Learning-To-Be: Reflections on Bernard Lonergan’s Transcendental Philosophy of Education Towards An Integral Human Existence
“Philosophy is the theory of education in its most general sense.”
(John Dewey, Democracy and Education)
The renowned Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan was born Bernard Joseph Francis Lonergan on December 17, 1904 in Buckingham, Quebec, Canada. He was of Irish descent. Lonergan joined the Jesuit order in 1922. His comprehensive range of writings includes theology, philosophy, education, science, mathematics, economics, culture, and history. He is recognized as a Transcendental Thomist, whose remarkable achievement lies in fusing Thomistic thought with contemporary intellectual interests. Among his greatest works are Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957) and Method in Theology (1972). Lonergan died in Pickering, Ontario, Canada on November 26, 1984.
Very briefly, transcendental philosophy refers to the activity of the self as a knowing subject seeking itself through personal appropriation of one’s own rational self-consciousness. Transcendental philosophy is knowing the whole process of knowing. This involves the process of ultimately integrating knowing and being. For Lonergan, knowing is grasping the being of oneself, and being is the reason of knowing oneself. It is essential to note here that the dialectic between knowing and being constitutes the essential method of transcendental philosophy. More importantly, transcendental method is what flows from the intrinsic dynamism of the human knowing. This method of transcendence requires the heightening of one’s self-consciousness, that is, applying one’s cognitional capabilities to four epistemological precepts: Be attentive, Be intelligent, Be reasonable, and Be responsible. Accordingly, these same precepts are, for Lonergan, the imperatives of comprehensive learning, which are necessary means for authentic living.
Lonergan’s philosophy of education which probes into the essence of learning is developed in relation to the challenge of his magnum opus Insight (1957), a work Lonergan describes to be a series of exercises in self-appropriation, where we work out the ideal in ourselves in painstaking and gradual fashion. That is, its pedagogical aim is basically to invite us to learn about ourselves in ourselves. It is to discover who we really are. Discovering oneself is ultimately linked to being oneself. “Insight is a way. It is asking people to discover in themselves what they are,” (Lonergan 1974: 213). In application, Lonergan’s philosophy of education which derives from his important theory of cognition can be stated in the following challenge of praxis. That is, faced with the plethora of knowledge for our taking, “praxis, finally, raises the final issue, What are you to do about it? What use are you to make of your knowledge?” (Lonergan 1997: 578). We will return to the discussion of self-appropriation later. For now let us first present Lonergan’s important theory of knowledge, then his argument for the correlation between philosophy and education.
Education is the continuous revitalization of learning about life. As mode of being, learning is keeping one’s horizons open to the possible revelation of being. Intellectually, education means the formation of understanding as a response to the calling of being. Being is the end of knowing. To know is to comprehend being. However, the comprehension of being (meaning?) requires three forms of conversion. Intellectual conversion is the radical clarification and consequently the elimination of an exceedingly stubborn and misleading myth concerning reality, objectivity, and human knowledge. Moral conversion changes the criterion of one’s decision and choices from satisfaction to values. Religious conversion is that moment of efficacious change of life direction when all human pursuit of the true and the good is transcended in total self-surrender to the ultimate ground of all existence.
By way of an example of application of the foregoing educational ideal, it must be emphasized that a complete educational program must be heuristically transformative and dynamically reflexive. For instance, the contents of today’s departmental curriculum must be designed from a context that is culturally sensitive, historically attentive, philosophically creative, and globally competitive. Course offerings, while providing students the training of skills must likewise present them with an inspirational meaning of life. (Here lies the vocation of Catholic institutions: to remain ever committed to the promotion and protection of human dignity, while respecting everyone’s cultural identity.) In truth, the reason why course offerings are termed “subjects” is because such disciplines essentially aim to form students into subjects, into persons. Hence, bringing the sophisticated fields of knowledge to the concrete sphere of living by means of pedagogically sound strategies, in the hope of unfolding the whole person, is the essence of university education.
AN OVERVIEW OF LONERGAN’S THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE
The pursuit of knowledge is a collaboratively conscious, intelligent, rational, deliberate, and methodical effort. Human knowing is a dynamic structure in that it refers to a whole whose parts are cognitional operations, which are uniquely distinct yet functionally related to each other. Human knowing as a dynamic structure specifically consists in experiencing, understanding, reasoning, and deciding. (We can call these levels of consciousness as the epistemological fourfold in Lonergan’s theory of knowledge. Their inter-relatedness is such that when we speak of one, we necessarily refer to the other three along with it.) Knowing is necessarily a structure of inter-related operations; it is a dynamic structure of the various parts of the whole of cognition. In other words, human knowing is not a single activity but a structure of several cognitional activities. That human knowing is a dynamic structure yields the following implications:
- Consciousness vis-á-vis Self-knowledge
Consciousness refers to the experience of knowing in general consisting of both sensation and intellection, while self-knowledge is knowing knowing, that is, of knowing the dynamic foundations of knowing.
- Conscious consciousness
By conscious consciousness is meant the fact of achieving self-knowledge in spite of the difficulty of attaining a thoroughly unified act of consciousness.
- Unequal access to different cognitional activities
Knowing is had in terms of its various forms. Comparing seeing with understanding might prove our point. While in opening our eyes which is its physical requirement, we see, in understanding, however, we do not experience insight in that manner.
- Different qualities of human knowing
The experience of one’s consciousness is always the unique experience of oneself as a conscious subject.
- External and internal experience: A Division
Experience is divided into external and internal. External experience is the presence of objects to the subject (sensation), while internal experience is the presence of the subject to itself (intention).
- Achievement of Integration
Since cognitional activities are multi-layered, the knowing subject is empirically, intellectually, rationally, morally conscious.
At this point we may ask how all these implications lead us to a better understanding of knowledge as put forward by Lonergan’s epistemology. Every act of any of these operations points to the universe of being. Being, as correctly conceived, is the object of human knowing. “Accordingly, the dynamic structure of human knowing intends being. . . . Being is the originating drive of human knowing,” (Lonergan 1967: 228). Being provokes thinking. It calls forth our cognitional activities and brings them all into a dynamic, moving unity of inter-related operations. Therefore, human knowing is a mode of being. As such the former is capable of reaching an objective mark. “For the objectivity of human knowing is a triple cord: there is an experiential component that resides in the givenness of relevant data; there is a normative component that resides in the exigencies of intelligence and rationality guiding the process of knowing from data to judging; there is an absolute component that is reached when reflective understanding combines the normative and the experiential elements into a virtually unconditioned, i.e., a conditioned whose conditions are fulfilled,” (Lonergan 1967: 230). The objectivity of knowing rests upon the alterity of being. Knowing presupposes and implies being. Being brings forth our cognitional involvements. Knowing is a response to the beckoning of being. In an attempt to overcome the Cartesian solipsism, Lonergan formulates that Being, and not thinking, is the ground of existence. In short, “when we say that something is, we mean that its reality does not depend upon our cognitional activity,” (ibid.). In the words of Lonergan, “without objective knowing there is no authentic living,” (Lonergan 1967: 238). Also, “objectivity is the fruit of authentic subjectivity,” (Lonergan 1974: 214). Hence, “there exists a latent metaphysics, present and operative in all our knowing,” (Lonergan 1967: 203). This is so, insofar as being permeates all our knowing.
Objective knowledge is the recognition of the existence of an ideal that is presupposed in every effort to exist. Indeed, while the objectivity of human knowing lies in the human person’s unrestricted desire to know, but the knowledge we achieve is limited. What we know always appears to us in a horizon of proportionate being, which is the intellect’s immediate object. The revelation of being is the measure of all human cognition. This goes without saying that we can know to the extent that being lies within our horizon. A horizon is a maximum field of vision from a determinate standpoint. It is the limit, the frontier, the opening, of being. In the field of education, learning is recognized as the process of broadening of one’s horizons. Learning then demands a change in our outlook. This is the challenge of philosophy of education. It is learning how to cope with the exigency of being. That is, at the heart of the learning pursuit is a fundamental correlation with being.
PHILOSOPHY OF EDUCATION: A CORRELATION
“The method of metaphysics, (of philosophy), primarily is pedagogical,” (Lonergan 1968: 398). Hence, no issue in education is more fundamental than philosophy of education. Philosophy is what gives education its vision and direction, without which education loses its social significance. Philosophy is heuristically and metaphysically pedagogical, because it teaches us, through a habit of committed thinking, to discover our being in ourselves. In its general sense, education is the lifelong process of coming-to-know the truth of who we are. The Socratic maxim: “Know thyself,” is essentially a call to a responsible self-awareness, where responsible self-awareness suggests the ethical injunction: “Be thyself,” in truth, freedom, and goodness. The weight of this imperative basically lies in its transformative character to effect radical change (conversion) in the way we see ourselves, others, and the world. Thus, the integral transformation of the human situation through a habituation of critical reflection is the purpose of education.
Let us quote at length Lonergan’s account of the close affinity of philosophy to education. For instance, in his 1959 Cincinnati lectures on philosophy of education, Lonergan gives the following important educational theory.
Philosophy is reflection on the human situation at an ultimate level. It is fundamental thinking about the human situation. And education is the great means for transforming the human situation. It changes people’s minds and wills. Consequently, philosophy and education are interdependent. Philosophy is the reflective component, and education is the active component, at the ultimate level of reflection and action in human life. Philosophy is the guide and the inspiration of education, and education is the verification, the pragmatic justification, of a philosophy. (Lonergan 1988: 4-5)
From the cited passage above we can see how Lonergan appreciates the mutual relation between philosophy and education. For our purposes, let us attempt to draw important conclusions from this relation. To begin with, philosophical reflection is concerned with social action. It is a critical engagement in the practice of truthful living. Education is the integration of the theoretical and practical dimension of learning. As such it becomes an existential horizon. A way of life is formally an existential self-assertion; it can have a significance only within a horizon of meaningful integrations. Thus, philosophy as reflection on the human situation at an ultimate level is at once methodical, critical, and integral. This three-fold nature of philosophy can be summarized as follows. Methodical, because philosophy attempts for the viability of an intelligent course of action; critical, insofar as philosophy ascertains the veracity of statements; and, integral, for philosophy proposes a unity of vision.
Education is a process of appropriation, that is, of integral learning, the horizon of integral learning, where the pursuit of knowledge is carried out in terms of the free and rational structure of human knowing. More than an acquisition of processed knowledge, education is fundamentally the appropriation of the parameters of conscious being. Within the realm of one’s existence, learning takes place as that which specifically happens to us when we strive to know. Learning is the happening of being; it is the coming to self-knowledge. If we want to learn, our thinking as a whole cannot depend upon someone or something else other than ourselves; we must have resources of our own to which we can appeal in the last resort. Consequently, learning is ultimately learning to be one’s own self; it is being myself. Learning then is something that we do in ourselves and for ourselves in conscious freedom.
To repeat: Learning is the process of coming to self-understanding. It is what one does, or better, what happens when one studies in the sense of possessing knowledge. Moreover, learning which is the seeking of the intelligible, the real, the true, hence, of being, is correlative to the desire to be reasonable and to be responsible. The desire to know is the primordial expression of being a self. That is, knowing and being are inextricably bound up together. This unity of knowing and being is that to which self-appropriation is a reasonable and an intelligent response.
Education is letting every learning experience become a creative moment of insight, that is, of an act of unified understanding. Every genuine learning is transformative as it is educative. It brings us across the confines of our limited way of thinking and being. Genuine learning leads us to the core of our being, which is the Good. The Good is that which we all aim at. It is what gives purpose to our every action. The Good therefore is the object of desire – of our desire to exist. It follows that education, in its fundamental sense of learning to be oneself, is the way to achieve a sound approximation of the Good.
Learning requires a set of self-regulative, ongoing, interdependent processes. Among others, t ere is method. A method is a way to learning. According to Lonergan, learning is a self-correcting method of discovering oneself and thereby being oneself by discriminating the shortcomings of the contents of knowledge. Learning then aims primarily at the dynamic possession of a heightened self-consciousness. As a method, learning is a path to self-knowledge. Learning possesses the following transcendental guidelines: “Be attentive, Be intelligent, Be reasonable, and Be responsible,” (Lonergan 1973: 20). The practice of method understood as a framework for collaborative creativity and a social pattern of operations enables people to discover in themselves the dynamic structure of their own cognitional and moral capabilities. To be attentive to what is there to see is as phenomenological as analytical; to be intelligent about things implies a rational assessment of their nature; to be reasonable is to be critical enough to form one’s decisions; and, finally, to be responsible implies the morality of one’s actions in the actualization of the entire thought process.
Education, as a privileged occasion for the application of Lonergan’s masterwork Insight, highly develops into a cultivation of the human person’s intellectual side, and eventually becomes a contribution to the transformation of culture. De facto, education consists in the formation of individuals to become reasonable, responsible, and religious citizens. Its primary function is conceivably to enable students to achieve a sense of who they are and of what they intend to choose in any particular field. Education is a critical practice of self-appropriation. Such is the whole point of Lonergan’s educational application of Insight: to emphasize the need to attain an adequate level of understanding, judgment, and decision in facing the challenges of life. Such emphasis is in the first place pedagogical, because it calls everyone to learn more about themselves in their given conditions. Every decision requires beforehand an interpretation of one’s situation. Every decision must be an intelligent and reasonable assessment of experience or mode of involvement. It’s like saying: “Here and now I choose freely to take this course of action – without any foreseeable guarantee of the desired results.”
Education is the continuous revitalization of learning about life. As mode of being, learning is keeping one’s horizons open to the possible revelation of being. Intellectually, education means the formation of understanding as a response to the calling of being. Being is the end of knowing. To know is to comprehend being. However, the comprehension of being (meaning?) requires three forms of conversion. In general terms, intellectual conversion is the radical clarification and consequently the elimination of an exceedingly stubborn and misleading myth concerning reality, objectivity, and human knowledge. Moral conversion changes the criterion of one’s decision and choices from satisfaction to values. Religious conversion is that moment of efficacious change of life direction when “all human pursuit of the true and the good” is transcended in total self-surrender to the ultimate ground of all existence.
Contemporary theorists of education describe education as the deconstruction (radicalization of epistemic presuppositions) of knowledge traditions, whereby we put in question our undeveloped understanding and pursue the affirmation of heightened consciousness. In order to achieve this, education must be geared towards the promotion of the inter-relational unity among the various sciences towards an integral vision of the whole of knowledge. The natural sciences and the humanities must interact with each other guided by a vision of life or an interpretation of the vicissitudes of the self. As a training for self-interpretation, education must inspire students to ask the deepest questions about their human situation. Education whose primary raison d’ être is the renewal of the self consists in the interplay between learning and unlearning in view of achieving true knowing vis-à-vis the concealment and unconcealment of being. As learning-to-be, education implies the capacity to achieve a sense of being a self that is unique, conscious, intelligent, rational, and responsible. In short, education is an ongoing series of cognitional operations of reaching the unity of knowing and being, thus of self-appropriation.
Self-appropriation (self-affirmation) is the existential condition of achieving the sense of one’s own humanity or sense of being. It basically consists in the call to decide for oneself what one wants to become. Self-appropriation refers to the movement from simple knowing to profound being. In its creative sense, self-appropriation is the generation of horizons. If new horizons give rise to new interpretations, new interpretations create new horizons. Self-appropriation is the integral constitution of the self as a transcendent being. It is the methodic movement towards the ideal of knowledge, that is, the sphere of the pre-predication, pre-conceptual, pre-judicial. Self-appropriation consists in the following reflexive operations of cognition: self-attention, self-apprehension, and self-affirmation. “The human person achieves authenticity in self-transcendence. . . . The transcendental notions, that is, our questions for intelligence, for reflection, and for deliberation constitute our capacity for self-transcendence,” (Lonergan 1973: 104f). Self-transcendence is mediated in conversion. Self-transcendence is our engagement in answering the basic questions: “What am I doing when I am knowing? Why is doing that knowing? What do I know when I do it?,” (Lonergan 1973: 25), from which conversion is the result.
Conversion is “total surrender to the demands of the human spirit: be attentive, be intelligent, be reasonable, be in love,” (Lonergan 1973: 268). Conversion is the radical revision of position, in the sense of intellectual, moral and religious perspectives. It is a fundamental and momentous change in the human reality. And the task of conversion is life-long. “Conversion is a matter of moving from one set of roots to another. . . . It occurs only inasmuch as a human person discovers what is inauthentic in herself and turns away from it, inasmuch as she discovers what the fullness of human authenticity can be and embraces it with her whole being,” (Lonergan 1973: 271). Self-transcendence is mediated in conversion. Conversion is the condition of self-transformation. It is the practice of allowing oneself to change, in order to attain a new mode of being. Genuine learning is an experience of conversion, which completes itself in communication. The experience of learning to be oneself presents itself as an event of share humanity. That is to say, when we begin to truly realize the truth of who we are, which is deeply rooted in our desire to appropriate the Good, we are led to a higher plane of self-knowledge, which is the knowledge of our radical relations with others.
Education is ideally a process of a holistic conversion of the human person – intellectually, morally, and religiously. This holistic conversion grounds our capacity for a healthier self-knowledge, more meaningful integral relations, and a greater sense of the ultimate meaning of life. As a means of transformation, therefore, education is geared towards the achievement of self-development. The self in process is always the goal of educational appropriation.
EDUCATION AND TRANSCENDENTAL METHOD
More than ever, our unrestricted desire to know requires a method which enables us to use our mind appropriately and concretely unfolding our intellectual capabilities of attention, intelligence, reasonability, and responsibility. “A method is a normative pattern of recurrent and related operations yielding cumulative and progressive results,” (Lonergan 1973: 4). This method for Lonergan is transcendental, precisely because it goes beyond the confines of the knowing subject. As it were, by a transcendental method, the knowing subject is brought beyond herself towards the horizon of being. The transcendental method, which affirms the integration of the cognitional, metaphysical, hermeneutical, and ethical components of being human, is, strictly speaking, the method of the self.
Transcendental method is the examination of the operations of our rational self-consciousness. It is the condition of self-reflection, whereby we are able to inquire back into the source of all cognitional activities. Self-reflection is the conscious effort to put in question the intentions of one’s actions, and it the rational attempt to investigate the social structures and methodological procedures that give rise to theories that one subscribes to. Again, self-reflection is the affirmation of the Socratic dictum: “Know thyself.”
Out of a methodic approach to self-knowledge, we can conclude that the human person fundamental insight is that she is a dynamic knower; a methodic interpreter, a discursive doer; and, a committed subject. Knowledge, understanding, responsibility, and love constitute the totality-in-process character of the human person. In view of this characterization of the human person, Lonergan make this important assertion: “Rationality is my very dignity,” (Lonergan 1968: 333).
For Lonergan, an educational philosophy must offer a vision to guide our course of action, if it is to bring about significantly long-lasting effects upon the life of the society as a whole. It must be a vision that reveals the ultimate meaning of human life. Thus, education which must be deeply rooted in philosophic inquiry and purposively oriented towards scientific pursuits possesses a clarion call to promote social equity. It must be proactive in the pursuit of the balance between theory and practice, which finds perfect integration in people’s self-reflection. To note, in practice, Lonergan’s cognitional theory of learning implies teaching people how to ask fundamental questions, which means, to get them engaged in those occasions of self-reflection, that truly matter to their existence, through committed acts of understanding. “Thoroughly understand what it is to understand, and not only will you understand the broad lines of all there is to be understood but also you will possess a fixed base, an invariant pattern, opening upon all further developments of understanding,” (Lonergan 1968: xxviii). Understanding in its metaphysical fullness is the unfolding of the self in human situations of significant relations.
Admittedly, central to the life of the society is the quality of education. The social responsibility of education lies in improving and promoting people’s discursive capabilities. It follows from our discussion that education consists in the creation, formation, and expansion of integral knowledge for social progress. Education is definitely far from being an easy success, because it demands a relation to truth. (Consider: any talks about quality education must take into serious account the discourse about quality life, for which the former is pursued.)
By way of an example of application of the foregoing educational ideal, it must be emphasized that a complete educational program must be heuristically transformative and dynamically reflexive. For instance, the contents of today’s departmental curriculum must be designed from a context that is culturally sensitive, historically attentive, philosophically creative, and globally competitive, as well. Course offerings, while providing students the training of skills must likewise present them with an inspirational meaning of life. (Here lies the vocation of Catholic institutions: to remain ever committed to the promotion and protection of human dignity, while respecting everyone’s cultural identity.) In truth, the reason why course offerings are termed “subjects” is because such disciplines essentially aim to form students into subjects, into persons. Hence, bringing the sophisticated fields of knowledge to the concrete sphere of living by means of pedagogically sound strategies is the essence of university education. This task applies too to Catholic education which Lonergan educational thought steadfastly promotes.
LONERGAN ON CATHOLIC EDUCATION
Catholic education refers to the communication of the development of intelligence towards the transformation of culture through the formation of a philosophical vision, in the light of Catholic tradition. The integration of philosophy and theology in the university disciplines is necessary, in order to bring the human person to a level of authenticity, that is, of ever renewed sense of humanity. The task of Catholic education includes the preservation of Christian self-identity by way of honest self-criticism of beliefs, values, and norms in an age marked by cultural ambiguity. Self-criticism alerts us to possible totalitarian ambitions. There is emphasis on the inter-disciplinary approach to the study of the holistic character of the human person, by forging mutual respect among the sciences. Christianity must acknowledge the freedom of creativity of other religions to respond to the existential stimulus of peaceful co-existence in a pluralistic society. Catholic education as an intellectual tradition is first and foremost the recognition of the truths present in other educational traditions.
The way to humanity is a shared journey, participated in by unique forms of intelligibility as the object of educational enterprise. If unfolding the meaning of human existence is a work in progress, then education provides the needed hermeneutical tools to constantly carry out the task. Education is a methodic social task in that it stirs people’s imagination to improve their social spaces. For Lonergan, education is doing a method in self-appropriation, which results in conversion or renewal of being. It is a conversion that results from the appropriation of sapiential virtues of faith, hope, and charity. The active appropriation of these fundamental virtues defines the human person’s transcendental horizon, which opens itself to the Absolute.
Catholic education then essentially includes the formation of the students in a life of faith, hope, and charity. It rests now on the creative methodologies of educational managers, policy makers, and professors to integrate the challenge of these fundamental virtues in the teaching of various subjects. It will be interesting to observe, for instance, how to teach physics in a manner that leads students to the realization that faith is what underlies all scientific endeavors. Or, it will be equally enriching how the teaching of biology, for example, includes a deep appreciation of the wonders of human life and stresses a profound respect for the dignity of the human body. We can extend our examples to illustrate the need to humanize the manner of teaching the academic curriculum. But what is clear is this: the development of an effective pedagogy, in view of the holistic formation of the educational horizons of students, is every Catholic university’s primary responsibility.
Catholic education orients itself to the liberation of human reason from ideological prisons through the truth of revelation that is born of love. For which reason, Catholic education is the formation of the heart; it is the aedification of character. Within the whole vision of human flourishing Christian education communicates the value and meaning of intellectual capabilities. Catholic education protects the human person from degeneration, because she is subject to moral impotence. From the foregoing discussion, we can see why Lonerga ’s educational