Whitehead’s Theory of Causal Objectification

by William J. Garland

William J. Garland is professor of philosophy and Chairperson of the Philosophy Department at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp.180-191, Vol. 12, Number 3, Fall, 1982. 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 one thing that Whitehead expresses over and over again in Process and Reality is his conviction that we experience particular individuals and not just ‘universals’ or ‘previously-enacted forms’. Interpretations of Whitehead’s metaphysics which neglect this point cannot hope to do justice to his persistent endeavor to explain just how one actual entity can be present in another.


Not enough attention has been paid to Whitehead’s theory of causal objectification in the growing corpus of Whitehead literature. In view of the importance which Whitehead himself attaches to this theory, the need for clarity about it becomes so much the more urgent. I think it can be plausibly maintained that the concept of causal objectification is one of the keys to Whitehead’s metaphysics. As Whitehead himself says, "The philosophy of organism is mainly devoted to the task of making clear the notion of ‘being present in another entity’ " (PR 50/ 79f.). Unfortunately, Whitehead’s own notion of ‘being present in another entity’ is obscure in itself and has remained obscure in many of the interpretations of his philosophy heretofore presented.1 This paper attempts to indicate the direction in which a clarification of Whitehead’s concept of causal objectification2 might proceed.

Whitehead introduces the concept of ‘objectification’ in the eighth Category of Explanation:

That two descriptions are required for an actual entity: (a) one which is analytical of its potentiality for ‘objectification’ in the becoming of other actual entities, and (b) another which is analytical of the process which constitutes its own becoming. The term ‘objectification’ refers to the particular mode in which the potentiality of one actual entity is realized in another actual entity. (PR 23/ 34)

When he expands upon the meaning of objectification in the twenty-fourth Category of Explanation, he states: "The functioning of one actual entity in the self-creation of another actual entity is the ‘objectification’ of the former for the latter actual entity" (PR 25/38). In other passages, Whitehead contrasts the ‘subjective immediacy’ which an actual entity enjoys during its own process of concrescence with its ‘objective immortality’, which is the way in which an actual entity exists after it has perished subjectively (PR 29/ 44). An actual entity has value for itself in its subjective immediacy; it has value for other actual entities in its objective immortality. Whitehead’s theory of objectification concerns the immanence of past actual entities in the present actual entity. It is an attempt to clarify the way in which one actual entity can influence or exert power over (‘have value for’) another (PR 58/ 91).

The most detailed analysis of Whitehead’s theory of objectification is given by William Christian (IWM 130-44). Christian focuses his attention on the simplest case in which one actual entity prehends only one other actual entity in its immediate past by a simple physical feeling. Christian does not think that the new actual entity first feels the previous actual entity as an individual and then eliminates some aspects of this actual entity by negative prehensions. Rather, he claims that elimination is a primitive part of prehension; as Whitehead states, "Objectification involves elimination" (PR 340/ 517). Thus, according to Christian, the new actual entity positively prehends only one of the feelings which make up the previous actual entity. It never feels the past actual entity as a whole individual (IWM 132f.).

Christian also claims that the conformity of the subjective form of the present actual entity to the subjective form of the past actual entity is crucial to objectification. The subjective form of a feeling is the manner in which the subject feels its datum (see PR 23/ 35). Now the subjective form of a feeling receives its characteristic tone from the subject which privately entertains that feeling. But since no two actual entities can share subjective immediacy, no two actual entities can have identical subjective forms. However, a subjective form in abstraction from the subject of a feeling is merely an eternal object (PR 233/ 356). Thus, whereas the subjective forms of two actual entities cannot be identical in all aspects, the same eternal object can be found in both subjective forms. Christian concludes that the continuity of nature ultimately rests upon this two-way functioning of eternal objects. There is no literal ‘flow of feeling’ from one actual entity to another, though Whitehead often talks as if this were the case. Rather, certain eternal objects which were found in past actual entities are repeated in the new actual entity (IWM 134-44).

Ivor Leclerc’s interpretation of Whitehead’s theory of objectification is in many respects similar to Christian’s. Both of them give a significant role to eternal objects in the process of objectification. However, Leclerc’s views on this subject seem to be more extreme than Christian’s. For example, Leclerc claims that "antecedent actualities are conditioned eternal objects" (WM 107; italics in text). He elaborates on this doctrine in his article, "Form and Actuality": "The objectification of actualities . . . is effected by form. The role here played by form is crucial, and the implications of this are of the greatest significance" (RW 185). Leclerc claims that an individual actual entity is essentially the enacting of form; this constitutes its ‘real internal constitution’. When an actual entity perishes and becomes objectively immortal, other actual entities prehend it by reenacting some of the same eternal objects that it enacted. Speaking of objectification, Leclerc states: "The form is the objectified actuality, and the objectified actuality is the form" (RW 18Sf.; italics in text). He quotes Whitehead in support of his position: "Each actuality is prehended by means of some element of its own definiteness" (PR 152/ 230). Yet Leclerc points out that this form is not simply a universal; rather, it is the form of both the prehending actuality and the prehended actuality. Moreover, both Leclerc and Christian make it clear that the eternal objects involved do not act in any manner. Rather, prehension is an activity of the present actual entity.

Christian and Leclerc give very clear-cut interpretations of Whitehead’s theory of objectification. It is easy to visualize just how objectification takes place with the eternal objects in their two-fold functioning. Yet the neatness of these interpretations does not exempt them from serious problems. By unduly stressing the role of eternal objects in objectification, both Christian and Leclerc undercut the connectedness of the universe. Without any direct experience of individuals in the antecedent world, we are but one step away from solipsism of the present moment, as Whitehead repeatedly shows. For if the data of experience consisted only of universals, then the experiencing subject would have to infer the existence of other individual actual entities, just as Descartes claimed to infer the existence of a real man in the street from the sense-data present to his eyes. In opposition to the ‘unreformed’ subjectivist principle, which holds that "the datum in the act of experience can be adequately analyzed purely in terms of universals" (PR 157/239), Whitehead insists that we have a direct experience of the causality of the past (PR 169/ 256, 178/ 271). The most natural way for Whitehead to incorporate this insight into his system would be for him to allow that one actual entity can directly experience the particularity of previous actual entities.


Accordingly, let us examine Whitehead’s writings with two questions in mind. (1) Does Whitehead want to say that a new actual entity feels the other actual entities in its actual world as individuals? (2) Does Whitehead’s system permit him to say this? The first question will not detain us long, for Whitehead repeatedly asserts that we experience particular existents. Speaking of the actual entities in the past of a given actual entity, Whitehead says, "The concrescent actuality arises from feeling their status of individual particularity" (PR 55/ 86; italics mine). Again, Whitehead declares: "The philosophy of organism follows Locke in admitting particular ‘exterior things’ into the category of ‘object prehended’" (PR 141/ 215; italics mine). In Adventures of Ideas, he expresses this same thought in different terms: "The individual, real facts of the past lie at the base of our immediate experience in the present. They are the reality from which the occasion springs" (Al 361; italics mine). Other passages to the same effect can be found throughout Whitehead’s works. Thus, it is clear that Whitehead intends to say that we directly experience other actual entities as individuals.

But does Whitehead’s metaphysical system permit him to include the doctrine of the experience of individuality? I claim that it does, and I want to support my claim by giving an extensive analysis of the way in which a new actual entity comes into being. In this analysis, I have been influenced by Donald Sherburne’s account of concrescence, although I depart from Sherburne’s interpretation in crucial places.3

Whitehead claims that the most concrete analysis of an actual entity shows that it is a concrescence of prehensions" (PR 23/ 35). He furthermore claims that the process of concrescence can be divided into several phases, which begin with the initial or primary phase and end with the satisfaction (PR 220/ 337). Sherburne distinguishes four phases in the concrescence of an actual entity -- the phase of conformal feelings, the phase of conceptual feelings, the phase of simple comparative feelings, and the phase of complex comparative feelings (WA 56; see also KWPR 40). I basically agree with Sherburne’s analysis, although I would add the phase of satisfaction as the final phase of concrescence. The phase I want to concentrate upon, however, is the initial phase. It is here that we must look for support for our claim that Whitehead can legitimately say that we experience other individuals.

Whitehead explicitly says that the first phase in concrescence is composed of "a multiplicity of simple physical feelings" (PR 236/ 362). He furthermore defines a "feeling" as a positive prehension (PR 23/ 35,41/ 6Sf.). Whitehead claims that a feeling can be analyzed into five factors: " (i) the ‘subject’ which feels; (ii) the ‘initial data’ which are to be felt; (iii) the ‘elimination’ in virtue of negative prehensions; (iv) the ‘objective datum’ which is felt; (v) the ‘subjective form,’ which is how that subject feels that objective datum" (PR 221/ 337f.; italics in text). Here Whitehead introduces a crucial distinction, the distinction between the ‘initial data’ for a feeling and the ‘objective datum’ for the same feeling. This is the distinction which will permit him to say that we directly experience other individuals. It is also a distinction which both Christian and Leclerc underrate and which Sherburne does not analyze sufficiently.


I will now give a detailed analysis of Whitehead’s distinction between the ‘initial data’ and the ‘objective datum’ for a feeling. The first thing to notice is that feelings are the types of entities which have initial data. Actual entities have initial data only in a derivative sense, in that an actual entity can be analyzed into a concrescence of feelings (PR 19/ 28f.). Hence "the initial data for an actual entity" is always elliptical for "the initial data for the feelings which constitute that actual entity."

My second point is that Whitehead himself is ambivalent in the way in which he talks about the initial data for a new actual entity. Throughout part II of Process and Reality, Whitehead talks about "the datum for a new concrescence" (PR 211/322, italics mine; see also PR 65/101, 142/ 216, 149f./ 227f., 210/ 321). This kind of language has led Jorge Luis Nobo to construct an interpretation of Whitehead’s theory of transition in which he claims that transition is a creative process which produces a novel but incomplete actual entity and concrescence is a creative process through which the actual entity completes itself. Nobo claims that transition has the many settled actual entities of the universe as its data and that transition unifies these data into a datum for the process of concrescence. Thus, transition is a creative process on its own which is distinct from the process of concrescence (IPQ 19:265-72).

Nobo backs up his claims about transition and concrescence with impressive textual evidence. However, there is another way of looking at the texts in which Whitehead speaks of a unified datum for a new concrescence. Lewis S. Ford has persuasively argued that a shift occurs in Process and Reality between the view that concrescence starts from a single unified datum and the view that concrescence starts from a vast multiplicity of initial data which are then unified in the concrescent process.4 Whitehead spells out the ‘unified datum view in the nine and one-half chapters of his Gifford lectures which were written during the summer of 1927 and were incorporated largely (though not exclusively) into part II of Process and Reality. He first works out the details of his ‘initial data’ view only in part III, chapter 1. Yet the strange thing is that Whitehead leaves the ‘unified datum’ theory of concrescence in the text of Process and Reality (mainly in part II) even after he has abandoned its basic tenets.

The result is that textual evidence can be found in Process and Reality both for Nobo’s view and for my view of concrescence. The best way to decide between these views is to ask which represents Whitehead’s earlier view and which represents his later view. Here I follow Ford in claiming that the ‘initial data’ view is Whitehead’s later view and that it was intended to supersede the ‘unified datum’ view. I intend to support my claims about concrescence mainly with references to passages in which Whitehead has already switched from the unified datum’ view to the ‘initial data’ view. Hence, I think that my analysis should be preferred to that of Nobo.

Now I will present my analysis of the initial phase of concrescence. I claim that it is fruitful to distinguish two subphases within the initial phase of concrescence. Whitehead himself does not explicitly make such a distinction, so my analysis involves an interpretative component which goes beyond a strict exposition of Whitehead. Nevertheless, I think that my analysis is at least suggested by some of the claims that Whitehead does make about the process of concrescence and that it is consistent with all of the claims that he makes about concrescence.

On my interpretation, the first subphase is one of pure givenness and does not yet involve elimination. Instead, the actual entities from which the new concrescence arises are felt as whole individuals which make up the actual world. This is the subphase in which Whitehead speaks of the ‘initial data’ for the concrescence. The second subphase is one in which eliminations are made from the initial data by means of negative prehensions so that an ‘objective datum’ is obtained for each feeling. The process of elimination makes possible the movement from the initial data to the objective datum. This is the subphase in which Whitehead speaks of the ‘objective datum’. There is an objective datum for each of the physical feelings which make up the first phase of concrescence. Thus we are still dealing with a multiplicity when we are at the level of the ‘objective datum’.

Sherburne recognizes the existence of two subphases within the initial phase of concrescence in A Whiteheadian Aesthetic (p. 47f.), but he does not see the full ramifications of this distinction. Furthermore, he does not mention this distinction when he presents his more influential analysis of concrescence in A Key to Whitehead’s Process and Reality. Accordingly, I want to resurrect Sherburne’s original distinction and to use it to vindicate my claim about the prehension of individuality.

Let us now analyze the first subphase of the initial phase of concrescence in more detail. As we noted earlier, Whitehead says that the initial phase is composed of "a multiplicity of simple physical feelings" (PR 236/ 362). He further says: "A ‘simple physical feeling’ entertained in one subject is a feeling for which the initial datum is another single actual entity, and the objective datum is another feeling entertained by the latter actual entity" (PR 236/ 361). The important thing to notice at this point is that Whitehead claims that a simple physical feeling has as its initial datum another single actual entity. On first glance, this claim seems to support Nobo’s contention that there is a single unified datum for a new concrescence. But further analysis reveals that this is not the case. In the first place, Whitehead claims that the initial phase in concrescence contains a multiplicity of simple physical feelings. Each of these feelings has its own initial datum, but there are many such feelings. The data for these feelings taken together are what Whitehead calls the ‘initial data’ for the initial phase. In the second place, a simple physical feeling is only one type of feeling. As such, it is a special instance of Whitehead’s general description of a feeling (FR 2211 337f., quoted above). This explains why Whitehead can say that a feeling in general has ‘initial data’, whereas a simple physical feeling has only an ‘initial datum.5

The next thing we should notice about the first subphase of the initial phase of concrescence is that Whitehead holds that all actual entities in the actual world of a new occasion have to be felt by some simple physical feeling (PR 41/ 66, 239/366). This principle does not hold true of the eternal objects; some of them can be dismissed completely by negative prehensions. But things are different in the case of actual entities: "An actual entity in the actual world of a subject must enter into the concrescence of that subject by some simple causal [i.e., physical] feeling, however vague, trivial, and submerged" (PR 239/ 366; italics in text). Accordingly, the first subphase in the initial phase of an actual entity’s concrescence is composed of feelings of all actual entities in its actual world. These past actual entities and God are the initial data for a new actual entity. Whitehead never says this directly, but it seems to be a clear implication of his position.

Now we come to the important question: How are the initial data in the actual world felt by the new actual entity during the first subphase of its initial phase of concrescence? I want to claim that these past actual entities and God are felt as individuals. Several passages in Process and Reality explicitly call for this interpretation. For example, Whitehead wants to claim that the things which we experience have an "insistent particularity" of their own:

The real internal constitution of an actual entity progressively constitutes a decision conditioning the creativity which transcends that actuality. The Castle Rock at Edinburgh exists from moment to moment, and from century to century, by reason of the decision effected by its own historic route of antecedent occasions. And if, in some vast upheaval of nature, it were shattered into fragments, that convulsion would still be conditioned by the fact that it was the destruction of that rock. The point to be emphasized is the insistent particularity of things experienced and of the act of experiencing. (PR 43/ 68f.; first italics in text; second italics mine)

Another passage also calls for this interpretation:

This peculiar particularity of the nexus between actual entities can be put another way. Owing to the disastrous confusion, more especially by Hume, of conceptual feelings with perceptual feelings, the truism that we can only conceive in terms of universals has been stretched to mean that we can only feel in terms of universals. This is untrue. Our perceptual feelings feel particular existents . . . . (PR 230/ 351; italics in text)

Likewise, we find the following passage, in which Whitehead is discussing his agreement with Locke that particular ‘exterior things’ are directly given in experience:

But the ‘exterior things,’ although they are not expressible by concepts in respect to their individual particularity, are no less data for feeling; so that the concrescent actuality arises from feeling their status of individual particularity; and thus that particularity is included as an element from which feelings originate, and which they concern. (PR 55/ 86; italics mine)

In each of these passages, Whitehead affirms that we directly experience particular actual entities as concrete particulars. This, I submit, is the nature of our experience in the first subphase of the initial phase of concrescence.

Now let us turn to the second subphase of the initial phase of concrescence. In this subphase, the concrescing actual entity selects one feeling from each past actual entity and God to include within its own internal constitution.6 The feeling which is selected is said to "objectify" the past actual entity for the new concrescence (PR 236/ 361,238/364). In the case of a simple physical feeling X belonging to a new actual entity A, the feeling Y by which X objectifies the past actual entity B is called the "objective datum" of X. Whitehead describes this second subphase in the following passage:

A feeling is the appropriation of some elements in the universe to be components in the real internal constitution of its subject. The elements are the initial data; they are what the feelings feels. But they are felt under an abstraction. The process of the feeling involves negative prehensions which effect elimination. Thus the initial data are felt under a ‘perspective’ which is the objective datum of the feeling. (FR 231/ 353)

Whitehead illustrates his point well by calling the objective datum a perspective’ for feeling the initial data. For instance, suppose you are looking at Athens while standing on top of a hill. You are really seeing Athens itself, not just the eternal object of Athens-ness. But you are seeing Athens from a certain point of view; Athens is objectified for you. Likewise, the objective datum Y of a new feeling X objectifies its initial datum (the actual entity B) for a new process of concrescence (the actual entity A).

It is important to notice that the feeling X (A’s feeling) and the feeling Y (B’s feeling) are "real, individual, and particular" in the same sense in which the actual entities A and B are "real, individual, and particular" (FR 20/ 29f.; see also PR 221/ 338f.). Furthermore, a feeling cannot be abstracted from the actual entity which is its subject; it has an essential reference to the subject of which it is the feeling (PR 222/ 339, 233/ 355). Thus, the feeling X which feels the feeling Y conveys the particularity of B into the internal constitution of A; X forms a particular bond of relatedness between B and A. As Whitehead says:

A simple physical feeling [X] has the dual character of being the cause’s [B’s] feeling [Y] re-enacted for the effect as subject [A]. But this transference of feeling effects a partial identification of cause with effect, and not a mere representation of the cause. It is the cumulation of the universe and not a stage-play about it. In a simple feeling [X] there is a double particularity in reference to the actual world, the particular cause [B] and the particular effect [A]. (PR 237/ 363)

In the process of objectification, there is literally a "flow of feeling" (PR 237/ 363) from actual entity B (‘the cause) to actual entity A (the effect). Note that this is directly opposed to Christian’s claim that there is no "flow of feeling" from one actual entity to another (IWM 141-44).

It is important to realize that a simple physical feeling does not choose the perspective of its initial datum independently of the perspectives chosen by the other simple physical feelings which belong to the first phase of concrescence. Instead, each feeling chooses a perspective which will be compatible with the perspectives chosen by the other feelings. This follows from the first Categoreal Obligation, The Category of Subjective Unity: "The many feelings which belong to an incomplete phase in the process of an actual entity, though unintegrated by reason of the incompleteness of the phase, are compatible for integration by reason of the unity of their subject" (PR 26/ 39). What Whitehead means here is that all the feelings which make up any phase of a concrescence must be guided by the ‘subjective aim’ of the whole concrescence so that they can be harmoniously synthesized in the final satisfaction.

Here I should make a few comments about the ‘subjective aim’. The subjective aim is the new actual entity’s ideal of what it would like to become in the process of its concrescence. The new actual entity derives its subjective aim from God in the initial phase of its concrescence (PR 224f./ 343f., 244/ 373f.). It does this through a ‘hybrid physical feeling’ of God. A hybrid physical feeling is a feeling which objectifies the actual entity which forms its initial datum by means of one of this datum actual entity’s conceptual feelings. A conceptual feeling is a feeling whose datum is an eternal object. Thus, a hybrid physical feeling introduces conceptuality into the very first phase of concrescence (see PR 224/ 342).

I must also explain how negative prehensions enter into the second subphase of the initial phase of concrescence. The function of negative prehensions is to eliminate from feeling those aspects of past actual entities which are not compatible for synthesis in the new concrescence (PR 226f./ 346, 231/ 353, 238/ 364). Negative prehensions transform the ‘initial datum’ for each simple physical feeling into the ‘objective datum for that feeling. But although negative prehensions eliminate their data from inclusion in the internal constitution of the new actual entity, they contribute their subjective forms to the total "emotional complex" of the final satisfaction (PR 41f./ 66, 226f./ 346). Moreover, as the process of concrescence proceeds, the subjective forms of the prehensions which make up the concrescence are adjusted to one another in accordance with the subjective aim so that they will all be compatible for the final synthesis of satisfaction (PR 235/ 359f.; see also PR 19/ 29, 41f./ 66).


So far, my analysis of objectification has proceeded in terms of actual entities, simple physical feelings, subjective aims, and negative prehensions. Yet where do eternal objects enter into the process of objectification? On first glance, it appears that eternal objects enter into concrescence only in the second phase, which Sherburne calls the phase of conceptual feelings (WA 49-54). As I explained above, a conceptual feeling is a feeling whose datum is an eternal object. Yet conceptual feelings are always derivative from physical feelings.7 This principle is expressed in the fourth Categoreal Obligation: "From each physical feeling there is the derivation of a purely conceptual feeling whose datum is the eternal object determinant of the definiteness of the actual entity, or the nexus, physically felt" (PR 26/ 39f.). Now the conceptual feeling of eternal objects first occurs in the second phase of concrescence, which is the phase of conceptual feelings. But objectification takes place in the first phase of concrescence, not in the second phase. Thus, it seems as though eternal objects play no significant role in objectification.

Now it could be contended that eternal objects are actually involved in both physical feelings and conceptual feelings, although in a different manner. This is the way in which Sherburne in fact argues (WA 50). Sherburne bases his claim upon Whitehead’s distinction between the immanent and the transcendent function of eternal objects. In a physical feeling, an eternal object is felt as immanent, while in a conceptual feeling, the eternal object is felt as transcendent (see PR 239f./ 366f.). In the first phase of concrescence, eternal objects are felt as embedded in the particular actual entities which form the initial data. In the second phase, the eternal objects which are immanent in each simple physical feeling are abstracted from their respective physical feelings and are felt as transcendent.

I accept the results of this argument and grant that eternal objects are present in the first phase of concrescence as realized determinant[s]" (PR 239/ 366) of the actual entities that are being prehended by the new actual entity. As such, the eternal objects express the definiteness of the actual entities into which they have ingression (PR 240/367). This definiteness is transmitted to the new actual entity in the second phase of concrescence, when the new actual entity lifts the eternal objects out of their physical feelings so that it can valuate them up or down. Yet the role that eternal objects play in the objectification of past actual entities is strictly limited. This is because eternal objects cannot convey a sense of the individuality of the past actual entities which are being objectified by a new actual entity (see PR 229f./ 350ff.). By contrast, the feelings involved in objectification can express the way in which past actual entities are objectified as individuals. This is because a feeling conveys a sense of the individuality of its subject (see PR 2211 338, 233/ 355f., 235/ 359f.). Perhaps this is why Whitehead calls feelings "vectors" (PR 19/28 and passim): they carry or convey (from the Latin vectus, past participle of veho, to carry or convey) the individuality of past actual entities to the present actual entity.8

I must now explain just why Christian and Leclerc believe that eternal objects play a more significant role in objectification than the role which I have granted them. Part of the problem stems from the fact that Whitehead himself sometimes speaks as if eternal objects played a significant role in objectification. Consider the following passage: "The organic philosophy does not hold that the ‘particular existents’ are prehended apart from universals; on the contrary, it holds that they are prehended by the mediation of universals" (PR 152/230). This passage certainly seems to indicate that eternal objects ("universals") are directly involved in the process of objectification, and it is precisely passages such as this one which lend support to the view of Christian and Leclerc.9

But the more basic reason behind the interpretations of Christian and Leclerc is that neither of them gives an adequate analysis of the status of the past actual entities which form the initial data for a new concrescence. Christian claims that past actual entities are "no longer actual" (IWM 321). Thus, they cannot serve as their own reasons why they are given to a new actual entity (IWM 321f.). Christian tries to solve this problem by bringing in God as the ground for the givenness of the past (IWM 322-30). But this move has been well-criticized as artificial and ad hoc. Leclerc also claims that past actual entities are no longer actual (WM 101). Instead, he holds that past actual entities are "conditioned eternal objects (WM 107). Now since past actual entities are no longer actual (on the view of Christian and Leclerc), it is easy to conclude that they are no longer real individuals. Thus, they do not have enough ‘ontological reality’ to serve as the basis for a new concrescence.10

Yet the evidence which I have presented above shows that this interpretation of the status of past actual entities is inadequate. The one thing that Whitehead expresses over and over again in Process and Reality is his conviction that we experience particular individuals and not just ‘universals’ or ‘previously-enacted forms’. Interpretations of Whitehead’s metaphysics which neglect this point cannot hope to do justice to his persistent endeavor to explain just how one actual entity can be present in another.



IPQ -- International Philosophical Quarterly, for Jorge Luis Nobo, "Transition in Whitehead: A Creative Process Distinct from Concrescence," 19/3 (September, 1979), 265-83.

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

KWPR -- Donald W. Sherburne. A Key to Whitehead’s Process and Reality. New York: Macmillan, 1966.

RM -- Ivor Leclerc, ed. The Relevance of Whitehead. London: George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 1961. For Ivor Leclerc, "Form and Actuality," pp. 169-89.

UW -- Victor Lowe. Understanding Whitehead. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1962.

WA -- Donald W. Sherburne. A Whiteheadian Aesthetic. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961.

WM -- Ivor Leclerc. Whitehead’s Metaphysics. London: George Allen and Unwin, Ltd., 1958.



1Two recent interpretations should be mentioned here. The first is that of Sheilah Brennan in her "Substance Within Substance" (PS 7:14-26). Brennan makes some suggestive remarks about the vector quality of feelings, but her essay does not go far enough into the details of objectification. The second interpretation is that of Jorge Luis Nobo in his "Whitehead’s Principle of Relativity" (PS 8:1-20) and his "Transition in Whitehead: A Creative Process Distinct from Concrescence" (LPQ 19:265-83). Nobo’s most revolutionary claims are to be round in the latter article, and I will discuss some of these claims below.

2 will use the term ‘causal objectification’ to indicate that I do not intend to deal with the type of objectification which Whitehead calls ‘presentational objectification’ (see PR 58/ 91 for this distinction). Henceforth the term ‘objectification’ should be understood as referring exclusively to ‘causal objectification’.

3 Sherburne’s analysis of concrescence may be found at WA 41-71 and at KWPR 36-71.

4 See Ford, "The Process from ‘Transition’ to ‘Concrescence’," The PR Newsletter, 113 (July, 1981). 8; cf. Ford, "Some Proposals Concerning the Composition of Process and Reality," PS 8:153.

5 Whitehead makes this point clear at PR 231/ 353: "In two extreme cases the initial data of a feeling have a unity of their own. In one case, the data reduce to a single actual entity, other than the subject of the feeling; and in the other case the data reduce to a single eternal object. These are called ‘primary feelings.’" Later Whitehead explains that the ‘primary feelings’ he has in mind in this passage are simple physical feelings and conceptual feelings (PR 232/ 35411,239/365). Thus, a simple physical feeling is a special kind of feeling, and, as such, it can have a single actual entity as its ‘initial datum’.

6 The term "selects" is inappropriate when it is applied to God. A new actual entity does not select the feeling by which it will objectify God. Instead, God determines the feeling by which God will be objectified by the new actual entity (see PR 244/ 373f.). This feeling provides the new actual entity with its subjective aim, and in turn the subjective aim determines how the new actual entity will objectify the actual entities in its past. Thus, a new actual entity "selects" the feelings by which it will objectify past actual entities only in a very restricted sense of the term "selects."

7God is an exception to this general rule. God’s conceptual feelings are "primordial," and God’s physical feelings are "consequent upon the creative advance of the world" (PR 345/ 524).

8 I owe the observation about the Latin origin of ‘vector’ to Sherburne (KWPR 10). For a different but related view of why Whitehead calls feelings vectors, see Sheilah Brennan, "Substance Within Substance" (PS 7:21f.).

9 For an attempt to make this passage consistent with Whitehead’s view that we directly experience individual actual entities, see Victor Lowe, UW 358ff. I agree with the basic thrust of Lowe’s remarks, although Lowe does not provide a detailed theory of how the objectification of individuals is possible.

10 Here I agree with the claims of Jorge Luis Nobo in "Whitehead’s Principle of Process" (PS 4:275-84). Nobo claims that it is a "widespread and deeply rooted mistake" (p. 281) to maintain that an actual entity is actual only while it is in the process of concrescence. Instead, Nobo argues that an actual entity is actual both as a subject and as a superject. Thw., the actual entities rif the past are fully actual, just as the actual entities of the present are. I think that Nobo is exactly right on this point, even though I have taken issue with him on other points regarding transition and concrescence.