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Joe Cassidy
Extending Bernard Lonergan's Ethics: Parallel Between The Structures of Cognition and Evaluation


Please feel free to forward comments, questions, and insights to Joseph Cassidy. My e-mail address is: [j.p.cassidy@durham.ac.uk].

University of Ottawa (Canada) Degree: PHD
Date: 1996 pp: 440
ISBN: 0-612-11543-7

Advisor: James R.Pambrun


Abstract: This dissertation is concerned with the foundations of ethical decision-making. It argues that a study of Bernard Lonergan's works on the human good can lead to a heightened awareness of what it means to take responsibility for our being responsible. Just as Lonergan suggested that we turn to the subject and pay attention to how we know in order to understand what we know, so this dissertation attends to how we make decisions. In so doing, responsible decision-making is understood not as one discrete act, but as a process that includes a series of evaluative operations.

The dissertation explains Lonergan's levels of the good, and on that basis identifies and explains a structure of three evaluative operations--desiring, deliberating on possibilities, and evaluating/judging the preferability of possibilities for action--which are parallel to Lonergan's three cognitional operations of experiencing, understanding and judging.

From there, the study asks whether the three evaluative operations ought to be distinguished from their cognitional counterparts. The question is addressed by noting how Lonergan distinguished levels of operations and/or levels of consciousness. The conclusion is that the same arguments that Lonergan used to identify cognitional operations and cognitional structure can be used to identify evaluative operations and evaluative structure.

From there, one of the hallmarks of Lonergan's approach to ethics is considered: namely his claim that values are apprehended in feelings. Lonergan's treatment of value judgements is discussed. A similarity to Kantian ethics is adduced by claiming that the rationality that Kantian ethics grasps is the need for sustainable systems. This same emphasis can be found in the works of Kenneth Melchin. Given that this approach is conspicuously at odds with the positivist position on the irreducibility of the good, the differences between that position and a Lonerganian approach are discussed, the conclusion being that a Lonerganian approach has stronger empirical grounding that the positivist approach. A clarification is then made concerning the supposed virtual unconditionality of value judgements. In contrast to the claims of many Lonerganian scholars, it is argued that this is not an apt way of characterizing value judgements, nor was it favoured by Lonergan.

Lonergan's work on self-transcendence as the criterion of the good is then studied. Self-transcendence is explained precisely in the ways that each level of operations sublates previous levels of operations. Two topics of special concern to Lonergan are then reviewed in the light of evaluative structure: bias is explained in terms of getting the order of sublations 'wrong'; and conversion is explained in terms of getting the order of sublations 'right.' The dissertation concludes with an exploration of Lonergan's and Frederick Crowe's explanation of an above downwards dynamism operating in human development. The conclusion applies the dissertation's findings to debates between deontologists and teleologists, arguing for the complementarity of the approaches as well as their inadequacy.

(Abstract shortened by UMI.)


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