return to religion-online

The Feeling for the Future: A Comment on Ann Plamondon’s Essay

by James W. Felt

James W. Felt, S.J., is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Santa Clara, having received the Ph.D. from Saint Louis University in 1965. He has published "Whitehead and the Bifurcation of Nature," Modern School-man 45 (1968), "Invitation to a Philosophic Revolution," New Scholasticism 45 (1971). The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 100-103, Vol. 3, Number 2, Summer, 1973. 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.)

Professor Plamondon’s contribution to the discussion of induction is interesting and fruitful, but I am not content with her representation of Whitehead’s notion of the ‘valid inductive inference’ pattern. I think she has left something out, and what she has left out is of key metaphysical importance. True, she tells us she did not intend in her paper "to provide a metaphysical justification of induction" (p. 99), yet one might understandably feel that the discussion is incomplete without at least an inchoate one. By way of such a supplement, I wish to call attention to some central and, I think, successful features of such a justification when designed along Whiteheadian lines.

There are two levels to a discussion of induction: one concerns the internal relatedness of the entities of nature; the other concerns inductive inferences ultimately based on this relatedness. Plamondon has cogently argued, with Whitehead, that "the inductive inference is ‘valid’ ultimately in virtue of [the] internal relation between entity and environment" (p. 95). Taking this entirely to heart, let us look more closely at this internal relation. In doing so we shall be addressing ourselves to what Whitehead regarded as the metaphysical foundation of all wider inductive inference such as that chiefly discussed in Plamondon’s article. Whitehead writes:

The very baffling task of applying reason to elicit the general characteristics of the immediate occasion as set before us in direct cognition, is a necessary preliminary, if we are to justify induction. . . . Either there is something about the immediate occasion which affords knowledge of the past and the future, or we are reduced to utter skepticism as to memory and induction. . . . The key to the process of induction . . . is to be found in the right understanding of the immediate occasion of knowledge in its full concreteness. . . . We find ourselves amid insoluble difficulties when we substitute for this concrete occasion a mere abstract in which we only consider material objects in a flux of configurations in time and space. (SMW 64)

Now how does Professor Plamondon represent the Whiteheadian pattern of inductive inference? After arguing, with Whitehead, that an actual entity cannot exist except within a certain kind of environmental order, and that the relationship between any entity and its environment is an internal one, she proposes pattern (2.1) so specified as representing ‘Whitehead’s view. Here she exhibits ae1 as internally related to E, and ae1_ as internally related to E_. But then the arrow D must be taken to mean a deductive inference from environment E to the future event in question, ae2.

Yet this is, I think, either inconsistent or involves a crucial omission. For the inference to the character of the particular event ae2 is, according to this representation, based on the environmental order E, which is seen to be analogous to the earlier environmental order E_ But the environment which partially determines the character of ae2 must be that to which ae2 is causally, hence prehensively, related. Since E and ae1 are given as internally related, it is clear that E is already in the causal past of ae1, hence that it is not E but rather a successor of E, say E1, which will causally influence ae2. The indicated inductive inference from E to ae2 is therefore entirely precarious, regardless of analogies between E and E_ or ae1 and ae1_, unless there are metaphysical grounds for asserting an analogy between E and E1. In other words, we are still faced with Bertrand Russell’s "interesting doubt" as to whether the laws of nature will continue to hold tomorrow.1 The cogency of the whole discussion about analogy, then, depends on the sense we can make of an internal relatedness of the environment of the immediate future to that of the present. If we diagram simply the internal relations of entities and environments, we get something like this:


Here the solid arrows represent prehensive relationships of the present and past, and the broken arrows the presumed relations of the future. The environment E_ is analogous though not identical to E_ in its past, and E2 will presumably be analogous to E2. If there are metaphysical grounds for this presumption, then there are grounds for anticipating the general character of ae2.

There are two distinct ways in which such a diagram can be employed. We may regard it as depicting facts of observation but not the observer, taking ae2 and ae1 to be specific events such as scientific observations in space and time or, as in Hume’s homely example, the past beneficial effects of eating bread. (Would this be an instance of the mere abstract" mentioned by Whitehead above?) This way of using the diagram is appropriate to the usual focus of discussion and, in the main, to that of Plamondon’s article. And from this point of view it may seem that Whitehead’s approach aggravates the problem rather than advances its solution, since, according to him, we base our inductive expectation as to the character of ae2 on what amounts to still another inductive expectation as to the character of E2!

But there is another way of understanding the diagram, one which is, in my view, more fundamental and one on which the former ultimately depends. In this alternative way we include in the diagram the experiential act of forming inductive expectations; we "apply reason to elicit the general characteristics of the immediate occasion, as set before us in direct cognition." In this way ae1 will include within itself the forming of the inductive inference, and this inference will consist in an expectation as to the character of the immediately consequent experiential event ae2. This latter reading of the diagram employs it specifically to analyze the vector fabric of experience without which inductive inferences in the sense usually discussed would remain entirely unfounded. Thus although this kind of metaphysical analysis of inductive expectations is of itself insufficient for analyzing the formation of, say, scientific predictions, it forms an indispensable part of the whole picture.

Using the diagram in this second way, we are immediately faced with the critical question, In what way is ae1 related to E2? How can ae1 include within itself any sense of the character of its immediately future environment? If there is no way in which this is possible, it seems that there is ultimately no ground for inductive expectations.

Whitehead’s metaphysical position is, I think, able to provide such a justification on the levels both of immediate experience and of conceptual analysis. On the experiential level he claims, as against Hume, that the vector or casual connectedness of experience is immediately given. According to this doctrine of "perception in the mode of causal efficacy," the past is felt precisely as influencing the present, and the present felt as making a difference to the future. Correlatively, his Category of Subjective Intensity asserts that the subjective aim achieves intensity of feeling not only in the immediate subject but also "in the relevant future" (PR 41; Whitehead’s italics). At bottom, then, the inductive expectation reposes on an anticipatory feeling of the character of the immediately future experience, in our case, of ae2. This feeling for the character of the future, this feeling of the continuity of the future with the present, is so deeply ingrained in our ordinary experience that we have difficulty bringing it to explicit attention, yet it is a feeling which, in Whitehead’s view, we share with all other entities generally.

On the level of conceptual analysis, Whitehead’s Categoreal Scheme makes sense, I think, out of this anticipatory feeling. Every actual occasion feels itself, through causal efficacy and in obedience to the Category of Subjective Intensity, as making a difference to its future. Furthermore, in its initial aim, whether conceptual reversion plays a significant role or not, it feels the forms of definiteness dominating its own past actual world as analogously relevant to its future. That is, since an entity is internally related to its actual world, for it to feel relevance to its own future necessarily implies its feeling a relevance of its own environment to the environment of its future. That actual occasion ae1 feels its relevance to its own future, ae2, entails that it also feels a coherence of E2 with its own environment E1. This feeling of the continuity of environmental order is accounted for by Whitehead first by certain statistical considerations (PR 303-15). There is a feeling of an analogy between the environment directly experienced and the presupposed environment of the future, and the statistical basis for this analogy is categoreally described in terms of social order (PR 314). The social order, I take it, is prehended by "an intuition -- in general vague and unprecise" (PR 315). I suggest that another way of expressing this is to say that each actual occasion prehends not only its actual world, taken as a mere collection of data, but in its coherence as an environmental society. It is, in other words, a feeling of the environment as constituting a generally harmonious whole. In categoreal terms, this feeling consists in a prehension of the general harmony of the subjective forms of the entities of the environmental society. Taken in conjunction with the sense of derivation through time provided by physical prehensions (causal efficacy), this feeling provides a plausible basis for the sense of derivational continuity of the environment.

But in a still more fundamental way, Whitehead adds a nonstatistical account of the validity of inductive expectations. This account is based on "the principle of the graduated ‘intensive relevance’ of eternal objects to the primary physical data of experience."

This principle expresses the prehension by every creature of the graduated order of appetitions constituting the primordial nature of God. There can thus be an intuition of an intrinsic suitability of some definite outcome from a presupposed situation. (PR 315)

If our earlier account is sound, the situation is not only "presupposed," it is in some sense prehended. And we note that implicit in the above account is Whitehead’s conviction, based on his immediate experience, that the experienced world is basically consistent and thus amenable to rational analysis. This conviction is embodied in Whitehead’s notion of the absoluteness of the primordial nature of God: that there is a timeless order of stability underlying the process and change of the universe. By reason of this timeless stability, the intensive relevance of certain eternal objects to certain types of factual situations is itself not subject to temporal vicissitude.

Such a conviction is, I suppose, unarguable: one takes it or leaves it. Whether it answers Bertrand Russell’s "interesting doubt" about induction may be also a matter of opinion. On the one hand, Russell might contend that his doubt applies to the laws of metaphysics as well as to the laws of nature, so that to accept something like the primordial nature of God is to make just the kind of a priori commitment from which he saw no real escape if one is to accept induction. Whitehead, on the other hand, might reply that his metaphysical scheme is designed precisely to account for that derivational continuity and harmonious stability which he finds not a priori but a posteriori in his experience, and which underlies our feeling for the future.



1In Ch. VI, "On Induction," of his Problems of Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 1912).

Viewed 6403 times.