Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Which "critical realism"?

"Critical realism" is a pernicious term. If one types it into that grand repository of all human knowledge--Wikipedia--one meets a disambiguation page offering you three possible alternatives: critical realism (philosophy of perception); critical realism (philosophy of the social sciences); theological critical realism. Of these, the third is the closest to that "critical realism" associated with Bernard Lonergan, Ben F. Meyer, and N.T. Wright, in fact mentioning all three. The other two critical realisms have no relationship whatsoever with Lonergan et. al.

Why this ambiguity? Part of the problem is that "critical realism" is in fact a relatively infrequent term in Lonergan, certainly nowhere near as frequent as it is in Meyer. In fact, it is sufficiently infrequent that if I were operating in a vacuum I would probably not employ the term to describe Lonerganian hermeneutics. However, due to Meyer and more subsequently Wright, "critical realism" has in New Testament studies become virtually synonymous with "Lonergan." So, I retain the term.

Lonergan's critical realism is distinct from the other aforementioned "critical realisms" in at least this one fundamental respect: he alone is working out of the Thomistic tradition. Lonergan wrote his dissertation on Aquinas, and his entire project is in many ways an attempt to open Thomistic thought up to the new sorts of questions and thinking necessitated by the emergence of historical thinking in the 19th century. He went on record more than once as saying that his project was to introduce historical thinking into Catholic thought. As such his critical realism is precisely a Thomistic critical realism. It is this dual interest in the broader Christian tradition (including the New Testament) on the one hand and the consequences of historical thinking on the other that makes Lonergan's hermeneutical work of potential value for the contemporary New Testament scholar.

I will have more to say on the above matters, and others besides, in posts to come.

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