Thursday, 18 March 2010

Retrieval of good work

What exactly did I do in my Boston paper of 2009, "Person and Subject in Lonergan: A Methodical Transposition"?

Ostensibly, it deal with Lonergan's transposition of the metaphysical term person into the psychological term subject. This itself took place in the context of his effort to transform the language of Christian doctrines from a metaphysical to a methodical context. Thus the one person two natures of Christ became one subject and two subjectivities of Christ.

But what Lonergan actually does is to generate a set of interlocking terms and relations from appropriation of interiority (see Insight, and then Method in a different way). This is then used as an upper blade to recast doctrines and eventually systematics.

My question is: what to do with a work like that of De Smet on Sankara?

I am just thinking aloud.

1. My first reaction would be to say: let's do research, interpretation, history, dialectic, foundations on Sankara; this will generate a basic set of general categories (and perhaps also special categories). This would be justified in some way by Lonergan's call in Method ch. 11: Foundations to appropriate interiority through the writings of saints and holy people in different traditions.

1.1 Research as applied to Sankara is quite clear: bibliographies, critical editions, translations, lexicons, etc. Interpretation would (a) complete what was lacking (the bibliographies would identify work done and work remaining to be done); (b) retrieve in a methodical key good work already done (is this a requirement of Insight or of Method?)

1.2 Since I am interested in De Smet on Sankara, what could I do? Where would this fit in? Obviously in 1.1.b: retrieval of good work in a methodical key. But what does such retrieval involve? I do not seem to be clear on this point.

1.3 Here is some help from Method. Lonergan notes that a serious contribution to one of the eight specialties is all that can be demanded of a single piece of work; in fact, the distinction and division of specialties enables us to resist excessive demands (Method 137).

Again, he envisages an interim period until method is generally recognized. In this interim period, any single contribution will have a major part and a minor part.

The major part is to produce evidence proper to the specialty. The examples Lonergan gives are: the exegete, the historian, the doctrinal theologian, and the systematic theologian. We may note that dialectic and foundations are not mentioned, though research and communications are equally absent.

The minor part serves to preclude misunderstanding, misinterpretation and misrepresentation. It consists in drawing attention to the fact of specialization and gives some indication of the specialist's awareness of what is to be added to his statements in the light of the evidence available to other specialties. (Method 137-138)

The point is that Lonergan envisages quite independent efforts in the functional specialties - even in doctrines and systematics, which should presuppose the categories generated in dialectic and foundations!

Of course it is easier to envisage efforts in research and in interpretation. For even if research is incomplete, interpretation can be launched. What about history? If interpretations are incomplete, can functional history be done? I am not so sure about that.

And what about doctrines? How to do functional doctrines in the absence of categories generated in foundations? Is some shortcut presupposed here? And what of systematics?

1.4 Still, all this is merely support for independent pursuit of functional specialties in the interim period - which, after all, is not so difficult. A study of De Smet on Sankara will not fit exactly into this kind of thing - though it could well be a species of functional interpretation.

What is relevant to me is rather the remark on "retrieval of good work already done" which is to be found in Insight ch. 17. Two points: (a) This remark is in Insight; how valid is it in the context of Method? (b) How to go about such retrieval, even if it is still valid?

Here is the retrieval remark, Insight 610: the possibility of an explanatory interpretation of a non-explanatory meaning. The original writer's meaning may have its source in insights into things as related to him, and in all probability he will have no clear notion of insight nor any distinct advertence to the occurrence of insights. Still, he had the insights, and these were either different or not different from the insights of other earlier, contemporary, and later writers. If they were different, they stood in some genetic and dialectical relations with those other sets.

It is through these genetic and dialectical relations that interpretation is explanatory. It is through these relations that explanatory interpretation conceives, defines, reaches the insights of a given writer. It reaches the descriptive knowledge of a writer by establishing the verifiable differences between writers.

Insight goes on to speak of the canon of successive approximations, which deals with the necessary division of labour. This need is met by establishing reliable principles of criticism which will select what is satisfactory and reject what is unsatisfactory in any single contribution.

These principles are four: (1) the demand for a universal viewpoint; (2) taking advantage of the conditions of the extrapolation of meaning; (3) taking advantage of the genetic sequence of modes of expression, and the recurrent gap between meaning and expression; (4) taking advantage of the goal, which is truth, the criterion of which is the virtually unconditioned. (Insight 610-612)

The first principle of criticism seems to repeat the first canon, which is the canon of relevance, and which demands that the interpreter begin from the universal viewpoint, and that his interpretation convey some differentiation of the protean notion of being. It applies this canon to contributions that fail to present results in terms of the universal viewpoint: a critic can proceed from the universal viewpoint to determine the contributor's particular viewpoint, identify valid elements, and point out to "others working in the contributor's special field" the points needing revision. (Insight 611)

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