According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Friday, October 6, 2017

Robert B. Mellert - What Is Process Theology: Chapters 9 & 10

What Is Process Theology?

Dr. Mellert is an assistant professor in the department of theological studies at the University of Dayton.

Published by Paulist Press, New York, Paramus, Toronto, 1975. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


(ENTIRE BOOK) Dr. Meller writes about Whiteheadian thought, without the jargon and technical intricacies, so that the lay person might have better understanding of the thinking of the founder of process philosophy.


Few libraries had any books on Whiteheadian thought in 1947 when he died. Today libraries of all sorts have shelves laden with books trying to explain, interpret and apply his thinking, but these authors are inclined to talk to each other. The author attempts to make process thought understandable to the rest of us.

The core of process thought: Rather than a “substance theology” based on static, spatial models, process thought “switches gears” to a concern with spatial-temporal models such as change in God, Christ becoming divine and the on-going process of revelation.

Some basic Whiteheadian concepts: becoming, actual occasions, eternal objects, prehensions.

The author contrasts Whitehead’s thought with traditional religions which start with proof of God. Whitehead inverts the process, starting with the experience of religion and grasping the truth that there is more at issue in the world than the world itself.

God is constantly changing as he includes more and more reality in his consequent nature. What we do on earth makes a difference in the very reality of God.

Dr. Mellert discusses the relations both of God to the world and the world to God.

Process thought is being compatible with the presumptions of Christian faith and is friendly with Christian ideas regarding body and soul.

Jesus is unique because in his humanity he presents a more perfect model of ideal humanity than has ever existed, or will ever exist. He is divine because of the realization of that divinity within him.

The Church is a process whereby individuals come to believe in Jesus and add the weight of their belief to the furtherance of the process that is the Church. The Church is not a stable, immutable institution that has existed since the time of Jesus.

In the process perspective, each sacramental action is both created by the community and creative of the community. Concrete experiences of the past contribute positively to the present and are immanently incorporated in what the present is becoming.

The new and the old morality are both inadequate. Process thought can make important contributions to the old and new because it is both metaphysical and flexible.

Process theology as a provider of a solid philosophical framework for a great diversity of human experience and belief. It therefore is helpful in synthesizing the diversity of interpretations of immortality.

The notion of relativity that process theology employs is discussed. All reality is inter-related in space and time, and no single real entity has a prior absoluteness that stands outside the process of reality as a whole.

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Chapter 9: Sacraments

While medieval theologians were wont to stress that man is a rational animal, contemporary theologians would probably prefer to say that man is a psychological animal. During this century we have become increasingly aware of the psychological dimension of man, and how his rationality is influenced and perhaps even conditioned by the world that surrounds him. Because he is psychological as well as logical, man is often persuaded by reasons that are not purely rational. He needs arguments that appeal to the heart as well as to the head. Emotions and feelings must be included in his theology as well as reasons and distinctions.

Although the full complexity of this aspect of man is only now being explored systematically, the basic truth about man’s psychological make-up has been a part of his religious intuition for centuries. There is much primitive psychology in religion, and Christianity’s sacramental system is a good example. It is hard to imagine how faith in Jesus could have lasted through the centuries without something more tangible than the New Testament and the abstract formulae of creeds and councils. In intuiting man’s psychological needs and providing its followers with something concrete in the administration of the sacraments, Christianity showed true genius. Despite alterations in form and number, its sacraments have endured as manifestations of the continuing faith of Christians in every age and place of Christendom.

Sacraments are ways of getting in touch with the Jesus-event. They recall concretely and symbolically the faith Jesus inspired in his followers, and they become themselves occasions of gathering the faithful for new, creative expressions of their belief. One might say that they serve to mediate the past to the present. By “celebrating” the Jesus-event for each succeeding age of Christians, they have enabled Christianity to maintain its effectiveness.

Sacraments have been described in different ways in Christian theology. Probably the most familiar description is that of St. Thomas, who borrows St. Augustine’s idea that sacraments are outward signs instituted by Christ causing inward grace. In Thomistic theology sacraments are primarily signs, but they are not ordinary signs, because they also cause what they signify. What they cause is grace, and this takes place both because the sacrament is properly performed (ex opere operato) and because the recipient is of good disposition (ex opere operands).1 A sacrament is properly performed when one uses the correct matter (material symbols) and the correct form (formal symbols, i.e., language). The recipient is of good disposition when he approaches the sacrament in the spirit of faith, intending to benefit from its graces.

Implied in the Thomistic approach is that a distinct divine intervention takes place every time the sacramental rite is performed. Given the divine institution of the sacraments by Jesus and given the necessity of an individual divine intervention, exact adherence to the prescribed formula of administration became the guarantee that a sacrament was efficacious. This led to an excessive preoccupation with rubrical precision. The validity of a sacrament was judged only according to its fidelity to the prescribed rubrics and in no way according to the intensity it inspired in its recipients. The result was a certain quasi-magic. As long as the prescriptions were fulfilled, grace automatically resulted, and the faithful were automatically enriched. The “filling-station” approach to sacraments became the common attitude: one came to the sacraments periodically to “fill up” again on grace.

It would be unfair to Thomism to claim that it is responsible for the unsophisticated application of its theology described above. Nevertheless, a return to the Thomistic system is probably not the best solution because its language, its concepts, and even its presuppositions sound very strange to contemporary ears. An explanation of sacraments more in tune with the psychological dimension of man would better suit our present mentality, and this is certainly not one of the strengths of Thomistic theology.

In contrast, process theology provides an interesting alternative, because it can speak in terms of sign and cause while also being sensitive to the importance of human feelings and the psychological dimension of man. In the process perspective, each sacramental action is both created by the community and creative of the community. As created by the community it presumes the prior faith of Christians and their desire to renew that faith. This is the function of the sacrament ex opere operands: without the prior disposition of the believing community there can be no sacramental effect. As creative of the community, the sacrament leaves its influence on the faith of the believers and the process of the Church, whether it is performed well or poorly. This is its function ex opere operato; by the very performance of the sacrament the Church comes to grace (or dis-grace).

Sacraments can be described in Whiteheadian language as positive prehensions of the Jesus-event. Prehensions, as we have seen, are concrete “feelings” or “experiencings” of the past. Via prehensions the past contributes itself positively to the present and is immanently incorporated in what the present is becoming. As prehensions, then, sacraments not only remember Jesus and the faith of his followers. They also represent them concretely to the present. Technically, this is called “causal efficacy” in Whitehead’s philosophy. Applied to sacraments, it means that the Jesus-event is causally efficacious during those occasions when the sacraments are administered in his name.

By the same token, the occasions of sacramental encounter are efficacious in the lives of its participants. We have already noted how sacraments are occasions of gathering the faithful, as well as occasions of representing the Jesus-event. To the degree that the sacraments are performed well, i.e., they appealingly represent the Jesus-event to the faithful, they leave their positive impact upon those who have gathered. This is the sacrament’s causal efficacy upon the Church and the way in which the presence of Jesus is dynamically continued. Taken together, this twofold causal efficacy demonstrates how process theology, like Thomistic theology, can affirm that sacraments cause what they signify.

Sacraments are signs as well as causes. They are signs because they are a common ground between the past and the present and because they provide a correlation between them. When we perceive something, we perceive it both as the result of its historical continuity and in its present immediacy. If the latter is in fitting correlation with the historical continuity, we readily interpret a meaning to it. Sacraments are signs because they bring together certain important moments of history and a certain contemporaneous event, and present a definite correlation between them. That is, they suggest the continuity between the Jesus-event and the occasions of sacramental action. In a sacrament, therefore, we perceive both an action and a reference, and we interpret a meaning from them.

The sacramental action need not be a literal replay of particular episodes in the life of Jesus. Indeed, such a literal repetition would be unfaithful to the present moment. An exact translation of an event from one culture to another always betrays the true nature of the event. La traduction, c’est la trahaison! Nevertheless, there must be enough common ground, in the form of common eternal objects and perceivable continuity, so that the correlation can be readily grasped.

The construction of sacramental ritual, therefore, is achieved through a delicate balance between reiteration and creativity. If the sign is to be efficacious in representing the historical Jesus-event, it must reiterate. If it is to be efficacious of itself in intensifying the event it signifies in the lives of those gathered about, it must also be creative. Good liturgy thus depends upon both fidelity to tradition and sensitivity to the needs of those gathered to participate.

Fidelity to tradition is the concern of the entire Church. Since sacraments are the way in which the presence of Jesus is maintained in the Church as a whole, the Church’s future is dependent upon the way they are performed. If the Church is a process and sacraments are creative of that process, then the people of God have a vital concern in preserving their identifying characteristic through the administration of the sacraments. This is why a certain sameness is essential in liturgy, at least to the extent that liturgy celebrates in some way the importance of Jesus in the contemporary context. The survival dynamic of the Church depends upon this minimal fidelity to its tradition.

At the same time sensitivity to the needs of the faithful demands that liturgical celebrations be creative and meaningful. The events to be re-presented must have a purpose beyond the performance of the sacrament itself. The increasing use of themes in Masses and the construction of liturgies for particular community events are recent attempts to elicit more of the intensity dynamic in the Church. Ideally, such themes and liturgies should arise out of the needs and concerns of those gathered to perform the sacraments, since intensity can have its effect only to the extent that it touches them. This, of course, means that well-performed liturgy is well-prepared liturgy. Finding both the right medium and the right message for a particular group is a time-consuming undertaking. Abandonment of the “fillingstation” spirituality, however, makes such efforts imperative.

In the practice of most Christian churches, and especially in Roman Catholicism, there has been a certain reluctance to admit emotion into liturgical celebrations. Expressions of feeling seemed out of place in man’s dealings with God, because they were part of his lower nature and thus inferior to his intellect and will. The sterile liturgies that often resulted from this attitude seem to support the opinion of most modern psychologists that man cannot be so arbitrarily divided. The man who celebrates liturgy must celebrate it with his whole self, or he restricts the efficacy of the liturgy in his own life.

Process theology has an important corrective to suggest here. The way in which man gets in touch with the past is through his prehensions of the past. Now prehensions are fundamentally “feelings” or “experiencings” that re-create the past in one’s present moment of existence. Feelings of this fundamental kind are, therefore, a necessary condition for fidelity to one’s tradition. To abstract from the prehension or feeling of the past only its intellectual component is to strip the tradition of its very reality. We have a feel for tradition because feelings do come to us from tradition. Sacraments, which put us in touch with tradition, are the means whereby we recapture its fullness and allow it to fill us with new life.

Sacraments are privileged moments in the Church because they establish a privileged relation to Jesus. They are important moments to the believer because they collapse the time between him and the origins of his faith in order that that faith can be re-created in the new occasion in which the sacrament is performed. That is why it is imperative that sacraments be adequate signs and full expressions of what they represent.

The sense of the term “sacrament” as we have been using it here obviously can extend beyond the range of the seven official sacraments of Roman Catholicism. Any occasion that gathers two or more together to re-present and re-create the Jesus event and to renew the faith of those gathered is, in the wide sense, sacramental. A sermon, some moments of common prayer, or even a simple conversation that inspires can be sacramental in this sense. Liturgical worship is, of course, especially designed to be sacramental. The primordial sacrament for us is the Eucharist, because it is the most frequently used and most effective means of re-presenting the Jesus-event in a meaningful way. In the last few paragraphs of this chapter we shall attempt to explain the Eucharist, and the sacrament of baptism by which it is preceded, according to the spirit of process theology.

Thomistic philosophy defined the Eucharist in terms of the substances of bread and wine. At the moment when the words of consecration were correctly completed, the substances of bread and wine were “transubstantiated” into the body and blood of Jesus. The problem with this explanation in our age is that it is difficult to reconcile with our scientific sophistication. Upon scientific analysis, the so-called substance of bread is merely a mixture of carbohydrates, proteins and other elements, none of which can be properly called bread. Wine is just as much of a problem to identify substantially. If there is no substance of bread or wine, how can that substance change into the body and blood of Jesus?

Some contemporary theologians, using insights of existential philosophy and phenomenology, have suggested that the underlying reality of bread and wine is not substance, but meaning. Bread is bread because man has agreed to call a certain combination of baked elements “bread.” When the words of consecration are repeated, this combination of baked elements is re-moved from the level of ordinary bread and assigned a new meaning in faith, according to the promise made by Jesus at the institution of the sacrament. This explanation of the Eucharist has been called “transignification” or “transfinalization.”

In process philosophy there is no underlying reality of bread and wine that can be transubstantiated or transfinalized. The only realities are actual occasions, which are temporal as well as spatial. The best description of the Eucharist, then, is in terms of an event. What is transformed is not the substance or meaning of bread and wine, but the action that is performed. Jesus is made present again, or re-presented, by a sacramental event that corresponds to the Jesus-event. Except for the sacramental action there can be no Eucharist. Corresponding to the common expressions of the early Christians, the Eucharist is the “breaking of the bread” and the “sharing of the cup,” not simply the bread and wine by themselves. It is the re-presentation of the Last Supper event in the new event of the Mass. The community, in causing the actions of the Mass to become sacramental, is itself transformed by that sacramental action to live at a new intensity and to continue the process of the Church.

Baptism is the event whereby a new member is incorporated into the community of faith. That is why the new liturgy of baptism in the Roman Catholic rite insists upon the presence of a representative group of the community. The person is becoming a member of the community, and a new relation is being established. The sacramental effect of the baptism event is therefore important both to the person and to the community. The community assures the person of its support in faith, and the person pledges his support in faith to the other members of the community. Jesus’ own action of incorporating new members into the first Christian community is thus re-presented in the rite of baptism. The sign of the sacrament causes what it signifies. Through it the process of the Church continues to create and be created.

A description of the other sacraments would follow the same pattern, to a greater or lesser degree. A number of other liturgical or para-liturgical actions could also be explained in a similar manner. The number of sacraments has not been constant in the history of the Church, and there is no reason to believe that even the seven so defined as sacraments are to be considered as equally important. A clue in this regard comes from our Protestant brothers in Jesus. For most Protestants, baptism and the Eucharist have been retained, even while the other sacraments have been abandoned or restructured. The fact that in many segments of Roman Catholicism this same phenomenon is occurring suggests that perhaps there is something more fundamental and important in these two sacramental events than in the others. But on this subject process theology has nothing unique to contribute. It is content to observe the new developments in order to understand better the shape that the process we call the Church is taking in our time.


1. Although this distinction, to the best of my knowledge, does not appear as such in the writings of St. Thomas, it is suggested by a similar distinction in the Summa Theologica, III, 62, 1 and 4. Nevertheless, it has been popularized in this form in the commonly used high school religion texts during the past generation. Thus it has become the accepted Thomistic teaching on the Subject for most American Catholics.

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Chapter 10: Morality

The new morality has been around for quite a while now, but it still manages to generate plenty of heated discussion, especially when the participants are parents and their adolescent children. No changes in our society have caused more fear and anxiety to the older generation than the numerous challenges to traditional moral standards. Contrary to what they had formerly been taught, moral standards do seem to change, and in fact have changed radically in one generation. Or, in the interests of precision, we might say that what has changed is the understanding of morality. While it is evidently not true to say that young people are less moral than their parents, it is quite true to say that what they understand morality to include or exclude is often very different.

The so-called new morality is quite simple in the minds of most young people. They hold two fundamental principles: (1) nothing can be decided unless you are in a concrete situation, and (2) it’s O.K. as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody. By this standard Vietnam was wrong because it was a concrete situation where people were being hurt and killed, and no abstract strategies of American foreign policy could justify it. Likewise, extra-marital sex cannot be condemned in itself; when both parties agree, there is no wrong because it is a pleasure that does not hurt anybody. In such a perspective the just-war theory of Augustine and the sexual restrictions of the Roman Catholic Church are equally unpersuasive, and, indeed, are themselves immoral!

In contrast, we generally hear the older generation arguing in the traditional way. Morality comes ultimately from God, according to his eternal law. When that law is revealed to us, or when it has been deduced by reason, we are constrained to obey its prescriptions. To live morally, one is not so much concerned with the situation as with the law. The situation is important only insofar as it enables one to know which law is applicable. The task of teaching us the law and helping us to apply it is the function of the state and the Church, and one can expect his reward or punishment in this life or in eternity, according to his obedience to civil and divine law respectively.

While these two descriptions may be oversimplified, they are detailed enough to illustrate the major strengths and weaknesses of each approach to morality. The new morality is more flexible and less confining. It permits one to reach reasonable decisions even where the law indicates otherwise. Responsibility rests upon the person who makes the decision; he cannot blame the law or the authorities for making him do what he did.

There are also weaknesses in the new morality. If no decision is valid outside of the concrete situation, what is it about the concreteness of the situation that suddenly enables one to choose wisely? It is precisely in moments of crisis where a decision is demanded that one often is unable to mobilize his powers of reflection to make a prudent choice. What his personal values are prior to the crisis and what previous reflection he can draw upon are always important determinative components in any decision. But if we admit the importance of pre-determined personal values in making a critical decision, does not this imply that one has some aim or purpose that gives meaning to those values and that directs his moral behavior? For what makes something a value is that it is seen to have more worth than something else, which is judged to have a lesser value, according to the overall aim or purpose one has chosen to pursue. So “leaving it up to the concrete situation” really doesn’t suffice. Some guidelines are necessary for dealing with the situation, and these guidelines are precisely the abstract values, ideals, aims and purposes that are not, and can never be situational. Some kind of ethical standard will be at work in deciding how to handle a particular situation. To refuse to reflect seriously about that ethical standard until one finds himself in the concrete situation does not lead to purity of decision; it merely means that impulse will have a greater share than reason in the final outcome.

The other problem with the new morality is the principle that one must not hurt anybody. It sounds innocent enough, but as ethical principle it is too minimal to be of much use. For one thing, it is stated negatively and doesn’t suggest any positive aims or directions one ought to strive for. Secondly, “anybody” presumably means “any human being.” But an ethic that is limited to human beings is going to be somewhat inadequate in this age of ecological crisis. There has to be a way of judging the hurt we inflict on other things. This is a difficult problem, because we must continue to eat, to build homes, and to warm our bodies. Since every action ultimately affects and often hurts something, we cannot extend this principle to say, “as long as it doesn’t hurt anything.“ Some more sophisticated way of determining what kinds of hurts are tolerable, and what kinds are not tolerable must be found. Some of the hurts will be to man, at least in the form of fewer conveniences or luxuries. But we have passed the age where humanism can be the sole ethical criterion. We are too intertwined with nature as a whole, and too dependent upon it. New ethical theories must be sensitive to that fact.

On the other hand, the old morality is just as defective, and perhaps even more so. Its weaknesses have been so frequently subjected to the scrutiny of the new moralists that it will not be necessary to repeat them here, except in summary form. The new moralists argue that the old morality is too rigid and inflexible. It tends to enslave man to the law, rather than liberate him to act creatively in society. In the name of stability it often causes stagnation and immobility. Because it is centered on law, it has become the refuge of traditionalists seeking to preserve the status quo. Observance of the law is the final justification for conformity. As Whitehead once put it, “The defense of morals is the battle-cry which best rallies stupidity against change.”1

However, the old morality cannot be discarded out of hand. Any system that has served for so many centuries must have something to say for itself. ‘What it teaches is that we cannot get along without some ethical guidelines. Perhaps, in a quickly changing world where law always loiters behind the moral conscience of people, it is no longer right to judge the morality of actions exclusively according to the prescriptions of the law. But if the moral laws of the past can be understood in a new way, not as prescriptions to be followed but as values that the wisdom of history provides, then perhaps the old moralists can still teach the new moralists some important things.

The point of convergence between traditional morality and situational morality is in their attempts to articulate a set of values that can offer guidance in the task of building the future. Laws, when interpreted as principles or guidelines, can warn us about what we ought to avoid. The concrete situation can focus upon the immediate facts. But something more is needed. Our projections of the future demand some assessment regarding what kinds of things — given the new possibilities for science and technology — we really want to promote for the ages ahead. A philosophy of values, enriched by a dialogue among diverse ethical theorists, is thus indispensable for any ethics in the twentieth century. Process thought, because it is both metaphysical and flexible, can make an important contribution to this discussion.

“Value,” says Whitehead, “is the outcome of limitation.”2 Limitation is the result of the selection by which an actual occasion is ultimately shaped. Only as a result of how it prehends its relevant past and gives it new focus does a new concrete occasion come into existence. Value is the intrinsic reality of the occasion, insofar as its own synthesis is unique and will have an impact upon further process.

Value, therefore, is always concrete and never realized except in individual actual occasions. It is the consequence of the particularity that emerges and then contributes itself as new data to the world. We can, of course, abstract from concrete values to speak of value systems and value hierarchies. These are simply ways in which the human mind operates to understand and coordinate what is happening in reality and to decide what is truly important.

Morality is “the control of process so as to maximize importance.”3 “Importance” is another technical word in the Whiteheadian vocabulary. Briefly, it occurs when the intensity of feeling leads to publicity of expression.4 In the context of morality, it means that there must be a constant transcending of the present moment toward public novelty and interest. It is the greatness of experience that goes beyond itself. Occasions that contribute greatness of experience to the on-going process of the universe achieve greatness of value. That is, each occasion should aim at new and interesting possibilities, unique harmonies and contrasts. An occasion’s contribution to the future consists in how it makes new data available. The future is the final judge of whether it achieved success. In the words of Whitehead, “The effect of the present on the future is the business of morals.”5

There is no question that the major impetus of Whitehead’s ideas on morality are future-oriented. A less obvious but equally important dimension to his ethical thinking arises from the inter-relational character of reality. Morality is inseparably linked with our position in the whole. It is never a private affair, done in isolation from the rest of reality. Every moral decision has some impact on the whole and bears the weight of that responsibility. Therefore, the general good and the individual good can never be in conflict, because both share a common world and a common future. Individual interests must always be harmonized with the more general interests. This is a significant implication to his statement that morality consists in maximizing importance. Importance is always determined by the individual occasion’s impact upon the future taken as a whole. For in the literal sense, an occasion has no future except insofar as it is integrated into wider perspectives and newer horizons.

Where process thought goes beyond the humanistic ethics that have been so popular in our time is in its concern not only for the unity of mankind, but for the integration of all reality. There is an essential inter-relatedness about all of nature that transcends the needs of the human species, and there can be no separation of the latter from the former at any step of ethical deliberation. The concern of morality is reality, not merely man. For man is not his own end. He dies, and his civilizations die. Were man the ultimate purpose of the universe, creation would have to be judged woefully inefficient. Clearly, something more is at stake, even in this age of environmental pollution, than the survival of man. In the final analysis, the survival of the universe is a value of greater importance, because from it the processes at work in reality can continue to create a history.

In light of this ethical perspective, what can we abstract from the concrete values we are given in each emerging occasion of reality? Can we suggest some abstract values and aims that are truly worthy of human efforts?

Whitehead suggests that the aims of a civilized society are a “fineness of feeling” and a “generality of understanding.”6 We might note that these aims are intrinsic to the process and do not define values apart from the process itself. Both are expressions of what process, as process, is about. The first aim of morality, then, is the continuance of process in its maximal effect. This occurs at the level both of individuality and of society. Each individual occasion contributes its fineness of feeling, and the whole achieves a generality of understanding. For process thought, the individual and the totality are equally of value. Therefore, morality is compromised when there is the totalitarianism of the whole over the parts or when there is the anarchy of the parts with respect to the whole. Morality never chooses between the welfare of the particular or of the communal. It must always strive toward their integration in a way that values both the uniqueness of individuality and the harmony of generality.

While the first business of morals is to safeguard experience and to continue the process, Whitehead does make some suggestions about the qualities that ought to be furthered by process, and here we see especially the Platonic character of his thought. In his book Adventures of Ideas he lists five eternal objects: truth, beauty, adventure, art and peace. Curiously, good and right are not included in his list. The main reason is simply that these terms are so overworked that their meanings have become quite imprecise. Instead he chooses these five as qualities which do have meaning, and which are sufficiently clear and comprehensive so as to include in a general way what man actually finds valuable in process.

Whitehead defines truth much like Thomas Aquinas. It is the conformation of appearance to reality.7 A truth relation is constituted when the content of two connected facts participate in the same general pattern. There can be many kinds of truth relations, thus justifying the use of the term both for art and mathematics, as well as for concrete impressions and abstract speculations. Sense perception is the primary way of attaining truth, because from it appearances are usually derived clearly and distinctly, despite occasional failures or interferences. Thus the things we perceive provide steady values, and these are incorporated into the subjective form of the prehending occasion and become part of the data out of which new occasions emerge.

Beauty goes beyond truth in the spontaneous adaptations of some of the factors prehended by an occasion of experience. The adaptations arise in pursuit of a certain aim, in which intensity of feeling and conformity to a common pattern combine for the attainment of harmony. That is, there is the perfection of the subjective form arising out of the variety of prehensions in such a way that the component feelings do not inhibit each other from achieving their ideal inter-relation. Beauty is thus wider and more fundamental than truth, because it deals not only with the conformation of appearance to reality, but also with the perfection of the subjective forms that are shaped by their interrelation.

Art is the purposeful adaptation of appearance to reality. The achievement of art thus depends upon the perfection of man, as he has been shaped by beauty. But perfection is not a static concept. Like civilization itself, it must always promote novelty and originality. When these cease to be important, civilization dies. Thus, Whitehead includes adventure as a necessary quality, lest inspiration yield to mere repetition. Finally, peace, the harmony of harmonies, is a call to go beyond limitations and beyond the self, without denying the self. Peace thus seeks to achieve the integration of order and love. It is the positive quality that crowns the “life and motion” of the soul.8

The final question we must ask is whether there is in the universe any general drive toward the realization and perfection of these five qualities. Is there a greater and more perfect conformity of appearance and reality revealed in the movement of history? In other words, is a constant progress inherent in the nature of process? For process thinkers of a Whiteheadian bent, the answer to these questions is less optimistic than it is for the disciples of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Process is a metaphysical principle of reality, but there is no corresponding principle of progress. Thus, there is no guarantee of improvement in history.

Whiteheadians generally eschew the claim of inherent progress. First, it would be difficult to establish absolute norms of progress, and norms that might seem sufficient for the best self-interests of man may not necessarily serve the best interests of reality as a whole. To absolutize human norms simply because they are human seems rather presumptuous in the wider perspective of things. Another reason is that our experience does not indicate that even on the human level process has resulted in progress. By human standards, scientific and technological advances can probably be called progress, and yet there do not seem to be any similar advances in moral living. Man is just as likely to occasion discord as harmony, selfishness as love.

What our experience tells us is that change is not necessarily improvement, and that in the moral order every new possibility for good is simultaneously a possibility for evil. The size of good and evil grow apace. Scientists and technologists have enabled us to understand the finitude of our world and our essential interdependence with the forces that constitute it. But they have not — and cannot — provide us with the resolve to integrate ourselves into it. This is the domain of morals. It is today a frightening domain because of our knowledge. In our individual occasions of experience we are collectively deciding the very fate of process on this planet, and the size of this moral predicament is truly overwhelming. It is perhaps so overwhelming that it is beyond the scope of any one of us to comprehend.

That is why the new morality and the old morality, taken individually or together, are inadequate. More is at stake than can be answered by a situational analysis and an appeal to past wisdom. What is also needed is a vision of the future as an integrated totality and a sensitivity for the values that will get us there. This will not come from a commitment to seek out the evil and overcome it. Perhaps now more than ever, the Don Quixotes are irrelevant because of the magnitude of evil and the increasing number of evil possibilities. Nor will it come from an attempt to isolate evil and reject it, situation by situation, as one threads his way through the choices of life. No corporate good of any size can be achieved by such piecemeal, individualized efforts. Instead we must ask the question: How can we collectively look evil in the eye, accept its reality, and undertake to incorporate it into a larger good? Process is made up of everything in the past, however it is judged morally. If quality and size are to be squeezed from the relentless cadence of process, we must harness evil into our service. This is possible only when the good toward which we strive is truly large enough, important enough, and holy enough to lure us enthusiastically into the enterprise.


1. Adventures of Ideas. op. cit., p.268.

2. Science and the Modern World, op. cit.. p. 94.

3. Modes of Thought, op. cit., pp. 13-14.

4. Ibid., p. 8.

5. Adventures of Ideas. op. cit., p. 269.

6. Ibid.. p. 282.

7. Ibid., p. 241.

8. Ibid., p. 285.

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