We sat down with Dr. Michael Vertin, Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Toronto (St. Michael's College) on June 6, 2000. The interview lasted an hour and a half. It touched upon certain of Lonergan's philosophical contributions, and some of Vertin's work. Vertin has published a variety of articles, the names of which may be found on the list in the Boston Lonergan Workshop series or the Lonergan Studies Newsletter, online.© 2002, The Lonergan Web Site, All Rights Reserved.
Unfortunately, due to a technical error with the cassette tape subsequent to the interview, the first 30 minutes of the interview were lost. We apologize for this unfortunate glitch. In place of his missing oral responses to the first three questions we asked, Vertin has provided us with the text of "Remembering Bernard Lonergan," a short piece he wrote four years ago for the Lonergan Research Institute Bulletin. The live interview begins with his answer to the fourth question.
Q: How were you introduced to Lonergan's thought?
Q: How did your interest in Maréchal arise?
Q: Are there any stories from your meetings with Lonergan that you'd like to share?
A: On a sunny Sunday morning in the fall of 1964, I was standing on the front steps of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington, DC. With fellow diocesan seminarians, I had just finished attending the 10 A.M. mass, and we were chatting before walking back across the street to Theological College and our midday meal. One of the guys, Jim Murphy from Dubuque, Iowa, was recounting an enthusiastic letter he had received a few days earlier from a friend studying at the Gregorian University in Rome. Like the rest of us, the friend was agonizing over whether one could ever be really certain of such things as the existence of God, the historical truth of the gospels, and the infallibility of the pope. He reported that in his struggle to find a way out of this cognitional quandary he had been helped a lot by a book written by a professor at the Greg. The professor was named Bernard Lonergan, and the book was named Insight: A Study of Human Understanding. Murphy said the book was "really heavy." But when he added that it approached theology by studying science, and that none of the authorities in Rome could understand it, the spark of my initial interest burst into flame. Two days later I went out and bought a copy of the book (for $5.50, as I recall) and eagerly began the first of what turned out to be many readings of it.
In retrospect, I can see that in my initial reading of Insight I totally missed many important moves that go forward in the book. But what I did grasp, especially about Lonergan's view of the relations between knowing and believing, enthralled me. It added to my growing conviction, already fuelled from other sources, that I should interrupt my seminary studies in order to learn some more philosophy. Hence at the end of that school year I withdrew from the seminary program (just temporarily, I thought). I found a job teaching physical science at a Washington high school for a year, took a couple of graduate philosophy courses, and researched M.A. programs. At one point I chanced upon on article in Time magazine lauding the philosophy program at St. Michael's College in the University of Toronto. I came, I saw, I enrolled.
The high point of my first year (1966-67) of graduate philosophy study in Toronto was a meeting with Bernard Lonergan. I went out to Willowdale, a Toronto suburb where Regis College was then located, with the professed purpose of seeking an autograph for my copy of Insight. Although he was recovering from surgery, Lonergan seemed happy to chat with a visitor. In response to my questions about the relationship of reason and faith, he gave me what I now realize was a preview, seven years before its publication, of Chapter Four of Method in Theology. But his remarks also were interspersed with questions to me; and I had my first encounter with a puzzle that, despite my conversations with him from time to time over the next sixteen years, I never managed to solve. In giving advice to teachers, Lonergan often observed that you can tell whether a student is getting your point by watching the student's eyes. For my part, whenever he would say something and then peer at me smilingly but intently, I was never quite certain whether he was preparing to add something himself, or waiting for me to respond!
My foray into philosophy at the M.A. level turned out to be sufficiently rewarding to me and sufficiently acceptable to my professors that I decided to apply for doctoral studies at the University of Toronto and was given permission to hang around. My earlier interest in the relations between reason and faith had developed into an interest in the so-called "critical problem," the problem of how we can be concretely certain of anything at all. While I was attracted by the solution to this problem that is offered by Insight, I felt the need for a more detailed study of the problem's historical emergence and alternative solutions to it. From 1967, when I began my doctoral coursework in this area, until 1973, when I successfully defended my dissertation, I had the good fortune of being able to draw on Lonergan privately perhaps twice a year for scholarly advice and support.
Undoubtedly the most influential piece of scholarly advice Lonergan gave me regarded the focus of my dissertation. I knew that many scholars, including Karl Rahner, Emerich Coreth, and Lonergan himself, refer admiringly to the work of Joseph Maréchal, a Belgian Jesuit philosopher who died in 1944. Maréchal's writings include Le point de départ de la métaphysique, a five-volume historical and systematic study of the critical problem; and it seemed to me that an exploration and evaluation of that study might constitute a worthwhile doctoral project for someone with my interests. Lonergan warmly endorsed this idea. Recalling how he himself had been instructed by Maréchal's findings on the dynamism of human intelligence, findings that he had learned about indirectly, "by osmosis," from a fellow student during his own student days at the Greg, he went on to say that he remained unclear about whether Maréchal ultimately views human intelligence in this life as possessing some type of intellectual intuition. "And I'd be interested in knowing that," he declared. As I remember it, our discussion about whether I should commit myself to writing on Maréchal culminated in the following pithy exchange:
"How's your Kant?"
"How's your French?"
"I can read French pretty well."
"Then go for it!"
Lonergan also was keenly aware that students need encouragement. I recall that at one point, after many months spent in amassing primary and secondary material on Maréchal, I found myself feeling overwhelmed by the challenge of making something valuable out of it. In this state of graduate-student gloom, I made another trip to Willowdale for advice and an autograph---this time for my copy of VERBUM: Word and Idea in Aquinas, which had come out a year or two before. After briefly lamenting the many typographical errors in this, its initial printing, Lonergan signed the book and laid it on the table. We spent the next hour discussing the issues of interpretation and structure with which I was struggling, and he offered some suggestions that I found helpful. Then, as I was about to leave, he pointed at the copy of VERBUM.
"Do you see that book on the table?"
"After I had finished all my research and checked all my references, how long do you think it took me to write the first chapter?"
"One year! I'd write a few pages, and the next day I'd throw all of them away and start over. It took me a full year before I discovered a way to make everything hang together."
"And how long do you think it took me to write the second chapter?"
"Three weeks! So, take heart: once it comes, then it really goes!"
By 1976 I had become a regular member of the Philosophy and Religious Studies faculties at the University of Toronto. I had earnestly reported to Lonergan my conclusion that Maréchal does not ultimately attribute any intellectual intuition to human intelligence in this life. As a speaker in a Lenten lecture series on the problem of evil, I had met and later married one of the other speakers, a development illustrating once again the Augustinian dictum that out of evil can come good. And I had accumulated a sizeable body of classroom data, which eventually would become very large indeed, on the distinctive challenge of Lonergan's writings to undergraduate and graduate students alike.
What is the gist of that challenge? Though more fully documented and illustrated, my own answer to that question today is not substantially different from the one I could have given after my first reading of Insight thirty-four years ago. It is that Lonergan's writings call the reader to discern and implement the structure of her own best self. They summon her to grasp the normative pattern of knowing and choosing that she embodies and to be guided by it in producing the art-work that is her life. Some readers bristle that such concern with one's own existential subjectivity is required; others delight that it is encouraged. Lonergan's caution to the first group is that neglect of oneself fosters one's distortion of everything else. His counsel to the second group is that appropriate self-concern issues in self-transcendence.
The last time I visited with Bernie Lonergan was in the spring of 1983. He was living in the Jesuit retirement community in Pickering, east of Toronto. Aware that his ability to remember was in decline, I took pains to introduce myself. (Later, as I was leaving, he would ask me to tell him my name again.) After some small talk, I mentioned that I was curious about what it had been like to be a student in Rome during the 1930's, and this remark evoked a long and spirited reply, rich in detail and laced with high good humor. We went on in this fashion for nearly an hour. At one point, during a natural pause in the conversation, I pulled out of my pocket and handed him a small gift I had brought along---a wrapped package filled with cashews and other tasty nuts. He opened the package at once, and when he saw the nuts, he smacked his lips with obvious gustatory anticipation. But then, before taking any himself, without a moment's hesitation he leaned over and offered some to me. The sheer spontaneity of that small gesture struck me then and strikes me still as a wonderfully concrete expression of what Lonergan sought to promote throughout his lifetime of devoted labor. Though his memory was failing, his self-transcendence---long since become habitual---remained unfailing.The tape cuts in during the first part of Professor Vertin's answer to the following question:
Q: In your article "Lonergan's Three Basic Questions and a Philosophy of Philosophies," Lonergan Workshop 8 (1990) 213-248, you argue that a successful philosophy of philosophies needs to take account of Lonergan's three basic questions (What am I doing when I am knowing? Why is doing that, knowing? What do I know when I do it?) and reformulate them in terms of the methodical links between them. Is this because, in teaching Lonergan, you understood that students ran into problems other than the counterposition that knowing is like seeing? Did you therefore judge that the proposed elucidation of four conscious operations had to be articulated in a way that answered questions other than those posed by this counterposition?
A: Yes, that's correct. Let me spell out my thinking here. Let's take three different cases. The first case, the most full-blown version of "knowing as seeing," works something like this. There's the PHENOMENOLOGICAL claim that what at best I am doing when I am apparently knowing is seeing. There's a two-part EPISTEMOLOGICAL claim---a principle, and a conclusion. The principle is that whatever at best I do when I am apparently knowing is what I should count as genuinely knowing. And the conclusion follows from that principle plus the phenomenological claim: my seeing is indeed genuinely knowing. And there's also a two-part METAPHYSICAL claim---a principle, and a conclusion. The principle is that reality is whatever does or could become manifest through genuinely knowing. And the conclusion follows from that principle plus the epistemological conclusion: whatever I do see or could see is real. Plato's answers to the three basic questions provide a good illustration of this first case.
Now, take a second case. One might begin with the PHENOMENOLOGICAL claim that what at best I am doing when I am apparently knowing is attentively experiencing, intelligently understanding, and reasonably and responsibly judging. But one's EPISTEMOLOGICAL principle identifies genuinely knowing not with whatever at best I do when I am apparently knowing; rather, it identifies it with something else. Kant, for example, identifies it with intellectually intuiting; Hegel, with exhaustively understanding. The EPISTEMOLOGICAL conclusion following from either of those principles plus the initial phenomenological claim is that I never genuinely know. This second case, then, is clearly an instance of cognitional counterpositionality; but it is importantly different from the thoroughgoing "knowing is seeing" counterposition. The root difficulty here is not with the answer to the first basic question: indeed, as I've sketched it here, that answer is correct. Rather, the root difficulty is with the ground of one's answer to the second basic question. One bases one's epistemological principle on something other than one's apparently cognitional performance at its best. But that difficulty stands out clearly only when one asks whether or not a given thinker's answer to the second basic question, whatever it is, is methodically linked to his answer to the first basic question.
The third case involves something similar. Let's say that one's PHENOMENOLOGICAL claim is that what at best I am doing when I am apparently knowing is attentively experiencing, intelligently understanding, and reasonably and responsibly judging. Moreover, let's say that one's EPISTEMOLOGICAL principle identifies genuinely knowing with whatever at best I do when I am apparently knowing. The EPISTEMOLOGICAL conclusion then is that my attentively experiencing, intelligently understanding, and reasonably and responsibly judging is indeed genuinely knowing. But let's say that one's METAPHYSICAL principle identifies reality not fundamentally with whatever one does or could genuinely know, but rather with something else. For example, a thoroughgoing materialist such as Hobbes identifies reality with matter in motion; and he counts all conscious phenomena (including "knowing") as just epiphenomenal, secondary, ultimately best explained in the terms of physics. This third case, too, is an instance of cognitional counterpositionality; but it differs significantly from the simple "knowing is seeing" counterposition. The basic problem here is not with the answer to either the first basic question or the second. In fact, as I've sketched them here, those answers are correct. Instead, the basic problem is with the ground of one's answer to the third basic question. One identifies reality with something other than what one does or could grasp through genuinely knowing. But that difficulty stands out clearly only when one asks whether or not a given thinker's answer to the third basic question is methodically linked to his answers to the first and second basic questions.
Q. You said near the beginning of that article that Lonergan's work on a philosophy of philosophies takes its most advanced form in Method in Theology, though its most detailed form is in Insight. Could you say a little bit more about that? You took me by surprise, because I've always thought that if you want to get Lonergan's understanding of the difference between the philosophical position he's proposing and the various counterpositions, you should go to Insight; but you say that it's in Method.
A: I think I've got two things to say here, in response to that question. The first would be to suggest that the basic elements of a philosophy of philosophies that Lonergan already presents in Insight are presented in a more clearly organized and better labelled way in Method. In particular, I'm thinking of his delineation in Method of philosophy's "three basic questions," and his comparison of the positional and various counterpositional sets of answers to those questions. Insight already covers pretty much the same ground, but its distinctions between the three issues are not as sharp, and its terminology is not as crisp. In fact, after Lonergan had spelled out the three basic questions, on more than one occasion he used them to make a retrospective division of the main steps taken by Insight. The book itself talks of two main steps, but Lonergan's retrospective division of it talks of three main steps. (In a short Lonergan Workshop article immediately following the one you cited, I made a little comparison of Lonergan's distinctions and terminology on these issues in the Insight and post-Insight periods.)
The second thing I would say (and this is far from original) is that from Insight to Method Lonergan himself learned a fair number of things. Not least of all, he learned the concretely foundational role of conversional choice. Where did he learn this? From the existentialists. Let me amplify this point.
For a lot of folks in what we can broadly call the "existentialist" tradition (Sartre is a good classroom example, in my experience), the basic horizon within which you are operating insofar as you are proceeding morally is a horizon that you make basic for no other reason than your decision to do so. As soon as you look for further justification, as soon as you attempt to justify your basic horizon by appealing to anything beyond your bare decision to count that horizon as basic, including what you know, you're in bad faith.
When you choose to count a horizon as basic, that horizon comes with whatever criteria it deems basic, whatever yardsticks it deems fundamental, whatever meanings of "intelligible," "real," and "really good" it deems foundational. And once you've got those criteria in place, then insofar as you remain consistent with your self, you know (and choose) in accordance with them. But, where does that basic horizon itself come from? For the existentialist, it comes simply from your radically arbitrary choice to put it in place. Now that has a certain ring of counterpositionality---specifically cognitional counterpositionality (though perhaps not only that). But it's not "knowing as seeing," and it's not the other two cases of cognitional counterpositionality we were discussing a moment ago, either. Then what is it? It's "knowing as proceeding within an arbitrary horizon."
Now, the positional stance opposed to this particular counterposition is a stance that (like the counterposition) recognizes the radically free character of the concrete horizon within which I operate. For it's true (and this is the existentialists' contribution to this discussion), it's true that the horizon within which I carry out my day to day living is a horizon that is in place because I have chosen to put it in place. But, by contrast with the existentialists, Lonergan argues that, though I am surely free to constitute my basic horizon in whatever way I wish, what I ought to do is identify it with the goal of the threefold, pre-decisionally given, transcendental intending that I experience in experiencing myself.
The horizon that at best I count as basic is nothing other than the horizon prefigured by my given orientation toward whatever would completely answer my "what" questions, completely satisfy my "is" questions, completely put to rest my "ought" questions and yearnings. I ought to take that given orientation's objective pole as providing the basic referent of what I mean whenever I use such words as "intelligible," "real," and "really good." I am free not to do so, but I ought to do so; and to recognize that vocation and to respond to it is---at its core---radical intellectual conversion as undergirded by moral and religious conversion.
So, the most basic kind of cognitional counterpositionality is something I would say is quite distinct from the counterposition that knowing is looking. The most basic kind is the free refusal to take as fundamental the horizon one ought to take as fundamental, the horizon intended by one's threefold transcendental intending. If identifying knowing with looking is the most obvious way of being cognitionally counterpositional, proceeding cognitionally within a fundamental horizon that is freely but irresponsibly and unlovingly constituted by the rejection of moral and religious conversion is the most radical way of being cognitionally counterpositional. The most basic cognitional counterposition is one that follows from spurning moral and religious conversion.
Now, when you're talking about the cognitional consequences of moral and religious conversion or unconversion, you're talking about things that certainly are intimated in Insight. But the confident articulation of the interconnections, the developed terminology, and the rich examples appear only in Method. (Of course, for reasons having to do with Lonergan's own personal history, including his health history, Method remains a lot more sketchy and schematic than Insight.) This is the second reason for my suggestion that what Lonergan says about a philosophy of philosophies is more advanced in Method than in Insight. (I must admit that this second point goes beyond what I said in the article you were citing.)
Q: I think the key word there is conversion. And particularly with respect to the counterpositional aspects of the existentialists which Lonergan took up. The other part of the question is this: to what degree do you see other contemporary philosophers as undertaking philosophy of philosophies? You refer in the article to Aristotle and Aquinas as providing elements for a philosophy of philosophies. Are there any contemporaries who could help us here?
A: Yes (chuckle)! I'm chuckling here, because one can approach or attempt to answer that question by way of either the upper blade or the lower blade.
First, by way of the upper blade. In my 30 or 35 years of tussling with this stuff as elaborated by Lonergan, testing it against the strengths and weaknesses of my own self as a would-be knower and a moral agent, there is no significant way I have found it to be other than highly illuminating. Lonergan has given an account of how we operate that I, at least, have been unable to falsify in any important way. (My testing has profited from years and years of help by eager and committed would-be falsifiers in every undergraduate course I have taught!) My experience here leads me to expect that insofar as people ask questions and get correct answers, there will emerge a more and more widespread account of how we operate that corresponds to what Lonergan's work has made explicit. If Lonergan's account is true, then over time its truth is bound to become more widely recognized and affirmed. That's the upper blade.
Now, what you really wanted were some names, and this would be the lower blade side of it. While I don't pretend to any particular expertise here, it seems to me that there certainly are elements of a Lonerganian philosophy of philosophies in the writings of Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Karl-Otto Apel, Jürgen Habermas, and Alasdair MacIntyre, for example. In different ways, these people capture parts of what Lonergan, for my money, has gotten hold of most completely and expressed most concisely. Strauss, for example, will take this or that point and develop it with a richness and love of detail and historical examples that make his work a marvelous complement to Lonergan's.
Q: A couple of article-related questions.... Your article "Judgments of Value, for the Later Lonergan," METHOD: Journal of Lonergan Studies 13 (1995) 221-48, strikes me as one of the more complex articles that deals with this issue. (I imagined you at a table with many different papers and charts!) In that article, you affirm that both judgments of fact and judgments of value can affirm the merely possible. I felt that this was a core aspect of the article, and so my question is whether you can shed some more light on the matter.
A: First, a preliminary comment. I'm amused by your notion that there were papers spread out all over the table. It wasn't far from that! I had a doctoral student, a fellow named Bill Sullivan, who was working on a dissertation at that point. A lot of the points that eventually came out in the article were advances I was forced to make by Bill's persistent questions to me over the course of our three years of working together. (His dissertation turned out to be a marvelous piece of work: "The Role of Affect in Evaluations, according to Bernard Lonergan." It was defended successfully here in the Department of Philosophy.)
In a way, this picks up what Paul and I were talking about a moment ago: the shift from Insight to Method. What is emphasized in Insight is the role of the human subject as knower. As one moves from Insight into Method, the role of the subject not simply as a knower but also as a valuer, a chooser, becomes more explicit as an extension of the earlier work and a complement to it. In that context, then, one is in position to talk about the subject not just as one who encounters the real and affirms it, but as one who goes on to extend the real, to originate new realities, to live as a moral chooser, to elaborate positively the artwork that is one's life. Hence we can envision the human subject as one who, in a first line, encounters realities, and in a second line, originates realities, expresses herself verbally or in deed or in product. And it's in that second line that the issue you're raising is relevant. For judgments of fact and of value can regard not simply what is already actual but what at present is merely possible but will become actual if I bring it to actuality.
Let's say that you have some sort of experience. You learn something. You discover something. Then someone comes along and asks you to explain what you've learned. You are asked to teach a class, prepare a course, address an audience. How do you proceed? Well, first of all, you consider what you could do. You assess the real possibilities that lie before you. "I could do this, or I could do that. I could present these three points and treat them in order A, B, C, or in order B, A, C. I could give examples M and N, or I could leave them out." There are all kinds of possibilities you consider. But not all of them are real possibilities. You might think, "I could offer 1,687 examples within the half-hour lecture I am supposed to give." Well, that's a conceivable possibility but it's not a real possibility. So there's a shift here from the second level to the third level, from a possibility that's merely conceivable to a possibility that's real. What really you could do is something that emerges through your judgment of possible reality, as you come closer to giving your class, offering your course, delivering your homily.
Next, you deliberate on the diverse values of the various real possibilities that lay before you, and you narrow them down to one by making a value judgment. "I could do X or Y or Z. All three are real possibilities; but because of my experience in these matters, I judge that Z would work best." That's the judgment of value, the evaluation that real possibility Z is preferable to real possibilities X and Y. Real possibility Z is not yet an actual reality, like what you made a fact judgment about yesterday when you learned something. Nor is it yet an actual value, like what you made a value judgment about when you met the woman who is now your wife. But it is something that becomes actual insofar as you choose to actualize it and are successful in implementing that choice.
In this sequence, then, you're moving in the line not of encountering reality but of originating it. You get a notion of something that is conceivably possible. Then you make a fact judgment that it is really possible. Then you make a value judgment that it would be really good. Then you make a decision to bring it about; and if you are successful in executing that decision, you actualize something that up to that point was merely a possibility.
Terminologically, in discussing these matters I've found it useful to retain the usual Lonerganian approach that correlates judgments of fact with realities, and judgments of value with real values. But then, within reality, one can distinguish between realities that are actual and those that are merely possible. And analogously, within real value, one can distinguish between real values that are actual and those that are merely possible---able to be actualized by me but not yet actual until I have chosen to actualize them and successfully implemented that choice.
This is the type of thing we might have seen Lonergan develop more fully if he had been 40 and in good health rather than in his 60s and in failing health when he wrote Method in Theology. Because he didn't develop it further, it's up to us to do it.
Q: I have another question on that one, but I think I'll move on and cover the questions we have. Now there's another article you have, in METHOD: Journal of Lonergan Studies 12 (1994), 1-36. It's called "Lonergan on Consciousness: Is there a Fifth Level?" It gets into an interesting debate going on in Lonergan Studies right now. You argue in that article that Lonergan did not intend to add another level of consciousness, a religious level, but that there is a relation between the moral and the religious on the fourth level. I'd like you to elaborate on that.
A: Fine. I'll try to highlight some things I said in that article itself, which drew pretty heavily upon Lonergan's own answers to questions I put to him at one of the Lonergan Workshops. In fact, it happened to be the final Workshop he attended, the one of 1982. He and I went back and forth a bit in some of the question and answer sessions.
Q: That's transcribed somewhere, isn't it?
A: Yes. In fact, I'm the person who listened to the tape and did the transcription. It's in the article you just mentioned. (And the article we were discussing earlier, "Judgments of Value, for the Later Lonergan," also reproduces some of that stuff. I repeated some of Lonergan's responses to the questions, because it seemed to me that they are so important but also very prone to being overlooked.)
OK, you want a short answer, not a tremendously long one; so let me limit myself to the two key claims I would make (and in fact did make). First, the four levels of intentional consciousness are the psychological manifestation of the structure of human nature. Psychologically speaking, the structure of our nature is the pattern of our experiencing, understanding, judging, and deciding. What we are as humans is disclosed through what we do, and what we do is experience, understand, judge, and decide.
The second claim can be put both philosophically and theologically. In philosophical terms (and more precisely, in phenomenological terms), we do nothing other than experience, understand, judge, and decide. Even mystical encounter and what follows from it, mind-blowing though this may be, is not something other than a uniquely fulfilling and energizing version of experiencing, understanding, judging, and deciding. In theological terms, "gratia naturam perficit." Grace perfects nature, it does not eliminate it. This-worldly being in love with God is the beginning of the total satisfaction of our transcendental intending, it is not something else.
So, on my reading (and hearing) of Lonergan, mystical encounter, grace, being in love with God---this event and its consequences are the ultimate contents of our four-level structure. They are its most ample complement, its most satisfying perfection, its most complete fulfillment. They are not on some further level on top of that four-level structure. In my view, there are just all kinds of difficulties that emerge if you try to argue the contrary. Is that at least quasi-clear?
Q: Yes, I found the article clearest on that. The next question was whether you have any suggestions. Because you have been teaching for a number of years now...
Q: ...30 years now, you've seen many students and seen transformations at the university. Do you have any insights or suggestions on moving Lonergan's work into the service of social and cultural renewal?
A: It's an excellent question. Perhaps the response I would feel most comfortable with is one that reflects my recent experience in a certain undergraduate course that I have often taught. It's a year-long course under the assigned title "Metaphysics and Epistemology." There are very few year-long courses left in philosophy at the University of Toronto, but there are some; and the one I'm talking about happens to be one of them. It's at the third-year level, and you can make being at least in third year a prerequisite and thus exclude people who don't have much preparation. Hence it's possible to assemble a group of students with sufficient background and curiosity to do some very interesting things over the course of a year. About a third of the students are philosophy specialists. Another third are specialists in something else but want a third-year philosophy course as a complement to their specialization.
During the first term, we study six persons in the history of explicit philosophy: Epicurus, Plato, Kant, Hegel, Sartre and Lonergan. Obviously we can't consider them exhaustively. The goal is simply to sketch the answers they give, whether explicitly or just implicitly, to Lonergan's three basic questions. During the second term, we try to reap the benefits of our first-term work by discerning how differences over the proper answers to the three basic questions often underlie current disputes in areas that most people envision as lying beyond philosophy. What current disputes, exactly? Well, to answer that question, I need to say a word about my own long-term research.
There are five current disputes that I have been studying for a long time. I selected them with an eye to having examples that collectively pretty much span the academic disciplines. The first is the dispute in atomic physics over whether quantum theory is a guidebook to reality, showing us something about sub-atomic reality itself, or whether it's just a cookbook, telling us only how to get certain results. The second is the dispute among American constitutional lawyers over whether or not a careful reading of the Constitution of the United States brings to light an affirmation of the right of privacy. The third is the dispute among clinical psychologists over whether schizophrenia is basically something like the common cold, something that results from physical abnormalities and dysfunctions, or whether it is primarily the result of a power play by the medical establishment, a label put on people whom doctors find difficult to deal with. The fourth is the dispute in sexual ethics over the moral status of homosexual behavior. And the fifth, in the context of interreligious dialogue, is the dispute over the salvific significance of Jesus of Nazareth.
I must hasten to point out that my goal here is not mainly to decide the disputes themselves (though I've got some ideas about that in each case). Rather, it is mainly just to make clear how (at least implicit) answers to the three basic questions inevitably underlie the various stances in these disputes, even though the disputants themselves often overlook that fact. And what's true of these disputes, so I would argue, is true of virtually every other important "non-philosophical" dispute as well, whatever the specific disciplinary area.
Now, in any given year, the second term of the course studies three of these disputes. (I vary the combinations from year to year, so that over the many years I've been handling the course I've done versions of all five.) Consider, for example, what Einstein, Bohr and Heisenberg were fighting about in the teens of the twentieth century, and how their dispute continues among physicists right down to the present day. What's going on here is not just something proper to physics. At root, one of the dispute's fundamental components is a disagreement about the correct answers to these three questions: "What am I doing when I am at least apparently knowing?" "Why, if at all, does doing that constitute genuine knowing?" "What do I know when I do it?" If you agree with Einstein that in principle quantum physics is a guidebook to sub-atomic reality but as developed thus far it's only a cookbook, you're also adopting Einstein's implicitly Platonic answer to the three basic questions. If you agree with Bohr that in principle quantum physics is just a cookbook, you're also accepting Bohr's implicitly Kantian answer to the three basic questions. And if you agree with Heisenberg that quantum physics in both principle and fact is a guidebook, telling us something about the character of sub-atomic reality itself, you're also affirming Heisenberg's implicitly Lonerganian answer to the three basic questions. To see that you can't agree with Einstein or Bohr or Heisenberg on quantum theory without at least operationally taking some stance on the three basic questions is something the students find astonishing!
Or take the dispute in the area of constitutional law. The first of the three people I focus on there is William O. Douglas, the Supreme Court justice whose reading of the Constitution in the 1960s "discovered" the right of privacy in it. The second is one of Douglas' most outspoken opponents, Robert Bork, a Federal Appeals Court judge who was nominated for the Supreme Court in 1987 by Ronald Reagan. His nomination was shot down by the Senate largely because of his vigorous opposition to interpreting laws (and especially the Constitution) the way Douglas did. And the third person is Laurence Tribe, a professor at the Harvard Law School. As soon as you start digging into the grounds of their differing stances on the existence of a constitutional guarantee of privacy, you discover differing implicit answers to the three basic questions. On my reading of them, Douglas' answers to those questions are akin to Sartre's; Bork's are akin to Plato's; and Tribe's are akin to Lonergan's. (I offer a detailed argument to this effect in an article that's slated to appear in volume 16 of Lonergan Workshop.)
Now, I've been talking about this course because it illustrates my experience that if students have good backgrounds, are interested, and are willing to commit a year to grasping the three basic questions, the contrasting sets of answers, and how those contrasting answers actually play out in "non-philosophical" disputes, they can make surprising progress. On the other hand, it seems to me that it does require at least that much time and effort. Hence, I'm not sanguine about a very quick and easy translation of Lonergan to pop culture, because I'm not very sanguine about the ability of any person---no matter how intelligent and good-willed---to get in on these issues quickly and easily.
Let me concretize this a bit more. Just to grasp the type of answer the first basic question seeks (leave aside the correct answer), you must grasp the difference between primitive self-presence as self-perception and primitive self-presence as self-experience. That's a crucial difference. It's also a fairly subtle and elusive difference. A certain amount of careful self-study is required if you are to grasp the relevant data in your own awareness. Moreover, the proliferation of rich but ambiguous terminology at every turn is almost certain to mislead even the most careful student of self. (A very large book could be written about the many different senses of that seemingly innocent pair of words, "objective" and "subjective"!) Both of those challenges (and many similar ones) must be met if Lonergan is to be translated successfully to pop culture; but meeting them quickly and easily is not something I'm optimistic about.
I think the most effective way that Lonergan's philosophical discoveries will find their way into the broader culture is not mainly through courses and books that focus extensively on Lonergan's own writings. (I'm not denying that these have an important role, but I see that role as being two or three steps removed from reshaping the broader culture.) Rather, the most effective way will be through the emergence of successful solutions to the problems that are addressed by cutting-edge research over the next century or two or four in atomic physics, marine biology, medieval studies, cultural anthropology, literary criticism, and so on. The value of Lonergan's discoveries will be recognized more and more clearly and widely precisely insofar as their unique ability to confirm and integrate the successful results already achieved in particular disciplinary areas becomes more and more evident. For sociological and psychological reasons, philosophical advances today usually occur not in philosophy departments but elsewhere in the university; and philosophical advances emerge in the broader culture not because people are moved by studying philosophical writings but because the presuppositions of conspicuous particular disciplinary achievements capture the popular imagination. In short, I think Lonergan will come into the broader culture less from the upper blade downward and more from the lower blade upward. He will arrive there not mainly because more and more people have been reading Insight, but rather because the Einsteins, Bohrs, and Heisenbergs of the twenty-fifth century will be referring explicitly to the three basic questions when they address the problems of quantum physics. And the most successful solutions to those problems will interest popular culture in their philosophical presuppositions as well.
Q: Our next question is related to this. What is the future of Lonergan studies for the next century? You have mentioned the next two or four centuries....
A: Well, I could be like Phil McShane and deal with two or four millennia....(laughter)
I see two ways of answering that question, depending on precisely what one means by "Lonergan studies." A first approach would take the expression as denoting an enterprise that reaches "Lonerganian" conclusions about the recurrent features of the conscious intentional subject and what they imply, extends them, and applies them, but without recognizing them in any way as emerging distinctively from the work of Bernard Lonergan. This would be the enterprise of Lonergan studies in substance but not in conception or in name. I see it as flourishing wherever persons persist in raising questions, successfully answer at least some of those questions, and successfully objectify at least something of the structure of their questioning and successful answering. Now, since I have no doubt that such questioning, answering, and objectifying will tend to occur and advance wherever there are human persons, I see the future of Lonergan studies in this first sense as very bright.
What your question really regards, however, is something more specific than this. You are asking about the future of "Lonergan studies" not just in substance but also in conception and name, the enterprise envisioned as emerging distinctively from Lonergan's work, and continued by people who find that work to be remarkably clarifying, integrating, and suggestive. In fact, you probably have in mind the collaborative effort of such people that has become more or less institutionalized in periodic Lonergan lectures and conferences, diverse Lonergan courses and seminars and programs, various Lonergan newsletters and journals, assorted volumes of Lonergan-related essays and series of Lonergan-related books, ten or more Lonergan centers and institutes around the world, and even several Lonergan websites!
My view of Lonergan studies in the latter sense is that it's on a knife edge. One possible future, which I think would be most unfortunate, is that Lonergan studies falls into Lonerganism. It could become an inward-looking school, a group whose members really talk only to one another, extolling the virtues of the Lonerganian perspective and lamenting the ignorance or even the bad will of people who stand beyond the group. If that happened, I think Lonergan studies would soon become fossilized and then, in two or three generations, die out completely. This outcome is a danger; and it could be realized if there isn't sufficient creative energy to maintain the trajectory that Lonergan himself initiated, a trajectory dynamically oriented toward nothing less than totality. In other words, Lonergan studies could slip off the knife edge in the wrong direction. (This knife analogy is not the best! You'll probably want to edit it out. Let's change the knife to a fence! [laughter])
The other possible future is that Lonergan studies does indeed remain true to Lonergan's own vision. In that case, it would remain resolutely outward-looking. It would treat Lonergan's own work not as a summit but as a skeleton---not as unable to be surpassed in conception or expression, but as a wonderful basis for further developments. It would not get hung up on its own jargon; rather, it would always be attempting to conceive and express its insights in fresh ways. It would both publicize itself to persons of other outlooks and seek to engage them in friendly dialogue, expecting to learn from them as well as contribute to them.
Now, the evidence here is not utterly unambiguous. However, I think there are signs that the second possible future is more likely to be realized; so I'm moderately optimistic. What are some of those signs? Well, for one thing there's the publication of Lonergan's Collected Works by the University of Toronto Press. For an organization with the stature of the UT Press to undertake publishing twenty-four large volumes over a period of decades, that's a pretty significant development. It's both a token that the broader academic community may be willing to take Lonergan studies seriously, and a token that Lonergan people want to extend the circle of their dialogue partners.
The collateral series of UT Press publications is another promising sign. Bob Doran's Theology and the Dialectics of History (1990), Hugo Meynell's Introduction to the Philosophy of Bernard Lonergan (1991), Cindy Crysdale's Lonergan and Feminism (1994), Giovanni Sala's Lonergan and Kant (1994), Michael Stebbins' The Divine Initiative (1995), Mark and Liz Morelli's Lonergan Reader (1997), Joe Flanagan's Quest for Self-Knowledge (1997), Hugo Meynell's Redirecting Philosophy (1998)---books such as these are clear indications of a Lonergan movement whose vision is directed outward and forward. And of course there are many similar books from other presses. (Incidentally, I would hope in due course to see a publication that would make available to the wider public some of the very interesting applications of Lonergan in the area of conflict resolution that I had the privilege of reading recently. [Peter Monette, one of the interviewers, recently completed an excellent doctoral dissertation on this topic. Vertin was the external examiner.])
The steady expansion of the institutionalized collaboration among Lonergan scholars that I was mentioning earlier---that too bodes well for the future flourishing of Lonergan studies. The increase in the number of Lonergan lectures, conferences, courses, seminars, programs, and so on, is a very substantial sign of vitality and a good ground for hope that the future will be positive. And I must advert in particular to this Lonergan Website itself! I find myself made very hopeful by the creative and devoted efforts that you three are making in organizing an ongoing series of interviews such as this one and getting the results onto the World Wide Web for everyone to read. What a wonderful contribution to Lonergan studies! The rest of us Lonergan folks are in your debt!
Q: I wanted to conclude with an "example" question. I have in mind what you mentioned a couple of times in your responses about the issue of pedagogy. I understand that you have done quite a bit of work developing strategies and tools in the classroom---how to teach people about themselves, if I can go that far. Could you just give us one example of the kind of thing you like to do in the classroom? Particularly, I'm thinking of an undergraduate audience.
A: Well, first of all, insofar as it's a way to spend one's life, teaching is a marvelous opportunity and privilege. I'm coming off a research year that was productive, and I'm glad that I had it; but I was struck about halfway through the year by how much I was missing the classroom. I was missing the students' stimulation, the community they provide.
There are a number of examples, but I'll give you one. In [University of] Toronto terms, you can mandate up to three classroom hours a week for an upper level class. The minimum is two. In my courses, it's not an option. If you want to register and stay in the course, you have to commit yourself to being there three hours every week, week after week after week. And if you're not prepared to make that type of commitment, well maybe you should look for something else. It's my way of winnowing out the unserious students right in the first week or two. I probably lose about 15% in the first two weeks of every course I teach, which is just fine with me.
How, then do you structure those three hours? My own pattern, the one I've come to after trying lots of different things, is lecture, discussion, lecture. The lecture begins with commentary on a text, goes on to make a point, and leaves maybe ten minutes for questions at the end. Basically, the lectures are lectures, they are not time for clarifications or questions, except at the end. So, I don't allow interruptions. You know, a half hour into class: "Would you explain this more fully...?" If I mumble, people can always ask me to be clear about a word or phrase. But my lectures are worked up carefully and are meant to be presented as a whole, in the lecture mode. Discussion, on the other hand, is different. The class that I was talking about earlier, the year-long Metaphysics and Epistemology class---last time around, it had 45 students. So, first of all, it's broken down into discussion groups---a maximum of 12 to 15 per group, so we had three groups. They meet at some point between the two lectures. So if your lectures are on Monday and Friday, you fit in all three of your groups sometime after Monday and before Friday.
What happens in the discussion group? Well, discussion is what happens; but the way the discussion is engendered is the thing I'm most pleased with: it fosters real collaboration. At the beginning of the year at the first meeting of each discussion group, I give each student a blank piece of paper and say, "All right, if you don't want to participate in this, you don't need to: don't feel obliged. But if you're willing to participate, I would like you to think for a few moments and then, in a paragraph, write out for me anonymously what you're interested in and why. (It only takes 10 or 15 minutes.) What really drives you, not what you think should drive you? What are your interests, what motivates you, what are you really keen on? What you feel strongly about (whether positively or negatively)? What do you most want to do? What your feelings are most piqued by? Please don't sign your name, and if you want to hand in a blank sheet, that's fine."
So, people will write out their paragraphs. I have no idea whom any given response is from. I usually seek some kind of antecedent agreement that after these sheets come back in, I can read them publicly to the class as a whole. Then, during the opening ten minutes of the next five or six lectures, I do just that. I say, "In our group as a whole, here are some of the things that people said about what really motivates them---not what they think should motivate them, but what does." Glory, power, sex, money, the Rolling Stones, raves: a wide range of the things that kids are really interested in, that's what we see. And with a little massaging, one can relate those things to notions of what is genuinely good, what ought to be sought, as emergent in Epicurus, Plato, Kant, Hegel, Sartre, Lonergan. It's a way for me to get from the class itself some examples that are useful for illustrating the claims made by those thinkers. It's very effective to have personal examples that people in the class have offered. And what's especially interesting is that they know the examples have come from them, but no one except Joe or Mary recognizes a specific example as coming from Joe or Mary. We all know that it came from somebody in the class, but only one person knows specifically whom it came from (unless of course that person tells). And that provides a provocative, tantalizing dimension to the discussions that unfold during the rest of the year.
Every discussion after that first meeting of each group begins with a controversial question carefully worked out in advance by me. The question is based on the reading we're doing---Epicurus or Plato or whatever---but it is not posed in terms of what Epicurus or Plato say. Rather, it goes something like this: "Mary and Saleem and Chang are riding on the subway from Yonge Street to the Islington station. And, like other people on the subway this morning, they are discussing whether or not you can realistically affirm that God exists. Chang says, `That's nonsense, for these reasons...'" Mary offers a counterargument. And so on. The aim is to get a believable question, posed concretely in a way that people might actually discuss it, but made up against the background of the readings for that week. And of course it should be posed in a way that doesn't leave this or that answer as too obviously the best one.
Each discussion, then, is begun by me (which becomes a matter of humour after while). I'll start by reading the question, and then I'll say, "Now before we start talking about this, I want a show of hands. In terms of where you are at right now, how many of you agree most with Mary? How many with Saleem? How many with Chang? You have to vote. You can change your vote later on, if you wish, but you have to indicate which way you're leaning at this moment!" The fact of sitting around in a group and holding up your hand commits you in a way that I found astonishing when I realized what was going on. People don't have to say or speak or anything, they're simply raising their hand. But the fact of doing that involves them in the discussion, such that as soon as it gets underway, they will want to say why they voted the way they did. The shy kid down at the end who holds up his hand---as soon as he holds it up, he thinks, "Hey, everybody in the room saw how I voted." So as soon as someone says something on the other side, the shy kid wants to defend himself even though he hasn't spoken thus far. It's a very effective technique for drawing in shy people, getting them into the conversation in a real way. They feel already publicly committed because others have seen which person in the anecdote they voted for.
After I have read the question and grandly announced the vote tallies, my job is simply to be the traffic director. I do nothing but call on the people who haven't spoken, and sit on the talky people who have already spoken. The basic rule, on which we all agree at the beginning, is that everybody in the group will have at least one opportunity to say something in every discussion, even if it is "I have nothing to say at the moment." Because of that setup, the discussion invariably turns out to be a fairly personal discussion of an issue that has been posed in a way that most students can relate to. It's pretty clear, of course, that I have constructed the starting question with the week's reading in mind. Even though it is posed in terms of an argument between Mary and Saleem and Chang while they are riding the subway, the students recognize that they can understand that argument better and offer more astute comments on it if they have done that reading carefully. And of course I encourage them to make reference to the reading when defending their own answers to the question. But even if they haven't done the reading, people will argue with one another because the issue has been posed in a personal way. It draws out people on various sides of the issue. And when the students do this for an entire school year, they almost inevitably move forward significantly on a whole range of important issues. It really is the case that, in key respects, they are their own best teachers. A student will make a claim, and another student will heatedly respond, "You can't say that!" The first student is apt to take the second student's objection far more seriously than if the professor made the same objection.
My subsequent lecture, then, begins with my own reflections on the discussion. I avoid speaking much at all in the discussion itself, but in the following lecture I link up the various claims made in the discussion with the claims affirmed or rejected by Epicurus or Plato or Kant (and so forth) in the week's readings. This leaves the students with the issue having been posed both in personal terms and in text-linked terms, and it helps them to think about it better. The class will end and people will walk out of the classroom continuing their friendly arguments with one another. And many times they will see me later and say, "You know, three of us stood on the street corner for an hour and a half, talking further about this issue!" Sometimes (so they tell me) these arguments will go on right through the weekend. Then with the next week's initial lecture we move to the next set of readings, and the whole pattern begins again. This goes on for the entire school year. By the time we get into the value issues in the second term, people are really collaborating in a way that is not only astonishing to me, but also astonishing to them.
There's nothing very novel about this procedure, except that it aims explicitly to notice and apply two recommendations regarding good pedagogy that come from Lonergan. The first comes from chapter five of VERBUM. If you want to be an effective teacher, begin by discovering what your students' questions are, and then play to those questions. The second is my own gloss on the later Lonergan. (He didn't say it, so far as I know; but he could well have said.) If you want to be effective an effective teacher, begin by discovering what your students' feelings are, and then play to those feelings. Begin with what your students feel strongly about, and take account of it. Don't worry whether it's good or bad, just recognize what it is; and begin with it, and then build out from there. Wherever you go as a teacher, you want your students to be with you; but you're certain to have them with you if you begin with them---with their questions, their feelings. It's impossible to go wrong with this approach, though it may lead you to some rather surprising places. Following Lonergan's advice here has made the classroom the most incredibly fruitful research laboratory for myself that I could have imagined....
Well, what you're doing illustrates very nicely Lonergan's own regular appeal to examples. The way to get around terminological jargon, it seems to me (this would be another pedagogical first principle of mine, though it's hardly very original) is to keep in mind that concepts follow insights. And insights emerge out of examples. So, begin with the example! If you can get people to see what's going on in the example and relate to it personally, then you can come along later and say, "All right, now here are some of the labels that technical folks have put on the very kinds of elements that you yourself have discovered in the example." That can be very effective, whereas beginning with jargon can be a royal waste of time. Any victory that follows from posing basic questions in stock terminology is apt to be a victory not worth having, because it lets people off the hook. It lets them think they have mastered something when they know how to use familiar words to push around familiar concepts. But the real issue is not words and concepts: the real issue is insights.
I'd like to end with an example. It's from one of the earlier Lonergan Workshops, in 1974 or 1975. (A while ago we were talking about the last one Lonergan attended, in 1982.) Back in those days, an hour during the latter part of every afternoon was devoted to Lonergan responding to questions. That year, on Friday afternoon Lonergan had to travel somewhere else, so he left the session earlier than usual. The questions and answers had gone on for about 45 minutes, when Fred Lawrence said, "OK, time to catch a plane." Lonergan stood up, put on his coat, and headed for the door. As he was going out the door, people were clapping and cheering. Then he turned around, gave us this big smile, and said, "Good-bye, and be good non-disciples!" Don't be Lonerganians, stay away from Lonerganism. Build on your own insights, your own feelings: that's the point.
Q: Well...thank you very much.
A: Thank you.Top of Page