Lonergan, Hermeneutics, and Theological Method

Bernard Lonergan drew a map of theology for a new era
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Bernard J. Lonergan , Lonergan Research Institute. Historical Experience and Historical Knowledge. Critical History. Pluralism in Religious Language. General Theological Categories.

University of Toronto Quarterly

Special Theological Categories. Use of the Categories. Three Handbooks. Three Historians. Heuristic Structures. Science and Scholarship. Conversions and Breakdowns. Dialectic as Method. A Supplementary Note. The Sufficiency of the Foundational Reality. In popular use, metaphysics suggests a cloud of speculations about invisible forces on our lives. Among philosophers, metaphysics is the science that identifies the basic concepts about the structures of reality. GEM not only identifies basic concepts, but also traces them to their sources in the subject.

Thus, concepts issue from insights, and insights issue from questions, and questions have birthdates, parented by answers to previous generations of questions. Moreover, the so-called raw data are already shaped by the questions that occur to an inquirer. These questions, in turn, contain clues to their answers insofar as the insight we expect is related to the kind of judgment we expect.

It could be a logical conclusion, a judgment of fact, a judgment that an explanation is correct, or a judgment of value. Because these complexities of human wonder are part of reality, GEM's metaphysics encompasses the relationship between the processes that guide our wonder and the realities we wonder about.

The assumption is that when they operate successfully, the processes of wonder form an integrated set isomorphic to the integral dimensions of reality. For example, the scientific movement from data to hypothesis to verification corresponds to Lonergan's view that knowing moves from experience to understanding to judgment, as well as to Aristotle's view that reality consists of potency, form, and act.

Bernard J. F. Lonergan (1904-1984)

In GEM, then, metaphysics comprises both the processes of knowing and the corresponding features of anything that can be known. This metaphysics is latent but operative before it is conceptualized and named. People who consistently tackle the right question and sidestep the wrong ones already possess latent abilities to discern some structured features of the object of their inquiry.

With moral questions, their heuristic anticipations show up as seemingly innate strategies: Don't chisel your moral principles in stone. Consider historical circumstances. A bright idea is not necessarily a right idea. And so forth. Eventually, these canny men and women may conceptualize and name their latent metaphysics. Should they ask themselves how they ever learned to discern the difference between good thinking and bad thinking, they may look beneath what they think about and wonder how their thinking works.

They may realize what GEM takes as fundamental: Any philosophy will rest upon the operative methods of cognitional activity, either as correctly conceived or as distorted by oversights and mistaken orientations. Then, insofar as they correctly understand their cognitional activity, they may begin to make their latent metaphysics explicit. In the remainder of this article, some of Lonergan's metaphysical terms particularly relevant to ethics are highlighted in bold face. When we expect to understand anything, our insights fall into two classes. We can understand things as they currently function, or we can understand things as they develop over time.

Regarding things as they currently function, we may notice that we have both direct insights and "inverse" insights. These correspond to two different kinds of intelligibilities that may govern what we aim to understand. Lonergan's use of "intelligibility" here corresponds to what Aristotle referred to as "form" and what modern science calls "the nature of. A classical intelligibility corresponding to the "classical" scientific insights of Galileo, Newton and Bacon is grasped by a direct insight into functional correlations among elements.

We understand the phases of the moon, falling bodies, pushing a chair - any events that result necessarily from prior events, other things being equal. A statistical intelligibility is grasped by an inverse insight that there is no direct insight available. But while we often understand that many events cannot be functionally related to each other, we also may understand that an entire set of such events within a specific time and place will cluster about some average.

For if any subset of events we consider random varies regularly from this average, we will look for regulating factors in this subset, governed by a classical intelligibility to be grasped through a direct insight.

Bernard Lonergan: Growing in Faith as the Eyes of Being in Love with God

Statistical intelligibility, then, does not regard events resulting necessarily from prior events. It regards sets of events, in place P during time T, resulting under probability from multiple and shifting events. This distinction affects moral appeals to a "natural law. However, the nature of this relationship is not one conception per intercourse but the probability of one conception for many acts of intercourse - a relationship of statistical intelligibility. If this is the nature of births, then the natural law allows that each single act of intercourse need not be open to conception.

Regarding things as they develop over time, there are two basic kinds of development, again based on the distinction between direct and inverse insights. A genetic intelligibility is grasped by a direct insight into some single driving factor that keeps the development moving through developmental phases, such as found in developmental models of stars, plants, human intelligence, and human morality.

A dialectical intelligibility is grasped by an inverse insight that there is no single driving factor that keeps the development moving.

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Instead, there are at least two driving factors that modify each other while simultaneously modifying the developing entity. These anticipations are key to understanding moral developments. Inquiry into a general pattern of moral development will anticipate a straight-line, genetic unfolding of a series of stages. Inquiry into a specific, actual moral development will anticipate a dialectical unfolding wherein the drivers of development modify each other at every stage, whether improving or worsening.

Genetic intelligibility is what we expect to grasp when we ask how new things emerge out of old. In this perspective, the metaphysical notion of potency takes on a particularly important meaning for ethics. Potency covers all the possibilities latent in given realities to become intelligible elements of higher systems. What distinguishes creative thinkers is not just their habit of finding uses in things others find useless.

They expect that nature brings about improvements even without their help as, for example, when floating clouds of interstellar dust congeal into circulating planets or when damaged brains develop alternate circuits around scar tissue. In this universe characterized by the potency for successive higher systems, the field of ethics extends to anything we can know. Hence, the "goodness" of the universe lies partly in its potentials for more intelligible organization.

Human concern is an instance, indeed a most privileged instance, of a burgeoning universe. A sense of this kind of finality commands respect for whatever naturally comes to be even if no immediate uses come to mind. An ethics whose field covers universal potentials will trace how morality is about allowing better.

It means allowing not only the potentials of nature to reveal themselves but also a maximum freedom to the innate human imperative to do better.

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It means thinking of any moral option as essentially a choice between preventing and allowing the exercise of a pure desire for the better. Thus, the work of moral living is largely preventive - preventing our neurotic fixations or egotism from narrowing our horizons, preventing our loyalties from suppressing independent thinking, or preventing our mental impatience from abandoning the difficult path toward complete understanding. The rest feels less like work and more like allowing a natural exuberance to a moral creativity whose range has not been artificially narrowed by bias.

In contrast, a commonsense view of the universe imagines only the dimensions studied by physicists. The rule is simple: Any X either does or does not exist. Without this rule, scientists could never build up knowledge of what is and what is not. However, in cases like ourselves, where the universal potency for higher forms has produced responsible consciousness, this rule does not cover all possibilities.

We also make the value judgments that some Xs should or should not exist. To recognize that the universe produces normative acts of consciousness is to recognize that the universe is more than a massive factual conglomeration. It is a self-organizing, dynamic and improving entity. Its moral character emerges most clearly with us, in raising moral objections when things get worse, in anticipating that any existing thing may potentially be part of something better, and, sadly, in acting against our better judgment. Another key metaphysical element within the dynamism of reality toward fuller being is the notion of development.

GEM rejects the mechanist view that counts on physics alone to explain the appearance of any new thing. It also rejects the vitalist view that pictures a wondrous life force driving everything from atoms, molecules, and cells, to psyches, minds and hearts. The reality of development, particularly moral development, involves a historical sequence of notions about better and worse. We inherit moral standards, subtract what we think is nonsense and add what we think makes sense. Our inheritance is likewise a sum of our previous generation's inheritance, what they subtracted from it and added to it.

Any moral tradition is essentially a sequence of moral standards, each linked to the past by an impure inheritance and to the future by the bits added and subtracted by a present generation.

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Not every tradition is a morally progressing sequence, of course, but those that make progress alternate between securing past gains and opening the door to future improvements. GEM names the routines that secure gains a higher system as integrator. It names the routines within the emerged system that open the door to a better system a higher system as operator. Within a developing moral tradition, value judgments perform the integrator functions, while value questions perform the operator functions.

The integrating power of value judgments will be directly proportional to the absence of operator functions -- specifically, any further relevant value questions.

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He came to grasp that while both Augustine and Aquinas had used "introspective techniques" to ground their analyses of the operations of the human mind, still they had failed to work out the ground or method of those techniques. We hope you enjoy our selection and discover your new favourite book. Jurors deadlock in trial of priest accused of molestation Sep 17, Background 2. Hence in the mediating phase of theology we advance from research to interpretation to history to dialectic apologetically dealing with conflicting tendencies ; in the mediated phase of theology we descend from foundations that which objectifies the process of conversion that took place in dialectics to doctrines to systematics which conceptualizes, clarifies, and removes inconsistencies to communications i. An interpretation is incorrect if it can be corrected;35 and it is correct if it could meet all further relevant questions. He will prompt you to demonstrate to yourself that human understanding and knowledge, though limited, are real.

So we regard some values as rock solid because no one has raised any significant questions about them. Value judgments that are provisional will function as limited integrators - limited, to be exact, to the extent that lingering value questions function as operators, scrutinizing value judgments for factual errors, misconceived theories, or bias in the investigator. Feelings may function as either operators or integrators. As operators, they represent our initial response to possible values, moving us to pose value questions.

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As integrators they settle us in our value judgments as our psyches link our affects to an image of the valued object. Lonergan names this linkage of affect and image a symbol. This is a term that identifies an event in consciousness; it is not to be confused with the visible flags and icons we also call "symbols.

Symbols can also serve as operators insofar as the affect-image pair may disturb our consciousness, alerting us to danger or confusion, and prompting the questions we pose about values. Although the operators that improve a community's tradition involve the questions that occur to its members, not all questions function as operators.

Some value questions are poorly expressed, even to ourselves. We experience disturbing symbols, but have yet to pose a value question in a way that actually results in a positive change. Some value questions are posed by biased investigators, which degrade a community's moral heritage.

Only those individuals who pose the questions that actually add values or remove disvalues will function as operators in an improving tradition. What makes any tradition improve, then, is neither the number of cultural institutions, nor governmental support of the arts, nor legal protections for freedom of thought, nor freedom of religion. These support the operators, and need to be regulated as such. But the operators themselves are the questions raised by the men and women who put true values above mere satisfactions.

The same alternating dynamic is evident in the moral development of an individual. While psychotherapists expect that an individual's age is not a reliable measure of moral maturity, those who understand development as an alternation of operators and integrators may pose their questions about a patient's maturity much more precisely: How successfully did this person meet the sequence of operator questions at turning points in his or her life?

And what are the resultant integrator symbols guiding this person today? Similarly, in theories of individual development, what counts is what the operators may be at any stage. Where some theorists only describe the various stages, GEM looks for an account of a prior stage as integrator that connects directly to the operator questions to which an emerging stage is an answer.

The foregoing genetic model of development gives a gross view of stages and a first approximation to actual development. But actual development is the bigger story. Who we are is a unique weaving of the mutual impacts of external challenges and our internal decisions. So we come to the kind of intelligibility that accounts for concrete historical growth or decline - dialectical intelligibility. We expect this kind of understanding when we anticipate a tension among drivers of development and changes in these very drivers, depending on the path that the actual development takes.

Friendship, for example, has been compared to a garden that needs tending, but the analogy is misleading. What we understand about gardens falls under genetic intelligibility. Seeds will produce their respective vegetables, fruits or flowers; all we do is provide the nutrients. In a friendship, however, each partner is changed with each compromise, accommodation, resistance or refusal.

So the inner dynamic of any friendship is a concrete unfolding of two personalities, each linked to the other yet able to oppose the other. A community, too, is a dialectical reality. Its members' perceptions, their patterns of behavior, their ways of collaborating and disputing, and all their shared purposes are the concrete result of three linked but opposed principles: their spontaneous intersubjectivity, their practical intelligence, and their values.

In This Series

Spontaneous Intersubjectivity: Our spontaneous needs and wants constitute the primitive, intersubjective dimensions of community. We nest; we take to our kind; we share the unreflective social routines of the birds and bees, seeking one particular good after another. Practical Intelligence: We also get insights into how to meet our needs and wants more efficiently.

We design our houses to fit our circumstances and pay others to build them. In exchange, others pay us to make their bread, drive them to work, or care for their sick.

Method in Theology

Here is where the intelligent dimensions of a community emerge, comprising all the linguistic, technological, economic, political and social systems springing from human insight that constitute a society. Values: Where practical intelligence sets up what a community does, values ground why they do it. Here is where the moral dimensions of community emerge - the shoulds and should-nots conveyed in laws, agreements, education, art, public opinion and moral standards. They embody all the commitments and priorities that constitute a culture.

Hermeneutics and Method

These three principles are linked. Spontaneously, we pursue the particular goods that we need or want. Intellectually, we discover the technical, economic, political and social means to ensure the continuing flow of these particular goods, and we adapt our personal skills and habits to work within these systems. Morally, we decide whether the particular goods and the systems that deliver them actually improve our lives.

Yet the principles are forever opposed. Insight often suppresses the urges of passion, while passion unmoored from insight would carry us along its undertow. Conscience, meanwhile, passes judgment on both our choices of particular goods and the systems we set up to keep them coming. A dialectical anticipation regards a community as a moving, concrete resultant of the mutual conditioning of these three principles.

When spontaneous intersubjectivity dominates a community, its members' intellects are deformed by animal passion. When practical intelligence ignores spontaneous intersubjectivity, a society becomes stratified into an elite with its grand plans and a proletariat living from hand to mouth. Where members prefer mere satisfactions over values, intelligences are biased, and deeper human needs for authenticity are ignored. In any case, communities move, pushed and pulled by these principles, now converging toward, now diverting away from genuine progress.

The idea of development implies a lack of intelligibility, namely, the intelligibility yet to be realized. Likewise, there is a lack of intelligibility in the distorted socio-cultural institutions and self-defeating personal habits that pose the everyday problems confronting us. Yet even these are intelligibly related to the events that created them. What lacks intelligibility it itself, however, is the refusal to make a decision that one deems one ought to make.

GEM follows the Christian tradition of the apostle Paul, of Augustine, and of Aquinas in recognizing the phenomenon that we can act against our better judgment. This tradition is aware that much wrongdoing results from coercion, or conditioning, or invincible ignorance, but it asserts nonetheless that we can refuse to choose what we know is worth choosing. Lonergan refers to these events as "basic sin" to distinguish them from the effects of such refusals on one's socio-cultural institutions and personal habits. Their unintelligibility is radical, in the sense that a deliberate refusal to obey a dictate of one's deliberation cannot be explained, even if, as often happens, later deliberation dictates something else.

It is radical also in the etymological sense of a root that branches into the actions, habits and institutions that we consider "bad. Different media subdivide ethics in different ways. News media divide it according to the positions people take on moral issues. Many college textbooks divide it into three related disciplines: metaethics methods , normative ethics principles , and applied ethics case studies.

This division implies that we first settle issues of method, then establish general moral principles, and finally apply those principles straightaway into practice. GEM proposes that moral development is not the straight line of genetic development nourished solely by principles but rather a dialectical interplay of spontaneous intersubjectivity, practical intelligence, and values. So, instead of a deductive, three-step division of moral process, GEM expects moral reflection to spiral forward inductively, assessing new situations with new selves at every turn.

The question then becomes how ethicists might collaborate in wending the way into the future. In his Method in Theology , Lonergan grouped the processes by which theology reflects on religion into eight specializations, each with functional relationships to the other seven. As illustrated in the chart below, the four levels of human self-transcendence - being attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible — function in the two phases of understanding the past and planning for the future.

Thus, we learn about the past by moving upward through research, interpretation, history, and a dialectical evaluation. We move into the future by moving downward through foundational commitments, basic doctrines, systematic organizations of doctrines, and communication of the resulting meanings and values. Our future slips into our past soon enough, and the process continues, turn after turn, reversing or advancing the forces of decline, meeting ever new challenges or buckling under the current ones. While Lonergan presented this view primarily to meet problems in theology, he extended the notion of functional specialties to ethics, historiography and the human sciences by associating doctrines, systematics, and communications with policies, plans and implementations , respectively.

These eight functional specialties are not distinct professions or separate university departments. They represent Lonergan's grouping of the operations of mind and heart by which we actually do better. That is, he is not suggesting a recipe for better living; he is proposing a theoretical explanation of how the mind and heart work whenever we actually improve life, along with a proposal for collaboration in light of this explanation. The bottom three rows of functions will be initially familiar to anyone involved in practically any enterprise.

The top row of functions is less familiar, but it represents Lonergan's clarification of the evaluative moments that occur in any collaboration that improves human living. The functional specialty dialectic occurs when investigators explicitly sort out and evaluate the basic elements in any human situation. They evaluate the data of research, the explanations of interpreters, and the accounts of historians. In , he quietly made the decision to join the Jesuit order. There followed a more or less standard progression through the long course of Jesuit formation: four years in Guelph, Ontario as a novice and junior; three years of philosophy at Heythrop College , a Jesuit house of studies near Oxford, and another year during which he studied for a degree in languages and mathematics at the University of London; three years of regency at Loyola College , where he had teaching duties; then on to Rome for 4 years of theological studies for the licentiate in theology at the Gregorian in preparation for an academic career ; finally, a month tertianship in Amiens, France Lonergan's intellectual influences and interests during these years of formation and study were varied.

His training at Guelph would have been classical: Greek, Latin, French, some rhetoric and mathematics. His textbooks at Heythrop were scholastic manuals, "German in origin and Suarezian in conviction" Second Collection , His early papers at Heythrop reflect an interest in the theory of knowledge; one was written on Newman's Grammar of Assent , a book which he read several times. His subjects at the University of London were again Greek, Latin, French, and mathematics, the latter for which he had an especial fondness. In addition to teaching languages at Loyola College, he gave courses in calculus, analytical geometry, and mechanics physics.

While at Loyola he read J. Stewart on Plato which he said cured him of his nominalism as well as Plato's early dialogues and the early philosophical dialogues of Augustine. He read Christopher Dawson's The Age of the Gods , which resulted in a shift in his thinking from a normative or classicist notion of culture to an anthropological one. In addition, he gained first-hand exposure to Thomas Aquinas, as opposed to the Thomism of the scholastic manuals.

Crowe argues that during this period Lonergan was broadening his intellectual horizons. His writings show an interest in culture, the philosophy of history, and the human sciences sociology, politics, economics.

Still dissatisfied with the state of Catholic education, he began planning for a renewal of Catholic studies. Most of these interests would be put on temporary hold, however, while he pursued his doctoral studies, which focused on Aquinas' account of grace. After completing his dissertation, Lonergan taught theology at Jesuit seminaries, first in Montreal and then in Toronto. From he taught at the Gregorian in Rome until diagnosed with cancer of the lung in After surgery and recovery he was went to Regis College in Toronto, and his teaching duties were reduced to allow him to concentrate on writing and research.

He taught there until , with a brief stint at Harvard in His final teaching post was at Boston College from to It is worth noting that the last decade of Lonergan's life was spent, not in further development of his philosophical or theological work, but in exploring the field of economics. In a sense, this was not a new departure, but a return to an earlier field of interest. When Lonergan returned to Canada in from philosophical studies in England, he found his native country in the midst of a severe depression Crowe, With a pastoral impulse, he turned to economic analysis, trying to grasp the nature of economic cycles this work is now published in For a New Political Economy.

Near the end of his career, after completing Method in Theology , he briefly considered reworking his christological reflections within the framework of his mature thinking on theological method. He opted instead to pick up this earlier work on economics. While teaching graduate seminars on macroeconomics and the human good, he sought to further his work on a fundamental reorientation of macroeconomic analysis see An Essay in Circulation Analysis.

He was diagnosed with colon cancer in , while still engaged in this work, and died in Pickering, Ontario on November 26, at the age of One common view of Lonergan portrays him as a Thomist who later became interested in integrating Thomas' thought with modern philosophy, science, and history. Crowe argues , that in fact most of Lonergan's fundamental interests predate his serious engagement with Aquinas. His interest in the notion of insight can be traced to an early paper on Euclid, while his formulation of the reflective insight, or judgment, is taken from Newman's illative sense.

Crowe further argues that Lonergan's early interest in history and the human sciences at Rome was put on hold during an eleven year period spent "reaching up to the mind of Aquinas. Lonergan's dissertation took up the question of operative grace in Thomas Aquinas, a topic suggested to him by his dissertation advisor, Charles Boyer. This topic went to the heart of one of the more infamous debates within Catholic scholasticism: the Banezian-Molinist controversy over how to reconcile the omnipotence, omniscience, and salvific will of God with human freedom.

Lonergan's exegesis of Aquinas is considered a masterpiece of twentieth-century Thomistic scholarship. He argued that it was necessary to understand the historical development of Aquinas's thought on this issue in order to grasp the intricate and dynamic synthesis which Aquinas was able to achieve. Only by employing historical methods and by paying careful attention to the shifting contexts of Aquinas' treatment could one prevent a "disintegration of Aquinas's solution into 'irreconcilable alternatives'" Byrne, , The second major piece of work during this period of 'apprenticeship' to Aquinas was the so-called Verbum articles.

In a series of four articles, originally published in Theological Studies and later collected under the title, Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas , Lonergan explored Aquinas' Trinitarian analogy as found in the Summa Theologiae I. This study led Lonergan into the heart of Aquinas's cognitional theory, that is, his analysis of the human act of understanding.

Aquinas's achievement was to recontextualize Augustine's psychological analogy for the Trinitarian relations within Aristotle's metaphysical psychology. As in his dissertation, Lonergan employed historical methods in order to reconstruct the various contexts of Aquinas's thought. But, in addition, something new emerged, something which resonated with the notion of insight that he had explored in relation to Euclid.

He came to grasp that while both Augustine and Aquinas had used "introspective techniques" to ground their analyses of the operations of the human mind, still they had failed to work out the ground or method of those techniques. Lonergan saw the possibility that a self-appropriation of introspection could provide a normative grounding for historical thinking Byrne, It was only with his next major work some would say it was the major work of his career that Lonergan would flesh out the implications of this discovery.

Calling it an essay in aid of self-appropriation, Lonergan wrote Insight between the years He originally intended it to be "an exploration of methods generally in preparation for a study of the method of theology," but had to "round off" his project when he found out he would be transferred to teach in Rome Second Collection , While impossible to adequately summarize in a brief space, the strategy of Insight can at least be indicated. Lonergan intends for the reader to begin to pay attention to his or her own knowing.

The book is structured to ask and answer two questions: What is happening when we know?