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Elizabeth Morelli Interview

The following interview with Dr. Elizabeth A. Morelli was conducted in the Fall 1998 during the WCMI/LPS (The West Coast Methods Institute and The Lonergan Philosophical Society). The Theme of the conference was "Healing/Creating/History." Dr. Morelli is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University. She is the president of the Lonergan Philosophical Society. Dr. Morelli is co-editor of the recent publication, The Lonergan Reader. She is also the author of Anxiety: A Study of the Affectivity of Moral Consciousness and numerous articles in academic journals. The interview was conducted by Paul Allen and edited by Dr. Christine Jamieson.

© 1999, The Lonergan Web Site, All Rights Reserved.


1. What were the circumstances around your introduction to Lonergan's work and at what point did you discover the significance of his work for your own?

The circumstances surrounding my introduction to Lonergan's work were, as an undergraduate, here at Santa Clara. Tim Fallon was my teacher. He introduced me to Lonergan's work. I was already a philosophy major.

But the second part of this question - at what point did you discover the significance of his work for your own? - as an undergraduate as a philosophy major, I don't know how much you could say I had work of my own going on at the time. But actually, when I think back on it I was particularly interested, at the time, in phenomenology and existentialism and Hegel because those were the courses I had taken and that was what I was interested in. I was originally a math major. I found the more philosophy I took the more I was inspired by it - the more fascinated I got by it. But at a certain point I was particularly interested in Eastern philosophy or Eastern religion and, in exploring, I was moving away from my own Catholicism thinking that there was some kind of meaning I would be able to find in eastern religions as an alternative. I took this course which I really didn't think I was going to learn much from. It was a Theory of Knowledge course and I had already almost adopted this "Taoist" view that knowledge is just grasping at concepts and that what we really have to do is get beyond that. I wasn't holding out too much hope for this course. I went down to pick up the text for it and there was this huge text called Insight and I took one look at it and I thought "Oh no, what is this going to be like?". Anyway, Tim Fallon was the teacher and I was completely won over during that course to Lonergan's thought. There was a major insight I had right before the final. I remember working, particularly, on the question of the virtually unconditioned. That was very difficult for me. There was one paragraph in the chapter on virtually unconditioned, Chapter Ten, that I just could not get and I read it over and over and over. I had read it so many times that I had already memorized it and I still didn't understand it - which is really bad when you don't even have to look at it anymore. You have it in your imagination but you just can't understand it. And then I got the insight into it. I realized what was meant by the virtually unconditioned. That was the first remarkable insight I remember, from that course.

The second was the more fundamental insight that the self that Lonergan was talking about throughout Insight was me. I made that connection. I guess you could say I had a real apprehension of the fact that the self he was talking about throughout Insight was actually me. That insight struck me so deeply that I went out the next morning and I spent all of my money on books at the bookstore because when you realize that the self he is talking about is yourself, at the same time you realize the significance of the pure desire to know. Anyway, it was from then on that I was very fascinated with Lonergan's work.


2. In Anxiety: A Study of the Affectivity of Moral Consciousness, you indicate that your work is an attempt to extend Lonergan's work "by taking up the affective component, anxiety." Can you briefly comment on this? Do you think enough attention is being given to the affective dimensions of subjectivity by Lonergan scholars or do you see this as still a largely nascent area?

The first part of your question was what I meant by expanding, extending Lonergan's work by taking up the affective component? I will just tell you why I did that. When I first went into graduate school, I was interested in the nature of the will. It was mainly because I didn't understand what was meant by the will in Insight. This was before Method in Theology came out. I really just didn't know what Lonergan meant by the will. I understood the cognitional operations and the structure and I understood what he meant in the chapter on ethics and how there was an extension of rational consciousness to rational self-consciousness but my specific interest was rational self-consciousness and in what sense there is an active will and what precisely is meant by the act of will. That became a sort of theme for all of my graduate work. Even though I took a lot of courses in other things I was always interested in the fourth level of consciousness. I decided to take up the question of anxiety specifically because I felt that moral reasoning was not a problem. I mean everybody is fascinated, it seems, currently, with practical reasoning. But I think Lonergan nailed it back in Insight. To me, there is really no difficulty with his account of practical reasoning. So I never really felt that was interesting to me because I felt that it was pretty much taken care of. But I thought that the dimension of the fourth level which wasn't clear to me was feelings and affectivity. And this was - to get back to the question of the will - this was what I was working out: What does the will mean in relation to the feelings as motivational on the fourth level? Is it the will that motivates us? Is it our feelings that motivate us? In what sense is willingness affective? Anyway, to me that was much more problematic and as I started working it out I realized that I had to do a whole typology of affectivity because people talk about it in so many ways and there are so many feelings ranging from sensations to great passions, life-long passions, not to mention moods, I mean, a whole range of affects. I became fascinated with anxiety as the most fundamental affect of the fourth level of consciousness. So I decided to explore that and show how that fundamental affect is related to the cognitive operations, the questions, fourth level questions, basically how anxiety is related to conscience, and how it permeates the whole level.

In terms of the current situation, in the last two decades I'd say, there has been more and more interest in issues of affectivity, particularly issues of value especially after Lonergan came out with Method and all of his post-Method writings. In fact I think so much work has been done in the areas of affectivity and feelings and values that I think some other areas really need work. I would recommend that scholars go back to other areas that have been overlooked and investigate them a little more carefully. For example, Lonergan's philosophy of science, Lonergan's metaphysics and different aspects of his cognitional theory and his epistemology. I think there is a lot of work still to be done in that. Not that you can do it in isolation, without taking into account affectivity.

Is maybe part of the reason because affectivity is culturally something that is more prominent in the last two decades, in terms of something that is worthwhile to be discussed and studied?

Oh yes, it is. But also because of the transformation that took place in Lonergan's work itself. Many Lonergan scholars went to the newest thing that Lonergan was interested in. I think that is a good thing to do but there is a lot that he went over that we can still go back to. (I think Mark Doorley has done really good work in the area of feelings and affectivity, by the way.)


3. For more than thirty years, there has been tremendous interest in psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, and self-help programs for growth. Do you see potential in these movements for addressing the affective dimensions of subjectivity as understood through Lonergan's thought? Another way of asking this is: In collaboration with psychoanalysis, psychology or other psycho-dynamic pedagogies which promote growth at the affective level, do you think it is possible to utilize Lonergan's thought in a direct manner through a set of questions or a heuristic which assists in leading the subject toward freedom at the affective level?

It is a very big question. I feel sort of in awe of the discussion that was going on at the conference this weekend. There are other people here who are working right in this area and who themselves are psychotherapists or are very closely working on Doran's and other's work in Lonergan. Some of those individuals would be able to answer that question better than I could. I'll just answer it briefly. Lonergan's work could be greatly expanded in the schematic ways that he touched upon the nature of the unconscious. For example, the issues of repression, dramatic bias, that whole thing could be really worked out, expanded. There's a lot of work to do there. And a lot that psychotherapy and depth psychology has to offer would fill out Lonergan's account. On the other hand, the work done by traditional depth psychologists and more current psychotherapies can really use the corrective nature of Lonergan's positional approach and the foundations that you would need in order to do a dialectical analysis. For example - I'll just give you one really simple example - just from my work on anxiety - I wanted to read what Freud had to say about anxiety so that I would be able to say to people I am not talking about that, I'm not talking about neurotic anxiety. I am talking about the existential human condition, not something that you could hope to be cured of. In reading what Freud had to say about anxiety I uncovered a distinction he makes between real anxiety and neurotic anxiety. But what he means by real anxiety, or that distinction for him, depends upon a naive realism. What is real is what is out there already, outside of the subject and what is unreal or neurotic or pathological is what is within the subject. It's surprising to me that Freud who is exploring the depths of the psyche, would carry that bias of anything that is inner and subjective is somehow neurotic and pathological as opposed to what is out there is what is real - that he would carry that over into his theory. But that's the kind of corrective that people informed by Lonergan's work and engaged in self-appropriation of selves can bring to a critique of psychologies.


4. Following upon question 3, in your article on "Ressentiment and Redemption" you indicate that overcoming the affective bias of ressentiment calls for a supernatural solution. It calls for transcendence. Would you say that Lonergan's work leads us to this transcendence through its attention to the subject-as-subject and thus could be linked in a very concrete manner to the growth of the human person at the level of affectivity?

Does your question ask whether Lonergan's work can bring us to appreciation of the religious dimension ?

I guess it's a question of how Lonergan's connection between the subject as subject and transcendence on the one hand, how does that inform the treatment of ressentiment that you dealt with in that paper?

The affective complex of ressentiment is very elaborate, it has very many dimensions to it. In the paper I may have gone over eight or nine different elements that make up this complex. At the root of ressentiment is self-deception. Lying to oneself about oneself. Also, another root factor of ressentiment is the desire for consistency which we find linked to the exigence for rationality which is a normative, positive aspect of the structure. But it can be perverted. So this is what happens in ressentiment. The demand for consistency is like an operator that fuels the continuation of this corrupt complex that is going on. But at the root of ressentiment is self-deception - lying to oneself, covering oneself up. I think that Lonergan's whole campaign against the flight from understanding and his whole effort to have people self-appropriate themselves can be understood as a spiritual exercise. The exercise of self-appropriation or the project of self-appropriation can be seen as a spiritual exercise. It is through such self-appropriation that one can begin to unravel the self-deception which is at the core of ressentiment. Often times it is not enough for oneself to do it by oneself. Often times, you need therapy. You need someone else to help you go through it or a spiritual advisor or a good friend or something but more likely a professional, for some. But at least its working in the right direction towards rooting out the very basis of ressentiment which is the self deception.


5. Do you think that the capacity of postmodern thinkers (for example, Nietzsche, Foucault, Rorty) to ask authentic questions make them indispensable dialogue partners with Lonergan scholars? What about thinkers such as Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva? Do you see a link between the work of these scholars and the need to address the affective level of Lonergan's work?

I am only familiar really with Nietzsche, Foucault, and Rorty. I have done some work on Nietzsche and I've read Foucault and Rorty. I've read about Lacan and Kristeva in a collection of essays I read for a book review but I don't really feel that I've studied their work to say much about Lacan and Kristeva. In terms of Nietzsche and Foucault, I think Nietzsche can be seen as the beginning of postmodernity. Especially his question - not just power in general but the will to truth. The whole issue of the will to truth as being a will to power is a problem that he raises in the mid-19th century but in the early 20th century it became a dominant theme. In modern drama for instance, you find it in Ibsen, and Eugene O'Neill and Gorky. A lot of the early 20th century dramatists were working out the question of how destructive is this will to truth? I wrote an article that was published in the Ultimate Reality and Meaning Journal on the pure desire to know and in it I take up Foucault and Nietzsche who argue that there is no such thing as a pure desire to know. They suggest that the desire to know is a will to truth which is a disguise for the will to power. Now, you find this throughout Foucault's book especially his attack on scientists as necessarily corrupt or as de facto corrupt, historically corrupt. Anyway, one of the little things I do in that paper is that I point out that the very critical questions that Nietzsche and Foucault raise are simply manifestations of the desire to know that Lonergan's talking about. Because the desire to know is not just wonder, it's also doubt. To doubt is the desire to know. So when we doubt ourselves, when we doubt someone else's theory, the very meaning of trying to come up with an understanding, or whether or not there is truth, all of that is a desire to know.

Addendum to postmodernism a few hours later:

One of the things that I really wanted to say was that I think that the whole issue of postmodernism has been taken up by people who are into Lonergan by saying, "How would Lonergan address postmodernism?" and "What is Lonergan's take on other postmodernists?" and "How are we to see him in relation to this whole movement of postmodernism?" But there is a fundamental way in which Lonergan himself, I think, is the most significant postmodern thinker of the 20th century. If you take into account what he means by explicit metaphysics as going beyond the realm of theory. There is implicit metaphysics and then theoretical, problematic metaphysics and then explicit metaphysics which he outlines in Insight. Modernism is really aligned with what Lonergan would call problematic metaphysics. The notion of rationality that goes along with that is one which is logical, which is Cartesian, which is embroiled in things like the mind- body problem - which is isolated, cut off and alienated from affectivity. All of those notions of rationality which postmodernism is at pains to attack is really the rationality as conceived of in problematic metaphysics. And I think that Lonergan, with his explicit metaphysics grounded in self appropriation, breaks the mould of that modernist conception of rationality. I think a lot of people are floundering outside of problematic metaphysics and spending all their energies attacking modernism, Lonergan has gone beyond that transition, turned toward the future, and is establishing what is to come, which is explicit metaphysics.


6. Switching gears a little bit, I want to take up what you did in collaboration with Mark Morelli in editing Understanding and Being. Maybe you could just tell us a little bit about that project and how it came to be.

This takes me back to the years I was an undergraduate here. Tim Fallon gave Mark and me copies he had of the Halifax lectures which I did not attend - I would have been too young . . .

Yes, that needs to be explained . . .

Tim Fallon gave us reels of the tapes of the Halifax lectures and when Mark and I were first married we used to just listen to those. We used to invite a group of friends, including Dave Oyler and others, and Dave's wife, Marty, and we would invite them over and have an evening of listening to Lonergan. We would turn off the tape and discuss it and turn it back on and listen to it some more. Turn it on and turn it off. We got so much out of the Halifax lectures, all of us did as students. We learned so much. It was such a great addition to Insight that when Mark and I went to Toronto to do graduate work, we took the subway up to Willowdale where Lonergan's was staying - in the seminary there - and we asked Fr. Lonergan if it would be alright if we transcribed the tapes and published them so other people could have the benefit of hearing those tapes. He said fine, go right ahead. One of the things that made it really difficult for us, psychologically or in terms of courage, was that Lonergan said you don't need to take down slavishly every word. Write it so it sounds good. Put it into good English.

I think that is in your introduction, is it not?

Yes, because if you ever hear the transcript of the tape, with its halting sentences and sentences cut off, it was a daunting task for graduate students to think that they were going to be writing Lonergan's thought. I think we described what went on in the introduction. All together it took about five years. But we were also students at the time. So it took us about five years to complete it. Lonergan did read it over and we discussed it with him while we were doing it.


7. Your purpose in undertaking, in collaboration with Mark Morelli, The Lonergan Reader, appears, from the statement in the "Introduction," fairly straightforward. It is to give the reader "a broad familiarity with Lonergan's aims, basic positions, and major achievements. . ." It is also to introduce the reader "to some of Lonergan's most central ideas . . ." However, were there additional purposes in undertaking the task of producing a Lonergan reader? For example, why now and not earlier? And where was the idea originally launched?

Why now and not earlier is just a matter of when we got around to it. The idea actually had come up about five or six years earlier but with family and working full time and all that - its easy for an idea like that, as a project, to be put on the back burner while you do other things more pressing, more immediate. So when we finally decided we were going to make the time to do this - by that time we had already discussed this with a number of Lonergan scholars across the country who regularly teach Lonergan. And Mark had sent out a questionnaire a number of years before we actually did the Reader to get feedback from people about what texts they actually do use in their classes. And there were about five or six questions on the questionnaire. They were questions like - What would you say would absolutely have to be in such a reader? What do you think could be dispensed with? - questions like that. We had done some of that ground work before we sat down to actually do it. But that is why it was done a little later than earlier. The reason "why?" is the over all cultural reason of making Lonergan a little bit more accessible to the general academic culture. That's one reason. I think that is the one that is mentioned here. But the real reason is pedagogical. For so many of us that have been teaching Lonergan for years - we have filing cabinets filled with old copies of "Cognitional Structure", and old copies of chapter one of Method that we copy for our students for handouts. And also when you teach Insight you realize that it is very difficult to get through the whole book in a course. There are portions in chapter four and chapter five where Lonergan is making a certain point. For example, I am thinking about when he is talking about inverse insight, he is making a certain point to get it across. He uses about four examples to get it across. (What we did in coming up with a shorter version, or abridging Insight, was the hardest part of our task.) To get back to inverse insight, we would use one example rather than the four examples. In our judgement, the best example. That required not just shortening a chapter by chopping off a couple of pages on either end but in some cases going into a discussion and saying - "Alright, from this paragraph here over to that page - that is really not necessary."

The difficulty with doing that kind of thing with Insight is that Insight is an organic whole and it starts from . . . it's a moving viewpoint. By the time you get to the later chapters, the terminology is so complex, using terms that have been defined much earlier in the book that it doesn't make sense to a reader just to read that in isolation. So what we had to do is sort of pare it down and yet hold a continuous ribbon throughout the whole book. It was a balancing act. It was interesting doing it with another person - this editing job. The two of us took up opposite sides. All the way through there was this dialectic - I would say, "This has to be in" and he would say, "No, we have to get the pages down. We only have 400 pages for the whole text." And I would say, "Yes, but there is no way we could leave this part out." So there was this constant dialogue going on between the two of us about what should be included and what should not be included.


8. Switching gears again, are there future articles or books on the horizon for you? If so, can you say what these are or what these may involve?

There are three things that I am interested in and they are all interrelated. So it may just turn out to be one project or ten projects, I don't know. This is the more immediate and sort of minor issue, but I've just been asked by some members of my department to offer a course on Edith Stein. I regularly teach phenomenology, and in my course I have always done Husserl, Sartre, maybe Scheler, and Lonergan on Consciousness. So this time I'm going to do Husserl as a basic introduction. Then Edith Stein's work on the nature of empathy. It's a small phenomenology of empathy. And then Scheler's work on the nature of sympathy. Because of this new interest of mine, I'm thinking of working on how that would play out in Lonergan's thought - this idea of empathy and sympathy. Now this sort of applies to what I said earlier about not necessarily getting into the area of the affective . . . but, oh well! But that is one particular interest . . . brand new for me. I just started working on it.

The other is . . . for a number of years, I have been writing on the nature of reflective self- consciousness and just the nature of self-consciousness itself - what it means for an act to be self-conscious. Like presence to oneself. I have explored it in Husserl, Sartre and in Lonergan. There is a lot of interest in it now in the literature, people who are working on consciousness. I'm interested in exploring that also, further.

The third area is a book that I am planning on flight from understanding because Lonergan describes Insight as a campaign against the flight from understanding. Now I know that is a huge topic. But underneath that umbrella topic, flight from understanding, there are two areas that I have already done some work on that I would like to finalize and expand to other areas. One of them is the early modern, what Dupré describes as the early modern move away from species and the universal and essence to a worldview that denies any universality. That is not, by the way, just a mark of postmodernism. That took place in the early modern shift. So I would like to explore that. What it means. If you lose the universal, if you lose the essence, then what sense does an insight make? What is the act of understanding if there is no form which is grasped in the act of understanding? If you philosophically deny that there is such an object, then the nature of the act is in question - the act which is the grasping of that object. It leads to nominalism and conceptualism. So part of the book will be dealing with that. An historical corruption of this meaning of form and the kinds of philosophical ideologies that spun out of that. That is the sort of historical and intellectual treatment.

Also, I am interested in the nature of the demonic as described by Kierkegaard and as evidenced in a flight from understanding. I've done some work on that and I would like to expand that. How it is that a refusal to understand is, as Lonergan says, at the root of all the biases? It is at the root, I think, of psychological disorder which is not materially based. I'm not talking about neurological, physiological disorders but other kinds of psychopathologies and pneumo pathologies which are rooted in fourth level refusal. (Pneumo as in "spiritual" pathologies.) So the flight from understanding - that is what I am excited about. I'm going on sabbatical next year so I am looking forward to working on that.


9. Where would you see the future direction of Lonergan studies . . . in 50 years or the next century?

I think the question can be answered in two ways. There is the practical answer to it and a substantive or philosophical answer. I'll start with the practical answer first because it's easier. I think that many of the efforts that I have been involved in and that Mark Morelli has been involved in and our friends, like Chip Hughes and David Oyler, and others - I don't mean to leave anybody out - Pat Byrne too - that one of the ways to move beyond an insular group of so called Lonerganians is to use some of the tools that mainstream academia is already using. For example, conferences, societies, and the Lonergan Philosophical Society. As a philosophy professor I would attend these national conferences. I attended the Kierkegaard society, the Sartre society, the Nietzsche society. Whenever I was at one of those, if I brought up Lonergan they would all look quizzical and ask "Who is he?", or I would have to sneak him into a footnote. This was, after all, the Sartre society so they would expect you to have a paper on Sartre not on somebody they had never heard of. And after years of attending conferences like that I thought "Why not have a Lonergan Philosophical Society where people can actually give the same kind of papers but on Lonergan's thought?" He is just as profound, more profound, as these other authors that they are having these major meetings on all the time. So that was one of the reasons. Like, at the ACPA, the American Catholic Philosophical Association where we host the Lonergan Philosophical Society meetings, sometimes we will have maybe ten people who are really into Lonergan and 20 - 25 other people who are walk-ins from the conference because they are interested in the topic. They don't know about Lonergan but they are interested in the topic - whatever the topic is - that we are dealing with. And he is becoming more well known that way. That's one way. Another way, this is one reason why we did the Lonergan Reader, to make Lonergan more accessible the way Nietzsche was made more accessible with The Portable Nietzsche and Kierkegaard with the Kierkegaard Anthology. Now, if you want to just grab one text, you say to yourself, "Well, I've heard about this guy Lonergan. What is he about?" It's not very good to just hand that person Insight or a copy of "Cognitional Structure" but you could give them the Lonergan Reader where they could flip through and get an idea of what he is

So practically, I think there are a lot of things we can do in terms of going out beyond ourselves and getting into the mainstream. And I'm just talking about philosophy. But I'm sure the same is true in theology and in other fields.

In terms of the direction of thought, the direction of work in Lonergan - the second aspect of this. What I see happening is also good. What I see happening is a real interest in application of Lonergan's work in different areas like application to family therapy and application in law and application in corporate structuring and marketing, so, in the business world, and in the medical world, and in the psychiatric world. There is a lot of interest in applying Lonergan's transcendental method and the transcendental precepts. I think it is wonderful. The aim is not to become an academic or everybody become a philosopher but that people begin to appropriate themselves in whichever walk of life they are in. So that is happening I think and I notice it with the types of papers that are offered at different conferences. But what I hope would happen in addition to that is a renewed careful study of Lonergan's own thought. For people to pick up his work again and seriously analyze it and discuss it the way that Kant's work, for example, is gone over with a fine tooth comb by Kantians. I mean that I think that this work is really still there to be done.

The work of interpretation?

Careful interpretation of Lonergan's texts themselves. In addition to taking what everybody understands his basic works to be and applying them. So those are the two things that I hope would be going on in the future.

Thank You very much for this interview.

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