Response to James Sauer's Review of Scientific and Primordial Knowing
I am most grateful to Jim Sauer for his review of my book, and the seriousness with which he takes my work. He raises many points I could attempt to answer, but I believe the best contribution to the Lonergan community would be to address some of the fascinating methodological questions he raises.
One question that touches on methodology is Sauer's critique of the philosophers I include in the book. He accuses me of subjectivity, and that in the bad sense of the work (p. 7 of his review). He does nothing to prove that this is a negative subjectivity, and I would interpret it as subjectivity in the good sense of the word. In other words, a prudential choice was involved, which cannot be scientifically demonstrated another example of primordial knowing. Rather than trying to justify my own choice, however, I will answer by challenging Jim to give an objective list of the 10 most important philosophers of the Western tradition. (I think, incidentally, he would likely include many of the same ones, so it's not altogether subjective.) But I want not only the list, but a probative demonstration that the list must contain these and only these 10. I probably shouldn't make a judgment before he produces the list and the scientific demonstration, but allow me anyway to express a doubt that it can be done.
Another methodological question has to do with the definition of primordial knowing. Sauer finds it too broad; it encompasses so much as to be meaningless (6). Whatever is not conceptual is simply put in the grab bag of the primordial (6). I would answer that by saying one could make the same criticism of Lonergan. Insight treats of mathematics, physics, history, evolution, philosophy, psychology, common sense, religion, and so on. Where is the unity? It was Lonergan's accomplishment to show that, under the disparity, was the ever recurring structure of insight. I was engaged in a similar project. Further, primordial knowing is defined as a subset of Lonergan's insight: it occurs whenever insight does not eventuate in a concept. So it is perfectly logical that whatever is not conceptual is primordial.
Jim says that my work does not live up to the ideal of Lonergan's careful hermeneutical method (6-7); it does not respect the historicity of the authors, but tears the texts from the historical context. Here I would again appeal to the distinction between a man's theory and his practice. I believe it is more realistic to compare my work, not with Lonergan's theory, but his practice. If you look at Verbum, or even Gratia Operans you will find there is little history as such; it is mostly interpretation. (In fact, I have criticized Lonergan's grasp of the historical situation at one point in the Gratia Operans work; see Lonergan and Thomas on the Will, pp.70-71). The interpreter, of course, has to keep the historical background in mind; but he doesn't always have to express it. In fact, I do begin each chapter with a n attempt to give an overall assessment of the thinker, which refers more or less explicitly to his historical situation.
It seems to me Lonergan and also Whitehead are much more guilty than I of taking authors out of their context. I have often had the feeling that, in reading their interpretations, I am dealing with "Whitehead's Hegel," or "Lonergan's Kant," which, however brilliant the interpretation, are nevertheless dubiously related to the original. Insight is notorious for that; it has practically no footnotes. Not only does Lonergan neglect the secondary literature; he gives only the most fleeting references to the primary. Let me take one concrete example: Lonergan says that Kant neglects judgment. But when you read Kant you discover that he has a great deal to say about judgment; indeed, it occurs in the title of one of the three critiques. I am not saying that Lonergan is not ultimately right; but I am suggesting that he should have proved his point textually. He does not do so; whereas I think I have in my book.
The final methodological point I want to answer, and perhaps the most interesting, is that the argument is circular (8); I found in fact what I was looking for (8) but only by an imposition on the data (6-7).
My first response to this is to take the bull by the horns: I would suggest that there is a sense in which all argument is circular. There is, of course, a vicious circle; in which logical premise A leads to conclusion B, to conclusion C... to conclusion A, as Aristotle notes in the Posterior Analytics. But there is a larger circle, closely connected with the whole subject of my investigation: argument begins in primordial knowing, goes through an arc of logical demonstration, and returns to primordial knowing. Thomas supports this when he says that argument begins in intellectus, the habit of first principles; but that all knowing must ultimately be reduced back to first principles.
I don't think it so much of a surprise that I found what I was looking for. I already had a doctorate in theology, and that I had done all my philosophical courses with this project in mind. As I began my research work for the dissertation, I was no stranger to the Western tradition. It would in fact have been more surprising if I had found something altogether unexpected.
Further, the original hypothesis was extremely broad. It was merely that there were two kinds of knowing, the conceptual and the non-conceptual. I already had Lonergan's word that there was conceptual knowing, as well as the non-conceptual knowing of the artist (Insight, 208). What could have disconfirmed such a general hypothesis? Only a discovery that there was no knowing at all, or that there was no conceptual knowing, or that there was no non-conceptual knowing.
More broadly, don't all of us usually find what we are looking for? That may sometimes be because we recognize only the favorable evidence, and fail to see either intentionally or not the contrary evidence. But it can also mean that we began with a valid clue. There are, of course, matters of the scholar's personal intellectual morality involved here. But what is the alternative to finding what you are looking for? Taken to the limit, it is to be called to something like an intellectual conversion. Occasionally one finds the exact opposite of what one expected. Cardinal Newman (or Scott Hahn) in their study of the Church Fathers might be an example. But this occurs rarely. More often, we nuance, add more detail, or correct small points of what we already know.
To make this charge stick, in sum, I believe one would have to point out the massive evidence that was overlooked, denied or misconstrued.
Nevertheless, there is evidence that I did not simply impose a pre-existing pattern on the data. For example, I admitted that Augustine's sapientia and scientia, contrary to expectation, did not correspond to the division of conceptual and primordial (83-84). With Bonaventure I admitted that the categories did not make a perfect fit (183). I also conceded that with Hegel (298) and Whitehead (346-54) they tended to be much less serviceable.
I would end by going back to the sentiment of gratitude. I believe it is now clear that Sauer's review sparked off a lot of thoughts; for that challenge, and his careful and thoughtful work, I am most appreciative.
Terry J. Tekippe