Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Repost: Lonergan and the Desire to Know

According to Lonergan, Aristotle expressed something fundamental in the opening lines of the Metaphysics: “All men by nature desire to know.” When the animal has its physiological needs met, it sleeps, but when the human has met its needs, we do math or theology or go exploring, for our intelligence is essentially dynamic love; so long as we want to know, so long as we care and direct our intelligence towards knowing, our consciousness continues to operate in a cumulative, self-correcting, and indefinite process of accumulating data and acquiring new insights. This dynamism is for some unknown, and we seek this unknown spontaneously, by some innate tendency, although it “is a conscious tendency . . . we do so intelligently.” Children ask incessant questions, without prompting, according to some inner impetus, although the dull child, the one who does not care to know, can rarely be coaxed or coerced into knowing if he lacks the desire, for knowledge does not just happen because the external data is present but because of the interior condition of inquiry and the interior operations by which we arrive at knowing. The interior condition manifests itself in questions, for we would not ask unless there was an unknown, and we could not ask unless we sought something. Something: what we seek exists as an ideal, but not clearly or explicitly or we would already have what we were seeking.

The transcendental condition of our questions is the dynamic desire to know, and to know what is unknown, an x, and this unknown x functions as a heuristic, as an intended ideal that as yet is not appropriated or known. It is whatever is intended by the question. But what is intended by questions is not empty or abstract. The condition of questioning is transcendental—the “pure question”—but “no one just wonders. We wonder about something.” Of course, we can wonder about many things, in many different ways, and there are different heuristics at different times, in different communities, and so on. The pursuit is intelligent and conscious, but it is not conceptually explicit, and it differs and develops as questions differ and develop, so “how do you proceed methodically . . . to the attainment of something that you do not know, something which, if known, would not have to be pursued?” According to Lonergan, the solution is precisely that metatheory by which we try to catch ourselves in the act of knowing which Budziszewski judged distracting:
The solution . . . to this problem is self-appropriation. . . . The ideal we seek in seeking the unknown, in trying to know, is conceptually implicit. There does not exist naturally, spontaneously, through the whole of history, a set of propositions, conceptions, and definitions that define the ideal of knowledge. But to say that conceptually it is implicit . . . that these statements differ in different places and at different times—they are historically conditioned—is not to say that it is nonexistent. While the conception of the ideal is not by nature, still there is something by nature. The ideal of knowledge is myself as intelligent, as asking questions, as requiring intelligible answers . . . and if we can turn in upon these fundamental tendencies, then we are on the way to getting hold. . . .

Source: R.J. Snell, "The Meaning(s) of Natural Law," Intercollegiate Review, June 16, 2014, accessed July 1, 2014, http://www.intercollegiatereview.com/index.php/2014/06/16/the-meanings-of-natural-law/.

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