Topic: Marquette Lonergan Reading Group  (Read 8734 times)


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Marquette Lonergan Reading Group
« on: October 11, 2012, 02:34:30 PM »

This thread is dedicated to supplementing the year-long INSIGHT Reading Group currently being run by Fr. Robert Doran at Marquette University.  It is of course open to all interested parties.  However, I would like to suggest that all posts have as an at least implicit objective the aiding and supplementing of discussions held during the IRG sessions.  Thus, if you were not present at these discussions it may be difficult, though certainly not impossible, to respond accordingly.  Again, all are welcome.  I simply may bold to advise discretion.

Without any further ado, I wanted to leap right into any issue that was touched upon at our first meeting, but could perhaps use some more fleshing out.  It was noted in discussion that Lonergan states clearly in the Introdcution and indeed in several places throughout his corpus that the guiding question of INSIGHT is, in the first instance, not "Is knowledge possible" but "What is knowledge?" or more precisely "What am I doing when I am knowing?"

Again, it was noted in discussion that this is no throw-away comment on the part of Lonergan, but is rather a clear and stark indication that Lonergan means to distinguish his overall aim in INSIGHT from Kant's aim in the Critique of Pure Reason.  (A quick note:  what I discuss below is discussed explicitly by Lonergan in UNDERSTANDING and BEING.  I cannot recall the page numbers, but you can surely find them by looking up Kant in the index.)

Why is it important that Lonergan's guiding question is "What am I doing when I am knowing?" and how does this distinguish him from Kant?  The answer is both very simple yet very subtle.  To begin with, Kant's guiding question in the CPR is indeed "How is knowledge possible?" or more precisely "How are synthetic judgments a priori possible?"  As Lonergan states in UNDERSTANDING and BEING, however, to ask about the possibility of knowledge without first determining what knowledge is is to ask about the possibility of an unknown, an 'X'.  If you haven't determined what 'X' is and I ask you if 'X' is possible you could not hope to answer intelligently and reasonably because you do not yet what 'X' happens to be or indeed if it is anything at all.  (A quick historical note:  This is substantially the same issue that arises in the MENO, not to say other dialogues, wherein Meno attempts to answer abstractly about the possibility of teaching virtue without first determining what virtue in fact is.  Socrates insists that Meno and he can only answer the question of possibility after they have answered the question of fact.  The discovery by Plato and Socrates that the question of fact (quaestio facti) is a prior question that must be answered marks to a great the deal the birth of scientific and philosophical inquiry proper.  Unfortunately, Kant would seem arguably to have fallen off from this tradition.  However, Kant is actually just picking up a trajectory of decadent Scholasticism that seems to have been initiated by Henry of Ghent who, unlike Thomas, begins his Summa with the very question "Is knowledge possible?").

Does this make sense?  It is very subtle.  If you ask whether or not knowledge is possible without first determining what knowledge is then you will asking abstractly about the possibility of something that you do not understand, about an unknown 'X'.  How could you possibly determine whether or not 'X' is possible?  If, out of the blue, I asked you is 'Y' possible, you would have me first tell you what 'Y' is.  In other words, it's the wrong question, at least to begin with.

Now, there is a further complication to this story.  For, we might ask, why do people like Kant and Henry get away with proceeding the way they do when it is clearly so problematic?  Again, the answer is very simple yet very sublte.  The reason is that we all, to the exent that we are animals, spontaneously presuppose a particular notion of knowing and that we thus know what knowing is.  Our spontaneous notion of knowing that we develop insofar as we are animals is that knowing is or is like taking a good look at whatever is there to be seen.  We will get clearer on this when we get to Chapter 8 and Lonergan's discussion of the "already out there now."  However, for present purposes it need simply be noticed that the reason Kant and Henry are able to proceed the way that they do is that they, more or less unwittingly, themselves share this same presupposition regarding knowing as going without saying and then proceed with their inquiry into whether or not it is indeed possible to take a good look at was is really already out there now.  Thus, in the very first line of the Transcendental Aesthetic Kant states that cognition is immediately related to its object through intuition (Anschauung).  Most people just blow right past this claim because it seems too obvious (too "intuitive") to question, but that is only because they themselves have already presupposed the same answer to the question of fact regarding knowledge, i.e. that it is or is like taking a look or intuiting.  In other words, the reason why Kant can proceed with the wrong question is that he can safely, though again largely unwittingly, presuppose that the prior question of fact has already been answered.  Thus, one of Lonergan's enormous tasks in INSIGHT is simply to get us to slow down on and critically reflect on the apparent obviousness that to know is to take a good look at or intuit what is "out there" "in the world."  This is extremely hard to do because, again, we develop fully as animals long before we develop fully as intelligent and rational humans and so prior to doing philosophy proper we carry with us unchecked presuppositions that will make us inclined to finding certain philosophies convincing, not because they are more intelligent and rational, but because they implicitly or explicitly confirm our animal anticipations of what reality and knowing are like.

Now, some might object that even the question "What I am doing when I am knowing?" naively presupposes that you already know that knowing is possible since you would seem to have to take it for granted that it exists if you are asking about what it is.  E.g. one must know that tigers exist before one can ask what a tiger is.  This is a good question and answering it, for better or worse, requires some interior differentiation of consciousness.  What I mean is that Lonergan is not presupposing that you know that knowing exists in his question, and in order to avoid confusion and the appearance of question-begging, it is possible simply to restate his question as "Do you perform the following operations:  hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, smelling, questioning, understanding, conceiving, reflecting, judging?"  If so, then you are doing what I, Lonergan, am calling knowing.  Now, you see, we have a determinate conception of what knowledge is, not some vague anticipation of knowledge that we derive spontaneously from our animality.  Once we have this determinate conception of knowledge, then we can ask the further question "Why is DOING that knowing?" which is the question about transcendence, i.e. "Why does performing those activities result in my coming to know something independent of my knowing?"

So, again, Lonergan is not in the first instance presupposing that knowing exists.  Rather, the first instance is not an argument or presupposition at all, it is a question, and it is a question that asks you to advert to your own experience, which indeed is what Socrates had the toughest time getting his interlocutors to do.  Lonergan and Socrates cannot advert to your experience for you.  You must determine for yourself whether or not your perform these activities.  If you affirm that you do, the next thing you can ask is whether or not these very particular and determinate activities result in an intelligent and critical awareness of something absolute and non-dependent upon the activities themselves, i.e. the real, being.  But, again, you will not be asking abstractly about an 'X' but about series of concrete and determinate performances that you have identified in your own experience. 

I hope this was helpful.  Feel free to make any comments or suggestions or ask any questions.