The Four Transcendental Imperatives of Bernard Lonergan

sq_lonerganJesuit and theologian Bernard Lonergan had a worthy goal: to generalize the successful methods of science to all facets of human inquiry. Most particularly, he sought to consider not only exterior data from sensation but interior data from consciousness. He presented four epistemological precepts of ‘being’ that transcended cultural norms, to inform all domains of human knowing and knowledge:

Being Attentive
in Experience

Being Intelligent
in Understanding

Being Reasonable
in Judgment

Being Responsible
in Deciding

In addition, his Generalized Empirical Method (GEM) had four facets, and four methodological questions:

What do I do when I know?

Why is doing that knowing?

What do I know when I do it?

What therefore should we do?

These are certainly worthy precepts, domains, facets, and questions. How well have his techniques worked? At one time, Lonergan was said to be considered by many to be one of the finest thinkers of the 20th century.

The summary of the article on Lonergan at the IEP states:

A generalized empirical method in ethics clarifies the subject’s operations regarding values. The effort relies on a personal appropriation of what occurs when making value judgments, on a discovery of innate moral norms, and on a grasp of the meaning of moral objectivity. These innate methods of moral consciousness are expressed in explanatory categories, to be used both for conceptualizing for oneself what occurs regarding value judgments and for expressing to others the actual grounds for one’s value positions.

GEM is based on a gamble that the odds of genuine moral development are best when the players lay these intellectual, moral and affective cards on the table. Concretely, this implies a duty to acknowledge the historicity of one’s moral views as well as a readiness to admit oversights in one’s self-knowledge. Moreover, given the proliferation of moral issues that affect confronting cultures with different histories today, it also implies a duty to meet the stranger in a place where this openness can occur.

Lonergan’s imperatives are also somewhat similar to Kolb’s Learning Cycle and the Scientific Method. In both of those fourfolds, observation (sensation) occurs both before (but also cyclically after) experimentation (action). Could this be because these are methods for inquiry as opposed to one of making? Some think there is no distinction, that discovery is always socially constructed anyway, but I disagree.



A good discussion and comparison of learning and inquiry at the Tetrast:


Bernard Lonergan / Insight: A Study of Human Understanding

Bernard Lonergen / Method in Theology

[*3.122, *3.124, *9.70, *9.72]


One Response to “The Four Transcendental Imperatives of Bernard Lonergan”

  1. D’autres quaternités intéressantes | Autrement qu'être Mathesis uni∜ersalis Problema Universale Heidegger/Husserl être/conscience : plan vital-ontologique vs plan spirituel d'immanence CLAVIS UNIVERSALIS HENOSOPHIA PANSOPHIA ενοσοφ Says:

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