Thursday, 19 February 2009

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'...

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