Liberation, and Cosmopolis
Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.
2. The Dynamic Structure
As in the fields of physics, chemistry,
and biology, so in the field of human events and relationships there are
classical and statistical laws that combine concretely in cumulating sets
of schemes of recurrence.
For the advent of man does not abrogate
the rule of emergent probability. Human actions are recurrent; their
recurrence is regular; and the regularity is the functioning of a scheme,
of a patterned set of relations that yields conclusions of the type, If an
X occurs, then an X will recur.
Children are born only to
grow, mature, and beget children of their own.
Inventions outlive their
inventors and the memory of their origins.
Capital is capital because its utility
lies not in itself but in the acceleration it imparts to the stream of
The political machinery of agreement and
decision is the permanent yet self-adapting source of an indefinite series
of agreements and decisions.
Clearly, schemes of recurrence exist and
No less clearly, their functioning is not
inevitable. A population can decline, dwindle, vanish. A vast
technological expansion, robbed of its technicians, would become a
monument more intricate but no more useful than the pyramids.
can falter, though resources and capital equipment abound, though skill
cries for its opportunity and desire for skillís product, though labour
asks for work and industry is eager to employ it; then one can prime the
pumps and make X occur; but because the schemes are not functioning
properly, X fails to occur.
As the economy, so too the polity can
fall apart. In a revolution violence goes unchecked; laws lose their
meaning; governments issue unheeded decrees; until from sheer weariness
with disorder men are ready to accept any authority that can assert itself
Yet a revolution is merely a passing
stroke of paralysis in the state. There are deeper ills that show
themselves in the long-sustained decline of nations and, in the limit, in
the disintegration and decay of whole civilizations.
Schemes that once flourished lose their
efficacy and cease to function; in an ever more rapid succession, as
crises multiply and remedies have less effect, new schemes are introduced;
feverish effort is followed by listlessness; the situation becomes
regarded as hopeless; in a twilight of straitened but gracious living men
await the catalytic trifle that will reveal to a surprised world the end
of a once brilliant day.
Still, if human affairs fall under the
dominion of emergent probability, they do so in their own way. A
planetary system results from the conjunction of the abstract laws of
mechanics with a suitable concrete set of mass-velocities.
In parallel fashion, there are human
schemes that emerge and function automatically, once there occurs an
appropriate conjunction of abstract laws and concrete circumstances.
But, as human intelligence develops,
there is a significant change of roles. Less and less importance attaches
to the probabilities of appropriate constellations of circumstances. More
and more importance attaches to the probabilities of the occurrence of
insight, communication, agreement, decision.
Man does not have to wait for his
environment to make him. His dramatic living needs only the clues and the
opportunities to originate and maintain its own setting. The advance of
technology, the formation of capital, the development of the economy, the
evolution of the state are not only intelligible but also intelligent.
Because they are intelligible, they can be understood as are the
workings of emergent probability in the fields of physics, chemistry, and
But because they also are increasingly intelligent, increasingly the
fruit of insight and decision, the analogy of merely natural process
becomes less and less relevant.
What possesses a high probability in one country, or period, or
civilization, may possess no probability in another; and the ground of the
difference may lie only slightly in outward and palpable material factors
and almost entirely in the set of insights that are accessible,
persuasive, and potentially operative in the community.
Just as in the individual the stream of consciousness normally selects
its own course out of the range of neurally determined alternatives, so
too in the group commonly accessible insights, disseminated by
communication and persuasion, modify and adjust mentalities to determine
the course of history out of the alternatives offered by emergent
Such is the high significance of practical common sense, and it will
not be amiss, I believe, to pause and make certain that we are not
For the practical common sense of a group, like all common sense, is an
incomplete set of insights that is ever to be completed differently in
each concrete situation.
Its adaptation is too continuous and rapid for it ever to stand fixed
in some set of definitions, postulates, and deductions; even were it
outfitted, like David in Saulís armour, with such a logical panoply, it
could be validated neither in any abstract realm of relations of things to
one another nor in all members of any class of concrete situations.
As its adaptation is continuous, so its growth is as secret as the
germination, the division, the differentiation of cells in seed and shoot
and plant. Only ideal republics spring in full stature from the mind of
man; the civil communities that exist and function know only a story of
their origins, only an outline of their development, only an estimate of
their present complexion.
For the practical common sense, operative in a community, does not
exist entire in the mind of anyone man. It is parcelled out among many,
to provide each with an understanding of his role and task, to make every
cobbler an expert at his last, and no one an expert in anotherís field.
So it is that to understand the working of even a static social
structure, one must inquire from many men in many walks of life and, as
best one can, discover the functional unity that organically binds
together the endlessly varied pieces of an enormous jig-saw puzzle.
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