WHITEHEAD'S REAL WORLD
D. R. Khashaba
I began this paper as an essay on Whitehead's philosophy, but I found that I was interspersing much, maybe too much, of my own thought. I do not apologize for that. From my first book onwards I have always stated that in writing about any philosopher I do not intend or pretend to expound that philosopher's thought, but to philosophize in conversing with the particular philosopher. Whitehead's philosophy is there in his beautifully exhilarating and inspiring books. What follows is an interchange of thought with Whitehead.
[Page numbers for works of Whitehead cited below refer to the following editions: The Aims of Education and Other Essays, Ernest Benn Limited, London, seventh impression, 1970; Science and the Modern World, Pelican, 1938; Religion in the Making, Fordham University Press, New York, Third Printing 2001; Process and Reality, corrected edition edited by David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne, The Free Press, New York, 1978, Paperback Edition 1985; Adventures of Ideas, Pelican 1942; Modes of Thought, The Free Press, New York, Paperback Edition 1968; Essays in Science and Philosophy, Rider and Company, London, 1948.]
"Canst thou by searching find out God?" (Job 11:7). Neither can a philosopher by searching arrive at what she or he seeks. No philosopher has ever reached his system by searching. An original philosopher conceives and gives birth to her or his baby philosophy miraculously out of their inner being early in their life and then work out the reasonings and the arguments, even when things do not seemingly take that exact course. Whitehead apparently meandered over wide and widely distanced regions long before he began expounding his philosophy in his mature philosophical works, but I suppose that the philosophy of process and of organism was early there, fostered by the pious upbringing of his boyhood and nourished by the poetry of the Romantics that I have no doubt he loved in that tender age. With Wordsworth and Shelley he saw the world as a throbbing, living Being. He could not but hate it when the Mathematics he was enamoured with and the Physics that enchanted him pictured the world as a set of lifeless abstractions. His serious philosophical works had to begin with Science and the Modern World that disclosed the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness. He had to show that mathematics and science, for all their brilliance, all their charm and beauty, all their service to civilization, were superficial, simplistic, and basically flawed. Hence the doctrine of the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness was the foundation-stone of Whitehead's 'speculative philosophy'. Even before he began working on the philosophical works in his late period, we can clearly detect in the early mathematical and scientific writings the fundamental notions of the unity of nature, the inter-relatedness of all things, and the seminal ideas of the 'event' and of 'duration'.
Apart from the founders of religions, such as Zarathustra and the Buddha, and great mystics, such as Giordano Bruno, and next to Socrates and Spinoza, I think it is in Whitehead that we find a philosopher whose life and thought formed an integral whole.
Alfred North Whitehead was born in 1861, February 15. "The family, grandfather, father, uncles, brothers engaged in activities concerned with education, religion and Local Administration." His grandfather Thomas Whitehead, "at the age of twenty-one, became head of a private school" to which his father, Alfred Whitehead, "succeeded at the correspondingly early age of twenty-five, in the year 1852." Alfred Whitehead was ordained as a clergyman of the Anglican Church about 1860 and was appointed Vicar of St. Peters Parish in 1866 or 1867. ("Autobiographical Notes" in Essays in Science and Philosophy, published posthumously in 1948, p.7.)
In December 1890 he married Evelyn Willoughby Wade. It was a happy marriage, a very happy marriage. He says, "The effect of my wife upon my outlook on the world has been so fundamental that it must be mentioned as an essential factor in my philosophic output. ... Her vivid life has taught me that beauty, moral and aesthetic, is the aim of existence; and that kindness, and love, and artistic satisfaction are among its modes of attainment." They had three children, born between 1891 and 1898. "They all served in the First World War: our eldest son throughout its whole extent, in France, in East Africa, and in England; our daughter in the Foreign Office in England and Paris; our youngest boy served in the Air Force: his plane was shot down in France with fatal results, in March, 1918" (p.11).
Whitehead began as a mathematician. He studied mathematics and taught mathematics. His first published book was A Treatise on Universal Algebra (1898). He intended to continue that work in a second volume and only gave that up when he engaged with Bertrand Russell on their collaborative masterpiece, Principia Mathematica, 1910-13. He then published the short Introduction to Mathematics, 1911. The world of mathematics is a world of abstractions, elegant, beautiful, intriguing; and though those abstractions may have a life of their own, they are cut off from the full-blooded vibrant life of common humanity. In Modes of Thought (p.93) Whitehead says: "The discovery of mathematics, like all discoveries, both advanced human understanding, and also produced novel modes of error. Its error was the introduction of the doctrine of form, devoid of life and motion." Russell could live in two parallel worlds, intellectually in the world of mathematics and of his kind of bloodless analytic philosophy and practically in the tumultuous world of the political and social problems that plague suffering humanity. For Russell those two worlds could remain separate with the separateness of Euclidean parallel lines. But not so for Whitehead. Whitehead, it seems, felt the need to engage intellectually in the actual concrete world we live our daily life in. He turned to physics, then to biology. Those sciences too deal with merely theoretical representations of the living world. It was Whitehead's interest in education - an interest inherited from his father and grandfather - that opened up the secret of living reality to him. In The Aims of Education he put his hand on the heart-throb of the actual world and in Religion in the Making he entered into the very soul of living reality.
Although The Aims of Education was first published as a book in 1929, the title essay was delivered in 1916 as Whitehead's Presidential address to the Mathematical Association of England. It provides the best point of entrance into the thought of Whitehead: it reveals his basic concerns and adumbrates many of the notions and principles that were developed in his later philosophical works.
When I started working on this essay it struck me as odd that I had not included The Aims of Education in my re-reading of Whitehead's philosophical works while preparing my latest book, Quest of Reality (2013). The Aims of Education is clearly the work of a gifted teacher who taught with love, rich in insight and full of practical wisdom, but what impressed me most when I first read it sixty years ago, as I clearly recall, was the emphasis Whitehead lays on the notion of rhythm. Perhaps it was thanks to his involvement in education that Whitehead saw there was rhythm in all life and was convinced that Nature, the World, is a single living organism, is indeed the animated World of Plato's Timaeus.
In the opening sentence of The Aims of Education we have the word 'activity': "Culture is activity of thought, and receptiveness to beauty and humane feeling." Culture is not knowledge, however vast, comprehensive, advanced and sophisticated. It is activity of thought. Activity is the mark of life. Later on, in Science and the Modern World and later works, we see that all that the natural sciences give us are abstractions, symbols, fictions, and when we probe beneath or beyond the abstractions we find not a thing - not a fixed, abiding thing - but activity; and not an active thing, but sheer activity. Perhaps Whitehead does not bring that out as starkly as I do, but I find it implicit in all of Whitehead's metaphysical thought, and towards the end of this essay I show, as I have already done in Quest of Reality, where I think Whitehead erred by stopping short.
In Chapter II Whitehead asserts that life is essentially periodic and speaks of the rhythmic character of growth. He delineates the educational process - which should be a process of intellectual progress - as consisting of cyclic processes and distinguishes in each cycle three stages which, for the purpose in hand, he terms "the stage of romance, the stage of precision, and the stage of generalisation". In the closing paragraph of the chapter he admonishes us "not to exaggerate into sharpness the distinction between the three stages of a cycle". We are reminded that all three stages, "romance, precision, generalisation are all present throughout". Thus also in the closing paragraph of Chapter I Whitehead equates the reverence inculcated by religious education with the perception "that the present holds within itself the complete sum of existence, backwards and forwards, that whole amplitude of time, which is eternity". This clearly adumbrates the philosophy of organism that was to come into full flower in Whitehead's metaphysical works. The 'parts' of an organism may be distinguishable but are never separable. When the members of an organic whole are taken apart they are no longer what they were in the organic whole. Do we find here the answer to those critics who charge Whitehead, or any profound metaphysician, with being obscure and unintelligible? Descartes's "clear and distinct ideas" are not for the metaphysician, any more than they are for the poet, for they are out of character with living reality. The obscurity and imprecision of metaphysical notions are necessary for insight into unfathomable and ineffable reality and the revelation of an original vision demands an original language. That is why minds nurtured in the empirical-analytical tradition find it difficult to be open to metaphysical thinking.
The notion of duration which is a fundamental element in Whitehead's final metaphysical vision is clearly indicated in "The Anatomy of Some Scientific Ideas": "If it be admitted ... that we live in durations and not in instants, namely that the present occupies a stretch of time, the distinction between memory and immediate presentation cannot be quite fundamental; for always we have with us the fading present as it becomes the immediate past" (pp.189-90).
Our raw experience, the 'untreated' sensations that are impressed on Locke's tabula rasa, are a nebulous bulk. We create fictions to turn that nebulous bulk into distinct things. Our science, from the most primitive to the most highly sophisticated, refines and develops those fictions, but they remain fictions. Whitehead, continuing the work of Plato, tries to shake us out of our indolent acquiescence in that fictional world and make us wake up to an awareness of what is real. Bergson also worked in that direction. But that was asking too much of most of our erudite philosophers and scientists. They found Whitehead obscure or even unintelligible. They preferred to neglect him and go on living in their neat, clear, functional world of well-tried fictions.
The metaphysical stage of Whitehead's work began when, in 1924, at the ripe age of sixty-three, he was invited to become professor of philosophy at Harvard. In the course of 13 years, from 1925 to 1938, he published the half-dozen original works expounding his philosophy of organism.
SCIENCE AND THE MODERN WORLD
I think I said somewhere in Quest of Reality that Whitehead's philosophy developed slowly, but it seems that by the time he came to give the lectures that constitute the main body of Science and the Modern World he had completely formulated the outline and the basics of his philosophy of organism and process, or it may be that it was in the course of preparing those lectures that he worked out his metaphysical philosophy. After all, there was only the relatively short period of 22 years between those Lowell Lectures and the time when the great man closed his eyes for the last time. Of course, as I suggested above, his fundamental outlook must have been formed early in youth and a number of the basic concepts of his mature philosophy can be found clearly defined in his early works.
Whitehead introduces his pivotal notion of organism in the context of a discussion of quantum theory. I do not know how the quantum theory in the second decade of the twenty-first century stands to what it was in the third decade of the twentieth century, but that is nothing to us here as I am not writing about physics but about how Whitehead presented his notion of organism. The quantum theory assigned to electrons a discontinuous existence in space. This suggests that "we have to revise all our notions of the ultimate character of material existence." Further on Whitehead writes: "A steadily sounding note is explained as the outcome of vibrations in the air: a steady colour is explained as the outcome of vibrations in ether. If we explain the steady endurance of matter on the same principle, we shall conceive each primordial element as a vibratory ebb and flow of an underlying energy, or activity" (Science and the Modern World, Chapter II, p.50). If "the ultimate elements of matter are in their essence vibratory" then, "apart from being a periodic system, such an element would have no existence. ... The field is now open for the introduction of some new doctrine of organism which may take the place of the materialism with which, since the seventeenth century, science has saddled philosophy" (p.51). We may say that this marks the birth of Whitehead's formal philosophy of organism. As I said before, his basic outlook, his Weltanschauung, must have been formed early under the influence of his Christian upbringing and of the poetry of the Romantics. It seems that it was only later that Whitehead found support for his position in Plato's view of dunamis as the mark of what is real.
Early in Science and the Modern World Whitehead introduces the notion of the 'immediate occasion'. The immediate occasion as the immediate presentation of our experience is the only thing of which we have immediate and certain cognizance. He also calls it an event to emphasize that it is not a static thing in space but is a thing in process in space-time. And that is what Whitehead calls concrete reality. "We must start with the event as the ultimate unit of natural occurrence" (p.125). The event is what is real (in Whitehead's sense of the word). And the event is organism in process, not an organism in process, but process on the plane of organic integrity. Whitehead introduces the notion 'prehension' and works with it for a while but at one point (p.90) says we may abandon it in favour of the term 'event'. (In Process and Reality Part III is titled "The Theory of Prehensions" but the term mostly used throughout is 'feeling/s'.) For Whitehead every event is a value in itself. I take this as equivalent to what I think I sometime expressed by saying that every determination is an affirmation.
The central message of Science and the Modern World is the disclosure of the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness. Whitehead first introduces this principle in Chapter III. The Ionian thinkers initiated the philosophical endeavour by posing the question: What is the world made of? Whitehead says that the answer given by the seventeenth century science "was that the world is a succession of instantaneous configurations of matter - or of material" (p.65). This was "the orthodox creed of physical science. ... It worked. ... But the difficulties of this theory of materialistic mechanism very soon became apparent" (p.66).
"This simple location of instantaneous material configurations is what Bergson has protested against." After commenting on points of agreement and points of disagreement between his view and Bergson's, Whitehead continues, "There is an error ... the accidental error of mistaking the abstract for the concrete. It is an example of what I will call the 'Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness'" (p.66). The 'concrete' that physicists mistakenly trade for their bloodless abstractions, that we encounter all the time in our living experience, and that is for Whitehead what is real, is found in a spatio-temporal unity that Whitehead terms an 'event' or an 'immediate occasion'. For "nature is a structure of evolving processes. The reality is the process" (p.90). Here we have in embryo the cosmology that Whitehead was to develop in Process and Reality. (My disjointed quotations from Whitehead's text inevitably give a distorted idea of this central principle of his. The reader should refer to Chapter III and at least read pages 65-66 continuously, or better still read from p.65 to the end of the chapter.)
Whitehead quotes a passage from Francis Bacon. In Quest of Reality I referred to this passage more than once but I only quoted the first sentence. But the passage is well worth quoting in full. I reproduce it below as given by Whitehead:
"It is certain that all bodies whatsoever, though they have no sense, yet they have perception: for when one body is applied to another, there is a kind of election to embrace that which is agreeable, and to exclude or expel that which is ingrate; and whether the body is alterant or altered, evermore a perception precedeth operation; for else all bodies would be alike one to another. And sometimes this perception, in some kind of bodies, is far more subtile than sense; so that sense is but a dull thing in comparison of it: we see a weatherglass will find the least difference of the weather in heat or cold, when we find it not. And this perception is sometimes at a distance, as well as upon the touch; as when the loadstone draweth iron; or flame naphtha of Babylon, a great distance off. It is therefore a subject of a very noble enquiry, to enquire of the more subtile perceptions; for it is another key to open nature, as well as the sense; and sometimes better. And besides, it is a principal means of natural divination; for that which in these perceptions appeareth early, in the great effects cometh long after." (Francis Bacon, as quoted by Whitehead on pp.55-6.)
Whitehead comments: "I believe Bacon's line of thought to have expressed a more fundamental truth than do the materialistic concepts which were then [in the seventeenth century] being shaped as adequate for physics. We are now so used to the materialistic way of looking at things ... that it is with some difficulty that we understand the possibility of another mode of approach to the problem of nature" (p.56). Unfortunately, the "materialistic way of looking at things" seems to have now a greater hold on our philosophers than it did in Whitehead's day.
Prehension is the feeling of an actual occasion for other actual occasions. Whitehead uses the word 'feeling' to convey the same idea. That every actual occasion should be open to all actual occasions is only what is to be expected once we conceive the world as an organism. On page 86 Whitehead explains his usage of the term 'prehension' thus: "I will use the word 'prehension' for uncognitive apprehension: by this I mean apprehension which may or may not be cognitive." But on page 90 he says, "Now that we have cleared space and time from the taint of simple location, we may partially abandon the awkward term 'prehension'". He now finds the word 'event' more appropriate to designate any of those spatio-temporal unities which are the concrete realities. "Accordingly, it may be used instead of the term 'prehension' as meaning the thing prehended." Nevertheless, Whitehead does not abandon the term 'prehension'; it features prominently in Process and Reality and in Adventures of Ideas.
According to Whitehead, a thing prehends whatever it acts upon and whatever acts upon it. Newton confessed that how one body acted on another body remained a mystery to him as it necessarily must remain to every scientist who refuses to fool herself or himself into thinking that a detailed account of how a thing comes about explains the thing. The doctrine of prehensions is a philosophical fiction as good as but no better than Thales's affirmation that all things are full of gods. Whitehead with all his profound metaphysical insight remained too much of a mathematician and too much of a scientist to bid farewell to the dream of reaching a 'true' account of the world. Were he only a mathematician/scientist he would have endorsed Newton's confession; were he only a metaphysician he would have said with Plato that he was only giving us a 'likely tale'. It is a pity that the profoundest philosopher of the twentieth century misunderstood both Plato, whom he lauded, and Kant, whom he decried.
Whitehead closes Chapter IV with this sentence: "The concept of the order of nature is bound up with the concept of nature as the locus of organisms in process of development," This sums up Whitehead's cosmology.
The detailed analyses and constructions in pp.126-129 illustrate my view that all metaphysical theorization is imaginative formulation of ideas, giving us intelligible visions, without any right to claim being true representations of objective actuality. When they make such a claim they can readily be contradicted and 'refuted'. This is the source of the endless feuds among philosophers that gave a bad name to philosophy.
By making metaphysics continuous with science Whitehead constricts his metaphysics within the confines of cosmology and in doing this disregards both the vital insight of Socrates into the radical difference between science and philosophy and the, to me, incontrovertible Kantian delimitation of the spheres of empirical investigation and that of pure reason. To me, as to Socrates, Plato, and Kant, there is no 'reality' in phenomenal things. No analysis of sources and types of experience can ever yield "proof of such a reality and of its nature". His failure to see this was Whitehead's gravest fault and it is at this point that I see my philosophy going beyond Whitehead. This is a point I return to more than once in what follows.
Whitehead says, "It seems possible that there may be physical laws expressing the modification of the ultimate basic organisms when they form part of higher organisms with adequate compactness of pattern" ( p.175). I do not feel comfortable with the first phrase which suggests that in nature there are or there may be laws waiting for us to discover them. It is evident that nature does not behave haphazardly; the ways of nature have their reason which we can never know with the immediacy with which we know our own purposive acts. But we create laws which happen to fit the ways of nature - save the appearances as the Greeks said - in certain circumstances and at a certain time or times. We have no right to assume that these laws ever fit to perfection or that they will always fit future happenings. There Hume was right. And what I say agrees with Kant's view. And that is why the scientists' implicit faith in absolute determinism is basically flawed. Whitehead believes we can approximate perfect laws. In this he shares the error of Leibniz and of Spinoza. (For a fuller discussion see the section "Whitehead on Determinism and Free Will" below.)
When articulating details of his philosophy of organism Whitehead gives us metaphysical myth of the highest calibre. I give below one paragraph as a sample. It is a pity that Whitehead believed he was elaborating a properly scientific cosmology:
"The aboriginal data in terms of which the pattern weaves itself are the aspects of shapes, of sense-objects, and of other eternal objects whose self-identity is not dependent on the flux of things. Wherever such objects have ingression into the general flux, they interpret events, each to the other. They are here in the perceiver; but, as perceived by him, they convey for him something of the total flux which is beyond himself. The subject-object relation takes its origin in the double role of these eternal objects. They are modifications of the subject, but only in their character of conveying aspects of other subjects in the community of the universe. Thus no individual subject can have independent reality, since it is a prehension of limited aspects of subjects other than itself." (p.177.)
Whitehead after giving an account of his organic conception of the world in terms of psychology and physiology says that it is equally possible to arrive at this conception from the fundamental notions of physics, and that by reason of his own studies in mathematics and mathematical physics he had in fact arrived at his convictions in this way. (p.178.) Mainstream mathematical physicists are content with their abstractions and equations. Whitehead personifies the abstractions and equations. This is mythologizing. The mathematical physicists ignore his mythologizing as it is nothing to them. The philosophers find his mythology idiotic. They do not realize that that is true of all metaphysics since all metaphysics is essentially mythology.
Science and the Modern World ends with the three chapters "God", "Religion and Science", and "Requisites for Social Progress". I take up the theme "God" later in this essay. We find Whitehead's affirmation of spirituality not in his concept of God but in his concept of religion. For Whitehead religion is the communion of a person with her or his inner reality. It is a pity that Whitehead's deep mystic awareness of that inner reality remains outside Whitehead's metaphysics.
The chapter on "Religion and Science" was primarily an emotional plea for peace between two factions to both of which he had an emotional attachment. But Whitehead would not be Whitehead if he did not turn the emotional plea into an occasion for insightful remarks on the proper conduct of thought. The closing pages of the chapter are a projection of what Whitehead was to present in the book that followed, Religion in the making. In fact, the four Lowell Lectures contained in the book Religion in the Making were delivered the year following that in which the lectures forming the main substance of Science and the Modern World were given, so naturally there is continuity even though Whitehead states in the preface that the two books are independent.
I sum up the problem of science and religion thus: The term religion is used in two distinct and incompatible senses. (1) Religion as primitive cosmology and eschatology is completely opposed to science and is necessarily and terminally demolished by science. (2) Religion as what a person does with her or his solitariness - to adopt Whitehead's apt definition - has nothing to do with science. It is a person's internal life and is purely subjective lying completely beyond the jurisdiction of objective science.
Integrity of thought is the hallmark of a genuine philosopher. Whitehead rounds up Science and the Modern World with the chapter on "Requisites for Social Progress". I have repeatedly insisted that philosophy proper cannot contribute directly to the solution of the practical problems of human life. Whitehead in the chapter "Requisites for Social Progress" says things of ripe wisdom, things our ailing humanity has great need to heed. It is the wisdom of a mind matured and refined by philosophical reflection. But this wisdom is not derived from philosophical principles, nor is it arrived at by philosophical reasoning. Hence, I reiterate what I have often affirmed: philosophy works on the individual; at its best it gives us a mature human mind, alive to life and to other human lives, alert and ready to fight prejudice, and to question all presuppositions and probe all possibilities, but not provided with any ready-made scheme of thought; and this is not a defect but the greatest merit of all. And philosophy is not alone in working these good effects on the human individual. Good literature and good art and good society work to the same end.
RELIGION IN THE MAKING
In Religion in the Making Whitehead follows the longing of the human soul expressing its "devotion to something afar from the sphere of our sorrow". That might be the religion of a Socrates, of a Hallaj, of an Eckhart, of a Giordano Bruno. Unfortunately it is recognized neither by the followers of institutional religions nor by the descendants of the Giants of Plato's allegory, our modern naturalists and atheists. It would be too much to hope that a change of phrase may win over the Giants, still I wish we could avoid using the term 'religion' in philosophical discussion. But it is hard to find a satisfactory alternative. I have tried speaking of 'spirituality' but still, the religionists are not content with it and the others find it an empty sound.
In Religion in the Making religion is essentially an inward thing. Although Whitehead starts by speaking of justification "for belief in doctrines of religion", we soon find the justification with which he is concerned is purely an internal thing. "Religion is force of belief cleansing the inward parts. For this reason the primary religious virtue is sincerity, a penetrating sincerity" (p.15). This is confirmed by his oft-repeated dictum: "Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness." When he defines religion "on its doctrinal side" as "a system of general truths", that is because he intends to deal with the human phenomenon of religion historically. He explicitly states: "Collective enthusiasms, revivals, institutions, churches, rituals, bibles, codes of behavior, are the trappings of religion, its passing forms" (p.17). But I do not want to comment extensively on this remarkable book, so rich in pregnant thought that it is impossible to do it justice within the limits of this essay. I will only point out points relevant to my theme, Whitehead's concept of reality.
Whitehead seeks some direct intuition into the ultimate character of the universe (p.59), but wants to ground such an intuition in reason, since "reason is the safeguard of the objectivity of religion" (p.64). An appeal to an intuition "merely experienced in exceptional moments" does not have "general evidential force" (p.65). But he finds that an intuition is capable of being universalized. "The universalization of what is discerned in a particular instance is the appeal to a general character inherent in the nature of things" (p.67). Apparently this is for Whitehead the same as the intuition of an arithmetical 'truth'. I do not agree with Whitehead's view that universalization discloses "a general character inherent in the nature of things". This is related to Whitehead's conception of philosophy as cosmology. In my philosophy such intuitions (I prefer to call them insights) do not discover traits inherent in things but give us patterns that, applied to things, infuse meaning into things. This is the essence of Plato's doctrine of forms and it is what is implied in Kant's assertion that '5+7=12' is not an analytical statement but a synthetic a priori judgment.
At this point there follows a paragraph of such beauty that I do not have the heart to disfigure it. I quote Whitehead's own words:
"This intuition is not the discernment of a form of words, but of a type of character. It is characteristic of the learned mind to exalt words. Yet mothers can ponder many things in their hearts which their lips cannot express. These many things, which are thus known, constitute the ultimate religious evidence, beyond which there is no appeal" (p.67).
The "ultimate religious evidence, beyond which there is no appeal" is the experience known to all mystics and that is purely a subjective state. It does not discover any objective factuality but reveals the individual person's inner reality.
In Section V of Lecture III Whitehead gives a perfect expression of the notion of creativity which I find in complete agreement with the fundamental principle of my philosophy. Unfortunately, in Whitehead's metaphysical analyses this does not come out so clearly:
"Thus the epochal occasion has two sides. On one side it is a mode of creativity bringing together the universe. This side is the occasion as the cause of itself, its own creative act. ...
"On the other side, the occasion is the creature. The creature is that one emergent fact. This fact is the self-value of the creative act. But there are not two actual entities, the creativity and the creature. There is only one entity which is the self-creating creature" (pp.101-2).
This agrees explicitly with things I have written. But there is a difference. Whitehead is giving an account of an aspect of the cosmos. I give expression to the act as experienced in the creativity of intelligent humanity. I do not claim to say anything of the actual objective world.
Whitehead speaks of "a physical occasion of blind perceptivity". This of course follows from Whitehead's doctrine of prehension, but to me it is unintelligible. I say that I cannot think of any being, any existence, devoid of intelligence, but I insist that I cannot conceive in what sense or in what way 'inanimate' things are endowed with mind. All our objective knowledge is of phenomena; I know only one noumenon, my inner reality, and by empathy I feel that other persons are noumena - also, in a way, other living things or at any rate the higher animals.
The upshot of Section V of Lecture III, "Value and the Purpose of God", is that Whitehead accepts a form of the concept of God as immanent. But as I said above, I deal with the concept of God in a special section below.
"Science", says Whitehead, "suggests a cosmology; and whatever suggests a cosmology, suggests a religion" (p.141). This is what I have been harping on for many years. Our ideas give us the world we live in and the kind of life we live. Where I differ with Whitehead is that whereas Whitehead believes that we somehow 'find' these ideas which he thus imbues with some objectivity, I hold that we create these ideas for which we cannot claim any objectivity. We live in dreams produced by the human mind and these dreams are for us the reality, the only reality, and all the reality, that we ever know. All else is transient shadow.
In the closing lecture Whitehead returns - if only in passing - to criticizing the paltry cosmology produced by modern science with its life-negating religion that today, much more than in Whitehead's day, is leading humanity to its final destruction.
Whitehead says that "we know more than can be formulated in one finite systematized scheme of abstractions" (p.143), and in more than one place stresses that no formulation of dogma is final. This agrees with my insistence that our unfathomable, ineffable, inner reality cannot be contained in any determinate formulation of thought.
In Chapter X of Part II of Process and Reality Whitehead says: "The best rendering of integral experience, expressing its general form divested of irrelevant details, is often to be found in the utterances of religious aspiration. One of the reasons of the thinness of so much modern metaphysics is its neglect of this wealth of expression of ultimate feeling" (p.208). Whitehead wanted to wed our insight into our inner reality with the objectivity of scientific knowledge. This is a vain dream. The fault of our scientists is not that they fail to give expression to inner reality but that they think the outer actuality is all there is, and thus obliterate our inner reality.
In Adventures of Ideas Whitehead says that "religion is concerned with our reactions of purpose and emotion due to our personal measure of intuition into the ultimate mystery of the universe" (p.157). But what is the source or the nature of these intuitions? Are they intimations from without or emanations from within? Perhaps ultimately this question is meaningless, because the without and the within are both fictions, abstractions from the experiential totality in which I am part of the total continuum that is the only actual world I know. And when the intuition, be it intimation or emanation - relatively dim and confused, as all such intuitions necessarily are - is imbued with finality, it turns into enslaving superstition.
PROCESS AND REALITY
I do not expect to comment at length here on Process and Reality although it is commonly regarded as Whitehead's magnum opus. There are two reasons for my not giving much space to Process and Reality in this essay. First, I have commented extensively on it in Quest of Reality, both in the chapter devoted to Whitehead and throughout the book and I do not want to repeat what I said there except where necessary. Secondly, the major concepts of Whitehead's cosmology - with one important exception - had already been introduced in Science and the Modern World and I have commented on them in dealing with that leading work of Whitehead's. The exception I refer to is the concept of duration, which is introduced in Process and Reality and developed fully in Adventures of Ideas and Modes of thought.
With all its wealth of learning, its astute analyses, and its sophisticated conceptual constructions, Whitehead's Process and Reality remains at par with Plato's Timaeus. We can only say of it what Whitehead himself said of the Timaeus: "If it be read as an allegory, it conveys profound truth." Plato had the merit of knowing what he was doing; he claimed to give us no more than a muthos. Since to me all cosmology, indeed all metaphysics, is imaginative ideal construction, I am not much concerned with the details of Whitehead's majestic conceptual edifice. I am only interested in the creative metaphysical concepts inasmuch as they confer intelligibility on the chaos of our experiential givennesses.
Whitehead's enthusiasm for Plato's Receptacle on the ground that "at the present moment, physical science is nearer to it than at any period since Plato's death" (Adventures of Ideas, 192-3) is part of Whitehead's misconception of the nature of metaphysical thinking. Likewise, Whitehead's vehement rejection of Plato's World-Soul in the Timaeus (id., p.166) is based on a misconception. The World-Soul is not a 'transcendent emanation'. It is the intelligent dunamis within the world. It is odd how negligible a part mind or intelligence plays in Whitehead's system. This is the fault of Whitehead's British empiricist legacy.
When Whitehead in his "Categories of Existence" insists that 'actual entities' and 'eternal objects' have a certain extreme finality, I take it that he means this in opposition to the abstractions of science. He means to affirm that the immediate presentations of our living experience and the forms under which we think our experiential presentations are the real things, not the abstractions of physics or chemistry or even mathematics. (Of course Whitehead's usage of the term 'reality' is in flat contradiction to my usage. See Chapter IX, "Reality", in Quest of Reality.)
Whitehead's failure with Kant is not that he failed to understand Kant's theory but that he failed to understand Kant's intention. Whitehead was trying to build up an empirical analysis of the objective world and thought that was what Kant meant to do. But Kant was trying to answer the epistemological question: What justifies us in trusting our (scientifically well-founded) judgments about the objective world? And Kant's answer was that our judgments of the objective world do not tell us what the world is like but what our minds determine what the world should be like. That was the essence of Kant's 'Copernican revolution'. Whitehead can only analyse the world as the human mind has decreed it should be like.
In the paper "Uniformity and Contingency" (Essays in Science and Philosophy, p.100) Whitehead, after quoting a passage from Hume's Philosophical Essays, remarks: "I wonder whether this was one of the passages which awoke Kant from his dogmatic slumber. He certainly accepts the argument by his doctrine of space and time as forms of intuition." I think this clearly shows how Whitehead misunderstands Kant. Kant's forms of intuition cannot be identified with, or equated with, Hume's impressions, nor are they the same as Hume's ideas of reflection. Hume's impressions come to the mind from outside the mind and the ideas of reflection are mere replicas of those impressions. Kant's forms of intuition are cast by the mind onto the data of experience.
Whitehead clearly defines one of the two errors that have done grave harm to philosophy: "Philosophy has been haunted by the unfortunate notion that its method is dogmatically to indicate premises which are severally clear, distinct, and certain; and to erect upon those premises a deductive system of thought" (Process and Reality, p.8). But in his own work he fully exemplifies the other error which may be even more grievous than the first, the error of expecting metaphysical philosophy to give us knowledge of the world. Whitehead earlier in the same section from which I quoted the above statement says that, in a sense, "philosophy has advanced from Plato onwards". This sounds like saying that poetry has advanced from Homer onwards. For me, philosophy is essentially poetry; it is not cumulative; it develops but does not advance; it does not give us knowledge; it does not give us deductive certainty; its rationality is aesthetic, consisting in coherence, consistency and intelligibility. (Whitehead himself elsewhere says as much and in so many words.)
Whitehead's genre of philosophy is good, raising the generalities of science to new heights, but there can be no "final generalities", and the generalities reached will always be abstractions and fictions. Whitehead errs in keeping too closely to the scientific model. He demands of philosophy "the gradual elaboration of categoreal schemes ... There may be rival schemes, inconsistent among themselves ... It will then be the purpose of research to conciliate the differences" (p.8). But in fairness to Whitehead it must be admitted that he never allows himself to be fooled by the chimera of finality in philosophical thinking: "Rationalism is an adventure in the clarification of thought, progressive and never final" (p.9).
Whitehead holds that 'actual entities' (or 'actual occasions', elsewhere 'events') "are the final things of which the world is made up" (p.18). I venture to say that this is badly expressed even from Whitehead's standpoint. These are not 'final real things' but are the things given with immediacy in our living experience. And when we probe these things, what do we find? Only fleeting shadows. In fact, Whitehead's prime concern is not to assert that these things are final, but that these things are for us the live immediate presentations of our living experience, that being the point of his censuring of the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness. Whitehead continues: "There is no going behind actual entities to find anything more real." But that is exactly what we have to do. The actual occasion is always passing away. The real thing is not the thing that passes away but the experience experiencing the passing away, or more truly, the agent, the mind, that experiences the experience. My objection is that Whitehead fails to lay emphasis on the subject as what is 'really real'. But Whitehead remedies the fault by maintaining creativity as an ultimate notion involved in all being.
Whitehead opposes Kant's 'First Analogy of Experience'. "In the philosophy of organism it is not 'substance' which is permanent, but 'form'" (p.29). But 'form' is only permanent for the thinking mind, for reason. No form in actuality lasts; the actuality endures; in enduring it is perpetually changing form. Plato in his late period saw that his early insistent emphasis on the permanence of form conflicted with the reality of life. That is the gist of the criticism of the 'Friends of the Forms' in the Sophist.
"'Creativity is another rendering of the Aristotelian matter and of the modern 'neutral stuff'" (p.31). This apparently agrees with "God is the primordial creature" and it shows what I find wrong with Whitehead's conception of 'creativity'. Perhaps that comes from Whitehead's deeply-rooted empiricism: for him what is real has to be objective, which is exactly what my whole philosophy is intended to overturn.
Any doctrine of perception is an ideal (theoretical) representation of the experiential immediacy of living experience. It is never definitively true, but it can no more be false than the blind man's testimony that an elephant is a long pliable tube. Whitehead's realism is in no better position; it cannot transcend the experiential immediacy except by an act of faith, Santayana's animal faith. Whitehead blames Descartes for "paving the way for Kant, and for the degradation of the world into mere appearance" (p.49). I do not see how Kant's position can be evaded and I regard Whitehead's failure or refusal to acknowledge Kant's view as constituting Whitehead's basic metaphysical fault. Plato in the Theaetetus, starting from the definition of knowledge as perception, fuses the Heraclitian flux with the Protagorian relativity to picture all perceptible things as fleeing nonentities. It may be that Whitehead's realism is related to his fear that if we accede to subjectivism we have no way of escaping solipsism. Thus in Pt. II, Ch. VI.Sect. V, he says: "If experience be not based upon an objective content, there can be no escape from a solipsist subjectivism" (p.152). I do not admit this. I am aware of myself as part of the objective continuum which comprehends me and which I do not comprehend. As for the reality of other minds, I can only repeat what I said in my Let Us Philosophize, 1998, 2008: "I know other persons in the only manner in which persons can be known. I know them as I know reality; I know them by their creative activity, by their autonomy; I know them in love given and received." (See also "Subjectivism and Solipsism" included in The Sphinx and the Phoenix, 2009.)
In his long, too too long, discussion of perception and sensation Whitehead forgets his own central doctrine, that what is real is the immediate occasion, the total immediate event - all the rest is abstraction. I am convinced that all the controversies around theories of perception are quite outside the proper range of philosophy.
Whitehead gives an intriguing exemplification of Plato's injunction that dialectic must constantly destroy its grounds. Speaking of Locke's doctrine of 'power' and Hume's "demonstration that no such doctrine is compatible with a purely sensationalist philosophy", he writes: "Every philosophical school in the course of its history requires two presiding philosophers. One of them under the influence of the main doctrines of the school should survey experience with some adequacy, but inconsistently. The other philosopher should reduce the doctrines of the school to a rigid consistency; he will thereby effect a reductio ad absurdum" (p.57). Thus Plato is vindicated: reason in its dialectical exercise must always destroy its own grounds.
Whitehead says: "The philosophy of organism is the inversion of Kant's philosophy" (p.88). It is true that we can give an account of knowledge either in Kantian terms or in the terms of Whitehead's philosophy. But there comes the rub. If I choose not to submit to radical solipsism, I have to say that I am aware of the continuum extending beyond my individuality. The objective continuum I feel subsists somehow. I can imagine that it subsists in the same way as my own being subsists, as issuing from creative intelligence. This I can imagine, but do I know it? All I know is what is given in my experience. Apart from my inner reality, all the rest is phenomena. I suppose - I am constrained to suppose - that beyond (or beneath or whatever metaphor you choose) there is a noumenon or there are noumena. I am not justified in uttering a single word beyond this. This, according to my understanding, is the position of the transcendental philosophy, although Kant himself at certain points transgresses the limits his system sets for him. Whitehead, in my opinion, simply ignores the problem and chooses to speak dogmatically of what we cannot know. I think I would have Wittgenstein on my side in this.
I have more than once before commented on the paragraph where Whitehead weighs the merits of Plato's Timaeus and Newton's Scholium (p.93). I will not repeat here what I said before, but I will ask: What makes the Timaeus of such significance for Whitehead? It is primarily the conception of the world as an organic whole, as a living animal. But this is a philosophical idea, a myth as Plato himself describes it, that you cannot turn into science. Newton himself, had his attention been drawn to it, might have loved it, but he could never fuse it with his theory which had to remain at the level of abstraction decried by Whitehead.
Whitehead has to admit that his argument about the nature of life leads to the conclusion "that life is a characteristic of 'empty space' and not of space 'occupied' by any corpuscular society. ... Life lurks in the interstices of each living cell, and in the interstices of the brain" (pp.105-6). I see this as testimony that the essentially reductionist method of his cosmology necessarily fails to explain life as it necessarily fails to explain mind or creativity or any reality. We have to admit that realities, creations of the human mind that infuse meaning and value into the givennesses of our experience, are realities to us and for us that nevertheless have to remain inexplicable and ineffable mysteries for us. We cannot explain life, we cannot explain knowledge, we cannot explain beauty. With Socrates we have to remain content with saying: It is by Life that all living things are alive; it is by Knowledge that all knowing minds know and all known things are known; it is by Beauty that all things beautiful are beautiful. Whitehead, on the one hand failing to acknowledge that life and mind pertain to a distinct order of reality, and on the other hand unwilling to acquiesce in his empiricist friends' banishment of life and mind, is reduced to finding them 'lurking' in inaccessible 'interstices'.
In a revealing paragraph Whitehead writes:
"Hume's polemic respecting causation is, in fact, one prolonged, convincing argument that pure presentational immediacy does not disclose any causal influence, either whereby one actual entity is constitutive of the percipient actual entity, or whereby one perceived actual entity is constitutive of another perceived actual entity. The conclusion is that, in so far as concerns the disclosure by presentational immediacy, actual entities in the contemporary universe are causally independent of each other" (p.123).
How does Whitehead make actual entities dependent on each other? By mentally conceiving an organic unity that binds them together, which, to my mind, is just saying in another way what Kant said in his transcendental philosophy. But it might be said that Whitehead finds the unity in the immediate occasion, the event. Even so, I say that he only finds the unity by analogy to the unity of our own creative intelligence, which again amounts to saying with Socrates and Plato that perceptibles are only intelligible by virtue of forms born in the mind, engendered by the mind. Let me put it differently: we find the organic unity of the event (the 'unison of immediate becoming') in duration; duration is not an entity perceived, not a Humian impression nor a Humian idea, but is a creative unity experienced; duration is only real for a creative intelligence which a human being only knows immediately in her or his inner reality.
Again Whitehead says: "A complete region, satisfying the principle of 'concrescent unison' will be called a 'duration.' A duration is a cross-section of the universe ..." (p.125). A 'concrescent unison' is an act; an act only issues from an intelligent agent; it is only a 'cross-section of the universe' for a mind, for Whitehead's mind, your mind, my mind.
The example given by Whitehead on several occasions of an image reflected in a mirror, when "we see the same sight as an image behind the mirror" (p.126) - does not this confirm Kant's view that space is a mode of sensibility or a form of intuition contributed by the mind?
In an inspired sentence Whitehead says that "we finish a sentence because we have begun it" (p.129). To me this points to the purposiveness of creative intelligence. But when Whitehead goes on to say: "We are governed by stubborn fact", I find the terminology, at least, of this statement, incongruous with my outlook.
Whitehead takes pains to ground his philosophy of organism in the philosophies of Descartes, Locke, Hume, and Kant. This is needless and pointless. Whitehead found inspiration in those philosophers only by putting new meanings in their general notions. This is what all original philosophers do in philosophizing. An original philosopher misinterprets, distorts, falsifies his predecessors, those he professes to follow even more so than those he explicitly rejects.
Whitehead says: "[Hume's] very scepticism is nothing but the discovery that there is something in the world which cannot be expressed in analytic propositions. ... Hume discovered that an actual entity is at once a process, and is atomic, so that in no sense is it the sum of its parts. Hume proclaimed the bankruptcy of morphology" (p.140). This is what Analytic Philosophers refuse to see. - I suppose that by 'morphology' Whitehead means what we have come to refer to as 'reductionism'. [Apparently 'morphology' has two meanings for Whitehead, the morphology he criticizes and his own morphological theory.]
Whitehead says: "In the philosophy of organism 'the soul' as it appears in Hume, and the 'mind' as it appears in Locke and Hume, are replaced by the phrases 'the actual entity,' and 'the actual occasion,' these phrases being synonymous"(p.141). In replacing the subjective inner reality with the actual presentation Whitehead shares the error of all empiricism; he changes the subjective into an objective entity. Whitehead's slighting of 'consciousness' is related to this. His neglect of the subjective dimension is what makes his cosmology stop short of becoming a proper metaphysics.
Whitehead details his reasons for rejecting Santayana's doctrine of 'animal faith' and ends by saying: "A fourth reason for the rejection of the doctrine is that the way is thereby opened for a rational scheme of cosmology in which a final reality is identified with acts of experience" (p.143). What is for Whitehead a reason for rejecting Santayana's doctrine is for me a reason for welcoming it.
Whitehead asserts that the philosophy of organism follows Descartes in the assumption of a multiplicity of actual entities (pp.144-5). One could wonder, how this can agree with seeing the world (nature, the cosmos) as an organism? But Whitehead did not hold the Timaeus view of the world as a single living organism. That view he rejects in rejecting monism. And that is another reason why Whitehead's cosmology could not support a proper metaphysics. I think Whitehead inconsistent when he goes on to say: "There can only be evidence of a world of actual entities, if the immediate actual entity discloses them as essential to its own composition" (p.145). To follow this consistently is to lead to a view of the universe as a totally unified process. To my mind, this is in harmony with the views of Spinoza and Hegel and Bradley. Whitehead continues: "The organic philosophy interprets experience as meaning the 'self-enjoyment of being one among many, and of being one arising out of the composition of many" (p.145). This is the metaphysical halfway house Whitehead chooses to dwell in. This is what he calls relativity as affirmed further on in Section III where we read: "This principle of relativity is the axiom by which the ontological principle is rescued from issuing in an extreme monism" (p.148). Whitehead is constrained to this position by his insistence on building a scientific cosmology that takes account of facts. It is good to emphasize the relative independence of the actual occasion, but this should not prevent us from seeing that ultimately all separation and all independence is transitory, the many merge in the One. As Plato said, it is the mark of a philosopher to see the many in the one and to see the one in the many.
Whitehead makes much of the distinction or opposition between 'potentiality' and 'reality'. To my mind this distinction or opposition is only relevant on the conceptual plane. In other words, the distinction is logical, not metaphysical. In reality, in the real world, there is no potentiality.
Whitehead takes Hume to task "because, with Locke, he misconceived his problem to be the analysis of mental operations. He should have conceived it as the analysis of operations constituent of actual entities" (p.151). He finds Kant guilty of the same fault. But Locke, Hume, and Kant, in different ways, wanted, with Socrates, to examine things en tois logois and not en tois ergois. In that they were right: they were doing philosophy, not science. Thus Whitehead misinterprets Locke and Hume and fails to understand Kant. His criticism of 'subsequent empiricists' is only partly fair. They commit the fault opposite to Whitehead's: Whitehead in philosophizing presumes to do science; the empiricists in doing science presume to philosophize. Kant's transcendental system is essentially an epistemology. He has no ontology and does not presume to give a complete metaphysics, since he considers the noumenon to lie outside the scope of pure reason.
"The organic philosophy holds that consciousness only arises in a late derivative phase of complex integrations" (p.162). I have always been wary of the term 'consciousness'. As here defined, this is human (or animal) awareness of, let us say, surroundings. To me, there is a deeper intelligence that I conceive as an original dimension of all active being and all life and that we know immediately in creative activity, moral, literary, and artistic. It is a mistake to confuse this deeper intelligence with practical thinking and low-level awareness.
Whitehead sums up the exposition of his 'reformed subjectivist principle' by affirming that "apart from the experiences of subjects there is nothing, nothing, nothing, bare nothingness" (p.167). I find this somewhat baffling. I wholeheartedly agree that "apart from the experiences of subjects" there is no actuality, no existent, no 'reality' in Whitehead's sense of the word. But having asserted that apart from the experiences of subjects there is nothing, Whitehead is happy with the experienced actuality and pays little or no attention to the experiencing subject. I would say that apart from the experiences of subjects there is nothing out there, but there is all the reality in here.
Whitehead's criticism of empiricism is incisive and just. But it is not right to say that Kant committed the same error as Hume. (See Pt. II, Ch. VIII, Sect. III, p.173, and also the opening of Sect. V, p.178.) Hume was concerned with the veracity of perceptions, and - helped by Berkeley's reduction of Locke's sensationalism to its logical consequence - concluded that impressions of sensation arose in the soul from unknown causes. But if Hume erred in this, as Whitehead was concerned to show, he did not err in saying that in the immediacy of experience we do not perceive any causal connections. Causal connections may be amply exemplified in our empirical experience but they are not given in our experience as other experiential presentations are given. Kant wanted to rescue the causal connection. Kant was not, like Hume, concerned with the veracity of perceptions, but with the validity of our conceptual judgments. He therefore formulates his problem thus: "How are synthetic judgments a priori possible?" How can we connect together phenomena that are not experientially connected and bind them by a bond that is not given in our empirical experience. Whitehead fails to see that Kant's problem was different from Hume's: it is not right to impute Hume's error to Kant.
Whitehead is as much confined to the objective as the empiricists he criticizes. I am not contradicting myself when I assert that Whitehead remains within the British empiricist tradition while I applaud his criticism of empiricism. In the same way I side with Whitehead when he criticizes reductionism ('morphology') but also assert that his analytical approach to cosmology is basically reductionist. Reductionism and empiricism are two sides of the same coin. And it is because Whitehead's outlook is basically empiricist and reductionist - in spite of his criticism of certain aspects or modes of reductionism - that he can articulate an impressive cosmology but cannot present a proper metaphysics.
The philosophy of process summed up in a single sentence: "The universe is ... a creative advance into novelty" (p.222). When a couple of lines above this Whitehead says: "All actual entities share with God this characteristic of self-causation", I find myself in full agreement, but when he next says: "For this reason every actual entity also shares with God the characteristic of transcending all other actual entities, including God", I must confess that I do not understand what is meant by this.
The philosophy of process may best be summed up as the representation of the cosmos as a "creative advance into novelty". But in working out the details of his cosmology Whitehead, who remained too much of a scientist, gives much more emphasis to uniformity than to creativity.
I will insist on playing the child who cried, "The Emperor has no clothes on!" Whitehead's cosmological articulations are metaphors run berserk that he presents as metaphysical abstractions, which indeed they are, if we confess that all of our metaphysical abstractions are no more than arbitrary metaphors, with no more substance and no more permanence than the camels, giraffes, and squirrels that a child marks out in the sailing clouds. Philosophers have yet to learn the lesson of the Parmenides, whether we say the One is or the One is not; the One is Many or the One is not many; the Many are or the Many are not; the Many are One or the Many are not One, "it will seem that both the One and the Many, will be, both in relation to themselves and to each other, all things and no-thing" (Parmenides, 166c).
In Part IV, Ch, III, Sect. I, Whitehead says that the elemental definitions in Greek geometry led to "a muddle ... between 'forms' and concrete physical things" (p.302). The geometricians were not concerned with metaphysical questions; the definitions were good enough for their purposes. Zeno showed that a muddle arises if we assume that the geometrical concepts have metaphysical validity. Whitehead blames Plato because although he (according to Heath) "objected to recognizing points as a separate class of things at all", he did not go further to make the same objection "to all the geometrical entities" (p.302). Whitehead concludes: "He [Plato] wanted 'forms' and he obtained new physical entities." I don't think the censure is justified. Plato's doctrine stems from the Socratic distinction between the intelligible and the perceptible and has nothing to do with the assumed or real geometrical muddle.
Whitehead's discussion of geometrical definitions clearly shows that notions which we easily take to be ultimate, are conceptual constructs based on assumptions that have to be dialectically destroyed as Plato enjoined in the Republic.
I quote the following paragraph (from Pt. IV, Ch. III, Sect. V) in full because it shows where and how I cannot go along with Whitehead's conception of philosophy:
"The Cartesian subjectivism in its application to physical science became Newton's assumption of individually existent physical bodies, with merely external relationships. We diverge from Descartes by holding that what he has described as primary attributes of physical bodies are really the forms of internal relationships between actual occasions, and within actual occasions. Such a change of thought is the shift from materialism to organism, as the basic idea of physical science" (p.309).
I would say that what Descartes "described as primary attributes of physical bodies" are conceptual constructs (abstractions) which Whitehead replaces with more sophisticated conceptual constructs that nevertheless are still abstractions because Whitehead insists on giving an objective account of the phenomena, disregarding the underlying noumena to which, as Kant said, we have no access except in the unique case of our moral experience. I give 'moral' a wider sense than it has with Kant and say that our only access to a noumenon is in our experience of intelligent creativity, in poetry and art and the spontaneity of love.
Whitehead opens Chapter IV of Part IV with these sentences: "There is nothing in the real world which is merely an inert fact. Every reality is there for feeling: it promotes feeling, and it is felt. Also there is nothing which belongs merely to the privacy of feeling of one individual actuality. All origination is private. But what has been thus originated, publicly pervades the world" (p.310). I endorse this statement implicitly, but I differ with Whitehead in that, while he expresses this dogmatically as applying to the 'real' world, I say that it is a myth, a metaphorical statement, that confers intelligibility on the dumb givennesses of our experience, and that we have no right to ascribe it to the world, however much the world may good-naturedly conform to expectations we form and predictions we make, prodded by that myth. As I see it, all that Whitehead says about prehensions, concrescence, creativity, feelings, the transmission of feelings, etc., is modeled on our purposive (moral) activity and creative (artistic) activity. We have no other model for reality and, to my mind, we know no other reality.
It is revealing that Whitehead again and again waves aside "consciousness, or even that approach to consciousness which we associate with life" (p.311) as of little importance. I shy away from the term 'consciousness' for reasons of my own, but it is obvious that what Whitehead says of consciousness applies equally to mind. In this Whitehead discounts the testimony of the Romantic poets he often quotes with approval in other contexts. I, equally with those poets, cannot conceive of any being divorced of intelligence. It is no consolation that Whitehead finds feeling all over the universe. I find such feeling equivalent to Schopenhauer's blind Will. To me Being is only ultimately intelligible as intelligent Love.
The notion of duration is as fundamental to the philosophy of organism as the notion of process. Flux and duration are bound together in a dialectical polarity. There can be no flux where there is no duration and there can be no duration where there is no ongoing becoming. But until very close to the end of Process and Reality the notion of 'duration' does not feature prominently in Whitehead's system. Although on page 320 we are told that a duration "is a complete locus of actual occasions 'in unison of becoming' or in 'concrescent unison', this is equated with "the old-fashioned 'present state of the world'. This is expanded on page 322 to: "A duration is a complete set of actual occasions, such that all members are mutually contemporary one with the other. This property is expressed by the statement that the members enjoy 'unison of immediacy.'" Still this is far below the live vibrancy that the notion assumes in Adventures of Ideas where the transcendence of time in duration is brought out clearly. (See my Quest of Reality, Chapter XV, "Time, Duration, and Eternity".) When Whitehead says that "in so far as Bergson ascribes the 'spatialization' of the world to a distortion introduced by the intellect, he is in error", I think Whitehead simply fails to understand Bergson because he mistakenly assumes that Bergson was interested in the same questions he was interested in.
The intricate elaboration in Process and Reality of the concepts presented in Science and the Modern World does not, in my opinion, add much of value. It is the fundamental concepts of process and of organism and the notion of the 'event' (under any of its various names) as the 'real' thing - these are the valuable elements in the philosophy of process that enable us to see our world with new eyes, as any original philosophy does. Apart from the introduction of the notion of duration, I do not think that Process and Reality added much in this respect. The detailed elaboration of the cosmology may be interesting but I think that Whitehead does not sufficiently recognize that his system is just one theoretical representation among other such theoretical representations, none of which can claim either truth or finality. Unless and until philosophers realize that they are engaged in producing imaginative visions of reality, philosophy will remain subject to Hume's sentence: "Commit it then to the flames: For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion."
ADVENTURES OF IDEAS
Perhaps we can with reason describe Adventures of Ideas as Whitehead's philosophy of history. Early in the Introduction he presents two notions representing two forces that sway the course of human civilization: (1) "compulsion" (or "violence"), the disruptive and destructive force; (2) "persuasion", the force of "articulated beliefs issuing from aspirations, and issuing into aspirations". This force finds itself at odds with "custom", the conservative, negative force of existing social institutions. Towards the end of the Introduction Whitehead says that the topic of the book "is limited to the story of the energizing of two or three ideas, whose effective entertainment constitutes civilization" (p.15). But a great mind can see "a World in a Grain of Sand" as Blake tells us, and so Whitehead, working on those "two or three ideas", covers the whole compass of philosophy.
In Part I Whitehead's discussion of what we may call the problem of civilization is rich and profound, but here I am concerned only with his cosmological outlook. In Section VII of Chapter III Whitehead says: "We can classify the topics of physical science under four headings: (1) The true and real things which endure, (2) The true and real things which occur, (3) The abstract things which recur, (4) The Laws of Nature" (p.44) It is clear that Whitehead gives 'physical science' a much wider scope than most physicists recognize; for him it covers everything he considers "true and real". The four 'topics', although distinct and not to be confused or mixed, have one common character: they are all in the objective sphere or relate to the objective sphere, that being all that is real for Whitehead, the world out there. Even the 'abstract things which recur', which are otherwise referred to as 'forms' or 'eternal objects' are only considered as they are given in objective experience.
A little further on in the same section Whitehead finds those who hold "that religion and science can never clash because they deal with different topics" (p.45) are entirely mistaken. I too think those worthies entirely mistaken, but not for the same reasons as Whitehead. Whitehead adds: "In this world at least, you cannot tear apart minds and bodies." Again I say that is unquestionably true, even without the qualifying phrase "In this world at least": mind and body form one organic indivisible whole. Yet that is not where those who hold "that religion and science ... deal with different topics" are mistaken. Philosophy and science are concerned with entirely different realms, not because they relate to separate or separable worlds, but because they view the one world by looking in different directions, philosophy looking within and science looking without.
I am not convinced by Whitehead's representation of Plato's position in the Timaeus as an attempt to reconcile the two opposed views of the Law of Nature as Immanent and as Imposed (Chapter VIII, Section II). Whitehead writes: "In the first place, Plato's cosmology includes an ultimate creator, shadowy and undefined, imposing his design upon the Universe. Secondly, the action and reaction of the internal constituents is - for Plato - the self-sufficient explanation of the flux of the world" (p.120). Here, in my opinion, Whitehead overlooks two important considerations. First, Plato's "creator" is not the same as the God of the monotheistic religions; he does not create the world but orders its primal chaos in conformity with eternal forms. Secondly, the creation story was part of the muthos which Plato explicitly warns us not to take too seriously. On the other hand, "the action and reaction of the internal constituents" as "the self-sufficient explanation of the flux of the world" is the fecund metaphysical insight that we have to take seriously. Whitehead gives expression to this insight when he says that "for Plato behaviour is a function of the various characters of the things concerned - the intelligent activities of indwelling souls ..." (p.121), but when further on he says: "The modern wave-theory of the atom sides with Plato ...", I cannot help being quaintly reminded of our erudite Muslim scholars who find the latest theories of physics and astrophysics 'siding with' verses in the Quran. I hope that Whitehead's spirit will forgive me the blasphemous association. Whatever other faults Plato had, he was not guilty of confusing the investigation of things en tois logois with their investigation en tois ergois.
In Section VII of Chapter VIII Whitehead criticizes Leibniz' theory of windowless monads on the ground that it "renders an interconnected world of real individuals unintelligible. ... substantial thing cannot call unto substantial thing" (p.131). As opposed to that, the receptacle, "as discussed in the Timaeus, is the way in which Plato conceived the many actualities of the physical world as components in each other's natures" (p.132). Of course, the interconnectedness of all things is of the essence of the philosophy of organism.
I find support for my view that all understanding is the gift of forms engendered by creative intelligence in Whitehead's assertion that "Mathematics has developed, especially in recent years, by a speculative interest in types of order, without any determination of particular entities illustrative of those types. But Nature has subsequently been interpreted in terms of such mathematical laws. The conclusion seems to be, that Nature is patient of interpretation in terms of Laws which happen to interest us" (p.134). But Whitehead, having said: "There is an element of arbitrary choice in our interpretation of the geometrical character of the physical world", and having spoken of the three types of geometry, Euclidean, Elliptic, and Hyperbolic, goes on to say: "But it is an entire misconception, which has been entertained by some mathematicians, to deduce that this mathematical truth has any bearing upon the notion of the Laws of Nature as arbitrary convention." I confess that I cannot follow Whitehead's technical argument following this and in any case do not think it is of any significance for my view.
Whitehead writes: "The first step in science and philosophy has been made when it is grasped that every routine exemplifies a principle which is capable of statement in abstraction from its particular exemplifications" (p.138). I would re-state this as follows: The first step in science and philosophy has been made when we audaciously presume to fit every routine into a formula of our own creation, constituted by selecting certain particulars and excluding others of the total experiential presentation. This is the principle to which we subject subsequent exemplifications of what, until that has happened, could not even be recognized as a routine.
"The final problem is to conceive a complete [_______] fact. We can only form such a conception in terms of fundamental notions concerning the nature of reality" (p.155). The 'complete fact', what is ultimately real, Plato defined as _______, Schopenhauer characterized as Will, Whitehead alternately described as Event, Actual Occasion, or Process, and I call Creative Intelligence or Intelligent Creativity. My difference with Schopenhauer and Whitehead is that they meant to speak about the objective world outside us, while I, agreeing, as I believe, with Plato, only speak of what my mind can conceive as __ _______ __.
Whitehead says that "the great minds who laid the foundations of our modern mentality ... had reason for their dissatisfaction with the traditional dogmatic theology" but finds that "they partially misconceived the grounds upon which they should base their attitude. Their true enemy was the doctrine of dogmatic finality, a doctrine which flourished and is flourishing with equal vigour throughout Theology, Science, and Metaphysics" (p.158). Whitehead is right in holding that the enemy of reason and rationality is this doctrine of dogmatic finality that Plato was concerned to fight when he insisted that dialectic should constantly destroy all hypotheses. But while I agree with Whitehead in finding "dogmatic rejection" equally in error with the misplaced "emphasis of certainty", I think that Whitehead's attempt to rescue Christianity (or any other religion, even Buddhism) by the appeal to history is futile. Practically it will always come to an attempt to reconcile superstition with reason. Platonic dialectic is our only hope for fighting superstition and "dogmatic finality" in science and metaphysics at the same time, and today it seems that the second task is not a whit less difficult than the first.
Plato, towards the end of his life, according to Whitehead, was convinced "that the divine element in the world is to be conceived as a persuasive agency and not as a coercive agency" (p. 161). Whitehead finds this conviction spelled out in the Sophist and the Timaeus, but I would not relegate the basic intuition to the late period of Plato's life and work. Except for the specific verbal formulation, I see it clearly voiced in the early dialogues, in the affirmation of the identity of arete and episteme; in the Euthyphro pregnant question about whether divine approval is the ;ground or the result of moral goodness; in the notion of tokos en toi kaloi, in the Form of the Good as the final reality. But the specific formulation of the beautiful doctrine of the persuasive agency as a metaphysical first principle - as "one of the greatest intellectual discoveries in the history of religion" - is more Whitehead's child than Plato's.
Whitehead cannot forgive Plato for, on turning to the world, "he can find only second-rate substitutes and never the originals" (p.163). This is so because Whitehead looks without and finds a cosmos that is what is real to him, while Plato looks within where, he believes, is the only reality we can ever know.
Whitehead's interpretation of Plato and his interpretation of Christian theology are highly idiosyncratic (else they would not be worthy of an original thinker). It is pointless to criticize his interpretations, that would be opposing one personal interpretation to another.
"Nature changes and yet remains. The ideas declare themselves as timeless; and yet they pass on, as it were the flicker of a brightness" (p.165). These are the riddles that every genuine metaphysics tries to answer, but all the answers must be confessed mere guesses that can never penetrate the core of the mystery.
I quote below in full the closing paragraph of Chepter X:
"The task of Theology is to show how the World is founded on something beyond mere transient fact, and how it issues in something beyond the perishing of occasions. The temporal World is the stage of finite accomplishment. We ask of Theology to express the element in perishing lives which is undying by reason of its expression of perfections proper to our finite natures. In this way we shall understand how life includes a mode of satisfaction deeper than joy or sorrow" (p.167).
I would only replace the word 'Theology' in this quotation with 'Philosophy'. Theology has had its opportunity throughout human history and has on the whole done more harm than good because it is infected with the deadly blight of all understanding: the illusion of finality.
I am not interested in discussing Whitehead's theory of knowledge. Having agreed that the immediate occasion - experiential totality in my terminology - is what is 'real', all theory of knowledge is no more than an ideal construction of abstractions good for a specific purpose.
Nothing is just itself by itself. Plato said that in the Theaetetus. No entity can be in complete isolation. Whitehead says everything has a past and a future. To have a past and a future is to transcend the evanescence of finite being in becoming. This is tokos en kaloi and this is what is ultimately real.
"No material for the interpretation of sense is provided by the senses themselves, as they stand starkly, barely, present and immediate" (p.167). I see this as the final overthrow of Empiricism as a theory of knowledge no less than as a theory of reality. Further on Whitehead says that "in so far as we apply notions of causation to the understanding of events in nature, we must conceive these events under the general notions which apply to occasions of experience. For we can only understand causation in terms of our observations of these occasions" (p.180). I could delude myself into thinking that this agrees with what I have always insisted on by asserting that the only noumenon we know is our moral will and that the difference between Whitehead's cosmological stance and my saying that I only speak of the reality I find within me is after all a difference of emphasis. But Section XVI, immediately following, and Section XVII show that Whitehead could never free himself from the outward looking attitude of empirical science. Section XVII ends with this statement: "The mere phrase that 'physical science is an abstraction', is a confession of philosophic failure. It is the business of rational thought to describe the more concrete fact from which that abstraction is derivable" (p.181).
Whitehead says, "Whenever a vicious dualism appears, it is by reason of mistaking an abstraction for a final concrete fact" (p.185 [towards the end of Chapter XI, erroneously headed 'Chapter X' in the Pelican edition]). I have been saying again and again and again that only what is whole is real and that abstractions from the whole, useful as long as they are treated as such, become pernicious falsehoods when finality is ascribed to them.
The most original concept in Whitehead's system is the concept of the immanence of the past and the future in the present, summed up in the term 'duration'. Apart from the immanence of the past and the future in it, the present is strictly speaking nothing, sheer nothingness. The insight expressed by Whitehead in this notion of immanence is what I mean to convey by saying that all becoming is a creative act. This is the gist of the chapter on "Time, Duration, and Eternity" in my Quest of Reality (2013).
Whitehead's intricate, detailed definitions (in Chapter XIII for instance) do not help the intelligibility of his philosophy. In this Whitehead was yielding to the mathematician in him more than was good for him. Plato's roguish, happy-go-lucky treatment of words is more appropriate to philosophy; by the nebulosity and elusiveness of his usages, Plato the philosopher-poet gives more range to philosophical understanding.
I cannot understand Whitehead when he writes: "Nature is a complex of enduring objects, functioning as subordinate elements in a larger spatial-physical society. This larger society is for us the natural universe. There is however no reason to identify it with the boundless totality of actual things" (p.200). It is this last sentence that I find puzzling. Does not Whitehead think that "the boundless totality of actual things" forms one whole? Perhaps this is also due to Whitehead's inability to escape the scientist in him. He is constructing a cosmology on the basis of what characteristics we empirically find in the world we happen to live in. This is our cosmos. But beyond that cosmos "the boundless totality of actual things" may contain other universes with characteristics and laws other than those pertaining to our universe. Perhaps this is good scientific thinking. But philosophy is concerned with one ultimate reality. What philosophy proper says of that reality relates to what we can conceive as real and does not claim to be or seek to be true of the world or worlds outside us. (All of this has nothing to do with the newfangled idea of multiple universes or possible universes which I find utterly senseless and utterly useless.)
Here is another passage that is incomprehensible to me: "How far this soul ["man defined as a person"] finds a support for its existence beyond the body is - another question. The everlasting nature of God, which in a sense is non-temporal and in another sense is temporal, may establish with the soul a peculiarly intense relationship of mutual immanence. Thus in some important sense the existence of the soul may be freed from its complete dependence upon the bodily organization" (p.201). Is Whitehead here yielding to the same weakness as Kant who, in flat contradiction to his transcendental system, makes room for a transcendent God and for personal immortality? Is Whitehead likewise trying to save the personal immortality he was brought up as a child to believe in?
Whitehead's dichotomy of appearance and reality corresponds neither to the Socratic distinction between the intelligible and the perceptible, nor to Plato's image and reality, nor to Kant's phenomenon and noumenon, nor to Bradley's appearance and reality. We must be careful not to confuse any of these pairs of opposites with Whitehead's. Whitehead is concerned with something totally different; He is concerned to show that "the exclusive reliance on sense-perception promotes a false metaphysics" (p.212). This "exclusive reliance on sense-perception" was the fault of Locke and Hume and the Empiricists, not of Plato. In fact, Whitehead misunderstands what Plato means in speaking of shadows and reality. The Cave episode in the Republic is an allegory and Whitehead's reference to it as Plato's "myth of the Shadows in the Cave" reveals a misconception, for Plato is not there presenting a theory of perception. (He does this in the Theaetetus.).
Chapter XV, the final chapter of Part III of Adventures of Ideas is titled "Philosophic Method". Since for Whitehead 'speculative philosophy' investigates the actual objective world, this chapter inevitably turns out to be a methodology of scientific research more than a theory of philosophical thinking. Whitehead's maturest and profoundest thinking on philosophical thinking is to be found in Modes of Thought. But Whitehead, being Whitehead, speaks of "meanings miraculously revealed in great literature" (p.218), and thereby breaks down all boundaries that would partition the products of creative human intelligence.
Whitehead says that "every method is a happy simplification ... every simplification is an over-simplification ... an unguarded statement of a partial truth" (pp.213-4). This is true of all theory, scientific or philosophical. For any scientific account or philosophical statement to claim to give the truth, simply and without qualification, or to be thought to give the truth, simply and without qualification, is that deadly dogmatism that is worse than ignorance.
It is important to distinguish clearly the concept of consciousness from the concept of mind or intelligence. Consciousness and problem-solving thinking may be peculiarities of the human animal or of the 'higher' animals generally. In humans these capacities or functions are valuable tools but no more. Whitehead justly says, "Consciousness is a variable uncertain element which flickers uncertainly on the surface of experience" (p.242). When I speak of mind or intelligence as an original dimension of what is ultimately real I am thinking of the creative intelligence we know - if only intermittently, flittingly - in moral spontaneity and creative activity. I find fault with Whitehead for making little room for this in his conception of what is real.
Whitehead says, as if in a passing thought: "Of course consciousness, like everything else, is in a sense indefinable. It is just itself and must be experienced" (p.257). Whitehead had no need to cushion the statement with the diffident 'in a sense', for this is that insight that Socrates tried all his life to open our eyes to and that Wittgenstein after long wandering arrived at.
Through Art "the mere toil for the slavish purpose of prolonging life for more toil or for mere bodily gratification, is transformed into the conscious realization of a self-contained end, timeless within time" (pp.258-9). If we take Art in a wide sense to cover all intelligent creativity, Whitehead's words here show how humanity transcends its existential finitude and transience in the eternity of reality. (Of course I am using 'reality' here in a sense different from Whitehead's.)
Whitehead's penchant for analyzing and explaining is almost pathological. It's a natural human weakness; perhaps the sin that drove Eve and Adam out of Paradise was not the desire for knowledge but the desire for explanation. We will continue to analyze and we will continue to seek explanations because that is as natural for us as it is natural for a child or a kitten to play. It is only when the humdrum burdens of life render us half-dead that we lose the desire for explanation as we lose the desire for play. But after all our intellectual labours, the supreme wisdom is to realize with Socrates that the beautiful is beautiful because it is beautiful, and that our analyses and explanations may serve this or that particular practical purpose but will not give us understanding, will not enable us to penetrate to the essence of a thing.
Whitehead chooses the name Peace for that Harmony of Harmonies which the sages of all times have preached, "a broadening of feeling due to the emergence of some deep metaphysical insight, unverbalized and yet momentous in its co-ordination of values" (p.271). He devotes to this notion the final chapter of Adventures of Ideas, a dozen pages so rich in wisdom that, if we were to have a canonical Bible of Humanity, I would have that Bible end with this chapter. In the final chapter of Quest of Reality, "Humanity", I quoted the closing paragraph of this chapter in full.
"The attainment of Truth belongs to the essence of Peace. ... There can be no secure efficacy in the Beauty which hides within itself the dislocations of falsehood" (pp.278-9). Perhaps we have here the answer to the problem of Art and Morality. Certainly art cannot be bound by the specific codes of morality ruling at definite times and places. But when art jars with the essential values that those codes aspire to express, then the beauty presented by that art will necessarily be cracked within. At the same time it is this that secures the right of genuine art to challenge ruling codes of morality in the name of essential values. Immediately following the lines I quoted above Whitehead says: "The truth or falsehood of propositions is not directly to the point in this demand for Truth." The Truth that is an aspect of the Peace that is the Harmony of Harmonies is not to be confused with truth as agreement with actualities, which is the truth of propositions.
It seems to me that Whitehead in his doctrine of Appearance and Reality is concerned to rescue the 'reality' of the givennesses of our sense-experience. But I think that Whitehead is mistaken in thinking that in this he is opposing or correcting Kant's position. Kant is dealing with a totally different problem and Whitehead misunderstands him, and wrongs him, because he mistakenly thinks Kant is dealing with the problem he is concerned with. It is not Kant's answer to the question "How are synthetic a priori judgments possible?" that is to be denied (p.280), but it is rather Whitehead who, by remaining within the bounds of Empiricism, has no answer to the question, or, to be fair to him, has no need for an answer because he does not raise the question. Whitehead answers Hume's challenge not by an epistemological theory but by a metaphysical doctrine. He bluntly affirms: But we do know concrete actuality, we do experience the connection of things, we do transcend the succession of states of being in the duration of process. Kant on the other hand does not belie Hume. He says: Admitting that Hume is right, we can still have knowledge because our own minds produce the concepts under which things are connected. Kant's answer is epistemological, not metaphysical.
After presenting what Whitehead sees as his answer to the Kantian question about the possibility of synthetic a priori judgments but which I see as an answer to Hume's denial of the possibility of knowledge, Whitehead has an important paragraph which I find fully supportive of my view of the nature of philosophical thinking, what I have called the oracular nature of philosophical thinking. The paragraph anticipates the position Whitehead develops in Modes of Thought. I will quote the paragraph in full without further comment at this point:
"The justification for the suggestion derived from this group of factors must mainly rest on their direct elucidation of first-hand experience. They are not, and should not be, the result of an argument. For all argument must rest upon premises more fundamental than the conclusions. Discussion of fundamental notions is merely for the purpose of disclosing their coherence, their compatibility, and the specializations which can be derived from their conjunction" (p.280).
MODES OF THOUGHT
In Modes of Thought (Lecture Five, p.93) Whitehead says: "The nature of any type of existence can only be explained by reference to its implication in creative activity." I hear Plato confirming: "Certainly, a particular ousia is its particular dunamis." Whitehead goes on to say that the creative activity involves essentially "three factors: namely, data, process with its form relevant to these data, and issue into datum for further process - data, process, issue." Now this sounds good and true while Whitehead is saying it, but once said, these words are just that, words, abstractions. Whitehead surely knows that, but in his keenness to work out distinctions, to articulate formulations, he seems sometimes to forget, or to wish he could forget, that we can never reach a final, definitive formulation. We must never forget that all our truths are half-truths that our reason must constantly show to be false if they are not to enslave us. Whitehead realizes that it is fallacious "to imply that process can be analysed into compositions of final realities, themselves devoid of process" (p.96), but this is what any complete metaphysical system or complete cosmology implies. The philosophy of process, to remain true to itself, cannot dream of completion or finality. I am not here censuring Whitehead, for he himself repeatedly affirms this, but in our childlike delight in our new toys we all need to be constantly reminded of it.
Both Plato and Kant said that '5+7=12' is not an analytical statement. The form 12 is found neither in the 5, nor in the 7, nor in the conjunction of these two forms: it is an original form engendered in the mind and by the mind. I believe both Plato and Kant would agree to this explication. Whitehead represents the result of an arithmetical sum as the issue of a process. He says that "even the statement 'six equals six' need not be construed as a mere tautology" (p.93). He explains this in terms of the philosophy of process. We could also say that 'six equals six' may be taken to mean that any two groups of six share a common form, and we may say that this is true as far as it goes, but if it is taken to say that any two groups of six are identical, then it is definitely false. So even the most innocent-looking tautology may lie tame and harmless, like a sleeping dog, so long as it is left to itself, but when stirred will be seen to hide a nature neither tame nor harmless.
Whitehead's great fault was his failure to draw the line between science and philosophy. In Lecture Seven of Modes of Thought he says: "In the essence of a material body - in its mass, motion, and shape - there is no reason for the law of gravitation. ... there was no reason in the Newtonian concepts of mass and motion why material bodies should be connected by any stress between them" (p.134). A little further on he says that Newton "thus illustrated a great philosophic truth, that a dead nature can give no reasons. All ultimate reasons are in terms of aim at value. A dead nature aims at nothing" (p.135). These lines sum up Socrates' argument for the separation of science and philosophy (Phaedo, 95-101; see my Plato: An Interpretation, p.126 ff.) without arriving at the conclusion Socrates arrived at. It is such a pity that Whitehead persistently and obstinately remained ante-Kantian (and in mood anti-Kant). When he continues the lines I quoted by saying: "It is the essence of life that it exists for its own sake, as the intrinsic reaping of value", I would say this is good philosophy, great mysticism, beautiful poetry, but very bad science. But I have dealt with the necessity of separating science and philosophy so often and so amply in all my writings that I need not say anything further on the subject at this point.
Whitehead seeks to find the meaning of life. The meaning of life cannot be found by science. Indeed, the meaning of life cannot be found by anyone, because the meaning of life is not an objective thing out there to be found by searching. The meaning of life is, for you, what you make it. It is one thing for the Buddha; it is another thing for Epicurus; it is yet another thing for a Hitler. A human being creates her or his specific world; her or his specific mode of life; her or his character. That follows from one's personal philosophy. It makes sense to speak of one's personal philosophy. But it makes no sense to speak of one's personal science.
Whitehead rejects Descartes's dualism. In this I am entirely with him. But rejecting the Cartesian split of subject and object should not lead us to disregard the Socratic distinction between the intelligible and the perceptible nor the distinction between the mode of looking within and the mode of looking without. Whitehead was right in emphasizing the unity of a living being or a living person but he erred in failing to emphasize the inwardness of our inner reality. To me our inner reality is our whole meaning and our whole worth. This need not, and should not, lead to the division of the world into 'mere' appearance and reality. The 'appearance' is all the actuality there is. The spiritual can only have its reality actualized in the transient, evanescent existent. Plato, the Buddha, Christian saints and mystics, all erred in over-emphasizing the 'unreality' of the body and the outer world. But not Wordsworth or Shelley. Nor did Kant make of the phenomenal 'mere' appearance; he found the real in 'the moral sense within' but was also awed by 'the starry heavens above'.
In "Immortality" (Essays in Science and Philosophy, p. 73) Whitehead says: "There is not a sentence which adequately states its own meaning. There is always a background of presupposition which defies analysis by reason of its infinitude." A little further on he again affirms that "there is not a sentence, or a word, with a meaning which is independent of the circumstances under which it is uttered. ... My point is that we cannot rely upon any adequate explicit analysis." Whitehead expressed this thought repeatedly in various wordings throughout his philosophical writings. In "Mathematics and the Good" he warns against the simple-minded use of Logic. "All propositions are erroneous unless they are construed in reference to a background which we experience without any conscious analysis" (pp.85-6). This is what most analytical philosophers have failed to absorb.
The term God in Whitehead's usage changes its sense in different contexts. In Science and the Modern World God was the Principle of Concretion (p.203), a metaphysical principle among other metaphysical principles, an element in Whitehead's cosmology, an element in the objective universe. He does not even have the independence of the demiurge, the Maker-God of the Timaeus. The last paragraph of the chapter on "God" (chapter XI) reads:
"Among medieval and modern philosophers, anxious to establish the religious significance of God, an unfortunate habit has prevailed of paying to Him metaphysical compliments. He has been conceived as the foundation of the metaphysical situation with its ultimate activity. If this conception be adhered to, there can be no alternative except to discern in Him the origin of all evil as well as of all good. He is then the supreme author of the play, and to Him must therefore be ascribed its shortcomings as well as its success. If He be conceived as the supreme ground of limitation, it stands in His very nature to divide the Good from the Evil, and to establish Reason 'within her dominions supreme'."
This evades the ultimate metaphysical question about the nature and origin of ultimate Reality. This is a question that no cosmology and, in my opinion, no philosophy can answer. We know nothing and can know nothing about a God outside the world. In the world we find only the meanings we put into the world. Apart from that we encounter bare, stale, dumb presentations. There is only one place where we can find God, and that is within ourselves.
God as the Principle of Concretion (limitation) is in the tradition of the Holy Grail quest of the philosophers for an ultimate law of becoming. To my mind we can never find rest from this endless vain travail until we recognize Creativity as an original dimension of Reality. To my mind the creativity has to be intelligent creativity, or as I prefer to put it, Reality is nothing but Creative Intelligence.
Whitehead does speak of "the creativity whereby the actual world has the character of temporal passage to novelty." I would accept this as a definition of my Creative Eternity. But Whitehead does not give this sense prominence in his metaphysics where God is mainly something objective. Creativity for Whitehead is basically equivalent to potentiality, whereas for me creativity is the act which is the ultimate reality, the fulness of reality.
In Religion in the Making we have a different approach. At the end of Lecture III Whitehead finds that God is "the completed ideal harmony" that is the ground for "the order of the world, the depth of reality of the world, the value of the world in its whole and in its parts, the beauty of the world, the zest of life, the peace of life, and the mastery of evil" and that the religious insight is the grasp of this truth (pp.119-20). I will not spoil this beautiful passage by any comment; anyhow, this is hardly the God of Whitehead's theoretical cosmology.
In the final two sections of the final Lecture Whitehead departs from the inward-looking approach and plunges into the doctrine of "the nature of God" in respect to which "the great cleavages of thought arise" (p.150). Indeed in these closing dozen pages he presents a positive Theology, featuring God as "the one systematic, complete fact, which is the antecedent ground conditioning every creative act" (p.154). What Whitehead says there can be inspiring as an imaginative vision; but presented as 'truth' it shares the fault of all dogmatisms. Besides, I cannot see it as an integral part of Whitehead's 'speculative philosophy' For myself, I hold that I know nothing of the outer world and therefore know nothing of a God out there.
In Process and Reality Whitehead says that God "is unmoved by love for this particular, or that particular" (p.105). In this Whitehead agrees with Spinoza. I do not think we are justified in speaking of the nature of God. Whitehead himself elsewhere is concerned to free God of responsibility for evil. For myself I am content to say that all of that is beyond our ken. What I affirm is that I can only conceive of ultimate reality as intelligent and good: that is a judgment about my understanding and not about ultimate reality.
At the close of Chapter IX of Part II of Process and Reality Whitehead writes: "The concept of God is certainly one essential element in religious feeling. But the converse is not true; the concept of religious feeling is not an essential element in the concept of God's function in the universe. In this respect religious literature has been sadly misleading to philosophic theory, partly by attraction and partly by repulsion" (p.207). I cannot say I understand what Whitehead is saying here. I only quote it as evidence that the concept of God for Whitehead remains ambiguous and indefinite.
When Whitehead speaks of "the nature of God" I feel this must be God in Spinoza's sense. Indeed Whitehead speaks of the function of God in a certain sense as "analogous to the remorseless working of things in Greek and in Buddhist thought." He continues: "The initial aim is the best for that impasse. But if the best is bad, then the ruthlessness of God can be personified as Ate, the goddess of mischief. The chaff is burnt" (p.244). I refer this to the essential evanescence of the existent and say that this is tragic but not evil. But regarding evil I always speak with diffidence. I know evil in human beings as the bitter fruit of ignorance (amathia as meant by Socrates). Since I maintain that we know nothing of the objective world beyond its phenomenal presentations, I find it strictly meaningless to speak of good or evil in the world. Even when I affirm that to me ultimate Reality must be intelligent and good, I do not assert that that is true of the world but only that that is the only way I can conceive of reality.
I find Whitehead's conception of God in the framework of his cosmology distinctly different from his conception of God in the area of religious experience. It is confusing to use the same term for two concepts that, to me at any rate, are not intelligibly related.
In a certain context Whitehead defines God as "that actuality in the world, in virtue of which there is physical law" (p.283). This is Spinoza's natura naturata apparently separated from natura naturans, in other words, God here is the objective world as the sum total of all actuality.
Whitehead's discussion of God in the final chapter of Process and Reality, "God and the World", is disappointing and could not fail to be disappointing. At one point in Section II Whitehead's aim seems to be the "elucidation of somewhat exceptional elements in our conscious experience - those elements which may roughly be classed together as religious and moral intuitions" (p.343). This is the right philosophical approach to the problem, and that is what Whitehead does in Religion in the Making. But only a few lines further on we read that God
"... as primordial, so far is he from 'eminent reality,' that in this abstraction he is 'deficiently actual' - and this in two ways. His feelings are only conceptual and so lack the fulness of actuality. Secondly, conceptual feelings, apart from complex integration with physical feelings, are devoid of consciousness in their subjective forms."
If we conceive of God as 'primordial actuality', that is all we may expect. I don't think that Whitehead's distinction between God's 'primordial nature' and his 'consequent nature' and his further articulations based on this distinction do anything to improve the total picture.
In the closing sections of the final chapter Whitehead gives voice to the experience every mystic seeks to express. Whitehead gives profound expression to that experience, but I can't see the mysticism comfortably lodged in the cosmology.
God as a philosophical concept has no part in Adventures of Ideas, where Whitehead sees the Good as "an ultimate qualification not to be analysed in terms of any things more final than itself" (p.190). This is what I mean in saying that goodness is an ultimate dimension of Reality. I have repeatedly affirmed that I can only conceive Reality as finally intelligent and good.
In Modes of Thought Whitehead says: "The notion of a supreme being must apply to an actuality in process of composition, an actuality not confined to the data of any special epoch in the historic field" (pp.93-4). Further on we read that deity "is that factor in the universe whereby there is importance, value, and ideal beyond the actual" (p.102). This is as distinct from the God of Science and the Modern World as it is distinct from the Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible.
Whitehead's conception of God remains ambiguous to the end. In his 1941 lecture on "Immortality" (Essays in Science and Philosophy, 1948, pp.60-74) he says: "The World of Value exhibits the essential unification of the Universe. Thus while it exhibits the immortal side of the many persons, it also involves the unification of personality. This is the concept of God." Then follows something given between square brackets, so it may have been a later addition. It reads: "But it is not the God of the learned tradition of Christian Theology, nor is it the diffused God of the Hindu Buddhistic tradition. The concept lies somewhere between the two."
In the essay "Process and Reality" Whitehead says: "... I think the universe has a side which is mental and permanent. This side is that prime conceptual drive which I call the primordial nature of God" (ib., p.89). This to me sounds very Platonic, though it is what I find wrong in Plato. But a little further on Whitehead says: "The notion of the one perfection of order, which is (I believe) Plato's doctrine, must go the way of the one possible geometry. The universe is more various, more Hegelian" (ib., p.90). Never think you have caught a philosopher! An original philosopher always intends what his words fail to convey!
WHITEHEAD ON DETERMINISM AND FREE WILL
In "Free Will as Creativity" (included in The Sphinx and the Phoenix, 2009) I amplified on the answer I had given briefly in Let Us Philosophize to the riddle of determinism and free will. I have repeatedly asserted that a philosophical problem is not amenable to a final solution. But the 'determinism versus free will' riddle is not a genuine philosophical problem; it is a pseudo-problem, a muddle of confusions and misconceptions; once the tangles are untangled the pseudo-problem evaporates. When I wrote that essay I did not have in mind Whitehead's treatment of the problem.
As I see it, what Whitehead terms his 'theory of organic mechanism' is a version of Spinoza's doctrine of freedom as autonomy. Spinoza found room for relative autonomy within his strictly deterministic metaphysics. But having accepted the Cartesian rationalistic determinism, that was as far as he could go. Only a doctrine of creativity could help him break loose from that stranglehold. Whitehead repeatedly alludes to creativity as an ultimate feature of reality. But I somehow feel that something inhibited Whitehead from making full use of that notion. I seem to detect in him some uncertainty, some wavering. In what follows I seek to reach a clear view of Whitehead's position on the question.
In Chapter V of Science and the Modern World Whitehead touches on the problem of determinism and free will. The chapter is devoted to the Romantic reaction to the materialistic mechanism of the eighteenth century. "Wordsworth in his whole being expresses a conscious reaction against the mentality of the eighteenth century" (p.95). Whitehead characterizes Wordsworth's reaction as "a moral revulsion". Tennyson is appalled by the problem of mechanism. Whitehead finds this echoed in the In Memoriam line,
"The stars," she whispers, "blindly run."
Whitehead sets out the problem thus: "Each molecule blindly runs. The human body is a collection of molecules. Therefore, the human body blindly runs, and therefore there can be no individual responsibility for the actions of the body. If you once accept that the molecule is definitely determined to be what it is, independently of any determination by reason of the total organism of the body, and if you further admit that the blind run is settled by the general mechanical laws, there can be no escape from this conclusion" (p.96).
Nevertheless there were attempts to wriggle out of the difficulty by assuming that the mind "can supply for itself ... experiences other than those provided for it by the body" (p.96). John Stuart Mill's determinism exemplifies this attitude. In Mill's doctrine "volitions are determined by motives, and motives are expressible in terms of antecedent conditions including states of mind as well as states of the body" (p.97). But this doctrine, Whitehead affirms, "affords no escape from the dilemma presented by a thoroughgoing mechanism. ... Either the bodily molecules blindly run, or they do not. If they do blindly run, the mental states are irrelevant in discussing the bodily actions" (p.97).
Whitehead finds the answer in his philosophy of organism. He sums up his position in a paragraph which I have to quote in full:
"The doctrine which I am maintaining is that the whole concept of materialism only applies to very abstract entities, the products of logical discernment. The concrete enduring entities are organisms, so that the plan of the whole influences the very characters of the various subordinate organisms which enter into it. In the case of an animal, the mental states enter into the plan of the total organism and thus modify the plans of the successive subordinate organisms until the ultimate smallest organisms, such as electrons, are reached. Thus an electron within a living body is different from an electron outside it, by reason of the plan of the body. The electron blindly runs within or without the body; but it runs within the body in accordance with its character within the body; that is to say, in accordance with the general plan of the body, and this plan includes the mental state. But the principle of modification is perfectly general throughout nature, and represents no property peculiar to living bodies. In subsequent chapters it will be explained that this doctrine involves the abandonment of the traditional scientific mechanism, and the substitution of an alternative doctrine of organism" (p.98).
In Process and Reality Whitehead says, "The complexity of nature is inexhaustible" (p.106). Presumanly we have to take the word 'inexhaustible' here literally, and to take it literally amounts to a refutation of determinism. No omniscient god can comprehend the inexhaustible complexity of nature in a formula, a law, or a theoretical scheme. Further on: "Thus an originality in the temporal world is conditioned, but not determined, by an initial subjective aim supplied by the ground of all order and of all originality" (p.108). Once again we are told that "... 'decided' conditions are never such as to banish freedom. They only qualify it. There is always a contingency left open for immediate decision" (p.284).
From Adventures of Ideas I pluck the following phrases which have a bearing on the problem and which, as it seems to me, reveal a residual wavering in Whitehead's position: "The ideals cherished in the souls of men enter into the character of their actions" (p.46). "Men are driven by their thoughts as well as by the molecules in their bodies, by intelligence and by senseless forces. The physical conditions are merely the background which partially controls the flux of modes and of moods" (p.51). "Our consciousness does not initiate our modes of functionings" (p.51). "We do not initiate thought by an effort of self-consciousness" (p.51). "Thus the autonomy of thought is strictly limited, often negligible, generally beyond the threshold of consciousness" (p.51). In Section III of Chapter IV Whitehead uses the phrases "flashes of free thought" and "flashes of freedom" synonymously. "... spontaneity is of the essence of soul" (p.55). At this point I permit myself to interpose a remark: We must not confuse the psychological problem and the philosophical problem. The concept of the will as a faculty is misleading and in any case it pertains to the field of psychology. What is important for philosophy is the value and reality of our moral spontaneity, of our creativity.
Then there comes a paragraph which I quote in full:
"There is a freedom lying beyond circumstance, derived from the direct intuition that life can be grounded upon its absorption in what is changeless amid change. This is the freedom at which Plato was groping, the freedom which Stoics and Christians obtained as the gift of Hellenism. It is the freedom of that virtue directly derived from the source of all harmony. For it is conditioned only by its adequacy of understanding. And understanding has this quality that, however it be led up to, it issues in the soul freely conforming its nature to the supremacy of insight. It is the reconciliation of freedom with the compulsion of the truth. In this sense the captive can be free, taking as his own the supreme insight, the indwelling persuasion towards the harmony which is the height of existence" (p.71).
Again we have: "The doctrine of the Uniformity of Nature is to be ranked with the contrasted doctrine of magic and miracle, as an expression of partial truth, unguarded and unco-ordinated with the immensities of the Universe" (p.81). But still I feel that in all of this Whitehead does not go beyond the freedom of the Stoics, who were metaphysically determinists, nor beyond Spinoza's autonomy which was consistent with his Cartesian determinism.
When we move from the sphere of personal action to the sphere of history, again I find the same ambiguity in Whitehead's position:
"By the phrase Historical Foresight, I mean something quite different from the accurate exercise of Scientific Induction. Science is concerned with generalities. The generalities apply, but they do not determine the course of history apart from some anchorage of fact. There might have been many alternative courses of history conditioned by the same laws. Perhaps, if we knew enough of the laws, then we should understand that the development of the future from the past is completely determined by the details of the past and by these scientific laws which condition all generation. Unfortunately our knowledge of scientific laws is woefully defective, and our knowledge of the relevant facts of the present and the past is scanty in the extreme. Thus as the result of all our science, we are ignorant of that remote epoch when there will be a second collision between the sun and a passing star, we are ignorant of the future of life on the earth, we are ignorant of the future of mankind, we are ignorant of the course of history a year hence, we are ignorant of most of the domestic details of our lives to-morrow, we are even ignorant of the term that has been set to our own existence" (pp.88-9).
Following the above he writes: "Also the basis of our defect in foresight is our scant knowledge of the relevant detailed facts in past and present which are required for the application of the scientific laws" (p.89). Further on Whitehead writes: "Science deals with large average effects, important within certain modes of observation. But in the history of thought no scientific conclusion has ever survived unmodified by radical increase in our subtleties of relevant knowledge" (p.90). But this could still be read as relegating the uncertainty to human weakness rather than to the fundamental uncertainty in the processes of nature. So Whitehead's position on freedom and determinism seems to be decidedly ambivalent: I would say schizophrenic if that were not too irreverent. In his scientific character he would endorse Laplace without reservation. Although he says, "Probably a neat doctrine of foresight is impossible", he seems to see that as an inevitable defect in our capacity, not as a logical or metaphysical impossibility. But then the very spirit of the philosophy of organism demands autonomy and spontaneity and the poet in Whitehead often gives clarion voice to that. When speaking of "Historical Foresight" Whitehead finds himself precariously balanced between these two positions that are truly antithetical. Even when in Section VII of Chapter XII we seem to have the clearest rejection of determinism: "The causal independence of contemporary occasions is the ground for the freedom within the Universe" (p.193), there is still room for asking how this goes with the rest of Whitehead's epistemology.
Whitehead somewhere refers to "the factor of compulsive determinism in the Universe" (id., p.243). I am not sure what to understand by this or how to fit it into Whitehead's system. A little further on we have the assertion that "the future of the Universe, though conditioned by the immanence of its past, awaits for its complete determination the spontaneity of the novel individual occasions as in their season they come into being" (p.244), which can be seen to agree with: "Spontaneity, originality of decision, belongs to the essence of each actual occasion" (p.247). Nevertheless a lurking ambivalence in Whitehead's position seems to have stood in the way of his fully and unreservedly acknowledging that creativity and spontaneity are of the essence of reality.
In Modes of Thought Whitehead seems to be more decided. He says: "In current literature we find the same authors denying infractions of natural order, and denying any reason for such denial, and denying any justification for a philosophical search for reasons justifying their own denials" (p.88). This seems to rule out any wavering on the part of Whitehead on the question of determinism; he seems decidedly to deny determinism. So I may have been mistaken when I thought earlier that Whitehead remained undecided on the question. Perhaps it was a matter of emphasis and expression. It may be that in his earlier philosophical works he was still voicing the conventional position of mathematicians and physicists, but gradually came to see that his philosophy of process required that he emphasize creativity and deny determinism explicitly. Lecture Five in Modes of Thought closes with these words: "It is the religious impulse in the world which transforms the dead facts of science into the living drama of history. For this reason science can never foretell the perpetual novelty of history" (p.104).
In "Free Will as Creativity" I maintain that to resolve the riddle of determinism versus freedom we have (1) clearly to separate the problem of choice from the problem of free will; (2) to realize that all scientific laws are approximations and do not imply absolute determinism; (3) to acknowledge creativity as an original principle, an original dimension, of ultimate Reality. As I see it, Whitehead's position is defective on (1), wavering on (2), and lacks emphasis on (3).
CONCLUDING (MOSTLY IDIOTIC) REMARKS
"Philosophy", says Whitehead, "is not one among the sciences with its own little scheme of abstractions which it works away at perfecting and improving. It is the survey of sciences, with the special objects of their harmony and their completion. It brings to this task, not only the evidence of the separate sciences, but also its own appeal to concrete experience. It confronts the sciences with concrete fact" (Science and the Modern World, p.106). This is a conception of philosophy different from mine. Let us not say that our two views are opposed; they are parallel. I wish we could have different names to distinguish the two kinds. But Whitehead not only calls his version philosophy but also calls it metaphysics and again cosmology. I have sometimes used the designation 'philosophy proper' for what we may otherwise call metaphysics (begging Whitehead to cede the term to us).
I would say that a philosopher is only wrong when he declares other philosophers to be wrong. A genuine philosopher who thinks for herself or himself draws a picture of the world as she or he sees it from a certain perspective, articulated in the special language of a particular universe of discourse. This cannot be wrong: it can be flimsy, shallow, narrow, or relatively rich and deep and broad, but not wrong and not, correctly speaking, right. Philosophers will do well to understand this.
For this reason I make a radical distinction between facts (actualities, existents) and realities (Plato's ousia, aletheia, to ontos on). Philosophy has nothing to do with the former; science has nothing to do with the latter. I am not quite happy with my choice of terms. I wish I could find a less confusing terminology, a terminology less open to misunderstanding. I could with justice borrow Whitehead's statement: "We have suffered much from critics who consider it sufficient to criticise our procedure on the slender basis of a knowledge of the dictionary meanings of such terms" (p.171), replacing Whitehead's 'We' and 'our' with 'I' and 'my'. But I insist on the necessity of this distinction. Without it philosophy will continue to seem to be vain and science will continue to wage quixotic battles against illusory windmills.
Whitehead understands Ontology as "the determination of the nature of what truly exists; in other words, Metaphysics." He finds the exclusion of metaphysical inquiry from science a pity. He also says that while we can agree about science after due debate, "in respect to metaphysics debate has hitherto accentuated disagreement" ("The Anatomy of Some Scientific Ideas", The Aims of Education, p.180). I think this epitomizes what is wrong with the common conception of the nature of metaphysical thinking. Scientific debate can end in agreement because it is about things that are 'out there', are public, are amenable to objective examination. That there should be any metaphysical debate at all is sheer folly. A metaphysical statement is about something unique, something that is only there for the thinker as she or he thinks of it. It is not about a fact open to inspection by all; it gives expression to an original idea that is only there for its originator and that becomes a different thing for every mind that receives it and chooses to work on it.
"The results of science", Whitehead tells us, "are never quite true" ("Space, Time, and Relativity", The Aims of Education, p.233). It is easy to pass over this statement without sensing its basic implications. I give these as follows: The laws of science are never and can never be perfectly accurate, and that for a very good reason: there is no absolute regularity in nature. Nature is good-natured enough never to give us astounding surprises. Our planet will not tomorrow go round the sun at an appreciably faster or at an appreciably slower rate than it does today, but it will never go at exactly the same rate, if only because the mass of the sun is always changing. Nobody can ever prove, either empirically or logically, the truth or falsity of my contention that nature knows no absolute regularity, and I assure you that I am not claiming for my statement any scientific validity or scientific value. I offer my statement as an element in a philosophical vision. It has nothing to do with the actual world. (I am not sure Whitehead would accept my amplification of his statement.)
In "The Organisation of Thought" (The Aims of Education) there is a paragraph which clearly defines where I part company with Whitehead. I have to quote this paragraph in full:
"Ideal experiences are closely connected with our imaginative reproduction of the actual experiences of other people, and also with our almost inevitable conception of ourselves as receiving our impressions from an external complex reality beyond ourselves. It may be that an adequate analysis of every source and every type of experience yields demonstrative proof of such a reality and of its nature. Indeed, it is hardly to be doubted that this is the case. The precise elucidation of this question is the problem of metaphysics. One of the points which I am urging in this address is, that the basis of science does not depend on the assumption of any of the conclusions of metaphysics; but that both science and metaphysics start from the same given groundwork of immediate experience, and in the main proceed in opposite directions on their diverse tasks" (pp.160-1).
Let us take the following statement, a scientific statement with unimpeachable scientific credentials: "Light consists of waves of vibrations in the electro-magnetic field." I, a confessed ignoramus, will say that this is sheer nonsense. Let us look at it. Light (a thing which is a high mystery, not only to me but also to the greatest of scientists) consists of waves (which are not things but a form of movement) of vibrations (which are again not things but a form of motion) in the electro-magnetic field (which once again is not a thing nor a place but simply the 'where' where the waves of vibrations take place). Let us translate: "Light is a motion of motion where that motion of motion moves." I am not making fun. I know that that scientific statement is of the highest importance and that it is thanks to it and its likes that I am now writing this on my laptop and can flash what I am writing in a moment to a friend on the other side of the globe. What I want to say, what I have been saying in book after book, is that science, or rather scientists, create fictions that enable us to manipulate the powers of nature but do not and can not give us understanding of nature. Both scientists and philosophers have found it very hard to acknowledge this fact.
I think Whitehead wronged himself by binding his 'speculative philosophy' too closely with scientific theory. Whitehead regrets the partial separation of philosophy and science in modern thought. I regret that the separation has been only partial.
In Adventures of Ideas Whitehead says that Newton "held the most simple-minded version of the Lucretian doctrine of the Void, the most simple-minded version of the Lucretian doctrine of material atoms, and the most simple-minded version of the Law imposed by Divine decree. ... His cosmology is very easy to understand and very hard to believe. Pragmatically it experienced a supreme justification for two centuries" (p.129). Indeed, that is all that should be required of any scientific theory; to ask for more is to confuse the functions of science and philosophy. And in fairness to Newton we must note that he did not ask anybody to "believe" his cosmology. He asked people to work on it. A little further on Whitehead says that Lucretius and Newton "implicitly ask the question, What does the world of atoms look like to an intellect surveying it? What would such an intellect say about the spectacle of an atomic Universe?" (p.130). In the following paragraph Whitehead writes: "But Leibniz answered another question. He explained what it must be like to be an atom. Lucretius tells us what an atom looks like to others, and Leibniz tells us how an atom is feeling about itself." Of course, Leibniz' account is of little value "pragmatically" but it gives us understanding; it gives us a myth that is intelligible and that sheds intelligibility on the dumb world. That is philosophy. Whitehead half-knows this, but his interest in constructing a cosmology that has objective validity does not permit him to confess it openly. What I am saying here does not detract from my appreciation of what Whitehead says of the imperfections of Leibniz' theory.
Whitehead's profound and extensive scientific knowledge harmed him. He thought he could construct a comprehensive theory of nature. All he did in that direction was to replace the abstractions of physics with more sophisticated abstractions mainly inspired by biology. That could never form a metaphysics. What is valuable and lasting in Whitehead's philosophy are his general concepts of organism, process, and duration, and his insightful views of the religious experience and the meaning of life and human values. That is what makes his philosophy a great and original philosophy.
'Disclosure' is a favourite word with Whitehead. Disclosure implies uncovering something that is out there for us to uncover. I have repeatedly criticized this implication. But it is partly true. All knowledge refers to something outside us. Even knowledge of ourselves, even reflective thought on our own thought, in a sense relates to what is other than the reflecting subject. The point of my criticism is that even then, that in every case, the form that gives understanding, that confers on the thing its 'disclosed' meaning, is a creation of the mind. Plato was right; Kant was right: we find in nature only what we put into nature. But even Plato admitted that the raw matter of knowledge is provided by our senses.
Whitehead speaks of two kinds of abstraction. In the first kind the abstraction is "involved in the creation of any actuality, with its union of finitude with infinity." I suppose this is what Plato saw as the actualization of the particular by participation in the Form. The second kind is that which we commonly refer to by 'abstraction'. It is "abstraction whereby finite constituents of the actual thing are abstracted from that thing. This procedure is necessary for finite thought, though it weakens the sense of reality. It is the basis of science." This is the abstraction Whitehead campaigned against in his doctrine of the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness. Whitehead continues: "The task of philosophy is to reverse this process and thus to exhibit the fusion of analysis with actuality." This is what Whitehead seeks to do in his cosmology. Whitehead concludes: "It follows that Philosophy is not a science." (Essays in Science and Philosophy, "Mathematics and the Good", p.86.) I willingly endorse this last sentence, though what I mean by it differs from what Whitehead means by it.
Whitehead decides to ignore nineteenth century idealism. This was to be expected. Whitehead states that "these idealistic schools have conspicuously failed to connect, in any organic fashion, the fact of nature with their idealist philosophies" (Science and the Modern World, pp.80-1). There could be no common ground, no common understanding, between Whitehead and these schools, and that, in my opinion, for the very good reason that they shared the same misconception of the nature of philosophy. Both parties wanted their philosophies to be true of the world. Both were building cosmologies. Whitehead was forming a scientific cosmology, based on scientific principles with sound empirical grounds. The Idealists built purely rational cosmologies. Both parties were simply inventing muthoi. Had they realized that, each could have appreciated and enjoyed the other's muthos without having either to adopt it or to reject it.
The major sin of all British philosophy is the obsession with objects and objectivity. It is a kind of idolatry. Whitehead was not entirely free of that sin; he could not completely shed off that idolatry; that is why in the end instead of building up a metaphysical system, such as Leibniz or Spinoza or Schopenhauer did, he built up a cosmology which is as intelligible and as inspiring but also as mythical as that of Plato's Timaeus - a cosmology which true philosophers will value but which no scientist, as scientist, will be satisfied with.
In Science and the Modern World Whitehead says, "I hold that by a process of constructive abstraction we can arrive at abstractions which are the simply located bits of material, and at other abstractions which are the minds included in the scientific scheme" (p.74). This is the inveterate error of Empiricism. One way or another we reach an objective representation - logical, physical, neurological, whatever - of mind, and that is that: we have no further use for mind. In saying that Whitehead failed to escape the limitations of British Empiricism, I am not overlooking Whitehead's insightful criticism of the empiricism of Locke and Hume. When I speak of Whitehead remaining within the confines of British Empiricism I am speaking of a temper and an attitude that finds rest in the objective and that is hospitable to reductionism. That is why Whitehead stops short of fully assuming the Kantian position or adopting Plato's Idealism.
The other point where I claim my philosophy goes beyond Whitehead is the the principle of creativity. For me all becoming is creative. While Whitehead asserts that all reality is process in organism, that is, in organic wholes, he yet sees the process as subject to, or at any rate as exemplifying, inexorable laws, I insist that all the laws, whether scientific or philosophical, are fictional abstractions, good for working out reasonable expectations, but are never determinative. I see all becoming as originative. There is no repetition in Nature. God never repeats himself. If it were not so we would have either utter chaos or the Nietzschean eternal cyclic recurrence. Whitehead repeatedly speaks of creativity, makes use of the notion of creativity, but does not give it full play. For me creativity is a first principle; indeed, for me, creativity is reality.
We think of things habitually as fixed, stable, permanent. To act on things, react to things, interact with things, we have to think of them in this way. This is the habit of mind Bergson took it on himself to correct. We find it very hard to free ourselves of this way of seeing things. It is very hard for us to see that in the whole world there is not one single 'thing'; the world itself is not a 'thing'; there is no thingness in the world; there is only becoming; and the reality is not what becomes or what is becoming, but is the becoming: my reality is not in what I think or what I do; my reality is in the thinking; I am only real in the act of thinking.
I have been dismayed to find that the few of my friends who have read my books sympathetically found it hard to comprehend my concept of reality - reality transcending all existence and all forms, just as Plato thought of the Good as beyond both ousia and episteme. Let us take an analogy from science. Whitehead speaks of a time when scientists thought of mass as "the one final permanent quantity". Energy was "construed as something subsidiary to matter". (Quantity obviously had to be quantity of something, some stuff, and that, whatever it turns out to be is matter.) "Later on, we find the relations of mass and energy inverted; so that mass now becomes the name for a quantity of energy considered in relation to some of its dynamical effects. This train of thought leads to the notion of energy being fundamental, thus displacing matter from that position" (Science and the Modern World, pp.123-4). (For those who will scoff at me for apparently relying on nineteenth-century science, I have to explain that whatever advance or change science has made since Whitehead wrote affects neither Whitehead's position nor mine. Neither Whitehead at this point nor I are doing science. Whitehead was taking the scientific concepts of a particular epoch as matter out of which to mould his philosophy of organism and process. I am taking Whitehead's exposition as an analogy to clarify my concept of reality which I did not form in the first place with any reference to science but had arrived at it independently and developed it as an original version of Platonism. I could just as well use Hesiod's theogony to illustrate my view. In Hypatia's Lover I made use of the Egyptian myth of Isis and Osiris.) Whitehead leads from this to the notion of organism which to him is the final reality. Thus Whitehead finds organism as an objective reality, an objective concept, to rest in. But if we say that the final reality of the organism is energy and ask, energy of what?, energy in what?, we cannot find an answer without circularity. Thus I find that Whitehead's cosmology stops short of taking the final leap into the abysm of the mystery. If energy is final, we have to see it as just energy, not energy of anything, not energy in anything, not energy turned into some kind of stuff. We have to conceive the final reality purely and simply as the act, the doing, not what is acted or what is done. That is how I arrive at my notion of ultimate Reality as Creative Eternity, Creative Intelligence as simply intelligent creativity creating its own being, its own substantiality, its own forms; it itself transcending all existence, all being, all form. If we say that the final Reality is Mind, it must be mind not as an entity but as active intelligence or intelligent activity. I have been saying this in all my books and have tried to say it in diverse ways and to put special emphasis on it in my latest book, Quest of Reality.
Cairo, October 17, 2013.
My Let Us Philosophize (second revised edition, 2008) and Hypatia's Lover, 2006, are freely downloadable from the ArabWorldBooks.com E-books section: http://www.arabworldbooks.com/E-Books/e_books.html I intend to make all my books available in this way.