Late last year, the Gregorian University in Rome offered a conference entitled Revisiting Lonergan’s Anthropology. Paul did attend because he had read Lonergan’s works on economics (For a New Political Economy and Macroeconomic Dynamics).

I heard of Bernard Lonergan when I studied Pastoral Studies (LIMEX). I found out about the ‘Lonergan Loop’, described by my friend Moira Carley as a

‘spiraling process of heightened consciousness from being attentive to data, to intelligent questioning, to making reasonable judgments based on available evidence, to becoming a responsible maker of value decisions.’

I was then expected to be ‘an attentive, intelligent, reasonable and responsible learner’ (Creative Learning and Living: The Human Element, 2).

I had not planned on attending the Conference. Paul changed my mind when he showed me a workshop on “Lonergan and Women.” Attending also the conference was Moira whose book I am now reading. In it, she talks of ‘flight from understanding’ and bias.

I am posting below a description of Lonergan’s understanding of both flight from understanding and bias (its cause) (Lonergan Website: Glossary Project). You may know this already. For me this is a revelation, because here is explained why so few of us can truly think and assess a situation or a problem. Reading her book and the description below, I recognized the source or cause of all the problems surrounding us today.

Let me know what you think.


“Bias is rooted in the our failure to allow free reign to our drive to understand. Within every human consciousness, the drive to understand impels us to progress. However, bias undercuts this process native to human intelligence by censoring the spontaneous questions which lead us to make correct judgements.

Bias results from our failure to ask all the relevant questions needed in making a judgement. Bias is generated by a tension between the “higher” (intellectual operations) and “lower” (emotional and physical drives and needs) operations of the psyche. If progress is intricately bound up with the possibility of intellectual detachment, decline stems from bias. Thus, bias is not a necessary aspect of all inquiry. Rather, it is an incomplete unfolding of inquiry – a ‘flight from understanding.’

Lonergan identifies four levels of bias which impede progress and thus result in decline.

1. First, there is the bias of the unconscious, what Lonergan calls the dramatic bias. (I 191-203) Dramatic bias operates at the level of elementary passions. It precipitates introversion as one withdraws from the external drama of human living. One is unable to accumulate insights through interaction with others thus testing one’s insights against the criterion of other’s insights and experience.

2. Individual bias manifests itself in egoism. Egoism is not the spontaneous, instinctual acts of the human animal. Rather, egoism sabotages intellectual operations in order to serve the self-interest of the egoist. The egoist deliberately arranges events in order to satisfy his or her desires. At its most extreme, individual bias is manifested in the criminal and in crime’s deteriorating effect on society. At a less extreme level, individual bias leads to a kind of dis-ease in the individual, causing alienation.

3. Group bias is individual bias writ large. It is self-interest at the level of a particular group. Because the criteria for satisfaction has shifted from the individual to the group, it is easy to be deluded into thinking the bias is for a seemingly “good” order. “Group bias operates in the very genesis of common-sense views.” (I 222) 

Although intelligence thrives on continuous progress, the sensibility is embedded in a particular social order. Change is not easy and development at the level of a group is possible to the degree a group can intelligently respond to situations as they occur. Self preservation, however, precipitates blind spots as a group struggles to maintain its usefulness and its advantage. Intelligence, therefore, is compromised as it is forced to take a secondary position to the group interest.

If the strong group, the group with advantage and power, those who have managed to use progress and social development for their own interests, are able to use the insights of operative ideas to there own advantage, there are always those who are unable to do this and so “fall behind in the process of social development.” (I 224) The oppressive injustice that emerges from group bias creates within its very orientation or operation a self-corrective. Ultimately distortions created by group bias surface in such an obvious manner that the group is destined for defeat.

Thus, the nature of group bias creates its own ultimate reversal. For, not only is the group’s bias revealed by the surfacing of neglected ideas, the revelation is accompanied by the power to realize those ideas. This is why Lonergan calls group bias the shorter cycle of decline: built into its very distortion is its self-corrective reversal.

4. General bias is a deeper, more pervasive bias the corrective or reversal of which, unlike group bias, is in no way guaranteed. What Lonergan calls the “general bias of common sense,” (I 226) because of its pervasiveness, depth and insidiousness, generates the longer cycle of decline. 

For Lonergan, the particular danger of common sense, and hence its general bias, is in its extending “its legitimate concern for the concrete and the immediately practical into disregard of larger issues and indifference to long-term results.” (I 226)

Humanity turns to common sense to deliver it from individual and group bias which are motivated by self-interest, however, common sense is unable to rise above this general bias. Consequently, for Lonergan, common sense must be led, at a deeper level, by a human science.

General bias prevents common sense from acknowledging and embracing ideas which consider the longer view or a higher viewpoint. This incapacity on the part of common sense is not only a lack of ability, it is also a refusal. The general bias of common sense cumulatively deteriorates the social situation. The possibility of a detached and disinterested intelligence becomes more remote as it shifts from mere irrelevance to complete surrender.

The ramifications of this shift are disastrous for society; no longer is there a way to distinguish between what is social achievement and what is social surd, (I 230-1) no longer is there a possibility of a criterion of truth or a possibility of authority, in short, human intelligence has become radically uncritical. Existence is ravaged by a shifting that has no parameters and no points of reference. What is judged as progress is based on parameters that become completely turned around a generation (or less) later. Unless theory is related to practice, unless it takes its data from the empirical reality of humanity and not from separate, independent norms, it is deemed by the general bias of common sense as useless.

For Lonergan, the only hope for reversal of the longer cycle of decline stems from his notion of emergent probability.”

* This term is presented by Dr. Christine Jamieson.


Illustration: Johnny Depp, The Pirates of the Caribbean