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Patrick D. Brown, Ph.D.

'System and history' in the thought of Bernard Lonergan


Boston College
Degree: PhD
Date: 2000 ; 317 pages
ISBN: 0-599-88126-7
Advisor: Charles Hefling


Abstract: This study is a reading of Lonergan on 'system and history'; a topic central to his thought. The study begins by establishing two preliminary contexts. First, it constructs an overview of the problematic in chapter one. Second, it establishes a further context in chapter two by analyzing his writings on the topic in 1959, the year he gave a graduate seminar on 'System and History.'

Subsequent chapters trace the emergence in the history of Lonergan's thought of (1)historical heuristics, (2)of historical maieutics, and (3)of the relation of both in his theory and philosophy of history. The study largely prescinds, however, from Lonergan's theory of the dialectic of history. Instead, it draws attention to the role of the emergence of an adequate human science in what Lonergan calls the challenge of history, that is, the challenge of decreasing the role of mere chance and fate in history while increasing the role of conscious grasp and deliberate choice. Meeting that challenge requires, as Lonergan insists, “a human science that is concerned, to adapt a phrase from Marx, not only with knowing history but also with directing it.” Lonergan considered the needed human science at once a possible project and a vastly ambitious task. The needed human science involves a critique of history in the service of the intelligent direction of history and Lonergan holds some combination of the two central to a practical theory of history. Those two components emerge first in historical and economic manuscripts Lonergan wrote in the 1930s as examined in chapter three of the study. Chapter four examines those topics in Insight, together with Lonergan's view that emergent probability generically determines the course of human history. Chapter five examines the relation of historical scholarship to the need for an upper blade of historical heuristics in the period between Insight and Method. Finally, chapter six explores how the themes of historical heuristics and historical maieutics meet, albeit in subtle ways, in Lonergan's Method in Theology.

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