Genetic and Coordinate Division Correlated

by Lewis S. Ford

Lewis S. Ford is Emeritus Professor at Old Dominion University, and founding editor of Process Studies Periodical (1971 – 1995).

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 199-209, Vol. 1, Number 3, Fall, 1971. 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 defends his position in terms of insights and criticisms of several process thinkers: Robert Neville, John Cobb, F.H. Bradley, William A. Christian.

Sensing many of the same difficulties Neville has raised against my temporalistic interpretation of genetic successiveness, John Cobb has proposed this constructive alternative:

In addition to temporal successiveness, Whitehead conceives of another order of successiveness, which he calls genetic or microcosmic. This is a successiveness that becomes real only when the succession is completed. But when completed it can be reconstructed analytically in terms of the dependence of the completed occasion on inclusions and exclusions of the past and of unrealized possibilities. The including and excluding jointly constitute a complex act of decision which is momentary but not instantaneous. An act of decision has a beginning in the settled past given for the occasion and an end in the satisfaction of the new occasion. Since beginning and end are both temporally separated and qualitatively different, and since it is possible to analyze what must take place for the qualitative difference to come into being, it is appropriate to speak of the act of decision as a process in spite of its indivisible unity. Its origin is temporally earlier than its outcome. The analysis of the unified act can discriminate what is closest to that origin in the order of dependence (i.e., what depends only on that origin and the new aim at actuality) and what depends on aspects of the decision itself. The terms prior and subsequent offer themselves as appropriate characterizations of this order of real dependence. But it must be repeatedly recalled that neither the term dependence nor the terms prior and subsequent are used identically with their use in describing the relations between successive occasions.

On the other hand, the meaning of these terms is not equivocal. To show this I will focus only on "dependence." In all cases, if A depends on B, then A would not be A apart from B. In this sense: (1) occasion A depends on earlier occasion B; (2) occasion A depends on every phase of its own becoming; (3) subsequent phases depend on prior ones; and (4) all phases depend on the completed occasion.

Ford has charged that my argument in the Southern Journal of Philosophy Whitehead issue (1:409-13) "invokes a symmetrical internal relatedness between part and whole, between prior and subsequent, which it had been Whitehead’s genius to avoid" (1:425). Yet as here explained, I do not think my position makes (a) the relation of part and whole and (b) the relation of prior to subsequent phases symmetrical. (a) All parts depend on the whole occasion for any actuality whatsoever. The whole depends on its parts to constitute it as it is. The whole includes the parts. The parts do not include the whole. (b) Subsequent phases depend on the earlier for their content. This relation is not reciprocal. But no phase comes into being except as part of the whole occasion.

With this added explanation, I agree I must retract that charge. The accent of my remark was on symmetrical internal relatedness such as we find in F. H. Bradley in contrast with Whitehead’s asymmetrical relations which are internal to (as constitutive of) the prehending subject only, being external to the prehended datum. Now it becomes clear that Cobb maintains this asymmetry with respect to relations of constitution: the prior is constitutive of the subsequent, the part of the whole, and never vice versa. Phases depend upon the completed occasion in the sense that they cannot come into being apart from the whole, but this does not mean that the phases are constituted as to their nature by their relationship to the satisfaction. It rather signifies the generic necessary interconnection of "many," "one," and "creativity" (PR 31f). The many cannot become one in the absence of a terminating unity.

Cobb’s recognition that the origin of the act of decision is temporally earlier than its outcome is most significant for it stands in contrast with the implicit tendency to treat concrescence as if it were temporally instantaneous. Since the occasion happens "all at once" and its becoming is not in physical time, it is possible to assume that all temporal designations refer exclusively to coordinate division of the satisfaction. Since there is a becoming of continuity, the spatiotemporal region occupied by one occasion’s satisfaction is immediately followed by the region of its successor. If it be denied that the outset of concrescence is temporally earlier than its outcome, it would seem that the whole of concrescence must be inserted into that instant between two successive occasions, since the being of the second occasion first depends upon its becoming. Concrescence would then be an instantaneous becoming.

This seems to be William A. Christian’s position:

Indeed the satisfaction contains, one might say, the whole of the temporal duration of the occasion. For the genetic process that produces the satisfaction is not itself in physical time. If we think of "taking time" as a matter of filling up the gaps between the earlier and later physical boundaries of occasions, then it is the satisfaction that "takes time." It is by producing their satisfactions that actual occasions produce the temporally extended world. (IWM 30)

The satisfaction as objectified "takes time" in the sense outlined here, but I question whether it "represents a pause in the midst of the flux" (IWM 29) if this is taken to mean that the occasion subjectively enjoys its satisfaction for the duration of the present moment. I understand all subjectivity to inhere in becoming, while the satisfaction is the attainment of being. Only as the completion of becoming can the satisfaction be subjectively enjoyed, but this is a fleeting instant. If on the other hand, the satisfaction subjectively occupies the entire duration of the present, then the concrescence must take no time at all, from which I can only infer that it must be instantaneous.

Instantaneous becoming is not an inherently implausible notion. Traditionally it has been a favorite way of conceiving divine creation. But I think it plays havoc with any theory of epochal becoming that claims temporal occasions to be irreducibly atomic in some sense. If an instantaneous becoming produces a duration of, say, one millisecond, why could not that same millisecond duration be produced by two instantaneous acts spaced half a millisecond apart, or by four acts spaced a fourth of a millisecond apart, etc.? In fact, if the acts are instantaneous, it would seem more plausible to assume that the durations they produce are, if not instantaneous, at least infinitesimal. There need be no fixed, finite duration for any event, no matter how small, if its being can equally well be accounted for in terms of a series of several acts of becoming. The arguments derived from Zeno’s paradoxes deny that any "act of becoming is divisible into earlier and later sections which are themselves acts of becoming" (PR 106). but this does not affect the divisibility of the being of events. Obviously, instantaneous becoming cannot be divided, but it can be multiplied. Its very instantaneousness permits any finite duration to be populated with an infinitely dense series of them. In his discussion of ‘Achilles and the Tortoise,’ Whitehead recognizes the logical possibility of an infinite series of acts of becoming within a single second (PR 107). Thus the atomic, finite duration of an occasion’s being, it would seem, can only be safeguarded by assigning its becoming an equally finite duration.

Cobb also recognizes that "the analysis of the unified act can discriminate what is closest to that origin in the order of dependence" and that this can be appropriately described in terms of prior and subsequent. Does this mean that initial phases of concrescence are literally earlier than subsequent phases? Apparently not, for Cobb emphasizes only the difference between the use of dependence and the terms prior and subsequent here and in the description of successive occasions. My position is that genetic phases are earlier and later than one another in exactly the same sense that successive occasions are earlier and later, but that whereas all occasions earlier than a given one lie in its past, and all occasions later than it lie in its future, this is not true of the genetic phases of a single occasion. Here earlier and later phases are all equally Co. present as constituting that occasion’s present becoming. The assumption that "earlier/later than" and "past, present, future" have the same denotative range for a given temporal locus designated as present must be given up if we are to penetrate Whitehead’s meaning. I think it is the chief source of confusion concerning the epochal theory of becoming. Cobb’s statement could be interpreted as affirming that prior phases are earlier than subsequent ones but do not lie in their past, but the impression he leaves is that this is not so.

Now it is clear that the subsequent depends on the prior in "this order of real dependence," but is it equally true that the order of dependence always runs from the subsequent to the prior? In that case the outcome of an occasion would be prior to its origin, even though the origin is temporally earlier, since like all other phases the initial phase depends upon the completed occasion But if this is not so, what is the additional meaning assigned to prior and subsequent which is not discoverable in the concept of an order of dependence? Could it be: earlier and later?

Now we can make the claim that some genetic phases are earlier than others more precise by correlating genetic and coordinate division as illustrated in the following matrix:

Coordinate Division