Method, pp. 238-9

Intellectual Conversion


Many disagreements and heated conversions have their roots in epistemological differences that are not understood or acknowledged by the participants. Jordan Peterson's Truth Debunked is a good example of this tendency to assume that the common worlds use are used in the same way, which in fact is not often true. For as Lonergan points out, "Empiricism, idealism, and realism name three totally different horizons with no common identical objects" (p. 239). It is only through the long process of intellectual conversion to an epistemology of critical realm (Lonergan) that a person becomes capable of understanding different epistemological positions, the positive contributions of each, and their major limitations.


What follows is a detailed almost line-by-line analysis of this "debunking." This epistemological excursion is an exercise in heighten one's awareness of the various criteria people use in determining what is or is not real as well as the fundamental distortions inappropriate epistemologies play in the creation of worlds mediated by meaning. Of particular concern are:


  • Intellectual Conversion (critical realism as opposed to na├»ve realism, empiricism, or conceptualism)
  • Differentiation of Mind (common sense, mathematics, empirical sciences, reflective understanding, scholarship, the trained incapacities of different specialties, etc.)
  • Transcendental method (the conditioning and sublating of different levels of cognitive operation, each affected by the epistemological position taken by the inquirer)
  • Functional Specialties (the pivot point between Dialectic and Foundations, where discernment and criteria for "truth" become a necessity)


In the midst of that vast and profound stirring of human minds which we name the Renaissance, Descartes was convinced that too many people felt it beneath them to direct their efforts to apparently trifling problems. Again and again in his Regulae ad directionem ingenii, he reverts to this theme. Intellectual mastery of mathematics, of the departments of science, of philosophy is the fruit of a slow and steady accumulation of little insights. Great problems are solved by being broken down into little problems. The strokes of genius are but the outcome of a continuous habit of inquiry that grasps clearly and distinctly all that is involved in the simple things that anyone can understand.

First paragraph of the first chapter of Insight.

Day 5 Wrap-Up

Quick Review and Comparison


Our reflections broke down into two groups: final comments on Rationality Rules after viewing the entire video in one setting, and a comparison with another video that not only offered more of a dialogue between two points of view but a deeper understanding of Jordon Peterson's Epistemology. 


Comments: the RR video puts the viewer in the position of a jury being asked to make a judgment call, in which case the question becomes, "Whom do you trust?" After our relatively detailed analysis, the entire video comes across as a confused mess in which participants are not only arguing at cross purposes but lack any way to resolve their differences (anyway, it's an attack video). What is interesting is that at our first viewing there seemed to be a intelligibility to the narrative that disappeared upon consideration.


Dialogue: although no one's position changed in the slightest, there was an attempt at an open expression of opinions that was quite refreshing after RR's video. First of all, it became clear that JP's epistemology, like that of RR and Matt Dillahunty, is empiricist; the key difference seems to be that JP has a better grasp of the "subjective" realm of human affairs as a practicing clinical psychologist. Secondly, neither associate religion with a distinct way of living or being in the world, tending instead to consider religion as a set of beliefs or in JP's case of myths. Finally, the open verbal interplay stands in contrast with strong body language that has MD sitting solidly while JP learns forward; both however sit with one leg horizontally braced across the other, suggesting that strong defensive barriers are in place.

Jordan Peterson's Perspective?

Educational Projects: Epistemological Excursion--"Rationality Rules"

Day 4

Final Sections

Unraveling the Confusion


1. Cognitive Operations: It seems that Rationality Rules and his cohorts empiricist approach limits them to the first three levels of cognitive operation, with a certain deficiency at the level of judging (inadequate criteria) that leads to the position that scientific empirical truths are at the top of the truth ladder. Jordan Peterson operates both in the scientific realm, as a profession in psychology, but also at the common sense level as a practicing therapist. In the latter realm, he operates at the level of deciding, i.e., is concerned with the moral implications of human behavior, with a special interest in ethics. As a practitioner, Peterson goes with what works, i.e., what leads to the survival and enhancement of the individual.


2. Evidence: These differences become obvious when each side endeavors to collect evidence (what is considered "evidence"?), carefully weights what evidence has been collected (epistemological position as fundamental criteria), and makes a judgment (true or not true). RR considers only empirically verifiable data as "fact", i.e., as being "true"--which is appropriate within the scientific mode of thinking. But JP, as a therapist, considers something more that truth, i.e., what is of real value in human living. Thus his evidence, his weighing of the evidence, and his final judgment is grounded in an entirely different realm of meaning.


3. Differentiated minds: RR and his spoke-persons are all grounded in the empirical heuristic structure of knowing that relates things to each other. Hence a tree falling unobserved still makes a "vibration" because scientific theory says this must be so. In this horizon, ethical issues are there but cannot be considered in the same way that questions of universal truths can be considered real. Peterson's degree of differentiation separates both common sense (therapist) with scientific (psychological theories and their validation), yet when questioned about being a Christian it seems that he's not conscious of the difference. To an empiricist, Christ can be proved to be a living but now dead person, executed by the Romans; but Christ's resurrection can never be verified and must remain forever a matter of hear-say. Peterson's use of myths as a means of healing means that he can say he is a Christian, in the sense that the great narrative of birth, death, and resurrection has an immense impact of human living yet at the same time he cannot, as an empirically trained psychologist, maintain that Christ's resurrection was a real event in history.

Day 2

00:00 to 9:00 of the video

Context: this is an attack video not a dialogue


It is becoming clear that the real focus of this inquiry is on RR's own horizon as revealed or objectified through his encounter with Jordan Peterson. This encounter is not among free individuals operating at the reflective level of personal relationships where actualizing one's potential for freedom is paramount in an effort to work out a truly viable terminal value that can be used to guide a person's life. Instead, RR has had a gut level reaction that he now has to defend by debunking Peterson, not as Peterson is but as RR perceives or understanding Peterson to be.


For RR, this is an existential question.

Day 3

Analysis Continued: 9:15-10:26

What really pisses RR off?


This session considers the range from 9:18 to 10:26, a critical section of the video where the argument is really made. Day 1 concluded that this video is a pure attack video and not any effort to enter into a dialogue. In the spirit of "Rationality Rules", he plays "King of the Mountain" or in other words plays a dominance game where he "debunks" Jordon Peterson's "mythological truth" to religion by gathering supporters of his side who have engaged JP in one or another video. Day 2 extended this context by analyzing the first 8 minutes or so in an effort to identify epistemological positions within Lonergan's Critical Realist epistemology.


Preliminary conclusion? That RR is a devote rationalist holding to the primacy of an empiricist epistemology above all others. Because this stance places any realm of interiority or transcendental reality outside his horizon (mere subjective perceptions), he is left elevation empiricist realism to the status of a transcendent reality lying outside human interests and indeed human reality. This is a possible explanation for RR's vehement gut reaction to hearing Peterson's commons on mythology and religion: it is not a philosophical discussion of truth but an outright attack or challenge to RR's own "realist" religion.


There still remains 6 minutes of the video to process (day 4?) as well as any verification of this preliminary insight into RR's motivations.

Day 1

First Encounter with "RR"

YouTube: Jordan Peterson's Truth--Debunked


This is an attack video in which the participants are exchanging ideas with each other but because of their epistemological differences become increasing agitated as no one seem to be "getting the point." This detailed "telescopic' examination of this video is used to deepen one's own awareness of different epistemological positions and their impact on any potential dialogue due to fundamental differences in horizon and objects. People may be using the same words, but with completely different meanings attached to them. Hopefully, such an encounter may induce those engaged in this detailed analysis to undertake the long process of intellectual conversion.


In this session, we delve into the overall structure of the video, noting key words, predominant actors, and the nature of the presentation. It became clear that "Rationality Rules" (RR) has had a deeply disturbing encounter with some of Jordon Peterson's reflections on religion, especially the "mythical understanding" he brings to the discussion. As a consequence, he has produced a series of videos attacking or "debunking" Peterson's approach of which this is the first. It is also clear that none of them have any notion of Lonergan's work, especially into understanding his transcendental method which grounds his critical realist epistemology in the cognitive operations of a human mind dedicated to producing viable worlds mediated by meaning.

An Emergent Cosmopolis