While the discussion of Aquinas in the previous post has shown us how evil results from a corrupted set of intentional states, and that the resultant evil can be thought of as both a privation and a potent force…as both a thing that should have been but was not and a thing that should NOT have been but is… Aquinas was not clear as to why the agent intellect entertains corrupted intentional states in the first place. Here I turn to the (arguably personalist) philosopher and theologian, Bernard Lonergan (1904-1983) for help.
In his major work Insight  Lonergan discusses what it means to know. He provides a phenomenology of the process of knowing that involves the process of experiencing, understanding, and judgment. The raw material for knowledge is experience. Experience is derived from the senses. While experiencing is an act of awareness (deriving images from forms) it is not yet understanding or true knowing. Lonergan follows Aquinas in arguing that the act of understanding delivers true knowing. It sublates the awarenesses achieved in experiencing and enriches them with a grasp of the universals and intelligibles abstracted from the forms encountered in experience. These intelligibles are put into a meaningful order during the process of understanding. But the process of inquiry or knowledge-seeking does not stop there. Once intelligibles are ordered the knower reflects on them and derives their inherent values. Judgment imposes a hierarchy of significances on the intelligibles. It sublates or enriches the order or unity imposed on the intelligibles by the understanding and adds the element of value to them. Discovery of value is linked to identification of the hacceity or “this-ness” of things and persons. This three-fold process of knowing eventuates in a sudden grasp of a provisional unity of all the intelligibles the mind is grappling with in a single act of knowing. This is the experience of insight. The knower then knows that he knows and he appreciates what used to be a mere collection of images or objects as instead a unified whole that has meaning and significance. In the process of grasping this new unity the knower realizes that his knowing accomplished this fact and this is self-reflective awareness. This self-reflective awareness of rational knowing that one knows implies that the knowledge is trustworthy and significant. Because being is intelligible, the three fold process of knowing is also isomorphic with the structure of the real or being itself . Now in the Thomistic tradition being is fundamentally composed of form, potency and act. Experience matches form as it operates on the forms. Understanding matches potency as it brings the forms out of non-being (potentia) and into potency or being. It grasps the unities and laws that underlie forms presented to experience. Understanding is intellectual and gives us a grasp of necessity or law that is Being. Act matches judgment as the judgment presupposes experience and understanding and it yields fact or a decision about what is and what is significant.
Given his analyses of the cognitional process how does Lonergan deal with evil? He largely accepts Aquinas’ analysis of evil and notes that since being is pronounced good by God, evil must have no positive reality because evil is the opposite of good. But as I argued above this conception of evil can only be partially correct. The analysis assumes that goodness and Being are one and the same thing and that goodness is a substance like Being is a substance. But goodness may not be a substance at all. Whatever the case may be concerning the metaphysical basis of evil, Lonergan is clear concerning where evil enters into the cognitional process itself. Like Augustine, Lonergan argues that evil finds its roots in irrationality and it results from the breakdown of the cognitional process. It is a flight from insight. “Just as insight can be desired, so too it can be unwanted. Besides the love of light, there can be a love of darkness…if prepossessions and prejudices notoriously vitiate theoretical investigations, much more easily can elementary passions bias understanding in practical and personal matters.” This darkening of the intellect Lonergan calls “dramatic bias” and it has ripple effects on the individual’s whole psychology. It splits his psychology and orients him inwardly such that he develops a kind of “scotosis” that prevents him from seeing the light. He actively discounts facts that could enlighten his understanding and lead him to insight. He finds it more difficult to discern what is truly good. If the intellect does not know what is truly good, the will is not able to direct action appropriately and so disorder ensues and this disorder ripples into relationships with others. Dramatic bias becomes habitual such that information that conflicts with the bias is screened out and information consistent with the bias is let in. Dramatic bias when habitual becomes individual bias. and individual bias when rampant among the people becomes group bias. and when many or most groups in a culture are biased we get general bias. Group bias is similar to dramatic/individual bias, but its intent is to preserve and promote the interests of a dominant group, at the expense of individuals and other groups. General bias erroneously values commonsense knowledge as ultimate knowledge and eschews true theoretical knowledge. It too, then, is ultimately a flight from rational self-consciousness.
If these various forms of anti-intellectual bias are the sources of evil, what causes bias in the first place? What causes a turn toward darkness of the intellect? Yes, the effort of inquiry is hard but surely it is not so hard as to engender flight from inquiry and love of darkness? It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what Lonergan considered to be the source of bias as his discussions were prolix and complex. Nevertheless, at one point he appears to argue that the human community inherently generates tension due to conflicts between human individuality, inter-subjectivity and cultural and social order. Although he never, so far as I can see, says directly that groups are what create bias I read his reflections on the dialectic of community tensions to suggest just that. Basically, the tensions arising from the need to live in groups creates an opening for evil. Humans have to cooperate with one another in order to create social order but that cooperation is difficult due to diverse interests. Humans create groups in order to solve the problem of cooperation, but the groups they create can have deleterious or beneficent effects or both. Lonergan himself discussed the deleterious effects of groups in his discussion of general and group bias. His description of cultural or general bias reduces in my opinion to group bias that has no inherent corrective principal (due for example to competition of ideas across groups as discussed by Lonergan). Thus, my reading of Lonergan suggests to me that groups are the source of bias and evil. We nevertheless need to create groups in order to survive. The task is to work out how to create groups that avoid bias and that promote human flourishing rather than evil. The solution, which in Insight is named “cosmopolis,” essentially takes the scientific or scholarly community and recommends it as a model for group living. While it is true that science has procedures that systematically correct for bias science does not represent an unrestricted desire to know. Lonergan is too laudatory here with respect to science. To derive a better model for development of beneficent groups we first need to inquire more deeply into just how group bias yields evil.
Fundamental to moral consciousness and choice is the primeval sense of agency or the agent intellect; the sense that I am the author of my actions. “Sense of agency” or the subjective experience of being the cause of our own actions or attributing agency to the actions of others is defines the human moral experience. Sense of agency is fundamental to the human experience of intentionality, perspective taking, and feeling personal responsibility for one’s actions. It is this sense of agency that groups most directly impact and therein lies the power and danger of groups.
The sense of agency can be constructed at varying cognitive and neural levels,,. A widely distributed brain network undergirds agentic moral sentiments: sections of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), such as the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and anterior PFC, anterior temporal poles, superior temporal sulcus (STS), temporo-parietal junction (TPJ), and limbic-subcortical structures, such as the hypothalamus, basal forebrain, and ventral striatum,,,. We have seen above that free agency involves a two-phase process: deliberation and willing: deliberation around a set of potential courses of action and then willing the chosen course of action. We have also seen above that intentionality or intentions aimed at goals bridge the deliberative and willing phases of action. Interestingly, this bridging process by the intentions can now be observed as implemented in neural processes via use of neuroimaging studies that identify brain activation patterns during tasks that probe agency and intentionality. Such tasks reveal that intentions recruit an overlapping brain network with regions we know from independent studies are responsible for moral cognition,. A recent study by Moll for example, teased apart the varying neuroanatomical and functional activation of emotions, sense of agency, social agency, and intentionality. Agency- and intentionality-based tasks were primarily mediated by frontotemporal networks (PFC and STS, and TPJ), while motivational aspects of the task involved limbic and paralimbic structures in conjunction with anterior PFC and anterior temporal cortices and deliberative aspects of the task involved anterior prefrontal networks.it appears then that the intentional states literally map information from the deliberative processes to the motivational processes in brain.
There is abundant evidence, however, that these intentional mapping processes can be aborted or distorted or altered at both the cognitive and neural levels via interaction of the individual with group demands. Taking on the moral ideology or aims of a given group can powerfully alter intentional states of members of that group,.The group does this by altering the sense of agency or Self of the individual. The Self, of course is a complex, socially-constructed but biologically constrained entity. The Self is defined by sense of agency, intentionality, and decision-making processes. The sense of Self as ‘agent’ appears to draw on several psychologic and neuropsychologic domains such as autobiographical memory, emotional and evaluative systems, self-monitoring, bodily-awareness, subjectivity or perspectivalness in perception, etc. But the core processes most implicated in sense of the acting Self per se are agency, Will and rationality. These are the core processes that make us individual acting persons and yet these are the very processes that groups seek to alter. When groups alter the sense of Self what generally occurs is some degree of de-personalization.
De-personalization is a state that indicates loss of personal autonomy and choice. Slaves are depersonalized by their slave-owners and enemies are depersonalized by combatants.
The Self is always embedded within a social group and the interaction of the Self with the social group is the process where all kinds of evil phenomena, including the process of depersonalization, emerge and it is to that interaction we turn next.
One of the major sources of evil in the world is the lack of empathy for another’s suffering. Whence comes that lack of empathy? A minority of the population, so-called socio or psychopaths, do not experience empathy as easily as most of us do. These psychopaths exhibit muted autonomic nervous system (ANS) responses when they witness the sufferings of others. Some psychopaths appear to have brain abnormalities in the orbitofrontal cortex-an area of the brain that regulates the ANS as well as emotional responses. As discussed above the orbitofrontal cortex is also the area that implements intentional states. Psychopathic murderers are known to kill not out of hate, passion, impulsivity or criminality. Often they kill merely for conveniences sake or because there is something fascinating for them in the act itself. Psychopaths are in the strictest sense of the word devoid of individual level intentional states as they do not experience the sufferings of others. Psychopaths are an initial model of de-personalization.
De-personalization is the loss of individual intentional states and the concomitant ability to feel normal feelings. It is the loss of self-awareness, autonomy and self-control and the transference of basic functions of the Self, such as empathy and intercourse with others, over to a group. In short there is a reduction in self-awareness and an increase in group or social identity. Typically the transfer of Self is to a group that the individual identifies with. It is, to use a technical term, a highly entitative group. The group carries much of the individual’s identity such that the individual is comfortable adopting the group’s actions as his own. If the group stigmatizes some other out-group as noxious, so too will the individual once de-individuation occurs. If the group acts with a kind of herd mentality, moving with fads or waves of irrational attachments to various salient ‘ideas’, so too will the individual once de-personalization occurs. If the group decides that violent elimination of other groups or of selected individuals is necessary, the individual member of the group will produce rationales to justify the violence, once de-personalization occurs. How then does de-personalization occur?
Social psychologists have made significant contributions to our understanding of the process of depersonalization. De-individuation, as distinct from depersonalization, is commonly understood to involve a reduction in self-awareness and a resultant social anonymity such that responsibility for behavioral acts is diffused throughout the group (e.g., Zimbardo, 1969). Unlike, the case of depersonalization, however, de-individuation, may not be associated with a concomitant increase in social identity. Instead of a merging of Self with the group the individual who is de-individuated seems to just drift or to become powerless. While both de-individuation and depersonalization harm the individual psychically, depersonalization is fraught with greater potential for evil and that is because depersonalization involves not just a decrease in personal awareness but a replacement of personal identity with a group identity-a merging of the Self with the group. This replacement process fundamentally requires a replacement of the individual’s intentional states with the intentions/purposes of the group. Instead of a person we get a group entity, a kind of machine. Now the person functions not in pursuit of his own aims but in pursuit of the group aim. The group calls the shots and the individual loses self-control and personal autonomy as well as his capacity to feel the suffering of others.
The reason evil becomes possible with de-personalization is because only an individual can experience empathy for the suffering of another individual. Only an individual can love. Groups cannot feel pain, empathy or love. The infliction of suffering on a person or persons is more likely to stop if someone present at the event can feel the suffering that the person is undergoing. Groups cannot do that. They act only to increase their weight, density, influence and power. Now with respect to alteration of the intentional states of member individuals it should be noted that there are two major forms of groups: ‘civil’ and ‘enterprise’ associations,. In civil associations individuals rule, under some agreed upon law or contract. In enterprise associations managers rule and individuals exist for the purpose of the enterprise whatever it is. Of course, there is a place for both types of groups and both types of groups can harm people in various ways but enterprise associations are by far more dangerous in terms of potential for evil. It should now be clear why that is the case: enterprise associations are highly entitative groups that demand surrender of individual aims and identities so that the group purpose can be accomplished. Every human group varies in the extent to which it is civil or enterprise. Religions and political entities tend to be enterprise associations and thus fraught with high potential for evil. Religions in particular exhibit both tendencies. On the one hand most religions encourage personal growth and transformation as well as self-control and individual autonomy. On the other hand many religions also emphasize ethnic and group allegiances that tend to demand a sacrifice of personal autonomy. In short, the story is complex but it seems safe to say the depersonalization in the context of highly entitative, ‘enterprise associations’ carries the greatest potential for evil. Once the group’s intentional states take over the individual’s intentional apparatus the agent intellect of that individual no longer is guided by his or her desires or love. Therefore the agent intellect operates in an unhinged manner and does not bring into consciousness those forms which should be brought into being when aiming at the true, the good and the beautiful. Instead criteria for choosing forms are decided by group aims and the group almost always aims at power, profit and the destruction of individuals. Even the best of groups are biased against Love so how can we construct groups that promote love and intellectual inquiry?
In chapter 20 of Insight, Lonergan discusses thirty-one points that speak to a response to evil. As mentioned above his fundamental recommendation is to construct the cosmopolis along the lines of the scientific community. But in chapter 20 he also suggests that something more is needed: a grace-filled community. Lonergan points out that group dynamics, the inherent tensions within community give rise to civilizational effects. Cultures are always simultaneously progressing toward liberty, declining away from inquiry or seeking redemption from decline. Lonergan argues that God has foreseen (since there are no divine afterthoughts) the need for redemption and already provided for it in the existing world order. The solution to group induced evil must transcend groups. There will be required “new conjugate thought forms” or habits of inquiry. There will be the need to cooperate with God’s solution to the problem of groups and this cooperation will depend on cultivation of the supernatural virtues faith, hope, and charity-virtues inimical to group think. For non-theists Lonergan’s recommendations will translate into a search for new forms of association that allow for optimal expression of individual talents.
To summarize: Only a free agent can love (there is no such thing as forced love) and therein lies the dignity of the free agent; the person. When actions are performed with Love, they are most voluntary and most free. If the agent intellect cognizes a thing or person with the eyes of Love, then it most perfectly apprehends or appropriates its value; its form or intelligible species—it most perfectly brings it from potentiality into actuality; into Being. Love allows one to know a thing or person most perfectly, and it allows me to know that I am knowing (bringing a form from potentiality into actuality) because Love involves contact or even a union of the thing known and the knower. Love, therefore, is also the basis of insight and self-reflective, rational consciousness. To know is to bring forms into consciousness from potentiality, and when love guides this intellectual process the forms brought into being are more fully actualized; their unity is more firmly grasped in a moment of insight and more deeply assimilated into the rational consciousness of the free agent. What allows this love-driven intellectual process to occur is the ethical and spiritual state of the agent/knower. The greater the self-reflective capacity of the knower, the greater his capacity to love, and to achieve insight into the true, the good and the beautiful. When this intellectual process occurs without love, the intelligibility of the form (its truth, goodness and beauty) is obscured, and thus it cannot be grasped or fully assimilated into the agent’s knowing. Its full coming into being is denied and this allows an opening for evil. Group bias is a significant source of evil as it compromises the free and voluntary status of the agent’s cognitional processes. Group bias depersonalizes the agent and replaces his desires and cognitional processes with its own desires. The biased group therefore makes the agent less capable of higher forms of cognition based on Love. When group bias operates apprehension/appropriation of form is distorted in such a way as to bring into actuality only those aspects of form congenial to the group bias, thus reinforcing bias and contributing to group structures that ultimately impact long term historical cycles that reinforce propensity to sin (as described by Lonergan).
The idea that there are forms that are inherently monstrous and evil and that should not see the light of day or existence seems logical to me. These forms need not be thought of as a part of the divine substance or created by God. The source of the potential pool of forms could have derived from the free activities of the myriad creatures created by God. For a non-theist there is no dearth of sources for monstrous forms.They are a realm of the totality that is not being, not substance but potential being. They are intermediate between nothingness and being. Being precise about the sources of evil helps us in the long run to more effectively combat our own evil inclinations and thus I think that personalist inquiry into evil (as I tried to do in this and previous posts on evil) is helpful as it leads to hope for its final defeat.
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