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.

* * *

The Private Language Argument

Yesterday I digitalized an old paper of mine on Wittgenstein's Private Language Argument. The paper was completed 11 November 1980, which means some 29 years ago. I was in the second year of the MPh course at Jnana Deepa Vidyapeeth, Pune, at the time, and was working under the guidance of Lisbert D’Souza, SJ, who was fresh from his doctorate (at Oxford, I think) on Wittgenstein. The MPh course was a different kind of affair in JDV in those days: you had to write 12 papers, of which the last was the dissertation. We were free to choose our own topics, and find our own professors, and then it was sort of individual work with the professor, culminating in a paper. So here I was, working with the young Wittgenstein professor, and it was an extremely enriching and rewarding affair. (I learnt only much later that this is the way the tutorial system functions in Oxford and perhaps also in Cambridge. At that time we thought JDV was shirking its responsibilities!) Lisbert put me through the Tractatus and the Investigations, with weekly reading assignments. The primary sources were interspersed with judiciously chosen secondary sources. I still have a large file of my jottings and personal comments. My 'course' culminated in the paper on Private Language.

At Danny Monsour's urging, I am thinking of publishing this paper much as it is. True, Wittgenstein scholarship has in all probability made great strides on the topic in the intervening years. But, reading the paper these days, I find it still speaks to me, and that it still provides a rather nuanced interpretation of Wittgenstein. I think my conlusion was that Wittgenstein was neither a behaviourist nor a verificationist. I also hope that this will be a small step towards dialectic and dialogue between Wittgenstein and Lonergan.

Lonergan scholars know that Lonergan dedicates a section of his chapter on Dialectic in his Method in Theology (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990, 253-257) to Wittgenstein (section 7: The Dialectic of Methods: Part One), insisting rather strongly on mental acts and on the essentially private character of language in its origins. Lonergan, however, was no Wittgenstein scholar; he was reacting, as is evident also from the text itself, to questions posed him by Edward MacKinnon during one of his institutes on method in theology (see Transcendental Philosophy and the Study of Religion, Boston, 1968); so, despite the strong language he uses, the relationship between Wittgenstein and Lonergan still remains, to my mind, an open question.

I know I should be reading Lonergan closely, and then Wittgenstein again... But offhand, my impression is that Wittgenstein is absolutely right that private language is not possible, and Lonergan is prima facie wrong in rejecting that claim. But then, Lonergan is interpreting Wittgenstein via MacKinnon here; and besides, there is no guarantee that authors are their own best interpreters. Wonderful matter for a substantial paper here...

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Beauty and art

The Aesthetics examination was very interesting: I actually learnt something new! And that was the distinction between beauty and art. Talking to the students, it became clear to me that there is such a distinction: not everything that is beautiful is art, and not everything that is art is conventionally beautiful.

The beauty of nature, for example, is not art. And Heidegger can speak at length about a work of art without once mentioning beauty. Could we call the Van Gogh painting of peasant shoes beautiful, in fact? Perhaps. But it lends itself better to a Heideggerean type of treatment in terms of the revelation of truth. And it became clear to me also how closely Heidegger follows Hegel: art is not so much beauty as revelation of the Idea / truth.

When asked what was the most important thing they had learned during the course, many students said they had learned to stop and appreciate beauty around them, where before they had perhaps either been 'blind' or else had had very global and undifferentiated experiences of beauty.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Wittgenstein and Lonergan on correcting our certainties

"Further experiments cannot give the lie to our earlier ones, at most they may change our whole way of looking at things." (Wittgenstein, On Certainty ??)

Like the shift from the geocentric to the heliocentric way of looking at things. After someone accepts that the earth goes round the sun, rather than vice versa, nothing changes in the way things appear. The sun still appears to rise in the east. And we still go on speaking of sunrise and sunset.

Lonergan says: From the point of view of description, the sun rises in the East. From the point of view of explanation, the sun does not rise; it is the earth that goes round the sun. Each point of view is correct in itself. But if we were to say: from every point of view, the sun rises in the East, then we would be mistaken.

But of course we don't usually go around talking like this. And yet we understand what Lonergan is trying to say.

Wittgenstein and Lonergan on knowing

Wittgenstein, like many others, bumps into the limits of 'knowing' and comes up with a refreshing insight into the fact that all our knowing presupposes a context of 'certainties'.

Lonergan largely agrees, I would think, with this. But this may have to be nuanced, by reading, for example, Insight on implicit definitions. Questions come to an end somewhere; there is no infinite series of propositions grounding other propositions, unless we are children playing games and wanting to drive the other child mad. What is the solution? One solution - apart from what W has been saying - is what L calls the fact that a set of terms and relations tumble out together when we have an insight. But of course this kind of having an insight would itself presuppose other 'certainties' in W's sense. No problem about that.

Pertinent would be also L's analysis of reflective understanding in chapter 10 of Insight - the way we are able to make use of non-propositional elements in our process of knowing. So, despite the fact that L explains the process of judging in terms of a syllogism of the form: If A then B; but A; therefore B, he is at pains to point out that this is not exactly how the mind functions. It functions in a pre-propositional way...

Would Wittgensteinian stomachs turn at this talk of 'mental acts'? Perhaps. But again: what is important is to look at our experience, rather than go by dogmas - even Wittgensteinian ones. W would regard the proposition 'This is a tree' as a certainty, because it is the way we have been taught to use the word tree. L would certainly admit that a linguistic insight is involved - an intelligent use of the English language. However, if we are not merely uttering a sentence or citing a proposition, if we are identifying something as a tree rather than a cow, L would say there is more than just the linguistic insight involved. There is involved an identification of a particular set of data as a tree. Such an insight involves grasp of a unity, identity, whole in data, and it is an act of intelligence, though one that quickly becomes 'habitual'...

Wittgenstein on certainty and Lonergan on beliefs

I am correcting Sathish Thiyagarajan's MPh paper, "Wittgenstein on Certainty: A Reading of On Certainty."

Naturally I keep asking myself: what would Lonergan have to say about this?

I think W is entirely right when he points out that there are propositions which have the form of empirical propositions but actually function in a different way. It makes no sense, for example, to doubt these propositions. They are what we take for granted in our activity of knowing and doubting. They are, he says, the framework of our language game, they are the rules of the game. These be calls certainties. He does not hesitate to say that many of these certainties are beliefs, taken over from our form of life, our culture, in the course of our upbringing. Since our upbringing includes also learning one or more languages, language skills are also part of what he regards as certainties - propositions which it makes no sense to doubt. It makes no sense to doubt, for example, that this is a tree, he says.

I am asking myself: in place of W's distinction between knowledge and certainty, could we use L's distinction between (immanently or personally generated) knowledge and belief (what we have taken over from others, our culture, etc.)? Perhaps the overlap is not perfect, unless under 'beliefs' we include also the learning of a language.

But much of what L has to say about beliefs would, I think, be perfectly acceptable to W: the symbiosis of knowledge and belief, for example: it is almost impossible to separate out the two in any given instance. The fact that judgment is always contextual, and that even the making of a single judgment presupposes a host of other judgments, so that there is a frightful circularity to all our knowing. How, L asks, do we get out of this circularity? All logical circles are broken ultimately by action, and L points out that when we do not have, we can always borrow. So we proceed by borrowing - where borrowing would include taking from those who know better (the 'masters', the 'wise people'), from our culture, and so on. And of course we do not always 'borrow' in this explicit fashion. All our knowing takes place within the context of our being part of a culture, a language group, a game, etc. The 'way up' can function only within the context of the 'way down', and it is the way down that is prior. "Im Anfang war die Tat," W says somewhere: "In the beginning was the Deed." Lisbert D'Souza liked to quote that to me.

Questions do come to an end. The spade touches rock bottom. L would say: not that we cannot question further; further questions are always possible; but does it make sense to continue questioning? So the inbuilt way we function is: when there is the absence of further relevant questions, we 'assume' that we have reached an 'invulnerable' insight. When relevant questions come to an end, we have, as it were, reached a stasis, of the type we are more familiar in the realm of the moral conscience. We then sometimes go on to another topic. Is this an automatic criterion of truth? By no means. But: that is how we function. How then can we be sure of our insights and judgments? No short cut, no recipe, for producing good judgments. Only factors to be kept in mind: allow further questions a chance to arise; set questions correctly; try to move to mastery of the situation; be aware of and balance your temperament....

The echoes between W and L become less surprising when we bring Newman into the picture. But the relationship between N and W remains to be better clarified. Sathish has found at least three studies, but I would have to see them myself.

In the meantime, it might be a very good idea for Sathish to now do a little study of N's Grammar of Assent, and why not, eventually also a study of L on knowing and believing. Not an easy job though!

Monday, 16 February 2009

Faith and progress

A stunning line from Lonergan:
For faith and progress have a common root in man's cognitional and moral self-transcendence. To promote either is to promote the other indirectly. Faith places human progress in a friendly universe; it reveals the ultimate significance in human achievement; it strengthens new undertakings with confidence. Inversely, progress realizes the potentialities of man and of nature; it reveals that man exists to bring about an even fuller achievement in this world; and that achievement because it is man's good also is God's glory. (Lonergan, Method in Theology 117, cited in Lovett 189. Emphasis mine.)

Religion and the political

The undoubted welcome for existential and personalist versions of the message is read by Metz as an index of the degree to which late industrial society has succeeded in forcing religion to the private sphere. Human existence is, he insists, a political problem. (Brendan Lovett, For the Joy Set Before Us 187)
The enthusiasm for existential and personalist versions of religion - see the West flocking to the gurus and godmen and women of India - there is no doubt about it.

I ask myself whether all religions are in need of such a critique - that of locking themselves up in the personal and the existential, and ignoring the social and political. Thus a young swami can consider drinking and sex as the greatest of vices, but remain blissfully ignorant about ongoing interfaith and intercommunity violence.... And Christians of the West can be terribly exercised about abortion stances of their politicians, while at the same time rooting for military interventions with faith-filled fervour.

Lovett in fact goes on:
However, once the religious a priori is conceived as protest against suffering, the issue of pluralism may need to be recast. In this perspective, all views, theological or otherwise, of what the human ought to be are not simply to be welcomed but must be subjected to critical and dialectical analysis. Otherwise, the concrete and practical character of the human problem will not be addressed effectively. The challenge is not simply to understand the plural world but to change it, to make of the Church a fit instrument of redemptive recovery. (188)

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Contemplation and gardening

I had hoped to spend a year of contemplation and gardening, or contemplative gardening. It has turned out differently: there is not much contemplation and no gardening. So what have I been busy with? The De Smet book, mainly. Not a very creative enterprise, but certainly an act of pietas, and also – something that vibes with the ‘ordering’ part of my temperament….

So now I have committed to preparing a paper for the June 2009 Lonergan Workshop, but I still find myself drawn to spending time on the next De Smet project: a collection of his Śaṅkara studies. These are many more than the Person studies, but then there is also the experience gathered, and I have the impression that this project will not take me as long as the earlier one. Still, it is taking time, swallowing up time.

For the Workshop I decided to extend my introduction to the Brahman and Person book. I take up De Smet’s ‘retrieval’ or ‘generation’ of the category of person in Indian thought, and see what can be made of it within Lonergan’s method. This would entail, perhaps, studying Lonergan – not so much because I need to study Lonergan, but because I would need to transpose ‘person’ into categories drawn from interiority. The prime candidate for the transposition is ‘subject’, but subject does not quite have the concreteness of person, and that is a problem which I must study. – So I expect De Smet to provide an example of the generation of categories; or else it would be an instance of ‘studies of interiority’ in other traditions (part of the generation of special theological categories). And I would be ‘retrieving’ De Smet’s work from a methodological standpoint.

Something similar might happen w.r.t. his Śaṅkara studies, though perhaps there we would be entering doctrines or perhaps systematics. For where would creation fit? Or better, where would Śaṅkara’s thinking on creation fit? Śaṅkara is a śrutivādin, as De Smet has insisted. He is probably doing systematics, then.

And what about the famous Bibliography of Indian Christian Writings project? Even the promised contributions have not yet materialized. But I would need to spend perhaps a day going through the work of Hambye, and that of Kaj Baajo, and the bibliographies produced by the Heras Institute. That might give me a scheme, at least for the ancient authors, say up to the 19th century. The 20th century would be a very vast enterprise, and that too could be broken up conveniently into pre- and post-conciliar periods.

And then there is the journal, and the nitty-gritty of classes and theses. I have enjoyed doing Aesthetics, and in the bargain have discovered that the reading method – together with a sidelong bow to Montessori’s insistence on the data, the experience – is excellent for arousing, evoking, and holding the attention of the students. What has been amazing also is that they have managed, first years as they are, to follow the philosophers in some way up to Heidegger. Managed is not to say that there has been deep or profound philosophizing – but they have not been turned off, I have not seen anyone drowning, and that itself is very good. Plato coming alive, and also Heidegger…. What more could one want.

But contemplative leisure is important for truly reading, and understanding, and thinking, and creating. Heidegger’s Holzwege arise upon years and years of such contemplative thinking. One has to spiral into the meaning of an author, rise up to his level, so that then one can understood as he has understood and with him. One has to learn to read. And for that one has to slow down. And one begins by walking slower, doing one thing at a time, not cribbing time for prayer, and also playing – which does not mean only football and basketball, but the engaging with the other – the other person, the other kind of book, the newspapers and the magazines and the movies and the novels too.

Phenomenology of money

We have been reading, in the Aesthetics course, Heidegger’s comments on the work of art. Yesterday we read his amazing phenomenology of a pair of peasant shoes, with the help of a painting by Van Gogh. Today we hope to read his phenomenology of the Greek temple. Where shoes relate earth and the world of the peasant, the temple sets up, founds, a world…

In a dream of the morning, a phenomenology of money: money which is almost totally constituted by meaning.

What kind of world does a 50 rupee note set up?

A 50 rupee note does not get used up, the way a pair of shoes gets used up. When a pair of shoes is used up, it becomes useless, and is reduced to stuff. But when a 50 rupee note is torn, I can ‘redeem’ its ‘value’ through a bank. The wear and tear on its material is immaterial to its value. It is only incidentally material.

So money is different from a pair of shoes. It is an element of society and social arrangements. It has little to do directly with earth, sky, water, air. Or it has to do ultimately with these things, with food for my table, with clothing, with shelter, with roti-kapda-makaan, but as a means. It is part of the division of labour set up by all communities except the most primitive. It is what makes Heidegger possible, for it sets Heidegger free for the task of thinking. Heidegger does not have to plough the ground, wait for the harvest, gather the grain, take it to the mill, knead the flour, bake the bread.

And what might we make of Jesus’ reply, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s?”

Does he not imply that, since the Pharisees possess a coin with Caesar’s image, they have accepted to be part of the world which that coin sets up? And is not his reply deliciously ambiguous? For what really is Caesar’s, that has not been given to Caesar by God? “You would not have power over me if it had not been given to you from above.”

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Tommaso Demaria, Salesian philosopher

From Mauro Mantovani, I have just heard the name of Tommaso Demaria, a Salesian philosopher-theologian who undertook to integrate history, culture and meaning into metaphysics. Several conferences have been held on Demaria's work in the last 10 years or so, but none of his works have been translated into any other language. The article that Mantovani has contributed to Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education might well be the first in the English language - but that has to be checked out.

It would be interesting to compare Demaria's effort with that of Lonergan. Demaria explicitly appeals to the Pauline theology of the Body of Christ, our incorporation as baptized members into the Church; and he notes that this incorporation and our action within the Church is historical. History, in other words, is the theorem relevant to ecclesiology, as Lonergan used to say.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Mission and Apologetics

This is a particularly brilliant new opening for Christian mission:
In religious matters love precedes knowledge and, as that love is God's gift, the very beginning of faith is due to God's grace. On this showing, not only is the ancient problem of the salvation of non-Christians greatly reduced, but also the true nature of Christian apologetic is clarified. The apologist's task is neither to produce in others nor to justify for them God's gift of his love. Only God can give that gift, and the gift itself is self-justifying. People in love have not reasoned themsleves into being in love. The apologist's task is to aid others in integrating God's gift with the rest of their living. Any significant event on any level of consciousness calls for adjustments elsewhere. (Lonergan, Method in Theology 123, cited in Lovett, For the Joy Set Before Us 206 n 23)
God's gift is given - to all. It is not our job as Christians to produce that gift or to justify it, much less to tell people that we alone have been privileged to receive it. But it is our job to be able to recognize it. And it is our job to aid others to integrate that gift with the rest of their living.

Here we could of course ask ourselves: how exactly might we 'aid others'? How could we be of help?

And again: what exactly is the 'rest of their living'? Could that 'rest' be as large as the world? And what would it mean to integrate the gift of God's love in contemporary India? The question of how we relate to other groups and to the world arises inevitably. There is an inevitably boundary-breaking component in any apologetic task.