Process and Reality (Corrected Edition)

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Because of the tendency for overstatement, the abstractions from the more specialized disciplines usually need to be reformulated before they can be integrated into a self-consistent cosmology Whitehead This fallacy lies behind scientific materialism, according to which everything, including human experience, is to be explained in terms of the locomotion of bits of matter devoid of spontaneity, internal process and intrinsic value Whitehead The suggested alternative is to reconceive the basic units of the world as processes see Whitehead , A.

Whereas all process philosophies in the broad sense could agree with these statements, it is the particular interpretation given to them that constitutes the distinctiveness of Whiteheadian process philosophy. Partly through the influence of quantum physics, Whitehead conceived of the most fundamental units of the world, the most fully actual entities, not as enduring individuals but as momentary events. Rather, they constitute, as Bergson had suggested, a more or less brief duration from perhaps less than a billionth of a second in subatomic events to perhaps a tenth of a second at the level of human experience.

This proper relation is that every actual occasion begins by receiving efficient causation from prior actual occasions, completes itself by exercising final causation, understood as self-determination, and then exercises efficient causation upon following occasions. The temporal process involves a perpetual oscillation between efficient and final causation. According to Cartesian dualism, minds were temporal but not spatial, while material bodies were spatially extended but essentially nontemporal being able to exist at an instant.

His idea that these events involve both concrescence and transition overcomes the further dualism between actual entities that can exert only efficient causation and those that can exercise self-determination.

Process and Reality

The central feature of Cartesianism, however, was the dualism between actual entities with experience and those without. The meaning is not that all actual entities are conscious — most are not — but that they have some degree of feeling.

Process and Reality

Panexperientialists, like materialists, consider insoluble the problem of dualistic interaction: How could mind and brain cells, understood as actualities of ontologically different types, interact? Materialism seeks to avoid this problem by thinking of the mind as somehow identical with the brain.

However, besides still having the problem of how conscious experience could arise out of insentient neurons, materialism is also hard-pressed to explain the apparent unity and freedom of our experience. The move by eliminative materialists, denying that there is any experience, unity or freedom to explain, rejects in theory what is inevitably presupposed in practice.

With dualism, it distinguishes numerically between mind and brain. The distinct reality of the mind, as a temporally ordered society of very high-level occasions of experience, provides a locus for the unity of our experience and its power to exercise self-determination. To deal with the influences of human experiences upon cells, one turns this around.

The freedom of bodily action has also been a problem for materialists, who may admit that they cannot help presupposing this freedom while claiming that the scientific worldview has no room for it. One of the assumptions behind this claim is that the behaviour of subatomic particles is fully specified by the laws of physics.

A second is that all wholes, including human beings, are analogous to rocks and billiard balls, so that all vertical causation must run upward, from the most elementary parts to the whole. This idea of nonsensory prehension is central to process philosophy.

It is implicit in the idea of panexperientialism: because sensory perception can be attributed only to organisms with sensory organs, the idea that all actual entities have experience presupposes a more primitive mode of perceptual experience that can be generalized to all individuals whatsoever. This idea is also presupposed in the acceptance of aesthetic, ethical and religious experiences as genuine apprehensions.

One side of this task of reconciling science and religion involves what has been discussed above — the replacement of the materialistic worldview, with which science has recently been associated, with panexperientialism, which allows religious and moral experience as well as freedom to be taken seriously.

The other side of the task involves overcoming exaggerations from the religious side that conflict with necessary assumptions of science.


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Here the main exaggeration involves the idea of divine power. Arguments for the existence of God are developed much more fully by Hartshorne , than by Whitehead.

Creativity and Its Discontents

But they strongly reject the traditional doctrine of divine power, according to which God, having created the world ex nihilo , can interrupt its basic causal processes — a doctrine that, besides creating an insuperable problem of evil, also conflicts with the assumption of scientific naturalism that no such interruptions can occur. Their alternative proposal is that the power of God is persuasive, not coercive Whitehead , ; Hartshorne The most prominent advocate of Whiteheadian process philosophy in the following decades, furthermore, was Hartshorne, whose focus on the idea of God, while creating interest in theological faculties, reinforced suspicions in philosophical circles.

In , a journal, Process Studies, was created for the purpose of furthering the study and development of process thinking. Whiteheadian process philosophy has exerted some influence in a number of branches of philosophy, such as the philosophies of science, education, and art. Its major influence thus far, however, has continued to be in the philosophy of religion Cobb , ; Frankenberry ; Griffin , ; Ogden , including discussions of the relation between science and religion in particular Barbour , Barbour, I.

A widely used text written primarily from the perspective of process philosophy. An updated replacement of the previous book, based on Gifford Lectures. Browning, D. Christian, W. Cobb, J. The first three chapters of this more popular presentation, based on a series of lectures, are especially recommended.

Process and Reality by Alfred North Whitehead - AbeBooks

Frankenberry, N. Such a change of thought is the shift from materialism to Organic Realism , as a basic idea of physical science. Whitehead's background was an unusual one for a speculative philosopher. Educated as a mathematician, he became, through his coauthorship and publication of Principia Mathematica with Bertrand Russell , a major logician.

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Later he wrote extensively on physics and its philosophy, proposing a theory of gravity in Minkowski space as a logically possible alternative to Einstein's general theory of relativity. Whitehead's Process and Reality [1] is perhaps his philosophical master work. The following is an attempt to provide an accessible outline of some of the main ideas in Whitehead's Process and Reality , based on the book itself, but guided by a general reading of secondary sources, especially I. Leclerc's Whitehead's Metaphysics. An Introductory Exposition.

The cosmology elaborated in Process and Reality posits an ontology based on the two kinds of existence of entity, that of actual entity and that of abstract entity or abstraction. The ultimate abstract principle of actual existence for Whitehead is creativity. Actual existence is a process of becoming, and " This term may be contrasted with 'nomic causality'.

An example of singular causation is that I woke this morning because my alarm clock rang. An example of nomic causation is that alarm clocks generally wake people in the morning. Aristotle recognises singular causality as efficient causality. For Whitehead, there are many contributory singular causes for an event. A further contributory singular cause of my being awoken by my alarm clock this morning was that I was lying asleep near it till it rang. An actual entity is a general philosophical term for an utterly determinate and completely concrete individual particular of the actually existing world or universe of changeable entities considered in terms of singular causality, about which categorical statements can be made.

Whitehead's most far-reaching and profound and radical contribution to metaphysics is his invention of a better way of choosing the actual entities. Whitehead chooses a way of defining the actual entities that makes them all alike, qua actual entities, with a single exception, God.

For example, for Aristotle, the actual entities were the substances , such as Socrates a particular citizen of Athens and Bucephalus a particular horse belonging to Alexander the Great. Besides Aristotle's ontology of substances, another example of an ontology that posits actual entities is in Leibniz ' monads , said to be 'windowless'. For Whitehead, the actual entities exist as the only foundational elements of reality, the ultimately existing facts of the world. Nothing "either in fact or in efficacy" [4] underlies or lies beyond the actual entities; rather they underlie all reality.

With one exception, all actual entities for Whitehead are temporal and are occasions of experience which are not to be confused with consciousness , or with mere subjectivity. This 'actual entity' idea is most distinctly characteristic of the metaphysics of Process and Reality , and requires of the newly approaching reader a philosophically unprejudiced approach. An entity that people commonly think of as a simple concrete object , or that Aristotle would think of as a substance — a human being included — is in this ontology considered to be a composite of indefinitely many occasions of experience.

The one exceptional actual entity is at once temporal and atemporal : God. He is objectively immortal, as well as being immanent in the world. He is objectified in each temporal actual entity; but He is not an eternal object. Whitehead uses the term 'actual occasion' to refer only to purely temporal actual entities, those other than God. The occasions of experience are of four grades. The first comprises processes in a physical vacuum such as the propagation of an electromagnetic wave or gravitational influence across empty space.

The occasions of experience of the second grade involve just inanimate matter. The occasions of experience of the third grade involve living organisms. Occasions of experience of the fourth grade involve experience in the mode of presentational immediacy, which means more or less what are often called the qualia of subjective experience. So far as we know, experience in the mode of presentational immediacy occurs in only more evolved animals.

That some occasions of experience involve experience in the mode of presentational immediacy is the one and only reason why Whitehead makes the occasions of experience his actual entities; for the actual entities must be of the ultimately general kind. Consequently, it is inessential that an occasion of experience have an aspect in the mode of presentational immediacy; occasions in the grades one, two, and three lack that aspect. The highest grade of experience "is to be identified with the canalized importance of free conceptual functionings".

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There is no mind-matter duality in this ontology, because "mind" is simply seen as an abstraction from an occasion of experience which has also a material aspect, which is of course simply another abstraction from it; thus the mental and the material aspects are abstractions from one and the same concrete occasion of experience. The brain is part of the body, both being abstractions of a kind known as persistent physical objects , neither being actual entities.

Though not recognised by Aristotle, there is biological evidence, written about by Galen , [8] that the human brain is an essential seat of human experience in the mode of presentational immediacy. We may say that the brain has a material and a mental aspect, all three being abstractions from their indefinitely many constitutive occasions of experience, which are actual entities. Inherent in each actual entity is its respective dimension of time. Potentially, each occasion of experience is causally consequential on every other occasion of experience that precedes it in time, and has as its causal consequences every other occasion of experience that follows; thus it has been said that Whitehead's occasions of experience are 'all window', in contrast to Leibniz's 'windowless' monads.


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In time defined relative to it, each occasion of experience is causally influenced by prior occasions of experiences, and causally influences future occasions of experience. An occasion of experience consists of a process of prehending other occasions of experience, reacting to them.