Alfred North Whitehead by Norman Pittenger
Dr. Pittenger, philosopher and theologian, was a senior member of King’s College, Cambridge for many years, then Professor of Christian Apologetics at the General Theological Seminary in New York City, before retiring in 1966. Published by John Knox Press, Richmond, Virginia, 1996. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Chapter 2: Thought
Process-Thought and its Emphases Central to process-philosophy as Whitehead developed it, is the conviction that we must look at experience as a whole. We must also look at the world in the same way, taking account of all the data which are presented to us and refusing to reject or disregard any aspects which do not fit in with some pre-conceived notion of what the world is like. Hence we may say that unity of experience and the unity of the world in which that experience is enjoyed must be primary in out effort to understand the way in which the world goes and the meaning of our experience in the world. Whitehead had specialized in mathematics. He was also an expert in the field usually known as mathematical physics and its associated disciplines. At the same time, as we have seen, he was sensitive to literature, especially to poetry. He had a keen 'aesthetic' awareness, in the broad sense which he himself insisted on giving that adjective: that is, the whole range of 'felt' life. He knew about 'religious experience' from within, since he had been brought up in a strongly religious home and knew with certainty that, no matter how he might differ in conceptual matters from his father and from others who were in the professional sense (as we might put it) engaged in the activities of established religious groups, the convictions which they held were not based on fancy or wish-fulfillment but on deep realities in their own lives. Thus, Whitehead himself represented a reconciliation of what Lord Snow in recent years has described as 'the two cultures'. He was both a scientist and a humanist, and he respected both aspects of human experience. He was sure that both the precise experimental and observational work of the scientist and the appreciative, valuational interests of the poet, the artist, the musician, and the man who feels deeply some sense of comradeship or communion with a reality not observable by scientific instruments nor reached by the use of scientific methods, must be taken seriously into account in any portrayal of the world and of man which presumes to claim to be adequate to the given material. In particular, as a quotation in the last chapter has shown, Whitehead believed that human experience, in all its richness and variety, is part of nature; we cannot cut man and his experience off from the natural order, as if that experience could contribute nothing to our grasp of what nature is like and what is going on there. For him it was the failure of much of the science of the nineteenth century, with which he was so familiar, that it had thought it possible to make precisely that disjunction. The result of such an attitude, he was convinced, was a picture of the world which was 'a bluff' or, as he said in another connection, 'a fake'. Here biological study, and more particularly the evolutionary science which demonstrated man's emergence from a sub-human animal species, has made its invaluable contribution; it had made inescapably clear to all who attended to it that man is 'organic' with nature. If man cannot be understood unless his animal ancestry is taken into account, neither can the world in which he emerged be understood unless man (as a part of nature, tied in with it and intimately at one with it, despite all his difference from it and despite the unique quality of his existence as a conscious and purposive emergent) is regarded with equal seriousness. And this meant that the richness and variety of human experience, above all in its 'felt' aspects, provide us with data that must be used by the philosopher. Since he saw man and the world in this way, Whitehead claimed that there were three main points which must be stressed. First, there was an element of 'enjoyment' in experience. Certainly this was obvious at the human level; it was also capable of being 'generalized', as he liked to put it, so that something analogous could be predicated at other levels as well. The world, then, is characterized by such a sense of satisfaction or fulfillment as is discovered, at its most intensive, in human experience. But secondly, that 'enjoyment' is not given ready-made; it is achieved. In other words, throughout the world of nature as well as in human life there is 'aim'. This is found in differing degrees of intensity and with varying degrees of consciously-known and intentionally-directed striving; yet it is a serious failure to take into account all the facts if supposedly hardheaded thinkers refuse to see that such 'aim' towards 'enjoyment' in man must be indicative of 'aim' throughout the cosmos. In the third place, there is 'creativity'. By this Whitehead intended the reality of possibility or potentiality, and the capacity to realize these, with the 'advance' which made that realization possible -- and this not only in human experience but more generally in the world as a whole. We are confronted by, and we are participant in, a dynamic process, in which the occurrences which compose the world are getting somewhere, whatever that 'somewhere' may be. Very simply, there is a 'going-on' in the world, from potentiality to actualization; and this is a dynamic and vital movement. We have to do with no mere shuffling of a pack of cards, no mere re-arranging of hard and intractable atoms; on the contrary, we have to do with an epigenetic movement, in which novelty makes its appearance. Whitehead might have made his own the lovely phrase of G. M. Hopkins, 'There lives the dearest freshness deep down things'. And out of that 'freshness', or realm of creative possibility, appear the novelties which give both the world and our experience an equal 'freshness'. There is a 'perishing of occasions', as the old reaches its fulfillment and in its particular configuration 'passes away'; but at the same time there is the new, built out of the old, which thus serves in providing material upon which something genuinely novel can be woven. Abiding value, the genuine contribution made by that which perishes, can never be lost; it is taken up into, used by, and made contributory to, that which continues in all its wonderful freshness with its capacity for furthering 'creative advance'. In our attempt to grasp what experience so interpreted and the world thus envisaged has to tell us, Whitehead demanded that the philosopher must be open to all which comes to him from every area. Above all, he believed that 'living emotion', of which the philosopher F. H. Bradley had written, must be given a central place. 'The basis of experience', said Whitehead, 'is emotional. Stated more generally, the basic fact is the rise of an effective tone originating from things whose relevance is given'.(Adventure of Ideas, p. 226.) Such awareness suggests that we both grasp and are grasped by (Whitehead's technical word here is 'prehend') this or that moment of experience -- and the same must be true throughout the cosmos, in respect to every occasion or occurrence or event (Whitehead generally used the term 'actual entity'). To deny this would be to cut human experience off from nature and to fail to recognize the genuinely revelational quality of that experience. Because the world is a society of mutually 'prehending' occasions, Whitehead felt that a useful word for describing it was 'organismic'. It is made up of organically inter-related and organically developing entities -- not of static substances or entirely discrete (separate and separable) bits of matter in motion. Presuppositions and Methodology In the exposition which follows, we shall not employ -- save where it is absolutely necessary -- technical Whiteheadian terms. Whitehead's language, however, is not anything like so difficult as many have thought. Much of it is derived from a variety of sources, including Hume, Bradley, William James, and other philosophers, as well as from scientific sources and literature. His thinking is closely related to these and other well-known thinkers who preceded him in the construction of philosophical schemes or systems. Since we do not use his technical terms, we shall not attempt to set forth a neatly systematic development of Whitehead's thought either. For our purpose -- which is to show those aspects of Whitehead's philosophy which have a special appeal to Christian theologians -- it is much more convenient to provide a general presentation of what he himself would have called his 'vision of reality'. But before we do this, a few words must be said about the Whiteheadian presuppositions and methodology. In respect to the former, perhaps enough has been said in the preceding section. Yet we should add a few additional remarks. First, let us note that Whitehead once said this : 'Philosophy asks the simple question, What is it all about?(Quoted in The Philosophical Review, Vol. XLVI, 1937, p. 178.) That is to say, he believed that when a man engages in philosophy he must necessarily concern himself with the attempt (however perilous) to find ultimate meaning -- 'what is it all about?' (italics mine). He can write(Adventures of Ideas, p. 125.) the following important sentences: Philosophy is not a mere collection of noble sentiments. . . It is not -- or, at least, it should not be -- a ferocious debate between irritable philosophers. It is a survey of possibilities and their comparison with actualities. In philosophy, the fact, the theory, the alternatives, and the ideal, are weighed together. Its gifts are insight and foresight, and a sense of the worth of life, in short that sense of importance which nerves all civilized effort. Thus he says(Process and Reality, p. 4.) that philosophy, as he sees it, 'is the endeavour to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted'. Each of the adjectives here used should be noted carefully: coherent, logical relationship, and necessary induction from experience. This interpretation includes what earlier in the same book(Ibid., p. vi.) he has named 'natural science' and the concepts to which it gives rise, and also 'the aesthetic, moral, and religious interests' of men, out of the totality of which the philosopher seeks 'to construct a system of ideas'. But Whitehead does not claim that any such system, certainly not his own, is final; as he remarks, 'the besetting sin of philosophers is that, being merely men, they endeavour to survey the universe from the standpoint of gods'. Granted the absurdity of such a stance, he yet believes that it is entirely legitimate and proper for a thoughtful man to think about and endeavour to work out a 'system of ideas' which fulfils the conditions noted above. Doubtless there will be a variety of such proposed 'systems'. Every effort should be made to achieve a reconciliation between or among them; surely each of them contains some glimpse of the truth. This also suggests that any given system, such as his own, is open to criticism, correction, and development; and the invitation implied in Whitehead's own writing explains why no 'Whiteheadian', no process-thinker, agrees in all details with others who take the same general position. We are not dealing here with a cut-and-dried metaphysic; on the contrary, process-philosophy in following Whitehead welcomes various applications, differing ways of stating implication, and open-ness to other approaches drawn from other 'visions of reality'. When we come to Whitehead's methodology, we may sum up his procedure by noting that it is both rational and empirical. Or perhaps the order of words should be reversed. It is empirical, in that it begins from the most careful study of some given, perhaps quite restricted, area. This may be science in any of its branches; it may be religious experience or moral awareness or the realm of the 'aesthetic'. But it is also rational, for from these careful studies of particular areas, generalizations are made. And the tests for such generalizations are the coherence, logical implication, and necessity of what is being affirmed. Furthermore, every generalization must be tested constantly by a reference back to the empirical evidence as this has been observed or studied or experienced in the several different fields or areas of interest. How is the study or observation to be carried out? At this point, Whitehead dwells on the importance of intuition, which for him is a profound awareness, deeply felt, of the particular datum under consideration. But intuition is of various sorts; it may be 'sensuous' or 'non-sensuous', and it may be directed towards the type of awareness which is more 'mathematical' in quality. And intuition may operate in different realms. The moral sense of the rightness of things is one example, another is the artist's empathetic awareness, and still another the religious perception that through and in our stream of experience and the changing world there is a persisting goodness or love, not static in nature but more than mere successiveness. With this methodology of empirical investigation and rationally ordered generalization, Whitehead proceeds to look at the world. As we have seen, he is not content with one area of experience ; to concentrate entirely on any one field of interest would be to impoverish one's grasp of the totality of things 'as they go on', while it would also diminish the validity of the generalization which is to be made. One must seek to include as much of experience, and as many varieties of experience, as one can manage to grasp. It is this which leads him to what we have already called his organic (or societal) vision of the cosmic process. There is a 'wholeness' about his vision which has often been lacking in philosophical systems which restricted their attention to fewer fields or which were content to make great generalizations from the special enquiries which happened to be attractive to their authors. This insistence on what we have styled 'wholeness' also explains Whitehead's interest -- one might even say, delight -- in such inter-disciplinary research as (for example) bio-chemistry and other types of study in which more than one line of inquiry is seen as relevant to understanding entities of a 'molecular' sort. He wanted scientists and artists, saints and scholars, thinkers of every type, to pool their resources and to share their researches. Only in this way could men ever hope to see more deeply into the meaning of the various dynamic processes and into the abiding structures in terms of which those processes may be more or less adequately described. A final word should be said about the question of language itself. For Whitehead language is symbolization, through which some rationalizing of man's perceptions and hence some rational ordering of his concepts takes place. It is always, and also, one of man's agencies in understanding that which he perceives and about which he makes conceptual statements. But verification is found, not merely in the right and appropriate use of language -- which inevitably, because it is symbolic, includes apprehensions deeper than the bare rationality involved -- but also in the continual reference back to the particular observations of what in fact is experienced and hence spoken about. Strictly scientific (mathematical, experimental) verification could not be enough; the whole range of experience, in all its 'feltness', must be taken very seriously into account. The Cosmic Process and its Description 'The contrast real-unreal has nothing particularly to do with the contrast being-becoming'. So wrote Professor Hartshorne in an essay published in 1968.(Philosophical Resources for Christian Thought, p.44.) That sentence, appearing in a brief study of the possibility of using 'process-philosophy' as a conceptuality for theology, puts briefly but exactly the main stress in Whitehead's description -- if that is the right word -- of the cosmic process. It has been an error, found in most if not all philosophers, to think that 'being' is more real than 'becoming'; hence that a world, or anything else, in process must be less real than a world, or anything else, which may be spoken of in terms of stasis or self-contained and unchanging being. But here already we have the illicit confusion to which Hartshorne referred. 'Real' versus 'unreal' can and should mean 'true' versus 'false or fictitious' or (as Hartshorne himself noted) 'merely feigned or falsely believed'. It has nothing to do with the question of whether or not being or becoming shall be more basic (not more real) in the world or in anything else. Whitehead was convinced that proper interpretation of experience and the result of correct observation of the world will show that process is absolutely basic. In other words, becoming is the more concrete 'reality' (always remembering the proper use of that term), while being is an abstraction from the concrete facts which we know, experience, and are. This is the cornerstone of the whole enterprise of 'process-thought'. It regards the persisting centring of attention on being as basic as nothing less than an idol which is worshipped servilely but thoughtlessly by very intelligent and very good men who should have known better and who often enough, in the course of their philosophizing or theologizing, did know better but were unable to escape the power of the idol which dominated their thinking. When it speaks of God, process-thought regards as equally misleading the stress on 'self-contained and self-centred being' in the sense of ens realissimum (most real being) or esse a se subsistens (being subsisting from itself), terms commonly used to signify utter aseity as God's 'root-attribute'. This may seem an extraordinary assertion, but consideration of the cosmic process as we encounter it, live in it, and ourselves are part of it, will give support to what Whitehead and his disciples have said on the matter. Let us now attempt to sketch out the way that process does manifest itself to us. Five comments may be made. First, we have to recognize that ours is most certainly a processive world -- or, if one prefers, a world of evolutionary change. Today it is common knowledge that we do not live in what might be styled a 'fixed order'; things are on the move. From the lowest level of energy up to man himself, what we see is change. This does not mean that there are no fairly settled patterns which may be discerned in the movement or process of change; neither does it suggest that there are no identifiable 'routings' of the entities of which the world is made up. It does mean that things do not 'continue in one stay'. If we wish to describe what is going on at any level in the whole creative order, we must do so by talking of where things are getting, what they are doing, how they are realizing whatever potentialities they may have been given. In other words, what we see and know is 'how things are getting on' rather than 'what things are'. None the less, it is an 'order', in which there are limits set for actualization of potentialities, in which certain possibilities are realized rather than other conceivable possibilities, and in which there is (as we shall see in a moment) a certain direction or aim. There is no mere unfolding of what has always been the case, either; what evolutionary science, with its application in appropriate ways to the many non-biological levels, portrays for us is much better described in the phrases used by A. S. PringlePattison many years ago: 'continuity of process with the emergence of genuine novelty'. New things happen ; but they happen with linkages with what went before, with astoundingly intricate relationships with what goes on contemporaneously, and with enormous consequences for what is to happen or what may happen in the future. This is a world in which time is very real. It 'takes time' for things to 'come to be'. Becoming is temporal, not static or instantaneous. It takes time, too, for the results to be shown for what they are, with the consequences as they occur, and with the modifications that they introduce into the various patterns with their limits of possibility. Further, there appears to be an element of 'chance' in the world; yet it is not just chance, as if 'any old thing could happen'. There is a 'getting-somewhere'. There is a direction or aim, not only at the level of consciousness (of the sort we know) but at the level of living-matter; and even below that, if what some of our most acute modern scientists say is correct, there is direction or aim in the inanimate and physical world too. This is no Paleyan teleology, after the analogy of the watchmaker and his watch. It has more to do with what in the United States is called 'the big picture' than with the arrangement of the specific details -- it is more molecular, one might say, than it is atomic. One thinks here of the work done by Sir Alister Hardy and reported in his recent Gifford Lectures, or of the writings of Dr. W. H. Thorpe in the general biological field, while in the physical sciences, the discussion by Dr. Ian Barbour in his Issues in Science and Religion is to the point. The purposive quality in the world makes it proper to speak not of a machine grinding along without aim but of a process which in organic instances of occurrence, occasion, and event is moving towards goals that are realized by appropriate decisions and in greater or less degree at every level. But since this is the case, the second point is that the world is a dynamic enterprise. To talk about 'substances' (as static or inert entities) is a misrepresentation of the known facts. We are in error when we attempt to freeze a living process of becoming into a connected series of things. What we know are occasions or 'actual entities' and what we have called 'routings of occasions', whose nature is to 'become' what they have it 'in them' to become, functioning in this or that way as they realize (or by decision refuse to realize) their potentiality. Man, for example, is not a thing which may be described in static terms as this or that completed entity; he cannot be talked about morphologically, so far as philosophical understanding is concerned, as if he were a specimen on a dissecting-table. He is a dynamic process. To be a man (in the only viable sense of that verb) is to 'become man', to be on the way to the actualization of the specific potentialities which are given at the human level. Some of the definitions of man which have been fashionable in traditional philosophy have in effect spoken about him as if he were only a 'specimen', open to dissection. Even in the biological realm, we 'murder to dissect' ; a cat when it is being dissected is not a live cat, it is a dead one. Much valuable information may be gained by the dissecting operation; but it is not information about the living, scratching, purring animal. It is the dynamic quality of the living cat which essentially constitutes its 'catness', if one may put it so. A good deal of metaphysical talk has been vitiated by a hankering after 'essences', in an effort to define man without regard to his dynamic quality. But the same is true of much talk about what is given throughout the process. In consequence, we have been the victim of a distorted picture of what the world is really like. Thirdly, we are confronted by, we live in, and we are part of a societal or organismic world. Things affect one another, at every level; everything lives in and with and for every other thing, however remote and infinitesimal the connections may seem to be. There is mutual prehension, as Whitehead puts it. The creation is a series of occasions in which each entity is penetrated by and penetrates the others, and in which all are in interrelationship with each other. No man, no thing, is 'an island entire unto itself'; every man, every thing, is tied together in a 'bundle of life'. Drop a pencil on the floor and the whole of 'reality' is different from that moment; for that simple act has repercussions and results throughout the succeeding process. There is mutuality, give-and-take, wherever we turn. Hence we ought not to think of discrete entitles, in the sense of self-contained and insulated particles; we should see an open-ness, a 'being affected by' as well as an 'affecting' which is characteristic of the process in its every event. But in the fourth place, no occurrence or occasion is identical with any other ; nor are they all on the same level of significance. In the ongoing movement there are particular moments which (in a word of Whitehead's) are 'important'. This concept is of the highest significance for our understanding of how the world goes. A given moment of experience, a given configuration of occasions, a particularly vivid this or that (whatever it may be) can illuminate what has gone on before its appearance or emergence ; can enter into peculiarly intimate relationships with what surrounds it and with which it has its connections, influencing and being influenced by those occasions; and can open the way for novel, perhaps surprising, developments in the future. Usually what is 'important' is taken to be such because of its 'aesthetic' quality -- the feelings which it evokes and which in some way seem to participate in that which evokes them. As we have said earlier, by 'aesthetic 'is not meant artistic creations alone (although such may be in the picture, from time to time). The word points to the deep feelings which the particular occasion awakens ; our very language shows this, for we say that this or that 'appeals to us', 'attracts us', 'lures us', 'strikes us', 'makes its impact upon us'. The important whatever-it-is is there, since it is not a matter of fanciful dreaming; yet it is not there alone, for it possesses (although this is not quite the right word) the capacity to awaken the response which impels us to say, 'Yes, that's it!' That which is thus 'important' provides us with a clue or key to our interpretation of ever wider fields in the process. For Whitehead, certainly, human experience in all of its richness and variety, known to us in so many ways, was very important in his reading of the world and its dynamic structured process. What is more, this or that particular moment in human experience may have for us a singular importance in the same kind of way. Perhaps it is along such lines that one may speak of some one compelling historical personality (the Christian would speak of Jesus) as making available a clue to the basic 'going-on' which refers ultimately to God himself. But of this more will be said in our last chapter. Finally, Whitehead speaks frequently and insistently of 'tenderness' and 'persuasion', words which for him denote love. This persuasiveness is for him much more significant in the final analysis than the coercion which on the surface seems so obvious in the world. It is by the patient, often slow, yet enormously effective influence of 'lure' and 'appeal', of tenderness and love-in-action, that most is accomplished in the world. Real omnipotence is not found in the exercise of control by force but in what Aristotle once called 'the power of the beloved over the lover'. There is, said G. M. Hopkins in the phrase we have quoted, a 'freshness' in the world. But this freshness does not accomplish its ends by hitting us over the head and compelling us ; it works by enticement and lure, by invitation and solicitation, by its own intrinsic worth and the appeal which this exercises, this calling forth a response which is freely given and therefore genuine and not 'faked'. This sort of experience, known to everybody in some degree, is for Whitehead much more a clue to the world as it goes on towards its fulfilment than would be the perhaps more obvious or blatant exercise of force which can (so to say) knock us down but never win us over. The cosmic process, then, is characterized for Whiteheadian thought by change, dynamism, inter-relationships or organic inter-penetration, the presence of heights and depths of 'importance', and the quality of tenderness or love. And the movement is towards the realization of goods 'in greatest measure' or 'in widest commonalty spread'. But this should not be taken to mean that there is inevitable progress, as if one were on an escalator which willy-nilly brought one to higher levels of actualization. There are drags, back-waters, the choice of less than the fullest possible goods. In a world marked by genuine freedom. where the actual entities or occasions are themselves creative and where they may or may not elect to seek in all available ways their fulfillment or the satisfaction of their subjective aims refusing to make their own the initial aim provided for them by God, it is highiy probable, indeed nearly inevitable, that there will be failure and loss. Whitehead not only allows for this; he recognizes it as a given fact. For him process does not mean progress in any cheap and easy sense. On the other hand, there is progress, in the only significant meaning that word can have in a realistic view of things. Which is to say, there is a movement in which the chief (not the only) creative principle is able to turn that which is less than perfect or appropriate towards a good which may be realized. Thus while evil is evil and not 'partial good', God can employ it for the securing of ends which might otherwise not be within his reach. Yet one should not conclude that evil is to be done, so that good may be achieved. This would be both blasphemous and absurd. Furthermore, since God can only prehend evil in a negative way, that which is a 'surd' (as being evil) may be rejected, even while the good which may be made out of it will be accomplished. We know in our own experience that this sort of double-effect is often found; a mistake can lead us to deeper inquiry and discovery of truth. One need only generalize from this aspect of common life to see that the same sort of thing, although not always in the same sort of way, can be affirmed of the creative process as a whole. Thus there is an ultimate optimism, in that God's faithfulness and inexhaustibility are the most effective factors in the total situation ; while at the same time there is, if not a pessimism, certainly a realism, in the appraisal of any given moment as it contributes, or fails to contribute, to the ongoing aim of good which is basic to the entire process. In periods of world disorder, such as our own seems often to be, this may be difficult to see and accept. Yet it is no irrational or absurd attitude on man's part, when he feels somehow that there is what Schubert Ogden, following a Whiteheadian line although using his own phrases, speaks of as the abiding sense of the 'significance of life' and the worthwhile quality of existence -- something that even the professed atheist seems to recognize, despite his explicit denials, since he continues to accept life and rejects the alternative choice which would be his self-destruction or suicide in the face of the evil which is present in the world. Ultimately God can be trusted to make the best of everything, even though he and the world must suffer in that making. The Nature of Man Whitehead never wrote a book or essay dealing with man, if by this we mean something devoted entirely and exclusively to a consideration of this topic. On the other hand, scattered through his writings there is a great deal of material which has to do with the subject -- and the last section of Adventures of Ideas contains especially interesting paragraphs about human experience, human nature, and above all what it 'feels like to be a man' (as we might style it). Furthermore, all Whiteheadian students are indebted to Ruth Nanda Ashen for collecting these references, as well as other material, in a small volume which she has entitled Alfred North Whitehead: His Reflections on Man and Nature (1961). The title itself indicates clearly the point made earlier in this chapter -- Whitehead's refusal to permit any 'bifurcation' between man and the natural order in which he appears, while at the same time recognizing the distinction of 'level' and the particular quality of the human subject. Teilhard de Chardin has spoken of what he styles 'the outside' and 'the inside' of things. Something of the same sort of distinction has often been in the present writer's mind as he reads the existentialist writers of our own day, with their careful analysis of 'human existence', and then turns back to Whitehead's metaphysical writing. One has a renewed awareness of the way in which that writing makes place for the experience which Teilhard called 'the inside', while the metaphysical portrayal of the world and man in it provides 'the outside'. It might be said, although to many this seems paradoxical at the best and absurd at the worst, that an existentialist analysis of the human situation has much in common with the Whiteheadian portrayal of what it 'feels like' to be a human experiencing subject in genuine contact with a real world. The mutual prehension in each occasion in the world and supremely (so far as conscious apprehension of the matter is concerned) in the self-awareness of each human occasion, of ourselves, produces a picture not too unlike that described in, say, Heidegger. Whitehead saw man in the world, yet 'standing out from the world' (although this is not his phrase) by virtue of his capacity for conscious awareness of himself and that world, in their rich relationship one with the other. He saw man as both an embodied creature, belonging to the level of nature in its common signification but also possessing the ability to think about -- to symbolize -- as well as to feel that which is not himself; he saw man's ability to engage in introspection, to think about himself and to think about himself thinking. Again, the social nature of man is very clear to Whitehead; like every other occasion, but in a peculiarly intensive fashion, man belongs to and lives together with others -- his fellow men and also everything else that plays upon him, affects him, and is affected by him. Further, man sets himself projects, for his identity is to a large degree found in the subjective aim which he, like every occasion, moves to actualize; and in man this aim can be chosen consciously and with awareness of its implications. Finally, for Whitehead man moves towards death, since he (like all other events of which the world is made up) must 'perish'. Yet out of that 'perishing' newness can and does come -- this last a point which, unlike the others so far noted, does not find a place in the usual existentialist analysis. In the Whiteheadian view, man is a 'becoming'. He cannot be described in static terms ; he is no substance, conceived after the manner of some 'thing'. He is a living process. As such he possesses memory, which is to say that he brings together all that has gone to make him up, all that has contributed to his emergence. He is always in relationship, not only with other men but with the totality of the created order, history and nature both playing their part here. And he has his aim, his projective movement (almost, one might say in Sartrian terms his pour-soi to save him from sheer mass-man or en-soi). In the poet's words, 'man never is but wholly hopes to be'. While Whitehead did not speak much about the question of personality, the qualities which he finds in man are such that it is proper (as Professor John Cobb has argued) to make an extension of Whiteheadian thought to secure this personal way of speaking of human nature. After all, there is rationality, there is deep feeling, there is the capacity to be in a communicating relationship with others and with the world, there is ability to receive as well as to give in such relationships, and there is genuine freedom for decision-making which enables him to strive towards his aim, rejecting that which does not seem to contribute to it or (alternatively) to 'cut off' by decision valuable possibilities and so fail to accomplish the realization of his aim in the achievement of enduring good. Hence what religious men call 'sin'. And in his 'routing' man has his own identity. From the religious point of view, it is important to notice that Whitehead puts strong emphasis on that particular sort of human experience which feels the reality of the sacred. This experience, at first very primitive and often frightening, is rationalized as man develops through the history of the race ; it is also moralized, so that in the higher religions sheer power is no longer attributed to God but instead 'tenderness' or love becomes the dominant characteristic of deity. In Religion in the Making there is a detailed and faithful reporting of this experience, with its many facets, as well as an analysis of its metaphysical implications -- implications which Whitehead feels fit in very well with his general position. The God known in religion is the concrete reality of God, God in his 'consequent nature' as affected by what happens in the world -- the abstract concept of deity, required for explanation of the cosmos, is not as such experienced. God in this aspect, in his 'primordial nature', is more a requirement of metaphysics for there to be a world at all, than the 'living God' known to man. Yet that is surely the right line to take; for in the moment of religious apprehension -- in worship, say -- it is no abstract deity who engages the devotion of the person thus engaged, but the vividly felt deity who is in most intimate relationship with the one who worships. Furthermore, as we have already seen and shall consider again in the next section, this deity is affected by his creatures as well as affective, and effective, in respect to them. The long treatment of 'civilization' in Adventures of Ideas is also useful to us in grasping Whitehead's view of man. Through the process of growing together in community man 'comes of age' (Bonhoeffer's phrase is appropriate here). The participatory quality of human existence is central; the past, as it is remembered and re-lived, plays its part too. This perhaps is why Whitehead is so concerned for the kind of education which will give men the sense of belonging to a growing cultural movement in which they share together in what the past has made them and move on into the future in the spirit of adventure, with 'zest' seeking for a harmony in which they can find satisfaction and fulfillment. Yet this is said without Whitehead's dismissing for a moment the role of the particular persons who are part of the community which establishes civilizations. There is a remarkable balance in his portrayal, saving it from rank individualism on the one hand and from sheer collectivism on the other. While 'power' or 'coercion' is not ruled out altogether in Whitehead's picture of the universe, it is persuasion which is basic. We might -- indeed we must -- say that love is the major motif in Whitehead's view of things. This is as much true of man as of anything else. Hence Whitehead has little use for moralism. He recognizes the importance of ethics, to be sure, but for him the 'aesthetic' (in the profound sense he intends) is more important. If God is no 'ruthless moralist', man is to be 'lured', not driven, to fulfillment. It is the point of Jesus' teaching, he feels, that sympathy, kindness, love, in general a compassionate attitude, work better and are truer than anything else in respect of man's life and its meaning, just because this is how the process 'goes' at its deepest levels. Finally, in what sense, if any, may one speak in Whitehead's terms about 'immortality' or 'life-beyond-death' for man? This question cannot properly be answered until the doctrine of God is considered, since there is no evidence (in Whitehead's thinking) for some supposedly 'natural immortality' such as Socrates could predicate of man. The reason for the denial of 'immortality' at this point is simply that the notion of 'soul' as a substance separable from embodieness can find no place in the process view which Whitehead has put forward. Hence the Socratic argument is deprived of its major premise. In another sense, however, there is 'immortality'. Whitehead's Ingersoll Lecture, simply entitled 'Immortality' and included in Essays in Science and Philosophy, argues that all actual entities -- all occurrences or occasions or events -- have both factuality and value. In the former they inevitably perish as they achieve their ultimate satisfaction or completion; in the latter they enter into, or in a better phrasing they are taken by God into his 'consequent nature' and forever are known to him, treasured by him, and employed by him in his further agency in the world to bring about increasing possibilities of good and increasing actualization of these possibilities. In that sense, at least, 'immortality' is real. This he calls 'objective immortality'. Whether or not there is some persistence of the conscious self, as a self-aware and specific routing of occasions which had both factuality and value, is another matter. Interpreters of Whitehead have differed here; so have Christian theologians who have followed Whitehead's line of thought. For example, Schubert Ogden in The Reality of God (1967) seems to answer negatively; John B. Cobb in A Christian Natural Theology (1965) seems to answer positively. In any event, what the Christian thinker will say here will be drawn not only from Whiteheadian philosophy but also from the way in which that thinker interprets the Christian revelation and its essential affirmations. Robert Southwell once wrote some beautiful words, 'Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live'. Perhaps those words might properly be said to sum up what Whitehead has to tell us about the meaning of human nature and the nature of man. God in Relationship We began an earlier section of this chapter with a brief quotation from Professor Charles Hartshorne's essay on 'process-thought' as a possible 'resource' for Christian thought. Some sentences from the same essay(Hartshorne, op. cit., p.47.) will provide an introduction to Whitehead's conception of God -- God in relationship, for concretely and in fullest actuality that is the only God about whom Whitehead can speak and the only God about whom in his considered judgment anybody is able truly to speak. God utterly without relationships is for Whitehead not God at all, but an idol or a figment of men's minds. 'Perhaps immutable being is but the ultimate product of abstracting from all novelty'. Thus Hartshorne. And again: 'God is (indeed) spectator of all existence, but a sympathetic spectator who in some real sense shares in the sufferings he beholds. He is neither simply neutral to these sufferings nor does he sadistically will them for beings outside himself. He takes them into his own life and derives whatever value possible from them, but without ever wanting them to occur'(Hartshorne, op.cit., p. 65) What Hartshorne here says about suffering is also to be said about joy, excepting that God does want joy to occur. But in everything which happens God is precisely that unsurpassable 'one' who is so related to the world that it matters to him, affects him, provides new opportunities for him, and enables him to surpass himself (in his previous 'states') in self-expression and joy. On. the other hand, nothing not-God can ever surpass him. He is the divine 'personality' who is participant in this world, who is ever to be worshipped, and who ceaselessly works to bring the greatest good out of all that occurs. Hence he is sheer love, and that is his 'root-attribute', if one wishes to use a traditional term. For Whitehead God is always to be seen in the context of the cosmic process, as we showed in the earlier sections of this chapter. Since he is 'not to be treated as an exception to all metaphysical principles, invoked to save their collapse', but is 'their chief exemplification',(Process and Reality, p. 521.) we can say of him that he too is dynamic, moving, in richest relationships with all that is not himself, more active in this place than in that (in the sense that there is an 'intensity' in the mutual awareness and in the exemplification of prehension, revealing what is always going on), and in his essential nature persuasive and loving. Furthermore, he is eminently temporal; his 'godness' does not deny or negate time-sequence for he was active in the past, he is operative in the present, and he aims towards the future. So 'time is taken seriously', in a phrase used first (I believe) but in a different connection by Professor Leonard Hodgson. Time is real, not fictitious or fanciful; and it is real for and in God as well as for and in the creation. Whitehead's famous statement about God as no 'exception" must be rightly understood. It does not mean that God is to be 'treated' as only another exemplification of 'all metaphysical principles'; he is their chief exemplification. And in one sense, indeed, he is an 'exception'. He and only he persists through all process as the chief but not the only principle of explanation of why some particular possibilities rather than others have been, are being, or will be realized. He selects some to be realized, out of the whole infinite range of possibilities which Whitehead called in Platonic fashion 'the ideal objects' : cf. the Timaeus with its ideal forms'. Yet this 'exception', as far as God is concerned, is not intended to remove him from being also 'in process' and required to explain the cosmos in process. Professor Donald Sherburne has lately written an essay attempting to show that the concept of God is not necessary to the Whiteheadian position; but most commentators would disagree vehemently, insisting (I think correctly) that without the concept of God the whole system falls into ruins. For Whitehead, God is the perfect 'actual entity'. But in technical process terms, it might be better to say (with Hartshorne) that he is the 'serially-ordered routing of actual entities' which establishes him as self-identical. His nature is expressed in his agency in creation. Whatever we learn, therefore, about the principles required to understand that creation apply (although in an 'eminent manner', as scholastic analogy-doctrine would say) to deity. God is not the sheer contradiction of the world. Thus relationship characterizes deity. God's perfection is not that of abstract being but is to be found in his capacity for, and actualization of, his relationships with that which is not himself. Hence the model for God is not some self-contained being who requires nothing for his self-existence save his own identity. The model is a richly related being whose innermost nature or quality is in his ceaseless participation and sharing. Hence, since love is relationship, sharing, being affected by, and caring, God essentially is Love. Yet in and through his relationships he always remains God. lie is supreme, unsurpassable by all not himself, and worshipful. He may, indeed must, surpass his present 'state', as we might phrase it, but only by fuller realization of himself in terms of the possibilities which the creation, in its own freedom of decision, may offer him. The divine self-identity is shown by his exemplification in an eminent fashion of that which constitutes all self-identity -- namely, faithfulness or self-consistency; awareness and use of the past as it has happened; capacity for relating himself without any loss; inexhaustibility of the possession of reserves of 'strength' in love; and purpose or subjective aim -- and all this with such continuing 'enrichment' as his varying but unceasing relationships make available to him. Thus God is 'bi-polar', to use a word suggested by Professor Hartshorne. He is both eternally faithful, loving, and perfect in relationships, and also (more concretely and 'actually') everlastingly (viz., throughout all time) active in these ways in the given occasions. The priority, however, is not with the former and more abstract 'aspect' but with the concrete instances of his activity. These constitute him for what he is known in the world to be. Furthermore, the distinction between 'abstract' and 'concrete', or 'primorial' and 'consequent' (as Whitehead phrased it), is only for the purpose of analysis and discussion. The real God -- by which is meant God as he is actually known -- is the concrete, active, dynamic reality who does this or that; and what must be said of him in more abstract terms is not the best clue to his character. For example, God acts persuasively in this or that instance, luring his creatures to the fulfillment of the initial aim that he has offered them. Thus we may say that he is faithful, persuasive, loving. But what is really meant is that he faithfully relates himself to, persuasively works within, and is lovingly affected by what goes on in the world. The verbs describing his activity are crucial; while the verb 'is' cannot be used in Whitehead's thought, or in that of any process-thinker, as if it were itself a substantive implying being in an abstract sense as the basic truth about deity. Whitehead does not speak unequivocally about 'personality' in God -- largely because he fears the distorting influence of the anthropomorphic and limited human conception of 'person' which has dogged much western philosophical theology and much popular religion. Yet he explicitly attributes to God such qualities as awareness and self-awareness, the capacity to relate himself and communicate with others, the capacity also to be influenced and affected by others, freedom of choice or decision within the limits of a consistent pattern, and an intention or purpose which is his own divine 'subjective aim'. One must say, therefore, that God is understood as 'personal' in this sense, which we may think the proper sense of that word. God's use of 'creativity' -- or his love which is creative -- has a central place. But creative love, or the loving moulding of creation, cannot be abstract; to be a creator means to create, just as to be loving means to have occasions in which that love is expressed. Hence a creation, although of course not necessarily this one of our present experience, seems required. To alter slightly Temple's famous statement, any world without God would not be the world about which we can meaningfully speak; while God without some world (and for the Christian that means the sort of world about which the biblical witness informs us) would not be God in the only sense in which we can speak at all. That there should be a world is not optional to God, if he is creator and creative love. What sort of world there will be depends upon (a) ever-present creativity, (b) the decisions which God and the occasions in that world make and have made possible, and (c) the nature of God as persuasive love who educes from this world the response which moves it towards greater sharing in his love (despite set-backs, blind alleys, and wrong choices) and hence towards the fuller realization of his purpose -- a purpose which is the greatest possible participation of everything in that love. How does God 'act' in the world? He acts by providing the 'lure' which evokes self-decisions in respect to his purpose of love. The decisions may be negative; hence lacrimae rerum. Yet God is a creative artist, rather than a mechanical artificer or a domineering tyrant. Lie gives each entity its initial aim for self-realization but he does not coerce that entity to fulfil that aim. He provides occasions and opportunities for its self-realization as a 'co-creator' or, if it so chooses, for its own failure in this respect. Yet he sees to it that 'nothing is lost' which can be saved, which can contribute to the largest possible measure of realization both for him and for the other entities in the world. His action is not intrusive, as if it were from 'outside'; God is there, 'in the world or nowhere', working by enabling things to make themselves. None the less, this is God's world and God's work, since without him there would be neither the world as it is nor the possibilities which he makes present for it to become. There are obvious differences, even contradictions, between 'classical theism' and a 'process theism' such as Whitehead's. We may close this section by listing some of them: (1) aseity (self-contained existence) as contrasted with love-in-relationship, as the root attribute of God; (2) 'being' as inclusive of becoming as contrasted with 'becoming' as the more inclusive term; (3) transcendence as 'unconditionedness' as contrasted with transcendence as perfection in love and hence relational with faithfulness to purpose or aim and an inexhaustible capacity to bring love to bear on all situations; (4) the possibility of speaking about deity in abstraction from the world as contrasted with the necessity for thinking of God always in terms derived from and relative to his creative activity in the world. For these who agree with Whitehead, the second alternative in each case is philosophically the more sound -- and, if they are Christian theologians, biblically the only possible -- choice. A final word may be said about 'immortality', to which brief reference was made in the preceding section. 'To God only belongs immortality' : this New Testament phrase may be taken to describe Whitehead's position. God persists in as well as through all process, receiving into his 'consequent' nature all that is assimilable whether by positive or negative grasp or prehension. But this means that a kind of immortality is bestowed on all that is thus received into God. Whitehead calls this 'objective immortality'. He would appear to have been ambiguous about what we might style 'the individual's survival of the death of the body'. Professor Hartshorne, Whitehead's distinguished contemporary expositor, rejects survival of persons after death. Yet there is nothing in the system to make belief in this incredible as an 'act of faith' based on other evidence -- say, the resurrection of Christ. This is a matter with which the Christian theologian must wrestle. On the other hand, it is certainly plain that any teaching about 'survival' which can claim to be genuinely religious and truly Christian must predicate of God unfailing love for and care of his creatures. In that sense, at least, Thornton Wilder's words in The Bridge of San Luis Rey are true for both process-thought and for Christian faith, 'Love is the only survival, the only meaning'. Attitude to Christian Faith We have already noted Whitehead's sympathetic attitude towards religion and religious experience. He insisted that the 'fact of the religious vision' is an abidingly important element in human life. In any philosophy which hopes to be adequate to all the facts, he said, that vision must be regarded very seriously. Whitehead was not a religious apologist; his books were not written specifically to make a case for the vision about whose importance he was convinced. Neither was he a theologian, concerned with developing the Christian implications of his thought. He was a scientist who had become a philosopher -- and what he says must always be understood in that way, with due regard to his own interpretation of the meaning and the purpose of philosophy. In Whitehead's view, religion is 'the art and theory of the internal life of man, so far as it depends on the man himself, and on what is permanent in the nature of things'.( Religion in the Making, p.58.) The book from which this quotation is made should be read carefully by any who wish to see how Whitehead worked out the way in which this definition is demonstrated in the history of religion and in the practice of religion by contemporary man. If the book is read as a whole, it will be apparent that there has been great misunderstanding of a famous sentence in it: 'Religion is what the individual does with his solitariness', and of the related comment, 'If you are never solitary, you are never religious'.(Religion in the Making, pp. 58 and 17.) Whitehead did not mean that the religious man is by definition a 'solitary'. He did mean, as the context of these two sentences shows, that if religion is vital and 'real' it must be apprehended in the inner place of each man's personal life. Religion which does not bring a man starkly up against 'the nature of things' -- and this must happen to each man for himself -- is simply conventional or 'customary'. It 'cuts no ice' with a man unless it is his own. On the other hand, Whitehead insisted on the social nature of religion, which expresses itself in beliefs or 'myths' (as he put it) and in 'ritual' with its accompanying 'emotion'. In all 'inferior' religions, the stress on 'ritual' and 'myth' and the accompanying 'emotion' is not rationalized and moralized. Yet such religion is not to be despised. It is an inevitable moment in the development of the full religious vision. When in the course of his becoming 'civilized' man realizes the necessity of, and the place for, his own personal assent and participation, religion becomes deeply internal -- although the social expression of it, as of all human concerns, can never be minimized or forgotten. The danger to religion in its earlier phase, when it is merely 'social', is that it will lack depth and become the careless and thoughtless following of the customs of the group. When this danger comes to be understood, the great prophets appear speaking of the importance of that personal (or individual) apprehension which redeems the enterprise from its tendency to shallowness and conventionality. So it now becomes social in a new sense ; it is conscious and conscientious participation in the shared experiences of men as they seek to grasp and be grasped by the nature of things at its deepest level -- that is, by God himself, It is not necessary for us to pursue the subject here. Religion in the Making is an eminently readable book, remarkable for its insight and sprinkled with aphoristic comments which with deep penetration make points that force the reader to think deeply about his own understanding of whatever religious conviction and experience he may possess. What is of interest to us is Whitehead's attitude towards the particular religion in which he was brought up -- not Anglicanism, of course, but Christianity itself. This discussion is found in parts of the book already mentioned, but it is developed most interestingly in the chapter on 'The New Reformation' in Adventures of Ideas. Often he speaks sharply about certain aspects in the Christian tradition -- for example, he has much to say negatively about the Old Testament stress in that tradition, a matter which also comes up for comment in his reported conversations. He admired the Jewish prophets for their moral courage but he regarded as unfortunate their idea of God as 'a' person who directly controls his world; he also disliked the 'ruthless moral ruler' whom (as he thought) they proclaim, for while he recognized the inevitable moral development of the 'idea of God' he felt that such a picture must be inhuman and 'un-divine'. Nor did he hesitate to express his distaste for the last book of the New Testament, the Revelation of St John the Divine, which he regarded as barbaric in mood and untouched by the spirit of Jesus. On the other hand, his reverence for Jesus was unlimited. The life of Christ is not an exhibition of over-ruling power. Its glory is for those who can discern it, and not for the world. Its power lies in its absence of force. It has the decisiveness of a supreme ideal, and that is why the history of the world divides at this point of time.(Religion in the Making, p. 17.) For him Jesus is 'the revelation in act' of the structured dynamic which is most profound in the nature of things; Jesus in the totality of his life discloses 'the nature of God' and 'God's agency in the world'. The God disclosed in Jesus is no inert absolute, neither is he an oriental sultan demanding servile obedience; he is not ruthless in his moral demands, nor is he so transcendent that he has little if any contact with the world and with men. On the contrary, he is sheer persuasion or love-in-act. It is the tragedy of the Christian Church, Whitehead said, that it has failed to keep this vision of God seen in Jesus, and this understanding of God's way of acting in the world, consistently and faithfully in the central place. It has even been prepared, he thought, to 'attribute to God that which belongs exclusively to Caesar'. For much Christian theology Whitehead had great respect. He believed that the early Church Fathers in particular, and especially the Alexandrine apologists, had discerned the problem which is posed to philosophy by the fact of Christ's life. This is the question how God is related to his world, how God can be transcendent to the events in which he is immanently at work, and how he can be thus immanent without losing the qualities which make him divine. The Logos doctrine of the Patristic Age appealed to him, for it dealt faithfully with this question. In Adventures of Ideas he commended the Logos doctrine; but it is equally clear that he felt that to confine 'incarnation' (a term which he wished to use for all divine activity in the world) to Jesus alone is to him a mistake. He wished to see Jesus as the representative and even the decisive 'incarnation' of God, which in degree but certainly not in kind is to be distinguished from other instances of 'divine agency'. Whitehead was not opposed to 'dogma', in the sense of statements drawn up to express the significance of facts known in faith; but he was convinced that dogma must not be 'fixed', so that change would seem blasphemous to believers. Perhaps his choice of words in this respect was not fortunate; had he been a professional theologian he might have made a distinction between 'dogma' as a minimal statement of Christian conviction in respect to God and God's working in the world (supremely in Jesus Christ), and those speculative theological opinions which as a matter of history and observation we know to have changed from time to time. But his point is sound, at any rate, in so far as he desired that there should be an openness and a generosity of spirit among theologians, with a willingness to modify their opinions if and when this should be required. The sense in which Whitehead may himself be called a Christian will engage our attention in the final chapter. But we can say that he was not only a 'religious man' but also one who (perhaps as the result of his early life and training) had a definitely Christian attitude towards the world and his fellow-men. He might be described as 'detached' so far as much conventional Christianity in his own day was concerned; at the same time he was also plainly 'attached', in that for him the 'Galilean vision' was at the heart of his thinking about religion. Even more, it was at the heart of his own vision of the world, of man, and of the divine persuasion which he firmly believed was the truth most profoundly and deeply given to men. He might well have said that the master-light of all his seeing, illuminating for him the entire range of experience in its widest sense, was to be found in the Johannine verse, 'God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God and God in him'.
Viewed 70382 times.