Thursday, 25 July 2013

The dialectic of methods in Lonergan's Method in Theology

Chapter 10: Dialectic of Lonergan’s Method in Theology has three sections entitled simply Dialectic of Methods Part One, Part Two, Part Three. One of the questions raised in our seminar on methods of interpreting a philosophical text was: what do these sections really talk about? I am putting down here the answer, which, I must say, ‘emerged’ with something new even for me.

‘Dialectic of Methods’ harks back, for those who are familiar with the corpus, to chapter 14 of Insight, with its section 4 on The Dialectic of Method in Metaphysics (CWL 3:426). The editorial note f is helpful: it indicates that at some point, Lonergan wanted to put this title as Critique of Some Methods in Metaphysics.

So sections 7-9 of Method in Theology are really critiques of some methods. And, like section 4 of chapter 14 of Insight, here too these critiques follow on an exposition of Lonergan’s own method – dialectical method, as it turns out to be, in both cases.

So that clarifies the general title of the three sections: Dialectic of Method. But why the three parts? What we discovered is that they do not correspond to critiques of three different methods. There are only two methods that are criticized: linguistic analysis (in sections 7 and 8) and idealism (section 9). This is borne out by MT 254: “Acccordingly, I shall comment briefly, first, on certain contentions of linguistic analysis and, secondly, on certain conclusions that follow from idealist premises.”

Section 8 clarifies that talk about mental acts – which Lonergan has ‘defended’ in section 7 – is fuller, more accurate and more explanatory in the more differentiated horizons. “We have been talking about mental acts and now we must note that such talk can occur in genetically distinct horizons. In any of these the talk may be correct or incorrect but, the more differentiated the horizon, the fuller, the more accurate, and the more explanatory will be the talk.” (MT 257)

Obviously the most differentiated horizon in question is the world of interiority. “From within the world of interiority, then, mental acts as experienced and as systematically conceived are a logical first….” (MT 261)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

De Smet's interpretation of Sankara

E-mail dt 16.7.2013 from John Vattanky to Ivo Coelho:

Dear Fr. Ivo,
As you know I am also  an admirer of De Smet. However a question often comes to my mind: Is there any support for De Smet's interpretaion of Sankara in classical commentators of Vedanta literature in Sanskrit? I mean especially De Smet's understanding of tadatmya sambandha as ontological dependence which involves the concept of creation. Some of De Smet's supporters claim that this is minority view? But even as minority group can they claim any support in the Vedantic tradtion of Sanskrit commentators? If so can you give me some refrences? Does De Smet himself give some reference from the Classical tradition of Vedanta? Since you are well acquainted with all the works of De Smet, if you can give me some enlightenment on this point I shall   be much obliged.
Thanking you and wishing you all the best,
John Vattanky,S.J.

Reply dated 16.7.2013:

Dear Fr Vattanky,
Thank you for your mail and your query.
I am no Indologist, even though I have tried to edit Fr De Smet's work, so I will not be able to give you any hard answers.

In De Smet's work, I do not remember having come across any evidence of support for his interpretation among the classical or even contemporary Vedantic commentators.

Perhaps you could have a look at my Introduction to the recent UNDERSTANDING SANKARA: ESSAYS BY RICHARD DE SMET, 10 copies of which have recently been sent to Fr Keith Abranches. From there you could go to the texts themselves.

What I remember De Smet saying to me is that his scholarly audience, who at first tended to reject his interpretation, slowly seem to have begun accepting it, or at least parts of it. It would be a great piece of research to study the reception of De Smet's work among indologists.

My own feeling is that there is much to be said in favour of De Smet's interpretation on several counts:

1. Sankara knew the Buddhist Vijnanavada, and rejected it.
2. Far from inventing the technique of laksanaa, he found it in his tradition, and made use of it.
3. When he says that the world is not unreal like the son of a barren woman, but rather like a dream, he gives us a strong indication that he is talking analogously or at least comparatively: the world cannot be understood to be Real in the same sense as Brahman; but it is not unreal, it is not nothing, like the son of a barren woman.
4. The relationship between Brahman and the world is sui generis, unique, and so it always remains a node of great difficulty for any thinking, and one of the primary conundrums for thought. All other instances of causality are bound to be inadequate, and consequently every attempt to talk and think about the relationship is bound to face difficulty. I believe that Sankara suffered the same fate at the hands of his commentators as Thomas did at the hands of his. Lonergan talks about a 'lag' between thought and expression, and I believe we find this lag or gap in Sankara.
5. We have to also take into account also the whole history of translation: the decision to translate maya as illusion, for example, and the various influences at play. At the turn of the last century, with the dominance of Idealism in Britain, it should not be surprising to find Indian scholars and thinkers tending to adequate Sankara with that strand of thought.

But, as I have said, I am not an Indologist. I can only hope that the recent publications of De Smet's work will open his work to greater scrutiny and debate.

Thank you dear Father.


Friday, 5 July 2013

Moral conversion and moral perfection

I am reading ch. 10: Dialectic of Lonergan's Method in Theology, in preparation for the seminar session, and just realized the clarity with which Lonergan distinguishes between moral conversion and moral perfection. To be morally converted is to opt for the truly good, and even for value over satisfaction when the two are in conflict. But to be morally converted is not yet to be morally perfect, for moral perfection adds doing to deciding.