Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Of Foundations

Writes Lonergan in Method in Theology:
[I]f one desires foundations for an ongoing, developing process, one has to move out of the static, deductivist style—which admits no conclusions that are not implicit in premisses—and into the methodical style—which aims at decreasing darkness and increasing light and keeps adding discovery to discovery.
In this single line, we can apprehend the cognitive deficiency that defines most every fundamentalism: these consist of static deductions which admit no conclusions that are not implicit in the premises. As an example of such deductions, Lonergan offers the following: "One must believe and accept whatever the bible or the true church or both believe and accept. But X is the bible or the true church or both. Therefore, one must believe and accept whatever X believes and accepts. Moreover, X believes and accepts a, b, c, d. … Therefore, one must believe and accept a, b, c, d...." The beliefs at which one arrives are implicit in the premise. Such foundations consist of really nothing but foundations. There is no actual work of building upon that foundation, but rather merely of describing the foundation in more precise detail. One never has more than a basement. Replace "bible" and "church" with "Party" or "Qu'ran," and it makes no cognitive difference. The style of thought remains unperturbed. That style is one that supposes that knowing is like looking: the truth is out there, already formed and ready to be seen; one just has to look in the right place.

By contrast, what Lonergan calls a methodical style defines the search for truth not by the sources to which it turns but rather by the manner in which it turns to the various sources of light that might be available. A methodical style consists at base of being attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible, and this means accepting for oneself the heavy burden of being the ultimate arbiter of what one holds to be true. And that burden is indeed heavy: not everyone is up to it. This is because not everyone has learned how to be consistently and authentically attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible. Such learning Lonergan grounds in conversion: to a self-transforming love that obviates hate and irrational fear; to a goodness that transcends narcissistic and parochial concerns; to an intellect that can readily distinguish between reason and the mere appearance of reason. Only the loving subject who desires the best for her or his fellows and is able and willing to cling to truth rather than error is truly prepared to carry out the methodical work of fashioning for her or his self an adequate foundation by which to most genuinely apprehend reality. Subjects lacking such love, goodness, or intellect might yet make many great discoveries. They might learn many secrets in heaven and on earth. Humanity might be better for their work. But the more excellent truths will remain forever closed to such persons, because hate and fear, narcissism and parochialism, irrationality and delusion, consist insuperable barriers to apprehension.

Becoming a loving subject concerned with the collective good and the apprehension of truth takes hard work, to be carried out in fear and trembling, and the various fundamentalisms of the world are for a large part simply a way by which to justify a refusal to carry out such work. They are the shortcuts preferred by the coward who fears the dark night of the soul. Such persons advert to jingoism rather than argumentation. They substitute all-caps for reason. They prefer bellicosity to dialogue. And frankly, they're the reason for most of our problems these days.

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