Our Phone Number: 202-269-6650       ||        4501 South Dakota Ave NE, Washington, DC 20017

The Lonergan Institute

"for the good under construction"

About Us
Annual Newsletter
The Idea
Board Members
The Living Cosmopolis

Dialogue Partners
Phil McShane
Phyllis Wallbank

Fr. Louis Roy, O.P.
Fr. Giovanni Sala, S.J. 

Dr. Giuseppe Badini

Books Online
Foundations of Philosophy (Deutsch) by Fr. Brian  Cronin 
Transforming Light by Fr. Richard Liddy

Affiliated Sites
Axial Press

Lonergan Links
Seton Hall

Macrodynamic Analysis




preface || intro || 1 ||  2 || 3 || 4 || 5 || 6 || 7 || 8 || 9 || 10 || Epil || Biblio

Foundations of Philosophy


Appointed to teach philosophy in an African Seminary in the early eighties, I first asked my elders and betters for advice on what should be taught. They were singularly unhelpful and most of the advice was in the negative of what not to waste time on. I was acutely aware of the ambiguity of a European teaching philosophy to African students; I could be guilty of cultural imperialism. I asked myself, is there a transcultural philosophy equally relevant to Europeans, Africans, Americans and others? What would it look like? Where was it to be found?

Delving into the actual situation in seminaries I discovered that though the renewal of theological studies had proceeded apace since the Second Vatican Council, philosophical studies continued to languish and flounder in the face of contemporary problems. Training in philosophy tended to be neglected, cut short, substituted for by other degrees, done as a sideline while pursuing more important studies. In some cases the tradition of Scholasticism was continued with the old manuals translated into English, the old subjects still taught but no new answers to contemporary questions. Elsewhere a benevolent eclecticism reigned: pick and choose from the old and the new whatever ideas and concepts are most exciting, inspiring, useful. Another approach was to substitute scholarship for philosophy: teach the history of philosophy in all its details but neglect to teach the students where and how to take a stand for themselves. There was not much to be learned from these approaches, so I turned to investigate contemporary philosophical traditions as a possible source of something worthwhile to teach.

Again disappointment. I came to contemporary philosophers as a liberation from a narrow conceptualist Scholasticism presuming that this would be an enlightenment experience. But when the first thrill wears off, what have they to offer? Reading A. J. Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic I wondered to myself, is this for real, [2] does he really get away with this, has it come to this, is this the best we can do? Surveying the great figures of the contemporary situation such as Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Husserl, you encounter great minds, exciting originality, sincere striving, monumental effort, but no satisfactory synthesis of what it is all about, no foundation for a comprehensive, coherent, integral, transcultural approach to philosophy.

The problem is not in scholarship or ideas about philosophy. It is relatively easy to teach the history of philosophy; there is little disagreement about what the individual great philosophers actually taught and wrote about; there is a vast amount of good literature, original critical texts, historical surveys, histories of philosophy available. The real problem is in discriminating between these positions. How do we take a stand? How does a teacher help the student to establish his own position? What is the role of philosophy vis-a-vis the particular sciences? Is philosophy redundant, or superior to the sciences, or subservient to them? What are the foundations of philosophy, its beginning, middle and end?

For me the real liberation was the discovery of the philosophical writings of Bernard Lonergan, especially Insight, with which I already had a nodding acquaintance. I started tentatively to translate the broad lines of his approach into teaching practice. My experience over the last fifteen years teaching convinces me that this points the way to a transformation of the teaching of philosophy while still preserving the best of the Aristotelian/Thomist position. The reaction of students has been encouraging. From experience I learned that it is possible to teach philosophy along the lines of self-appropriation; philosophy is not just learning off correct answers to outdated questions; it is discovering for oneself the power and uniqueness of the human intellect and applying that to the great questions of philosophy. Philosophy is intercultural because it is founded on the basic structure of the human mind. It is integral because it must and does include everything. Philosophy relates to the particular sciences in a manner of complementarity not of opposition. Within your own mind you discover the norms and sanctions to distinguish what is true from what is false. [3]

The following text was first conceived as a project for a Lonergan Fellowship at Boston College (1991/92), then extended through a further five years of teaching practice and another Fellowship (1997/98). My inspiration was a desire to make this approach available to more students and teachers. Many are familiar with Lonergan's work but find it difficult to understand and even more so to teach. My conviction is that his thinking provides an integral, transcultural framework to appreciate both our own tradition and the innovations of contemporary thought. The bulk of the text was put together during the Fellowships but reflecting and appropriating my teaching experience. It has been extremely difficult to simplify and communicate without distortion or fatal compromises. After every year of teaching I want to revise, add or subtract material, a process that could go on forever and still the text would not be perfect. At some stage you have to say this is it. In that spirit I offer the text hoping that it will facilitate the communication and dissemination of a set of fundamental ideas which are of enormous consequence for our Church and our culture.

My thanks to the Lonergan specialists of Boston College for their guidance and encouragement over the years. Special thanks to John Boyd Turner, Mariellen Howell, and Michael Shute for textual improvements and suggestions.

November 1998

(Note about the Author. Brian Cronin is an Irish Spiritan Missionary who has worked in East Africa since 1972. After pastoral work in Nairobi he was appointed to teach philosophy in Kibosho, a diocesan Major Seminary in Tanzania. Since doing doctoral studies in Boston College he has been teaching at Spiritan Missionary Seminary, P.O. Box 2682, Arusha, Tanzania.) [4]


Copyright © 1997-2007 The Lonergan Institute for 'the Good Under Construction.' All rights reserved. All material on this site is copyrighted unless otherwise specified..