Time and Timelessness in the Philosophy of A. N. Whitehead
by Reiner Viehl
Reiner Wiehl teaches at the University of Hamburg and serves as a member of the Process Studies Advisory Board. The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 3-30, Vol. 5, Number 1, Spring 1975. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
This essay "Zeit und Zeitlosigkeit in der Philosophie A. N. Whiteheads," in Natur und Geschichte: Karl Löwith zum 70. Geburtstag (Kohlhammer: Stuttgart, 1967), 373-405, was translated By James W. Felt, S.J
Translator’s note: All unbracketed italics occur also in the original text. I wish gratefully to acknowledge the assistance afforded me in this translation by Professor Walter Kern, S.J., of the Jesuitenkolleg, Innsbruck, and by Lewis S. Ford. I also wish to thank the author for his careful review of the first draft. In two or three instances he endorsed slight improvements in content over the original text.
I. Introduction: Explaining Time and Experiencing Time
The philosophical question "What is Time?" is in the first instance a question about essence. This is not to say that time is an entity in its own right or that it has an independent nature of its own, as if it differed in this way from the nature of movement1 or of some very particular and specific type of movement. Neither is it to say that the philosophical inquiry into time has to depict it though a given determinate notion in terms of which time could be described, defined, and explained. It may be that an inquiry into time’s essence would be obliged to fall short of its goal not just provisionally, as usually happens in inquiries which probe into rather remote matters, but that it would from start to finish remain so remote from its goal that it could never directly put into words what it seeks. Rather it can speak of it only indirectly and in a language foreign and unsuited to it, the language of the timeless, of the universal and the conceptual, the language appropriate to inquiring into essences. Assertions about time would then in a very definite sense be metaphorical. This set of metaphors would require a continuity of analogical conclusions which would in some fashion translate one logic, that of the timeless, into another, that of time. The question whether the language of essence or concepts is appropriate to the nature of time is actually as old as that concerning time and motion themselves.2
Furthermore, it may be that the essence of time is subject to conditions which can never be associated with it a priori but rather remain extrinsic and even contradictory to it, even though they lend themselves to conceptualization and reveal time (in one of its essential aspects) as an object of practical interest. For to be such an object does in fact belong to the essential characteristics of time.3 It may also be the case that the essence of time does not simply permit of definitive categoreal analysis in terms of definitions and concepts. Perhaps time cannot be exhausted in terms of definite categoreal relations between itself and the nontemporal: either in terms of the categoreal relations of beings, or of the relations of something and other, of things and properties, or of functions of one kind or another. Quite possibly an examination of time will always lead to open questions and aporias. These would not be meaningless just because they prove ultimately unsolvable; rather, they would have to be ranked, in their very unsolvable, among the essential determinations of time and so be set into a relationship with them. Thus, for instance, the unity of time may not only belong essentially to its distinct and necessary features, but may also belong among time’s perplexing [aporetischen] properties. Perhaps time, at least in general if not in every single characteristic, presents us with a completely perplexing object whose comprehension would require a logic of the perplexing or a suitable metaphorical translation of the logic of the categoreal and definite. In such a case not only knowing assumed definitions and presuppositions, but also knowing where the claims of knowledge necessarily end, would play an important methodological role and would have to be linked with one’s insight into the presupposed assumption. To the extent that a connection exists between perplexing objects and objects of practical interest, a definite connection of this sort would have to be claimed for time as well. Thus, for instance, the very unity of time could be of practical interest. Finally, precisely with respect to time the question could be raised, to what extent the whole concept of essence is meaningful at all. The meaning, in fact, and truth-function of thinking in terms of essence only arises in the course of an inquiry into the essence of this or that thing. Therefore, it is always first in terms of the essence of some very particular thing that a particular significance can be given to the concept of essence. It may be that time belongs among those objects which are very specially suited to call into question the whole idea of essences. Conversely, it may be that the concept of essence bears a particularly negative affinity to the idea of time, since it seems always to make time look as if it were a bare nothing that has no essence.4 But whatever the affinity may be between time and the concept of essence, the two confront one another in one or other of the above-mentioned ways, and this confrontation must be included in the determination of time’s essence.
Admittedly the whole notion of essence, when used to examine the essence of time, apparently can have no other meaning than to lump together provisionally whatever can be held to belong generally to any knowledge of an essence with what belongs to the knowledge of this essence in particular. The concept of essence, therefore, taken with respect to some definite thing, includes within itself the possibility of the distinction between universality and particularity, between form and content, between concept and the object of knowledge. Actually not every thing is equally related to the concept of knowledge and to know-ability, even though ii is also true that precisely as something and as an object of knowledge it must somehow enjoy equal status with everything else with respect to conceptual comprehension.5 The differing internal relations of the objects of knowledge to the concept of knowledge establishes the relevance of these as philosophical objects. Thus the fundamental category of ontology, that of something, is a philosophical category insofar as it brings into play a relationship both of sameness and of difference with respect to knowledge of what it denotes. (The concept of freedom in knowing is founded on this unity in the relationship between sameness and difference.) In view of such a variable epistemic relationship to each particular thing that is to be known, the appropriate way of describing this knowledge cannot be arbitrary but must be tailored to the character of the thing in question. And so we can say of time that it is of all things the best known, and yet also the least known and the hardest to comprehend. In this extreme contrast of being both known and unknown there is expressed a definite relation of time to the concept of knowledge, even though only abstractly in terms of quantity.
The representation of time has something in common with that of color perception, so that both the one and the other can be considered as representations of sense.6 For in a certain sense the experience of time and color cannot be meaningfully communicated, and for that very reason there can be scarcely any meaningful explanation of them. If explaining a state of affairs consists in substituting for a lesser known object ones which are more accessible and familiar, and in then explaining them, the objects of knowledge can be discriminated by the extent to which they lend themselves to this rule of explanation.7 That is, they can be discriminated by the extent to which explaining them can be meaningfully replaced by explaining something else without thereby explaining away just what was to be explained. Just as with color perceptions, time also seems to belong to those objects which constitute a kind of limiting case in the domain of possible explanations. For insofar as it is true that the representations of color and time are the best known, the rule of explanation obviously applies to them only in that they must be explained in and through themselves alone. Either that, or the concept of explanation, if it is not to become meaningless, takes on a different sense which includes the possibility of explaining that which is most known by means of what is equally well or even less known, whenever it happens that an explanation of the one is the only possible explanation of the other. The perception of time remains subject indeed to the first-mentioned, most obvious kind of explanation to the extent either that one is dealing with limited, unknown aspects of it, or that one loses one’s feel for time, so that its perception can no longer rank as what is best known.
To continue our comparison with the perception of a particular color: a being which temporarily or permanently has no color-sense would require some other access towards any possible explanation of the color ‘red’ than would a purely spiritual being (whose concept is not altogether impossible). It would need some other access than would a being which, for the moment or permanently, has no sensibility for this particular red. But its access to a possible way of explaining red would also differ from that of a being which had developed a particular sensibility for good or for ill with respect to a particular shade of red, so that the perception in question would give rise to pleasant or unpleasant feelings. Then in comparison with this color, other colors or other sense qualities in general would fade into the background or simply become "everything else." Beings which are thus sensitive to very particular nuances of color may be further differentiated by the richness and depth of this sensibility, hence by its quality and intensity with its resulting responsiveness. In whatever way these various beings may be related to the possibility of explaining the perception in question -- whether for one reason or another (not to be determined more exactly here) they develop a need for explaining the given perception, or whether such an explanation must be suggested from without -- in any case they are distinguished from one another by their differing possibilities of access to such an explanation. One could also say that for every one of these there are more proximate and more remote possibilities of explanation (even if there be none absolutely proximate or remote). Thus in one case the explanation will have to abandon the domain of color; in an-other, the domain of sensibility altogether. In yet another case the explanation could still refer to colors and attempt to achieve a meaningful explanation by exact reference to this or that other color. As for the being which has an extreme sensibility for that color perception, it is questionable whether it would be open to any explanation at all, but rather, by reason of the poverty of its inclinations or out of fear of being disturbed in its pleasant feelings, it would have nothing to do with anything else. (It is another matter when the sensibility is such as to find the perception in question an unpleasant experience.) But if we grant that such a being is receptive to an explanation, the explanation available to it would have to agree with the explanations suited to other beings: for example, with the explanation suited to a color-blind being, or with that for a being which is altogether incapable of sense experience. But a being which is only sensitive to a single thing would have an extreme relationship to any possible way of explaining it. Either it would be closed off from any explanation whatever, or else it would be equally open to every possible form of explanation from the start, since it would expect that any explanation would account for that perception. (Herein lies the logical significance of the category of uniqueness.) Insofar as a universal form of explanation can be found, accessible to all the different beings mentioned above, it would take on a different sense for each single one of them. Each would understand the given explanation in its own particular way, depending on the kind of explanation lying closest to it. The universal form of the various explanations of the perception in question forms the category system valid for this representation. A category system is therefore first referred to a definite given perception, and only with respect to it does there first arise the question of a universal conceptual system referring to any perception whatsoever.
A consideration analogous to that of color perception can also be undertaken with regard to the perception of time. Here too there are momentary or enduring and fundamental failures [stereseis] of sensibility; there are cases of blindness, temporary or lasting, just as there are also the corresponding excesses of sensitivity. We leave unresolved how beings could be so constituted as to possess no sense whatever for time, for change, or for the transitoriness of things -- perhaps as purely spiritual, absolute beings, far removed from space and time. A momentary and passing loss of sensitivity to time is a universally known phenomenon. (It is associated with intense activity and intense experiences, though these of course already include an essential relation to time.) Similarly, a momentary and passing sensitivity to time, or even a lasting one, are well known phenomena: when a decision has to be made in a fairly short span of time; when a job to be done is so urgent that its accomplishment amounts to a struggle against time itself; or when in waiting for pleasant or unpleasant events one’s gaze becomes increasingly fixed on the hands of the clock. This contrast between a deficient and an exaggerated sensitivity to time ean be reduced to the form of a simple contrast between full and empty time, in which time is normally experienced as more or less dense. (This simple contrast, however, tends also to explain time away.) Similarly, there are also relative and qualified cases of under- and over-sensitivity to the past, the present, and the future in general, and a corresponding number of different possibilities for explaining time, as well as various interests in explaining, or even explaining away, any one of these temporal modes by means of one or both of the others. Explanations of time by reference to space belong to this domain (and such explanations may be regarded as analogous to explaining a perception of color in terms of the joint action of other [non-visual] sense perceptions). Spatial perceptions serve to explain time when past, present, or future are reduced to one another. Space then has a corresponding temporal character depending on the manner and intensity of this reduction. (It is scarcely possible to imagine space without any relation to time at all). Finally, analogously to the lack of sensitivity to a particular shade of color, there is a corresponding stance toward this or that isolated moment, to this or that event, whether it belongs to past, present, or future. Thus an event is explained, or explained away, in terms of other events belonging to its past, present, or future, supposing that it stands in need of any explanation at all. (Repressions amount to explaining away unpleasant events, and thus, as explicable, represent a special case in the range of possible explanations.)
As in the case of the different possible ways of explaining a particular color perception, or of different possible ways of gaining access to a universally valid explanation of it, there is also a uniform method of explanation for the different relationships to the perception of time. This explanation constitutes the category system appropriate to the perception of time. If this system exhibits essentially common or analogical features with the one regarding color perceptions, we have a clear indication that color perceptions as well as temporal or spatial perceptions are explicable in terms of one another, so that a common category system can be constructed which includes both kinds of perception.
II. Whitehead’s Theory of Becoming
Whitehead’s speculative philosophy 8 undertakes to express the universal and fundamental human experience of an essential truth, that of time and the temporal, in appropriate universal concepts and categories.
That ‘all things flow’ is the first vague generalization which the unsystematized, barely analyzed, intuition of men has produced. . . . Without doubt, if we are to go back to that ultimate, integral experience whose elucidation is the final aim of philosophy, the flux of things is one ultimate generalization around which we must weave our philosophical system. (PR 317)
This philosophical system is a categoreal system primarily related to the perception and experience of time, and its aim is to explain a specific character of time, namely, the flux of all things. This universal experience of the flux of all things does not get explained away by this system but rather put into the most absolute and unrestricted conceivable form. Accordingly, the concept of universal movement [All-Bewegung] does not simply form a methodological-dialectical starting point, a beginning, whose truth-function solely consists in ultimately insuring, through a reductio ad absurdum, its own impossibility. Nor does Whitehead intend to limit the boundlessly absolute character of the flux of time. Be does not intend to channel universal movement by means of universal concepts and categories (quantity, quality) into the form of various kinds of movement (local motion, change) or various patterns of movement (for instance, circular motion), with the ultimate aim of utilizing the constant diversity of these kinds and patterns of movement, and hence the essence of identity, to make a case for the truth of a timeless and imperishable being belonging to things.( Translator’s note: I have been unable to preserve in decent English the verbal parallel expressed by the author, both here and in later passages, between Gleichheit [‘identity’] and a gleichbleibend [‘identical-remaining’] difference, and have regretfully settled for translating this latter term as ‘constant’.) It is true that this latter procedure, in contrast to reductio ad absurdum, does not render the initial concept of a universal-movement altogether impossible, even though the concept would remain indefinite and ambivalent in its truth-functionality. For then it would be open to question whether one is dealing with a concept which is possible but which can correspond to no possible reality, or rather with the concept of something truly real.9 In contrast to these different possible dialectical ways in which the initial concept of a universal becoming can be used, Whitehead’s categoreal system aims to describe it unmistakably as the fundamental truth: "The ancient doctrine that ‘no one crosses the same river twice,’ is extended. No thinker thinks twice; and to put the matter more generally, no subject experiences twice" (PR 43). In other words, nothing truly and primordially real repeats itself. And conversely, whatever repeats itself is not truly and primordially real. What is real necessarily happens only once, and this character of happening only once [Einmaligkeit] (Translator’s note: I can find no English equivalent for Einmaligkeit. ‘Uniqueness’ lacks the essential reference to time; ‘unrepeatability’ bears a negative rather than a positive weight; ‘onceness’ is strange, whereas Einmaligkeit is both a familiar word in German philosophy and also carries a connotation of positive worth. At the author’s suggestion I have resorted to various circumlocutions.) belongs to the fundamental structure of every actuality. Whatever does not share this structure must have only a derivative and secondary way of existing. The primary structure of uniqueness is the character of happening only once.
We can now inquire more closely into this character of happening only once, just as we can inquire into the grounds of the truth and certainty of the fundamental experience of this flux of all things. Both questions lead in the same direction, toward the possibility of a provisional and qualified answer: if the character of happening only once is held to belong to the truth and measure of all things in their very reality, then there is indeed an essence which more than any other satisfies this truth-criterion, and this is the pure essence of time: time taken in itself, or pure movement -- movement irrespective of any possible differentiation into the different kinds of movement. For the relation between these kinds of movement is available for thought and extrinsic to time just as long as these different movements do not continuously fade into one another, such that in this movement of constant fusion with one another as definite kinds, they partly lose their identity to one another and partly result from one another. But to the extent that identical kinds of movement repeat themselves, one is not then dealing with the unrepeatable time into whose primordial essence we are here inquiring. If we are to conceive of repeated movement and repeatability, yes, if we are even to conceive of lasting identity or of a constant difference, we must also conceive of a time which does not recur. The same holds with respect to conceiving of an identity which repeats itself, for this is just another way of describing a constant difference. Thus without conceiving of a non-recurring time neither the endurance of the identical nor the constancy of the different can be conceived. Thus arises the question as to what this pure time is like which we are investigating. It must be truly real if endurance and repetition, the identical and the different, are to be truly real. Thus the pure essence of time cannot form a conceptual representation which, though possible, is yet empty and corresponds to no reality. The emptiness of the pure essence of time cannot therefore be only the emptiness of a conceptual representation. On the contrary, if pure time forms the ground in reality of lasting identity as well as of constant difference -- and as such a ground is a ‘substantiale’ -- then time must not be the Empty (to kenon) itself. That is, it cannot be the Empty taken either as a quite determinate kind of enduring identity, as constant emptiness, or as a quite determinate kind of constant difference, as a kind of utterly undetermined hence empty fluctuation of the one into the other. Rather, precisely in and though time must the distinction first be made between the Empty and the Real.
From this point of view it makes good sense that in Whitehead’s categoreal system pure temporality, taken as pure becoming or process of becoming, is given the status of the fundamental category, and the reality of this becoming is presumed to be the true and primary existence. Thereby becoming expressly takes the place of the category of substance and thus takes the place of the fundamental category of rational metaphysics. Whitehead’s cosmological system is expressly set up as a critique of the great systems of rational metaphysics (those of Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz). "The notion of ‘substance is transformed into that of ‘actual entity"’ (PR 28). This transformation is absolute in the place of a plurality of enduring, timeless, and inaccessible (hence independent) substances (Leibniz’s monads)10 we find instead a plurality of momentary instances of becoming [Au genblicksund Werde-Wesen] which happen only once and hence are unrepeatable. They do not endure in time but rather form the ultimate ground of endurance, identity, and difference; in themselves they are through and through unrest, becoming, and mobility. Whitehead calls these instances of becoming [Werde-Wesen] ‘actual entities’ or ‘actual occasions. The term ‘actual’ characterizes these entities primarily in the negative sense, in that we are not dealing with empty, abstract entities but with concrete beings and with their interiorly rich and full becoming, as well as with their self-realizing time. By the term ‘entity’ the fundamental, individual character of these entities is more strongly emphasized; by the term ‘occasion’, their momentary character.11 In view of this momentary character, these instances of becoming can also be spoken of as events [Ereignisse], yet not as events which take place in time, but rather as self-happening events [Ereignisse die sich ereignen] which, as substances in an improper sense, or better, as nonsubstances, possess a structure of reflexivity [Ref lexionsstruktur] by which they relate themselves to themselves.(*Translator’s note: The author’s word Reflexion in its various uses defies translation by a single English word. I have, according to the context, rendered it by such words as ‘reflexivity’, ‘reflexive relation’, and ‘reflection’. So also the adjective reflexiv is sometimes translated as ‘reflexive’, sometimes as ‘reciprocal’.)
This reflexive structure must not be mistaken for the reflexive structure of substances in the sense of enduring or imperishable things, nor with the reciprocal relation between a thing and its properties. It is precisely characteristic of this latter sort of reflexivity that it suspends temporality and pure becoming. Even if a thing does not endure in an absolute sense (any more than any of its attributes), still it apparently endures as long as its essential attributes remain its own. Conversely, attributes obviously endure as such at least as long as they remain the attributes of one thing or another. Thus in a qualified sense this reciprocity between a thing and its attributes transfers the thing and its attributes from time and from pure becoming into a universal timelessness, a qualified eternity. The change of properties does not affect this qualified eternity, or does so only when the thing little by little loses its essential attributes, hence when the change of attributes, whether they be essential or unessential, brings about an essential change in the thing and thus amounts to an essential change of its character. The mere change of properties in the sense of a simple modification [Verdnderung] without such consequences has no effect whatever on that suspension of becoming. The same is all the more true of the reciprocal relations of substances with one another, regardless of whether they are treated as perishable things (and their interactivity as that of perishable things), or whether they, as well as their interactivity, are treated as simply timeless and imperishable.
In every case these latter kinds of reflexive relationships make for systems in which things and substances endure through their relationship to their own attributes and through their interactions, just as, conversely, the enduring existence of things and substances supports the change of attributes and the interactions of substances. For all reflexive relationships of this sort, then, the following holds true: Insofar as such a reflexivity is truly real with respect to its structural factors -- insofar then as it is the actuality of things and substances which it reflects -- to that extent becoming and pure time have to all appearances vanished from it. Insofar as this reflexivity itself does not represent the mere abstraction of a cognitive concept, with which the object of reflection would contrast as true reality even though reflexivity stands in a timeless relationship to it, both coming-to-be [das Entstehen] and perishing [das Vergehen] would alike vanish from the object of reflexivity. It would be as if coming-to-be and perishing had never existed in things and substances. Whatever pure becoming would be, it would be that only as a suspended becoming that never really was. Insofar as these kinds of reflexivity are actual, they give the appearance of a certain real eternity. This appearance does not just extend to their structural elements, to things and their attributes, to substances and their interactions. This appearance extends itself much farther: it oversteps the limited range of such a closed reflexive system; it propagates itself in every direction, so as in the end to attach itself to the whole of the world.
Our question, then, is whether reflexive relations of this sort possess true actuality or only the appearance of reality. If the latter, then the appearance of a certain real eternity which emanates from them is fraudulent, and the truth is that things along with their attributes, the different systems of substances interacting with one another, and finally the world as a whole are absolutely subject both to coming-to-be and to perishing. We ask, then, about the coming-to-be and the perishing of reflexive relations, and therefore about the truth foundation and actual character of reflexivity itself. Whitehead’s discussion with Bradley moves within the ambit of this question, even though only tacitly.12
Our present question does not mainly concern the difference between the reflexive relationships named above: the relations of things and attributes on the one hand, those of substances and their interactions on the other. It is also not a question about the above-mentioned extension of reflexive relationships beyond the limited range of their actuality to the point where finally, as a possible, absolute reflexive relationship, they embrace the world as a whole.13 Our question concerns rather the reflexivity of a self-happening event, an ‘actual occasion’. Such a reflexivity differs essentially from the reflexive modes of things and properties by its very concept. This includes the requirement of an absolute transformation from enduring, constant substantiality into a pure becoming (see above). Yet such a self-happening event (actual occasion) or instance of becoming (actual entity) is reflexive. For on the one hand it is something which is becoming something, and in this becoming always also something that was. It must be and have been something if it is to be able to become something, and hence if in its being it was something, it must at the same time in its having-been [Gewesen-Sein] be always a something-in-becoming, if it is to be able to become something. Such an event is consequently a reflection and mirroring of its having been [Gewesenseins], of its immediate presence and its being-becoming [Sein-Werdens], a reflection of its past, present, and future in the unity of its becoming.
Whitehead refers to this reflexivity of the actual entity as a subject-superject structure (PR 43), and he means by this that the actual entity is both the real ground and "the outcome of the process" of its own becoming: "An entity is actual, when it has significance for itself. By this it is meant that an actual entity functions in respect to its own determination. Thus an actual entity combines self-identity with self-diversity"; and: "An actual entity by functioning in respect to itself plays diverse roles in self-formation without losing its self-identity. It is self-creative; and in its process of creation transforms its diversity of roles into one coherent role."14
Therefore the question is; if the various phases of the becoming of an actual entity are reflected into a unity, how does it happen that this reflection of different phases does not so mirror them into another that they are in the end finally reflected into the unity of a being, an immediate something, from which pure becoming seems to have vanished as if it had never been? How does it happen that the reflexivity of the actual entity does not immediately operate against its becoming, precisely as, in the relation of things to their properties or of substances and their interactions, it seems to cause every sort of coming-to-be and perishing to evaporate into the indeterminate eternity of timeless relationships between phases? When Whitehead characterizes the reflexivity of the pure actual entity by means of the reflexive determinations of self-identity and self-diversity, does this not involve a guarantee that the becoming must from the start have disappeared from the simple actual entity, and that this entity must always have been a simple, self-identical something? And if such an entity is a something which was always just what it is, is it not just a specially simple and elementary sort of thing or substance, something which gives rise to thinking in terms of the relationships between things and properties, of substances and their interactions?" Is not such a something, then, like a thing, on the one hand identical with itself, and on the other different from itself insofar as it changes? And though on the one hand it is, to the same extent as substances, exempted from coming-to-be and perishing, is it not, like them, also subject to modification in the form of a perpetual change of determinations? Or is there some other possible way in which such an actual entity can be equally a becoming and a something that has become, if reflexivity is a condition of its becoming?
Whitehead saw this difficulty very well. Indeed, one can say that overcoming it constitutes the main theme of his theory of becoming. "No one has ever touched Zeno without refuting him," he writes in a short essay commenting on the fundamental line of thought in his chief philosophical work, Process and Reality.16 In the same essay he explicitly distinguishes his theory from two other opposed positions: on the one hand from the view that interprets the character of becoming as illusory and becoming itself as simply empty and nonexistent in comparison with beings and their being. (He considers that this view is embodied in the systems of Hegel and Bradley.) On the other hand he contrasts his theory of becoming with Bergson’s on the grounds that the latter denies to the human intellect the power to grasp pure becoming as such and by means of spatialized images to achieve an insight into its true being. Admittedly, Whitehead regards the fundamental form embodied in the subject-predicate sentence structure as an unsuitable instrument for describing pure becoming. But in his eyes human speech does not exclude the possibility of extending its philosophical use beyond its initially limited range of employment and of becoming capable of describing actualities it was not originally cut out for "Every science must devise its own instruments. The tool required for philosophy is language. Thus philosophy redesigns language in the same way that in physical science preexisting appliances are redesigned" (PR 16). In this view it must also be possible to bring language and the logic of philosophical statements into an intimate relationship with the character of pure becoming.
So Whitehead devised a very abstract and general scheme, a scheme of the logic of becoming, by means of which linguistic logic has to give the general description of pure becoming. This abstract scheme does not lack a paradoxical structure: an actual occasion, considered under the formal aspect of a mere something, belongs just as much to the multiplicity of somethings, as it is yet something apart from the same multiplicity.
The ultimate metaphysical principle is the advance from disjunction to conjunction, creating a novel entity other than the entities given in disjunction. The novel entity is at once the togetherness of the ‘many’ which it finds, and also it is one among the disjunctive ‘many’ which it leaves; it is a novel entity, disjunctively among the many entities which it synthesizes. The many become one, and are increased by one. (PR 32)
An actual entity considered from the formal viewpoint of its being-something [Etwas-Seins] is therefore (1) a something within a unity of many, hence one among many. But (2) the same something is the many somethings of which it is one and is at the same time the unity of these many. Thus this something is a multiplicity, and the unity of this multiplicity, and equally well an element of this unity and multiplicity, hence also one among many. But the self-same something is finally (3), or even (4), a something apart from the many among which it is one and whose unity and multiplicity it is." The paradoxical logical form of an actual entity considered under the aspect of its being-something is thus not exhausted by the actual entity’s being in itself both one and many. The significance of these three or four ways in which it is other than itself [Andersssein] refers rather to the three or four different functions which it exercises in the process of its becoming with respect to itself and to the others related to it. For their complete explanation these various different functions require a variety of categories. Indeed, it will become evident that in Whitehead’s theory of becoming a diversity of categories originates first and foremost from the above description of the diverse functions of an actual entity.
The other factor indispensable for describing an actual entity is an exact account of perishing. Whitehead is of the opinion that the significance of this factor has been overlooked in the traditional theories of becoming and that this is why in these theories pure becoming is always turning into being and being-something:
Philosophers have taken too easily the notion of perishing. There is a trinity of three notions: being, becoming, and perishing. . . . The world is always becoming, and as it becomes, it passes away and perishes.. Almost all of Process and Reality can be read as an attempt to analyze perishing on the same level as Aristotle’s analysis of becoming.18
Now how are these three factors of pure becoming mutually interrelated, that is, with respect to the above-mentioned three- or fourfold structure of the actual entity? In particular, how are we to define the relationship of perishing to the two other factors, being and coming-to-be? With regard to this last question, Whitehead’s theory of becoming seems at first to end up in overemphasizing the other extreme, that of the novel. Novelty and creativity form the fundamental principle in Whitehead’s theory of becoming (the Category of the Ultimate).19 But this theory is interesting not because it emphasizes this fundamental principle, nor because it is an attempt, in contrast to Bergson’s theory, to make becoming and novelty intellectually explicable. The theory gains its own peculiar interest only in that it makes the two fundamental concepts (becoming and novelty) into the principle of rationality itself. Reason is defined m terms of a superior sensitivity to the essence of the novel and to its becoming. Thus we find the following sentences in The Function of Reason: "Reason is a factor in experience which directs and criticizes the urge towards the attainment of an end realized in imagination, but not in fact And: "In the stabilized life there is no room for Reason. The methodology has sunk from a method of novelty into a method of repetition. Reason is the organ of emphasis upon novelty." That the process of becoming is a coming-to-be of the novel means more in Whitehead’s theory than merely the expression of a general observation about the nature of things. It means more than simply a descriptive formulation of.a view that runs something like this: Nothing can remain enduring unless it bears within itself the germ of an inner self-renewal; thus, anything that simply and solely endures and remains identical with itself, anything that no longer develops, has already started to perish and carries within itself the germ of death. The function of the concept of novelty extends far beyond all that and lays claim here to include within itself the principle of all rational explanation whatsoever. First, as far as endurance and persistence of identity [Sich-gleich-Bleiben] are concerned, no constant existence [Dasein] is any more conceivable without the concept of a novel becoming than is constant change. Thus Whitehead is able to speak of the concepts of the novel and of the creation of the novel in terms of the concept of all concepts, the universal of all universals:
Creativity is the universal of universals characterizing ultimate matter of fact. It is that ultimate principle by which the many, which are the universe disjunctively, become the one actual occasion, which is the universe conjunctively. It lies in the nature of things that the many enter into complex unity. Creativity is the principle of novelty. . . . Thus the ‘production of novel togetherness’ is the ultimate notion embodied in the term ‘concrescence’. These ultimate notions of ‘production of novelty’ and of ‘concrete togetherness’ are inexplicable either in terms of higher universals or in terms of the components participating in the concrescence. (PR 31f)
The novel and novelty are therefore not here explicable by means of more universal abstractions. Rather just the reverse: all other definitions and all other determinations through categories are to be interpreted and explained first of all in terms of the concept of a momentary, novel synthesis (togetherness, concrescence). The question is, under what conditions can such an explanation be possible?
Under this aspect of the novel and of the becoming of the novel, how are the three fundamental concepts of being, becoming, and perishing related to one another? There obviously seems to be more contained in this concept of the becoming of the novel than in the relatively simple concept of the becoming of something. That the coming-to-be is a coming-to-be or becoming of something seems necessarily presupposed if one is to talk about the coming-to-be of something novel. Whitehead’s theory of becoming is in fact noteworthy in the way it takes for granted that the coming-to-be is not only a coming-to-be of something, but beyond that, is a coming-to-be of something absolutely determinate. An actual entity insofar as it has become and is the result of its becoming is completely determinate. Indeed, this complete determinateness achieved by an actual entity is of equal importance both with respect to its own story of coming-to-be and with respect to its function as an objective datum for other stories of becoming which are no longer its own but into which it enters as a necessary element. For that reason an actual entity is finally, as the result of its becoming and as what-has-become, completely determinate in a third sense, namely, with respect to its relationship to its ‘actual world’, a world which it transforms and hands on as so transformed. (Cf. PR 38: the 25th Category of Explanation; also PR 68, 130, 136, 227, 234, 323.) That something’s becoming is in this threefold sense a becoming of something completely determinate seems at first glance anything but self-evident. We are instead inclined to suppose that actuality, understood under the category of becoming, is not only the momentary becoming of what is completely determinate, but that it is, moreover, shot through with a multiplicity of indeterminate possibilities. These possibilities, of which our wishes and our hopes are the subjective counterpart, never finally reach actuality, and in the all-inclusive realm of the actual, a place must be found for them distinct from that of actualized possibilities. But against this view one could argue: if actuality understood under the category of becoming is to furnish for absolutely all being the ultimate principle of explanation, ‘the universal of universals’, then it must be presumed to be something completely determinate. This is quite independent of whether or not unactualized possibilities continue to hold their place alongside actualized possibilities, forming together with them the unity of a determinate actuality. Moreover, unactualized possibilities can exist and be known only by virtue of their contrasting relation to a determinate actuality. so that these possibilities are either factors of the becoming and not of what has become, or factors of what has become which are internally or externally transcendent to it.
Under the aspect of complete determinateness, becoming manifests itself as a coming-to-be of this determinateness, and perishing as a perishing of indeterminateness, so that coming-to-be even stands in need of this perishing. (It is not necessary that indeterminacy perish altogether but only insofar as a determinate actual entity requires it.) Precisely for this reason the indeterminate out of which the determinate arises need not be absolutely indeterminate. (On the contrary, the becoming of something determinate seems to be quite inconceivable unless it is a becoming arising out of what is determinate.) Whitehead defined more precisely the character of determinateness in its becoming and of indeterminateness in its perishing as a relationship between coherence and incoherence: "An actual entity . . . is self-creative; and in its process of creation transforms its diversity of rôles into one coherent rôle. Thus ‘becoming’ is the transformation of incoherence into coherence, and in each particular instance ceases with this attainment" (PR 38; 22nd Category of Explanation).
Incoherence and coherence are here clearly distinguished in concept from the contradictoriness or freedom from it which belong to logical inconsistency and consistency, even though an essential relationship of mutual conditionality governs both senses. On the one hand the principle of coherence, by Whitehead’s account, seems broader and more profound than that of logical consistency.21 Coherence can be distinguished from its opposite, incoherence, in the following way. Incoherence means a lack of relation, an isolation of elements or factors, in such a way that unrelated things, in this relationship of being unrelated, are meaningless. In contrast to this, coherence is a relation in which connectedness takes the place of a lack of relation, and it is in this connectedness that the interrelated factors first and foremost have significance. Coherence is therefore nothing less than the negatively formulated property of a relation, that it be significant in each of its elements and thus as a whole. Logical consistency (and even logical inconsistency) seem rather to be always grounded in a field of meanings and of meaning-relationships,
On the other hand logical consistency is nonetheless an essential condition for forming coherent connective relations. Whitehead formulates this role of logical consistency as two ‘categoreal obligations’: the requirement of objective identity and of objective diversity. ‘Objective identity’ means that every element of an actual entity must exercise a self-consistent function in the process of this becoming; that is, it cannot play a double role in this process. ("Logic is the general analysis of self-consistency.") ‘Objective diversity’ means that the diverse elements of an actual entity cannot exercise one and the same function in its process of becoming (PR 39; Categoreal Obligations 2 and 3). The two conditions are in a sense the presuppositions which render possible the rational analysis of an actual entity, hence are themselves the rational conditions of the actual entity and of its becoming.
In Whitehead’s categoreal system coherence is the principle of rationality as such. In employing it he goes so far as to demand that in the end, "no entity can be conceived in complete abstraction from the system of the universe, and that it is the business of speculative philosophy to exhibit this truth" (PR 5). ‘Coherence’ is understood more precisely to mean not only that every single being must be involved in some kind of connection -- and in view of the diversity of possible relations and even of the possible relationship of unrelatedness this would not be saying very much. Rather, the concept of a coherent relation involves the essential relevance of the factors of the relation to the whole universe: "It will be presupposed that all entities or factors in the universe are essentially relevant to each other’s existence."22 From this presupposition, then, there necessarily follows the more precise definition of the complete determinateness of an actual entity mentioned above. That is, each of its factors must have a determinate relation to each element in the universe. Likewise every assertion, every sentence has, as an entity, significance and truth primarily against the background of the whole universe, quite apart from whether or not this "universal horizon" providing meaning and unity is analyzable in terms of conceptual definitions and relationships. Whitehead expressly denies the possibility of any such absolute analysis.23 On the other hand no such absolute analysis is a necessary condition for the functioning of coherence in the sense of a rational principle.
An actual entity can now be described under the aspect of emerging [werdenden] coherence: insofar as such an entity is an emergence of a unified connectedness of coherent factors from incoherent elements, it is the emergence of a totality of meaning whose inner factors have significance only within this whole: "An entity is actual, when it has significance for itself" (PR 38: 21st Category of Explanation). The unity of each individual occasion’s becoming can be grasped only as the unity of a totality of meaning which has significance for itself. And that an actual occasion is a becoming of the novel means that the coherent unity which originates in the becoming of an actual entity represents an unrepeatable, novel connection among the given factors, a connection which can happen only once. These factors may well be quite novel and hence represent actual occasions as coherent unities. Yet in this case, as always, we require categories capable of describing the incoherent situation of the given factors. In the most general way, the Category of Multiplicities, or Pure Disjunctions of Diverse Entities, fulfils this function. A multiplicity is thus a given unity of incoherent factors which may belong to the same or to different category-types (cf. the 16th Category of Explanation: PR 36).24
As we remarked above, in Whitehead’s theory of becoming uniqueness is primarily subsumed under the primacy of the property of happening only once. Every case of uniqueness is a case of an occasion’s happening-only-once. Every sort of uniqueness is ultimately grounded in this characteristic of an occasion, or of several in their real connectedness. Whitehead designates this fundamental state of affairs as an ontological principle: "This ontological principle means that actual entities are the only reasons; so that to search for a reason is to search for one or more actual entities" (PR 36f; 18th Category of Explanation). This principle forms the fundamental presupposition of Whitehead’s ‘onto-cosmology’,25 and he himself sees in it the essential difference between his metaphysics and the ontologies and cosmologies of the philosophical tradition (cf. PR 27). Every sort of explanation, definition, or constitution of an actuality must in the end be referred back to this universal background of actual occasions and to their categoreal form. Actual occasions or entities form the ontological foundation and locus for every sort of constitution (cf. 20th Category of Explanation, PR 38). More precisely, this means that such occasions exhibit in the concretion of their becoming, in their concrescence into coherent unities, what is most concrete. Consequently everything else, lacking this structure of an occasion, must be regarded as abstract, and must be explained as such, or as the result of the analysis of an occasion. From this viewpoint the categories of the Whiteheadian system can be distinguished: some according to their degree and form of abstraction (Categories of Existence); some are the conditions requisite for analyzing real occasions (Categories of Explanation); some are principles for testing and critically comparing diverse analyses (Categoreal Obligations). From the viewpoint of the ontological principle the task of philosophy is not that of explaining and constituting the concrete, but rather: "Its business is to explain the emergence of the more abstract things from the more concrete things. . . Philosophy is explanatory of abstraction, and not of concreteness." Whitehead holds that the attempt to explain the concrete by constructing it step by step out of the abstract misunderstands the explanatory possibilities of philosophy: "Each fact is more than its forms" (PR 30). Consequently there is not just one but indefinitely many possible ways of analyzing an occasion: "Each actual entity is analyzable in an indefinite number of ways. In some modes of analysis the component elements are more abstract than in other modes of analysis" (PR 28).
There is in fact nothing more to be said about the novelty of these uniquely occurring occasions than that each occasion is novel, that it happens only once and is unrepeatable in relation to all other occasions to which, as such, it can stand in a real relation of connectedness. Only in view of this does the more precisely defined concept of the becoming of a coherent unity out of incoherent data emerge. It lends to the concept of the novel a more definite sense, namely that of the novelty and uniqueness of a connectedness of given factors. In this sense Whitehead speaks of an occasion’s subjective form, in which the uniqueness of this singular occasion has to be sought ("The subjective form is the immediate novelty"; cf. PR 350 ff.). Every analysis and every detail resulting from determinate analysis has to be referred to this subjective form as the inner, unrepeatable peculiarity of the occasion in question. Apart from this form, the analysis of an occasion would be left with only universal characteristics. These would apply not only to the analyzed occasion under discussion, but would also serve to define any number of occasions, hence would not allow us to recognize to what extent these characteristics are intrinsically peculiar to the given occasion. In abstraction from the subjective form of a given occasion, every detail resulting from the analysis of this occasion is only an extrinsic and abstract determination.
It must seem obvious that the concept of what is absolutely concrete (the actual) requires, in some sense or other, the counter-concept of abstraction and of the abstract, particularly the concept of what is absolutely abstract. In the same way, the concept of what can happen only once as absolutely unrepeatable necessitates the counter-concept of what always is and always was [eines Immer-Seienden, eines Immer-Gewesen], even though one might be able to make conceptual sense out of something (even everything) in terms of the former concepts. That the concept of the concrete calls for that of the abstract becomes clear in the concept of the subjective form of an occasion as the concrete, unique, and unrepeatable relation to what was already given. For that out of which something becomes, even though it is itself coming to be, cannot become in the same sense as that which comes to be precisely out of it. Thus, just as in Whitehead’s categoreal system the two first-mentioned elements, absolute concreteness and unique occurrence, are united in the concept of a determinate, fundamental, categoreal existence (the concept of an occasion or actual entity), so the corresponding counter-elements, absolute abstractness and the character of abiding existence [lmmer-Gewesen-Sein], are joined together in another concept of an opposite categoreal type, that of an utterly abstract entity, which always was and always is, which Whitehead calls an eternal object. Eternal objects contrast with concrete actual entities not only in that they are abstract and have always been, but also because they are essentially objects. Actual entities, however, are primarily subjects, subjects of their own becoming, and though even as subjects they can become objects, they cannot have existence exclusively as objects. Despite these contrary characteristics, what an eternal object has in common with an actual entity is its determination through the category of the one and the many. Without prejudice to its absolutely abstract essence, an eternal object possesses an individual nature exclusively its own. It is -- in relationship to and in distinction from other eternal objects -- a definite quality, hence possesses a certain qualitative definiteness. (In Process and Reality the favorite examples for eternal objects are simple sense data.) The concept of eternal objects belongs likewise under the category of indefinite multiplicity. Just as there are countless occasions, so there are indefinitely many eternal objects. In this way we allow for the idea that the novel, the unrepeatable which happens only once, cannot be squeezed into any definite mold, whether one or several, anymore than can that which constantly perdures and recurs. In particular, the concept of a plurality of that which always is [des Immerseienden] is of the greatest significance in that it stresses that even what has always been [dieses Immer-Gewesene] cannot be comprehended by the concept of a single, ever-recurring pattern.
Formally viewed, the plurality of eternal objects has a double aspect like that of occasions. As it makes no sense to compare two individual occasions with a view to asking which is the more concrete, so there is no sense in submitting eternal objects, taken individually, to an analogous comparison with a view to asking which is the more abstract. As the former are absolutely concrete and, as such, equiprimordial, the latter are absolutely abstract and correspondingly equiprimordial. On the other hand eternal objects, viewed in their individual multiplicity, are by definition bound to be connected with other eternal objects,26 just as, analogously, an occasion has to be viewed as a concrete relation to other occasions and nexuses of occasions. An eternal object, taken in isolation by itself, is just as meaningless as an absolutely isolated occasion, withdrawn from every nexus with other occasions. In both cases isolation would violate the rational principle of coherence which furnishes meaning. So an eternal object must be viewed both as something existing for its own sake and also as a necessary union of eternal objects. Thus an eternal object considered in itself is necessarily ambiguous and undetermined. In itself it is altogether abstract. On the other hand, as a union of eternal objects it is more concrete than any of those eternal objects which form the components of this union. In its relationship to the multiplicity of eternal objects, therefore, an eternal object is more abstract or more concrete both by reason of itself and by reason of the other eternal objects and all the possible ways it can enter into union with them.27
An analogous relationship holds, though in the opposite direction, for concrete occasions. On the one hand an occasion, as that which is most concrete, is more concrete than any concrete relation in which it stands with respect to the occasions which form its actual world and with which it has entered into a nexus. On the other hand an occasion, as long as it is not defined simply through qualities or eternal objects, is not to be defined except through its concrete relationships to other occasions with which it forms a nexus in reality. From the viewpoint of its determination by means of concrete relations to other occasions, it makes no sense to define the difference between an occasion and its relation to other occasions as a difference between the concrete and the abstract. Quite the contrary. If the descriptive definition of occasions is not to lead to abstract and unessential characters, and if, besides, its appropriate description is not to be rendered antecedently impossible, then there must be a concept in which the essential features of an occasion are exhibited as concrete. This holds even though the occasion in question does not permit confining it to one or more relations to occasions but rather asserts its absolute character in contrast to any such relation. Whitehead describes an occasion’s concrete relation to the occasions of the world, the world to which it belongs just as much as they do, as its prehension of those occasions. Prehensions therefore are comparatively concrete as are occasions, and they contain their essential features, especially the fundamental feature of being related to a world of occasions (PR 28f). In other words, an occasion and its concrete relation to the world stand -- logically -- in the essential relation of substance and attribute, not in the accidental relation of thing and property. No union of eternal objects is of itself determinate and concrete enough to define a concrete occasion and its concrete relation to the world. Every union of eternal objects, however complex and hence comparatively concrete, remains abstract compared to an occasion or nexus. Conversely, no occasion’s concrete prehension of other occasions is abstract enough to be confined to the pattern of a more or less complex qualitative definiteness. Quality (being) and becoming in the multiplicity of their manifestations -- eternal objects and actual occasions -- are so constituted that they necessarily refer to one another. Yet their categoreal structure is so diverse that their relationship necessarily remains an extrinsic one, hence they are not of themselves in a position to mediate with one another nor fully to harmonize their contrarieties, their being and their becoming, their abstractness and their concreteness: "The fundamental types of enti~es... only express how all entities of the two fundamental types are in community with each other, in the actual world" (PR 37: 19th Category of Explanation). The world, viewed from the standpoint of such an elementary contrast between what has always been and what is ever new, affords the peculiar phenomenon of a dual aspect, one side the mirror-image and imitation of the other, so that every feature of the one world has its counterpart in the other ("Temporal personality in one world involves immortal personality in the other.")28
With reference to the world of eternal objects, the world appears to be a repetition and perpetual recurrence of the same: what changes is only a fluctuation of intensity, the rhythmic articulation of being. With reference to the world of pure actual occasions, the world is an incessant fashioning of the novel and unrepeatable. But how are both worlds more closely connected when we go beyond this simple world-model of elementary contrasts? Can the concept of novel becoming be grasped from the simple contrast with what always is and always was? As the coming-to-be of something novel, becoming is more than the coming-to-be of something other. Such a becoming of something other is change. In a change one thing becomes an other. What thereby becomes an other is something other by relation to something else. This does not exclude the possibility that what has become an other already once was what it has now become, in such a way that a former quality has repeated itself, an earlier determination has returned. A change contains no grounds for a decision as to the possibility or impossibility of a repetition of what has been. Such a decision exceeds its conceptual limits, for change is indifferent to this decision even though it may not exclude it. Thus a change denotes something limited and absolutely conditioned. In Whitehead’s theory it is the eternal objects, the qualities, which undergo changes, not the unsubstantial substances, the actual occasions. The possibility for such change lies in eternal objects insofar as they contain within themselves the essential difference between a more abstract and a more concrete nature. But the actuality of their change lies in the actuality of actual entities. Change is not a shift in qualitative determination but "the difference between actual occasions comprised in some determinate event" (PR 114). Change is therefore a difference between occasions in a society which is definable through the relational function of an eternal object. On the other hand a concrete occasion, viewed in itself, does not change. Since it is a simple coming-to-be out of something and is itself coming to be something, its very concept excludes the possibility of repetition. A novel occasion is in this sense an other which indeed can and must become something-that-was, but cannot be the repetition of something-that-was, the recurrence of the same. From this standpoint an occasion is absolutely other even though conditioned by the ground of its own being and becoming which is at the same time the ground for the impossibility of its repetition. This ground lies in the sources of the occasion: in the other occasions which comprise its actual world, and in itself. No two occasions arise out of one and the same world, "though the difference between the two universes only consists in some actual entities, included in one and not in the other, and in the subordinate entities which each actual entity introduces into the world" (PR 34: 5th Category of Explanation). The occasions out of which an occasion comes to be cannot be altogether the same as those which come to be out of it.
An occasion does not change, it perishes. It disappears. And that which perishes is just the being of the becoming of something. But what is the connection between coming-to-be and perishing, and in particular, what is being, in which coming-to-be and perishing are united and which holds both together in the unity of an entity? What distinguishes the being of this entity from the being of a quality or determination? What distinguishes its union of coming-to-be and perishing from the corresponding union which is displayed by something that changes inasmuch as it is subject to coming-to-be and perishing? To what extent is the being of occasions a real and concrete being in contrast to the abstract being of eternal objects whose abstract essence can be defined solely as the possibility of a concrete actualization in an occasion? (PR 34: 7th Category of Explanation.) Coming-to-be and perishing cannot be simply the same activity [Bewegung] in an actual entity. For if this activity is [simply] that of coming-to-be, then there is perpetual coming-to-be but never the coming-to-be of something [in particular]. In some sense or other a perishing is required for the becoming of something. On the other hand that activity cannot be exclusively an activity of perishing. For in this case what perishes would already be something which has been and never something becoming. Insofar as something comes to be Out of something and perishes into something, these logical loci of whence and whither cannot be simply the same. For that reason a becoming is unintelligible if it is understood as a coming-to-be out of nothing and a perishing into nothing. For there is no ground for discriminating between one nothing and another. (This does not rule out the possibility that a theoretical or practical need for this unintelligible idea can arise.) On the other hand, neither can the coming-to-be and perishing of an actual entity be diverse activities separated from one another in such a way that perishing would only commence with the end of coming-to-be, with being, as it were, filling in the interval between coming-to-be and perishing. Nor could they be separated in such a way that being extends uniformly throughout coming-to-be and perishing, reaching from the beginning of the former activity to the end of the latter, so as finally to encompass them both. For from this latter standpoint the entity in question would have a nature which, by our premises, it ought not to possess. Either it would be an utterly timeless something in whose being coming-to-be and perishing would be swallowed up in their mutual interaction, or it would be a substance, a thing, composed of two fundamental characteristics. These would shift or change into one another, and in their mutual transition release other properties which in turn would shift and change into one another. Their mutual transitions would furnish the foreground activity of change for the background event of coming-to-be and perishing. Insofar as coming-to-be and perishing cannot be diverse movements separated from one another, the difference between being and nothing cannot furnish an adequate principle for determining the relationship between the two movements so long as being and nothing are themselves taken as absolutely diverse principles separated from one another.
Coming-to-be and perishing are somehow the same activity and yet not the same activity (and thus, as their principles, being and nothing would be the same and not the same). This relationship of identity [Selbigkeit] and difference is more precisely defined by the analogous relationship of the identity and difference between the beginning of these activities and the activities themselves. The beginning of the coming-to-be of an actual entity is not identical with the beginning of its perishing, even though perishing is at the same time given with the coming-to-be and has already commenced with it. On the other hand, insofar as there is no available distinction between the beginning of an activity and this activity itself--and circular motion demonstrates how an activity can cause this distinction to vanish within itself -- then it must be said that an actual entity has a twofold beginning, that is, a double ground of its coming-to-be. (Grounds of being and becoming arise first of all in the sublation [Aufhebung] by means of the activity itself of the difference between an activity and its beginning.)" An event [ein Werdendes] (Translator’s note: In order to stress that an actual entity is an instance of becoming, the author continues in the ensuing discussion to call it das Werdende (‘that which is becoming’, or ‘what-is-becoming’) rather than use his former expressions Werde-Wesen or Ereignis. In order to avoid chronic hyphenitis I have resorted to translating das Werdende henceforth as ‘event’, understood in Whitehead’s narrower sense.) is at first not distinct from others but there emerges such a distinction between itself and others in its becoming first of all itself. But how does an event, insofar as it becomes anything at all, become something which is distinct from others? On the one hand, that out of which the event becomes is other. This other is its world composed of a multiplicity of concrete entities of the same sort as the event itself. The event has its source in the world of becoming, in a world of occasions to which it belongs by the fact that it is itself one of them. The event is first of all absorbed in this its world. Viewed in itself it is this world, inasmuch as it forms a wholly direct but also suitably undetermined relationship to it. Whitehead calls this immediate, undifferentiated relationship of an occasion to its world, a ‘physical prehension’. The event feels its world. Thus these most concrete relations characterize the primary, original relations of an actual entity to the world of becoming, to its own origins in becoming. But precisely insofar as the event is here wholly absorbed in the given world of occasions to which it itself belongs, it is not distinct from them. It itself, in its relation to the world, is not distinct from them. From a negative point of view the event must have yet another origin: besides its primitive relationship to the world of becoming it must have a further primitive relationship to something. This other origin can therefore only derive from the timeless, and this second primitive relationship can only relate it to the world of the timeless, the world of eternal objects. Now by this second primitive relationship the event is not related to its given world immediately or randomly but mediately,30 to a qualitative determination provided for it, to a given eternal object. But this relationship cannot refer to an eternal object which is purely isolated and hence unrelated within the world of eternal objects. For as was said before, a determination thus isolated within itself is meaningless. It violates the principle of coherence. Neither can this relationship of the event to timeless qualities be a question of an undifferentiated relationship to the whole world of eternal objects. For as undifferentiated, the eternal objects are equally related to all occasions generally, actual and nonactual,31 inasmuch as the eternal objects determine an internal order of connection among events. If an actual entity can be related to a particular eternal object, there must be a previously given determination among the world of eternal objects with respect to the given event. Under this aspect, the eternal objects have their own internal movement of relevance with respect to each novel event. The order of the world is subject to this sort of constant flux. An actual entity prehends such eternal objects as have been thus given to it and determined for it. Whitehead speaks of this second, timeless origin for an event, of its primitive relationship to the timeless, in terms of the ‘conceptual prehension’ of an eternal object by an event. Through a twofold activity, therefore, the timeless has ingression into the world of becoming: through its own internal activity which destines a particular object for prehension by the event, and through the activity of prehension by the event itself. Correspondingly, the event comes to be in virtue of a twofold activity: through its becoming out of a given world and its becoming out of a timeless origin.
Thus these two primitive relations, the one to the world of becoming and the other to its timeless origin, form the two mutually related factors of an actual entity in its becoming. Insofar as its differentiation from its own actual world first arises in the course of its becoming, its coming to be "itself" as distinct from the other is obviously later than its being and becoming in the other and out of the other. As differentiated it is thus subsequent to its immediate being in its actual world and to its emergence out of it. To that extent the immediate physical prehension of the given world of occasions is antecedent to the conceptual prehension of a qualitative determination, with regard to which the becoming entity first comes to be "itself" and so to differ from the data. As a factor of the becoming of an event, the prehended eternal object thereby necessarily plays a different role than it does with regard to a concrescing or objectified actual occasion [ein Seiendes und Gewordenes], whose qualitative constitution it is capable of characterizing. As a factor in the becoming of an event it takes on primarily the role of a determination.32 By prehending a given, predetermined eternal object, the event in its becoming acquires an internal subjective aim proper to it alone which provides direction to its becoming. This subjective aim determines the tendency of the becoming and blocks out for the event an ideal of its own possible self-existence as differentiated from others. This ideal of self-differentiation is an ideal of intense subjective existence. (Cf. PR 41:Categoreal Obligation 8: The Category of Subjective Intensity.) With the attainment of this aim the becoming of the event is fulfilled, and the process of becoming of that particular actual entity has attained its satisfaction.
As a factor of an actual entity an eternal object is a real possibility for the determinate actualization of some datum. Through the reality of this possibility the status of an eternal object in the event differs from its abstract status in the realm of eternal objects in general. This real possibility therefore cannot exist except in relation to the actual world. The actual world must include such a possibility for its own novel realization through a novel occasion. Insofar as the timeless origin of the event bears on its origin in the world of becoming, and these two origins are not equiprimordial, this timeless origin is not only an origin in the timeless but also a timeless origin in becoming and thus subsequent to the origin of the event in becoming. That is why Whitehead can say that the prehension of an eternal object (conceptual prehension) occurs in a later phase of the becoming of an event than the immediate and unqualified physical prehension of the whole given world of becoming. The possibility that a particular actual entity should emerge from a given world and be distinct from it, is grounded not solely in the realm of possibility in general, which is always abstract taken in itself, but in the ambit which the actual world of becoming leaves open for the possibility of the becoming of something novel. Hence Whitehead can say that in the course of its becoming an actual entity develops or ‘derives’ its determination from its immediate physical relation to the actual world of occasions (PR 39: Categoreal Obligation 4: The Category of Conceptual Valuation).
An event lays hold of one of the possibilities which the ambit of the actual world leaves open. With respect to such a possibility the event is an immediate physical orientation to the world. To that extent the two original orientations of the event to the world of becoming, physical and conceptual, are equiprimordial. In a sense the orientation of the event to its determination is in fact the primary one. While the concrescing actual entity is immediately feeling its actual world, its coming into being with regard to its determination and the realization of its subjective aim has already begun. Hence with regard to this determination the becoming of the actual entity is distinct from the becoming of its actual world precisely insofar as it first absorbs itself in this given world so as to become itself out of it. To be sure, that the world of becoming forms a given world for a novel actual entity does not mean it has thereby ceased to be a world of becoming.33 But as the becoming of a novel event, the world’s becoming is no longer solely its own. It has rather come to be a becoming that sets itself apart. As the becoming of a novel event, the world’s becoming is the becoming of its past being. The becoming of the past being of a given actual world is at the same time the initial becoming of a novel actual entity. In itself the actual world becomes past insofar as it gains a present for a novel actual entity. And this perishing in present becoming is at the same time the initial becoming of a novel event. While the present actual world is perishing and in this perishing still holds a present for itself, it simultaneously holds a present for the novel event which, in this present, gains for itself its own past, present, and future. From this viewpoint it makes good sense that Whitehead describes the actual entity in categories of subjectivity and thus makes methodic use of the analogy of human subjectivity.34 For actual entities are not to be treated simply from the outside, as objects to which other objects stand as past, simultaneous, or future. In that way becoming would be reduced to the coexistence of a successiveness and to the successiveness of a coexistence, and thus be rendered wholly extrinsic. In truth, becoming is so constituted that every single event as object is indeed also related to events and actualities which are objectively related to it as past or present. But an event first has its own becoming, since in this relationship to objects its own internal past, present, and future emerge which constitute its own internal world in contradistinction to the outer world.
The eternal object, the timeless qualitative determination prehended by the event as an internal specification of its becoming, has then divergent functions with respect to the self-differentiation which the event has gained for itself in its relation to its actual world. As subjective aim the eternal object specifies the future of an event. But to the degree that the becoming of the event approaches the actualization of its aim, that specification becomes a realized qualitative determination which objectively qualifies the present past of the event and thereby qualifies the past actual world as held in the present. The realization of the subjective determination is therefore nothing other than its transformation into the objective state of what has been made present. It is the event itself, then, that through its becoming ‘transforms’ its determination into a state (cf. PR 40: Categoreal Obligation 6: The Category of Transmutation). The possibility that the event can differentiate itself from its data and from its. own becoming a subject [Subjekt-Werdung] lies in this transformation of its subjective determination into an objective state. For either the event holds on to the determination it originally prehended, in spite of the latter’s transition into an [objective] state, and so pre-produces in itself only the objectified data; or else it develops a novel determination in contrast to its original one. In the latter case the event derives its own novel determination out of the original determination that has become an objectified state -- that is, it derives another eternal object from the one originally prehended. (Cf. PR 40: Categoreal Obligation 5: The Category of Conceptual Reversion.) Such an event does not rest content with the immediate, primary synthesis of its situation within the given world but develops a subjective situation transcending it. By that very fact it is more highly developed and has a more complex structure than the former kind of events. Higher and more complex forms of subjectivity can emerge, but they cannot be described here in detail.
The becoming of an event is the becoming of an individual interiority in contradistinction to the external world. To that extent the self-differentiation of the event from its data [Vorhandenen] does not have the character of a relationship of one thing to another. Rather it is a relationship of the interior to the exterior. This becoming of what is interior is not the coming-to-be of empty cavities in the external flux of time, but the becoming of a fulfilled interiority, the becoming of a private, interior present and past in relation to what is externally past and present. In this being and becoming of the interior present and past, the future is always involved as a determination of the event, as that which is disappearing in the event’s coming-to-be. With regard to the coming-to-be of an interior past (memory), the future must have another sort of genesis. This difference in the genesis of future and past is grounded in the difference latent in the twofold origin of an actual entity: its origin in the timeless and in the world of becoming. The coming-to-be and perishing of an event are distinct and non-distinct activities depending on how one views the unity and diversity of past, present, and future. The becoming of what is interior in contradistinction to the exterior world is the becoming of a subject. So far as the coming-to-be of the past and the perishing of the future are correlated, and so far as the past grows in the same measure as the future diminishes, the end of the one is the end of the other. The perishing of an event is the perishing of the coming-to-be of a past and the perishing of the perishing of the future. What perishes in an event is its interiority and subjectivity which have been coming into being. What comes to be in this perishing [Untergang] is its objectivity, its reentry into an exterior, objective, actual world which the event had stepped out of in order to enter into the interiority and intensity of self-existence without thereby losing its relationship to the exterior actual world. With respect to this perishing of the event, Whitehead speaks of its ‘objective immortality’. By this he means that in the perishing of its interiority the event has become an element of an exterior actual world whose novel becoming has already begun in this perishing. The short moment of interior fulfillment is extinguished only to flash out anew, in endless succession, in the exterior world of becoming. From this becoming and perishing of an event it follows that it cannot be described solely through its role as a subject in becoming, but that its appropriate representation requires a description of its function as a possible object for other subjects: "Two descriptions are required for an actual entity: (a) one which is analytical of its potentiality for ‘objectification’ in the becoming of other actual entities, and (b) another which is analytical of the process which constitutes its own be-coming." (PR 34: 8th Category of Explanation.)
1Cf. Aristotle, Physics, 218a ff, 251b10.
2Plato’s dialogue Cratylus is an eloquent proof of this. But one should also compare the critical remarks of Theodoros in the Theaetetus, 179e f, about the attempts of the followers of Heraclitus to reflect the essence of the flux of all things by means of peculiar and mysterious expressions.
3Cf. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Transcendental Dialectic, "The Interest of Reason in These Conflicts," A 462 ff.
4Cf. Plato, Theaetetus, 152d, 157a ff.
5Cf. Plato, Sophist, 227a-d.
6On time as representation of inner sense, cf. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A 33 ff.
7Cf. the dialectical description of the "Law of Explanation" in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Mind (tr. J. B. Baillie; London, 1966), pp. 200-07.
8Whitehead’s chief philosophical work, Process end Reality (New York, 1929), will hereafter be cited by the abbreviation ‘PR’.
9This ambivalence is characteristic of every dialectical confrontation between the beginning of a movement and the movement.
10Leibniz, Monadology, §§3-7, §11.
11More precisely, Whitehead specifies the two different terms as follows: the phrase ‘actual entity’ includes both the infinite entity which is God and also finite entities, while the phrase ‘actual occasion’ is only used when statements about God are excluded. (Cf. PR 135; also pp. 28, 46f.) For the sale of simplicity I must largely disregard this difference.
12Cf. Whitehead’s own stand with respect to Bradley’s philosophy, PR 304f et passim; also his short essay bearing the same title as his chief work, Process and Reality, and first printed in Symposium in Honor of the Seventieth Birthday of A. N. Whitehead, 1932. This latter is here cited as it appears in Essays in Science and Philosophy (New York, 1948). pp. 87-90.
13In the section on force and understanding in his Phenomenology of Mind Hegel gives an unsurpassed description of the expansion of real reflexivity from a bounded, thing-like relation to the whole of the world.
14PR 38. The two statements formulate two ‘Categories of Explanation’ (21, 22). I cannot here examine the difficult relation between these ‘Categories of Explanation’ and the ‘Categoreal Obligations’.
15One of the most difficult problems of Leibniz’s Monadology, namely that of the relationship between simple and complex substances, recurs in fact in Whitehead’s categoreal system, though in different terms. Here the question arises as to the grounds for distinguishing between simple occasions and complex groups of occasions (nexuses, societies, events, etc.), particularly insofar as these form the data for a novel occasion. Whitehead obviously viewed the applicability of the concept of a simple occasion as conditioned by a complex process of ‘extensive division’. In my opinion W. A. Christian did not give this fact sufficient attention in his excellent interpretation of Whitehead. See his An Interpretation of Whitehead’s Metaphysics (New Haven: 1959), pp. 67 ff.
17Compare the passage in Plato’s Sophist, 253d, notorious for its obscurity. Our present viewpoint may be able to shed some light on it. Perhaps it furnishes a reason why Plato deliberately keeps undetermined the difference between the relationships he described between the one and the many. In my dissertation, The Concept in the Intuitive Forms of Mediateness and Immediateness (typescript), I attempted to develop categories from the viewpoint of this paradoxical structure. For his theory of becoming Whitehead appealed to Plato, particularly to Taylor’s interpretation of Plato: cf. PR 67-70; also his essay, "Immortality," first appearing in The Library of Living Philosophers III (ed. P. Schilpp): The Philosophy of A. N. Whitehead (1941). I here cite this essay as it appears in ESP 60-74.
20FR 5, 15.
21FR 53 contains extraordinarily significant statements of Whitehead’s about philosophical method which substantially supplement the corresponding first chapter of Process and Reality on "Speculative Philosophy." In FR Whitehead asserts that the categoreal system which speculative philosophy seeks to develop would be superfluous if our knowledge were always in principle able to realize the following conditions of rationality: 1. Conformity of our concepts and representations to the evidence of immediate experience. 2. Clarity of propositional content. 3. Internal and 4. External logical consistency, in the sense of logical non-contradictoriness. Categoreal systems are therefore only significant to the extent that these conditions are not and cannot be fulfilled. These conditions do not themselves unequivocally fulfill their own requirements. But they must at least be applicable, adequate, and coherent.
22Immortality," in ESP 60.
23The notion of the complete self-sufficiency of any item of finite knowledge is the fundamental error of dogmatism. Every such item derives its truth, and its very meaning, from its unanalyzed relevance to the background which is the unbounded Universe. Not even the simplest notion of arithmetic escapes this inescapable condition for existence. . . Even in arithmetic you cannot get rid of a subconscious reference to the unbounded universe"; in" Mathematics and the Good," ESP 78f. There one also finds Whitehead’s comments on Principia Mathematica, which should be compared with the no less interesting remarks by Bertrand Russell on Whitehead’s labors in the philosophy of nature ("Logical Atoniism," in Logical Positivism [ed. Ayerl, pp. 33f).
24Insofar as the initial datum of an occasion is itself only a single occasion, the incoherence of the initial situation lies in the relationship of this datum occasion to the infinite entity and to one of the eternal objects provided by it. For particulars on this theory of "primary feelings," see PR 361-90.
25Indeed, Whitehead’s metaphysics can just as well be described as onto-psychology or onto-theology. He himself always characterizes it as cosmology and does so from the point of view that the latter deals with a single genus of elementary entities which form the building-blocks of the world: "The presumption that there is only one genus of actual entities constitutes an ideal of cosmological theory to which the philosophy of organism endeavors to conform" (PR 168).
26The tenth chapter of Science and the Modern World (New York: 1925), entitled "Abstraction, contains the detailed exposition of the relation of eternal objects to one another with respect to their possible ingression into the world of becoming. This exposition was not carried further in Process in Reality.
27In his Parmenides Plato presents a variety of inherently possible ways in which a Form [Eidos] can be distinct from itself.
28"Immortality," ESP 69. For a critique of the categories of quality, something, etc., as categories of subjectivity, cf. K. Lowith, Des Individuum in der Rolle des Mitmenschen II, 2, §§ 12-14.
29This activity of the ground cannot be described here. For these correlations I refer the reader to Hegel s Science of Logic, especially to the relationship laid down there between the logic of being and that of essence.
30I find Whitehead’s ascription of this mediation to a twofold nature of God an unconvincing solution. This is to theologize the concept of the timeless for no good reason.
31"The eternal objects are the same for all actual entities" (PR 34, Category of Explanation 5); and: "there nrc no novel eternal objects" (PR 33: Category of Explanation 3).
32In order to express the different functions of the eternal object as a unity of the event I am here employing the categories ‘constitution’ [Beschaffenheit] and ‘determination’ [Bestimmung] in reliance on Hegel’s clear description of them in his Science of Logic.
33The chief difficulty which the reading of Process and Reality occasions is that the initial data of an event are represented as themselves in constant movement and as always performing different functions in the process of becoming. Hence it is not just a matter of the event’s performing ever different functions with respect to the given world out of which it comes to be.
34John Dewey defended Whitehead against criticism for his analogizing use of subjective categories by which they are carried over from the domain of human subjectivity to the domain of all beings. At the same time he called attention to the danger which lies in such an analogy, namely, that of confusing correspondence of functions with identity of content. (In "The Philosophy of Whitehead," The Philosophy of A. N. Whitehead [ed. Schilpp], pp. 653, 660.) It seems to me that the relations which J. Wahl has set up between Whitehead’s cosmology and Heidegger’s fundamental ontology run this risk. (In Vers le Concret [De Vrin; 1932].)