Through a glass darkly: Bernard Lonergan and Richard Rorty on the possibility of knowing without a God's-Eye-View

Russell Snell, Marquette University

Abstract

This work investigates and defends the human capacity to know the truth without a God's-Eye-View. In short, it hopes to offer a small voice of assistance to those struggling for what Fred Lawrence and Hugo Meynell have called the "New Enlightenment", i.e., to clarify, justify and apply rational norms in a way which takes seriously postmodern objections to modernity while retaining critical realism as a theory of truth. To this end, I study the thought of Bernard Lonergan, SJ, and Richard Rorty on the possibility of knowing. I argue that while Lonergan and Rorty share similar criticisms of the philosophical tradition's dependence on intuitionism, Rorty's subsequent attempt to jettison the correspondence theory of truth is unsatisfactory given the success of Lonergan's critical realism. In addition to this larger hypothesis, several particular implications are drawn: (1) Both Rorty and Lonergan are correct in rejecting intuitionism; (2) Rorty commits a false dichotomy by assuming that either we have the certainty of intuitionism or there is no truth as correspondence; (3) Rorty is in what Lonergan calls a counter-position, for Rorty's explicit statements about the impossibility of Truth contradict the performance of his own intellect; (4) Lonergan is capable of answering Rorty's objections and better satisfies Rorty's demands to recognize our historicity while allowing conversation than Rorty is himself capable. After explaining the historical problem of the God's-Eye-View in the first chapter and subsequently developing the thought of each thinker in the next two, the remaining chapters engage in a debate between the two thinkers centered around five questions, ultimately finding Lonergan's responses stronger: (1) Does Rorty suffer from Cartesian anxiety, the fear that if there are not absolutely certain foundations then Truth is not possible? Does Lonergan avoid this fear? (2) Can Lonergan's understanding of cognitional theory demonstrate that Rorty's statements about knowledge and truth performatively contradict how he presents his case? If we pay less attention to what Rorty says and more to how he says it, will we see that Rorty acts exactly as Lonergan predicts? (3) Can Lonergan survive Rorty's critique? Lonergan's theory depends on the dynamism of the human intellect and our pure, disinterested desire to know Being. Rorty argues that such a desire does not exist--not truth but power is the goal of inquiry. Has Lonergan remained in the classical consciousness, assuming a reason purer than possible? (4) Can Lonergan survive the linguistic turn on which Rorty depends? Some commentators argue that Lonergan has not come to terms with the linguistic turn and thus remains trapped in the world of the transcendental subject with its improper notions of meaning, language, communication and thought. (5) Rorty argues that the end of epistemology leads to a hermeneutic situation where we no longer seek the truth but attempt to keep the conversation going and grow in self-enlargement. But, given the normative standards inherent in the Transcendental Method, can Lonergan (a) provide more adequate notions of epistemic progress, and (b) provide a more adequate motivation for ongoing conversation and thus co-opt Rorty's own position?

Recommended Citation

Russell Snell, "Through a glass darkly: Bernard Lonergan and Richard Rorty on the possibility of knowing without a God's-Eye-View" (January 1, 2004). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI3153485.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI3153485

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