John B. Cobb, Jr., Ph.D. is Professor of Theology Emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California, and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies there. His many books currently in print include: Reclaiming the Church (1997); with Herman Daly, For the Common Good; Becoming a Thinking Christian (1993); Sustainability (1992); Can Christ Become Good News Again? (1991); ed. with Christopher Ives, The Emptying God: a Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation (1990); with Charles Birch, The Liberation of Life; and with David Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (1977). He is a retired minister in the United Methodist Church. His email address is email@example.com..
This paper was written in August, 1989.
In the fifties and sixties, many people turned to non-academic psychology: Esalen and others. Some of these centers still flourish and help to provide meaning and guidance to thoughtful people. But they do not have the visibility they once enjoyed. Exploration and development of the personal inner life through psychological techniques has given way to, or developed into, three important currents to which the author gives attention. These are Buddhism, feminism, and the ecological movement.
Much of what is most important in shaping the philosophy by which thoughtful people live and think does not take place in departments of philosophy in universities. There the problematic is shaped a by a history of discussion mostly among philosophers. The problems considered are those that are generated by just this discussion. These are not the problems that occur to thoughtful people, even intellectuals, generally, as they contemplate both the public issues of the day and how to order their own lives in relation to the increasingly confusing world.
The West Coast of the United States is a place where this informal philosophical reflection flourishes. There are several reasons. One is that the mainstream Protestant churches have never exercised hegemony here. In the East, the South, and the Midwest, even among persons who have no individual experience of these churches, there remains an established culture shaped by the earlier preeminence of these churches. A value structure of European origin and reshaped by the American experience remains. On the West Coast it exists only as it has been brought here by individual immigrants. As an existing force, these traditions, which have shaped the ethos of so much in the United States, have never been more than one tradition among many. Mexican culture is an important part of the heritage and is reinforced by a large Mexican population. The influx of Orientals is also a significant cultural factor. Catholics and Jews are at least as strong as mainstream Protestants, and sectarian and cultic Protestants, beginning with Mormons, are, collectively, stronger. Stronger still are those with no ties to historic Judaism or Christianity at all. When these seek to find meaning for their lives, they often do so neither through, nor in reaction against, traditional Western religions, but quite freely and openly, and sometimes creatively.
If the image of professional philosophers were different, courses in philosophy might be crowded with persons seeking their wisdom. And there are a few instances of professional philosophers offering such wisdom. But since this is so rare, most of the quest goes on outside academic philosophy and even outside the university in general.
In the fifties and sixties, it was non-academic psychology to which people turned for guidance. There were scores of centers in California alone to which people went for a few days or a few weeks to explore their inner lives and grow toward emotional and spiritual maturity. Some had little theoretical substance, but others were led by highly reflective people who expressed their philosophical conclusions in the experiences they provided those who came. Esalen, for example, was best known for a few practices that appeared eccentric to outsiders, but in fact it was founded on well thought out principles.
Many of these centers still flourish and help to provide meaning and guidance to thoughtful people. But they do not have the visibility they once enjoyed. Exploration and development of the personal inner life through psychological techniques has given way to, or developed into, three important currents to which I want to give more extended attention. These are Buddhism, feminism, and the ecological movement.
The religious thought of India has been an important part of the California intellectual scene through much of this century. It appeared first, as a major phenomenon, in the form of Vedanta. Christopher Isherwood and Aldous Huxley became Vedantists, and they did much to introduce this “perennial philosophy” into the thinking of the nation. Probably it took deepest root in California, and it is still here.
However, the most influential missionary of the twentieth century was a Japanese Buddhist rather than a Hindu. This was D. T. Suzuki. Suzuki lived for many years in California, and through his personal contacts and his writing, he introduced Zen Buddhism into American culture at all levels. It shaped the thinking of many of the psychologically-oriented movements of the fifties and sixties, it provided ideals and ideas to the Hippies and the Beatles, it heightened interest in Buddhism in the universities and helped to encourage the vast growth of courses in world religions, and it led to the organization of Zen centers throughout the country, but especially in California. There are thousands of converts among intellectuals and university professors who have adopted some form of Zen practice and whose thinking is pervaded by a Zen sensitivity. This is even more true of psychotherapists. In intellectual circles in California, it is more acceptable to be a Buddhist than a Christian.
Westerners want to know whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy. This is just the kind of question that displays much of what, from a Buddhist point of view, is wrong with the West. We have established in our minds, out of our intellectual and cultural history, certain categories. When we encounter a new phenomenon, we cannot just let it be what it is. We must impose one of our predetermined categories upon it. One of the major functions of Buddhist disciplines is to free us from this habit or screening out so much of the world as it is. It aims to end our habit of filtering the world through our concepts.
In the present instance, it is easy to see that the Buddhists are correct. Our distinctions between religion and philosophy are modern ones which have been caused by particular features of Western history. Even during the Roman period, the question of whether Stoicism or Neoplatonism was a religion or a philosophy would have made little sense. For most thoughtful people throughout history, the most important function of thinking has been to deal with the inclusive questions of meaning and being in the world. This thinking is for the sake of living appropriately. The idea that it is desirable to separate our most rigorous thinking from the ordering of our lives, can only seem eccentric. Yet once the separation occurred in the West, it became difficult for Westerners not to ask this question, not to think that philosophy has one essence and religion another. Thus our concepts shape our inquiry and distort the world.
Buddhists carry their polemic against concepts much further. it applies to concepts of cups and tables and mountains and trees as well. All of our language so orders our experience that, instead of simply being aware of what is given, the given is seen as an instance of some more general category. Through subtle and complex analyses Buddhists connect this inability, simply to let things be what they are, with our attachment to them. From this attachment stems our fundamental un-ease. This un-ease leads not only to our inability to find peace within ourselves, but to all sorts of actions in the world that disturb the public order as well.
This conceptualizing is closely connected with the tendency to substantialize. We treat the cups and tables and mountains and trees as if they had independent existence in themselves. In fact, Buddhist analysis shows, they are instances of dependent origination, lacking any substantial existence of their own. They come to be, and are, only as nodes of interconnections of other things. Realizing this, is important, since it facilitates that letting go of things which is essential to spiritual health.
What is most important is to apply this analysis to ourselves. We use the pronoun “I,” and we are led to think that there is some ongoing reality, some self, to which it refers. There is not. There is, of course, the occurrence of experience. But this experience is an instance of dependent origination, a node of interconnections of other things, each of which is a node of interconnections of other things. This is the famous no-self doctrine. When we not only understand intellectually that no self exists, but also realize this existentially, the breakthrough to enlightenment takes place.
The doctrine of dependent origination underlies the rejection by Buddhists of both monism and dualism. There is no one underlying substance that expresses itself in the multiplicity of particular entities, as Vedantists taught. There certainly are not two types of entities, one mental and the other material. Each thing is but the event of coming together of other things. Thus a human experience is not to be understood as a subject encountering an object. There is no subject and there is no object. There is instead the origination of an event out of the myriads of events that make up the world, each of which originates out of other events. Buddhists call this the doctrine of nondualism.
As one realizes what reality is, and sees the frantic and futile efforts people make to control it for the supposed interests of an illusory self, one is filled with compassion. The Buddhist life is the life of compassion, the effortless effort to free others from their bondage to illusion so that they may know the blessedness that comes from letting being be. This does not lead to inaction, but rather to mindful activity, that is, to activity in which one is aware not only of what one is doing, but also of just why one is doing it. The ability to live without illusion is nourished by the spiritual disciplines of Buddhism.
There are features of Buddhism that have appealed to some feminists, but feminism as a movement has a very different center. It has arisen through the raising of consciousness among women about the manifold ways in which all social conventions work to keep them “in their place.” This may begin with the realization that many of the types of work they would like to do are thought of as belonging to the male domain. They note that the role they are assigned is to support the men in carrying out these roles, both by being wives and, when they enter the workplace, as secretaries and nurses and teachers of children. Married women find that even when they work side by side with men, they are still expected to take the major responsibility for housekeeping. They also note that women are often paid less for identical work, and that wages are lower for the sorts of jobs most open to them than for jobs usually held by men, even when the degree of skill or education required is greater.
Although the realization of these inequities is often the starting point of feminist inquiry, it is only that. Feminists see that our whole inherited system of language expresses and undergirds the patriarchal practice. In English, standard practice has been to use masculine terms when both genders, or either gender, is intended. Thus, “he” is used even when the person referred to is equally likely to be a woman. “She” is used only when it is known that the person is a woman. When it is argued that this is a mere convention, and that everyone knows that “he” can refer to a woman as easily as to a man, feminists show that in fact this is not the case. They agree with Buddhists as to the power of language to shape our worlds, and they have demonstrated that in fact the male pronoun elicits male images in both men and women. In this way language makes women invisible in the public world.
Still, this is barely the beginning of the analysis. Feminists show how ethical concepts and language are oriented to male experience. Moral norms presuppose the peculiarly male individualism, and they denigrate the relational sensibility of women. They show that our religious heritage is patriarchal to the core, offering us a male God in the image of the male parent. When it is objected that everyone knows that God is beyond gender, they point out the deep psychic changes that occur when exclusively feminine language is used about God. The point is not simply that God is conceived as male; it is that much of what is said about God both in the Bible and in the tradition is the projection on the divine of peculiarly male ideals. Men seek self-sufficiency and independence. God is depicted as absolutely self-sufficient and independent. This is not women’s experience, nor their ideal. Men seek to be in control. God is depicted as totally in control of everything. Women prefer to work with others, sensitive to their needs.
Women have pointed out that, in the male imagination, they are associated with nature. Both women and nature are to be mastered and conquered. They are pictured as the passive objects of man’s action. An untamed woman, like an untamed landscape, is a challenge to men. The result is often the ravaging or rape of both women and the earth.
Women have tried to understand the violence that characterizes so much of male behavior in relation both to women and to the natural world. One theory is that it stems from the fact that in childhood almost all boys are raised by women. To establish their autonomy as men, they must do so over against the person to whom they are most attached. This break is a costly and painful one, leaving deep wounds in the male psyche. Men fear the power of women and, having escaped from it, they are determined not to succumb to it again. Yet they long for the nurturing that they experienced in childhood. The conflicting needs sometimes renew the anger that is felt toward the one from whom the break was first made — a woman. All too often, violence against a woman ensues. Some feminists hypothesize that if fathers shared the details of child rearing with mothers, sons would not need to rebel so strongly against their mothers, and a healthier transition would be possible.
The ecological movement is nationwide, even worldwide, but California provided more than its share of leadership. The Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth were among its early contributions, as was Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb. Politically, under the leadership of Jerry Brown, it pioneered in environmental protection legislation.
Although many of those concerned for environmental protection are thinking about the natural world simply as it relates to human beings, the leaders of the environmental movement have been moved to perception and action by deeper changes. Whereas our inherited habits of thought, especially since the Enlightenment, have been thoroughly anthropocentric, viewing everything but human beings as having value only as it is useful to human beings, the persons who first alerted us to our destruction of the natural world were people who cared for nature for its own sake as well. This recognition of the intrinsic value of the nonhuman world, and of its claim upon human beings, involves a deep shift for the Western psyche, raising a whole range of questions to which we are not accustomed. In general, modern philosophy has to be set aside and modern political and economic theory are also challenged.
If humanity is not to be viewed as lord and master of the natural world, with unlimited rights to use it without regard to the effects, then what is the place of human beings in nature? Are we simply one species among others? Do we need a new way of viewing ourselves that rejects speciesism, just as we have rejected, or intend to reject, racism and sexism? Or does humanity, in spite of its immersion in the natural world, have a special place there, so that some sacrifice of other creatures to human interests is morally justified and even required? If so, how do we balance the rights and needs of human beings against those of other species.
Also, once we have recognized that our way of dealing with other types of creatures is subject to ethical judgment through and through, should our concern be more with species, with ecosystems, or with individual animals. Some believe that the ecological sensibility calls on us to accept the struggle of living things with one another without sentimentality. We can share in that struggle. But the goal is to maintain or recover a healthy biosphere in which there is place for wildness, place where other creatures can exist independently of us.
Others believe that this insensitivity to the suffering of individual animals is profoundly immoral. They note that while some ecologists are focusing attention on the maintenance of wilderness, we have in fact turned our farms into factories, where meat is produced with no regard whatever for the suffering of the animals involved.
Some of those who are concerned for animal suffering believe that the goal should be legislation to reduce this suffering, while still affirming the right of human beings to raise animals for slaughter. Others believe that the killing of other animals should be viewed in much the same light as the killing of human beings. The traditional Hindu teaching that we should not harm sentient beings has taken deep hold in some sensitive consciences.
Still others move from the new awareness of the intrinsic value of the world to reflection about how human beings can order their social, political, and economic lives so as to respect this value. These reflections may include concern for regulating the treatment of animals, but they extend far beyond that. Economic theory, for example, treats land as a commodity. Land, here, is short for nature, the whole of the living system, as well as its physical base. It omits only human beings and their artifacts. But if land in this broad sense has value as an end in itself, then the economic theory based on land as commodity cannot be acceptable. What is to take its place?
In these discussions there are some appeals made to traditional philosophers. In this sense they are tied into academic philosophy. Furthermore, some professional philosophers have taken up these questions. In particular, questions about the rights of animals have made their way into texts in philosophical ethics. A “deep ecology” based on the work of the Norwegian philosopher, Arne Naess, and appealing to Spinoza for support, is promoted in California chiefly by certain professional philosophers. Nevertheless, most of the discussion is outside the academy.
Thus far I have said nothing about Whiteheadian philosophy. Yet my own Whiteheadian perspective has shaped much of what I have been saying about the three movements I have chosen to emphasize. All three criticize our Western heritage in ways that are congenial to Whitehead, while giving far more concreteness to these criticisms than have Whiteheadians, apart from these movements. My own program as a Whiteheadian thinker is to interact with movements like these, seeking to display the potential unity, or at least community, among them, and trying to deepen the analysis through the use of Whitehead’s rich conceptuality.
Obviously, this is a complex task. Through the Center for Process Studies we have done quite a lot of work in dialogue with Buddhists. Whiteheadians share the Buddhist vision of dependent origination. We call it, following Whitehead, “concrescence.” Concrescence is “the many becoming one,” and apart from concrescences there is nothing at all. Each momentary occasion of human experience is such a concrescence, and there is no subject or substance underlying these concrescences. Nondualism and the no-self doctrine fit the Whiteheadian analysis. But it is only through the interchange with Buddhists that Whiteheadians have realized the profound existential implications of what they have conceptually affirmed for more purely philosophical reasons.
Still there are differences. In Whitehead’s analysis each concrescence is completed through a “decision.” A decision is a selection from a wider range of possibilities. There is thus a radically contingent character to the world. At the human level we can speak of self-determination or freedom. This is not denied by Buddhists, but it is also not affirmed. Including it thematically in the analysis accents features of ethics that are usually obscured in Buddhist formulations.
This difference is closely connected with another. In its rejection of all substantial reality and all attachment, Buddhists generally are led to rejection of every form of theism. Originally their rejection was of Brahman, the one undifferentiated reality underlying all change and process. But when Buddhists encountered the Christian God, they rejected that too. This God was presented as a supreme substance, self-contained and all-controlling, demanding obedience, rewarding and punishing. All of this seemed to Buddhists both incredible and religiously destructive.
Whitehead also reacted against that image of God, but he thought a quite different image was possible, and his reflection on creaturely decision led him to affirm it. He pictured the role of the past in each event as determinative of much of it. But he also saw each event as selecting among alternative possible ways of transcending that past and constituting itself through that selection. The availability of relevant alternatives, Whitehead thought, can be understood only by virtue of a divine element in the universe that orders possibility in its relevance to actuality so as to lure events toward creative novelty. This factor he called God. God is the giver of freedom.
There is another difference. For Whitehead concrescence is only one aspect of “creativity,” which is “the many becoming one and being increased by one.” There is a cumulative character to the process. Again, this is not denied by Buddhists. But Buddhists tend to de-emphasize history as a meaningful movement from one state of affairs to another. Their analysis focuses on features of the human situation that do not change. Of course, each event is, for them, different from every other, but this difference has its significance in itself, not in its cumulative contribution to possible social changes. For Whitehead, the historical character of the process is undergirded and accented.
This historical character of reality makes possible a transition to feminism. Although feminists are extremely critical of the way men have written history and have understood the historical process, and although they sometimes call for the kind of sheer presence in the moment that is characteristic of Buddhists, nevertheless, they are inevitably immersed in social and historical analysis. They understand the present in terms of sedimentation from the past. They do not seek to solve the problem of the oppression of women by freeing themselves of all conceptualizing, but rather by uncovering the way in which inherited conceptualizing imprisons them, and then seeking healing images as well as new social structures. All of this makes sense from a Whiteheadian perspective.
The feminist critique of ethics and religion is also highly congenial. The ethics that follows from Whitehead’s work is a thoroughly relational one. One Whiteheadian has written an influential essay contrasting the “relational power” that follows from this perspective with the “unilateral power” so commonly sought and celebrated and attributed to God. The critique of the one-sidedly masculine character of the traits attributed to God was worked out in some detail by Whitehead himself, although he did not connect them with gender. He called for a di-polar way of thinking of God, in which God as a whole is viewed as radically relational. Much of the imagery that is naturally associated with thinking of God as Mother (as well as Father) is already present in Whitehead’s vision.
Whiteheadians have participated from an early point in the ecological movement. This is a natural expression of Whitehead’s own insights and concerns. He called his thinking the philosophy of organism, and his major point was that an organism cannot be separated from its environment. The great fallacy he found in so much of Western thought was thinking about the things that make up the world as if they could be what they are in separation from other things. That view led to neglect of the natural context of human life until the physical was so severely damaged that it was unable to perform the services needed by human beings. Whitehead’s view leads to attention to the environment as intrinsically important to the organism. Further, we are not to think of human organisms on the one side, and of a natural environment on the other. Each organism is also part of the environment of other organisms. Human beings and our artifacts are part of the environment of other organisms just as much as they are part of the environment for us. Each organism has value for the others. Each also is of value in itself.
The ethical issues that have become important as a result of the ecological movement have been germane to Whiteheadian thinking all along. It has been natural, therefore, for Whiteheadians to take part in this discussion. We share the sense that human beings are immersed in the natural world and do constitute one species among others. But because we focus on subjective experience as the locus of value, and because we believe that human experiences are the richest on this planet, we also affirm of human beings a quite distinct and special status. Further, we note that human beings have a peculiar capacity to affect the whole of the natural world; so we recognize and emphasize our unique responsibility.
Among other living things, also, we make discriminations. We note that some species are far more important than others to the sustaining of the whole interconnected system of animate and inanimate things. This gives them peculiar value. We also judge that some species have more intrinsic value than others, and this is important even when they are not so important for the system as a whole. In our view, the killing of a chimpanzee is a far more serious matter than the killing of a beetle. The widespread judgment that the killing of porpoises and whales involves a much greater loss than the killing of tuna makes sense to us.
In the debate between those whose concern is for the richness of the biosphere and those who focus on the relief of suffering of individual animals, we are unwilling to take sides. From a Whiteheadian point of view, both are important. We would not interfere with the wilderness ways in which animals suffer and are killed by one another, but we think that there is far more, and far less necessary, suffering among creatures for whom human beings have assumed responsibility. That is a moral issue, and we join our voices with those who call for a vast reduction in the inflicting of such suffering. At the same time, we would like to see not merely the preservation of existing wilderness, but changes in human habitat and land use that would allow us to share the land much more generously with other species. We see no conflict between these two goals.
As between those who accept the killing of animals for food, while trying to make their lives more endurable prior to this killing, and those who would put an end to all exploitation of our fellow creatures, we side generally with the first group. Death as such, simply as the cessation of life, is not an evil comparable to lifelong suffering. But in the present situation, where the meat that comes to our table usually represents extended suffering on the part of the animal whose body we eat, we recognize that withdrawal of support from the whole system through vegetarianism is a fully appropriate, if not morally mandated, position.
In distinction from those who focus primarily on developing a new sensibility toward the natural world, we believe that we also have the responsibility to think through the practical changes in society that are required if the present pressures on the biosphere are to be eased. To this end, new economic thinking is urgent. Currently orthodox theory and practice are based on the commodification not only of land, but also of labor. In addition this theory and practice are based on a highly individualistic view of homo economicus. The human being is pictured for economic purposes as caring only for the consumption of goods and services. Human relationships count for nothing, and certainly relationships to the land do not enter into the picture. Accordingly, uprooting workers from one place, and moving them to another, is considered good economics, if capital can be invested more profitably thereby. Community counts for nothing. From the point of view of a Whiteheadian understanding, this is simply false, and an economy based on it will inevitably disrupt community and undercut many of the values of human life. This is not a new insight, since it is found in Catholic critiques of capitalist economic thinking and practice from the late nineteenth century on. But in the United States, the uprooting of the rural population and the rapid migration of industry from one part of the country to another, as well as out of the country altogether, have represented a steady assault on community during the past half century. In urban centers the social fabric has grown weak, and our public school system has suffered greatly. The urgency of fresh thinking and its implementation has never been greater.
All three of the movements I have described share sustained critiques of dualism. This is not surprising, since it is the philosophical fashion these days to criticize dualism. Nevertheless, these critiques are powerful and varied, and they have stronger existential and practical intentions than is usual with philosophers.
The Buddhist critique is the most fundamental and foundational. It rejects dualistic thinking in all its forms. In Buddhist logic, even the dualism of A or not-A is rejected. Most important is the overcoming of the subject-object and self-other dualisms. The critique carries over into ethics as well, with the rejection of the dualism of good and evil, right and wrong. The polemic against dualisms is closely connected with that against conceptualizing habits generally. It is a part of the imposing of our categories on others, instead of letting them be what they are.
The feminist critique of dualism overlaps the Buddhist one in many ways, but it has a different emphasis. Feminists want, above all, to overcome the deep dualism of male/female that shapes so much of our culture. They believe that this is inextricably connected to hierarchical thinking generally, and this they oppose. Like Buddhists they see things in their interconnectedness and mutual dependence, so that regarding any one factor as superior to, or more necessary than, others, both falsifies reality and leads to unjust distribution of power. Among the dualisms they most strongly oppose are those of mind and matter, spirit and body, thinking and feeling, human and natural. All of these involve mystification of reality, and they have a long history of distorting Western thought and practice as well.
In the ecological movement, it is above all the dualism of the human and the natural that is opposed. But many in this movement understand that this dualism has much wider ramifications than appears at first sight. It is connected, as the feminists have pointed out, with the dualism of male and female, of ruler and ruled, of agent and patient, of mind and matter. To develop a sensibility that will guide appropriate action requires deep-seated change, especially in overcoming these dualistic habits. Buddhist insights are often appealed to for this purpose.
The polemic against dualism is highly congenial to Whiteheadians. Whitehead’s whole philosophy can be read as a program for overcoming Western dualism without lapsing into monism. But Whiteheadians do not fear distinctions as much as do some who oppose dualism. Whiteheadians distinguish the mental and the physical, but they see these as polar elements in all events rather than as two types of events metaphysically different. For Whiteheadians the psyche can be distinguished from the soma, though both exemplify the same patterns of process, and each is what it is by virtue of its inclusion of the other. The dualism of good and evil is to be rejected, at least when it entails that some things or events are good and others bad. But the distinction of better and worse must not be abandoned in the process. If it is, then the nerve is cut from concern for attaining enlightenment, for overcoming patriarchal injustices, and for ending the destruction of the natural world.
The feminist rejection of the dualism of masculine and feminine poses special problems. Since no one disputes that there is a distinction between male and female persons, this is not the issue. The question is whether there are certain traits that belong characteristically to male persons and others that belong characteristically to female persons. In one sense this is a factual question, and as such the answer is affirmative. But the feminist question is a deeper one. Do these traits pair with male and female because of biological maleness and femaleness, or because of the social formation of gender in patriarchal society? Feminists suspect that the latter is primary. Hence they reject the labeling of two sets of traits as masculine and feminine, since this reinforces the outcome of patriarchal conditioning.
From a Whiteheadian point of view, one expects that bodily differences do have an effect on personality traits, so that the characteristic differences between the male and female body would be likely to be accompanied by tendencies to personality difference as well. But since there can be no question that existing differences are culturally shaped, we can agree to avoid stereotyping based on these differences. Someday, if at least in some communities patriarchy is overcome and the recognition of differences is fully separated from relative power, it may appear that there are natural complementarities or polarities between men and women, but today it is better to acknowledge our ignorance.
The rejection of the dualism of the human and the natural is especially congenial to Whiteheadians. Human beings are unqualifiedly natural. Certainly they transcend nature in the sense of objectifying and studying it, but that is because transcending in this sense is a thoroughly natural thing to do. Some measure of transcending characterizes all living things. That it is far more developed in human beings than in others, simply shows us the fuller potentialities of the natural world. There is no other.
For Whiteheadians, more than for most others in the ecological movement, the fact that human subjective experience is fully natural, points to the pervasiveness of subjective experience in nature. Indeed, finally, for Whiteheadians, the events that make up nature are all occurrences of experience, albeit most of them are not conscious. To be, for Whitehead, is to happen, and what happens is more like a moment of human experience than like something merely objective, whatever that could be. The rejection of dualism and the full inclusion of every aspect of human reality within nature profoundly affect how nature is understood.
Whiteheadian philosophy can be discussed in its relation to the history of Western thought. Whitehead, himself, was at great pains to show the derivation of his ideas from past philosophers. Nevertheless, his development of a speculative philosophy during a period in which, at least in the English-speaking world, only analytic and descriptive philosophies have been approved, has marginalized his work among professional philosophers. Fortunately, there are a few Whiteheadian philosophers working in mainstream departments, and they do undertake to relate his thought to current developments in academic philosophy.
Whitehead himself, despite his interest in locating his thought in the history of Western philosophy, was still more interested in reconnecting philosophy with science and with other important intellectual undertakings. Hence some Whiteheadians have focused their energies in this way. This is the special function of the Center for Process Studies in Claremont. The Center promotes Whitehead scholarship in standard academic ways. It maintains a library that supports research into Whitehead’s philosophy and publishes a journal that makes room for highly technical philosophical discussions. We have published a bibliography of writings on Whitehead, collaborated on a “corrected edition” of his major work, Process and Reality, and are now working with The Free Press toward publication of his collected writings.
Nevertheless, our special interest is to carry forward Whitehead’s work as a cosmologist, that is, as one who tried to bring some measure of coherence out of the fragmentation of the physical sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. Because Whitehead developed a theory of relatiity based on quite different assumptions about nature that those of Einstein, we have involved a few physicists in the immensely complex task of discovering just how that theory fares in relation to the last half century of physics. We want to learn whether tere are limitations of Whitehead’s theory that have negative implications for the philosophical assumptions that underlie it.
As the selection for this essay of Buddhism, feminism, and the ecological movement suggests, we have held conferences with selected representatives. We have also held conferences with Hindus and Neoconfucianists, on African cosmology and various liberation theologies, with political theorists and economists, with psychiatrists and educators, with biologists and physicists. Since I am myself a Christian theologian, I have a special interest in the relation of Whitehead’s thought to theology. But for me, as a Whiteheadian theologian, the wider project of exploring the sciences, the humanities, and the wisdom that arises in new movements, is itself theological. Because we believe that the implications of process thought can be useful for ordinary church people, we have developed a program to produce materials they can use. Because we also think that a wider public needs to sense the new possibilities for a world based on elements of the new vision I have been sketching in this paper, we are working with other groups to produce a series for public television. For us, philosophy should make a difference.