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In Critique of Whitehead 1

by Reto Luzius Fetz

Reto Luzius Fetz is Professor of Philosophy at the Catholic University of Eichstaett, West Germany. He has recently published a book about Jean Piaget and is organizing an International Congress on Edith Stein for 1991. The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp.1-8, Vol. 20, Number 1, Spring, 1991. 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.


 (Note: this essay was translated by James W. Felt. James W Felt is Professor of Philosophy at Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA 95053. Independently of Fetz’s book he had published in Process Studies 14/4 (Winter 1985) an essay along some of the same lines: "Whitehead’s Misconception of ‘Substance’ in Aristotle.")

 

At the conclusion of Whitehead’s thought stands the insight into the unfathomableness of reality and the recognition of the necessarily provisional nature of philosophical speculation (PR xiv; ESP 114). The claim for dogmatic certitude is vigorously denied and his own philosophy declared to be inadequate (PR 343).2 Whitehead thus takes criticism for granted; indeed he regards his philosophy as a success if it makes a new kind of criticism possible (ESP 114)3 He himself provides the criteria according to which his philosophy is to be evaluated. Thus, thought must not fall into the fallacy of misplaced concreteness’ but keep as close as possible to lived experience. Further, besides the criterion of adequacy, a philosophy ought to conform to the criterion of consistency (PR 3). An additional possibility for criticism appears in Whitehead’s appeal to other thinkers -- that is, through the alternatives that they thus bring into play. This seems to us specially relevant to Aristotle, since one finds here such a kinship of basic viewpoints that their differences particularly call for a critical examination.

1. The Equating of Entities with Microcosmic Events

"The question which was raised of old and is raised now and always, and is always the subject of doubt, viz. what being is, is just the question, what is substance?"4 This question, which confronted Aristotle from previous tradition and from his own thinking, poses itself anew to Whitehead. For his philosophy too is meant to be judged as an effort to give a new answer, from a changed situation, to this basic question about "substance," about what "actually" and "properly" is. So we get to the heart of the issue when for our part we make Whitehead’s ‘actual entities’ a "subject of doubt," and judge them by what seems to us to have been handed on for thought "of old and now and always."

The complex of problems, so rich in perspectives, provided by Whitehead’s ‘actual entities’ can be approached from many angles. We pose the question what may or must be most properly regarded as an ‘actual entity’ if one is to conceive it and attach the same importance to it as Whitehead does.

‘Actual entities’ are supposed to make up proper actuality, true being. They are thought of as subjects, the subjects of experience, however diverse. The fascination of Whitehead’s theory lies in the vision of a subjectivity that penetrates actuality. It is the same fascination that Leibniz and Hegel provoke. But in contrast to Leibniz, Whitehead’s entities have "windows" and are -- contrary to Hegel -- ineluctably a particular "this."

We are asking about the adequacy of Whiteheadian subjectivism, and more exactly, about the relationship between the concept and the status of a Whiteheadian [actual] entity. For to anticipate at once: the "subject of doubt" does not lie for us in Whitehead’s concept of an ‘actual entity’ so much as in his exclusive identification of ‘actual entities’ with [252] ultimate atomic event-units, even beyond the smallest units known to us in physics. As a matter of fact, most of the difficulties and objections that can be raised against Whitehead’s philosophy of organism have their root directly or indirectly in this narrowly conceived identification.

For one thing, the dubiousness of the ultimate event-units with which Whitehead identifies ‘actual entities’ consists in this, that they can in no way be regarded as given. That holds both for the events’ that make up the world around us and for those that are supposed to make up our very self. Rather, they are hypothetically postulated entities at the edge of the microworld. As such they owe their existence to a bare postulate, since Whitehead, by reason of his interpretation of the findings of natural science, thinks an infinite regress to ever smaller entities is unlikely (SMW 103, 110; PR 91f).5 If the existence of such ultimate event-units is not assured, neither is the structure that Whitehead attributes to them. In this respect the characterization of Whitehead’s system as "conceptual poetry"6 and the demand for a "de-mythologizing" (SPPI) of the ‘actual entity’ seem justified.

Whether ultimate event-units are to be acknowledged or not seems to us to be a question that neither philosophy nor natural science can decide with any certainty. Still more questionable is Whitehead’s supposition of ultimate event-units insofar as he takes these ultimate ‘events’ to be the only true ‘entities’ and builds his whole interpretation of reality on them. By reason of this prior decision Whitehead is forced to interpret all those beings of higher order that manifest themselves as unities, such as living beings and humans, to be a multiplicity of entities, that is, to be a ‘society,’ [253] or even more as a whole gradation of inter-compartmentalized ‘societies’ and ‘subordinate societies.’ The Whiteheadian concept of ‘society’ unquestionably serves well where, as in a material thing, multiplicity is dominant and no true unity holds sway. The concept even seems to us indispensable if in such cases we are also to display the organic’ character of the material thing. But it is misguided from the start when Whitehead, because of a hypothetical and procedural assumption, reduces to the concept of multiplicity that which manifests itself, both in immediate relationships and in self-consciousness, as a primordial unity. It appears to us, as it does to many other critics, (see WM; see also PS 2: 216-21; PS 3: 15-25; PS 5: 195-203) that Whitehead himself here commits the ‘fallacy of misplaced concreteness’ inasmuch as he puts a dubious multiplicity in the place of clear-cut unities.

That is by no means to say the last word about Whitehead’s philosophy. He explicitly distinguishes the metaphysical description that aims at giving the general character of any entity (a description that always remains tentative) from the tentative account appropriate to the development of a ‘cosmic epoch’ (PR 90f, 96-7). Even if one calls into question Whitehead’s hasty and exclusive identification of the actual entities of our epoch with the ultimate electromagnetic events, his radical and minutely carried out attempt at a novel conception of entity still retains all its interest. Criticism of Whitehead must not overlook that the higher unities making up the world do in fact comprise a multiplicity of subordinated unities, so that the problem of multiplicity in unity remains, even when one rejects Whitehead’s concept of a ‘society’ as too pluralistic. Finally, it should be pointed out that Whitehead himself is unable to stick with the postulated uniform character of an actual entity as resolutely and univocally as he alleges: God as an actual entity is more than just specifically different from the other actual entities.

The rigid adherence to microcosmic ultimate event-units as the sole actual entities seems to us to be not only inadequate with respect to the [254] higher forms of unity, but also to introduce an inconsistency in Whitehead’s thinking. That holds particularly with regard to the human person.

Whitehead’s model of an ‘actual entity’ is unquestionably the human self in its complete unity, including the body. In many passages there is indeed a human being, with its own experience of self, implicitly behind the concept of an ‘actual entity’ as Whitehead himself explains it, (PR 112)7 and we are of the opinion that impartial readers frequently apply this tacit concept to themselves as paradigms. From this perspective, the reduction of persons to a multiplicity of ‘actual entities,’ and their reconstruction as ‘societies,’ strikes one as an afterthought forced by a ‘cosmological’ or perhaps a ‘physicalistic’ tendency on the part of Whitehead. In place of the human being who immediately knows himself or herself as a subject and who provides the starting point for Whitehead’s analysis, there is suddenly substituted a multiplicity of entities whose existence is hypothetically assumed by reason of an altogether different starting point.

Whitehead himself emphasizes that an account has to be given of the unity of the person, including its body and its identity through time. He tries to achieve this in his own way, insofar as he conceives of the many ‘actual entities’ or ‘events’ constituting the person to be as mutually immanent as possible. One may doubt that this results in the achievement of the kind of unity that has to do with the human being. Even "orthodox" Whiteheadians have to admit that the human self is not experienced as a strand of distinct entities, but manifests itself as something enduring continuously (see PS 5: 200f). In a strand of really distinct actual entities, these would necessarily stand in a subject-object relationship to one another, so that the entity that perishes and is objectified is a different entity than that which is coming into being. But personal experience speaks a different language, insofar as it attributes to the selfsame "I" the [255] experiences of the past (see PS 2: 216-21). Likewise, the experience of identity with one’s own body scarcely seems adequately portrayed by the relationship of a dominant strand of events to its subordinate ‘societies.’ Here too it is true that I not only have my body in a subject-object-relationship, but much more, that as subject I am my body, a body that for me is something more and quite other than just a peculiarly intimate bit of the surrounding world (PR 81) with which I am not identified.

These Whiteheadian dilemmas simply cannot be avoided so long as one does not give up the rigid identification of ‘actual entities’ with hypothetically assumed ultimate event-units, and does not conceive entity more broadly. Instead of disintegrating the human person into a swarm of entities that are then reunited into the -- dubious -- unity of a bare ‘society,’ the simpler and more realistic solution ought to lie in conceiving the person, steadfastly and from the beginning, as one entity, even though a complex one, as befits Whitehead’s starting point. The same holds for the other beings that manifest a genuine and original unity.

In that case, of course, the concept of entity would have to be differentiated insofar as it would stand for unities of diverse grades of complexity. Whitehead’s ideal of a uniform, coherent theory would be better secured through an analogical use of the concept of entity than through the reduction to a single genus of entities, a move that Whitehead himself could not remain faithful to, as his concept of God shows.

What seems specially noteworthy in this connection is the meager use that the philosophy of organism makes of its own central concept of organism. For sensu stricto this denotes in the living being a unity that, as such, includes within itself a multiplicity of diverse "parts" or "organs." But in the concept of "organism," unlike in that of "society," unity and not multiplicity is dominant. In the end, the philosophy of organism has to conceive these genuine "organisms" as [256] ‘societies.’ It seems a paradox that a philosophy that purports to be organic is forced, precisely at its point of origin, to abandon the concept of organism as a real unity in order to hold on to its concept of smallest organic event-units.

2. Life-World and Natural Unities

And so we are faced with the fundamental question: what forces us, as it did Whitehead, to give up the unity of the apparent totalities of the life-world in favor of an invisible multiplicity of microcosmic ultimate event-units whose existence and nature remains ever questionable? Whitehead believes that in this way he can escape thinking in terms of substance, a concept he has rejected and that he thinks would predominate as long as one continues to think in terms of the things of, and the categories flowing from, ordinary experience, practically oriented as it is. In his perspective it is necessary to leave the plane of experience and go back to the ultimate microcosmic event-units, since it is only in the microcosm that the desired concept of an ‘actual entity’ as an organic unity of process can find a place. Hanging on to this concept would thus include recourse to such ultimate microcosmic event-units, so that in the end even the higher totalities could only be conceived as ‘societies’ of such ‘entities.’

Historically, Whitehead’s cosmology, in its intent and structure, has to be regarded as a rethinking of Leibniz’s doctrine of monads. But with his ‘societies’ Whitehead pushes forward more radically (and perhaps also more consistently) than Leibniz, who still conceives the higher beings to be one substance, even though composite and made up of a multiplicity of monads. Moreover Leibniz is willing to accept certain traditional unities, such as the human soul. In contrast to Whitehead, the gradation of Leibniz’s monads is open towards the bottom. But with his theory of monads Leibniz stands in the dualistic line of Descartes inasmuch as he contrasts the monadic, subsistent soul not with a single body but rather with a multiplicity of equally subsistent monads. [257] Whitehead wants to abolish the dualism of Descartes, and he succeeds insofar as one considers his concept of an ‘actual entity’ with its ‘physical’ and ‘mental’ pole. But does not the pluralism of his ‘societies,’ as with Leibniz’s "composite substances," continue the Cartesian split?

In any case the crucial question that presents itself is whether the Whiteheadian concept of an ‘actual entity’ -- or something like it -- can in fact be applied only to microcosmic ultimate event-units (insofar as they are real at all), but not to what confronts us as a genuine unity on the level of the "life world," namely the human being. Whitehead takes the one human being, in its here and now, as the model of an ‘actual entity.’ But what presents itself to his analysis as the model of an ‘actual entity’ ought to be ontologically interpretable as one entity.

Such an option would demand that we break with the presupposition that Whitehead seems implicitly to make, namely, that one is forced to think of substance in the sense he has rejected if one is to maintain the unities of the "life world." This holds true insofar as we are here on the level of "things" and think in terms of that concept. But these "things" are exactly not what presents itself to us in the "life world" as genuine totalities, as Whitehead himself describes it. The kind of substance-thinking that he has condemned is dominant only when one tends to think in terms of these "things" and does not explicitly pay attention to what manifests itself as a true entity. So what is first required is a distinction, right on the level of the "life world," between genuine entities and "things," rather than a reversion to microcosmic event-units.

Here Aristotle turns out to be a good witness for us. He anticipates a concept of entity that is akin to that of Whitehead, but without deserting the plane of the life world and its unities. For Aristotle living beings serve as models of "entity" and are each conceived as one "entity." He conceives these natural "entities" in contrast to the usual notion of a thing. [258] They are not "entity" by reason of a passively enduring material substrate, but by reason of a processively self-evolving patterning principle, the "form." The "form" as fully actualized pattern is conceived as the aim of the process. The "entity," just as Whitehead contends, is by no means something that lies ready-made before the process. As for White-head, its actuality consists in its activity, its energeia, which is aimed at the completion of itself, its entelecheia.

Thus in Aristotle we already find the principles that permit us to conceive in the manner of a Whiteheadian ‘actual entity’ a genuine natural being as such, without recourse to hypothetically assumed ultimate event-units. It is quite another question whether these principles were carried through by Aristotle in as radical a way as Whitehead demands -- whether indeed Aristotle could possibly have so carried them through, given his level of natural science. In the end it was not the concept of entity found in Aristotle’s Metaphysics, but rather that derivative from the Categories, of the identification of entity with enduring substrate, that dominated later history of thought. This indicates that the concept of "thing" prevailed as an undercurrent and supplanted Aristotle’s genuine conception of entity.

3. Societies nd Organisms

It is in view of this development that Whitehead’s recourse to ultimate event-units when dealing with "things" takes on its whole significance. Where the unity of a thing is superficial and more or less external and chancy, where the impression of passivity dominates so that "things" seem only ready-at-hand, just there does Whitehead’s attempted recourse to more ultimate units amount to a real intensification of the actuality of nature. The analysis of "things" into ‘societies’ of more ultimate units can be considered as his thoroughgoing attempt to push on toward natural entities in Aristotle’s sense -- even where Aristotle on the basis of bare perception could, despite his principles, see only a more or less amorphous, passive "matter."

[259] Yet the fact remains worth pondering that there is the appearance of "dead" matter -- that despite the activity of the many process unities making up matter, the impression of passivity and formlessness dominates, at least for us and on the whole. This impression is of course relative: matter appears as "dead" in contrast to the variety of higher forms that manifest themselves in the living being. Nevertheless it is apparent that in living beings these forms reveal themselves, on a different level of integration, as unity and totality, as subjectivity and self-identity. Finally, for Whitehead there is no reason to suppose that below this higher unity of the lived world there should be a highly intense experiential activity. Indeed, he considers the average constitution of the entities that make up the "non-living" to be on a lower level than the constitution of those that make up the living being. Is that not a sign that the higher forms of life, as unities and thereby as entities, are more than those that we find outside of them?

What makes good sense with regard to "things," namely their conception as a ‘society’ of more fundamental Unities, is thus not called for with regard to the more highly developed forms of life if one does not want to run the risk of missing from the start what is distinctive of living things. For through this shift in the way of thinking about them, ‘things" actually become for the most part more "natural" because seen in terms of originary and self-acting units of process. On the other hand, the resolving of higher unities into ‘societies’ removes in principle that which -- for Whitehead too -- provided the very paradigm of unity and essence.

With Whitehead one can object to this that the higher forms of life and also the human being are composed of subordinate unities and to that extent exhibit a ‘social order.’ Indeed, "all life in the body is the life of the individual cells. There are thus millions upon millions of centers of life in each animal body" (PR 108). But in the same context Whitehead points out that, despite this multiplicity, it is a matter not only of unified behavior but also of consciousness of a unified experience, so that the explanation [260] called for by the "miracle of life" consists precisely in this unification. Whitehead tries to explain it through the special ‘social organization’ of the unities in question. But does not the "miracle" consist precisely in this, that out of the ordering of this multiplicity, an encompassing unity arises, so that the concept of ‘society’ from the very start falls too short to give an account of what is most decisive about process and its outcome? For Whitehead’s concepts of ‘society,’ of ‘social order,’ and of ‘social organization’ stand for too many and too diverse things, so that precisely the most decisive distinctions get lost. What Whitehead denotes as the ‘social order’ of the higher living beings can no longer be understood on the model of a society with its emphasis on multiplicity, but only on that of an organism focusing on unity. Here if anywhere the dominant order is strictly "organic," so that its subordinate unities cannot exist as beings in their own right but only as functionally incorporated "organs" of an intrinsically differentiated self. The concept of "organism" already contains the notion that the "organs" do not lie outside the organism, but that the organism is in itself its own organs.

This distinction between what is in the strict sense "organic" and what is "social" is also present in Whitehead when one attends to the different forms into which he analyzes ‘social order.’

For Whitehead, every kind of ‘society’ has its ground of unity in its ‘defining characteristic,’ that is, in a formal element common to all its ‘members’ and in virtue of which there is a generally dominant ‘social order.’ Whitehead even draws an express analogy to Aristotelian form (AI 203; PR 34). According to Whitehead, in the case of simpler beings the dominance of such a common form secures only the reproduction of the pattern of becoming in the succeeding ‘occasions,’ so that there results the formation of an ‘enduring object’ with its enduring character. Even if [2611 all the individual occasions prehend and instantiate the same form, they still remain at bottom a multiplicity, without constituting a higher unity. Here the Whiteheadian concept of ‘society’ applies, since it indicates the lack of a higher individuality. "Things," or ‘enduring objects,’ are multiplicities built up by an additive pattern and consisting in neighboring individual occasions that succeed one another by repeating the same structural pattern. For those societies, on the other hand, that make up the higher forms of life, and in particular for the human being, Whitehead thinks of this ‘defining characteristic’ or common form as a ground of unity that dominates the occasions. In these ‘structured societies’ the individual occasions and strands of occasions are supposed to be so coordinated in their culminating central focus as to make it possible for a knowing subject to experience itself as a unity (Cf. AI, 186).

In our view only the whole human being (or any higher form of living being), and not a ‘presiding occasion’ at the final focus of a strand of occasions (if indeed there be any such ‘occasion’), can be viewed as such a subject. The gradation of actuality is thus not to be interpreted as if all the more highly developed beings were merely made up of ‘societies’ of elementary occasions. Rather, above and beyond the more complicated structure of ‘social’ organization one must assume an organization in which its multiplicity is overshadowed by its newly achieved unity. Whitehead conceives of evolution as the emergence of beings of increasingly intensive experience. But the decisive stages of this evolution are just those in which, beyond a new and purely ‘social’ organization, there emerges the constitution of organisms that, on a higher level from that of the unities they have integrated, can again count as true unitary beings. At any rate, it is primarily such complex individual beings that force themselves upon us as subjects, as unities, and thereby as entities.

4. The Importance of Process Thought

According to the philosophy of organism, an entity is in every case to be conceived as some kind of complexity. But why could actuality not be conceived as a gradation of more and more complex beings that include less complex subordinate units without our ever being able finally to specify which are the "ultimate" units? Such a theory would have the advantage of not having to break with the evidence of the lived world because of an exaggerated reduction of entities into questionable monadic units of becoming. The higher living beings, especially the human beings, ought to be through and through conceived as single entities in such a way as to preserve Whitehead’s fundamental insights while at the same time ruling out the above-mentioned weaknesses of the traditional concept of substance. The comparison with Aristotle has taught us that, historically, such a conception lies right on the line of what Aristotle, in his writings on natural philosophy and metaphysics, originally conceived to be a natural entity.

Furthermore, such complex natural entities would be much more decisively conceived as process beings than would Aristotle’s. In particular, in the perspective opened up by modern physical science and incorporated by Whitehead into his own concept, there can be no more "matter" that, once actualized, thereafter simply gives endurance to an entity. Just as for Aristotle an entity is "its own" matter, so it must now be conceived as identical with its processes that first and foremost make up what we regard as matter or, in the case of living beings, as their body. Their process of constitution can thus in no way be conceived as a production or generatio that takes place once and that thereafter allows the entity so constituted simply to be there. Its "production" is much more an ongoing process; the entity consists only in the processes that continually constitute it. Thus Whitehead’s assertion about an ‘actual entity’ would hold true here as well: it is simply as directing its own process and as the result of its process -- as ‘subject’ and ‘superject.’

Its duration is thus quite different from the ‘undifferentiated [263] endurance’ of a formless substrate that Whitehead repudiates. Its duration consists rather in the continuity of a process of transformation that is subordinated to a unitary structural principle, an identical "form." For something to be really enduring, its continual regeneration of ‘physical’ subordinate units has to be thought of in terms of what Whitehead called the ‘mental pole’ in virtue of which the entity remains continuously ordered towards its subjective aim during the time of its existence. Its "existence," its "actuality," is then always also its "striving" towards this goal. It is Aristotle’s energeia directed to the entelecheia.

Even for such a complex entity as this, then, it still remains true that its very being bears the distinguishing marks of process and creativity. As for Whitehead, this creativity lies once more in the appropriation and transformation of the given of the past into a subject that is continuously coming to be. Thus Whitehead’s key concept of prehension can come into play as a concept of an activity that synthesizes all the main elements. Thereby, finally, the concept of concrescence -- or something very like it -- can also be used to describe such an entity.

The kind of reinterpretation and extension of Whiteheadian philosophy that has here been only roughly sketched can appeal to the latest scientific concepts. "The forms of a living being are not but rather come to be," says Ludwig von Bertalanffy (BW 120), and his "organismic" biology and later general system-theory for overcoming the opposition between mechanism and vitalism has given central insights of Whitehead a new formulation on the basis of science,8 Something similar holds for all the directions of research which Jean Piaget has brought to the [264] concept of genetic structuralism.9 The genetic epistemology founded by Piaget has proved through empirical research on the problem of knowledge the fruitfulness both of genetic analysis and of Whitehead’s principle of process.

Thus, what Whitehead speculatively sketched out as a metaphysician, always in the hope that his principles and categories could be transposed to the individual forms of scientific research, has at least in part proved a success in its naturalistic variants. His philosophy is thought at a turning point in time. Engaged with the classic way of posing philosophical problems and arising out of the collapse of scientific cosmology, his thought is at the same time fascinating through its proximity to the system-theory and genetic structuralism of progressive ways of thought. Whitehead’s importance lies in the prospects of a mediation between classical and contemporary philosophy, between philosophy and science.

 

References

ANW -- Victor Lowe. "The Concept of Experience in Whitehead’s Metaphysics." A. N. Whitehead: Essays on His Philosophy. Ed. George L. Kline. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1963.

BW -- Ludwig von Bertalanffy. Das biologische Weltbilt I. Die Stellung des Lebens in Natur und Wissenschaft. Bern, 1948.

PS2 -- P. A. Bartocci. "Hartshorne on Personal Identity: A Personalistic Critique." Process Studies 2 (1972): 216-21.

PS3 -- F. G. Kirkpatrick. "Subjective Becoming: An Unwarranted Abstraction?" Process Studies 3 (1973): 15-25.

PS5 -- Rem B. Edwards. "The Human Self: An Actual Entity or a Society?" Process Studies.5 (1975): 195-203.

SPPI -- Barbara Parsons. "On Dc-Mythologizing Whitehead’s Actual Entity." Studies in Process Philosophy I. Ed. Robert C. Whittemore. The Hague: Martin Nijhoff, 1974.

WM -- Edward Pols. Whitehead ‘s Metaphysics: A Critical Examination of Process and Reality. Carbondale, IL: S. I. U. Press, 1967.

 

Notes

1Translator ‘s note’ This is a translation of the last chapter (3.3) of Fetz’s Whitehead: Prozessdenken und Substanzmetaphysik (Freiburg/München: Verlag Karl Alber, 1981). The previous two chapters (3.1 and 3.2) have previously appeared here as "Aristotelian and Whiteheadian Conceptions of Actuality: I and II." The author has reviewed and corrected the translation, for which the translator is grateful.

2(PR 343) Victor Lowe reports: "Whitehead did not hesitate to say to his students that if he had leisure for a second go at his metaphysical scheme, the result would be somewhat different." (ANW 131)

3Whitehead continues: "To be reasonably successful as a philosopher is to provide a new platform; perhaps not a completely new platform, but a slight alteration of some older platform from which it is worthwhile to make criticism." This characterization that Whitehead certainly meant to apply to his own philosophy seems to us specially apposite for describing Whitehead’s relation to his great predecessor, Leibniz, insofar as the typical problematic of a "monadic cosmology" arises for both, as the following discussion shows. Cf. PR 27.

4Aristotle, Met. I, 1, 1028b2; W. D. Ross translation. Translator’s note: It is notorious that Aristotle’s own word ousia, here rendered as "substance," has defied exact translation into other languages, and that the English word "substance" (after the Latin substantia) conveys all the wrong connotations. (See the discussion of this in Joseph Owens, The Doctrine of Being in Aristotle’s Metaphysics [Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1978]). "Entity" may be the most plausible English equivalent, though Whitehead often uses it more broadly and thus prefers the phrase ‘actual entity’ when referring to his basic ontological unit. The author of the present essay frequently uses the German equivalent of "entity," "Wesenheit," to stand for what Whitehead meant by ‘actual entity’ (‘wirkliche Wesenheit’), as well as for what Aristotle meant by ousia. Thus the author’s Wesenheit seems, according to the context, best rendered as "(actual) entity." "substance." "being," or (basically), "ousia."

5The following report by V. Lowe is characteristic of the vagueness of Whitehead’s statements about this: "When I asked Whitehead whether the emission of a single quantum of energy by an atom should be considered an actual occasion, he replied, ‘Probably a whole shower of actual occasions.’" (ANW 131)

6E. Bubser, "Organismus-Philosophie und Spekulation," in Philosophic der Gegenwart I (Göttingen: 1972), p. 297.

7 See also A. H. Johnson, Whitehead’s Theory of Reality (New York: Dover, 1962), p. 18; W. A. Christian, An Interpretation of Whitehead’s Metaphysics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967), p. 171.

8Bertalanffy summarizes the "theses of an organismic conception" as follows: "a holistic system-conception as opposed to an analytic-additive one; a dynamic conception as opposed to a static and mechanical one; a view of the organism as of a primary activity as opposed to the conception of its primary reactivity." On p. 184 he refers to the "organic mechanism" of Whitehead as a precursor. For the extension of Whiteheadian theses in connection with the general system-theory of Bertalanffy, see E. Laszlo, Systems, Structure and Experience (New York: 1969); The Systems View of the World: The Natural Philosophy of the New Developments in the Sciences (New York: 1972).

9See J. Piaget, Le structuralism (Paris: 1968); Epistémologie des sciences de l’homme (Paris: 1972). There is a reference to Whitehead as the founder of an organic view on p. 312 of the latter work. See also the interdisciplinary anthology by J. B. Cobb and D. R. Griffin (eds.), Mind in Natures Essays on the Interface of Science and Philosophy (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1977). that puts together essays of celebrated structuralist biologists (B. Rensch, Th. Dozhansky. C. H. Waddington) and notable followers of Whitehead (Ch. Hartshorne, I. Leclerc).


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