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Whitehead’s Inability to Affirm a Universe of Value

by David L. Schindler

David L. Schindler is Assistant Professor in the Program of Liberal Studies, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana. The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 117-131, Vol. 13, Number 2, Summer, 1983. 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.


Alfred North Whitehead indicates in the preface of Process and Reality that his whole metaphysical position is essentially a repudiation of the doctrine of "vacuous actuality" (PR xiii, viii). By "vacuous actuality’’ he means an actuality which is "void of subjective experience" (PR 167/ 253), or, as he say’s elsewhere, a "res vera devoid of subjective immediacy" (PR 29/ 43). The point here is of course of fundamental importance, for it would seem to constitute a direct challenge of the widespread tendency in modern Western philosophy to equate the "actual" with the "factual," that is, with "what is the case," the "merely given," what is "simply there."1 It is the understanding of the actual as the factual in this sense which has generated and sustained the notorious dichotomy between "fact" and "value." If the actual is the factual in the sense of what is simply there, or, in Whitehead’s terms, in the sense of what is characterized by "bare activity" (MT 200f), then actuality lacks the requisite interiority or immanent activity which would seem to provide warrant for affirming actuality as valuable, as of intrinsic value.2

Given this understanding of actuality, then, it follows that value can be only arbitrarily inserted into the universe. Typically in modern Western philosophy this insertion has occurred at tile level of human being, where the requisite interiority has been taken to be present. But I need not detail here the problems with this way of securing value. Quite simply, it instantiates a dualism which removes the ontological warrant for speaking of value at all, and this in two ways. On the one hand, such a mode of understanding removes the ontological warrant for affirming the value of nonhuman entities (in themselves), since by definition such entities lack the required interior or immanent activity. On the other hand, and in a way which may seem more paradoxical, this mode of understanding removes the ontological warrant for affirming the value even of human beings, for it affirms that value only at the expense of a crucial equivocation: humans have value, but precisely root as actual (in the ordinary sense that is, as factual). In a word, then, if as in much of modern Western philosophy, the actual is equated with the factual in the sense of what is without subjective immediacy, and if value is coextensive with what has such subjective immediacy, it follows that there is no ontological warrant for affirming value at all. There is, quite simply, no warrant for speaking at all of actuality as value, and hence of the actuality of value.

In the context of these opening remarks, then, the title of this paper would seem paradoxical. For Whitehead, in ascribing subjective immediacy to actuality, thereby transforms the modern understanding of "fact" In making subjective experience or immediacy coextensive with actuality, he thereby provides a warrant for affirming actuality as value and thus for affirming the actuality of value. Dualism is rejected, and we would seem to have a universe of value. There is much truth in this claim, and I should not want to minimize its importance. Nonetheless I take Whitehead’s way of resolving the problem I have raised finally to be inadequate, in the following sense. In agreement with Whitehead, I take the ascription of subjective immediacy to actuality to be a necessary condition for affirming an actual universe of value. The question I should raise bears rather on what I take to be the necessary and sufficient condition for such an affirmation. In other words, if -- as Whitehead affirms and in which affirmation I concur -- value is rooted in subjective immediacy, that is, in subjectivity, what warrant do we have for affirming the value of what is given to us as other, that is, the value of what is given objectively? More precisely, if we are to have ontological warrant for affirming the value of the objective world, then, given the link of value with subjectivity, we must have an understanding of actuality which will permit us to affirm objects also, simultaneously, as subjects, that is, which will sustain a convertibility of object and subject.3 It will be the burden of this essay both to defend the sense of the issue as I have briefly formulated it, and to argue that Whitehead fails to meet its systematic requirements. I shall contend that Whitehead’s account of actuality precisely rules out the (ontological) possibility of affirming a convertibility of object and subject and that, for this reason, Whitehead is incapable of carrying through with consistency his fundamental intention of retrieving an actual universe of value. In the course of my argument, then, I shall be concerned to distill the elements of an ontology which I take to be required for such a retrieval.

I

Whitehead suggests in Modes of Thought that the fundamental question of modern times is that of how we can "add content to the notion of bare activity" (MT 200f.). The sense in which this is to be taken as the fundamental question is indicated in the following quotation:

The status of life in nature . . . is the modern problem of philosophy and of science. Indeed it is the central meeting point of all the strains of systematic thought, humanistic, naturalistic, philosophic. (MT 202)

Whitehead’s point is that the whole doctrine of nature has in the past several centuries suffered from a positivist view, according to which "there is the routine described in physical and chemical formulae, and that in the process of nature there is nothing else" (MT 204). What positivism leaves us with is "the notion of activity in which nothing is effected" (MT 202). What it gives us are mere formulae for succession. The activity of things is accounted for in terms of an external relation of succession which is commonly understood as efficient causation. In a word, the positivist sense of order is mechanical order: nature, which is to say natural activity, is to be understood mechanistically.

For Whitehead, then, a natural activity is "bare" if it is without internality, without an "inside," as it were. One important source of this exclusion of internality from nature is Descartes who, in his separation of mental and material substances, made it plausible to explain matter in terms of external spatial relations. In this context, then, Whitehead’s answer to the question of how to invest bare activity with content is to base life with nature (MT 220), and thereby integrate once again what Descartes tore asunder. As he puts it, the key notion from which a systematic metaphysical cosmology should start is "that the energetic activity considered in physics is the emotional intensity entertained in life" (MT 232). In short, nature or natural activity should be understood after the fashion of organism, not a machine. It is the internality proper to organic life which invests the notion of activity with content, and hence which provides the key for the rejection of any vacuous actuality.

Whitehead indicates that the characteristics of life are three -- self-enjoyment, creative activity, and aim -- and describes these characteristics as follows:

Aim evidently involves the entertainment of the purely ideal so as to be directive of the creative process. Also the enjoyment belongs to the process and is not a characteristic of any static result. The aim is at the enjoyment belonging to the process. (MT 208)

Or as he puts it elsewhere, the notion of life implies

a certain immediate individuality, which is a complex process of appropriating into a unit of existence the many data presented as relevant by the physical process of nature. (MT 205)

Self-enjoyment, then, calls attention to the immanence or internality which characterizes life. Creative activity signifies the process of self-creation which constitutes this self-enjoyment. And aim signifies the immanent finality which unifies the process and thus constitutes that process as individual. In short, life for Whitehead is always an individual or determinate occasion of experience which is characterized as a process of creating itself as one, in terms of its immanent subjective aim, out of the data provided by the functioning of the antecedent universe.

But of course this indication by Whitehead of the characteristics of life was undertaken precisely as a way of beginning construction of a metaphysical cosmology. That is, the point is that these characteristics of life disclose to us something of the characteristics of nature, or of natural activity. Or, to put it another way, the characteristics of life disclose to us something of the meaning of activity (or actuality) generally. It follows, then, that actuality generally, that is, actuality in each of its instances, is to be understood as an immanent, self-directed, and unified or determinate activity.

From this brief outline, then, there should already be some indication of how the notion of value emerges for Whitehead. Value is simply one way of looking at actuality as jisst described. That is, what the notion of value does is simply call attention to the immanent enjoyment of its subjective aim which constitutes actuality.4 Or, in other words, value simply calls attention to actuality in its constitution as activity which is immanent and appetitive. If, then, we recall our opening remarks about Whitehead’s understanding of vacuous actuality as actuality void of subjective experience, we can now see that that means void of value. In other words, every actuality, precisely by virtue of its being constituted as subject, that is, as the active self-enjoyment which constitutes subjective experience, is a value. The following quotation from Whitehead will serve both to summarize this position, and to introduce the fundamental consideration I wish to take up in connection with it:

At the base of existence is the sense of "worth". . . It is the sense of existence for its own sake, of existence which is its own justification, of existence with its own character.

The fundamental basis of the description is that our experience is a value experience, expressing a vague sense of maintenance or discard; and that this value experience differentiates itself in the sense of many existences with value experience; and that this sense of the multiplicity of value experiences again differentiates it into the totality of value experience, and the many other value experiences, and the egoistic value experience. There is the feeling of the ego, the others, the totality. This is the vague, basic presentation of the differentiation of existence, in its enjoyment of discard and maintenance. We are, each of us, one among others; and all of us are embraced in the unity of the whole.

. . . [T]he common fact of value experience . . . [constitutes] the essential nature of each pulsation of actuality. Everything has some value for itself, for others, and for the whole. This characterizes the meaning of actuality . . . Existence, in its own nature, is the upholding of value intensity. Also no unit can separate itself from the other, and from the whole. And yet each unit exists in its own right. It upholds value intensity for itself, and this involves sharing value intensity with the universe. Everything that in any sense exists has two sides, namely, its individual self and its signification in the universe. Also either of these aspects is a factor in the other. (MT 149-51)

This quotation, then, gives expression to the view outlined above, namely that actuality is subjective experience which in turn is value experience. Existence is precisely existence for its own sake, and hence is its own justification. But what the quotation makes explicit is the universal character of that claim. That is, the affirmation of my actuality as a value experience carries with it an affirmation of the value experience of others and indeed finally of the totality. And this intention seems to be fundamental to Whitehead. But what is the ontological warrant for universalizing the fact of value experience, for claiming that actuality universally has intrinsic value? The question can be put simply: if the value of actuality lies in actuality’s character as subject in the sense of the immanent activity of self-enjoyment, what wan-ants my assigning value to others, the data, that is, the objects in relation to which I (or any actual entity) constitute myself as subject? If value is coextensive at any given instant with the immanent self-seeking which constitutes a subject, then how at any given instant can the object, that is, what is given to the subject as other than the subject, he affirmed as having value -- not simply for me, but in itself?

It is important that the sense in which this question is being raised be understood. For there is clearly a sense in which Whitehead’s entire philosophy stands as an answer to the question. Indeed, this would seem to be the fundamental import of his "reformed subjectivist principle" (PR 157/ 238). The reformed subjectivist principle is "that the whole universe consists of elements disclosed in the analysis of the experience of subjects (PP. 166/252). Though in a way this is simply a restatement of the subjectivist turn of modern philosophy, the difference in the way Whitehead uses this principle is crucial. For when Descartes, for example, turned to the subject, he nonetheless did so while continuing to hold the metaphysical view that relations were external. In contrast, Whitehead’s point is that this is precisely not how we are disclosed to ourselves as subjects. Our fundamental experience of ourselves is as internally (and hence already) affected by other actualities, that is, as actively enjoying data (what is given: hence, what is other than oneself).

In short, according to Whitehead, the subject is constituted as internally related to what is other, and hence as within a community of actualities. But to affirm oneself as already within community is by that very fact to affirm some similarity or oneness between oneself and that to which one is related. There can be no relation between things which are simply different. In short, Whitehead’s doctrine of internal relations would seem to affirm a principle of unity in our understanding of actuality. And this is to say, in the context of the question I have raised, that the doctrine of internal relations would seem to establish a universe of actualities as subject and hence of value. Given that in experiencing myself as subject I experience myself always as already internally related to others, hence as in community with them, it follows that something like subjective experience must also be characteristic of those others.

But if what would seem to be established in principle by the doctrine of internal relations is to be borne out, one would expect it to be confirmed by observation. That is, if actuality generally is to be affirmed as possessing subjectivity, as characterized by an active self-appropriation in relation to the environment, then there should be some evidence of this in our observation of things. Here a Whiteheadian would point to evidence in biology and physics. For example, how can one account adequately for evolution if there is not something like subjectivity running through all of nature? Does not contemporary physics, both relativity theory and quantum theory, albeit in very different ways, transform the old understanding of nature: that is, the elements of nature (e.g., "particles") are seen neither to be passive, nor to be constituted apart from relation to one another. In short, then, I take Whitehead’s doctrine of internal relations, together with the empirical-cosmological evidence of biology and physics, to be Whitehead’s way of supporting his claim on behalf of the subjectivity and hence value of all actualities, including those actualities which are present to me precisely as data, as objects.

Nonetheless I wish to press Whitehead’s warrant as outlined here. In so doing, I begin by granting the empirical-cosmological evidence of biology and physics which testifies to the active taking account of environment on the part of the entities it studies. Where I wish to direct my attention is rather to Whitehead’s doctrine of internal relations. As indicated at the outset, my concern is the ontological foundation of value. My question therefore in the present context is just this. How does Whitehead understand actuality, and what does this understanding permit in terms of how one is to understand actual relations between entities? More precisely, what is Whitehead’s ontological warrant -- as distinct from his cosmological warrant, which I grant -- for affirming the subjectivity and hence value of the objects to which I (as subject) am internally related, and in this sense for affirming a universe of value?

A preliminary answer to this question is suggested by the fact that the activity which constitutes actuality is one of self-creation. The activity is that by which an actual entity integrates or unifies the data -- the objects -- given to it, in terms of its own subjective aim or finality. Such a claim serves to introduce just the problem to which I wish to call attention: for if actuality is exhausted in the subjective process of unification, and if it is actuality in this sense which constitutes value, it follows that value at any given instant is precisely coextensive with this subjective process of unification. That is, what is given as other (objective), just so far as it is other, is without value. Or, inversely, the other acquires value just so far as it is ingredient in my self-creation, insofar as it is actualized in terms of, as, my subjectivity. In a word, given value as coextensive with actuality and actuality in turn as coextensive with self-seeking creative activity, things other than the self, that is, the world as given to me (any actual entity), can have value only as an object for my own self-realization. That world can have value always and only for me, never in itself.

II

Anyone familiar with the thought of Whitehead is aware that there Is more to be said about his understanding of actuality that I have made explicit thus far. For the creativity which makes something actual I have identified simply with individual self-creativity. In fact Whitehead explicitly refers to creativity as a

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. (PR 21/ 31)

What this suggests of course is that creativity (actuality) in some sense transcends self-creativity.6 Or, to punt it another way, this suggests that there is creativity and hence actuality as distinct from, and thus as transcendent of, occasions understood as self-creations. The following quotations from Whitehead will prepare us to comment on what seems to be an expansion here in his understanding of actuality which is pertinent to the claim I have introduced.

[There are two kinds of fluency.] One kind is the fluency inherent in the constitution of the particular existent. This kind I have called "conscrescence." The other kind is the fluency whereby the perishing of the process, on the completion of the particular existent, constitutes that existent as an original element in the constitutions of other particular existents elicited by repetitions of process. This kind I have called "transition." Concrescence moves towards its final cause, which is its subjective aim; transition is the vehicle of the efficient cause, which is the [objectively] immortal past. (PR 210/ 320)

Again:

Efficient causation expresses the transition from actual entity to actual entity; and final causation expresses the internal process whereby the actual entity becomes itself. (PP. 150/ 228).

And finally:

There are two species of process, macroscopic process and microscopic process. The macroscopic process is the transition from attained actuality to actuality in attainment; while the microscopic process is the conversion of conditions which are merely real into determinate actuality. (PP. 214/ 326)

What I wish to suggest here is that there are two possible ways of interpreting these passages relative to the claim I introduced above, but that neither of these interpretations suffices finally to warrant a revision in that claim. The first interpretation emphasizes the identity of creativity with the self-creation called concrescence. According to this interpretation, which has been the dominant interpretation among Whiteheadians, creativity in its transitional phase is simply the principle which records the succession of the individual self-creations which alone are actual in the full sense. In short, creativity is actual only as the self-creation, the immanent appetitive activity, which constitutes subjectivity. Insofar as this interpretation holds, then, I take the claim which I have introduced above to stand without need of further argument.7 For insofar as actuality is identified with subjectivity there is just so far no ontological warrant for affirming the actuality (that is, the actual subjectivity), and a fortiori the actual value, of what at any given instant is given as other than one s own subjectivity.

There is, however, a second interpretation of creativity which has been introduced among some Whiteheadians -- for example, Jorge Nobo, whose formulation I shall address here (PS, IPQ). According to this interpretation, the transitive dimension of creativity is emphasized in its distinctness as transitive. That is, it is maintained that actuality is to be properly predicated, not only of creativity in its concrescent phase, but also in its distinctive superjective phase (PS 4:275). And this would seem to move the Whiteheadian account of actuality in the direction I have hinted that it must. I should stress the importance of Nobo’s effort to recover this dimension of actuality. Nonetheless, the following passages should situate us properly to determine whether his interpretation suffices finally to rescue Whitehead from the charge I have leveled.

An actual entity . . . is not literally at once both subject (concrescence) and superject (transition), creative process and created product. The product is the final outcome of the creative product; hence, the existence of the product marks the end of, and is subsequent to, the existence of the process. In other words, an actual entity first exists as subject, and then as superject. Both modes of existence cannot belong to it at once.

Nevertheless, in regard to its complete history, an actual entity is both process and product, both becoming and being, both subject and superject. (PS 4:279)

These two descriptions, then, are the two halves of an actual entity’s total description. (PS 4:282)

An occasion’s existence as subject and its superject . . . cannot be intelligibly divorced from one another; bunt this is not to say that an occasion exists simultaneously as subject and superject. The attainment of the subjective aim halts the creative process: but since the process is- the subject, the subject has ceased to exist; what remains is the completed occasion -- the superject. The actuality in attainment has given way to the attained actuality . . . (PR 4:280)

In responding to Nobo’s interpretation as indicated here, then, I begin by recalling the focus of my charge against Whitehead. Whitehead’s rejection of the idea of vacuous actuality is synonymous with his rejection of Descartes understanding of actuality (nature) in terms of the external activity of succession. Whitehead s response is to recover internality. It is this which constitutes actuality as subject and hence value And, given the immediacy of our relation to others, hence our community with others, it follows that these others are to be co-affirmed as subjects and hence values.

With in this context, my question was whether Whitehead had given us sufficient ontological warrant for the latter move. My suggestion was that he had not, precisely to the extent that he subsumed the actuality of an entity into its subjective (concrescent) phase. For this would leave us exactly without warrant for affirming the actuality of an entity us subject in that entity’s distinctive superjective (hence in turn objective) phase. Whitehead just so far, then, was seen to leave us without warrant for speaking of the objective world at any given instant as anything more than actuality which by definition is vacuous because without the internality which constitutes subjectivity. And this in turn is but to say that the objective world is without intrinsic value. Within this context, then, Nobo wishes clearly not to make the meaning of actuality coextensive with an entity in its subjective (concrescent) phase, but rather to extend it also to include the entity in its superjective (transitive) phase. Does Nobo’s interpretation meet the thrust of my objection to Whitehead?

Several of Nobo’s descriptions as noted above seem to me preliminarily to suggest that it does not: "an actual entity . . . is not literally at once both subject and superject"; "an actual entity first exists as subject, and then as superject. Both modes of existence cannot belong to it at once"; [t]he two descriptions [of subject and satisfaction] . . . are two halves of an actual entity’s total description ; this is not to say that an occasion exists simultaneously as subject and superject"; "the subject has ceased to exist; what remains as . . . the superject" (emphasis mine).

What seems to me to be the common and central meaning of these statements is that there is no simultaneity ("all-at-onceness") which is to be literally affirmed of the relation between subject and object. Rather the superjective phase of an actual entity is precisely, always, that which follows upon that entity’s subjective phase: the superject takes up where the subject ends ("first". . . "then"). Such language suggests exactly an external relation of succession. But if this is the nature of the relation between subject and superject, then it would seem to follow that the criticism of Whitehead developed above holds also with respect to Nobo’s interpretation of Whitehead. For what such an external relation between subject and superject signifies is exactly that, at any given instant, the superject (and hence in turn the object) has always and already replaced the subject, which is to say, is always and already without the subjective immediacy and thus value proper to subjects.

But this preliminary suggestion demands further precision. For Nobo is in fact careful to note that his expansion of the meaning of actuality in Whitehead should not be understood to carry the implication that the superjective phase of existence is some kind of independent phase which is merely added or juxtaposed to the subjective phase -- which is exactly the sort of understanding indicated by calling the relation of subject and superject an external one of succession. Indeed the term which would seem to reflect more accurately the tightness of the relation between subject and superject is supersession rather than succession. Nobo brings out the tightness or unity of that relation as follows:

an actual entity is not to be construed merely as subject or merely as superject, but is to be construed always as subject-superject. An actual entity is at once the subject experiencing and the superject of its experiences. It is subject-superject, and neither half of this description for a moment can be lost sight of (PB 43). But achieving a complete description of an actual occasion is not a matter of juxtaposing two otherwise independent descriptions: the one of the occasion’s subjective existence, the other of its superjective existence. On the contrary, the two partial descriptions are not independent of one another, since they convey the analyses of two modes of existence that presuppose each other for their ultimate intelligibility. (PS 4:279f.)

The point of this passage, then, is that the subject and superject are not to be understood as so distinct that one fails to grasp that they are after all the same actual occasion. Nobo goes on to suggest that the sameness or identity of an occasion is established in an important way by its position: "Since the occasion’s position remains unchanged throughout all the phases of the occasions existence, it serves as one ground for the identity of the occasion qua subject with the occasion qua superject (PS 4:284).

In sum, then, Nobo’s interpretation of Whitehead is that the superject is to be understood as actual as distinct from the subject, but that the superject is nonetheless the same entity as the subject. The pertinent question for our purposes is whether Nobo’s care to incorporate a sense of unity between subject and superject in the way just outlined suffices to warrant a rejection of my tentative earlier characterization of his understanding of that unity as an external one of succession. The import of my earlier criticism of Whitehead seems to me to compel a negative answer to this question. For what that earlier criticism requires is that the relation between subject and superject be one wherein the subject is immanent with the superject, in the precise sense that there be subjective immediacy carried within the superject.

The point bears stressing. What my earlier criticism cannot allow to stand is the claim that the subject gets into the superject, but only effectively, that is, only after subjective immediacy has perished. Indeed, this is just the sort of equivocation that that criticism is at pains to ferret out: to say that the subject is internal to the superject, but only effectively, is exactly to say that the subject does not really get into, is not really internal to, the superject after all. For, on such a reading, the subjects internality to the superject is always consequent upon the evacuation of the immediacy which precisely constitutes the subject as subject.

To put the matter in terms of the quotations from Nobo cited above, then, what my earlier criticism of Whitehead requires here is just the sort of literal ascription of an "all-at-once" character to the relation between subject and superject which Nobo expressly denies. There must be some literal sense in which we can affirm an actual entity to be simultaneously subjective and superjective. In a word, the unity of the subjective and superjective phases of an actual entity must be such that we can affirm that entity to be in some literal sense one, or whole, within its distinct phases.8 Nobo does indeed defend a sense of unity between subject and superject. But the point of my criticism is that, despite his concern to retrieve some sense of unity, he nonetheless expressly denies that this can be rightly understood as in any literal sense an "all-at-once" sort of unity.

My conclusion with respect to Nobo, then, is that he is just so far forced to conceive the subjective and superjective phases of an entity successively, and hence as external to one another: however much he wishes to affirm the internality of the subject to the superject, the point is that this internality can never be an internality of the subject as subject. But this is just to say that the subject is never actually within, unified with, the superject, which leads us in turn to exactly the claim I advanced earlier: namely, that in each instance of our (any subject’s) active relating to the world given to us, the subjectivity of that world has already and always been left behind, and we thus have ontological warrant for gaining access to that world only as object.9 Affirmation of the objective world as subject is ontologically forever closed to us: for the subjectivity of that world has always perished and been succeeded by what can then be only objective, hence precisely vacuous. The objective world thus can only and always be without inherent value.

My overarching claim then, in this discussion of Whitehead, is that his account of actuality does not permit him to carry through with consistency his doctrine of internal relations, and this in two ways. On the one hand, in accord with the dominant interpretation of Whitehead, actuality (creativity) is understood to be coextensive with the immanent self-creative activity which constitutes an entity as subject. But just so far as this interpretation obtains, we are left without ontological warrant for affirming at any given instant the actual subjectivity, and a fortiori the actual value, of what is given as distinctly other than one’s own (any given one actual entity’s) subjectivity. On the other hand, then, in accord with a second interpretation of Whitehead illustrated by Nobo, actuality is expanded to include an entity’s distinct superjective phase. Nonetheless, it is my contention that Nobo’s expansion can only be called, when considered in light of the precise sense of internality required by my earlier line of argument, an expansion by way of succession and hence externality. That is, actuality as superject is consequent upon the perishing of actuality as subject. But this means that the immanent activity which constitutes subjectivity has always been evacuated from the world which is objectively given to us. Even if this second interpretation obtains, then, we are nonetheless still left without ontological warrant for affirming, at any given instant, the actual value of that objective world. In the case of either interpretation of Whitehead, then, we are left without ontological warrant for affirming a subject’s internal relation to others as distinct subjects, and hence as distinct values. We are just so far unable to affirm a universe of actual value.

For these reasons, then, I submit that in Whitehead we have no ontological basis for generosity. (1) There can be no objectifying of myself in the very act of becoming a subject, which is to say no giving of the value of myself in appropriating the value of others. And (2) there can be no affirmation of others as subjects in, that is, as unified with, the affirmation of myself as subject, which is to say no affirmation of the value of others in the affirmation of my own value. On the one hand, the world has value for each subject only in terms of the unity of the self-enjoyment which constitutes its subjectivity. On the other hand, that subject in turn can offer itself as a value for the world only extrinsically, that is, as an unintended consequence of its having sought and realized its own unity (and hence having perished as a subject). Thus the universe of the value fundamentally intended by Whitehead, given his account of actuality, collapses into what can be called at best a multiverse of individuals actively seeking their own self-realization. Whitehead’s intended philosophy of generosity is undermined by an ontology of what can only be called selfish individualism. In a word, we have an ontology wherein value and valuing can be only erotic, never agapic.

III

But the intention of this paper is not merely negative. Indeed, at the outset I affirmed that Whitehead’s ascription of subjective immediacy or subjectivity to actuality was a necessary condition for overcoming the notorious fact-value dualism of modernity, and hence for retrieving a universe of value. The purpose of the paper within this context has been to examine Whitehead’s ontological warrant for ascribing subjectivity and hence value to those entities which, at any given instant, are given objectively, that is, as other than (one’s own) subjectivity. And my argument has been that Whitehead’s account of actuality does not provide this ontological warrant. In conclusion, then, I should like, in light of this argument, to suggest the elements of a constructive alternative account of actuality which I consequently take to provide warrant for a universe of subjectivity and hence value.

In accord with my criticism of the two possible interpretations of Whitehead’s understanding of actuality, I suggest that these elements are two. On the one hand, if my criticism of the dominant interpretation of Whitehead is accurate, it follows that actuality in its effective, transcendent dimension must be affirmed at any given instant as distinct from actuality in its self-seeking, immanent dimension. On the other hand, if my criticism of Nobo’s interpretation of Whitehead is accurate, it follows that actuality in its distinctly transcendent dimension must at the same time be internally related to, hence, unified with, actuality in its self-seeking, immanent dimension. In a word, if my criticism of Whitehead has been accurate, actuality must be affirmed to be a unity-within-distinctness or a distinctness-within-unity of effective and immanent activity. Actuality must be affirmed to be whole or "all-at-once," but precisely in a way which includes these effective and immanent modes of activity as irreducibly distinct. I hasten to distinguish two importantly different senses in which this claim is to be understood.

The first sense merely reiterates in positive terms the substance of the argument already advanced. Affirmation of a universe of actuality as value, and hence of a universe of actual value, requires an affirmation of each actual entity as a unified act -- unified, that is, not successively but all-at- once, hence as a whole -- within its distinctly subjective (immanent) and superjective (transitive) modes of activity.10 An identification (qua actual) of superjective activity with subjective activity, or a separation one from the other (a merely external relation between the two) leads in the end, albeit in different ways, to the same result: namely, an evacuation of subjectivity at any given instant from what is distinctly objective. From such an evacuation there just so far follows the impossibility of affirming, at any given instant, a universe understood as a community of subjects and hence values.

But there is a second sense of this claim which I wish to introduce here. That sense emerges when we attend to the internal relation between actual entities which has been a central feature of our argument. What does this internal relation of one actual entity to many other actual entities, each of them understood as a whole within its distinctly subjective and superjective modes, add to our first suggestion?

I take this internal relation to call for an affirmation of a distinct sense of actuality as such as itself a whole within distinctly subjective and superjective aspects. There are three relevant points to be noted in connection with such an affirmation. (1) This actuality as such must be an Actual Whole unto itself, that is, as distinct from and hence transcendent of the plurality of actual entities of our experience. (2) It must be Whole in a way which includes distinctly effective and immanent modes of activity. (3) And it must, as a distinct Whole unto itself, be at once immanent within the plurality of actual entities of our experience.

The warrants for these claims, in the context of the line of argument as developed earlier, I suggest are as follows: (1) The actuality of distinctness among the plurality of related actual entities requires the distinctness of actuality from any and all of those entities,, precisely as actual. To put it another way, the actual internal relation, hence unity or all-at-onceness or wholeness, among distinct entities requires the unity or all-at-onceness or wholeness of actuality as distinct from any of those entities. In a word, actuality must be whole as actuality, not simply as this or that instance of actuality. (2) This actuality as actuality, this Actual Whole, as disclosed in the plurality of entities, is hereby disclosed as possessing at once the effective and immanent activity proper to those entities. (3) This actuality as actuality, this Actual Whole, disclosed as immanent within the, plurality of entities, is thereby (while remaining distinctly whole unto itself) disclosed as at once internally distinguished by the plurality of entities. In a word, then, the second sense of actuality which I take to be required by the earlier argument is that of a distinct Whole which possesses distinctly effective and immanent modes of activity, and which is internally distinguished by the plurality of entities.

But with this brief suggestion I reach the limits of the present paper. The task which the paper leaves is that of developing and justifying this twofold sense of actuality which I take to be required finally to warrant affirmation of a universal community of subjects and hence values. Given the negative part of my argument above, it seems to me to follow, positively, that there must be (1) a wholeness proper to each instance of actuality, in a way which includes distinctly subjective (immanent) and superjective (transitive) modes of activity; and (2) a wholeness proper to actuality as such in a way which includes (a) distinctly effective and immanent modes of activity and (b) an internal distinguishing by the plurality of instances of actuality. In a word, if my argument as advanced in this paper is correct, affirmation of a universal community of subjects and hence values requires an understanding of actuality as a plurality of actual wholes within an Actual Whole, all of which are characterized at once by effective and immanent activity.11 It is a lack of wholeness of actuality in just these two senses, the first considered explicitly in this paper and the second only by implication, that I take to constitute Whitehead’s inability finally to found a universe of value.

 

References

IPQ -- David Bohm. "Response to Schindler’s Critique of My Wholeness and the Implicate Order," International Philosophical Quarterly. 22 (December, 1982).

IPQ -- Jorge Nobo. "Transition in Whitehead: A Creative Process Distinct from Concrescence," International Philosophical Quarterly. 19 (September, 1979), 265-83.

IPQ -- David L. Schindler. "David Bohm on Contemporary Physics and the Overcoming of Fragmentation," International Philosophical Quarterly, 22 (December, 1982).

PS -- Jorge Nobo. "Whitehead’s Principle of Process," Process Studies, 4 (Winter, 1974), 275-84.

WIO -- David Bohm. Wholeness and the Implicate Order. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1980.

 

 

Notes

1Cf. in this connection Kenneth L. Schmitz, The Gift: Creation (The Aquinas Lecture, 1982) (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press. 1982), pp. 34ff. and passim.

2My assumption here, then, in agreement with Whitehead. is that whatever additional features one might ascribe to the nature of value, a necessary feature is the link with immanent appetitive activity. This understanding his roots as far back as Aristotle, who defined value as "that which all things seek." Of course the Aristotelian (Thomistic) tradition has ordinarily used the term "good" in preference to the term "value," and this usage has been linked with an emphasis on the perfection (per-facio), hence completeness or indeed wholeness, of actuality as the necessary condition for something’s being desirable. This in turn has signified a certain "objective" understanding of value (that is, the good) over against the more "subjective" understanding of Whitehead. I note this difference here by way of noting that the present paper is intended as an effort to show the sense in which wholeness and immanent appetitive activity must both be affirmed of actuality if one is to secure an adequate sense of value (good). In this way I take the paper to be an effort to effect a merging between the Aristotelian (Thomistic) and Whiteheadian traditions on the problem of value (good) which faithfully retrieves the intentions of both. For further discussion pertinent to the point, see my "The Fact of Value and the Value of Fact: Another Look at the Convertibility of Ens and Bonum" (World Union of Catholic Philosophical Societies, project on the Philosophic Mediation of Christian Values [forthcoming]); and Joseph De Finance Essai sur l’Agir Humain (Rome: Gregorian University Press, 1962), pp. 77-79, and idem, Ethica Generalis, 2nd Ed. (Rome: Gregorian University Press, 1963), pp.30-33.

3 I take this statement of the issue, then, to be a way of formulating in contemporary terms the classical issue of the convertibility of ens and bonum. On this, cf. n. 2.

4 Cf. in this connection Whitehead’s formulation as early as SMW: " ‘Value’ is the word I use for the intrinsic reality of an event" (SMW 136).

5 See for example the evidence adduced in the following: Mind in Nature, edited by John B. Cobb, Jr. and David Ray Griffin (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1978), and David Bohm WIO.

6 On this see my "Creativity as Ultimate: Reflections on Actuality in Whitehead, Aristotle, and Aquinas" International Philosophical Quarterly, 13 (June, 1973), 161-71; and "Whitehead’s Challenge to Thomism on the Problem of God: The Metaphysical Issues," International Philosophical Quarterly 19 (September, 1979), 285-99.

7 I take Donald Sherburne’s interpretation of creativity not to constitute, relative to the claim being argued in my paper, a third interpretation distinct from the two I consider. Sherburne’s interpretation is that creativity is to be understood as the one process of self-realization, which can be viewed from two angles. Insofar as Sherburne thus understands creativity as actually identified with the process of self-realization, I take his view in terms of the thesis I am advancing, to be equivalent to the dominant understanding of creativity in Whitehead. On Sherburne’s interpretation, see his A Whiteheadian Aesthetic (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961), pp. 21-23.

8 The direction of my argument here of course raises difficulties of its own, to wit: can one affirm a unity of the sort I am suggesting here between subject and superject without finally eliminating the distinctness between the two required for affirmation of the actuality of becoming, not to say the distinctness required to avoid a merging of subjectivities unto the simple identity of one subjectivity? Indeed, I have myself pressed a form of these difficulties in connection with David Bohm’s WIO (see IPQ -- Schindler and IPQ -- Bohm). Nonetheless I call attention to these important further issues which I take to be generated by the thesis of the present paper only to note that their treatment falls outside the scope of the paper. Though in conclusion I suggest what seems to me to be the line of argument required for their resolution, my direct concern in this paper is limited to showing the sense in which a denial of (a literal sense of) an ontological unity between subject and superject creates an inability to overcome the modern dualism of fact and value.

9 In connection with my argument here, I should note that Nobo distinguishes another phase in an entity’s existence, namely a dative phase which is precisely that entity in its initial other-caused phase. As other-caused, and not either self-causing (concrescent) or self-caused (transitive), an entity in this phase is not actual, but merely real. As Nobo says, "The process of transition is creative of the merely real occasion; whereas the process of concrescence is the means by which the merely real occasion becomes attained actuality" (IPQ 19:282). I call attention to this further distinction by Nobo only by way of noting the impertinence of the distinction in terms of the thesis I have advanced. For that distinction leaves intact, indeed it sharpens, the dichotomy between an entity in its subjective phase and that entity as it eventually gets objectified in later occasions. What finally gets objectified, even with this further distinction, is precisely the past which has been evacuated of its internality subjectivity and hence intrinsic value. And this is just the point of my criticism.

10 I leave aside in the present paper the important but distinct question of what is to be identified as an instance of actuality which is to be affirmed as whole in the sense noted. Specifically, I leave aside the question of whether and in what sense wholeness is properly to be predicated of particular modes of actuality from subatomic events to individual human beings.

11 Cf. in connection with the positive elements of my argument: Bohm’s WIO, and the view of Aquinas on the wholeness (perfection) of esse, and indeed the wholeness of Esse. (On the wholeness of Esse in each instance of esse, see, for example, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III, Pt. 1, Ch. 68). For a discussion of Bohm and Aquinas on the issue of wholeness, see IPQ -- Schindler (and IPQ -- Bohm).


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