Error in Causal Efficacy

by Robert H. Kimball

Robert H. Kimball is Professor of Philosophy, Department of Philosophy, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40292. E-mail:

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp.56-67, Vol. 28, Number 1-2, Spring – Summer, 1999. 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.


The author has written critiques of Whitehead’s theory of perception and here gives new reasons to doubt the cogency and consistency of this theory of Whitehead’s. In particular, he argues that Whitehead’s account of perception in the mode of causal efficacy is question-begging.

Whitehead’s theory of perception, though undoubtedly bold and original, and consequently of considerable philosophical interest, nevertheless suffers from debilitating flaws.1 So I argued in "The Incoherence of Whitehead’s Theory of Perception" (PS 9), which David 1-lildebrand criticized in "Kimball on Whitehead on Perception" (PS 22).2 In this paper I offer new reasons to doubt the cogency and consistency of Whitehead’s theory of perception. In particular, I argue that Whitehead’s account of perception in the mode of causal efficacy is question-begging.

Any assessment of Whitehead’s contribution to the philosophical study of perception must come to grips with the question of whether his theory of perception can stand on its own and so should be considered as a contribution to the subject independently of any support the categories of his system might give it, or whether his theory of perception should be treated primarily as an illustration or application of systematic categories, especially prehension, and not logically separable from them. After Lewis Ford’s genetic investigations in The Emergence of Whitehead’s Metaphysics, I think there can be little question that Whitehead intended his theory of perception to be independent of his system.3 Ford calls PR II.4.5-8 & II.8 the "Original Treatise on Perception" and shows that Symbolism is a revision of it. Both the Original Treatise and Symbolism were composed before Process and Reality. Thus Whitehead could not have intended that his Original Treatise should draw evidential support from the independently supported categories of his completed system. Therefore, he must have believed that his Original Treatise could stand on its own feet and did not need additional support. On the contrary, I claim that Whitehead’s theory of perception is not adequately supported in independence of his completed system.

I. The Appearance and Reality of Casual Efficacy

The primary question I wish to address is whether Whitehead provides adequate justification in the Original Treatise for the claim that perception in the mode of causal efficacy (CE) reveals actual causal connections. I see the major issue not as how much detail of the real causal nexus CE reveals but whether we are justified in believing that it reveals any at all. I find that Whitehead’s exposition is question-begging and seriously misleading.4 The exposition is misleading insofar as it suggests that belief in either a specific or generic causal nexus is adequately justified by a subject’s experience of CE alone and not ultimately by systematic considerations, particularly those related to prehension.5 If Whitehead’s theory of perception was intended to stand alone without support from the rest of his system, as Ford suggests (EWM 181-182), then I claim that it is insufficiently justified insofar as a part of it, the theory of CE, is inadequately justified.

Such passages as the following seem to suggest that the evidence Whitehead offers for believing that CE is a unique kind of perception and that it is not illusory, i.e., supplies the subject with (more or less) accurate information about its environment, is primarily a particular kind of "experience." My claim is that such support is question-begging unless the reliability of such "experience" has been previously established.

In the dark, the electric light is suddenly turned on and the man’s eves blink. There is a simple physiological explanation of this trifling incident. . . . Let us now dismiss physiology and turn to the private experiences of the blinking man. The sequence of percepts, in the mode of presentational immediacy, is flash of light, feeling of eye-closure, instant darkness. The three are practically simultaneous; though the flash maintains its priority over the other two, and these two latter percepts are indistinguishable as to priority. According to the philosophy of organism, the man also experiences another percept in the mode of causal efficacy. He feels that the experiences of the eye in the matter of the flash are causal of the blink. The man himself will have no doubt of it. In fact, it is the feeling of causality which enables the man to distinguish the priority of the flash; and the inversion of the argument, whereby the temporal sequence ‘flash to blink’ is made the premise for the ‘causality’ belief; has its origin in pure theory. The man will explain his experience by saying, ‘The flash made me blink’; and if his statement be doubted, he will reply, I know it, because I felt it.’

The philosophy of organism accepts the man’s statement, that the flash made him blink. (PR 174-175)

Although "experience" and "feeling" are not necessarily conscious events in Whitehead’s philosophy, the use of ‘private experiences,’ ‘percept,’ and especially the fact that the man reports his experience, all make it seem evident that the experiences and feelings mentioned in the above passage are conscious. On the face of it, the warrant for belief provided by conscious percepts or private experience is limited to what seems to be the case to the subject of the percepts or private experiences; it does not extend to what actually is the case without evidence beyond the percepts or private experiences themselves which support the accuracy of the percepts or private experiences. On the face of it, "‘I know it, because I felt it"’ is an expression of certainly not a justified knowledge claim.6

Part of the difficulties of Cartesian philosophy, and of any philosophy which accepts [presentational immediacy] as a complete account of perception, is to explain how we know more than this meager fact about the world although our only avenue of direct knowledge limits us to this barren residuum. Also, if this be all that we perceive about the physical world, we have no basis for ascribing the origination of the mediating sensa to any functioning of the human body. . . . We have already done violence to our immediate conviction by thus thrusting the human body out of the story; for as Hume himself declares, we know that we see by our eyes, and taste by our palates. (PR 122)

In endorsing the view that "we know that we see by our eyes and taste by our palates" Whitehead seems to confuse knowledge with belief. For knowledge we need justification (according to standard accounts), not just conviction -- unless (contrary to the internal point of view of "immediate conviction") the justification is external.

But in the second passage, the heat of argument elicits [Hume’s] real conviction -- everybody’s real conviction -- that visual sensations arise ‘by the eyes.’ The causes are not a bit ‘unknown,’ and among them there is usually to be found the efficacy of the eyes. (PR171)

From the assumed fact that Hume and everybody else has a real conviction that "visual sensations arise ‘by the eyes’," Whitehead concludes that we know the causes of our (visual) sensations. On the traditional assumption that knowledge is justified true belief, we may interpret Whitehead as asserting that from the fact that we have a strongly held, possibly even unshakable, belief we may conclude -- apparently only on that basis -- that the belief is true and adequately justified.

In practice we never doubt the fact of the conformation of the present to the immediate past. It belongs to the ultimate texture of experience, with the same evidence as does presentational immediacy. The present fact is luminously the outcome from its predecessors, one quarter of a second ago.(S 46)

Whitehead seems to infer from the fact that we never doubt, i.e., are completely certain about, "the conformation of the present to the immediate past" that "the present fact" is actually "the outcome from its predecessors, one quarter of a second ago." As in the other quoted passages, he moves from "seems" to "is" without providing explicit reasons for the inference.

In these passages, Whitehead does not seem to distinguish between the appearance and reality of perception in the mode of causal efficacy. He seems to infer is on the basis of seems. He seems to treat CE as accurate and reliable if not infallible. These passages seem to suggest that (1) perception in the mode of causal efficacy has more cognitive and epistemic significance than the mere occurrence of a sense-datum considered in itself: the quotations seem to suggest that CE does not merely give information about how the world seems to us; they suggest that CE gives information about how the world really is. But (2) the only reason given for accepting the objective claim of CE as true is that in CE they seem to be true; the only reason for accepting that the subject knows that causes are operating in the way they appear to be is that it believes with strong conviction that they are. The only reason for accepting that perception in the mode of causal efficacy is accurate or reliable is that the perception occurs (where the perception is considered strictly as an experience without any cognitive or epistemic significance).

However, it does not appear that just because something seems -- even indubitably -- to be a certain way to a subject that it actually is the way it seems to be. To give as evidence for the accuracy of something’s seeming to be a certain way the fact that it does seem to be that way appears to beg the question of whether it is accurate or not. The only reasonable conclusion to draw is that these claims for the accuracy and reliability of CE are unwarranted, because what seems to be the case cannot by itself justify claims about what is the case. To do so would require establishing the accuracy or reliability of CE independently of establishing that CE provides a kind of experience to which the appearance/reality, seems/is distinction does not apply. Otherwise, Whitehead’s approach appears to be question-begging.

On this line of reasoning, then, we can take issue with Whitehead’s apparent assumption that such experiences are so self-evidently accurate that they need no further justification. They can hardly be self-justifying, since it is possible that they could be deceptive. As Ross points out, "Whitehead’s examples of causal efficacy in conscious experience are a light flash and the agent’s claim that ‘the flash made me blink’ (PR 175). It might well have been something else, a reflex, a drug, etc." (PWM 103). The crucial epistemic question concerning the experience of CE from the subject’s point of view is whether the experience is accurate or deceptive. To assume the experience of CE is accurate appears to beg that question. Whitehead’s exposition appears to be question-begging, since he appears to assume that what he describes is an (accurate) experience of CE, whereas it is an open question for the subject whether the experience is accurate or not, whether it is an experience of actual CE or only an experience believed to be of CE. As far as the subject can tell, it is possible that the experience is erroneous, so the subject’s epistemic situation should be described as believing that it experiences actual, objective causation or that it appears to him or her that it does. In his exposition Whitehead appears to assume that what he describes is an experience of CE when all he is entitled to assert is that it is an experience which appears to the subject to be of CE. To cite experiences putatively of CE as evidence of their own accuracy when it is in doubt whether they are actually experiences of CE seems to beg the question at hand.

However, citing an experience of CE as evidence for its own veracity would not always be viciously circular in this fashion, if there were some independent way of telling when the experience of CE was reliable and when it was not. In particular, it would not be circular if we knew by independent means that the experience was reliable. A theory of error for CE, giving conditions for the reliability of the experience of CE, could provide these criteria. If he had such a theory, Whitehead would not just be gratuitously assuming that CE is always reliable; the very existence of a theory of error would be an acknowledgment that error is possible, and the theory would specify under what conditions error occurred and under what conditions it did not. Thus it might be objected to my previous argument that Whitehead does indeed have a theory of perceptual error and so his account of CE is not question-begging after all.

According to Whitehead’s theory, only two kinds of perceptual error are possible. The first involves a spatial mismatch between the two pure modes of perception, presentational immediacy (PI) and causal efficacy (CE), in symbolic reference (SR). "[W]hile the two pure perceptive modes are incapable of error, symbolic reference introduces this possibility" (PR 168). In SR, the kind of perception with which we are almost always acquainted, a datum from CE is spatially located by the relatively sharp spatial definition of PI. The effects of past occasions are identified as emanating from a region of space defined by PI. "[T]he vague efficacy of the indistinct external world in the immediate past is precipitated upon the representative regions in the contemporary present" (PR 172). If the effects felt in CE do not m fact emanate from the region identified by PI, then a perceptual error has occurred.

The term ‘stone’ is primarily applied to a certain historic route in the past, which is an efficacious element in this train of circumstance. It is only properly applied to the contemporary region illustrated by ‘grey’ on the assumption that this contemporary region is the prolongation, of that historic route, into the presented locus. This assumption may, or may not, be true. Further, the illustration of the contemporary region of ‘grey’ may be due to quite other efficacious historic routes -- for example, to lighting effects arranged by theatrical producers -- and in such a case, the term ‘stone’ may suggest an even more violent error than In the former example. (PR172)

If I duck because I think something is about to hit me on the head, I have committed a perceptual error if something is coming from a different direction from the one I think or if nothing is coming from that direction at all. (The second kind of perceptual error, detailed in PR III.5, occurs relatively late in concresence and involves the mistaken attribution of an eternal object to a perceptual datum. This kind of error might involve the erroneous attribution of an eternal object to CE, but it would not involve incorrect information contributed by CE; thus it is not germane to the question of whether CE itself can involve error.)

It might seem that this theory of perceptual error is adequate to acquit Whitehead of the charge that his account of CE is question-begging, since it describes conditions under which perceptual error occurs in SR. Although it does not provide error-conditions specifically for CE, it entails that CE itself makes no contribution to perceptual error, since error arises only in SR from the spatial misalignment of the data of P1 and CE. And if CE makes no contribution to perceptual error, then effectively CE is infallible. Thus whether the data of CE are reliable or not would not be an open question, because they could not fail to be reliable. Therefore, Whitehead’s theory of perceptual error seems to provide a reason for thinking that CE cannot be erroneous. Apparently the reason is that if one mistakes the spatial region from which a percept in the mode of CE originates, one still is not mistaking that that percept in the mode of CE originated from somewhere. Thus one cannot be mistaken that one is causally affected, since one is always being causally affected by something, one can be mistaken only about the spatial origin of the percept in the mode of CE.

However, I claim that CE could itself provide erroneous data for perception. The above argument that it cannot -- that all perceptual error arises from SR -- assumes a form of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, according to which every event has some cause; this is why a feeling of CE cannot be erroneous: it is only a vague feeling that causation is taking place -- which, given the Principle of Sufficient Reason, cannot be wrong -- and because of CE’s vagueness it does not adequately localize itself. CE itself does not include the assertion that it is emanating from this region; it includes only the information that "something is going on and some things are affecting other things." But this argument depends on the assumption that every event has a cause. The mere data of CE as cited by Whitehead are inadequate to justify this sweeping global principle. That it seems to me that "something is going on and some things are affecting other things" is not an adequate reason for believing that they actually are. It could be the case that the data of CE are erroneous and there actually is no causation in the world. The feeling of CE is insufficient to refute Hume.

II. Replies and Objections

Since on the face of it Whitehead’s assumption that the experience of CE is reliable seems unsubstantiated, the Principle of Charity demands some explanation to make his assumption more plausible. Several possibilities follow.

(1) Whitehead might assimilate appearance to reality for systematic reasons, because he is taking a point of view in relation to perception which includes both the datum perceived as it is in itself (its formal reality) and the way it appears to the perceiver (its objective reality). To do so, however, it would seem that he has to assume a point of view external to that of the perceiver. But this seems inconsistent with the internalism of such statements as "actual entities are the only reasons" (PR 24). It seems to be an instance of "misplaced concreteness."

(2) CE could be "just an experience" in the same sense that pain could be so considered, i.e., with no cognitive significance, no (objective) cognitive claim about its causes; it could be completely non-propositional and have no belief component. If so, that would make CE immune from error; in that case it would make no claim that could be wrong, just because it made no claim at all. However, Whitehead uses the experience of CE as evidenced for an objective claim, so it seems as if he is making an objective claim about it, and hence it could be erroneous, since there could be a difference between "seems" and "is."

(3) Another justification for Whitehead’s apparently gratuitous assumption that the experience of CE is accurate requires that the "experience" of CE not always be conscious. Whitehead attributes such perception to creatures who are very unlikely to be conscious.

It does not seem to be the sense of causal awareness that the lower living things lack, so much as the variety of sense-presentation, and then vivid distinctness of presentational immediacy. But animals, and even vegetables, in low forms of organism exhibit modes of behavior directed towards self-preservation. There is every indication of a vague feeling of causal relationship with the external world, of some intensity, vaguely defined as to quality, and with some vague definition as to locality. A jellyfish advances and withdraws, and in so doing exhibits some perception of causal relationship with the world beyond itself; a plant grows downwards to the damp earth, and upwards towards the light. There is thus some direct reason for attributing dim, slow feelings of causal nexus, although we have no reason for any ascription of the definite percepts in the mode of presentational immediacy. (PR 176-177)

Thus we must assign the mode of causal efficacy to the fundamental constitution of an occasion so that in germ this mode belongs even to organisms of the lowest grade; while the mode of presentational immediacy requires the more sophistical activity of the later states of process, so as to belong only to organisms of a relatively high grade. (PR 172)

Thus perhaps we should conclude that Whitehead uses "perception" in an extended sense, like many other terms he appropriates from ordinary language, such that one need not be conscious to have perceptions in the mode of CE. This would make perception of X in the mode of CE essentially identical to being causally affected by X. So a subject would "perceive" in the mode of CE whatever (and only what) causally affected it. Since under this definition of "perception" it could not perceive in the mode of CE something which was not actually causally affecting it, its perceptions of CE would be effectively infallible?10

Unfortunately, this interpretation would yield a vacuous infallibility for CE, since it would be a matter of definition that under it the subject’s perceptions in the mode of CE would be of (ale the actual causes operating on it. Furthermore, the required definition of ‘perception’ is counterintuitive. In addition, as in the last case, even if the subject’s infallibility were not vacuous, that it is infallible is not necessarily information that is available to it: the theory stipulates only that the subject "perceive" what causally affects it, not that it know or be aware of what it perceives, much less that it know that it is perceiving real causes. This knowledge is external and hence not internally available to it. Externalism may be a defensible epistemological theory but it seems inconsistent with Whitehead’s subjectivism.11

(3) Quite likely Whitehead assumes CE is reliable on systematic grounds: the doctrine of prehension, according to which one actual entity is (objectively) in another (PR 50), ensures that perception, in whatever mode, as a special instance of prehension, can never be completely delusive?12 Probably Whitehead assumes the validity of his theory of prehension, which he holds on grounds other than those provided by the experience of CE, when he describes the experience of CE and treats it as reliable. Perhaps he is not really committed to the ~eti~na of CE alone providing adequate justification for the accuracy of that experience; perhaps he does not believe that the experience of CE is self-justifying, despite his explicit exposition, which would then have to be regarded as an unfortunate misstatement. So even though the Original Treatise was composed before Process and Reality it is not logically independent of it in that it is not fully warranted without it.

Whitehead believes that in prehension (and hence perception) one occasion is (objectively) in another. This means that for Whitehead perception is not mediated by internal representatives of its ultimate objects but is directly of those ultimate objects themselves. Thus the kind of error which arises from differences between the representatives and the things they represent is impossible for such direct perception. Perception cannot be fundamentally delusive in the sense that a subject might believe that it were perceiving something real but actually not be. If perception is direct, then its objects must be real: it must be of realities; therefore it cannot be fundamentally delusive in the above sense. If it were indirect or mediated, the immediate or proximate objects of perception might be at variance, with the realities they ultimately represent. But if the representations (representatives) are eliminated -- as they are in direct perception -- then this unfortunate epistemic possibility cannot arise.

On non-representationalism, the subject’s epistemic situation is such that it cannot have a completely delusive perceptive experience: it cannot have an experience which is just like an accurate perceptive experience but is actually not accurate. It cannot falsely seem to perceive a real object. This way of being veridical (like theories of direct reference) comes at a price: it does not entail that the subject know what it is perceiving in the sense that it can correctly characterize it. The upshot of these observations is that the reliable character Whitehead attributes to CE stems most plausibly from the direct, non-representational character of prehension. Unfortunately, even backed by prehension, the reliable character of the experience of CE is not as bill-blooded as might be desired, since its ultimate justification, in terms of the justification of the theory of prehension itself, is external to the perceiving subject.

I have concluded that the experience of CE does not in itself have objective epistemic significance, because whether it is reliable is an open question and it is not self-justifying Furthermore even if taking the experience of CE as veridical is justified systematically by the direct perception underwritten by prehension, nevertheless the sense in which such direct perception is reliable is epistemically disappointing, since it is external to the subject and does not necessarily involve any propositional knowledge on its part. Nevertheless, there is a way in which CE might be justified which we have not yet considered. The real-time experience of the "withness of the body" might be justified on pragmatic, specifically on evolutionary grounds. "Symbolism can be justified, or unjustified. The test of justification must always be pragmatic" (PR 181).13 The experience of CE and particularly of the "withness of the body," if accurate, gives us essential real-time information about events in our environment which could well have a vital impact on our well-being. It might be argued that the survival success of a species which bases its immediate actions, especially those in which the survival of its individuals is at stake, on a particular experience constitutes a powerful argument for the general reliability of that experience. (Of course this justification would be external to the individuals making use of it.) It is important to realize, however, that this pragmatic justification of CE underwrites only its general reliability at best and by no means guarantees its universal infallibility Even if generally reliable because of its survival value, it is quite possible that on a particular occasion an experience of CE via "withness of the body" might be misleading, illusive, or even delusive.14

III Whitehead and Analytic Philosophy Suggestions for Dialogue

I have concluded that Whitehead may have conceived of his theory of perception before his completed system, and so he may have intended his theory of perception to be independent of his system, but in fact it is net logically independent of his system. Ultimately his theory of perception will be justified only if the whole system is justified, and it is difficult to imagine how a metaphysical system as comprehensive as Whitehead’s could be independently justified. Obviously a consideration of the justification of Whitehead’s whole system, even if it is possible, lies outside the scope of this paper. In fact I have approached Whitehead’s theory of perception by using concepts from analytical philosophy such as knowledge as justified true belief. Suffice it to say that much interesting work could be done in connecting Whitehead’s concepts to more current topics of discussion in metaphysics, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind. In metaphysics, issues of realism and antirealism are relevant to Whitehead’s fundamental attitude, as well as questions about the nature and identity conditions for events. In philosophy of language, issues of direct reference and token-identification would have interesting repercussions applied to prehension and the formal and objective existence of actual entities. In philosophy of mind, issues surrounding the disappearance of the self and personal vs. sub-personal levels of explanation are very germane to Whitehead’s system. I think it would be beneficial both to Whitehead studies and to relevant portions of analytic philosophy to bring Whitehead more back into the American philosophical mainstream by considering his specific problems and solutions in light of current interests and as susceptible to criticisms from current perspectives.



1. I am grateful to Nancy Potter, two anonymous referees, and Lewis Ford for many helpful suggestions on an earlier draft of this paper.

2.1 now think it is better to describe the sense in which traditional phenomenological accounts of perception are "incompatible" with causal accounts in epistemic rather than psychological terms. Phenomenological and causal accounts make different assumptions about what is most clearly and most certainly known in perception. Phenomenological accounts assume that first-person perceptual experience-tokens are more certainly known than any inference about their external causes. On the other hand, the basic epistemic assumption of causal accounts is the existence of an objective physical world. they then go on to explain the occurrence of the subjective data of perception by treating them as instances of law-like regularities of types of objective physical occurrences. Phenomenological accounts award the highest epistemic warrant to the subjective deliverances of the senses and withhold it from the proposition that an objective physical world exists; on the other hand, causal accounts award the highest epistemic warrant to the proposition that an objective physical world exists and withhold it from judgments about the subjective deliverances of the senses. Thus traditional phenomenological and causal accounts of perception embody epistemic attitudes which are rationally "incompatible" in the sense that a fully rational thinker should not hold both at the same time. It should nor hold both, because the beliefs are inconsistent (In respect to their attitudes toward the external world, they are analogous to agnosticism and religious belief) However, they are not "incompatible" in a psychological sense, because an irrational person could hold both simultaneously.

Because I now believe the difference between traditional phenomenological and causal accounts of perception is not a difference in kinds of experience. I now believe the question of whether the characterization of phenomenological accounts in IWTP was so "extreme" as to exclude the experience of causation to be moot. The character of the first-person phenomenological data of perception is not crucial in distinguishing phenomenological from causal accounts the essential differences are in epistemic assumptions. These remain constant -- and inconsistent -- however the first-person phenomenological experiences of perception are described.

3. Lewis S. Ford, The Emergence of Whitehead’s Metaphysics: 1925-1929 (Albany State University of New York Press, 1984): 181-182.

4. Particularly at PR 115-123, 168-183, 311-317, and 323-327 and S 45-46, 50-53, and 58.

5. "Whitehead’s metaphysical realism needs no support from incorrigible sensationalistic foundations" (PWM 102); "Prehension is the ground of all metaphysical principles, the basis of Whitehead’s system. It is as such neither corrigible nor incorrigible. but simply the vectoral relation in feeling among entities. It is how entities are related to other entities . . . . It is not, however, a mode of testimony." (PWM 103).

6. That "[t]he philosophy of organism accepts the man’s statement, that the flash made him blink" does not, of course, mean that the philosophy of organism’s only evidence for the reported causal efficacy is the experience of them himself. However ". . . actual entities are the only reasons" (PR 26).

7. S 54, PR 168, and PR 173.

8.1 assumed in IWTP that perception in the mode of CE is necessarily a conscious experience, and that assumption may be mistaken.

9. E.g.. "feeling" and "experience."

10. Since a given actual entity is causally affected by every other actual entity In its past, this theory would tend to support my original "detailed" interpretation of CE in IWTP, according to which Whitehead is committed to a theory of perception in the mode of CE which yields very specific knowledge of causes. However, contrary to my original claim in IWPT, this theory would not require such perception to be conscious.

11. "Nothing is to be received into the philosophical scheme which is not discoverable as an element in subjective experience" (PR 166). ". . . actual entities are drops of experience" (PR 18) ". . . apart from the experiences of subjects there is nothing, nothing, nothing, bare nothingness" (PR 167). "‘The universe is always one, since there is no surveying it except from an actual entity which unifies it" (PR 231-232).

Of course a perspective on the epistemic situation of a given actual entity A is available from the perspective of another actual entity B in which A is objectified. This perspective of B as external to that of A. However, Whitehead’s theory is inconsistent with versions of externalism which assume a hypothetical ideal observer or versions of externalism dependent on types of realism which posit objective facts of the matter independent of the experience of any actual subject.

12."... where Whitehead speaks of ‘perception’ he is not concerned with conscious perception, but with prehension" (PWM 97).

13. But note that". . . the pragmatic test can never work, unless on some occasion -- in the future, or in the present -- there is a definite determination of what is true on that occasion" (PR 181).

14. The "withness of the body" is a kind of folk-theory of causation in perception, much like folk-psychology or folk-medicine. On this analogy, the relation between scientific theories of perception and the experience of the "withness of the body" would be like the relation of scientific psychology and scientific medicine to folk-psychology and folk-medicine. In general, folk-theories are unsystematic accumulations of conventional wisdom on a particular topic; they may embody some truth but are as likely to embody much falsehood. Even though scientific theories may have folk-theories as their origin and folk-theories may have to serve as reliable guides to a given subject in the absence of a developed scientific theory, when truth is the primary concern and time is no object, folk-theories are usually superseded by their scientific counterparts. Like other folk-theories, the experience of CE through the "withness of the body" would provide rough and ready, faute de mieux real time information essential for immediate survival but would hardly provide an epistemic criterion.


EWM Lewis S. Ford, The Emergence of Whitehead’s Metaphysics 1925-1929. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1984.

IWM William A. Christian An Interpretation of Whitehead’s Metaphysics, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1959.

PS9 Robert H. Kimball, "The Incoherence of Whitehead’s Theory of Perception," Process Studies 9 (1979), 94-104.

PS22 David L Hildebrand, "Kimball on Whitehead on Perception," Process Studies 22 (1993

22(1993), 13-20.

KWPR Donald W. Sherburne, A Key to Whitehead’s Process and Reality, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966.

PWM Stephen David Ross, Perspective in Whitehead’s Metaphysics Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983.