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 [Continued]

Whitehead’s Analysis of Human Subjectivity [Continued]


The Metaphysical Hypothesis: The Theory of Concrescence, Initial Phase

Metaphysically, Whitehead holds, the universe is to be conceived as being made up of occasions of experience.  All the final “facts” have the character of such occasions.  This view is suggested by modern physics.  In his attempt to generalize this view into a metaphysical interpretation, Whitehead further hypothesizes that the factors discovered in the initial dative phase of human experience are involved in the initial dative phase of all occasions.  A rather common and immediate reaction to this procedure is to raise the objection of anthropomorphism: with what justification does Whitehead generalize from human experience to all types of experience, including sub-atomic particles?  Our imaginary critic might be willing to cede that Whitehead’s interpreta-tion of experience can be extended legitimately to the experience of the higher animals, perhaps even to the lower animals and plants.  But our critic will assert that by the time one has come to rocks, clouds, and the world of the atom, one has clearly crossed the line of legitimate extension.  Rocks, clouds, and atoms are not living beings.  What evidence do we have to indicate that such things experience at all, let alone that their experience is in any meaningful way like our own?  Is Whitehead’s constructive thought truly a grounded metaphysics, or is it not in reality a groundless and speculative flight of anthropomorphic fancy?

Whitehead’s response to this sort of objection would be to insist that he is in fact following the procedure of empirical method.  He has identified in the data of human subjective experience certain factors which are ignored or misconstrued by traditional philosophical interpretations.  He has shown to his satisfaction that these factors in human experience appear to have nothing to do with the unique capabilities and characteristics of human beings, but lie at a very primitive level of experience. Further, we can observe directly that the experience and practice of animals seem to parallel our own at the primitive level under discussion.

“. . . the philosophy of organism attributes ‘feeling’ throughout the actual world.  It bases this doctrine upon the directly observed fact that ‘feeling’ survives as a known element constitutive of the ‘formal’ existence of such actual entities as we can best observe.” PR, II.8.iv (M, p. 268; C, p. 177).  The context of this remark is a discussion of organic as opposed to inorganic occasions.

It is admittedly a move of speculative reason to generalize from human experience to an account of all types of experience, but there are good empirical warrants for this move.  There is first of all the testimony of our instinctive action and our common sense that the world in which we live and act is continuous with the world of nature.  In this connection we have the compelling evidence—which I will reconsider in a moment—provided by our own experience of our bodies.  Thus the speculative move begins from an empirical ground.  Moreover, the speculative interpretation will be tested against experience, so that once it has been formulated it is confronted with a wide variety of empirical facts.  The point is that Whitehead’s procedure is not unbridled speculation, but an application of the empirical method.  The presupposition discovered in common sense is that the world of human experience and the world of nature studied by science are continuous, in fact one world.  Whitehead generalizes from factors discovered in human experience so as to state that presupposition in a hypothesis with some philosophical precision.

An occasion of experience which includes a human mentality is an extreme instance, at one end of the scale, of those happenings which constitute nature. . . . Any doctrine which refuses to place human experience outside nature, must find in descriptions of human experience factors which also enter into the descriptions of less specialized natural occurrences.  If there be no such factors, then the doctrine of human experience as a fact within nature is mere bluff, founded upon vague phrases whose sole merit is a comforting familiarity.  We should either admit dualism, at least as a provisional doctrine, or we should point out the identical elements connecting human experience with physical science. [AI, XI, xvi, pp. 184-185.]

Whitehead’s next step is to compare his generalized account of the most primitive level of human experience with the concepts, principles, and presuppositions used by the physical sciences to interpret or understand natural occasions.  If the physical sciences, in order to interpret the happenings in nature, use and presuppose concepts akin to “inheritance,” “feeling,” “subjective form of feeling,” and “conformation of feeling;” then the metaphysical scheme of interpretation derived from human experience has gained some measure of empirical support for its extension to all occasions of experience.  Further, one can predict from the metaphysical hypothesis, that if the hypothesis reflects reality then one would expect to find in the physical sciences doctrines of continuity and distinct individuality.  That is, in human experience Whitehead has discovered distinct individuality in the separate occasions of experience and also continuity in the conformal inheritance of feeling by one occasion from another (the continuity of subjective form).  Thus the metaphysical theory predicts that continuity and distinct individuality (or atomicity) ought to be discovered as essential factors in any occasion of experience.  If the physical sciences in fact develop and presuppose such doctrines in their attempts to understand natural occurrences, then the metaphysical hypothesis has gained another measure of support respecting its adequacy.

To summarize this issue as briefly as possible, Whitehead points out correlations between the factors he has discovered at the most primitive level of the dative phase of human experience and the basic principles and concepts of explanation in the physical sciences. [See AI, XI, xvi, pp. 185-186; SMW, IX, pp. 216-223; PR, II.4.iv (M, pp. 177-179; C, pp. 116-117); III.2.i (M, pp. 364-365; C, pp. 238-239); III.3.iv (M, p. 389; C, p. 254); IV.3.v (M, p. 471; C, p. 309).]  The concept of physical energy corresponds to “feeling.” The flow or transmission of energy corresponds to “inheritance.” The terms electron, proton, photon, neutron, etc. indicate the fundamental recognition that there are qualitative differences in how various occasions in nature entertain their energy, and this, of course, corresponds to “subjective forms.”  Finally, the fact that there are recognizable paths of energy through space and time corresponds to “conformation of feeling.”  Further, the prediction from the generalized account of human experience that both discrete individuality and continuity ought to be discoverable in any occasion in reality finds its confirmation in physical theory.  The quantum theory of modern physics corresponds to the factor of distinct individuality; and the concept of the flux of energy from particular occasion to particular occasion corresponds to the factor of continuity.  Hence it is that Whitehead can say, “the general principles of physics are exactly what we should expect as a specific exemplification of the metaphysics required by the philosophy of organism.”

PR, II.4.iv (M, p. 178; C, p. 116).  The passage continues: “It has been a defect in the modern philosophies that they throw no light whatever on any scientific principles.  Science should investigate particular species, and metaphysics should investi-gate the generic notions under which those specific principles should fall.”  See also SMW, IX, p. 223:· “We may conclude, therefore, that the organic theory represents directly what physics actually does assume respecting its ultimate entities.”

Whitehead recognizes, however, that there is still a point to the objection of anthropomorphism.  In human experience one of the strongest factors is our sense of personal unity or identity persisting from birth to death.  Whitehead admits that “in our account of human experience we have attenuated human personality into a genetic relation between occasions of experience.  Yet personal unity is an inescapable fact.” [AI, XI, xviii, p. 186.] Does not this “inescapable fact” prohibit extending factors discovered in human experience to a metaphysical description of all occasions of experience?  The first step in resolving this apparent problem is “to provide an adequate account of this undoubted personal unity, maintaining itself amidst the welter of circumstance.” [Ibid., xix, p. 187.] This he does by adapting Plato’s doctrine of the Receptacle. [Ibid., p. 187.   See also ibid., IX, iv, p. 150, and Plato, Timaeus, 49-51 passim.]  The Receptacle, as Whitehead interprets it, has the sole function of the imposition of unity upon the events of nature by providing the locus for them to be together. There is a unity to the events of nature simply by the fact that they have the Receptacle as a common locus, and their emplacement within that locus is the source of their actuality.  Whitehead regards this notion of Plato’s as providing at one and the same time an understanding of the unity of nature and of the unity of each human life.

The conclusion follows that our consciousness of the self-identity pervading our life-thread of occasions, is nothing other than knowledge of a special strand of unity within the general unity of nature.  It is a locus within the whole, marked out by its own peculiarities, but otherwise exhibiting the general principle which guides the constitution of the whole.  This general principle is the object-to-subject structure of experience.  It can be otherwise stated as the vector-structure of nature.  Or otherwise, it can be conceived as the doctrine of the immanence of the past energizing in the present.

AI, XI, xx, pp. 187-188.  Whether this adaptation of Plato’s notion of the Receptacle constitutes an “adequate” account of personal unity is, of course, open to question.  Whitehead regards it as a general description of personal unity, divested of “minor details of humanity.” Ibid, xix, p. 187.

This general principle, guiding the constitution of nature as a whole and the constitution of the individual human person, is the basis of the already-drawn analogy between human experience and natural phenomena.  Just as there is a transference of “feeling” (emotional energy) from one occasion of human experience to the next, so there is a transference of physical energy from one particular occasion to the next in physical nature.  Our strong sense of personal unity persisting through time is simply our consciousness of one special strand of inheritance that is uniquely ours.  It is our special locus of inheritance within the wider locus of spacetime.

There is still an apparent difficulty, however. For

this analogy of physical nature to human experience is limited by the fact of the linear seriality of human occasions within anyone personality and of the many-dimensional seriality of the occasions in physical Space-Time.

In order to prove that this discrepancy is only superficial, it now remains for discussion whether the human experience of direct inheritance provides any analogy to this many-dimensional character of space. If human occasions of experience essentially inherit in one-dimensional personal order, there is a gap between human occasions and the physical occasions of nature. [AI, XI, xxii, p. 189.]

It is in this connection that the evidence of the bodily basis of our experience becomes compelling.  The experience of our bodies testifies that the inheritance at the base of human experience is not restricted to one-dimensional seriality or strict personal order. “Our dominant inheritance from our immediately past occasion is broken into by innumerable inheritances through other avenues.  Sensitive nerves, the functionings of our viscera, disturbances in the composition of our blood, break in upon the dominant line of inheritance.” [Ibid.] It is true that in our day-to-day lives we are not ordinarily conscious of this multi-dimensional inheritance at the base of our experience.  What dominates our awareness is the other type of inheritance, the one-dimensional personal order in which we inherit the preceding moments of personal experience.  Also, we tend to identify ourselves with our bodies, as we have already seen.  But when we are ill, there is no doubt in our awareness that we are inheriting in a multi-dimensional way that is not directly connected to our strict personal order.   A moment ago I was fine, perhaps engrossed in a book, planning an activity or enjoying the company of my friends; but now the ache in my stomach or the pain in my chest dominates my consciousness.  Something has happened, and it has nothing to do with my personal experience of a moment ago.  Also relevant in this regard is the fact that so many bodily functions go on without conscious control, and can even be sustained after what we would consider the death of the person.  This seems to be sound empirical evidence for Whitehead’s conclusion that

the human body is indubitably a complex of occasions which are part of spatial nature.  It is a set of occasions miraculously coordinated so as to pour its inheritance into various regions within the brain.  There is thus every reason to believe that our sense of unity with the body has the same original as our sense of unity with our immediate past of personal experience.  It is another case of non-sensuous perception, only now devoid of the strict personal order.

But physiologists and physicists are equally agreed that the body inherits physical conditions from the physical environment according to the physical laws.  There is thus a general continuity between human experience and physical occasions.  The elaboration of such a continuity is one most obvious task for philosophy. [Ibid.]

It is thus legitimate to generalize from the analysis of human experience to a metaphysical interpretation theorizing that all happenings in the actual world are made up of distinct occasions of experience governed by or exhibiting the same factors discoverable in the most fundamental level of human experience.  The legitimacy of such a metaphysical hypothesis is by no means any guarantee of its certainty, but the fact that it is legitimate—that is, developed, tested, and established by the procedure of empirical method—does acquit it of the charge of anthropomorphic fancy or groundless categorea1 speculation.  Further, if the theory illuminates experience in widely diverse contexts, enables the resolution of outstanding problems in philosophy, and holds up under all the tests to which it is subjected, then we can conclude that it represents at least a better approximation to the truth of our experience than we possessed before its development.

What, then, does this particular metaphysical hypothesis accomplish in thus bringing human experience into continuity with the occasions of the natural world?  First of all, it throws light on the principles of scientific explanation.  It provides a description of “the more concrete fact” from which the scientific abstraction is derivable.

Speaking in the context of his metaphysical hypothesis, Whitehead says this: “The notion of physical energy, which is at the base of physics, must then be conceived as an abstraction from the complex energy, emotional and purposeful, inherent in the subjective form of the final synthesis in which each occasion completes itself. It is the total vigor of each activity of experience. The mere phrase that ‘physical science is an abstraction,’ is a confession of philosophic failure. It is the business of rational thought to describe the more concrete fact from which that abstraction is derivable.” AI, XI, xvii, p. 186.

This, as we have seen [Thesis, pp. 35-44.], is one of the tasks of metaphysics in Whitehead’s understanding. In this particular case, Whitehead has shown that the physical concepts of energy and the transmission of energy are abstractions derivable from the metaphysical description of any occasion of experience—a metaphysical description generalized from our intimate human experience.  A basic presupposition of science and common sense alike, that we live in a common world without radical discontinuities, has been given philosophically precise expression.  This metaphysical description of the more “concrete facts” from which science and common-sense abstract, thus illuminates why both science and common-sense are sense.  We have gained a greater degree of enlightenment as to the basic nature of experience and as to our experience of continuity with the world.

Another immediate result of this metaphysical hypothesis is to cast light upon the ontological ground of the notion of causation and, more generally, of the faith in the order of nature that is alike presupposed by the pursuit of science and the common-sense conduct of our daily lives.

The discussion of the problems constituted by the connection between causation and perception has been conducted by the various schools of thought derived from Hume and Kant under the misapprehension generated by an inversion of the true constitution of experience.  [PR, II.8.iii (M, p. 263; C, p. 173).]

The misapprehension is that sense perception, or perception in the mode of presentational immediacy, is the primary fact of perceptive experience, and that “any apprehension of causation was, somehow or other, to be elicited from this primary fact.” [Ibid.] Hume can discover no ground in presentational immediacy for the notion of causation, and ultimately appeals to memory, association, repetition, and habit as the source of the notion.  Kant grounds the notion in the unavoidable structure of the human mind impressing order on chaotic sense data.  Both take discrete sense data or impressions as the fundamental fact of perceptive experience and, in differing ways, make the notion of causation the subjective response to the reception of these data. In fact, for both the notion of causation is not based on any causal experience, but is the subject importing the notion into his or her entertainment of the data of experience; causation is ultimately a way of thinking about the data of sense for both Hume and Kant.  For Hume, that thinking has no ground other than “habit’’ or common practice; while for Kant, that thinking is the structure of the mind giving form to primitively chaotic perceptive experience.

Whitehead adopts the empirical procedure of predicting what ought to be the case in certain situations if this philosophical interpretation (hypothesis) is true; and then examining those situations. [See PR, II.8.iv (M, pp. 267-269; C, pp. 175-177); and, in more detail, S, II, iii, pp. 39-43.] If either Hume’s or Kant’s interpretation is true, Whitehead predicts, we should find that the inhibition either of thought or of familiar sense-data, or both, will be accompanied by a corresponding reduction or absence of any sense of causation as an element in experience.  In all of these test situations, however, we find that the contrary is the case.  It is well known, for example, that certain powerful emotions such as an angry rage or sheer terror are likely to inhibit both the apprehension of sense-data and the thought process.  But these emotions “wholly depend upon a vivid apprehension of the relevance of immediate past to the present, and of the present to the future.” [S ,II, iii, p. 42.] Moreover, they are the subjective response to the experience of causal efficacy: I am experiencing anger now because my immediately past occasion was angry and I am inheriting my body’s physiological experience of anger, and ultimately because something in the experience of one of the occasions of my past made me angry. I am experiencing terror now because my immediately past occasion was terrified and I am inheriting my body’s physiological experience of terror, and ultimately because something in the experience of one of the occasions .in my past struck terror into my heart. In either of these cases I am having an overwhelming experience of causal efficacy in spite of the fact that the rush of my emotion is inhibiting both thought and clear apprehension of sense-data.

Again, let us choose an example where the rush of emotion is not so strong.  Let us consider our feelings when we are in the dark.  Most humans are rather uncomfortable or nervous in the pitch-dark.  The absence of visual data tends to leave us “a prey to vague terrors respecting a circumambient world of causal operations.” [PR, II.8.iv (M, p. 267; C, p. 176).] In fact, Whitehead observes, most animals of daytime habits are more nervous in the dark, in the absence of familiar visual sensa.  This is the opposite of what should be the case if Hume’s or Kant’s interpretation is correct; both interpretations presuppose the presentation of familiar sense data before there can be any causal notion or feeling in subjective experience.  “Thus the sense of unseen effective presences in the dark is the opposite of what should happen.”  [S, II, iii, p. 43; see also PR, II.8.iv (M, p. 267; C, p. 176).]

Let us take one final example, that of reflex action. [PR, II.8.iii (M, pp. 265-1.66; C, pp. 174-175).] There is a man in a totally dark room.  Suddenly an electric light is switched on and the man’s eyes blink. As Whitehead says,

there is a simple physiological explanation of this trifling incident.

But this physiological explanation is couched wholly in terms of causal efficacy: it is the conjectural record of the travel of a spasm of excitement along nerves to some nodal centre, and of the return spasm of contraction back to the eyelids.  The correct technical phraseology would not alter the fact that the explanation does not involve any appeal to presentational immediacy either for actual occasions resident in the nerves, or for the man. [Ibid. (M, p. 265; C, p. 174).]

The philosophical interpretation derivable from either Hume or Kant, in other words, provides no ground for the scientific explanation of the man’s experience.  In fact, the scientific explanation “presupposes a side of the universe about which, on Hume’s theory, we must remain in blank ignorance.” [Ibid. (M, p. 265; C, p. 175).]

If we now turn to the private, subjective experience of the blinking man, we find that his testimony concerning his experience also contradicts the prediction derivable from either Hume or Kant. The man will say, “The flash of light made me blink.” According to Whitehead’s interpretation, the man is testifying to the experience of four distinguishable percepts: the flash of light, the feeling of eye-closure, an instant of darkness, and the feeling that the experiences of the eyes with regard to the flash are causal of the blink.  “In fact,” Whitehead says, “it is the feeling of causality which enables the man to distinguish the priority of the flash” [Ibid. (M, pp. 265-266; C, p. 175).] in the temporal sequence of percepts. To argue that the temporal sequence, from flash to blink, is the premise of the man’s subsequent causal belief is a theory which ignores an essential part of the evidence, and the man will insist on that.  If his testimony is doubted he will stubbornly protest, “I know the flash made me blink, because I felt it.”

For the sake of brevity I have presented only Whitehead’s argument from experience and omitted his critique of the inconsistency in Hume’s analysis. In capsule form his critique of Hume runs as follows.  Whitehead is fully willing to admit that Hume’s analysis of perception in the mode of presentational immediacy (with regard to causation) is convincing: “pure presentational immediacy does not disclose any causal influence . . .” PR, II.4.viii (M, p. 188; C, p. 123).  In Hume’s terms there is indeed no sense-impression of causation.  In order to provide some basis for the notion of causation (the necessity of which Hume’s does not deny), Hume invokes “repetition,” “memory,” and “habit.”  Whitehead points out, however, that the notions of “repetition,” “memory,” and “habit” stand to sense-impressions in exactly the same way as does “cause and effect.” From what impression is it possible to derive the notion of “repetition,” or “memory,” or “habit”?  Hume seems to have confused “repetition of impressions” with “an impression of a repetition of impressions,” and so on.  In short, causation, repetition, memory, and habit are all in the same boat; without empirical grounding according to the principles of Hume’s philosophy.  Insofar as Hume appeals to any of these notions his philosophy, by his own principles, is inconsistent.  Whitehead shows that the experiential base for all these notions is to be found in perception in the more primitive mode of causal efficacy, the existence of which Hume has overlooked.  See PR, II.5.ii (M, pp. 202-205; C, pp. 133-135); II.8.iii (M, p. 266; C, p. 175).

The conclusion to be drawn from all these example is that causation is entirely misunderstood if it is regarded as a notion imposed upon or imported into the data of sense by the subject entertaining those data.  Causation is, rather, a relationship contained in the data themselves, not the data of sense but the data we perceive in the more primitive mode of causal efficacy.  Causation, most primitively, is not a notion of a relationship of past to present produced by the subject reflecting upon the data of sense, but is directly perceived in the data of causal efficacy.  It is, in short, experienced before it is reflected upon. Hence Whitehead concludes, “the notion of causation arose because mankind lives amid experiences in the mode of causal efficacy.” [PR, II.8.iii (M, p. 266; C, p. 175).]

Apart from illuminating the ontological ground of causation, this part of Whitehead’s metaphysical interpretation also elucidates an important part of the ontological ground for our faith in the order of nature.  But since this topic cannot be fully discussed until we have seen other parts of Whitehead’s metaphysical hypothesis, I shall reserve this topic to a later part of my study.

I have treated at some length this portion of Whitehead’s analysis of human subjectivity and its extension into a metaphysical interpretation of experience because of its foundational importance in his philosophy, and also because it is an excellent example of how he applies the empirical method in the development of his metaphysics.  I must now turn my attention to the further parts of his analysis of human subjectivity.


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The Analysis of Human Subjectivity: The Responsive Phases

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