The Wise Person Puts Questions In Their Right Order

In any analysis there is a right order of questions; and to violate this order is to invite misunderstanding, myth, and disaster.  To indicate the wisdom in Lonergan’s analysis, we present excerpts, mainly from his CWL 12,  which mandate clearly, for himself and for us, that one’s method and one’s heuristic necessitate putting questions in their right order.  The precepts apply whether one is doing physics, economics, philosophy or theology.

We have insisted that prices are not to be taken as an absolute givenfirst, rather they are to be questioned first and properly understood only at the end of the analysis in the light of the significant variables which explain the economic process.  Prices require explanation and, thus, come to be understood last in the analysis.  (Click here)   We have also stated that macroeconomists do not know what they do not know about proper analysis, and consequently, a) do not understand what constitutes good method, heuristic, and theory, b) cannot put questions in their right order, thus c) fail to understand and appreciate the scientific validity of Lonergan’s  Macroeconomic Field Theory, and d) mistakenly, and tragically, dismiss out of hand Lonergan’s purely-relational, scientific-explanation of the dynamic economic process. (Click here)

The reader might pause to study two diagrams showing a) the learning Lonergan brought to Macroeconomic Field Theory,  and b) The Elements of his Analysis. (Click here and here) The diagrams should be reviewed to gain some sense of the depth and breadth of thinking, which served as the basis for Lonergan’s radically different systematics.

Though they don’t realize it, in their static AD-AS and IS-LM models macroeconomists apprehend prices only in a prescientific, confused sort of way.  Prices are elements of a dynamic process, and the macroeconomist must have a scientific, dynamic heuristic adequate to a dynamic process of price-quantity flows.

… the Robinson-Eatwell analysis is hampered … by their building the economic priora quoad nos of profits, wages, prices, etc., into explanation, when in fact the priora quoad nos are last in analysis: they require explanation. [McShane, 1980, 124]

… the first movement toward acquiring science begins from an ordinary prescientific description of things and ends in the knowledge of their causes.  This first movement has been called: (1) analysis, because it starts from what is apprehended in a confused sort of way and moves to well-defined causes or reasons,… [CWL 12, 61-3]

Questions cannot be put in any order whatsoever.  Some questions simply cannot be answered until others have been resolved.  And sometimes the answers to one question immediately provide the answers to others. [CWL 12, 23]

… putting things in their right order is the special talent of the wise person, and so the wise person will start with the problem that is first in the sense (1) that its solution does not presuppose the solution to other problems, (2) that solving it will expedite solving a second problem, (3) that solving the first and second problems will lead right away to solving a third, and so on through all consequent connected problems. [CWL 12, 23]

Next, understanding is about principles.  A principle is defined as what is first in some order.  Therefore, it belongs to understanding to grasp the solution of that problem that is first in the order proposed by wisdom. Since this order is such that solving the first means that the others are expeditiously solved, the understanding should be such as virtually to contain in itself the answers to the rest of the questions. [CWL 12, 23]

Investigators soon lose the right track if they do not carefully and accurately grasp the goal of their science.  So too, students can have serious difficulties and worries when they do not understand what the goal of their studies is and what means they should use to get there. [CWL 12, 7]

… the human mind is such that it does not wonder about things just individually but, understanding individual elements, goes on to ask how they are connected with one another. [CWL 12, 17]

Lonergan’s critique (shows that) by using the technique of implicit definition, the emphasis shifts from trying to define the relevant variables to searching heuristically for the maximum extent of interconnections and interdependence; and that the variables discovered in this way might not resemble very much the objects (or the aggregates) (such as prices) which, in the first instance, one was thinking about.   [Gibbons, 1987; Economic Theorizing in Lonergan and Keynes]

… the questions are put in such an order that, once the first is solved, the solutions to the others follow with almost no difficulty.  Therefore, because the later solutions are connected to the first as conclusions are connected to some principle, all solutions after the first seem to be the proper province of knowledge. [CWL 12, 25]

One must start with precise analytical distinctions and precise implicit definitions of terms. And these terms must be implicitly defined by the functional relations in which they stand with one another, so as to be scientifically-significant terms.  These terms will provide a technical language and fundamental relations upon which to build a superstructure of relations constituting a fully explanatory theory.

(Lonergan) approaches the focus armed with precise analytic distinctions between basic and surplus activities, outlays, incomes, etc. [CWL 21, Editor’s Introduction xxvi]

Lonergan is looking for an explanation in which the terms are defined by the relations in which they stand, that is, by a process of implicit definition.  … “The significance of implicit definition is its complete generality.  The omission of nominal definition is the omission of a restriction to objects which, in the first instance, one happens to be thinking about.  The exclusive use of explanatory or postulational elements concentrates attention upon the set of relationships in which the whole scientific significance is contained.” [Gibbons 1987, Economic Theorizing in Lonergan and Keynes p313]

… if solving the first problem virtually solves all the others, the concepts and terms in which the first problem and the first solution are defined and expressed cannot be significantly changed if they are to serve to define and express the later problems and solutions.  Clearly, then, it is not the arbitrary malice of professors but the interconnected questions and solutions themselves that demand both systematically formed concepts and a technical terminology that corresponds not to any concepts whatsoever but to systematic concepts. [CWL 12, 25]

a system of definitions is introduced through which the solutions can be formulated, and because a technical terminology is developed for expressing the defined concepts. [CWL 12, 25]

Imperfect solutions are dangerous.

(in imperfect solutions,) the first problem and all the connected subsequent problems are solved imperfectly.  But imperfect solutions are only partly solutions, and so they are also partly new problems.  … The wisdom that puts the new problems into order is the wisdom not of the truly wise but of those who have poorly understood.  The solutions to these new problems come from the very persons whose poor understanding was the source and cause of the new problems in the first place.  Thus, a new system arises, but it is just a semblance of a true system.  Its problems do not really exist, its order will please those who have little wisdom, its principle will satisfy only those whose understanding is superficial, and its knowledge will be a morass of obscurity and confusion. [CWL 12, 25-27]

… understanding is fruitful, so that when some first problem is solved, the remaining connected problems will be easily brought to a solution.  This very fruitfulness, however, has its disadvantages.  The same system that can be understood, grow, and keep improving can also be poorly understood or not understood at all, with the result that those who understand poorly will concoct pseudo-systems to solve pseudo-problems. [CWL 12, 29]

… a part of knowledge cannot be omitted without inflicting a threefold harm on learners.  First, omitting the part means that they will not learn that part.  Second, and more seriously, knowledge itself will be mutilated.  What constitutes knowledge as knowledge is found not in the part but in the whole, and so to hand on some parts as if they were the whole is to work against knowledge rather than to serve it.  Third, and most seriously of all, mutilated knowledge will sooner or later be distorted. [CWL 12, 29]

All science begins from particular correlations, but the key discovery is the interdependence of the whole. [CWL 15, 53 and 177]

We said enough above about the close connection between what is prior in itself and what is prior for us: what the way of analysis discovers and demonstrates is entirely the same as what the way of synthesis wisely orders.  But if this intimate link and interdependence are overlooked or not clearly grasped, … speculation will  … neglect the positive sources, … and positive investigations, deprived of direction and integration, will wander aimlessly hither and thither or like some huge mass lie there in complete inertia. [CWL 12, 95]

… one who reaches … understanding … that is most fruitful does not solve just one single problem in a sterile fashion …, but solves one problem directly in such a way that one simultaneously reaches a virtual solution of many others. [CWL 12, 43]

… there never seem to be lacking those whose diminished wisdom is ready and eager to take a part for the whole and to pass it on as such to others. [CWL 12, 65]

The difference is completely universal: every argument proceeds from something prior and moves to something subsequent;  [CWL 12, 71]

So the first movement toward acquiring science begins from an ordinary prescientific description of things and ends in the knowledge of their causes.  This first movement has been called: (1) analysis, because it starts from what is apprehended in a confused sort of way and moves to well-defined causes or reasons, (2) the way of resolution, because it resolves things into their causes, (3) the way of discovery, because previously unknown causes are discovered, (4) the way of certitude, because the ordinary prescientific knowledge of things is most obvious to us, and so the arguments we find most certain begin from such knowledge and go on to demonstrate matters that are more remote and more obscure to us, and (5) the temporal way, because causes are not usually discovered instantaneously, any more than they are discovered by just anyone or without a certain amount of good luck. ¶ The other movement starts from the causes that have been discovered and ends by understanding things in their causes.  This movement is called: (1) synthesis, because fundamental reasons are employed both to define things and to deduce their properties, (2) the way of composition, because causes are employed to produce things or constitute them, (3) the way of teaching or of learning, because it begins with concepts that are fundamental and especially simple, so that by adding a step at a time it may proceed in an orderly way to the understanding of an entire science, (4) the way of probability, partly because it often attains no more than probability, but also because people frequently have no clear discernment of just where or when they have reached certitude, and (5) the way of logical simultaneity, because, once the principles have been clearly laid down, all the rest takes comparatively little time; it can be accomplished in a few short deductions and applications.  ¶ For examples of the two ways, compare the history of a science like physics or chemistry with the textbooks from which these sciences are taught.  History reveals that these sciences worked out their various demonstrations starting from the most obvious sensible data.  But when one goes to a textbook, one finds at the beginning of the book in chemistry, only the periodic table of elements from which three hundred thousand compounds are derived, or, in physics, Newton’s laws, Riemannian geometry, or those remarkable quantum operators.  The reason for this difference is, of course, that inquiring, investigating, and demonstrating begin with what is obvious, while teaching begins from those concepts that can be understood without understanding other elements. [CWL 12, 61-63]

In the systematic way the understanding of some points is more necessary than the understanding of others: some  points are such that, unless they are understood, nothing else in the entire treatise can be understood; neglecting to understand other points may deprive us only of part of the understanding of the entire treatise; and finally, some points are included just so that others may be more easily understood or that the connections with other questions may be clearer or that we may proceed more promptly to the applications. [CWL 12, 73]

This conclusion is explicitly set forth in Summa Theologiae, I, q. 79, a. 2, and is sufficiently indicated in Summa contra Gentiles, 2, c, 98, ¶9, §1835; but it implicitly contains within itself the whole theory of intellect, … (CWL 12, 627)

We have treated Understanding All In A Unified Whole, an entire system in a sweeping act of understanding.  (Click here and here.) … “if we want a comprehensive grasp of everything in a unified whole, we shall have to construct a diagram in which are symbolically represented all the various elements of the question along with all the connections between them.” [McShane, 201644]

… one should attend as carefully as possible to the term of any process of reasoning, when inquiry and discursive reasoning have ceased and the intellect comprehends many things as a unity … when reasoning has finished, the intellect begins its work and attempts to apprehend in a single intuitive grasp effects in their causes, conclusions in their principles, and quiddities in their sensible data.  And the more powerful the intellect, the more things it apprehends in fewer and more synthetic acts. (Summa Theologiae, I, q. 55, a. 3) (CWL 12, 629)

The aim of systematics is … to promote understanding.  It does not seek to establish facts.  It strives for some inkling of how it could possibly be that the facts are what they are. [CWL 14, 336]

(There is) a gradual increase of understanding.  A clue is spotted that throws some light on the matter in hand.  But that partial light gives rise to further questions, the further questions  to still further answers.  The illuminated area keeps expanding for some time but eventually … the vein of ore seems played out.  But successive thinkers tackle the whole matter over again.  …  Eventually perhaps there arrives on the scene a master capable of envisaging all the issues and of treating them in their proper order. [CWL 14, 345]

[7/18/19] No doubt Keynes was an economist first and a methodologist second but he was none the less very articulate about his theorizing……..Lonergan, for his part, is perhaps a methodologist first and an economist second, but, as we shall see, he was able to push his economic reflections further than Keynes because he had a firmer grasp of the essentials of an effective theory.   [Gibbons, 1987] [3]


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