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 III:

The Influence of Empirical Method in Whitehead’s and Lonergan’s Analyses of Human Subjectivity


This chapter will resume the analysis and argumentation of my major thesis.  We saw in Chapter I that Whitehead and Lonergan have essentially identical interpretations of empirical scientific method.  We also saw that both understand empirical scientific method to be a specialized form of the general method governing and guiding all forms of cognitive knowing.  I have called this “general empirical method,” or simply “empirical method.”  I concluded from my initial investigation that both Whitehead and Lonergan understand themselves, as philosophers, to be operating in accord with this general empirical method.  I found, however, that despite this important similarity, there are several major differences in their approaches and conclusions.  My preliminary investigation of the similarities and differences between their philoso-phies gave me reason to suspect that in spite of the differences there might be grounds for arguing a greater compatibility than has thusfar been recognized.  The similarities I had discovered served as clues in this direction, while the differences remained as problems calling for further investigation.

My second chapter established to my satisfaction that Whitehead’s and Lonergan’s interpretations of empirical scientific method are tenable, meaning that they are within the spectrum of interpretation offered by contemporary philosophy of science.  I found that their interpretations are fundamentally similar to that offered by Michael Polanyi.  I also discovered that although their approaches differ, Whitehead and Lonergan are in fundamental agreement with Polanyi on several major cognitional and epistemological issues as against a position like Karl Popper’s.  Yet I also found that on several not insignificant topics, Whitehead and Lonergan are in agreement with Popper.  This, in my estimation, demonstrates the balanced character of their interpretations of empirical scientific method and knowing.  What some would regard as an excessive “subjectivist” bias in Polanyi’s thought is in Whitehead’s and Lonergan’s thought mitigated by a recognition of certain valid “objectivist” position.  My study in Chapter II not only led me to affirm that Whitehead’s and Lonergan’s interpretations of empirical scientific method are within the spectrum of interpretation offered by contemporary philosophy of science, but also gave me additional reasons to suspect that there must be grounds for arguing that their philosophies are actually more compatible and complementary than has been recognized by most thinkers employing the thought of one or the other.

In the present chapter, then, I shall be considering in more detail the issues I raised in the final section of Chapter I.  My method of approach to the more thorough study and resolution of these issues shall be to focus attention on Whitehead’s and Lonergan’s analyses of human subjectivity as the key to the development of their philosophies.  The analysis of human subjectivity is a central concern in the thought of both men.  For both, though in differing ways, the experience of human subjectivity is the source and proving ground of philosophy. Moreover, the distinctive ways in which they pursue their analyses are deeply influenced by the understanding each has of general empirical method, and by the way in which they each employ that method.  In Whitehead’s view, since the experience of the human subject is the portion of experience with which we are most intimately acquainted, it serves as the best point of entry for an investigation of the general characteristics of experience and as the best sort of evidence against which to test notions of the general nature of reality.  Whitehead founds his philosophy of organism on his analysis of the human subject’s experience of causal efficacy and develops it by a further analysis of the valuing, purposing, and cognitive functioning of the human subject.  Lonergan develops his philosophy by focusing attention on the experience and cognitive functioning of the human subject as knower.  This illustrates the broad Kantian context in terms of which Lonergan addresses the philosophical enterprise.  Both Whitehead and Lonergan proceed by applying their particular understandings of general empirical method to different sets of data: Lonergan to the data of cognitional process; Whitehead to the data of human experience more broadly conceived.

The general task of this chapter, then, is to investigate the possibility of formulating into an intelligent hypothesis my suspicion that the philosophies of Whitehead and Lonergan are more compatible than has yet been recognized.  First I shall discuss Whitehead’s analysis of human subjectivity, and then Lonergan’s, in order to have a careful understanding of the data to which the hypothesis must appeal for support.  The third section will formulate an interpretative comparison as a first approximation of my hypothesis.  An hypothesis proposing that there is a fundamental compatibility between the philosophies of Whitehead and Lonergan must immediately confront the apparent counter-evidence of the great difference between their respective metaphysics.  If there is a fundamental compatibility between their philosophies, how can their metaphysical interpretations be so vastly different?  This, in a sense, constitutes the first major test of my hypothesis.  

There are, of course, other tests.  Among these the most important for my purpose is the great difference between their respective interpretations of God.  I shall confront this topic in Chapter IV.

Accordingly, the third section of this chapter will also attempt to confront and resolve this problem, and this should result in a more refined formulation of my hypothesis and a deeper awareness of the limitations of its applicability.


Whitehead’s Analysis of Human Subjectivity

When considering Whitehead’s method, Process and Reality can be a misleading book, particularly if one is not well acquainted with his other writings.  It is easy to understand how a person coming to Whitehead’s thought for the first time and beginning with a reading of Process and Reality might be tempted to characterize that philosophy as a gigantic and overblown categoreal speculation. However, it is in fact misled and misleading to understand his philosophy in light of Process and Reality alone, even though that book remains “Holy Writ” for his ontology.  One of several difficulties confronting the reader of Process and Reality is that in this book Whitehead only occasionally indicates how he arrived at the categories he is employing, and most of these indications are hidden deep within nearly impenetrable thickets of technical analysis.  It is a book that does not reward cursory examination, nor will such an examination reveal the nature of Whitehead’s method. 

Whitehead states his method clearly enough in PR, 1.1 (Speculative Philosophy”), but what relation that chapter bears to 1.2 (“The Categoreal Scheme”) or the rest of PR is, I suspect, a mystery to casual readers.

The result is that someone whose acquaintance with Whitehead’s thought is restricted to even a careful reading of Process and Reality carried out in isolation from his other writings might be quite surprised to discover that Whitehead has any analysis of human subjectivity at all, let alone that it is the key to his philosophy.  It is therefore worthwhile to begin our study in this section by recalling why human subjectivity—that is, the multifariousness of human experience—is so important in Whitehead’s thought, and how his whole philosophy is a consistent and sustained attempt to elucidate that experience by being unwaveringly faithful to all the clues and testimony it provides.


Forward to

Human Experience: The Source and Proving Ground of Philosophy

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