Panentheism.  Revisionism.  Anarchocapitalism.



Essays by Me

Essays by Others

A. E. Taylor




From Theology 31 (1930): 66-79.


Some Thoughts on Process and Reality

A. E. Taylor

It would be hard to over-rate the importance of the main ideas of Dr. Whitehead’s volume of Gifford Lectures, Process and Reality, or their interest for divines and metaphysicians.  It is not merely that they deserve profound and attentive respect as the personal convictions of an eminent mathematician and man of science who is also an original philosopher, they have an added importance as illustrating the marked change of outlook on ultimate matters which has come over physics in the last thirty years and is equally shown by the recent publications of two such prominent thinkers as Professor Eddington and Sir J. H. Jeans.  There are important points in which these two eminent men are in disaccord, and it seems clear that neither of them would simply accept Dr. Whitehead’s account of the natural world as it stands.  And, no doubt Dr. Whitehead is himself too true a philosopher to expect, or desire, such a complete coincidence of independent judgments.  But on the most vital points of all there is, I think, an agreement fairly indicative of the new and more philosophical temper which is finding its way into physical science, and it is to Dr. Whitehead, as the most consciously philosophic of the three distinguished writers, that we naturally turn for light on the sources and character of this temper. Accordingly, I venture, at my own risk, a few remarks on what I take to be the motive and principles of his philosophy of natural science.

I say “at my own risk,” for I am painfully conscious that my interpretation of Dr. Whitehead’s central thought has no kind of authority, and may possibly be mistaken.  No one but a worker who knows the physical sciences from within could have a right to a confident opinion on the elaborate details of this new “theory of the natural world,” and this reason alone would compel me to confine myself to points of general philosophical principle.  Even on points of principle Dr. Whitehead is not always easy to interpret.  He necessarily expresses himself largely in a novel and difficult language of his own creation, and, to be quite frank, he leans, in his latest works, perhaps a little too much to oracular brevity and obscurity.  His deep sayings, like George Fox’s, at times, “fall brokenly from him.” Yet, when I read the new volume in the light of its precursors, especially Science and the Modern World, I seem to discern one or two principles of the first importance as the corner-stones of the whole edifice: it is of these that I shall try to say something in an amateurish way, in the hope that I have not misunderstood seriously.

A reader of such typical nineteenth-century works on natural science as those of Mach or Karl Pearson, if suddenly introduced to Dr. Whitehead’s volume, would probably feel that he had been transported back into the mental atmosphere of a far-away age, that he was breathing the air of Plato’s Timaeus, or even of Aristotle’s Physics.  Except in its latest sections, Process and Reality, he might say, is very little concerned with what I regard as the proper work of physics, the reduction of the “routine” of recurrent natural processes to mathematical formulation.  In the main it is one long discussion of such extra-scientific notions as God, substance, potentiality and act, final causality, contingency, quality.  Some of these lie wholly outside the sphere of the physicist and we irrelevant to his special problems; others are mere delusions begotten of ignorance, the very rubbish of the “scholastic” metaphysics against which science was so long ago warned to be on its guard by both Bacon and Newton.

From his own point of view the critic would be entirely right, and it is the very fact that he would be so right which is the proof of the change of outlook characteristic of our present age.  No one knows better than Dr. Whitehead himself that there is the closest affinity between his own general attitude towards nature and Plato’s, and that if the affinity with Aristotle and St. Thomas is less marked, that is only because neither of them was, like Plato, a mathematician. The root of the matter is that the typical physicists of the last age were consciously or unconsciously “positivists” in their philosophy.  Dr Whitehead is a convinced believer in metaphysics; they, though few of them knew it, were at heart obstinate irrationalists; he is as persistently rationalist as a school-divine.  They were specialists with the specialist’s habit of “never seeing the wood for the trees”; Dr. Whitehead is of Plato’s mind in holding that you will never get clear about the trees unless you grasp the general pattern of the wood.

This explains Dr. Whitehead’s preoccupation with those general preliminaries to the natural sciences which physicists of the school of Kirchhoff and Mach) relegate to the limbo of a lumber-room for the storage of antiquated mental furniture.  Their view was that their business as men of science was simply the discovery of the most manageable set of mathematical formulae which will serve as a “short-band” for registering the recurrences observed in natural processes, and the prediction of future recurrences of the same kind.  Calculation and prediction, not understanding, it was said, is the one ideal of natural knowledge.  Our task is not to understand the course of events—that is impossible—but to describe it.  That the course of events lends itself to full description in the language of mathematics, and the description should enable us to predict, were simply taken for granted its facts about which no question was to be raised.  It was assumed, in fact, as obvious that if we only start with the notions of a uniform unbounded, continuous space and time for things to move about in, and an indefinitely large number of eternally unchanging particles of some sort moving about in them, always in accord with two or three ultimate “laws in motion,” the problem of completely describing, and even of predicting, the most varied natural events can be reduced to that of analyzing the motions of a complex into those of its elementary components. The life of a mammal, even perhaps the intellectual and moral history of man, will have received its complete scientific description when it has been resolved into a complicated dance of millions of particles through space and time.  To admit any factor in either which cannot find a place in this scheme is to falsify the description of the facts by the introduction of unmeaning “metaphysical verbiage.”  The movements of particles are facts, and whatever is not a motion of a particle is not fact.  This is the view of the world of which Dr. Whitehead has said elsewhere that it had just one little defect—that it is flatly incredible.

The reasons why such a view is incredible—so far as they are independent of the discovery of particular facts of which the particular kinematical scheme adopted can give no description—seem to be three. The first and most obvious, that driven home unanswerably thirty years ago by the criticisms of James Ward, is the incurable abstractness of any description permissible under the general scheme, when the procedure of Kant writing the Critique of Pure Reason, or even of a cat playing with a mouse, is reduced to a mere dance of particles, manifestly the most salient features of the fact, the deliberate purpose of Kant, the spontaneous initiative of the cat, are simply left out of the description.  The scheme has not even a place for the most arresting characteristic of the inanimate world, its riot and wealth of sensible quality.  Nothing of all this can appear in a kinematical description.  If fact is adequately described by kinematical equations, all that gives the world of life its main interest for us must be dismissed as “fancy,” unauthorized mental addition to the fact.  (And of the mind which is supposed to make the addition a doctrine which begins by identifying “real fact” with the movements of a particle can, of course, give no account whatever.)  The second source of incredibility, a legacy from the anti-metaphysical philosophy of Hume, is the doctrine called by Dr. Whitehead the “fallacy of simple location.”  This is the principle laid down by Hume in the statements that “all our perceptions are distinct existences,” “our impressions are loose and separate.”  That is, a genuine fact is always an utterly particular bit of happening confined to just this one “locality in space and time, and merely juxtaposed with a multitude of other disconnected bits of happening.  As the popular expositions of the “theory of relativity” have now taught us all, it seems quite impossible to give any unambiguous meaning to such an absolute and unambiguous location and dating of an event.  But the central difficulty of the theory borrowed by nineteenth-century physics from Hume is independent of any particular doctrine of “space-time.”  It is that the very possibility of scientific description presupposes recurrences, partial repetitions, in the course of events, whereas if all events are strictly particular, there can be no recurrence or repetition.  Description is necessarily description by means of “universals,” and if a description can ever be trite, “universals” must somehow be real; but according to the doctrine of “simple location,” a “universal” cannot be anything but a fiction, as Hume very well knew.  The third incredibility, a direct consequence of the second, is that if all events are strictly particular, prediction becomes impossible.  The triumphs of scientific prediction arc an indisputable fact, and according to the very view of science we are considering, intelligent anticipation of the future is the great motive to the construction of the whole mathematical scheme.  But if “all our perceptions are distinct existences,” my present perception can clearly give me no warrant for any inference beyond itself.  Without “induction” the “derivation” of characteristics of the past or the future from observed characteristics of the present, natural science cannot proceed a step, and without a philosophical conception of the nature of an event which rejects the doctrine of “simple location,” induction is no more than haphazard guessing.  Hume himself, being a sceptic, freely admits this. “The mind,” he says, “never perceives any connection between its ideas”; “belief—and he means our belief in the dogmas of science as well as in those of theology—belongs rather to the “sensitive” than to the rational side of our nature.  It is, that is to say, a matter of blind emotional faith.

As Dr. Whitehead has wittily observed, this position satisfied the Royal Science, but disquieted the Church, for the reason that divines are by tradition rationalists, and fellows of the Royal Society are not.  But they certainly ought to have seen that a view of the nature of the scientific problem which implies that science is the same as the foi du charbonnier must be gravely wrong somewhere.

The explanation of the singular fact that so many men of science in the last century should have formally professed a philosophical view according to which science is impossible is, of course, quite simple.  Like other persons who have inherited a credo, they were accustomed to repeat the phrases of their “Belief” without thinking of their meaning. And the reason why they did this was that they were specialists, not accustomed to the long-range “synoptic” view of the philosopher.  They were, in fact, too much interested in the trees to worry about the pattern in the wood.  Their real interest was in the formulation of the mathematical laws by which this or the other type of recurrent natural process could be calculated and predicted.  To the solution of these special problems they brought all the resources of alert and original minds.  The general principles inherited from Hume were only dwelt upon in a more perfunctory way when it was felt desirable to put some outsider, divine or metaphysician, and his claims to a knowledge of his own in his proper place of inferiority as a pretender.  And for that purpose a good sounding anathema esto does not serve any the worse for being repealed without thinking: if it only sounds terrific enough, it matters comparatively little that its meaning will not bear inspection.  Of course, if one is really in earnest with rationalism, and so holds that the “course of nature” really has a coherent pattern, the time is bound to come, as it clearly has come in contemporary physics, when this indifference to philosophical principles cannot be kept up.  It is then that it becomes imperative to look at the wood as well as at the trees; if science itself is not to be dismissed as a nightmare of misguided imaginations, a revision of first principles becomes absolutely necessary.  This is what has happened twice in history in connection with the pure mathematics: once when the penetrating criticisms of Zeno led to the reconstruction of the whole framework of geometrical thought of which the Elements of Euclid are the product, and again in the last century when Weierstrass and others set about purging the calculus of the crazy bad logic of its founders. It is happening now to the physical sciences.  No one, of course, doubts the genuineness and the importance of their results, but the problem is to know precisely what these results amount to; how our scientific knowledge of nature is related to our extra-scientific knowledge of the world of human activities of all kinds.  To offer an answer to this problem is to construct a philosophy of natural science.

It should be clear from what has gone before that any tolerable philosophy of natural science must satisfy three conditions. First, it must recognize the full inevitableness of abstraction in all scientific description and the impossibility of reconstituting the full character of a concrete fact by any mere complication of abstractness.  Next it must contrive to say what a scientific “fact” is in a way which avoids the “fallacy of simple location.”  It must show us how we can think of its unit events, whatever they are, in a way which does not isolate each of them in its prison-cell of space-time volume.  Third, it must conceive of the world-process made up of the facts in a way which does not make prediction of the unobserved on the basis of the observed a miracle or “lucky shot”; it must make “induction” intelligible. These are the conditions Dr. Whitehead is trying to satisfy by his “philosophy of organism.”

In a way the key to the whole position may be said to be in our hands when once we recognize the artificial and schematic character of the “classical” kinematical scheme.  In any actual process we can observe, however small its scale, we always find two characteristics inseparably combined, sameness and novelty.  What was here persists, and yet we see the new, what was not here before, in the act of budding out of it, and it is just this “concretion” of the old with the novel that is the innermost character of all “happening.”  And again, what happens is something strictly individual; there are partial recurrences, but the whole event never repeats itself.  In fact, it is only arbitrarily that we can give the name “whole event” to anything short of the “whole of nature at a moment,” and that the whole of nature is never the same at two different moments is explicitly asserted by the “principle of Carnot” which is steadily revealing itself as the most significant of all physical principles.  Now a philosophy based on mistaking the abstractions of kinematics for actual facts has to sunder the two inseparable characteristics of a real event, the persistence of the old and the emergence of the new.  The persistence of the old is accepted as the fact; the appearance of the new is explained away as an illusion of the percipient mind.  All that is ever “really” novel is held to be the assumption of different positions in a uniform space by particles which remain eternally self-identical.  And it was the dream of the nineteenth-century physicists that we might yet be able to show not only that each of his atoms is always self-identical, but that every one is indistinguishably like every other.  It is true that there was the difficulty that the atoms of different chemical elements appeared to have different characteristic weights.  But it was hoped that this difference might be got over by resolving the atom of each chemical element into a complex of a number of “prime” physical atoms, each the exact replica of every other, in that way individuality and novelty would finally be banished from the “real” world.

It is not for me. who am no physicist, to say anything here of the astonishing results reached by the work of Rutherford and others on the constitution of the atom, and the way in which they seem to dispose filially of the anticipation that real happening will ever be resolved into the mere taking up of fresh positions by indistinguishable bits of stuff.  What I would lay stress on is a point of general philosophical principle.  No doubt, any analysis of the complex process of happening or becoming which we call nature must be given in terms of assumed units, or atoms, but these units, just because what is being analyzed is itself the cosmic “happening,” will he units of happening, not units of stuff; atomic events, or, to use a word of Dr. Whitehead’s, “occasions,” not atomic particles.  And being events, our units will have the distinctive character of events, the complication of the persisting old with the emerging new, within themselves as their own fundamental character.  Process cannot be analyzed into anything which is not itself process, a consideration fatal to all the philosophies which treat time as an illusion.

With this abandonment of the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” goes also the abandonment of the other fallacy of “simple location.”  The unit or “atom” of our cosmology is a unit or atom of process, a “unit event.”  And events do not go on their own way alongside of, but independent of, each other they all form together the one web of the complex event which is nature.  No part of the web is simply indifferent to any other part.  Every event is influenced, positively or negatively, by all the other events of different wheres and different whens.  They form its setting, and it is determined in all sorts of ways by its setting.  This is what Leibniz meant when he said that every one of his monads was a “mirror,” from its own perspective, of the whole universe; what Lotze meant when he said that “things take notice of one another”; what Francis Bacon meant when he said, in a sentence more than once quoted by Dr. Whitehead with approval, that all things, “though they have not sense, have perception. It is what Dr. Whitehead means by saying that each unit “occasion” is a “prehension,” from its own special standpoint, of the whole of nature, that the whole world-process is condensed in, and concerned in, every one of its own details.  And it is important to note that the determination is not merely one way. The future, as well as the past, is present in its own way in the present moment.  This is an immediate consequence of the principle that the units into which we can analyze process are themselves units of process.  The present event is what it is and no other, not merely because it is coming out of the particular old out of which it is coming, but because the particular new which is coming to be out of it is coming to be out of it.  As Leibniz said of his monad, the event is not only laden with the past, but equally pregnant with the future it is in virtue of this principle that “induction”—the divination of characters of the not now present from those of the present—works both ways; it will reconstitute the eclipse of the remote past as well as anticipate that of the distant future.  Induction, in fact, is only possible because no event is simply here and now, and nowhere else, there is a real sense in which every event of any place or time pervades all places and all times.  Or, to speak with Dr. Whitehead, every “occasion” is a prehension of all occasions.

We see at once that a cosmology conceived on these lines brings us back to recognition of both efficient and final causality, whereas the philosophy of the nineteenth-century men of science dismissed the latter as anthropocentric superstition and replaced the former by mere uniform routine of sequence of one ‘‘disconnected” event on another. Efficient causality comes back with the frank admission of the arbitrariness of the  cuts by which we isolate the contents of a region of space and time for our own convenience.  Since every unit event is the budding of the novel out of the familiar and the particular way in which the budding is exhibited is influenced by the whole of the familiar “setting,” either negatively or positively, the “part” really is active in shaping the future; activity could never have been felt to be a paradox but for the prevalence of the “fallacy of simple location.” And final causality, in the Aristotelian sense, comes back with the implication of the future in the present.  The present is the present it is because it is budding into the novel pattern into which it is budding.  The human embryo, for example, develops in the special way in which it does develop, and in no other, precisely because it is going to be a human baby, and in time a human adult, and nothing else.  It would be no tolerable account of the human baby to account for it as Aaron did for his molten image by saying that his materials were Hung together and “there came out this calf.”

And there is a still more important consequence yet to come.  It follows from the same principles we have been considering that, in spite of all the scientific determinists, real contingency has to be recognized as a genuine and omnipresent feature in the cosmic process.  Each of our events really contributes to the making of itself.  This is just because there is a real, not merely an apparent, element of novelty within the event itself.  Since an event is the novel “budding out” of the familiar, no event is just the old and familiar over again, and nothing more.  It is made what it is not simply by taking it up into the particular novelty into which it does lake it up.  No event is simply determined, or made what it is, wholly from without, because every event has something unique in it.  If only becomes fully determined by its own occurrence, that is, by its actual contribution of novelty to the pattern of the world.  This is what Dr. Whitehead means when he speaks of every event as making a “decision,” or says that an “occasion” is “undetermined from without and determined from within.”  The most important application of the conception is, of course, to the case of our responsible moral “decisions.”  The paradox of “determinism”—a paradox felt and resented by the ordinary “sensible man,” though he commonly cannot put his finger on its root—is just that it insists on maintaining that our line of action is already “determined” while we are still “undecided how to act.”  An historically minded philosophy like Dr. Whitehead’s, which rightly insists that the units into which we can subdivide process must be themselves process, must dismiss the paradox as a mere sophism.  It is true, according to such a philosophy, of everything in the universe, and not of intelligent moral agents only, that the thing decides for itself, in the last resort, how it will “prehend” the universe, much as Professor Eddington has said, veiling truth under the language of jest, that the earth “goes where it likes.”  The difference between the intelligent moral agent and the unintelligent thing is that the moral agent knows that he is making “decisions,” the irresponsible thing makes them without knowing what it is doing.  Or, as Leibniz said, moral freedom is “spontaneity with intelligence.”

We can see now why Dr. Whitehead should have given the name “philosophy of organism’’ to his mode of interpreting the natural world.  Living organisms, as known to the biologist, are the most striking illustrations—except living human minds, that is—of all the principles of which we have been speaking.  The life of an organism is itself throughout a perpetual devenir, a production of novelty, a making of new responses to the varying situations to which the organism is exposed.  The element of spontaneity and initiative to the response has always been noted by the physiological psychologist as the characteristic distinction between the reaction of the lifeless upon its surroundings and the response of the living to stimulus.  Final causality, again, as we have already observed, is as difficult to expel from the facts of organic life as it is hard to recognize in the inorganic world.  (In fact, its prominence in the Aristotelian philosophy is pretty clearly due to the circumstance that Aristotle was himself a biologist and came to philosophy from biology.)  And there is no better illustration of what Dr. Whitehead means by the “decision” exercised by an “occasion,” and its “prehension” of the universe into novelty, than the typical relation of every organism to its “environment.”  It feeds on the environment; that is, it takes up constituents of it and actually transforms them into constituents of its own substance; it converts them into living tissue.  Of course one could illustrate all these points even better from the reactions between a human mind and its “social milieu,” but the facts of organic life have the advantage of being more easily accessible to precise scrutiny and description, and less readily distorted by the personal bias of an observer.  Biology has thus, thanks to the patient labours of Darwin and his contemporaries, put ready to our hands the very notions we need to work with, if we are to produce an interpretation of the natural world which a philosopher—that is, a man who is seriously determined to think consistently—will not be driven to pronounce incredible.  The task of the philosopher of nature is to detect in the inorganic world the main features of the pattern already manifest in the organic.

A final and most momentous step towards formulating these principles still remains to be taken. All process is a “concretion” of the already produced into novelty, and the novelty is really novel.  This means, of course, that Aristotle’s great formula that becoming or process is the actualization of potentialities is exactly true, and therefore that the real and the actual are not to be identified.  Beyond the actual there is always a range of real possibilities which are in course of conversion into actuality.  The schoolboy of to-day will be the adult citizen of ten years hence.  But it would not be the full truth of the matter to say only that there is a schoolboy now and there will be a grown man ten years hence.  We have not stated the whole truth unless we add that the schoolboy is now “becoming” the man he will be.  Unless we insist on that, the very fact of “becoming” slips through our fingers in the attempt to describe it, just as motion does if we imagine that it means only being first at one place and then at another.

Now a real possibility, while it remains a possibility, differs at once from an impossibility, which never is nor can be actualized, and from the already actualized.  That Julius Caesar should turn away from the Rubicon when he reached it was no impossibility, yet the possibility was never, and never will be actualized.

What is actualized in the course of history is a selection from a wider system of real possibilities.  And this means the dependence of history on a twofold “decision,” the “decision” which makes the difference between the possible and the impossible, and the “decision” in virtue of which one possibility is actualized to the exclusion of its contrary.  Clearly, it is only the second of these “decisions” in which the “actual occasion,” the event which is coming to be, is playing a part.  Events are not themselves the creators of the scheme of relevant possibilities under which they emerge into actuality.  It is for Caesar to “decide” whether he will cross the Rubicon or will not, but the relevancy of just this particular alternative to the “decision” Caesar has to make is a condition of the decision.  Real possibilities, in fact, are an organized and articulated system of “eternal objects.”  Every “event” is the embodiment in the historical process of a selection from these “objects,” which are, in fact, the Platonic ιδεαι.  It is just because they are an articulated system that the whole body of real possibilities is involved, in varying degrees of “relevancy,” in each of the “decisions” which constitute actual historical events.  If an event were merely a particular “occurrence,” Hume would be right: there would then be no “connection” between events but only spatial and temporal juxtaposition, and the induction which is the foundation of science would be, as Hume thought it was, the mere expression of a logically unjustifiable expectation.  Science would be no more than the record of the baseless anticipations of mankind, and its success would be a standing “miracle.”  Hume is in fact wrong, and events are not merely juxtaposed but connected in virtue of the systematic interconnection of the “universals,” “Platonic ideas, or “real possibilities” which are “situated” in them. (To take a pair of elementary examples: the members of my body are not merely contiguous with one another, they are connected by the aesthetic pattern of the human “type” which pervades them; the successive sentences and clauses of the paragraph I am now writing are not merely a sequence of printed symbols, but are, or ought to be, connected by constituting the expression of a logically articulated thought.)

But if real possibilities thus form a system with a definite structure—and if they do not, the possible is no longer distinguishable from the impossible, both reducing alike to the unactualized—we have further to recognize the great principle that definite possibility itself is founded on an antecedent actuality.  As Aristotle said, “the potential is only actualized by the agency of the already actual.”  Or, to express the same thought in the language of Lotze, the one eminent philosopher whose name, oddly enough, I seem never to have seen mentioned in Dr. Whitehead’s writings, it is only because there is an ultimate actual reality which has the character it has, that the course of history at any moment presents us with just such and such real possibilities.  Behind the whole of what may be and what may not be, there must be, as the source of the distinction, that which does not happen, but eternally and once for all is.  The source of the open possibilities without which there would be no becoming must be the eternal “decision” of God. Dr. Whitehead is, in fact, “doing right,” I do not know whether consciously or not, to two great philosophic positions.  He is reasserting the doctrine of Augustine and Christianized Platonism in general, that the “archetypal ideas” of creation are eternally contained in the “Word” which was in the beginning with God, and is God. He is also vindicating against the more skeptical Kant of the Critique of Pure Reason the earlier and more Leibnizian Kant who had made the necessity for the distinction between real possibility and impossibility the foundation of the “only possible proof of the existence of God.”

If Dr. Whitehead’s line of argument is sound, as I confess it seems to me that it is, the conception of God as the ultimate source of the historical world of becoming thus comes back into cosmology, not as a permitted hypothetical interpretation of the facts which reason can do nothing either to substantiate or to discredit, but as the absolutely necessary foundation for the very distinction between fact and unfact.  And we see also why appeal to any one particular class of natural facts is a dangerous basis for a theistic argument, and why it is true that it is irrelevant and improper to fall back on God as the explanation of any special natural fact.  The reason is that the eternal “decision” of God lies behind every fact.  If, per impossibile, there could be any single tact which does not involve this “decision,” there is no reason why it should be involved by any other fact.  The cosmologist does not, for example, need to bring in God to set the solar system moving by giving it an initial push or spin; where he does find the conception of God indispensable is when he asks himself why there should be anything at all, and not just nothing.

I am far from sure how far Dr. Whitehead’s account of God, as it stands, will satisfy the theological reader.  For one thing, the nature of the argument in Process and Reality involves concentration on the special question of the significance of the thought of God as a cosmological principle of explanation.  But God, to the Christian, and to the theist generally, is something much more than a principle of explanation; God is also the wholly adorable, the aim and goal of all endeavour, the Omega of creation as well as its Alpha, and no one knows this better than Dr. Whitehead himself, as one can see from his essay on The Making of Religion, as well as from the incidental passages in Process and Reality itself where God is dwelt on as the spring of spiritual “refreshment.”  An account of what we mean by God which is unexceptional, so long as we are concerned merely with the question what God must be to be the source of all possibilities and all facts, may prove quite inadequate when we go on to consider what God must be to be the inspiration and sustainer of the “life hid with Christ in God.”  And I do now feel sure that incidentally Dr. Whitehead has not committed himself to some positions in his utterances about God which need serious reconsideration in view of the fact that God is as much the King of Saints as the “Source of all being, throned afar.”  I feel this particularly in connection with two features of his treatment, the series of theses enunciated at the end of the volume (p. 492) in which the world is declared to be necessary to God, to transcend God, and to be in some sense creative of God, and the distinction made from the start between creativity and God, who is declared Himself to be a “creature,” though an eternal creature and the “primordial” concretion of creativity. I cannot help thinking that I trace here uncriticizcd prepossessions, due to the influence of Spinoza in the one case and Bergson in the other, which would not stand close examination.  In fact, I feel for my own part that both influences, especially that of Bergson, are leading Dr. Whitehead into unconscious tampering with his own sound principle that all possibility is founded on actuality.  In particular, the attempt to get back somehow behind the concreteness of God to an élan vital of which the concreteness is to be a product really amounts to a surrender of the principle itself.  I honestly think Dr. Whitehead is here himself falling a victim at the outset to the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness.” And I think the influence of Spinoza intellectually always a dangerous one for a metaphysician.  A natural admiration for Spinoza’s character seems to be regularly to blind most students to the hopeless incoherence of his thinking.  “Incoherence,” Dr. Whitehead himself says, who goes on to point his criticism against Descartes, “is the arbitrary disconnection of first principles.”  Now I should be tempted to say that the most glaring example of this disconnection in modern philosophy, and one which brings incoherence into every discussion of its affects, is Spinoza’s intercalation of his “attributes” between “substance” and its “modes,” though this very doctrine of the “parallel” attributes is the special Spinozistic thesis which has left the deepest mark on Dr. Whitehead’s own exposition of the facts of the natural world.  I seriously believe that Dr. Whitehead’s work would be even better than it is if it were influenced a little more by St. Thomas and little less by Spinoza.

Posted May 25, 2011

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