This book is a
continuation of Lewis Ford’s project, begun in The Emergence of
Whitehead’s Philosophy (Albany, N.Y., 1984), to reconstruct the
stages through which Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophy reached its
final form. The title refers to both the transformations within
Whitehead’s theism and Ford’s revisions of Whitehead’s final doctrine.
Part 1, on “Whitehead’s Successive Concepts of God,” concludes with
“Whitehead’s Problematic Legacy,” which is that the God portrayed in
Whitehead’s final concept should be “imprehensible” and thereby unable
to exercise causal influence. Part 2, which deals with several previous
attempts to overcome this problem, argues that none is successful. Part
3 presents Ford’s solution, which reconceives God as “future
activity.” The question raised by the first two parts is whether Ford
provides a reliable guide to these issues. The question raised by the
third part is whether Ford’s solution is viable. My answer to both
questions is negative.
Part 1 revolves
around the view that Whitehead’s Process and Reality (Cambridge,
1929) contains three concepts of God: early, middle, and final. The
crucial claim is that the early concept portrays God as little more than
the impersonal “principle of limitation” with which Whitehead concluded
Science and the Modern World (New York, 1925). The problem is
that in the intervening book, Religion in the Making (Cambridge,
1926), Whitehead portrayed God as personal. This problem leads Ford,
insofar as he cannot explain away the apparent richness of the
God-concept in the earlier book, to several speculations about why
Whitehead retreated from that concept.
This problem is,
however, entirely of Ford’s making. Methodologically, his mistake is to
argue from silence. Although Ford admits that in the early stratum of
Process and Reality the divine subjectivity is “not so much
denied as passed over in silence,” he assumes that “Whitehead began with
a rather minimal conception of God” (p. 60). Substantively, Ford
creates his problem by misinterpretations (e.g., assuming that God as a
“formative element” could not have been a concrete individual) and
imposing his own views (e.g., that Whitehead, having called God “nontemporal,”
could not have attributed subjectivity to God prior to the last statum,
with its “consequent nature”).
Ford is right, in
any case, to consider the final concept problematic: Whitehead insisted
that God not be an exception to metaphysical principles, one of which is
that an actual entity can be prehended and thereby exert influence only
after it has reached completion; yet, Whitehead describes God as an
everlasting actual entity while allowing worldly actual entities to
prehend God. This “problematic legacy” brings us to part 2, devoted to
“clearing the way of possible alternatives” to Ford’s own approach (p.
144). Most interpreters cleared away will find the treatment of their
positions inadequate. Not surprisingly, I find this especially true of
my preferred solution, pioneered by Charles Hartshorne, which
reconceives God as an everlasting society of divine occasions of
Ford admits that
Whitehead’s objection to this view is not valid, but the same is true of
Ford’s objections, which are either false, question-begging, based on
imposed assumptions, directed at features of Hartshorne’s position
overcome by later modifications of the societal view, or answerable
(e.g., the charge that this view violates the denial of a cosmic “now”
by special relativity physics; Ford’s rebuttal of my solution depends on
for Ford’s position is his argument that all creativity for Whitehead is
contained in present actual occasions so that all creativity is
self-creation or final causation, so that past occasions are devoid of
creativity. Faced with passages in Process and Reality speaking
of a second mode of creativity, which is efficient causation from past
to present occasions, Ford argues (pp. 44, 353, n. 7) that this idea was
connected with Whitehead’s early view of transition, which he gave up
(although Ford elsewhere admits that there are other views of transition
consistent with Whitehead’s final position (pp. 334, n. 8, 338, n. 6).
Faced with evidence in Adventures of Ideas that Whitehead tried
to correct the impression that the past is passive, Ford strangely
argues that this later book should be interpreted in the light of (what
he considers) the final doctrine of the earlier one (p. 183). Ford
thereby concludes that Whitehead’s position does not explain why present
occasions have creativity.
Part 3 is devoted
to answering this question along with that of how God, who as an
everlasting concrescence cannot be prehended, can influence the world.
Ford answers both questions by saying that divine activity, understood
as future creativity, gives present occasions their creativity.
Although Ford argues that this idea is intelligible, the very meaning of
“the future” is that it is not yet actual—it matters not that Ford calls
it a “becoming,” not a being.” A second problem is that, in seeking to
overcome the way in which Whitehead’s God was exceptional, Ford makes
God an exception to three metaphysical principles by having God exist in
the future, exert causal influence from there, and exert causal
influence without being prehended.
David Ray Griffin,
School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University.