Bernard Lonergan a Closet Kantian?

One of my favorite Catholic blogs, Lex Christianorum, had an interesting post on my philosophical guru, Bernard J.F. Lonergan, yesterday.  Lonergan is accusing of being… the horror!… a Kantian in disguise.  Of course, this comes as no surprise to anyone who knows Lonergan or his work.  It’s the standard slam against almost all of the so-called Transcendental Thomists (Marechal, Rahner, Coreth) and is somewhat justified.  Nevertheless, I find Lonergan to be the best philosophical synthesis between classical Thomism and the new statistical methods of modern science — far better, in my view, than the work of Jacques Maritain.  Here is just one of Lex Christianorum’s digs. The post is discussing the work of a new book, By Nature Equal: The Anatomy of a Western Insight by John E. Coons & Patrick M. Brennan.

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Their [Coons’ and Brennan’s] radical reinterpretation of the tradition is not of their own breeding, but comes from their devotion to the theological method of Bernard Lonergan (1904-1984), whose system must be viewed with suspicion as it led him to dissent the Church’s teaching on artificial contraception as contained in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, implying that somewhere, somehow Lonergan got it badly wrong. Lonergan despaired of any ability of the human mind to comprehend objective being or objective good (as traditionally understood as the correspondence of the mind to the external reality, veritas est adaequatio rei et intellectus). So he escaped like any good Kantian would from the effort. He withdrew, much like a tortoise into its shell, or perhaps better, imploded, sort of like gravity and light into a black hole, into a subjective objectivity, or objective subjectivity, clearly confusing both dimensions of reality. The objective retracts into or collapses into the subjective, and, in all but name, objectivity becomes subjectivity.

This is tremendously unfair to Lonergan, I think. Funny, but unfair. Lonergan’s great insight was that objective knowledge is not, as we imagine, “taking a look” at the “really real,” but is the fruit of the act of judgment. Human knowing is a grasp of the virtually unconditioned, a judgment of fact that something is or is not so.

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Robert J. Hutchinson is an author and essayist. His most recent book is Searching for Jesus: New Discoveries in the Quest for Jesus of Nazareth (Thomas Nelson, 2015).