The transcendental method is that approach to philosophical reflection that has as its major concern the human being as primordial subject—that is, it centers its inquiry on those conditions in the knowing subject that make knowledge possible. It is properly theological whenever it provides critical reflection upon a given religious language. Whether or not explicitly theological, however, transcendental method affirms the subject's self-transcendence as knower insofar as the act of judgment has absolute being and truth as its ultimate horizon.
By means of the transcendental method, theology attempts to explicate the central concepts of religious faith that are necessarily affirmed or denied by basic beliefs and understandings. In this sense, the transcendental method fulfills the need for a reflective discipline that is capable of accounting for all human experience and not simply for one or another aspect of experience.
The transcendental method in theology receives its basic formulation from Immanuel kant who sought the "conditions for the possibility" of our existing or understanding anything at all. Thus, it acknowledges Kant's advance over his contemporaries and over classical philosophy in general through his critical analysis of the formal elements of consciousness. Kant's achievement was to shatter the philosophical ideal of "pure" reason and to prepare for significant attempts at making explicit the operations of the human mind. Hegel, for example, elaborated the notion of "dialectic" as a way of extending the Kantian critique to every abstraction. The neo-Kantians, such as Cassirer, Langer, Urban, and Wheelwright, broadened the critique by including cultural and symbolic forms. phenomenologists, such as husserl, heidegger, and ricoeur, continued to present transcendental consciousness as an essential, but not necessarily exclusive, aspect of human existence.
Although it can be found to be implicitly present in most theological procedure, transcendental method enters Catholic theology explicitly with blondel's reinterpretation of Kant and Hegel and through marÉchal's reinterpretation of Aquinas by means of a Kantian analytic. rahner's "formal-fundamental" theology involves a modification of the reality designated in Kant's a priori, which for Rahner is being itself, most fully disclosed in the questioning of being. In the Anglo-American tradition, lonergan does not propose to reformulate the Kantian question as the German theologians do, but instead is interested in developing a transcendental method that provides "a normative pattern of related and recurrent operations yielding cumulative and progressive results." In the Protestant milieu, fichte and schelling, and more recently Whitehead and Hartshorne, are concerned with overcoming Kant's distinction between pure and practical reason.
Bibliography: e. coreth Metaphysics (New York 1968). j. donceel, Natural Theology (New York 1962). j. g. fichte, The Science of Knowledge, tr. a. e. kroeger (London 1889). m. heidegger, Introduction to Metaphysics (New Haven 1958); Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (Bloomington, Ind. 1962). i. kant, Critique of Pure Reason, ed. n. k. smith (New York 1965). b. lonergan, Insight: A Study of Human Understanding (New York 1956); Method in Theology (New York 1972). j. marÉchal, Le Point de depart de la metaphysique (Paris 1927–49). o. muck, The Transcendental Method (New York 1968). k. rahner, Hearers of the Word (New York 1968); Spirit in the World (New York 1968). j. m. somerville, Total Commitment: Blondel's "L'Action" (Cleveland 1968). d. tracy, The Achievement of Bernard Lonergan (New York 1970).