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Process and Generality

by David M. Brahinsky

David M. Brahinsky received his Ph.D. from SUNY at Binghamton with a dissertation concerning Whitehead’s concept of metaphysical generality. The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 262-263, Vol. 7, Number 4, Winter, 1977. 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.


Whitehead’s philosophy aims to approach the accurate expression of final generalities; his metaphysical categories are conceived as tentative formulations of the ultimate generalities. His candidate for the notion which best expresses this final or ultimate generality is "creativity." It is the "ultimate metaphysical conception," the "universal of universals characterizing ultimate matter of fact" (PR 31). Since the world is, for Whitehead, actually in creation, actual entities are individualizations of creativity. As such they are primarily, completely existent. Eternal objects, in contrast, cannot exist in this "complete" sense, for they are not themselves in creation and so cannot "complete" themselves.

It does not seem to me to be the case, however, that "creativity" best serves as the concept of ultimate or final generality. It is not the concept which best expresses the most general perspective from which to view the world. "Creativity" is not generic with respect to every entity that Whitehead discriminates, It does not generically characterize "eternal objects," even though they are said to take part in the creative advance and are essential to it, They are not "actual" and are not in creation themselves. Only what is "actual" and in creation is generically characterized by the ultimate generality, This means that there are fundamental entities in Whitehead’s cosmology which are not species of the genus "creativity."

It is true, however, that as entities or elements in the creative advance, "actual entities," "eternal objects," and the other entities and elements discriminated by Whitehead have certain fundamental, general, or generic traits in common other than "creativity." Every element is complex, reflecting the category of the ultimate’s embodiment of the many ; every entity is unified and unique in some way, reflecting the category of the ultimate’s embodiment of the "one" (PR 31); every entity is ordered in the way that it is; and every entity is relational, i.e., each is related to other entities. This means that concepts which are more general, more pervasive, more generic than "creativity" prevail even in Whitehead’s own cosmology, viz., "complexity," "uniqueness," "unity," "relationality," and "order."

And yet Whitehead remains consistent to his doctrine that it is "creativity" that is ultimately generic or general. This is not to say that he is blind to the fact that other generic concepts prevail in his system. It is just that he fails to take them seriously, or that he considers them trivial in comparison to the ultimate concept. As he says about "order," for example, it is a "mere generic term" (PR 128).

This follows from his insistence that everything that exists in any way, exists in service to this creative advance. General concepts which fail to adequately reflect this essence are "merely generic" and not suited as ultimate generalities. Nevertheless, these generic terms are more general than "creativity," This is true, I submit, according to Whitehead’s discrimination of the elements which make up the world. Every element, for Whitehead, is complex, unique, unified, ordered, and relational. These terms generically characterize everything that is, It seems to me that if one takes Whitehead’s aim of ultimate generality seriously, one is forced to take these notions more seriously than does Whitehead.

Of course, to take these concepts as ultimately general, as opposed to "creativity," is to put Whitehead’s concept of the ontological priority of actualities in question. For if we imply thereby that reality as such is generically characterized as complexes which are unique, unified, ordered, and relational, we imply that whatever is complex, unique, unified, ordered, and relational is real and is as real as anything else. This is true if we have no other concept with which to grade reality in terms of its being more or less fundamental, but merely note that whatever is real is complex, unique, unified, ordinal, and relational. If Whitehead had taken his aim for generality as seriously as he takes his aim for a characterization of what he takes to be the essence of reality, he would have had to concede that actualities, as generically characterized by concepts which imply ontological parity, are no more real than anything else, for they are not more complex, unique, unified, ordinal, or relational than anything else. Should these concepts be taken as most general, then actualities cannot be seen as being ontologically prior to other entities, although they could be characterized as prior in some other way, e.g., as prior in the order of what is in creation, This order, it is true, is quite pervasive, but -- and this is the main point -- it is not, in Whitehead’s own terms, all-pervasive. It is not, therefore, ultimately general.


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