Functional Specialization Seminars | November 2011

Seminar 4: Dialectic by John Raymaker

by robert.henman 11. November 2011 11:58


      Seminar 4: Dialectic—Perspectives on its Structure and some of its Operators                                                                                                                                                                               

John Raymaker


          Method in Theology (MiT), 249, notes that “the structure of dialectic has two levels. On an upper level are the operators. On a lower level are assembled the materials to be operated on.” [1] Operators develop positions-as correlated to the various conversions.

          In this brief paper, I shall 1) examine some issues not unrelated to the past three sentences; 2) outline in broad terms how Lonergan’s invitation to assemble, complete, compare, reduce, classify, and select materials may a) “apply” in physics so as to b) illuminate a possible new development of method in economics; 3) keeping in mind that the first phase of the functional specialties is to lay a path for implementing the second phase of functional collaboration, I shall attempt to show that the structure of dialectic, as strategically placed in MiT, can help a) us develop the notion of Cosmopolis and b) serve to briefly outline the real economic variables of Lonergan’s ethics. 

          While I shall begin with the strategic role of the structure of dialectic, I shall not focus on texts as such but rather on the evolution of theories in physics and economics as these may help shed light on a possible implementation of cosmopolis. The operators in question are then the great men from Faraday and Riemann to Maxwell and Einstein in mathematical physics to Alfred Marshall and John Bates Clark in economics who laid paths for Lonergan.


1)    The Strategic Role of the Structure of Dialectic and Operators


          While operators are one of the key, integrative notions-procedures in the entire "GEM-FS" enterprise, they are seldom addressed systematically by Lonergan’s students.

In Lonergan’s opus, the notion of operator first appears in Insight, ch. 15.  In Insight (1958), p. 465, Lonergan asks "What is the operator. In the general case, it is the upwardly directed dynamism of proportionate being that we have named finality......"[2] He notes further that among other functions, "operators form a flexible series along which the organism advance from the generic functioning of the initial cell to the  flexible circle of ranges of schemes of the mature type". The difficulty in studying the operators lies in the complexity of its data."[3] As opposed to this most general notion of operator, MiT (249-250) develops a notion of operator which can help us change the future. In dialectic, operators develop positions and reverse counter-positions. Phil McShane specifies that this operator is one of “discovering operatively” It is a “serious forward speaking. . . a direct speaking. Otherwise one becomes a sort of a two-way signpost.” We cannot just remain with the givens of our operations; we have to get into the givens of applied operators[4] in various fields--which is of course one of Lonergan's key operational discoveries which involve the data of consciousness as well as the data of sense.


        2   Broadly Outlining how Operators Can Function in Physics and Economics


          The present task is to outline in broad terms how Lonergan’s invitation to assemble, complete, compare, reduce, classify, and select materials a) finds parallels in what has occurred in physics and b) how it might greatly benefit the field of economics.   

                2 a) Faraday’s Influence in Developing the Notion of Field in Physics

          In modern physics, the notion of field has been important. This notion began to emerge in serious fashion with Faraday. In 1931, Einstein wrote that the “greatest change in the axiomatic basis of physics—in other words, of our conception of the structure of reality—since Newton laid the foundation of theoretical physics—was brought about by Faraday’s and Maxwell work on electromagnetic field phenomena.”[5]

          In 1832, Faraday developed the mathematical concept of the 'electro-magnetic force field' as a way of mathematically describing action-at-a-distance for charged particles (i.e. electrons and protons). This is a continuous mathematical 'plotting' of the effects (forces and thus accelerated motions) that matter has on other matter in the Space around it. It is thus a description of effects rather than causes (Inductive / a posteriori rather than deductive / a priori. This is in opposition to the notions of Hume and Kant who had argued that the ultimate principles of physics must be a priori, not a posteriori!     Faraday's continuous electromagnetic force field is a mathematical approximation of many discrete standing wave interactions. This field concept replaced Newton's instant action-at-a-distance between discrete particles. Importantly, the electromagnetic (e-m) field is a vector (directional) quantity that defines force and direction of acceleration of many charged particles upon one another. It is continuous in the sense that the distance and force between particles can vary by infinitely small amounts. For example, electrons near one another in Space experience a mutual force of repulsion and this behaviour can be mathematically described using Faraday's e-m field which quantifies this force and describes how it varies with distance and direction.[6]  

          In 1876, Maxwell used this field theory to correctly deduce the finite velocity of light; it was a powerful logical argument for the existence of the electromagnetic force field: light is a wave like change in the field (electromagnetic radiation) that propagates with the velocity of light c through the ether. Maxwell was simply confirming that all Wave-Center to Wave-Center (particle) interactions are not instantaneous[7] as Newton assumed, but are limited by the velocity of the In-Waves which is the Velocity of Light c.      


              2 b) Can the Successful Method in Physics Illuminate a Way for a Possible                              New Development of Method in Economics?


          Phil McShane has argued that “Analysis at present does not grasp the significance of distinguishing the two flows of money--consumer flow and capital investment flow--and so cannot reach a solid explanation of business oscillations.” Lonergan's analysis has shown in detail “how the distinction can be carried forward empirically despite complexities of firms, secondhand trading, banking etc. Slowly, out of that there emerges his powerful and unique chapter 18 "Cycles of Incomes and Prices" (For A New Political Economy-FNPE- 285-307—also CWL, 15, Sec. 25, 26 on "Price and Quantity Changes" and the "Cycle of Basic Income", pp 128-33).These sections point to a needed new start in economics theory. For Mc Shane, “Much of presentdiscussion is like old-style pre-Kepler people discussing how to go to the moon without facing into the challenge of Newton's simple beginnings” (the theme addressed in Part I). The relevant passages and equations are rather complicated. Reference is made in CWL 21, footnote 186 to Schumpeter’s praise of John Bates Clark (footnote 186 of CWL 21, p 133). Here the editors note that Lonergan's definition of the social dividend (“income over and above the standard of living” etc)[8] has some affinities with Schumpeter's assessment of Clark's "most significant contribution. For Schumpeter, Clark "was the first to strike a novel note by connecting entrepreneurial profits, considered as a surplus over interest (and rent), with the successful introduction into the economic process of technological, commercial, or organizational improvements." I leave it as an open question whether Lonergan was thus indebted to Clark who first spoke of static and dynamic forces in the economy."

          Michael Shute's paper "Real Economic Variables" can help situate my problematic. Shute writes: "Lonergan's goal was to understand what an economy is and he arrived at his goal by specifying a set of core variables...for understanding economic rhythms....Lonergan noticed that economic rhythms include both the processes of production, which provide goods and services, and the circulation of money. He realized that, because an economy provides for the material basis for a standard of living, production rhythms are the primary function of an economy. The role of money is to facilitate the production of goods and services. So, for Lonergan, in a well-run economy the circulation of money adjusts to the rhythms of production, that is, money circulation is ‘concomitant’ with the steps of the production process.”

          Still, Shute notes that a primitive economy can do without money. He tries to get to the basic variables (that is the REAL variables) identified by Lonergan. The idea is to come to a clear understanding of basic productive rhythms without letting the sometimes obfuscating role of money transactions get in the way. To quote Shute again: "Production involves two distinct circuits of activity or schemes that have a different relationship to the production of goods that enter into the communities’ standard of living. There is a basic circuit of work whose function is to produce the goods and services that enter into the standard of living. This is what we loosely mean by consumer goods. Further, there is a surplus circuit of work that supplies the goods and services used to produce the basic circuit of work. This is what we can loosely call producer goods." In FNPE,Lonergan symbolically designates the total economic flow as DA, a basic flow as DA′ and the surplus flow as DA′′, where ‘A’ means economic activity, ‘D’ means some series of acts or flow occurring at some rate. The relationship can be expressed as DA = DA´ + DA´´. We are not yet concerned with specific amounts; we are simply identifying a flow of activity that can be loosely divided into two parts. As simple as this formula is, it is nonetheless at the heart of Lonergan's understanding of what an economy is. While there is much more that can be said about how these two circuits relate to each other and about the ratio of DA´ to DA´´, it is the functional differentiation of the two distinct circuits of work that places his theory on a unique footing. Many economists make a nominal distinction between consumer goods and production goods but it is not crucial to their theoretical underpinnings. Both GDP and GDI, which are

standard measures of economic activity, lump together consumer and producer goods.

Lonergan’s claim is there is a real, functional distinction between the basic and surplus circuits that is fundamental for economic analysis. Without the distinction, there is no economic science."      On this point, David Oyler has written (Lonergan_L) that Lonergan “simplifies the analysis by treating all of the “supplier” firms as an aggregate. But once the cycles are understood, companies could do their own strategic planning based on the functional analysis of their supplies, competitors and markets with the statistics provided via the proper categorization of companies and consumers and the expectations of future flows (which needs to consider current flows, the political situation, etc.)”

          As the "Occupy Wall St." movement makes clear, our global economic system is perceived as being vicious. The dark financial powers that be are guided by false theories bereft of a social dividend. The redistributive function (RD) is ignored. It should be studied with new underpinnings on the analogy of mathematical physics which began with Faraday and Riemann. 


3)    Toward Cosmopolis and an Ethical Economics


           Keeping in mind that the first phase of the functional specialties is to lay a path for implementing the second phase of functional collaboration, I have attempted to show that the structure of dialectic can a) help us develop the notion of Cosmopolis and so as to b) give an ethical basis for the real economic variables outlined by Lonergan. I shall address both points in summary fashion.

                         3a) Developing the Notion of Cosmopolis

          Lonergan proposes a cosmopolis to overcome the social surd, one which is above politics. It would make operative the reversal of ideas and illusions that mark our present cycle of decline. Dialectic, as outlined in Insight, rests on the concrete unity of opposed principles. I have illustrated how great men in experimental and mathematical physics achieved some of their breakthroughs. Economics must emulate physicist’s successful method—though with its own principles. Cosmopolis, based on higher viewpoints, suggests a way. Lonergan’s “Healing and Creating in History” is that of a creative process “concomitant” with a required social healing (Third Collection, 107). An ethical basis for economics might be a way for us to help heal and create at this point of history.

               3b) A Concomitant Process or Way to an Ethical Economics

          We must struggle to implement Lonergan view of economic process. As in Alfred Marshall’s partial equilibrium analysis,[9] Lonergan allows for possible and general growth as reflected in the equilibrium of the crossover ratios between basic and surplus circuits. This, in principle, would permit us to make ethical judgments on the relative importance of supply and demand. If the ratio is positive, more is going to the surplus stage of production than to the basic stage; if negative, more is going to the basic than the surplus stage. One would have to work out how an ethical, practical redistributive viewpoint could rehinge monetary functions. Such would be one of the aspects of cosmopolis to be worked through functional collaboration.      



[1] The structure of dialectics occurs on an upper level and a lower one. On the upper level, there are the two operators or precepts whereby one develops positions and reverses counterpositions. "Positions are statements compatible with intellectual, moral and religious conversion" (249); counterpositions are statements not compatible with such conversions. One should develop positions and reverse what is incompatible with conversion. Before operating on, the statements in the lower level of dialectics, one must assemble, complete, compare, reduce, classify and select the relevant material and this entails the different horizons within which various investigators operate. If investigators' horizons differ, further objectifications of horizons are in order. Thus, GEM operators foster the conversions and integrate fresh data within new discoveries (Method, 249-250).

[2] Lonergan then speaks of the instabilities which higher systems both suffer and provoke. He takes up the principles of correspondence and emergence resulting in the replacement of prior integrations. On this point, Frank Braio has noted in Lonergan; "If 'finality' is the operator of world-process as a whole, and if world process has so set the conditions of that process that 'method' has emerged on at least one planet within it, then a whole host of physical, chemical, botanical, neuro-zoological factors are the conditions for the emergence of 'method' and its various operators.”


[3] "There is the subject as he is functioning more or less successfully in a flexible circle of ranges of schemes of recurrence. On the other hand, there is the subject as a higher system on the move. One and the same reality is both integrator and operator; but the operator is relentless in transforming the integrator" (Insight, 1958, 476).  

[4] In L_Lonergan, McShane notes that “An old style of positional discussion would have people expressing their positions to each other and then entering into dialogue. Such a procedure has all the flaws that Lonergan identifies at the beginning – ‘The Problem’ - of section 3 of chapter 17 of Insight. What is the transition that we are vaguely anticipating?” For McShane, if we restrict ourselves to page 250 of Method there is a transition in that the top half of the page is the context of the second half, but “that top half is way too compact as a scientific intimation. Hiding behind it is the scientific heuristics of Insight 17.3.”

[5] Much of the following material is taken from One should not overlook the role of Riemann’s tensor as an enabler of “field”.

[6] In 1940,  A. Einstein wrote “Faraday must have grasped with unerring instinct the artificial nature of all attempts to refer electromagnetic phenomena to actions-at-a-distance between electric particles reacting on each other.”How was each single iron filing among a lot scattered on a piece of paper to know of the single electric particles running round in a nearby conductor? All these electric particles together seemed to create in the surrounding space a condition which in turn produced a certain order in the filings. These spatial states, today called fields, would, he was convinced, furnish the clue to the mysterious electromagnetic interactions. He conceived these fields as states of mechanical stress in an elastically distended body (ether/space). At that time this was the only way one could conceive of states that were apparently continuously distributed in space. The peculiar type of mechanical interpretation of these fields remained in the background - a sort of placation of the scientific conscience in view of the mechanical (Newtonian) tradition of Faraday's time. The 'electromagnetic force field' is a poorly understood concept which causes considerable confusion. It is quite basic though, as it is nothing more than a mathematical description of how matter affects and moves other matter in the Space around it. This mathematical 'force field' is a very powerful tool for mathematical physicists (as is the particle) and as a consequence many physicists (including Faraday, Maxwell, and Lorentz) imagined this 'field' to be real. They assumed that an 'Aether' (made up of many smaller particles!) must exist in Space as the medium for this 'field'. According to Max Born (1924), the undulatory, or wave theory, on the other hand, sets up an analogy between the propagation of light and the motion of waves on the surface of water or sound waves in air. For this purpose it has to assume the existence of an elastic medium that permeates all transparent bodies; this is the luminiferous ether. The individual particles of this substance merely oscillate about their positions of equilibrium. That which moves on as the light wave is the state of motion of the particles and not the particles themselves. In fact there is no 'ether' simply because there are no 'force fields'. Both are mathematical constructions (rather confusing ones at that) to try to explain how matter 'particles' interacted with other 'particles' in the space around them. Once we understand the spherical wave structure of matter, we no longer need these mathematical ideas; instead we realise that Space is a continuous wave medium (which necessarily connects all things) and there are no such things as discrete particles.

[7] While Maxwell misunderstood the true nature of the waves (which are physical waves in space rather than mathematical vector e-m waves), he was largely correct. This new knowledge was significant as it established the importance of the finite velocity of light c and further enhanced the field theory, thus rejecting Newton's theory of particles and instant action-at-a-distance. The precise formulation of the time space laws of those fields was the work of Maxwell (1870s). Imagine his feelings when his differential equations   proved to him that the electromagnetic fields spread in the form of polarized waves at the speed of light! To few in the world has such an experience been granted. Only after Hertz (1888) had demonstrated experimentally the existence of Maxwell's electromagnetic waves did resistance to the new theory break down. What was true for electrical action could not be denied for gravitation. Everywhere Newton's (instant) actions-at-a-distance gave way to fields spreading with finite velocity. At that thrilling moment he surely never guessed that the riddling nature of light, apparently so completely solved, would continue to baffle succeeding generations. (Albert Einstein, 1954).  Because they were using a mathematical construction of a continuous e-m wave, rather than the true spherical standing wave, they were soon in for a rather disturbing discovery. For standing wave interactions only occur at discrete frequencies, like notes on the string of a guitar. Thus while the true spherical standing wave structure of matter predicts that wave interactions will be discrete, the continuous e-m wave does not anticipate this. Max Planck discovered in 1900 that there are only certain allowed discrete energy states for electrons in atoms and molecules; light is only ever emitted and absorbed by electrons in discrete amounts (quanta) contrary to Maxwell's formulation; light is a continuous electromagnetic wave. This caused a fundamental problem for the field theory that was never resolved. It is only now, with knowledge of the true foundations of physics, that we can understand, and thus anticipate and correct, the errors of contemporary modern physics. Whitehead and David Bohm saw the need for a new metaphysic which could  accommodate the new science that relativity and quantum theory pointed to.  Both men took up the cause of ‘process philosophy’. Both saw a need to move away from what has become a very fragmented view of reality. Our culture(s), our science, and many of our daily lives have moved away from our actual lived experience. We have isolated ourselves by isolating and locating objects in our visual field, wrongly assuming that these ‘objects’ are the real and the true.




[8] The precise meaning of such terms as supply, demand, profit and redistribution are set within a theoretical construct of the “pure cycle” of economic activity. Such a theoretical construct includes a basic consumer cycle of economic activity in addition to a surplus productive cycle inaugurated by new ideas that spark entrepreneurial activity and the creation of “pure surplus income.” This surplus income, often called “profit,” can only play a socially beneficial role if it is oriented towards expanding the basic consumer cycle and thus raising the standard of living.


[9] It is noteworthy that in contrast to earlier utility theorists, Marshall did not take supply for granted but considered it as  “the other blade of a pair of scissors”—which has parallels with Lonergan’s view of an upper and lower blade with which I began this essay.  As Octavio Groppa has noted, , "surplus dividend" is nothing other but a “Marxist plus-value” with the big difference that because Marx departs from an objectivist-biased theory of value, he thinks that the basic variables of the economic system are social classes. But they are not. Marx thus gets stuck on the problem of the property of the surplus—which leads him astray. This is but the reverse of the capitalist approach, which says that the surplus should be appropriated by capitalists. For Lonergan, however, one does not worry about who owns the surplus. Rather, one analyzes what is its proper used conditioned on the state of innovations being made. This is related to a Schumpeterian, innovation-centered approach, with macroeconomic analysis (growth, cycles etc).


Powered by BlogEngine.NET
Theme by Mads Kristensen