Deficiencies in Whitehead’s Philosophy

by Archie J. Bahm

Archie J. Bahm is Professor of Philosophy at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 301-305, Vol. 2, Number 4, Winter, 1972. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Two process philosophies, Organism and Organicism, serve three purposes for process studies: 1. Whitehead’s thought. 2. Other process philosophies. 3. “Radical critiques of process thought.”


The present article is a comparative study of two process philosophies, the Philosophy of Organism and the philosophy of Organicism. It is designed to serve three stated purposes of Process Studies, the first giving primary emphasis to Whitehead’s thought, the second including other process philosophies, and the third inviting "radical critiques of process thought."

Need for brevity limits this comparison to seven metaphysical issues. To sharpen the issues, comparisons will be stated in terms of charges of deficiency.

First some similarities.

1. Both aim to give primacy not only to the dynamic or processual but also to the organic conceived as consisting in "a union of opposites" (AI 245).

2. Both agree that there is no existence apart from events ("actual occasions" or "eventities").

3. Both conceive the organic as involving both unitary and pluralistic ingredients, which may be called "mental" and "physical" poles (Philosophy of Organism) or "spiritual" and "material" poles (Organicism). [See "Matter and Spirit: Implications of the Organicist View," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 20, 1 (Sept., 1959), 103-08.]

4. Both regard the universe as a process of self-creating creativity.

5. Both agree that creativity involves emergence of unique events ("actual occasions" or "eventities"), that each such event is unique, and that each involves, and is involved in, others. "Actual entities involve each other by reason of their prehending each other" (PR 29). "Somehow each individual involves, and is involved in, every other individual, even if primarily in negative ways" (1:269).

6. Both find organic relatedness between experience and existence, and the emergence of subjectivity within experience in response to objective causes.

7. Both agree that intrinsic value is concrete, and that whatever is concrete is (Philosophy of Organism) or may be (Organicism) intrinsic value. [See "The Aesthetics of Organicism," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 26,4 (Summer, 1968), 449-59.]

8. Both are devoted to overcoming dualism, by antibifurcationism, on the one hand, and by "bothism," on the other. [See "Organicism -- A New World Hypothesis," Proceedings of the XIIIth International Congress of Philosophy, Mexico City, Sept. 4-14, 1963, Vol. IX, pp. 21-43, c. 1.]

9. Both reject as inadequate some traditional notions of substance and subject-predicate logic, but in radically different ways.

Differences include:

1. Whitehead is only a semi-process philosopher. Although the universe as a process of self-creating creativity consists entirely of actual occasions, Whitehead postulates unnecessary eternal objects to account for the forms of such occasions. Eternal objects, together constituting the Primordial Nature of God, subsist eternally without process, and magically zip into ("ingress") and out of actual occasions as needed. Organicism, influenced by the emergent evolutionists, regards the causation of the forms of events fully accounted for by whatever causes the events. The forms of things emerge internally to the things as the things themselves emerge. No dens ex machina is needed.

2. Whitehead bifurcates. "The fundamental types of entities are actual entities, and eternal objects" (PR 37). There are "two ultimate classes of entities, mutually exclusive. One class consists of ‘actual entities’ and the other class consists of forms of definiteness here named eternal objects’" (PR 2.39). Despite disclaimers by his defenders, these two kinds of entities are entirely unlike in nature; events happen, eternal objects never change. Their momentary intersection through ingression leaves eternal objects unchanged. Whitehead, half Platonist and half processist, ingeniously attempted to integrate incompatibles. But in the end, bifurcation remains. Elimination of eternal objects and the Primordial Nature of God saves Organicism from such bifurcation.

3. Whitehead tried to construct an organic, processual metaphysics with a nonorganic, static logic. Logical realism, with its completely external relations and material implication, presupposed in Principia Mathematica, is retained to provide some of the structure of actual occasions. Despite ingenious adaptation ("The actual entities involved [in a proposition] are termed the ‘logical subjects,’ the complex eternal object is the ‘predicate.’" PR 36), logical structures as such have no causal efficacy. For Organicism, organic logic as a study investigates the dynamic structure of existence as experienced, and discovers polarity and dialectic as omnipresent features of dynamic interdependencies. [See Polarity, Dialectic, and Organicity, Springfield: Charles C. Thomas, 1970.]

4. Whitehead, like Dewey. mistakenly abandoned substance as a category of existence. Both could have reconstructed substance dynamically, but were misled by the unfortunate prevalence of the notion of substance as something both static and standing by itself. But substance is that which remains through change. If no change, then no remaining through change, and no substance. Change and permanence (substance) polarly interdepend. Both are aspects of eventities. To change is to become different. Some changes take longer to occur than others. Each event involving a change remains from the beginning to the end of that change, and that remaining functions as substantial. Longer events are more substantial than shorter events. Each heartbeat, each lifetime, each galaxy is an event. Substance is essential to, not antithetical to, process (1: Ch. 20).

5. Whitehead denied actuality to all time except the instantaneousness, or at most momentariness, of occasions. "An actual occasion has no history. It never changes. It only becomes and perishes" (AI 262). Even "in considering our direct observation of past, or of future, we should confine ourselves to time-spans of the order of magnitude of a second, or even fractions of a second" (AI 247) "The ultimate metaphysical truth is atomism" (PR 53). Time, then, must be accounted for in terms of a nexus, or serial "society," of occasions, in which contiguity provides continuity (see AI 259). "There is a becoming of continuity, but no continuity of becoming" (PR 53). Endurance of an individual appears when a serial society of occasions "assumes the guise of an enduring entity" (PR 257), but is only an "historic route" of analogous forms in the becomings of really momentary occasions. Time characterizes appearances, not reality.

Organicism, on the other hand, views time as involving both events and duration, conceived as polarly related, such that each event endures long enough for it to happen. Some changes take years, centuries or aeons to occur, while others require less than one three-hundred-quadrillionth of a second. Thus there can be no events without duration. "Evendurations" (events-durations) overlap in multitudes of different ways, as aspects of the dynamic functioning of many levels of existence. Time is both continuous and discontinuous because existence both partly continues, or endures, and partly ceases, with each change. Each duration during which something remains the same from beginning to end is a present; many presents overlap others, and many presents of some events come and go during the presents of other events. Several heartbeats complete their whole actual history during one breath cycle; thousands of breath cycles complete their histories during a single lifetime; several generations of lives may complete their histories during the existence of a nation. The temporal maximums and minimums of dynamic existence are so vastly different from how Whitehead conceives them that, by comparison, he must be accused of reducing time to only a tiniest fraction of its actual existence. [See "A Multiple-Aspect Theory of Time," The Southwestern Journal of Philosophy, 2, 1-2 (Spring-Summer, 1971), 163-71.]

6. Whitehead failed to recognize the omnipresent role of dialectic in existence, experience and logic. This failure resulted naturally from the atomistic features of his metaphysics, epistemology and logic. Although he recognized the existence of numerous opposites and asserted that "All of the ‘opposites’ are elements in the nature of things, and are incorrigibly there" (PR 531), he viewed their functioning more as ideals among contrasts "given in direct intuition" (PR 511) than as structural relations between existing actual entities, and between what is internal to and external to them. Although "all actual entities" are "dipolar" (PR D24), such dipolarity pertains to the originating and completing phases within each occasion which just happens. It does not relate shorter events to longer events when the shorter function as parts of the longer ones as wholes.

Dialectic is that dynamic structural characteristic of each existing thing ("eventity") which, when it changes and becomes different, incorporates that difference within itself so that then it proceeds as both partly the same thing and partly a different thing continuing to function as one whole thing. Eventities do not just happen. They are parts of larger eventities and continue part of their existence as partial differences in large continuing durations. Whereas, for Whitehead, every actual entity is related to other actual entities by "prehending" and "being prehended," for Organicism, everything is related to everything else multi-polarly, multi-leveled-ly, multi-dimensionally, and multi-dialectically. Each eventity participates actually in the constitution of many other eventities, both larger and smaller (both temporally and spatially). All such partial, but actual, reincorporation of each eventity in other eventities is dialectic. There can be no organisms without dialectic; this is something which Whitehead’s Philosophy of Organism seems to have overlooked completely.

7. Whitehead regarded God, in both its Primordial and Consequent Natures, as fundamental to his Philosophy of Organism. For Organicism, the issue of whether one chooses to regard existence, the universe, or Nature as atheistic or theistic is insignificant. [See "Organicism: The Philosophy of Interdependence," International Philosophical Quarterly, 7,2 (June, 1967), 251-84, section on "Theology."] On the one hand, Organicism is completely naturalistic. On the other, religion is natural, and the quest for comprehensive answers to life’s questions often naturally leads one to ask certain kinds of questions and to prefer comforting answers. Organicism lends itself, for those interested, to the development of a theism which may be claimed to be superior to all others. By gathering up all, rather than merely some, of the existing "alls," omni, or wholes, and conceiving God as "all alls," where each "all" is a concrete universal (i.e., both any sameness shared by two or more things and all such things), one may escape both inadequacies and contradictions in traditional theologies. So conceived, God is constituted by all of the wholes of things as its parts. Such a view is panentheistic, viewing God as actually immanent in all things, and yet leaving the eachness of each thing, as well as its parts, different from, even if polarly related to, its allness, or wholeness, which functions as one of the alls which are parts of God.

God then depends upon the emergence of each new event which thereby provides, or causes, a new part of God. But God also ceases actually in part with the cessation of each event. Whereas, for White-head, the passage of each actuality "is not its death" (PR 530) because it passes into "objective immortality," for Organicism, death is actual, even if only partial, for man and God. Hence, God not only emerges and perishes with each smallest eventity, e.g., one which endures for only one three-hundred-quadrillionth of a second, but also endures everlastingly so long as there is any change which takes forever to occur. Even if there is no event which takes forever to occur, any longest event is followed by, or overlaps with, another longest event, which is, dialectically, both partly like as well as partly different from it, and which has a whole, or all, which is one of the alls constituting God. God as all alls is an organism in which the all is the dynamic whole and the ails are its dynamic parts. [See ‘Wholes and Parts," The Southwestern Journal of Philosophy, 3, 1 (Spring, 1972), 17-22.] God evolves dialectically, both remaining the same, as all, and becoming different by incorporating within itself each newly emerged all. Even if for quite different reasons, Organicism and the Philosophy of Organism agree that "Each temporal occasion embodies God, and is embodied in God" (PR 529). [See "Organic Unity and God," Iliff Review, 5, 3 (Fall, 1948), 98-102.]



1. Archie J. Bahm, Philosophy, An introduction. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1953.