‘Truth, in fine, ripens, on the tree of the subject, and objectivity is the fruit of subjectivity at its most intense and persistent.’ Meyer Critical Realism and the New Testament 140
In this short post I seek to sketch out Bernard Lonergan’s transcendental methodology, otherwise known as the Critical-Realist, method. This method is of particular interest to those interested in Historical Jesus methodology as Ben Meyer, who was a big influence on Tom Wright, sought specifically to apply the work of Lonergan to New Testament Studies. This is based on
Denton, D. L. (2004). Vol. 262: Historiography and hermeneutics in Jesus studies : An examination of the work of John Dominic Crossan and Ben F. Meyer. Journal for the study of the New Testament.; Journal for the study of the historical Jesus. London; New York: T & T Clark International.
I have not intentionally quoted Denton directly but I am heavily dependent on his work. To deal directly with Lonergan and Meyer see the following books.
Lonergan, B. J. F. (1957). Insight : A study of human understanding. New York: Philosophical Library.
Meyer, B. F. (1979). The aims of Jesus. London: SCM.
Meyer, B. F. (1989). Vol. 17: Critical realism and the New Testament. Princeton theological monograph series. Allison Park, Pa.: Pickwick Publications.
Humans seek to know things, whether this be the weather report on T.V or the life and times of a historical figure. This process of knowing usually occurs as a spontaneous functioning of the mind. Lonergan proposes a transcendental method of knowing which is both conscious and intentional. The knower seeks to be self aware of the process of knowing and directs his thinking towards an object.
Full human knowledge, according to Lonergan, involves a three stage cognitional level of knowing. This usually hap pens spontaneously in the mind of the knower but can be objectified in a critical realist methodology.
Experience —> Understanding —–> Act of Judgement
1)Experience: The senses provides data for knowledge. By itself this does not constitute fully human knowledge. This is the way in which animals and infants relate top the world. We do not have direct access to knowledge using the sense, the senses merely provide data which when acted upon by understanding and judgement become knowledge.
2) Understanding: Questions are then put to this raw data which allow bring an intelligible unity to this data.
3) Act of Judgement: The knower is then in the position to judge the answers which are provided by understanding.
In a critical realist approach this stages to knowing are pursued consciously and intentionally to provide ‘virtually unconditioned’ knowledge’ in which the truth conditions have been consciously verified.
The known world, perceived through experience, understanding and judgement, is the only world which can be known to us. We see here the active role of the subject within knowing for objectivity is rooted in authentic subjectivity. Lonergan, and in turn Meyer, stand against an epistemological objectivity that assumes that any person given enough time, evidence and intelligence, will arrive at the same judgements.
Understanding( Asking Questions) and Act of Judgement (Verification) take place within the knower’s Horizon which Lonergan defines as the ‘maximum field of vision from a determinate standpoint’ and is thus the boundary in which one knows. The horizon of an individual dictates the limits of one’s knowledge, the questions which are asked in understanding, and the acceptability of the answers in the act of judging.
As our field of vision, so too the scope of our knowledge, and the range of our interests are bounded. As fields of vision vary with one’s standpoint, so to the scope of one’s knowledge and the range of one’s interests vary with the period in which one lives, one’s social background and miliue, one’s education and personal development. So there has arisen a metaphorical or perhaps analogous meaning of the word, horizon. In this sense what lies beyond one’s horizon is simply outside the range of one’s knowledge and interests: one neither knows nor cares. But what lies within one’s horizon in some measure, great or small, an object of interest and knowledge.’ Lonergan
This field of horizon is continuously being reshaped by the world around us.
‘not only from sources listed in the handbooks or monographs, but from the thousand and one additional sources of information, inspiration, wonder, feeling, conjecture that crowd the life of the individual scholar and continuously reshape his horizons’ Meyer
Horizons, the framework from which knowledge is gained, can change but one is unable to argue from within a field of horizon the advantage of another horizon. Instead a change of horizon takes place by a matter of conversion in which a different field of vision is imagined which at first sight seems incomprehensible.
‘By conversion is understood a transformation of the subject and his world. Normally, it is a prolonged process though its explicit acknowledgement may be concentrated in a few momentous judgements and decisions.. It is a resultant change of course and direction. It as if one’s eyes were opened and one’s former world faded and fell away… Conversion, as lived, affects all of a man’s conscious and intentional operations. It directs his gaze, pervades his imagination, releases the symbols that penetrate to the depths of his physce. It enriches his understanding, guides his judgements, reinforces his decisions.’ Lonergan
Lonergan seeks to offer a pathway between modernist and postmodern epistemology. I like this as the arrogance of the modernist position can be avoided whilst still being able to make claims to knowledge.
The stress on Horizons is useful. As a Christian I affirm that the inward work of the Holy Spirit allows the horizons to be altered.
What is the relationship between worldviews and ‘horizons’. Worldviews look at the world, whereas horizons is the maximum field of vision from which data can be interpreted.
Does all knowledge involve the 3 stages of cognitive activity?
How would Dooyeweerdians/Vollenites find Lonergan?
What is the difference between Lonergan and constructivist thought?