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Gerard Walmsley

The polymorphism of consciousness as the key to philosophy: Towards a Lonerganian postmodern metaphilosophy

Boston College
Degree: Ph.D.
Date: 2000; 396 pp
Advisor: Patrick Byrne
ISBN: 0-599-75381-1


This dissertation seeks to investigate Lonergan's intriguing but problematic claim that “the polymorphism of consciousness is the one and only key to philosophy” (I: 410). Two main questions are addressed. What is polymorphism? Can polymorphism bear the weight of a developed metaphilosophy? Lonergan's own treatment of polymorphism is closely examined. Ambiguities in his treatment are noted and Lonergan's account is filled out and expanded in various ways. It is argued that polymorphism is best understood as involving all the modalities of human consciousness: patterns of experience, levels of consciousness, differentiations of consciousness as well as the shifts in horizon due to conversion.

With regard to Lonergan's apparently far-reaching metaphilosophical claim, I argue that Lonergan does not completely succeed in establishing his position. The reason for this lies in his incomplete exposition of polymorphism. In his account of philosophic difference in Insight, Lonergan deals only with the interplay of the biological and the intellectual patterns. He fails to invoke the other patterns in their distinctiveness as factors leading to philosophic pluralism. The result is that Lonergan too easily fits his account of the patterns into a view of philosophic and a view of philosophic dialectic that is already settled. He does not allow his understanding of the patterns to reshape his understanding of philosophy. In my view a more comprehensive account of the patterns contributes to the transition from cognitional analysis to intentionality analysis found in Lonergan's later thought. It points to interiority as the proper base of philosophy. To acknowledge the full range of patterns preserves, whilst going beyond, the intellectualist-cognitional stance of Insight. This also opens the way to an integral account of polymorphism that would include reference to levels of consciousness and to differentiations of consciousness. Such an integral account of polymorphism provides a basis for a more nuanced metaphilosophy, a meta-philosophy relevant to the postmodern concern for difference and plurality and to cross-cultural philosophy.

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