Bernard Lonergan - an overview

“Lonergan is considered by many intellectuals to be the finest philosophic thinker of the twentieth century.” (Time Magazine)

Bernard Lonergan was a philosopher, theologian and economist, with an abiding interest in methodology. He taught at Loyola College (Montreal) (now part of Concordia University), Regis College (Toronto), the Pontifical Gregorian University (Rome), Harvard University, and Boston College. He best known as the author of Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957) and Method in Theology (1972).

Lonergan’s Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957) invites the reader to take self-possession of herself or himself as a subject, spontaneously conscious of experiencing, understanding, and judging, with regard to objects, as they occur in the fields of mathematics, empirical science and common sense. 

So it comes about that the extroverted subject visualizing extension and experiencing duration gives place to the subject orientated to the objective of the unrestricted desire to know and affirming beings differentiated by certain conjugate potencies, forms, and acts grounding certain laws and frequencies. It is this shift that gives rise to the antithesis of positions and counter positions. It is through its acknowledgment of the fact of this shift that a philosophy or metaphysics is critical. It is only by a rigorous confinement of the metaphysician to the intellectual pattern of experience, and of metaphysical objects to the universe of being as explained that this basic enterprise of human intelligence can free itself from the morass of pseudo problems that otherwise beset it.

(Insight 537)

This “coming about” or the fullness of “intellectual conversion” constitutes a new horizon and one has not come about yet “if one has no clear memory of its startling strangeness” (Insight, xxiii) Lonergan’s achievement, as accessible and made thematic in Insight, enables the reader to grasp interiority as grounds for the far larger work of implementing a critical methodology of authentic collaboration in meeting history’s challenges.  The “X” to be implemented is given the name cosmopolis.

What is necessary is a cosmopolis that is neither class nor state, that stands above all their claims, that cuts them down to size, that is founded on the native detachment and disinterestedness of every intelligence, that commands man’s first allegiance, that is too universal to be bribed, too impalpable to be forced, too effective to be ignored.(Insight,  263)

In Insight, Lonergan also discusses some of the aspects and properties of cosmopolis, describing “what” might (or ought) be done.   Method in Theology (1972) provides the “how” of implementing cosmopolis.  It identifies eight functional specialties which, as Karl Rahner said in regard to the publication in 1969  of Lonergan”s 1965 “discovery” of functional specialisation, “Lonergan’s theological methodology seems to me to be so generic that it actually suits every science.”

“Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan has set out to do for the twentieth century what even Aquinas could not do for the thirteenth…It may take another generation for his thought to be fully felt within the church that nourished him, but Lonergan’s reach is already far wider.” (Newsweek Magazine)

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