Liberation, and Cosmopolis
Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.
8.2 Implications of the
Already we have explained the nature of the succession of higher
viewpoints that characterize the development of mathematics and of
Now we must attend to the inverse phenomenon in which each successive
viewpoint is less comprehensive than its predecessor. In each stage of
the historical process, the facts are the social situation produced by the
practical intelligence of the previous situation.
Again, in each stage, practical intelligence is engaged in grasping the
concrete intelligibility and the immediate potentialities immanent in the
Finally, at each stage of the process, the general bias of common sense
involves the disregard of timely and fruitful ideas; and this disregard
not only excludes their implementation but also deprives subsequent stages
both of the further ideas, to which they would give rise, and of the
correction that they and their retinue would bring to the ideas that are
implemented. Such is the basic scheme, and it has three consequences.
In the first place, the social situation deteriorates cumulatively.
For just as progress consists in a realization of some ideas that leads to
the realization of others until a whole coherent set is concretely
operative, so the repeated exclusion of timely and fruitful ideas involves
a cumulative departure from coherence.
The objective social situation possesses the intelligibility put into
it by those that brought it about. But what is put in, less and less is
some part of a coherent whole that will ask for its completion, and more
and more it is some arbitrary fragment that can be rounded off only by
giving up the attempt to complete the other arbitrary fragments that have
preceded or will follow it.
In this fashion social functions and enterprises begin to conflict;
some atrophy and others grow like tumours; the objective situation becomes
penetrated with anomalies; it loses its power to suggest new ideas and,
once they are implemented, to respond with still further and better
The dynamic of progress is replaced by sluggishness and then by
stagnation. In the limit, the only discernible intelligibility in the
objective facts is an equilibrium of economic pressures and a balance of
The second consequence is the mounting irrelevance of detached and
disinterested intelligence. Culture retreats into an ivory tower.
Religion becomes an inward affair of the heart. Philosophy glitters like
a gem with endless facets and no practical purpose.
For man cannot serve two masters.
If one is to be true to intellectual detachment and disinterestedness,
to what can be intelligently grasped and reasonably affirmed, then one
seems constrained to acknowledge that the busy world of practical affairs
offers little scope to oneís vocation.
Intelligence can easily link culture, religion, philosophy to the realm
of concrete living only if the latter is intelligible. But concrete
living has become the function of a complex variable; like the real
component of such a function, its intelligibility is only part of the
Already we have spoken of an empirical residue from which understanding
always abstracts; but the general bias of common sense generates an
increasingly significant residue that (1) is immanent in the social facts,
(2) is not intelligible, yet (3) cannot be abstracted from if one is to
consider the facts as in fact they are. Let us name this residue the
The third consequence is the surrender of detached and disinterested
intelligence. There is the minor surrender on the level of common sense.
It is an incomplete surrender, for common sense always finds a profoundly
satisfying escape from the grim realities of daily living by turning to
men of culture, to representatives of religion, to spokesmen for
Still the business of common sense is daily life. Its reality has to be
faced. The insights that accumulate have to be exactly in tune with the
reality to be confronted and in some measure controlled. The fragmentary
and incoherent intelligibility of the objective situation sets the
standard to which common-sense intelligence must conform.
Nor is this conformity merely passive. Intelligence is dynamic. Just
as the biased intelligence of the psychoneurotic sets up an ingenious,
plausible, self-adapting resistance to the efforts of the analyst, so men
of practical common sense become warped by the situation in which they
live and regard as starry-eyed idealism and silly unpracticality any
proposal that would lay the axe to the root of the social surd.
Besides this minor surrender on the level of common sense, there is the
major surrender on the speculative level.
The function of human intelligence, it is claimed, is not to set up
independent norms that make thought irrelevant to fact but to study the
data as they are, to grasp the intelligibility that is immanent in them,
to acknowledge as principle or norm only what can be reached by
generalization from the data.
There follow the need and the development of a new culture, a new
religion, a new philosophy; and the new differs radically from the old.
The new is not apriorist, wishful thinking. It is empirical, scientific,
realistic. It takes its stand on things as they are. In brief, its many
excellences cover its single defect.
For its rejection of the normative significance of detached and
disinterested intelligence makes it radically uncritical. It possesses no
standpoint from which it can distinguish between social achievement and
the social surd. It fails to grasp that an excellent method for the study
of electrons is bound to prove naive and inept in the study of man.
For the data on man are largely the product of manís own thinking; and
the subordination of human science to the data on man is the subordination
of human science to the biased intelligence of those that produce the
From this critical incapacity, there follow the insecurity and the
instability of the new culture, religion, philosophy. Each new arrival
has to keep bolstering its convictions by attacking and denouncing its
Nor is there any lack of new arrivals, for in the cumulative
deterioration of the social situation there is a continuous expansion of
the surd and so there is an increasing demand for further contractions of
the claims of intelligence, for further dropping of old principles and
norms, for closer conformity to an ever growing man-made incoherence
immanent in man-made facts.
It is in this
major surrender of intellectual detachment that the succession of ever
less comprehensive viewpoints comes to light.
of our western civilization, from the schools founded by Charlemagne to
the universities of today, has witnessed an extraordinary flowering of
human intelligence in every department of its activity.
But this course
of human progress has not been along a smooth and mounting curve. It has
taken place through the oscillations of the shorter cycle in which social
groups become factions, in which nations go to war, in which the hegemony
passes from one centre to another to leave its former holders with proud
memories and impotent dreams.
No less does it
exhibit the successive lower viewpoints of the longer cycle. The medieval
synthesis through the conflict of Church and State shattered into the
several religions of the reformation.
The wars of
religion provided the evidence that man has to live not by revelation but
by reason. The disagreement of reasonís representatives made it clear
that, while each must follow the dictates of reason as he sees them, he
also must practise the virtue of tolerance to the equally reasonable views
and actions of others.
of tolerance to provide coherent solutions to social problems called forth
the totalitarian who takes the narrow and complacent practicality of
common sense and elevates it to the role of a complete and exclusive
totalitarian view, every type of intellectual independence whether
personal, cultural, scientific, philosophic, or religious, has no better
basis than non-conscious myth. The time has come for the conscious myth
that will secure manís total subordination to the requirements of
reality. Reality is the economic development, the military equipment, and
the political dominance of the all-inclusive State. Its ends justify all
means. Its means include not merely every technique of indoctrination and
propaganda, every tactic of economic and diplomatic pressure, every device
for breaking down the moral conscience and exploiting the secret affects
of civilized man, but also the terrorism of a political police, of prisons
and torture, of concentration camps, of transported or extirpated
minorities, and of total war.
The succession of
less comprehensive viewpoints has been a succession of adaptations of
theory to practice. In the limit, practice becomes a theoretically
unified whole, and theory is reduced to the status of a myth that lingers
on to represent the frustrated aspirations of detached and disinterested
Next: Alternatives of the Longer Cycle
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