Panentheism.  Revisionism.  Anarchocapitalism.



Essays by Me

Essays by Others

Process, Insight, and Empirical Method 

An Argument for the Compatibility of the Philosophies of Alfred North Whitehead and Bernard J. F. Lonergan and Its Implications for Foundational Theology.

A Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the Divinity School, The University of Chicago, for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

December 1983

Thomas Hosinski, C.S.C.

Chapter I:

Whitehead’s and Lonergan’s Interpretations of Empirical Scientific Method and Philosophic Method [continued] 


The Method of Empirical Science and Philosophy

In order to begin formulating my major thesis at the end of the present chapter, and to prepare for the task of Chapter II, I must now outline the relation between empirical scientific method and philosophic method as Whitehead understands that relation.  To introduce this discussion it will be convenient to consider first Whitehead’s treatment of the relationship between science and philosophy, which involves two distinct topics.  The first is the role of philosophy in providing the rational grounding of the fundamental assumptions of science.  The second is the role of philosophy in relating what we know through the sciences to our other modes of experience and reflection, which involves discovering the limitations of scientific abstractions.  After discussing each in turn, I will discuss the relation between scientific and philosophic method in Whitehead’s thought.


The Grounding of the Fundamental Assumptions of Science

As I noted above the whole enterprise of science is founded upon three basic assumptions: that there is an order of nature to be discovered; that causality is a real part of nature and our experience; and that the method of induction allows us to trace causal connections.  Science itself, as David Hume demonstrated so well, cannot provide the reasonable ground for these assumptions; they remain, so far as Hume and his intellectual offspring, the positivists, are concerned, matters of “faith.”  

For one example of Whitehead’s treatment of this problem and of Hume’s arguments, see Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: Macmillan, 1926), Chapter III, pp. 62-76, esp. pp. 75-76.  (Hereafter cited as SMW.)

But this leaves science in an insecure, weakly-founded position, and Whitehead finds this eminently unsatisfactory.  For these basic assumptions of science do in fact have metaphysical implications, and to regard them as simply matters of “faith” is to be at the mercy of assumptions which have not been made explicit and not subjected to criticism.  This leaves the foundations of science unilluminated by the light of reason.  “No science can be more secure than the unconscious metaphysics which tacitly it presupposes.” [AI, IX, v, p. 154.] If the foundational assumptions of science as a whole are left in an unarticulated, reasonably ungrounded state, the whole of science is insecure.  If, as seems to be the case, science itself cannot reasonably justify these fundamental assumptions, then it is the task of philosophy, specifically metaphysics, to do so, precisely because the implications of these ultimate assumptions of science are metaphysical in character.  Correlatively, any philosophical analysis which cannot provide or discover a reasonable ground for these fundamental assumptions of science, assumptions which scientists continually make and upon which they depend in the conduct of their inquiries, thereby reveals its inadequacy and must be overlooking some crucial piece of evidence in experience.  

This is the constant theme of Whitehead’s criticism of positivism. See Thesis, pp. 17-23.

Therefore, the reasonable grounding of the practice of induction, the notion of causality, and the trust in the order of nature constitutes one major area in the relationship of science and philosophy.  General scientific method presumes the reality of order and causality and the validity of inductive reasoning, and it is the task of philosophy to exhibit that these presumptions are reasonable.

“The Theory of Induction,” Whitehead observes, “is the despair of philosophy—and yet all our activities are based upon it.” [SMW, II, p. 35.] The problem of “the rational justification of this method of Induction” [SMW, II, p. 62], is one of philosophy’s unsolved inheritances from the seventeenth century, unsolved because of the power of David Hume’s analysis and criticism.

Whitehead repeatedly states that, given certain uncriticized metaphysical positions, Hume’s criticism constitutes the major stumbling block to a rational justification of induction.  See, e.g., SMW, III, pp. 63, 75-76.

Whitehead is convinced that the only way of overcoming Hume’s criticism is by recourse to a metaphysical analysis, specifically an ontological analysis, which will reveal the shortcomings of the notions and presuppositions upon which Hume based his arguments.

My point is, that the very baffling task of applying reason to elicit the general characteristics of the immediate occasion, as set before us in direct cognition, is a necessary preliminary, if we are to justify induction; unless indeed we are content to base it upon our vague instinct that of course it is all right.  Either there is something about the immediate occasion which affords knowledge of the past and the future, or we are reduced to utter skepticism as to memory and induction. [SMW, II, p. 64]

Whitehead is saying, in short, that it is impossible to give a reasonable ground for the practice of induction, so central not only to scientific method but also to the conduct of our everyday lives, unless we can say just what it is about the immediate occasion which allows us to make inductive judgments.

In other words, Whitehead is arguing that the resolution of the epistemological problem of justifying induction is subsequent to and dependent upon a prior ontological analysis of the immediate occasion.

What is necessary is an ontological analysis of the immediate occasion which will reveal those general characteristics of the occasion upon which inductive reasoning is based.  “We must observe the immediate occasion, and use reason to elicit a general description of its nature.  Induction presupposes metaphysics. [SMW, III, pp. 64-65.  Whitehead’s italics.] What this metaphysical analysis must uncover specifically is some basis for knowledge of the past and future.  

See SMW, III, p. 65:  “You cannot have a rational justification for your appeal to history till your metaphysics has assured you that there is a history to appeal to; and likewise your conjectures as to the future presuppose some basis of knowledge that there is a future already subjected to some determinations.  The difficulty is to make sense of either of these ideas.  But unless you have done so, you have made nonsense of induction.”

Induction, as Whitehead understands it, is essentially the tracing of connections from past to future,

See ibid.:  “You will observe that I do not hold Induction to be in its essence the derivation of general laws.  It is the divination of some characteristics of a particular future from the known characteristics of a particular past.  The wider assumption of general laws holding for all cognisable occasions appears a very unsafe addendum to attach to this limited knowledge.  All we can ask of the present occasion is that it shall determine a particular community of occasions, which are in some respects mutually qualified by reason of their inclusion within that same community.”  Whitehead later elaborates this position in PR, II.9.v-viii (M, pp. 303-316; C, pp. 199-207).

and if metaphysical analysis of the general characteristics of the immediate occasion cannot reveal the bases in the occasion upon which such reasoned connections rest, then induction cannot be reasonably justified.

Whitehead’s concern to justify induction by providing an adequate metaphysical analysis of the immediate occasion leads directly to several of the major developments in his metaphysics, and while a discussion of these developments must be deferred to Chapter III, it would be helpful to summarize where and how far this concern to justify induction led him.  First of all, the inadequacies of the classic analyses of reality must be exhibited.  In Science and the Modern World Whitehead undertakes this in a critique of the classical notions of matter and “simple location,” as well as the notions of substance and quality.  In the course of this critique he formulates his profound and powerful analytic tool, the concept of “the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.” [SMW, III, pp. 66-82.] Having illustrated the inadequacies of the classic analyses of reality, Whitehead proceeds to develop his own description of the processes which constitute the ultimate units of reality.

In SMW this is done in the course of Chapters IV-XI, pp. 83-258.

Both the critique of the classical concepts and the refinement of his own description continue in Whitehead’s later writings.

For the critique of the classical notions see PR, Index (C. ed.), entries “Simple location,” “Substance-quality,” and “Matter”; AI, Index, same entries; and MT, VII, “Nature Lifeless,” pp. 127-147. In a sense the constructive task of developing and refining an adequate analysis or “conception” of the immediate occasion (the “actual entity” of PR) is the subject of the whole of PR (see Whitehead’s remark in PR, “Preface,” [M, p. viii; C, p. xiii]: “The positive doctrine of these lectures is concerned with the becoming, the being, and the relatedness of ‘actual entities.;”); it is also the major task of AI (primarily II-III, pp. 103-238) and MT.

The particular concern to discover the reasonable ground for induction and the broader concern to construct an adequate description of the ultimate units of reality both lead Whitehead into an extensive analysis of “social environment” and the order of nature, [See PR, II.9.v-viii (M, pp. 303-316; C, pp. 199-207), but also the whole of PR, II.1-4 (M, pp. 62-197; C, pp. 39-129); and AI, VII-IX, pp. 103-159; XI-XIV, pp. 175-219.] because the connections between occasions which are the necessary basis of inductive reasoning are revealed by metaphysical analysis to be inherent processes of relatedness or relativity in actual occasions. In other words, in order to provide a reasonable ground for induction one must produce an adequate ontology, a description of the most general characteristics of actual occasions. This ontology will also have to illustrate the ground in actual occasions for our “trust” that there is an “order of nature;” it will have to illustrate the essential connectivity of things that inductive reasoning assumes is present and tries to trace. Finally, because inductive reasoning assumes that the ordered connectivity of things is causal in character, Whitehead’s concern to ground induction and our trust in order also leads him to a major reformulation of the notion of causality in an extensive debate with the philosophical analysis of David Hume

To consider only PR, see Index (C. ed.), entries “Hume,” “Causal Efficacy, perception in the mode of,” and “Causality (Causal efficacy): doctrine of.”  Most of Alfred North Whitehead, Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect (New York: Macmillan, 1927; New York: Capricorn Books, 1959 [hereafter cited as S] is devoted to an analysis of perception and causality; and these topics are also discussed extensively in both Ai and MT.

As this brief survey reveals, it can be concluded that Whitehead’s concern to ground the fundamental assumptions of scientific method is responsible for the development of a considerable part of his philosophy.


Discovering the Limitations of Science

If one of the major tasks of philosophy is to exhibit that the presumptions underlying the practice of science are reasonable, another of its major tasks is to exhibit that the application of scientific generalizations has a reasonable limit.  This task constitutes the second major topic in the discussion of the relation between science and philosophy in Whitehead’s analysis.  He summarizes his understanding of this task by saying that “philosophy is the critic of abstraction.

SMW, V, p. 126.  See also SMW, IV, pp. 85-86; IX, pp. 203-204; MT, III, iii, pp. 48-49; FR, p. 86.  For a detailed analysis see Bernard M. Loomer, “The Theological Significance of the Method of Empirical Analysis in the Philosophy of A. N. Whitehead,” (Ph.D. dissertation, The Divinity School, University of Chicago, 1942), pp. 44-63.

In order to understand what Whitehead means by this statement, we must begin by discussing his understanding of “abstraction.”

Abstraction, as the word is being used in this context, is a characteristic of thought.

In Whitehead’s philosophical analysis “abstraction” also has more general meanings.  There is the “abstraction” involved in conscious sense perception; see PR, II. 7.i-iii (M, pp. 238-248; C, pp. 157-163).  There is also the “abstraction involved in the creation of any actuality” (“Mathematics and the Good,” section xiii, IS, p. 203.)  This latter sense of “abstraction” refers to the selectivity and emphasis involved in the concrescence of an actual entity, the particular combination of positive and negative prehensions by which the entity defines and realizes its subjective aim and which results in the uniqueness of the actual entity.

Because our thinking is never able to grasp the fullness of a concrete actuality, we abstract from it certain aspects or characteristics to serve as the data of our thought, while ignoring or neglecting other aspects. This simplification of the complex reality of our experience enables us to deal with it much more easily for whatever purpose we have in mind.  It is the purpose we have, or the context of our thought and action, that determines the kind of abstraction we will make.  The same concrete actuality can give rise to a wide variety of abstractions, but none of them, nor even all of them taken together, can be exhaustive of the concrete actuality.

“We experience more than we can analyse.  For we experience the universe, and we analyse in our consciousness a minute selection of its details.” MT, V, p. 89.  See also AI, IV, iii, p. 52:  “. . . all points of view, reasonably coherent and in some sense with an application, have something to contribute to our understanding of the universe, and also involve omissions whereby they fail to include the totality of evident fact.  The duty of tolerance is our finite homage to the abundance of inexhaustible novelty which is awaiting the future, and to the complexity of accomplished fact which exceeds our stretch of insight.”

Thus abstractions are at once extremely useful and extremely dangerous for our thought.  They are useful because they enable us to make progress in our understanding of experience; they are dangerous because we have a tendency to forget that they are abstractions and, impressed with our success in dealing with our experience in terms of our abstractions, a tendency to mistake the abstractions for the concrete actuality.

These general remarks can be illustrated by considering the case of the special sciences.  The special sciences have as the object of their inquiry “nature” or “the universe.”  None of the special sciences has as its goal the understanding of our immediate experience of nature in its entirety; rather each of the sciences tries to understand the interrelationships among a limited group of aspects of that experience.  Every special science abstracts from the immediate concreteness of the experience of nature and deals with only some aspects of that experience, neglecting or ignoring all other aspects which for its purposes are considered irrelevant.  As the history of modern science testifies, confining attention to a particular group of abstractions in this way can be very advantageous and can lead to the successful discovery of new knowledge in scientific thought. [See SMW, IV, p. 85.]

It is here, however, that the dangers of abstraction begin to make themselves manifest.  Whitehead summarizes these dangers in what he calls “the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness,” [SMW, III, pp. 74-76; IV, p. 85.] the mistaking of the abstraction for the concrete actuality.  A clear example of this error can be seen in the Newtonian cosmology of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  One of the fundamental abstractions which made possible the great advances in physics and mechanics in these centuries was the concept Whitehead calls “simple location,” conceiving “this bit of matter occupying this region at this durationless instant.”

MT, VII, p. 146.  See also the more thorough discussion in SMW, III, pp. 67-75, and IV, p. 84, where Whitehead gives the following definition of simple location: “To say that a bit of matter has Simple location means that, in expressing its spatio-temporal relations, it is adequate to state that it is where it is, in a definite finite region of space, and throughout a definite finite duration of time, apart from any essential reference of the relations of that bit of matter to other regions of space and to other durations of time. . . . This idea is the very foundation of the seventeenth-century scheme of nature.”

This concept of “nature at an instant” [MT, VII, p. 145], or as Whitehead calls it elsewhere, “the individual independence of successive temporal occasions” [PR, II.5.iii (M, pp. 207-208; C, p. 137).], was the common presupposition of the science of this time and its employment led to success in the attempt to arrive at a fuller understanding of the mechanics of the universe.  It led to such great success that it was forgotten that this concept is an abstraction neglecting many aspects of reality; thinkers assumed that this concept was an adequate description of reality.  The success was so blinding that all overlooked the fact that this abstraction could not begin to account for other abstractions or concepts which were equally crucial to the same scheme of dynamics and physics.  If the doctrine of simple location is “the final real fact,” if we can adequately understand reality by conceiving of “nature at an instant” without reference to any other instant, any other bit of matter, or any other region of space, then, Whitehead asks,

What becomes of velocity, at an instant? Again we ask—What becomes of momentum at an instant?  These notions are essential for Newtonian physics and yet they are without any meaning for it.  Velocity and momentum require the concept that the state of things at other times and other places enter into the essential character of the material occupancy of space at any selected instant.  But the Newtonian concept allows for no such modification of the relation of occupancy. Thus the cosmological scheme is inherently inconsistent. [MT, VII, p. 146.]

In other words, by falling into the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, by taking the abstraction for the reality, Newtonian cosmology overlooked evidence about aspects of reality that the abstraction of “simple location” ignored, even evidence presented by other abstractions within its own physics.

There is a broader, more general example of this danger of abstraction for our thinking.  Because of the impressive success of scientific abstractions, there has been a tendency since the seventeenth century to generalize these abstractions into philosophical interpretations of all reality, to expand the application of the scientific abstraction far beyond the context of its origination.  Certain scientific abstractions, ignoring multitudinous aspects of reality for the sake of a limited context of inquiry, were (and in some cases still are) taken to be applicable to all reality without modification.  For example, the Newtonian physics and cosmology—once certain difficulties were resolved which had caused Newton to appeal to the necessary existence of God—was expanded without criticism into philosophical interpretations claiming to be adequate descriptions of reality, and the philosophies known as mechanism, determinism, and materialism were born.  This, too, is an example of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, ignoring the contextually limited application of scientific abstractions and uncritically assuming they can be applied universally as an adequate description of reality.

See SMW, III, pp. 81-82.  See also Ian G. Barbour’s treatment of this issue (influenced by Whitehead), Issues in Science and Religion (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966 , pp. 35-37, 56-60.  Stephen Toulmin has developed a similar critique, though on different grounds than Whitehead, of the generalized application of scientific theories beyond the limited context of their origination.  See his “Contemporary Scientific Mythology,” in Alasdair MacIntyre, ed., Metaphysical Beliefs (London: SCM Press, 1970), pp. 3-71.

It is the function of philosophy, Whitehead argues, to serve as the critic of abstractions.  This function involves two tasks: exhibiting the limitations of scientific abstractions, and completing them by bringing them into relation with abstractions from other types of inquiry and with more concrete “intuitions” of reality.

[Philosophy’s] function is the double one, first of harmonizing [abstractions] by assigning to them their right relative status as abstractions, and secondly of completing them by direct comparison with more concrete intuitions of the universe, and thereby promoting the formation of more complete schemes of thought. . . . Philosophy is not one among the sciences with its own little scheme of abstractions which it works away at perfecting and improving.  It is the survey of sciences, with the special objects of their harmony, and of their completion.  It brings to this task, not only the evidence of the separate sciences, but also its own appeal to concrete experience. It confronts the sciences with concrete facts. [See SMW, V, pp. 126-127.]

By confronting the sciences with concrete fact, philosophy carries out its two-fold task.

First, by calling attention to those aspects of experience neglected by the abstractions, philosophy illustrates the limited character and scope of application of scientific abstractions. This has the effect of counteracting the misunderstanding that can arise from their ~~proper application. For example, confronting the Newtonian analysis of reality with the concrete facts which its abstractions ignore, allows us to see the Newtonian concepts for what they are, not adequate and exhaustive descriptions of reality, but limited abstractions useful for particular purposes, notions which have grasped the truth in a limited fashion, but which have a limited scope of application.

“Thus the criticism of a theory does not start from the question True or false?  It consists in noting its scope of useful application and its failure beyond that scope.  It is an unguarded statement of a partial truth.”  AI, XV, i, p. 221.  See also FR, pp. 49-54, where Newton’s theory is criticized in exactly this way.  Further critiques of Newton’s abstractions can be found in SMW, III-IV, pp. 71-108; AI, IX, vii, pp. 156-158; MT, VII-VIII, pp. 127-169; and PR, II.2.iii-II.3.iii (M, pp. 108-147; C., pp. 70-96), which is a sustained critique of Newton’s cosmology.

Awareness of these limitations ought to prevent the thinker from uncritically assuming that such notions capture the full reality of experience.  In other words, awareness of the limited scope of application of such abstractions ought to prevent one from falling into the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, from declaring with scientific dogmatism that the final real facts are independent bits of matter occupying these regions at these durationless instants.  Thus philosophy acts as critic of scientific abstractions, preventing a cosmology from being built upon generalizations with too limited an application, too narrow a base of evidence.

See FR, pp. 76-78.  It ought to be noted that Whitehead leaves room for a mutuality of criticism; science can serve as a critic of a proposed metaphysical-cosmological scheme of interpretation.  In addition to ibid., see AI, IX, iii, p. 146.

At the same time often by showing how one set of scientific abstractions fails to account for the presuppositions of other scientific abstractions, philosophy also tries to harmonize all scientific abstractions into a consistent unity.  Similarly, by means of the function we have just discussed, philosophy also acts as critic of any philosophical interpretations of reality founded uncritically upon these abstractions.

For example, see Whitehead’s criticism of materialism and deterministic mechanism in SMW, V, pp. 109-138.  The criticism is developed by confronting these philosophical interpretations with evidence—more concrete “intuitions” of reality--provided by poetry.

Philosophy, however, does more than simply point out the limitations of scientific abstractions; it also has the task of “completing” them “by direct comparison with more concrete intuitions of the universe, and thereby promoting the formation of more complete schemes of thought.”  Whitehead’s argument here is asserting that all scientific abstractions, even taken together, are neglective of some important aspects of reality.  Hence we must consider other sources of evidence to determine what it is in nature, in the experience of reality, that science is ignoring.  This is the reason for his appeal to British romantic poetry.  The great poets provide “more concrete intuitions of the universe.”  By comparing scientific abstractions with these more concrete intuitions we can formulate a more complete understanding of reality. [See SMW, V, pp. 121, 122, 126.] Thus by comparing scientific abstractions with evidence drawn from other human inquiries, from poetry, art, and religion, Whitehead maintains that scientific abstractions can be completed and brought into harmonious relation with intuitions of other aspects of reality not considered in the sciences.  This ought to result in modes of thought “more faithful to the complexity and multifariousness of our actual experience.  In our attempt to understand the reality in which we live and are enmeshed, we cannot afford to ignore any possible source of evidence: “The rejection of any source of evidence is always treason to that ultimate rationalism which urges forward science and philosophy alike.” [FR, p. 61.  See also SMW, IV, pp. 85-86, and “Preface,” pp. ix-x.]

Having seen that the task of philosophy in Whitehead’s understanding is to point out the limitations of scientific abstractions, to harmonize them with each other, and to complete them by relating them to other sources of evidence concerning the nature of reality, we must now ask, what does Whitehead mean by “philosophy” and how specifically does philosophy carry out these tasks? The latter question, a question of method, will be dealt with in the following section.  To conclude this section we must consider what Whitehead means by “philosophy.”

If philosophy is to be the critic of abstractions, then it must have a scope of view broad and deep enough to recognize the limits of applicability of abstractions developed by the special sciences.  It must have at its disposal a wider, more generalized scheme of thought if it hopes to point out the limits of applicability of abstractions, if it hopes to harmonize them with each other, if it hopes to complete them by comparing them with other sources of evidence so as to arrive at a more comprehensive understanding of reality.

The systematization of knowledge cannot be conducted in water-tight compartments.  All general truths condition each other; and the limits of their application cannot be adequately defined apart from their correlation by yet wider generalities.  The criticism of principles must chiefly take the form of determining the proper meanings to be assigned to the fundamental notions of the various sciences, when these notions are considered in respect to their status relatively to each other.  The determination of this status requires a generality transcending any special subject-matter. [PR, I.1.iv (M, p. 15; C, p. 10).]

The “wider generalities” which transcend “any special subject-matter” are the metaphysical categories or “first principles,” general ideas which are universal in applicability.  By “philosophy,” then, Whitehead clearly means metaphysics or, as he often calls it, “speculative philosophy.”  He argues that “Speculative Philosophy is the endeavor to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted.” [PR, I.1.i (M, p. 4; C, p. 3).] Without such a scheme it would be impossible for philosophy to act as critic of abstractions.

It is important to understand, however, what Whitehead means by metaphysical “interpretation.” He is not saying that metaphysics dreams up its own abstractions and develops interpretations of reality in isolation from the special sciences.  Rather, Whitehead is arguing that scientific propositions, and even the most pedestrian of everyday propositions (“there is beef for dinner today”), have metaphysical presuppositions; these presuppositions constitute implicit interpretations of reality. [See PR, I.1.v (M, pp. 16-20; C, pp. 14-15).] It is the role of metaphysics to make these interpretations conscious and explicit, and thus subject to criticism and possible improvement.  “Philosophy does not initiate interpretations.  Its search for a rationalistic scheme is the search for more adequate criticism, and for more adequate justification, of the interpretations which we perforce employ.” [PR, (M, p. 22; C, pp. 14-15).] Whitehead is convinced that all constructive thought presupposes such a generalized rationalistic scheme of interpretation.

. . .  all constructive thought, on the various special topics of scientific interest, is dominated by some such scheme, unacknowledged, but no less influential in guiding the imagination. The importance of philosophy lies in its sustained effort to make such schemes explicit, and thereby capable of criticism and improvement. [PR, Preface (M, p. x; C, p. xiv).]

Metaphysics, then, does not generate its own data; it is not a special science, and in a sense it is dependent on the special sciences—as well as on common human experience and the intuitions of art, poetry, literature, and religion—for its data.

However, if it is true that metaphysics depends on the special sciences in this sense, it is equally true that the special sciences depend on metaphysics. Two quotations will give a sense of Whitehead’s position on this matter.

We habitually speak of stones, and planets, and animals, as though each individual thing could exist, even for a passing moment, in separation from an environment which is in truth a necessary factor in its own nature. Such an abstraction is a necessity of thought, and the requisite background of systematic environment can be presupposed.  That is true.  But it also follows that, in the absence of some understanding of the final nature of things, and thus of the sorts of backgrounds presupposed in such abstract statements, all science suffers from the vice that it may be combining various propositions which tacitly presuppose inconsistent backgrounds.  No science can be more secure than the unconscious metaphysics which tacitly it presupposes.  The individual thing is necessarily a modification of its environment, and cannot be understood in disjunction.  All reasoning, apart from some metaphysical reference, is vicious. [AI, IX, v, p. 154.]

. . . the claim of science that it can produce an understanding of its procedures within the limits of its own categories, or that those categories themselves are understandable without reference to their status within the widest categories under exploration by the speculative Reason—that claim is entirely unfounded.  Insofar as philosophers have failed, scientists do not know what they are talking about when they pursue their own methods; and insofar as philosophers have succeeded, to that extent scientists can attain an understanding of science.  With the success of philosophy, blind habits of scientific thought are transformed into analytic explanation. [FR, pp. 58-59.  Compare AI, IX, vi, p. 155: “It is one task of speculation to urge observation beyond the boundaries of its delusive completeness, and to urge the doctrines of science beyond their delusive air of finality.”]

Whitehead constructs a very powerful argument for the dependence of science upon metaphysics.  He argues first that without a consciously explicated metaphysics science cannot be sure that in combining various propositions it is not presupposing inconsistent backgrounds.  Science cannot resolve this problem on the strength of its own categories; what is needed to determine the sorts of environments presupposed in abstract statements is “some understanding of the final nature of things.” This is another way of saying that the various abstractions of the special sciences cannot be harmonized with any assurance outside of the context of a metaphysical analysis of reality. Furthermore, the categories of the sciences, the abstractions which are the fruition of the work of the sciences, cannot themselves be understood apart from their status within the scheme of wider generalities being explored by speculative reason.  It is essential for understanding the meaning of scientific abstractions to know the limits of their applicability, and this cannot be determined apart from the metaphysical scheme of thought.  Finally, science cannot produce an understanding of the methods and procedures it follows.  As we have already seen, the method of discovery science follows presupposes an ordered universe with causal relations which can be traced by inductive reasoning. Within the limits of its own categories science cannot exhibit that these presuppositions are reasonable. The reasonableness of these basic presuppositions can only be exhibited by metaphysical analysis.  Thus Whitehead concludes that “insofar as philosophers have failed, scientists do not know what they are talking about when they pursue their own methods.” In order for science to understand itself and know the reasonable grounds of its procedures, it must be given the metaphysical-cosmological understanding of the world it presupposes.  In order to understand the final meaning of its analysis, it must understand the selectivity of its attention and the limitations of its abstractions in relation to the most general characteristics of reality.  For the gifts of harmony, completion, and self-understanding, science needs metaphysics.


The Method of Metaphysics: Its Relation to Empirical Scientific Method

If we now have some idea of the tasks of metaphysics as Whitehead understands them, and of the general lines of how philosophy and science are related, there yet remains one question to be considered: how does philosophy (or metaphysics or speculative reason) specifically carry out its task?  This is the question of method.

In Whitehead’s thought, the method of metaphysics is structurally the same as the method of the empirical sciences.  To be sure, the specific methods used and the data under consideration are quite different; but the structure of the general method is basically the same.  The basic difference is that philosophic method has a greater degree of generality.  We have seen that the special sciences operate by limiting their scope of inquiry to a particular aspect or set of aspects of reality.  Their goal is not to understand immediate experience in its entirety, but to understand the interrelationships among certain select features chosen for observation, and dealing with these features necessarily involves abstracting from the full immediate concreteness of the events under consideration.  Hence there will always be elements of our experience of reality to which scientific abstractions do not apply.  The goal of philosophy, on the other hand, is “to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted.”

PR, I.1.i (M, p. 4; C, p. 3).  My italics.  See also PR, I.1.iii (M, p. 12; C, p. 8); I.1.iv (M, pp. 14-15; C, pp. 9-10); II.1.ii (M, p. 67; C, p. 42); AI, XV, iii, p. 222; and Loomer, “Theological Significance,” pp. 5-8.

Since one cannot think without abstractions, every discipline or inquiry, including metaphysics, deals in them.  The statements and propositions of metaphysics cannot be said to capture the totality of experience in its concreteness.  But because philosophical generalizations strive to elucidate precisely those aspects of reality that are always present in all experience, those aspects which can never fail to be exemplified in any experience, philosophical generalizations as contrasted with scientific abstractions can be said to be more descriptive of the concreteness of events.  It is true that philosophic generalities are abstractions, because they abstract from the unique particularity of individual actualities.  Yet, as a system they are the most concrete of statements, because they attempt to designate those structures, processes, and relationships without which the unique, particular, concrete actuality could neither be unique, particular, nor concrete.

See Loomer’s excellent discussion of this topic; “Theological Significance,” pp. 5-7.

Thus the major difference between scientific and philosophic method is that philosophic method aims at a greater degree of generality, which is to say, a greater degree of concreteness.

Whitehead calls the method philosophy uses to pursue its goal “descriptive generalization.”

PR, I.1.iv (M, pp. 15-16; C, p. 10); AI, XV, xiv, p. 234.

As I shall attempt to show, it has the same basic structure as empirical scientific method.  The philosopher begins by considering the major ideas of any of the specialized sciences or, indeed, of any expression of human experience, such as poetry, art, religion, common sense, the presumptions we habitually make in conducting our daily lives.  These ideas, concepts, intuitions, and presuppositions are the raw data of philosophy.

See PR, I.1.ii (M, pp. 7-8; C, p. 5); AI, XV, viii, pp. 226-228; MT, IV, iii-;-pp. 70-71; FR, pp. 76-78; and Loomer, “Theological Significance,” pp. 30-38.

In dealing with them, the first step of “descriptive generalization” is equivalent to the stage of observation in empirical scientific method.  One marks out the area of inquiry and tries to observe correlations, interactions, and relationships.  In empirical scientific method the mind then begins an inductive movement, abstracting from the full definiteness of the observed events, discarding details deemed irrelevant, and introducing the notion of patterns in which the observed events seem to occur.  This whole inductive movement of the mind is what I have called “insight.”  In the method of metaphysics, the parallel movement is the generalization of the abstract ideas, concepts, or intuitions beyond the restricted group of facts from which they were derived in order to discover whether they provide generic notions which can be applied to all facts (or all experience).  If these notions can be generalized beyond the scope and context of their origin, then these notions have met the first test of applicability.

PR, I.1.ii (M, pp. 7-8; C, p. 5).  Compare FR, p. 85.  See Loomer, “Theological Significance,” p. 12 for examples of Whitehead’s generalizations from physics and aesthetics.  It might be noted in passing that the criterion of applicability has a different meaning in the method of descriptive generalization than it does in empirical scientific method.  See my description of this criterion in scientific work, Thesis, p. 14.

The next moment in Whitehead’s description of the method of descriptive generalization again parallels the structure of empirical scientific method. In scientific method the inductive movement referred to as “insight” leads to the central creative moment, the stage of hypothesis formulation.  In this moment the scientist formulates a hypothesis to give an explanatory account of the observed events which first stimulated his or her inquiry, but the hope is that this hypothesis will also elucidate the occurrence of all similar events.  Here the scientist has formulated an understanding of the factors which seem to be influencing and governing the occurrence of the events under investigation.  In the method of descriptive generalization, the movement of generalization leads to the central creative moment in which, using the several notions which have been generalized, the philosopher attempts to frame a coherent and logical scheme of interpretation.  [PR, I.1.i, ii (M, pp. 4-5, 8-10; C, pp. 3, 5-7). Also see Loomer, “Theological Significance,” pp. 25-30.]  The formulation of this scheme of interpretation is the philosopher’s understanding of the factors which influence and govern all events, or every example of experience. It is an attempt to provide an explanatory description of those factors, processes, and interrelationships that are always present in all experience.  This corresponds exactly with the development of hypothesis in empirical scientific method, and Whitehead on several occasions refers to the method of philosophy as being that of the “working hypothesis.

PR, XV, i, p. 220, and iii, p. 222.  Compare PR, I.1.iii (M, p. 12; C, p. 8):  “Metaphysical categories are not dogmatic statements of the obvious; they are tentative formulations of the ultimate generalities.”  On the importance of theory or hypothesis in philosophical discussion, see AI, XV, i, pp. 220-222.

In the general structure of empirical scientific method, after having formulated an explanatory hypothesis the scientist then moves toward the third major moment: testing.  The movement consists in deducing the implications of the hypothetical understanding and predicting what will be observed under selected circumstances according to the hypothesis.  This is the way in which the hypothesis is prepared for testing, and I have called this movement “foresight.”  There is again a parallel with this structure in Whitehead’s understanding of the method of philosophy.  Whitehead, while repudiating deduction as the central method of philosophy, does insist that deduction is an essential auxiliary method by which philosophy tests the scope (the applicability and adequacy) of its generalizations.

PR, I.1.iv (M, pp. 15-16; C, p. 10):  “. . . in its subsequent development the method of philosophy has also been vitiated by the example of mathematics.  The primary method of mathematics is deduction; the primary method of philosophy is descriptive generalization.  Under the influence of mathematics, deduction has been foisted onto philosophy as its standard method, instead of taking its true place as an essential auxiliary mode of verification whereby to test the scope of generalities.  This misapprehension of philosophic method has veiled the very considerable success of philosophy in providing generic notions which add lucidity to our apprehension of the facts of experience.”  See also MT, VI, i, p. 105: “Philosophy is the search for premises.  It is not deduction.  Such deductions as occur are for the purpose of testing the starting points by the evidence of the conclusions.”

Clearly what he means by this is that the philosopher, working with the generalizations he or she has woven into a scheme of interpretation, deduces what this scheme implies concerning every event or every act of experience.  The deduction is the attempt to say just what processes, interactions, and relationships must (according to the scheme of interpretation) be present in all experience.

This is the predictive process in philosophic method, which parallels the function of prediction in the empirical sciences.  See Loomer, “Theological Significance,” pp. 47-48.

This prepares the way for the empirical testing of the philosophic scheme of interpretation.

Finally, then, the third moment of philosophic method parallels the third moment of empirical scientific method: the testing of the hypothetical scheme of interpretation.  Just as the scientist confronts the hypothesis with the facts of experience in renewed observation, so too the philosopher must confront the metaphysical scheme of interpretation with the facts of common human experience in order to test the adequacy of that scheme.  [PR, I.1.i, iii, vi (M, pp. 5-6, 12-13, 25; C, pp. 3-4, 8-9, 17); AI, XV, vii, p. 226; FR, III, pp. 85-88.]  The metaphysical scheme of interpreta-tion must not fail to be exemplified in any and every experience, and so it must be tested against the experience it attempts to elucidate.  Just as in scientific method the testing results in an inductive judgment concerning the hypothesis (limited verification, falsification, or the judgment that the results are inconclusive and further research is necessary), so, too, in philosophic method the testing will result in some inductive judgment concerning the imaginatively generalized scheme of interpretation.  This judgment will concern specifically the adequacy of the scheme of interpretation, and in subjecting itself to this criterion philosophic method is using an extension of the scientific criterion of repeatability of performance.  

See the multiple discussions of the criterion of adequacy in PR, I.1 (M, pp. 4-26; C, pp. 3-17).  Especially germane is this statement (M, p. 25; C, p. 17): “. . . we do not trust any recasting of scientific theory depending upon a single performance of an aberrant experiment, unrepeated.  The ultimate test is always widespread, recurrent experience; and the more general the rationalistic scheme, the more important is this final appeal.”  See also Loomer, “Theological Significance,” p. 30, who also regards the criterion of adequacy as an extension of the scientific criterion of repeatability of performance.

Thus the speculative scheme of interpretation, in science and philosophy alike, has no valid claim to the name “knowledge” until it has been empirically tested and judged to be in conformity with observed facts.

A general point to be noticed is that throughout the first chapter of Process and Reality Whitehead continually asserts that science and philosophy alike must subject themselves to the same general criteria: the rational criteria of coherence and logical perfection, and the empirical criteria of applicability and adequacy.  Furthermore, in his description of “the true method of discovery, [PR, I.1.ii (M, p. 7; C, p. 5).] he indicates that both science and philosophy at their best use this general method.  I conclude, then, that Whitehead understands the basic method of philosophy, the method of descriptive or imaginative generalization, to be a more generalized form of the basic method of empirical science.  

This conclusion has been made in earlier work.  See Rasvihary Das, The Philosophy of Whitehead (London: James Clarke & Co., 1937), p. 12; and Loomer, “Theological Significance,” pp. 14-15. See also PR, I.1.ii (M, p. 8; C, p. 5), where Whitehead explicitly states that philosophy and the natural sciences both use this method of discovery.

This, in my judgment, does not mean that philosophy apes or imitates science.  Rather, I understand Whitehead to mean that the general structure of the method of discovery is the same whenever the human mind apprehends actuality.  How this method is applied specifically in any inquiry will vary with the goals of the inquiry (that is, it is only a general method governing the use of special methods).  Thus what Whitehead is describing is the structure of the general method governing all human attempts to come to cognitive understanding and knowledge.

There is one final question that arises naturally at this point.  If philosophy and science are using the same basic method, does this mean that Whitehead understands philosophy to be a science, perhaps the most generalized science? There are a number of statements in Whitehead’s writings that would lead one to answer in the affirmative. For example:

Every science must devise its own instruments. The tool required for philosophy is language.  Thus philosophy redesigns language in the same way that, in a physical science, pre-existing appliances are redesigned.  [PR, I.1.v (M, p. 16; C, p. 11).]

That we fail to find in experience any elements intrinsically incapable of exhibition as examples of general theory is the hope of rationalism.  This hope is not a metaphysical premise.  It is the faith which forms the motive for the pursuit of all sciences alike, including metaphysics. [PR, II.1.ii (M, p. 67; C, p. 42).]

Undoubtedly, philosophy is dominated by its past literature to a greater extent than any other science. [AI, XV, x, p. 229.]

When one considers these statements and recalls Whitehead’s arguments that metaphysics harmonizes and completes the sciences, one is tempted to affirm that in Whitehead’s thought metaphysics is indeed the most generalized science.

There are, however, good reasons for rejecting this interpretation of Whitehead’s position.  First, there is Whitehead’s continual insistence that philosophy is the attempt to get at those aspects of experience that are ignored by the sciences (foremost among those aspects would be what we mean by the notions of “value” and “purpose,” as we shall see in Chapter III).  Philosophy and the empirical sciences thus have different goals, different purposes.  The sciences deal with abstractions in the hope of arriving at an explanatory account of certain limited features of reality.  Philosophy, on the other hand, is charged to deal with concreteness in the hope of arriving at an explanatory account of how all these abstractions used in the sciences and in other sorts of inquiry are present in concrete actuality.  There can be no explaining of concreteness, only elucidating or disclosing.

The explanatory purpose of philosophy is often misunderstood.  Its business is to explain the emergence of the more abstract things from the more concrete things.  It is a complete mistake to ask how concrete particular fact can be built up out of universals.  The answer is, “In no way.”  The philosophic question is, How can concrete fact exhibit entities abstract from itself and yet participated in by its own nature?

In other words, philosophy is explanatory of abstraction, and not of concreteness. [PR, I.2.i (M, p. 30; C, p. 20).]

[Philosophy] seeks those generalities which characterize the complete reality of fact, and apart from which any fact must sink into an abstraction.  But science makes the abstraction, and is content to understand the complete fact in respect to only some of its essential aspects. . . . A philosophic system should present an elucidation of concrete fact from which the sciences abstract. [AI, IX, iii, p. 146.]

Whitehead himself, in one of his last published works, briefly draws the conclusion to which such considerations lead:

. . . consciousness proceeds to a second order of abstraction whereby finite constituents of the actual thing are abstracted from that thing.  This procedure is necessary for finite thought, though it weakens the sense of reality.  It is the basis of science.  The task of philosophy is to reverse this process and thus to exhibit the fusion of analysis with actuality. It follows that philosophy is not a science.

‘‘Mathematics and the Good, II in Paul A. Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1941; 2nd ed., 1951 , pp. 666-681; quotation from p. 681.  Reprinted in IS, pp. 187-203; quotation on p. 203.  See also MT, IX, p. 172, on the opposite directions taken in scientific and philosophic inquiry; and see as well SMW, pp. 126-127.

Whitehead’s position that philosophy is not a science has one important implication which ought to be drawn out in conclusion.  It is obvious that one of the ways in which philosophy differs from the empirical sciences is that it cannot quantify its data and operate upon them by mathematical manipulation.  Instead, it must rely on conceptual analysis for the discovery of patterns and relations.  Likewise, philosophy differs from the empirical sciences in its mode of verification.  Philosophy cannot prove or validate its hypotheses as the sciences do.  Ultimately, philosophical testing and affirmation rest on disclosure, elucidation, and self-evidence. 

See FR, III, p. 80; PR, (M, pp. 24-25; C, p. 16); MT, III, pp. 48-50, VI, pp. 105-107.

Empirical testing in philosophy is always an appeal to self-evidence as the philosopher confronts the facts of human experience.  Thus although there is a fundamental similarity of methodical structure exhibited in scientific and philosophic discovery, it is clear that science and philosophy are different modes of thought.


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