Authenticity, Self-Transcendence, and the Transcendental Precepts

[This rather brief post is primarily intended to explain some of the terminology that will be used in a series of upcoming posts.]

To be who we really are, to be our true selves, is to be authentic. Bernard Lonergan identifies authenticity as our “deepest need and most prized achievement.”1

We achieve authenticity, Lonergan says, through self-transcendence.2 It is through self-transcendence that we come to know what really is true and what truly is good – as opposed to that which only seems to be true or is only apparently good.

We achieve self-transcendence, and therefore authenticity, Lonergan says, by following what he calls the “transcendental precepts”:

  1. Be attentive
  2. Be intelligent
  3. Be reasonable
  4. Be responsible

It is only by being attentive to our experience, intelligent in understanding that experience, reasonable in judging whether our understanding is correct, and responsible in judging whether something is truly of value, that the human subject transcends his or her self.3

To be unauthentic is easy, but authenticity is hard. Authenticity, Lonergan says, “is never some pure and serene and secure possession. It is ever a withdrawal from unauthenticity, and every successful withdrawal only brings to light the need for still further withdrawals.”4

One would be hard-pressed to find someone who would counsel against the transcendental precepts. Still, we frequently disregard them, and this disregard is what Lonergan calls “alienation.” A doctrine that justifies alienation he calls “ideology.”5

(Alienation and ideology are typically the product of one or another form of bias, a complicated topic that I intend to return to in the near future.)


[1] Method, 254.

[2] Method, 104.

[3] The transcendental precepts are necessary to successfully complete the process by which we come to know what is true and what it is of value. I’ve discussed this process – which Lonergan calls “transcendental method” – before (see “Lonergan’s Three Basic Questions”), so I won’t bother explaining it here.

[4] Method, 110. I would prefer to use the term “inauthentic” rather than “unauthentic,” but for the sake of consistency with quotations from Lonergan, I’ll use his term.

[5] Method, 55.

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Blogger Peg Baker said...

I'm looking forward to upcoming posts on this subject. Thanks for the "prep".

6:42 a.m.  
Blogger crystal said...

I think I'd have trouble with "Be intelligent" :)

He was a Jesuit, wasn't he? I wonder how he integrated his transcendental method with Ignatian spirituality - maybe the emphasis on experience is a connection. Looking forward to more.

1:07 a.m.  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...


He certainly was a Jesuit, yes. I read something that he wrote about Ignatian spirituality years ago, but don't really remember what he said.

5:25 p.m.  

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