- Lonergan on Philosophical Pluralism: The Polymorphism of Consciousness as the Key to Philosophy
Walmsley develops an original and critical synthesis of the intellectual contribution of Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan (1904-84), a synthesis that proposes to motivate a renewed, reflective meta-conversation among the adherents of diverse philosophical traditions. Beginning with Lonergan's puzzling assertion in his early foundational work, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (1957), that 'the polymorphism of consciousness is the one and only key to philosophy,' Walmsley employs the Jesuit's own method of critical self-appropriation to challenge his sometimes narrowly focused treatment of the human person's cognitive operations. Walmsley balances Lonergan's emphasis on the corrective offered by a pure, unrestricted desire to know unfolding in an intellectual pattern of experience with a positive discussion of alternate patterns of experience, including the biological, aesthetic, artistic, dramatic, practical, mystical, symbolic, and ethical. Walmsley acknowledges the rich contours of human consciousness and creates a Schengen zone for exchange among the divergent philosophical traditions that accrue their intellectual capital from a privileged regard and development of one ormore of these patterns of experience.
In an approach that is finally sympathetic to the broad lines of his subject's life-project, the author clarifies, corrects, and develops Lonergan's early discussion of the patterns of experience. Observing that Lonergan's discussion of the polymorphism of human consciousness is, for the most part, an investigation of a dialectical encounter between biological extroversion and the appropriation of an intellectualist approach to the universe of inquiry, Walmsley clarifies the constructive contribution of emerging patterns that are properly polymorphous. For instance, the author's discussion of the distinction of the aesthetic and artistic patterns of experience highlights the creative role of symbol and invites a renewed appreciation of authors such as Bergson, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. Walmsley does not discount Lonergan's achievement but suggests that he has constrained his approach to polymorphism within his account of the intellectual pattern, rather than grounding his appropriation of the intellectual pattern within an expansive appreciation of polymorphism. With this corrective proposed, Walmsley [End Page 405] turns to the apparatus provided in Lonergan's later text Method in Theology (1971) to develop the earlier, compact notion of 'patterns of experience' in terms of the differentiations of consciousness, intended realms of meaning and cultural stages of meaning. Although Walmsley does not attend to the important influence of Piaget in the development of Lonergan's thought, and space allows him to make only the most cursory acknowledgement of Lonergan's notion of intellectual conversion, he still argues effectively that the mature Lonergan offers many of the intellectual tools required to pursue broad reflective inquiry.
While Lonergan specialists will appreciate Walmsley's technical competence and nuanced development of the Jesuit's thought, specialists and non-experts alike will welcome the author's refined approach to the significant philosophical questions that challenged Lonergan and remain important to contemporary readers. The value of a meta-conversation that locates, respects, and addresses a variety of approaches to perennial philosophical questions is not diminished, even as its possibility has seemed illusive. Now, an important contribution to its possible renewal cannot be dismissed easily in a global context burdened by social fragmentation, environmental degradation, and the exercise of arbitrary political power.
Gordon Rixon, Regis College, University of Toronto