Loyola University Chicago

Transformative Education

What Are the Four Processes of Knowing?


Transformative education is not simply a content; it is also a method designed to foster continual growth in the hearts, minds, and will of the students. This method bears no resemblance to an older approach that stressed dissemination where instructors merely relay or convey information. Rather, Ignatian pedagogy aims at assisting learners to undergo a series of internal transformations in how they go about understanding themselves vis-á-vis their own inclinations, passions, biases, and spontaneous reactions. Hence, the need arises to learn how to make one's own internal operations more discerning.

The early Jesuits struggled to describe this transformative process in the Ratio Studiorum and, over the years, have done so in different ways. The accounts may vary, but there are certain constants in the Jesuit "way of proceeding." A cognitional way of understanding this Ignatian methodology is to realize that the antidote to self-immersion is self-transcendence. And at least one way of proceeding out of the first condition and into the second is to become more attentive to the different operations one uses, though usually inadvertently, in coming to an answer to a question or to a choice.

In short, an Ignatian pedagogy is one in which the student is challenged to appropriate his or her own process of knowing. The first step in any process of knowing is experience, and the advice of Ignatius would be to become attentive to what one is experiencing, either the experience going on in oneself or in the reality around one. The second step in this process of knowing involves reflecting back on one's experience and on what has been triggered by way of questions that emerged from such experience. The goal is always to grow in understanding about the questions one is seeking to answer. One is going to have to come to some conclusion about the matter being mulled, including a conclusion about whether an insight that came from one's understanding holds up under further scrutiny. The third step in this process of knowing is judgment: "yes, this is so" or "no, this is not so" or "I do not know yet what to think." Finally, the fourth step in the process of knowing seeks to determine what this judgment might call for by way of choice or action and commitment.

The value of sorting out the different moments in the process of knowing is that this makes self-knowledge and self-transcendence more likely. It also does justice to one's subjectivity while also making objectivity more likely. Another way of putting this is in the language of conversion. Ideally, there are different kinds of conversion latent in a greater advertence to these operations of consciousness: intellectual, moral, and religious. In the first of these, one lets oneself be informed by reality; in the second, one moves from acting on personal wants and satisfying one's own needs to acting on values and making responsible choices. Religious conversion consists in being moved in one's thinking and choosing by love. Any one of these three conversions or transformations can come first with the other two following.


Jesuit education is well known for its clarity in matters of "means" and "ends." In great part, this insight flows directly from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola in which he begins with a clear presentation of the purpose for which all people are called into existence ("to praise, reverence, and serve God") and then, based on that conviction, he explains how "all other things" are valuable in relation to how they foster or inhibit one's essential purpose.

With this vision of transformative education before us, it is now imperative to reflect on the principal mediations for all this to occur. Many of the desired transformations happen in the classroom. But others take place in service-placements around the city, through co-curricular activities on campus, or in the library, chapel, or residence hall. The transformative moments and contexts will vary from student to student. What matters mostis that students encounter within every component of the University community a spirit of transformation and a culture of responsibility.