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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 8: A Whiteheadian Conception of Immortality


On several occasions Whitehead refers to basic insights or initial intuitions or feelings of mankind which require explanations or justifications. Man’s desire for immortality is one of these initial intuitions, or persistent dreams, desires, or impulses of mankind. Throughout the centuries, by stories and actions, various cultures have reinforced the concept of immortality. The Egyptian beliefs concerning immortality and their attendant burial practices are one of the most obvious historical instances of the expression of this basic desire. The Christian belief in resurrection is another. The Greek belief in the immortality of the soul is yet another. These views differ and may not even be compatible, but they express a fundamental impulse of the human spirit. Whitehead, quoting a New Testament saying, expresses it this way: ". . .the higher intellectual feelings are haunted by the vague insistence of another order, where there is no unrest, no travel, no shipwreck: ‘There shall be no more sea."’ (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 340)

If we begin with this fundamental impulse of the human spirit, the question is how to express it. In our attempts to define it, we must be aware that we may have expressed it incorrectly. Is it the impulse that nothing be lost? Is it the self’s desire to continue? to be immortal? to be a god? Is it the desire that our acts have meaning? Is it the desire that things have "real" value? Initially, we can hardly determine if we have stated the question correctly.

Any explanation is subject to the objection that it is not addressing the correct question. Thus we may have to work backwards here. We may have to construct answers to our suggested questions and then determine if the question and the answer correctly express the basic impulse of the human spirit.

We desire new insights. It is not enough to say that a new approach is inconsistent with, say the traditional, orthodox, Christian view. It may or may not be. Progress means novelty, not repetition. We seek new insights because we are seekers, not possessors, of the truth. Those who believe that they have the truth in this matter or in any other are not lovers of wisdom in the Socratic sense. Rather they are the defenders (the old word is "apologists") of the eternal truth that they claim to have. Their position is static not venturesome, conservative not innovative. They have stopped the pursuit of knowledge. Their only task is to communicate what they already know. Our task is different. We seek insights in order to understand and to express the fundamental impulse.

Whitehead’s creative and original mind presents us with a new conception of immortality. Whitehead’s conception is subject to the criteria of both being an adequate expression of the basic impulse and of being consistent with other things we claim to know. In this case it is a question of his view of immortality being consistent with his view of reality. If it is an adequate expression of the basic impulse and consistent with his system, this will help to validate his system by showing that it is adequate to deal with this issue. One of the requirements of validation placed on any system is that it be comprehensive.

Whitehead senses the problem to be that the temporal world fades and what once was is no more. There is loss. And the person is part of what is lost. He/she is dead, gone, no more. How could something that significant, that important, that magnificent, that creative, that wonderful just disappear, just be no more? What loss we feel! Is this the final fact? Is reality this tragic? Is there an ultimate metaphysical generality that makes this so? His answer is, "No."

His statement of his sense of the problem is worth quoting:

"The ultimate evil. . . .lies in the fact that the past fades, that time is a ‘perpetual perishing.’ Objectification involves elimination. The present fact has not the past fact with it in any full immediacy. The process of time veils the past below distinctive feeling. There is a unison of becoming among things in the present. Why should there not be novelty without loss of this direct unison of immediacy among things? In the temporal world, it is the empirical fact that process entails loss: the past is present under an abstraction. But there is no reason, of any ultimate metaphysical generality, why this should be the whole story." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 340)

It is important in discussing Whitehead’s concept of immortality to remember that Whitehead has rejected the traditional concept of the soul as a substance, a thing. In this rejection he breaks with both Greek thought (Socrates’ belief that the soul is an eternal entity which always existed and will always exist) and traditional Christian theology (the soul is a substance created by God, and it will exist forever). The fundamental reason for the rejection is Whitehead’s rejection of substance philosophy, i.e. the view that the universe is composed of substances. Specifically he argues, "The doctrine of the enduring soul with its permanent characteristics is exactly the irrelevant answer to the problem which life presents. That problem is, ‘How can there be originality?"’ (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 104) Whitehead’s whole philosophy is designed to answer this question. And his concept of the presiding personality is a specific response to the question. But the concept of soul as an eternal entity has the advantage of providing a basis for a belief in life after death. It also has the advantage of being a common term and Whitehead uses it extensively in his popular book, The Adventures of Ideas, even though he rarely uses it elsewhere.

A full discussion of Whitehead’s concept of the human self is in Chapter VI. But it will be helpful to refer to Whiteheadian insights into the nature of the self that are germane to a discussion of immortality.

The most extensive section appropriate to this discussion is in Process and Reality at the end of a chapter on order ("The Order of Nature," which is chapter 3 of Part II). We need to note two important things about his comments about human personality: One, he says very little. His main concern is to present his view of the basic units of reality; thus he devotes little space to the higher levels of complexity of these basic units. Two, he warns us that what he says is "largely conjectural" and that it refers to ". . .the hierarchy of societies composing our present epoch." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 96) His comments are conjectural because he has left metaphysical generality and is ". . .considering the more special possibilities of explanation consistent with our general cosmological doctrine, but not necessitated by it." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 96) Likewise, his comments refer only to our epoch because there may be other epochs in which these more specialized laws do not apply.

Whitehead’s concept of the human self is that it is a highly-ordered complex of actual occasions. He says that ". . .a living nexus. . .may support a thread of personal order along some historical route of its members. Such an enduring entity is a ‘living person."’ (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 107) Again he says, "The enduring personality is the historic route of living occasions which are severally dominant in the body at successive instants." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 119) Regarding its specific relation to the body, he says, ". . .the brain is coordinated so that a peculiar richness of inheritance is enjoyed now by this and now by that part; and thus there is produced the presiding personality at that moment in the body." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 109) The question of immortality has to do with this historic route of living occasions.

His first reference to immortality comes in Religion in the Making. This brief, two-paragraph passage is both helpful and misleading. It is helpful in that he talks about the human self in terms of his system. He is discussing whether there are routes of mentality in which associate material routes are negligible, or entirely absent. But it is misleading because it is a question about whether or not there are purely spiritual beings other than God. This question presupposes that God is a purely spiritual being. Later, Whitehead rejects that idea when he discovered the consequent nature of God.

In this passage he gives no warrant for a belief in purely spiritual beings. "It is entirely neutral on the question of immortality, or on the existence of purely spiritual beings other than God." (Religion in the Making, Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1960, 107) Later it is clear that there can be no purely spiritual beings who have experiences. "Any instance of experience is dipolar, whether that instance be God or an actual occasion of the world." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 36) If there are angels in the Whiteheadian universe, they must have physical bodies. Incidentally, nowhere in the Bible is there an assumption that angels do not have physical bodies.

Immortality with reference to Whitehead’s thought may be referred to in two parts: objective immortality and subjective immortality. It is in the latter that the most difficult questions arise, but the former must not be omitted because it plays a significant role in satisfying the basic instinct of the importance and survivability of value.

By objective immortality he means that, as each actual occasion brings together its resources of becoming into a final satisfaction, it then becomes datum for subsequent actual occasions. When he says that an actual occasion perishes, he means that it happens as an atomic event and then does not change but rather becomes a potential for being an element in subsequent occasions. Having happened, it is objective, that is, it is an object for others to prehend. One of the categories of explanation is: That the potentiality for being an element in a real concrescence. . .is the one general metaphysical character attaching to all entities" (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 22) The actual occasion having occurred has attained objective immortality. It loses its own living immediacy and becomes ". . .a real component in other living immediacies of becoming." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, xiv) "It loses the final causation which is its internal principle of unrest, and it acquires efficient causation whereby it is a ground of obligation characterizing the creativity." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 29)

Each occasion of our experience is immortal because it becomes datum for subsequent occasions both in our own route of occasions (our own selves) and in that of other occasions. It remains forever in this state; hence it is immortal. Its efficient causation (effect) on the world may diminish with time but it never ceases.

A powerful example is the effect that the evolutionary development of an organism that existed millions of years ago (such as the first organisms) has on my present physical existence. But whether the effect is small or large, its place in the process of the universe can never be erased. We, in fact, in reality, have objective immortality. The universe bares the imprint of each person. The imprint can never be obliterated. "The pragmatic use of the actual entity, constituting its static life, lies in the future. The creature perishes and is immortal." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 82) What does it contribute? A new objective condition is ". . .added to the riches of definiteness attainable, the ‘real potentiality’ of the universe." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 223)

But Whitehead knows that objective immortality in the temporal world does not satisfy that deep sense of intuition of immortality. Something more is required. He writes: "But objective immortality within the temporal world does not solve the problem set by the penetration of the finer religious intuition. ‘Everlastingness’ has been lost; and ‘everlastingness’ is the content of that vision upon which the finer religions are built — the ‘many’ absorbed everlastingly in the final unity." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 347) Whitehead is suggesting that it is not enough for the person to know that he will have an impact which will remain forever on the temporal world. The something more that is required is the content of that vision: that the many are everlastingly a part of the final unity of reality, God.

Having objective immortality in God opens the flood-gates of insight for Whitehead. Important consequences result: we become everlasting by our objective immortality in God. "Everlasting" means the ". . .property of combining creative advance with the retention of mutual immediacy. . . ." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 346) Whitehead’s proposal is that everlastingness is a feature of the consequent nature of God. God prehends every actuality in the temporal world. His prehensions of these actualities as they occur are unified into a harmony. Hence each is taken for what it can be in his perfect experience. But unlike man’s experiences which when experienced perish, God’s unified feeling is always immediate, never perishing, even as it is always moving forward in a creative advance into novelty. So each temporal feeling, transformed into that feeling in God, is everlastingly immediate in God. "The consequent nature of God is the fluent world become ‘everlasting’ by its objective immortality in God." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 347)

How can this be? Whitehead’s answer is ". . .God is completed by the individual, fluent satisfactions of finite fact, and the temporal occasions are completed by their everlasting union with their transformed selves, purged into conformation with the eternal order which is the final absolute ‘wisdom."’ (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 347)

Three things are involved here: the everlasting union, the transformation of the occasions, and the conformation of the occasions with the eternal order. The first of these things highlights the everlasting aspect, that is, that the union will never cease. It is everlasting rather than eternal because it has not always been, but rather the union occurs after the becoming of the occasion. In the everlasting union each occasion becomes a part of the nature of God.

The second aspect is the transformation. Whitehead notes, "The corresponding element in God’s nature is not temporal actuality, but is the transmutation of that temporal actuality into a living, ever-present fact." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 350) The difference is that the occasion, as a temporal actuality, fades into the past. As an occasion which is prehended by God, it becomes a part of God. And God has no past. God is an actual entity, eternally prehending, and he has eternal satisfaction without perishing. So the occasion, which is a fading element in the world, retains its vividness in God as a "living, ever-present fact." In God, succession of occasions does not mean loss of immediate unison. In referring to the transformed entity in God, Whitehead calls it "a living, ever-present fact," "the correlate fact," "element," and "the counterpart." This transformed entity in God inherits from the temporal world according to the same principle that the present occasion (self) inherits from the past occasion (self). Just as ". . .the present occasion is the person now, and yet with his own past," so the counterpart of this occasion in God is "that person in God." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 350)

The third aspect is the conformation of the occasion with the eternal order. Each occasion is positively prehended by God (none is lost) and is given its appropriate place in the unity of God’s nature. Each person then becomes a part of the final unity. The initial intuition of the many becoming one and of the one being many is expressed in this insight.

So this thread of living occasions — which we call ourselves — not only has objective immortality in the temporal world but also has objective immortality in God. Since God prehends each actual occasion in his consequent nature, that occasion is eternally a part of God. "The consequent nature of God is the fluent world become ‘everlasting’ by its objective immortality in God." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 347) Hence the feeling of the need, the intuition, of immortality may be (partially or entirely?) met in the awareness of one’s experiences existing forever in God. We contribute not only to the physical universe but also to God.

Whitehead has argued for an objective immortality in God. But a fundamental problem with his account remains: does the person retain his subjective immediacy? Is there individual immortality in the sense that I will be conscious of myself as a thread of actual occasions? The answer to this is not easy. It is not simple either to understand what Whitehead believed, or to understand what is consistent with his system (whether or not he held that position), or to know how to modify his system without destroying it so as to make this possible. Whiteheadian scholars have taken many approaches to this problem.

Before we explore this set of problems, we should note that even if one rejects all subjective immediacy for the prehended occasions and has only objective immortality, Whitehead has presented a view of significant immortality for presiding personalities. He says that ". . .there is the phase of perfected actuality, in which the many are one everlastingly, without the qualification of any loss either of individual identity or of completeness of unity." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 350-351) Some of his students, notably Schubert Ogden, find this sufficient and indeed preferable in some ways to the traditional personal immortality.

Is there subjective immortality? This question may mean two different things: (1) Is the immediacy of subjectivity retained or reenacted in the person in God? That is, is the person consciously alive or does he just exist as a part of God as our past selves are a part of our present self? Sometimes this is referred to as the person existing in the memory of God. (2) Do we keep on having new experiences indefinitely or infinitely in God?

Whitehead suggests but does not develop the idea of subjective immortality. His suggestion comes in his statement in the next-to-last paragraph of Process and Reality: "In everlastingness, immediacy is reconciled with objective immortality." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 351) He is stressing that nothing is lost. While in temporal occasions, succession does mean the fading of the occasion as it becomes a part of the past, he is arguing that the counterpart of the occasion in God has a greater unity of life than it had in the temporal world and that in God ". . .succession does not mean loss of immediate unison." (Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 350) Individual identity and completeness of unity are retained, as apparently is immediacy.

In Adventures of Ideas he says that the living body of a man supports ". . .a personal living society of high-grade occasions. This personal society is the man as defined as a person. It is the soul of which Plato spoke." (Adventures of Ideas, New York: The Free Press, 1967, 208) He then comments, "How far this soul finds a support for its existence beyond the body is: — another question. The everlasting nature of God. . .may establish with the soul a peculiarly intense relationship of mutual immanence. Thus in some important sense the existence of the soul may be freed from its complete dependence upon the bodily organization." (Adventures of Ideas, New York: The Free Press, 1967, 208) These latter comments demonstrate the trap that lies in wait for anyone, even Whitehead, who thinks in terms of the Platonic soul because almost inevitability the thought turns to the existence of the soul apart from the body. Such a separation of physical and mental, fluent and permanent, many and one, violates the fundamental principles of Whitehead s system. John Cobb, Jr. in his book, A Christian Natural Theology,1 makes this same error in his discussion of life after death as a part of a chapter on the human soul. To put the question in Platonic terms merely repeats worn-out arguments. Whitehead provided a fresh approach with the system presented in Process and Reality, and so the question should be framed in reference to that system. Does the presiding personality retain its subjective immediacy and does it continue to expand its routes of occasions?

Some Whiteheadian scholars argue for the reenactment of subjective immediacy of the prehended entity. They interpret Whitehead to mean that "these actual components enjoy their own subjective immediacy within God."2 The retention of subjective immediacy within the everlastingness of God’s nature is seen then as subjective immortality.3 Some argue that subjective immortality is necessary for the religious need of continuity between present hope and future fulfillment, redemption and fulfillment, and the overcoming of evil.4

But many interpreters have not carefully distinguished between the two meanings of subjective immortality noted above. Lewis Ford and Marjorie Suchocki in a joint article argue for the first meaning (reenactment of subjective immediacy). But they seem to reject the second meaning when they say that ". . .in God we no longer act but contemplate."5 Their position is not clear because the distinction between acting and contemplating is without force here. To contemplate is to change as much as to act is to change.6 If they deny change then the personality does not add experiences; if they grant change, then it does. They also say, "Individual occasions in God eventually lose their individuality as their experience of the future fades into insignificance and they imperceptibly merge with the next lower level. . ."7

Schubert Ogden, author of The Reality of God and Other Essays and an outstanding process theologian, argues against subjective immortality, which he defines in the second sense, as people ". . .continuing to exist as subjects for the infinite future."8 Not only does he think that personal immortality is not essential for Christianity, he presents theological objections against it. He believes it reflects self-assertiveness similar to man’s primal sin which is the desire to be like God. He says that ". . .the only immortality or resurrection which is essential to Christian hope is not our own subjective survival of death, but our objective immortality or resurrection in God. . .imperishably united with all creation into his own unending life."9

Marjorie Suchocki attacks Ogden but the attack seems misdirected since she primarily argues for subjective immortality in the first sense of retaining the immediacy of the entity. She argues that ". . .the immediacy of an entity is retained in the everlastingness of God. . ."10

If she retains subjective immortality in the second sense, it is a highly qualified retention. She says, "The type of immortality which a process conceptuality suggests is subjective, retaining the living experience of the entity, but it transcends personality. . . ."11 And she adds, ". . .the boundaries of personality have been left far behind as pertinent solely to finite existence in the temporal world."12 If the boundaries of personality are gone, it seems that there is no personal immortality in the sense of a continuing self.

David Griffin argues for the possibility of subjective immortality in the second sense.13 He argues that the psyche is just as real as material bodies. But both are abstractions. The concrete is the personally ordered series of actual entities which have both physical and mental aspects. The question is whether or not the personally ordered series has additional actual occasions.

Although Charles Hartshorne is not using the terms of objective and subjective immortality, he affirms objective immortality when he argues, ". . .death is not sheer destruction, the turning of being into not-being. . . .whatever death may mean it cannot mean that a man is first something real and then something unreal."14 He adds, ". . .we must break once for all with the idea of death as simple destruction of an individual. . . .individuals are eternal realities. . . ."15 Using the illustration of a book he says, "Death is the last page of the last chapter of the book of one’s life. . . ."16 And he comments, ". . .death, like ‘finis’ at the end of a book, no more means the destruction of our earthly reality than the last chapter of a book means the destruction of the book."17 For Hartshorne man’s immortality lies in God’s memory. He says, "Only in one sense do we serve God forever. Since he, having unsurpassable memory, cannot lose what he has once acquired, in acquiring us as we are on earth he acquires us forevermore."18 "Since God forgets nothing, loses no value once acquired, our entire worth is imperishable in the divine life."19 And it is important to notice the difference between the memory of a man and the memory of God. Hartshorne says, "This permanence includes the immortality of the past in the divine memory. To say an event is "past" for God does not mean that ii is absent from his present awareness; it means that it is not the "final increment" of determinate detail contained in that aware. ness. . . ."20

Hartshorne also argues for subjective immediacy in the sense of the retention of immediacy. He says, ". . .the entity itself with all the reality of life it ever had, no more and no less, is added to the de facto sum of entities apprehended in the subsequent phrases of the divine life. The saying that ‘subjectivity is lost’. . .is misleading."21

He also comments, ". . .we can never be less than we have been to God, we can in reality never be less than we have been."22 "Our consciousness, so far as there ever has been such a thing as our consciousness, will still be there in God. It will be such consciousness as we had before dying, but all of it will be imperishable in God."23

But Hartshorne rejects subjective immortality in the sense of infinite addition of experiences. With regard to our continuing reality, he draws a distinction between ". . .retained actuality and reality in the form of further actualization."24 He holds that we have retained actuality in God’s memory, but he rejects infinitely further actualization of ourselves. He says, ". . .all arguments for personal immortality. . .seem to me fallacious. . . I see no need for post-terrestrial rewards or punishments — beyond the satisfaction, to be achieved now, of feeling one’s earthly actuality indestructibly, definitively, appropriated in the divine participation."25 His view is ". . .that only the primordial being can be everlasting. However, every event is everlasting ‘by proxy’ as it were, in that it is bound to be inherited as an antecedent condition or datum by every subsequent event, and hence also any everlasting being that there may be. This is Whitehead’s ‘objective immortality’, which seems a significant counter to the negativity of death only if we assume an everlasting being able ever afterwards fully to appreciate our lives. . . .26

Hartshorne also rejects personal immortality because "Immortality is a divine trait. . ." and ". . .immortality puts us in rivalry with deity in one respect. . ."27 God is not the means to our ultimate fulfillment (contra Kant and John Hick), but rather our fulfillment is a means to God’s ultimate fulfilment.

However, Hartshorne qualifies his position. He is most certain that there cannot be subtraction or loss. He does not believe that there are additional experiences but admits that ". . .personal survival after death with memory of personal life before death is hardly an absolute absurdity."28 But he does argue that infinite addition ". . .looks to me like a genuine impossibility."29 The reason he holds this last position is that given unlimited future time, "unlimited novelty must accrue" and this violates our limited natures by our becoming unlimited.

This argument is inadequate because the universe is a creative advance into novelty which will never cease. Hartshorne concurs that there is no final perfect state. So a continual addition of finite novel experiences, even given the unendingness of this addition, would not give one an infinite creature. If there can be addition at all, I see no reason why these additions could not go on forever. On the contrary, if there can be any addition it would be consistent to argue that they would continue just as it is the nature of reality to create novel events continually. The line must be drawn at addition/no addition. And the determination must be dependent upon how the Whiteheadian system might consistently be used to deal with the problem. Whiteheadian scholarship must focus on this determination because, as of now, no one has presented an adequate solution.

We must evaluate Hartshorne’s general position based on whether or not it satisfactorily illuminates the initial intuition of immortality. Hartshorne holds that the heart of the intuition of immortality lies in the retention of values. The negative statement of the problem is ". . .the final state of things. . .may be the complete destruction of all values."30 Hartshorne rejects this possibility because ". . .no action, not even suicide, could express the belief in the possible eventual nullity of all action."31 So to act at all entails the assertion of value and for something to have had value entails at least a memory that would assert it having had that value. That cosmic memory must be eternal, or otherwise, there would be no value when it ceased to be. Whitehead’s (and other’s) conception of God provides the required eternal cosmic memory. Immortality then resides in God’s memory. Immortality is an essential aspect of value. This is the meaning of the initial intuition of immortality: there is unending value to events, and the events have unending immediacy in the consequent nature of God.

Whitehead discusses the connections between fact, value, and immortality in his lecture, "Immortality", which was given on April 22, 1941 as the Ingersoll Lecture at the Harvard Divinity School. He says, ". . .the topic of ‘The Immortality of Man’ is. . .a side issue in the wider topic, which is ‘The Immortality of Realized Value:’ namely, the temporality of mere fact acquiring the immortality of value."32 He first asks if we can discover in the world of fact any adjustment for the embodiment of value. He finds such an adjustment in ". . .the tendency of the transitory occasions of fact to unite themselves into sequences of Personal Identity."33 He characterizes personal identity: "A whole sequence of actual occasions, each with its own present immediacy, is such that each occasion embodies in its own being the antecedent members of that sequence with an emphatic experience of the self-identity of the past in the immediacy of the present."34 Personal identity so defined is offered as "the key example" for understanding the fusion of activity and value. Personality then is the best example of a sustained realization of value in the world.

Whitehead simplifies the complexity of the world by utilizing two abstractions: the world of activity and the world of value. Another way of saying the same thing is to say that every factor in the universe can be viewed both from its temporal side in the world of activity and from its immortal side in the world of value. Still another characterization of the same point is that each event is both a realization (a concrete instance) and a valuation (the result of a selection process). We see in the world of change that enduring personal identity is the realization of value in that world. The converse is that in the world of value enduring personal identity is retained as a concrete instance of value. So Whitehead concludes, "Thus the effective realization of value in the World of Change should find its counterpart in the World of Value: — this means that temporal personality in one world involves immortal personality in the other."35

These immortal personalities become a part of God, ". . .factors in the nature of God."36 God is ". . .the unification of the multiple personalities received from the Active World."37 In the terms of Whitehead’s system, presiding personality gains everlastingness in the consequent nature of God.

Where does this account leave us? What is the specific nature of our immortality? What have we gained in understanding here? Whitehead comments, "This immortality of the World of Action, derived from its transformation in God’s nature is beyond our imagination to conceive. The various attempts at description are often shocking and profane. What does haunt our imagination is that the immediate facts of present action pass into permanent significance for the Universe. . . .Otherwise every activity is merely a passing whiff of insignificance."38 What we have learned, if this account is true, is that every act, every event, every realization of value has everlasting significance and contributes everlastingly to the nature of things.

What is the evidence for this account? Whitehead responds, "The only answer is the reaction of our own nature to the general aspect of life in the Universe."39 We are a part of the universe and a part of God, the universe is a part of God, and God is a factor both in our personal existences and in the universe. The point is that there are no independent existences. The everlastingness and significance of each existence is a part of the whole.

 

NOTES:

1. John B. Cobb. Jr., A Christian Natural Theology (Philadelphia: Westminister Press. 1965).

2. Lewis S. Ford and Marjorie Suchocki, "A Whiteheadian Reflection on Subjective Immortality," Process Studies vol. 7, No. 1, Spring, 1917, pp. 1-13. Quotation from p. 5.

3. Marjorie Suchocki, "The Question of Immortality," The Journal of Religion, vol. 57, No. 3, July, 1977, pp. 283-306.

4. Ibid., p. 305.

5. Ford and Suchocki, p. 10.

6. Lori E. Krafte, "Subjective Immortality Revisited," Process Studies, Vol. 9, Nos. 1-2, Spring. Summer. 1979, pp. 35-36.

7. Ford and Suchocki, p. 12.

8. Schubert M. Ogden, "The Meaning of Christian Hope," in the Union Seminary Quarterly Review, Vol. XXX, No,. 2-4, Winter-Summer, 1975, pp. 153-164. Quotation is from p. 161.

9. Ibid. p. 160.

10. Marjorie Suchocki, "The Question of Immortality." in The Journal of Religion, Vol. 57, No. 3, July, 1977, pp. 288-306. Quotation on pp. 298-299.

11. Suchocki, p. 299.

12. Ibid p.299.

13. David Griffin, "The Possibility of Subjective Immortality in Whitehead’s Philosophy," in The Modern Schoolman, LIII, November. 1975, pp. 39-51.

14. Charles Hartshorne, "Time, Death, and Everlasting Life," in The Logic of Perfection and Other Essays In Neoclassical Metaphysics, (Open Court Publishing Co., LaSalle, Illinois, 1962), p. 247. Originally published in "The Journal of Religion," XXXII, 1952.

15. Ibid., p. 249.

16. Ibid., p. 250.

17. Charles Hartshorne, A Natural Theology for Our Time, (Open Court Publishing Co., LaSalle, Ill. 1967), p. 112.

18. Hartshorne, A Natural Theology for Our Time, p. 55.

19. Charles Hartshorne, Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes, (State University of New York, Albany, NY, 1934), p. 110.

20. Charles Hartshorne, Man’s Vision of God, (Archon Books, Hamden, Coon., 1964), p. 129.

21. Charles Hartshorne, "Whitehead in French Perspective," in Thomist 33, 1969, p. 575.

22. Hartshorne, Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes, p. 121.

23. Hartshorne, Logic of Perfection. . ., p. 253.

24. Hartshorne, Logic of Perfection. . ., p. 251.

25. Hartshorne, A Natural Theology for Our Time, pp. 107-108.

26. Charles Hartshorne, Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method, (Open Court Publishing Co., La Salle, Ill., 1970), p. 121.

27. Ibid p. 289.

28. Hartshorne, Logic of Perfection. . ., p. 253.

29. Hartshorne, Logic of Perfection. . ., p. 253.

30. Hartshorne, Man’s Vision of God, p. 156.

31. Ibid. p. 156.

32. Alfred North Whitehead, "Immortality" in The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, ed. by Paul Arthur Schilpp, Second Edition. (Open Court Publishing Co., La Salle, Ill., 1951), p. 688 (682-700).

33. Ibid. p. 688.

34. Ibid. p. 689.

35. Ibid. p. 693.

36. Ibid. p. 694.

37. Ibid. p. 694.

38. Ibid. p. 698.

39. Ibid. p. 698.

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