Philosophy against Misosophy



Essays by Me

Essays by Others

Bias, 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 useful things. 

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 function. 

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. 

An economy 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 effectively. 

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 biology. 

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 probability. 

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 misconceiving it. 

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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