In This Article Bernard Lonergan

  • Introduction
  • Studies of Insight
  • Aesthetics
  • African Thought and Culture
  • Analytic Philosophy
  • Anthropology
  • Continental Philosophy and Hermeneutics
  • Economics
  • Education
  • History
  • Philosophy of Science and Cosmology
  • Psychology
  • Social/Political Thought
  • Additional Resources

Literary and Critical Theory Bernard Lonergan
by
Patrick Byrne, Dominic Scheuring, Stephen Ferguson
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190221911-0071

Introduction

As with many thinkers of his generation, the Canadian philosopher and theologian Bernard Joseph Francis Xavier Lonergan, SJ (b. 1904–d. 1984), sought to overcome the limitations of the traditions of thought that he inherited. Although a Catholic theologian by profession, he found it necessary to also think through major issues posed by modern philosophy, science, modern mathematics, the historical condition of humanity, economics, ethics, art, and education. He became best known for his theory of knowledge in the decades immediately following the publication of his masterwork, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957). However, the discovery of his numerous unpublished writings following his death in 1984 required a major rethinking of his project. In light of those discoveries, his work on the theory of knowledge has come to be understood as one contribution to his broader effort to find an adequate way to think about and respond authentically to the human condition as historical. As he once put it, “All my work has been introducing history into Catholic theology.” He was dissatisfied with the static metaphysical context of the scholastic philosophy he was taught as a young man, as well as with the historicism that was adopted by many thinkers of the 19th and early 20th centuries. He refined his ideas in numerous unpublished essays, written both before and after the publication of Insight, that addressed the questions of historical process, knowledge, method, and responsibility. He has long been mistakenly categorized as a “transcendental Thomist,” and therefore rejected as a subjectivist and antirealist by many Thomist authors and teachers. It is certainly true that Lonergan was deeply indebted to the thought of Thomas Aquinas, but his studies found in Aquinas a theory of knowledge and a kind of realism that was, and still is, at odds with other prevailing Thomist interpretations. Prior to his two studies of Aquinas, he was already deeply influenced by his readings of Plato, John Henry Newman, Hegel, and Marx. These thinkers prepared him to find in Aquinas ideas that earlier scholars had overlooked—ideas that he would develop into his own unique treatments of knowledge, science, the natural world, history, truth, goodness, and God. He taught at the University of Toronto (Regis College), the Gregorian University (Rome), Harvard University, and Boston College.

General Overviews and Introductions

There are two types of introductions to Lonergan’s work: (1) Guides to Practice and (2) Thematic Studies and Intellectual Biographies.

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