The Transcendental Method of Bernard Lonergan

By R. Jeffrey Grace

I. Introduction
Fr. Bernard J.F. Lonergan, S.J. was a member of the Thomistic school, a tradition which contains a variety of interpretations of the philosophy and theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. Fr. Lonergan is situated within the Thomistic tradition that is known as the Louvain tradition, which began at the University of Louvain's Higher Institute of Philosophy which was founded in 1889 at the request of Pope Leo XIII. The thrust of this school was " engage in vital dialogue with post-Kantian philosophical currents then active, and to confront the traditional philosophy with the findings of modern science." 1 The members of this school saw their task as being the epistemological justification of metaphysics and the preservation of the faith in the face of the Kantian critique of knowledge which had left the human mind unable to claim any knowledge of "reality as such" in the realm of speculation. This paper will consist of a sketch of Fr. Lonergan's contribution to this endeavor, his transcendental method, and will summarize the criticisms of this method that have been leveled from within the Thomistic school as well as from other perspectives within the philosophical community.

II. The Transcendental Method
Fr. Lonergan begins his explanation of his method in the following way: First, we shall appeal to the successful sciences to form a preliminary notion of method. Secondly, we shall go behind the procedures of the natural sciences to something both more general and more fundamental, namely, the procedures of the human mind. Thirdly, in the procedures of the human mind we shall discern a transcendental method, that is, a basic pattern of operations employed in every cognitional enterprise. Fourthly, we shall indicate the relevance of transcendental method in the formulation of other, more special methods appropriate to particular fields.2 Human beings are questioners. Everyone is familiar with the stage that a child goes through when it has finally begun to master language. The

.. "How come?". judging. Introspection is the word. the most fundamental difference in modes of intending lies between the categorical and the transcendental... judgment.and the awareness itself is different. and 4. understanding.2 child is full of questions: "Why?". Conceptual intending combines the contents of the imagination and insight. which is the level of the sensual. reflecting.. This basic drive to question the world is continued in the life of the adult. following the lead of Emerich Coreth. which must be understood to signify what the subject does when the contents of consciousness are objectified: Just as we move from the data of sense through inquiry."8 The imaginative intending is creative. Fr. As we progress through these levels of consciousness. imagining. insight. evaluating.. tasting. representative. which is the level of inquiry. intend.4 All of these operations are directed normally is selective but not creative. marshalling and weighing the evidence. "What is that?". which is the level of reflection and judgment upon the truth or falsity of a proposition. It is what Aristotle described as "Wonder". so too we move from the data of consciousness through inquiry.. S. 3."."9 However. Lonergan. understanding.."6 These levels of consciousness are: 1. It is what drives the sciences. ad infinum.. speaking.content.. sees a basic pattern of operations in this drive to know.. given what we know. (b. ". ". smelling.. and expression. responsible. deciding.. and the operations are the operations of a subject. conceiving. 2. which: . inquiring. Categories are determinations.different levels of consciousness and intentionality have to be distinguished. reflection. a professor of philosophy at Innsbruck. the basic drive to know. touching. writing."7 These different levels of consciousness are accompanied by different levels."3. empirical. deliberating.J. different modes. of intention. these operations take place at different levels of consciousness and have different intentions. to statements about sensible things. formulating. hearing. judgment. The subject is aware of these operations. which is the level of applying what we know to ourselves and come to a decision about how we should then act. understanding. They .. 5 Furthermore.. These ". rational. ".. intellectual.are seeing.1919). reflection. an object. The sensual intending is an attending to the datum of the senses. to statements about conscious subjects and their operations. we become aware of a fuller self.the result is the intending of any concrete being selected by an incompletely determinate.

They vary with cultural variations. the transcendentals are comprehensive in connotation. there is the ". it must know the real. judging. 2. The objects that are intended by these operations are of two types: elementary and compound. it must know the intelligible... hearing. The subject can . the eros of the human spirit.. etc.the conjunction of several instances of elementary knowing into a single knowing.the radical intending that moves us from ignorance to knowledge. ultimately. The elementary would be seeing. To know the good. the transcendental concept of value is formulated by objectifying the content of the responsible intending. our experience of the universe is an experience. unrestricted in denotation. so too the many levels of consciousness are just successive stages in the unfolding of the single thrust. from the beginning. The transcendentals are ". gradually."11 In addition to these transcendental concepts. it must know the true. invariant over cultural change. to know the intelligible.. cultural advance. In contrast.. to know the true.3 have a limited denotation.prior transcendental notions that constitute the very dynamism of our conscious intending.. But as the many elementary objects are constructed into larger wholes. So from slumber. They are a priori because they go beyond what we know to seek what we do not know yet. experiencing."13This compounding is done by the transcendental notions ". intend the unknown that. The transcendental concept of the intelligible is formulated by objectifying the content of intelligible intending. understanding.. The compound would be ". and deciding. of the real as such. 4.. These operations are objectified by the conscious subject..15 So the conscious and intentional operations of the conscious subject are: 1.10 These transcendental modes of intending are the objectification of the contents of the categorical modes of intention. the transcendentals are contained in questions prior to answers. While categories are needed to put determinate questions and give determinate answers. 3.. to know the real.which. becomes better known."14As a result. understanding. the cognitional operations are elementary and compound. Correspondingly. we awake to attend. as the many operations are conjoined in a single compound knowing. rather than the product of."12 This dynamism is the condition of. it must attend to the data.

then the attempt to offer a better explanation will employ the pattern described by Fr. If anything has been overlooked. but of the intending.. and finally deciding what implications the resulting knowledge has for one's life and actions. No one can deny that these operations exist and that they happen. understood. and deciding.are to be derived from the conscious and intentional operations themselves. understanding the data by means of imagining what it can possibly mean. and inquiry and discovery are needed. non-reasonable. experience himself experiencing. non-intelligent. affirm his experienced experiencing. account of our conscious and intentional operations is bound to be incomplete and to admit further clarifications and extensions. not to effect the synthesis of a manifold that. and decide to ". but to analyze a functional and functioning unity. But all such clarifications. They as given in consciousness are the rock. and fast asleep. 2. arrive at the pattern of relations that link them together. 3.operate in accord with the norms immanent in the spontaneous relatedness of (his) experienced. To do so would be tantamount to disqualifying himself as non-responsible. affirmed experiencing. is unrelated. judging. they confirm every exact account. understanding. judging. judging. etc. It is a movement of understanding. description. misapprehended.18 This pattern can undergo revision only if certain conditions are met. "It is an awareness. Anyone who would deny that they occur as described by Fr. the unity of consciousness is itself given.. they also reveal a subject who is intending."17 This is a movement beyond the spontaneous sensitivity that is operating at the level of the senses. On the contrary. the pattern of operations is part of the experience of the operations. not of what is intended. and deciding. understanding. understand his experienced experiencing. by a process of inquiry and discovery. understanding. understanding. and deciding. is that we do not experience the operations in isolation and then. of course. Lonergan. and deciding. Lonergan would have to consider the following: The answer to this.. reflecting upon the resultant conceptions and theories in order to determine if it matches with the facts. 4.19 The method described is transcendent in that any attempt to modify it will inescapably utilize the very method it speaks about. . judging. as given."16 The operations not only intend an object. Any theory. Anyone advancing a proposition will go through the process of attending to data.. in which the intelligent subject emerges. they refute every inexact or incomplete account.4 1.

Lonergan's method.. which is a public event.. Lonergan.. any and every critical method must be tried out and pursued as far as it will go. but I didn't exert my mind about the subject."24 Meynell replies that if these critics understood what Fr. even though the term is problematic."25 that is based upon the mistaken conception that ".a heightening of consciousness that brings to light our conscious and intentional operations and thereby leads to the answers to three basic questions."26 The correct meaning of the word "introspection" is "...isomorphic with the terms and relations denoting the ontological structure of any reality proportionate to human cognitional process."27 This objectification of conscious experience is recognized in our expressions. build hypotheses. Lonergan means by the term "introspection". in his book The Theology of Bernard Lonergan deals with some of the basic criticisms leveled against Fr. and then decide what the results imply for our lives.."28 . Meynell answers this by pointing out that Hebblethwaite fails to comprehend the generality of the method proposed by Fr.. Another objection along these lines is as follows: Knowing is not an activity. We cannot prescribe a single pattern. Lonergan deals with this subject in the following way: "Inward inspection is just a myth. Meynell.5 This transcendental method is ". then they would clearly see that... Those who hold to this ". they would take him to be referring to 'coming to know'. epistemology.would learn more from Lonergan if."22 This means that the same process that compounds elementary acts of knowing also compounds elementary objects of knowing. what is being described by Fr..the process of objectifying the contents of consciousness. "20 These three questions are the questions asked by cognitional theory.. has been shown by contemporary analytical philosophers to be mistaken in principle.. III.consciousness is (analogous to) ocular vision. I know that there is no Easter Bunny.which is central to (his) method. for how we are to proceed? The second criticism consists in the assertion that Fr.23 Hugo A. Fr. The first criticism we shall review is the one leveled by Brian Hebblethwaite: Within the overall intention to think through the world-view that has come down to us in each religious tradition.. Criticisms Hugo A. our language. How else would one proceed than to attend to data. evaluate the hypotheses for correctness. and metaphysics: "What am I doing when I am knowing? Why is doing that knowing? What do I know when I do it?"21 The terms and relations of the transcendental method are ". when he writes about 'knowing'.. Lonergan is something that they would be hard pressed to deny the existence of.. Lonergan's appeal to introspection "..

the existence of God. in which case you will never come in contact with being. "Classicism" is the belief that "."29 Nicholas Lash levels the criticism that Fr.. Lonergan's method doesn't adequately deal with the problem of objectivity.. W. nonexistent at worst. and all history which is concerned with cultures other than that from which the historian comes.34 Fr. then. other minds. takes aim at "critical realism" and lets loose with both barrels: We have now examined several types of critical realism and in each instance have come to the conclusion that the critique of knowledge is essentially incompatible and irreconcilable with metaphysical realism. or begin as a critical idealist with knowledge. Prof..on a transcendental basis.there is but one culture. Coreth differ (on this issue). among others within the Thomist tradition... Shea claims that Fr. which Fr. it is to be noted that the operative moment in Fr. Lonergan explicitly repudiates.. Coreth's use of transcendental method cannot occur within a Kantian context.. in which case you will have a knowledge of being.. Meynell points out that in order to argue for the most basic positions of religion. the theoretical entities postulated by scientists.. Lonergan has not outgrown "classicism"... Fr. along with Karl Rahner.Kant. theology needs a method that is general enough to deal with such issues.."31 Shea fails to see that one can be committed to systematics. Meynell replies that we can verify in experience that which we cannot look at: ".. Gilson: First. There is no middle ground. Lonergan address this criticism by exploring how "... an enterprise which seeks to provide a transcultural viewpoint regarding one religious faith."35 Basically. or Thomistic metaphysics if one attempts to found it ". It basically runs as follows: By starting with the epistemological problem that Kant left us with. ie.. Etienne Gilson. is not the same as "classicism". One will not have a traditional type. Lonergan's method is to general to be of use to theology. in his book Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge.all anthropology. also claims that Fr. Gilson and Fr. You must either begin as a realist with being.. Shea..the past.32 The final criticism that will be dealt with is the one leveled by.6 Others object that Fr.F. (whereas) systematics can discern and therefore accept a unity of belief within a wide variety of forms of expression. one ends up with a metaphysics that is inadequate at best."33 Etienne Gilson. Meynell answers that adhering to the thesis that there is no continuity of meaning between cultures would invalidate "."30 I might add that Lash would have to explain how translation between languages takes place. Lonergan fails to appreciate the discontinuity between cultures. (This moment) lies in a contradiction not between content and content but between content . Lonergan agrees with Prof.

Fr. while Prof. His assertion is that over and above sensitive perceptions and intellectual abstractions there exists an intellectual vision of the concept of being in any sensible datum. we perceive the world of appearances. Now to bring to light such contradictions is the operative moment in Fr.phenomena. For Kant. Gilson's fact ".. the things-in-themselves.not on a question of principle. Coreth's use of transcendental method. appearances. However. the fact. by his own admission. but a Kantian context is a context of contents that does not envisage performances.. Gilson holds that our cognitional activity attains objectivity by means of an immediate realism. Coreth's immediate realism not only can but must be mediated. The things that give rise to the phenomena. Gilson's realism to Fr.. Lonergan compares Prof..7 and performance. the content of the explicitly contradictory statement adds to the content of the first what is found implicitly in the first. however on what it is that is perceived. not as content. and by its sheer givenness imposed on any and every philosopher. Gilson differs with Kant". but as performance.."41 Nothing would prevent Kant from ". So they both hold that perception is the "door" to the real world. but on a question of fact. there is no explicit contradiction in the content of the statement."37 Both Kant and Prof. what is perceived is phenomena. Moreover. it is the concept of being. Gilson. Conclusion . "the apprehension of being by intellect consists in a direct vision in any sensible datum whatever of the concept of being. seen in this manner. Prof.36 According to Fr.. there is an explicit contradiction in the reflective statement: I am stating what really and truly is so when I state that we are under an illusion whenever we claim to know what really and truly is so. Gilson's immediate realism cannot be mediated and so is dogmatic. what is perceived is the concept of being. For Kant. Lonergan. Gilson agree that we come to attain objectivity by means of perception. are inaccessible to the not a manifest datum accessible to anyone. an empirical Anschauung. he adds. Our cognitional activities are related to the objective world ". that is predicated in perceptual judgments of existence.". Fr.the exact opposite of Kant's"40 Prof. Thus.."42 Prof.43 IV. On the other hand.. For Prof.placing the perceived existence in the category of..."38 Prof. is left with dogmatically asserting his immediate realism in the face of the Kantian denial. So much for the matter of fact. Thus.39 This "fact" does not seem to be "... Coreth's and concludes that: The basic difference is that... They differ. We are under an illusion when we claim to know what really is.

Lonergan has elucidated a truth that Humanity has been needing for some time now. as a good disciple of St. while at the same time the elements that are destructive are shown to be self-destructive. and after struggling to summarize it. the essential character of that spirit is an all consuming force that intends to take all of humanity's best endeavors to grasp the meaning of life and baptize them in that revelation that was accomplished by Jesus the Christ. he takes the best elements within the various philosophies and develops from there. one wonders why philosophers who make claims of the opposite nature. In this writer's humble estimation. Fr. Lonergan's method. Lonergan. Lonergan makes a statement that some feel to be radical. On reflection. has realized the import of this paradigm: the Incarnation.44 Fr. Thomas. They are reduced to admitting to inconsistency and are forced to take positions that are so convoluted that one wonders how they expect to be taken seriously. extremist. Jeffrey Grace . or we cannot lay claim to some universal truth. Let us hope that his voice does not fall on ears that have long been deafened. Even the critics of Fr. Copyright 1995-96 R. Rather than dogmatically asserting the insights of his mentor St. Thomas.8 After attempting to get a handle on Fr. Lonergan's method concede his contention that to criticize his method involves the critic in the inescapable position of using the very method in the process. if indeed Fr. This is illustrated by Fr. Lonergan's view that all philosophies contain a position that invites development and a counter-position that invites reversal. that we cannot know what reality really is. are not considered just as audacious in making such absolute claims? Let us hope that. Indeed. it hasn't arrived upon the scene just in time to witness a total disregard for reason. this writer is left with the impression that Fr. that very revelation itself is the paradigm. to absolute. Lonergan's work represents the Catholic spirit at it's finest.