Friday 21 June 2013

Patrick H. Byrne, "Discernment and Self-Appropriation"

Another significant paper at the Workshop this morning was that of Patrick Byrne on Discernment, which was the first chapter of a forthcoming book on The Ethics of Discernment.

Pat structures his book around Lonergan's three questions, but in an ethical key: What are we doing when we are being ethical? Why is doing that being ethical? and What is brought about by doing that? A final part deals with Method in Ethics.

He draws much from Lonergan's Jesuit background: discernment in the Spiritual Exercises, it is now established, did provide one of the matrices from which Lonergan worked out his phenomenology of judgments of fact and of value. The more remote backgrounds are his appropriation of Newman, Aquinas, and Aristotle.

I liked something Pat quoted from Aristotle scholar David Reeve. Many think that for Aristotle, dialectic is a foolproof way of identifying first principles. According to Reeve, Aristotle says that in the end, dialectic is not enough. What is needed is euphuia. Reeve translates this as 'capacity for discernment.' Literally, it means 'good disposition, disposition towards the good and the truth' It is a kind of virtue, and is the capacity of picking out from the options presented.

So again and again dialectic goes back to discernment. Like: how does Aristotle make his option for the theorem of knowing as identity over the Platonic theorem of knowing as confrontation? And how does Aquinas know he has to follow Aristotle? The ultimate answer is: discernment. A familiarity, Lonergan says, with a number of options and their consequences, and a wise choice. How do we know that choice is correct? Well, as we go along, the consequences and implications unfold. A sort of self-correcting process here, and ultimately, the judgment of history.

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