Some Proposals Concerning the Composition of Process and Reality

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. 145-156, Vol. 8, Number 3, Fall, 1978. 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 left much to be desired in his order of presentation. Instead of one fixed position, it becomes refracted into a whole series of positions, each leading to the next. Sometimes this sort of analysis is faulted as tending to undercut the systematic unity of the whole. An Appendix helpfully lists eight metaphysical principles that were presented by Whitehead in his classroom lectures at Harvard, October 1 and 4, 1927.

Although many of us find in Whitehead’s philosophical achievement a system nearly unparalleled for its balance, intricacy, and tight coherence, it cannot be gainsaid that many of his books leave much to be desired with respect to the order of presentation. The unity of the four parts of Adventures of Ideas is not fully apparent, and early reviewers of Science and the Modern World were disconcerted by the intrusion of the metaphysical chapters on "Abstraction" and "God" in the midst of lectures on the history of science. When it comes to Process and Reality, our difficulties multiply. Part two is about as disordered as the writings of the minor prophets in the Bible.

The secondary literature shows that Whitehead’s philosophy can be presented in an orderly fashion; why couldn’t Whitehead so present it? This, I submit, was the defect of his genius. To write a well-ordered philosophical treatise of any length requires considerable perseverance. Above all, one cannot become bored with one’s own ideas. It also requires knowing exactly where you want to end up. Whitehead was uncommonly adventuresome, always questing after new ideas. Had it been otherwise, half the book’s insights might never have been discovered. Yet every new insight has ramifications throughout the whole system. If the philosophy were to be well presented, it would have to be rewritten with every new insight. Since nearly every time Whitehead sought to revise some, this happened, the task must have seemed well nigh hopeless. This is the way he reported the final process to his son North on December 23, 1928:

This last term has been the greatest tax on my imagination that I have ever had -- not the most tiring physically. But I have been making the final draft of my Giffords -- and having to keep the whole scheme of thoughts in my head, so as to get all the points written up in order. (SJP 7:338a)

This report, taken in isolation, might suggest that Whitehead wrote most of the book from lecture notes after he delivered the Gifford Lectures in June, 1928, but other evidence indicates that most of the book was composed beforehand. Whitehead did face a monumental task in getting it all straight and knew he was not well suited to this job of final revision. That was the real difficulty he faced.

One device he used repeatedly was to insert fresh material in texts composed from an earlier point of view, making minimum modifications in the original text, in the hopes that the new material would so reshape the whole context that it would be read from the new point of view. To a very large extent he was successful, for the standard interpretation today usually takes its cue from those inserted passages. Whitehead was none too rigorous in tidying up minor details. For example, we are told that the third phase in God’s interaction with the world is the final one (PR 349.44 / 530.37), while on the very next page Whitehead announces another, fourth phase. Or, again, the third part is constructed with only eight categoreal obligations (PR 222.35 / 340.9, 248.8/ 379.7), with the eighth as the final one (PR 278.6/ 424.16), but Whitehead thinks up a ninth, which he inserts in the first chapter of part II (II.1.4).1

He had used that device once before, only not on so massive a scale, in Science and the Modern World. The philosophy he sketched there in the Lowell Lectures as an alternative to scientific materialism was primarily based on the familiar concepts of objects and events drawn from his earlier philosophy of nature. Instead of four types of objects, he now had just two, eternal and enduring, yet the function of these objects was basically the same. Events were the same events, assumed to be infinitely subdivisible. The philosophy sketched was a self-enclosed naturalism, with no hint of pansubjectivity. Before the lectures were published, however, Whitehead discovered temporal atomism and inserted some fresh material. The last ten paragraphs of chapter 7 on "Relativity" detail this discovery, while the last five paragraphs of the next chapter apply it to quantum theory. There are also three paragraphs inserted into chapter 6 on "The Nineteenth Century" (SMW 153-55), indicated by the fact that "these individual enduring entities" in the very next sentence refers back to the final sentence just before the inserted material.2 Later new insights about eternal objects and God were added in the two metaphysical chapters, using the new concept of "actual occasion" for the first time. Taken as a whole, the book presents an early, as yet unfocused, account of the later philosophy, yet this was hardly the philosophy that imbued the Lowell Lectures as originally delivered in February, 1925.

In Science and the Modern World, there appear to be only three or four insertions within existing chapters, always three or more paragraphs in length. The amount of insertion in Process and Reality is much more varied and widespread. For example, at one point Whitehead decided that propositional feelings may, or may not, involve consciousness (PR 261/ 399). Presumably at that time he had not yet clearly differentiated between propositional and intellectual feelings. Once differentiated, propositional feelings are merely components of conscious feelings, and hence themselves unconscious, as Whitehead clearly announces in the first paragraph to that chapter (PR 256/391), a later insertion. Many passages were added in the wake of his discovery that God, the primordial actual entity, also has a temporal side to his being, requiring the distinction between the primordial and the consequent natures. It leads, among other things, to a new justification of induction, appended to that chapter (11.9.8). This change was made without bothering to place the footnote on Keynes (PR 206/ 314) at the end of the chapter or changing the comment indicating that only sections 5 and 6 concerned the justification of induction (PR 201.27/ 306.16).

One particular insertion utilizing the distinction between the primordial and the consequent natures deserves comment: the three paragraphs describing how God has the same three-fold character assigned to any actual entity (PR 87.35-88.30/ 134.15-135.30). In drafting that initial three-fold character, Whitehead apparently had actual occasions primarily in mind. In the meantime he became clearly aware of the difference between God and actual occasions, such that while God was an actual entity, he could not be an actual occasion. This passage then challenged Whitehead to spell out those similarities and differences in terms of this three-fold character. Since his God has only a "primordial nature" and a "consequent nature," he invented a third, "‘superjective’ nature" to meet the parallelism (cf. PS 3:228f). Moreover, he then realized that his entire discussion of the phases of concrescence in part III is inappropriate to God, since God does not initiate his concrescence from his physical pole. But he had already written part III in terms of actual entities, not actual occasions. Rather than change every instance of actual entity in part III to actual occasion, Whitehead simply stipulates: "In the subsequent discussion, ‘actual entity’ will be taken to mean a conditioned actual entity of the temporal world, unless God is expressly included in the discussion" (PR 88/ 135).

This method is quite transparent in the final paragraph added to the category of conceptual reversion abolishing it (PR 249/ 381f), probably one of the very last insertions made in the book. Since reversion is used repeatedly in the pages following this section, most Whiteheadians cannot quite believe Whitehead meant exactly what he said. Strictly speaking, however, conceptual reversion had outlived its usefulness, and only the difficulty of removing every instance of it from the text prevented Whitehead from dismantling it entirely. When first proposed, conceptual reversion was absolutely necessary, because Whitehead was then probably attempting to explain the emergence of subjective aim from the occasion itself, and some sort of explanation had to be given for its novelty. Once novelty is derived from God, this becomes unnecessary.

Detecting these insertions gives us our best clues as to Whitehead’s new insights, for it then becomes possible to read those passages without the insertions to determine what his view had originally been. Other methods are also possible. Once a sufficient body of texts have been dated relative to one another, it is possible to look for variations in usage. "Symbolic transference" seems to be an older term for "symbolic reference"; "objective lure" for "subjective aim"; "presentational" and "causal objectification" for "presentational immediacy" and "causal efficacy." "Categoreal obligation" may once have been "categoreal condition." Something can be determined often from the presence or, more often, the absence of some familiar systematic concept. Thus "subjective aim" seems to be absent from earlier strata, up through the summer of 1927.

Another method is to look for evidence that the text has been rearranged. The book was not written in a straightforward manner, as the outline below indicates. Whitehead seems td have arranged his chapters differently at different times. For these older arrangements, some clues may be discovered in various "ghost references," references which in the Macmillan text refer to erroneous or nonexistent sections. Thus at one point at the beginning of the final section of "Strains" (PR IV.4.5) he refers to "Section VI," but there is now no such section. There once was, namely the first section of the next chapter, before Whitehead had divided "Strains" and "Measurement" into two separate chapters (cf. PR 324.2/ 494.26, 325.15! 495.38). Or, again, Definition 23 of "Extensive Connection" (IV.2) is referred to as "Ch. III." This, to my mind, is no simple error, but indicates an earlier arrangement where "Extensive Connection" was the third chapter of a separate book. After Whitehead accepted the invitation to give the Gifford Lectures, he devoted the summer of 1927 to them, writing nine and one-half of the ten planned (SJP 7:333),3 intending to supplement these lectures with the materials he had been collecting for the book on metaphysics.

As another example of rearrangement note that the chapter on "Organisms and Environment" (now 11.4)-is twice referred to as "Part II, Ch. VIII" (PR 286.20/ 438.22,229.26/ 446.12), suggesting that once this part was so arranged that this chapter was in eighth place.

Besides these methods for interrogating the text to yield up indications of its probable development, we do have some external evidence to rely upon, meager and disappointing as it may be. Most of this has already been reported on by Victor Lowe, including the prospectus of the Gifford Lectures (SPJ 7:335f). George Burch’s notes of Whitehead’s Harvard Lectures, 1926-27" have been published (PS 4:199-206), and several other sets of notes from these formative years exist unpublished. The six principles of metaphysics Burch lists (PS 4:204) can be profitably compared with the categoreal scheme by means of the eight principles Whitehead presented in October, 1927 (see appendix). There is at least one trace of this second set in Process and Reality, when "the third metaphysical principle" is mentioned (PR 212.38/ 324.7). Later this third metaphysical principle (the principle of relativity) becomes the fourth category of explanation.

I mention these anomalies, "ghost references," and examples of rearrangement not in order to justify some one definitive order of composition but to indicate why I think the determination of that order is largely possible. It had been my intention in recent years to publish just such a study, but now I am persuaded this sort of analysis can best be pursued cooperatively. Thus in this essay I wish merely to propose a provisional outline of the stages in the composition of Process and Reality in the hopes that it might elicit alternate hypotheses, all of which need to be tested against each other. Specific suggestions as to insertions need to be scrutinized by minds more skeptical than mine, for while there may be some later insertions into the text, there need not be nearly as many as I am wont to imagine. This is an invitation for all those interested to contact me, whether or not they yet have any specific contributions to make. It may be possible to establish an informal newsletter or summer workshop with the eventual aim of publishing our results. Here is the tentative outline:

a. IV. 2-3 (except for elements in 3.5); 4.2 (in part), 4.3 (in part), 4.5; 5.2 (except for 323.22-35, 37/ 493.4-22, 24 [o]), 5.3-6. The theory of extensive connection (IV. 2-3), despite its complexity, is primarily an improvement on Whitehead’s earlier theory of extensive abstraction, made in accordance with Theodore de Laguna’s suggestion, accepted by Whitehead in private conversation the summer of 1926. This theory offers a definition of straightness independent of measurement that Whitehead could use in his developing theory of perception (IV: 4-5, in part).

b. II.1.7, 2.1-6. This second chapter on the extensive continuum largely trades on the doctrine of temporal atomicity, already developed in Science and the Modern World. The use of "presentational objectification," "causal objectification," and "symbolic transference" in both 1.7 and 2.1 suggests that they belong together, before (c).

c. II.4.5-8 (except for the last two sentences of 4.8, which belong in [o]), II.8. These two chapters form a continuous treatise on the nature of perception. The early philosophy of nature was based upon what was perceived in a duration of simultaneity (CN 4f, 53), i.e., what is later termed "presentational immediacy." This holds as long as Whitehead conceived of prehension as primarily (unconscious) perception, but became problematic once he started to conceive of prehension in causal terms. For by relativity physics, simultaneous events are causally independent. Hence Whitehead had to devise a theory of two modes of perception -- and their symbolic connection. The Barbour-Page Lectures on Symbolism, delivered at the University of Virginia in April, 1927, may have originally been intended to discuss the general themes considered in the third chapter. When Whitehead saw that his theory of perception required a symbolic connection, he may have reworked material from this treatise as the opening two lectures of Symbolism. The treatise seems never to have been intended for the Gifford Lectures proper, but for the expansion of these lectures for subsequent publication.

d. II.1.5-6; -II.5-6; 7.1-4. [ (d), (e), (f), (g), and possibly (h) probably form a continuous whole, composed the summer of 1927. They largely express a common viewpoint, but are here subdivided for convenience.]

e. II.3.2-4, 1.3.2 (see [n]), II.9.1-6. The first three sentences of II.3.2 belong with the inserted 3.1 (h), but 3.2 probably initially began with the first three sentences of 3.1 These sentences indicate that the "next chapter" will consider such problems as "induction" and "general truths" (PR 83/ 127). Since II.9.4 first discusses general truths in terms of metaphysical propositions, and II.9.5-6 induction, we infer that this chapter was the next in order of composition and that later Whitehead rearranged them in the present order.

f. III.1.3-10, except for 232.38-233.20/ 355.17-356.17 and inserted passages listed below; also III.2. I found this initially surprising, supposing only part II was composed the summer of 1927. But Whitehead tells us he completed nearly nine and one-half chapters of the intended Gifford Lectures during the summer of 1927 (SJP 7:333a), and there are not enough chapters in part II, if we exclude (c) above. If I am correct about the additional insertions, there is no mention of "subjective aim" in any of the strata before (i).

g. II.10, except 210.25-32/ 320.27-36. This is probably the half-chapter Whitehead had in mind, intending to complete its analysis of "flux" with a discussion of "permanence" to be found in God. The famous couplet summing up the polarity of "flux" and "permanence, "Abide with me; / Fast falls the eventide," is mentioned both here and in part V (PR 209/ 318, 3381 513). PR 11.19, particularly 10.1, may be profitably read as a preliminary draft of V.1. In accordance with Lord Gifford’s purpose, Whitehead may have been intending a final half-chapter showing how his cosmology had implications for natural theology. Perhaps he did not yet see how he could improve upon what he had already written in Religion in the Making.

h. II.3.1, except the first three sentences (part of [e] above), 85.21-24/ 130.29-33, and 87.27-88.30/ 134.4-135.30 (in part; see Em] below). This section introduces "objective lure," Whitehead’s first designation for what later becomes the "subjective aim." It may or may not have been composed during the summer of 1927, but Whitehead appears to have used neither "objective lure" nor "subjective aim" during his fall lectures on metaphysics at Harvard.

i. III. 3.3-5 (in part); 111.4-5, plus such insertions as 187.21-188.22/285.1-286.24. Here he works out categoreal obligations 4-8, initially as a way of deriving the subjective aim from the concrescent activity of the emerging occasion itself.

j. Whitehead comes to realize that an emergent theory of subjective aim will not do, for some sort of aim must guide even the initial phase itself. Hence such insertions as 107.36-108.2, 342.1-22, 343.5-21 (CPR 69.27-29, 223.37-224.16, 224.32-44). Then God is seen to be the source of this initial subjective aim: III.3.1.

k. At this point parts II-IV are substantially complete, as well as much of I.2-3. Whitehead returns to the question of natural theology for his cosmology and discovers the temporal aspect of God’s nature: part V.

l. Other material preparatory to giving the Gifford Lectures in June, 1928, principally I.1.

m. After Whitehead delivered the Gifford Lectures in June, 1928, there remained the task of getting the materials in shape for publication. Most of his efforts now were directed toward rearrangement and the inclusion of insertions, such as those which utilize the contrast between the primordial and the consequent natures, such as 103.29-104.27, 134.21-135.30 (CPR 66.32-67.21, 87.40-88.30); II.9.8.

n.Whitehead devised a new theory of the "living person" based upon hybrid physical prehensions of antecedent members, and so replaced I.3.2 (e) with II. 3.5-11, displacing I.3.2 from its original place in 11.3 to its present place in the introductory material. The notion of hybrid physical prehension was used to explain how God is the source of initial aim in 111.3.2 and such passages as 224.44-225.21/ 343.21-344.11 and to offer another explanation of induction: II. 9.7.

o. He came to realize that the "presented locus" and the termini of perceptual projection did not necessarily coincide and developed the theory of "strain-feelings" to address this problem: the last two sentences of II. 4.8; 11.4.9; IV. 4.1, 4.2 (in part), 4.4; 5.1, and 323.22-35, 37/ 493.4-22, 24. See (a).

p. IV.1 (and perhaps III.1.1) were added in order to introduce those parts.

q. Miscellaneous final additions, such as the ninth categoreal obligation in II.1.4 or the abolition of reversion 249.41-250.11/ 381.36-382.19 or the final section on the "fourth phase": V.2.7.

If this history of the composition of Process and Reality is reasonably correct, the most distinctive feature of Whitehead’s philosophy, the teaching of subjective aim, is the outcome of a fairly complex evolution. We may trace these stages: (1) At first, Whitehead is content to express the unity of an occasion in process of becoming simply in terms of the first three categoreal conditions (f). These are generic conditions, applying to any actual occasion.

(2) He then feels the need to endow each occasion with its specific, individual ideal, initially called the "objective lure" (h). The specific unity of the concrescing occasion is to be found in that towards which it aims. This highlights the importance of II.3.1 in its original form as the text where individual aim first makes its appearance.

(3) At first Whitehead tries to derive the subjective aim from the activities of the occasion itself, as it seeks to unify its multiple past in the light of the multiple interrelatedness of the realm of eternal objects (i.e., the nontemporal actuality of God objectified). Thus there is first conceptual derivation, then reversion to yield novel eternal objects which might serve as the basis for the new subjective aim. In short, categoreal obligations 4-8 are initially fashioned to explain how the subjective aim could come into being.

(4) Somewhere along the line Whitehead becomes dissatisfied with this approach, since some sort of unity is required even at the very outset. Otherwise this initial phase dissolves into a sheer multiplicity. Moreover, every unificatory activity within the concrescence must, by the ontological principle, find its reason in terms of the concrescent subject, and this is impossible for early stages if these have no subjective aim. Hence he is driven to posit the aim in the very earliest phases (j).

(5) The aim now needs a source outside the occasion, which cannot be provided by the multiple past actual occasions, either individually or collectively. Hence God becomes its source (j).

(6) Up until (k), God was conceived to be some sort of all-pervasive general actual entity, whose objective character as the realm of all eternal objects formed part of the generic make-up of all actual occasions and hence did not have to be specifically prehended. With the addition of a consequent nature, however, God became individualized. Now the way in which God was to be prehended became a problem.

(7) The theory of the hybrid physical prehension, devised by Whitehead to explain the "living person," was applied to explain how actual occasions prehend God: (n).

In some respects this evolution is incomplete. No role in the specification of initial aim is given to the consequent nature, save in a very sketchy way in the late addition of the "fourth phase" (V.2.7). Nor can Whitehead answer the question how God can be objectified without perishing. But this is as far as Whitehead developed the theory of subjective aim, and it may be up to us to see how this trajectory may be completed.

If this analysis is correct, Process and Reality was substantially complete before Whitehead discovered the consequent nature of God. This is perhaps one reason why the temporal experience of God plays such a small role in Whitehead’s philosophy in the provision of specific initial aims. In terms of Whitehead’s total philosophy the move toward a temporal nature of God seems easy enough, but it was such a novel departure from traditional Western classical theism that it is no wonder that Whitehead was so long blind to these possibilities. After all, God had been for him the "non-temporal actual entity."

It is sobering to reflect upon the role of accidental circumstance in the founding of "process theology," which lives in large measure from Whitehead’s discovery of the consequent nature of God. What if he had not received the invitation to deliver the Gifford Lectures? If Whitehead had persisted in believing that he had already said all he had to say, there may not have been any reason for him to devote a separate chapter to God in the book he was planning. The Gifford Lectures more or less required him to devote at least a half-chapter to natural theology. The exigency of prolonged rumination about what he was going to say in this part in the light of his growing metaphysics may have initiated the discovery. At first he had a simple contrast between the "flux" of temporal occasions and the "permanence" of nontemporality, but then it grew into a double problem requiring a consequent temporal nature for God as its solution.

It should be clear from these examples that the analysis of the composition of Process and Reality provides the means whereby White-head’s can be appreciated as a living and growing philosophy. Instead of one fixed position, it becomes refracted into a whole series of positions, each leading to the next. Sometimes this sort of analysis, however, is faulted as tending to undercut the systematic unity of the whole. Thus the work of Werner Jaeger on Aristotle or that of Hans Vaihinger and Norman Kemp Smith on Kant has been called into question.

However it may be with respect to Aristotle and Kant, I feel fairly confident the genetic analysis I have been describing will support rather than undermine such standard interpretations of Whitehead as those of Ivor Leclerc and William Christian. The crux of interpretation lies in finding those texts in terms of which other, more obscure texts are interpreted. By and large the texts chosen stem from the later strata of the book. Earlier texts are either ignored or systematically reinterpreted in terms of these texts. The systematic interpretation, as it is commonly understood, more or less coincides with that final position which (according to the genetic analysis) Whitehead eventually arrived at.

It should be recognized, however, that the standard interpretations rarely do justice to all the (systematically) relevant texts, even within Process and Reality. If we assume that this book presents one single continuous point of view, then we ought to be able to devise a theory which explains all the texts. This Jorge Luis Nobo sets out to do in his recent essay on "Transition: A Creative Process Distinct From Concrescence" (IPQ, September, 1979). Nobo reconciles many relevant texts by proposing that prior to the phases of concrescence governed by subjective aim there is a distinct phase of transition. In my interpretation of becoming, "the many become one" (PR 21/ 32) in that the many "initial data" to be felt become the one objective datum felt in the final satisfaction (PR 221/ 337f). Nonetheless, Nobo can point to many impressive texts which point to an initial, unified datum (constituted in a distinct phase of transition), which is then reconstituted in concrescence, texts which have hitherto been largely ignored (e.g., PR 149f/ 227f, 154/ 234, 155/ 235, 214f/ 326f). If we adopt a strict systematic stance, these texts have as much right to be taken into account in our explanation as any other texts we might use.

If our genetic analysis of the text is correct, however, there is good reason for questioning the continued validity of these texts. The ones just cited belong to chapters composed during the summer of 1927 (II.6 [d] or II.10 [g]). Both are prior to the discovery of subjective aim (h) and its being placed in the initial phase (j). Where Nobo sees two initial phases, one of transition apart from subjective aim, followed by one of concrescence with subjective aim, I see just one initial phase, originally modified to make room for subjective aim. We cannot say that the original initial phase implicitly excluded subjective aim, for at that time the idea of subjective aim was not even anticipated.

But mine may not be the proper genetic account, and Nobo has informally proposed an alternative. (Because all of the evidence has not yet been examined, his, like mine, must remain extremely tentative.) Nobo challenges my interpretation of the chapter on "Process" (II.10) as the last of the Giffords according to Whitehead’s original intention. Instead, it was perhaps a very early chapter of the theoretical part of Whitehead’s undertaking. After composing the theoretical part, however, Whitehead realized that it was quite abstract and difficult to grasp and so decided to preface it by the section on "Discussions and Applications" (PR II). With the exception of the material on perception (c), which Nobo agrees is quite early, part two (i.e., PR II.1-9) was composed after the theoretical parts (II.10, III, IV). In working up these sections of part two Whitehead borrowed heavily from the theoretical materials already written. For example, the analysis of sensa and pattern (11.4.3) may well have been excerpted from the discussion concerning the two species of eternal objects (IV.1.6). We agree that the chapter on "Process" is incomplete, but Nobo postulates an original, more complete version. many of whose parts have since been transferred to earlier parts of the book (PR I, II.1-9).

In particular, Nobo challenges my assumption that the chapter on "Process" is incomplete because Whitehead has not yet discovered the consequent nature of God. He sees no reason why that particular doctrine could not have been formulated shortly after Religion in the Making, which anticipates it in a number of remarkable passages (e.g., RM 80, 87, 98, 154f, 157, 159). The distinction between the two natures of God does not depend upon any of the intricacies of Whitehead’s metaphysics as developed in Process and Reality and may well antedate it. In fact, we might even find an implicit anticipation of God’s knowledge of temporal actuality in the 1922 essay on "Uniformity and Contingency" (ESP 134f). The fact that Whitehead makes so little use of the consequent nature in most of Process and Reality can be explained by his assumption this was not a topic for general metaphysics (depending upon the special insights of religious experience) and so could not be employed in any purely metaphysical investigation. In other words, Whitehead adopted the stance of the third lecture in Religion in the Making in working out his cosmology, reserving the special stance of the fourth lecture for the final part contrasting "God and the World" (PR V).

In Nobo’s judgment, the chapter on "Process" (II.10) and the final chapter (V.2) concern two different topics, resolved by the same set of ideas. "Process" addresses the general problem of reconciling flux and permanence in the temporal world. This is resolved by the discovery of two kinds of fluency, macrocosmic (transition) and microcosmic (concrescence). The final chapter addresses the more particular problem of ultimate permanence: does any part of the universe achieve absolute permanence, as opposed to the relative permanence found in the temporal world? In the preface Whitehead explicitly contrasts these two chapters, among others, as presenting a variety of experience explicable in terms of a single scheme. For "one test of success is adequacy in the comprehension of the variety of experience within the limits of one scheme of ideas" (PR xiv/ix).

Should Nobo’s genetic analysis of Process and Reality prove to be correct, then we cannot easily fault his systematic interpretation of transition on genetic grounds. Some of the texts proposing an initial unified datum come from the chapter on "Process" (II.10), to be sure, a chapter both of us take to be early. The other texts, however, do not. If these texts were formulated quite late in the composition of Process and Reality, then we would have to take them into account in formulating Whitehead’s systematic position.

At this stage in the discussion it would be quite premature to make any final judgment concerning these two proposals. Rather, the differences point to the necessity of shared, cooperative inquiry by philosophers of different persuasions concerning the sequence in which Whitehead composed Process and Reality. The matter is quite relevant to our estimation of the basic character of Whitehead’s final systematic position.

One additional benefit of this undertaking ought at least be mentioned. Philosophers sometimes complain that they find no arguments in Whitehead. I suspect what they mean is that they fail to find discussions of the problems they are most familiar with. Now in his earliest metaphysic embedded in Science and the Modern World Whitehead did address a problem common to philosophers of that period: how to find a workable substitute for space, time, and matter, the discredited notions of scientific materialism. After the discovery of temporal atomism, however, Whitehead was primarily concerned with those issues and problems his own peculiar approach caused him. Genetic analysis, I am convinced, can be very valuable in ferreting out just what those problems were, particularly those which Whitehead sought to surmount in the next stage of his development.


[These eight metaphysical principles were presented by Whitehead in his classroom lectures at Harvard, October 1 and 4, 1927. They are excerpted from notes taken by Professor Edwin L. Marvin, formerly of the University of Montana. A typescript of the entire set of notes for 1927-28 is available at the Center for Process Studies.]

1. That the actual world is a process and that this process is the becoming of actual entities.

2. That in the becoming of an actual entity, the potential unity of many entities acquires the actual unity of the one entity -- the whole process is the many becoming one, and the one is what becomes.

3. That the potentiality for acquiring real unity with other entities is the one general metaphysical character attaching to all entities, actual or nonactual -- i.e., it belongs to the nature of a "Being" that it is a potential for a "Becoming."

4. That there are two primordial genera of entities: (a) eternal objects and (b) actual entities, and that all other entities are derivative complexes involving entities from both of these genera.

5. That an eternal object can only be described in terms of its potentiality for "ingression" into the becoming of actual entities and that its analysis only discloses other eternal objects.

6. That two descriptions are required for an actual entity: (a) one of them analytic of its potentiality for its "objectification" in the becoming of other actual entities and (b) the other analytic of the process that constitutes its own becoming.

7. That how the actual entity becomes constitutes what the actual entity is, so that the two descriptions of an actual entity are not independent. All explanation of an actual entity exhibits its process as the reason for its potentiality, and all description exhibits the realized objectifications of that actual entity as a partial analysis of its own process.

8. That every condition to which the process of becoming conforms in any particular instance has its reason in the character of some actual entity whose objectification is one of the components entering into the particular instance in question (the ontological principle -- or principle of extrinsic reference).

Actual entities are the only reasons; to search for a reason is to search for an actual entity.



CPR -- The Corrected Edition of Process and Reality, edited by David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne. New York: Free Press, 1978.

IPQ -- International Philosophical Quarterly, for Jorge Luis Nobo, "Transition: A Creative Process Distinct From Concrescence, September, 1979.

SJP -- Southern Journal of Philosophy, for Victor Lowe, "Whitehead’s Gifford Lectures," 7/4 (Winter, 1969), 329-38.


1 II.1.4 Part II, chapter 1, section 4. Roman numerals refer to parts, the first Arabic numeral to chapters, the second to sections. When only one Arabic numeral is given, the chapter is intended. If no Roman numeral is given, it is the same as the previous part mentioned. In citing PR, the page and line of the corrected edition is given first, then the Macmillan 1929 page and line.

2 These three paragraphs overlap page 105 in the Free Press edition of SMW. For further details, see my essay on "Whitehead’s First Metaphysical Synthesis," International Philosophical Quarterly 17/3 (September, 1997), 251-64; and Victor Lowe’s rejoinder, "Ford’s Discovery about Whitehead," IPQ 18/2 (July, 1978), 223-26.

Those who are primarily sensitive to the continuities in Whitehead’s thought, such as Lowe, often see little need to postulate any basic "shift" in the course of its development. Like many others, I do see such a "shift," arising Out of his adoption of temporal atomism. This does not mean that Whitehead abandoned the temporal continuity expressed in the infinite divisibility of events in the writings on the philosophy of nature, but rather that this infinite divisibility was relegated to the domain of the potential in terms of the extensive continuum. Actuality, however, was conceived to be incurably atomic after March, 1925. In "Whitehead’s First Metaphysical Synthesis," I offer no fresh evidence for the "shift," so that those who are antecedently persuaded that there is no "shift" will see little reason to alter their opinions. The essay presupposes that there is a "shift" and argues for its relocation, in the received interpretation, the "shift" takes place some time before the composition of SMW; I argue in contrast that it takes place during the composition of SMW.

Lowe is surely correct about the paucity of external evidence as to how Whitehead composed either SMW or PR but need we discount so completely internal evidence drawn from the published text itself? Biblical source criticism is almost wholly based on such internal evidence. On face value, W. E. Hocking’s remark that when Whitehead arrived at Harvard "his speculative structure . . . was already well advanced in its main outlines" is a bit of external evidence against my hypothesis, but it may mean nothing more than that Whitehead was little influenced by the philosophical opinions and controversies of his American colleagues during these years, which seems very much to have been the case.

At bottom, our differences reflect two fundamentally contrasting hermeneutical strategies: does a given text make more sense when interpreted as part of the entire work to which it belongs or as interpreted as part of some particular stratum of that work?

3 Whitehead refers to his "book on Metaphysics," but on August 9. 1927, Evelyn Whitehead reported to Curtis Hitchcock at Macmillan that "9 of the 10 Gifford Lectures are written." I am indebted to my student Michael Hertzig for this information, which he found among the Macmillan correspondence with authors housed in the Archives of the New York Public Library.