Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Another contribution of philosophy: Bernard Lonergan

The discussion about philosophy continues on Facebook. One of my long-time Facebook friends, Jonathan Bernier, took up the challenge. Bernier is a professor of religious studies at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, Canada. He is a card-carrying philosopher.1

The challenge is to provide recent (past two decades) examples from philosophy that have lead to increased knowledge and understanding of the natural world. Here's what Jonathan Bernier offered.
But to use just one example of advances in philosophical understanding, UofT (specifically Regis College) houses the Lonergan Research Institute, which houses Bernard Lonergan's archives and publishes his collected works. Probably his most significant work is a seven-hundred-page tome called Insight, the first edition of which was published in 1957. It is IMHO the single best account of how humans come to know anything that has ever been written. The tremendous fruits that it has wrought cannot be summarized in a FB commend. Instead, I'd suggest that you walk over and see the friendly people at the LRI. No doubt they could help answer some of your questions.
Here's a Wikipedia link to Bernard Lonergan. He was a Canadian Jesuit priest who died in 1984. Regis College is the Jesuit College associated with the University of Toronto.

Is Jonathan Bernier correct? Is it true that Lonergan's works will eventually change the way we understand learning?


Note: In my response to Bernier on Facebook I said, "I guess I'll just have to take our word for it. I'm not about to walk over to Regis College and consult a bunch of Jesuit priests about the nature of reality." Was I being too harsh? Is this really an examples of a significant contribution of philosophy? Is it possible that a philosopher could be very wrong about the existence of supernatural beings but still make a contribution to the nature of knowledge and understanding?

1. Jonathan Bernier tells me on Facebook that he is not a philosopher and never claimed to be a philosopher.

28 comments :

  1. Have you read _What is Philosophy?_ by Deleuze and Guattari? That should answer your questions.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Well, I have my doubts that Lonergan's "Insight", which is apparently a mashup of the mouldering ideas of Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant, is going to have a big influence outside theological circles or have much new to say.

    ReplyDelete
  3. "Is it possible that a philosopher could be very wrong about the existence of supernatural beings but still make a contribution to the nature of knowledge and understanding?"

    I say yes it's possible in the sense that great discoveries are often made by accident (important thing is to be where such a thing can at any time happen). But I do not know of any science changing examples.

    ReplyDelete
  4. No. nothing changes anything unless its a direct hit.
    Science is subject driven. Its about conclusions. Science says ITS conclusions are more likely because they are based on a higher standard of investigation.
    Unless one investigates some point they won't contribute to science.
    EXCEPT the option of a philosopher establishing WHEN a high standard of investigation has occurred and when not.
    I think this option is real and not going on as i see evolutionism as evidence. Lots of other stuff too.

    ReplyDelete
  5. "Is this really an examples of a significant contribution of philosophy? Is it possible that a philosopher could be very wrong about the existence of supernatural beings but still make a contribution to the nature of knowledge and understanding?'

    The discussion is pointless with the assumption like this.

    What conclusion should anybody (not only philosophers) in the right frame of mind come to when considering the following facts without bias?

    The universe had a beginning, started highly organized and it's expansion and acceleration is so fine tuned that any, even infinitesimal deviation would be catastrophic for life and the existence of the universe?

    How about the origins of life? "We don't know how it happened" is not any better than the belief that supernatural is responsible for it is it?

    The deliberate denial of these facts and the reference to philosophy in order to water-down these facts is not really science is it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don Quixote writes:
      "How about the origins of life? "We don't know how it happened" is not any better than the belief that supernatural is responsible for it is it? "

      "I don't know" is light years better than "I believe God did it". Those who say "I don't know" are much more likely to do the research that finds the answer. Those who say "God did it" are much less likely to look for the real answer.

      Delete
    2. Don wrote:
      "The universe had a beginning, started highly organized and it's expansion and acceleration is so fine tuned that any, even infinitesimal deviation would be catastrophic for life and the existence of the universe? "

      Let's break things down.
      "The universe had a beginning," - a beginning, ok.

      "started highly organized" - how do you know, where you there? If not, what kind of experiments did you perform to come to this conclusion? What were the results of these experiments?

      "it's expansion and acceleration is so fine tuned that any, even infinitesimal deviation would be catastrophic for life and the existence of the universe? "

      Now we come to the realm of philosophy. This universe could well be universe 1,234,872 of an infinite possibilities of universes, in a continuing cycle of sequential universes. Or one of many parallel universes. And in the mean time we could have had millions/ thousands/ hundreds/ one universe capable of supporting life. How would you know?

      Furthermore, we still leave one really big question unanswered, *if* some supernatural being(s) created the universe, which and/ or what is it? And how do you know? In your case Don you'd have to answer that question first and present evidence why it can be only that specific being and not one of the many thousands supernatural beings referred to as gods on this planet. And you'd have to exclude ET too.

      Good luck with your research!

      Delete
    3. The universe had a beginning, started highly organized and it's expansion and acceleration is so fine tuned that any, even infinitesimal deviation would be catastrophic for life and the existence of the universe?

      Responding to the "Fine Tuning" Argument for God (Sean Carroll)

      How about the origins of life? "We don't know how it happened" is not any better than the belief that supernatural is responsible for it is it?

      Yes, it is. One is an honest and accurate representation of the facts. The other is superstition.

      Delete
  6. I would hazard a guess that most scientists have never heard of Father Lonergan nor read his work, yet they are making stunning and wonderful discoveries in all of their fields.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The first paragraph of this introduction indicates that he was working on a 1950's era cognitive theory:

      Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, Volume 3 - Introduction

      It's remotely possible that some of his ideas ended up in my work through the work of who I first learned machine intelligence design from David Heiserman but I do not know of any connection, or expect one.

      A book like this does not seem like something I would ever read. The cognitive sciences are now way past that level. Keeping up with what neuroscience has been discovering and modeling it takes priority.

      Delete
  7. The challenge is to provide recent (past two decades) examples from philosophy that have lead to increased knowledge and understanding of the natural world.

    It may have been mentioned repeatedly in that thread, but this is a strange challenge. Is there also a Facebook thread where people are challenged to explain what architecture or music have contributed to our understanding of the natural world, on pains of architects and composers being declared a waste of space?

    Understanding the natural world would appear to be the job of science, so everybody who contributes to the understanding of the natural world would automatically, by definition, be a scientist. Philosophers have a different job, and that is fine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your response suggests that it's unfair to ask philosophers to make a contribution to our understanding of the natural world. If that's your position then what is it that philosophers are doing? Are they trying to understand the supernatural world or some imaginary world? What is the primary goal of philosophy?

      We know that architecture and music aren't disciplines dedicated to increasing our knowledge of the natural world so we don't challenge them to do something they don't claim to do.

      Delete
    2. Does philosophy, as a discipline, claim or aim to understand the natural world? My understanding is that that pretty much ended when science differentiated out of philosophy, when the latter stopped being the catch-all name for anybody who does intellectual work.

      I am not a philosopher but a scientist myself, so I may not be perfectly placed to address this, but as examples for what philosophy "does" that I appreciate, I could spontaneously offer two examples. One is Mackie's The Miracle of Theism, a book that analyses the arguments for god's existence. It does so largely without considering empirical evidence - that would make it science - but instead dissects the quality of argumentation and exposes fallacies. Thinking about how to think well could be considered the expertise of the philosopher (even if scientists should also do so).

      The second case that immediately comes to my mind is, admittedly, not from an academic philosophy context but merely a recent comment over at WEIT. Jerry Coyne had argued that the only just reasons to imprison somebody were "deterrence of others, sequestration of someone who could be dangerous to society, and reformation of a criminal", while making it clear that he did not see retributive punishment or "deserves to be punished" as just concepts.

      A commenter then asked what if it turned out that locking up the culprit's mother was more efficient at achieving deterrence, sequestration (in the sense of the culprit stopping further crimes) and reformation than locking up the culprit. Whether we think the argument makes sense, the principle here is philosophy at its best: a thought experiment (no empirical evidence) that is meant to lay bare our instincts about something, point out contradictions, or demonstrate absurd consequences.

      Delete
    3. Philosophy (of science) seeks to answer questions along the lines of "how can we understand the natural world?" or "what is science, how does it work, what are its limitations?". In the more general case philosophy, specifically epistemology, seeks to answer (or at least to meaningfully discuss) what is means to "understand" something (including the natural world). Philosophy is not competitive with science, so the analogy to music and architecture is apt.

      Delete
    4. Questions like "what is science, how does it work, what are its limitations?" are best answered by people who actually discover new things, not political/religious activists who wrongfully pose as experts who are qualified to judge the scientific process using their philosophy.

      Delete
    5. For the latest from child psychology (not philosophy) and other areas of modern cognitive science is this, with an update on page 7 to include the new video of what happens when what is explained in regards to the fundamentals of intelligent behavior is put to the test with a computer model:

      https://sites.google.com/site/intelligencedesignlab/home/ScientificMethod.pdf

      If philosophers want to figure out for themselves what science is all about then that's all well and good. But children who are also figuring out how things work does not make children the ones to go to for expert information.

      I'm open to suggestions for how to further improve the presentation. If there are philosophical answers better at explaining the origin of the scientific method and such than what I currently have that came from science then show me.

      Delete
    6. Gary Gaulin,

      First, we are simply talking different areas of expertise here. As a scientist I am trained to collect empirical data and test hypotheses. I am not specifically trained to do epistemology, although I would say a scientist needs to have some grasp of it, just like an accountant needs to know some math despite not being a mathematics professor.

      Second, since when are philosophers "political/religious activists"? Ye gods, talk about poisoning the well... This is on the level of dismissing all evolutionary biologists as agents of Satan, or all climate scientists as anarchists trying to destroy the global economy.

      Delete
    7. Alex, seeing how the Discovery Institute is now teaching "Epistemology" does this look OK to you for science classrooms?

      Given the amount of public disapprobation of Christian belief in the modern era, Warranted Christian Belief provides the intellectual justification for Christians to maintain their belief in a world and academic system hostile to Christian ideas and ideals. However, more work remains to be done to create an epistemology where Christian thought has a merited place not only to the individual in question, but in the community as a whole.

      http://www.academia.edu/30073647/Review_Knowledge_and_Christian_Belief_by_Alvin_Plantinga

      Delete
    8. And also Alex the challenge was to show me a (from philosophy) better explanation of the origin of the scientific method and/or how it works than I currently have that came from science. I'm asking for evidence to support claims being made by philosophers. What I asked should not be an issue for a scientist.

      The only thing for sure right now is that no evidence at all was presented. It's not my fault there is none.

      Delete
    9. Well... just because the Discovery Institute might claim to be teaching epistemology doesn't make it so. You're a scientist so why not take a university course on the philosophy of science and then report back objectively whether you've learned anything from it? If you're at UofT you could try PHL233H1F – PHILOSOPHY FOR SCIENTISTS for an introductory level treatment.

      Delete
    10. Gary Gaulin,

      Weird, I thought the OP read "The challenge is to provide recent (past two decades) examples from philosophy that have lead to increased knowledge and understanding of the natural world", not "the challenge is to show Gary Gaulin a better explanation of the origin of the scientific method".

      Delete
    11. As I said above Alex, "I'm asking for evidence to support claims being made by philosophers." Same thing.

      And whimple, why the insult instead of "The challenge is to provide recent (past two decades) examples from philosophy that have lead to increased knowledge and understanding of the natural world" that I must include in the Scientific Method presentation?

      Delete
    12. That is very nice, but it is Larry Moran's blog, and I was responding to his post.

      Delete
    13. Alex you sure are sensitive. Larry seems to still be busy stirring up Facebook, anyway, so it's not like I butted in or anything. Just be thankful that you still have me to talk to.

      You should be happy to know that I narrowed down the problem to what you earlier said "My understanding is that that pretty much ended when science differentiated out of philosophy, when the latter stopped being the catch-all name for anybody who does intellectual work."

      I found that the word "philosophy" translates to "love of wisdom", and actually was a catch-all name for anybody who does intellectual work. This explains why all of the concepts that are being called "philosophy" are more specifically from somewhere else such as logic (semantics/meaning), science and religion.

      After sorting the contents of "philosophy" to where it more properly belongs there is nothing left to it but an empty cover-all wrapper. Cool eh?

      Delete
    14. WTF? Pointing out that I wasn't responding to you =/= sensitive.

      Delete
    15. Because it seems clear you've never actually studied philosophy.

      Delete