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Subjective Immortality Revisited

by Lori E. Krafte

Lori E. Krafte is Assistant Director of the Center for Process Studies and is currently a Ph.D. student at Claremont Graduate School. The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 35-36, Vol. 9, Numbers 1-2, Spring or Summer, 1979. 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.


In "A Whiteheadian Reflection on Subjective Immortality" (PS 7:1-13) Lewis S. Ford and Marjorie Suchocki lose sight of the meaning of "subject." My subjectivity is mine alone; my feelings may become part of your real internal constitution, but they are objectified in the process. You cannot literally be the subject of my experience. You may appropriate my feelings, but, by definition, these are data (and therefore objects) for your own experience. If not, then I simply do not know what being a subject can mean.

The authors hold that "the subjective form of my experience is not objectified as part of the content of Godís experience, but becomes the subjective means whereby God has that experience" (PS 7:9). What does this do to the subject-object structure of experience, or to the knower-known relation? How can God know anything if the latter is not objectified in Godís experience?

Ford and Suchocki claim that "God experiencing through me is the same as my experiencing in God" (PS 7:9). Yet here the subjects are different, and two subjects cannot have the same experience. The matter/form distinction they employ does not deal adequately with this. They argue that the formal component "can survive the perishing of creative becoming if reenacted in its entirety in a new subject" (PS 7:8). But is this not a violation of the principle that feelings cannot be abstracted from their subject? If they are reenacted by another subject, then they are not, by definition, the same feelings. Also, if the subject is different, in what meaningful sense can we affirm that the "original" subject either is immortal or retains its own immediacy?

Would it not make more sense to say that if I am sorrowful, God experiences me-as-sorrowful? Godís own experience of sorrow follows, because of appropriateness of response, but this is in addition to experiencing me-as-sorrowful. Otherwise, God would be confused as to the source of Godís own feelings. God does not enact or reenact the experiences of other subjects; "our misdeeds are in God; but not as his misdeeds, or his deeds at all -- rather as his misfortunes" (PSG 511).

The argument breaks down further when Ford and Suchocki speculate about the nature of the retention of subjective immediacy. They say that "in God we no longer act but contemplate" (PS 7:10). As if contemplation were something other than act! As if we are unchanged by our reflections! The very language is hardly compatible with the notion of an entity that cannot change; unchangeable entities do not contemplate or experience. What sense does it make to say that a fully determinate actuality experiences anything?

With regard to the idea of experiencing an "enlarged and enlarging world," Ford and Suchocki argue that subsequent occasions can be included provided they do not threaten the subjective form (PS 7:10). How can an occasion experience different and new data in the same manner? If the subjective form is (as Whitehead says) at least partially determined by the data, and if the data are ever-increasing, how can the subjective form remain the same? Ford and Suchocki speak of the occasion reaping the consequences of its choices (PS 7:10), but Whitehead says an actual entity cannot be conscious of its own satisfaction (PR 130).

The concept of time loses all significance in this argument, as the distinctions among past, present, and future are obscured. Ford and Suchocki state that "if my past self was conscious, then it is now conscious in God" (PS 7:9; italics added). And "in the temporal world that past act of consciousness has perished" (PS 7:9). Then is God in no sense temporal? Is there no past and present in Godís consequent nature? It is one thing to speak of the vividness of divine memory, but we must be careful not to speak of past occasions as actually living in the present (in any but an objective sense). After I die, if you remember me as living, that fact does not mean that in any strict sense I am still alive.

Again, "if we look at Godís consequent experience as a whole, . . . all these levels of experiencing exist simultaneously" (PS 7:11). But if God has experienced things before (i.e., if God has a past), then these experiences do not exist simultaneously, but rather they are remembered simultaneously. And each act of remembering is a new act . . . . time present of things past.

Ford and Suchocki speak also of an occasionís experiencing the occasions "lying in its own relevant future as these come into being" (PS 7:10). How can an occasion be internally related in God to that to which it was externally related in the temporal world? This makes it impossible to distinguish between past and future for that occasion. If past is not settled fact, what is it? If future is not beyond the grasp of our experience, in what sense is it ahead of us? Does this not collapse the distinction between actuality and possibility, between determination and indetermination?

In sum, the price that must be paid for making the authorsí argument is too high. Too many of the crucial insights of process philosophy seem to be relinquished in the interest of justifying the yearning for something more than objective immortality. Are there not better ways open to process thinkers for handling this issue?


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