The primary component of being

The lynchpin of Lonergan’s account of being is to qualifiy being as “the content of the unrestricted act of knowing” with the primary component of being as opposed to secondary (Insight, Part II, c. XIX, part 6). This distinction follows two senses of “intelligible”. There is a broad component so far as one speaks of an object understood (the secondary sense), but within these sorts of objects we can identify a ground or source of intelligibility as a primary component in the object. The distinction between them is that primary components are understood only with a grasp of understanding itself while secondary components can be understood without any awareness of what understanding is.  Lonergan’s example is from the positive integers. One can do arithmetic without knowing what an insight is, but one can’t recognize the infinitude of the same integers without having an insight about what mind can do. The amazement that even a young child gets from recognizing infinity is a recognition of his involvement in it, or of how he can keep going just as they keep on going, and this element of understanding is present in any act of understanding. How many trees do you understand in “tree”, or forces in the idea of “force”? True, the infinitude of the concept is, for us, very dim and in need of a good deal of fleshing out, but this speaks to the clarity or mode of the primary component and not to its nature or extent.

So there is a primary and secondary component in all intelligibles. But being is the content of the unrestricted act of knowing, and the secondary component of being is restricted by definition since it leaves off the intelligible source in knowing the intelligible thing while the primary component does not. Therefore being is the primary component of being. The theistic implications are clear.

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1 Comment

  1. Michael F Roach said,

    June 13, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    I agree with your closing about the theistic implications being quite clear. I would like to hear you expand your thoughts on how Lonergan’s insight might impact upon non-universalist theories of intellectual cognition especially the nominalist foundations of naturalism and physicalism in modern science. If you have previously addressed this elsewhere could you direct me to it? Thank you for your insightful contributions.


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