Dalibor RENIĆ. Ethical and Epistemic Normativity : Lonergan and Virtue Epistemology. Milwaukee: Marquette University, 2012. Pp. 268. ISBN: 0-87462-809-1. Reviewed by Jeremy D. WILKINS, Regis College | University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2Z5 Canada

Originally a dissertation at the Milltown Institute, Dublin, this study aims to relate Lonergan’s cognitional theory and epistemology to contemporary analytic virtue epistemology. Virtue epistemology asks whether becoming a good knower takes the kinds of skills and qualities that would also (in some way) qualify someone as a morally good person. It also asks about the value of knowledge in contrast to beliefs that happen to be true but are held without sufficient reason.

After an initial chapter orienting the reader to salient issues in current analytic discussions, the second chapter introduces two epistemological theories to which R. proposes to relate Lonergan’s. Linda Zagzebski’s ‘virtue responsibilism’ proposes the unity or continuity of intellectual and moral virtue. She is critical of what she regards as an undue preoccupation, in mainstream analytic epistemology, with simple perception and memory. This preoccupation, Zagzebski avers, results in an oversight of the issues involved in more complex (“high-grade”) kinds of knowing, and occludes the extent to which human knowing depends on the acquisition and exercise of praiseworthy character traits like impartiality and a love of truth. Ernest Sosa, whose theory is called ‘virtue reliabilism’, distinguishes between “animal knowledge” and “reflective (or fully human) knowledge.” This distinction has some of the same practical function as Zagzebski’s differentiation of low- and high-grade states of knowledge, and Lonergan draws a distinction that is at least superficially identical. For Sosa, ‘intellectual virtue’ refers to any cognitive faculty whatever—including the senses—conducive to attaining knowledge, and for him, the epistemological question turns on the reliability of those faculties.

The heart of the book is a précis of the main features of Lonergan’s cognitional theory and epistemology, followed by a consideration of the role of freedom and responsibility in Lonergan’s account of the process of coming to know. The order is more expository than pedagogical; R. summarizes Lonergan’s theory but does not attempt to re-enact his pedagogy of self-discovery. The summary is competent and lucid, but I am not sure if a reader new to Lonergan would grasp what he is really up to. R.’s final chapter is a very interesting discussion of the complex relationship between intellectual and moral self-transcendence.

R.’s overall purpose is to persuade that Lonergan’s account shares enough affinities with virtue epistemology for a fruitful conversation to occur, and in that he is successful. Both Lonergan and Zagzebski stress that cognitional process unfolds within a wider dynamic of self-transcendence. Lonergan cleanly breaks with the misleading cognitional paradigm of simple perception, and Zagzebski and Sosa at least recognize some limitations of this paradigm.

On the other hand, these affinities are rather broad, and there are also substantial differences, which R. does not subject to dialectical analysis. As R. points out, Lonergan distinguished methodically between cognitional theory (“What am I doing when I am knowing?”) and epistemology (“Why is doing that knowing?”). For Lonergan, cognitional theory brings to light the centrality of insight into phantasm, and that centrality shapes his account of knowing as understanding correctly. R. does not give sustained attention to the fact that neither Zagzebski nor Sosa have anything like a cognitional theory in Lonergan’s sense, and neither seems very clear about insight into phantasm. Nor does R. make thematic the opposition indicated by the fact that both Zagzebski and Sosa construe knowing as a kind of ‘contact’ with external reality, while Lonergan insisted that insight is nothing at all like ‘contact’. There is a radical underlying conflict here, and eventually it will have to be traced to its roots.

R.’s communicative task is delicate, and he is understandably deferential to the analytic lexicon. To elicit the interest of analytic epistemologists, he wants to suggest how Lonergan can help solve problems they already recognize. Still, their lexicon is often quite different from Lonergan’s, too compact, or downright misleading (e.g., a description of Lonergan as a ‘doxastic voluntarist’ or, again, an ‘essentialist in metaphysics’). And while it may be expedient to initially frame the problem in terms of ‘intellect’ and ‘will’, R. knows that Lonergan was sharply critical of this framing. In Lonergan’s view, a psychology of faculties tends to raise all kinds of inept questions about precisely the issues at hand. He developed an alternative strategy he called ‘intentionality analysis’ which, he thought, broke open the whole problem. I came away wishing R. had probed this shift more deeply.

These difficulties, however, also underscore the merit and the difficulty of R.’s project. His is not the last word, but it is a worthy contribution to an important and overdue conversation.