Philosophy against Misosophy



Essays by Me

Essays by Others

Bias, Liberation, and Cosmopolis


 Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.

 4. The Tension of Community

Intersubjective spontaneity and intelligently devised social order have their ground in a duality immanent in man himself. 

As intelligent, man is the originator and sponsor of the social systems within which, as an individual, he desires and labours, enjoys and suffers. 

As intelligent, man is a legislator but, as an individual, he is subject to his own laws.  By his insights he grasps standard solutions to recurrent problems, but by his experience he provides the instances that are to be subsumed under the standard solutions. 

From the viewpoint of intelligence, the satisfactions allotted to individuals are to be measured by the ingenuity and diligence of each in contributing to the satisfactions of all; from the same high viewpoint the desires of each are to be regarded quite coolly as the motive power that keeps the social system functioning. 

But besides the detached and disinterested stand of intelligence, there is the more spontaneous viewpoint of the individual subjected to needs and wants, pleasures and pains, labour and leisure, enjoyment and privation.  

To each man his own desires, precisely because they are his own, possess an insistence that the desires of others can never have for him. 

To each man his own labours, because they are his own, have a dimension of reality that is lacking in his apprehension of the labours of others. 

To each man his own joys and sorrows have an expansive or contracting immediacy that others can know only through their own experience of joy and sorrow. 

Yet the ineluctable privacy of each oneís experience provides no premise for a monadic theory of man.  For the bonds of intersubjectivity make the experience of each resonate to the experience of others; and, besides this elementary communion, there are operative in all a drive to understand and an insistence on behaving intelligently that generate and implement common ways, common manners, common undertakings, common commitments. 

For this reason, it would seem a mistake to conceive the sociological as simply a matter of external constraint. 

It is true enough that society constrains the individual in a thousand ways.  It is true enough that the individual has but a slight understanding of the genesis and growth of the civilization into which he was born.  It is true enough that many of the things he must do are imposed upon him in a merely external fashion.  Yet within the walls of his individuality, there is more than a Trojan horse. 

He has no choice about wanting to understand; he is committed not by any decision of his own but by nature to intelligent behaviour; and as these determinants are responsible for the emergence of social orders in the past, so they account for their development, their maintenance, their reformation. 

Spontaneously every collapse is followed by a reconstruction, every disaster by a new beginning, every revolution by a new era.  Commonly, men want a different social order but, left to themselves, they never consent to a complete anarchy. 

There is, then, a radical tension of community. Intersubjective spontaneity and intelligently devised social order possess different properties and different tendencies.  Yet to both by his very nature man is committed.  Intelligence cannot but devise general solutions and general rules. 

The individual is intelligent and so he cannot enjoy peace of mind unless he subsumes his own feelings and actions under the general rules that he regards as intelligent.  Yet feeling and spontaneous action have their home in the intersubjective group and it is only with an effort and then only in favoured times that the intersubjective groups fit harmoniously within the larger pattern of social order. 

Thus it is that in the history of human societies there are halcyon periods of easy peace and tranquillity that alternate with times of crisis and trouble. 

In the periods of relaxed tension, the good of order has come to terms with the intersubjective groups.  It commands their esteem by its palpable benefits; it has explained its intricate demands in some approximate yet sufficient fashion; it has adapted to its own requirements the play of imagination, the resonance of sentiment, the strength of habit, the ease of familiarity, the impetus of enthusiasm, the power of agreement and consent.  Then a manís interest is in happy coincidence with his work; his country is also his homeland; its ways are the obviously right ways; its glory and peril are his own. 

As the serenity of the good old days rests on an integration of common sense and human feeling, so the troubled times of crisis demand the discovery and communication of new insights and a consequent adaptation of spontaneous attitudes. 

Unfortunately, common sense does not include an inventory of its own contents.  It does not reside, whole and entire, in a single mind.  It cannot point to any recorded set of experiments for its justification.  It cannot assert itself in any of the inflexible generalizations that characterize logic, mathematics, and science. 

Common sense knows, but it does not know what it knows nor how it knows nor how to correct and complement its own inadequacies.  Only the blind and destructive blows, inevitable in even a partial break-down of social order, can impress on practical common sense that there are limits to its competence and that, if it would master the new situation, it must first consent to learn. 

Still, what is to be learnt? The problem may baffle what experts are available.  A theoretical solution need not lead automatically to its popular presentation.  Even when that is achieved, the reorientation of spontaneous attitudes will remain to be effected. 

The time of crisis can be prolonged, and in the midst of the suffering it entails and of the aimless questioning it engenders, the intersubjective groups within a society tend to fall apart in bickering, insinuations, recriminations, while unhappy individuals begin to long for the idyllic simplicity of primitive living in which large accumulations of insights would be superfluous and human fellow-feeling would have a more dominant role.

 Next: The Dialectic of Community

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