You, Me & Helen Keller (Part 2)

All men [and women] by nature desire to know.1ibid. Aristotle, Ross (Trans.), Metaphysics, Book A, (I).

The Second Core Attitude2This installment draws heavily on Lonergan’s Verbum articles. For an expanded account of the meaning of what- and why-questions see Chapter 2, “Verbum: Definition and Understanding,” pp. 12-59. (To question → To understand)

At this stage, Helen’s struggle could be summed up in the words, “What the heck is going on?” The “heck” hints at moods and mood swings and the reality that Helen has no words, only minded moods.

So, in Diagram 2, we start the y sequence later than the sequence x to allow for the possibility that the initial addition of the x sequence was accepted as merely a game, a finger game. After a couple of weeks, especially with the shift of locale and of style of life, the fun would surely fade.

Diagram 2

One might say Helen’s fun was replaced by the struggle to make sense of such things as ‘mug’ and ‘milk:’ “they had given her trouble. She confused the nouns with the verb ‘drink.’”3Op. cit., Helen and Teacher. For Helen recalls, “Earlier in the day we had had a tussle over the words ‘m-u-g’ and ‘w-a-t-e-r.’ Miss Sullivan had tried to impress it upon me that ‘m-u-g’ is mug and that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ is water, but I persisted in confounding the two.”4Ibid., The Story of My Life, 36.

What is ‘it’? Why? 

Helen was struggling toward the what of why-answers, toward an ‘it’ that was a vague liquid entity, expressed by “why?”: why the hand shaping? 

This attitude brings us to our y sequence, diagrammed as coming in later. It represents Helen’s stretching “why?” which occurred at some stage in the five weeks. Possibly, the sequence has only one member, a blossoming “y” on April 7. 

Insight into Phantasm 

Insight into phantasm is the first part of the process that moves from sense through understanding to essential definition.5op. cit., CWL2, 38. 

Helen’s stretching quest was the struggle for insight into phantasm.

… anyone can experience this of himself, that when he tries to understand something, he forms certain phantasms to serve him by way of examples, in which as it were he examines what he is desirous of understanding. For this reason, it is that when we wish to help someone to understand something, we lay examples before him, from which he forms phantasms for the purpose of understanding.6op. cit., Summa Theologiae, Ia Q.84, a.7.

The motion of Annie’s fingers and the sensation of liquidity had combined to provide an image or diagram that served as examples in which Helen could – by inspection, as it were – reach that in which she was striving to understand.7ibid., Summa Theologiae, Ia Q.84, a.7. 

One cannot understand without understanding something; and the something understood, the something whose intelligibility is actuated, is the phantasm.8Op. cit., Verbum, pp. 28-9. The ‘something understood,’ sensory data, relates to our point in Journeyism 6 about the need for sense experience: “a person without sense perception would never learn anything or understand anything.” 

So, y is hovering over, in, the pair x and z. And then comes the dawning. Helen is lifted into a new human horizon: X POINTS TO Z, one aggregate of sensitive events points to another. Well, not quite. The pointing is more complex: x points to z within Helen’s zone of view. The vague liquid entity as thus meant and held by Helen has A NAME. 

The name meanspoints. To what does the name point? It points to Helen’s zone of view: to the grasp of something splashing, soaping, smelling over years. What does “water” point to? It points to water of some kind. What does “water” mean? It means either ‘just any water’ or perhaps ‘what we commonly mean by water.’ Helen’s grasp of water is 

similar in all respects … [it does] not differ in idea, in essence, in nature, or in any accidental characteristic; there is mere material multiplication.9Op. cit., Verbum, p. 27.

Thus, her formulation for ‘water’ 

can be accounted for by the reflection of intellect back to phantasm where the many instances of the one idea are represented.10Ibid. Verbum.

FormulationDefinition, Concept 

So, for Helen and ourselves, the act of formulating is a personal inner achievement resulting from direct insight into phantasm.11The key passage is ibid., pp. 41-42. What- and why-questions seek an inner word from which to formulate an idea of what a thing is. As such, the terms, formulationdefinition and concept each mean the same thing.12See Journeyism 9. 

Image 2, below, represents the second core attitude.13What wonder is the second of five core attitudes that can be associated with five meanings of the question why, the occurrence of which is termed the formal cause. The arrow at the bottom of the image denotes the relationship between the first and second stages of wonder. The arrow above indicates that Helen’s struggle to master her first word points to a third stage. 

Image 2


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