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]

Consciousness, 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, 378.]

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. 227.]

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 of epistemology.

I shall argue below that Lonergan’s analysis can serve in precisely this way.


Forward to

The Fundamental Problem of Epistemology

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