Whitehead, Heidegger, and the Paradoxes of the New

by James Bradley

James Bradley did his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, where he lectures and teaches in philosophy for the Faculties of Divinity and Philosophy.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 127-150, 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 author discusses the two features of time as visualized by both Heidegger and Whitehead: 1. The virtue of the ultimate irreducibility of time. 2. Time’s discrete, indivisible and finite elements making it unique and unrepeatable and thus, radically new.

Much philosophical thinking in the twentieth century is characterized, on the negative side, by a critique of philosophy as inextricably entangled with the concept of "ground." On the positive side, this is matched by an extensive elaboration of what may be called "self-realization" as the principle of analysis, where whatever is taken to be the proper subject matter of philosophy is understood as reflexive in nature, i.e., as in some sense subject and object of itself, immanently constituting its own order and character. This spectrum of concerns has been expressed in a variety of ways, of which perhaps the best-known are the self-creating, rebellious individual of Sartrean existentialism and the problem-solving, tool-wielding subject of Deweyan pragmatism.

From the point of view of the later Wittgenstein, however, the concept of a world-producing subject, existential or pragmatic, is itself just another secularizing expression of the metaphysical concept of ground. The human subject for the later Wittgenstein is a "decentered" subject: it is understood as constituted by the structures of languages it inhabits, structures which have the self-organizing, groundless character of "play" (Sprachspiel) as the site where language and world coextensively open up or unfold each other.

Similar considerations have been developed in the theory of interpretation. Gadamer, for example, drawing on the aesthetics of the German Idealist tradition, finds his primary models for the self-expanding question-and-answer structure of dialogue both in the substrateless character of play and in the work of art, understood as immanently unfolding and enacting its own meanings.1

But the twin themes of groundlessness and self-realization find perhaps their most radical specification in thinkers such as Whitehead and the later Heidegger, who may be regarded as making these concepts themselves the proper subject-matter of philosophy. This they can be said to do by universalizing self-realization, so that, in one way or another, all things are understood as self-realizing in nature -- a position which they express by characterizing self-realization in terms of the realization or "temporalization" of time.

These two moves are intimately related. Where self-realization is the universal principle of analysis, the self-realizing natures of things are necessarily also a matter of the realization of time, i.e., temporal form and particular content have to be understood as reflecting into each other perfectly. In consequence, where self-realization is the universal principle of analysis, time cannot be treated in traditional fashion as a prior structure in which things happen. Rather, time has itself to be characterized in terms of its realization -- a requirement which has significant consequences.

Firstly, in virtue of the ultimate irreducibility of time -- i.e., the fact that time cannot be broken down into non-temporal elements of which it is a construct or synthesis -- the realization of time can only be described in temporal terms. Whitehead and the later Heidegger therefore give time-concepts a privileged position in respect of the concept of self-realization: because self-realization is a matter of the realization of time, and time is irreducible, self-realization is characterized in terms of temporal entities -- by the concept of "occasions" in Whitehead and by that of "event" (Ereignis) in the later Heidegger.2

Secondly, these event-concepts or event-analyses (as they may be called) have a specific rationale. On the ground that, where self-realization is the universal principle of analysis, time is not a prior structure in which things happen, Whitehead and the later Heidegger maintain that time cannot be understood as infinite time, i.e., as a continuous series of nows, infinitely divisible and stretching endlessly into the future. Instead, in attempting to characterize time in terms of its realization, they treat it as a matter of discrete, indivisible and finite elements which are unique and unrepeatable and in that sense radically new. This position is represented by their respective event-concepts. Their work can be taken as expressing the claim that, where self-realization is the universal principle of analysis, both self-realization and time require to be described in terms of event-concepts.

These concepts are the subject of the present essay. The set of concerns they represent will for brevity be referred to in what follows as the theme of radical novelty, or the self-realizing new, as is convenient.

In part, the theme of radical novelty is inspired by developments in modern physics, which from the early 1900s treats matter not as a substance occupying the infinite receptacles of space and time, but as the immanently unfolding order and passage of space-time events. Nevertheless, the theme has its own philosophical anticipations: for example, in Marx’s identification of humanity with its history; in the unique Moment or Now in which Kierkegaard’s believer leaps anew into faith, thereby conferring reality on past and future as the history of redemption; in the utterly discrete, underived Moment where Nietzsche’s artists of the future create their own freedom; and in the temporalizing constitution of the early Heidegger’s Dasein.

There are of course significant differences between these positions. Marx does not deal with time other than as history, which he understands as a linear and teleological continuum constituted by the actions of communal subjects. For Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, in contrast, time -- and thus history -- is a matter of a discrete series of breaks or ruptures engendered by the free acts of individual subjects. And while the early Heidegger shares this view, unlike Kierkegaard and Nietzsche he does not treat time mainly as a metaphor or expression of the human condition. Rather, the realization of time in the early Heidegger is a necessary dimension of the human subject understood as a self-realizing, reflexive unity of form and content.

For all their differences, however, what clearly unites these positions is that time is analyzed in the context of human subjectivity. Yet, where self-realization is the universal principle of analysis, time cannot be defined merely in terms of human subjects -- or forms of language. Because the realization of time is a matter of the self-realizing natures of all things, the theme of radical novelty implies the abandonment of philosophical anthropocentrism in all of its guises.

This implication is already to some extent present both in Nietzsche’s posthumously published arguments for the eternal recurrence of the moment, and in Bergson’s concept of real duration.3 But Nietzsche’s position is notoriously problematic, while Bergson opposes duration to the object-world. Indeed, because Bergson treats the object-world, not as a matter of self-realizing unities of form and content, but as a pragmatic distortion of real duration, his thought is to that extent still fractured by a non-reflexive division between the underlying reality and its appearances. In Continental European philosophy it is only from the 1930s onwards, with the highly influential analyses of the event undertaken by the later Heidegger, that the theme of radical novelty receives its most uncompromising statement.

Clearly enough, Whitehead’s "one genus" theory of "actual occasions" -- variously characterized as "self-realizing," "self-forming," "self-creating," "self-producing" -- belongs squarely within the same thematic. Nevertheless, Whitehead is a philosopher who is sometimes quoted but rarely considered. In contemporary discussions he occupies at best a marginal place, despite the fact that his analysis of the concept of occasions had been fully elaborated in Process and Reality as early as 1929. Yet the reason for this neglect is obvious enough. Despite all their differences, what unites the other exponents of self-realization is their common critique of "metaphysics," understood as a narcissistic attempt by reason to transcend the limits of language, or to evacuate the plenitude of time and history, by the elaboration of an eternally complete principle of ground or order or totality. Heidegger is the strongest voice here: as is well-known, he regards his "event" as constituting a wholesale repudiation and destruction of the entire enterprise of philosophy.

Whitehead, however, presents himself as a metaphysician in the grand tradition, whose work has the character of "a recurrence to pre-Kantian modes of thought" (PR xi). The inevitable result is that his writings from Process and Reality onwards are generally regarded as naive anachronisms. It has gone unnoticed that his theory of occasions is part and parcel of a self-conscious and thoroughgoing redefinition of the nature of metaphysics in the context of the theme of radical novelty. Perhaps the best way of indicating what is at issue here is by means of a comparison between Whitehead and the later Heidegger.


To both Whitehead and the later Heidegger one main significance of their event-concepts is that they represent particularly well the requirement laid upon thought by the theme of the self-realizing new. For if all things are to be described as self-realizing, then their natures as such can only be defined in terms of themselves. They cannot be understood as arising from certain fundamental "productive" structures, whether these be defined as the procession of forms, or the procession of divine being, or immaterial monadic reals, or principles of possible experience, or the all-containing whole. Rather, the self-realizing new requires a mode of discourse which stands in what can be called a content-reflexive relation to its subject-matter, i.e., which does not refer its subject-matter away from itself to something else as its "cause" or "ground" or "condition" or "productive" principle, however conceptually extended the sense of these terms may be. Hence the aptness of event-concepts. Not only do they carry the appropriate connotative links with history, physics and aesthetics, but they are also exhaustively translatable into their subject-matter without any aetiological remainder.

The point can perhaps be illustrated (and this is no more than an illustration [PLT 86]) by reference to the phrases "the event of. . . ." and "the occasion of.," where the "of" can be regarded as having the character both of a subjective and an objective genitive, i.e., the concepts of "occasion" and "what occurs," of the "event" and its "content," can be taken as coextensive elements with no status of any kind apart from each other, registering the unique and unrepeatable differences, or acts of self-differentiation, by which things make themselves what they are. So understood, the concepts of event and occasions are intended to indicate that the "cause" or "constitution" or "principle" of what occurs is nothing else than the difference of its own self-realizing occurrence. Thereby the concept of the subject is, so to speak, returned to the object -- where it used to be -- and, with that, the distinctions of knowing subject and object known, of real and ideal, of nature and spirit, lose their status as the fundamental polarities of philosophical analysis.

As with the German post-Kantian idealists, the specific target here is Kant’s threefold division of experience into cognition, morality and aesthetics, at least (in Whitehead’s case) so far as that is taken as the base-line of the analysis. Yet Whitehead and the later Heidegger attempt to fuse the realms of nature, history and art, not by any resort to monism, but by severally developing unitary modes of discourse where such historically laden notions as "subject," "synthesis," and constitution" are either completely transformed and redefined, as in Whitehead, or are completely repudiated, as by the later Heidegger.

What unites Whitehead and the later Heidegger here is their common recognition that the theme of the self-realizing new requires the abandonment of the metaphor of ground and all its works. What divides them is their views on the enterprise of philosophical analysis in that context.

Once granted that the traditional models of philosophical self-understanding -- represented by such notions as cause, ground, realized totality, etc. -- need to be laid aside in the context of the self-realizing new, the key question is: how is the status of event-concepts to be understood? At issue here are what might be called the paradoxes of the new. These arise from the fact that, under the rubric of the self-realizing new, the question of the nature of concepts or universals -- a question which has defined the domain of philosophy since Plato -- now rebounds upon philosophy itself, threatening to leave it with nothing to do but dismantle itself.

For consider: the concepts of event and occasions represent truth-claims of the largest kind. That is, these concepts are intended to indicate that the principle of what occurs is nothing else than the self-realizing occurrence itself. As such, they are truth-claims which define the status of truth-claims as historically situated happenings. But what then is their own status? Do they not represent strong, or unrestricted and nonrevisable, truth-claims of the kind that traditionally characterizes metaphysics? Do they not state "what truly is"? And yet have they not undercut their own claim to truth-as-validity by redefining truth as historical occurrence?

The first and most obvious paradox of the new is thus the familiar paradox of self-reference, now become, in the context of the theme of radical novelty, a question of the nature of philosophy itself.4 It can here be summarily stated as: what is the relation of the proposition "All is relative" to itself?

This paradox is, however, compounded by another, which represents a different way of specifying the difficulties inherent in the theme of radical novelty. The paradox of self-reference arises when the theme of radical novelty is looked at from the point of view of its implications with respect to the relation of philosophical analysis to its own propositions. The second paradox arises when the theme of radical novelty is looked at from the point of view of its implications with respect to the relation of philosophical analysis to its subject-matter, understood as a self-realizing or reflexive unity of form and content.

This second paradox is the paradox of content-reflexivity. It may be expressed by the question: how do the propositions "All is self-realizing" or "All is new" stand to their subject-matter?

On their own terms, the subject-matter of event-concepts is nothing else than the unique and unrepeatable difference of the self-realizing new. But the unique and unrepeatable is, as such, unintelligible or incomprehensible in its own nature. Is it therefore the case that event-concepts cannot claim any positive meaning or content, but are no more than strictly negative elaborations of that which cannot be philosophically analyzed? Are they concepts of an "other" from which reason has to recognize its complete exclusion? Do they have no other task than ironically to efface themselves before their object?

Another way of expressing the paradox of content-reflexivity would be in terms of the concept of "philosophical necessity," i.e., the kind of necessity attributed to the concepts of philosophical analysis. Now philosophical necessity -- the claim that things are and not otherwise than as laid out in the analysis -- is a necessity of its own kind, for it is the character belonging to those concepts that define the nature of the contrasts we ordinarily make between necessity and possibility or necessity and contingency. Nevertheless, philosophically necessary concepts represent what is held in some sense or other to be an invariant or permanent structure of things -- which is why they are called necessary and why they have often been understood on the models of logical or causal necessity. The question therefore is: how can event-analyses make any such claims for themselves if the only kind of "intrinsic nature" things have is the essential variability of the self-realizing new? How can event-analyses represent that which is in any sense invariant or permanent if their subject-matter is unique and unrepeatable difference? In the context of the theme of radical novelty, the price of theoretical abstraction would seem to be the essential vacuity of theory.

To be sure, it is a truism that analysis can proceed only by way of abstraction. But what is involved here is no illegitimate stipulation that meaning be what it intends, nor can the issue be negotiated merely by acknowledging the need for some kind of distinction between thought and existence. Rather, the difficulties hitherto presented by particular kinds of concepts, such as that of God in Aquinas or freedom in Kant -- difficulties that were rendered tractable precisely by their contrast with what were taken to be the conceptually determinable realms of "world" or of reliable cognition -- now present themselves with any subject-matter viewed as self-realizing. Indeed, event-concepts may be said to universalize and thereby to radicalize the paradoxicality of traditional analyses of the divine nature and creation. The question is now, not how the character of a self-realizing entity wholly different from the world could be a possible subject of analysis, but how the self-realizing differences of entities in the world could be. Were event-concepts to designate anything more than that which is theoretically indeterminable, they would apparently be, not concepts of the self-realizing new, but descriptions of a fixed, invariant pattern, whereby the perpetual novelty of self-realization is obliterated under a conceptually determinate order, with the event or occasions becoming mere passages suspended between origin and end. As Whitehead puts the difficulty to himself, in terms of his analysis of the structures of process:

Process and individuality require each other. In separation all meaning evaporates. The form of process...derives its character from the individuals involved, and the characters of the individuals can only be understood in terms of the process in which they are implicated.

A difficult problem arises from this doctrine. How can the notion of any generality of reasoning be justified? For if process depends on individuals,

then with different individuals the form of process differs. Accordingly, what has been said of one process cannot be said of another process... Our doctrine seems to have destroyed the very basis of rationality. (MT 97)

Once the self-realizing new moves to the center of philosophical concern, the relation of thought and existence is so redefined as to render philosophy problematic from within.

In this situation, the later Heidegger does not hesitate to draw the conclusion that, as from its beginnings a matter of conceptual determination, the enterprise of philosophical analysis which began with Plato has to be repudiated tout court. In effect retrojecting Lukács’ analysis of reification back across the entire history of Western thought, he sees philosophy from Plato onwards as essentially anthropocentric in nature, implicitly intent from the start on reducing the world to a conceptually determinable, and therefore manipulable, object-for-use. While acknowledging that the event is the achievement of Western metaphysics -- which he submits to a massive, retrospective analysis in that light (see, for example, SG) -- he also sees the event as in the nature of the case the final outcome of that tradition, and thus announces the "completion" or "end (Vollendung) of philosophy," i.e., the closure of any attempt to determine what cannot be determined. As components of the apparatus of "representation," notions such as "category," "concept" and "method" are to be abandoned in favor of a mode of discourse or "poetry of thinking," the language and style of which consistently enacts the negation of its own propositional status, and by thus pointing away from itself, opens up that which cannot be "communicated" or "mediated cognitively" hut "must be experienced"(TB 25-26)5 -- namely, the event.

In the work of the later Heidegger the critique of philosophy, which has always gone hand-in-hand with modern versions of self-realization, receives its fullest elaboration. The intractable, self-negating character of his texts is the final completion of what is implied for philosophy in Kierkegaard’s preaching, in Nietzsche’s telegraphic calls to the artists of the future, and in Bergson’s appeal to intuition. The thought-project of the (significantly titled) Philosophical Fragments, the aphorisms of Zarathustra, and the "images" of Bergson’s prose, are all so many admissions that the self-realizing new cannot be the subject of philosophy. There is only literature now.

Perhaps the best way to characterize what is at issue here is in terms of a contrast between the theme of radical novelty and Hegel’s position. Hegel maintains the ultimate unity of concept and object in absolute reason, which is understood as a totality that includes or encompasses subjective reason and its other. The absolute thereby transcends the subject-predicate division of language; but as systematically representable, the unity of the whole can be rendered intelligible beyond the mere form of language in the speculative proposition. It may thus be said that Hegel sees the relation of concept and object, rational and real as a univocal relation in that these terms have an ultimately identical meaning. With that, however, the fate of the new is sealed.6

To be sure, Hegel does not treat the movement from identity to difference and back to identity in an Aristotelian fashion as a matter of the "return" of the "same" identity. Instead, the movement proceeds to an identity that is enriched through the progress of the thesis via the antithesis. Here, it would seem, there is the possibility of the arrival of the new; out of the immediate actuality there comes what Hegel calls "quite another shape of things" from which a "new" actuality emerges.

However, Hegel’s "new" is already contained in its beginning. "Immediate actuality" already has within itself, as the "inner," the possibility of the "new" reality as its "other." As such, immediate actuality is the "condition" and "germ of the other." In consequence, the "new" that emerges from this process is not a new in the sense of what has never been there before. As Hegel says: "Thus there comes into being quite another shape of things, and yet it is not another; for the first actuality is only put as what it in essence was." He can thus ultimately conceive the movement of the absolute, all-containing totality as a "return" to itself and regard it as the revolving of a circle after the fashion of Aristotle.

In this context it is not surprising that the later Heidegger insists on the rational inaccessibility of the other of reason conceived as the new. Reason is here regarded by Heidegger as purely subjective reason, intent on the subjugation of the world for use, over against which the task of thinking is to deconstruct the conceptualizing impulse from within so that the alterity of the other can properly manifest itself. In contrast to Hegel, it may be said that the later Heidegger sees the relation of concept and object, rational and real, as an equivocal relation in that these terms have different and even mutually exclusive meanings.

In this context, not a little of the significance of Whitehead’s position arises from the fact that, while addressing the issues involved in the fundamental conflicts of European thought, he writes out of a different philosophical tradition and consequently is not caught in the internal polarisations of an intellectual history otherwise too massive and entangling to be escaped. Hence Whitehead’s response to the paradoxes of the new is quite different from that of other thinkers of radical novelty.

As a glance at Process and Reality indicates, Whitehead is prepared to elaborate a complex "categoreal scheme" for the purpose of analyzing the self-realizing new as a process of occasions -- a scheme which as unhesitatingly helps itself to traditional concepts as it introduces new ones, and unashamedly involves an account of "Philosophic Method" (AI Chapter XV; cf. PR Chapter I). Programmatically announcing that "the task of philosophy is...to exhibit the fusion of analysis and actuality" (ESP 113), Whitehead would dissolve the paradoxes of the new in a mode of thought which has the capacity to be at once "the expression of necessity" (ESP 128) and the articulation of "the creative advance into novelty" (PR 349). As he puts it: "The crux of philosophy is to retain the balance between the individuality of existence and the relativity of existence" (ESP Ill). In addressing this crux, it will become evident that over against the univocity of Hegel and the equivocity of the later Heidegger, White-head develops what can be called an analogical analysis -- or, more precisely, an analogical algebra -- of the new.


As might be expected from one of the authors of Principia Mathematica, Whitehead constantly reiterates that what he refers to as "the algebraic method" is the rubric under which he elaborates his position (cf. ESP 109ff., 127ff.). In his own words: "Logic prescribes the shapes of metaphysical thought";7 or again, "Poetry allies itself to metre, philosophy to mathematic pattern" (MT 174). Nevertheless, he takes a route out of Principia radically different from that of Russell, the early ‘Wittgenstein, or the logical positivists, for he transforms the algebraic method into a medium of "speculative philosophy," marrying mathematics with the characteristically anti-rationalist theme of the self-realizing new. What he calls the "generalized mathematics" which results (ESP 109), challenges the critique of reason mounted by the thinkers of radical novelty, well-represented in Bergson’s remark that "universal mathematics" is "the chimera of modern philosophy" (IMe 52). This critique assumes that rational analysis is indissolubly tied to the traditional concept of mathematical system -- modeled on Euclidean geometry (cf. PR 209) -- with the result that the contingency and particularity of the new is inevitably subsumed to structures of necessity understood as essentially complete and unchanging. In contrast, Whitehead would restore the platonic vision of a unity of "mathematics and the good" (cf. ESP 97ff.) by way of a transposed algebra rather than a transposed geometry, a position intended to allow the redefinition of that unity in terms of a connection between rationality and creativity. He thus sees himself as opening an epoch which will recover, in new form, "the logical attitude of the epoch of St. Thomas Aquinas" (ESP 131): he would once again attempt to articulate a theory of actus purus, albeit now pluralistic and cosmological rather than theocentric, in a rigorous methodological and conceptual framework.

The first clue to what Whitehead means by the "algebraic method" is provided by the organization of Process and Reality. As the Table of Contents indicates, the entire work is an extended exercise in the elaboration of hypotheses. Part I presents the "categoreal scheme" or set of "working hypotheses" (AI 220ff.); Part II, and indeed the rest of the book, is concerned with "Discussions and Applications." It would seem likely that it is in terms of his employment of this procedure as a metaphysical method that Whitehead’s treatment of the theme of radical novelty can best be understood.

The categoreal scheme is referred to as the "rational side" of the analysis (PR 3). It can be regarded, on the "algebraic model" of a modern mathematical or logical system (cf. ESP 109ff., 127ff.), as a series of postulates, having the form "Let the working hypothesis be..." (AI 235) and based on an initial conditional premise of the sort, "If the real be the new. . . ." The entire scheme thus represents a set of concepts intended to express the concept of the new -- where the word "express" is used advisedly, as neutral in respect of the paradoxes of self-reference and content-reflexivity.

The hypothetical categories of the scheme are oriented towards what Whitehead calls the "empirical side" of the analysis (PR 3) as the field over which they range. He variously defines the empirical side as "everything of which we are conscious as enjoyed, perceived, willed or thought" (PR 3), or, again, as "the ideas and problems which form the complex texture of civilized thought" (PR xi). So understood, the empirical in Whitehead is not to be conflated with the impressions or sense-data of the empiricists, nor with the indeterminate "immediate experience" of the idealists, nor with the life-world of the phenomenologists (i.e., it is not a complex of primitive meanings which is prior to reflective or scientific conceptualization), nor with any Quinean ocean of naturalistically conceived objectivity. Rather, Whitehead’s concept of the empirical includes (as he says) "every element of our experience" (PR 3) -- God and value, art and politics, science and technology, as well as the observable objects and events which more usually furnish our notions of the empirical.

In this light it is evident that what can for convenience sometimes be referred to as Whitehead’s "empirical world" is not a neutral "given" which the speculative scheme organizes or constructs, and to which it thereby gives us access. The scheme-world distinction, that is, is not in Whitehead based on any epistemological distinction between the "given" and the "interpreted" and hence is not involved in any suggestion that there are alternatives to the familiar world we actually inhabit.

We are not thereby restored, however, as Davidson would have it, "to unmediated touch with the familiar objects and antics which make our sentences and opinions true or false."8 For we do not need to leave or step outside the empirical world to find it confusing. The assurance that the world we are familiar with is actually opened up in the language we speak does not make that world any less puzzling than it is familiar. As Whitehead puts it: "Philosophy does not initiate interpretations. Its search for a rationalistic scheme is the search for more adequate criticism, and for more adequate justification, of the interpretations which we perforce employ" (PR 14-15).

Now, understood as including our "interpretations," Whitehead’s concept of the empirical world is clearly not that of an uninterpreted element which the scheme confronts as a theory-neutral quantity. Rather, it is an historical concept which designates both the "oceans of facts" and the "evaluative interests," "intrinsic within each historical period," in respect of which the individual philosopher seeks to discover whether there is a "thread of coordination" (MT 18). So, of course, does everyone else: artist, critic, social scientist, common man. But this fact cannot be used -- as Rorty uses it9 -- to provide an argument for the assimilation of philosophy to general literature. For it is simply an indication of the inescapably philosophical character of the special sciences, and therefore of the need for a science of "final" or "ultimate" "generalities" (PR 8); i.e., a science which will attempt "to coordinate the current expressions of human experience, in common speech, in social institutions, in actions, in the principles of the various special sciences, elucidating harmony and exposing discrepancies" (AI 222). Regarded in this way, philosophy is not a permanent, or neutral, or ahistorical discovery of some previously hidden dimension of experience -- as Rorty would have it (CP 74, 80, 87) -- but is an historically located attempt, critical and constructive, "to promote the most general systematization of civilized thought" (PR 17).

Yet is this anything more than a matter of philosophy understood as mediator or interpreter among the special sciences?10 Traditionally, the significance of the enterprise of "general systematization" may be grasped from the fact that, understood as metaphysics, it lays claim to be concerned with the concept of the "real" in its widest or ultimate sense. But what meaning, if any, such a claim might have with respect to the historically experienced empirical world is, as Whitehead is aware, itself a philosophical question which awaits examination -- an indication, at least, of the level of generalities with which the discipline is peculiarly concerned. His concept of the empirical is therefore best understood as a name for the entire ensemble of affairs in historical experience as that which constitutes the explanandum of philosophical analysis -- with the concept of the "real" left as an empty, undetermined and questionable logical space, lying, so to speak, between the two sides, categoreal and empirical (this is Whitehead’s solution to the Meno paradox). The formula under which Whitehead approaches the theme of radical novelty can thus be summarized as: how do the categoreal and empirical stand to each other?


Whitehead’s basic position on the relation of scheme and world can be put like this: the categoreal and the empirical are related as an equation defining a function is related to the value of its variables. Within the categoreal scheme, as Whitehead says, all the elements of the empirical "are reduced to the ghost-like character of real [i.e., free or independent] variables" (ESP 128; cf. Al 242, MT 106-7). In contrast, the categories of the scheme can be said to have the status of polyadic propositional functions; they could be expressed as R (x...y...z...n), where x...y...z...n are the variables representing the empirical elements and R represents the categories of the scheme.11

What is the significance of this analogy?

As Whitehead insists, the algebraic method undergoes considerable extension when used beyond its normal provenance as a model for philosophical analysis. Mathematics he defines as "the study of pattern in abstraction from the particulars which are patterned" (ESP 111; cf. IM Chapter 2). However, whereas mathematics is satisfied with the notion of "any" (ESP 110), philosophy, as noted earlier, is distinguished by its attempt to provide an analysis of the nature of individuality as well as of connection. In the context of the theme of radical novelty, it is clearly of central importance to specify the way in which, on Whitehead’s view, such a task can be fulfilled by a speculative scheme constructed on the algebraic model of variable and value.

In this connection, it is important to recognize at the outset that Whitehead sees the construction of a philosophical scheme of categories as an enterprise of "imaginative generalization" (PR 5). His point is that when we try philosophically to analyze and coordinate the main features of the empirical world, we do so by means of the analogical employment of some one or other features of that world. We talk of "mind," "matter," "reason," "will," "things," "events," and so on. In so doing, however, we are not referring to particular features of the empirical world; rather, we are employing particular features of the empirical world as analogues for the coordinating characterization of its main features. Here the historically located empirical world is related to the scheme, not just as the subject of analysis, but as the source of analogues for the definition of the "real," where these analogues have the status of heuristic aids in the establishment of theories. In this respect, the procedure of "schematization" (PR 16) runs, as it were, from the empirical to the rational side of the analysis and gives it the character of "descriptive generalization" (PR 10; cf. Al 234); i.e., it is "the utilization of specific notions, applying to a restricted group of facts, for the divinization of the generic notions which apply to all facts" (PR 5; cf. 13). The categoreal scheme thus represents a set or constellation of hypothetical analogues – "Let the working hypothesis be events in their process of origination" (AI 235-36) -- where each of these analogues expands or qualifies the partiality or excesses of the other. As Whitehead puts it: "to arrive at the philosophic generalization...an apparent redundancy of terms is required. The words correct each other." (AI 236)

It should be noted here that Whitehead’s appropriation and expansion of the algebraic method for the elaboration of a metaphysics of the new is clearly an instance of itself. That is, the employment of the algebraic method as an account of metaphysical method is itself an analogue with hypothetical status in respect of its subject-matter -- namely, philosophical analysis.

Understood in this fashion as a self-referential schematization or generalization, Whitehead’s method clearly does not involve him in any kind of metaphysical "dogmatism." The point of taking the inclusively defined empirical world as the unreconstructed subject-matter and analogue-source of the analysis (even with respect to methodology) is to distinguish it rigorously from the issue that is addressed by the analysis, i.e., to avoid the familiar problems consequent upon any conflation of the notions of the "world" and "reality." Redefined as the empirical, the Leibnizian notion of the world simpliciter disappears: the investigation is restricted to the realm of experience (PR 4), the world is always an interpreted world (PR 14-15), and there are no a priori or self-evident propositions on the basis of which the "real nature" of things can be determined (PR 8, 12). In Whitehead, there is no trace of any "real" to which we have direct access.

The rejection of dogmatism does not mean, however, that Whitehead’s analysis takes the form of a theory of knowledge. Among other things, he elaborates a theory of knowledge, and in particular a theory of philosophical knowledge that is the especial concern of this paper. Yet in this connection the distinction of categoreal and empirical is not to be conflated with any distinction between "mind" and "world," or knowing subject and object known, understood as constituting the final parameters of philosophical analysis. The notion of the schematization of the empirical dissolves the assumption that there are any such privileged starting-points in philosophy; polarities such as "mind" and "world" can now be recognized as particular features of the empirical which have been employed as coordinating analogues for the characterization of its contents. The status of cognition may thus be treated as an open question; experience need no longer be taken to be primarily a matter of the cognition of objects, nor recourse to the knowing subject the inevitable corollary of the abandonment of dogmatism. In this context it is hardly surprising that the problem of skepticism is not for Whitehead a major issue, for skepticism assumes that the mind-world contrast has fundamental metaphysical status,

Whitehead’s method of schematization further emancipates the investigation both from the assumption that there is a "complete" or "realized" real, understood as something given in itself, which awaits characterization, and equally from its twin; namely, that if there is nothing-in-itself, the "real" can be nothing other than a concatenation of historically changing perspectives which are solely attributable to, or relative to, their centers, and hence are not facts about an objectively independent world in any significant sense of those terms. With the notion of schematization, the otherwise compelling, mirror-like alternatives of a "substantial" or "perspectival" real can be seen for what they are: particular analogues in terms of which the evident givenness and reliability of the world, and the equally evident historical and perspectival character of knowledge, have found philosophical interpretation. As a result, such manifest empirical features can now be considered without conflation with the mesmerizing polarity of the thing-in-itself and its subjectivist counterpart; they become something that the categories of the scheme must register and appropriately characterize. The method of descriptive generalization opens the way for that transformation of philosophy in terms of algebraic method which Whitehead intends.


In defining the character of schematic analysis, Whitehead pushes the analogy between algebraic and categoreal scheme as hard as he can, appropriating the so-called method of "application," "interpretation," or "substitution" (PR 116) as a procedural model. He maintains that just as in algebra or symbolic logic we give the variables of the equation defining a function a value, which is known as the "substitution-instance," "application," or "interpretation," so we do also in philosophy with the categoreal scheme (cf. UA Chapter I, ESP 128). For understood as having the character of propositional functions, the categories of the scheme are as such incomplete or indeterminate. To be completed they must be given empirical application. It is the success with which the scheme can find empirical applications that determines its adequacy as a scheme, i.e., as having the level of generality or coordinating power appropriate to metaphysics.

On this basis it is possible to define the mode of discourse which Whitehead characteristically employs in Process and Reality and elsewhere. For schematic substitution cuts both ways: as propositional functions, the categories remain essentially incomplete or indeterminate without their empirical subject-matter, as does the empirical subject-matter without its coordinating categoreal definition (were it otherwise, there would be no such thing as philosophy). In consequence, the analysis can be said to seek both categoreal interpretations for empirical features, and empirical applications for its categories. Schematic substitution, that is, is essentially two-sided: "rational side" and "empirical side" are substitutionally related. And if that is the case, we would expect Whitehead’s texts to be a constant, mutually illuminating movement back and forth between the two. In other words, we would expect to find that the relation of the two sides of the analysis is essentially reciprocal -- that the demonstration of "the power of the scheme" (PR xi) in respect of its substitution-instances is also and at once an elaboration of its significance.

This is exactly what Whitehead tells us we will find. As he explicitly says of all parts of Process anti Reality at the outset of that work (and the same clearly holds for his later writings): "the unity of treatment is to be looked for in the gradual development of the scheme in meaning and relevance.... In each recurrence [to particular topics] these topics throw some new light on the scheme or receive some new elucidation" (PR xii; cf. xi, xiv, UA 12). To apply or to interpret the categoreal scheme is also to develop its "meaning," i.e., the expansion of the scheme’s relevance, or range of empirical interpretations, also expands the meaning-content of the categories. Throughout, the analysis follows the twofold path of categoreal and empirical determination. It is this double movement, Whitehead is reminding us, which goes on throughout his analysis. His every line has always to be read with bifocals, as a simultaneous elaboration of categoreal meaning and empirical relevance.

So understood, the interpretative procedure is clearly circular in nature: each of its "sides" requires and finds its "completion of meaning" (ESP 128) in the other. Yet this is of course a virtuous and not a vicious circle; it is an integral feature of schematic analysis insofar as that is nothing else than the mutual determination and elucidation of its two sides, categoreal and empirical.


In contrast to what happens in mathematics or symbolic logic, not only construction but also application or interpretation is for Whitehead analogical in nature. That is, he does not regard analogy merely as a heuristic device in the elaboration of a scheme of categories. Rather, he sees analogy as an essential feature of metaphysics: understood as a descriptive generalization, the scheme posits a relation of analogy between its categories and the empirical world. 12 In his own words: "The procedure of rationalism is the discussion of analogy" (MT 98).13

How is this relation of analogy to be understood?

There are two important points here. First what the categories of the scheme seek for in the empirical world is interpretation or application; that is, categoreal analysis is analogical analysis in the sense that it is a matter of the application of analogies to particular empirical subject-matters. This means, secondly, that just as (for example) the analogical term "good" is an indeterminate or incomplete expression -- akin to an algebraic or propositional function -- outside of its interpretation in specific contexts ("good film," "good meal," "good game," etc.), so an analogical category such as that of occasions is purely formal or lacking in explanatory power ("practically unintelligible" -- PR xi) outside of its applications.

The significance of the fact that the scheme-world relation is a matter of the application of analogies cannot be underestimated. For it is the character of the categories as determinable only by means of their analogical application to specific instances which itself represents their content-reflexivity in respect of the new.

What Whitehead does, in other words, is to employ the procedure of analogical application as an analogue for the content-reflexivity of the categories as analyzes of the new. Analogical application is that relation of concept and object which analogically articulates the fact that the self-realizing acts of something -- its occasions -- are as such wholly its own. To use Whitehead’s own preferred analogue for the significance of analogical application (which cannot be analyzed other than analogically): it is the algebraic status of the scheme, as an expression that can be rendered complete only by its interpretations, which expresses its content-reflexivity. As he puts it in one place, the algebraic model of application represents "the suffusion of the connective by the things connected," i.e., it enacts that kind of reflexive "concurrence of mathematical-formal principles and accidental factors" (ESP 128) which alone is adequate to the theme of the self-realizing new.

The reason for the significance which, in contrast to the other thinkers of radical novelty,14 Whitehead attaches to modem mathematics is now apparent: it provides a model for the analysis of radical novelty in that it can be analogically employed as an expression of the reflexive "fusion of analysis and actuality" (ESP 113), necessity and contingency (cf. ESP 123), demanded by the theme of the self-realizing new. It can therefore be said that in schematic analysis philosophical necessity is to be understood as substitutional necessity. That is, the categories of the scheme do not constitute an invariant structure. Rather, it is for Whitehead the analogical elaboration of categoreal "meaning" and empirical "relevance" which renders the analysis "necessary" (PR 4); by which he means that it displays or bears "within itself its own warrant of universality" (PR 4) solely in virtue of its power of analogical interpretation. Schematic necessity, that is, is nothing else than the content-reflexive fit of its two sides, categoreal and empirical -- anything else would contradictorily refer the self-realizing new away from itself for its principle.15

When, for example, Whitehead refers to the categories of the scheme throughout his writings as "generic notions," the whole point of his recourse to the Aristotelian notion of the generic concept is to redefine it in terms of the algebraic method. "Cosmology," that is, is no longer to be tied to a necessary return of the same. The categories of the scheme are not to be regarded as reproducing the procedure by which the real substance unfolds itself in its specific forms of being, nor as in any sense the creative or generative forces or origins from which particular things spring. Instead, like the new physics of his day (a key analogue of construction), "in the place of the Aristotelian notion of the procession of forms," Whitehead’s schematic analysis "has substituted the notion of the forms of process" (MT 140; cf. 82).

Here the notion of the "forms of process" is offered as a redefinition of the concept of "forms" such that it makes no sense to talk of the "recurrence" of the categories. Instead, it has to be said that the forms of process neither recur nor do not recur. They are neither the "same" nor "different." Rather, they are analyses of the realization of recurrence and non-recurrence, sameness and difference, in terms of a vectorial movement of unique and unrepeatable occasions understood as expressing the self-realizing natures of things in the only way they can be expressed: namely, analogically.

Perhaps the best way of describing what is at issue in Whitehead’s redefinition of the concept of "forms" as "forms of process" is to say that it is intended to overcome Aristotle’s objection to Plato that his forms do nothing. With its categories understood as structures of self-realization, schematic analysis does not invoke any principle of production. Yet the abandonment of the traditional mode of philosophical self-understanding does not mean for Whitehead that none but negative statements can be made about the self-realizing new, i.e., that the enterprise of explanation is also to be abandoned. In that "fusion of analysis and actuality" represented by the algebraic method of schematic analysis, form and content, necessity and accident, can be understood by way of analogical application as reflecting into each other without remainder in the occasion.16

Seen in the context of the algebraic method, Whitehead’s own response to the paradox of content-reflexivity should come as no surprise. When considering his own objection to the theme of the self-realizing new, quoted earlier, to the effect that "our doctrine seems to have destroyed the very basis of rationality," his reply is couched in terms of the two-sided, analogical procedure of algebraic interpretation. As he puts it, with characteristically deceptive simplicity and directness:

"We can start our investigation from either end; namely, we can understand the process and then consider the characterization of the individuals; or we can characterize the individuals and conceive them as formative of the relevant process. In truth, the distinction is only one of emphasis" (MT 98-99).

Whitehead’s claim here is nothing less than that the self-realizing new need be conflated neither with reason nor with the non-rational. By means of the analogical algebra, the Hegel-Heidegger disjunction may now be dissolved. The mutual inversions of univocity and equivocity which have fed off each other for so long can be transcended in the true speculative proposition, which is the analogical proposition of schematic analysis.


In order to make good this claim, schematic analysis must be considered in relation to the paradox of self-reference. As noted, the categoreal scheme has thoroughgoing hypothetical status. At no point in the analysis is there any claim to the achievement of absolute certainty. Indeed, Whitehead is unusual in laying great stress on the fact that his philosophy is what other philosophies have only retrospectively been recognized to be: namely, a coordination of historical (PR 17; MT 18) and contemporary experience (AI 222; MT171, 173-74), in terms of certain historically preferred analogues, which is essentially revisable in character (PR 7,8, 10-11; AI 223) and has the status of just one "deposition" among others (PR 10-11); i.e., not claiming any privileged kind of necessity for itself, it can contemplate even the abandonment of its main categories (PR 9).

Now there can be no doubt that, internally speaking, schematic analysis dissolves the problem which dogs philosophies that are self-conscious enough to recognize their own historical locatedness. Usually such theories are forced either finally to surrender to an absolute conception of the real, giving themselves a privileged position above change on the ground that they represent the culminating form of change; or, in reaction, to embrace an out-and-out historical relativism or perspectivism. But no such disjunction exists for Whitehead, as is indicated by two of his uses of the concept of the "real."

In schematic analysis any absolute conception of the realized real is rejected in that, defined as a vectoral process of occasions, the real is essentially incomplete. This does not mean, however, that there is no "given" reality in the sense of that which is distinct and independent of the subject qua self-unfolding occasion. In this latter sense, understood as a vectoral process, reality is a movement in which the contents of antecedent occasions are objectified ("prehended") in the becoming or "concrescence" of subsequent occasions (cf. Al 209ff.). The schematic concept of process thus succeeds in reconciling the fact that reality is not a complete thing-in-itself, and that knowledge is perspectival, with the fact that both knowledge and reality also require to be defined in terms of objects distinct from and independent of the subject or concrescent occasion.

The problem as to how we may "get out" of our "perspectives" to some counterpart "world" no longer arises here. Understood in terms of a vectoral process of occasions, our perspectives are not something which we are ever simply "in," nor does the world lie "outside" of them17- -- which is the reason why epistemological concerns are what schematic analysis addresses in the course of its elaboration, not what it sets out from. Admittedly, schematic analysis has itself the character of a hypothetico-deductive "intellectual construction" (cf. PR 5); i.e., it involves a contrast of mind and world. But the point is that this fact does not endow either the knowing subject or the knowledge-relation with any fundamental status or metaphysical finality. Instead, intellectual constructions are themselves specified and relativized by the analysis as elements in a process of occasions which, far from being defined in terms of a theory of knowledge, itself provides the parameters in terms of which a theory of knowledge is elaborated.

Of course, schematic analysis may be regarded as the best evidence of the knowing subject’s ability to define its place in the order of things. But this does not provide any opportunity for the knowing subject to give itself metaphysical airs. On the contrary, one main point of the scheme’s character as an intellectual construction is emphatically to register the knowing subject’s ability to recognize and define itself as only a single element in a complex movement of which it is neither more nor less than a particularly sophisticated instance. As Whitehead puts it: "Philosophy is the self-correction by consciousness of its own initial excess of subjectivity" (PR 15; cf. MT 107-8).

Yet the real question still remains: whether or not schematic analysis has the capacity to define or delimit itself in terms of its own analysis of the real, i.e., to negotiate the fact of the relativity and locatedness of its own categories. Here it may be objected that the relativising self-referentiality of Whitehead’s scheme comes too cheaply: a scheme can obviously be defined as historically relative in terms of the kind of hypotheticity elaborated within the scheme -- but there is nothing about that which qualifies the claim to truth made for hypotheticity! After all, as an account of metaphysical reflection, the hypothetical scheme treats all alternative positions as competitor hypotheses -- a claim which theories such as Plato’s or Hegel’s seem to deny. Thus the final limit of the hypothetical method is that method itself. Here, as always, relativism contradicts itself in presupposing one absolute -- its own validity. No philosophy has the capacity to carry its own memento mori about with it.

What this objection overlooks, however, is the hypothetical character of hypothesis. That is, it confuses the claim that there is no complete or final truth with that claim’s own elevation to affirmative rank, regardless of the different status of both.18 What Whitehead calls the "suspended judgment" of metaphysics is neither a negative nor an affirmative judgment, but a judgment of compatibility alone (cf. PR 274), i.e., it represents a claim to empirical or interpretative fit that as such does not exclude alternative accounts.

In what specific way does schematic analysis achieve this?

By analogy. That is, by the evident analogical character of the analysis. Analogical application is the categoreal register of hypotheticity. And it is so, first of all, in the sense that analogies overdetermine their subject-matter to the extent that they necessarily carry with them a suggestive surplus of connotative meaning. This surplus has a heuristic function in that it aids in the extension and recision of the theory.

But secondly -- and more significantly -- analogical application is always partial or approximate or incomplete, i.e., there is always an acknowledged looseness of fit or underdetermination between it and its subject-matter when it is used as a mode of analysis. Analogy is the form whereby reflection expresses the fact that the explanandum is always more than the explanans. It is therefore the analogical character of schematic analysis which allows it to say "what truly is, i.e., which holds together its strong compatibility-claims with its self-understanding as historically located and revisable. The hypothetical "is" of schematic analysis is the "is" of analogical predication; a claim, it should be remembered, which is an instance of itself in respect of its subject-matter -- namely, the nature of philosophy.

So understood, schematic analysis is fallibilist in respect of itself, including its own algebraic account of philosophy. Indeed, it is for this reason that schematic analysis has the power to insist upon its own evident historical locatedness: it can specify the hypotheticity of its categoreal analogues in terms of their derivation from and relevance to the historical context in which they are elaborated. Schematic analysis thereby sustains the universality which is characteristic of metaphysics without making any claim to the "pathetic" status of "final metaphysical truth" (ESP 125); i.e., it makes good its claim to universality precisely because it can take into account its own evident historical locatedness and revisability. And this claim, like all the truth-claims of the analysis, is a claim only to analogical fit. It may be said that the rationale of the algebraic method is that it preserves the difference between scheme and world -- a dividing -- line that can only be crossed (in either direction) by means of analogy. 19


It is now evident that Whitehead’s "recurrence to pre-Kantian modes of thought" (PR xi) is rendered possible by the analogical character of the categories. It is as analogies that they can represent the extra-linguistic reach and content of language, i.e., the capacity of concepts to think that which is other than concepts.

Nowhere is this clearer than in respect of the question of the relation of language and temporality. It is perhaps here, if anywhere, that the twentieth-century linguistic turn meets its limits: the one feature of experience that cannot be assimilated to language is temporality.

Consider, for example, Gadamer’s "temporal" account of language as a matter of the infinite possibilities of finite utterance (see TM 397ff.) 20 Here it is not clear if the infinite possibilities of finite utterance are conditions of the temporal character of language as the event of dialogue, or if the temporal character of language as the event of dialogue is an instance of a temporality that is more fundamental than language. It may be said that Gadamer’s analysis of language appears to wobble between Hegel’s account of temporality in terms of finitude, and Heidegger’s account of finitude in terms of temporality.21 Given that language is for Gadamer the final horizon of hermeneutics, it seems that he must either absorb temporality into language, or tacitly admit that temporality lies beyond the capacity of hermeneutics. However, the first alternative imposes too much strain on the concept of language, while the second reveals a glaring shortfall in the proclaimed universality of hermeneutic theory.

If the self-realizing new is to be retained as a subject of rational analysis, it can be argued that the only possible approach here is Whitehead’s, where the movement of language, defined as that component of the vectoral process of occasions which is a matter of the experiences of interlocutors, is an instance of the realization or "temporalization" of time (cf. AI 181ff.). The movement of language here becomes a model or analogue for that which is also more than language.

Now there are definite hints of such a metaphysic in Gadamer (TM 97 [cf. 443], 387, 395, 432, 442ff.) -- but they remain just that. If he were to go further, he would have to follow Whitehead, who, in defining the "temporalization" or realization of time in terms of a vectoral process of "prehending" occasions, also understands the interpretative or hermeneutic phenomenon as universal or cosmological in scope; but it is universal as a feature or character of the temporalizing process, not simply as a feature or character of the infinite possibilities of language. In this context, Whitehead can be seen to have the best of reasons for refusing either to identify the hermeneutic phenomenon with language, or to take language as the final horizon of philosophy. Hence his recourse to analogy: analogical application is the mode whereby reflection breaks out of the abstract circle of language without leaving it. Indeed, to speak more accurately, there is no need for that: the analogical power of language is the means whereby it can exhibit or express itself as only one element in a movement of self-realization that is greater than itself. In this sense, there are for Whitehead no final horizons in philosophy; there is only the rigorous play of the analogical imagination.

The significance of this position can perhaps be expressed by noting that Whitehead’s analogical algebra renders redundant the disjunctive notion that the world or the "real" must be either theory-independent or (to use Putnam’s term) theory-internal. For the analogical algebra, theory and world, concept and object, are neither independent nor identical. Rather, they are analogically related, i.e., each is in its own way both more and less than the other, for analogies are at once over-determining in meaning and underdetermining in interpretative application. Hence schematic analysis has the power both to acknowledge that the unfolding world is more than itself, and to specify itself as an element in the unfolding of the world.

So regarded, there can be little doubt, despite its neglect, Whitehead’s schematic analysis has at least the right to do what all significant theories have done: its historicist self-understanding, whereby it locates itself in the horizontal movement of the new as hypothetico-analogical in character, allows it to place its confidence in the irreversibility of its philosophic insight. Like every universal theory, it calls to the future; but it calls to a future that it can understand as its own criticism and revision.

Hegel was the first to recognize that certain kinds of entities -- works of art, theories, historical events -- are essentially variable in character, i.e., that their nature or meaning only fully emerges in their subsequent historical existence. But Hegel did not extend this insight to his own philosophy. Only after and against Hegel does that shift take place, with the result, understandably, that in the German tradition it is generally seen as involving the destruction of metaphysics. In schematic analysis, however, metaphysics now has the capacity to define itself qua metaphysics as an essentially variable object, thereby retaining its ancient claim to universality. Schematic analysis transforms the Liar Paradox, which has threatened to undermine philosophy since Nietzsche, into the site of philosophy’s latest triumph and discovery: the categoreal scheme weaves about itself its own shroud even as it prepares for its posthumous life. Hence philosophy can now make the claim that previously could properly be made only by works of art: "l’oeuvre, c’est la posterité de l’oeuvre" (Proust).


To underline the strength of Whitehead’s schematic analysis of the new, it is useful to look briefly at the later Heidegger’s position in its light. Like White-head, the later Heidegger is explicit about his use of analogues, or what he calls ‘ontic models,’ in the discourse of thinking; he here inherits Nietzsche’s rediscovery for German philosophy of the metaphoricity of concepts. As Heidegger puts it: "a model is that from which thinking must necessarily take off’ (TB 50). But just as Nietzsche’s "mobile army of metaphors" is no more than an instrument for the creation of the moment, so the later Heidegger’s ontic models are merely heuristic aids in the self-emptying of thought before the impenetrable otherness of the event. He himself draws attention "to the fact that, and the manner in which, ontic models given in language are used up and destroyed" in his writing; explicitly in the manner of "negative theology" (TB 47). Statements now become apophatic gestures.

The insistent intractability of the later Heidegger’s texts is thus much more than a pedagogical device to force the reader to reflect by shocking him out of the familiar rhythms and motifs of school philosophy. The negation of rational method cannot contradictorily set itself up as a method -- even a negative method -- in its own right. It can be sustained only in "Sayings" ("Sagen"), which are line-by-line enactments of the fact that, in the face of the paradoxes of the new, the only statements possible are ones so constructed as to evacuate their own propositional content before the event towards which they mutely point.

However, the price the later Heidegger pays for such a hasty and premature response to the paradoxes of the new is too high. Lacking any recourse to the notion of appropriate analogical application, he has no way of specifying or delimiting the descriptive scope of the models he employs. In consequence, far from being used up or destroyed in the movement of his discourse, his models expand, unchecked and unrestricted, far beyond the limits of careful or attentive application. The result is that the later Heidegger’s writings become a strange, inverted mirror-image of all that he would repudiate.

This inversion plays itself out in a variety of ways. Thus, for example, placed beyond the realm of reason as the impenetrable other of a secularized via negativa, the later Heidegger’s event turns into its opposite: it becomes a sacral dispensation that has to be passively received by the initiated "listener." This is not the simplistic claim that Heidegger’s "Being" can everywhere be translated as "God" -- it cannot -- but rather an explication of why one is tempted to do that:

because conceivable only as the negation of method, the self-unfolding event takes on the character of a fateful, unsayable, originating power (PDM, Chaps. 6 and 7).

To be sure, the later Heidegger cannot be put aside as a Schellingian; he would redefine "origin" as "event."22 Note, however, that he carefully avoids any general analysis of the connectedness of events, i.e., of the ways in which an event may be "prepared" in the past (see PLT 76). He might have felt the particular threat of Hegel here, precisely where he most needs to confront him. But the negation of method forbids that, with the result that he has to give the notion of self-creation so unrestricted an import that it is conflated with self-origination -- the very move that the vectoral structure of Whitehead’s process of occasions is designed to render unnecessary.

In this connection, one of the main reasons for the complexity of Process and Reality is that -- against the monism which goes hand in hand with F. H. Bradley’s theory of relations23 -- that work represents a massive attempt to provide an account of the relatedness of things in the context of a theory of the self-realizing now understood as an analysis of the realization of relations.24 The alternative, as the later Heidegger’s work indicates, is to turn the event into a temporalized, mystical origin which cannot be spoken about -- and therefore cannot be spoken against.

What is at stake here emerges in the later Heidegger’s treatment of speech or language, which is unrestrictedly given the character of a self-originating subject-event in its own right, and is represented as such in his oracular mode of "questioning" utterance. In this way, truth-as-validity is wholly assimilated to truth-as-occurrence -- a strategy by means of which Heidegger intends to avoid entanglement with the paradox of self-reference in that the truth-value of propositions is defined as nothing else than, or as wholly immanent within, the underived event of their utterance (see again PDM).

It here becomes clear why, as has often been remarked, it is difficult to determine the status of the later Heidegger’s own propositions: what kind of claim do they make for themselves? The answer is: none. Outside the event of their utterance, their status is radically indeterminate, for they must unfold themselves anew -- i.e., they can only derive or manifest their meaning -- within every such event. Now, in one sense, this is unobjectionable; less dramatically stated -- as, say, by Gadamer (see TM 442ff.) -- it can be taken as an account of what has here been called the essentially variable character of propositions, which in Heidegger is represented by the "questioning" or interrogative style of his prose.

The problem is, however, that the notion of questioning utterance is never sufficiently elaborated by Heidegger to avoid the consequences of its metamorphosis into self-originating subject-event. As the expression of nothing but itself, the questioning utterance becomes autistically immured, beyond interrogation, in the irreducible finality of its own autopoesis or self-manifestation; it thus takes on all the privileges of the philosophical subject it was originally intended to replace. What is here lacking in the later Heidegger is that strict and crucial distinction between propositions and occasions or events which Whitehead makes, defining propositions, not as subject-events, but as components of events, having that character in philosophy which has been analyzed in this paper. Thus, perhaps uniquely in recent philosophy, the possibility of critical discourse is preserved in the context of a theory of the new.

Nowhere is the importance of this more evident than in respect of the later Heidegger’s event-theory of politics, where the indefinite and uncontrolled character of his models brings with it disastrous consequences. In the first place, the tacit conflation of the models of the work of art and the event, always present in his writings, here becomes fully explicit, for the freedom of the self-unfolding event is in Heidegger the freedom only of aesthetic spontaneity; lacking the notion of analogical application, there is no place in the analysis for freedom as free will, i.e., for the appropriate distinctions between nature, art and history which are the achievements of critical Enlightenment. Secondly, because the aesthetic event is given unrestricted application to any entity or state of affairs, great cultural or political transformations can be treated as its paradigms; regarded as spontaneous acts, they can be seen, like great works of art, as having an originality such that they themselves create the principles in terms of which they can be assessed (see DLT 77-78).

In the political sphere, as is well-known, Heidegger drew the appropriate conclusions for the Germany of the nineteen-thirties. Moreover, in the cultural sphere, as has already been noted, Heidegger sees his own thinking of the event in a similar light, as a fundamental break with the history of Western philosophy.

On a Whiteheadian analysis, however, such an unrestricted application of event-analysis to the cultural sphere merely represents a mirror-like inversion of the monolithic continuities of nineteenth-century histories of philosophy. Cultural history is to be thought of, not in terms either of continuities or of ruptures, but as "adventures of ideas" in which there are no final completions or final closures but only the constant, shifting movement of the loss or reinterpretation or rediscovery of significances.25

In the political sphere, similarly, Heidegger’s event-analysis still retains key features of the nineteenth-century concept of the social organism it purportedly repudiates, in that it treats supra-individual entities such as "nations," "peoples," or historical epochs as agent-subjects as well as causal influences (see PLT 42, 48, 74)26 Here lies the rationale for Whitehead’s careful distinction between occasions and events: the notion of the self-unfolding new he locates wholly in the category of occasions, which alone possess agency as well as causal efficacy, while events are defined as what he calls ‘societies’ of occasions with causal efficacy alone. In other words, the application of the category of occasions -- and thus the employment of the notion of agency -- is strictly scaled or delimited by the analysis; summarily, it could be said that there are no higher or more complex instances of occasions than the occasions of experience of the human individual. Interpreted socio-historically, the categoreal scheme is so clearly intended as a corrective to collectivism in its various forms (cf. PR 91, 108) that it could be said to represent a metaphysics of radical or reformist liberalism.27

It is thus only the "rational analysis" made possible by the analogical scheme that saves the concept of the self-realizing new from the promiscuity all too characteristic of the Heideggerian event. If Nietzsche’s critique of reason exposed the metaphoricity of concepts, Whitehead’s schematic analysis has rediscovered the conceptual power of metaphors.

On a Whiteheadian view, therefore, the later Heidegger is guilty of "the fallacy of discarding method." As Whitehead himself says -- explicitly naming one of the figures who intimately affected Heidegger’s later thought and still dominates the cult of post-philosophy -- the assumption is "that if there can be any intellectual analysis it must proceed according to some one discarded method, and thence to deduce that intellect is intrinsically tied to erroneous fictions. This type is illustrated by the anti-intellectualism of Nietzsche and Bergson, and tinges American pragmatism" (AI 223).

In the light of such a remark, it is not unfair to say that Whitehead is a thinker unique in this century. He may also be one of the greatest of its philosophers. Yet up till now the position he elaborates has hardly been noticed, least of all by those who most often invoke his name. As the metaphysician of the new, it is time he was given the consideration, and the criticism, which he deserves.



CP -- Richard Rorty. Consequences of Pragmatism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982.

UP -- Julian Roberts. German Philosophy: An Introduction. Englewood, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1988.

UT -- Werner Marx. Heidegger and the Tradition. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1971.

IM -- Alfred North Whitehead. An Introduction to Mathematics. London: Hutchinson, 1912.

IMe -- Henri Bergson. Introduction to Metaphysics. Trans. T. E. Hulme. Indianapolis: Hobbs Merrill: Library of Liberal Arts, 1955.

ND -- T. W. Adorno. Negative Dialectics. Trans. J. E. Ashton. New York: The Seabury Press, 1973.

PDM -- J. Habermas. The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Trans. E Lawrence. Cambridge, MA: The M.I.T. Press, 1987.

PLT -- Martin Heidegger. "The Origin of the Work of Art." Poetry, Language, Thought. Trans. A. Hofstadter. New York: Harper and Row, 1975.

SG -- Martin Heidegger. Der Satz vom Grund. Pfullingen: Neske, 1957.

TB -- Martin Heidegger. Time and Being. Trans. Joan Stambaugh. New York: Harper and Row, 1977.

TM -- H. G. Gadamer. Truth and Method. New York: Continuum Books, 1976.

UA -- Alfred North Whitehead. A Treatise on Universal Algebra. With Applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1898.



1On play, see TM 91ff., especially 93, 97, 101. On the connection of play and temporality, see 108ff. On language as "eventual," see 386-87. On hermeneutics as "eventual," see 442ff.

2The English word "event" is of course wholly inadequate in conveying the complex of meanings and associations of Heidegger’s term Ereignis; see here #8 HT xxxvi-xli, and Joan Stambaugh’s Introduction to her translation of M. Heidegger, TB vii-xi. The present essay makes no claim to offer an exhaustive analysis of Ereignis, but is concerned only with certain aspects of that term which it attempts to show are central to any final consideration of its nature and significance.

3See especially F. Nietzsche, The Will to Power (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), paras. 1053-67; and H. Bergson, IMe.

4For a discussion of the problem of self-reference in the framework of philosophy of language, see Hilary Lawson, Reflexivity (LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1985).

5As the title Time and Being suggests, this is a key work for the understanding of the later Heidegger.

6 I am here following HT 59ff. For the quotations from Hegel given in the text, see his Encyclopedia: The Logic (trans. W. Wallace and A. V. Miller; Oxford: The Clarendon Press. 1976) para. 146 add.

7Whitehead’s Foreword to W. V. Quine, System of Logistic (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1934), pp. ix-x.

8D. Davidson, "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme," Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1984), p. 198.

9See Richard Rorty, "Philosophy as a Kind of Writing," CP 90ff. What follows in the text is an outline of what I take to be Whitehead’s answer to the question Rorty puts to philosophy in this book, asking "why we need a discipline at that level of generality" (77).

10For a contemporary version of such a position, see J. Habermas, "Philosophy as Stand-In and Interpreter" in After Philosophy (ed. K. Baynes et al.; Cambridge, MA: The M.LT. Press, 1987), pp. 296ff.

11The student of Whitehead is permanently indebted to Wolfe Mays, The Philosophy of Whitehead (London: Allen and Unwin, 1959), where the centrality of the algebraic method in Whitehead’s thought is brilliantly expounded; see especially Chapter V. Unfortunately, however, Mays treats the concept of occasions not as a connective or categoreal function, but as identical with accidents or empirical values. He also applies a very restricted concept of "necessity" to decide which of the categories are properly "metaphysical" and which are not. As will emerge, the centrality of the algebraic method in Whitehead requires a very different account of his work than that which Mays offers.

12Witness, for example, Whitehead’s treatment of physical energy, where he "substitutes" (PR 116) various concepts drawn from physics (e.g., "scalar localization") for the variables of certain categories of the scheme (e.g., "quantative satisfaction") in order to indicate the analogical "agreement" (PR 116) of the categories with the notions of modern physics. The "light" (PR 116) which Whitehead believes is offered by this particular application is not any kind of contribution to natural science, nor does it involve the discovery of some previously hidden aetiological feature of the world, but is nothing else than an elucidation of the fit of the two "sides" of the analysis. The point of the application is not to ascribe "quantitative satisfaction" to nature, nor to endow the claims of modem physics with some kind of metaphysical necessity, but to indicate the analogical "power of the scheme" in respect of empirical states of affairs presently understood in terms of scalar localization.

13Whitehead is perhaps best seen here as extrapolating and generalizing from the philosophy of science developed at Trinity by his contemporary, N. R. Campbell. See N. R. Campbell, Physics: The Elements, Cambridge University Press (1921); reprinted as The Foundations of Science (New York: Dover Books, 1957). On Campbell, see the entry by Gerd Buchdahl in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (ed. P. Edwards; New York: Macmillan, 1967). On the role of analogy in philosophy, see especially Gerd Buchdahl, Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Science, 2nd. edition (New York: University Press of America, 1988); and, with particular reference to Whitehead, Dorothy Emmet, The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966). Apart of course from his concern with mathematics, the significant early influence on Whitehead (cf. UA, Preface) of F. H. Bradley, The Principles of Logic, 2 vols. (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1883), cannot be discounted when considering his method: see Bradley’s treatment of the hypothetical judgment, "working hypothesis," and "ideal experiment."

141t is interesting to note, however, that at one point Kierkegaard describes himself as speaking "algebraically"--Philosophical Fragments (Princeton, NJ; Princeton University Press, 1962), p. 114.

15A lot more clearly needs to be said at this point about the nature and status of eternal objects. As is implied in what follows, Whitehead’s redefinition of the concepts of ‘universal’ and ‘particular’ is, I suspect, best apprehended in the context of analogical algebra. But there is no space for further remarks here.

16 I would suggest that it is only in this context that Whitehead’s important response to Dewey, "The Analysis of Meaning" (ESP 122ff.) can properly be understood. Whitehead there denies Dewey’s suggestion that his categories constitute an "aboriginal structure of the world," some "independent and ready-made realm of forms"; hence he denies that he needs to decide between what Dewey calls the "mathematical-formal" and "genetic-functional" approaches. On Whitehead’s view, the reflexive "fusion of the two" (ESP 123) is made possible in philosophy by the analogical algebra. What is happening in this exchange is of course quite momentous: it is the clash of the two great concepts of function -- the algebraic and the biological.

17See A. W. Murphy, "Relativism in Dewey and Whitehead," The Philosophical Review, vol. 36 (1927), p. 132.

18T. W. Adorno (ND 35-36), notices this. But, always the Marxist counterpart of Heidegger, he thinks that the discovery of history by philosophy requires the abandonment of "traditional philosophy."

191t should be noted that, by preserving the difference between scheme and world, the algebraic method also allows Whitehead to secure his pluralism, i.e. to preserve the differences in the world. For example, one purpose of the category of actual occasions is to overcome the traditional dichotomy between man and nature (cf. AI 184-85, 189). So in his elaboration of the scheme Whitehead attempts to give the notion of occasions sufficient scope to embrace both poles of the dichotomy and to provide "an analogy between the transference of energy from particular occasion to particular occasion in physical nature and the transference of affective tone, with its emotional energy, from one occasion to another in any human personality" (AI 188). The fact, however, that the analysis strictly confines itself to securing an analogy between nature and spirit means that their unity cannot be rendered as an identity -- whether materialistic, monistic, or panpsychist. The pluralistic character of analogical application resides in the fact that it allows for the differences between its interpretations while maintaining their unity as interpretations of the scheme.

20Readers of Richard Rorty, "The Subjectivist Principle and the Linguistic Turn," in A. N. Whitehead: Essays on His Philosophy (ed. George L. Kline; New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1963), pp. 134ff -- the best critique of Whitehead from the linguistic point of view -- will recognize that Whitehead would agree with Rorty that there is a difference between objects and facts about objects, and that the "about" relation is ultimate. However, Whitehead would not agree to take that relation as unanalyzable, as Rorty does. It is the "about" relation which Whitehead analyzes in terms of the vectoral process of occasions -- in order "to take time seriously"; an intent Rorty completely ignores.

21See G. W. F. Hegel, Encyclopedia: The Philosophy of Nature (trans. A. V. Miller; Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1970), paragraphs 247 add., 248 add.; and M. Heidegger, Being and Time (trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson; Oxford: Blackwell, 1962), paragraph 65ff.; TB 48, 54.

22On the later Schelling’s notion of origin, see GP 144ff.

23For some comments on the theory of relations in F. H. Bradley and Whitehead, see my "‘The Critique of Pure Feeling’: Bradley, Whitehead and the Anglo-Saxon Metaphysical Tradition" (PS 14/4 [Winter, 1985]: 253-64). For a fuller analysis of Bradley’s position, see my "Relations, Noncontradiction and Intelligibility in F. H. Bradley’s Metaphysics of Feeling" (Archives de Philosophie, vol. 54 [1991], pp. 529; vol. 55 [1992), pp. 1-20).

241t should be noted here that Whitehead cannot be criticized on the grounds that, unlike Heidegger, he merely replaces a "static" concept of substance with an "active" one, i.e., that he is still tied to what Heidegger calls a metaphysics of "presence" (cf. Peter P. Manchester, "Time in Whitehead and Heidegger: A Response," PS 5: 106-13). The concept of actual occasions is the concept of "connectives," not of real substances. That is, occasions are nothing else than a movement towards and beyond themselves; they have no moment of plenitude in their own right. Because the concept of the process of actual occasions is a content-reflexive concept of the connective acts through which things make themselves what they are, actual occasions themselves never "are"; when in concrescence they do not "exist," and their completion is their "perishing." All that "exists" is what occurs understood as self-actualizing -- a situation which, as has been argued, can only be analyzed analogically. Whitehead’s anti-Bradleian title, Process and Reality, should be taken for what it is: a critique of the metaphysics of presence, of which Bradley was the last, self-consciously problematic exemplar in the British tradition. See my "Process and Historical Crisis in F H. Bradley’s Ethics of Feeling," in Ethics, Religion and Philosophy in the Thought of F H. Bradley (ed. P. MacEwan; Edwin Mellen Press. 1992). I develop the notion of "actualization" with respect to Whitehead in my "Transcendental or Schematic Analysis?" in Kant and Whitehead (ed. P. Mazzarella and E. Wolf-Gazo; forthcoming).

25See AI, passim, and R. Rorty’s telling comments in his Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 119n. Collingwood’s claim in his The Idea of Nature (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1945), p. 177, that "no-one can answer the question what nature is unless he knows what history is. This is a question which...Whitehead [has] not asked" simply ignores Adventures of Ideas, Modes of Thought, and The Function of Reason.

26For a telling analysis of Heidegger’s treatment of historical institutions and periods, see GP, Chapter 9. See also ND 128-31 and The Jargon of Authenticity (trans. K. Tardowski; New York: The Seabury Press, 1973).

27 In a verbal communication, Dorothy Emmet tells me that she heard Whitehead say, à propos of Process and Reality: "It’s a defense of liberalism."