Bernard Lonergan, Theologian and Philosopher. What can we as teachers learn from him?

Bernard Lonergan, born in 1904, is recognised as one of the most significant philosophic thinkers of this century (Newsweek 1970). As a Jesuit and teacher, he spent most of his adult life working on a theory of human understanding and to discover the nature and quality of the process of insight. What sets Lonergan’s work apart from most theology-oriented philosophers, is that although he shares modern philosophy’s concern about the uniqueness of each man, Lonergan believed that the process by which adults come to know and design is the same for all normal adults. Lonergan’s approach rested on the fact that all human beings have minds and our minds function according to a readily recognisable pattern and which is employed without direction. Lonergan believed that the cognitional structure is invariant, in that it remains the same for each person, and it is naturally innate because it happens without effort on the part of the learner. Developing an understanding to learning and knowing.

Essential to Lonergan’s writings was the notion of insight (Lonergan 1957). Insight is that mental (or inward) activity by which the mind grasps the intelligible connections between things that previously had appeared merely disparate (Colleran 2002). An insight can be described as a breakthrough; once it occurs, the whole situation is changed. Before an insight occurring, the matter may seem endlessly perplexing, but once the insight takes place, the occurrence seems simple and unorganised details fall into patterns where none was before. Sometimes referred to as the ‘Ahh!’ experience, insight often occurs as a sudden breakthrough. In insight the mind is obviously at a high pitch of creative activity; yet insight can also be experienced with certain passivity: ‘it struck me’ ‘it dawned on’. Memory is seen to play an important role in many insights: sometimes the insight grasps the relation between present circumstances and existing knowledge.

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Colleran, C.N. (2002) Improving Adults’ Quantitative Problem Solving Skills: Theory, Context and Programme Design, unpublished thesis (PhD), University of Limerick.
Lonergan, B. (1957) Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, 3rd Ed.(ed.), New York: Philosophical Library.
Newsweek (1970) A Great Christian Mind. Newsweek. New York.

 

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