Liberation, and Cosmopolis
Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.
1. Practical Common Sense
In the drama of human living, human
intelligence is not only artistic but practical. At first, there
appears little to differentiate man from the beasts, for in primitive
fruit-gathering cultures, hunger is linked to eating by a simple sequence
of bodily movements. But primitive hunters take time out from
hunting to make spears, and primitive fishers take time out from fishing
to make nets. Neither spears nor nets in themselves are objects of
desire. Still, with notable ingenuity and effort, they are fashioned
because, for practical intelligence, desires are recurrent, labour is
recurrent, and the comparatively brief time spent making spears or nets is
amply compensated by the greater ease with which more game or fish is
taken on an indefinite series of occasions.
Moreover, such an intervention of
intelligence is itself recurrent. As products of human ingenuity,
spears and nets illustrate not only the idea of the old mechanical arts
but also the more recondite idea of modern technology. As pieces of
material equipment, the same objects are initial instances of the idea of
Now the history of manís material
progress lies essentially in the expansion of these ideas. As
inventions accumulate, they set problems calling for more inventions.
The new inventions complement the old to suggest further improvements, to
reveal fresh possibilities and, eventually, to call forth in turn the
succession of mechanical and technological higher viewpoints that mark
epochs in manís material progress.
Moreover, this advance of practical
intelligence is registered not merely in memory and, later, in books, but
more obviously in concrete products, in tools and buildings, in the ever
increasing manifold of appurtenances of labourers, craftsmen, merchants,
Thus, in correspondence with each stage
in the development of practical intelligence, there is a measure and
structure of capital formation, that is, of things produced and arranged
not because they themselves are desired but because they expedite and
accelerate the process of supplying the goods and services that wanted by
Again, in correspondence with each
advance of practical intelligence, there is a technological obsolescence
of capital equipment. The old shops still have their shelves and
counters; the old machines may suffer no material or mechanical defect.
But the new models produce better goods more efficiently; and trade now
walks on different streets.
The concrete realization of the
succession of new practical ideas does not take place without human
It demands a division of labour and, at
the same time, it defines the lines along which labour is divisible.
It invites men to specialize in the
skilful use of particular tools and the expeditious performance of
It calls forth some economic system, some
procedure that sets the balance between the production of consumer goods
and new capital formation, some method that settles what quantities of
what goods and service are to be supplied, some device for assigning tasks
to individuals and for distributing among them the common product.
As technology evokes the economy, so the
economy evokes the polity. Most men get ideas, but the ideas reside
in different minds, and the different minds do not quite agree. Of
itself, communication only reveals the disparity. What is wanted is
persuasion, and the most effective persuader becomes a leader, a chief, a
politician, a statesman.
For the problem of effective agreement is
recurrent. Each step in the process of technological and economic
development is an occasion on which minds differ, new insights have to be
communicated, enthusiasm has to be roused, and a common decision must be
Beyond the common sense of the labourer,
the technician, the entrepreneur, there is the political specialization of
common sense. Its task is to provide the catalyst that brings men of
common sense together.
It is an incomplete accumulation of
insights to be complemented and modified by the further insights that
arise from the situation in hand.
It involves some understanding of
industry and of commerce but its special field is dealing with men.
It has to discern when to push for full
performance and when to compromise, when delay is wisdom and when it
spells disaster, when widespread consent must be awaited and when action
must be taken in spite of opposition.
It has to be able to command attention
and to win confidence, to set forth concretely the essentials of a case,
to make its own decisions and secure the agreement of others, to initiate
and carry through some section of that seriation of social responses
meeting social challenges that Arnold Toynbee in his Study of History
has so lavishly and brilliantly illustrated.
Section: The Dynamic Structure
Primary Lonergan Page