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Whitehead’s "Theory" of Propositions

by Anthony J. Steinbeck

Anthony J. Steinbock is a doctoral candidate in Philosophy, SUNY at Stony Brook, NY 11794. He has been pursuing his doctoral work in Bochum, West Germany (1987-89) and Paris (1989-90). He is working in the area of social ontology. The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 19-29, Vol.18, Number 1, Spring, 1989. 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.


We must end with my first love -- Symbolic Logic. When in the distant future the subject has expanded, so as to examine patterns depending on connections other than those of space, number, and quantity -- when this expansion has occurred, I suggest that Symbolic Logic, that is to say, the symbolic examination of pattern with the use of real variables, will become the foundation of aesthetics. From that stage it will proceed to conquer ethics and theology (SP 140).

What audacity to claim that symbolic logic could conquer ethics and theology. and become the foundation of aesthetics! Shall we cry heretic! immoralist! or worse, positivist!? Why does symbolic logic hold such a privileged position for Whitehead? What is he inviting us to understand, what is he attempting to invoke by such a statement?

Symbolic logic, he tells us above, is the symbolic examination of "pattern with the use of real variables"; in other words, it is the systematic examination of "propositions." To grasp the import of this statement it will be necessary to pursue an interpretive inquiry into the nature of propositions in Whitehead’s thought. To do this I shall first discuss basic structural considerations of Whitehead’s theory of propositions and then proceed to address in more detail the salient features which I consider to be decisive for his understanding of propositions, namely, that a proposition has two subjects. On the basis of this insight, which opens a hermeneutical dimension to propositions, I shall, third, specify the role that propositions play in the process view of the world. In concluding I shall suggest in what sense the systematic examination of propositions can function foundationally for other domains of life.

I

In Science and the Modern World, in the chapter "Abstraction," Whitehead’s allusion to propositions is ensconced in a discussion of "eternal objects." i.e., pure potentialities, those transcendent entities traditionally known as "universals" (SMW 1560. By speaking of propositions in this context, Whitehead tacitly portrays propositions in a way befitting a characterization of eternal objects. As Ford observes, in Principia Mathematica Whitehead understands the "subject" of the proposition as the "placeholder" giving determination to predicates, thus transforming propositions into complex eternal objects (EWM 174).

Now, likening propositions to eternal objects is not entirely misleading, given the peculiar ontological status of propositions in Whitehead’s metaphysical scheme. Since both propositions and eternal objects are potentialities for realization in the sphere of actuality, a proposition does exhibit a certain type of universal relevance akin to eternal objects. Moreover, an eternal object is absolutely general; there is no criterion to found the truth or falsity of an eternal object. Likewise, a proposition -- taken in itself -- is essentially neither true nor false according to Whitehead. Just as an eternal object, say, redness, gives no information about itself save when it ingresses in or is realized in the red shirt or the red book, so too, a proposition as such "tells no tale about itself’ (PR 256f/391-3). With these considerations it is possible to note the following characteristics which both eternal objects and propositions share:1) potentiality or "patience" for realization, 2) indeterminacy or abstraction from actualities, and 3) absence of truth-value.

Nevertheless, Whitehead is quite candid about the distinctive features of propositions. In "The Metaphysical Scheme of March 1927," Whitehead clarifies a proposition as an "intermediate universal" (MS 320). Of course, with the explication of propositions as intermediate universals, we can recognize Whitehead’ s insistence on describing propositions from the perspective of eternal objects, and to this extent his description remains incomplete. Put differently, the expression "intermediate universal" signals an approach to propositions from the "top down" and not from the "bottom up," that is, from the perspective of actual entities or actual occasions invested with indeterminacy.1 Nonetheless, such a qualification marks a pointed move towards a distinction between propositions and eternal objects.

A proposition differs from an eternal object insofar as the latter refers to actuality with abstract generality, and the former refers to actuality with incomplete abstraction from determinate actual entities. Whereas eternal objects abstract from all determinate actualities, even God, and are merely referent to any actual entity devoid of selection, propositions circumscribe actual entities and lose their absolute generality in the fusion of eternal objects with a set of actual entities. In a proposition the eternal object is restricted to ‘lust these" actual occasions. The proposition is the potentiality of the eternal object, as determinant of definiteness, in some determinate mode of restricted reference to a circumscribed set of actual occasions (PR 257/393, 261/398-9).

For Whitehead, then, a proposition is truly "intermediate," not merely with respect to eternal objects, but also with regard to actual entities. A proposition is not a pure essence; though it does not give information as to how it actually functions in particular instances (like an eternal object) it does gesture towards how it could function in concrete occasions. A proposition is not a particular; it transcends brute fact, just enough to grant it an air of "impartiality" (MS 320-1; PR 197/299-300). Compared to eternal objects a proposition shares in the concrete particularity of actual occasions, and compared to actual occasions, it participates in the abstract generality of eternal objects. In other words, a proposition is doubly intermediate by virtue of what Whitehead calls a "double elimination." On the one hand, the objectified sheer matter-of-factness of actual entities is lifted, leaving a sufficient quality of concrete givenness to allow the latter to function now as "indicators." On the other hand, the eternal object suffers the removal of its absolute generality of its reference to any actuality.

The proposition is a "new kind of entity" -- an oft-touted phrase echoed by Whitehead throughout his commentary on propositions. While the proposition presupposes both types of "primary" entities, actual entities and eternal objects, it is distinct in kind, and therefore enjoys a unique status.

Guided by a dynamic understanding of propositions, one that can account for a process view of the world, Whitehead abandons the traditional conception of propositions. His distinctive contribution to the theory of propositions, however, requires an analysis with more attention to detail. Let me proceed in the following section in two stages which correspond to the two subjects inherent in the proposition, namely, the "logical subject" and the "percipient" or "prehending subject." After such an analysis it will be possible to examine the unique ontological status of propositions for Whitehead.

II

A proposition is the possibility of an actual world including a set of actual entities in a type of relatedness involving the hypothetical realization of a definite set of eternal objects. Properly speaking, however, propositions do not contain "actual entities" or "eternal objects" per se. Rather, in the unity of the proposition, actual entities assume the form of ‘logical subjects" and eternal objects are transformed into the "predicative pattern." The proposition is the potentiality of an assigned predicative pattern finding realization in indicated logical subjects (PR 24/35, 186/283, 257f/393f, 261/398).

In a proposition, the "logical subjects" are not tied down to objectivity, given as already realized. As Whitehead contends, their role in actuality, their complete determinateness, is eliminated. In Kraus’ words, they are "stripped" of their own pattern; the objectification by which they were felt is negatively prehended (ME 91). The particular facts function no longer as "factors," but become "bare its," that is, function as logical subjects with a hypothetical relevance to a predicative pattern now potentially determinate of these logical subjects.

While the objectified facts are invested with a certain levity, no longer fully sedimented, the logical subjects as an indicative system, on the other hand, restrict the freedom of the proposition to apply to any actual entity in absolute generality. "Apart from the indication there is no proposition because there are no determinate particulars" (PR 194/295). The indicative character of logical subjects disciplines the scope of the predicative pattern; they enjoy the function as "food for possibility" and enable the proposition to refer to the actuality of the world, to existential particularity. The fact that a proposition is provided with an "element of sheer givenness," a foothold in the world, as it were, enables a proposition to be not merely an eternal object, a pure possibility, but a real possibility (See WAP 477f). And because the proposition is not given as a finished fact, but presented as a way it could be (the optative quality preserving the indeterminacy unique to eternal objects), a proposition is a real possibility.

The restrictive abstractness of the predicative pattern, and the abstract definiteness of the indicative logical subjects provide the necessary indeterminacy and determinacy for a proposition to be true or false. This quality can be seen as an advance towards concreteness not present in an eternal object. Yet a proposition regarded simply in terms of its logical subjects admits too much vagueness to have a de facto truth value. For this reason a proposition as such can go no further than its ability to be true or false: truth and falsity are "no business of a proposition"; the proposition tells no tale as to its ingression (PR 256f/391-3, 191/291).

The distinction between a proposition’s ability to be true or false and its actual truth-value is a significant tenet of Whitehead’s theory of propositions. In Adventures of Ideas, for example, Whitehead contends that a great deal of confusion has been generated in the discussion of propositions by conflating the psychological attitude with the proposition itself (AI 243f). hi other words, at issue here is the problem of reducing essential theoretical foundations of logic, and more fundamentally, ontology, to actual mental processes where the latter becomes the necessary and sufficient conditions for the former. It will be helpful to elucidate the significance of this important distinction by rooting it first in Frege’s approach to propositions.

In his seminal work, Über Sinn and Bedeutung, Frege distinguished between a level of sense (Sinn) and reference or significance (Bedeutung). And in a letter written to Edmund Husserl a year earlier in 1891, clarifying his position with respect to Husserl’s, Frege illustrated his new theory in the form of an explanatory diagram (WB 96).

Sentence Proper Name Concept-word

Sense of sentence Sense of proper Sense of concept-word
(Thought) name

Reference of Reference of Reference of
sentence proper name concept-word object
(Truth-value) (Object) (Concept) which falls under concept

According to Frege, the semantics of sense and reference is primarily a semantics of whole sentences and not of sentence parts.2 Every declarative sentence contains a proposition, and such a sentence contains a thought as its sense (FBH 46). For example, the strings "24 = 42" and "4 . 4 = 42" express different thoughts or propositions, just as the strings "The morning star is a planet with a shorter period of revolution than the Earth" (1) and "The evening star is a planet with a shorter period of revolution than the Earth" (2) express different thoughts (FBB 26). Moreover, both 24= 42 and 4 . 4 = 42 have the same reference just as both (I) and (2) have the same reference. Thus, because the reference of a sentence is a truth-value, and because a sentence either refers to the state of affairs in which it is true (the True) or the state of affairs in which it is false (the False), all true sentences will refer to the same thing, the True, while all false sentences will have the same extension, the False (NS 276).

This is not to say that every sentence has a reference for Frege. For example, the sentence "Odysseus was set ashore at Ithaca while sound asleep" has a thought, a sense, while it is doubtful, Frege writes, that it has a reference. Still, the thought remains the same whether the sentence has a reference or not. Even if the name "Odysseus" in the sentence just cited did designate a real person after all, and not a fictional character, this new fact would not alter the proposition of the sentence. The proposition as such is independent of its truth-value. Nonetheless, as Frege writes to Husserl, it is sufficient if poetic strings or works of art have a sense, but for scientific work, i.e., to be useful, we must not lack a reference. In fact, it is the striving for truth that drives us to advance from the sense to the reference (FBB 48; WB 96).

Like Frege, Whitehead asserts that the truth-value of the proposition is irreducible to the proposition "itself," or put differently, the proposition’s truth or falsity does not contribute to the intelligible aspect of the proposition. For this reason Whitehead writes that the proposition’s own truth or falsity is no business of the proposition; in itself it tells no tale about itself. In Frege’s terminology, the proposition can have a reference, but the sense is unique. distinguishable from the potential reference of the proposition; it still makes sense, i.e., it is still a proposition whether or not it is true or false. Like Frege, Whitehead cautions against the all too prevalent tendency of his time to confuse psychological attitudes with the proposition itself. The intrinsic togetherness of the indicated state of affairs as logical subject and the assigned predicative pattern in their potentiality for realization is phenomenologically distinct from the eventual truth or falsity of the proposition.

Having offered this clarification of the proposition in itself, as the patience for that certain predicative pattern applying in that peculiar way to indicated logical subjects, it is possible to proceed to the distinctive insight in Whitehead’s understanding of propositions. It is now, in fact, that one can begin to address more specifically the role propositions play in the creative advance of the world. A proposition is not simply that fusion or "contrast" of predicative patterns and logical subjects, for it does not "contain" only one subject, i.e., the logical subject. Rather, in the provocative words of "The Metaphysical Scheme of March 1927," a proposition "contains" two subjects, the logical subject and the "percipient subject" for whom the proposition is or is not a valid element in experience; a proposition is not only about its logical subject, but is for any one of its percipient subjects, and thus relevant for the future (MS 321, 322).

Expressed still differently, realizing the predicative pattern (P) of logical subjects (x) is precisely a matter of "taking" x as P. For this reason a concrete, contextual treatment of propositions for Whitehead in distinction to traditional approaches (e.g., Frege) can be undertaken only by a recourse to a theory of "prehensions." Whitehead’s disclosure of the percipient subject, or as I shall indicate below, the prehending subject, situates the theory of propositions squarely in the field of a metaphysics hermeneutically considered.

At this juncture, it would be helpful to clarify unavoidable ambiguities in the context of Whitehead’s treatment of propositions where this "second" subject is concerned.

The "percipient" subject is a general term Whitehead uses in the "Metaphysical Scheme" to denote "any one of a set of acts of experience" (MS 322). The corresponding expression in Process and Reality is similarly the wider term "prehending" subject (PR 258/395). In both cases, the percipient or prehending subject is meant to encompass those types of experiencing which have a sufficient degree of complexity to admit or not admit a proposition into feeling.

The fact that Whitehead is prompted to designate a more comprehensive concept in the discussion of propositions is instructive. For a unique tenet of his theory of propositions lies in the distinction between a judging and a nonjudging subject. That is, he is careful not to reduce the experience of a proposition to the judging activity simply -- the traditional presupposition in theories of propositions. True, in Part II, Chapter IX, of Process and Reality, Whitehead himself offers a hearty discussion of propositions in terms of judgments. Nonetheless, he is quite clear that the treatment of judgments must be understood only as one subdivision of propositional feelings since the prehending subject experiencing the proposition is not necessarily involved in judging the proposition (PR 258/395, 187/284).

Indeed, the realization of propositions occurs without more complex prehensions such as judgments, "synthetic feelings" which involve consciousness. Propositional feelings are not in the simplest case conscious feelings. He is even more explicit: judgment and consciousness are "very rare" phenomena in the realization of propositions (PR 184/281, 259/396, 263/402).

If, then, the more fundamental mode of prehending a proposition is not the judgment, what is Whitehead’s alternative? For Whitehead, the primary mode of prehending a proposition is "entertainment" (PR 188/287, 258/395). While the notion of entertainment can only be grasped adequately when the proposition is considered specifically as lure, let it suffice to note here that the term entertainment is especially well-suited for the primary mode of prehending propositions because the proposition functions primordially as suggestive, provocative, beautiful or even frightening, in short, as ‘entertaining’ for the prehending occasion, enticing the latter in a certain direction of creative emergence. Accordingly, propositions are given primarily as eliciting valuation from the entertaining subject and not for conscious evaluation unique to judgments, although the latter is a possibility too. This is, of course, not to say that consciousness or judgments should be denigrated. Rather, it is simply the case for Whitehead that consciousness entails more than the "entertainment of theory [i.e., a proposition]" (PR 188/286f, 263/402). Unfortunately though, maintains Whitehead, our understanding of propositions has been truncated by having considered them habitually and exclusively in terms of judgments.

When we analyze a proposition, Whitehead writes, it includes acts of experience among its components. As I have indicated, albeit briefly, the range of these acts of experience is expressed by the notions of a percipient or prehending subject, and where propositions are concerned those acts are particularly judging and entertaining. Although Whitehead does not expressly repeat the formulation tendered in the "Metaphysical Scheme" that a proposition "contains" two subjects, its sense and significance for understanding propositions in the process view of the world is maintained in his analysis of propositions in Process and Reality in the sense that a proposition is also given for a prehending subject. Rather than address his contribution to the understanding of propositions with respect to both the judging and entertaining subjects, let me proceed by focusing on the latter, for it is here that the originality of Whitehead’s theory of propositions can be seen more clearly and the unique ontological status of propositions comes into relief.

The logical subjects equip the proposition with indicative references enabling the proposition to be true or false. The logical subjects, however, are not capable of doing more than indicating how the proposition could be realized: if the logical subjects to which the predicative pattern refers could, in themselves, make the proposition "tell tales" as to its ingression, it would be to cast the world’s lot in advance, it would be to prescribe exhaustively creative unfolding and thus vitiate creativity. Instead, the logical subjects in a potential pattern are divested of all formal content, leaving only their bare rootedness, their bare actuality. As such, the proposition is simply too indeterminate for further disclosure; propositions require completion.

An abstract analysis of propositions, according to Whitehead, could rest content without reaching beyond its logical subjects. Taking propositions concretely, however, means having recourse not only to its logical subjects, but to the contextual conditions brought to bear with the prehending subject entertaining the proposition. To contend that prehending subjects are in a unique way integral to propositions concretely considered is not to assert that propositions are random, reducible to mental processes or have less integrity. On the contrary. It is to realize that the proposition regarded simply in terms of its logical subjects is vague in the sense of poly-valence and that to become what it is, the proposition requires valuation, i.e., an interpretive matrix.

According to the "ontological principle" which demands that every entity (e.g., a proposition) be somewhere (i.e., an actual entity or nexus thereof), a proposition has a "locus." That is, the ground to which propositions must refer is the actual world as objectified in the entertaining subject. Because the two subjects together constitute the locus of the proposition, the proposition constitutes that "display" of the environment which is inscribed in the entertainer, while the adumbration of the entertaining subject’s own features ale registered in the data which its environment provides.

If the proposition does not already contain the locus of the prehending subject and logical subject, the proposition cannot be entertained. "Thus no actual entity can feel a proposition, if its actual world does not include the logical subjects of that proposition" (PR 259/396; cf. 203/309, 260/397). Since every proposition "presupposes" actual entities which are its logical subjects, the presupposed or purported logical subjects may not be in the actual world of some prehending entity; in other words, because not all entertaining subjects will admit the proposition into its concrescence, such a proposition will refer to the hypothetical future beyond that concrescent occasion, and the proposition must "await" its logical subjects as it must "await" a subject admitting it as it is into feeling.

Existing as entertained in experience, propositions not only can be true or false, a capability afforded by their logical subjects, but are in fact true or false (AI 245; PR 11/16f, 258/394). As proposed for some unspecified subject initially, the proposition is rendered determinate by being entertained and thus actualized concretely in the context of the purpose, interest and historical situatedness of the subject experiencing the proposition. Accordingly, the second condition for the realization of a proposition goes beyond that peculiar commerce of logical subjects and predicative patterns, and concerns the determination of a truth-value: the entertaining subject. By virtue of the intimate role the entertaining subject plays in the proposition, a "proposition must be true or false" (PR 256/392, my emphasis).

Having oriented Whitehead’s theory of propositions in this section around the two subjects essential to the proposition, it is possible to specify the ontological status a proposition has in his system. To recapitulate: the two subjects embraced by the proposition, the logical subject in a potential predicative pattern and the prehending, e.g., entertaining subject; the two correlative conditions for the truth and falsity of propositions, the fact that they both "can" and "must" be true or false; the fact that a proposition is a "real possibility" for an "entertaining subject," gives to the proposition its fundamental trait: according to Whitehead, a proposition is a lure for feeling.3

III

It strikes the neophyte of Whitehead’s texts as incredibly odd to read that a proposition -- of all things! -- is a lure for feeling. Indeed, common parlance has acclimated us to propositions as declarative (usually true) statements of fact; if they are anything but this, they are useless. As something worthy of assiduous analytical attention, computation, and contemplation, propositions are hardly appealing, and least of all enticing.

One reason for our incredulous start at the mention of propositions as lures for feeling is based in our tacit and uncritical appropriation of propositions from logicians. Yet it is they, in Whitehead’s view, who have neglected the primary role in the creative process of the world by conflating judgments with propositions, equating propositions with linguistic entities, and restricting propositions to the mere data for a judging subject.

Propositions, however, are not judgments, for the former concern the actual self-realization of the subject directly and hence belong to the sphere of metaphysics. Judgments, on the other hand, raise the question concerning the intuitive perception of a real fact in the constitution of the judging subject and therefore belong to the sphere of epistemology. While a proposition entails math or falsity, a judgment which functions illocutionarily concerns correctness or incorrectness, belief, disbelief or suspended belief. Whereas the proposition is a lure for feeling, and as entertained is what is felt, the judgment is a critique of a lure for feeling, a reinforcement on the level of conscious reflection of what is felt (PR 189/288, 193/294).

Moreover, propositions are not reducible to linguistic entities because the verbal expression, as hopelessly ambiguous, can never exhaustively express a proposition. As Kraus cogently remarks, it is the ontological state of affairs that constitutes the proposition, not the verbal form (ME 191f; PR 192f/293f).

Finally, as indicated above, propositions are not primarily given for a judging subject. The existence of imaginative literature, e.g., Shakespeare’s Hamlet, claims Whitehead, should have cautioned logicians that their "narrow doctrine is absurd." "It is difficult to believe that all logicians as they read Hamlet’s speech, ‘To be or not to be . . .’ commence by judging . . . and keep up the task of judgment throughout the whole 35 lines." Certainly, he continues, "at some point judgment is eclipsed by aesthetic delight" -- revealing that propositions in their simplest and most fundamental form are entertaining and for entertainment (PR 184f/281).

William Hocking, in The Meaning of God in Human Experience, writes that every idea "attracts every other idea -- tempts it into some union or other for which it may or may not be fit" (MGHE 87). This sense of tempting, attracting, urging into a situation of conformity or nonconformity is recapitulated in Whitehead’s very characterization of a proposition. That is, a proposition is a notion, a "theory" of things, a suggestion or supposition about actualities. In this regard, a proposition is indeed "theoretical," but in the deeper understanding as a lure endeavoring to fix the subjective form which clothes the feeling of the proposition as a datum.

The proposition as lure for the prehending subject conditions creative action, creative emergence, affecting the modification of the subjective aim. The subjective aim, which as Ford clarifies it, is a proposition whose logical subjects indicate the past actual world the novel occasion is to unify, guides the feeling of the nascent subject, the source of which, for Whitehead, is God (DP 292n9). God offers as its subjective aim a vision of what that entity might become, disclosing relevant novel possibilities that would provide "ideal" opportunities for the concrescing subject with the maximum enjoyment of complexity and intensity. "Thus God, whose existence is founded in Value, is to be conceived as persuasive towards an ideal coordination" (SP 98). However, there is no blind compulsion to accept this lure; it is open to modification. Nevertheless, as lure it invites and entices the creation of feeling as a way of promoting realization and determining the proposition concretely.

Far from being lifeless, listless, existing in some pristine void of pure thought, propositions are primordially affective. They function as the religious vocation, the seduction for the enjoyment of aesthetic pleasure, the tantalizing tease, the pitch of the salesman, the marriage "proposal," the "come on," the "proposition" of the lover.

How does such an understanding of propositions as lures relate to their truth-value? In one respect, Whitehead’s theory of propositions demands a correspondence theory of truth (SMW 171-2). But even this statement requires important qualifications. Quite simply, a proposition is true when the logical subjects do in fact exemplify the predicative pattern, or differently stated, when a member of the proposition’s locus admits the proposition into feeling in such a way that the predicative pattern actually conforms to the indicative logical subjects. Alternately, when a nonconformal proposition is admitted into feeling, there has been an alternative potentiality of the predicative pattern fused with the logical subjects. The proposition is false.

But truth is not the telos of a proposition. A proposition is not admitted into the process of the subject because the subject admires math for its own sake as opposed to falsity, but because it would be a more beautiful, valuable, interesting way of integrating the actual world of the percipient according to the predicative pattern for its logical subjects. A proposition "seeks truth" not for truth in itself, but because a true proposition is more likely to contribute to the interest and creative advance of the world, and in this sense be "successful." Although Whitehead makes the necessary gestures toward true propositions and even truth itself, he is adamant in maintaining that the real import of a proposition in the process view of the world is that it be interesting, not true (AI 244; PR 224/343, 259/395f).

Since it is more important for a proposition to be interesting than true, the traditional regard for propositions as the matter for judgments and the bias towards truth (even the expression "truth-value" is prejudiced against false propositions) has nearly dealt a fatal blow to the understanding of propositions’ dynamic role in the universe. "The fact that propositions were first considered in connection with logic, and the moralistic preference for true propositions," Whitehead contends, "have obscured the role of propositions in the actual world . . . . The result is that false propositions have fared badly, thrown into the dust heap, neglected" (PR 259/395). Such a truncated view of propositions obfuscates their primary role as guiding creativity. False propositions introduce novelty; they are central to creative emergence; they are the ransom for "creative evolution."

IV

At the outset of this paper I cited a text by Whitehead in which he suggests that it is possible to lay the foundations for aesthetics, and to conquer ethics and theology through, what is in essence, a systematic examination of propositions. To understand this statement it is imperative that we tease propositions out of their purely logical domain. A proposition opens up the hermeneutical dimension of the world; with regard to its logical subject simply, it is still indeterminate, ambiguous, polyvalent. Since it is not confined to a univocal sense, it depends upon the prehending subject for completion, for determination. It is within this structure that we grasp propositions as lures for feeling: as lures they tempt the world into novel creative emergence. And it is in this way that propositions account for the process view of the world and the self-realization of the subject.

With this understanding of propositions, it is possible to interpret Whitehead’ provocative "proposition" with which I opened this paper. An examination of propositions would not replace a moral, religious, aesthetic or even political life, nor would it supplant moral, religious, aesthetic or political inquiries. On the contrary, an examination of propositions would "conquer" in the sense of clarify the fundamental structures of those ways of being. "Conquer," I suggest, means in this context simply that these other areas of life do not have recourse to themselves ultimately, but can only understand themselves through an appeal to propositions. Put differently, these other dimensions would be freed of their naivete and possible one-sidedness when rooted in a systematic examination of propositions.

In this light, it is not the case that we would abandon a moral, religious, aesthetic or political life for a life of doing logic, but rather, we would not leave the moral life to the ethicists, the religious life to the theologians and customary religious practices, and the political life to the politicians and political scientists, just as we surely would not leave propositions in the hands of the logicians.4

What does the proposition have to offer in this regard? First is the crucial insight that a proposition "contains" two subjects, in the sense I have attempted to explicate above. This simple but powerful recognition plunges all experiential activity into an interpretive matrix. Concretely, the logical, moral, religious, aesthetic or political life is entertained or examined from an historical context. Not only does the structure of the proposition place propositions linguistically considered in the sphere of hermeneutics, but it casts a hermeneutic shadow over all other areas of life. It provides us with the notion of a world that not only can be interpreted, but demands interpretation.

Second, the hermeneutical world view implies a process world view. Such a view requires adopting an ethical or political life that would not look to the past for its precedent, but to the future. In other words, we would understand the past as efficacious in the present, adumbrating a provisional rationality for the future. History, then, would become a task of interpreting the world relevant for action. That is, history would not be what is realized in fact, but what is realizable. We would reevaluate systems of justice and ethics that maintain past accomplished deeds as the yardstick for virtue, and interpret the virtuous life from the perspective of future creative emergence. In particular, false propositions would amine our sensitivity to novelty, difference such that a moral life would entail living, as Nietzsche remarked, "beyond good and evil."

Finally, an examination of propositions precisely as lures would require a reevaluation of interaction. Interaction with others would not be modeled on a leader/follower relation, or even primarily on a "helping" relation. Rather, propositions as lures call us to engage in religious, political and social interaction in terms of relations of exemplarity.

 

References

AI -- Alfred North Whitehead. Adventures of Ideas. New York: Free Press, 1967.

DP -- Lewis S. Ford, "Divine Persuasion and the Triumph of Good." Process Philosophy and Christian Thought. Ed. Delwin Brown et al. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971.

EWM -- Lewis S. Ford. The Emergence of Whitehead’s Metaphysics. Albany: SUNY Press, 1984.

FBB -- Gottlob Frege. Funktion, Begriff Bedeutung: Fünf Logische Studien. Ed Günther Patzig. Göttigen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1975.

LU -- Gottlob Frege. Logische Untersuchungen. Ed. Günther Patzig. Göttigen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1966.

ME -- Elizabeth M. Kraus. The Metaphysics of Experience: A Companion to Whitehead’s Process and Reality. New York: Fordham University Press, 1979.

MOHE -- William Ernest Hocking. The Meaning of God in Human Experience. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1912.

MS -- Alfred North Whitehead. "The Metaphysical Scheme of March 1927." Appendix 4 in EWM.

NS -- Gottlob Frege. Nachgelassene Schriften. Ed. Hermes et al. Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1952.

SMW -- Alfred North Whitehead. Science and the Modern World. New York: The Free Press, 1967.

SP -- Alfred North Whitehead. Science anti Philosophy. New York: Philosophical Library, 1974.

WAP -- Martin A. Greenman. "Whiteheadian Analysis of Propositions and Facts." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research XLII, 1953.

WB -- Gottlob Frege. Wissenschaftlicher Briefwechsel. Ed. Gottfried Gabriel et al. Hamburg: Felix Meiner, 1976.

 

Notes

1Briefly, actual entities are ‘the final real things’ of the world, ‘final facts.’ or again ‘drops of existence, complex and interdependent’ (PR IS, passim).

2Frege (not to mention Herder, Humboldt and Lotze) remained critical towards psychologistic and atomistic theories of knowledge by resisting trends that reduced essential theoretical foundations of logic to actual human thought processes. For the purposes of formulating a symbolic language of pure thought, the task he set himself in the Begriffsschrift, it would be misleading to assume that judgments were aggregates of previously given constituent concepts.

The constituents Frege distinguishes in logical analysis call for distinctions which do not depend on words composing the sentence, but on the logical consequences derivable from the judgment or thought. In Der Gedanke, Frege maintains that thoughts (i.e., propositions, judgments) are grasped as unanalyzed wholes, and only later analyzed -- not into subject and predicate -- but into argument and function, whose logical unity is prior to their component parts (FBB 29; LU 30-53). According to Frege, logic is not a psychologistic aggregate theory of concepts, but a theory of truth and truth-claims.

3Greenman is in one respect correct in asserting that a proposition, which is neither signified by a sentence nor realized in any actual world, has the ontological status of a "real possibility"; to be sure, here it is neither a true or false proposition. But this assertion concerns the logical subjects merely and neglects the unique way in which a proposition ‘contains’ two subjects. Thus, whether or not a proposition is actually realized, taken fully, a proposition has the ontological status of a ‘lure for feeling’ (cf. WAP 485).

4 Interestingly, Leonidas C. Bargeliotes has interpreted aesthetic experience from the perspective of propositions in his "Propositions as a Lure for Aesthetic Feeling," Diotima 9 (1981): 29-35.


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