Friday, 4 July 2014

All Lonergan is summed up in AIRR

The title of this post is a play on a mnemonic that I devised for remembering Lonergan’s four-fold imperative: be attentive; be intelligent; be reasonable; be responsible. Or, AIRR. This encapsulates in nuce the basic structure of critical realist thinking, and indeed I would go as far as to say that just as all of Torah is summed up in the statement “Love others” so is all of Lonergan summed up in this imperative. Everything that he writes elsewhere really are but efforts to both account for why this is the recurrent structure of human knowing at its best and also to consider the entailments of that fact.

The four-fold imperative can be stated in a more expansive form as follows: attentively observe the data; intelligently understand what one has observed; reasonably judge as true or false one’s understanding; responsibly respond to one’s judgment. This could be re-phrased entirely, now not as an imperative, but rather as ideal steps in the process of knowing, as: first, empirical investigation; second, develop a hypothesis; third, verify or refute the hypothesis; fourth, adopt any practice implications that issue from the verification or refutation.

To illustrate, let us consider whether Paul wrote Colossians.

In the beginning I attend to the data. I notice that Colossians bears a style and makes statements that seem at variance from that evident in the letters that I suppose were written by Paul. This constitutes my initial empirical investigation of the matter.

Now comes the work of intelligence. It begins with a question, one that in theory is the same for every work of intelligence: “How do I best account for what I observed in the data?” In this case I will more precisely ask “How do I best account for the formal and substantive differences that I have identified between Colossians and the authentic Pauline literature?” Asking this question I come to the initial understanding that Paul did not write Colossians. This constitutes my hypothesis.

Yet a hypothesis is not a conclusion. A conclusion is that a given hypothesis is either true or false. It is via reason that I reach this conclusion. As with intelligence, the question for reason is always in theory the same: “Is the hypothesis true?” Note that whereas the question of intelligence cannot be answered via a simple "Yes" or "No," the question for judgment is articulated such that these, as well as the non-answer "Maybe" (to be given when one finds the data insufficient to allow judgment), are the only possible answers. In order to answer this question I make a list of all conditions that must be satisfied if the hypothesis is to be judged as true. If all these conditions are met then an answer of “Yes” to the question “Is the hypothesis true?” will be warranted, such that in fact it would be unreasonable to render any other answer; if any condition is not met then “Yes” would be unwarranted and thus unreasonable to render.

These conditions are themselves judgments rendered in other investigations. This involves us in a web of judgments, one that could in theory become infinitely recursive. Fortunately scholarship is a collective process, so in many cases others have already investigated the matters that I must consider in determining whether conditions have been met. As such, unless there is reason to reinvent the wheel, I can often rely upon the good judgment of my colleagues. Dealing with the conditions necessary for veracity vis-à-vis the hypothesis that Colossians is non-Pauline I might list the following questions (note that this is not meant to be an exhaustive list, as it is simply an example):

--Is it in fact the case that the letters and only the letters that I consider to be authentically Pauline are indeed authentically Pauline? (For it is this corpus that I have established as a baseline for comparison against Colossians).
--Is the formal and substantive variance between this corpus and Colossians such that the same mind which produced said corpus cannot also have produced Colossians? (For it is this variance that stands as my primary evidence for non-Pauline authorship).
--Can competing explanations for the variance, such as the work of an amanuensis, be persuasively excluded? (For although non-Pauline might be a possible explanation it might not be the only possible explanation; and if not the only possible explanation it might not be the correct one).

Note that I articulated the above as "Yes" or "No" questions. If I have enumerated all necessary conditions then the following will be the case:
If all conditions are answered by “Yes” then the only reasonable answer to the question “Is the hypothesis true?” will be “Yes.”
If any conditions are answered by “No” then the only reasonable answer to the question “Is the hypothesis true?” will be “No.”
If any conditions are answered by “Maybe” and no conditions are answered by “No” then the only reasonable answer to the question “Is the hypothesis true?” will be “Maybe.”

Finally we come to the matter of responsibility. If I judge it to be the case that Colossians is non-Pauline then responsibility demands that whenever this judgment makes a difference I operate as if it is the case. It is irresponsible to call true false and false true, or right wrong and wrong right; or, as Paul would have it, let your Yes be Yes and your No be No. With the work of responsibility located firmly posterior to the work of reason Lonergan is pushing towards the idea that a responsible person is a reasonable person, for it in fact is profoundly irresponsible to proceed with indifference to the matter of truth and error. Thus this is what allows Lonergan to open his account of knowing towards an account of ethics.

So, AIRR: be attentive, be intelligent, be reasonable, be responsible.

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