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Efficient Causation Within Concrescence

by Lewis S. Ford

Lewis S. Ford is Emeritus Professor at Old Dominion University, and founding editor of Process Studies Periodical (1971 - 1995). The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp.167-180, Vol.19 Number 3, Fall, 1990. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.

Whitehead’s account of final causation is a masterful recovery of a seminal idea which had fallen on hard times primarily because of the exaggerated claims of its proponents. Efficient causation, on which this investigation shall concentrate, has in contrast presented serious problems.

More than most, Jorge Nobo has sought to restore a more vigorous sense of efficient causation to the way we interpret Process and Reality. He writes: "The [misrepresentations] requiring the most attention are enshrined in the commonplace, but erroneous, contention that an occasion’s entire process of becoming is to be equated with its teleological process of concrescence. For this contention deprives the efficient process of transition of its genuine metaphysical function. Transition . . . begets each novel occasion. . . . But if the becoming of an occasion is one and the same with its concrescence, then transition can have no constitutive function, and efficient causation must pass out of the picture" (WMES 94).

To restore efficient causation Nobo has gone back to the theory animating most of part II, which conceives of transition as producing the occasion, which then concrescences to satisfaction. This is an impressive and rigorous systematic reconstruction based on a solid textual base in Process and Reality. That it contradicts the received interpretation on many points primarily indicates that the received interpretation grows out of a different textual base (mainly, PR part III). If so, there are at least two different fully systematic theories to be found in the same book. To my mind this means that Whitehead evidently changed his mind in writing the book while at the same time allowing evidence of his earlier position to remain.1

Nobo can find a vigorous account of efficient causation in the earlier position, more than appears in the usual interpretation, but there are strong reasons why Whitehead abandoned the part II approach. According to this earlier approach, there would have to be two successive acts of unification for every actuality, the first act of transition producing the occasion, which then acts to achieve its own concrescent unity. The complexity of such a theory, when fully spelled out, is exhibited in the baroque character of Nobo’s argument.2 More importantly, such a theory violates Whitehead’s understanding of temporal atomicity, for his analysis of Zeno’s paradoxes concludes that "the act itself is not extensive, in the sense that it is divisible into earlier and later acts of becoming" (PR 69)3

Moreover, successive acts of transition and concrescence are contrary to the reformed subjectivist principle. That principle can be variously formulated, but perhaps this version will do for our purposes: "all togetherness must either be togetherness in experience (i.e., concrescence), or must be the product of such experient togetherness."4 Transition is a togetherness as the unification of past multiplicity, but it is outside of subjective experience, which can only be initiated by its completion.

Yet if we cannot accept Nobo’s solution, how do we meet his objections? Theories of efficient causality typically vest all the causation, the causal activity, in the cause. For two events, the cause as necessitating the effect is prior to it. But the theory of prehension, as it was worked out, increasingly placed the activity in the second event. Moreover as the ontological difference between the present as subjective becoming and the past as objective being was spelled out, there was less room for real causal activity in past being.

Besides this problem, there is one pertaining to temporal room. On substance presuppositions, the cause originates in the past but its effective acting is in the present. Event theories seem to require us to vest the activity of the cause either in the past or the present event, not in both. If in the past event, then it is no longer active when the present event emerges. Furthermore, since the initial phase of physical prehension immediately follows the past cause, there is no temporal space within which to be active between occasions.

Dorothy Emmet makes this last point very persuasively in The Effectiveness of Causes (EC). Transeunt causation, in which the cause is external to the effect, runs into difficulties when analyzed in terms of events. If causation is thus the relation between events, there is no place for it to happen, for there is nothing between the events. This is what she calls "causation in a Zeno universe," referring to the paradox of the moving arrow which is simply an infinite series of motionless instants. Moreover, there can be no motion between the instants, since there is nothing between them. For like reasons there can be no transeunt causation between occasions. Although causation could be described in Humean terms as the difference between successive events, there could be nothing dynamically effecting the causation in the void between events.

For an event ontology, Emmet advocates that we reconceive efficient causation in immanent terms, seeing both cause and effect as within the same event. Her own sympathies, at least with respect to causation, focus upon Whitehead’s early philosophy of nature: "I now find myself distanced from his later writings, but increasingly sympathetic to the middle ones [e.g. SMW], especially as he was working towards a generalized notion of ‘organism,’ and when his ‘passage of nature’ could be seen not as one datum after another, but as a pattern-forming and pattern-sustaining process which could support a dynamic view of a causation underlying more restricted kinds" (CE vii). Nevertheless, it may be possible to apply her account of immanent causation to Process and Reality.

If we understand efficient causation not merely as the transfer of some past factor to the present occasion, but as the dynamic way in which that factor partially constitutes the final satisfaction, then efficient causation can be found within a single concrescence rather than between occasions. Emmet’s "immanent causation" may provide the means for isolating the factor of efficient causation within the complex theory of concrescence. For in that theory Whitehead was concerned with several other factors as well: how to analyze the way in which what is not (yet) a unity attains the unity of a being (as an occasion); and how to do justice to final causation, freedom, and intentionality as to be found within a very generalized theory of subjectivity. Emmet does "not want to use this psycho-physical language of feelings’; [she finds] its subjectivity unhelpful" (CE 98). By abstracting from all these other complicating factors, most of which involve subjectivity in one way or another, Emmet may enable us to appreciate a strand of real causal effectiveness within concrescence. If this isolation is successful, it may enable us to overcome both sets of objections, both those which expect efficient causation to lie outside concrescence, and those which find no temporal room for causation, if past events are devoid of activity.

Yet why didn’t Whitehead himself make this strand more explicit? I suspect that he was moving in this direction with his early theory of ‘efficacity,’ which we shall examine in our first section (I). Unfortunately his later theory was distorted by the decision to designate all activity between occasions as efficient, and all activity within occasions as final (II). However, there are important indicators that he was working towards a theory of efficient causation as happening both between and within occasions (IV), one of those indicators being the new use of ‘efficacity’ toward the end of the composition of his primary work (PR). In order to justify the argument for immanent efficient causation, however, it will be necessary to examine the basis for any elimination within concrescence (III).


Readers of the corrected edition of Process and Reality will search in vain for the term ‘efficacity,’ although it occurs some fifteen times in the original 1929 edition. Why the text should use this archaic variant for ‘efficacy’ has long remained a puzzle. The editors of the corrected edition elected to treat it as an unimportant idiosyncrasy of Whitehead’s, thus changing every instance of ‘efficacity’ to ‘efficacy.’5

If Whitehead did have a distinction in mind by using these two different terms, he neglected to tell his readers what that distinction was. I suspect that he abandoned the distinction before he got around to making any formal introduction by way of definitions, because of an ambiguity which arises concerning perception in the mode of causal efficacy. There does seem to be some distinction at work, since the two terms are used at times in the same paragraph, even in the same sentence. It may be possible to reconstruct a rough general distinction, applicable with special variations in particular contexts. I propose the following: (1) ‘Efficacy’ means the capacity to produce an effect. It is primarily a feature of the datum to be prehended, a potentiality. (2) ‘Efficacity’ is the activity by the prehending occasion effecting the efficient causation introduced by the prehension of that datum. It is the actualization of the efficacy.6 As such it pertains to the activity of efficient causation within concrescence.

There are three distinction contexts in which Whitehead uses ‘efficacity’: (a) A passage on Bodily Efficacity which occurs in a very late chapter on "Strains" (PR IV.4K), but which seems to pertain to a much earlier stratum (A?). It makes most sense as an early version of perception in the mode of causal efficacy. (b) The discussion of the two perceptive modes (B). (c) The discussion surrounding the introduction of the ninth categoreal obligation (L). We shall consider the early use of ‘efficacity’ here, reserving its late use for section III.

The Passage on Bodily Efficacity is embedded in one section of "Strains" (IV.4.2K), which insists upon the "withness of the body" as "an ever-present, though elusive, element in our perceptions of presentational immediacy" (PR 312/474). A brief excerpt will show how this is an early version of perception in the mode of causal efficacy: "It is more primitive than the feeling of presentational immediacy which issues from it. Both in common sense and in physiological theory, this bodily efficacity is a component presupposed by the presentational immediacy and leading up to it. Thus, in the immediate subject, the presentational immediacy is to be conceived as originated in a late phase, by the synthesis of the feeling of bodily efficacity with other feelings" (PR 312/475).

Presentational immediacy is here conceived to be derived from bodily efficacity, as some additional factor in the process. This notion of bodily efficacity has as its ancestor bodily events (see EWM 37-45). If ‘the body is the organism whose states regulate our cognizance of the world" (SMW 91f) then cognition is "the self-knowledge of our bodily event." "I mean the total event, and not the inspection of the details of the body. This self-knowledge discloses a prehensive unification of modal presences of entities beyond itself" (SMW 73).

Since Whitehead is here accustomed to placing cognition -- and by extension, perception -- within the wider bodily context, it is not surprising that he should suspect a wider ambiance within which our ordinary understanding of perception takes place, a wider ambiance which deserves analysis in our theory. Note that as yet this efficacity is not discerned to be causal, nor associated with that which is outside the body. Whitehead is content to stress "the withness of the body."

What was not yet realized in Bodily Efficacity is that this ambiance surrounding presentational immediacy has its own perceptual component, and that what was is so perceived concerns what gives rise to perception. This results in a basic contrast between the two modes of perception, whose interrelationship can then be explored. Bodily efficacity is thus transformed into the perception of causal efficacity.

As an example of the use of ‘efficacity’ with respect to the modes of perception, consider Whitehead’s discussion of seeing "by the eyes" (II.8.2B), surely a specialization of perceiving by the body. "The region of eye-efficacy" (PR 170/258) contrasts with "the efficacity of eye-region" (PR 170/259) or "efficacity of the eyes" (PR 171/259). With respect to ‘efficacy’ Whitehead is analyzing one ground for symbolic reference, namely, the identity of the extensive region both with reference to the body of the percipient and the location of the percepta. "The region of eye-efficacy" is the region where the eye of the percipient is effective. it is the locus of the eye’s efficacy, that is, where it can be causally active. With respect to ‘efficacity,’ on the other hand, Whitehead is talking about "the visual sensa given by the efficacity of the eye-region," the data transmitted by causal perception brought about by the exercise of that activity located in the eye region. ‘Eye-efficacy’ refers to its potential capacity, ‘eye-efficacity’ to its actual exercise.

Efficacity is placed within concrescence: "the mode of efficacy belongs to the responsive phase" (PR 180/273). But there is an important ambiguity in the notion of the experience of causal efficacy, that makes both formulations appropriate. Perception in the mode of causal efficacy means that the datum so perceived is capable of acting upon the percipient, but as contrasted with ‘causal efficacity’ it merely singles out that potentiality, not its actualization. If, however, something having efficacy is experienced, that very experience is the exercise of that capacity; the causation is effectively active within the percipient as an instance of efficacity. So a perception of causal efficacy can equally well be considered a perception undergoing causal efficacity. Because of this double meaning, Whitehead may have chosen to stick with "perception in the mode of causal efficacy" as meaning both the potentiality and its actualization in perception. If the distinction could not work in this instance, Whitehead may have abandoned the distinction before he got around to properly introducing it.7


Those familiar with Whitehead’s mature theory of efficient causation in terms of (physical) prehensions may find it strange that prehensions were probably initially devised to supplant causation as our primary theory for the connectedness of events. Originally he had challenged the bifurcation of nature into apparent and causal nature, questioning the state of causal nature in our account of what is perceived (CN 31, 39). Then he had criticized scientific materialism, and designed events and objects to replace its triumvirate of space, time, and matter. Why not also prehension to replace causation? Initially his program tried to express the connectedness of events in terms of extension, but this could not express process (PNK 202). It could not express the ontological significance of the new, and for this prehension was introduced.

Whitehead thus set out to devise a radically different account of the connectedness of events by conceiving of each event as constituted out of its internal relations to all other events. "The prehensive unity of [events] A is the prehension into unity of the aspects of all other volumes from the standpoint of A . . . . [In Leibniz’ language] every volume mirrors in itself every other volume in space" (SMW 95). Thus an event equally well prehends all other events, large and small, past, present, and future.

If ‘prehension’ is not merely another term for causation, he might want to postpone analyzing situations ordinarily expressed in causal terms until he had worked out the implications of his new conceptuality for causality. ‘Prehension in the mode of presentational immediacy’ may have been introduced as early as it was (in the 1926 essay on "Time": EWM 307) precisely because it was not a causal relation, but only applied to contemporaries.

"Time" anticipates causal efficacy in terms of physical imagination and memory (EWM 306), but perception in the mode of causal efficacy does not make its appearance until 1927.8 When it does, the emphasis is upon a phenomenological description of our primitive experience of causation, not upon its theoretical analysis in systematic terms. Not only may the concept of ‘prehension’ be not yet ready to explain causality, but Whitehead was not ready to explain perception in any rigorous detail. Although "perception is simply. . .the [conscious] cognition of prehension" (SMW 104), "this question of consciousness must be reserved for treatment on another occasion" (SMW 218). A fully satisfactory theory of consciousness is not worked out until the chapter on "The Higher Phases of Experience" (PR III.5H).

Efficient causation does play a role in the next stage of Whitehead’s explanation, but not in terms of prehension. In the earlier theory of Process and Reality, the one which Nobo champions,9 Whitehead had two contrasting species of process, transition and concrescence. In one systematic passage in which the four stages of datum, process, satisfaction, and decision are described, this contrast is made in terms of two types of causation: "According to this account, efficient causation expresses the transition from actual entity to actual entity; and final causation expresses the internal process whereby the actual entity becomes itself’ (PR 150/228). The internal process is private, so the swing to privacy "is dominated by the final cause, which is the idea; and the latter swing [to publicity] is dominated by the efficient cause, which is actual" (PR 151/229).

At this stage in Whitehead’s development, ‘transition’ represented a very robust view of efficient causation. It inherited the role of the old physical occasion which sought to give a basis for the new concrescence by actively unifying all past causes. By transition, in this earlier theory, the datum from whence the subjective process of appropriation begins (cf. PR 150/2270 is formed. Such transition must be both active and effective.

The essential feature of this Giffords draft theory of transition is that a two-step sequence is necessary for the constitution of an actual entity. This differs from most interpretations of transition (except Nobo’s), which seek to harmonize transition with a comprehensive understanding of concrescence as unifying the many physical prehensions of the past actual world.

In the final chapter on "Process" (II.10), Whitehead contrasts the two kinds of fluency in terms of the ‘macroscopic’ and ‘microscopic process.’ The ‘macroscopic’ could perhaps be more properly termed a macrocosmic’ process.10 It is described as "the transition from attained actuality to actuality in attainment" (PR 214/326); it is efficient, whereas the process of concrescence (the microcosmic process) is described as teleological.11

The theory of Process and Reality in part m abandons this twofold sequence of transition and concrescence as involving a sequence of two unifications or acts of becoming for each actuality. As we have seen, it is contrary to the conclusion of the analysis of Zeno’s paradox: "the act [of becoming] is not extensive, in the sense that it is divisible into earlier and later acts of becoming" (PR 69/107). Also, since transition as an instance of unification is an instance of togetherness which does not involve consciousness. This Whitehead determines to exclude by the reformed subjectivist principle (PR 167/254).

Yet the earlier contrast between efficient and final causality persists such that efficient causality is assigned to the relationship between occasions. Thus categoreal obligation 18 comments on the ontological principle: "It could also be termed the ‘principle of efficient, and final, causation’" (PR 24/360. Insofar as reasons are sought in the present process of concrescence, final causation is reckoned with; insofar as those reasons are sought in past actual occasions, efficient causation is involved. Likewise we are told that an actuality in perishing "loses the final causation which is its internal principle of unrest, and., acquires efficient causation whereby it is a ground of obligation characterizing the creativity" (PR 29/44). Here, however, Whitehead recognizes that past occasions functioning as transeunt causes do not themselves act, but merely lay down conditions upon the creativity that transcends them.

The new contrast between efficient and final causation is specified in these terms: "The ‘objectifications’ of the actual entities in the actual world, relative to a definite actual entity, constitute the efficient causes out of which that actual entity arises; the ‘subjective aim’ at ‘satisfaction’ constitutes the final cause, or lure, whereby there is determinate concrescence" (PR 87/134]). 12

Instead of an active transition, as in the Giffords draft, past occasions, which have perished in terms of their immediacy to be mere objectifications, are here identified as the efficient causes. Concrescence is now vested with whatever activity there is, while ‘transition’ (if the term is used at all) is reconceived as simply marking whatever endurance or change might occur by means of successive acts of becoming. Nevertheless Whitehead persists in specifying the relationship between occasions, transition’s old domain, in terms of efficient causes.

This perfected theory seems to exclude any element of efficacity or active efficient causation within concrescence comparable to what Emmet designates as "immanent causation." Yet there are some anticipations even in the earlier theory. Whitehead once speaks of a "subjective efficiency" involved in the concrescent process (PR 87/133). Later he speaks of efficient causation as initially transeunt, but then as immanent as it is appropriated within the emergent concrescence: "The deterministic efficient causation is the inflow of the actual world . . . , felt and reenacted by the novel concrescent subject" (PR 245/374). In section IV we will see further indications in the later theory.


Before proceeding to the final stages of Whitehead’s theory, however, there is one matter pertaining to datum and data, or to perspectival and ‘concrescent’ elimination that needs to be cleared up. It does not concern the nature of the encompassing thesis of this paper, but it does pertain to its justification, and so should be included here.

Some have challenged my claim that we can best distinguish the earlier theory from the later theory in terms of whether datum or data initiate concrescence. On the one hand, the result of transition has been described as data, so it is not invariably datum. But these instances can be shown to come from transitional contexts in which Whitehead was shifting over to the later theory (EWM 201-203). On the other hand, from the perspective of the later theory, the initial phase of concrescence has been discerned to have the unity of a datum, so the datum/data distinction fails to have the significance attached to it.

This latter criticism is all the more important, for it shows that I telescoped Whitehead’s development, arguing that the shift (D) produced more than it probably did, not reckoning with the fact that Whitehead probably made fewer revisions on the basis of his identification of feeling and prehension than would be apparent to those familiar with the final theory he attained. Basically I think now that the argument (EWM 211-19) needs to be developed in terms of two stages, the first concerning the reorientation brought about by conceiving an initial phase of simple physical feelings in concrescence, and then a second stage introduced by the idea of ‘subjective aim.’

(a) First Stage

Can the initial phase of concrescence be said to have the unity of a datum? Now Whitehead does conceive of many data as having the propositional unity of a datum, just as "A multiplicity of simple physical feelings entering into . . . propositional unity. . .constitutes the first phase" of concrescence (PR 236/362E). But then every phase has the unity of a proposition. "Each new phase in the concrescence means the retreat of mere propositional unity before the growing grasp of real unity of feeling. Each successive phase is a lure to the creation of feelings which promote its realization" (PR 224/343D). This would apply to a multiplicity of incompatible feelings, as well as to a virtual unity as required by the first categoreal obligation.

In the later theory, ‘datum’ simply means what the prehension in question prehends. A simple physical feeling prehends one datum; the whole phase of physical feelings prehends many data. These many data, however, can be conceived as the single datum of some supervening propositional feeling. Yet that does not settle the issue, since to be a datum comparable to the datum from which concrescence flows, according to the earlier theory, its propositional unity must have what I call "virtual unity" as well, a "unity" whose elements are all compatible for synthesis.

In place of the original datum from which concrescence flows (in the earlier theory), Whitehead fashioned a "virtual unity" of physical objective data in conformity with the first categoreal obligation, whereby the many feelings are "compatible for synthesis by reason of the unity of the subject" (PR 223/341). Since there are now many feelings, there are many objective data, but as compatible, they form a "virtual unity" which can perform the same role as the original datum in providing the ontological basis for the concrescence. It is the being from which the self can arise. How these many feelings can be compatible for synthesis, however, is not said, particularly in ways conformable to the ontological principle. But it is clear that Whitehead’s requirements for subjective unity (as then perceived) dictated that it must be so.

This requirement for compatibility for synthesis means that all elimination effected by negative prehensions be perspectival, in terms of simple physical feelings (111.2.1). All elimination takes place at the very outset of concrescence, before it has a say in the matter. These eliminations are to insure consistency of perspective. Thus the "inconsistencies [between occasions A, B, and C’s prehensions] lead to eliminations in A’s total prehension of [past occasion] D" (PR 226/346D).

That Whitehead sometimes thought of the initial data as having the virtual unity of a unified datum is indicated in this discussion of the fourth categoreal obligation: "The mental pole is the subject determining its own ideal of itself by reference to eternal principles of valuation autonomously modified in their application to its own physical objective datum" (PR 248/380F). Or we may consider his description of "the actual world of any actual entity as a nexus whose objectification constitutes the complete unity of objective datum for the physical feeling of that actual entity" (PR 230/351E).

This is backed up by the contention that there is no elimination in subsequent phases: "Thus the supervention of the later phases does not involve elimination by negative prehensions;13 such eliminations of positive prehensions in the concrescent subject would divide that subject into many subjects, and would divide those many subjects from the superject" (PR 240/368).

Such elimination of positive prehensions would divide the virtual unity of objective data in the initial phase, and therefore divide the being from whence the subject springs, dividing it into many subjects. By basing subjective unity upon the virtual unity of objective data Whitehead has imposed on his philosophy this additional requirement that there be no elimination in later phases.

(b) Second Stage

In line with Whitehead’s mature position, we are used to thinking of subjective aim as operative throughout concrescence, starting with the earliest phases. But Whitehead did not originally envision a role for subjective aim. He thought the unity of concrescence could be insured by the eight categoreal obligations, somewhat as Kant used the categories to establish the unity of the object (EWM 219-221F). When this turned out to be insufficient, he turned to the notion of ‘the subjective aim,’ fashioning it from earlier notions such as ‘the ideal of itself’ and the ‘objective lure’ (EWM 221-224G).

What is important for our analysis is the realization that all the texts we have analyzed in the first stage antedate the introduction of subjective aim, which radically reorients Whitehead’s thinking about the nature of the subject. The subject is no longer thought of as a being which is first fully actualized in the satisfaction, but as something present throughout the concrescence in the form of a feeling aiming at an ideal goal peculiar to that occasion. Subjective unity is vested in the aim and is not based on any kind of objective unity.

This colors Whitehead’s final description of genetic growth in concrescence: "At length a complex unity of objective datum is obtained, in the guise of a contrast of actual entities, eternal objects, and propositions, felt with corresponding complex unity of subjective form" (PR 283/433M). (Subjective forms are adjusted in terms of subjective aims. While not explicitly referring to elimination within higher phases, this position is compatible with it.)

After introducing subjective unity in terms of subjective aim, Whitehead does not go back and revise his theory of the initial phase in ways that make full use of this innovation. Had he done so, perhaps he would have modified the first categoreal obligation into something like: "The many feelings which belong to an incomplete phase in the process of an actual entity, though unintegrated by reason of their incompatibility, are progressively rendered compatible by the decisions of the concrescing subject."

Perspectival elimination, where all elimination occurs at the outset, is difficult to justify in terms of the ontological principle. Who or what does the eliminating? It cannot be the prior occasion, for it is over and done with its satisfaction, from which the elimination is made. Nor can it be the concrescent occasion, which cannot yet make any decisions.

Compatibility for integration, if placed in the initial phase, entails integration sooner or later, for the way the data are compatible dictates the outcome, it is in no wise dependent upon free subjective decision of the occasion. But if there is no initial requirement for compatibility, then the occasion can determine its own adjustments by eliminating incompatibilities within concrescence. These adjustments, to be sure, are themselves a function of efficient causes, since only incompatibilities arising from their joint activity can be adjudicated.

A virtual unity of objective data would entail a unified standpoint, given at the outset, which was Whitehead’s original doctrine (PR 67/104). Much later reflection favors the determination of standpoint through the concrescence itself: "it is to be noticed that ‘decided’ conditions are never such as to banish freedom. They only qualify it. There is always a contingency left open for immediate decision. This consideration is exemplified by an indetermination respecting ‘the actual world’ which is to decide the conditions for an immediately novel concrescence. . . . [Thus there is an] indecision as to the particular quantum of extension to be chosen for the basis of the novel concrescence" (PR 284/436fM).


Elimination within concrescence means that there can now be greater interaction between physical prehensions, as they jostle each other, rubbing off their incompatibilities with one another. It now becomes possible to discern efficacity as active efficient causation within concrescence.

First, however, it is necessary to recognize the artificiality of Whitehead’s stipulated definitions of efficient and final causation. Because of the exigencies of his earlier theory, he identified efficient causation with the transeunt activity between occasions, and final causation as the immanent activity within an occasion. Given his later theory of self-creation, such a division leaves very little to efficient causation. Taken to its extreme it only means the bare registration of past actuality in physical feeling, excluding the way physical feeling begins to be active within concrescence. But if we recognize concrescence to be a complex activity interweaving both the physical feeling expressing efficient causation and the conceptual feeling effecting final causation, then there can be an increased scope for efficacity.

This way of posing the problem suggests there are only two alternatives for efficient causation: either it occurs between occasions or within an occasion. Certainly Whitehead sought to exclude the view that there was only causal efficacy between occasions; his emphatic insistence on the reformed subjectivist principle points to that. Also he devoted most of his systematic energies in Process and Reality, part m, to accounting for the activity within an occasion. Yet there are signs that he was working toward a more comprehensive theory in which efficient causation could be understood as happening both between and within occasions.

One such text is the account of the category of the ultimate (PR 21f/31 f). Creativity is described as "that ultimate principle by which the many, which are the universe disjunctively, become the one actual occasion, which is the universe conjunctively." This can be interpreted as the way the many past occasions conspire to constitute the basis of the novel occasion, as in the theory of prehensive unification (SMW) or in terms of the theory of transition (of PR II). This is efficient causation understood as occurring between occasions. Yet the ‘many’ may refer instead to the many physical prehensions acquiring unity within concrescence.

While the former interpretation in terms of occasions may make better sense with respect to a larger context, there are three reasons for preferring the latter interpretation in terms of the physical feelings to be found within the occasion:

(1) In the next paragraph ‘creativity’ is introduced as the principle of novelty. Perhaps the accent is not so much on creativity being a sufficient condition for novelty, such that every instance of creativity must be novel, as that it is a necessary condition for novelty: There cannot be any novelty without the actualization of initial aim in free responsiveness which requires subjectivity as the present instantiation of creativity. In any case, novelty occurs within, and not between occasions.

(2) In the paragraph after that, ‘togetherness’ does not mean simply unity, but the many becoming one. "Thus ‘together’ presupposes the notions ‘creativity,’ ‘many,’ ‘one,’ identity’ and ‘diversity."’ While "the many becoming one" may abstractly apply either to the many occasions becoming one, or to the many prehensions becoming one, "all real togetherness is togetherness in the formal constitution of an actuality" (PR 32/48). By the reformed subjectivist principle all real togetherness lies within experience.

(3) In a passage which is a prototype for the account of the category of the ultimate, Whitehead describes "the process in which the universe of many things acquires an individual unity in a determinate relegation of each item of the ‘many’ to its subordination in the constitution of the one" (PR 211/321C). He designates this process concrescence,’ in explicit contrast to ‘transition’: "The creativity in virtue of which any relative complete actual world is, by the nature of things, the datum for a new concrescence is termed ‘transition’" (ibid). The ‘many’ need not simply mean ‘actual occasions,’ just because the balancing ‘one’ refers to one occasion. The ‘many’/’one’ contrast can be used more flexibly, and here we have a definite instance of its restriction to concrescence.

A wider context, however, enables us to draw upon Adventures of Ideas, particularly its reconceptualization of creativity, which allows us unambiguously to see efficient causation as taking place both between and within occasions, because the initial situation is conceived two different ways: "The initial situation with its creativity can be termed the initial phase of the new occasion. It can equally well be termed the actual world’ relative to that occasion" (AI 230). If it is the initial phase of concrescence, efficient causation becomes the activity of integrating physical feelings within all phases of concrescence; but if it is the initial situation in the ‘actual world,’ then efficient causation is the way the occasions of this actual world act together in establishing the basis of the novel occasion.14

Neither of these modes of analysis is fully adequate on its own. If past actual occasions seek to achieve the unity of the new occasion, the freedom of self-creation is ignored and the reformed subjective principle is ignored. Exclusive attention to the integration of physical feeling, on the other hand, can ignore the way these are originally rooted in a multiplicity of past actuality. This double-sidedness is reflected in the two poles of prehension, its datum and subject. "No prehension can be considered in abstraction from its subject, although it originates in the process creative of its subject" (PR 27/41). Causation can be understood to transpire between two beings, the termini of the causal relation between them. Or the prehension can be understood to partially constitute the subject, which in turn may be understood in terms of the whole activity of concrescence. While betweenness is perhaps more appropriate to the origination of causation, and withinness to its completion, Whitehead intends to treat them as both instances of physical prehension.

This appears to be the final position Whitehead achieved, as well as the most satisfactory one we can find. It does not make itself more apparent because of the wider context in which it is embedded. Whitehead’s ultimate concern is to safeguard its novel theory of self-creation, which can best be understood in terms of unification. The concrescing occasion actively unifies its component feelings, and the objective data for that unification constitute the passive material of that unification. Since the final unity is one, there is ultimately one process of unification, its own. This is the heart of his doctrine of self-creation. It is not both self-creation and other-creation (by the past and/or by God), because for the purpose of creation all other factors are reduced to components of the many to be unified by that concrescence. God, past occasions, creativity all "share in" the creative process, but they supply either material to be unified (past occasions), the form of the unification (derived from the subjective aim), or the means of unifying (creativity as so instanced), not the self-unification itself (cf. EWM 240f).

This concern for self-creation may well undercut legitimate concerns for efficient causation, which Whitehead had well recognized in terms of his theory of efficacity as expressed in terms of the perception of causal efficacy. One reason for this neglect, as we have seen, may be found in Whitehead’s uncritical acceptance of the dominant philosophical opinion that efficient causation must mean transeunt causation. If efficient causation means the causation between occasions, then all causation within the concrescence can only be final causation.

I have argued that we should reconceive concrescence itself as the active interweaving of efficient and final causation, understanding by efficient causation the entire career of physical feeling, not simply concentrating exclusively on its initial phase. Just as an actuality is both concrescence and outcome, the occasion actively causes itself, both efficiently and finally. Efficient causation is a felt activity, as perception in the mode of causal efficacy testifies, because it is internal to the occasion it serves.


Some indication that Whitehead appreciated the role of physical feeling (efficient causation) within concrescence may be found in the renewed use of the term ‘efficacity.’ That term has a most peculiar pattern of occurrence in terms of the thirteen layers of composition into which I have analyzed the book (PR). It is found only in the first and the last strata, and nowhere in between. 15

After the difficulty with the first perceptive mode, in which perception with respect to causal efficacy could not be experientially distinguished from perception in the mode of causal efficacity (because experiencing effected the causation within the percipient), Whitehead seems resolved not to use the distinction any more. What led him to change his mind?

The proximate cause may have been his recognition that some old notes or an essay on Bodily Efficacity could be utilized in the argument for "Strains" (PR IV.4.2K). This may have reminded him of the distinction, but more importantly he now felt comfortable with the idea of ‘efficacity.’ He had abandoned it for experiential considerations, because at the time he had not yet worked out the relationship between prehension and causation in any detail. Now that the theory of prehension had been developed, perhaps the old distinction could be revived. Efficacity has two intertwined meanings: (a) efficient causation, and (b) interaction within experience or concrescence. While in his early theorizing in Process and Reality, where efficient and final causation were exclusive, with efficient causation assigned to transition and not to concrescence, he would find the notion of ‘efficacity’ inappropriate. Towards the end of his endeavor, however, this was no longer the case.

This is not the only instance in which a term was abandoned, only to reappear later. Consider the term ‘prehension.’ Because it was used extensively earlier (in SMW) and was also used in the later stages of Process and Reality, the gap in its use is not immediately apparent. Yet ‘prehension’ appears rarely if at all in the intervening books and in the early theory (of PR), a gap of perhaps three years. It was only reintroduced when Whitehead saw that ‘feeling’ should be identified with (positive) prehension (EWM 213f).

The last two mentions of ‘efficacity’ occur in the context of what might be the final discussion of the ontological principle. Everything must be somewhere, i.e., in some actual entity; it is contradictory to "assume that some explanatory fact can float into the actual world out of nonentity. Nonentity is nothingness. Every explanatory fact refers to the decision and to the efficacity of an actual thing" (PR 46/73).

The stress here needs to be placed on ‘explanatory fact.’ By ‘fact’ I take him to mean ‘past occasion,’ which by its own decision serves as a (partial) reason for the constitution of the current occasion. Since that decision, as the capacity of the past occasion to causally influence the present concrescence, already has efficacy, "decision and efficacy" would be quite redundant. For this, only efficacity would do -- the felt effectiveness of causal activity within concrescence as contributing to the production of the final satisfaction.

Whitehead then discusses this doctrine in terms of the ninth categoreal obligation, which is here introduced for the first time, that "The concrescence of each individual actual entity is internally determined and is externally free" (PR 46/74).I6 His concern here is to limit the activity of efficacity in order to permit for freedom. Each actuality is externally free in the sense that it is not determined in any final sense by any external factors -- even though those factors come to constitute its very being in part. "However far the sphere of efficient causation be pushed [within concrescence in terms of efficacity] in the determination of the components of a concrescence -- its data, its emotions, its appreciations, its purposes, its phases of subjective aim -- beyond the determination of these components there always remains the final reaction of the self-creative unity of the universe" (PR 47/75). Beyond the determination by each part there is the determination of the whole concrescence, the self-determination which is the way it is "internally determined." But there is the determination, the activity of the part, which is efficacity at work.

‘Efficacity’ thus could indicate the interaction of past elements as active within concrescence, an interaction which is derived from past occasions in its actual world, thus showing efficient causation as a complex activity transforming the present by working both between and within occasions. The simple sequence, first efficient, then final causation, will not do.



EC -- Dorothy Emmet. The Effectiveness of Causes. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985.

EWM -- Lewis S. Ford. The Emergence of Whitehead’s Metaphysics. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984.

WMES -- Jorge Luis Nobo. Whitehead’s Metaphysics of Extension and Solidarity. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.



1This idiosyncrasy of changing his mind yet leaving evidence of earlier positions has enabled me to work out a compositional analysis of PR. The preliminary results have been published in The Emergence of Whitehead’s Metaphysics (EWM), where I discern 13 different layers of composition (A-M).

I have examined Nobo’s project (WMES) in detail, and sought to place it in the context of the received interpretation in "Recent Interpretations of Whitehead’s Writings," The Modern Schoolman45/1 (November 1987), 47-59.

2The complexity of WMES is increased by Nobo’s daring and imaginative attempt to reconcile in one general system two basically incompatible theories. The received interpretation works out the systematic implications of PR, part III, ignoring contrary texts; Nobo works out the implications of PR, part II, also ignoring contrary texts, but to a lesser extent, except with respect to the first two phases of concrescence. On this issue Nobo is experimenting with the systematic implications of the theory of transition, pushing it as far as it will go.

3PR 68.18-69.26 may be a later insertion into PR II.2.2, although this is difficult to determine (cf. EWM 153, 233). (The remainder of the section is later: see its use of ‘subjective aim.’) But it makes sense for Whitehead to shift from a theory of epochal time to one of epochal becoming in order to formulate a rule by which his earlier theory might be excluded.

4See my essay on "The Reformed Subjectivist Principle Revisited" in Process Studies 19/1.

5Although the editors of the corrected edition of PR list all individual corrigenda in their notes, divergencies of a type are noted only at their first instance, 46.15 in the case of ‘efficacity.’ This procedure is eminently justified in the case of the other types of divergencies, for these are most trivial. ‘Efficacity’ is known to have been replaced in the following passages in the corrected edition: 46.15,46.31, 120.42, 170.43, 171.13, 172.42, 175.40, 180.3, 180.22, 316.34, 316.39, 316.42, 316.44 (twice), 317.15. In the original 1929 Macmillan edition these instances occur at 73.16, 73.37, 184.20, 259.16, 259.33, 262.16, 266.35, 273.8, 273.33, 482.9, 482.15, 482.20. 482.22, 482.23, and 483.6.

6This distinction was suggested to me by Harry K. Jones.

7Later Whitehead chose to avoid the elaborate distinction between the two perceptive modes, although not the issue involved, which is considered in terms of ‘non-sensuous perception’ (AI 231).

8I take PR II.4.5-9 ("Organisms and Environment") and II.8 ("Symbolic Reference") to constitute together Whitehead’s original treatise on the two modes of perception, and the first two chapters of Symbolism (S) to be a rewriting of this material suitable for delivery as lectures.

9By the "earlier theory" of PR, I mean what I have called the ‘Giffords draft,’ that is, the 9 1/2 chapters (roughly PR, part II) that Whitehead wrote in the summer of 1927 as the initial draft of his Gifford Lectures, but which were largely superseded by his later theories of 1928. (They were not the Gifford Lectures as given in June 1928.) See my The Emergence of Whitehead’s Metaphysics (Albany: State University of New York, 1984) (EWM), chapter 8, and appendix 6. Since Nobo takes this theory as all-comprehensive, WMES extends it much further than just these restricted texts.

10This may be inferred from the last section of "Organisms and Environments" (PR 128f/196f).

11 In what appears to be a later insertion, Whitehead reflects on this contrast: "Concrescence moves towards its final cause, which is its subjective aim; transition is the vehicle of efficient cause, which is the immortal past" (PR 210/321). (By my reckoning the term ‘subjective aim’ was not introduced until stratum G, whereas this chapter (II.10) basically belongs to stratum C. See EWM 221-24.)

12This passage is part of the insertion discussed in note 3.

13Yet how can this be reconciled with the statement that in a valuation downward, the physical feelings may be eliminated (PR 254/388F; cf. also 277/422F)?

141n opposition to Christian, Leclerc, Sherburne, Kline, and others, who imply that creativity simply wells up with each occasion, Nancy Frankenberry in "The Power of the Past," PS 13/2 (Summer 1983), 132-42, derives it from the power of the past. Her interpretation is quite convincing with respect to Adventures of Ideas, but then again the more standard interpretation is equally convincing with respect to Process and Reality. This conflict can be resolved by assuming that Whitehead changed his position between the two books.

15We have already examined those occurring in A and B (see EWM) in the first section of this essay. ‘Efficacity’ is absent from C-I, but reappears in K and L. It occurs twice in connection with the ninth categoreal obligation (PR 46/73L) and six times in one section of "Strains" (PR IV.4.2).

See note 5 for a detailed listing of its occurrences.

16Whitehead’s principle may have been formulated in direct opposition to Kant’s theory, where we are externally (i.e., phenomenally) determined and internally (noumenally) free.

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