Perception and Externality in Whitehead’s “Enquiry”

by Fernando R. Molina

Fernando R. Molinais Professor of Philosophy at Syracuse University, having received his AB. from Harvard in 1953 and the Ph.D. from Yale in 1959. He is the author of Existentialism as Philosophy and editor of Sources of Existentialism as Philosophy.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 183-193, 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 critiques various points of Whitehead’s Enquiry, yet adjudges Whitehead as contributing some of the most exciting contributions to epistemology.

In my judgment the grouping together of Whitehead’s Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge (PNK) and The Concept of Nature (CN) by such scholars as Victor Lowe and Nathaniel Lawrence, coupled with the dramatic impact of Whitehead’s attack on theories of the bifurcation of nature in the later of the two books, has almost completely obscured the epistemological subtlety that is to be found in the Enquiry, by one year the earlier of the two books. Whitehead’s own repeated insistence on the limited scope of these two volumes and, it might be added, on the alleged "closedness" of nature to mind, a share of culpability in preventing either awareness or full appreciation of what I am prepared to adjudge to be some of Whitehead’s most exciting contributions to epistemology.

The fact is that, actual and/or possible internal inconsistencies notwithstanding, Whitehead’s Enquiry employs or considers a variety of possibilities concerning the nature of experience and the meaning and status of externality, all of which are worth careful scrutiny for the value they may have as relating to the clarification of Whitehead’s thought as well as to the articulation or resolution of relevant philosophical issues. As my explication of and commentary on the text of the Enquiry proceeds, it should become clear that the picture suggested later by The Concept of Nature, a picture that represents Whitehead as dogmatically claiming that ". . . there is but one nature, namely the nature that is before us in perceptual knowledge" (CN 40), is, however justified by contextual evidence, a distortion by way of an oversimplification of the deliverances of a mind greatly occupied with issues at once subtle and complex.

Throughout his writings prior to the Enquiry, Whitehead had included a variety of discussions properly to be classed as metaphysical in his sense of that word (PNK vii). Ostensibly, however, the Enquiry was to be concerned with geometry considered as a physical science, thereby excluding metaphysical considerations: "How is space rooted in experience?" (PNK 4). "We are concerned only with Nature, that is, with the object of perceptual knowledge, and not with the synthesis of the knower and the known" (PNK vii).

The first discussion in the Enquiry does not adequately define perception but does serve as an introduction to Whitehead’s notion of significance. In a subsection entitled "Perception," Whitehead states that the conception of one universal nature embracing the fragmentary perceptions of events by one percipient and the many perceptions by diverse percipients is surrounded with difficulties (PNK 8). There is what Whitehead calls the ‘Berkeleyan Dilemma’: "Perceptions are in the mind and universal nature is out of the mind, and thus the conception of universal nature can have no relevance to our perceptual life" (PNK 8f.). Whitehead’s answer to this dilemma points out that Berkeley’s analysis tacitly ignores the fact that ‘significance’ (as yet undefined) is an essential element in experience; we are, however, left in doubt as to what aspect of the dilemma here concerns Whitehead. At no point in the immediately following discussion does Whitehead repudiate the statement that perceptions are in the mind and universal nature is out of the mind; perhaps then the introduction of significance as an element in concrete experience is a way of saying that a phenomenalistic analysis which includes the felt fact of significance is adequate to the task of providing a ground for natural knowledge, a ground which does not depend on the introduction of the conception of a transcendent "nature" At this point, this suggestion is but a speculation, but we can later find other evidence to support this possibility.

But one might argue that such a suggestion can readily be invalidated by reference to the analysis of perception which Whitehead makes after his discussion of the Berkeleyan Dilemma. In this analysis, Whitehead states in summary form those items that enter into a perception: ". . . perception involves a percipient object, a percipient event, which is all nature simultaneous with the percipient event, and the particular events which are perceived as parts of the complete event" (PNK 13). However, on closer study, I submit that this passage is either: (a) incorrect or (b) compatible with the suggestion I have made.

First, (a), the assertion that all nature (here taken to mean the totality of happenings in the universe) simultaneous with the percipient event is a complete event involved in perception is an incorrect description of what happens in perception. For example, if I perceive a batter strike a ball, the parts of the complete event which are the event, batter-striking-ball, are not given to perception simultaneously. I see the batter striking the ball at one moment and only later hear the batter striking the ball. As Whitehead said earlier in his "Space, Time, and Relativity": "What we perceive at any instant is already ancient history with the dates of the various parts hopelessly mixed" (OT 225=IS 105).1 However, (b), the passage under consideration is compatible with my suggestion that perhaps Whitehead does not object in principle to asserting that perceptions are in the mind (albeit significantly so); then it follows that the assertion that the complete event (which here means only the complete contents of awareness) is in fact simultaneous with the percipient, would, in this case, be analytic, merely explicating the meaning of the phrase ‘complete event’ as the complete contents of awareness simultaneous with a given percipient event.

That Whitehead himself is aware of this point is evidenced by a distinction between "seeing" and "really seeing" which he introduces into his discussion of objects in the Enquiry. There he states that when an astronomer looks through a telescope and sees a new red star burst into existence what he really sees is a star coming into being two centuries previously (PNK 85). But what he sees is redness situated in some event which is happening now (PNK 85). Thus the complete event cannot be identified with what the astronomer is really seeing since the complete event is simultaneous with the percipient event by definition, and what the astronomer is really seeing is something that happened two centuries before his perceptions. In the light of this distinction between what is seen and what is really seen, it is necessary to conclude that the essence of what is seen is its symbolic aspect, its role in being effective as a sign for what is really seen; in this sense Whitehead’s notion of significance is not a repudiation of the Berkeleyan Dilemma with respect to the in-the-mind, out-of-the-mind aspect of it. Rather it is, as already stated, a repudiation of the dilemma with respect to its failure to include in its description of the contents of the mind the aspect of symbolism which, to Whitehead, is as important as the aspect of mere perceptual contents.2

On this analysis, one can then argue that there is in the Enquiry a clear phenomenalistic emphasis, for if the complete event "which is all nature simultaneous with the percipient event" is merely what is seen, then what is really seen is not included at all by Whitehead in his listing of the components of perception. "Universal nature," "the external world," is, at least in some sense, not relevant to the fact of significant perception, but must probably be inferred as an active conditioning event (PNK 85-91).

Part II of the Enquiry. "The Data of Science," begins with a sentence which certainly seems to support my suggestion that Whitehead strongly favors phenomenalism: "Our perceptual knowledge of nature consists in the breaking up of a whole which is the subject matter of perceptual experience, or is the given presentation which is experience -- or however else we prefer to describe the ultimate experienced fact" (PNK 59). I suggest that the word choke here is not accidental: ". . . perceptual experience . . . given presentation . . .experience . . . ultimate experienced fact." Whatever the underlying ontology may be, the emphasis here is clear: an external physical world is not a datum for the perceptual knowledge of nature.

The seemingly paradoxical use of both ‘physical world’ and ‘nature’ in the same sentence just quoted calls for a note of recognition and explanation. Nature is "the object of perceptual knowledge" (PNK vii). Whatever be the relation of nature to mind, the "breaking up" of it (here again I am quoting from Whitehead), that is, the diversification of nature, may be in terms of each of several possible types of entities (cf. PNK 60). A subclass of one of these types is the class of physical objects (cf. PNK 88). Thus, in one sense, the physical world, as the class of all physical objects, can be taken as derivative from nature (when by nature we mean the phenomenalistic object of perceptual knowledge). A remaining problem, then, is to determine the relation of ‘physical world’ in that sense to ‘physical world’ in the sense of something underlying perception, should this latter sense be permissible by Whitehead.

Whitehead lists the types of entities into which nature can be diversified, especially with respect to the needs of scientific theory: events, percipient objects, sense-objects, perceptual objects, and scientific objects (PNK 60). If nature be diversified into events, then since events have the quality of extending over one another (PNK 61), the externality of nature is the outcome of this relation of extension. Whitehead’s point here seems weaker than the one he made in "Space, Time, and Relativity" in which he argued that location in space and location in time both embody and perhaps necessitate a judgment of externality (OT 197=AE 237=IS 94). Here, in contrast, the externality of nature follows merely from the fact of the relation of extension that holds between events, without there being required the element of judgment. A little later we shall see Whitehead modify this position.

But first Whitehead considers briefly the related problem of the community of nature. Unlike objects, which enter into experience by virtue of the "intellectuality of recognition," events are lived through, they extend around us: "They are the medium within which our physical experience develops, or, rather, they are themselves the development of that experience" (PNK 63). It is not clear what Whitehead intends by speaking of "physical" experience here, nor is it clear what is intended by equating the events with the development of the experience instead of the experience itself, although the two might be coextensive, in which possible case the point might be construed as a phenomenalistic one.

Nevertheless, it is clear that regarding the status of nature, conceived as the object of perceptual experience, Whitehead is closer to a phenomenalistic position than to a naïve-realistic one:

To apprehend an event is to be aware of its passage as happening in that nature, which we each of us know as though it were common to all percipients. It is unnecessary for the purposes of science to consider the difficult metaphysical question of this community of nature to all. It is sufficient that, for the awareness of each, it is as though it were common to all, and that science is a body of doctrine true for this quasi-common nature which is the subject for the experience of each percipient; namely, science is true for each percipient. (PNK 72, italics added)

Whitehead is not asserting an epistemological solipsism here, but is stating that the question of the community of nature to all, being metaphysical, is not one that has to be answered from the point of view of science.3 Moreover, it remains to be seen whether or not Whitehead’s position, as it unfolds in the Enquiry, will remain uninvolved in the "difficult metaphysical question."

Whitehead returns to the problem of externality in detail in Chapter VI, "Events." Here he elaborates the doctrine of the Constants of Externality; of his doctrine he states:

The constants of externality are those characteristics of a perceptual experience which it possesses when we assign to it the property of being an observation of the passage of external nature, namely when we apprehend it. A fact which possesses these characteristics, namely these constants cf. externality, is what we call an ‘event.’ (PNK71f)

The constants are characteristics of a perceptual experience when we assign to it the property of being an observation of the passage of external nature, not "when it is given as an observation of the passage of external nature." Note also the equation of apprehension with the assignment of the property in question: apprehension is an activity; externality is its product.

The emphasis on the activity of the percipient in relation to the fact of externality is seen again in a passage following closely upon the last one cited:

We are merely investigating the characteristics which in experience we find belonging to perceived facts when we invest them with externality. The constants of externality are the conditions for nature, and determine the ultimate concepts which are presupposed in science. (PNK 72, italics added)

Another point arises from these two passages last cited: the very fact of there being a nature for our knowing is a resultant of the percipient’s activity in investing his perceptual experience with externality. The constants are the conditions for nature; they are characters which it possesses when the perceptual experience in question has assigned to it the property of externality. The question of whether we invest nature with these conditions I consider answered in the affirmative by the theory of projection which Whitehead will introduce in his essay "Uniformity and Contingency" (ESP 104) and later will develop fully in Process and Reality (e.g., PR 193). But within the scope of the Enquiry, without the constants of externality (the third, fourth, and fifth, that is), ". . .our perceptual experience appears as a disconnected dream" (PNK 78).

The sixth constant of externality deserves special consideration because of its subject; it is the association of events a community of nature. Whitehead holds that the sixth constant arises from the fragmentary nature of perceptual knowledge:

There are breaks in individual perception, and there are distinct streams of perception corresponding to diverse percipients. For example, as one percipient awakes daily to a fresh perceptual stream, he apprehends the same external nature which can be comprised in one large duration extending over all his days. Again the same nature and the same events are apprehended by diverse percipients; at least, what they apprehend is as though it were the same for all. (PNK 78)

Whitehead’s skepticism concerning the status of the external world as immediately given in experience is here evident. His use of the terms individual perception’ and ‘distinct streams of perception’ would be in keeping with the phenomenalistic strain which I have been indicating; the same cannot be said of his use of the phrase "he apprehends the same external nature." If, as I have suggested, the externality of events is a contribution of the percipient, then it is difficult to see how this last phrase can be reconciled with what would seem to be the essence of Whitehead’s thinking on the problem of externality. We might take this phrase to be elliptical to the point of being misleading, or we might take it to support Lawrence’s contention that Whitehead in 1919 was working from a naïve realism, or so Whitehead thought (WPD 18 et passim). I am inclined to offer an interpretation that, at this point in the discussion, can be nothing more than a suggestion: Whitehead is leaning toward a form of naïve realism a leaning that will culminate in his famous attack on theories of the bifurcation of nature.

Continuing with the Enquiry, immediately after the last passage cited, Whitehead states that we distinguish between the qualities of events as in individual perception and the objective qualities of the actual events within the common nature which is the datum for apprehension (PNK 780. The first are the sense data of individuals. Again we find the notion of apprehension used in conjunction with the concept of external nature -- here spoken of as common nature. We again note the absence of the use of the notion of apprehension in passages dealing with the relation of a percipient to the external world.

That Whitehead’s bent toward a naive realism is not yet fully effective in his thinking seems to follow from this next passage:

In this assumption of a nature common for all percipients, the immediate knowledge of the individual percipient is entirely his perceptual awareness derived from the bodily event ‘now-present here.’ But this event occurs as related to the events of antecedent or concurrent nature. Accordingly he is aware of these events as related to his bodily event ‘now-present here’; but his knowledge is thus mediate and relative -- namely, he only knows other events through the medium of his body and as determined by relations to it. The event here-now, comprising in general the bodily events, is the immediate event conditioning awareness. (PNK 79)

Whitehead is here beginning to elaborate a theory of awareness that gives the body its due with respect to the mechanics of perception. His point is that the knowledge possessed by a percipient is completely the awareness which is derivative from the percipient’s then-present bodily event. The bodily event, as one among other events, is causally related to antecedent or contemporaneous events. But the percipient’s knowledge of those other events is had only mediately, that is, only in so far as the relations which these other events have to the bodily event so affect the bodily event that the awareness derived from the bodily event will be significant (to the percipient) of the environmental events.4 This speaking of the knowledge as relative, as well as mediate, is presumably meant to allow for the conditioning of awareness in accordance with the state of the bodily event, over against the further determination of that state by environmental events in their relation to it.

The factors involved in analysis are:

a) the percipient

b) the percipient’s awareness of "immediate knowledge"

c) the percipient’s bodily event; from this is derived the percipient’s awareness; conversely, the bodily events condition awareness

d) the assumed common nature (which we have here called "the environmental events") which, by virtue of its indirect relation to awareness via the bodily event, is a differential condition for the contents of awareness:

The form that this awareness of nature takes is an awareness of sense-objects now-present, namely qualities situated in the events within the duration associated with the percipient event. (PNK 79, italics added)

This common nature is the object of scientific research; it has to be constructed as an interpretation. (PNK 79).

There is a subtle difficulty in Whitehead’s position on common nature, a difficulty which is almost identical with one found earlier in his" Space, Time, and Relativity" (OT 212=AE 242-44=IS 980f). Whitehead, within his theory, may assume that there is a common nature. Having done so, he may argue that science constructs a concept of such a common nature. I question, however, the wisdom in speaking of common nature itself as being a construction. We assume that it exists and we form a concept of what its nature is. If it does not exist, we are fooled, and we ought not to have gone beyond a phenomenalistic position. If it does exist, a skeptic may, if he wishes, argue that still there is no method whereby we may compare it with our concept of it; this position seems forceful and could, it seems, be met only by a pragmatic theory of knowledge, such as what emerges in Process and Reality (PR 275). Since in Process and Reality Whitehead argues that the pragmatic test is the ultimate means of bridging the appearance-reality gap, there is evidence that in his thinking he came to accept explicitly in Process and Reality what at this time in the Enquiry was only vaguely implied.

There is also an ambiguity in Whitehead’s use of the notion of externality. We have seen above that there is a sense in which externality is a contribution of the percipient. In speaking of the bodily event, Whitehead, not without contradiction, states: "This event [the bodily event] is the life of that organism which links the percipient’s awareness to external nature" (PNK 80). It is obvious that "external" is not here being used in the sense that it was used in the initial discussion of the constants of externality. There externality was something with which some perceived facts were invested (PNK 71f). "Externality" here, presumably, is being used in the sense that the common nature which is assumed to exist is taken to be external to the percipient, not in the sense that certain perceptual experiences of the percipient are taken to be observations of the passage of external nature (cf. PNI (71).

This same ambiguity may be present in the following passage:

There is a structure of events and this structure provides the framework of the externality of nature within which objects are located. Any percept which does not find its position within this structure is not for us a percept of external nature, though it may find its explanation from external events as being derived from them. (PNK 80)

It seems to me that the phrase "is not for us a percept of external nature" is used in the sense of "is not for us a percept which we invest with externality." On the other hand, in the phrase "its explanation from external events," the word "external" appears to be used in the transcendent sense in which I have suggested that the common nature, if it exists, is external to the percipient. However, it may be that the word "external" is being used consistently in the two places. In that case, the latter part of the sentence in question ought to read: ". . . though it may find its explanation from our concept of an external common nature." Here the reference would explicitly be to the constructed concept of an external nature, not to an external nature which may or may not be real but whose externality is never given immediately to experience.

Whitehead is here struggling with a problem which he will later clarify in The Concept of Nature:

The conception of causal nature is not to be confused with the distinct conception of one part of nature as being the cause of another part. For example, the burning of the fire and the passage of heat from it through intervening space is the cause of the body, its nerves and its brain, functioning in certain ways. But this is not an action of nature on the mind. It is an interaction within nature. The causation involved in this interaction is causation in a different sense from the influence of this system of bodily interactions within nature on the alien mind which thereupon perceives redness and warmth. (CN 31)

Causal nature, in the sense in which Whitehead is referring to it here, is external to the percipient in the transcendent sense. If it exists, it does not have to be invested with externality; it is external but is not so given immediately to experience. In a phrase, it exists in itself. It is known only through its relation to the bodily event by which it conditions awareness, while not itself being given for awareness. Nature, on the other hand, in this passage from The Concept of Nature, is external only in the sense that it is invested with externality by the percipient. Whether or not Whitehead accepts the position which he is discussing here, I suggest that the passage is referring to the same distinction which I feel that Whitehead has failed to make in the sections of the Enquiry which have been under consideration.

In order to do justice to Whitehead, however, it must be noted that he recognized the difficulty (albeit in a different context, namely in a discussion of types of objects) prior to the publication of the second edition of the Enquiry. In the "Notes" added to the second edition, it may be that he recognized the distinction, although perhaps then not too clearly:

. . . the present duration . . . is primarily marked out by the significance of an interconnected display of sense and of other associated objects immediately apparent. The duration is the realization of a social entity in which the sense-objects and perceptual objects . . . are ingredient.

The antecedent physical objects . . . and scientific objects . . . which occasion the duration to be what it is are another story, and the persistent habit of muddling the two sets of entities in philosophy . . . is the origin of much confusion. (PNK 203)

I suggest that since Whitehead is here speaking of physical objects and of scientific objects as being the occasions of a duration, the meaning of this notion of occasion is the same as the meaning of the previously employed notion of conditioning awareness. If that is so, then it is clear why Whitehead states that the antecedent physical and scientific objects which occasion the duration to be what it is are another story -- they are not phenomenal, that is, experientially given, entities.

In the same section of the ‘Notes," Whitehead also clarifies some related points with respect to his theory of objects, including the status of the "antecedent physical and scientific objects."

In the body of the Enquiry, the first objects which Whitehead introduces into the discussion are sense-objects: "Tastes, colors, sounds, and every variety of sensation are objects of this sort" (PNK 83). They are, in other words, phenomenal entities. Their relation to nature is expressed in terms of conditioning events. But it is important to note that Whitehead qualifies this statement by saying that this relationship holds ". . . so far as it is restricted to one percipient event and one situation. . . (PNK 86). Whitehead is by no means assuming a community of nature; the theory he is expounding is intended to hold even if there were only one percipient in the universe, and even if that one percipient were limited to his own private experience. There is nothing here so far that is incompatible with a pure phenomenalism: "An event which is an active condition is a cause of the occurrence of the sense-object in its situation for the percipient event; at least, it can be so termed in one of the many meanings of the word ‘cause’" (PNK 86). Whitehead is here noting the ambiguity of the word "cause" in a manner analogous to what I have already observed in the passage cited from The Concept of Nature. Since the analysis up to this point in the Enquiry is an analysis of relations found holding within nature, we take it that the meaning of "cause" which is here relevant is the phenomenal sense -- the sense in which the burning fire is part of a causal chain that affects the functioning of the brain, not the sense in which the fire causes a mind to perceive warmth and redness.

The strong phenomenalistic flavor of the discussion of the theory of objects in the Enquiry is nowhere clearer than in the explication of the notion of perceptual objects:

Perceptual objects are the ordinary objects of common experience -- chairs, tables, stones, trees. They have been termed ‘permanent possibilities of sensation.’. . . They are the ‘things’ which we see, touch, taste, and hear. The fact of the existence of such objects is among the greatest of all laws of nature, ranking with those from which space and time emerge. (PNK 88)

This is, in many respects, a remarkable passage. First, we may note that, in order of exposition, tables and chairs, for example, are perceptual objects; the notion of a physical object is derivative and will be introduced later. Second, Mill’s openly phenomenalistic definition, whatever be the difficulties with it, is introduced (1:369) presumably because it in some sense would serve to qualify the notion in question. Third, Whitehead states that the fact of the existence of perceptual objects is among the greatest of the laws of nature. On my interpretation, the point that he is here making pertains to the fact that phenomenal sense objects somehow cohere in such a way that perceptual objects may be given to awareness. This point is made earlier in "The Anatomy of Some Scientific Ideas," in which Whitehead states that the thought-objects of perception (corresponding to perceptual objects here) are instances of a fundamental law of nature, the law of objective stability: "It is the law of the coherence of sense-objects" (OT 148 = AE 192).

In conclusion, then, it seems reasonable to make the strong statement that a perceptual object for Whitehead is merely the recognized permanence of the association of certain sense-objects (PNK 88). It follows, from this conclusion and my earlier consideration of the externality which is contributed by the percipient, that the externality of perceptual objects cannot constitute the external world that would presumably be the proper subject of metaphysical analysis. The same conclusion holds with respect to what Whitehead terms "physical objects" since a physical object is only a non-delusive perceptual object, a delusive perceptual object being one the perceptual judgment of which is mistaken on one or both of two points:

a) the perceptual judgment may be wrong in holding that: an analogous association of sense-objects, with ‘legal’ modifications and in the same situation as that actually apprehended, is recognizable from other percipient events (PNK 89).

b) or the perceptual judgment may be wrong in holding that: ". . . the event which is the common situation of these associations of sense-objects, recognized or recognizable, is an active condition for these recognitions" (PNK 89).

And, as we have seen above, the referent of the term "active condition" is an instance of a cause in the phenomenal employment of that notion.

Although Whitehead goes on in later sections of the Enquiry to argue that actually all perceptual objects are delusive (since all perception is belated) (PNK 184), and then to propound an analysis of the transition from appearance to cause which will provide a theory for the connection of delusive perceptual objects with their generating events, it must be emphasized that Whitehead is still in no way advocating a causal theory of perception. It might be embarrassing to his position to question an assertion to which he is here committed, namely, that apparent characters of events essentially involve reference to percipient events (PNK 183). In the first place, it was not necessary for him to underscore this point since he had early in the book stated that all perception involved a percipient event. Secondly then, is it possible that his unoccasioned re-emphasis of this point is in some way related to the development of a new position with respect to the role of the percipient event in perception, a role, that is, which is other than that of merely being involved?

I have already referred to the notes which were added in the second edition of the Enquiry. I indicated at that time that Whitehead had made the perhaps cryptic assertion that the antecedent physical objects and scientific objects which occasion a duration to be what it is are another story. I ventured an interpretation at that time, and, now that the theory of objects has been discussed at least in its broader outlines, I choose to return to a brief support of the interpretation which I then put forth.

I find in my reading of the Enquiry that the phrase "which occasion a duration to be what it is" cannot he admitted as meaningful without transcending the scope of what I have taken to be Whitehead’s approach to certain problems in this particular book. Nature is what is given in perceptual experience, and a duration is that complete event which is the whole of nature simultaneous with a given percipient event (itself part of the whole) (PNK 68). It follows then that that which occasions a duration to be what it is must be some thing or process which, in some sense remaining to be specified, transcends nature.

If we follow the doctrine as developed in the text, neither physical objects nor scientific objects will meet this requirement of transcendence; physical objects are discriminated within nature as are, for that matter, scientific objects which are defined as the last stage in a series of abstractions (PNK 188).

In my interpretation of the Enquiry, nature for Whitehead would have to be conceived as opaque, incapable of an explanation which would be, at least in principle, before the fact. I suggest that the note regarding physical and scientific objects in the second edition of the Enquiry be taken as a break on Whitehead’s part with the position spelled out in the body of the book insofar as that position, because of its phenomenalistic orientation, rules out the possibility of the above-mentioned type of explanation. In point of fact, the added notes, to my mind, do little or nothing to clarify that type of solution Whitehead is planning for this problem of transcendence. How, for example, on the material in the Enquiry do we go about interpreting the following passage? "Thus a physical object is a social entity resulting from scientific objects, and halfway towards a perceptual object" (PNK 203). Also, having stated that antecedent physical and scientific objects are a "different story" as Whitehead has done, I question the accuracy of his then stating, nevertheless, that they are causal characters as discussed in the text (PNK 203). In short, I wonder just what we are being told when Whitehead states that something is a different story

At any rate, Whitehead emphasizes that the distinction between causal and apparent characters must not be overstressed since it is ". . . relative to a deliberately limited point of view" (PNK 204). Still, we might set down a question: Does the point of view to which the distinction between causal and apparent characters is limited preclude Whitehead’s making the assertion that there is something that occasions a given duration to be what it is? If the answer, as I have already suggested, is "yes," there will be need for some important additions to Whiteheadian ontology to follow the Enquiry.


WPD -- Nathaniel Lawrence, Whitehead’s Philosophical Development. Berkeley and Los Angeles; University of California Press, 1956.

1. John Stuart Mill, "The Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy," in Philosophy of Scientific Method, ed. Nagel. New York: Hafner, 1950.


1 Even if a naive realistic view be held, it is clear that the "dates" are hopelessly mixed although what is perceived is not taken to be an event in the past.

2 Whitehead deals further with the relation between symbolism and perception in Process and Reality. See PR 2-279 for his principal discussion.

3 The obvious critical point to make of Whitehead here is to indicate that his statement that science is true for each percipient is to claim to know something of the experience, qua scientific, of each percipient, and hence to have admitted an element of transcendence into the very statement of the problem.

4 Contrast this with the phenomenologically accessible significance of his explicit concern.