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  • Lonergan's Quest: A Study of Desire in the Authoring of Insight
  • Gordon A. Rixon
William A. Matthews . Lonergan's Quest: A Study of Desire in the Authoring of Insight. University of Toronto Press. ix, 564. $100.00

The author offers readers a substantial meditation on the life and work of Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan (1904–84). Focusing on the years that culminated in the publication of Insight: A Study of Human Understanding in 1957, Matthews traces the evolution of the intellectual desire that formed Lonergan's personal identity as a [End Page 361] critical thinker and guided the path of his academic project. Rising to the level of the life he examines, Matthews contributes an intellectual biography of interest to trained philosophers, theologians, and Lonergan specialists alike. Academics will glean comprehensive insights into Lonergan's scholarly legacy. Novice readers stand to benefit from the transparency of Matthews's erudition, luminous on every page, but might struggle to appreciate the significance, and weight, of his complete text. For the novice, the ample value of the parts may exceed that of the whole.

The author ably locates the development of Lonergan's thought in the intellectual horizon of the first half of the twentieth century. His account of the defining role of judgment in Lonergan's thought addresses analytic and continental influences on his subject's critical recovery of the Thomist notion grounded in the theologically significant distinction of essence and existence. A well-parsed account of judgment, Matthews observes, opens up a credible discussion of a contemporary epistemology and metaphysics. And by tracing the roots of Lonergan's substantive cognitional theory in his early systematic theology, Matthews invites critical thinkers to reconsider the role they assign theological reflection in their own intellectual horizons.

Matthews brings comprehensive oversight and balanced evaluation to his treatment of his subject. He introduces key notions, follows the contours of their development, and evaluates the outcomes as expressed in the development of a thinker and his thought. He interprets carefully assembled textual data to identify the questions about knowing and its object that first arise in Lonergan's early encounters with mathematics, history, and the natural sciences. His attention to Lonergan's motivating questions allows him to argue that Insight was written from the middle out, a persuasive argument that orders the drafting of the text beginning with chapters 9–13 and offers a hermeneutic pivot for close interpretation of a difficult work laden with many puzzles. Matthews complements Lonergan's reflection that Insight was written from a moving viewpoint about a moving viewpoint with a detailed mapping of the path taken.

For instance, Matthews charts how Lonergan's commitment to the Aristotelian position that insight is always into phantasm forms his early cognitional theory but continues to evolve as he reflects about the emergence of the natural sciences and leads eventually to a revision of his intentionality analysis itself. Images organize and present the data required for inquiry, even when the inquiry is about dynamic realities, including the complex operations of the human mind. Matthews exhibits a transparent compassion for his subject as he recounts how Lonergan corrected his signature contribution of a rigorous cognitional theory to acknowledge the role of images in the 'introspective' investigation of intentional operations and maintained the integrity of his own intellectual desire. [End Page 362]

Matthews broaches the topic of spirituality in Lonergan's life and work with the caution that typifies his generation. Given its organizing theme of desire, the book might benefit from a more liberal discussion of the spiritual formation that both its author and its subject received as Jesuits. Still, the book addresses its reader and its subject with a tangible compassion and respect that evidences the fruits of spiritual formation in action.

The author contributes an unusual book about an extraordinary subject. Readers may be surprised to find their own intellectual desire rekindled and fanned in new directions.

Gordon A. Rixon
Regis College, University of Toronto


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pp. 361-363
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