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]

 Valuing and Purposing: Conceptual Prehensions, Subjective Aim, and the Rise of Novelty

The Analysis of Human Subjectivity: The Responsive Phases


The analysis of the initial receptive phase of human subjective experience revealed the ground of connectedness and continuity in the flow of experi-ence from objectivity to subjectivity.  The analysis of the later phases of human subjective experience will reveal the ground of individuality, novelty, and uniqueness.  For apart from the givenness of the world at the base of our subjectivity, we know with equal truth that each of us humans is something new in the world.  We know ourselves to be true individuals.  We experience emotions which in the full rush of their immediate subjectivity are, at least for that moment, ours alone.  We are aware, often painfully, that we have a certain measure of uniqueness.  We are, each of us, unique centers of feeling, needing, desiring, willing, hoping, and dreaming.  We know ourselves, too, to be unique centers of giving.  We experience drives toward freshness and novelty of experience.  We act with purposes and intentions born in the privacy of our hearts, minds, and wills.  We accept responsibility for the good we do and, in our honest moments, for the evil as well.  We cherish and cultivate what we value, we despise and resist what we detest, and we accept, endure, or ignore the rest with varying intensities of feeling.  In short, our experience as subjects is not only what we receive from the givenness of the world, it is also something new that arises within us—something, at least partially, of our own creation.  Herein lies another portion of our common experience as subjects which no philosophy can afford to overlook.

This aspect of our subjective experience takes on an amazing, almost bewildering variety of forms.  In studying them, however, Whitehead discovers that all such forms of human experience are either full exemplifications of a basic structure common to them all or elements of that structure.  This basic structure is not static, but dynamic, and it can be described with a few key ideas and their presuppositions.  Before I attend to this dynamic structure, however, I must note that such a general description of it does not claim to present an interpretation of the concrete uniqueness of any of these experiences.  It does not claim, with metaphy-sical arrogance, to explain concrete uniqueness.  The infinite fulness of such experience is always supreme over thought, and perhaps no systematic metaphysician has ever insisted on this truth more strongly than Whitehead.  Thus what Whitehead claims in this interpretation is only to show why and how such uniqueness is possible, how it is that this undeniable uniqueness arises in our experience.

What, then, is the dynamic structure in which this aspect of our experience expresses itself? Whitehead states it most simply in the following passage:

The conduct of human affairs is entirely dominated by our recognition of foresight determining purpose, and purpose issuing in conduct.  Almost every sentence we utter and every judgment we form, presuppose our unfailing experience of this element in life. [FR, I, p. 13.]

Foresight determining purpose, and purpose issuing in conduct: here we have the basic structure of our experience beyond givenness, beyond what we inherit from the world around us.  This is the structure through which our unique subjectivity arises in response to what we find as given.  This is how each of us becomes something new in the world.  This is why we can truly be called creators of ourselves, the authors of our experience, even as it is also true that this experience equally creates us.

There are four presuppositions behind this interpretation of the structure of our subjective experience.  Foresight determining purpose presup-poses that there are alternatives among which we choose; and that our purpose reflects a choice or decision in favor of one of the possibilities open to us. Ultimately such decisions can only be understood as the selection among possibilities on the basis of value or worth.  We form a particular purpose because we judge it to be of more worth or value at that moment than the possibilities we decide not to pursue.  Purposes, in short, aim at the realization or enhancement of some value.  This, in turn, presupposes that prior to forming the purpose we have entertained the values inherent in the actual situation from which we begin, that we have also entertained the values inherent in possible alternatives, unrealized potentialities, or ideals, and that we have compared or contrasted these latter values with those present in the actual situation from which we begin.  Foresight, in short, involves the entertainment of both sets of valuations, their comparison or contrast, and the selection of one of the possibilities as the value we make it our purpose to pursue.  Such choice or decision forming our purposes presupposes that we have the freedom necessary to make choices and decisions.  Thus foresight determining purpose presupposes four characteristics present in our experience: valuation, the entertainment of possibilities, selection among these possibilities or decision upon one on the basis of relative worth, and the freedom to make such selections or decisions.

Since this description is so general it would prove helpful to discuss its elements in more detail and to provide examples from our experience to illustrate them.  First, does our experience actually reflect the dynamic structure Whitehead has described?  On this point the testimony of our daily lives and all the actions and interactions of human beings in society is overwhelming in its affirmation.  We cannot understand our lives, individual or communal, without the idea of aim or purpose guiding our conduct.  From the most trivial of daily events to the grandest artistic works to the policies of nations we are immediately aware of our purposes directing our actions. [See ibid.; MT, VIII, pp. 155-156; and AI, XV, viii, p. 227.] From among the countless possibilities open to us, we form the purpose to shop for our groceries now, to enjoy an hour of conversation with our spouse or a friend, to write a letter, to work, to listen to a symphony, to walk outdoors, to go to a movie, to read, to sleep.  We are bored, and we search for something to restore zest to our experience.  Our national leaders decide that the greatest threat to the internal health of the nation is an economy burdened by excessive government spending and taxation, and so form the policy of reducing government expenditures and levels of taxation and take action to put this policy into effect.  All such choices, decisions, policies, and actions are stripped of meaning unless we refer to aims or purposes. Likewise, we cannot understand them unless we have reference to some perceived value being pursued.  Hence even a moment’s reflection on the conduct of our individual and societal lives confirms the unfailing presence of the dynamic structure from foresight to aim or purpose, and from aim or purpose to action.  It is important to note that while many of these actions are novel (in their full concrete particularity), they arise as responses to a given situation.  Thus there is an inherent connection between the initial phase of human subjective experience, which is receiving the given, and the later phases of experience which are responsive and originative.  Novelty is possible, but always in response to the given.

“Foresight” consists of (i) valuations; (ii) the entertainment of possibilities, unrealized potential-ities, and ideals; (iii) the comparison of the values inherent in the actual given situation and in our possible responses; and (iv) the subjective choice or preference of some value over the others.  Let us consider the matter of valuation and our responses to situations.  Our emotions, or “feelings” as that word is commonly used, are actually forms of valuation.  We are not accustomed to thinking of our emotions in this way, but they are not understandable unless we regard them as such.  For example, let us consider our emotions as we walk outdoors on the first warm day of spring.  The warm air, the sunlight, the beauty and scent of the flowers, the hum of insects and the songs of birds, the first foliage on the trees and shrubs, the sense of things living and growing, all combine to affect our mood. Perhaps a few moments ago we were working inside a closed room, and perhaps our work was not going well and our mood not the best.  But now, out in the spring air, we grow happy, joyous, our spirits revived.  This is an experience that most of us have every spring.  If we reflect on what is involved in this experience of joyous emotion, we find that it is the result of a complex of many separate valuations. There is the sensual feeling of warm air on our skin in contrast to the harsh winter drafts.  The sunlight brings a vibrancy to the colors of the world which is a visual joy in contrast to the drab colors we have seen all winter.  We value the unique colors and scents of the flowers and the signs of renewed life in the flowers and new foliage, in contrast to the whites and greys of the snow-covered ground and the dull brown leafless branches of the winter.  The freshness of the air and the sounds of the birds and insects come as a welcome change from the bite and howl of winter wind or the chill sodden drafts and drippings of early spring rains.  We value the rebirth of the natural world, and we value life.  We allow these fresh manifestations of life to overcome our personal preoccupations and we glory in the fact that it is spring and we are alive.  Were it not for our valuations and our decision to let them affect us, we might walk on preoccupied with our work problems, uncaring whether it was spring or the dead of winter.

Or again, let us consider our emotions upon the death of someone we love.  We grieve, we weep. This emotion is a response to the valuation of all the person meant to us, a valuation of his or her life, his or her very being and all he or she contributed to our life.  It grasps that in significant ways, though that person will always live in our heart and memory and will be present in that way, we will no longer be the recipients of his or her full living presence.  Our future will be impoverished because all that might have been with this person alive can now never be.  Were it not for our valuations of that person, we would not grieve.  Our grief is a tribute to the good of the person, and is as well our mourning for a future forever altered by his or her absence.  Our grief is something new in the world, felt for the one we love and for ourselves.

One final example of a different sort of emotional valuation might be appropriate.  Consider a man walking down a street, turning a corner, and suddenly confronted by the sight of a young man trying to steal an elderly woman’s purse.  Without thinking, the man shouts out and begins running toward the young man with the clear intent of preventing the robbery.  If we consider this situation, we find that it involves an almost instinctive response.  “Almost” instinctive, because the man has probably not thought at all about his reaction, yet several other responses were possible.  He might have turned around and ignored the attempted robbery.  He might have frozen and not acted at all.  There has been an evaluation of the situation and a decision on the particular response, but below the level of reflective thought.  Could we break down this response carefully enough for analysis, we might find that the man felt revulsion that a defenseless elderly woman was being mistreated, sympathy for her plight, a desire to be of help, perhaps even fear that he would be harmed if he intervened.  He must also have realized at some level that other choices were open to him: the choice to ignore the situation, not to intervene, or the choice to call for the police rather than personally confront the thief.  But perhaps he somehow decided that these latter possibilities, with their values of protecting his personal safety, were less worthy than the possibility of becoming personally involved, with its value of rendering direct assistance to someone in need.  Perhaps he even felt revulsion for what he would be if he chose to ignore the incident or to abandon the woman to her fate while he called for help.  In short, his “instinctive” response seems to have been the result of a decision guided by an ideal of helping those in trouble.

All of these examples, and countless more like them, illustrate that our emotions are ways of valuating, ways of relating ourselves to values.  Joy, grief, revulsion, angry disgust—these represent our valuation of the things toward which our emotions are directed.  Also, the dominant emotion, which is generally conscious in us, is the result of a complex of distinct emotional valuations which occur without conscious attention.  In allowing ourselves to be affected by the beauty of a spring day we generally do not direct conscious attention to each of the many valuations that contribute to the resulting emotion of joy.  In our experience of grief at the death of a loved one, we do not direct conscious attention to each of the valuations of his or her life that make our grief at his or her death so heartfelt; but our grief is the result of our awareness of all of them and of their termination by death.  Our anger at the mistreatment of a defenseless person is conscious, but cannot be understood unless we have reference to the distinct valuations not only of the actual situation but also of our possible responses, valuations which have occurred without conscious attention.

These distinct valuations and the decision among them which results in a dominant emotion can only be understood as being “mental,” but below the level of conscious reflection.  This becomes especially clear when we consider that numerous instances of our emotions reflect the valuation of possibilities, ideals, and unrealized potentialities.  If I feel revulsion at what I would be if I failed to assist someone in need, and so decide to help, but all of this has taken place in a split-second without my conscious thought, I can only understand this as a mental functioning below the level of reflective thought.  Likewise I can only understand my decision to act as a decision that has involved no reflective thought but is nevertheless based upon a selection among alternatives at some level beneath reflective consciousness.  All of this is clear enough in the copious evidence of this sort of activity on the conscious level, in literature, in law, in all the products of human civilizations.  The point of my examples has been to illustrate that very similar sorts of “activity occur on levels below our conscious reflection, and yet cannot be understood as anything other than mental experience.

This analysis presupposes that the formation of our purposes and our actions is free, at least so far as the final determination of them is concerned.  It presupposes that the sociobiologists, who tell us that even our altruistic behavior is entirely determined by our genes, have overlooked a terribly important fact about human conduct.  What is the evidence supporting the interpretation that we are, in fact, free to determine finally our purposes and our ensuing acts?  Whitehead consistently appeals to our experience of responsibility. [See PR, II.1.iv (M, pp. 74-75; C, p. 47); III.1.iii (M, p. 340; C, p. 222); III.1.v (M, p. 342; C, p. 224); III.3.v (M, p. 390; C, p. 255); S, I, v, pp. 8-9.] The notion of responsibility is meaningless if we are not free to determine our purposes and our actions.

. . . in the case of those actualities whose immediate experience is most completely open to us, namely, human beings, the final decision of the subject . . . is the foundation of our experience of responsibility, of approba-tion or disapprobation, of self-approval or self-reproach, of freedom, of emphasis.  This element in experience is too large to be put aside merely as misconstruction.  It governs the whole tone of human life.  It can be illustrated by striking instances from fact or from fiction.  But these instances are merely conspicuous illustrations of human experience during each hour and each minute.  The ultimate freedom of things, lying beyond all determinations, was whispered by Galileo—E pur si muove—freedom for the inquisitors to think wrongly, for Galileo to think rightly, and for the world to move in despite of Galileo and inquisitors. [PR, II.1.iv (M, pp. 74-75; C, p. 47).]

We have here, then, the basis in human experience for understanding subjective uniqueness, individuality, and novelty.  If it is true that human subjectivity arises from the givenness of the past actual world which it receives in its initial phase of experience, it is also true that in later phases of experience the human subject creates its own particular response, often novel, to the given situation.  By entertaining values and possibilities, by selecting one of the possible responses as the one it shall make it its purpose to pursue, the subject creates itself.  Though it begins with the given and must react within the limitations set by the given, the subject finally determines its own purpose or aim.  It is free, finally, and so responsible for what it strives to make of itself and what it becomes because of that purpose.  Though the subject originally arises in conformal feeling with the past actual world (most immediately, the immediately past occasion it identifies as its own), in the end it determines how it shall respond to that world.

Here, of course, we have the resolution of the problem mentioned above, p. 253 note 3.  How does an angry man cease being angry if each occasion of experience inherits conformally the subjective form of anger from the immediately past occasion?  In one of the occasions he entertains the possibility of not being angry, decides on that possibility as more worthy than the state of anger (for whatever reason), and forms the purpose not to continue his anger.  Gradually in succeeding occasions that subjective aim grows dominant and eventually is satisfied.  In this way the human subject initiates novelty and is not enslaved by the past.

In so determining its response and striving to satisfy its aim, it creates itself as something new, and leaves what it has made of itself as a legacy for future subjects.


Forward to

The Metaphysical Hypothesis: The Theory of Concrescence, Responsive Phases

Back to Table of Contents