- Lonergan in the World: Self-Appropriation, Otherness, and Justice by James L. Marsh
Self-described radical philosopher and social theorist James L. Marsh, professor emeritus at Fordham University, provides us with something of an intellectual memoir supported by the extensive reasoning of three earlier works spanning a decade: Post-Cartesian Meditations (1988), Critique, Action, and Liberation (1995), and Process, Praxis and Transcendence (1998). Here, as the title announces, Marsh is more explicit about the philosophy and theology that informs his work, that of Catholic philosopher-theologian Bernard Lonergan (1904–84). Not a secret to those who know Marsh, it is nonetheless important to keep this in mind if the volume’s idiosyncrasies are to be appreciated.
Most of the chapters were initially presented at a conference that meets annually at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles to discuss Lonergan’s thought; the volume is actually dedicated to the Lonergan community. Hyperbole lurks in the background of a prefatory disclaimer that Marsh is not a Lonerganian any more than a Habermasian, a Ricoeurian, or a Marxist. Innumerable references advocating a knowing and doing [End Page 546] stamped as Lonerganian suggest as much. Sealing the deal is a powerful rhetorical gesture in the closing chapter that admonishes the “Lonerganian lover of being.” None of this is to say that Marsh is uncritical of Lonergan and the Lonergan community. He frequently notes how other thinkers, especially Marx, can complement Lonergan by drawing out “what is mostly implicit in his work” and by qualifying and criticizing certain claims “such as the inevitability of class.” And while a leftist interpretation of Lonergan is endorsed, principally as it pertains to his views of society and economics, the preponderance of the complement—as one should expect by the book title alone—usually falls to Lonergan.
The cipher of this idiosyncrasy is the notion of self-appropriation, which I agree with Marsh may be Lonergan’s most important. It signals “a decisive, personal act, the intellectual and volitional taking possession of myself.” As is well known, Lonergan systematizes the event in terms of a heuristic, transcendental method that attends to the data of consciousness (one’s experiencing, understanding, judging, and deciding) in an effort to live rationally and self-consciously in the world. This “pearl of great price” throws into sharp relief the distinctively Marshian contribution intended in the prefatory disclaimer but easily missed in the acclamation of all things Lonerganian. Marsh is addressing his context of the postmodern disenchantment with reason and the injustices of late capitalism and state socialism, with which Lonergan deals indirectly, if at all. To risk an oversimplification, Jurgen Habermas supplies Marsh with the philosophical temperament for approaching the specifically postmodern. In Lonergan’s terms, this means that Marsh negotiates the anti-rational streak in postmodern appreciations of alterity in the confines of a systematic, intellectual pattern of experience. Marsh acknowledges an internal link between self-appropriation and alterity, but one is hard-pressed to find him understanding postmodern anti-rationalism less evaluatively, that is, as a bona fide thinking whose artistic aims are incommensurate with, but potentially complementary to, the intellectual pattern of experience. To do this would mean admitting a formal intelligence into the aesthetic pattern, from which Marsh seems to recoil, even in promising propositions such as the paradoxical “the most valuable elements in human life are useless.”
Whereas Habermas explicitly links the self-referential argument that roots intellectual conversion in Lonergan to postmodern critiques of rationality, Marx supplies Marsh with a framework that extends Lonergan’s moral and religious conversions into the political and practical sphere. Based on what Marsh sees as these “radical” conversions in Lonergan and liberation theology’s preferential option for the poor, “political conversion” joins their ranks but as empirical and a posteriori (i.e., not transcendental or a priori) “in response to capitalism as a particular social structure in modernity.” In other words, radical political conversion [End Page 547] relates to these other conversions and the preferential option for the poor “as conclusion to premise, particular to universal, … final ethical, political...