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Whiteheadian Thought as a Basis for a Philosophy of Religion by Forrest Wood, Jr.


Forest Wood, Jr. is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at the University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg. Published in 1986 by University Press of America, Inc. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.


Chapter 6: A Whiteheadian Concept of the Self


One of the ways that Whitehead’s thought is fundamentally different than that of most of western philosophy is his concept of the self. His view of the self is based on his rejection of the concept of substance. Beginning with Aristotle much of western philosophy may be understood as various attempts to understand reality utilizing the basic concept of substance. Arguments raged as to whether there was one, two, or an infinity of substances; whether substance was essentially mind or matter; etc. But all these arguments presupposed the concept of substance.

Whitehead is clear. He rejects the concept of substance: "The simple notion of an enduring substance sustaining persistent qualities, either essentially or accidentally, expresses a useful abstract for many purposes of life . . . . But in metaphysics the concept is sheer error." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 79) In outlining his view of the nature of real entities he comments, " . . .the notion of an actual entity as the unchanging subject of change is completely abandoned." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 29)

Whitehead’s alternative to substance is what he calls "an actual entity" which is a drop of experience (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 18) or act of experience (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 40) or ". . .a process of ‘feeling’ the many data, so as to absorb them into the unity of one individual ‘satisfaction."’ (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 40) Whitehead’s view of reality is presented in the Introduction of this book and in Chapter Two. But further comments need to be made regarding those characteristics of actual entities that are appropriate to a discussion of the self.

The heart of Whitehead’s alternative (the actual entity) is the internal determination of the subject-to-be of what it is. He says, "The ‘subjective aim,’ which controls the becoming of a subject, is that subject feeling a proposition with the subjective form of purpose to realize it in that process of self-creation." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 23) Any entity is a subject. The old subject/object distinction is redefined to be the relation of the becoming of the entity (subject) and the subject, having become, is then data for other subjects (object). Each entity then is a subject becoming itself and in that process the becoming subject has some control over what it becomes.

This process is a process of self-creation. In many different places in Process and Reality Whitehead points out the self-creative aspect of the subject. The actual entity is a self-creating creature. (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 85) He says, "An actual entity feels as it does feel in order to be the actual entity which it is. . . . The creativity is not an external agency with its own ulterior purposes." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 222) Rather ". . . .the subject is at work in the feeling, in order that it may be the subject with that feeling. The feeling is an episode in self-production. . . ." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 224) Whitehead also writes, "The subject completes itself during the process of concrescence by a self-criticism of its own incomplete phases." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 244) It is important to note that while this discussion sounds like he is talking about people, Whitehead is talking about the fundamental units of reality. He believes that the fundamental units of reality are subjects which are partially self-creative. They, of course, are not conscious but do have mental aspects.

But is it possible that anything can be self-created? It is interesting to note that traditional Western thought asserted that God was self-caused. Whitehead gives this attribute to every entity in the universe when he says, ". . .the subject of the feeling is causa sui." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 221)

If self-causation or self-creation is an attribute of everything, how does it occur? As Whitehead discusses the process of a thing coming into being, he says, ". . .the actual entity, in a state of process during which it is not fully definite, determines its own ultimate definiteness. This is the whole point of moral responsibility." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 255)

So things in the universe, as they move from indefinite possibilities to definite actuality, have the power to determine (to some degree) that definiteness. The extent of this power varies with the entity. At each moment each person may make a conscious decision to actualize some possibility that lies before them. The possibility of reading a book is made definite and is actualized by the person actually (pun intended) reading the book. This is one instance, on a highly complex level, of a basic principle in the nature of things. The introduction of novelty into the world by making potentialities actual is an accurate analysis of the basic nature of all reality.

One of the most significant consequences of Whitehead’s rejection of the concept of substance was that this rejection entails the rejection of the concept of the soul. Traditionally the concept of the soul is expressed both in the Greek version that the soul is an eternal substance and in the version (derived from a Christian theology based on Aristotle) that the soul is a created substance that endures unchanged through time. Whitehead says, "The doctrine of the enduring soul with its permanent characteristics is exactly the irrelevant answer to the problem which life presents. The problem is, How can there be originality?" (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 104) David Hume attacked the idea of the unchanging self, but because he saw no alternative, concluded that the self is only a series of momentary perceptions. This view led him into skepticism.

Whitehead offers an alternative view of the self which is based on his view of the nature of reality. If the units of reality are changing, self-determined and creative, then it is no surprise that these characteristics also apply to the self. Indeed the justification for believing that these characteristics exist in the self lies in understanding them not as new aspects introduced by complexity but as fundamental aspects of the nature of reality.

First we will examine Whitehead’s understanding of the self in the context of his system. Then we will note how self-respect, novelty and responsibility are grounded in this view of the self.

How is the self understood in Whitehead’s scheme of actual entities, nexus (plural of nexus) and societies? To clarify this issue it will be helpful to note how Whitehead understands the whole person (man as a living organism). The problem of the nature of the self is not the same as the problem of understanding the whole person (man as a living organism) in Whitehead’s scheme. The major consideration must be the nature of the self, but briefly we understand the whole person in the following way.

Man, the living organism, is a structured society which includes subordinate societies and nexus with a definite pattern of structural interrelations. The difference between a subordinate society and a subordinate nexus is that the subordinate society is a group of occasions which can retain its ". . .dominant features of its defining characteristic in the general environment, apart from the structured society." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 99) A molecule in a cell is a subordinate society because it will maintain its general molecular features outside the cell. Subordinate nexus which cannot sustain themselves apart from the structured society are simply called nexus.

Whitehead gives an example of such a nexus the living occasions which compose the ‘empty’ space within the cell. (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 99) He says, ". . .in abstraction from its animal body an ‘entirely living’ nexus is not properly a society at all, since ‘life’ cannot be a defining characteristic." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 104) The self is such an "entirely living nexus."

The conclusion of the argument would be that the self cannot survive apart from its structured society; hence the immortality of the self must include the immortality of that structured society. But our interest is in understanding what the self as an "entirely living nexus" means.

In setting forth this metaphysics in Process and Reality, Whitehead presents his categorical scheme and then turns to some derivative notions which include ‘social order’ and ‘personal order.’ He defines society as "a nexus with social order." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 34) A nexus enjoys social order if three conditions are fulfilled: (1) there is a common element of form which is its defining characteristic, (2) the reproduction of form is due to genetic relations and (3) the genetic relations include feelings of the common form. (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 34) An example of a society is an ordinary physical object which endures through time.

Then Whitehead defines an enduring object as "a society whose social order has taken on the special form of ‘personal order’." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 34) A nexus enjoys ‘personal order’ if two conditions are fulfilled: (1) it is a ‘society’ and (2) the genetic relatedness of its members orders these members ‘serially.’ By ‘serially’ he means that the nexus forms a single line of inheritance of its defining characteristic. It thus "sustains a character" which is one meaning of the Latin word, persona; hence it has ‘personal order.’ There is no suggestion here of consciousness. Whitehead gives as an example of an enduring object that which forms "the subject matter of the science of dynamics." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 35)

A still more complex nexus is called a ‘corpuscular society.’ Two conditions are required for a ‘corpuscular society:’ (1) it enjoys a social order and (2) it is analyzable into strands of enduring objects. Whitehead says, "A society may be more or less corpuscular, according to the relative importance of the defining characteristics of the various enduring objects compared to that of the defining characteristic of the whole corpuscular nexus." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 35) This discussion is very important to Whitehead’s concept of man because in a later discussion he denies that the inorganic occasions of the human body form a corpuscular society. Attention will be given to this below.

Inorganic nexus which do not depend upon a whole ‘living’ society for survival are called ‘societies.’ The lowest grade of structured societies are material bodies such as chemicals. A higher grade of structured societies are ‘living societies’ and these have some nexus whose mental poles have original reactions and some nexus which are inorganic. Nexus whose mental poles have original reactions are called ‘entirely living’ nexus. (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 101-105) The self is the highest or regnant ‘entirely living’ nexus in the human body.

The self or human personality is the most highly complex unity of the human body. It is particularly noted for the extent of its originality in response to the world around it. Originality is derived from the category of reversion in the process of concretion. It is also characterized by its initiative which is derived from the category of transmutation. The initiative in conceptual prehensions of the self amounts to thinking. (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 102)

Whitehead rejects the idea that the single living cell has ". . .a single unified mentality, guided in each of its occasions by inheritance from its own past." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 104) The result would be determinism. The problem is not the need to explain continuity but the need to explain originality in the response of the cell to external stimulus. On the more complex level of the human body, Whitehead says that the concept of the enduring soul with its permanent characteristics is not helpful in explaining the problem of how there can be originality.

Originality (and hence life) occurs ". . .when the subjective aim which determines its process of concrescence has introduced a novelty of definiteness not to be found in the inherited data of its primary phase." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 104) The originality prevents us then from holding that in abstraction from its animal body an ‘entirely living’ nexus is a society. The living occasions abstracted from the inorganic occasions of the human body do not ". . .form a corpuscular sub-society, so that each living occasion is a member of an enduring entity with its personal order." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 104) In short, the self which is the ‘entirely living’ nexus of the human body is not an enduring entity; i.e., it is not a soul. But it is a living nexus which supports ". . .a thread of personal order along some historical route of its members." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 107) Whitehead has abandoned the notion of the ". . . actual entity as the unchanging subject of change. . . ." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 29) Neither is the Whiteheadian self an unchanging subject of change. Rather the self, like the actual entity, is a self-creating creature which is guided by its ideal of itself as individual satisfaction and as transcendent creator.

In the above attempt to understand the self in the metaphysical scheme, categories and derivative notions which basically apply to actual entities are utilized because the self is an entirely living nexus of actual entities. Aspects of originality and initiative are important. Also much that Whitehead says about creativity is relevant not only to the actual entity but also to the self. He says, "The world is self-creative; and the actual entity as self-creating creature passes into its immortal function of part-creator of the transcendent world. In its self-creation the actual entity is guided by its ideal of itself as individual satisfaction and as transcendent creator." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 85) This last sentence is as characteristic of the self as it is of the actual entity.

Two other aspects of Whitehead’s discussion of the actual entity are of great importance to an understanding of the self. They are the relation of the data of the past to the present and the subjective aim.

Two extreme positions are taken concerning the data of the past to the self. Determinists argue that the past determines the present such that the present is merely a working out of what was previously programmed.

Jean Paul Sartre, on the other hand, had what Wilfrid Dean calls ". . .the most extreme form of freedom the history of philosophy has ever presented."1 Sartre uses the example of a retired Napoleonic soldier who refuses to join the government of Louis XVIII but rather hopes for the return of the Emperor. Sartre says that the soldier’s past "does not in any way act deterministically; but once the past ‘soldier of the Empire’ has been chosen, then the conduct of the for-itself realizes this past."2 "We choose our past in the light of a certain end, but from then on it imposes itself upon us and devours us."3 What Sartre’ s account lacks is recognition that our past actions produce tendencies for present choices. The past has a vector character, an impetus, an influence.

It is true that the for-itself (the self) determines the meaning of the past. The old soldier decides that the meaning of the past is that he should hope for the return of the Emperor rather than join the present government. Sartre points out that the old soldier chose this meaning for the past, and that he could have chosen to give a different meaning to the past and therefore making a radical break with it. Since the for-itself determines the meaning of the past, it is completely free from the determining influence of the past. "This past itself is a free choice of the future."4 But the metaphysics of a for-itself (the self) which is "nothingness" and an in-itself (the world) which is "being" cannot account for the impact of the past on the present. It cannot account for the influence that a long history of acting a particular way has on an individual. The old soldier has lived those battles and, having lived them, they have an impact on the present self. In Whiteheadian thought the past is included (negatively or positively) in the present. Sartre’s account is one-sided. While it stresses the experience of man’s freedom of choice (and such experiences each of us has), it fails to take account that the person lived the past with the result that what he is at present and what he chooses to be in the future is influenced by his past.

Whitehead says that the macroscopic meaning of the philosophy of organism, ". . .is concerned with the giveness of the actual world, considered as the stubborn fact which at once limits and provides opportunity for the actual occasion. . . We essentially arise out of our bodies which are the stubborn facts of the immediate relevant past. We are also carried on by our immediate past of personal experiences; we finish a sentence because we have begun it. . . . We are governed by stubborn fact." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 129) So Whitehead argues that the past limits (contra Sartre) and also provides opportunity (contra the determinists) in the creative concrescence of the actual entity.

The past limits in that the actual entity prehends all past actual entities. "An actual entity has a perfectly definite bond with each item in the universe." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 41) Events in the past have varied in importance. Some have great importance and others lesser importance.

If the rearranging of the elements of the past were all that was involved in the formation of the actual entity, determinism would result. But other aspects are also involved. How the elements of the past are prehended is the locus of novelty. Whitehead says, "The subjective form is the immediate novelty; it is how that subject is feeling that objective datum." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 232) Actual entities prehend eternal objects, which are the pure potentials of the universe. These pure potentials are necessary for a contingent, actual world. "Apart from ‘potentiality’ and ‘giveness’ there can be no nexus of actual things in process of supersession by novel actual things. The alternative is a static monistic universe, without unrealized potentialities." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 45-46)

In Whitehead’s theory of objectification, ". . .the actual particular occasions become original elements for a new creation. . . .((by)) an operation of mutually adjusted abstraction, or elimination, whereby the many occasions of the actual world become one complex datum." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 210) The past provides the elements for the present actual self but these elements are adjusted as they become a part of the present self. Whitehead says, "Also in the creative advance, the nexus proper to an antecedent actual world is not destroyed. It is reproduced and added to, by the new bonds of feeling with the novel actualities which transcend it and include it." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 238) So the present self includes the past self but transcends it because as a part of the creative advance, the present self is a novel self.

Though one of the cardinal features of Sartre’s philosophy is the responsibility of the individual, the responsibility he discusses only has to do with the present and the future. Why would one hold a for-itself responsible for an act of the past which is the in-itself? Since the for-itself can give any value to the past, if it condemns and rejects the past, why should it be held responsible for it, even if it is the immediate past, e.g., yesterday’s action or what I did an hour ago?

Sartre’s philosophy would leave us without reason to hold a for-itself responsible for past actions if it rejected the past. And the essentialists would have us punish the soul throughout eternity because of its responsibility for its past actions. Neither philosophy seems adequate to deal with our observed experiences of life. Whitehead’s scheme of an on-going creative process prehending elements of the past and concrescing them into a novel, present unity gives reason to hold a person responsible; it also gives reasons to recognize that a person may choose to prehend aspects of the past in a different way with the result that though the past is not destroyed, yet some aspects have little significance or value for the present self. In such a scheme a person can understand the responsibility he presently bears for his past actions. He can realize that his past is a part of himself, and he can also understand that past actions which have been negative may now be utilized as he creatively becomes himself.

One may conceive the place of God in the constitution of the self in at least three ways. Sartre discusses two of these ways when he compares Leibniz’s view of the actions of Adam taking the apple with his own view of Adam’s action. In Leibniz’s view, according to Sartre, the essence of Adam has been given by God. Adam’s action depends upon himself and not others; hence he is free in that there is not external hindrance. But the action is dependent on Adam’s essence. And Sartre says, "Adam’s essence is for Adam himself a given; Adam has not chosen it; he could not choose to be Adam. Consequently, he does not support the responsibility for his being. Hence once he himself has been given, it is of little importance that one can attribute to him the relative responsibility for his act."5 Sartre proposes an alternative view. "Adam is not defined by an essence since for human reality essence comes after existence."6 Since Sartre shares with Leibniz the view of the relation that God would have if there was a God, Sartre says that God does not exist. If God did exist man would not be free. Sartre says, "Two solutions and only two are possible: either man is wholly determined. . . .or else man is wholly free."7 Sartre acknowledges that ". . .freedom requires a given"8 and that the for-itself is not "its own foundation"9 and that there is freedom only in a situation and that ". . .human reality everywhere encounters resistence and obstacles which it had not created."10 But the for-itself cannot really be related to the rest of the universe since it is nothingness.

In these two views, God is either so closely related to the self that man’s freedom is denied, or God is not at all related to the self with the result that the self is not related to the rest of the universe. Whitehead’s concept of God and of God’s relation to the self permits man to be free and yet relates him to the rest of the universe. Whitehead says, "Each temporal entity. . . .derives from God its basic conceptual aim, relevant to its actual world, yet with indeterminations awaiting its own decisions. This subjective aim, in its successive modifications, remains the unifying factor governing the successive phases of inter-play between physical and conceptual feelings. These decisions are impossible for the nascent creature antecedently to the novelties in the phases of its concrescence." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 224)

So God is the source of the subjective aim which is the initial direction taken by the concrescing subject in the process that constitutes that novel being. But God does not create the subject. Rather he is the source of the ". . .initial aim from which its self-causation starts." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 244) God is the source of a directed impetus, but the impetus achieves a unity under its own evaluations of the given and the possible.

The self then can be conceived as free because it is constituted by creative responses to its environment. But it can be understood as a part of a universe in which each actual entity is a creative process. The unity in such a universe is provided by God who is the source of the subjective aims which, when actualized, provide the maximum intensity of satisfaction.

The self is a creative concrescence of the past and the potential, and its relation to God and the rest of the universe is a novel adventure. What are the implications of such a view of the self for the concepts of self-respect, novelty and responsibility?

The claim that we should respect persons may be based on religious views, i.e., one should have respect of persons because they are children of God. Respect may be based on political demands, i.e., respect of persons is a necessary prerequisite for democracy. Or, respect may be based on philosophical grounds. Traditionally, respect of persons has been based on the idea that people are souls. According to some traditions a soul is eternal, that is, it has always existed and will always exist. According to other traditions the soul was created by God and will continue to exist forever. In either case the person is identified with the soul.

Respect for persons can be more adequately based on the philosophical insight that people are self-creating entities. The point is not that people are just creative, i.e., they create art, drama, business, etc. Rather the fundamental point is that people actively participate in their own creation. Respect can be based on this self-creativity.

To understand the concept of respect of persons, one should seek to understand the context in which the concept is operative. Respect of persons is weak when it stands isolated from a philosophical justification of respect of all things. Can respect for persons be understood as a part of respect for things in general? And if so, what is the basis for respect of things in general? In Whitehead’s metaphysical system not only are people self-creative, but so are all entities in the universe. It is in the nature of things to be self-creative because according to Whitehead, creativity is the ultimate principle. (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 21)

Hence respect is based on the acknowledgment of the self-creative activity of everything in the universe. This view provides a basis for our respect of nature. Nature is a complex process of self-creative entities. Our respect for these self-creative creatures is one reason why we accept the ecological responsibility of not turning our planet into a garbage dump of radioactive wastes. We respect plant and animal life because we recognize they too are self-creative entities. We have a responsibility to preserve living species of plants and animals. We base this respect upon a recognition of the inherent value of these things.

We often justify protecting existing species of plants or animals by arguing for the value, present or future, of these plants or animals for man. But even if one could show that a plant or animal species had no value to us, we still would want to preserve it. "Value for mankind" justifications are not adequate.

That all things are to be respected does not mean that all things are equally valuable. We may have to choose between what will be destroyed and what will be preserved in a specific instance. Shall we plow up the prairie to plant corn in order to feed people? What criteria shall we use? The hierarchy of our choices reflects the creativity of the creature. In Whitehead’s system although all entities are self-creative, the level of creativity differs greatly. And it is on the basis of the level of creativity (actual or potential) that we make value judgements. For example, we study, train, and admire the dolphin. And in doing so we feed him a lot of fish. We would object to killing dolphins and grinding them up for fish food on the basis that the higher self-creative entities were being destroyed for the benefit of the lower.

If respect can be understood as recognition of creativity of entities, we have a philosophical foundation for the justification of respect of persons.

How can novelty be a part of the self? Creativity produces novelty. Each thing actualized in the universe is itself a creative advance into novelty according to Whitehead.

How does novelty occur? Novelty arises, interestingly enough, through a negative element. As long as a feature of the immediate past is positively included, there is repetition and therefore sameness. But when a feature is felt negatively (related to in a negative way or is non-conformed) (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 187) or when the imagination conceives of other possible alternatives, the possibility of novelty arises. So when things "don’t fit," "won’t work," "are inconsistent," or when you need something different or want something new — these negatives introduce the possibility of novelty.

The introduction of one of these non-conforming relationships results in alternatives. "A novelty has emerged into creation. The novelty may promote or destroy order; it may be good or bad. But it is new, a new type of individual, and not merely a new intensity of individual feeling." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 187) Whitehead adds, "Error is the price which we pay for progress." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 187)

Novelty is the result of self-causation. It is not an external agency with its own purpose. Novelty is the result of an inherent element. "An actual entity feels as it does feel in order to be the actual entity which it is. . . .All actual entities share with God this characteristic of self-causation. . . .The universe is thus a creative advance into novelty." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 222) So, novelty results from the self-causation of the individual.

Any adequate concept of the self must enable a person to understand the experience of feeling responsible and of attributing responsibility to persons. In Whiteheadian thought, responsibility is not a dubious characteristic of the highest of all organisms. Rather human responsibility has its basis in the very nature of reality of all entities. In outlining his categorical scheme Whitehead adds a ninth Categorical Obligation. It states, "The concrescence of each individual actual entity is internally determined and is externally free." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 46) This internal determination of all entities entails understanding responsibility in a much broader sense than it is typically understood. Internal determination means that freedom and responsibility permeate the universe.

Regarding human beings he says, ". . .the final decision of the immediate subject-superject, constituting the ultimate modification of subjective aim, is the foundation of our experience of responsibility" (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 47) Although the subjective aim is initiated from an external source, the concrescing subject has the ability to modify that aim; the modification of that aim is the modification of what that subject becomes. Consequently the subject is not just responsible for what it does, but it is responsible in a more basic sense. It is responsible for what it is. Whitehead says, "The subject is responsible for being what it is in virtue of its feelings. It is also derivatively responsible for the consequences of its existence because they flow from its feelings." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 222)

With a Whiteheadian view of the self, one can give an appropriate explanation of the responsibility of the individual. Moral responsibility is then a part of a broader sense of responsibility based on creative action. Thus human creative action is a part of the creative action of the universe.

 

NOTES:

1. Wilfrid Dean, The Tragic Finale, (Harper and Row, New York, 1954). p. 160.

2. Jean Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, (Citadel Press, New York, 1965). p. 478.

3. Sartre, p. 479.

4. Sartre, p. 478.

5. Sartre, p. 444.

6. Sartre, p. 444.

7. Sartre, p. 418.

8. Sartre, p. 457.

9. Sartre, p. 460.

10. Sartre, p. 465.

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