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Schouborg, Gary (1967). "A Note on Lonergan's Argument for the Existence of God".The Modern Schoolman, 45, 243-248.

This brief article is to introduce the reader to a contemporary reflection on the existence of God in terms of the human drive for unrestricted inquiry. The problem is taken up in Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S.J.'s Insight (London: Longmans, Green and Co.; New York: Philosophical Lib., 1958) in the nineteenth chapter, entitled "General Transcendent Knowledge." What follows is an outline in deductive form of Lonergan's argument. But the form of the outline should not mislead the reader into thinking that the argument is a priori. The purpose of the outline is, rather, to elucidate the structure of Lonergan's argument so that its experiential ground may be made clear. The reader should therefore note that the crucial numbers are 2.2.2(2.2.2) which points to the exigence of human intelligence to move beyond thinking to verification, 2.2.2(4) which points to the unrestricted character of human intelligence's desire to know, 2.2.3(2) and (3) which give the experiential ground for why any affirmation of the radically unintelligible is incoherent, and 3.2.3(2.1.1) which gives the structure of human judgment.

Chapter nineteen is extremely complex and is not meant to be read independently of the preceding eighteen chapters. Consequently the outline presented here can hardly be a sufficient exposition of the argument. Its purpose is twofold: that those already familiar with the book are helped to see more clearly the structure of the argument and its experiential ground, and that those who have little or no acquaintance with Lonergan will be interested enough in the basic direction of his work that they will think it worthwhile to take up his book and give it the attention that this author thinks it deserves.

THE ARGUMENT

1. God exists, if the real is completely intelligible.

But the real is completely intelligible.

Therefore, God exists.

 

2. Argument for the minor

 

 

2.1 The real is completely intelligible, if being is completely intelligible.

But being is completely intelligible.

Therefore, the real is completely intelligible. [To page 244]

 

 

2.2 Argument for the minor of n. 2.1

 

 

 

2.2.1 Being is completely intelligible, if being is the objective of a pure, unrestricted desire to know.

But being is the objective of a pure, unrestricted desire to know.

Therefore, being is completely intelligible.

 

 

 

2.2.2 Argument for the minor of n. 2.2.1

 

 

 

 

(1) Being is the objective of a pure, unrestricted desire to know, if my desire to know is (a) to know being, (b) pure, and (c) unrestricted.

But my desire to know is (a) to know being, (b) pure, and (c) unrestricted.

Therefore, being is the objective of a pure, unrestricted desire to know.

 

 

 

 

(2) Argument for minor (a) of n. (1)

 

 

 

 

 

(2.1) My desire to know is to know being, if being is what is.

But being is what is.

Therefore, my desire to know is to know being.

 

 

 

 

 

(2.2) Argument for the minor of n. (2.1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

(2.2.1) Being is what is, if being is the objective not only of thought but both of thought and of affirmation.

But being is the objective both of thought and of affirmation.

Therefore, being is what is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(2.2.2) Explication of the minor of n. (2.2.1)

Beyond the drive to think there is the critical drive to assess the correctness of my thinking. That critical drive attains its goal in affirmation. And being is the objective of both drives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(2.2.3)       Explication of the major of n. (2.2.1)

Truly to affirm that something is is to affirm what is, whereas merely to think of something may turn out to be thinking of what in fact is not.

 

 

 

 

 

(2.3) Explication of the major of n. (2.1)

My desire to know is precisely to know what is — i. e., knowledge is attained in affirmation or denial, in judgment.

 

 

 

 

(3) Explication of minor (b) of n. (1)

By "pure" is meant that the desire to know is to be distinguished from all other desires, which follow upon knowledge. Such desires motivate me to know for their sakes — e. g., when I learn a few minimal things about food in order to satisfy my hunger, But we are here interested in the desire simply to know.

 

 

 

 

(4) Argument for minor (c) of n. (1)

 

 

 

 

 

(4.1) My desire to know is unrestricted, if it is a desire to know all that is. [To page 245]

But my desire to know is a desire to know all that is.

Therefore, my desire to know is unrestricted.

 

 

 

 

 

(4.2) Argument for the minor of n. (4.I)

 

 

 

 

 

 

(4.2.1) My desire to know is to know all things, if I can always desire to know what I do not know.

But I can always desire to know what I do not know.

Therefore, my desire to know is to know all things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(4.2.2) Argument for the minor of n. (4.2.1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] I can always desire to know what I do not know, if I can always question, or ask about, what I do not know.

But I can always question, or ask about, what I do not know.

Therefore, I can always desire to know what I do not know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[2] Argument for the minor of n. [1]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[2.1] Either I know all things, in which case no questions arise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[2.2] Or I do not know all things and know that fact, in which case I can ask about what is left for me to know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[2.3] Or I do not know all things and have yet to realize that fact, in which case I can ask if I know all things.

But by the fact of raising the question I now have evidence that I do not know all things (because of n. [2.1] above).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[2.4] Or I do not know all things and think I do, in which case lack of further questions arises not from a logical or rational impossibility but from an unintelligent mental state.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[3] Explication of the major of n. [1]

The desire to know is precisely the question about something I do not know. The question is the desire. (Note the distinction between the question itself and formulations of the question. Only the latter can be meaningless.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

(4.2.3) Argument for the major of n. (4.2.1)

If someone objects that there might be something about which he can not ask a question, then his question is either meaningless (since it is by definition not a possible object of affirmation or denial) or self-contradictory (since he is talking about it and therefore knows it in some way). (Compare nn. 2.2.3.(2) and (3).) [To page 246]

 

 

 

 

 

(4.3) Explication of the major of n. (4.1)

Beyond all that is is nothing. My desire is therefore restricted by nothing. It is unrestricted.

 

 

 

 

(5) Explication of the major of n. (l)

By the objective of a desire is meant simply what is desired, and my desire is to know being.

 

 

 

2.2.3 Argument for the major of n. 2.2.1

 

 

 

 

(1) Being is completely intelligible. If there is (a) nothing intelligible within being or (b) nothing intelligible outside being.

But there is (a) nothing intelligible within being or (b) nothing intelligible outside being.

Therefore, being is completely intelligible.

 

 

 

 

(2) Argument for minor (a) of n. (1)

There is nothing (in principle) unintelligible within being. For what is unintelligible is not the objective of a pure desire to know, since what is affirmed must first be understood. In other words any affirmation of the radically (that which is in principle) intelligible is incoherent. (Compare n. 2.2.2 (4.2.3).)

 

 

 

 

(3) Argument for minor (b) of n. (1)

There is nothing intelligible outside of being since being is the objective of an unrestricted desire to know — i. e., being is all that is. (Cf. 2.2.2(4), especially n. 2.2.2(4,2.3).)

 

 

 

 

(4) Explication of the major of n. (1)

This is merely a restatement of what is meant by saying that being is completely intelligible.

 

 

2.3 Argument for the major of n. 2.1

The real is what is, the objective both of thought and of affirmation. But this means that the real and being are identical. Cf. N. 2.2.2(2.2.1). The point here seems to be against positions like that of Leibniz, for whom the real is only a part of being, which is identified with the possible.)

 

3. Argument for the major of n. 1.

"It is one and the same thing to understand what being is and to understand what God is." Insight, p. 658.

 

 

3.1 God exists, if there is an unrestricted act of understanding.

But there is an unrestricted act of understanding.

Therefore, God exists.

 

 

3.2 Argument for the minor of 3.1

 

 

 

3.2.1 An unrestricted act of understanding exists, if being is completely intelligible. [To page 247]

But being is completely intelligible.

Therefore, there is an unrestricted act of understanding.

 

 

 

3.2.2 The minor of n. 3.2.1 has already been argued in n. 2.

 

 

 

3.2.3 Argument for the major of n. 3.2.1

 

 

 

 

(1) The major can be restated: If there is no unrestricted act of understanding — i. e., if only restricted acts of understanding exist, then being is not completely intelligible.

 

 

 

 

(2) Let us then postulate the existence of only a restricted number of restricted acts of understanding.

 

 

 

 

 

(2.1) A restricted act of understanding grasps only contingent fact, the virtually conditioned, which depends on further conditions and is therefore in itself not completely intelligible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(2.1.1) The virtually unconditioned is a conditioned whose conditions happen to be fulfilled. For the structure of human, restricted judgments is: "Prospective judgments are propositions

(1) that are the content of an act of conceiving, thinking, defining, considering, or supposing,

(2) that are subjected to the question for reflection, to the critical attitude of intelligence, and

(3) that thereby are constituted as the conditioned.

There is sufficient evidence for a prospective judgment when it may be grasped by reflective understanding as virtually unconditioned.

Hence sufficient evidence involves

(1) a link of the conditioned to its conditions, and

(2) the fulfillment of the conditions.

These two elements are supplied in different manners in different cases." Insight, p. 315.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(2.1.2) Since the fulfillment of the conditions is itself a fact, the fulfillment itself is in need of further explanation.

 

 

 

 

 

(2.2) Now there might be a restricted circle of restricted acts of understanding which mutually explain one another. But if the circle is itself restricted it depends on conditions outside itself.

 

 

 

 

 

(2.3) The possibility of an infinite regress is here ruled out because of the assumption that there are only a restricted number of restricted acts of understanding — i.e., only a restricted number of explanations. Cf. n. (3) below.

 

 

 

 

 

(2.4) If, then, there are only a restricted number of restricted acts of understanding, being cannot be completely understood. Being is not completely intelligible. [To page 248]

 

 

 

 

(3) Let us then postulate the existence of an unrestricted number of restricted acts of understanding.

 

 

 

 

 

(3.1) But a restricted act of understanding grasps only the virtually unconditioned, contingent fact. By making the number of restricted acts of understanding unrestricted, you have only made the number of intelligible contingent facts limitless.

 

 

 

 

 

(3.2) But the sum of even a limitless number of contingent facts is itself merely a contingent fact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(3.2.1) For since all the facts depend on prior conditions, the prior conditions also become limitless and the unknown and unexplained remains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(3.2.2) The objection might be made that there may be a limitless set of restricted acts of understanding mutually explaining one another. But in that case the set itself needs to be explained.

 

 

 

 

 

(3.3) Thus, even the sum of a limitless number of restricted acts of understanding is not completely intelligible. This, in combination with n. (2), proves the major of n. 3.2.1.

 

 

3.3 Explication of the major of n. 3.1

This is a restatement of the traditional proposition, God knows all things.

 

4. Moreover, an unrestricted act of understanding is unique. For if another unrestricted act of understanding existed it would have to be intelligibly distinct from the first. That is, the other unrestricted act of understanding would have to have some intelligibility which the other did not have, and vice versa. Otherwise they could not be distinguished. But then neither is completely intelligible in itself.

 

C0NCLUDING COMMENT

Again, I would like to reiterate the dependence of the nineteenth chapter of Insight on the previous eighteen. In my introductory remarks I indicate the numbers of this outline which give the key experiential grounds for the argument. To know the validity of these grounds with respect to the argument, readers will want to know more precisely what these grounds are and if they accurately state the way in which human intelligence actually works. These problems are worked out laboriously in the preceding chapters of the book.