Liberation, and Cosmopolis
Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.
6. Individual Bias
There is a rather notable obscurity in the meaning of the terms, egoism
When a carnivorous animal stalks and kills its prey, it is not properly
egoistic; for it is simply following its instincts and, in general, for
animals to follow their instincts is for them to secure the biological
ends of individual and specific survival.
By parity of reasoning, when a female animal fosters its young, it too
is following its instincts; though it contributes to a general biological
end, still it does so rather by the scheming of nature than by altruism in
its proper sense.
Finally, if animal spontaneity is neither egoistic nor altruistic, it
seems to follow that the same must be said of human spontaneity; men are
led by their intersubjectivity both to satisfy their own appetites and to
help others in the attainment of their satisfaction; but neither type of
activity is necessarily either egoistic or altruistic.
There is a further aspect to the matter. In his Ethics,
Aristotle asked whether a good friend loved himself. His answer was that
while true friendship excluded self-love in the popular sense, none the
less it demanded self-love in a higher sense; for a man loves himself, if
he wants for himself the finest things in the world, namely, virtue and
wisdom; and without virtue and wisdom a man can be a true friend neither
to himself nor to anyone else.
Accordingly, as Aristotle’s answer suggests, when one turns from the
realm of spontaneity to that of intelligence and reasonableness, one does
not find that egoism and altruism provide ultimate categories.
For intelligence and reasonableness with their implications
automatically assume the ultimate position; and from their detached
viewpoint there is. set up a social order in which, as in the animal
kingdom, both taking care of oneself and contributing to the well-being of
others have their legitimate place and necessary function.
None the less, it remains that there is a sense in which egoism is
always wrong and altruism its proper corrective. For man does not live
exclusively either on the level of intersubjectivity or on the level of
On the contrary, his living is a dialectical resultant springing from
those opposed but linked principles; and in the tension of that union of
opposites, the root of egoism is readily to be discerned.
For intelligence is a principle of universalization and of ultimate
synthesis; it understands similars in the same manner; and it gives rise
to further questions on each issue until all relevant data are
On the other hand, spontaneity is concerned with the present, the
immediate, the palpable; intersubjectivity radiates from the self as from
a centre, and its efficacy diminishes rapidly with distance in place or
Egoism is neither mere spontaneity nor pure intelligence but an
interference of spontaneity with the development of intelligence.
With remarkable acumen one solves one’s own problems. With startling
modesty one does not venture to raise the relevant further questions, Can
one’s solution be generalized? Is it compatible with the social order that
exists? Is it compatible with any social order that proximately or even
remotely is possible?
The precise nature of egoistic interference with intellectual process
calls for attention. It is not to be thought that the egoist is devoid of
the disinterestedness and detachment of intelligent inquiry. More than
many others, he has developed a capacity to face issues squarely and to
think them through.
The cool schemer, the shrewd calculator, the hardheaded self-seeker are
very far from indulging in mere wishful thinking.
Without the detachment of intelligence, they cannot invent and
implement stratagems that work.
Without the disinterestedness of intelligence, they cannot raise and
meet every further question that is relevant within their restricted terms
Nor can one say that egoism consists in making intelligence the
instrument of more elementary desires and fears. For as long as the
egoist is engaged upon his problems, the immanent norms of intelligent
inquiry overrule any interference from desire or fear; and while the
egoist refuses to put the still further questions that would lead to a
profound modification of his solution, still that refusal does not make
intelligence an instrument but merely brushes it aside.
Egoism, then, is an incomplete development of intelligence. It rises
above a merely inherited mentality. It has the boldness to strike out and
think for itself.
But it fails to pivot from the initial and preliminary motivation,
provided by desires and fears, to the self-abnegation involved in allowing
complete free play to intelligent inquiry.
Its inquiry is reinforced by spontaneous desires and fears; by the same
stroke it is restrained from a consideration of any broader field.
Necessarily, such an incompleteness of development is an exclusion of
correct understanding. Just as in the sciences, intelligence begins from
hypotheses that prove insufficient and advances to further hypotheses that
successively prove more and more satisfactory, so too in practical living
it is through the cumulative process of further questions and further
insights that an adequate understanding is reached.
As in the sciences, so also in practical living, individuality pertains
to the empirical residue, so that there is not one course of action that
is intelligent when I am concerned and quite a different course when
anyone else is involved. What is sauce for the goose, is sauce for the
But egoistic emancipation rests on a rejection of merely proverbial
wisdom yet fails to attain the development of personal intelligence that
would re-establish the old sayings.
Thus, the golden rule is to do to others as you would have them do to
you. One may object that common sense is never complete until the
concrete situation is reached, and that no two concrete situations are
Still, it does not follow that the golden rule is that there is no
golden rule. For the old rule did not advocate identical behaviour in
significantly different situations; on the contrary, it contended that the
mere interchange of individual roles would not by itself constitute a
significant difference in concrete situations.
Nor is the egoist totally unaware of his self-deception. Even in the
bias and scotosis of the dramatic subject, which operates preconsciously,
there is a measure of self-suspicion and disquiet.
In the egoist there are additional grounds for an uneasy conscience,
for it is not by sheer inadvertence but also by a conscious
self-orientation that he devotes his energies to sizing up the social
order, ferreting out its weak points and its loop-holes, and discovering
devices that give access to its rewards while evading its demands for
As has been
insisted already, egoism is not spontaneous, self-regarding appetite.
Though it may
result automatically from an incomplete development of intelligence, it
does not automatically remain in that position.
There have to be
overcome both the drive of intelligence to raise the relevant further
questions that upset egoistic solutions and, as well, the spontaneous
demands of intersubjectivity which, if they lack the breadth of a purely
intellectual viewpoint with its golden rule, at least are commonly broader
in their regard for others than is intelligent selfishness.
Hence it is that,
however much the egoist may appreciate the efforts of philosophers to
assure him that intelligence is instrumental, he will be aware that, in
his cool calculations, intelligence is boss and that, in his refusal to
consider further questions, intelligence is not made into a servant but
merely ruled out of court.
much he may reassure himself by praising the pragmatists, still he suffers
from the realization that the pragmatic success of his scheming falls
short of a justification; for prior to the criteria of truth invented by
philosophers, there is the dynamic criterion of the further question
immanent in intelligence itself.
uneasy conscience is his awareness of his sin against the light.
Operative within him, there is the Eros of the mind, the desire and drive
to understand; he knows its value, for he gives it free rein where his own
interests are concerned; yet he also repudiates its mastery, for he will
not grant serious consideration to its further relevant questions.
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