return to religion-online

A Whiteheadian Reflection on Subjective Immortality

by Lewis S. Ford and Marjorie Suchocki

Lewis S. Ford is professor of philosophy at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia and editor of this journal. Marjorie Suchocki is Dean Emeritus at Claremont School of Theology. The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 1-13, Vol. 7, Number 1, Spring, 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.


Death and immortality, taken together, form a pervasive theme in Whitehead’s metaphysics. Death does not simply happen once in a lifetime, for this loss of one’s own subjectivity is a perpetual occurrence, from moment to moment. Subjectivity is identified with present immediacy, which is always fading into the past. With the attainment of its own self-unification, each momentary self dies -- though what it has achieved objectively affects the supervening future. By perishing in its subjective, present immediacy the actual occasion becomes objectively immortal, as the process of becoming unified terminates in a unified being capable of causally influencing those processes of becoming which supersede it. As Locke had written, recalling Plato: time is a "perpetual perishing."

Whitehead’s extensive use of this phrase tends to obscure the fact that it is employed to describe two different kinds of perishing. There is the perishing of subjectivity just described, as the process of becoming naturally ceases in the attainment of the being it has come to be. This perishing is natural, rhythmic, incessant. There is also the perishing of objectivity, however, for the being thus attained persists in being only to the extent to which it is positively incorporated into fresh acts of becoming. Subjective becoming perishes as it attains objective being, but this too fades. "The present fact has not the past fact with it in any full immediacy. The process of time veils the past below distinctive feeling" (PR 517). This need not be the whole story, however, for God experiences everlastingly the full objective being of each actuality. Just as subjective perishing is remedied by objective immortality, objective perishing is remedied by- reception into the divine nature. In this way every actuality perishes, yet lives forevermore as part of the divine experience.

Perpetual perishing and objective immortality are the great themes of Whitehead’s meditations on death, but many, sensitive to the impending loss of their own personal subjectivity and perhaps still more to that of others, feel this is not enough. Classically, this yearning has been focused on the hope for the survival of the soul after the dissolution of the body. Here Whitehead meant to be accommodating, for he believed no metaphysical decision could be made:

Also at present it is generally held that a purely spiritual being is necessarily immortal. The doctrine here developed gives no warrant for such a belief. It is entirely neutral on the question of immortality, or on the existence of purely- spiritual beings other than God. There is no reason why such a question should not be decided on more special evidence, religious or otherwise, provided that it is trustworthy. (RM 110f)

Elsewhere, however, his views take on a sharper tone:

In some schools of thought, the fluency of the world is mitigated by the assumption that selected components in the world are exempt from this final fluency, and achieve a static survival. Such components are not separated by any decisive line from analogous components for which the assumption is not made. [Cf. Ecclesiastes 3:21.] Further, the survival is construed in terms of a final pair of opposites, happiness for some, torture for others. (PR 526)

In this particular context, Whitehead is presenting his own resolution to the problem posed by the fluency and transience of the world, so subjective immortality of the soul takes on the guise of a discarded alternative. Even if possible, it is not necessary, nor is it needed.

In any case, Whitehead understands by the ‘soul" not some statically enduring substance but a temporal thread of conscious, living occasions interwoven among other living occasions within the brain. It is conceivable, and therefore theoretically possible, that this personal thread should persist and continue to propagate itself beyond the dissolution of the body. The crucial question, however, concerns the quality of existence we may expect such a disembodied soul to enjoy, for in this life the powers and activities of the soul are intimately bound up with the other living occasions within the body. Thus the body, particularly the sensory organs, serves as a complex "amplifier" for the soul, such that without it the soul would be robbed of all sense-perception (PR 182; cf. 271).

It is by reason of the body, with its miracle of order, that the treasures of the past environment are poured into the living occasion. The final percipient route of occasions is perhaps some thread of happenings wandering in ‘empty’ space amid the interstices of the brain. It toils not, neither does it spin. It receives from the past; it lives in the present. It is shaken by its intensities of private feeling, adversion or aversion. In its turn, this culmination of bodily life transmits itself as an element of novelty throughout the avenues of the body. Its sole use to the body is its vivid originality: it is the organ of novelty. (PR 516)

Thus the soul receives what it experiences from the body, and it acts by directing the activities of the body. The soul without the body is like a president out of office. He no longer has access to all those intelligence reports, nor is the vast organizational bureaucracy still at his disposal to do his bidding. To be sure, the president can still write his memoirs, if he can make use of his presidential papers. We may suppose that the soul retains its memories, but only if the soul includes these memories within itself -- which is questionable.

Whitehead did not speculate on the precise location of memory within the animal organism, but the most plausible extension of his theory suggests rather that memories are maintained for the soul by other occasions, thereby freeing the soul for its adventure into novelty.2 The way in which the conscious ego draws upon the ocean of unconscious feeling which sustains it may well reflect the way the soul draws upon other living occasions. If so, the soul is the thread of coordinated consciousness wandering through an enveloping unconscious mind composed of all (or many) of the entirely living occasions existing in the cells of the brain. To account for the dynamics of this unconscious, we may postulate other enduring (personal) strands of entirely living occasions besides the one living person Whitehead singles out as the soul. This one living person accounts for the experienced unity of consciousness and the coordination of activity with which the mind provides the body. Other enduring strands could account for persistences within the unconscious. Thus, memories may be unconsciously transmitted along such personal strands within the brain until such time as they may be recalled by the conscious mind. Such an account fits with the empirical evidence indicating an intimate relationship between portions of the brain and particular memories, for those portions of the brain would then be housing particular subordinate enduring strands. Where the brain has been damaged, and portions have been severed or destroyed, there is often partial or massive amnesia. With the loss of the entire brain and its attendant enduring strands, then, we should expect any surviving soul to be bereft not only of sense-perception and the capacity to act, but of memory as well. In that case we may well wonder whether such survival is worth it.

Despite these difficulties, Whitehead returned to this problem once again in his next book:

How far this soul finds a support for its existence beyond the body is: -- another question. The everlasting nature of God, which in a sense is nontemporal and in another sense is temporal, may establish with the soul a peculiarly intense relationship of mutual immanence. Thus in some important sense the existence of the soul may be freed from its complete dependence upon the bodily’ organization. (AI 267)

As before, the question of such survival is left open, but a new note is struck by the reference to the everlasting nature of God, which is his consequent nature as the weaving of his temporal physical feelings of actualities upon his nontemporal conceptualizations of all pure possibilities (PR 524). The problem is still raised in its classical form as the persistence of the disembodied soul, but the question really concerns the retention of subjective immediacy for any occasion, and Whitehead’s language suggests that there may be "a peculiarly intense relationship of mutual immanence" between the occasion and God supportive of its subjective immediacy. At least this is the idea we propose to explore, particularly in terms of the closing pages of Process and Reality, for we are persuaded it offers a more fruitful way of conceiving the preservation of subjective immediacy than the notion of a disembodied soul can provide.

I

We begin our investigation by considering the actual occasion’s contribution to God. Here we must take note of the systematic contrast between God and the World: "In every respect God and the World move conversely to each other in respect to their process" (PR 529). Every actual entity, including God, is a synthesis of physical feelings of other actualities combined with conceptual feelings of formal possibilities. Every actual entity, that is, has both a physical and a mental pole. "Any instance of experience is dipolar, whether that instance be God or an actual occasion of the world. The origination of God is from the mental pole, the origination of an actual occasion is from the physical pole" (PR 54). Such mental origination is unique, nontemporal, and infinite: "Unfettered conceptual valuation, ‘infinite’ in Spinoza’s sense of that term, is only possible once in the universe" (PR 378). Physical origination, on the other hand, deriving from other actualities, must be multiple, temporal, and finite, thereby’ making up a World of many actual occasions. Each requires the other: God requires the World for his physical experience of concrete actuality, while each actual occasion of the World requires God for its unifying possibility.3

Without this systematic contrast and reversal there would be no metaphysical basis for God’s difference from the World, and lie would differ only contingently. If this difference were merely contingent, however, it need not be; in other words, God need not exist as a distinct reality. We take Anselm’s reflections concerning divine perfection and necessary existence to have demonstrated a symmetrical truth: if God could possibly exist, he must; but if God could possibly not exist, then his existence is forever impossible. By this principle, then, God cannot differ contingently from the World, for were he to, he could not exist. If, on the other hand, we seek to insure God’s necessary difference by introducing a categoreal difference, we jeopardize his metaphysical intelligibility and violate Whitehead’s cardinal rule: "God is not to be treated as an exception to all metaphysical principles, invoked to save their collapse. He is their chief exemplification" (PR 521). God is the chief actual entity, yet by his reversal of the ordering of physical to conceptual feeling, he maintains a necessary, systematic contrast to all finite actual occasions. Thus the term "actual entity" includes God within its scope, while "actual occasion" excludes him (PR 135).

Now the final state of an occasion’s process is its determination of value, its ultimate decision of its own significance, resulting in its satisfaction. The satisfaction thus represents a movement from the many values of the past actual world to the one novel value created through the occasion’s own concrescence, or process of coming into being. If "in every respect God and the World move conversely to each other in respect to their process" (PR 529), then the converse must in some sense be true of God. If for the occasion concrescence issues in satisfaction, then for God satisfaction must somehow issue in concrescence. Yet this cannot be the ease with respect to God’s nontemporal aspect or primordial nature. "The ‘primordial nature’ of God is the concrescence of a unity of conceptual feelings" (PR 134), which "achieves, in its unity of satisfaction, the complete conceptual valuation of all eternal objects" (PR 48) or pure forms, thereby generating the entire structuring of pure possibility.4 Seen in terms of his everlasting aspect or consequent nature, however, the only way God is directly related to the World, the converse is true. Here God’s nontemporal satisfaction, insofar as it is relevant, precedes the everlasting concrescence it issues into. This primordial satisfaction fulfills its superjective role by being objectified for every emergent occasion as its initial aim or unifying possibility (cf. PR 48, 135). Through the agency of the World, therefore, the multifaceted aspects of this primordial structuring of possibility as suffused with divine appetition seek multiple, finite, concrete actualization. This plural actualization in turn is taken up into the divine everlasting experience.

Thus "it is as true to say that God is one and the World many, as that the World is one and God many" (PR 528). The latter assertion is true in a two-fold way. On the plane of finite actualization, the past actual world becomes one in each concrescence as guided by its unifying aim, which is God become many for the many concrescences in unison of becoming. Also the World is one as unified within the divine experience, while God becomes many in respecting and preserving the manyness of the World. "God is primordially one, namely, he is the primoridal unity of relevance of the many potential forms: in the process he acquires a consequent multiplicity, which the primordial character absorbs into its own unity" (PR 529). The primordial satisfaction thus serves as both the source from which the divine everlasting concrescence springs and the unity to which it returns as a subordinate element within that culminating satisfaction, but we shall focus our attention upon the intermediate multiplicity.

In what way does God become many in respecting and preserving the manyness of the World? "The consequent nature of God is the fulfillment of his experience by his reception of the multiple freedom of actuality into the harmony of his own actualization" (PR 530; italics added). This sentence is usually interpreted as meaning that God experiences the objective character of each actual occasion as part of his cosmic experience, but can this do justice to the freedom and the manyness of the occasions? "Thus the consequent nature of God is composed of a multiplicity of elements with individual self-realization. It is just as much a multiplicity as it is a unity; it is just as much one immediate fact as it is an unresting advance beyond itself. Thus the actuality of God must also be understood as a multiplicity of actual components in process of creation" (PR 531; italics added). This last phrase strongly suggests that these actual components enjoy their own subjective immediacy within God, which is also a way by which they can preserve their multiplicity as a plurality of distinct individuals. That which is solely objective can only be transitorily multiple, for it loses its multiplicity in the ensuing subjective unification. These actual components must enjoy their own subjective immediacy to retain their individuality, yet how can this be?

We may approach this problem in another way. God’s primordial valuation aims at Beauty, at a structuring of forms to constitute a qualitative harmony for the enhancement of any and all existence whatsoever. This harmony is the goal of his primordial activity, the principle of value which orders his vision of all possibilities. No pure possibility is excluded from this vision; it is a pattern of potentiality which is completely "devoid of all negative prehensions" (PR 524). This harmony is all-inclusive, yet in itself it remains abstract. It is capable of including within itself all determinate actualities, but its very inclusiveness prevents it from generating these actualities by its own activity. Actualities are concrete and determinate precisely because they are finite and exclusive. To be all-inclusive, then, the primordial satisfaction needs the finite actualities of the World. This has been widely recognized, but we wish to go further and claim that the actuality required is provided supremely by, the living immediacy of the finite occasions, the exclusive sharpness of the very act of decision whereby one value becomes actual. The wholeness of an occasion in its subjective unity is the vital and exclusive actuality which is completely lacking in the inclusiveness of the primordial vision taken by itself. For the occasion values just this togetherness of actuality, cutting off all alternative possibilities in the decisiveness which is its immediate experience. This sharpness, this vividness, this intensity forged in the immediacy of the occasion becomes its gift to God. This subjective immediacy of decision, could it be experienced by God, would be the most fitting complement for God’s all-inclusive vision by’ providing the contrasting opposite of exclusive experience. The exclusive character of these finite actualities would be lost if they were only objectively prehended as aspects of a single, unified experience.

On the other hand, the very exclusiveness of the occasion’s decision, whereby it forms a determinate bond with every item in its universe (PR 71), prevents any continuation of its own subjectivity. By that decision the occasion is what it is. "The final ‘satisfaction’ of an actual entity is intolerant of any addition" (PR 71), for any addition would change what it is. Because each actuality is internally related to its own world, it cannot change (PR 92). "Actual entities perish, but do not change; they are what they are" (PR 52; cf. 122). "Each monadic creature is a mode of the process of ‘feeling’ the world, of housing the world in one unit of complex feeling, in every way determinate. . . Also the creature cannot have any external adventures, but only the internal adventure of becoming. Its birth is its end" (PR 124). In actual occasions, subjectivity is exhausted in the act of coming into being, for any continuation of subjectivity beyond this concrescence would involve it in external adventures of change.

Because of the centrality of this doctrine of the perishing of subjective immediacy in objective immortality, it is all too easy to read past Whitehead’s statements which hint at another dimension. Thus, for example, we are told that in the consequent experience of God "there is no loss, no obstruction. The world is felt in a unison of immediacy. The property of combining creative advance with the retention of mutual immediacy is what . . . is meant by the term ‘everlasting’" (PR 524f). "Mutual immediacy" may be read as simply referring to God’s feelings, namely, that God experiences every event objectively, but that experiencing is now still going on in the divine present, no matter how distantly past an event may have come into beings. But may not this retention of mutual immediacy also mean that in some way the subjective immediacy of the perished actual occasion is retained by God?

II

Subjective immediacy cannot continue, but there may be a way in which it can be reenacted. Here we shall be departing from the strict interpretation of Whitehead’s intended meaning, for we wish to press home some far-reaching implications of his theory. First, we must review Whitehead’s theory of the reenaction of subjective form in conformal feeling, originally introduced to handle a very different issue, namely, our sense of the continuous flow of feeling in extended experience. "There is a continuity between the subjective form of the immediate past occasion and the subjective form of its primary prehension in the origination of the new occasion" (AI 235). Thus, to use Whitehead’s example, I do not now merely experience myself as angry in the previous moment, but continue to feel that anger -- better, continue to feel angry -- even if I decide to abate my anger. In more unsophisticated occasions this even applies to the vectorial transmission of blind emotion. The subjective form is how a subject feels its world (PR 35, 131, 249), and this way of feeling grows out of the feelings of its predecessors.

This conformation of feeling, however, is only partial. For the subjective form is also the vehicle of the occasion’s freedom and novelty (PR 354; AI 332). The occasion determines itself in the way it determines to react to the data it inherits. If it is to exercise any freedom, it must be able to transform the initial ways of feeling it receives from the past. Moreover, it receives a great many different ways of feeling, as it feels the feelings of a multiplicity of past actualities, and it must synthesize all these into one final subjective form, the one final attitude it adopts towards its world (cf. AI 327). In this sense, "the concrescence is an individualization of the whole universe" (PR 250). Finally, and most importantly for our present purposes, the first categoreal condition of subjective unity requires that what is prehended be compatible for synthesis, and this requires perspectival elimination. Only a portion of any past actuality can be unified together with other past actualities, themselves present in partial fashion (PR 362). "A feeling is the appropriation of some elements in the universe to be components in the real internal constitution of its subject. The elements are the initial data; they are what the feeling feels. But they are felt under an abstraction. The process of the feeling involves negative prehensions which effect elimination. Thus the initial data are felt under a ‘perspective’ which is the objective datum of the feeling" (PR 353).

Now an actuality for Whitehead is one integral feeling, its satisfaction, but this is the integration of many feelings. Perspectival elimination is possible because of the divisibility of the satisfaction in terms of these many feelings. "By reason of this ‘divisible’ character causation is the transfer of a feeling, and not of a total satisfaction" (PR 364). In conformal feeling the datum occasion is felt in terms of one of its feelings, not in terms of its total feeling, and the subjective form that it so reenacted is the subjective form of that one partial feeling.

This line of reasoning, however, applies only to actual occasions God’s feelings do not employ negative prehensions to effect perspectival elimination.6 Finite occasions prehend other occasions from spatiotemporal standpoints which are different from those occupied by the occasions prehended, and therefore their prehending must be perspectival. In contrast, God prehends an occasion from its own standpoint, for "he shares with every new creation its actual world" (PR 523). Hence he prehends the entire satisfaction with no loss. Since such physical feeling is conformal, he prehends that satisfaction in terms of its own subjective form, since that subjective form must be reenacted in his own feeling.

Let us note carefully what this subjective form is: it is the very personal way in which that subject experiences its world. It is also the final aim of the occasion, that final unifying pattern it has decided upon in order to bring all of its prehensions into a single, coherent experience. But it is that unifying pattern clothed with emotion, with felt intensities derived from the initial subjective forms of its conformal feelings. This final subjective form epitomizes the achievement of the occasion’s subjectivity: "The subjective form is that immediate subject in that state of subjective feeling" (AI 327). "It is enveloped in the immediacy of its immediate present (PR 354). "Spontaneity, originality of decision, belongs to the essence of each actual occasion. It is the supreme expression of individuality: its conformal subjective form is the freedom of enjoyment derived from the enjoyment of freedom. Freshness, zest, and the extra keenness of intensity arise from it" (AI 332).

Subjective immediacy is compounded of two factors, which we might describe as its form and its matter. The material component is creativity, this restless activity of unification, present in terms of the occasion’s own act of becoming a unified being. That act of self-creation perishes in the achievement of satisfaction. The formal component is to be found in the subjective form, first as distributed among the many conformal feelings, finally as unified in the subjective form of the satisfaction. This can survive the perishing of creative becoming if reenacted in its entirety in a new subject, that is, if taken up into another activity of unification as informing it with its unique subjective way of experiencing. Now God prehends each occasion by means of one of his physical feelings. As in the case of all physical feelings, "the feeling felt has a subject diverse from the subject of the feeling which feels it" (PR 362). In the final unity of his primordial subjectivity, God is vastly different from that occasion. Nevertheless this divine subjectivity can give considerable room to the interplay of component part-subjectivities. For the moment we may restrict ourselves to that portion of God’s self-creativity reenacting with perfect conformation the subjective form of one of my experiences. This means that God experiences the same situation I confronted in exactly the same way I felt it. The subjective form of my experience is not objectified as part of the content of God’s experience, but becomes the subjective means whereby God has that experience. Now it becomes problematic: whose experience is it, mine or God’s? It is God’s materially, in that the activity of subjective unification is his, mine having perished. But it is mine formally, for I am the author of that particular way of experiencing that situation. The experience is mine, reborn in God. As we may put it most succinctly, God experiencing through me is the same as my experiencing in God.

All this has a wildly counterintuitive ring to it. Isn’t my subjectivity radically different from God’s? How can they somehow be the same? Furthermore, why am I not now conscious of my experience in God? These questions are incontrovertible, if a substantialist understanding of the enduring self is assumed. Whitehead denies this, as he must, if there is a perpetual perishing of subjective immediacy. The human person is not one enduring actuality undergoing many adventures, but a temporal series of momentary selves, each with its own experience. "An enduring personality in the temporal world is a route of occasions in which the successors with some peculiar completeness sum up their predecessors" (PR 531). I can include my past experiences and count them as mine because there has been a continuous overlapping in the subjective forms of my experiences. From one experience to the next there has been a massive underlying similarity in the way in which I experience the world, no matter how much the contents of that world might change, and despite wide differences in my superficial emotional reactions. They all partake of a basic underlying character preserved through the conformation of subjective form from experience to experience. But this conformation is imperfect and incomplete. "The present fact has not the past fact with it in any full immediacy. The process of time veils the past below distinctive feeling" (PR 517). That past experience of mine may be remembered but it is not now being experienced by me with full immediacy. Yet it is by God. Since the reenactment of subjective form is perfect in God, without negative prehension, my past self is more fully itself in God than in my present self. If my past self was conscious, then it is now conscious in God, since consciousness is part of the subjective form being reenacted,7 but it is the consciousness of that past self, not my present self. For in the temporal world that past act of consciousness has perished, to be replaced by my present act of consciousness. I experience God only in terms of his primordial satisfaction, not in terms of his consequent experience, and hence not in terms of my past self as conscious in God. As each self dies, it awakes to new life in God, but its successors cannot experience this until they undertake that great journey for themselves.

The occasion in God differs in significant ways from its earthly counterpart. It no longer decides, for its decision has been made and cannot be changed. Were it to make a new decision, it would become a new occasion and would no longer be that occasion in God. Hence in God we no longer act but contemplate. This has its advantages, for the values we have actualized are now secure on equal grounding in God’s consequent nature. Occasions in their coming-to-be struggled with incompatibilities, but as reenacted in being they no longer find that competitiveness need be the case. Each, having already forged its own uniqueness, finds complementing contrast from those occasions which formerly threatened it. There is no more competitive vying for one value at the expense of another, for all chosen values are now quite actual. The meaning of each realized value receives importance again and again as it is contrasted and complemented by other realized values within the diverse unity of God. Destructiveness is thereby turned to enrichment; discord makes way for peace.

In the temporal world, "the final ‘satisfaction’ of an actual entity is intolerant of any addition" (PR 71), because it would alter that occasion’s decision. For the occasion comes to its decision by the way it relates to its past actual world; this is the means whereby it is enabled to separate omit one unifying possibility from the continuum of graded alternatives God offers it, and to clothe that possibility with emotional intensity. Were it to receive an addition to its world, it would have to relate to that world differently, and thereby alter the selection of its unifying pattern in some detail. It would then no longer be the actuality which it is, since its actuality lies in its decision (PR 68). Once that decision has been made by means of this determinate internal relation to the past, however, additions can no longer threaten it. In God the occasion experiences an enlarged and enlarging world, which contains new occasions as they come into being, but the occasion remains the same insofar as it experiences this enlarged world in the same manner as of old, by means of the one unique subjective form it decided upon. To be sure, not everything that emerges can be compatible with that chosen mode of experiencing, but insofar as it is, it will be experienced. It is difficult to know just what that range of compatibility might be, but we have good reason to suppose that each occasion would experience the consequences of its own actions as it experiences those occasions lying in its own relevant future as these come into being. For according to the category of subjective intensity, the subjective aim of an occasion is directed not merely at intensity of feeling in the present subject, but also in its relevant future. If it neglects the latter in its pursuit of the former, it may well reap the consequences hereafter.

The temporal occasion perishes; its divine counterpart does not. For the ground of the temporal occasion’s subjectivity was its own concrescence, an act of deciding concluded in satisfaction, while the ground of the counterpart’s subjectivity is God’s consequent experience, which is everlasting. Thus the occasion is reborn through the reenactment of its final subjective form to a life everlasting. The subjective forms of most occasions, however, are too narrow and too trivial to sustain much further experiencing by themselves; their futures are too meager to be relevant in any significant way. This need not mean that these subjective forms become objectified along with the contents of these experiences. They may retain their subjective role of being a means of experiencing by becoming included within a larger subjective form. Two compatible subjective forms may be fused into a larger whole without altering the decision of either, by means of conceptual supplementation derived from God’s infinite conceptual imagination. To some extent this enlargement of perspective occurs in personal existence due to the overlapping of successive subjective forms. In profound moments of insight we are accorded a width of understanding and sympathy capable of including and transforming the narrower subjective stances of much of our past. Sometimes these moments even include a transcendence of personality as well. Thus as occasions in God exhaust the temporal experience of their own relevant futures they may become knit together, first in the personal lives they belonged to, in accordance with the massive underlying similarity among these subjective forms, and then perhaps in a merging of personalities along lines of personal affinity and affection.

There can be no clearly defined "border" of the personality; what obtains is more likely a center of personality which then extends and flows to others in the giving and receiving which is the Harmony of God. This is fitting, for the temporal purpose of personality was primarily suited to the greater intensity of feeling made possible by the complex structures of personality. This intensity now having been achieved, it may now be put at the disposal of its ultimate purpose -- the enrichment of the whole. In the process the narrow confines of the self have been lost, but not its subjective reaction to the universe as a way of experiencing that whole. It is its own value and meaning, and no other, which is affirmed, contrasted, deepened, and intensified in this trans-individual and even transpersonal widening of experience, for throughout the transformation it contributes its particular subjective pattern to the way that whole is being experienced. Peace is achieved, which "results in a wider sweep of conscious interest. It enlarges the field of attention. Thus Peace is self-control at its widest -- at the width where the ‘self’ has been lost, and interest has been transferred to co-ordinations wider than personality" (AI 368).

In the last paragraph we have sketched the life history of a single occasion in God, as experienced from its perspective, with its gradual widening as more limited modes are exhausted. If we look at God’s consequent experience as a whole, however, all these levels of experiencing exist simultaneously. As in all concrescences, there is a mutual sensitivity of feeling among the subjective forms of God’s physical feelings. Since the divine integration of feeling is instantaneous,8 all of these subjective forms are immediately integrated into the subjective form of God’s consequent satisfaction. This final integration of subjective form does not obviate the role of the individual subjective form of a particular occasion, however, since "the consequent nature of God is composed of a multiplicity of elements with individual self-realization" (PR 531; italics added). We may look upon these levels as ever-widening areas of divine subjectivity. At the top this subjectivity is severally restricted to the individual occasions. This is God as many, experiencing the world separately and exclusively through the many subjective perspectives of the individual occasions. This is "the Apotheosis of the World" (PR 529) in its plurality, while the deeper levels give this apotheosis its unity. The deeper we go, the more finite subjective forms are knit together by divine conceptual supplementation to become the subjective form of a wider portion of God’s subjectivity, till at bottom it becomes coextensive with the whole. Thus the divine experience is "always immediate, always many, always one, always with novel advance, moving onward, and never perishing" (PR 525). Individual occasions in God eventually lose their individuality as their experience of the future fades into insignificance and they imperceptibly merge with the next lower level, but they are continuously being replaced by freshly created occasions. In its individual exclusiveness, while it lasts, each occasion provides a way for God to pluralize his experience. For God engages in no temporal decisions of his own, as these would undermine the subjective unity of his own nontemporal, primordial decision. Having none of his own, he must utilize the decisions of finite occasions to provide him with the means for temporal experience. Since his interest lies in the intrinsic value of each occasion as it might contribute to his own multiplicity, and not in the reduction of that value so that it might provide him with a novel decision, God in no way violates the subjective unity of the satisfaction he prehends. Thus each occasion in God is a way God is in the world as "the great companion -- the fellow-sufferer who understands" (PR 532).

III

In the last section we have gone far beyond Whitehead’s explicit argument. He nowhere reflects upon what the experience of reenacting the subjective form of the entire satisfaction would be like. His discussion of the conformation of physical feeling is dominated by considerations pertaining to finite actualization, where that conformation is always partial, and hence never applies to the total satisfaction. Yet by his principles God must prehend the entirety of the satisfaction, by means of a reenactment of its subjective form, its way of experiencing its world. Our concern has been to draw out some of the implications of these principles, whether Whitehead himself thought of them or not.

Whitehead seems also to have been an intuitive thinker, capable of forming conclusions which outrun any rational justification he was explicitly aware of. Many statements in the last two chapters of Religion in the Making first find their warrants in Process and Reality. The closing pages of both Process and Reality and Adventures of Ideas are strongly intuitive, as Whitehead soars beyond the careful, explicit argumentation he had been building on. If we have achieved our purpose, then we have found one way of justifying some of these intuitions by his own principles. If so, our endeavor becomes once more interpretive, hopefully illuminating such passages as: "In this way God is completed by the individual, fluent satisfactions of finite fact, and the temporal occasions are completed by their everlasting union with their transformed selves, purged into conformation with the eternal order which is the final absolute ‘wisdom’" (PR 527; italics added). In this world we perish, but in the everlastingness of God, we live forevermore as he lives through us.

 

Notes

1 This essay was completed in January, 1974, in a moment of close agreement which made this joint effort possible. Since then the authors have pursued the issue further in ways which preclude any simple joint revision. Ford believes that subjective immortality, were it metaphysically possible and religiously desirable, would be actualized by divine power, but he wonders about both of these conditions. Full reenactment of subjective form, as described in this essay, however, seems to be a necessary if not a sufficient condition for subjective immortality, and he is persuaded that this line of investigation is the most promising of the current alternatives. Suchocki is more persuaded of the general possibility for subjective immortality, but has been also exploring alternative, and perhaps complementary, approaches to this end. See her essay on "The Question sf Immortality" in the Journal of Religion, July, 1977.

2 This extension of Whitehead’s theory is prompted in part by Donald W. Sherburne’s analyses, "Whitehead’s Psychological Physiology," Southern Journal of Philosophy, 7/4 (Winter, 1969-70), 401-07, and "Regional Inclusion and Psychological Physiology," PS 3/1 (Spring, 1973), 27-40 (written in debate with John B. Cobb, Jr.).

3 These claims are more fully substantiated in Ford, "Whitehead’s Categoreal Derivation of Divine Existence," The Monist, 54/3 (July, 1970), 374-400.

4 This dynamic interpretation of the primordial nature is further developed in Ford, "The Non-Temporality of Whitehead’s God," International Philosophical Quarterly, 13/3 (September, 1973), 347-76.

5 So it is interpreted in Ford, "Boethius and Whitehead on Time and Eternity," International Philosophical Quarterly, 8/1 (March, 1968), 38-67. Our present concern was dismissed rather cavalierly: Subjective immediacy, to be sure, is inevitably lost [in God], but that is all" (p. 67, n. 40).

6 On this point, that God has no negative prehensions, see William A. Christian, An Interpretation of Whitehead’s Metaphysics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), pp. 344-49.

7 We follow here John B. Bennett’s proposal that PR 130 be interpreted as meaning that the satisfaction of an occasion cannot also be a datum for experience within that concrescence, not that the satisfaction cannot be experienced consciously: "A Suggestion On ‘Consciousness in Process and Reality," PS 3/1 (Spring, 1973), 41-42.

8 See "The Non-Temporality of Whitehead’s God," p. 370. This argument for instantaneous divine integration presupposes considerations about finite genetic succession made in Ford, "Genetic and Coordinate Division Correlated," PS 1/ 3 (Fall, 1971), 199-209.


Viewed 8520 times.