Process, Time, and God

by Bowman L. Clarke

Bowman L. Clarke is Professor of Philosophy and former Head of the department at the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 245-259, Vol. 13, Number 4, Winter, 1983. 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.


Whitehead has two types of process, and the understanding of the difference between these and their relationship to time is essential to understanding his conception of God.

Whitehead is frequently characterized as holding an ontology of events. This is not an unhappy characterization, if what is meant is that all other entities can be defined, or constructed, in terms of events and their properties, especially relations. In fact, in The Concept of Nature Whitehead tells us "the final conclusion" is "that the concrete facts of nature are events exhibiting a certain structure in their mutual relations and certain characters of their own" (CN 167). No one would question the central place of events in Whitehead’s earlier work, beginning with An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge (1919) and extending through Science and the Modern World (1925). I myself think that this earlier work forms an essential background for Process and Reality. In this essay I want to use Whitehead’s concept of an event from these earlier writings to elucidate his concept of "process" and its relationship to time in Process and Reality and, in turn, to use this to elucidate Whitehead’s conception of God. As is generally recognized, Whitehead has two types of process, and the understanding of the difference between these two types of process and their relationship to time is essential to understanding his conception of God.

Let us look now at the way in which the term ‘event’ is used in Whitehead’s earlier writings. In The Concept of Nature, for example, he defines an event as "a place through a period of time" (CN 52). And he tells us," Every event extends over other events, and every event is extended over by other events" (CN 59). Conversely, every event is divisible into proper parts which are events, and every event is a proper part of some larger event. Thus, what he calls there the "ether of events" (CN 78) is infinite in extension and infinitely divisible. Here there are no atomic events, that is, events which are not divisible further into events. This same positibn is taken mAn Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge and suggested in The Principle of Relativity.

In Science and the Modern World, an ‘event’ is defined as "a volume of space through a duration of time" (SMW 103); or as "a region of space-time" (SMW 66). In the Theory of Extensive Connection in Part IV of Process and Reality, this term ‘region’ or ‘extensive region’ becomes the technical term. The term ‘region,’ he tells us, "will be used for the relata which are involved in the scheme of ‘extensive connection’" (PR 294/ 449). In this new theory the relation, ‘extensively connected,’ or ‘connected,’ is taken as primitive, or undefined.1 The other extensive relations of the earlier work, such as ‘part of ’ and ‘overlap,’ along with some new relations, ‘externally connected,’ ‘tangential part of,’ and ‘nontangential part of ’ are defined in terms of connected.’ The term ‘region now replaces the term ‘event,’ for "a place through a period of time" or "a volume of space through a duration of time." And just as events in the earlier work were infinitely divisible into further events, so now regions are infinitely divisible into further regions. Assumption 9 in the Theory of Extensive Connection assures this:

Every region includes other regions and a pair of regions thus included in one region are not necessarily connected with each other. Such pairs can always be found, included in any given region. (PR 296/ 452)

Just as there were no atomic events in the ether of events, there are no atomic regions in the Theory of Extensive Connection. Likewise, just as infinite sequences of converging events were used to define points, lines, and other geometric elements, so infinite sequences of converging regions are now used to define the geometric elements. In fact, the Theory of Extensive Connection was Whitehead’s last formulation of what was to have been, according to Russell, the unwritten fourth volume of Principia Mathematica, which was to have been on geometry and written by Whitehead.2 And the first part of Assumption 9 above assures us that there are points, and the second part assures us that between any two points on a line there is a third point.

In Process and Reality, then, the ether of events of the earlier work is replaced by the scheme of extensive connection, and Science and the Modern World is the transitional work in which the terms ‘event’ and ‘region’ are used synonymously. Whitehead himself expresses the relation between the earlier ether of events and the scheme of extensive connection in this way:

If we confine our attention to the subdivision of an actual entity into coordinate parts, we shall conceive of extensiveness as purely derived from the notion of ‘whole and part,’ that is to say, ‘extensive whole and extensive part.’ This was the view taken in my two earlier investigations of the subject [PNK and CN]. This defect of starting point revenged itself in the fact that the ‘method of extensive abstraction’ developed in those works was unable to define a ‘point,’ without the intervention of the theory of ‘duration.’ Thus what should have been a property of ‘durations’ became the definition of a point. (PR 287/ 439f.)

This defect, however, is purely a technical problem of logical construction and does not affect the philosophical purpose and role of the two theories. Their philosophical purpose and role are the same. Their purpose is to construct a space-time topology, not based on space-time points, but based on extended individuals, either events or regions, and in turn to define space-time points in terms of these extended individuals in such a way that there is a natural isomorphism between the set of events, or regions, and the set of certain subsets of the set of all space-time points. In short, there will be a one-to-one correspondence between any event, or region, and the set of space-time points incident in that event, or region. Such a one-to-one correspondence is Assumption 29 of the Theory of Extensive Connection.3

There are three important points to be noted in the above quotation from Process and Reality in which Whitehead compares his new scheme of extensive connection to his earlier ether of events. First, Whitehead uses the general term, actual entity, here rather than the more specific term, actual occasion. This means that God is included in this division into parts. Second, Whitehead uses here his technical term, coordinate division. Coordinate division is one way of dividing the actual entity into prehensions, thus exhibiting the spatiotemporal relation of the prehensions of an actual entity. In an actual entity, he tells us, "there is an indefinite number of prehensions, overlapping, subdividing, and supplementary to each other" (PR 235/ 359). The first two of these relations are relations of extensive connection.

Third, although, as we shall see later, actual occasions are atomic events, that is, they have no events in the new use of that term (i.e., actual occasions and nexus) as parts, they do have spatiotemporal parts, namely, prehensions, and are infinitely divisible into such parts. This is contrary to what appears to be a rather common interpretation of the atomic nature of actual entities; that is, that actual entities do not have parts that are temporally ordered. John Cobb, for example, tells us that actual occasions "are indivisible into earlier and later portions" (CNT 18Sf.). If Cobb were right, then the construction of space-time points and the temporal ordering of points in a real line would be impossible. In short, the whole physical topology which it was Whitehead’s intention to construct would collapse -- a labor of over fifteen years.

We must turn now to the temporal ordering of regions in terms of temporally before and after. All the relations of extensive connection above were spatiotemporal; that is, none were purely temporal relations. In the earlier ether of events in The Concept of Nature, the temporal relation ‘before’ appears to be an additional primitive relation. There, and in the Essay Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge, Whitehead is concerned with the temporal ordering of parallel durations into a particular time.system. A duration is defined as "the whole simultaneous occurrence of nature which is now for sense-awareness’ (CN 53). Although he uses the term "simultaneous, a duration has temporal thickness; it is, he says, "aconcrete slab of nature" (CN 53), which is "cogredient," or temporally coextensive, with a percipient event. As an event, a duration is infinitely divisible into smaller durations, and such a set of infinitely smaller durations, under certain conditions, approaches a moment, which is instantaneous. The temporal ordering of moments in terms of ‘before’ is derivative from durations. He writes, for example, of the temporal ordering of moments into a time system as follows:

. . . the passage of nature [i.e., temporally successive durations] enables us to know that one direction along the series [of moments] corresponds to passage into the future and the other direction corresponds to retrogression towards the past. (CN 64)

In short, the temporal order is a perceived order; and there are alternative such orders of parallel durations, or time systems.

In The Principle of Relativity, Whitehead adopts a Minkowski-like topology of event-particles, or space-time points, in which the temporal ordering of points is causally defined, rather than perceptually defined as in the two earlier works. The result is, given any event-particle e, we can speak of three sets of event-particles, or space-time points, those space-points which causally influence e, e’s causal past; those space-time points which e influences, e’s causal future; and the remainder, e’s contemporaries. Unlike the moments of the earlier theory, moments are defined in terms of a set of space-time points each of which is contemporaneous with e and any two of which are contemporaneous with each other. There would, however, be alternative moments, each of which contained e, or alternative definitions of simultaneity. And each such moment would define a relative past and a relative future; namely, the causal pasts and the causal futures of each of the points in that given moment. Each such past or future would be relative in the sense of being relative to that moment, or definition of simultaneity.

In Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect, Whitehead first tries to bring together these two bases for temporal order, the earlier one perceptually based and the latter causally based. He does this in terms of two modes of perception, perception in the mode of presentational immediacy and in the mode of causal efficacy. In Process and Reality the assimilation of the two theories of time, time as an ordering of durations and their percipient events, which is perceptually based, and time as a causal ordering, come to fruition. The percipient event is now replaced by an actual occasion. Given any actual occasion A, there will be three sets of regions: The set of regions from which A causally inherits, A’s causal past; the set of regions which causally inherit from A, A’s causal future; and the set of remaining regions, A’s contemporaries. Just as a moment was causally defined previously, now a duration can be causally defined. A duration for A would be a set of regions each of which is contemporary with A and any two of which are contemporary with each other. And as with moments, so with durations; A can have many alternative durations. In presentational immediacy there is one special duration which is picked out by projection in presentational immediacy. This is A’s presented duration. Thus the actual occasion A with its presented duration is the old percipient event with its duration.

Thus the two theories are assimilated, and since causal efficacy is a mode of perception, time as a causal ordering is perceptually based. Suppose, for example, that A was your experience of a star at night. There is a space-time region many light years in the past from which the light was emitted, and there is a causal chain, or, to use Whitehead’s terminology, a causal nexus, from the star’s past region through your body to A, which is located somewhere in the area of the central nervous system. The quality of that causal inheritance, white, is then projected onto a contemporary region in A’s presented duration, and that is where the star is seen in A’s now from A’s here.

Since the satisfaction of any actual entity in coordinate division is infinitely divisible into prehensions, then any prehension can be treated in the same Minkowsi-like manner. "As an example," Whitehead writes,

suppose that P [a prehension] is a coordinate division of an actual occasion A. Then P can he conceived as an actual occasion with its own actual world [or causal past] . . . . In fact, P is the hypothetical process of concrescence with this standpoint. The other coordinate divisions of A are either in the ‘actual world’ for P, or contemporary with P, or have a complex relation to P expressed by the property that each one of them is coordinately divisible into prehensions Q1, Q2 . . . ., such that each of them has one or either of the three above mentioned relations to P. (PR 286/ 439)

Whitehead’s failure to mention the future of P is mysterious, since we are talking about a satisfaction which is fully actual and ‘x is after y’ is equivalent to ‘y is before x.’ Therefore, if there are prehensions in A’s satisfaction ordered by the temporal relation before, then there are prehensions ordered by the temporal relation after. This failure cannot be considered any more than an oversight on Whitehead’s part. Thus any prehension, or subregion of an actual entity, can be treated in the same Minkowski-like fashion, with a causal past, a causal future, and causal contemporaries. This infinite divisibility of the satisfaction of an actual entity into prehensions, each with its own causal past, causal future, and causal contemporaries is essential for Whitehead’s definition of space-time points and their temporal ordering. There is a natural mapping of the Minkowski-like topology of regions into the subsets of the set of all space-time points. Such a mapping depends on the one-to-one correspondence of regions and the set of all space-time points incident in that region. This is why I maintained earlier that if Cobb were right that actual entities could not be divided into portions which were before and after, then the definition of space-time points and their temporal ordering would break down.

Thus in coordinate divisibility the atomic nature of actual entities, which we recognized in the beginning of this paper, becomes irrelevant. In fact the distinction between prehensions, actual entities and nexus becomes irrelevant; they are all treated on a par as regions. Whitehead, for example, writes,

. . . just as for some purposes one atomic actuality can be treated as though it were many coordinate actualities, in the same way, for other purposes, a nexus of many actualities can be treated as though it were one actuality. (PR 287/ 439)

It is in coordinate divisibility of actualities that efficient causality is discovered. For example, he writes, "In coordinate division we are analyzing the complexity of the occasion in its function of an efficient cause" (PR 293/448). But as we have seen, efficient causality and time are inseparable. Together, they form one of Whitehead’s two forms of process, what he calls the process of transition. It is the process of causal transition from actuality to actuality. It is not merely a process of transition from actual occasion to actual occasion, as is usually suggested. It is a process of transition from prehension to prehension within an actual entity as well. It is a temporal process, and it is spatiotemporally continuous. It is what we usually mean by ‘the flow of time’ or ‘the temporal process,’ with adjustments for relativity theory.

Let us now turn to Whitehead’s other type of process, what he calls the genetic process, or the process of the becoming of an actual entity. Here we are concerned with the becoming of an event, and this Whitehead conceives of as quite different from the temporal transition within the event. Just as we turned to Whitehead’s earlier work for an elucidation of the process of transition, or the temporal process, we can likewise turn to this earlier work for help in elucidating the genetic process, or the becoming of an event. In An Essay Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge he writes:

. . . natural knowledge is a knowledge from within nature, a knowledge ‘here within nature’ and ‘now within nature,’ and is an awareness of the natural relations of one element in nature [namely, the percipient event] to the rest of nature. (PNK 167)

But what constitutes the immediacy of this percipient event; that is, its ‘now within nature’? He goes on,

Knowledge issues from this reciprocal insistence between this event and the rest of nature, namely relations are perceived in the making and because of the making. For this reason perception is always at the utmost point of creation. We cannot put ourselves back to the Crusades and know their events while they are happening. We essentially perceive our relations with nature because they are in the making. (PNK 168)

Thus what constitutes the ‘now within nature’ of an event is the process of becoming related to the rest of nature the way in which it is related to the rest of nature.

We have already discussed the physical relations of space-time, or extension, in the Theory of Extensive Connection and the relation of causal efficacy, or inheritance, from which the temporal relations of an event are derived; and Whitehead seems to mean the same by ‘x transmits to y,’ ‘y inherits from x,’ ‘y conforms to x,’ and ‘y reproduces x.’ What is transmitted, or conversely, what is inherited, is energy with a spatiotemporal pattern of quality and intensity. If A inherits immediately from B, then A conforms to, or reproduces, a spatiotemporal pattern of quality and intensity of B. The simple qualities of the pattern are called simple eternal objects of the subjective species. A pattern of qualities and intensities is called a subjective form. The geometric properties of an event, those constructed on the basis of the Theory of Extensive Connection, are referred to as eternal objects of the objective species. The relation of instantiation (or what Whitehead calls ingression) which eternal objects have with an event also become in the becoming of that event. In other words, not only the physical relations which an event has with other events become in the immediacy of that event, the relations which that event has with eternal objects also become in the immediacy of that event.

The relation which an eternal object of the subjective species may have to a percipient event, for example, may be quite complex. The eternal object may be inherited from some past region, located in a prehension belonging to the percipient event and projected on to (or situated in) some subregion of that event’s presented duration, as was, for example, the white in our above example of seeing a star at night. The parts of an actual entity as relata of relations in making are called feelings, because they become related by feeling the other relata of the relations, be they eternal objects or other regions, that is, other prehensions, actual entities, or nexus. And it is these feelings of becoming so related that give us the sense of being ‘here-now within nature.’

This becoming related of an actual entity is by Whitehead divided into phases, or stages; he seems to use the terms interchangeably. These phases, or stages, are usually called the phases of the concrescence of an actual entity. Here the term concrescence is used both in the sense of growing together into a pattern and in the sense of becoming concrete, or actual. In listing these phases, however, Whitehead is not always consistent. Usually the context determines how he divides up the process of becoming. In general, however, he lists three phases:

(1) the first is the "primary," "dative," "conformal,"" reproductive," or "responsive" phase. He uses all these adjectives.

(2) the second is the supplemental phase. This is the phase in which novel eternal objects, that is, eternal objects not inherited from the past actual world, enter the picture.

(3) the third phase is the satisfaction, the fully concrete event in all its relations.

Whitehead characterizes the distinction between the various phases or stages, in this way: "The distinction between the various stages of concrescence consists in the diverse modes of ingression of the eternal objects involved" (PR 163/ 248). In short, when an eternal object functions in the relation of inheritance, or the mode of causal efficacy, it belongs to the first phase of concrescence. When an eternal object supplements what is inherited, it is functioning in the supplemental, or second, phase. And, of course, the satisfaction is the event in all its relations.

It is the relationship of these three phases of the concrescence of an actual entity to time which causes the interpreters of Whitehead difficulty. He specifically states, for example:

This genetic passage from phase to phase is not in physical time: the exactly converse point of view expresses the relation of concrescence to physical time. It can be put shortly by saying, that physical time expresses some of the features of the growth, but not the growth of the features. The final complete feeling is the ‘satisfaction.’. . . Physical time makes its appearance in the ‘coordinate’ analysis of the ‘satisfaction.’ (PR 283/ 434)

We have already seen how physical time "makes its appearance in the ‘coordinate’ analysis of the ‘satisfaction’ "of an actual entity. It does so through causal inheritance and the Minkowski-like cones, and such an analysis, as we saw, applies to the prehensions of an actual entity as well as to actual occasions. But how does the ‘coordinate’ analysis express some features of the growth, but not the growth of the features"?

Whitehead points to two historical precedents for what he means by the genetic process. He writes, ". . . Hume, Kant and the philosophy of organism agree that the task of critical philosophy is the analysis of constructs; and ‘construction’ is ‘process’" (PR 151/229). Of Hume he writes, ". . . the credit must be given to Hume that he emphasized the ‘process’ inherent in the fact of being a mind" (FR 151/229). He explains what he means by this ‘construction’ or ‘being a mind’ in Hume in this way: "Hume’s analysis of the construct which constitutes a mental occasion is: impressions of sensation, ideas of impressions of sensations, impressions of reflection, ideas of impressions of reflection" (PR 151/229). Whitehead, then, thinks of Hume as having a five-phase analysis of the becoming of an experience, or the genetic process, if we include the experience itself as the fifth phase, or satisfaction.

Of course, Whitehead disagrees with Hume’s analysis of the construction of an experience, as well as he does with the analysis of Kant, whom he calls "the great philosopher who first, fully and explicitly, introduced into philosophy the conception of an act of experience as a constructive functioning" (PR 156/236). Of Kant he writes, for example, "Kant for whom process ‘is mainly a process of thought accepts Hume’s doctrine as to the datum’ [i.e., the impressions of sensation] and turns the ‘apparent’ objective content into the end of the construct" (PR 152/ 231). He goes on to draw this analogy with his own analysis: "So far, Kant’s ‘apparent’ objective content seems to take the place of the ‘satisfaction’ in the philosophy of organism" (PR 152/231). Whitehead is here obviously referring to what Kant calls that activity of "our faculty of knowledge" whereby,

objects affecting our senses partly of themselves produce representations, partly arouse the activity of our understanding to compare these representations, and by combining or separating them, work up the raw material of the sensible impressions into that knowledge of objects which is entitled experience. (CPR 41)

We might think of Kant’s analysis of the genetic process as consisting of four phases: (a) the reception of the impressions of sensation, (b) the application of the pure forms of intuition, space and time, (c) the combining and separating through the application of concepts, including the categories, and (d) the ‘apparent’ objective world. Whitehead, of course, recognizes that this four-phase analysis of the genetic process would be inadequate since it only takes into account theoretical reason and ignores practical reason (PR 152/231). Since our concern is with the genetic process and time, this analysis of Kant will be adequate for our present purposes.

There is, however, a fundamental difference between Whitehead and Kant concerning the construction, or concrescence, of an experience. For Kant the apparent world which emerges is the objective world -- that is, if certain peculiarities of the particular subject are ignored. For Whitehead, the world that emerges, the world of presentational immediacy, is the apparent world for that subject. The objective world, or the actual world, is the world at the level of causal efficacy. This is what Whitehead is referring to when he says that the constructing in Kant transforms "subjectivity into objectivity," whereas in the philosophy of organism it transforms "objectivity into subjectivity" (PR 156/236). Because of this difference, Kant’s first two phases, the reception of sensation and the application of the pure forms of space and time, are replaced by Whitehead’s first phase. The sensations are not received and the pure forms of intuition applied to them; rather, the data in the first phase are in space-time. They are felt as inherited here-now from there-then. They are felt as vectors which locate that experience, as an event, in space-time.

There is this similarity, however: just as Kant’s phases of construction, or concrescence, cannot be temporally ordered, neither can Whitehead’s. It would not make sense, for example, to say of Kant’s construction, or, to use his word, synthesis, that we first in time receive sensations, and then temporally later we apply the pure forms of sensuous intuition, space, and time, and then temporally later we apply the concepts, including the pure concepts of the understanding, and then later in time there emerges the objective world. This would be nonsense, since the same spatial and temporal relations which hold at the level of sensibility hold also at the level of what Whitehead calls Kant’s satisfaction -- that is, the objective world.

It would be equal nonsense to say of Whitehead’s three phases that first in time we have the conformal phase, and later in time this phase is supplemented, and after this supplementation, later in time, we have the satisfaction. As we have suggested, it is the first phase, the phase of inheritance, that locates the experience in space-time, and these spatiotemporal relations hold throughout the process of becoming and are exhibited in the satisfaction. It is for this reason that Whitehead says, The problem dominating the concrescence is the actualization of the quantum [i.e., the spatiotemporal region] in solido" (PR 283/ 434). Thus Whitehead’s process of becoming, like Kant’s synthesis, is not a temporal process. The space-time region with all its physical relations is presupposed throughout the process of becoming in much the same way as it is in Kant’s synthesis. Physical time, however, does pertain to some features of the growth in the first phase and to these same features in the satisfaction, much as with Kant’s objective world. The major difference between the two is that Whitehead is concerned with knowledge of "nature from within nature."

When Cobb, for example, writes, "In all other entities satisfaction is not attained except as the completion of the entity. If God is a single entity who will never be completed, . . . he can never know satisfaction" (CNT 189), he is conceiving of the satisfaction as temporally after the first two phases of concrescence. William Christian suggests the same thing when he writes, "Considering the process of transition . . . we may say that the satisfaction of an actual occasion is temporally final. With the satisfaction the occasion comes to an end in time" (IWM 298). This is clearly a confusion of the process of transition and the process of becoming.4 He goes on to call the satisfaction of an occasion "the temporal end or finis of the occasion" and writes, "It is the goal achieved by the concrescence and it is also the temporal end of the concrescence" (IWM 299). The satisfaction is the goal, but it is no more the temporal end of an actual entity than it is the temporal beginning. The beginning of the satisfaction is the temporal beginning of the actual entity, and the end of the satisfaction is the temporal end of the entity.

What becomes in the genetic process is an event with all its relations, and it is infinitely divisible. Whitehead himself puts it this way: "In every act of becoming there is the becoming of something with temporal extension, but the act itself is not extensive, in the sense that it is divisible into earlier and later acts of becoming. . ." (PR 69/107). This is what Whitehead is asserting in his often quoted, but I fear frequently misunderstood, maxim, "There is a becoming of continuity, but no continuity of becoming" (PR 35/ 53). What becomes is a segment of the temporal process of transition limited to a here-now, and its process of becoming is nontemporal.

How does Whitehead get the three phases of concrescence? In much the same way as Kant got his phases of synthesis, by taking the concrete outcome, experience, or knowledge of objects and analyzing it into the components which went into its synthesis: sensations, space and time, and concepts. Whitehead takes the concrete outcome, the satisfaction, and instead of analyzing it in terms of the temporal process, analyzes it into the components which went into its construction, or concrescence; namely, inheritance and supplementation. There is nothing necessarily temporal about this type of analysis whatsoever. It is, however, teleological. As Christian was quoted as saying above, the satisfaction is the goal of the concrescence. The complex pattern of relations exemplified in the satisfaction of an actual entity serves as the subjective aim of the entity guiding its concrescence.

It is here that atomicity enters the picture, for actual occasions are taken to be atomic events, and distinguished from prehensions, their parts, and nexus. Whitehead, for example, writes:

In fact, any characteristic of an actual entity is reproduced in a prehension. It might have been a complete actuality; but by reason of a certain incomplete partiality, a prehension is only a subordinate element in an actual entity. A reference to the complete actuality is required to give the reason why such a prehension is what it is in respect to its subjective form. This subjective form is determined by the subjective aim at further integration, so as to obtain the ‘satisfaction’ of the completed subject. In other words, final causation and atomism are interconnected philosophical principles. (PR 19/ 28f.)

We have already seen in our discussion of the first type of process that prehensions, actual occasions, and nexus are all treated on a par as regions in the temporal process of transition, or efficient causality. Final causality is not considered in the process of transition. In the genetic process of becoming, however, prehensions, due to the subjective aim of the actual entity of which they are parts, have an incompleteness of subjective form. Their subjective form is only a component in the subjective aim of the complete actual entity. In terms of efficient causality, the occasion is infinitely divisible. In terms of final causality, the actual occasion is not divisible; it is atomic. And each actual entity exemplifies within itself both types of process.

Having distinguished Whitehead’s two types of process and considered their relation to time, let us now turn to Whitehead’s conception of God in Process and Reality. Just as our discussion of the two types of process and time went back to Whitehead’s earlier work for a background, so can our discussion of his conception of God. Whitehead, for example, in the chapter "Time" in The Concept of Nature introduces us to an imaginary being; he writes,

We can imagine a being whose awareness, conceived as his private possession, suffers no transition, although the terminus of his awareness is our own transient nature. There is no essential reason why memory should not be raised to the vividness of the present fact; and then from the side of mind. What is the difference between the present and the past? Yet with this hypothesis we can also suppose that the vivid remembrance and the present fact are posited in awareness as in their temporal serial order. (CN 67)

What we have suggested here in this imaginary being is a "percipient event whose present, its ‘here-now; is coextensive with the entire ether of events. In comparing our present immediacy to that of the imaginary being, Whitehead goes on:

Thus our own sense-awareness with its extended present has some of the character of the sense-awareness of the imaginary being whose mind was free from passage and who contemplated all nature as an immediate fact. Our own present has its antecedents and its consequences, and for the imaginary being all nature has its antecedent and its consequent durations. Thus the only difference in this respect between us and the imaginary being is that for him all nature shares in the immediacy of our present duration. (CN 69)

The only purpose which this imaginary being serves in The Concept of Nature is to indicate that a present, or a percipient ‘here-now,’ is spatially and temporally extended and that there is no necessary limit to its extension. It is merely an empirical fact that our ‘here-now’ is limited spatially and temporally and, consequently, is superceded by a new ‘here-now’ so that it becomes a ‘there-then.’ Whitehead writes, for example, sense-awareness might be free from any character of passage, yet in point of fact our experience of sense-awareness exhibits our minds as partaking in this character" (CN 67f.). This becoming of a new ‘here-now,’ replacing the old ‘here-now’ and turning it into a ‘there-then,’ is what Whitehead means by passage. It is the coming to be and perishing of subjective immediacy in Process and Reality. Since the imaginary being does not participate in passage, its ‘here-now’ is everlasting. But the everlastingness of the awareness of this imaginary percipient event does not rule out temporal passage within the terminus of its awareness. There is temporal passage in the terminus of the awareness of any percipient event. The only difference between finite percipient events and this imaginary percipient event is in the extent of the ‘here-now.’

This imaginary being of The Concept of Nature becomes the God of Process and Reality, but it requires supplementation. In the original Lowell Lectures, which formed the basis for Science and the Modern World, Whitehead used the romantic poets as a vehicle for introducing intrinsic value into an event. He writes,

Remembering the poetic rendering of our concrete experience, we see at once that the element of value, of being valuable, of having value, of being an end in itself, of being something which is for its own sake, must not be omitted in any account of an event as the most concrete actual something. (SMW 136)

Intrinsic value is that at which the becoming of a concrete event aims. It is here that final causality first enters the picture for Whitehead. And in two supplementary chapters to the original lectures, "Abstraction" and "God," Whitehead develops further this notion of the aim at intrinsic value. It becomes God’s function to order the patterns of eternal objects according to value. "In place of Aristotle’s God as Prime Mover," Whitehead tells us, "We need God as Principle of Concretion" (SMW 250). As the Principle of Concretion, God functions as the ultimate final cause luring the various processes of concrescence. But as such, Whitehead points out, "God is not concrete, but He is the ground of concrete actualities" (SMW 257).

In Process and Reality, however, Whitehead adopts what he calls the Ontological Principle and which he summarizes as, "No actual entity, then no reason" (PR 19/ 28). Thus the Principle of Concretion, serving as the ultimate final cause, must be in some actual entity. The imaginary being of The Concept of Nature now has a function to perform, to house the Principle of Concretion. In Process and Reality, the Principle of Concretion and the imaginary being are synthesized into God with his primordial nature and his consequent nature. In this synthesis, not only does the imaginary being find a function to perform, the Principle of Concretion itself is based in something concrete.

That the Principle of Concretion becomes the primordial nature of God there can he no doubt. Whitehead describes the function of the primordial nature in this way,

The conceptual feelings [prehensions] which compose this primordial nature, exemplify in their subjective forms their mutual sensitivity and their subjective unity of subjective aim. These subjective forms are valuations determining the relative relevance of eternal objects for each occasion of actuality. (PR 344/ 522)

And he goes on to add: "From this point of view, he [God] is the principle of concretion." Whitehead then immediately introduces the consequent nature of God, which he characterizes as "in unison of becoming with every other creative act" (PR 345/ 523). If God is "in unison of becoming" with every other actual entity, then for him, as for the imaginary being, "all nature shares in the immediacy of our present duration" (CN 68). Whitehead also refers to the consequent nature as ‘everlasting’ and explains, "the property of combining creative advance with the retention of mutual immediacy is what . . . is meant by the term ‘everlasting’" (PR 346/ 524f.). Thus God, like the imaginary being, does not participate in the passage of nature. His subjective immediacy does not perish, or as Whitehead puts it in The Concept of Nature, the past is raised to the vividness of the present fact" (CN 67). The Principle of concretion and the imaginary being are synthesized in this way: "This prehension into God of each creature is directed with the subjective aim, and clothed with the subjective form, wholly derivative from his all inclusive primordial valuation" (PR 345/ 523). God thus becomes a single actual entity, with its own subjective aim, its own subjective form, its own prehensions, its own concrescence, and its own satisfaction.

God, like all finite actual entities, or occasions, participates in both types of process, the genetic process of becoming and the temporal process of transition. God, like any actual occasion, does not change; his relations merely become; they do not change. Also, God’s prehensions in his satisfaction, like the prehensions of any actual occasion, are ordered by the temporal relations, before, after, and contemporaneous with; his satisfaction is coordinately divisible. This was noted above in our discussion of the Theory of Extensive Connection.

God, however, differs from finite actual entities, or occasions, in three important respects. First, his subjective aim involves prehensive relations to all eternal objects. As Whitehead puts it, God is "devoid of all negative prehensions" (PR 345/ 524). This is required by God’s functioning as the Principle of Concretion, or his primordial nature. Second, God’s satisfaction is coextensive with the entire extensive continuum. This is required by the fact that God’s subjective immediacy does not perish and he does not participate in the passage of nature. As a consequence, however, God has no causal past, no causal future, and no causal contemporaries. Although God’s prehensions are temporally ordered, God is not. He is not a member of the field of the temporal relations, before, after, and contemporaneous with. He is the nontemporal actual entity. It is for this reason that Whitehead does not apply the term ‘event’ to God, although finite actual entities, or occasions, are termed events (PR 73,113, 124f.). Third, God is not a member of any causal chain of efficient causality. This follows from the previous point. God influences the temporal occasions by final causality. God himself is not to be found within the subject matter of physics; God is not an event in nature.

In describing exactly how a finite actual occasion is objectified in God, most interpreters of Whitehead will agree, he is not as clear as we would have hoped. In fact, when he does write concerning the objectification of occasions in God, he tends to abandon his technical vocabulary and resort to poetic language. At one point, however, he does say of the objectification of an occasion in God, "This element in God’s nature inherits from the temporal counterpart according to the same principles as in the temporal world the future inherits from the past" (PR 350/ 531f.). This may at first appear to be contrary to what we have maintained in this paper. Everything, of course, hinges upon what Whitehead means here by the phrase ‘the same principle.’ If he means the principle of causal objectification, then there is a serious difficulty here. If, however, he is speaking of the more general principle of objectification, or prehension, then there is no problem. The temporal one-way causal objectification of efficient causality, he explicitly tells us, is only one type of objectification, or prehension (PR 58/ 91). Actual entities in unison of becoming, despite a widely held belief to the contrary, can objectify, or prehend, each other.5 In fact, a nexus is defined in terms of a set of actual entities "constituted by their prehensions of each other, or . . . their objectifications of each other" (PR 24/ 45), and he speaks of mutual prehensions (PR 194/ 295, 230/ 351). Likewise, contemporaries objectify, or prehend, each other in presentational immediacy (PR 61/ 95f., 63/ 98, 64/100, 67/104, 301/473, 321/ 483). Thus God needs no past from which to inherit, or a past to objectify or to prehend.

As a way of explicating objectification in God, I would suggest the following: Each finite actual occasion, relative to God’s subjective aim, functions as one of his prehensions aiming at further integration into his subjective form according to his subjective aim. We saw above that a prehension belonging to an actual entity has all the characteristics of an actual entity except for an incompleteness of subjective form due to its aim at further integration according to the subjective aim of its parent actual entity. Thus relative to God’s subjective aim, each finite actual occasion has a certain incompleteness of form and aims at further integration with other occasions according to God’s subjective aim, resulting in his consequent nature. I am suggesting that a better analogy for God’s relation to finite actual occasions would be an actual entity’s relation to its prehensions rather than the relation of an actual occasion to its actual causal past. The relation of conformation, or reproduction, would apply, but not the temporal relation. This is not to suggest that the temporal actual occasions are merely parts of God’s satisfaction They are that, but in concrescing into his satisfaction they concresce according to his subjective aim into his subjective form and become a part of his everlasting now. Such an interpretation would be true to Whitehead’s technical vocabulary and, at the same time, do justice to his poetic language. He writes, for example, "The World is the multiplicity of finites, actualities seeking a perfected unity" (PR 348f./ 529). This perfect unity is found in their concrescence into God’s everlasting satisfaction. God’s consequent nature so interpreted, along with his primordial nature, appears also to do justice to Whitehead’s statement,

The theme of Cosmology, which is the basis of all religions, is the story of the dynamic effort of the World passing into everlasting unity, and of the static majesty of God’s vision, accomplishing its purpose of completion by absorption of the World’s multiplicity of effort. (PR 349/ 529f.)



CNT -- John B. Cobb, Jr., A Christian Natural Theology. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1965.

CPR -- Immanual Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, translated by Norman Kemp Smith. London: Macmillan, 1963.

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



1For an axiomatized formal development of Whitehead’s theory of connection, see my "Calculus of individuals Based on ‘Connection," Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 22/3 (July, 1981), 204-18.

2 See "Preface" of Bertrand Russell, Our Knowledge of the External World (London: C. Allen and Unwin, 1952).

3 For a formal treatment of points in a theory of connection, see my "Individuals and Points," forthcoming, in which the above is carried out; then Assumption 29 becomes provable.

4 It is frequently pointed out that Whitehead uses temporal terminology in speaking of the phases of concrescence, such as, ‘successive,’ ‘earlier phases,’ ‘latter phases.’ it should be remembered, however, that the natural numbers are frequently defined in terms of a successor function, so that 3 is earlier in the sequence of natural numbers than 8. Yet the ordering of the natural numbers is not a temporal ordering. Whitehead was a mathematician.

5 Lewis Ford, for example, in "The Divine Activity of the Future," PS 1l:171, writes: in Whitehead’s philosophy two concurrent concrescences cannot prehend each other." If this were true, contemporaries would not prehend each other, and there would be no presentational immediacy. See also AI 258f., where contemporaries prehend each other. The evidence is against Ford’s statement.

[Ford’s statement needs qualification: two contemporary occasions cannot physically prehend each other. Mutual prehension or immanence is used almost exclusively to define nexus in terms of the only general relation its members need have in common: their spatiotemporal relatedness to each other. This very general sense of prehension (worked out in SMW) does not include the more concrete ways of prehending (later developed in PR), e.g., physical or conceptual prehension -- Editor.]