In various posts, I have discussed the significance of the Catholic philosopher Bernard Lonergan in enabling us to understand a method through which we can arrive at an understanding, if we desire to understand. I have called this method cross-horizon encounter, which involves personal encounter with the movements of the dominated, where personal encounter consists of meeting persons and taking seriously their understandings. Cross-horizon encounter enables us to discover relevant questions that previously were beyond our horizon and our consciousness. Such discovery empowers us to liberate ourselves from ethnocentric cultural assumptions and beliefs. The knowledge that we collectively develop through cross-horizon encounter is not eternal truth, because new developments in reality or in theory can lead to new understandings; but it is the most advanced understanding of which humans are capable in a given historical period. Neither is this knowledge characterized by certainty, because there always exists some probability that not all relevant questions have been asked. But when persons seeking to understand find that the answers to relevant questions are reinforcing the insight, they are in a position to know that the insight has a high probability of being correct. And they are therefore in a position to make the judgment that the insight is correct and to take the decision to act, to commit themselves to political and social action on the basis of the judgment that the insight is correct (see “What is personal encounter?” 7/25/2013; “What is cross-horizon encounter?” 7/26/2013; “Overcoming the colonial denial” 7/29/2013; “Universal philosophical historical social science” 4/2/2014; “We can know the true and the good” 4/3/2014).
For Lonergan, the human capacity to make judgments that go beyond ethnocentrism and that possess a degree of certainty, and to take decisions to act on the basis of these judgments, pertain to the realms of both fact and value. That is, they pertain not only to judgments concerning what is, but also to judgments concerning what ought to be done. They involve not only descriptions of what in fact has happened in human history, but also evaluations concerning the characteristics of the good society. As I have previously expressed, we can know both the true and the good.
We have seen that during the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Third World movements have proclaimed universal human values (see “Universal human values” 4/16/2014). These universal moral values could be considered self-evident truths. Thomas Jefferson considered that there are self-evident moral truths. He arrived at this understanding on the basis of the experience of the British settlers in North America, on whom taxes and duties were imposed by the British Parliament in order to pay debts accumulated during the Seven Years War (see “The US popular movement of 1775-77” 11/1/2013). This seemed to the Americans as an injustice, and it seemed to them that as citizens they possessed certain rights. Jefferson’s formulation of the notion that “all men are created equal” and possess “certain inalienable rights” advanced human understanding of the good and the right.
Similarly, the colonized peoples of the Third World have emerged to proclaim certain rights, formulated in the context of their systemic denial. Experiencing colonial domination and consequent underdevelopment, they moved to demand universal respect for social and economic rights and for the right of all peoples to self-determination. Confronting the neocolonial world-system as politically independent nations, they moved to demand universal respect for the rights of all nations to sovereignty and true independence. They moved to condemn the processes that denied these rights: colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, and neoliberalism. They are formulating what appear to them to be self-evident moral truths that can provide a foundation for a world-system that is more just and democratic.
Thus, we can understand universal moral values, or self-evident moral truths, as an important component of human knowledge. They have been developing as an integral dimension of a dialectical relation between theory and practice that has been advancing human knowledge. In various posts reflecting on the work of Immanuel Wallerstein, I have discussed some of the key moments in this unfolding dialectical process: Marx, encountering the proletarian revolution, formulated a critique of the science of political economy and placed socialism on a scientific foundation; Lenin, on the basis of the Russian Revolution, advanced further the understanding of social dynamics; the universities, however, marginalized the insights of Marxism-Leninism; but Marxism-Leninism continued to evolve in popular revolutions, such as the Chinese Revolution, the Vietnamese Revolution, the Cuban Revolution, and revolutionary African nationalism, thus establishing the development of knowledge of social dynamics outside the institutions of higher education; in the context of awareness of the uncertainties of knowledge and the multicultural character of the social world, Lonergan formulated a cognitional theory that explains the process through which humans can understand the true and the good; on the basis of encounter with African nationalism, Wallerstein formulated world-systems analysis, partially reconnecting the knowledge of the universities with the knowledge of social dynamics emerging in the revolutionary movements; and since 1995, Third World revolutionary movements have renewed, a process particularly advanced in Latin America. These are the key moments in the development of an emerging universal philosophical historical social science.
The emerging universal philosophical historical social science seeks not only to understand what has happened and what is happening; it also seeks to understand the characteristics of the good society and the essential components of right conduct. It seeks to understand not only the true, the good and the right, but also the process of understanding itself, providing methodological guidelines for the human quest for understanding. And it appreciates the wisdom of charismatic leaders who have been lifted up by peoples whose tremendous thirst for social justice has established a democratic option for humanity.
The formulation of universal philosophical historical social science is an unfinished collective work, a work still in process. It seeks to not only advance human knowledge of social dynamics but also to contribute to the creation of a more just and democratic world-system.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Wallerstein, Lonergan, epistemology