The modern hope of attaining purely rational and objective knowledge has faltered, to the joy of some and worry of others. Philosophy’s attempt to see reality with a god’s-eye view is increasingly viewed as unlikely or undesirable, but what fills the vacuum now that the modern project is in jeopardy? Through a Glass Darkly examines the thought of Richard Rorty and Bernard Lonergan on the possibility of knowledge without a god’s-eye view. Rorty, one of the most influential contemporary thinkers, exposes the utter contingency of all philosophical solutions and intuitions. Without the pretensions of objective knowledge, Rorty hopes for a liberal order rooted in hope and solidarity rather than fruitless longings for truth. Constantly asking us to pay attention to what we actually do when we attempt to know, Lonergan discovers in the fragility of consciousness a modest but invariant foundation for human knowledge. Unlike naive forms of realism, Lonergan’s answer to Rorty’s skepticism reveals Rorty’s incomplete escape from Cartesian Anxiety. Lonergan’s turn to the subject more radically breaks the lure of certainty and reveals Lonergan, not Rorty, as the integral postmodern thinker.
R.J. Snell (Ph.D., Marquette University) is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania.