- Method in Metaphysics: Lonergan and the Future of Analytic Philosophy
We live, according to Jürgen Habermas, in a 'post-metaphysical age.' Much of the analytical tradition in philosophy throughout the twentieth century - whether of the logical positivist variety (Russell) or of the ordinary language variety (the later Wittgenstein) - would be in agreement. It is therefore a significant departure, as Andrew Beards notes in his Method in Metaphysics, when a number of prominent analytical philosophers have begun seriously to address metaphysical issues. Beards demonstrates that there is such a 'post-Wittgenstein' trend as he examines in detail such thinkers as Hilary Putman, Donald Davidson, Michael Dummett, David Lewis, David Armstrong, Derek Parfit, Saul Kripke, C.B. Martin, and David Wiggins, among others. Equally as striking as the existence of the movement is the range of metaphysical claims it generates, ranging from naturalism, to conceptualist essentialism, to varieties of realism. While the creativity, boldness, and careful formulation of these claims may elicit our admiration, their proliferation, Beards argues, shows a lack of rigour, since the claims at crucial junctures are based too frequently on vague appeals to intuition. Beards, as a strong supporter of the direction of this movement, sees the needed precision coming from [End Page 406] the method of Bernard Lonergan, applied to epistemology and metaphysics in his Insight: A Study of Human Understanding.
The burden of the first three chapters of Beards's book is to demonstrate the relevance of method, as Lonergan conceives of it, for the project of analytical philosophy of metaphysics. Beards is at pains to indicate that Lonergan's philosophical method is not a modernist technique, whether Cartesian or neo-Kantian. Rooted in a phenomenology of cognition, while fully accepting the historicity and hermeneutical dimension of human existence, it issues into an epistemology of critical realism that establishes a basic semantics for handling metaphysical problems. The crux of Lonergan's argument for methodological control is the claim that his epistemology and the consequent metaphysics are verified in the data of consciousness. This raises decisive questions about the nature of consciousness and the nature, indeed the very existence, of the self. So in chapter 4 Beards turns to consider the metaphysics of the self, where he shows that Lonergan's distinct notion of consciousness as 'self presence' breaks fundamentally with theory of consciousness as an 'inner look,' thereby validating the philosophical integrity of concept of a self against such skeptics as G.E.M. Anscombe.
Lonergan's critical realism explicates the process, structure, and norms of questioning across all the fields of human inquiry. The norms are ingredients in the process as it spontaneously unfolds through attention to experience, insights, formulations of insights, reflective insights into the criteria for sound judgment, and judgments. Beards fully exploits the nuances of Lonergan's cognitional theory, only hinted at here, to engage in dialogue with prominent analytic philosophers on such metaphysical issues as reference and demonstratives, natural kinds, universals, substances, events, causality, emergence, and social reality. Beards uses Lonergan's method to show the limitations of other approaches. Empiricism, for example, focuses on only part of the process of inquiry (experience), and so does conceptualism (formulation of concepts). Most importantly, according to Beards, Lonergan's critical realism, breaking, as it does, completely from the confrontational theory of truth, outflanks the empiricist and essentialist debate, overcomes the distinction of primary and secondary qualities to reach a fully explanatory notion of substance, and examines causality in a move beyond Hume that allows for both classical and statistical laws and for an emergent universe. These metaphysical distinctions also identify the distinct ontology of social relations without resorting to either nominalism or essentialism.
Beards is fully conversant with Lonergan's philosophy (and its striking break from prevalent assumptions) and thoroughly familiar with leading analytical philosophers. This book brings to analytic philosophy, whose hallmark has always been clarity, a much-needed rigour in dealing with a range of vexing metaphysical issues. For philosophers engaged in Lonergan [End Page 407] studies, the book offers the most systematic application and...