Liberation, and Cosmopolis
Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.
From Insight: A Study of
Human Understanding, New York, Philosophical Library, 1957, Chapter
VII, “Common Sense as Object,” 207-44.
As this chapter outlines
both a philosophy of history and suggests a goal of intelligent political
action, I've substituted what I believe is a more illuminating title. Lonergan
believed, unfortunately in my opinion, that social disaster always threatens unless intelligent, reasonable, and responsible human beings (guided by a
certain understanding of economics) steer mo-dern economies away from the
chaos to which our peaceful, voluntary economic transactions allegedly tend to hurl us.
(See Ludwig von Mises,
“The Error of
Anti-Market ‘Disproportionality’ Doctrines.”) That
is, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible people may, at least sometimes,
interfere with peaceful, volun-tary economic transactions. Lonergan lacked insight into how such interventions engender the very social dislocations he lamented. This
chapter provides a glimpse of the
philosophic root of his misunder-standing of economics (to which
study his mind was first drawn). This theorist of the self-appropriation of the human knower
never extended his analysis to the self-appropriation of the human actor.
In September of 1983, after having read his Essay in Circulation (in the
unpublished manuscript version I had provided) the late dean of the Austrian School, Murray Rothbard
characterized Lonergan's economic thought as “institutionalist.” The following year I asked Loner-gan what he thought of the
Austrians: “Well, they're deductivists, and you know what I think of
Nevertheless, this chapter,
especially its closing sec-tions, attests to the libertarian thrust of Lonergan's
social thought. His description of the general
nature of social decline suggest many areas of research for libertarian
theorists. May reading this chapter stimu-late
interest in its neighbors. In 1992 the University of Toronto published a
critical edition of Insight as Volume 3 of Lonergan's Collected Works.
February 13, 2007
Revised July 2,
The apparently modest and secure
undertaking of common sense is to understand things in their relations to
us. Unfortunately, we change; even the acquisition of common sense is a
change is us; and so in the preceding section we attempted an
investigation of the biological, aesthetic, artistic, intellectual,
dramatic subject to which common sense relates things.
But if the development of common sense is
a change in its subject, still more obviously does it involve a change in
its object. Common sense is practical. It seeks knowledge, not for the
sake of the pleasure of contemplation, but to use knowledge in making and
doing. Moreover, this making and doing involve a transformation of man
and his environment, so that the common sense of a primitive culture is
not the common sense of an urban civilization, nor the common sense of one
civilization the common sense of another.
However elaborate the experiments of the
pure scientist, his goal is always to come closer to natural objects and
natural relationships. But the practicality of common sense engenders and
maintains enormous structures of technology, economics, politics, and
culture, that not only separate man from nature but also add a series of
new levels or dimensions in the network of human relationships.
No less than the subjective, the
objective field of common sense must be explored, for the development of
common sense involves a change not only in us, to whom things are related,
but also in the things, which are related to us.
Next Section: Practical
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