The Problem of Persons

by Sharon Janusz and Glenn Webster

Sharon Janusz is a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder and resides at 18063 East Atlantic Avenue, Aurora, CO 80013. She has published in Philosophy.

Glenn Webster is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado at Denver, Campus Box 179, Denver CO 80204. He has published journals and anthologies, including Idealistic Studies, Philosophy, and Extrapolation.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 151-161, Vol. 20, Number 3, Fall, 1991 . 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 authors project the idea that persons are organic entities and that their actual entities are unexplained by single occasions alone.

Alfred North Whitehead posits that the "actual occasions are the final actual entities in our cosmic epoch" (PR 18/27). Given Whitehead’s words "final" and "actual", his statement can be interpreted to mean that occasions are res verae, really real, more real than people. Whitehead also writes that "the real actual things that endure are all societies. They are not the actual occasions" (AI 262). Given the words "real" and "actual", this later statement seems to identify societies as res vera, since they are the things that endure. We are concerned with Whitehead’s usage of the word "actual" and whether or not it is synonymous with res vera.

Although Whitehead’s Category of the Ultimate is meant to lessen the distance, so to speak, between actual occasions and societies of actual occasions, the application of Whitehead’s metaphysics to persons seems troublesome; the ancient metaphysical problem of appearance and reality seems to lurk in the background, for the philosopher who wishes to identify res vera in the system soon finds herself perplexed, asking if the subjects of experience are actual occasions, societies of occasions, or sentient beings, such as persons and animals.1

I. Historical Context

There is a debate about the status of actual occasions. John Cobb, Jr. and Charles Hartshorne, for instance, hold that the only actual entities are microcosmic actual occasions. Their position has been termed the "orthodox" interpretation. In contrast, F. Bradford Wallack and Justus Buchler hold that almost anything can be an actual entity, at any scale of space and time (ENP 8).

The early part of this paper strengthens the arguments for identification of actual occasions with the microphysical quantum events using insights from the philosophy of time, as well as from physics. But we argue with Edward Pols that there is one other radically different kind of actual entity, persons (PS 8:103).

Although Joseph Bracken’s notion of "collective agency" is an interesting recent attempt at a compromise between the orthodox interpretation and positions like that of Edward Pols and this paper, collective agency fails to give sufficient unity and actuality to persons. Similarly, Pols’ notion of "fields" only exacerbates the problem of unification rather than solving it, as fields are most anomalous concepts, much more puzzling than persons (PS 18: 156-57).

II. Actual Occasions as Quantum Events

Actual occasions must be small enough to be the parts of elementary particles in physics, and this assertion conforms with Whitehead’s acceptance of insights from physics. Not only does Whitehead call our cosmic epoch the "electromagnetic society", he also writes:

[W]e are in a special cosmic epoch . . . characterized by electronic and protonic actual occasions, and by yet more ultimate actual entities which can be dimly discerned in the quanta of energy. (PR 91/139)

The most likely candidate for actual occasions are the quantum events because these are the constituents of electrons, protons, and all other elementary particles. We believe that quantum events are the electronic and protonic actual occasions to which Whitehead refers. P. A. M. Dirac’s conception of a space-time "ocean" of quantum events is easily interpreted as a plenum of Whiteheadian actual occasions.

Besides the "similar size" of actual occasions and quantum events, there is yet another point to consider, one which makes the quantum event perhaps the sole candidate for the actual occasion, Only quantum events have the characteristics that one expects of actual occasions with respect to space-time. Indivisibility is a characteristic which applies to both quantum events and to actual occasions. Both "come to be at once", rather than as a succession of earlier and later parts. Whitehead writes: "Every act of becoming must have an immediate successor" (PR 69/107). The problem with the mathematical continuum is that there is no immediate successor to any temporal instant in the continuum; hence, the need for occasions of finite duration, the coming to be of which is at once, indivisible.2

Naming the coming to be at once of actual occasions "concrescence", Whitehead describes the phenomenon as a springing into existence (PR 35-6/52-54). Once a finite quantum of space-time has been actualized by the concrescence of a new occasion, the quantum may be divided into smaller parts in accordance with the mathematics of the continuum. Whitehead rejects the view that coming to be occurs by infinitesimal instants because it is impossible to select a next infinitesimal instant later than any given instant; we believe that Whitehead sees this as the ground of Zeno’s paradoxes. Springing into existence allows for the actualization of a finite quantum, avoiding the problem of there being no next instant after a given instant. Through his description of concrescence, Whitehead denies actual occasions internal temporal becoming.

Whitehead, moreover, strongly suggests that quantum events are actual occasions, as well as that events come to be at once by his statement that ". . . in every act of becoming there is the becoming of something with temporal extension; but that the act itself is not extensive, in the sense that it is divisible into earlier and later acts of becoming which correspond to the extensive divisibility of what has become" (PR 69/107). We interpret his statement to mean that temporal extension is the result of concrescence, not that concrescence is temporally extended. What comes into existence is continuous after it has come to be; thus, another Whiteheadian saying: "There is a becoming of continuity, but no continuity of becoming" (PR 35/53).

Yet if actual occasions are in fact quantum events, then there seems to be a problem with appearance and reality. If the statement that the "actual occasions are the final actual entities" identifies that which is res vera as the quantum events, then people are reduced to appearance, to being less real than quantum events.3 We acknowledge that such a position seems reductive, as well as inconsistent with at least the spirit of much of Whiteheads later philosophy.

We recognize tension between the technical language introduced in Process and Reality, where the "occasions are the final actual entities", and Whitehead’s assertion in Adventures of Ideas that "the real actual things that endure are all societies. They are not actual occasions" (AI 262). The "real actual things" in Adventures of Ideas do not seem to be actual entities in the sense of Process and Reality. Both statements, however, present problems for applying Whitehead’s metaphysics to persons.

Perhaps the tension can be reduced by examining the word "final" in the phrase "the final actual entities" found in Process and Reality. If the word "final" is taken in the sense of "original," then the problem of res vera is lessened, since there are grounds in physics and astrophysics for arguing that quantum events were the original actual entities within our cosmic epoch; pure quanta of space-time are posited in many contemporary versions of the Big Bang cosmology to be the original state of the present observable universe, beginning at Plank Time at about 10-43 sec after the beginning.4 Actual occasions remain arche in at least two senses: occasions are both the fundamental constituents of things, and they are the original state of the cosmos. If, however, the word "final" is taken in the sense of "most developed" or "last," then the problem is heightened, since it does not follow that actual occasions are the only actual entities.5 Persons, we maintain, are actual entities, res vera.

Not only might there be a problem of appearance and reality if the occasions are taken to be the final actual entities in the sense of most developed or last, but there is also another problem, one which concerns time. We maintain that the actual occasions coming to be at once are finite, without an internal past, present, or future. What exists after concrescence can be divided into parts and arranged, but only after concrescence. The result of denying internal temporal becoming to an actual occasion is a "time" within the occasion that is "static."6

By speaking of "time" within the occasion, we are speaking figuratively, as we shall soon argue that there is no time within the occasion and that time comes into existence only at satisfaction. The phases of concrescence are not within physical time, and it is impossible for us to conceive of any kind of time until actuality is achieved; hence, we maintain that concrescence is productive of time.

III. Time

A) In an effort to explain Whitehead’s use of the phrase "physical time" in his statement: "This genetic passage from phase to phase is not in physical time", some process philosophers argue for two kinds of time (PR 283/433). We reject this idea, as a distinction between two kinds of time seems to us unjustifiable; we do, however, admit that Whitehead’s phrases "genetic passage" and "physical time" raise a question: Did Whitehead consider another kind of time? But, unlike Lewis Ford’s interpretation, we deny that concrescence takes place in genetic time. We maintain that concrescence provides the basic stitching of the fabric of space-time and that it is only in the relations between quanta that time exists.

We reject the idea that concrescence is a temporal process, as Zeno’s paradoxes cannot be satisfactorily met if it is granted that concrescence is temporal. To our understanding, concrescence is actual and temporal only upon satisfaction, for unless this is so, Zeno’s paradoxes of motion and change will reemerge to challenge Whitehead’s metaphysics. If concrescence is interpreted as a temporal process, Zeno’s problem becomes one for concrescence because there is no next instant after a given instant.

The problem posed by the mathematical continuum for the philosophy of time is created by a fundamental feature of all series which are ordered, but not well ordered. Though "cuts" are possible which allow one to obtain a single element of the series, it is impossible to cut the series a second time and obtain an element next to the first element. If time is isomorphic with the real number series of the mathematical continuum, then there is no next instant after the present instant. Any instant later than the present instant is such that there are infinitely many instants between it and the present instant. Two cuts cannot be close enough together to remove the infinity of intervening elements without the two cuts being the same cut.

Whitehead’s epochal theory of time circumvents this problem in a manner that is quite convincing: "there is a becoming of continuity, but no continuity of becoming" (PR 35/53). In other words, creative advance is epochal rather than continuous, and we interpret Whitehead to mean that the "times" and "places" within the standpoint of the single occasion at satisfaction came to be at once with the occasion, that time and space do not exist until the occasion completes concrescence, and, therefore, actual occasions are the very fabric of space-time.

The idealist is not bothered by Zeno, for in idealism time is ultimately unreal; time depends for its being on the eternal. But we understand and judge Whitehead to be a realist, and so he must have an analysis of creative advance which gets around the problems that arise when time and space are allowed to be isomorphic with the mathematical continuum, the problem with which is that its series are dense rather than discrete. In a dense series, distinct elements can be obtained by cuts, dividing the series unambiguously into subclasses of all members earlier than the instant obtained by the cut, in contrast to all members later than the instant obtained by the cut, or all members to the left of the point, in contrast to all members to the right of the point.

B) A distinction has been drawn between genetic and physical time to argue that concrescence is a temporal process, but there is difficulty distinguishing two kinds of time without denying to each kind a condition necessary to time itself. To illustrate, consider Lewis Ford’s description of genetic time:

There is no reason why an indivisible act of becoming cannot contain many phases of becoming, some of which are more determinate than others. Further, some can be earlier and some later, for the process of determination works on the earlier, more indeterminate phases to turn them into later, more determinate ones.7

Ford describes genetic time using the words "earlier" and "later". Ford elsewhere argues that genetic time is A-series time involving past, present, future, and becoming.

But consider that John McTaggart, who bequeathed to us the distinction between A-series, past, present, future, and B-series, earlier and later, argues effectively that each of these characteristics or determinations of time require the other. Simply, past, present, and future presuppose earlier and later; the A-series presupposes the B-series. McTaggart argues that the two are inseparable characteristics of time, and hence are not two different or distinct times.

We agree with McTaggart; consider that if an event A is unambiguously earlier than event B, then this can only be if B is in A’s future, and A is in B’s past. Only by denying temporality to the B-series is it possible to avoid the crossover from earlier than and later than to past, present, and future. Similarly, if event A is in the past of event B, then A is earlier than B, and B is later than A, and hence the B-series characteristics follow from the A-series characteristics, as the A-series characteristics follow from the B-series characteristics.

Thus we hold that genetic time, what Ford calls the time of concrescence, cannot be distinguished from physical time, the time of persons, the time of the world larger than single quantum events. If concrescence is in fact temporal as some philosophers maintain, its temporality must involve both the A-series and the B-series characteristics; genetic time cannot be A-series time without entailing events ordered or orderable in terms of B-series time. The B-series side of time taken alone will land us in Zeno’s paradoxes because the B-series leads to isomorphism with the mathematical continuum and so to infinite divisibility.

Since time cannot have A characteristics without also having B characteristics, physical time cannot be time if it is merely static or B-series time severed from the A-series. Chapter X of Part II of Process and Reality seems quite clear that it is completion of concrescence and transition to newer occasions that is responsible for the coming to be of time (PR 210/320).8 Within physical time there is a past which is already objectively immortal, a present which is the standpoint of the new occasion, and a future which is not yet; hence, we maintain, on Whitehead’s account, physical time is dynamic. Physical time is not merely B-series time, but necessarily has A-series characteristics.

C) We interpret Whitehead’s statement that "there is a becoming of continuity, but no continuity of becoming" to connect concrescence with his Category of the Ultimate, Creativity (PR 35/53). We also hold that concrescence is a nontemporal process, even though the phrase "nontemporal process" is admittedly a most paradoxical concept. Temporality characterizes the actual, but not that which is too indeterminate to be actual.

The concept of indeterminacy is ambiguous; there are at least two different senses of the word "indeterminacy". One sense denotes relative or ordinary indeterminacy, and the other sense denotes radical or absolute indeterminacy. Ordinary indeterminacy is compatible with time, for this indeterminacy can only be a characteristic of some enduring object which is otherwise fully actual. For example, a person may be undecided as to where and when to eat lunch. As the morning passes, this indeterminacy may give way by stages to the determination to eat at a specific time, at a specific place. In this case, the reduction of indeterminacy to determinacy occurs with the passage of time and on the part of an entity who is fully determinate and actual; the person is fully actual throughout the entire process. The indeterminacy in this case is relative indeterminacy, not absolute indeterminacy.

But as we understand Whitehead, the passage from the indeterminacy of the initial phases of concrescence, through the intermediate phases to the final phase, satisfaction, is a process which concretizes or actualizes the occasion itself, and the occasion is not actual until the process is complete.9 If so, the indeterminacy of the earlier phases of concrescence is a radical or absolute indeterminacy inconsistent with the passage of time, for there is nothing as yet actual for which time could pass; thus, concrescence is a process in a metaphorical or figurative sense, and this is why Whitehead associates concrescence with creativity, calling creativity the Category of the Ultimate, meaning that though it is used to explain all else, it is not explicable.

Is inexplicability too high a price to pay for granting time’s reality and combating Zeno’s paradoxes? Whitehead seems willing to pay this price, which is that concrescence is not a temporal process. Instead, time is the result of concrescence followed by transition from occasion to occasion. Yet another price is the need to solve such problems as the nature of a person by some other means than the analysis of actual occasions, as actual occasions alone are insufficient to explain persons.

IV. Persons

Each person may be described as a society of more than fifty trillion cells, and each living cell is a society which from any vantage point rivals the observable universe in its complexity. To get an idea of the mystery and wonder which is a person, note that the number of elementary particles within a human body is 1027, whereas the number of stars in the observable universe is less, 1023; thus, there are 10,000 times more elementary particles in a human body than stars in the heavens. This is quite impressive, suggesting that people are marvelously amazing.

In light of the present interpretation of actual occasions and concrescence, actual occasions alone cannot be used to explain persons. For unlike concrescence, the temporality of persons lies outside single actual occasions. Temporality exists in the relations among occasions; without temporality, no larger scale events or enduring objects are possible, and in a realistic and relational theory of time and space, the concrescence of microphysical occasions is productive of space-time by providing the relata for the relations which are the fabric of space-time. In addition, unlike occasions, persons have within themselves earlier and later, past, present, and future; a quantum event has no basis for temporality internal to itself.

Persons have an internal sense of the direction of time with and because of awareness, but at the scale of a quantum event there is no arrow internal to an event that indicates the direction of time. Whiteheadian actual occasions must rely on the world external to themselves for a vicarious experience of time. A clock is needed in physics to determine which subquantal event is earlier relative to another. And the "laws" which are applicable at scales smaller than the quantum event are thought by many physicists to be reversible or bi-directional, so again instruments must be used when determining earlier and later events at the quantum scale.

Furthermore, there are scale differences between persons and quantum events. Consider that physics believes a quantum event is one ten-trillionth of a second in duration. Conversely, the moment that a human experiences as the present lasts much longer. According to William James, it lasts somewhere between one twentieth of a second and a second and a half (PP 642). In sum, the number of quantum events in one second is equal to the number of seconds in one hundred thousand years.

Not only is there a remarkable difference in time between an actual occasion and a person, there is a disparity regarding space. Quantum Electrodynamics estimates the "size" of a quantum event to be approximately one ten-trillionth of a centimeter cubed. Compare the quantum event’s "size" with one cubic meter, which is approximately the space that a human occupies. Recognizing the tremendous differences between persons and quantum events in time and space, a philosopher begins wondering and worrying.

Admittedly, Whitehead’s theory of concrescence is an idealized abstraction from human experience, but as Whitehead admits, an abstraction leaves out most of the features of the original from which it is abstracted; hence, it does not follow that because the original has a given feature the abstraction will also have that feature (AI 187). For example, human experience has internal temporality, but it does not follow that concrescence has internal temporality; to assume that an abstraction has all the features of the original model is to commit the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

We are reluctant to take the notion that concrescence is a mere idealized abstraction from human experience too seriously in the analysis of persons, for there are characteristics of a person that must not be ignored and cannot be understood in terms of single occasions. Not only do serious problems arise concerning time and space, but serious problems also arise when trying to explain the nature of being and acting human.

According to Whitehead, only that which is subjectively real can act in the sense of self-creation, and only that which is self-creative is fully actual. White-head writes: "An actuality is self-realizing, and whatever is self-realizing is an actuality" (PR 222/340). Initially, the assertion seems applicable to persons, but in the chapter on Process, part II of Process and Reality, Whitehead posits that it is the single actual occasion that concrescences, connecting concrescence with self-realization. He states that " ‘Actuality’ means nothing else than this ultimate entry into the concrete" (PR 211/321). We are concerned with the word "entry" in Whitehead’s statement, for persons do not only enter into the concrete, we endure in the concrete.

We interpret Whitehead’s above statements to mean that the present actual occasion is subjectively real, actual, and that all other occasions are objectively immortal. But if only the present actual occasion is that which is actual, how can a person act?10 It seems obvious that the whole person acts, not an individual occasion, especially since an occasion is one ten trillionth of a second in duration.

It is a venerable and reliable principle of metaphysics that if an entity is capable of acting, of being an efficient cause, then that entity is an actual entity. If it is the person who acts rather than a part of the person, an occasion, then he or she is an actual entity, according to traditional metaphysics; however, this is inconsistent with a literal reading of Whitehead on the nature of actual occasions, for he identifies that which is subjectively real as the individual occasion, and thereby seems to commit himself, however unwittingly, to the position that people are not res vera. So we ask: are persons creatures of appearance in Whitehead’s system? Or does Whitehead’s system defy interpretation using the concepts and the language of traditional metaphysics?

In Whitehead’s metaphysics the locus of creation is confined to the standpoint of one present occasion in the sense that something new becomes with the present occasion. One way to reconcile the difficulty is to allow that persons act through influencing the self-creation of actual occasions, to allow that a person is grounded in an astronomically large number of occasions as objectified in comparison to the single occasion on the cutting edge of the creative advance through which a person lives, endures, acts.

V. Persons and Action

If the locus of action is the single occasion, then the sense that a person has of acting is illusory. Moreover, if the locus of action is the single occasion, a person’s action is reduced to an epiphenomenon because most of what a person is, past occasions, is incapable of acting; to limit action to a single occasion is essentially to deny acting to persons. If we acknowledge that persons are capable of acting, then we must also acknowledge persons are actual; action is a sufficient condition for actuality. Simply, if we are willing to grant that an entity is capable of action, then we must grant that the entity is actual.

The problem of persons cannot be solved without some basic changes in understanding Whitehead’s metaphysics. Whitehead’s theory of actual occasions puts too much emphasis on the actuality of the one immediately present actual occasion (PR 211/321). Whitehead calls the causal past the actual world, but his notion of objective immortality belies some of the consequences of actuality. For instance, past occasions are supposedly no longer alive, and so these are no longer subjects of action, subjects of experience.

We hold that the test for actuality is the ability to act, to exert power and influence on the coming to be of individual quantum events and larger societies of occasions. Persons have this power; at least, such is presupposed by human languages of action and intentionality. That persons have the power to act is a fact, a fact perhaps often overlooked because Whitehead calls a person a society.

The word "society" is a bit misleading; society suggests the multiple, that is, a multiplicity of occasions, as opposed to the idea of an organic unity. Persons are multiplicities, but persons are unities as well. The danger posed by calling a person a society is that a person might be understood to be a cluster of occasions, one occasion subjectively real, while all others are objectively immortal. The concept of societies is further misleading in that it is an abstraction which leaves out many of the details of the reality of persons. Consequently, the word "society," we believe, ought to be understood in the sense that Whitehead uses the phrase "organism" in Science and The Modern World, which is as a whole not reducible to the sum of its parts, an organic unity (SMW Ch. V).

We hold that most ordinary things are organic unities for Whitehead, including occasions, elementary particles, molecules, simple organisms and complex organisms. Of course, other ordinary things like tables, cans, and, generally speaking, artificial things are less than organic unities. A person ought to be described then as containing within herself many societies, though societies in the sense of organic unities; a person is an organic unity, but a unity which contains many organic unities, such as elementary particles, atoms, molecules, cells, organs.

Actual occasions ought to be understood as organic unities. At the foundational level actual occasions are the fabric of space-time, the necessary condition for all else. We believe that were it not for the foundation of actual occasions constituting space-time there could be no elementary particles, no molecules, no simple or complex organisms, no persons. Stated differently, the occasions of space-time are the original entities of this cosmic epoch.

But in Process and Reality, Whitehead recognizes two fundamentally different types of actual occasions, those constituting space-time empty of matter, and those constituting experient occasions in the histories of particular particles, corresponding to basic pulses or beats in the theories of quantum physics (PR 177/269). Whitehead, like many quantum physicists, draws a distinction between those quantum events that lead to successors constituting particles, and those quantum events that are independent of particles, those of empty space.

We hold that those occasions responding to basic pulses or to the lure of a particular past particle form the elementary particles, which in turn form the atoms, which in turn form the molecules, which in turn form the more complex molecules of primitive organisms, which in turn form the one-celled organisms, which in turn form the multi-celled organisms, which, finally, in turn form the more complex organisms, persons. A person, then, contains within herself different times and different places of all the organic unities within herself. Just as the rainbow is not within any particular droplet of water, a person is not within any particular actual occasion, nor any particular constituent society. Whitehead’s thesis that there is no nature in an instant of time can be applied directly to persons: there is no person in any one occasion nor any one constituent society (SMW Ch. II).

In light of the above, the problem concerning the differences in size between persons and occasions appears to us to be a pseudo-problem. For all entities, elementary particles, atoms, molecules, and so on, are organic unities, each integrating into itself organic unities smaller in size with the differences in size being unproblematical between each level, above or below.11

Though the problem of size seems no longer troublesome, there remains a problem: Whitehead’s seeming unwillingness to allow subjective reality to entities other than actual occasions. Common sense requires that persons be acknowledged as initiators of actions, subjects of experience. If persons are subjectively real, then persons must somehow influence occasions, but there is no need to suppose that the influence is direct from person to an occasion. We must keep in mind the many layers of organic unities between a person and actual occasions. The entities directly below the level of a person, the immediate constituents of a person, are the organs such as the brain and heart, and other large scale body parts, such as the arms and hands. The person acts and experiences with these, and they have their nature in the life of a person. We maintain that a person’s influence is direct and immediate over the constituents of the next level down, and each of these in turn over those below. Whitehead stressed the importance of the fact that we see with the eyes, and he would have noted that the eyes experience with their immediate constituents, rods and cones. None of this would be possible unless actuality is granted to societies of occasions, and not just to occasions.

VI. Conclusion

We have argued that the quantum event is Whitehead’s actual occasion and that concrescence is productive of space-time, which is the fundamental level of the present cosmic epoch, the necessary condition for all that is. We, however, have also argued that there is another kind of actual occasion, though at the same scale as quantum events, responding to the elemental and fundamental beats, musical lures, basic rhythms constitutive of cosmic order; in time, we believe that new sciences, such as chronobiology, will shed light on this process.

We have argued that persons are res vera and that single occasions alone cannot explain persons, but societies of subjectively real organic unities can to a great extent explain the complexity of persons. A person is composed of many subjectively real organic unities all working with each other at various levels of scale. We hold that occasions, organic unities up to persons and other sentient beings, are res vera. We are no longer concerned with Whitehead’s usage of the word "actual" as we were at the beginning of the present paper.

Initially, Whitehead might seem to identify actual occasions as res vera to the exclusion of persons; however, careful thought, along with the addition of other Whiteheadian ideas, such as organic unities, casts doubt on the suspicion that for Whitehead only actual occasions are res vera.

To an extent, Whitehead’s metaphysics defies interpretation based on the concepts and the language of traditional metaphysics. Whitehead’s philosophy requires a broader conception of time, for example, one which will allow for the reality of the past in the present, a concept that the traditional metaphysician would likely judge as intuitively false, leading to the additional judgment that much of human experience is appearance rather than reality, a position which we reject, having come to a greater understanding of Whitehead’s metaphysics.

What we have attempted in this paper is intended as provisional and suggestive, certainly not final, as philosophy is never final. The questions are always more important than any particular answers.



ENP--F. Bradford Wallack. The Epochal Nature of Process in Whitehead’s Metaphysics. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1980.

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

PP--William James. The Principles of Psychology. Volume I. New York: Dover Publications, 1950. (First published in 1890.)

PS 8--Edward Pols. "Human Agents as Actual Beings." Process Studies 8/2 (Summer 1979): 103-13.

PS 18--Joseph A. Bracken, S.J. "Energy-Events and Fields." Process Studies 18/3 (Fall 1989): 153-65.



1This has been argued at length in papers in Process Studies. The article by Joseph A. Bracken, S. J. (PS 18: 153), "Energy-Events and Fields", is the most recent. Bracken attempts to solve the problem through the idea of "collective agency", stopping short of allowing that the person is as real as her constituent occasions. The article by J. P. Moreland, "An Enduring Self: The Achilles’ Heel of Process Philosophy" (PS 17: 193), focuses more on the problem of personal identity, but it is concerned with the general part-whole and unity problem that this present paper is attempting to sharpen. Much further back in time is Rem Edwards’ attempt to use Whitehead’s theology to resolve the problem of reality of persons, by suggesting that "souls" continuously concresce in the same manner that God continuously concresces. Bracken’s attempt to use the concept of "field" is suggestive, but in the end unsuccessful because fields pose even greater conceptual problems than events.

2Murray Code, Order & Organism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985), especially pages 73-75, is a helpful discussion of the relevance of Zeno’s paradoxes to Whitehead’s theory of actual occasions.

3Adventures of Ideas, Part IV, especially the chapter "Truth and Beauty", can be interpreted as supporting the position that humans are creatures of appearance.

4See, for example, Joseph Silk, The Big Bang (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1980).

5Eric Chaisson, The Life Era (New York: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987), argues for a transition in kind from era to era in the unfolding of the present cosmic epoch in the kinds of entities that are "final" in the sense of "last".

6Though the original work was done by J. E. M. McTaggart, the best available source for a discussion of static versus dynamic time and of the corresponding B series and A series distinctions, is Richard M. Gale, The Philosophy of Time (London: Macmillan, 1968).

7Lewis S. Ford, "When Did Whitehead Conceive God to Be Personal?", Anglican Theological Review, 72/3 (July, 1990), 280-91.

8We grant that Whitehead’s language in this passage, "The two kinds of fluency", is puzzling with respect to the philosophy of time. We are arguing that time as such requires both of these kinds of fluency, that neither is in itself a temporal process.

9The material in Chapter X in Science and the Modern World is relevant to the issue of the kinds of indeterminacy, in that indeterminacy is connected with two different kinds of abstraction.

10Edward Pols’ discussion of the nature of agency (PS 8: 103-13), is most helpful. We are in agreement with Pols that a person has power over his constituent parts. Speech acts and neuronal and other physiological activities are interesting metaphysically because the act seems to exercise power over the neuronal activity (PS 8: 103).

11 Lewis S. Ford’s essay, "Inclusive Occasions", proposes a way for constructing larger occasions out of quantum sized sub-microscopic actual occasions. We differ with Ford’s theory of inclusive occasions in that we allow societies to have the unity of organic wholes, organisms, in Whitehead’s sense, and as such to be capable of action, to be subjectively real. Ford’s theory of inclusive occasions places occasions within occasions; we, however, believe that there are two types of occasions, occasions which constitute space-time and occasions which are the basic constituents of particles and, indirectly through particles, of all of the more complex entities. (See "Inclusive Occasions" in Process in Context: Essays in Post-Whiteheadian Perspectives, ed. Ernest Wolf-Gazo, [Bern: Peter Lang, 1980], 107-36.)