Philosophy against Misosophy



Essays by Me

Essays by Others

Bias, Liberation, and Cosmopolis


 Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.

9. Conclusion

It is time to end this study of common sense.  In the first section of Chapter VI there was worked out the parallel between common sense and empirical science; both are developments of intelligence. 

Next, attention centred on the differences between empirical science which relates things to one another, and common sense which relates things to us. 

It was seen that the relations grasped by common sense stand between two variables; on the one hand, common sense is a development of the subject to which things are related; on the other hand, common sense effects a development in the things to which we are related. 

Moreover, both developments are subject to aberration; besides the progressive accumulation of related insights, there is the cumulative effect of refusing insights.  In the subjective field, such refusal tends to be preconscious; it heads towards psychoneurotic conflict; it is opposite to the subjectís rational judgment and deliberate choice, which, accordingly, can provide the analyst with his opportunity. 

In the objective field, the refusal is rationalized by a distinction between theory and practice; it heads both to social conflict and to social disintegration; it is to be opposed both by the common-sense view that practicality is for man and not man for practicality and, on a more recondite level, by the principle, implicit in dialectic, that practice succeeds in diverging from theory by taking the short view and refusing to raise and face further relevant questions. 

Our account of common sense has led us to touch on many issues, but our concern is not these issues, which function illustratively; but the fact and the nature of insight.  Within the perspectives of the present work, there is no point to a full and accurate account of the fields of psychology and of sociology. 

The topic is insight.  To exhibit its nature and its implications, one has to venture into every department in which human intelligence plays a significant role. 

Still that venture is essentially a limited venture.  For it is enough for our purpose to show that the notion of insight is indispensable in an adequate view, that it explains both the high esteem in which common sense is commonly held and the limitations to which it is subject, that this explanation can begin from independent and apparently disparate premises and, within the larger context that they yield, succeed in hitting off the thought of the average man, the problem of his affects, and the dialectic of his history. 

Further, though our topic is common sense, still it has not been the whole of common sense.  Besides intelligence, there are operative in common sense both judgment and choice with their implications of truth and error and of right and wrong.  These higher components of common sense will receive some attention later.  The foregoing study has been concerned with common sense as an accumulation of related insights. 

A final observation has to do with method.  From the beginning we have been directing attention to an event that occurs within consciousness.  Accordingly, our method has not been the method of empirical science, which draws its data from the field of sensible presentations. 

However, we have had occasion to speak of a generalized empirical method that stands to the data of consciousness as empirical method stands to the data of sense. 

In the present chapter, the nature of this generalized method has come to light.  As applied solely to the data of consciousness, it consists in determining patterns of intelligible relations that unite the data explanatorily. 

Such are the biological, artistic, dramatic, and intellectual forms of experience; moreover, our previous studies of mathematical and of scientific thought would regard particular cases of the intellectual form of experience; and similar differentiations could be multiplied. 

However, generalized method has to be able to deal, at least comprehensively, not only with the data within a single consciousness but also with the relations between different conscious subjects, between conscious subjects and their milieu or environment, and between consciousness and its neural basis. 

From this viewpoint, dialectic stands to generalized method, as the differential equation to classical physics, or the operator equation to the more recent physics. 

For dialectic is a pure form with general implications; it is applicable to any concrete unfolding of linked but opposed principles that are modified cumulatively by the unfolding; it can envisage at once the conscious and the non-conscious either in a single subject or in an aggregate and succession of subjects; it is adjustable to any course of events, from an ideal line of pure progress resulting from the harmonious working of the opposed principles, to any degree of conflict, aberration, break-down, and disintegration; it constitutes a principle of integration for specialized studies that concentrate on this or that aspect of human living and it can integrate not only theoretical work but also factual reports; finally, by its distinction between insight and bias, progress and decline, it contains in a general form the combination of the empirical and the critical attitudes essential to human science. 

It is perhaps unnecessary to insist that dialectic provides no more than the general form of a critical attitude.  Each department has to work out its own specialized criteria, but it will be able to do so by distinguishing between the purely intellectual element in its field and, on the other hand, the inertial effects and the interference of human sensibility and human nerves. 

Moreover, just as our study of insight has enabled us to formulate on a basis of principle.  a large number of directives that already had been established through mathematical and scientific development (I am thinking of higher viewpoints, the significance of symbolism, of functions, of differential equations, of invariance, of equivalence, of probability), so we may hope that a fuller study of manís mind will provide us with further general elements relevant to determining a far more nuanced yet general critical viewpoint. 

To this end, the present chapters on common sense are contributory.  May we note before concluding that, while common sense relates things to us, our account of common sense relates it to its neural basis and relates aggregates and successions of instances of common sense to one another.

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