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Andrew Beards, Insight and Analysis: Essays in Applying Lonergan’s Thought (New York: Continuum, 2012)

Review by Brendan Purcell

My first impression on reading Insight and Analysis is its comprehensiveness: Andrew Beards has entered into serious and painstaking dialogue with a wide range of analytic and continental philosophers and some theologians. In Part I he tackles the issues of ‘Knowing and Consciousness’ in Mackie, Hintikka, Searle and MacIntyre. Then, in Part 2 he takes up the ‘Philosophy of Language’ in Wittgenstein and Dummett. He also in Part 3 invites continental philosophy into the discussion with an extended and lively critique of Badiou. The dialogue continues in Part 4 with a critique of proportionalism in ‘Ethics’; and his final Part 5 on ‘Philosophy and Theology’ includes essays on Ratzinger and Rahner. Beards does far more than apply Lonergan’s thought to all these philosophers and theologians. He deftly employs his profound acquaintance with Lonergan’s writings to elaborate a conversation so stimulating and bracing that makes it impossible for the reader not to join in.


In ‘Self-Refutation and Self-Knowledge,’ Beards holds, against Mackie’s view that arguments based on self-refutation, while successful in refuting sceptical claims, are of little further philosophical interest. Not only do such arguments diagnose what Hintikka calls the ‘performative inconsistency’ of, for example, denying one’s own existence. They also lead to the further question, ‘how is the implicit nature of an intentional act rendered explicit?’ (7) And it’s here that Lonergan’s distinction between consciousness and knowledge of our conscious operations—what Mackie speaks of as awareness and knowledge-that—can help. Mackie’s paper, ‘Are there any Incorrigible Empirical Statements?’ is answered by Beards’ parsing of our knowledge of our conscious requirements for any judgment we make. If we say that in principle there are no incorrigible empirical statements, we’re caught by our claim that the conditions for asserting that claim is true have been fulfilled. In other words a second-order cognitive analysis of our first-order cognitive operations can have philosophically interesting implications.

Beards, in ‘John Searle and Human Consciousness’ notes the ‘Anti-Cartesian Culture’ which Searles inveigles against in his The Rediscovery of Mind. However, Searles never departs from his ‘biological naturalism,’ quoted here: ‘It seems to me obvious from everything we know about the brain that macro mental phenomena are all caused by lower-level micro phenomena.’ (29) Yet this biological naturalism seems contradicted by Searle’s statement that the difference between a computer and a human agent is that ‘the agent is making a conscious effort to go through the steps’ of problem solving.’ (30) As Beards points out, ‘I am aware of attending to this or that image because I want to, because I grasp it as a value to do so, and because I will to act in accordance with that value.’ (33) And given Searle’s own critique of the taken-for-granted ‘cultural Network and Background’ of philosophical schools, Beards rightly flaws Searle’s refusal to question his own intellectual presuppositions. These presuppositions include thinking that the only alternative to Cartesian dualism is biological naturalism, while ignoring

the alternative to Cartesianism offered by the Aristotelian-Thomist philosophical tradition. In that tradition, it is argued that it is not consciousness per se that is nonmaterial, but that it is the conscious, intelligent, reasonable, and responsible activities proper to human beings that are in some sense independent of the material. (35)

‘MacIntyre, Critical Realism, and Animal Consciousness’ is a bracing exploration of the issues raised by MacIntyre’s Dependent Rational Animals, which includes a most helpful section on Lonergan’s treatment of human and animal consciousness. While largely agreeing with MacIntyre’s ‘high’ doctrine of animal knowing, which MacIntyre shares with Aquinas, Beards won’t accept that animal and human judgments are more than analogically comparable: ‘Rather, one needs to advert to the fact that the specifically human judgments we begin to make when even quite young deploy the reasonable criteria of searching for sufficient evidence for judgment…’ (58) He concludes by suggesting that MacIntyre’s ‘rather thin account’ of what’s specific to human knowing if supplemented by Lonergan’s analysis of human judgment would better be able to explain what human knowing has in common with that of the higher animals.


Beards highlights a key critique in Method in Theology, where Lonergan ‘identifies the fundamental oversight’ of analytic philosophy as its ‘inability to distinguish between language expressing original insights and language which expresses insights which have become common property.’ (63) As an example of this failure, in ‘Wittgenstein’s Later Philosophy’ Beards takes Wittgenstein’s criticism of the interpretation of archaic materials in Frazer’s Golden Bough in terms of Frazer’s own unexamined rationalism. Instead, Wittgenstein proposes an entirely presuppositionless approach—what Lonergan once called ‘The Myth of the Empty Head.’ (70) The problem for Beards is that Wittgenstein’s privileging of ordinary language—whether in the language of archaic materials or in contemporary speech—has made an oversight of the fact that our ordinary language is itself shot through with insights from spheres of consciousness other than those of common sense. ‘Wittgenstein’s own attempt to banish philosophers from his Republic can only result in…violence being done’ to ordinary language.’ (77)

In his piece on Michael Dummett, ‘Anti-Realism and Critical Realism’ Beards speaks of ‘Dummett’s view that cases of primitive recognition are uninformative for debates over realism,’ and suggests this is due to Dummett’s fear ‘that were we to acknowledge the “truth-condition” account of recognition it might mean that everything we agreed on was false.’ (94, 98) But because it’s always possible that what we recognize, or think to be the case, is not in fact so, that doesn’t mean we can’t arrive at the truth. As Beards notes, ‘to argue that I cannot definitely know anything because of memory mistakes, illusion, evil genius or whatever’ is incoherent, since ‘such attempts result in claiming to know what I cannot know.’ (98) He indicates that Lonergan’s cognitional theory avoids Dummett’s focusing on sense data by insisting that our knowledge comes about through the interaction of our experiencing, understanding and judging, and not through any one of these operations alone. (100)


‘Badiou’s Metaphysical Basis for Ethics,’ begins with Beards commending Alain Badiou’s philosophy as seeming to belong to a revival of metaphysics both in analytical and continental philosophy. For Badiou, what marks out humans from animals is the ability of some courageous men and women to persevere under torture and repression in their service of the truth. When a ‘someone’ enters into the ‘truth-processes’ of scientific discovery, human love relationships and political movements, they become ‘immortal’—though for Badiou, such immortality is merely this-worldly. (111) Yet, his rather Sartrean approach to human existence is vitiated by Badiou’s reliance on set-theory to ground his anthropology. Beards thus asks how we can know that Badiou’s claimed mathematically based ontology is real, and not just a possible world? (129) And the prioritization of mathematical judgments as the only true ones ‘is itself not a mathematical judgment, but a truth claim about the cognitional realities we name judgments.’ (139) Beards’ final criticism focuses on how Badiou’s morality is

undermined by his own metaphysics. The question of how to treat someone…is inextricably bound up with what that someone…is…Badiou’s ontological vision of persons as epiphenomenal, then, at once deconstructs the basic morality that he assumes in his arguments in Ethics—the basic morality which presumes his readers will reject as horrific the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi regime. (142)


Beards begins ‘Moral Conversion and Problems in Proportionalism’ by indicating how Lonergan’s foundational treatment of ethics in Insight, moves beyond what might have been seen as a ‘faculty psychology’ approach to Lonergan’s later understanding of how the intellectual and volitional levels of consciousness are, quoting Lonergan, ‘united by a single transcendental intending of plural, interchangeable objectives.’ (151) Noting Method in Theology’s focus on ‘the concrete moral decisions of the Aristotelian “just man,” whose authentic creativity cannot be encapsulated in general formulae,’ Beards shows its continuity with Insight (where, I would add, Lonergan emphatically declares that his ethical method ‘not only sets forth precepts but also bases them on their real principles, which are not propositions or judgments but existing persons,’ Insight, 1961, 604). One of Beards’ criticisms of ethical proportionalism is in terms of its resemblance to the epistemological relativism Lonergan criticizes in Insight. Lonergan’s point is that relativists insist that truth can only be arrived at ‘with complete knowledge of the whole universe.’ (164) Beards compares this to the proportionalist’s position, that ‘any particular act is definitively determined as to its goodness or badness when all consequences of the act, scattered across time and space, are known.’ (164) Following his approach throughout the book, Beards indicates that the utilitarian-consequentialist-proportionalist ethicist comes up against his or her own absolute value of insisting on truth (166f). And of course, the concretely existing person, whether oneself or another, can never become (as Kant argued for as clearly as anyone) a means.


‘Christianity, “Interculturality,” and Salvation’ asks whether a 1993 lecture of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on Christianity and interculturality ‘is a return to what Lonergan would term a classicist model of evangelization,’ pitting ‘an ideology of normative culture against the pluralist view Lonergan outlines.’ (181) For Lonergan, a classicist evangelization ‘regards cultures other than the Christian West as “barbaric,”’ while a pluralist evangelization ‘attempts to work within the possibilities of another culture recognized as an equal in terms of its communal sharing of values.’ And Beards notes that ‘theological reflection on evangelization in the twentieth century’ has involved moving beyond this type of ‘European hegemony.’ (192) Ratzinger has developed the notion of the Church as a ‘cultural subject’ in itself. 1 He introduces the word ‘interculturality’ to express the relationship between the various forms of Christianity which have developed in particular cultures over time. (In his talk, Ratzinger is quite clear that interculturality includes interaction with non-Christian cultures: it ‘presupposes the potential universality of each culture. It presumes that in all cultures the same human nature is at work. It presumes that seeking union is a common truth of the human condition abiding in cultures.’) Beards suggests that Lonergan’s notion of Christian realism, as a ‘cultural catalyst’ goes beyond and usefully complements Ratzinger’s interculturality:

According to the thesis of Christian realism…the worldview implicit in Christianity involves not only a distinctive theology, cosmology, and anthropology but also a distinct epistemology—namely an epistemology that implies that forms of empiricism or idealism are inimical to Christian faith. (203)

For Beards, Lonergan’s notion of a specifically Christian worldview is transcultural, complementing while further articulating the universal ‘cultural subject Church’ Ratzinger sees as intrinsic to Christianity.

Despite both scholars’ attempts to ‘retrieve and apply Aquinas’ philosophy’ (223) to contemporary problems, Beards’ final chapter, ‘Rahner’s Philosophy: A Lonerganian Critique,’ brings out just how different were Rahner’s and Lonergan’s intellectual frameworks. Here I’ll limit myself to a brief glance at Beards’ section on ‘Issues in Anthropology.’ In Spirit in the World, ‘given the Thomist insistence on body and soul as a unity there must occur immediate resurrection.’ And this view is coupled with ‘his speculative hypothesis that such resurrection might imply that the whole world becomes a kind of “body” for the persisting individual at death.’ (240f) This would give rise to an odd dualism: ‘if the whole cosmos can be my body at death this seems to imply that many souls can share the same body,’ where some dualistic philosophies see the body ‘as a receptacle of possibly many souls.’ (241) More seriously, Rahner doesn’t provide any justification for the kind of spirit that’s inseparable from matter. Beards refers to Anthony Flew’s objection ‘that if a reasoned case cannot be made for the distinction between spirit and matter in human beings, then philosophical theism has no justification for applying a concept of spirit, which it has in no other way explained, to God.’ (242) On the other hand ‘Lonergan provides an initial idea of the way human spirituality may be differentiated from materiality by designating the intellectual, rationable and responsible activities of the human person’ as intelligent as well as intelligible, while materiality is merely intelligible. (243) Beards faults Rahner’s ‘imperious assertion that the doctrinal statements regarding the intermediate state must be reinterpreted in the light of his philosophical hermeneutics.’ (245)

The book concludes with an ‘Epilog’ that both summarizes and goes beyond the positions it’s advanced.

I have a few points of minor divergence, inevitable in a work that positively invites participatory reading: I wouldn’t be inclined to call on the ‘evidence’ of out of body or paranormal experiences to prove anything in philosophy. (37) I think Levinas and Derrida deserve a better hearing than Beards gives them (113–117), and would suggest chapters 6 & 7 of David Walsh’s Modern Philosophical Revolution: The Luminosity of Existence as an alternative reading of both philosophers: Lonergan himself in later years admitted to Voegelin that his overly epistemological reading of Parmenides didn’t do him justice, and these thinkers might be better appreciated when read in terms of a philosophy of the person as open to transcendence. I’d similarly suggest that Levinas’ notion of ‘beyond being’ (114) is quite accessible in terms of an effort to find a language for the transcendence of persons, not unlike Plato’s analogous effort in the Parmenides to articulate the transcendence of Being. For what it’s worth, Badiou’s criticism of ‘the enterprise of bioethics, and of ethics committees, as in some way continuous with Nazi eugenics’ isn’t necessarily ‘quite beyond the pale’ (119) in the light of the widespread use of the lethal ‘Liverpool Pathway’ in the UK’s National Health Service treatment of the aged, or of the creeping acceptance of even involuntary euthanasia in the US, never mind its documented practice in the Low Countries. I found the long and careful discussion of Lonergan’s ‘The Transition from a Classicist World-View to Historical-Mindedness’ in chapter 8 sufficiently nuanced and qualified to make the case—given that ancients like Augustine and Aquinas (I’m tempted to add Aeschylus and Plato) were also ‘historically-minded’—that it was a distinction so inadequate in terms of the historical materials that it should have been allowed a decent burial. (I’m not denying that what Lonergan called the ‘classicist’ view characterizes a fair number of second or third rate thinkers and manualists, but they tend to be forgotten when they’ve gone to their reward.) Without knowing all the details of the history of evangelization, I’d suggest that there are far more examples than those of the Jesuit missions in China and India that don’t fall under the category of ‘European hegemony’ (192) or colonial evangelization (cf. 197) For example, 19th and up to mid-20th century Irish missionaries who could freely move throughout the British Empire hardly felt they were carrying out the colonial regime’s bidding—often, as in early 19th century Australia, they were experienced as a thorn in the side of the government. And finally, I have no complaint with Beards’ mention of Lonergan’s discussion in Method in Theology of ‘the manner in which Christian dogma develops…’ (195) Still, it’s probably no harm to note an enormous lacuna in that discussion—apart from the thoroughly grumpy reference to ‘church officials’ (Method, 332)—which is Lonergan's complete silence regarding the role of the Church’s teaching office in relation to theology.

Beards concludes by remarking that he’s attempted to apply Lonergan’s thought to the wide range of topics I could only touch on here, and has argued ‘for the effectiveness of the wealth of analytic resources offered by Lonergan’s theology and philosophy.’ (263) I would agree—it’s a masterly example of open dialogue, not only with analytic, but also with continental philosophy, with a fine theological coda. His last quote is from Lonergan, who encouraged his readers to ‘arrive at conclusions different from mine on the basis of what they find in themselves. And in that sense it [that is Lonergan’s approach towards philosophy] is a way.’ (263) Beards has insightfully led the reader quite a distance along that way.

1. At times (194f), Beards speaks of ‘Christianity’ as cultural subject, but Ratzinger limits this term to the Church or ‘people of God’. In his talk, he typically remarks, ‘Whoever joins the church must be aware that he is entering a cultural subject with its own historically developed and multi-tiered inter-culturality. One cannot become a Christian apart from a certain exodus, a break from one's previous life in all its aspects.’

Andrew Beards is Academic Director at the School of the Annunciation, a Higher Institute of Catholic Education based at Buckfast Abbey, Devon UK. He is author of Lonergan, Meaning and Method, (Bloomsbury, 2016), Insight and Analysis, (Continuum, 2010), Philosophy the Quest for Truth and Meaning, (Liturgical Press, 2010), Method in Metaphysics: Lonergan and the Future of Analytical Philosophy, (University of Toronto Press, 2008) and Objectivity and Historical Understanding (Ashgate, 1997).

Copyright © Brendan Purcell 2013, 2017

Version: 22nd March 2017

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