Saturday, 20 November 2010

Questions for and about Lonergan

I am just back from Thomas Chacko's defence of his thesis, Lonergan's Virtually Unconditioned: The Ground of Judgment, at Dharmaram Vidya Ksetram, Bangalore.

The defence was a rather vigorous affair, with four on the board including the chairperson / moderator, who was also the Dean of the Philosophy Department, and Director of the thesis, Saju Chackalackal. The others on the board were: Jose Nandhikkara, Wittgenstein specialist; Mathew Chandrankunnel, specialist in science and religion; and myself for the Lonergan angle. Saju is a Kant specialist.

The style of defence at Dharmaram is, as I have said, rather vigorous: a no holds barred attack. That, the professors told me, is how they interpret intellectual honesty and challenge.

Some of the questions for and about Lonergan were interesting: Does Lonergan have anything original to contribute, or is he simply repeating Aristotle, Aquinas and Newman? What is the difference between Lonergan and Kant? The only difference between Aquinas and Kant is that Kant was more honest about the limits of knowledge; otherwise, both are agreed that human knowledge is a product of sense intuition as well as the mind. Is Lonergan a critical realist? Then he cannot be an empiricist. Is he empirical? Then he cannot be critical. And so on.

The Kant thing particularly stunned me. Is there no difference between Kant and Aquinas, except in the direction of greater honesty or modesty? I think we have to reflect here on the basic assumptions: does Aquinas assume - as I presume Kant does - that there is a primordial split between subject and object, that we have privileged knowledge of the subject, and that the problem of epistemology is that we have to get from subject to object? Does he not, as Lonergan points out, make an option between Aristotle and Plato - Plato who thought of knowledge as confrontation, and was then faced with ultimate duality when thinking of the knowledge in the Ultimate, and Aristotle who thought of knowledge as perfection and identity, so that he had no problem of duality when thinking of divine knowledge?

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