Thursday, 31 December 2009

Ambedkar and Maritain

From Augustine Arulraj I learn that Ambedkar draws - at least a bit - on Jacques Maritain. Augustine has managed to supply one quotation from Ambedkar's works; the extent of the influence remains to be seen.

Also, it may be interesting to see which side Maritain, a Thomist philosopher opts for: the hierarchical, organic society or the atomistic, equalitarian society. As a Thomist, he should probably opt for the former. But as a major thinker about democracy, I wonder.

Going back to Ambedkar, Augustine tells me, of course, that, even if Ambedkar began with Dewey and Maritain, he ends with the Buddhist concept of human being. Of course, the pragmatism of Dewey probably vibes well with the pragmatism of the Buddha.

Note of 5 Jan 2010: It looks like this is a false alarm. Ambedkar does quote Maritain, but just once, in Vol. 3 of his collected writings, p. 90. The quote is from Maritain's essay, "The Concept of Human Person."

Note of 25 Jan 2010: Ambedkar took his quotation from Maritain from Freedom: Its Meaning by Ruth Nanda Kishen. There is probably no such person as Ruth Nanda Kishen, but there is an American Philosopher called Ruth Nanda Anshen, and here are some details from the latter: J. Maritain, "The Conquest of Freedom," in Freedom: Its Meaning, ed. Ruth Nanda Anshen (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co, 1940; London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1942)631-49, as cited in B. Ambedkar, Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar: Writings and Speeches, ed. Vasant Moon (Bombay: Education Department, Govt. of Maharashtra, 1987) 3:95. Maritain's article is also available in The Social and Political Philosophy of Jacques Maritain: Selected Readings, ed. Joseph W. Evans and Leo R. Ward (??: ??, 1955) ??; this is a translation from the revised and corrected text published in J. Maritain, Principes d'une politique humaniste (New York: ??, 1944) 13-42.

There does not seem to be any essay called "The Concept of Human Person" in the Anshen collection. See Books in the Jacques Maritain Center at Notre Dame. Books with Chapters / Sections by the Maritains, at as of 25 Jan 2010.

Hierarchical and equalitarian societies

From De Smet I learned the difference between the organicity of the Christian concept of person, and the atomism of rationalist individualism. The former seems to be the mark of all organically related, hierarchical societies. The latter seems to be, instead, the presupposition or the foundation of modern (and technological) democracies.

This insight is not exclusive to De Smet. He himself draws on Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, for example. (See De Smet, Brahman and Person, 2010 69.)

Strange that I had to come across the very same reference - and insight - in Edward Rutherfurd's historical novel, Sarum.

And then again in Richard Howard's ongoing series of articles in Divyadaan on Gandhi. The difference between Gandhi and Nehru - one of the differences - is that between an organic, hierarchical, pre-modern society and an atomistic, modern society.

But there is food for thought here. For the hierarchical societies are prone to structural injustices, such as the caste system, while the equalitarian societies attempt at least to do away with such. Logically, in fact, Gandhi defended the varna system, while Ambedkar attacked this system and the hierarchical society to which it belonged, opting for modern democracy.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Caputo, foremost American postmodern

James Marsh, in a review of John Caputo, Radical Hermeneutics: Repetition, Deconstruction, and the Hermeneutic Project (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), in International Philosophical Quarterly 28 (1988) 459:
This is an important book.... With this book, Caputo takes his place firmly as the foremost American, continental post-modernist, continuing a line of inquiry extending from Nietzsche and Kierkegaard on up through [the] late Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault.
I am surprised that - probably way back in the late 1980s or early 1990s - I had come across this quotation mentioning postmodernism, Derrida, Foucault, and Caputo.... But it takes time for a stray word to begin making an impact.

Body as dialogue

Body is dialog, even before a single word has been spoken, community even before any kind of agreement has been reahed, and even he who does not wish to speak, speaks through his gestures and his very silence.
J.B. Metz, "Caro Cardo Salutis," Hochland 55 (1962) 105, cited in J. Donceel, Philosophical Anthropology 460.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Bergson's final wish

I had forgotten this:
My reflections... have led me closer and closer to Catholicism, in which I see the complete fulfilment of Judaism. I would have become a convert had I not seen in preparation for years the formidable wave of anti-Semitism which is to break upon the world. I wanted to remain among those who tomorrow will be persecuted. But I hope that a Catholic priest will consent, if the Cardinal Archbishop of Parish authorizes it, to come to say prayers at my funeral. (From the will of Henri Bergson.)
This was done.

Tomlin, The Great Philosophers: The Western World (London: Sheffinton & Son) 273.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

The five intellectual virtues

The five intellectual virtues according to Aristotle:

1. techne: knowing how to do something
2. episteme: knowing that something is the case
3. phronesis: this has an unmistakable social dimension, and can mean anything from 'practical wisdom' to 'human understanding' to 'moral discernment' to 'knowing how to prosper' to 'political acumen' to 'savoir faire', etc.
4. sophia: knowledge of cause and effect
5. nous: typically divine, informs the others, and is a final cause of the others. It is the activity of the divine side of our nature.

Cf. Eric von der Luft, Hegel Society of America, Book Review of Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, tr. Terence Irwin (Indianopolis: Hackett, 1985). Modern Schoolman 66 (1988) 79-80.

Nehru and Gandhi on economics

I have begun editing the first issue of the Divyadaan Journal for 2010, and yesterday I was working on Howard and Swanger's chapter 2, which is on Jawarharlal Nehru's peculiar relationship to Gandhi. I find myself amazed at the way Howard and Swanger are interpreting Gandhi: here is an interpretation that rings true, and that I for one have never seen.

Howard points out that Nehru never really understood Gandhi. Nehru was a Fabian socialist; he was a 'modern'; Gandhi was pre-modern. Gandhi believed in dharma, in an organic society, and his ideas make sense only within this kind of a world view. Gandhi considered modern technological society as adharma; and he was, says Howard, profoundly right. His views and his analyses are being slowly confirmed by many thinkers today.

There is, of course, the ticklish issue of Gandhi's upholding of the varnadharma, the caste system in its varna essentials at least. Howard deals with this in his chapter 1 (published in DJPE 20/3 of 2009), and he has an interesting take on it, making Gandhi intelligible if not completely defensible.

But the ideological divide between Nehru and Gandhi is interesting, it is sharp, and it had enormous consequences. We are reaping the consequences of Nehruvian socialism. True, everyone is looking at India these days, and marvelling at our progress; even Pope Benedict XVI alludes obliquely to this when he speaks of countries that have managed to pull themselves out of poverty. But not Howard: Howard maintains a healthy skeptical distance from such facile praise of India's progress. He is, in that sense, profoundly Gandhian. For Gandhi - echoed in this by Paul VI in Populorum Progressio - there is no development that is not moral.

Where is Howard heading? I am not sure. But I am surely waiting eagerly for the forthcoming chapters of his book, Gandhi and the Future, which we are serializing in Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Functional specialization and the Preventive System

A confrere wants to do a critical study of the Preventive System, and consulted me about it.

I put down some random thoughts.

1. There is need of a thorough hermeneutic of recovery / reception / love (see the 4 articles of Fred Lawrence in DJPE 19A-B) before engaging in a hermeneutic of suspicion. This means that one needs to engage in research, interpretation, history in a thorough way before engaging in dialectic.

2. History: Be aware of the history of effects of the Preventive System - the fact that there has been, explicitly and performatively, a re-reading of the Preventive System over the years. Major moments of this re-reading can be found, of course, in the revisions of the Constitutions, the Letters of the Rector Major, productions of the various Departments (Youth Pastoral, etc.) and in scholarly studies; but also in lives of prominent Salesians.

3. Dialectic. Anticipate that the history of effects will show not only progress but also decline. Traditions can be authentic, but they can also become unauthentic. The same words might continue being used, but their meanings might have deteriorated. Then reason, religion, loving kindness are bandied about like magic incantations, but their original meaning is lost.

That probably needs to be thoroughly revised... My main point is that dialectic is not something one engages in immediately. There is much to be done before arriving at that point.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Anantanand Rambachan on De Smet

Franco Pinto has been kind enough to procure for me a copy of Anantanand Rambachan's book Accomplishing the Accomplished: The Vedas as a Source of Valid Knowledge in Sankara. I found that title recommended by De Smet, and looking up the bibliography, right enough, there was Rambachan citing at least 4 of De Smet's works, including his doctoral dissertation. One more item for De Smet's secondary bibliography, and one more step in tracing out De Smet's underground influence, and the reception of his work....

Rambachan acknowledges De Smet's recognition of the Vedas as a valid pramana for Sankara, but feels that De Smet does not go far enough. "It comes as an anticlimax to find in him the selfsame unacknowledged and unresolved contradiction between an initial emphasis on the unmitigated authority of sruti and their reliance for verification on an experience." (9)

De Smet is mentioned only in the introductory outlining of the status quaestionis, and then briefly in the conclusion. So this cannot really be counted as a thorough study of De Smet. Besides, there are only 4 items in the bibliography - though this includes the doctoral dissertation.

An interesting point for study and clarification in De Smet. First: what really is his position on sruti and anubhava? Second, what was Sankara's position on the same?

Note that the study of K. Satchidananda Murty, Revelation and Reason in Advaita (1974) is cited by Rambachan in his bibliography. This is another item cited with approval by De Smet.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The tree of life

The late Fr Jean de Marneffe, SJ, who taught us contemporary western philosophy at JDV, I think, used to talk about Dilthey, Nietzsche and one other as "Philosophers of Life." Something I never did quite understand.

Now it becomes luminously clear, especially when I read Fred Lawrence's account of Jean Greisch's option between 'the tree of knowledge' and the 'tree of life'. Hermeneutic phenomenology, in contrast to Husserlian phenomenology, chose the tree of life over the tree of knowledge. It recognized that pure perception is something derivative; normal everyday perception is thoroughly soaked in meaning, constituted by meaning. It is linguistic. Implicitly and performatively, all our thoughts, words and actions are either discovering or missing the insight into the right way to live, is the way Fred puts it.Thanks Fred!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The theorem of the supernatural

One of the things I need to get clear about in Lonergan is what he calls the theorem of the supernatural. The other day, during Nelson's homily, I thought I got a little window onto this theorem. Nelson was quoting St Paul: "What is it that we have not received?" It reminded me of Lonergan speaking about the problem faced by early Christian reflection on grace: how to distinguish grace from the fact that everything is received, everything is gift? The answer is probably a difference in proportion: nature and supernature, what is proportionate to human nature and what is not proportionate to it, what is simply beyond it. A distinction, therefore, between two orders. Not that there is or was a state of pure nature; but that we need this kind of distinction if we are to handle reflection on the Christian revelation.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

The identity of the Catholic priest today

What is the identity of the Catholic priest in the secular world of today?

I have been reading a wonderful book these days by Eugene H. Peterson, a Presbyterian pastor in the United States. Peterson says that the job of a pastor is to preach and to pray, to proclaim Christ's word and to witness his Mercy. Peterson makes a very powerful argument for his case, deriding the tendency he finds in his country and his church to package and sell religion, the threat that religion is being swallowed up by the culture of corporate management.

On the other hand, since I am somewhat familiar with Lonergan, I remembered that Lonergan had somewhere an article with the title, "The Jesuit as Priest and Apostle in the Modern World." I found there this very interesting proposal for the ministry of the Jesuit priest in the modern world. The priest, says Lonergan, is leader and teacher. He has to lead and teach in his contemporary context, and this context is marked by modernity, secularism and self-destructiveness. This means that the modern Jesuit has to (1) overcome vestiges of his classicist upbringing; (2) discerningly accept the gains of modernity; and (3) find ways to creatively combat the destructiveness of secularism. To this end, Lonergan proposes that there be worked out a set of ongoing strategies, constantly referred to some central 'clearing house' or coordinating body.

I have the greatest respect for Lonergan, and I am also taken up with Peterson, who is a Presbyterian who is completely at home with the two thousand year old tradtion of the Church and who does not hesitate to draw from all of it with the most amazing results. But there is obviously some conflict between these two trends of thought, at least as far as the identity of the priest is concerned.

Of course, we must keep in mind that Peterson is talking about the ministry of the pastor, whereas the identity of the Catholic priest does not necessarily coincide with the ministry of the parish priest. Again, we must keep in mind that Lonergan is addressing himself to Jesuits, and the identity of the Catholic priest does not necessarily coincide with that of the Jesuit priest.

Still, there is here a creative tension that might be exploited, and that certainly gives food for thought.

I think it would not be wrong to say that the question of the identity of the priest has been in ferment since Second Vatican Council. I think it would also be agreed that we have not yet reached any consensus.

There does seem to be, however, a consensus that the theology of the priesthood must be closely linked with Christology and with ecclesiology. For the priest is at the service of Christ and his Body, the Church. The priest, therefore, shares in the mission of Christ and the Church.

The mission of Christ is to gather togetehr the scattered children of God; it is the reconciliation of all things in himself, so that all might be reconciled to God; it is the redemtpion of the world so as to bring it to the Father. This is also the core mission of the Church, and here lies the core identity and mission of the priest.

If before the council, the sacerdotal or 'cultic' role of the priest was emphasized to the neglect of other aspects, post-conciliar theologians have sometimes called for the abandonment of the cultic role in favour of the priest as prophet, teacher, leader, and builder. Theologians have noted that different conciliar documents contain different explicit and implicit theologies of the priesthood. The Decree on the Life and Ministry of Priests, for example, might contain an overly cultic and traditional defintiion; but that has to be read and integrated with the large vision of the mission of the Church laid down in Lumen Gentium. It is becoming clearer, then, that the priest cannot be seen merely as tied to the altar and sacristy; he is the teacher, leader and builder of community; and, as Kunnumpuram points out, not merely of the Christian community, but of the larger community. So the preist is prophet to the world; he is builder of the new communty that is the family of God. And this ample vision of things has been recently reconfirmed by the authoriative voice of Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate.

In the light of all this, we might return again to where we began, with peterson and Lonergan.

Clearly the two approaches need to be held together in creative tension. As Lonergan himself has pointed out elsehwere, there are the two dynamics of healing and creating in history, and both are necessary. So the priest of today is called to concern himself with nothing less than the redemption of the world, and here lies the vision of Lonergan. But he is called to do so precisely as a priest, and here is the wisdom of peterson's emphasis: he is called to preach and to pray. But Lonergan would have no difficulty agreeing with that, for he concludes his suggestions with the reminder that the preist is to do all this "in Christ Jesus."

Not every priest is called to be a scholar, visionary or activist; but every priest will recognize this as part of the mission of the Church. Again, not every priest is a parish priest, but every priest will keep in mind that he is also called to preach and to pray, to proclaim Christ's word and to witness his Mercy, whether he is involved in inter-religious dialogue, or in the academic, social, literary, or political fields. For if there are many different gifts and tasks in the Body of Christ, there are many different ways of being a Catholic priest today.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Understanding and explanation

Gadamer places a premium on understanding, Habermas on explanation, while Ricoeur wants both. Ricoeur: "understanding without explanation is blind... explanation without understanding is empty." (Ricoeur, "The Conflict of Interpretations: Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur," Phenomenology: Dialogues and Bridges, ed. Ronald Bruzina and Bruce Wilshire [Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1982] 307. D'Souza, DJPE 19 [2008] 177.)

Under explanation Ricoeur / Keith D'Souza include devices such as structuralism and historico-critical methods - what I have been calling 'lower blade' methods such as those taught by Henrici. (D'Souza 177)

There is a hermeneutical arc between explanation and understanding: "to explain is to bring out the structure, that is, the internal relations of dependence that constitute the statics of the text; to interpret is to follow the path of thought opened up by the text, to place oneself en route toward the orient of the text." (Ricoeur, "Discussion: Ricoeur on Narrative" 122. D'Souza 177.)

Self and tradition

"[T]he interpretation of a text culminates in the self-interpretation of the subject who henceforth understands himself better, understands himself differently, or simply begins to understand himself." (P. Ricoeur, "Discussion: Ricoeur on Narrative," On Paul Ricoeur: Narrative and Interpretation, ed. David Wood [London: Routledge, 1991] 118.)

Self-understanding is a function of text-interpretation: "in hermeneutical reflection - or in reflective hermeneutics - the constitution of the self is contemporaneous with the constitution of meaning." (Ibid. 119)

Interpretation thus makes "one's own what was initially alien." (Ibid. 119)

(From Keith D'Souza, “Habermas and Hermeneutics: The Need for Critical-Hermeneutical Dialectics.” Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education 19/1-2 [2008] 176-7.)

Compare Fred Lawrence's formulation: the coming to light of the tradition is at once the coming to light of the self.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

David Walsh, The Modern Philosophical Revolution

“My encounter with The Modern Philosophical Revolution has been one of the most formative experiences in my life as a philosopher. I have no hesitation in placing it along with Bernard Lonergan’s Insight and Eric Voegelin’s Order and History as one of the greatest works in contemporary English-language philosophy, and I predict its French and German translation will follow even more rapidly than did those of Lonergan’s and Voegelin’s opera magna.”
Brendan Purcell, Review of David Walsh, The Modern Philosophical Revolution: The Luminosity of Existence (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), The Review of Metaphysics 62/3, issue no. 247 (March 2009) 700.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Growth in the spiritual life

A passage from Lonergan that I have never really reflected on:
"Christian development is over a long series of barriers, barriers to purification, barriers to enlightenment, barriers to loving God above all and our neighbour as ourselves. The first barrier to purification is habitual mortal sin.... The second barrier to purification is the occasional mortal sin; we have to study the occasions that give rise to temptations, to ferret out the feelings that give the temptation its attraction for us, to plan how we can evade the occasions and encourage countervailing feelings. There remain the barriers that are habitual venial sins; but now the struggle is on a new front; the campaign is essentially the same as before, for there are bad habits to be broken; but it is not so urgent; as the evil, so the risk is less. But the very slackening of urgency can give place to tepidity, and when that danger appears, we have to proceed against the barriers to enlightenment." (Lonergan, "Pope John's Intention," A Third Collection [1985] 236.)
Lonergan goes on to speak of Newman's notional and real apprehension, notional and real assent. The attainment of enlightenment, he says, is the attainment of real apprehension, real assent, and the motivation to live out what we have learnt. "It is brought about through regular and sustained meditation on what it really means to be a Christian, a real meaning to be grasped not through definitions and systems but through the living words and deeds of our Lord, our Lady, and the saints...." (236)

Knowing and loving, metaphysics and ethics

I was thinking that Levinas' emphasis might be understood in terms of the two ways. on the way up, knowing precedes loving; but on the way down, loving precedes knowing; and since loving has, in the ultimate sense, the precedence, perhaps we could say that love comes before knowing. and it does: God's love is prior to our knowing; the love of parents, in a sense, precedes their knowing their child; and so on. ...

I think the question of ethics and metaphysics parallels the question of which is prior, metaphysics or phil. of knowing. Lonergan says somewhere: as far as we are concerned (the priora quoad nos), knowing comes before being; but in itself (priora quoad se), being precedes knowing...

in his later writings L would constantly speak of the primacy of the existential, and would quote a number of philosophers: Newman, Pascal, Kierkegaard, Blondel... I suppose he was not familiar with Levinas...

Monday, 28 September 2009

De Smet, secondary sources

Yesterday was an exciting day for me. I was continuing my editing of De Smet's essays on Sankara, and was trying to fill in his references. I came across names such as Tillmann Vetter, Michael Comans, George Cardona, besides already familiar ones such as Wilhelm Halbfass, Sengaku Mayeda and Paul Hacker. I search the net for the bibliography, and it's wonderful how, with some patience and luck, most of the time it is possible to find what you are searching for.

But what was exciting was that I came across De Smet being cited in at least three works:

Comans, Michael. The Method of Early Advaita Vedanta: A Study of Gaudapada, Śaṅkara, Suresvara and Padmapada. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2000. See esp. 225-231. Comans, however, disagrees with De Smet, feeling that De Smet has too readily assimilated Sankara to Thomas Aquinas. However, he candidly admits that he does not know too much about Aquinas!

Mayeda, Sengaku. “An Introduction to the Life and Thought of Śaṅkara.” Śaṅkara’s Upadesasahasri. Vol 2: Introduction and English Translation. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2006. See 49, 53-54, 66 notes 14, 17, 28, etc. De Smet himself cites Mayeda approvingly regarding the dating of Sankara and some other points; but Mayeda sticks largely to the classical 'acosmist' reading of Sankara, I think.

Padalkar, Shashikant. “Knowledge and Ignorance: A Student’s Note on Advaita-Vedanta.” 87 pp. as of 28 September 2009. Reference to De Smet on p. 28: the method of adhyāropa-apavada with its variations is analyzed by modern scholars such as Swami Satchidanandendra, Richard De Smet, Anantanand Rambachan and Michael Comans. No works of De Smet are mentioned, however. Still, this is something to be followed up. Who is Padalkar? Where has he studied? How did he come across the works of De Smet? Etc. Note that he deals with laksana in De Smet's sense too.

I have a feeling that more will be found. Once people like Mayeda begin quoting an author, it is inevitable that others do so too.

At any rate, I have finally come across the motherlode: a list of Indological books (especially on Sankara and Advaita) to be acquired for our library.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Knasas' critique of Lonergan, again

Some points in connection with the Knasas question:

Distinguish (1) apprehension under the formality of the true and of being, from (2) apprehension under the formality of the intelligible, and from (3) apprehension under the formality of the experienced. So it is always being that is attained, but under different formalities.

Again, even if, with De Smet and the Marechalians, we were to agree that judgment comes first, we would still have to distinguish what type of being it is that is attained: is it merely mathematical being, or merely possible being, or is it being that is 'independently existent' of the knower?

Study better this distinction of different 'spheres' of being in "Metaphysics as Horizon."

Sunday, 6 September 2009

De Smet, a life

The satisfaction of finishing the entry on De Smet for the EICP (Encyclopedia of Indian Christian Philosophy), as well as a longish life of De Smet running into some 40 pages together with the time line.

Where to send it for publication, is the question.

In the meantime, if anyone is interested in the two pieces, all you have to do is ask.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Lonergan and Knasas again

From Joaquim D'Souza again, on Lonergan and Knasas, on 4 September 2009:
In the little piece you sent me about my profile, I’m somewhat embarrassed to be called a specialist in Medieval Philosophy or an enthusiast of Maritain. I’m, I believe, just a simple student of Thomas Aquinas, trying to understand him with the help of Gilson as regards his historical interpretation, and with the help of Maritain as regards the creative development and application of Aquinas’ thought for our times. Both Gilson and Maritain were great Thomists, who tried to make the fundamental intuitions and principles of Thomas intelligible and relevant to our times. I don’t see Thomism as having only a historical value, but as being very relevant today. Gilson and Maritain converge on many points, and they influenced each other’s work. Where they differ (i.e. on the intuition of being or on critical realism), I am inclined to follow Maritain.

Both opposed the Transcendental Method of Marechal and held fast to immediate realism as being unequivocally the teaching of Thomas Aquinas. I too subscribe to immediate realism, for I fail to understand how anyone starting from the data of consciousness as immediately evident can through the dynamism of the intellect with its unrestricted quest for the Absolute ever arrive at the real existing apart from the conscious subject. If the data of consciousness is what I start with, the terminal point of the intellectual striving will still be a data of consciousness. In other words, the question of the real existing apart from the conscious subject would not even arise, as all I have from start to finish is data of consciousness. Unless, of course, I hold as evident from the start that the data of consciousness is the real obtained from sense knowledge. The data of consciousness therefore is not indifferent or neutral with regard to real existence, subsequently to be validated as real in the process of striving towards the Absolute, but from the start has the valency of real immediately evident in it perceived in sense knowledge. Otherwise, as Gilson says, one who begins with Descartes inevitably ends up with Hegel – a confirmed idealist.

Unfortunately, in my formative years I was not introduced to Lonergan. On my own, I read his Cognitional Structure and his The Subject, and some initial chapters of Insight, but no more than that. So I would be interested to know how he would respond to Knasas’ critique of the Transcendental Method in general, and of Lonergan’s position in particular.

Well, that’s about where I stand in my philosophical affiliations.

Knasas' critique of Lonergan

From Joaquim D'Souza, on 31 August 2009:
I had mentioned to you in Nashik about a critique of Lonergan re.
objectivity by John F.X. Knasas in his "Being and Some Twentieth Century Philosophers" (available in the Divyadaan Library). There is a response to the critique by Jeremy D. Williams in the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly (ACPQ 78 (2004) 107-130), followed by a rejoinder by Knasas (ACPQ 78 (2004) 131-150). Knasas also criticises Maritain in the book, Being and Some..., for surreptitiously introducing into Critical Realism of the straightforward type the technique of retorsion of the Transcendental Method. I'll need to look closely into that, but I'd be interested to have your opinion on the critique of Lonergan by Knasas, if you have the time. It could make a nice article for the Divyadaan Journal.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Lonergan and therapy

I have always felt that there is more than a strong affinity between psychological therapy and Lonergan's method. But this is a surprisingly direct confirmation, from the man himself:
"As Vernon Gregson has remarked, such reflection is like a therapy. Just as Carl Rogers' client-centered therapy aims at having the client discover in himself the feelings he cannot name or identify, so reflection on one's interior operations is a matter of coming to name, recognize, and identify operations that recur continuously but commonly are thought to be very mysterious." (B. Lonergan, "A Response to Fr Dych," Shorter Papers, CWL 20:301)
But the affinity is not restricted to the procedures of Insight, though of course I find Lonergan repeatedly pointing out that Insight was an exercise in general method. Theological method itself incorporates what you might call group therapy - at the moment of dialectic!

An interreligious theological method

Again, since the sources to be subjected to research are not specified, they could be the sacred books and traditions of any religion. (B. Lonergan, "Bernard Lonergan Responds (1)," Shorter Papers, CWL 20: 274)
This also had escaped me: the clarity with which Lonergan here indicates that his method can be used by all religions, or (implicitly) in an interreligious manner. So the interreligious data does not have to come in only at Communications, as I recall someone (McShane?) saying recently. But of course, this is self-interpretation, and anyone is free to challenge it - provided she has good reasons.

Intellectual conversion rare

"Intellectual conversion, I think, is very rare."
- B. Lonergan, "Bernard Lonergan Responds (1)," Shorter Papers, CWL 20 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007) 274.

Amazing to hear him say that. It had not registered before. He is perfectly right, of course. We can and should readily expect to find religious and moral conversion in interlocutors with the most diverse origins, for the Spirit raises up good people everywhere. But the operation of the Spirit is probably somewhat different when it comes to intellectual conversion. I guess there it is a matter of history and the dialectic of history or the experiment of history, under the guidance of divine Providence....

So the key problem in dialogue and in theological method is going to be intellectual conversion. The most intractable problems will usually be rooted in lack of intellectual conversion.

But, I think, there are certain major problems rooted in absence of religious conversion? Would rationalism and immanentism be one such? Or would they also be, in the end, reduced to lack of intellectual conversion? For it is possible to be a rationalist and a truly good person all the same.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Heidegger and 'being right'

This morning I was reading Heidegger's thoughts on essence for my lesson on Being and Essence. It was only a summary, from the Historisches Worterbuch der Philosophie article on Wesen, but it was interesting all the same, the type of things the man can do with words and with language. Terribly evocative, his use of language. No wonder he is so attractive.

I was saying at the Lonergan Reading Group this afternoon: Gadamer corrects Heidegger in significant ways, but without a doubt Heidegger is greater than Gadamer. One does not have to get it all right to be a great philosopher, and one does not always have to be the greatest philosopher in order to be right! Many great philosophers have been wrong in very significant ways, and yet they have contributed significantly to the unfolding of thought and the self-discovery of the human being.

And I guess thoughts on right and wrong might not even make sense to a Heideggerean. But.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Blondel, Balthasar...

The other day Abp. Felix Machado said that Balthasar was a powerful name these days; almost all the big positions in the Vatican were being held by Balthasar people, and to study Balthasar, to be an expert in Balthasar, is to have a shortcut to the Vatican.

John Misquitta, SJ, said that Balthasar seems to be used as a stick to beat Rahner with; there has been, over the last few years, a concerted effort to discredit Rahner.

In fact, Balthasar is a big name even at the Gregorian these days; Rahner is hardly spoken of.

Of course, I think the names of Balthasar and Ratzinger were never even uttered in our theology days here in India... For some reason, these two names are not beloved on the Indian subcontinent, unless things are changing now.

But there was / is also a Blondel influence on the Gregorian. In my time there (1990-94) there used to be Peter Henrici, world-renowned Blondel scholar, as well as Xavier Tilliette, who is also in his own right a Blondel scholar, besides some others too. Henrici is a nephew of Balthasar's from his mother's side, and I think I remember him saying that Balthasar was influenced by Blondel.

So Blondel, Marechal, Balthasar, and so on: would be interesting to study those connections.

Bob Doran is of course trying to bring Lonergan and Balthasar people together; he himself and some of his students seem to be writing stuff on Balthasar. Fred Lawrence does not seem to be that keen on this particular connection. I think he feels Balthasar remains somehow too much locked up in the metaphorical, the figurative, the descriptive.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Being, on, sat

Working on the text for the IGNOU philosophy course (Being and Essence), I became aware that I have been concentrating so much on essence that I have quite forgotten being. Of course, the whole thing starts with being, with Parmenides who used various forms of einai (to be) to speak of stable, unchanging being. Still, it would be interesting to follow up not merely the Platonic crystallization of what Parmenides began in terms of ousia, but also the vagaries of the Greek word einai and on. Heidegger, of course, famously concentrated on this, and on Aristotle's observation that being is used in a variety of ways...

Then of course I have not looked at all at Indian thought. That is a different history altogether. I suppose I would have to look at the Sanskrit sat and its derivatives. Sat is, like ousia, a derivative and a substantive of as, which is the infinitive to be. So there is a prima facie similarity in the original development. Also, just as Parmenides and Plato concentrated on the unchanging aspect of being, so also in India there is this fascination with the unchanging, the permanent, the stable....

What about essence? That will require some work.

What resources are available for the Indian side? I know there is the Marathi Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Any other reference work like that?

And how much time do I have for all this? Till 27 July. 28 we leave for the Rectors' retreat.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Being and Essence

I am busy this month composing a note on Being and Essence for the new IGNOU course on Philosophy, at the behest of George Panthanmackel, MSFS. I think the CBCI / CRI have managed to persuade IGNOU to offer a philosophy course that would be largely designed by Catholic philosophers, and would be meant to serve Catholic philosophy students - while being open, naturally, to all. This would be a way for our seminarians to have their philosophical studies validated as a civilly recognized degree.

Panthanmackel has been released to supervise the work for 6 months. I believe he is based in Delhi, from where he coordinates especially the writing of notes for the course.

Being and Essence has never been a topic I have been interested in. With a largely Thomist / Lonergan background, one tends to be more interested in esse and existence, rather than essence. I took up the challenge, however, with the intention of seeing how the discourse about being and essence could be led to the recognition of the capital role of esse and existence.

The study has proved to be interesting, however. I discovered that I - and perhaps others - tend to read Plato and especially Aristotle through the lens of Thomas, assuming that Thomas' distinctions are to be found in Aristotle. I am discovering that ousia / being, essence and substance are not at all as clear as they seem to be. It seems that with every book Aristotle has a slightly different meaning of ousia, and substance. And in the middle of it all is his to ti en einai, which Thomas rendered quite literally as quod quid erat esse, and which Lonergan explains as the form or the formal cause, not the essence. What Thomas calls essence is Aristotle's to ti estin, says Lonergan.

But I have to check all this.

I must confess that, thanks really to Panthanmackel, I opened Aristotle's original works for the first time in my life. I am really ashamed about that, but there is always a first time... So.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Francisco Vaz de Guimaraes' Khrista Purana

This evening Diego Nunes produced a printed copy of the Khrista Purana. I got a shock: I thought Nelson's translation was finally in print. It turned out instead to be Simon Borges' version of the Khrista Purana, unfortunately without proper acknowledgement of authorship. But there are reasons for this, as will be indicated below.

So what is this Borges' version of the KP? It seems it is the KP in the language of Vasai-Bassein and Uttan, which Borges refers to as 'East Indian boli.' The author, I am learning, is not Thomas Stephens but rather a Fr Francisco Vaz de Guimaraes. However, Vaz wrote it in Portuguese; an unknown person translated it into East Indian boli. In that sense, then, the 'authorship' is really a complex matter.

But whatever: one more item for the Indian Christian Bibliography. Simon Borges' Khrista Purana. Or Francisco Vaz de Gimraes' Khrista Purana according to Simon Borges. An important historical record of the devolution of a great work into the purposes for which it was meant: catechesis of the 'Rudes' .
From Borges' Introduction:
According to available information, the first Khrista Purana was written by Fr Francisco Vaz de Guimaraes in Portuguese. This seems to have been first published in 1551 in Portugal, according to the historian Fr. Antonio Lerte. This was subsequently translated into East Indian dialect and published in the Roman script in Lisbon in 1659. The translator's name however is not mentioned. The book was published, once again in the Roman script, in Bombay in 1876. It seems to have been published repeatedly, despite the fact that Thomas Stephens' Khrista Purana had been published in 1614 and had attained great popularity and renown. Thus Vaz' Khrista Purana was published in the Devanagari script by Thomas Carvalho of Manickpur in 1922, and reprinted in 1927; in the Roman script by Luis Francis Gonsalves of Thana; and in an abridged form in 1960 by John D'Mello of Manickpur.
I need to note, however, that Nelson Falcao has problems with some of the information given above....

Heidegger and Lonergan

Heidegger and Lonergan: that is a work that remains to be done. But there are tantalizing openings: the theorem of knowing as identity, and the 'overcoming' of the subject-object split; understanding as pati, and the decentering of the subject; and so on. I guess some of these themes were mentioned in my article on Fred Lawrence. It is certainly Fred who has opened up these pathways for me.

Nelson Falcao was just telling me that the second chapter of his dissertation on Thomas Stephens' Khrista Purana was largely dependent on Heidegger's understanding of understanding. Francis de Sa is, of course, a Heidegger and Gadamer and Pannikar enthusiast. Johnson Puthenpurackal used to say that Panikkar is not original, which I gather is a way of saying that he has drawn much of his original insights from Heidegger and Gadamer: remember logos and mythos, the Spirit bearing witness as the 'third' speaking in us and inspite of us, and so on. But a rather fascinating 'inculturation', I must say. I find both Heidegger and Pannikkar fascinating in a way that Gadamer and Lonergan are simply not. Lonergan gives precious little foothold to the imagination, which is his bane. He cuts the umbilical cord tying man to the maternal imagination with a vengeance that most of his readers have still to forgive.

And of course I cannot help remembering De Smet's story of how Panikkar had sent him the manuscript of the first edition of The Unknown Christ. De Smet had taken time out and sent back 30 pages of Indological corrections, none of which were incorporated into the published text.... I think I have a copy of those corrections. It would be a fascinating study. That says nothing about the originality and the apport of an author such as Pannikkar, of course. One does not have to be an interpres fidelis in order to make a contribution or a mark. One puts things into one's pot, and one speaks in oratione recta; without footnotes, as it were.

Or else, one allows Being to speak through. So I said to Nelson this evening: perhaps the Khrista Purana emerged like that through the instrumentality of Thomas Stephens. Perhaps it just flowed out, from his deep familiarity with his own tradition, with the Hindu puranic tradition, and certainly from a deep communion with God....

Monday, 29 June 2009

Magisterium and theology

Luca Badini sent me a long response saying that he did not see any differnce between the procedure of theology and the magisterium, and, besides, that the magisterium should not be identified with any single group in the churc. Two days later, he sent me this shorter note:
I have also found an enlightening passage in Carl F. Starkloff, A Theology of the In-Between: The Value of Syncretic Process (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2002), 82: “With Karl Rahner, Lonergan renounces “Denzinger theology” or a “Christian positivism” of manual theology (330). Each local church must rather, under guidance (the true role of the “magisterium”), make its own progress toward appropriating the authentic truth that doctrine and dogma symbolize. Lonergan, who was never a missionary in the accepted sense of the term, expresses a profound appreciation of the role of mission theology: it must inculcate true “responsibility” in new Christians and local theologians. His words on this point deserve a fuller quotation:

There is much to be gained by recognizing autonomy and pointing out that it implies responsibility. For responsibility leads to method, and method if effective makes police work superfluous. Church officials have the duty to protect the religion on which theologians reflect, but it is up to the theologians themselves to carry the burden of making theological choices as much a matter of consensus as any other long-standing academic discipline (332).

(Note that the rejection of Denzinger theology means the rejection of considering the magisterium as the point of departure of theological investigation, in favour of starting from the sources of revelation in scripture, tradition, and reason--and by dialectically interpreting those sources, reach doctrines. Note that to leave the development of theology to the local church is precisely what is required by subsidiarity).
This is what I replied to Luca:
I have not read all that you have sent, but am responding to your comments above.

It is absolutely true that Lonergan rejected Denzinger theology. One does not quote magisterium and argue to conclusions; that is no longer theology, if ever it was.

In Insight, he did, however, accept the truths of faith (as revealed or as defined by the magisterium) as part of the data of theology. There is a slow migration from this position to placing the starting point of theology in data rather than in truths of faith. I have traced that migration in my book, Hermeneutics and Method. That is certainly Lonergan shaking off his residual classicism and becoming fully methodical by the time of Method in Theology.

But this methodical theology with starting point in data is the procedure of theology. I think Lonergan would still distinguish between the procedure of theology and the procedure that characterizes those who hold official teaching authority in the church. The latter is not the same procedure as the former.

I agree that this doctrine about the distinct magisterial teaching authority is itself one of the doctrines which a methodical theology would 'test' and accept/reject. Nonetheless, it is a doctrine which is distinct in its position from the one you are espousing.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Luca Badini on Ecclesiology

Luca Badini Confalonieri is a young Italian, completing his doctorate on ecclesiology at the University of Durham, England, and currently a Lonergan Fellow. He shared his findings at the Lonergan Workshop yesterday in a paper entitled "The Critical Use of Socio-Political Categories in Ecclesiology." An extremely well-delivered paper; Luca has the gift of making a connection with the audience. However, my impression is that he has forgotten to take into account the 'wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit,' and that there is a way down in addition to the way up. The way I heard him, he seems to have said (especially in his responses to questions) that the magisterium has no right to make any doctrinal decisions apart from the findings of theologians. I do think a man like Aquinas was clear that there is a light that is different from the light of intellect, and that prophecy and magisterium are instances of such light. I also remember Lonergan clearly making a distinction between the theological process and the doctrinal or dogmatic process.... And I think this position does transpose, though not simplistically, into Method in Theology.

Luca relies much on the work of Komonchak on ecclesiology. Komonchak is a Lonergan scholar who uses Lonergan's insights for his work on ecclesiology. But I think he does forget that, besides the inner word, there is also the outer word. Catholic theology is marked by the complex interaction between inner and outer word: the inner word of the Spirit enabling the recognition of the outer word of revelation, and of the Word that is Jesus; and the fact that this recognition is an ecclesial rather than an individual recognition. But I have to do more work to get clear on this. All I remember now is that, at the end of the Rome Lonergan Conference, Fred Lawrence had passed this comment: people are forgetting the outer word....

Friday, 26 June 2009

Lonergan on sanctifying grace

Robert Doran gave a paper last night on sanctifying grace in an early (1951-52) text of Lonergan's. What he was saying was quite beyond me, and so, I thought, of most of the audience. I was surprised to see several, however, who seemed to have followed the whole argument: David Fleischacker, Jeremy Wilkins, Fred Lawrence, of course.

The main discussion was about Doran's use of Augustine's memoria w.r.t. the Father. Gilles Mongeau pointed out that Edmund Hill's understanding / translation of memoria was faulty. Doran agreed that he had taken it from Hill. Fred Lawrence also seemed to have registered his scepticism about using memoria in that sense for the Father. (I can't express that better right now.)

Fred seems to be concerned to preserve the Mystery, the ineffability. He said Lonergan had a healthy respect for the ineffability of God.

But all this simply means that I have to get a better grasp of Lonergan's Trinitarian theology.

I had no idea that Fred teaches just that in the theology department at BC. He also teaches political theology, theology and hermeneutics, and one other thing.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Love of God

Hughes quoted Pascal last night: "If you are searching for God, you have already found him."

I thought it would be truer to say: "If you are searching for God, he has already found you." For you would not be searching for him if he had not first drawn you to himself.

So Lonergan's spiritual direction story of the young man who went to his director complaining that he did not love God. You ought to, said the director. I want to, said the young man. Then you do, said the director.

Even the desire comes from God. Operative actual grace. God has first loved us. The Lion is God.

Art and beauty

Lonergan, it seems, did not dwell on beauty and the sublime, but on art. Joe Flanagan says that his chapter on art in The Topics is the high point of his reflection on art: it comes between the 3 pages in Insight and the 2 pages in Method.

The 19th century debunked the link between beauty and art. So when Heidegger, for example, reflects, it is purely on the work of art, not on beauty.

Unless you take beauty as a transcendental in the scholastic sense - so you don't get stuck on prettiness, Glenn Chip Hughes said last night at the Workshop.

150 years since The Origin of Species

It is 150 years since the publication of Darwin's The Origin of Species. Pat Byrne gave us a paper this morning on Darwin and Lonergan. Wonderfully instructive, as ever. Perhaps we should be dedicating our external seminar this year in Divyadaan to evolution and emergence. There are the religion and science issues, especially with the Intelligent Design controversy. There is the issue of evolution itself, with Lonergan's claim to have provided not merely a description but an explanation. There are other issues such as the implications of evolution for religion and for theology. And so on.

Dialectic of freedoms

Bill Mathews is strong on desire as the root of performance. Desire in the authoring of Insight, for example. But I do think that it is always a question of a dialectic of two freedoms, that of God and that of the individual. Mediated, of course, by history, circumstances, etc. But then all those are also under the direct and indirect control of God.

Writing as a happening

Bill Mathews presented a paper on Autobiography and Desire, or at least that is how I remember the title. One of his remarks was about writing: writing as a great mystery, how sometimes it just emerges on its own. I thought of Osho Rajneesh's penetrating remarks about Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, how it just emerged, and how Gibran could never quite write anything like that again. I thought of Roy, The God of Small Things, how she said it just flowed out onto her typewriter or computer or whatever, how she never went back and did any corrections. But the same thing there: she can never quite produce anything like that again. I thought of Tolkien's remark, about how his books emerged not only from his scholarship, but out of the leaf-mould of his mind.

Is all this a phenomenon akin to insight, which is a passion rather than an action, according to Aquinas? Is it that, when one understands, the expression just flows? and is there a type of understanding that is artistic, that, when it is ripe, just overflows into a torrent of words, so that it is quite true to say that a poem writes itself, a book gets written, a work of art emerges? Something like that in Heidegger's reflections on Happening? The decentering of the subject?

In Lonergan's terms: it would be under the dominance of statistical rather than classical laws. it does not happen becasue of anything that I do, but if I don't do anything, it is not going to happen either. So the reading, the scholarship, the struggle, all that is there. But, when it happens, sometimes it is a marvel, it flows, it emerges, it is born.

Lonergan in the parish

Brian McDonough, in charge of social work in the Archdiocese of Montreal, gave a wonderful application of Lonergan to pastoral ministry yesterday. He showed us how he handles parish groups in conflict situations. He makes use of the social principles of the church, makes people reflect on how these might be applied in the concrete situation, and, most interestingly, he makes them reflect on and bring to light what is happening to them as they try to use these principles. I found that the most interesting thing: are they thinking, or are they taking short cuts to application without much thinking? are they suffering from personal, or group, or general bias? And so on. Most enlightening. And of course the whole exercise begins and ends in prayer.

And a nice comment by Brian: parishioners may be led to choose a certain messiness.

In the situation he presented - a parish letting a group of single women use a room free of rent for a common kitchen, and then finding out that these women were violating church law and practice in various ways - great opportunities arose for learning and teaching. And, I was thinking, not only for the parish councillors and finance committee members and clergy, but also for the women involved, many of whom might not in any way be frequenting the church.

The point is: do we handle it by law, or do we handle it pastorally?

Young Lonergan scholars

I have spoken about the new crop of young Lonergan scholars. Some of them are young and brash as so many of us used to be, but some others are quite special. You have this feeling that there is a profound love for Christ coming through when they speak. And that is really extraordinary. Also, several of them are married, and some like Paul St Amour have 6 children. Jeremy Wilkins was also there with his wife and 2 kids: they sat through his lecture and gave him a big hug when he finished.

Lonergan Centre at the Gregorian

At the Workshop are Padre Natalino Spaccapelo, SJ, one of the great Lonergan scholars of Italy, and Luca Sinibaldi, Archivist of the newly opened Lonergan Centre at the Gregorian. Luca tells me that they have a tiny room, and that they are slowly trying to acquire the primary and secondary sources so as to make them available to scholars. What about the Lonergan Centre at the North American College nearby, I asked. I don't know, he said.

I faintly recollect that they had disbanded the room and integrated the books into the main library of the N.A. College. Pity. It was a great resource to have around. And the sister in charge was really very helpful.

In the meantime, the translation of the Collected Works is going on. Insight is out, and so is Topics in Education, Collection, I think, and Method in Theology. Insight has been freshly translated for the Opera Omnia. Vol. 21 on the economics has been stalled because P. Spaccapelo is not satisfied with the translation. However, a set of essays on economics is due to be released soon, edited by Spaccapelo, Fred Lawrence and Tomasi, a young Italian Lonergan scholar: Il teologo e l'economia.

Love that unites and that divides

One of the lovely things said by Jeremy Wilkins was about how Christ's love both united him and divided him from people. It obviously united him to them, which is not too difficult to understand. But how did it divide him? Because, said Jeremy, his love was so pure that he was pained by the smallness of those around him. But it was a sorrow 'untainted by malice.' What a lovely expression. I remember it being said of Cimatti, Salesian Apostle of Japan, that he too was pained by the imperfections of his confreres. Bernanos, it seems, said the same thing of Mary: what isolation she must have suffered because of the purity of her love.
Another impression from the current Lonergan Workshop is the way the Latin works of Lonergan are opening up. There have been several papers drawing from these Latin works, chief among them being that of Jeremy Wilkins on the Beatific Vision. Lovely title: "'The Silence of Eternity, Interpreted by Love': Love and Knowledge of God in Christ the Man." Jeremy was quite poetic; in fact, the first phrase of the title is drawn from a poet.

Then there was an old hand, William Murnion, a student of Lonergan's, who spoke about The Incarnate Word and The Triune God as models of theological method as interdisciplinary collaboration. I missed that one, but I have the paper with me.

This evening we look forward to Robert Doran's paper, "Sanctifying Grace, Charity, and Divine Indwelling: A Key to the Nexus Mysteriorum." Doran has been plugging away at the grace issue. His output is amazing. I asked him how he manages to write so much, while also editing the Collected Works. He said: in the morning I prepare for class or write. In the afternoons, when I don't have class, I work at the Collected Works. In the night, I look after the website (I guess he means his own website, as well as the Lonergan Archives he has been setting up). It would have been a dog's life, he said, if I were not enjoying myself so much.

The economic crisis: merely moral?

Paul St Amour was asking, in his paper, whether the current economic crisis is merely moral. Is it merely greed and irresponsibility that is at the root of this crisis, as President Obama seems to imply? And if so, is it merely a question of determination, of the will to overcome? St Amour thinks not. He, together with a range of economists (I think he mentioned Martin Wolff, Gillian Ted, Kevin Philips, James Fowles, Henry Haslett, Simon Johnson, Stephen Roach, Richard Duncan), believes that the prime cause is not greed but ignorance, or the lack of proper understanding of what has been going on. Many of these economists, together with Lonergan, are what St Amour calls 'realists': i.e., they believe that the real economy is the production economy, and that financial services and derivatives are precisely that: derivative.

I am no expert at all, but this does seem to vibe with what a Nashik friend says: that no one seems to really know what is going on, and that everyone becomes an expert after the fact.

The Workshop has changed

I first came to the Lonergan Workshop in the summer of '92. It was an exciting thing to hear the greats speaking: Fred Crowe, Fred Lawrence, Bob Doran, Phil McShane, Charles Hefling, Pat Bryne, and so on. Added to that, I was sharing a condominium, if that's the word, with Phil McShane and his wife. (I remember him teasing me for saying the Breviary; he was reading Insight early morning, and I thought: what a wonderful way of beginning the morning).

The Workshop has changed. The first generation Lonergan scholars do give papers, but not all of them: there is Pat Bryne this time, and Bob Doran, and David Burrell. Fred Crowe is 94 years old and in the Jesuit Infirmary at Pickering, Canada. Fred Lawrence has no paper. But there is a whole generation of new Lonergan scholars, many of them extremely competent, intelligent, and capable: Dominic Doyle who spoke on Christian Humanism on Monday, Jeremy Wilkins who spoke on the Beatific Vision in an astounding way yesterday, Paul St Amour who took us through the economics thing in a brilliant way despite it not being his field, Gordon Rixon SJ from Toronto, Gilles Mongeau SJ again from Regis College Toronto, and so on. I loved also the Rosemary Haughton paper from Sr Kathleen Williams.

One nice thing about the Workshop is that they vary the venues: the mornings and late afternoons in McGuinn Auditorium; the afternoon workshops at Carney and another place; the evening sessions at the 5th floor auditorium at Fulton. It helps. There is usually coffee, tea, soft drinks and snacks at 1030, then again at 1530, and perhaps also in the evenings. That way people can supplement their meals, because it does become very expensive eating in the Campus Messes.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Making things better than they were

Fred Lawrence mentioned something yesterday in his comment on my paper, about making Sankara better than he is. And yes, I thought, that is how De Smet has proceeded, not only w.r.t. Sankara, but w.r.t. to the whole Indian tradition that he studied: his eye of love enabled him to see things as perhaps better than they were. And, if that sounds terribly triumphalistic, perhaps it was that his eye of love saw and highlighted and promoted the good.

So interpretation and history might concentrate on What did he mean, and What really was going forward, but dialectic tries to develop the positions while reversing the counterpositions. Developing the positions: making things better than they were. Taking the good things forward in directions that perhaps were not actually taken by the protagonists.

So De Smet's interpretation of Sankara, even if proved 'wrong,' would certainly be in the line of such dialectic. And that is a legitimate thing!

Rosemary Haughton, Lonergan, and conversion

We have just had a wonderful paper by Kathleen Williams (Melbourne, Australia) connecting Lonergan and Rosemary Haughton. Lonergan is known to have admired Rosemary Haughton, and warmly recommended her books; his endorsement appears, I think, on the back covers of her books, and I have read and enjoyed and profited enormously from the work of this extraordinary woman theologian. So it was good to hear a paper linking her work with that of Lonergan.

Sr Williams focussed on conversion. Haughton might be said to engage the topic in a narrative mode, and Sr Williams has 4 utterly concrete examples of conversion in her paper. I found myself moved as she read out one of them. It is from such concrete experiences that theology must derive its categories, says Haughton. And, I thought, it is from the ability to illuminate such examples with the Word that the power of preaching derives. Or perhaps it is that the preacher must allow the Word to illuminate his own experience, which is also the experience he shares with the people of God.... At any rate, the Word becomes flesh again and again in our lives. And that is where, in the ordinary experience of our lives, in the experience of conflict, as the Law of our lives is challenged, as it breaks down, as a new horizon makes its appearance, that Haughton finds the experience of grace.

Critical Thinking with Lonergan

Plenty of thinking about Critical Thinking at the Lonergan Workshop. Or rather, more than one speaker brought to our notice the rather widespread movement that goes by the name of Critical Thinking. However, the recommendations were that we need critical thinking about Critical Thinking, which tends to be noun based rather than verb- or process-oriented, and which fails to focus on the relationships or processes connecting the nouns it concentrates on.

Also: critical thinking tends to neglect emotions, encourage linear rational thinking, favour the generic over the specific, is opposed to faith, is hostile to mystery, neglects the community, privileges the individual, etc.

People like Mike Stebbins have given up a university career to get into consultancy services, and are trying to work out a new model of critical thinking making use of the work of Bernard Lonergan.

The Catholic nature of a university

Dick Liddy, in his paper yesterday at the Lonergan Workshop, was asking about what makes a university Catholic. The US catholics have been struggling with this question for a long while now; perhaps we in India - even though we don't really have a university culture - should be asking ourselves the same question. At any rate, Liddy's suggestions were interesting: what makes a university Catholic is that it deals with questions dealing with - but not exclusive to - the Catholic tradition.

Teaching and journalling

Bill Mathews made an interesting suggestion yesterday: encouraging students to keep a journal while taking a course. This, he said, would help in maintaining the links between prayer, contemplation and thinking.

Dick Liddy added that he makes his students do some free writing at the beginning of every class, much with the same results: getting in touch with oneself, self-appropriation.

Useful suggestions, to be added to Henrici's suggestion about keeping the minutes of seminar sessions.

Managing oneself

Peter Drucker, great management guru, has been saying recently that he is no longer interested in teaching leaders how to manage people, but rather how to manage themselves. And Dee Hock: If you look to lead, spend 40% of your time on yourself, your character, motivations, principles, conduct.

Like Bulchand used to say years ago, quoting scripture: If you cannot look after your own household, how can you look after the household of God?

And so also formation: 40% of time looking after oneself. Learning how to manage oneself. The rest will follow.

The messiness of the human good

Eugene Ahner pointed out yesterday that ideas are abstract, but the good is concrete, which is why ideas can be clear and wonderful, but the good tends to be messy and ambiguous. Which explains why a thousand reasons can be brought against concrete realities like the Church, and religious congregations, and any concrete action. Any good short of God will be less than fully good, and therefore susceptible to criticism. But humility - recognition of our creature status - demands that we act and do the good that has been assigned to us. We are not the Messiah; we are part of the Body that is the Church, with our particular roles and tasks.

Reconceiving the Immaculate Conception

John Dadosky just gave a wonderful paper on the Immaculate Conception: "Women without Envy: Reconceiving the Immaculate Conception." He used Rene Girard and James Allison (the latter quite new to me) to interpret the doctrine of original sin which is at the basis of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Theologians usually regard Pride as the root of Adam's sin; Girard and Allison seem to suggest that it is Envy that is the real root. Dadosky brought in Aquinas' distinction between good and bad desire: good desire is the desire to be like God with God's grace; bad desire is the desire to be like God on one's own.

Whatever: Mary, woman conceived without original sin, is the woman without envy, without bad desire. She is what she is entirely thanks to the grace and love of God. And, interestingly, Satan-Lucifer is envious of her: Lucifer who was the most beautiful, the brightest, second only to God, has to yield place to Mary, and that is one root of his envy and his revolt... And Mary is marked by Humility and Charity, the opposites of Pride and Envy: My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit exults in God my saviour.

Gilles Mongeau asked about the connection between Mariology and Ecclesiology: that would be important, he said, in offsetting the feeling (envy?) that many people have that Mary is somehow so special, so set apart. I asked Dadosky whether he was familiar with Ratzinger's Daughter Sion, he said no. Ratzinger has this wonderful connection - so obvious now to me - between Mary and the Church, Mary, the faithful woman, the new Israel....

Dadosky's work is a wonderful example of how to take Lonergan's hints further. Lonergan hints in Method in Theology that the development of Marian dogma has to do with humanity's development and refinement of feelings....

Lonergan on the Trinity

Was sitting with Bob Doran this afternoon for lunch. Asked him about the reviews of Lonergan's The Triune God: Systematics. He said he had not seen them, but that there were a few. According to him, he said, Lonergan's was the greatest systematics of the Trinity since Thomas Aquinas. Lonergan was far more detailed on the psychological analogy than Aquinas...

Bob says that the companion volume, The Triune God: Doctrines, should be out by the first of August. That is something to look forward to.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Remembering, Forgetting, Forgiving

The last chapter of one of Ricoeur's last books seems to have the suggestive title, Remembering, Forgetting, Forgiving.

We human beings - alone of all animals - live in time. Augustine, according to Keith, saw this as part of our fallen nature. I wonder if that is right. I thought being temporal was part of our human nature! It is more like Heidegger to conflate finitude and fallenness. But I like the expression Keith used in reporting Augustine, that our souls are plastic, they stretch backwards into the past and forward into the future.... And it is true: I am not just a creature of the present; I am, in many ways, my past; my past lives on in me, both my personal and 'my' collective past. And I stretch constantly into the future, anticipating, planning, dreading, looking forward to, expecting....

Ricoeur makes the lovely point, however, that it is not enough to remember. Memory can be cruel. We need to learn to forget, and to forgive. And here, said Keith, Christianity seems to be different from other religions who find it difficult to accept the possibility or the goodness or the rightness of learning to forget and to forgive....

"Do not ask me for forgiveness," says the Jewish survivor to the German lawyer, the protagonist of The Reader. And one understands that. One feels the outrage behind the words. And yet... is there a point at which one must let go of the past? Not necessarily for the sake of the other, but for oneself? Why did Jesus feel the need to repeatedly ask us to forgive? Because, as he himself said, we ourselves need to be forgiven and have indeed been forgiven?

And why do I tend to forget how much I have been forgiven? Why do I find it so hard to forgive, understand, make place for, human foibles, folly, cruelty, ingratitude, coarseness, la-parvah???

Good vs Right

Is there such a radical contrast between 'teleological' and 'deontological' as Keith proposed in his lecture?

The former seems to have suffered in his / Ricoeur's presentation: concern with the 'good' is static, conservative, rule-bound, and even at times violent. Concern with 'duty', instead, is concern with the right thing to do, and not merely the established 'good' thing.

I guess all these terms are so fluid that each philosopher can give his/her own meaning to them... So we would have to find out what really Ricoeur meant, before agreeing/disagreeing with him.

I would like to find out Ashley's comments on the matter. Virtue ethics seems to be a concentration on the 'good.'

Hermeneutics of trust

Keith kept calling Heidegger and Gadamer 'conservative' and 'traditionalist,' contrasting them with people like Habermas who are 'critical.'

But what of their - especially Heidegger's - efforts at Destruktion, deconstruction? Is that not a critical appropriation of the tradition?

Nietzsche, Freud and Tony De Mello

Keith passed an interesting remark while commenting on the Masters of Suspicion: it is well known that Freud had learned a lot from Nietzsche. It seems Freud said he had to stop reading Nietzsche, who seemed to be saying everything that Freud himself wanted to say, otherwise he would have nothing original left to say.

I thought of the novel I have been trying to read on Nietzsche and Freud: the impression I was getting was that Tony De Mello himself had taken a lot from Nietzsche. In the book, for example, Nietzsche says: No one really loves anyone else. All love is disguised self-interest. I remember Tony saying something like that. Might not be completely and absolutely true, but it does make one think, reflect, ask oneself about one's motives: why do I love this person? what am I getting out of it?

Hermeneutics of suspicion

Keith D'Souza's lecture was clear and stimulating. He spoke naturally about the critical component in understanding, Ricoeur's double hermeneutic of suspicion and recovery.

I found myself asking myself: in what way is this double hermeneutic at work in the functional specialty, dialectic? Lonergan used to speak indifferently of the 'double hermeneutic' and 'double dialectic.' Perhaps the moment of recovery is in research, interpretation, history, and the moment of suspicion in dialectic?

Certainly dialectic is the place for the moment of suspicion. But, what manner of suspicion? We dismiss other differences and concentrate on the dialectical ones. Differences rooted in the basic positions and counterpositions, intellectual, moral, religious. Different ways of conceiving knowing, being, objectivity. Deciding and acting on the basis of value or of satisfaction. Shutting oneself up in a rationalism, or being willing to allow for what transcends reason. Being moved by a total and unrestricted loving, and on the other hand something less than that...

Clearly, dialectical differences do not cover all types of differences. Differences rooted in data are out. Differences that are perspectival or even genetic are out. But does dialectic cover all other major differences?

What about different manners of interpreting the Preventive System? I guess most would be rooted in attitudes? and so?

Faith: propositions or relationships?

Keith D'Souza SJ gave a very interesting Inaugural Lecture this morning at Divyadaan. I forget the full title, but the subtitle was Reading Texts with Ricoeur.

One of the points was about traditional and contemporary faith. Traditional faith, Keith said, had to do with believing propositions; today faith is understood in terms of relationships.

The point is well taken. Faith is, in fact, primarily a question of relationship, of encounter, or of 'being encountered': God who has first searched for us, found us, loved us.

But: the 'existential' subject does not in any way exclude the subject functioning at the 'lower' levels of understanding and judging. A personalism and existentialism that concentrates on subjectivity to the exclusion of any concern for truth is not really doing anyone any service.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Person and Subject in Lonergan

Yesterday I managed to complete a more or less final version of my paper for Boston. Now the task of going through it once again, doing the 'toilet,' etc.

The title: "Person and Subject in Lonergan: A methodical transposition." I have omitted mention of De Smet and Sankara, because I am not really doing that, merely indicating possible results of using 'subject' as upper blade.

So most of the paper consists in bringing together the data in Lonergan on his transposition from person to subject. The data is found mostly in his Latin notes: De Constitutione Christi... (1956), Divinarum Personarum... (1957) = De Deo Trino, II (1964), and De Verbo Incarnato (1961). There is some good matter also in "Christ as Subject" (1959).

Nothing dramatic or earth-shaking. But it is instructive how Lonergan is able to make the term person systematic by inserting it within a clutch of terms, and similarly for the term subject. The former is inserted into a (largely classical) metaphysical context, while the latter is inserted into that of intentionality analysis. The crucial and critical notion as far as the latter is concerned is consciousness.

I became aware that the dialectic of consciousness is based on the Aristotelian-Thomist theorem of knowing by identity (sensible in act is the sense in act, intelligible in act is the intellect in act), but that this is precisely a theorem, a postulate, an assumption. That is why, perhaps, the 'epistemology' of Insight, the dialectical part (chapter 14), does not make use of it, appealing instead to the basic counterpositions or performative contradictions.

Using this data to read De Smet on Sankara, I discussed briefly the following: cognitional theory, the notion of being, consciousness, the human self.

The conclusion is that there is sufficient data in Sankara to indicate that he recognized both divine and human subjects, and that his notion of consciousness seems to be consciousness-experience. But all these are heuristic anticipations, to be confirmed by further and full study of the data.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Human beings and authenticity

I am still struggling to get my paper for Boston in shape. Yesterday I began a completely fresh draft, a fresh approach, a genetic or developmental approach to the notion of person, subject and consciousness.

This morning I was dipping into The Triune God: Systematics (earlier De Deo Trino II, now CWL 12), and came across some wonderful passages, e.g. the sustained comparison of temporal and eternal subjects. Lonergan speaks of the two phases of a temporal subject, goes on to note that the transition to the second phase is under the influence of other subjects, then points out that there are three ways in which this transition can be made: by understanding, by means of a true word (revelation!), and by love. Then he lists obstacles to such achievement of authenticity (he is not quite using this word here, he uses the word 'genuine' as in Insight). I have not read all this carefully as yet, but I am sure there is consideration of the role of friendship, both its positive role and its possibly negative role as an obstacle to authenticity.

Then Lonergan goes on to marvellously construct an analogous conception of the eternal subjects....

Monday, 25 May 2009


In his little book, Insight, Lonergan has this wonderful remark about the relative probabilities of an unconnected aggregate of events, and a connected set of events that he calls 'scheme of recurrence.' The probability of the former, he points out, is the product of the individual probabilities, while the probability of the latter is the sum of the individual probabilities.

Since probabilities can be written in terms of fractions, it is easy to see that the product of a set of fractions is far smaller than the sum of the same set of fractions.

Which means that the probability of an event occurring jumps when it forms part of a scheme of recurrence.

Some months ago I had a wait-listed ticket from Thivim to Dadar which eventually became RAC. That meant I could board the train, but it also meant that I had only a seat: I had to share a berth with someone else. Now if you have ever shared a berth on an Indian train, you will know what that means. But my point here is different: the point is that, despite the fact that I had a rather good wait-list number (I think it was in single digits), all I got was an RAC seat, and not a proper berth. I discovered the reason for that in the train: there was a huge college tour group on the train that day. The TC pointed out that such groups do not easily change their reservations. If there was no such group, he said, I would have stood a better chance of getting a berth for myself.

Now here is an interesting situation: a group, vs a set of unconnected people. The probability of my getting a berth would have been higher in the latter case.

How would that compare with Lonergan's remarks? I am still trying to work that one out... Any help?

Monday, 4 May 2009

Jung's refusal to bow

Catherine Whittle - who is a nurse with some 30 years of practice behind her - did not know, but was not surprised to learn, that Jung, in a dream, had refused to bow to God.

She said it was the scene from Milton: better to rule in hell than serve in heaven. She said it made much sense, and that she had always felt a disease reading Jung, and having so many priests tell her to read Jung.

Must find Robert Doran's article where he makes the above reference to Jung and his refusal to submit.

What psychology can contribute to theology

Inspired by a dialogue with Catherine Whittle at tea this afternoon:

Possibly an article for the Indian theological public on the contribution of psychology to theology. How Lonergan has learnt from psychology, and integrated these findings into his method.

Distinguishing, of course, different types of differences; dismissing those rooted in data, in perspectives, to concentrate on those that are truly radical and dialectical. These are rooted, not in data, not in perspectives, not in development, but in fundamental options – philosophical, moral, religious. These options are the presuppositions of all argument, proof. All proof, all logic, presupposes a system; and the system itself is rooted in fundamental options, which cannot be proved.

What then? Only: objectification of these options; bringing them to light; raising / objectifying horizons. Objectification of subjectivity. The crucial experiment.

But also: ensuring an irenic atmosphere. [McShane, SURF 2, 11: “Yes, there are two levels of dialectic, but it seems to me that if the second is done properly, there is no need to add dialogue…. The second level of dialectic is very discomforting dialogue of colleagues who share the Standard Model. The latter point is very important to absorb: the cycling is not done with adversaries, but with colleagues within the Standard Model. See] Also the venerable theme of friendship as a condition for philosophy - and for theology.

And: creating community. How to give and receive feedback. How to handle the customary (emotional) blocks to communication. How much of current interaction in philosophy, and especially in Christian theology, is an interplay of ego, emotions, and so on...

Monday, 30 March 2009

Lonergan's Grace and Freedom: as yet unsurpassed

In a review of Fergus Kerr's Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians, William L. Portier notes Kerr's evaluation of Lonergan's Grace and Freedom:

In Lonergan's early work, published in English in 1971 as Grace and Freedom, Kerr finds "an as yet unsurpassed analysis of Aquinas' theory of divine transcendence and human liberty" (Kerr 115). [Portier 497.]
In a note he adds:

Kerr's estimate is shared by Reinhard Hutter, who regards Lonergan's Gratia Operans (Grace and Freedom) as "still to be the benchmark analysis of Aquinas's profound treatment of this utterly complex topic." See Hutter, "Desiderium Naturale Visionis Dei - Est autem duplex hominis beatitude sive felicitas: Some Observations About Lawrence Feingold's and John Millbank's Recent Interventions in the Debate Over the Natural Dsire to See God," Nova et Vetera 5/2 (2007) 81-132, at 103 n. 42. [Portier 497 n 5.]
William L. Portier, "Thomist Resurgence. A Review Esay of Twentieth-Century Catholic Theologians: From Neoscholasticism to Nuptial Mysticism by Fergus Kerr." Communio: International Catholic Review 35/3 (2008) 494-504.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

The meaning of 'God'

We use the word 'God' so freely across religious traditions - but does it really mean the same thing? What would be the proper equivalent of the Christian word 'God' in India? There is a range of choices: deva, bhagavan, isvara, paramesvara, brahman, parabrahman.

When someone in India is called Bhagavan, what might that mean? Bhagavan Sri Rajneesh, Sri Swami Samarth, Sri Swami Suryanarayan... or even Sai Baba and Satya Sai Baba...

The whole area of translation is so fascinating - and so influential in the inevitable cross-cultural forays today.

What would have happened if Christ had been born in India? Would he have been able to reveal his identity as Son?

Which brings us once again to the question of the transition from description to explanation: it is not enough to use words; one has to determine the set of terms and relations of which it forms a part, and within which alone its proper meaning is fixed.

Against the background of his learning, Richard De Smet used to say that Brahman is perhaps a better word for translating God than Isvara. It is the Parabrahman, the nirguna Brahman of the Advaitic tradition, that might give us a proper equivalent finally.

But when I mentioned it in class some years ago, a girl pointed out to me that this kind of choice would unnecessarily privilege 'a particular community.' She happened to be a Christian girl of Dalit origin, and she brought to my notice this angle which I (and De Smet) had quite ignored. The many ramifications of translation besides the strictly metaphysical!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Aquinas' cogitativa, Freud's superego, and Lonergan

Lonergan never ceases to amaze. See, for example, this appropriation of Aquinas' (now little known) cogitativa:
“Incidentally, re anxiety, what the Freudians call the Super-Ego is Aquinas’ cogitativa: just as the little birds know that twigs are good for building nests and the little lambs know that wolves are bad, so little human beings develop a cogitativa about good and bad; it reflects their childish understanding of what papa and mamma say is good or bad and in adult life it can cause a hell of a lot of trouble” (quoted from the 13th of 129 written communications of Lonergan to Crowe, some as short as Christmas cards, some several pages long. This letter is dated 27th December 1955.)(From P. McShane, SURF 4: The Financial Crisis, note 57)


I am reading McShane's SURF 4: The Financial Crisis, and this made me laugh (even though reading McS is far from being a laughing matter):
Human studies generally are, at present, a truncated mess: it does not take rocket-science Lonergan competence to glimpse this: indeed the little bit of research that consist in reading indices of psychology and sociology to find that, regularly, there is nothing there between pubic hair and rat except, perhaps, questionnaire. (P. McShane, SURF 4)
That much of research I have done. Like browsing through the indices of Epistemology books at Blackwell in Oxford, to find mention neither of Lonergan nor of insight.

Interpretation, scientific and descriptive

McShane's main criticism of my dialectic of Sankara interpretations is that it is not explanatory, not based on the universal viewpoint. He would have the functional specialty interpretation as a securely explanatory affair in the context of a global, geohistorical collaboration.

One of my findings, however, was that the difference between chapter 17 of Insight and chapter 7 of Method in Theology is a difference between explanation and description, or between scientific interpretation and commmonsense interpretation.

Some acknowledgement of this is to be found in McShane when he notes gently that Lonergan in Method is also mostly only gently descriptive.

However, McShane has a point when he points out that in the course of the cycling, commonsense interpretation will no longer remain commonsensical. It will climb towards explanation. And a hint of this cycling and climbing is to be found, of course, at the end of chapter 7 of Method, the mysterious note on possibilities of explanatory interpretation.

McShane also cites often Lonergan's remark in the appendix of The Triune God: Systematics, to the effect that non-explanatory categories are "very damaging, even at the beginning of science".

My impression is that Lonergan wanted to make method open to all comers, and so to demand operation from the universal viewpoint is to make an excessive demand.

But of course there is also his request / expectation that merely descriptive work will be lifted up into explanatory perspective by investigators who are working, presumably, from the universal viewpoint, from adequate self-appropriation.

The point is: am I working from that kind of viewpoint, that kind of appropriation? And, whatever the nuances of Lonergan interpretation, that is not a question to be dodged. So: if I am attempting to retrieve good (or shabby) work, I must attempt to do it from an explanatory perspective...

And that does give me a way forward: my own mastery of self, of mind and of heart, giving me an opening into the other person's mastery or lack of it. And by mastery I am to think not merely of the conversions but also of the differentiations, and especially of theoretic differentiation.

The functional specialty dialectic: assembly and completion

McShane objects to my combining assembly and completion in the FS dialectic (in my dialectic of Sankara interpretations), and makes another trenchant point that I find extremely illuminating: assembly is the last non-dialogue stage, whereas completion brings into play 'the bones and nerves of the dialectician.'

What one should do then in completion, he suggests, is to sift through recent efforts (the ones assembled, I guess), to detect gut-wise, existentially, elements relevant to progress. In the case of Indian culture, he mentions aesthetics and prayer stances as borderline global invariants.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

From description to explanation

I tried to get into Philip McShane's comment on my go at a dialectic of interpretations of Sankara, available at Paul Allen's Lonergan Website blog.

McShane has, I think, very trenchant things to say. One useful thing I picked up even on my extremely cursory scroll down: my need to make a personal shift from description to explanation, and the need to lift merely descriptive interpretations like that of Radhakrishnan into a properly explanatory context before even thinking of putting it through dialectic... McShane quotes from my text: "Radhakrishnan wants to be both realist and empirical..." and comments: but what does Radhakrishnan mean by 'realist' here? Is he able to utter that word with anything of the complexity of a Lonergan who has mastered the theory of relations?

Absolutely. That is a way ahead.

Monday, 23 February 2009

The Private Language Argument: Behaviourist? Verificationist?

Behaviourist? Verificationist?

Ivo Coelho, SDB

This paper is a study (completed in November 1980) of Chapters 4 and 6 of O. R. Jones’ The Private Language Argument. Chapter 4 is “Behaviourism and the Private Language Argument,” containing two articles, one by C.W.K. Mundle and the other by L.C. Holborow. Chapter 6 is entitled “The Verification Principle and the Private Language Argument,” and the articles here are by Judith Jarvis Thomson and Anthony Kenny. In this paper I will deal with each of these two sets of articles separately without making any attempt to relate them.

1. Behaviourism and the Private Language Argument

Mundle accuses Wittgenstein of being a ‘Linguistic Behaviourist’—not a crude behaviourist who denies the existence of all ‘inner experiences,’ but rather one who holds that even if there happen to be such things as inner experiences, we cannot speak of them. Mundle’s case may be stated as follows:

(a) Wittgenstein denies both an incommunicable (i.e. private) language about inner experiences, and a communicable language about inner experiences.

(b) Wittgenstein stresses the primacy of public language, and the fact that were it not for natural expressions of sensations, we could not learn the public words for them. Let us admit both, says Mundle. Having admitted this, why can’t I proceed to invent a language for inner experiences which at least I can understand?

(c) Wittgenstein offers the Diary Argument to show that we can’t even talk to ourselves about our inner experiences. The crux of the argument is this: there is no criterion of correctness—hence it makes no sense to speak of remembering correctly. The argument is thus based on a scepticism w.r.t. memory. But, as Ayer has shown, this leads to total scepticism. So we cannot doubt memory; we must accept the fact that at some state or other we do rely solely on memory. Hence there is no difficulty in recognizing a particular sensation again.

(d) Rhees, however, says that the identity—the sameness—comes from language. Language is required in order to recognize some¬thing as the same. This, according to Mundle, makes no sense: surely we first recognize the similarity and then apply the same name? The problem about recognizing sensations does not exist.

(e) Hence the Diary Argument does not hold. We can name our inner experiences, and also recognize them when they recur, without difficulty. So we can have a private language about our inner experiences.

(f) The question now is: can we also have a public language about them? Here Mundle feels we must agree with Wittgenstein that without natural expressions of sensations, we would not be able to teach others the use of words for sensations. The beetle situation is an apt analogy here. Each one of us knows what ‘pain’ is only from our own model. However, Wittgenstein went too far in saying that the box might even be empty. I may not be able to say whether the pain I feel is similar to yours; but surely I can have little doubt about the fact that you do have pain sometimes. There is evidence available—in your behaviour, your description of your pain, etc.

Further if we must choose between some version of the Verification principle, and denying meaning to the principle that similar conditions give rise to similar sensations, we must reject the former.

So we can have a communicable language about our inner exper¬ience after all.
Mundle ends by saying that anyone who would hold that Wittgen¬stein did not deny language about inner experiences, must first show how the Diary Argument and the Beetle Argument fit in.

Hol¬borow’s article is a response to Mundle’s challenge. He says:

(a) It is wrong to say that Wittgenstein denied all talk about inner experiences.

(b) The Diary and the Beetle Arguments can be shown to fit in with this interpretation, by distinguishing, between inner experiences with natural expressions, and inner experiences without natural expressions. Wittgenstein denied the possibility of a language only about the latter, and this is the point of the two arguments in question.

(c) However, it is possible that Mundle would challenge even this restricted thesis. The Diary Argument, he would say, is based on a scepticism w.r.t. memory, and this implies a total scepticism. Here Holborow points out that the argument is not based on a scepticism w.r.t. memory. The real point is this: that mere ‘concentration of attention’ on ‘something inner’ accomplishes nothing. No criterion is fixed at all: and so there is nothing to remember. The question of memory does not arise.

However, PI # 265 might give the appearance that Wittgenstein does attack the reliability of memory (“Justification consists in appealing to something independent”). But what is required here is not actual checking in every case, but rather the possibility of a check. Unless a checking is possible, it makes no sense to speak of my use of a word as correct or wrong.

So the Diary Argument stands: a language about radically private experiences (those which have no natural expressions) is impossible.

(d) But now a new question arises: there cannot be a radically private language. But can there not be a partially private language? This would be a language in which the general character of the sensation is given in the normal way, but the specific type can be distinguished but not publicly conveyed. (There are no existing words for it, nor does it have natural expressions.) So here we would have an identification that would be uncheckable in principle.

Here Wittgenstein would say: if an identification is uncheckable in principle, there is no justification for talk of correctness or mistake. Now when there is no such justifi¬cation, then the statement in question must be either an expression like ‘I am in pain,’ or it must be senseless. Your partially private language claims to identify, to describe; so it is impossible.

(e) At this point we must question Wittgenstein’s assertion that no doubt is possible at all in the case of ‘I am in pain.’ It is possible to find counter-instances. (Holborow cites a few.) Besides, it seems possible to find in Wittgenstein another category for reports of sensations, descriptions of sensations which are ‘results of observation.’ (PI II:187-189)

(f) On this interpretation, the distinction we claim to make would be a ‘result of observation’, a description of the sensation. But if it is a description we still have to find a justification.

Why is it that Wittgenstein requires a justification of the claim to recognize sensations? Because, as Rhees says, it is only through language that we can specify, or isolate the aspect of a thing which interests us. It makes no sense to say ‘that.’ We must specify what we mean, and this specification comes from language. In other words: the claim to have recognized something makes no sense unless that something has in some way been specified. Is this condition fulfilled by our partially private language? “I think that it is in the case of strikingly distinctive internal sensations, and that the fact that the distinctive quality of such sensations cannot be communicated does not rule out our claim to discriminate them.”

Holborow concludes that Wittgenstein is no behaviourist. He denies the possibility of a radically private language, not of all talk about inner experiences. However, Wittgenstein’s arguments are in need of qualification insofar as there can be a dependent private language.

I think Mundle has been answered fairly well by Holborow. I agree with Holborow that Wittgenstein is no behaviourist, and that the Diary Argument and the Beetle Argument are not opposed to this interpretation. But I wonder whether it is necessary to defend these arguments by saying that Wittgenstein made a distinction between inner experiences with natural expressions, and those without. I do not know whether Wittgenstein has explicitly said anywhere that there are inner experiences of the latter type. What he seems to have said is rather: if you think that inner experiences are named by looking into ourselves and uttering a sound, you are mistaken. If there were no natural manifestations of pain, for example, we would never be able to teach a child the use of ‘pain’. If our inner experiences had no natural expressions at all, we would have no words for them in our language.
The purpose of the Diary Argument is not so much to deny language about inner experiences, as to point out both the dependence of the language game of inner experiences on that of external objects, and its divergence.

The Beetle Argument must not be taken as a description of our actual situation w.r.t. our sensations, as Mundle has done. In fact (as Holborow has also pointed out), Wittgenstein’s purpose is just the opposite: what he wants to say is that if you consider sensa¬tions on the model of beetles in a box, then you are committed to the position that they do not enter language at all. The object then drops out as irrelevant, and the box might even be empty. And when Wittgenstein declares that sensation is neither a something nor a nothing (PI # 304), he is not denying the existence of sensations. What he is rejecting is the grammar on which it is based, which easily misleads us into thinking of sensations as objects of some kind, admittedly ‘inner,’ but objects all the same (PI ## 304-308).

What about Holborow s ‘partially private language’? His claim is that it is possible to make a finer distinction (as to the type of the sensation) than can be publicly described. There are no natural expressions to help us make this distinction, and nothing in the existing language either. This implies therefore that no justification of the claim is possible—and hence that it makes no sense to speak here of a correct or mistaken identification, or even of an identification in the first place.

Holborow, we have seen, tries to answer by seeking the reason behind Wittgenstein’s demand for justification. The call for the possibility of a justification, he says, is a call for the speci¬fication of the terms being used. So in his opinion, this condi¬tion is fulfilled at least in the case of strikingly distinctive sensations, even if this distinctive quality cannot be communi¬cated. He ends on this note. I do not think we can consider his claim substantiated. In order to make a case, one has to do more than merely make claims. It appears to me that he is aware of the implications of his claim from the moment he introduces the problem; that he tries to work his way to a solution by trying to find place for a new category of ‘fallible sensations reports’ which are ‘results of observation.’ But this procedure gets him nowhere, for with the claim that his ‘partially private language’ is a description, the requirement for the possibility of a justifi¬cation merely re-enters. The last effort is to reduce the need for justification to that of ‘specification.’ As far as I can see, ‘specification’ would involve language; and Holborow has excluded this when he says that the distinction he claims to make cannot BE PUBLICLY DESCRIBED. In the face of all this, it is difficult to make sense of his claim that all the same such a specification can be made at least in the case of strikingly dis¬tinctive sensations.

Perhaps Holborow’s ‘partially private language’ might have been saved if he had contented himself with saying merely that no public expression corresponds to the distinctive character he claims to discriminate, without saying also that the distinction is not publicly describable. Here then perhaps there would be the possibility of making finer distinctions by relating to words which already exist In public language—words for other inner experiences, for example. So here we would have a description of sensations, together with the necessary ‘possibility of a check’ and the ‘spe¬cification’ that is implied. I don’t think Wittgenstein has ruled out such a dependent language. We must take heed of his warning, however, that describing sensations is not like describing other things. We must not fall into the temptation to think of sensations as some kind of inner things which we describe by looking into ourselves.

2. The Verification Principle and the Private Language Argument

Mrs Thomson’s article is a vigorous attack on the attempt to find a thesis called the ‘Private Language Argument’ in Wittgenstein. She takes Malcolm’s presentation of the argument as representative of this misguided effort, and states her case against it:

(a) The thesis must not be credited to Wittgenstein. Further, it is neither important nor original.

(b) It is difficult to see what could make it logically impos¬sible for a language to be understood by anyone but its speaker.

(c) It is not at all clear what it means to follow a linguistic rule, or to violate it unwittingly.

(d) The whole argument is nothing but a restatement of the discredited principle of verificationism.

How (if at all) does Kenny answer Thomson? He says very tersely in a footnote: “Mrs Thomson is doubtful whether the Investigations contain an argument against private language. I agree with her that it does not contain the argument which she states.” He does not, therefore, attempt to respond to her directly. Instead, he goes back to Wittgenstein himseIf in a refreshing re-examination of the whole question:

(a) What, according to Wittgenstein, is a private language? A language whose words “refer to what can only be known to the person speaking: to his immediate private sensations.” (PI # 243) (Wittgenstein has just asked whether there could be a language to express inner experiences. ‘Obviously,’ the answer comes: ‘don’t we use our ordinary language for this purpose?’ But, says, Wittgenstein, that is not what he means. He wants to know whether there can be a language referring to what can be known only to the speaker. The question here is not so much about the possibility of a private language, as about the nature of ‘inner experiences.’ Supposing they are such that they are accessible only to the sub¬ject, could there be a language about them?)

(b) Why is this question about private language important? Because of its implications for epistemology and philosophy of mind. Several philosophical theories imply the possibility of a private language (e.g. Cartesianism, empiricism, scepticism). If a private language is impossible, these theories are wrong.

(c) The notion of a private language rests on two mistakes: (1) about the nature of ‘experience’: that it is private (inaccessible to others); and (2) about the nature of language: that words can acquire meaning by bare ostensive definition.

(d) Experiences are not ‘private’ in any radical sense. Others often know when I am in pain. I can of course deceive them; but this very deception is possible only on the basis of the existence of natural expressions of inner experiences.

(e) Bare ostensive definition is insufficient. It presupposes a great deal of stage-setting in language (PI # 257); and so the language in question is no longer private.

(f) However, some would hold that naming an inner experience is still possible, without necessarily having to fall back on public language. To these, the Diary Argument is directed. Now many are of the opinion that this argument is based upon a scepticism about memory. This is a misunderstanding. Wittgenstein is not asking, ‘how will I remember whether something is S or not?’ but rather: ‘how will I know what I mean by S?’ What is in question is the very extension of the term S. Suppose, when I had first used the term, I had fixed a table in my imagination. Now I want to use S. I refer to the table. And now suppose I want to justify my use of S. What do I refer to? The same table, the same memory! I use one memory to justify itself! This, says Kenny, is exactly analogous to buying two copies of the same newspaper.

(I would like to add a further point. Immediately after the above, Wittgenstein says: “So the look of a clock may serve to determine the time in more than one way.” (PI # 266) I think Wittgenstein is calling to our notice a point he made earlier: that there are ways and ways of interpreting a rule or a table. So a mere picture by itself is of no help. What we need is an established usage, a spontaneous rule-following. Now is this requirement ful-filled in the case of the table in our imagination?)

(g) The Private Language Argument rests not so much on verifi¬cationism as on the picture-theory of the 1910’s. A proposition is essentially bi-polar. (There is no such thing as an essentially true—an analytic—proposition.) Further, propositions must be articulated. Now ‘This is S’ satisfies neither of these conditions: it is not articulate (“a definition of the sign cannot be formulated¬“—PI # 258); nor is there is any possibility of its being false. It is related to the sensation “like a yardstick which grows or shrinks to the length of the object to be measured.” A measure must be independent of what it measures. There is no way of giving S an independence short of taking it into a public language.

To summarize: Kenny is of the opinion that there is something that could be called the Private Language Argument in Wittgenstein, though it is not in the form in which Thomson states it. He re¬jects her statement of the problem, and with it the charge of verificationism too. However, he could have been more explicit: what exactly is it that is wrong with Thomson’s statement of the problem?

We will bypass the question whether it is Malcolm who must be blamed for the statement of the argument, or whether it is Thomson who has misunderstood Malcolm. This much is clear: the entire argument as found in Thomson’s article is centred around the notion of ‘rule-following’; and it is obvious that a clarifi¬cation regarding Wittgenstein’s own notion of ‘rules’ is called for.

Thomson thinks of a rule as something explicitly formulated—¬a command or an order that can be followed or violated. “Immediately the difficulties rush in” —naturally. For what could be the rule for ‘table’ or for ‘chair’? Who formulates them? What would count as a violation of ‘You may do this’? And suppose we settle for ‘Call this, and other similar things, ‘table’—what is the meaning of ‘call’? Does this rule oblige us to shout out ‘table’ whenever and wherever we see one? The rules that Wittgenstein has in mind, however, are not commands or orders, nor are they explicitly formulated. They are rather “part of the framework on which the working of our language is based.” (PI # 240) They form part of the agreement that exists among human beings—and “that is not agreement in opinions but in form of life.” (PI # 241) How, then, do these rules influence us? By way of training: I have been trained to react to this sign in a particular way, and now I do so react to it.” (PI # 198)

Hence following a rule is something done spontaneously; and if this is so, it is also possible to violate a rule unwittingly. lf we take ‘rule’ as meaning ‘order’ or ‘command,’ it may make little sense to speak of an unwitting violation. But we take ‘rule’ in the sense of a usage, a custom, a tradition. What sense does it make to speak of a conscious mistake here? (A pianist deliberately pressing the wrong keys.)

Thomson will immediately respond: if you hold that ‘unwitting violation’ is part of the concept ‘rule,’ you are committed to the third step: that unwitting violation is not possible unless there is the logical possibility that another could find out. And that amounts to verificationism. In other words, Thomson is saying: if you insist on the public character of rules, you are a verificationist.

The question ‘why must rules be public?’ can be countered by another: ‘how would you fix a private rule?’ And now the whole of the Private Language Argument can be brought to bear. We need not go into details again. It will be sufficient to point out that the question of the ‘possibility of finding out whether or not a thing is a K’ does not arise at all. Mere ostensive definition, mere concentration of attention, coupled with the uttering of a sound, does not achieve anything: the extension of ‘K’ has not been fixed at all. The question of finding out whether or not a thing is a K already presupposes that we have fixed what type of thing, or what aspect of a thing is to be called a K; and the occurrence of that prior step apart from any connection with public language, is what Wittgenstein is denying.

2.1 A remark on ‘the possibility of finding out’

A sound is a word in language only if there is ‘the possibility of finding out.’ Put this way, this remark could be misleading. But there is some truth in it.

On what is the possibility of communication based? On the sounds I utter? The gestures I make? The symbols I use? Or is it based on something shared? A form of life, a framework that is taken for granted—an agreement which is not agreement in opinions? Another way of expressing this: there must be spontaneous rule-following. “To obey a rule, to make a report, to give an order, to play a game of chess, are customs (uses, institutions)” (PI # 199). So if this common form of life is absent—if you do not share it with me—there can be no communication. I think this is how we must understand the phrase, “the possibility of finding out.” (This is not to rule out the possibility of inventing new usages, new customs. But even this very possibility, and the possibility of communicating these, would be radically rooted in a common form of life....)

This is a far cry from verificationism. In a society where ‘god’ is a community experience, the sound ‘god’ surely makes sense, has meaning. Communication is possible. Would a verificationist be satisfied with such a procedure? The verificationist has a particular type of verification in mind: he has exalted one particular framework, that of empirical science, to the status of absolute arbiter of sense. All language must conform or be damned. For him, the phrase, ‘the possibility of finding out’ has a particular connotation. Has Wittgenstein restricted himself in this way in the Investigations? On the contrary.

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