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Common Sense




Desire to Know




The Glossary Project
edited by Carla Streeter

common sense *

Common sense is a realm of meaning. It is the realm of persons and things in their relations to us. Common sense does not move beyond the relation of things to ourselves in the manner that science does. Scientific theory advances to "formal relations," that is "relations that hold between things themselves considered apart from us, and the things are then defined by those relations they have to one another." (UB 88) With common sense "the desire to know is simply a part of the desire to live, and knowledge is a part of living. . . Knowledge is not pursued for its own sake, it does not become an end in itself. It is simply one part in the total end, which is living, living as a man." (UB 86)

Common sense is the expression of the fundamental development of human intelligence. It is the accumulation of insights which allow one to function in a particular context, that is, in a concrete situation. (TE 71) Common sense is always concerned with the particular and the concrete.

Thus what is "common" about common sense is the procedure not the content. When a person functions from the realm of common sense, insights are accumulated and self-corrected but without tools of precision associated with science. Thus, one could say that the truth of common sense is expressed in proverbs not principles. There is no formal deduction as in science.

As Lonergan states: "There is . . . a flow of questions, and . . . a clustering of insights . . . but the cluster is not aimed at arriving at universal definitions and universal propositions that will bear the weight of systematic and rigorous deduction." (UB 88-89) In this sense, common sense is egocentric. It is not concerned with abstract theory that reflects on how people are to act generally. Rather, it reflects on how I am to act, what I am to do, what I am to say.

Lonergan distinguishes four realms of meaning:

  1. common sense where, as we have seen, meaning is expressed in everyday or ordinary language;
  2. theory where meaning is expressed in technical language;
  3. interiority where meaning rests upon self-appropriation, attending not merely to objects but also to the attending subject in his or her acts; and
  4. transcendence where meaning emerges through the language of prayer and relation to divinity.

These four realms of meaning occur in the fully differentiated consciousness. Shifting from one realm of meaning to another occurs to the degree one's consciousness is differentiated.

For the differentiated conscious, the realms of meaning exist together without unity. Each has value.
*This term is presented by Dr. Christine Jamieson

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The eighth of Lonergan's eight functional specialties in theology. Communications brings what has been discovered through scholarship back into the realm of common sense, where it can make a difference in the real lives of individuals and cultures. It does this by transposing the discoveries of the differentiated realms of interiority and theory into the language and imagery of common sense. Theological communications operates through the basic art of talking, teaching, preaching, writing, art, gesture, etc. This distinct meaning for Lonergan makes clear the shift in the conscious subject from the more universal and abstract language of theory to the language of the particular in its environmental and cultural distinctiveness.

In a more general sense, communication (without the s) is the communication of insight or understanding, judgment or decision to another. What one means is communicated intersubjectively, artistically, symbolically, linguistically, incarnately (M 78).

Communication can take place on various levels or in various differentiations of consciousness: common sense, scholarly, aesthetic, scientific (theoretical), religious, or mystical. In an interesting discussion of symbol , Lonergan stresses the importance of internal communication (M 66-67). By this he means an attentiveness to what is going on in one's feelings and in affect laden images (symbols). It is in feelings that links are discovered between mind and body, mind and heart, and heart and body. The symbol expresses what logical speech abhors: internal tension, the incompatible, the conflicting, or the destructive. Dialectic can do this logically, but symbol does it before logic can get to it. Symbol complements and fills out logic. It contextualizes logic in the rich world of feeling. It is through symbol that mind and body, mind and heart, heart and body communicate. The proper or elemental meaning of the symbol is not yet objectified. It is the meaning in the purely experiential pattern prior to its expression in a work of art (M 67). Then by explaining the symbol, one goes beyond it. The transition takes place from elemental meaning to linguistic meaning, with its listening and speaking.

The meaning of communications most profound for those engaged in community building is communications as the condition for the possibility of the collective subject (1C 219-220 [237-238]). The principle communication Lonergan refers to here is not that of speaking what we know. It is revealing who we are. It is not introspection that reveals us to ourselves, Lonergan stresses. It is reflecting on who we are as we live in common with others (1C 220 [238]). This is incarnate meaning. It is the meaning of a person. Such meaning combines the intersubjective, the artistic, the symbolic, and the linguistic in the case of just one other person or in the case of an entire people (M 73).

Lonergan also stresses the need for a pluralism of communications, a multiplicity of popular expressions of one and the same meaning, a multiplicity that would address various peoples in terms of their distinct worlds of common sense (M 276, 328; DP 2). Because there are multiple worlds of common sense, preachers need to know the people to whom they are sent and their cultures. Coming to know differing peoples' ways of thinking, speaking, and responding results primarily in a pluralism of communications rather than of doctrines. When the consciousness is undifferentiated, for example, among a people whose only realm of meaning is common sense, who have no written language, the situation requires that communication of doctrine be done through ritual and metaphors readily understandable to the people. I 197-203 [173-181]; UB 222-224 [273-276]; M, 66-67, 78, 132, 168-169, 194, 276, 282, 285, 300, 328, 330, 355-368; PGT, 65-66; DP, 2-4; 1C, 219-220 [237-238]. (My thanks to Daniel Helminiak for contributions to this term.)

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Lonergan originally discusses conversion as three-dimensional: as intellectual in our orientation to the intelligible, as moral in our orientation to the good, and as religious in our orientation to God (DP 34). This threefold designation continued as late as Method (267). Here Lonergan writes of religious conversion as "being grasped by ultimate concern," moral conversion as changing "the criterion of one's decisions and choices from satisfactions to values," and intellectual conversion as knowing "precisely what one is doing when one is knowing" (M 239-241). Conversion is the process of moving from unauthenticity to authenticity, and as such it is tenuous and fragile.

Conversion is a prolonged, dynamic process and is linked to the functional specialty Foundations, which is the objectification of the experience of religious conversion. Conversion as communal and historical calls forth reflection on institutions and cultures, exploring their "origins, developments, purposes, achievements, failures" (M 130-131). It involves a change of course and direction (M 52; 2C 66) from one set of roots to another (M 271). It is the beginning of a new mode of developing (3C 247).

Our concrete being as human is a dynamic integration on the organic, psychic, intellectual, moral and affective levels. Harmonious orientation on the psychic level in this integration of the person "would have to consist in some...intimations of unplumbed depths that accrued to man's feelings, emotions, sentiments." Lonergan refers to this as the second sphere of reality beyond the "familiar, the domesticated, the common." The "primary field of mystery and myth and the affect-laden images and names" have to do with this second sphere of the "unplumbed depths," "the unexplored, the strange." Integration on the psychic level requires an openness to the unknown, to this second sphere of reality (I 555-556 [531-532]).

Later, in part as a result of conversations with Robert Doran, SJ, who was working on Lonergan's own references to the healing of the psyche in chapter XVII of Insight, Lonergan associated what Doran called psychic conversion with the quasi-operator at the transition from psychic to attentive functioning. This conversion involves noticing our spontaneous symbols, recognizing those that dominate, and becoming aware of those images avoided because they are laced with pain. Psychic conversion dissolves dramatic bias, the blind spot often born of psychic trauma. By means of therapy, contemplative prayer, or both, the a rigid censorship that polices feelings that are laden with pain can be healed, allowing all pertinent images to emerge in the psyche. Without this healing the psychic restriction aborts the very possibility of images needed for new insight in an area too painful to address (I 214-217, 555-556 [191-193, 531-533]; M 77)

Because it directly influences the human capacity for self-transcendence, religious conversion grounds both moral and intellectual conversion (M 283). Religious conversion is being grasped by religious love. When religious love enters the horizon of a human being, the entire horizon is transformed, for transcendent being has become the context for consideration of contingent being in the awareness. The self becomes a different self, because the horizon within which all reality is considered has been radically altered (M 122). Religious conversion is "the gift of God's love flooding our heart" (M 105). This gift is properly itself not in an isolated individual, but only in a plurality of persons that disclose their love to one another (M 283). In some of his later writings (3C 176, 179-180) Lonergan replaces religious conversion with the term affective conversion. Regardless of the name, Lonergan associates this conversion with the quasi-operator at the topmost level of consciousness (3C 29-30). Religious conversion is very often experienced religiously but not understood as religious. It is experienced outside of the context of ritual or institutionalized religion. Religious conversion was further specified as Christian religious conversion when salvation was experienced in the context of Christ Jesus, the distinct manifestation of the divine through humanness in the incarnation.

Moral conversion is a shift from attending to what is merely satisfying to what is truly valuable. The quality of moral conversion will depend to some extent on the depth of religious conversion. Conscience can be explained as the moral demand we experience to choose and act in accordance with what we know is true in any given situation.

Intellectual conversion is becoming aware of one's own conscious operations and processing. It is a process of liberation and discovery. The intellectually converted subject recognizes that knowing is not like looking and that the real human world we live in is constituted by acts of meaning. Not achieved by many, intellectual conversion is the critical tool to assess one's own thought processes. GF 124ff; DP 34; M 105, 122, 130-131, 239-241, 267, 271, 283. (Thanks to Tad Dunne and Daniel Helminiak for contributions to this term.)

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Culture is the set of meanings and values inherent in a way of life (2C 183-184; PGT 15, 50). All cultures are humanly constructed, contingent, and capable of both development and decay (2C 184). Culture is local and very concrete. Its meanings are felt, intuited, and acted out in rites, symbols, and language (2C 102-103). Lonergan understands culture empirically, rather than normatively. A normative view of culture assumes that some one particular culture is that against which all others are to be measured and, thus, projects a rigidity and permanence upon laws and institutions that history shows to be illusionary (2C 283). An empirical perspective acknowledges that here are many cultures and attends to the meanings and values that inform a particular human community as it lives life in continuous development or in decline (M xi).

Meaning is intrinsic to any culture (M 78). In a discussion of the writings of Pitirim Sorokin, Lonergan agrees with Sorokin's distinction of three types of culture: sensate, idealistic, and ideational, and correlates the three types to three degrees of self-appropriation (UB 221 [273]). However, Lonergan distinguishes the social from the cultural (2C 102). The social refers to the ways people interact to express their customs, government, laws, business, technology, and religions. The cultural refers to ways people understand and find meanings in their social interaction. Beyond mere living and operating (social), people seek the meaning and value in their living and operating (cultural). Cultures have histories. "It is the function of culture to discover, express, validate, criticize, correct, develop, and improve such meaning and value" (M 32). There are also the dilemmas of modern culture that need to be addressed (2C 183-187; I 261-267 [236-242]). 2C 183-187, 102-103, 233; PGT 15, 50; UB 221 [273]; TE 67; M xi, 78. (My thanks to Daniel Helminiak for contributions to this term.)

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desire to know

The dynamic orientation of human intelligence toward a totally unknown, toward being (I 372-373 [348-349]). This desire differs radically from other desires. It is called the pure desire because it is about "giving free rein to intelligent and rational consciousness." (I 373-374 [349-350]. The objective of the natural desire is to know being, and the notion of being is unrestricted, that is, the object of the desire to know encompasses both proportional and transcendent being. Ideally, knowing proportionate beings concretely would mean knowing all there is to know about them. Knowing transcendent being means knowing divine mystery. The natural desire is the basis for all questioning regarding both (1C 147 [157]). Because it is unrestricted, the desire to know must be oriented towards mystery. Lonergan says the objective of the "pure" desire to know is being, which is all that is known and all that remains to be known.

The desire to know is an alertness of mind, an unrestricted intellectual curiosity, spirit of inquiry, or active intelligence. It powerfully engages people of action to find solutions to problems or act shrewdly in situations. It is what absorbs scientists and philosophers in their investigations. The drive is pure questioning, prior to insights, concepts, words. It is prior to understanding and compatible with not understanding. It must be supplemented by inquiry, insight, reflection, and judgment to reach knowledge. The objective of the desire to know is what becomes known correctly by finally understanding whatever it was that was in question. As we pursue knowledge, more becomes known, but further questions always remain. This "wanting" is pure question, an "eros of the mind" (I 33-34 [9], 97 [74]). Lonergan qualifies this phrase with the terms "pure, detached, disinterested." He uses similar terms to refer more specifically to scientific detachment, scientific disinterestedness, and scientific impartiality (I, 97 [74]. (See being: transcendent and proportional , I 663[640]. (I am indebted to Eileen de Neeve and Daniel Helminiak for much of the editorial work on this term.)

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The fourth functional specialty. Dialectic and Foundations correspond to the fourth level of consciousness. The functional specialty dialectic is based on the fourth of Lonergan's battery of four ways we can anticipate understanding anything. We gain ‘classical' intelligibility through direct insights and ‘statistical' intelligibility through inverse insights. We gain ‘genetic' intelligibility of a sequence through direct insights and ‘dialectical' intelligibility through inverse insights into a sequence. Specifically, a dialectic is the kind of intelligibility constituted by a concrete unfolding of linked but opposed principles of change (I 242 [217]) and deals with conflicts. "The presence or absence of intellectual, of moral, of religious conversion gives rise to dialectically opposed horizons" (M 247). The cause of irreconcilable difference is a radical difference of horizon, and the solution is nothing less than a conversion (M, 246). Dialectic brings conflicts to light and provides a technique that objectifies subjective differences and promotes conversion (M 235).

As an example of dialectic, Lonergan refers to a process in which persons are moving from a world centered on themselves and their concerns toward a more unrestricted viewpoint which takes the whole of reality as the world towards which we are all oriented (UB 182-183 [226-227]). When this whole is what we want to understand, judge, and take as our concern, we approach what Lonergan means by the universal viewpoint. The process is dialectical in that it is (1) concrete (i.e., happening in the desires and consciousness of a person); it is (2) contradictory in that the consciousness of the person is centered on him/herself in conflict with the pure desire to know everything about everything; it (3) involves changes precisely in the opposing principles – e.g., either the pure desire to know accommodates one's self-concern or vice versa.

In the practice of dialectic as presented by Lonergan in Method, the strategy of a person is "not to prove his own position, not to refute counter-positions, but to exhibit diversity and to point to the evidence for its roots" (M 254). "Every investigation is conducted from within some horizon." Dialectic requires an encounter of persons to put self-understanding and horizon to the test. (Encounter) ..." is meeting persons, appreciating the values they represent, criticizing their defects and allowing one's living to be challenged at its very roots by their words and by their deeds" (M 247).

Dialectic compares and evaluates "the conflicting views of historians, the diverse interpretations of exegetes, the varying emphases of researchers" (PGT 22). When the divine solution to evil and the decline of culture is admitted, the horizon becomes broad enough to make a comprehensive viewpoint possible (I 749-750 [727-728]). Dialectic deals with concrete positions and counter-positions. It is concerned with the contradictory and is interested in change (UB 184-185 [227-228]). The concrete process that dialectic describes is one in which intelligence and obtuseness, reasonableness and silliness, responsibility and sin, love and hatred commingle and conflict (3C 182). Fundamental dialectic takes place within the concrete human subject. It is presumed that what one states publicly is intended to be intelligent and rational.

The materials of dialectic are conflicts in interpretation of texts, in historical accounts, in historical evaluations (M 249) and in the very performances of interpreters and historians. Its aim is a comprehensive viewpoint, some single base or some single set of related bases from which any individual viewpoint may be critiqued. Some differences are complementary. These fill out gaps in each other's views. Other differences are developmental. These can be brought together within a larger whole and seen as successive stages in a single process of development (M 129). When comparison shows differences to be irreducible there is true dialectic, yet not all irreducible differences are serious. The seriousness must be determined in dialectical process (M 130). Dialectic affects community, for just as common meaning is constitutive of community, so dialectic divides community into opposing groups (M 358). Lonergan holds that structurally dialectic has two levels. On an upper level are operators, and on a lower level are the materials to be operated on. The operators are two precepts: develop positions; reverse counter-positions. The materials to be operated on must be assembled, completed, compared, reduced, classified, and selected (M 249). PCT 22; UB 184-186 [227-228]; M 129-130, 235-266, 358; I 749-750 [727-728], 242-243 [217-218]; 3C 182. (Thanks to Tad Dunne and Daniel Helminiak for contributions to this term.)

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The sixth functional specialty. It specializes in operations proper to the third level of consciousness, and corresponds to the third functional specialty, history. Within the framework created in foundations, doctrines selects from among the alternatives considered in dialectic (PGT 22, 67-68).Doctrines' aim is to state clearly and distinctly what the religious community's beliefs are regarding "the mysteries so hidden in God" that the community could not know them if God had not made them known. The assent made to these statements of belief is the assent of faith (M 349). The statements that doctrines express are judgments of fact and judgments of value. Doctrines is not only concerned with affirming and negating what pertains to dogmatic theology. It is also concerned with facts and values that pertain to moral, ascetic, mystical, pastoral, liturgical, or other theology (M 132).

Doctrines tend to be regarded as mere verbal formulae unless their meaning is clearly worked out by systematics. While systematics fixes the substance of what is to be communicated, there remains the problem of creative use, appropriate approach and fitting procedures to convey the message to different classes and cultures (M 142). Doctrines, valuable and true as they are, are but the skeleton of the original preached message, for the word is the word of a person, but doctrine objectifies and thus depersonalizes. However, the word of God came to us through the God-human, and so the Church has to mediate to the world not just a doctrine but the living Christ (3C 227-228). When introduced successfully to a culture, doctrines have a greater possibility to develop according to that culture (DP 3), thus grounding an authentic indigenization.

It is dialectic that lines up the differences between historians, interpreters, and researchers, and reduces differences to their roots. Opposed positions and counter-positions arise out of dialectic. But it is foundations that give us the horizon within which religious statements have a meaning. "By applying foundations to dialectics you get doctrines" (PGT 67-68). Doctrines "... have their precise definition from dialectic, their wealth of clarification and development from history, their grounds in the interpretation of the data proper to theology"(M 132).

In theology, "doctrinal expression may be figurative or symbolic. It may be descriptive and based ultimately on the meanings of words rather than on an understanding of realities...It may, if pressed, quickly become vague and indefinite"(M 132). It will be the role of systematics, the seventh functional specialty, to specify the precise meaning and coherence of the doctrines, and the role of communications, the eighth functional specialty, to express that meaning and coherence for different classes and cultures. (Thanks to Eileen de Neeve, Daniel Helminiak, and Tad Dunne for input on this term.)

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duty *

The elemental meaning of duty is found in the originating set of "oughts" in the impulses to be attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible, plus the overriding "ought" to maintain consistency between what one knows and how one acts. The oughts issued by conscience not only provide all the norms expressed in written rules, but also issue far more commands and prohibitions than parents, police, and public policy ever could. It is this inner duty that enables one to break from a minor authenticity that obeys the written rule and to exercise a major authenticity that may expose a written rule as illegitimate.

At first glance, this view of duty may appear sympathetic to “deontological” theories that base all moral obligation on duty rather than consequences. While it is true that a generalized empirical method traces all specific obligations to an underlying, universal duty, it goes deeper than concept-based maxims by identifying the originating duty in every person to be attentive, intelligent, reasonable and responsible. By tracing the source of any maxims about duty to their historical origins, generalized empirical method leaves open the possibility that new historical circumstances may require new maxims.

Moreover, insofar as any formulations of duty are consequences of past historical situations, and as new formulations will be consequences of new situations, generalized empirical method supports the incorporation of consequences in ethical theory. What this approach adds, however, is the requirement that all consequences pass under the scrutiny of dialectic, which aims to filter merely satisfying consequences from the truly valuable, and to consider how specific consequences contribute to historical progress, decline, or recovery.

(* Thanks to Tad Dunne for this term.)

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