Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Common names and properly explanatory terms

One of Aristotle's defects, according to Lonergan is "a certain blurring" of the difference between common names and truly explanatory conjugates:
"Again, there is to his thinking a certain blurring of the difference between the common names developed by common sense and the technical terms elaborated by explanatory science." (Method in Theology 311.)
Lonergan, instead, distinguishes sharply between common names and explanatory conjugates. Common names involve 'linguistic' insights - insights into proper use of language, whereas explanatory conjugates are the fruit of science. So, properly speaking, the 'concepts' that we usually have are mostly common names; we have really very few concepts that are explanatory conjugates. When we see a tree and recognize it, we do not really obtain - 'by abstraction' - the concept of a tree in the properly explanatory sense. We are merely using the name 'tree' properly. Abstraction of the concept of tree is a matter for the botanical scientist - and even she does not come to the concept 'automatically', but only at the term of much hard work. We do not, in other words, obtain 'forms' by 'automatic abstraction' or by some sort of 'intellectual intuition' - we have to work to obtain them. Thus the nature of a free fall might descriptively be said to be a constant acceleration, but the pertinent conjugate form is given only in the relevant empirically verified law - s = gt2/2. 

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