Front Page

A - B
C - D
E - L
M - Z



Generalized Empirical Method


Heuristic Structure


Intentionality Analysis



Law of the Cross

Levels of Consciousness

The Glossary Project
edited by Carla Streeter


The term refers, not to extrinsic causality such as final causality, but to the immanent constituents of proportionate being, an upward but indeterminately directed dynamism towards ever fuller realization of being. The determinacy of any genus and species is limitation, and limitation is to finality a barrier to be transcended (I 477[452]). Extrinsically a final cause is truly final only when the specific or formal constituent of the cause is the good. This extrinsic final causality is there, but the finality Lonergan is asserting to is an inherent dynamic aspect of created reality that is known simply by correctly understanding the facts of the matter (I 472 [446]).

Lonergan distinguishes three types of finality: absolute, horizontal, and vertical. There are two classes of the common instances of finality: the response of appetites to motives and the orientation of processes to terms. When these two instances specify the finality of a limiting essence (the genus and species noted above) to a limited mode of appetition and of process, we have what Lonergan calls horizontal finality. Absolute finality refers to the orientation of all things to God's intrinsic goodness. The third type of finality, the innate directed dynamism of being developing from any lower level of appetition and process to any higher level, Lonergan names vertical finality. Horizontal finality results from abstract essences and deals with the functioning of a thing even in isolation, but vertical finality lies in the concreteness of aplurality of things interacting with one another. Vertical finality points to the same fact of nature that contemporary science – subatomic, atomic, and molecular physics; evolutionary biology; cultural anthropology – acknowledges as important "exceptions" to the law of entropy. It is in light of vertical finality that the upward dynamism of the levels of consciousness clarified by Lonergan can be understood (1C 19-23 [18-22]).

Vertical finality manifests itself in four ways: instrumentally, dispositively, materially, and obedientially. In instrumental, a concrete plurality of lower activities might be instrumental toward a higher end: the use of a bowl and spoon for the mixing of ingredients toward a finished cake. In dispositive, a concrete plurality of activities might dispose toward a higher end: the work of the research scientist arriving finally at a discovery such as interferon. Materially, a concrete plurality of lower entities may be the material cause from which a higher form emerges or upon which a higher form is imposed, as when a statue emerges from stone. Obedientially, a concrete plurality of rational creatures such as human beings have the obediential potency to receive the very self-communication of God that we call grace. Lonergan believes that the nature of vertical finality has been studied very little.

Intentionality analysis reveals the working of vertical finality in consciousness as our attention, intelligence, reason, and responsibility carry us beyond ourselves. "Such vertical finality is another name for self-transcendence (3C 29). Still, such vertical finality is existentially ambiguous since we live "under the reign of sin and [our] redemption lies not in what is possible to nature but in what is effected by the grace of Christ" (3C 30) I 470-484 [444-458]; 1C 19-23 [18-22]; 3C 24-31. (Thanks to Tad Dunne and Daniel Helminiak for contributions to this term.)

Up Arrow


The fifth functional specialty, operating on the fourth (evaluative) level of consciousness as does dialectic. Foundations is concerned with objectifying the human event known as conversion. Conversion determines the personal horizon of the theologian (historian, etc.) maintained through a decision about the world-view, the outlook, he or she chooses to maintain. Foundations is the identification and selection of the framework in which doctrines, systematics, and communications will have meaning and effectiveness. It is specifically the foundation for these three remaining specialties, not for all of the theological task (M 267-268).

Lonergan holds that the difference between the converted and unconverted must be thematized because it is real. In foundations conversion is a prerequisite and it is explicit. One's foundations operate not only in theology but in every discipline. Research, interpretation, history, and dialectic may be done by the converted or the unconverted. When performed by one converted, however, these same functions have a different kind of "self" doing them. In other disciplines, however, the "kind of self doing them" is not in the job description. To objectify conversion one has need of intentionality analysis, the ability to attend to one's own conscious operations and to objectify them. This ability enables one to deal with the data of consciousness in addition to the data of sense. Foundations thematizes the conscious subject's selection of a position from among the possibilities presented in dialectic (M 268).

As a fourth level function, in foundations consciousness becomes conscience (M 268). The conversion with which foundations is concerned can be of several types. Three forms were initially discussed by Lonergan. (See conversion above.) Conversion can be intellectual, which means one knows how consciousness works, not from theory, but from self-appropriation. Conversion can be moral, in which choice opts for the truly good over mere satisfaction, effectively dissolving individual, group, and general bias. Conversion can be distinctly religious, an alteration of our total horizon itself, as a result of encounter with the Holy. Conversion of any kind is movement from one set of roots to another (M 271, 2C 65-66). Because of conversion a new human subject, a new self, results. The converted and unconverted have radically different horizons within which to entertain possibilities (M 271).

From a simple manner of doing foundations in a static, deductionist style, proceeding from a set of premises, Lonergan distinguishes his own preference, wherein meaning follows a more complex "methodical" style, moving from discovery to discovery. He regards foundations as what is first in any ordered set (M 269-270, 2C 63-64). First for theological foundations is religious conversion, a personal but not necessarily private encounter with transcendent reality (3C 218).

Lonergan also distinguishes foundations from fundamental theology. The latter is really a set of doctrines about the church, inspiration, etc. Foundations is the objectification of the theologian's conversion, which forms the horizon or world-view within which doctrines are apprehended (M 131-132, 267; PGT 22).

For Lonergan intentionality analysis is the basis that provides foundations not only for theology but for personal ethical decisions, hermeneutics, critical history, and any other discipline the person explores (2C 39, 203). M 131-132, 267-271; 2C 39, 63-66, 203; 3C 218; PGT 22. (My thanks to Daniel Helminiak for suggestions on this term.)

Up Arrow

freedom *

Lonergan's understanding of freedom involves his understanding of the cognitive structure of human consciousness. Thus, his account of freedom involves a study of intellect and will. Freedom, for Lonergan, is the capacity to make one's doing consistent with one's knowing. Consistency between knowing and willing depends upon freedom in two senses. First, when our doing is consistent with our knowing we are free. Second, the actual bringing about of that consistency depends upon our willing it and thus, depends upon freedom.

Lonergan distinguishes between essential freedom and effective freedom. One's capacity for considering the possibility of freedom presupposes that one is already free. This freedom is essential freedom. All human beings, without exception, have the capacity for essential freedom. "Man is free essentially inasmuch as possible courses of action are grasped by practical insight, motivated by reflection, and executed by decision." (I 619) Thus, we all have the freedom to experience an event, understand its significance, judge its worthiness, and decide what to do about it; that is, there are options open to us in terms of how we approach any occurrence in our life. In this sense, it is possible to be essentially free even though we may be in prison or in a situation where our physical activities are enormously restricted.

Effective freedom refers to the actual limits placed on us by our specific human condition. These limits can be either physical limits (the four walls of a prison cell) or psychological limits (bias, closed- or narrow-mindedness, etc.). As well, our effective freedom is limited by our life circumstances, that is, our (formal or informal) education, people we meet and who influence us significantly, the resources available to us, etc.

Within effective freedom, there is an additional distinction that Lonergan makes, between horizontal and vertical exercises of liberty. Horizontal liberty "is a decision or choice that occurs within an established horizon." (MT 237). It refers to the freedom we exercise within the limits of our horizon. Vertical freedom refers to a shift in horizons brought about through conversion.

For Lonergan, freedom has to do with the possibility of self-determination despite the reality of external forces or influences.

*This term is presented by Dr. Christine Jamieson.

Up Arrow

generalized empirical method: See method.

Up Arrow

Good *

The meaning of good, like the meaning of anything, has enlarged along three stages or plateaus:

  1. · A first plateau regards action. What is meaningful is practicality, technique, and palpable results.
  2. · A second plateau regards concepts. What counts are the language, the logic, and the conceptual systems that give a higher and more permanent control over action.
  3. · The third plateau regards method. As modern disciplines shift from fixed conceptual systems to the ongoing management of change, the success of any conceptual system depends on a higher control over their respective methods.

The meaning of good initially regards action, but it has expanded into a variety of conceptual systems under the heading of ethics. It is these systems, and their associated categories, which are the focus of the third-plateau focus on method. On this plateau, concepts lose their rigidity. As long as investigators are explicit about their cognitional theory, epistemology and metaphysics, they will continually refine or replace concepts developed in previous historical contexts. Although the second plateau emerged from the first and the third is currently emerging from the second, a generalized empirical method anticipates that any investigator may be at home with action only, with both action and concepts, or with action, concepts, and method. The effort of foundations is for investigators to include all three plateaus in their investigations. The effort of dialectic is to invite all dialog partners to do the same. Where second plateau minds would typically define good in conceptual terms, third plateau minds expect to understand good as the methods by which the mind and heart desire to do better, along with the corresponding correlations between these intentional acts and their objects. This effort requires more than a notional assent to concepts; it requires insight into these correlations and a personal verification of their reality. The relevant correlations that constitute anything called good may be viewed according to the three dialectical principles that shape any community. (1) Spontaneously, our interests, actions and passions intend particular goods. (2) Intelligently and reasonably, our insights and judgments intend the vast, interlocking set of systems that give us these particular goods regularly. (3) Responsibly and affectively, our decisions and loves intend what is truly worthwhile among these particular goods and the institutions that deliver them. In authentic persons, affectivity and responsibility shape reasonable and intelligent operations, which in turn govern otherwise spontaneous interests, actions and passions. This hierarchy in intentionality correlates with a priority of cultural values over social systems, and social systems over the ongoing particular activities of a populace. Thus, generalized empirical method regards human intelligence and reason as at the service of moral and affective orientations. This turns upside down the view of "materialistic" economic and educational systems that dedicate intelligence and reason to serving merely spontaneous interests, actions, and passions.

(* This term is presented by Tad Dunne.)

heuristic structure *

Heuristic structure orients the knower toward the known unknown. Unlike a map which guides one to a known destination, a heuristic structure leads one to what is unknown. In Lonergan's terms, it leads one to the known unknown. We know it is unknown. We know we want to understand. We do not have a direct route to understanding. We have the heuristic structure. The heuristic structure is what enables us to work out a strategy that will give us insight into what is unknown.

Heuristic structure is simply naming the unknown that we anticipate knowing when we finally understand. Another way of saying this is that a heuristic is a guiding question that leads us to insights. What was implicit becomes explicit. What was unknown becomes known. This transformation within the subject, within the knower, is brought about by the heuristic structure.

The link between the question and understanding is the heuristic structure. Heuristic structure is intricately linked to the anticipation of understanding one spontaneously experiences when one inquires. Thus, moving intelligently from question to insight is what Lonergan means by heuristic. The moving or development follows a road that is not designated. It is a road that gives one signs but not directions.

Heuristic structures carry no content. The criteria of heuristic structures are satisfied when the form they anticipate is filled. Understanding fills that form. Heuristic structure is detached from the actual content of that understanding. It has no substance, it is merely an orientation toward an unknown. It allows you to name the unknown.

* This term is presented by Dr. Christine Jamieson.

Up Arrow

history *

The third of the functional specialties. History and doctrines are functions of the third level of consciousness, that of judgment. This understanding is the clue to Lonergan's distinct meaning of history. History for Lonergan is not the gathering of historical data. Gathering of historical data is a research function in the area of history. Nor is history understanding the meaning of the data gathered. Historical understanding is an interpretive function. History as a functional specialty is a judgment of precisely what is going forward in the data of the past uncovered and understood (PGT 22). History for Lonergan is the fact of a dynamic movement forward, affirmed on the basis of historical evidence (M 185-186).

There is a double process involved in history understood in a Lonergan perspective. First, one comes to understand the authors of the sources, not only what they meant but what their purposes may have been and how they attempted to accomplish them. Second, one comes to understand the process referred to in these sources, what was going forward in the community (M 189). It is in the judgment of what is indeed historical fact, not merely in the understanding of its meaning, that distinguishes fact from fiction and history from legend. The act of judgment is the key (1C 206-207 [222-223]). Because Lonergan is aware of the great differences between judgments of fact and judgments of value, he restricts the goal of the functional specialty history to making judgments of what, in fact, was going forward. He reserves to dialectic the goal of evaluating what was going forward (M 250).

Lonergan will also distinguish the precise type of intelligibility to be found in historical data. Insight can grasp possibility or it can grasp necessity in data. The intelligibility grasped by the historian will have elements of both necessity and probability in it. But historical intelligibility will also be threatened by its opposite; it will not be free of surd, Lonergan's term for the accumulation of the results of unreasonable decisions (PE 351-352). M 185-186, 189; PE 351-352; PGT 22; 1C 206-207 [222-223].

Darwinian, Hegelian and Marxist views of history are largely genetic, insofar as they support the liberal thesis that life automatically improves, and that wars, disease, and economic crashes are necessary steps in the forward march of history. Generalized empirical method declares an end to this age of scientific innocence. It regards this thesis of progress as simply a first of three successively more thorough approximations toward a full understanding of actual situations. A second approximation takes in the working of bias and the resulting dynamics of historical decline. A third approximation takes in the factors of recovery by which bias and its objective disasters may be reversed.

Insight: The driver of progress. We experience a situation and feel the impulse to improve it. We spot what’s missing, or some overlooked potentials. We express our insight to others, getting their validation or refinement. We make a plan and put it into effect. The situation improves, bringing us back to feeling yet further impulses to improve things. The odds of spotting new opportunities grow as, with each turn of the cycle, more and more of what doesn’t make sense is replaced by what does. Such is the nature of situations that improve.

Oversight: The driver of decline. Again, we experience a situation and an impulse to improve it. But we do not, or will not, spot what’s missing. We express our oversight to others, making it out to be an insight. If they lack any critical eye, they take us at our word rather than notice our oversight. We make a plan, put it into effect, and discover later the inevitable worsening of the situation. Now the odds of spotting opportunities for improving things decrease, owing to the additional complexity and cross-purposes of the anomalies. With each turn of the cycle, less and less makes sense. Such is the nature of situations that worsen. Lonergan proposed that such oversights may be rooted in any of four biases endemic to consciousness: (1) Neurosis resists insight into one's psyche. (2) Egoism resists insight into what benefits others. (3) Loyalism resists insights into the good of other groups. (4) Anti-intellectualism resists insights that require any thorough investigation, theory-based analyses, long-range planning, and broad implementation. In each type, one’s intelligence is selectively suppressed and one’s self-image is supported by positive affects that reinforce the bias and negative affects toward imagined threats.

Love: The Driver of Recovery. Generalized empirical method offers an analysis of love to show how it functions to reverse the dynamics of decline.

(1) Love liberates the subject to see values: Some values result not from logical analyses of pros and cons but rather from being in love. Love impels friends of the neurotic and egoist to draw them out of their self-concern, freeing their intelligence to consider the value of more objective solutions. Love of humanity frees loyalists to regard other groups with the same intelligence, reason and responsibility as they do their own. Love of humanity frees the celebrated person of common sense to appreciate the more comprehensive viewpoints of critical history, science, philosophy and theology. Love of a transcendent, unreservedly loving God frees a person from blinding hatred, greed and power mongering, liberating him or her to a divinely shared commitment to what is unreservedly intelligible, reasonable, responsible and loving.

(2) Love brings hope: There is a power in the human drama by which we cling to some values no matter how often our efforts are frustrated. Our hopes may be dashed, but we still hope. This hope is a desire rendered confident by love. Those who are committed to self-transcendence trust their love to strengthen their resolve, not only to act against the radical unintelligibility of basic sin, but also to yield personal advantage for the sake of the common good. Such love-based hope works directly against biased positive self-images as well as negative images of fate that give despair the last word. To represent to us the order we hope for, we do not look to theories or logic. We rely on the symbols that link our imagination and affectivity. These inner symbols are secured through the external media of aesthetics, ritual, and liturgy.

(3) Love opposes revenge: There is an impulse in us to take an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. While any adolescent can see that this strategy cannot be the foundation of a civil society, it is difficult to withhold vengeance on those who harm us. It is the nature of love, however, to resist hurting others and to transcend vengeance. It is because of such transcendent love that we move beyond revenge to forgiveness and beyond forgiveness to collaboration.

Generalized empirical method’s perspective on moral recovery aims to help historians and planners understand how any situation gets better or worse. It helps historians locate the causes of problems in biases as opposed to merely deploring the obvious results. It helps planners propose solutions based on the actual drivers of progress and recovery, as opposed to mere cosmetic changes.
(* Thanks to Tad Dunne for valuable input on this term.)

Up Arrow

intentionality analysis: See method and levels of consciousness

Up Arrow


The term is used by Lonergan to refer to the philosophy of generalized empirical method. Everyone experiences a critical exigence for a universal viewpoint on everything that can be known. Only some will plow through a book like Insight to seek to understand this type of high understanding. Hence, the rise of a distinct realm of meaning, which Lonergan names interiority. Its aim is to understand how the several other realms of meaning relate to each other – common sense, theory, scholarship, aesthetics, and religious transcendence.

One achieves this understanding first by an interiority analysis of the operations of consciousness that intend objects. Then one articulates how these operations differentiate and recombine in ways proper to each realm. From there, one can expeditiously work out issues in epistemology and metaphysics, providing the heuristic structures applicable to any area of human knowledge. Finally, and most significantly, one is able to work out the methods proper to specific sciences and to eliminate improper procedures, myths, and biases. Since this process represents a grasp of one's own operations, Lonergan refers to it as self-appropriation.

To the degree that theologians have achieved this self-appropriation, they are more capable of discerning the core meanings and purposes of authors in other cultures, and to translate doctrines expressed within one set of thought-forms into thought-forms more familiar to a different audience (M 327-328). M 83-85, 114-115, 257, 265-66, 272-273, 316, 327-328; DP 55. (Thanks to Tad Dunne for major suggestions on this term.)

Up Arrow


The second of the functional specialties. Interpretation corresponds to the seventh specialty, systematics, as both are functions on the second level of consciousness, that of understanding. Interpretation understands what is meant. As a functional specialty of theology it understands the meaning of the data made available by research in religious scriptures and the writings and documents of a religious tradition. The meaning it seeks to uncover in these sources is determined by their historical context, their particular mode and level of expression, and the circumstances and intent of their authors. The written form of interpretation is the commentary or the monograph (M 127). Both in theology and in other fields, interpretation has to do with hermeneutics.

A systematic treatment of the problems involved in interpretation is given in Insight. There Lonergan calls for a distinction between the original expression itself, a simple interpretation which renders the original expression in a comparable current expression, and a reflective interpretation which justifies the accuracy of the simple interpretation and, thus, constitutes the basic problem of interpretation (585-587 [562-564]). To address this problem, Lonergan introduces the notion of universal viewpoint, a potential and ordered totality of all viewpoints, which is like a pegboard allowing for every possible interpretation to be ‘posted.' This notion opens up the horizon of the thinker so that nothing is excluded, but everything must be assessed as to the truth it contributes to a proposed interpretation, or how well it grasps what the author meant. This notion becomes the basis for Lonergan's notion of dialectic (587-591 [564-568]).

Central to Lonergan's view of interpretation is the interpreter. The interpreting task depends on one's ability to move from personal experience into an imaginative reconstruction of the situation of the past (UB 223 [275]). Lonergan considers his work in Method, chapters seven through eleven, as a more concrete expression of what he had done in the third part of chapter XVII in Insight. He also considered these chapters to be a "set of directions" toward attaining the universal viewpoint he regarded as necessary if true interpretation is to be reached (2C 275-276).

A case in point is Lonergan's reference to history as the assembly of a manifold of particular events into a single interpretive unity (M 199) and historical reality as an inexhaustible incentive to fresh historical interpretations (M 214). Historical data arrived at by the critical process must then go through an interpretive process. Here the historian pieces together the fragments. Only when this interpretive process of reconstruction is completed can one refer to historical "facts" (M 203).

The interrelationship of chapters seven through eleven of Method (interpretation through foundations) can be understood further when Lonergan explains that the interpreter may understand the text, the author, and oneself, but should conversion take place, there is a different oneself to do the understanding. This new horizon in turn can modify one's understanding of the text, the author, and oneself (M 246). I 585-616 [562-594], 761-762 [739-740]; UB 217-218 [267-269], 222-224 [273-276]; PGT 24-25; 1C 131-132 [140-141], 243-244 [265-266]; 2C 251-252, 275-276; M 127, 153-173, 199, 203, 214; WN 12. (My thanks to Daniel Helminiak for contributions to this term.)

Up Arrow

law of the cross

The intrinsic intelligibility of suffering as it pertains to the new covenant (DVI art. 23). The heart of Lonergan's understanding of the law of the cross is the transformation of evil into good. The law of the cross pertains to the new covenant by way of precept, example, conformation and association, and by way of the economy of salvation.

By precept Lonergan means the direct commands found in the New Testament itself: "Do not resist evil..., Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you" ( Mt. 5: 38-48). By example is meant those New Testament passages that model a whole new way of being: "anyone who wants to be first among you must be the servant of all" (Mk. 10:42-45). Conformation and association refer to a direct imitation of the behavior of Christ: As Jesus lays down his life in love so as to take it up again (Jn. 10:17-18), so we suffer with him to be glorified with him (Rom. 8:17). Finally, the law of the cross gives the new covenant the basic law governing its economy of salvation: The power and wisdom of God are to be discerned in Christ crucified, not in some new order in which no injustices are perpetrated on the good (DVI art. 23). DVI chap. 4 and 5, especially art. 23; 2C 8-9, 113. (Thanks to Tad Dunne for suggestions on this term.)

Up Arrow

levels of consciousness and intentionality

The term "level" is Lonergan's metaphor for the manifold of human consciousness in its various identifiable sets of operations. That there are various operations is a fact. That they are grouped in related and identifiable sets is Lonergan's distinctive insight into human cognition and the basis for his "method." The verification of these related operations in their recurrent pattern through "applying the operations as intentional to the operations as conscious" brings knowledge of the intending itself in contrast to what is intended (M 14-15).

Anyone can discover the pattern, then, by what Lonergan calls self-appropriation or the attending to one's intending. The levels are empirical, intelligent, rational, and responsible. The empirical level is that set of human operations that are identified as sensing, perceiving, imagining, feeling, speaking, and moving. The human subject is simply experiencing. The intelligent level is identified by inquiry, understanding, expressing, and the working out of the presuppositions and implications of our expressions. In short, it has to do with understanding. The intelligent level seeks to answer the questions why or how. The rational level is identified by the operations of reflecting, marshaling evidence, passing judgment, and concluding. It is concerned with judging. The rational level seeks to answer the question whether. The responsible level is identified by such operations as evaluating, deciding, choosing, acting out. Its main concern is deciding (M 9). The responsible level seeks to answer the question should or ought.

Lonergan distinguishes the realm of transcendence as a fourth realm of meaning in addition to the realms of common sense, theory, and interiority. The subject operating in the realm of transcendence is in love with God. Being in love in such a way is experienced as being in love in an unrestricted fashion (M 105). The subject in this state operates by beginning to seek a description of religious experience, and explicitly acknowledges a dynamic state of being in love without restrictions (M 120). As the root and ground of all the operations, the conscious subject (M 20) in such pursuit is intending the basic fulfilment of his or her conscious intentionality (M 105). The fourth level of deciding is characterized by judgments of value in contrast to judgments of truth or meaning which characterize the third level of judgment. Transcendent Mystery has to do with ultimate value. The pursuit of what is of ultimate value fulfills the subject's conscious intentionality.

The priority of intellect is simply the priority of the first three levels (M 340). Lonergan refers to "the normative pattern of our conscious and intentional operation." But it is the human subject, conscious on all four levels as attentive, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible, that is referred to by Lonergan as the "rock." Lonergan alludes to "the more important part of the rock" to be uncovered in the fourth chapter of Method. It is the human subject intending ultimate value. The fourth. chapter on Religion uncovers this more important part of the rock (M 19-20). M 9, 14-15, 19-20, 106-107, 120-121, 340. (Thanks to Daniel Helminiak for his suggestions on this term.)

Up Arrow

Though every effort is made to accurately present these terms, the user is ultimately responsible for verifying accuracy. Click here for more terms of use.

LWS logo