Transforming the Philosophical Tradition (Part 1)

Done wrongly, philosophy can be highly corrosive to one’s life. It can lead you to doubt everything…Do we really want to cast the young out onto the sea of philosophical doubt and uncertainty?1Ken Taylor, “Philosophy for the Young: Corrupting or Empowering? SoundCloud broadcast, Thursday, September 2, 2010, 5:00 p.m. Retrieved online: 04/06/2018

You may still be wondering how our line of inquiry stands with respect to the philosophical tradition. In Journeyism 2 took a stand against the philosophical tradition’s history of confusion with regard to human knowing and human decision-making. This confusion has undermined philosophy’s role and status in the academy.2“At one time philosophy was the central intellectual discipline, now it is peripheral. Few care about the ‘latest developments’ in philosophy. Some might say there are none: that philosophy doesn’t develop, it just asks the same old questions over and over, talks or writes a lot, and answers nothing….It’s a peripheral, confined scope of inquiry that leads to relativism and a general denial of or pessimism about knowing the fundamental nature of things. Preoccupied with words, it descends into an infinite regress of meanings. Preoccupied with analysis, it takes apart what is already known and yet adds nothing new.” From website discussion: “What Is The Present Nature, And The Future, Of Philosophy?” This response to the question was submitted by John Talley, Rutherfordton, NC. Retrieved online: 04/06/2018. In Journeyism 4 we pointed to how and why our stand would meet this challenge by extending an invitation to discover the actual process of knowing and decision-making. 

We hope an honest and humble3“Philosophy isn’t about intellectual arrogance; it’s about intellectual honesty and humility.” Ken Taylor, “Philosophy for the Young: Corrupting or Empowering? SoundCloud broadcast, Thursday, September 2, 2010, 5:00 p.m. Retrieved online: 04/06/2018 struggle to come to grips with each process will place you in an advantageous position with regard to the philosophic tradition; indeed, a position that could eventually make possible 

the discovery (and one has not made it yet if one has no memory of its startling strangeness) that there are two quite different realisms, that there is an incoherent realism, half animal and half human, that poses as a half-way house between materialism and idealism and, on the other hand, that there is an intelligent and reasonable realism between which and materialism the half-way house is idealism.4Bernard Lonergan, Insight, (CWL 3) 1992, 22. Arriving at the real is something we do with regular spontaneity, despite all the muddles in philosophy, both in professors and in history. But to get critical possession of that arrival, that is the challenge of mastering your native wonder. And we have only begun. Lonergan is making a very strange claim: that if you have got that far in your thinking about ‘is-ing’, or even if you have got a glimpse that ‘is-ing’, somehow, is something that underpins your nodding, “yes, that is so,” then you are literally far out … in what we risk calling extreme realism. See Introducing Critical Thinking, Chapter 19. “Plato Again: Inside Out”, 71-3.


In the meantime, a simple exercise5The exercise is adapted from Chapter 52, “Constructive Departing”, Introducing Critical Thinking, 213-17. of working with this quotation can help us to locate the levels of confusion in the philosophic tradition alongside the diagram, Dynamics of Knowing.6The Dynamics of Knowing is introduced and explored in Journeyism 9-11.

We can see that the levels in the diagram climb from experiencing (Level 1), to understanding (Level 2), to judgment or correct understanding (Level 3).

Place an imaginary horizontal line between each level. 

Do you notice that each of the three views of ‘the real’ in the quotation: ‘materialism’, ‘idealism’ and ‘intelligent, reasonable realism’ line up with each of the three levels in the Dynamics of Knowing? 

The first two, ‘materialism’ and ‘idealism’, are standard divisions of the traditional philosophic view on ‘what is real’. We might even venture to say it is a standard view reflected in everyday life on the street. 

All the same, there is the group that lives by sensible needs (Level 1: ‘materialism’). There is the group of ‘ideas-people’ that live for some ideal (Level 2: ‘idealism’). In dividing up the philosophical tradition, teachers distinguish these two groups as ‘materialists’ or ‘idealists’, respectively as British or European, as siding with Hume (1711-1776) or with Kant (1724-1804) and Plato. 

Broadly speaking, the philosophical tradition lines up between Level 1: ‘materialism’ and Level 2: ‘idealism’. Taken all together they generate a confused spectrum of truncated views on ‘reality’ rooted in the naïve assumption that, in one way or another, knowing ‘reality’ is like taking a good look.7“If theoretically this dialectical process could begin from any confusion, commonly its starting-point is the myth that knowing is looking.” Bernard Lonergan, “Cognitional Structure,” Introducing the Thought of Bernard Lonergan, London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1973, 26. We recommend this essay (15-33) for a more detailed follow-up to our brief discussion of this issue. 

Conspicuously absent from the tradition is Level 3: ‘intelligent and reasonable realism’ that affirms ‘reality’ is reached by correctly understanding experience. Ironically, ‘materialists’ and ‘idealists’ would insist that somehow their view ‘really is’ the result of correctly understanding experience.8“Differences in cognitional theory can be resolved by bringing to light the contradiction between a mistaken cognitional theory and the actual performance of the mistaken theorist. To take the simplest instance, Hume thought the human mind to be a matter of impressions linked together by custom. But Hume’s own mind was quite original. Therefore, Hume’s own mind was not what Hume considered the human mind to be.” Bernard Lonergan, Method in Theology, 20-1.

How might this little exercise help you to bypass the philosophical tradition as it currently oriented? The more you focus on achieving elementary insights from your descriptive journey to correctly understand your experience as a knower and decision-maker, you will become increasingly less vulnerable to the confusion. So, would it not be fair to ask yourself, what practical purpose would be served to engage at all with the philosophical tradition? Would it not simply make more sense to continue “to hold to the light of critical reflection”9“Philosophy demands that you subject not just the beliefs and prejudices of others, but also your own beliefs and prejudices, to the light of critical reflection.” Ken Taylor, “Philosophy for the Young: Corrupting or Empowering? SoundCloud broadcast, Thursday, September 2, 2010, 5:00 p.m. Retrieved online: 04/06/2018 what it means to correctly understand your experience, on the way to discover an intelligent and reasonable realism?


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