Bernard Lonergan's transcendental realism

Victoria Marie Wulf, Fordham University


This study gives an account of Lonergan's critical realism and explains how such a critical realism is not an idealism. Lonergan offers a verifiable realism that has its critical base in the claim that the real is what is experienced, intellectually grasped, and reasonably affirmed, and the real is not what can be merely seen, touched, experienced or merely conceptualized. Such realism is verifiable because it is based in an account of knowing that proceeds from experience, to understanding, to a grasp of a virtually unconditioned. Because Lonergan distinguishes two different types of dialectically related knowledge, Lonergan's realism is also a critical realism. Animal knowing involves operating in the purely biological pattern of experience in which the world is experienced as a world full of ‘bodies’ ‘out there’ to be seen and touched. Fully human knowing involves operating in the intellectual pattern of experience in which knowledge is attained through experience, understanding, and judgment and what is known are things that are explained according to intelligible schemes of recurrence. Unless these two different types of dialectically related knowledge are distinguished, epistemological confusion will result. This verifiable critical realism that Lonergan offers is not an idealism. Vernon Bourke claims that if philosophy begins with facts of consciousness, then a subjective idealism results. Lonergan's account of self-appropriation begins with data of consciousness, but does not result in a subjective idealism. According to Bourke, since philosophies that begin with consciousness do not take seriously the claim that knowing begins with experience, philosophies of consciousness result in an idealism. But, since Lonergan's account of consciousness explains consciousness as an experience of oneself as acting in relation to a world of objects, Lonergan's philosophy of consciousness does take seriously the claim that knowing begins with experience. Lonergan claims that direct knowledge of objects results from insight into phantasm, and reflexive knowledge of oneself is a reflection on the experience of oneself in such knowing. Thus, Lonergan's critical realism does not divorce the conscious subject from the external world, and also does not reject experience as the starting point for all knowing.

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Recommended Citation

Wulf, Victoria Marie, "Bernard Lonergan's transcendental realism" (2000). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9955975.