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
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - 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
Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma
It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds
assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

Monday, March 23, 2020

A.N. Whitehead - A Conspectus of Whitehead's Metaphysics

Alfred North Whitehead

A Conspectus of A. N. Whitehead’s Metaphysics

by Peter Sjostedt-H

* To Peter's observations I will abridge it with my own using [RES]

  • A system of panpsycho-panentheism.
    • i.e. a panpsychism: that all entities have sentience (or, ‘proto-sentience’), combined with a panentheism: that God is nature and more
    • [RES - panexperientialism may be the more prefered route re inorganic matter]

  • Whitehead calls his system the ‘Philosophy of Organism’; it is also known as ‘Process Philosophy’.
    • Every entity is an organism, encapsulated in his sentence:
      • ‘Biology is the study of the larger organisms; whereas physics is the study of the smaller organisms.’ (SMW, ch. VI)
    • It is known as Process Philosophy because in actuality there are no static substances, but only events, occasions, processes.
    • [RES - In place of, or in addition to "organism" the idea of "Being & Event" might be added]

  • The smallest processes are called ‘actual occasions’, or ‘actual entities’.
    • These are drops of experience that constitute nature (cf. William James).

  • Actual entities are perspectives on the world, analogous to Leibniz’s monads. They are transitory: they become and they perish.

  • The process of an actual entity is called a concrescence. [It] involves:
  • an initial subjective aim to create that actual entity,
  • prehension of other actual entities,
  • subjective aim that conduces a decision, and
  • satisfaction that completes the process.
  • An initial subjective aim is bequeathed by the panentheistic God (see below) that sets off an experiential perspective.
  • [RES - The word "bequeathed" may speak of a determinate cosmos; as such, open and relational process theology would say God allows creational interminate freewill]

  • An actual entity prehends other actual entities, but not in the traditional relation of representation-to-object but rather as part-to-whole.
    • i. e. the prehension of an actual entity is the actual inclusion of that other actual entity within itself. This fusion is called vectoring. There is no absolute subject-object dichotomy. (cf. Henri Bergson)

  • The type of qualia that actual entities employ for their prehensions are called ‘eternal objects’. These are metaphysical ‘pure potentials’ and subsist within a realm of ‘God’ (see below).
  • Prehensions can be positive or negativephysical or conceptual:
    • Positive prehensions are of what is included in the actual entity. [sic, Formed Relationships]
    • Negative prehensions reject entities and concepts for inclusion. [sic, Unformed Relationships]
    • Physical prehensions are of other actual entities.
    • Conceptual prehensions are of eternal objects alone.
    • There are also impure and hybrid prehensions which are combinations of the above.

  • An actual entity is determined by past prehensions, but is also to varying extents self-determined through its subjective aim that strives for experiential aesthetic intensity.

  • There is thus efficient causality in the inheritance of the prehensions of actual entities, and final causation (teleology) in the subjective aim of actual entities.
  • [RES - Prehensive Process --> AE / AO --> Process of Becoming]

  • Actual entities in aggregate are called nexūs, and if the nexūs share a common characteristic they are called societies. An electron is an example of a society, as is an atom, molecule and crystal.

  • Whitehead adopts a dual-aspect theory whereby external appearance correlates to internal experience.

  • What are traditionally named ‘organisms’ are complex societies.

  • These high-grade societies ‘transmute’ a plurality of incoming prehensions into an abstracted unity for ease of comprehension. Common human sense perception is an example thereof.

  • There are two main species of human perception: perception in the mode of causal efficacy (PMCE) and perception in the mode of presentational immediacy (PMPI):
    • PMPI is commonly identified with all perception, being that from the five senses.
    • PMCE is the less distinct yet more ubiquitous internal experience of the actions and experiences of the past and concurrent surroundings flowing into the present.
    • Our actual perception is the combination of these two, a combination named ‘perception in the mixed mode of symbolic reference‘.
    • [RES - Sensation + experience = perception]

  • God is vital for the operations of Whitehead’s system. (S)He has two natures: the primordial and the consequent:
    • The primordial nature of God (PNG) is the realm of eternal objects.
      • The eternal objects are ingressed into all our experiences thereby determining the qualitative type of the experience.
    • The consequent nature of God (CNG) is the pantheistic unity of all experiences drawn into one higher consciousness.
    • PNG is unconscious; CNG is conscious.
    • [RES - Open & Relational Process Theology state that God IS and IS BECOMING ("I AM That I AM"). Thus, Experiential Event --> Prehensive Process --> Concresence as eternal cycle)]

  • God bestows the initial subjective aim for an actual entity as a lure for its concresence and the experiential intensity it evokes.
    • It is God’s purpose to enjoy the experiential intensities S(H)e provokes.
    • [RES - "enjoy" perhaps learn, take in, observe, be affected by, take action, etc]

  • God is not omnipotent as actual entities and their societies have their own teleology.
  • [RES - Open and Relational Process Theology may say God uses His omnipotence to sustain the cosmos but choses to guide, or participate, with it by its permission.]

  • God is not omniscient because the future does not yet exist because novelty emerges from actualities via their subjective aim and the infinity of eternal objects.
  • [RES - Open and Relational Process Theology may says unknowing is the nature of becoming.]

  • God is not omnibenevolent because morality is subordinate to aesthetic appreciation which is God’s desire. (Thus ‘God’ is perhaps a misnomer.)
  • [RES - Open and Relational Process Theology may rather say the God is always, and at all times, loving. It is both a choice but far deeper, it is who He is.]

  • Above Actual Entities and God, the third main tenet of Whitehead’s cosmology is Creativity.
    • God conditions creativity but it is beyond His control.

  • All but the PNG is subject to flux, to process, to novelty, to creativity.
    • Matter evolves as well as ‘organisms’, the laws of nature change, even the three dimensions of our extensive epoch will pass into history and in its place a cosmos of unimaginable difference will rise.

[*Note - RES - Based on Open & Relational Process Theology Whitehead's metaphysic of cosmology will need more rigorous adaptation as ORPT is a more recent subject not known during Whitehead's day though he was leaning into it.]

Notes - Whitehead's Process Philosophy

A. N. Whitehead’s Process Philosophy

A. N. Whitehead’s Process Philosophy
Introductory Notes for Class

by Peter Sjöstedt-H

  • Process Philosophy is mostly attributed to the mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) – but Heraclitus (c. 535–475BC) is the godfather.
  • It is the view that actuality consists not of individual objects with attributes, but rather of interwoven processes.
    • e.g. an “atom” does not exist as an isolated substance with essential and accidental properties, but is rather an abstraction that denotes a temporal process consisting of myriad elements constantly in flux, those elements also constituting other processes.
  • The belief in individual objects is an effect both of our evolved perceptual apparatus, notably vision (we perceive relatively isolated objected for practical purposes (cf. Henri Bergson)), and an effect of the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness: reification – we easily slip into believing that an individual word/term must refer to an individual object (e.g. “atom”, “star”). This fallacy is perhaps induced by our Indo-European linguistic emphasis on nouns (rather than verbs).
    • i.e. our language solidifies what is in actuality flux.

Points of Explication:
  • Processes are not ‘things’ changing, but ‘things’ are movements abstracted.
    • We often think that a process must involve at the base level ‘things’ changing (such as water molecules in wave processes), but this is not necessary. Even the molecules are processes. Electromagnetism is an example of the fundamental basis of flux.
  • A process can have a centre of operation, but it extends spatio-temporally into its environment – thus it is a part of its environment (and the environment is a part of it).
    • e. g. a ‘star’ is not only the spherical ‘object’ but also the light emitted therefrom throughout the universe. It is also affected by surrounding bodies that constitute it.
  • Even so-called ‘enduring objects’ (mountains, moons, etc.) are processes, as can be understood over time.
    • As Nietzsche put it (when discussing Heraclitus), if we observed nature at different time scales, we could see trees pop up and wither away, the sun could look like a ‘luminous bow across the sky’; contrariwise at slower speeds, we could observe a flower as being as permanent as a mountain. Everything is in flux, permanence is merely an illusion of timescale. Being is Becoming, as Nietzsche claims.
  • For Whitehead, a process is not merely a flux of ‘matter-energy’ but also such that includes sentience(s).
    • For Whitehead, even the concept of ‘matter-energy’ is an abstraction. It is more parsimonious to claim that matter includes mind at all levels (‘panexperientialism’), rather than that matter ‘produces’ mind at complex levels (which, as we saw, ends in problems of supervenience, emergence, upward and downward causation, etc.).
      • (But note the importance of differentiating aggregates from systemic processes: e.g. a chair and a neuron, respectively. This difference affects the placing of subjectivity.)
  • The Principle of Relativity: a part of a process continues into another process (and thus becomes part of that other process).
    • e.g. a “star” enters into your eye and brain; the star’s process becomes part of you.
      • Therefore one’s perception of the star is part of the star (and part of you).
      • There is no Representationalism.
      • Perception operates in the relation part-to-whole rather than representation-to-object.
  • A process is temporal, the notion of an ‘instant’ (t1, t2, etc.) is an also an abstraction. Thus, if we ask what ‘something’ is at an ‘instant’ we will never receive a proper answer.
    • Whitehead says that notions such as momentum, direction of motion, and wave type become meaningless in such an abstracted instant. We need temporality (i.e. process) in order to identify them as such.
  • A so-called ‘constant’ of nature is also an abstraction for Whitehead. We commit the fallacy of generalizing from the particular when we believe that the regularities (processes) of nature we observe at our timescale are eternal laws of nature (David Hume makes the same point with his Problem of Induction).
    • (There is possibly also a theological origin of this belief (God as eternal and setting eternal laws, mixed with Plato’s influence on Christianity).)
    • For Whitehead, even the physical, spatio-temporal nature of our epoch may change.
  • Understanding the universe as a thriving interwoven mesh of processes leads to the rejection of many purported dichotomies – the fusion of opposites (and thus their resolution). For example:
    • Subject–Object
      • An object is part of the subject: the perception of an object is part of the process that is that object. And likewise the subject (e.g. person) is part of other processes. (The ‘Principle of Relativity’)
    • Substance–Attribute
      • This Aristotelian notion is replaced by the notion that attributes are everything (the substance is the reification of the attributes).
    • Mind–Matter
      • Both terms are abstractions of the concrete reality of ‘mind existing at the basic level of ‘matter’. The emergence of consciousness is thus one of degree of complexity rather than of kind (matter to mind – creatio ex nihilo).
    • Organic-Inorganic
      • An organism is a complex process of sub-processes. But so are molecules, atoms, etc., which also have sentience. As Whitehead writes:
        • ‘Biology is the study of the larger organisms; whereas physics is the study of the smaller organisms.’ (SMW, ch. VI)
        • Thus Whitehead’s process philosophy is also known as the Philosophy of Organism, and Organic Realism.
    • Cause-Effect
      • Efficient Causality is the flow of process. Due to panexperientialism, it is also memory and perception (‘prehension’). To differentiate parts of this may be useful but is ultimately misleading.
      • Causation is directly perceived (contra Hume) because of the entry of the object into the subject. That is, the Principle of Relativity ensures the veridicality of causality.
    • Nature-Nurture
      • As a person’s environment is part of him/herself, one should not define a person as a separate entity. Even one’s genes are not isolated entities that fully determine a person. Whitehead foresaw epigenetics in 1938 (MT) when he wrote:
        • ‘[T]he notion of the self-contained particle of matter, self-sufficient within its local habitation, is an abstraction. Now an abstraction is nothing else than the omission of part of the truth … This general deduction from the modern doctrines of physics vitiates many conclusions drawn from the application of physics to other sciences, such as physiology … For example, when geneticists conceive genes as the determinants of heredity. The analogy of the old concept of matter sometimes leads them to ignore the influence of the particular animal body in which they are functioning.’ (MT)
    • Artificial-Natural
      • Mankind is part of nature; nature is wholly present in mankind. Out technology is of the same kind as bird’s nests, bee hives and tortoise shells. As Whitehead puts it:
        • ‘It is a false dichotomy to think of Nature and Man. Mankind is a factor in Nature which exhibits in its most intense form the plasticity of Nature.’ (AI, 99)

Whitehead’s magnum opus is Process and Reality (1929) is among the most convoluted of all philosophical tomes, so I suggest beginning with his books Modes of Thought, The Function of Reason, Science and the Modern World, Adventures of Ideas. When you are mentally prepared (in both senses) approach the main text.

Whitehead's Philosophy of Organism

A.N. Whitehead as part of nature by Athamos Stradis

The Philosophy of Organism

by Peter Sjöstedt-H

Introduction to Whitehead’s Organic Awareness of Reality

The philosophy of organism is the name of the metaphysics of the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. Born in Kent in 1861, schooled in Dorset, Alfred headed north and taught mathematics and physics in Cambridge, where he befriended his pupil Bertrand Russell, with whom he came to collaborate on a project to develop logically unshakable foundations for mathematics. In 1914, Whitehead became Professor of Applied Mathematics at Imperial College, London. However, his passion for the underlying philosophical problems never left him, and in 1924, at the age of 63, he crossed the Atlantic to take up a position as Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1947. His intellectual journey had traversed mathematics, physics, logic, education, the philosophy of science, and matured with his profound metaphysics, a complex systematic philosophy that is most comprehensively unfolded in his 1929 book, Process and Reality.

The philosophy of organism is a form of process philosophy. This type of philosophy seeks to overcome the problems in the traditional metaphysical options of dualism, materialism, and idealism. From the perspective of process philosophy:

  • the error of dualism is to take mind and matter to be fundamentally distinct,
  • the error of materialism is to fall for this first error then omit mind as fundamental,
  • the error of idealism is also to fall for the first error then to omit matter as fundamental.

The philosophy of organism seeks to resolve these issues by fusing the concepts of mind and matter, thereby creating an ‘organic realism’ as Whitehead also named his philosophy. To gain an overview of this marvelous, revolutionary, yet most logical philosophy, let’s first look at what Whitehead means by ‘realism’, then at the meaning of its prefix, ‘organic’.


‘Realism’ has a number of meanings in philosophy, but with regard to Whitehead’s interests, a realist essentially adopts the view that we perceive reality as it really is.

Although this idea may seem to many to be common sense, it is considered naïve by many in non-realist philosophical traditions. Their anti-realist stance supplants realism with representationalism – the notion that rather than directly perceiving reality itself, we perceive an indirect representation of reality – that our experience of light, say, is but a representation of waves of photons hitting our retinas.

Idealist and materialist anti-realist positions ultimately owe their mistakes to dualism, the notion that mind and matter are distinct substances. Whitehead singles out the prime dualist René Descartes (1596-1650) as the figure responsible for inaugurating the fall into anti-realism, and the consequent problems at which we arrive in modern philosophy. The Catholic Descartes attributed mind, as ‘soul’, only to humankind. The rest of nature he classified as purely mechanical, and thus explicable by means of mathematics. As a result of Descartes’ ideas, today, science and (non-process) philosophy cannot overcome the problem of solipsism – not being able to conclusively demonstrate that our experiences are truly representative of an external reality – nor interwoven issues, including the hard problem of consciousness: how mind could emerge from or be related to the activity of the brain. Further related issues concern the problems of free will and mental effort: how mind could influence matter (specifically the brain and body) if all material causality is mechanical; the problem of causality itself; why consciousness should exist at all if it has no power; why we have aesthetic tastes for music or abstract art, and so on.

The philosophy of organism’s solutions to these problems begin by rejecting the bifurcation of nature into mind and matter. With an acknowledged debt to the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941), Whitehead rejects such a dualism through his reformulation of perception. The underlying erroneous presupposition of anti-realism is that perception is only the representation of an object, or in general terms, of an external world. Whitehead dismisses this presupposition and replaces it with the notion that perception is part of the object or of the world. He names this reformulated notion prehension. Concisely put, such perception does not stand in relation to the world as representation-to-object, but as part-to-whole. To give a human example, the light which emanates from a star changes the eye seeing it, the optic nerve, the cortex, possibly the mouth muscles (speech); and so part of the star – its electromagnetic radiation – becomes part of me. However, as a process philosopher, Whitehead rejects the existence of solid things with fixed attributes, and asserts, as Heraclitus did in ancient Greece, that all is change, flux: a mountain is a wave, given enough time. So for Whitehead a star is only its activity, including its radiance, and its electromagnetic energy continues its activity within us – there is no absolute delineation of activity. So a part of the whole star has become part of our perception. Thus one aspect of the realist element of his philosophy is that the real object and the real subject are partially fused. We are not only made of stardust, but also of starlight. Contra solipsism, we know that we perceive reality because our perception is part of that reality and not a mere representation of it.

Materialists may edge in here and say that they accept the causal line of star radiation to physiological alteration, but then they feel the need to add a new mysterious causal line, from brain alteration to conscious representation – from matter to mind. But with this unnecessary and mystical addition come all the problems of representationalism. Organic realism keeps the original causal line pure. But this purity and parsimony entail a rather radical refashioning of what one understands reality to be, in order to explain how physiological change already involves sentient perception. This brings us to the ‘organic’ prefix.


For Whitehead the bifurcation of the world into organic and inorganic is also false. Consider descending a line of complexity from Homo sapiens to starfish, to cells, to DNA molecules, to less complex molecules, to atoms, and then to the subatomic. For Whitehead this descent is towards what he calls ‘actual entities’ or ‘actual occasions’, or ‘occasions of experience’, which we might think of as ontologically non-composite events.

Whitehead asserts everything to be organic. As he succinctly puts it: “Biology is the study of the larger organisms; whereas physics is the study of the smaller organisms” (Science and the Modern World, VI, 1925). The in/organic division is then ultimately false, sanctioned by the purported mechanical universe idea, once again resulting from Descartes’ mind/matter split. Most importantly here, to Whitehead, actual entities have a degree of sentience – of awareness, feeling and purpose – as do systems, or ‘societies’ as he names them, that are organically constructed from actual entities. Consciousness as we humans have it is therefore a complex nested system of subordinate sentiences: the redefined ‘organisms’ we traced in the path from Homo sapiens to subatomic particles, each of them being self-organising systems, are also sentient to degrees, according to the integrated complexity involved. Each cell in our body is such an instrument of sentience – instruments which focus their effects in the hall of the skull. Such consciousness requires a human brain because the brain channels together the awarenesses of the subordinate entities. Where actual entities have formed into non-self-organising aggregates – such as doors and windows – there is no unified sentience associated with the aggregate itself – only the myriad lesser sentiences of which the aggregate is composed: the sentiences of the molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles. Note the implication that although a brain is required for high-level animal-type consciousness, a brain is not required for mere sentience. Analogously, although an orchestra is required for a symphony, an orchestra is not required for a violin solo. Sentience, or experience, already exists as part of reality.

The concept of universal sentience is known as panpsychism, or as it is called with respect to the philosophy of organism, panexperientialism. Although panexperientialism may seem extreme to many of us raised in a post-Cartesian culture, it is arguably the most logical and parsimonious outlook on the nature of reality. The hard problem of how sentience evolutionarily emerged from insentience is resolved by denying the existence of insentience. Sentience has always existed, only its complexity evolved – a change in degree rather than the problematic change in kind.

To support Whitehead’s thinking about this, it may be noted that we have no evidence demonstrating that (so-called) matter is insentient. It may be retorted that we neither have evidence that (most) matter is sentient – a leveling that has no immediate default position. But the panexperientialist position is more parsimonious and able to resolve many traditional problems in the philosophy of mind, and so is the plausible account. It is parsimonious in that it reduces a dualism to a monism: matter and mind are one, that is, the same thing – both terms are merely abstractions from a unified concrete reality. Or we might say, matter is mindful – emotive and creative. This position also eliminates any mysterious causal connections between mind and matter (as seen, for instance in epiphenomenalism), and it fully adopts the causal efficacy of the mind as well as of matter, since they are of the same kind. So-called mechanical causes as such, involving physical force, are but abstractions from the concrete reality that includes the associated mentality. In this respect, Whitehead is akin to Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) with his idea of Will as the inner affect of observed external forces, or Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) with his notion of the Will to Power. Wielding Occam’s Razor, in organic realism we directly perceive causality because perception is causality: it’s the flow of so-called ‘external objects’ fusing into, and thereby altering, the subject. This makes David Hume’s ‘Problem of Causality’ – that we do not perceive causality itself – false; and therefore it makes Immanuel Kant’s critical project (that is, his whole later metaphysics) based on Hume’s purported problem of causality redundant. It seems Kant woke from his dogmatic slumber into an axiomatic blunder.

Organic Realism

Returning to realism, Whitehead’s metaphysics argues that perception involves the partial fusion of object and subject, of the world and the perceiving organism. In Whitehead’s words, ‘The philosophy of organism is mainly devoted to the task of making clear the notion of “being present in another entity.”’ (Process and Reality, 79-80.) There is no absolute dichotomy and magical transformation of matter into mind via some unknown causal line, as is the common concept today. Rather, the elements of the world are already sentient, so that such subject-object fusion is not merely the alteration of the organism, but the fusion of panexperiential reality with oneself. We thus do not simply perceive reality – we become one with the emotive, purposive, creative reality operating around and through us:

“Thus, as disclosed in the fundamental essence of our experience, the togetherness of things involves some doctrine of mutual immanence… We are in the world and the world is in us.” (Modes of Thought, VIII, 1938)

© Peter Sjöstedt-H 2016

Peter Sjöstedt-H is pursuing his PhD at Exeter University. He is the author of Noumenautics, and an inspiration for the new incarnation of Marvel philosopher superhero Karnak. He can be contacted via his website,

Notes on Whitehead's Vacuous Actuality

Responses from John Cobb Class re
Whitehead's Process & Reality Readings

Session I


Folks, I listened to Dr Cobbs explanation of the term, "vacuous actuality", but I still need some help. Does that refer to the idea that there is some kind of empty "space" in which "events" occur, but which is somehow separate from those events? Thx - Anon

Select Responses

Response 1

I was thinking it was the idea that a substance can exist without any properties. It's logically possible if you take the subject-predicate form to correspond to reality, but it's something we never encounter in the real world, which is why Whitehead took issue with the subject-predicate form. - Anon

Response 2

What I gathered was those who propound a “vacuous actualist” view of reality are akin to what me may today call dispositional essentialists or causal structuralists. It’s the notion that at bottom, the nature of something is really just it’s role within a large network of causal relations, but there’s no consideration of what substance is instantiating the structure. - Anon

Response 3

What Whitehead is rejecting is the notion that there is any such thing as "inert matter." For Whitehead, every actual occasion has a physical and a mental/conceptual pole. Therefore there is no such thing as an actuality that is without an internal constitution. All actualities are subjects of experience. - Anon

Response 4

It seems to me that he is also critiquing another instance of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, confusing our conceptual categories with actual things. - Anon

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Observation - R.E. Slater

For me, it's the idea that all things are relational, and on this basis are actualities. Which further means that nothing can exist alone by itself wholly independent of relationships. In this sense there can be no vacuous actualities in a process world of becoming. If there are no relationships to anything then that actuality is nonexistent and therefore no longer a part of a relational cosmos.

In another sense, building upon the above idea, a vacuous actuality might also be describe as a once connected actuality that came into existence, lived a moment, then unbecame like a momentary quantum particle here one moment and gone the next. Its birth came by the instantiation (?) of a passing relation, served its purpose, then as quickly passed away.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Intenet Reference - #1

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Whitehead's monadological rejection of vacuous actuality - the idea that something can exist actually without any subjective mediation - without any connection to anything else - has implications for his rejection of the thesis that subject-predicate form is a suitable structure for a proposition. The idea of vacuous actuality, he remarks, haunts realistic philosophy (P&R, 29 [43]). Its rejection is the basis of Ewing's formulation of idealism implying no epistemological idealism: the interconnectedness of all things means no dependence of the cognized object to the cognizing subject. Ewing suggests that Bradley and Joachim are not really correlationists - they could be metaphysicians of subjectivity. This is maybe why Whitehead claims that at the end of the day he is not too far away from Bradley (P&R, xiii): both reject vacuous actuality - and none are epistemological idealists.

The rejection of vacuous actuality is also the rejection of the Aristotelian primary substance - the inherent qualities to a subject that makes it capable to hold predicates. The haecceitas of a subject that subsists independently of any actual entity (of any sponsoring, of any com possibility). If there is no vacuous actuality, there is no unconnected noumenon to a subject, independent of any of its predications. Whitehead welcomes the holism of Leibniz (and of Bradley, but also the semantical counterpart put forward by Quine and his followers: no meaning independent of use, no distinction between language and theory). To fix something to be a subject for a predication - and enable a proposition to have the form of a subject coupled to a predicate - is to postulate that something is disconnected from the network of relations that provide the content of predications [therefore, it cannot be - res]. To be sure, one can abstract something away of all changes, but this is a concerted effort undergone only by a subject. Whitehead claims that only in subjective forms the subject-predicate form expresses the content of a proposition.

Kant's note 24 to his Prolegomena: the structure of something fixed holding predication implies no substance, it is only an obligation imposed by the workings of predication. In my book (BUG, just finished), I claim that predication is possible because there are procedures of reference-fixing; that is, there are things that are contingently and yet knowable a priori. The operation of fixing something to receive the working out of a predication has to be done by a subject - it is only in the workings of a subjective form that a subject can be the guesthouse for passing predications. It is only then that anything can be deemed determinately individuated and sufficiently stable.