About Bernard Lonergan

Bernard Lonergan is best known for the methodological approaches to philosophy and theology he laid out in his two books: Insight: a Study of Human Understanding1 and Method in Theology2. But he also produced some twenty-five volumes, his Collected Works, among which are two volumes of economic writings: For a New Political Economy3 and Macroeconomic Dynamics: An Essay in Circulation Analysis4. The former text presents Lonergan’s economic essays written in 1942 and 1944. The latter presents his work on economics at Boston College from 1978-1983. Both volumes were published posthumously, thanks to the work of Lonergan’s colleagues and editors.

From 1930 to 1944, spurred on by the economic crisis of the Great Depression, Lonergan in his spare time worked on understanding economic processes; meanwhile, he was either teaching full time or working on his Ph.D. in theology at Gregorian University in Rome. We know from the Lonergan Archives that he read Schumpeter and Hayek, among other economists5, and he himself also mentions Keynes, Wicksell, Kalecki, and Kaldor. In June 1940, Lonergan returned to Canada from his studies in Rome. By 1944, working from his base in Montreal, he had taught theology at the Jesuit seminary of the French-Canadian province, l’Immaculée; defended his thesis; written the two essays on economics, and had three papers based on his thesis on theology published in the Theological Studies journal6.

Lonergan wrote the economics essays to explain how key variables interact and change over time. He studied the following variables: investment and consumption in production and spending, income distribution, relative and money prices, money flows and circuits, governments in the economy, and international trade and currencies. These variables are related via changing circular flows.

How the circular flows operate depends on how people function in their economic activities. Lonergan argued that the failure to understand the changes in the economic system during innovative growth, or to adapt to their requirements, explains the occurrence of booms and slumps in the economy. His economics proposes an ideal, or norm, of equilibrium economic development and growth that offers the potential to avoid business cycle crises.

This website aims to draw attention to Lonergan’s economics through my own work on his economic thought as it relates to other economists’ ideas and to contemporary economic issues.

1Bernard Lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, edited by Frederick E. Crowe and Robert M. Doran, CWE 3 (Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, [1957] 1992) .
2Lonergan, Method in Theology (New York: The Seabury Press, [1979] 1972).
3Lonergan, For a New Political Economy, CWE 21, edited by Philip J. McShane (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998).
4Lonergan, Macroeconomic Dynamics: An Essay in Circulation Analysis, CWE 15, edited by Frederick G. Lawrence, Patrick H. Byrne, and Charles C. Hefling, Jr. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999) .
5Lonergan Research Institute, Toronto, Canada; www.lonergan-lri.ca. See also Eileen de Neeve, Bernard Lonergan’s “Circulation Analysis” and Macrodynamics (Ph.D. dissertation, McGill University, 1990) 46.
6Richard M. Liddy, Transforming Light: Intellectual Conversion in the Early Lonergan (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1993); William A. Mathews, Lonergan’s Quest: A Study of Desire in the Authoring of Insight (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005); Cathleen Going, Pierrot Lambert, Charlotte Tansey, interviewers and editors, Caring About Meaning: Patterns in the Life of Bernard Lonergan (Thomas More Institute Papers, 3405 Atwater Ave. Montreal, Canada H3H 1Y2, 1982).
copyright © 2009 Eileen de Neeve