A Genetic Structure for Method

The method of futurology is a cyclic collaboration of groups of people deeply interested in effectively restructuring humanity’s stumbling start.1op. cit. Introducing Critical Thinking, 196.

We introduce, in Diagrams 1 and 2 below, a concrete heuristic for method.2Lonergan coined the heuristic, “Functional Specialization.” It is a genetic structure3When we speak of “genetic structure”, the expression “structure” must not be construed as something rigid that is imposed. On the contrary, it is used here in tandem with the term “genetic” in the classic sense of genesis or openness to development. Likewise, the term “method” is not to be construed as something rigid that is imposed. On the contrary, “[t]here is a method, then, where there are distinct operations, where each operation is related to the others, where the set of relations forms a pattern, where the pattern is described as the right way of doing the job, where operations in accord with the pattern may be repeated indefinitely, and where the fruits of such repetition are, not repetitious, but cumulative and progressive.” op. cit. Method in Theology, 4. that will eventually be implemented in every field of human inquiry. Its components are verified by centuries of intellectual fermentation that one might describe as having emanated from “the pressures of history.” Its foundation, empirical method, will continuously operate and enrich each of the interdependent tasks within the structure. 

 Diagram 1 

Diagram 2 

The eight tasks appear in bold. Description of each task has been refined and numbered below. Corresponding description from the sample syllabus is italicized and in bulleted points. 

Looking to the Past 

  1. Research: Finding relevant data, written or otherwise

“how anthropologists design and conduct research in the context of contemporary issues and questions” 

  1. Interpretation: Reaching the meaning of such data, the meaning of those that produced that data

  “Anthropological theories aim to interpret social action and explain social transformations” 

  1. History: Figuring out the story, connecting the meanings of the writings and the doings, etc.

  “how modern anthropologies…were created, and out of what historical, social, political and cultural conditions, tensions, and ambiguities they were fashioned.” 

  1. Dialectic: coming up with a best story and the best basic directions so far

 Debates: “the contributions of these theorists and the ensuing debates…examine the current debates that have critically informed questions of ethnographic methods, writing, and representation. 

Looking to the Future 

  1. Foundation: Expressing the best fundamental (in the sense that they are not tied to age, time, etc.) directions

  “the foundation of anthropological theory” 

  1. Policies: Reaching relevant pragmatic truths, somewhat like the core of national constitutions or of tribal legends

Principles: range of concepts central to contemporary anthropology” How can thinking anthropologically reconnect social and cultural theory with acts of change 

  1. Systematics: Drawing correctly and contra-factually on the strategies and discoveries of the past to envisage ranges of time-ordered possibilities

 Further Possibilities: “the kinds of anthropologies it may be possible to imagine, that can deal with the global conditions for public life in the world today.” 

  1. Communications: local collaborative reflection that selects creatively from the ordered ranges of possibilities

 Communication of ‘high points’“understand the ‘high points’ of different theoretical schools and see how theory in anthropology is produced and circulated.” 



The purpose of Exercises 1 and 2 below is to illustrate the need for a standard model of genetic method in all fields of inquiry. Exercise 1 invites you to observe the presence of the eight tasks in your field of study. Exercise 2 invites you to imagine how the standard model would work in your field of study.  

Exercise 1 

Note that the collaborative effort in performance of the tasks “is essentially not a distinction of specialists but a distinction of specialties. It arises, not to divide the same sort of task among many hands, but to distinguish different tasks and to prevent them from being confused.”4Op. cit. Method, 136. For additional examples of confusion in, and blurring of, the tasks as they are currently performed in the field of language studies see: Chapter 9, “Towards Methodological Restructuring in Language Studies,” op. cit. Shaping the Future of Language Studies, pp. 116-137. Likewise, in the field of physics, see Terrance J. Quinn, The (Pre)Dawning of Functional Specialization in Physics, World Scientific Publishing Co. Pte. Ltd. 2017. 

Evidence of this confusion may be found in any academic essay or journal article. The data reveals the presence of the eight tasks. However, there is confusion in, and blurring of the tasks not only between paragraphs, and between sentences within a paragraph, but also within a sentence. The result is that the performance of each task is reduced to a mere shadow of its proper function,5“It is to be noted that such functional specialties are intrinsically related to one another. They are successive parts of one and the same process. The earlier parts are incomplete without the later. The later presuppose the earlier and complement them. In brief, functional specialties are functionally independent. Such interdependence is of the greatest methodological interest. First, without any prejudice to unity, it divides and clarifies the process from data to results. Secondly, it provides an orderly link between field specialization, based on the division of data and subject specialization, based on a classification of results. Thirdly, the unity of functional specialties will be fund, I think, to overcome or, at least, counter-balance the endless divisions of field specialization.” (Method in Theology, 126.) or a “shadow zone.” We present, for example, an excerpt from the journal article, “Englands of the Mind,” by David Gervais below.6With a few necessary modifications, all the material from the beginning of the next paragraph to the end of the article is drawn from Shaping the Future of Language Studies, 129-131. or a cross-section of examples in language studies, see Chapter 9, “Towards Methodological Restructuring in Language Studies,” Shaping the Future of Language Studies, 116-130.


  • Select one paragraph from any journal article in your field of study. Using the description in Diagram 2 as a guide, identify the presence of various “shadow zones” embedded line by line, in the text, in the manner presented by the example below. 

Sample Paragraph 

[1] But even on these terms, ‘Englishness’ is hardly enough on its own. [2] Montesquieu once said ‘Je suis homme d’être français’. [3] English art has to be more than just English. [4] To think of Purcell as an ‘English composer,’ as if that were to distinguish him from Bach or Monteverdi, is to obscure the music. [5] The English like to think of Shakespeare as ‘English’ but, to the rest of the world, his plays are simply drama itself. [6] Great art has a nationality of its own. [7] If we link its meaning to its origins we risk confusing it with politics. [8] Cultural studies and culture is not the same thing. [9] Is Goethe any less German for discovering part of himself through Shakespeare? [10] When Charles V picked up Titian’s brush or when the evangelical Ruskin was bowled over by the counter-Reformation allegories of the Scuola di San Rocco, they were acknowledging that ideology is more finite than art. [11] Yet a great deal of English art, even that of a major figure like Britten, can seem over-conscious of its own ‘Englishness.’ [12] Geoffrey Hill matters because he is able to express the experience of ‘Englishness’ through the experience of the rest of Europe. [13] (The English poets of the great war seem to be writing about an English war.) [14] Even Kipling asked, ‘What do they know of England who only England know?’ [15] Being set in a silver sea has its drawbacks. Sometimes writers need to leave home. [16] The problem for them today is that Europe, let alone the world, offers them only a politico-economic destination not a cultural one. 

Evidence of ‘Shadow Zones’ 

The first sentence evaluates the limitations of the meaning of “Englishness” (dialectic). The second sentence interprets Montesquieu (interpretation). The third sentence expresses a timeless truth intrinsic to English art (foundations). The fourth sentence judges Purcell’s historical standing alongside Bach and Monteverdi (history); it also implies a foundational criterion of musical development (dialectics). The fifth sentence judges the artistic stature of Shakespeare, the English people, the world at large (history); it also implies a principle by which dramatic art would be judged (policies). The sixth sentence asserts a principle about art (policies). The seventh sentence interprets the meaning of art (interpretation) and meshes this interpretation with an evaluation of the meaning of politics (dialectic). The ninth sentence interprets the meaning of “cultural studies” and “culture” (interpretation). The tenth sentence interprets the meaning of Charles V and Ruskin (interpretation); it also attributes to their doings a principle about art (policies). The eleventh sentence interprets the meaning of Britten (interpretation). The twelfth sentence interprets the meaning of Hill (interpretation). The thirteenth sentence judges the suggested nationalistic tone that consumes the poets of the “Great War” (history). The use of a rhetorical question by Kipling in the fourteenth sentence implies an interpretation of the meaning of Kipling (interpretation). The fifteenth sentence draws on a basic foundational view of poetic development to state a principle about poetic growth (policies). The sixteenth sentence offers a perspective, looking to the past, on the culture in which writers are working (dialectic). 

Exercise 2 

Imagine how the eight tasks would work in your field of study. 


  • Taking into account points 1 to 4 below, and Diagram 1 above, consider how the division of labour fulfills a practical need, not only to manage the enormous flow of data, but also to pass on best-to-date results, effectively and efficiently. 

1. Tasks 1 to 4, looking to the past:

The first four tasks refresh George Santayana’s popular saying: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”7Variations of this famous quote by the Spanish philosopher, George Santayana [1863-1952] have become embedded in popular culture. https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/George_Santayana 8/8/18. And, might we add remembering the past critically? Would it not make sense that Santayana and others (perhaps pioneers in your field of study), prompted by recurring social, political and economic disasters, were desperate to uncover relevant clues8In this regard, the relevant clue sought could be termed an “anomaly,” the discovery of which might have had either a positive or negative effect on a concrete situation. from which to chart the best way forward? 

2. Tasks 5 to 8, looking to the future:

How has “humanity’s stumbling start” influenced the limited way in which we think about the future? Take, for example, the ethos of technological advance for its own sake and its ambivalent impact on the quality of human life.9Does it not make sense that applied science is barely into its infancy? Is it also not puzzling, and tellingly ironic, that a culture can coin the expression, “A.I.” (“artificial intelligence”) at a time in history when there is widespread confusion about what human intelligence is? The problem has deepened enormously. Consider, for instance, the massive destructiveness of constructivism in modern education, globally, and the consequences of modeling human intelligence on the basis of spatially imagined networks of computer circuitry. Does the globe’s current economic and environmental path not give us pause with respect to where it is leading us? Are we not “deeply interested,” perhaps desperate, for practical solutions to our current situation? How much of your post-secondary education has been devoted to thinking seriously, and critically, about the future and how your field of study might contribute, positively and sustainably, to its shaping? 

3. Imagine the creative flow of intellectual labour produced by a cyclic collaboration of frontline scholars and scientists proceeding with a logically-ordered10We don’t mean “logic” in the popular sense of static or rigid. The coherence of which we speak is dynamic and regards how structure accommodates openness to development. Please recall that heuristic means ‘helping to discover’. Metaphysics is a logic of discovery that comes out of, and is improved continually, by our efforts to move forward in relevant discovery. Metaphysics applies a logic to our investigation of any area that helps to keep the search open. It picks up on the spontaneity of our thinking and spells out heuristically what that spontaneity should be attending to. The collaborative implementation of genetic method will restore philosophy to its proper status and function in the academy and in doing so, refresh the meaning of metaphysics. For further discussion regarding the distinction “between a static and dynamic viewpoint,” see Chapter 3 of Bernard Lonergan, Philosophy of God, and Theology, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1973, 45-50. “In brief, like the mortician, the logician achieves a steady state only temporarily. The mortician prevents not the ultimate but only the immediate decomposition of the corpse. In similar fashion the logician brings about, not the clarity, the coherence and the rigor that will last forever, but only the clarity, the coherence, and the rigor that will bring to light the inadequacy of current views and thereby give rise to the discovery of a more adequate position.” (47) rolling forward in your field of study? 

4. Imagine how that creative rolling forward of intellectual labour would, at each stage of the process, generate a certain sifting, of best-to-date products, that would bring progressive results to your field of study.


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