Process, Insight, and Empirical Method
Argument for the Compatibility of the Philosophies of Alfred North
Whitehead and Bernard J. F. Lonergan and Its Implications for
Dissertation Submitted to the Faculty of the Divinity School, The
University of Chicago, for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
Thomas Hosinski, C.S.C.
The Influence of Empirical Method in Whitehead’s and Lonergan’s Analyses
of Human Subjectivity [Continued]
of Human Subjectivity [Continued]
Rationality, and Knowing
A major portion of our human
subjective experience is what we refer to as our consciousness,
rationality, and knowing. Even commentators who find Whitehead’s
analysis of other dimensions of human subjective experience to be
profound and illuminating, find his analysis of this dimension of our
experience something less than enlightening. Specifically, they do not
find Whitehead’s metaphy-sical approach to epistemological issues
helpful in resolving epistemological problems. For example, Victor
Lowe, who is as appreciative of Whitehead’s philosophy as any other
commentator, probably speaks for many in making the following remarks.
“One reaction to the philosophy of organism, sometimes expressed (and, I
suspect, more often felt), is that the world can’t be as complicated as
all that.” After disagreeing with this reaction so far as metaphysics
and the world are concerned, Lowe continues:
It is rather when we come to certain
topics in the philosophy of man, such as the theory of human knowledge,
that we may say with some truth that Whitehead went too far, and as a
result did not adequately elucidate these matters. . . .
Unfortunately there is one point,
crucial to epistemology, to which he did not, I think, give due weight.
Let it be granted not ,only that we experience the general fact of
derivation, but also that at the subconscious levels of experience there
are causal “feelings” of all actual occasions on the route of
transmission, from the external object to the percipient occasion in the
brain. This is important for the general theory of the causal
constitution of temporal existents. It is irrelevant to epistemology.
Only what is indubitably given to conscious experience can be
particular evidence of perceptual truth or error. Hence Whitehead’s
explanation of error as a mis-taken symbolic transference from
perception of presented sense-data to perception in the mode of causal
efficacy is epistemologically useless. . . .
I think that Whitehead also handled
the conceptual element in perceptual knowledge on the wrong
plane—metaphysical rather than epistemological. It is curious that a
thinker who enriched philosophy with so many new concepts should have
said so little about the nature of concepts . . . . In human knowledge .
. . they play a role which he did not fully appreciate. . . .
One moral which I draw here is that,
though the conception of distinct individuals which Whitehead provided
in his theory of actual occasions and societies of occasions may be
sufficient and admirable for metaphysics (as I rather think it is), when
we come to epistemology (and many other topics in the philosophy of man)
it is essential to take the individual person as the primary unit in
terms of which problems should be discussed.
[Victor Lowe, Understanding Whitehead, pp. 375, 376-377,
Lowe is here expressing what undoubtedly many other readers of Whitehead
have concluded, that Whitehead had an unfortunate “tendency to
ontologize 2 these concerns of the human mind.”
Ibid., p. 379. Concerning
Whitehead’s analysis of propositions, Lowe says this: “And although
Whitehead’s introduction into metaphysics of propositions as a category
of existence, . . . was an original contribution of great importance,
the proposition as a union of concepts—a union which must be consciously
entertainable—is another and much more special thing, and must still be
treated as a topic in the theory of human thought. That theory must
assume responsibility for clarifying the criteria by which the
propositions thought by men may be accounted true or false, probable or
improbable, accurate or, inaccurate, etc.” Ibid., p. 379. I
suspect, and shall try to show, that White-head thought ontology made it
possible to do precisely what Lowe says.
Yet in Whitehead’s estimation the
resolution of the main problem of epistemology is one of the major tests
of the metaphysical scheme of interpretation. In Science and the
Modern World, for example, Whitehead states the following:
These metaphysical chapters are
purely descriptive. Their justification is to be sought, (i) in our
direct knowledge of the actual occasions which compose our immediate
experience, and (ii) in their success as forming a basis for harmonizing
our systematised accounts of various types of experience, and (iii) in
their success as providing the concepts in terms of which an
epistemology can be framed. By (iii) I mean that an account of the
general character of what we know must enable us to frame an account of
how knowledge is possible as an adjunct within things known.
[SMW, X, p.
And in the Preface to Process and Reality Whitehead states:
These lectures are intended to state
a condensed scheme of cosmological ideas, to develop their meaning by
confrontation with the various topics of experience, and finally to
elaborate an adequate cosmology in terms of which all particular topics
find their interconnections. . . . At the end, in so far as the
enterprise has been successful, there should be no problem of
space-time, or of epistemology, or of causality, left over for
discussion. The scheme should have developed all those generic notions
adequate for the expression of any possible interconnection of things.
[PR, Preface (M, pl. vii; C, p. xii).]
Thus Whitehead clearly feels that his “ontologized” approach to the
central concerns of the human mind makes it possible to resolve the
fundamental problems of epistemology. Indeed, if it does not, Whitehead
would regard his metaphysical scheme of interpretation as having met
with a major failure.
While it may very well be the case
that White-head’s analysis of human knowing can benefit from
supplementation by an approach which takes the human individual as the
basic unit in terms of which the problems of knowledge are discussed, I
shall try to show that his ontological analysis does not “go too far”
and that it is extremely valuable in resolving the fundamental problem
I shall argue below
that Lonergan’s analysis can serve in precisely this way.
Problem of Epistemology
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