The Lonergan Reader
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U of T Press

LWS Front Page


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(adjust)ment makes the incidental sins of the past into the commonly accepted rule of the present; the social surd expands; and its expansion demands further adjustment.'(35)

Our century, in Lonergan's view, is merely the most recent moment in a cycle of decline in which our self-understanding and our understanding of our common situation have become ever less comprehensive, and our capacity to respond to the challenges posed by this situation has become more and more restricted. In this cycle of decline our horizons contract, our language is devalued, our questions are brushed aside, and our experiences become a flow of alienating absurdities. Moreover, these 'facts' about ourselves descend like an iron curtain and cut us off from the realization of our potentialities; they provide ready-made justifications for the views of those who would see us as little more than animals in a habitat; and we confirm their estimation of us because we adhere to decadent routines and cavalierly disregard the role played by meanings and values in the conduct of our lives.

At the root of this crisis is a crisis in our knowledge of ourselves. We formerly understood ourselves, or thought that we understood ourselves, in terms of a specific set of meanings and values, but their inadequacy has been revealed by modern technological, economic, social, political, and intellectual developments. Reflection on the experience of these transformations has sparked the realization of our embeddedness in history, of our historicity. The collapse of classical culture coincides with the realization that we are constituted by our situations, and that we constitute ourselves and our situations. In the aftermath of these developments and this realization, we are newly empowered but radically disoriented. The previously authoritative meanings and values by which we defined ourselves and guided our living have lost their aura of prestige, but a new set of meanings and values and a new self-understanding have not emerged to replace them. This disorientation is felt at the level of everyday living no less than at the level of philosophical and theological endeavor. But, in Lonergan's view, the confusion that dominates philosophical and theological inquiry is especially ominous. It is there that normative foundations for collaborative intellectual practice and moral living are formulated and explicitly mediated to the culture at large. It is there that the criteria by which we distinguish progress from decline are ascertained and articulated. To Page 17


35. Insight, 712.