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Author Topic: Chapter 1 "Why? What? How?" For a New Political Economy, v. 21 of CW  (Read 8211 times)

Richard Moodey

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Lonergan begins with Keynes, who "says that if practical men such as politicians and bankers and industrialists do not succeed in grasping the issues, then inevitably they will be eliminated. Undoubtedly they will," Lonergan comments, "but so shall we, for they are our leaders" (NPE 3). L then contrasts the older political economists with those who were trying (in 1944) to create a new order. He says that the "mode of action" of the political economists was "thoroughly democratic." In contrast, "Socialists, communists, totalitarians can put their theories into practice only if they obtain political power, only if they can set up a bureaucracy and regiment a people." The power of the political economists, in contrast, "was solely the power of argument. Their effectiveness was not through the state but through individual initiative" (4).

"The problem, I think, is clear. We cannot rely on the old political economy: it was democratic but has been found wrong. We cannot rely on the new economics: it is accurate but it can solve real problems only by eliminating democracy. What is needed is a new political economy that is free from the mistakes of the old, a democratic economics that can issue practical imperatives to plain men" (NPE 5).

Lonergan constructs what Max Weber called "ideal types." These are not descriptions of actual cases, but heuristic constructs from which actual cases can deviate in different ways. His ideal type of political regime is democracy, to which he opposes the anti-ideal of a totalitarian regime, and he points to three subtypes of totalitarian regimes: Nazi, Fascist, and Communist. He criticizes the "new economics" for being practically useful only in regimes that have eliminated democracy. Then in  section 2," The Nature of a New Political Economy," he describes his ideal type of a science that would be practically useful in a democratic regime.

His characterization of science in this section was written well over a decade before the publication of Insight in 1957. It was also written before those years that he described in the "Epilogue" of Insight.: "After spending years reaching up to the mind of Aquinas, I came to a two-fold conclusion. On the one hand, that reaching had changed me profoundly. On the other hand, that change was the essential benefit.... So it is that my detailed investigations of the thought of Aquinas on Gratia Operans and on Verbum have been followed by the present essay in aid of a personal appropriation of one's own rational self-consciousness" (IN 769 [748]). I mention this because his characterization of science in 1944 has to be corrected in the light of the change that Lonergan experienced in the years of his intensive study of Aquinas. This is the change he sought to help others experience by writing Insight.

In his 1944 characterization of science, he left out an explicit affirmation of the importance of judgment: "Dynamically a science is the interplay of two factors: there are data revealed by experience, observation, experiment, measurement; and on the other hand, there is the constructive activity of mind. By themselves the data are objective, but they are also disparate, without significance, without correlation, without coherence. Of itself, the mind is coherence; spontaneously it constructs correlations and attributes significance; but it must have materials to construct and correlate; and if its work is not to be fanciful, its materials must be the data.  Thus thought and experience are two complementary functions; thought constructs what experience reveals; and science is an exact equilibrium of the two" (NPE 5).   

In this characterization of science, Lonergan had not yet incorporated ideas he had developed years earlier from reading Newman"s Grammar of Assent, and which he had developed to some extent in his 1929 essay "True Judgment and Science" (see Liddy, Transforming Light, 2008, p. 24). I believe that Lonergan's characterization of science expressed in Insight was, in part, a synthesis of what he had learned from Newman with the self-appropriation he experienced in the years he spent reaching up to the mind of Aquinas. Because of this, I further believe that Lonergan's early writings about economics lacked an adequate discussion of the need to treat a declarative sentence about an economic phenomenon as a hypothesis, about which it is necessary to ask the question for reflection, "Is it true?" 

After presenting the incomplete characterization of science I have quoted, Lonergan asserts the importance of moving to more comprehensive syntheses, and illustrates this by the development of physics (especially celestial mechanics), mentioning Ptolemy, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Einstein (NPE 5-7). He applies this history of increasely broader generalizations to his ideal type of a new political economy:

"It is, we believe, a scientific generalization of the old political economy and of modern economics that will yield the new political economy which we need. As was argued in the first section, economics corrected political economy in the wrong way. As now this paradox can be explained, economics corrected political economy not by moving to the more general field and so effecting the correction without losing the democratic spirit of the old movement, but by staying on the same level of generality and by making up for lost ground by going into the more particular fields of statistics, history, and a more refined analysis of psychological motivation and of the integration of decisions to change.

"Plainly the way out is through the more general field. The more economics endeavors to be an exact science, the more incapable it becomes to speak to men, and the greater the necessity under which it tries to treat men the way the exact sciences treat atoms and guinea pigs: it has to put them under laboratory conditions with an Ogpu [Soviet Secret Police] to keep them there and a group of commissars to plan the experiments; it is very, very, very scientific, but unless you mean by democracy not something like Finland but something like Russia, then it is not at all democratic... we are asking for an instrument that democracy must have...." (NPE 7).

I argue that Lonergan has frame his more technical work in economics as an attempt to construct this "instrument that democracy must have." There are two ideal types involved here: democratic government and the new political economy. Democratic government is the context within which the ideal typical science of the new political economic becomes both possible and effective. However, Lonergan' 1944 statement of the ideal science is incomplete.  Not only did he fail to incorporate what he had written years before in "True Judgment and Science," and would later make central to Insight [the chapters on judgment and reflective understanding are the necessary transition from "insight as activity" to "insight as knowledge"] but he also failed adequately to distinguish between the empirical method of the physical sciences and thegeneralized empirical methods of the social sciences.

In the light of the later explanation of GEM, Lonergan's 1944 assertion that the attempt to create an exact science of economics was "very, very, very scientific" was, at best, ironic, or at worst, simply false. I suspect that he meant it to be ironic, both because of the repetition of "very" and because he said that it had to treat men as if they were atoms or guinea pigs. This distortion of human nature could not be very "scientific."

Another way of expressing the point I am arguing is to call to mind that Lonergan cautions readers of Insight to recognize that he wrote from a moving viewpoint. Earlier statements have to be reinterpreted in the light of later ones. I believe that the same kind of caution is required in interpreting texts that were written at different times. Earlier texts have to be reinterpreted in the light of later ones.

Especially when applying this to texts that were written over the course of several decades, it is likely that an aspect of Lonergan's moving viewpoint was that he kept learning throughout his life. His reading, writing, teaching, and conversations with contemporaries resulted in his bringing new data, new insights, new judgments, and new decisions into the background from which he thought, wrote, spoke, and acted. One dimension of this continuous learning was new ways of formulating his ideas.

So I referred to his 1929 paper on Newman's notion of judgment as evidence that he did know about the importance of judgment in science when he wrote that paragraph on the nature of science in 1944. But, at that point, he did not say explicitly, as he did in Insight, that there is a difference between experiential objectivity, normative objectivity, and the kind of objectivity that results from judging. This kind of objectivity comes from the reflective understanding that is the grasping of the virtually unconditioned. Here I appeal to something that Michael Polanyi was fond of repeating: we always know more than we can say. In 1944, Lonergan already knew about judgment and the verification of hypotheses, but he didn't say what he knew. It might not have been that he was unable to say anything about the importance of judgment; it might have been that he just neglected to do so because he had other fish to fry in writing that chapter. I suggest that the fishes that were then in the metaphorical pan were (1) his desire to emphasize his commitment to democracy over totalitarianism, and (2) his rejection of the positivism that was current at the time. He wanted to emphasize the contribution that the mind makes to science, and to counteract the rule, "let the facts speak for themselves." I also believe that he had intimations of the difference between strictly empirical, and generalized empirical methods, but had not worked out the clear way of expressing that difference that we see in Insight.

“Think, live, be: next try to express scrupulously what you are thinking, what you are living, what you are.”
Henri de Lubac