Liberation, and Cosmopolis
Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.
5. The Dialectic of
The name, dialectic, has been employed in a variety of meanings.
In Plato, it denoted the art of philosophic dialogue and was contrasted
In Aristotle, it referred to an effort to discover clues to the truth
by reviewing and scrutinizing the opinions of others.
For the Schoolmen, it became the application of logical rules to public
Hegel employed the word to refer to his triadic process from the
concept of being to the Absolute Idea.
Marx inverted Hegel and so conceived as dialectical a non-mechanical,
Summarily, then, dialectic denotes a combination of the concrete, the
dynamic, and the contradictory; but this combination may be found in a
dialogue, in the history of philosophic opinions, or in historical process
For the sake of greater precision, let us say that a dialectic is a
concrete unfolding of linked but opposed principles of change. Thus,
there will be a dialectic, if
is an aggregate of events of a determinate character,
events may be traced to either or both of two principles,
principles are opposed yet bound together, and
are modified by the changes that successively result from them.
For example, the dramatic bias, described above*, was dialectical. The
contents and affects emerging into consciousness provide the requisite
aggregate of events of a determinate kind; these events originate from two
principles, namely, neural demand functions and the exercise of the
constructive or repressive censorship; the two principles are linked as
patterned and patterning; they are opposed inasmuch as the censorship not
only constructs but also represses and, again, inasmuch as a misguided
censorship results in neglected neural demands forcing their way into
consciousness; finally, change is cumulative, for the orientation of the
censorship at any time and the neural demands to be met both depend on the
past history of the stream of consciousness.
Now as there is a dialectic of the dramatic subject, so also there is a
larger dialectic of community.
Social events can be traced to the two principles of human
intersubjectivity and practical common sense.
The two principles are linked, for the spontaneous, intersubjective
individual strives to understand and wants to behave intelligently; and
inversely, intelligence would have nothing to put in order were there not
the desires and fears, labours and satisfactions of individuals.
Again, these linked principles are opposed, for it is their opposition
that accounts for the tension of community.
Finally, these linked and opposed principles are modified by the
changes that result from them; the development of common sense consists in
the further questions and insights that arise from the situations produced
by previous operations of practical common sense; and the alternations of
social tranquillity and social crisis mark successive stages in the
adaptation of human spontaneity and sensibility to the demands of
In two manners this dialectic of community differs from the dialectic
of the dramatic subject.
First, there is a difference in extent, for the dialectic of community
regards the history of human relationships, while the inner dialectic of
the subject regards the biography of an individual.
Secondly, there is a difference in the level of activity, for the
dialectic of community is concerned with the interplay of more or less
conscious intelligence and more or less conscious spontaneity in an
aggregate of individuals, while the dialectic of the subject is concerned
with the entry of neural demands into consciousness.
Accordingly, one might say that a single dialectic of community is
related to a manifold of individual sets of neural demand functions
through a manifold of individual dialectics.
In this relationship, the dialectic of community holds the dominant
position, for it gives rise to the situations that stimulate neural
demands and it moulds the orientation of intelligence that preconsciously
exercises the censorship.
Still, as is clear, one must not suppose this dominance to be absolute,
for both covertly and overtly, neural demands conspire with an
obnubilation of intelligence, and what happens in isolated individuals
tends to bring them together and so to provide a focal point from which
aberrant social attitudes originate.
This raises the
basic question of a bias in common sense. Four distinct aspects call for
attention. There is the already mentioned bias arising from the
psychological depths, and commonly it is marked by its sexual overtones.
There also are the individual bias of egoism, the group bias with its
class conflicts, and a general bias that tends to set common sense against
science and philosophy. On these three something must now be said.
Chapter VI, § 2.7
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