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 [Continued]

Propositions and Propositional Feelings: Simple Comparative Feelings


Whitehead argues that propositions have a much wider role in the universe than logicians and philoso-phers have accorded them.  They are generally re-garded as the intellectual material for judgments. In Whitehead’s interpretation they are to be understood as lures for feeling, the trailblazers for the world’s advance into novelty. [See PR, 11.9.i (M, pp. 281, 284; C, pp. 184-185, 187); II1.4.ii (M, pp. 395-396;-C, p. 259).]  Here again Whitehead takes his clue from human subjective experience.  He examines instances of how propositions function in human experience and then, on the basis of what he discovers, he gener-alizes the function to all occasions of experience.

When we examine our own behavior and that of our fellow human beings, it is an obvious fact that intellectual judgment only occasionally and fitfully determines our conduct.  Our action, our practice, is much more commonly determined by goals and ideals which we often have great difficulty bringing to conscious attention and evaluation.  Each one of us is to some extent or another the servant of purposes unconsciously arrived at.  Yet we feel, vaguely or overwhelmingly at times, responsible for what we have done, for the purposes we have pursued and served with our lives.  Even in cases in which we have entertained propositions quite consciously and attentively, we often find that we have committed ourselves to the germinal purpose contained in the proposition without exercising what the philosophers call intellectual judgment.  On occasion we may even commit ourselves to purposes going against the dictates of our judgment.  As we have already seen, what lies beneath our decisions to act is the pursuit of value, and most often we engage in that pursuit without having made intellectual judgments.  We act on the basis of an emotional appetition for value. This is illustrated both in the baser actions of human beings, pursuing purposes of which we are later ashamed, and in the heights of altruistic religious commitment to transcendent values.

. . . consider a Christian meditating on the sayings in the Gospels.  He is not judging “true or false”; he is eliciting their value as elements in feeling.  In fact, he may ground his judgment of truth upon his realization of value. But such a procedure is impossible, if the primary function of propositions is to be elements in judgments. [PR, 11.9.1 (M, p. 281; C, p. 185).

The same is illustrated in our aesthetic experience. Whitehead uses the famous soliloquy of Hamlet as an example, and points out that no one in the audience is judging “true or false”; they are reacting to the proposition, “To be or not to be . . . ,” as a lure for feeling.  [Ibid. That proposition is for the audience, at least at the actual moment of hearing it, purely theoretical, yet it leads them to feel the tragedy in Hamlet’s imaginary life and perhaps to a deeper sympathy for the possible tragedies of every human life.  The feeling of value is what underlies our enter-tainment of propositions and our pursuit of purposes expressed in them.  Judgment, if it occurs at all, arises later, as a critic of our actions and the values we have pursued and shall pursue in the future.

As we shall see below, in the following two subsec-tions, Whitehead’s point is not to downplay the importance of judgment at all, but rather to illustrate its role so that the importance of its practical and transcendent functions may be seen more clearly.

Metaphysically, then, a proposition is a lure for feeling.  Propositions in themselves occur throughout nature, although they may not be felt as such.  We have already considered the simplest case of propositions which are not felt or entertained as propositions by the actual entities exhibiting them. These are what Whitehead calls “physical purposes.” As we saw above [See Thesis, p. 282.], physical purposes are the final determination of “subjective aim” in the lowest grade of actual entities, and they are determined by the integration of a concrescent entity’s conceptual feelings with its physical feelings so as to achieve a subjective unity of feeling.  Thus all subjective aims, considered in themselves, are propositions.  Low-grade occasions of experience, however, do not feel their subjective aims as propositions.  They terminate their concrescence with the integration of conceptual and physical feelings, and do not prehend their integration as a datum for further feeling.  In high-grade occasions, however, those which are characterized by “flashes of novelty in appetition” in their mental poles, “the appetition takes the form of a ‘propositional prehension.’”  [PR II.9.i (M, p. 280; C, p. 184).] The concrescing entity feels the presence of a possibility. This is what Whitehead means by a “propositional feeling.”  Such propositional feelings do not necessarily involve consciousness, though as we shall see below, consciousness always involves propositional feelings.

At this point it would be of assistance to know to what in the more common parlance concerning the objects of our experience Whitehead is referring. Whitehead is characteristically reluctant to draw definite lines among the “objects” we experience in nature and identify some one group as illustrating the various phases of concrescence.  He says explicitly that the cosmological scheme “requires us to hold that all actual entities include physical purposes,” and that “the constancy of physical purposes explains the persistence of the order of nature, and in particular of ‘enduring objects.’” [PR, III.S.vii (M, p. 421; C, p. 276).]  An “enduring object” is “a genetic character inherited through a historical route of occasions.” [PR, II.3.xi (M, p. 166; C, p. 109).]  It is a “society” of actual occasions enjoying “personal order,” and as such it is a special case of a “nexus” with “social order.”  A “nexus” is a set or grouping of occasions which are together by some form of prehension by or objectification in each other. [See PR, I.2.i (M, p. 30; C, p. 20) and ii, Category of Explanation xiv (M, p. 35; C, p. 24).]  A nexus is said to have “social order” or to be a “society” when there is a common form of definiteness illustrated in each of its actual entities, when that common form arises in each actual entity of the nexus “by reason of the conditions imposed upon it by its prehensions of some other members of the nexus, and [when] these prehensions impose that condition of reproduction by reason of their inclusion of positive feelings of that common form.” [PR, I.3.ii (M, pp. 50-51; C, p. 34).] Such a society is said to have “personal order” “when the genetic relatedness of its members orders those members ‘serially.’” [Ibid. (M, p. 51; C, p. 34).  That is, there is a historic route of transmission from one actual occasion to the next, passing on for inheritance a defining characteristic. Any “slice” or “cut” through this historic route of occasions encounters a single actual occasion, which has inherited the defining, characteristic from all the rest of the series in its past and which bequeaths itself and that characteristic to all the rest of the occasions in that series lying in its future. [Ibid. (M, pp. 51-52; C, pp. 34-35.) A society with such personal order is what Whitehead defines as an “enduring abject.”  

An ordinary physical object of the type we are familiar with in our daily lives, such as a rock or a chair, is a complex society made up of many “strands” of enduring objects.  Such a complex society is what Whitehead terms a “corpuscular society,” because such societies generally form what we normally call a material body.  An enduring object itself, however, may or may not form a material body. [See ibid. (M, p. 52; C, p. 35), and II.3.xi (M, p. 166; C, p. 109).]  When we couple these definitions with Whitehead’s understanding that actual occasions concresce but do not change, that actual occasions do not move, and that actual occasions do not experience the passage of time (the passage of time being the transition between occasions),

On lack of change in actual entities, see PR, I.3.ii (M, p. 52; C, p. 35), and Index to C. ed., entry “Change: not attributable to actual entities.”  On actual entities not moving, see PR, II.2.iv (M, pp. 113-119c, pp. 73-77).  On actual entities enjoying quanta of time but not its passage, see PR, I.3.iii (M, pp. 52-53; C, pp. 35-36) and IV.1.i (M, pp. 433-434; c, pp. 283-284).

we can begin to make some rough assignments of the type of natural events or “objects” of our common speech that Whitehead is talking about.

Of the “objects” we encounter in the world of daily experience, the animal body represents the most complex form of society.  Along with the vegetables, all forms of life are what Whitehead generally calls “living societies.”  In the inorganic realm, the objects we deal with every day are “corpuscular societies.”  Enduring objects can form a material body, Whitehead says.  Although he says nothing explicit about this, I suspect that no material body we can see with unaided eyesight is as simple as an enduring object.  The examples Whitehead does give for enduring objects are electrons, protons, and photons.

See PR, I.3.iii (M, pp. 53-54; c, p. 36), and II.3.ii (M, pp. 139141; C, pp. 91-92). Whitehead’s most extended attempt to provide a hierarchy of the societies composing our epoch is PR, II.3.iv-xi (M, pp. 147167; C, pp. 96-109).

In short, as far down as the realm of sub-atomic particles, we are still dealing with complex societies.

Returning to the concern which motivated this excursus on hierarchies of societies, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to give a concrete line of separation between actual occasions capable of the higher phases of experience and those which are not. What kind of an actual occasion can feel a proposition?  Certainly actual occasions in the life-histories of all living forms have the capacity to feel propositions.  I cannot judge with any assurance here, but I suspect that perhaps actual occasions in the life-histories of the more complex inorganic societies, such as the chemical structures studied in organic chemistry, are capable of feeling propositions.  To speculate for a moment, I am not sure how one can account for the amazing diversity of such inorganic bodies as rocks if all occasions in the life-histories of rocks are incapable of feeling propositions.  To the average observer, “When you’ve seen one rock, you’ve seen them all.”  But to those who study rocks in the laboratory, it soon becomes obvious that no two rocks are the same. There is, in short, an observable uniqueness to each rock.  It is difficult for me to understand how such amazing diversity can be achieved unless at least some occasions in the life-history of the complex societies of rocks are capable of feeling a proposition. Yet once given a certain level of diversity in the components of rocks, it is clear that rocks exhibit only “physical purposes.”  They are what they are because of what was there when they were formed.

But how does one understand the rise of the diversity of a rock’s component parts?  How does one understand the diversity of minerals, elements, crystal structures, molecules, and so on?  If our planet began from a more or less homogeneous state (as most theories of planetary origin hold), it would seem that in order to understand the amazing diversity in the inorganic realm, one must hold open the possibility that at least some of the occasions initiating enduring objects must have been capable of feeling propositions, and this on a relatively low level of physical organization.

Be this as it may, Whitehead refuses to make any firm identifications of the sorts of “objects” whose actual occasions are capable of feeling propositions. Moreover, even though it may be impossible to determine exactly how far down in the hierarchy of societies the feeling of propositions is possible, it seems relatively clear that the feeling of propositions is not an important instrument of novelty until we arrive at living societies.  To put this differently, it may be possible for some inorganic occasions to feel a proposition in very rare instances, but relative to the massive continuity of physical purposes studied by the physical sciences, such occasions would appear to be quite rare.  Among living societies, however, the feeling of propositions becomes a much more frequent occurrence in some of the actual occasions of those societies.  Clearly among the higher animals, and even among the invertebrates, the feeling of propositions must be one of the major factors underlying the diverse and novel modes of animal behavior.

I must now consider the nature of a proposition more closely

My account of this aspect of Whitehead’s philosophy and its implications shall be relatively brief.  For a thorough study of this entire aspect of Whitehead’s thought and its implications for religion, see Ste-phen T. Franklin, “Speaking From the Depths: Alfred North Whitehead’s Metaphysics of Propositions, Symbolism, Perceptions, Language, and Religion,” Ph.D. Dissertation, The Divinity School, The University of Chicago, 1976.

since it is one of the basic elements in Whitehead’s account of the possibility of knowing.  “A proposition is a new kind of entity.  It is a hybrid between pure potentialities and actualities.” [PR, II.9.i (M, p. 282; C, pp. 185-186).] Pure potentialities, or eternal objects, in themselves do not have any determined reference to particular actual entities.

. . . an eternal object refers only to the purely general any among undetermined actual entities.  In itself an eternal object evades any selection among actualities or epochs.  You cannot know what is red by merely thinking of redness.  You can only find red things by adventuring among physical experiences in this actual world.  This doctrine is the ultimate ground of empiricism; namely, that eternal objects tell no tales as to their ingressions. [PR, III.4.i (M, p. 391; C, p. 256).]

Hence eternal objects and conceptual feelings in themselves have no particular reference to this actual world.  They speak only of abstract potentiality, telling no tales of what in fact is.  On the other hand, actual entities (considered as “superjects” or “objects”) have reference only to what has in fact been.  They tell tales only of what they have become, what the actual world is in them. These are the two primary types of entities. [See PR, II.9.i (M, p. 287; C, pp. 188-189).] A proposition is a hybrid type of entity.  “Such entities are the tales that perhaps might be told about particular actualities.  Such entities are neither actual entities, nor eternal objects, nor feelings.”  [PR, III.4.i (M, p. 392; C, p. 256).]  Rather, they mix the potentiality of eternal objects with the limiting conditions set by actual entities and thus serve as the datum for complex feelings.

As a hybrid entity, a proposition exhibits characteristics of both primary types of entities from which it is derived.  To understand this fully, we must consider both propositions in themselves and propositional feelings.

The fullest account of the following is PR, 111.4.i (M, pp. 392395; C, pp. 256-259).

A proposition has logical subjects and predicates. The logical subjects are a definite set of actual entities originally prehended in the physical feelings of a concrescent occasion.  The predicates are a definite set of eternal objects originally prehended in the conceptual feelings of a concrescent occasion.  When the concrescent entity integrates its physical feelings and conceptual feelings the result is a proposition.  This fusion necessarily involves a double abstraction or elimination concerning the data of the pure physical and conceptual feelings.  The integration abstracts from or eliminates the absolute generality of reference of eternal objects which are the data of conceptual feelings.  In the integration the eternal object is restricted in reference to this particular set of actual entities (the logical subject of the proposition).

Thus abstraction from potentiality runs toward determination or concreteness, the opposite direction from which abstraction from actuality runs. See SMW, X, pp. 245-246.

The integration also abstracts from or eliminates the full concrete actuality of the actual entities which are the data of physical feelings.  These logical subjects of the proposition

are reduced to the status of food for a possi-bility.  Their real role in actuality is abstracted from; they are no longer factors in fact, except for the purpose of their physical indication. Each logical subject becomes a bare “it” among actualities, with its assigned hypothetical relevance to the predicate.

. . . the peculiar objectification of actual entities, really effected in the physical feeling, is eliminated, except in so far as it is required for the services of the indication.  The objectification remains only to indicate that definiteness which the logical subjects must have in order to be hypothetical food for the predicate. [PR, III.4.i (M, p. 394; C, p. 258).]

The proposition is thus a complex entity, composed of determinate but reduced actual entities and indeterminate but restricted eternal objects, related in a definite but indeterminate pattern.  “The proposi-tion is the possibility of that predicate applying in that assigned way to those logical subjects.  [Ibid. See also III.4.iii (M, pp. 398-399; C, p. 261).]

A proposition is an entity, but it is not an actual entity.  Since by the ontological principle entities appealed to for explanatory purposes cannot simply float in out of the blue, every proposition must be somewhere, that is, it must have a locus in actuality, which means in actual entities.  What, then, is the locus of a proposition?

The “locus” of a proposition consists of those actual occasions whose actual worlds include the logical subjects of the proposition.  When an actual entity belongs to the locus of a proposition, then conversely the proposition is an element in the lure for feeling of that actual entity. [PR, II.9.i (M, p. 283; C, p. 186).]

The proposition thus “exists” in any number of actual occasions, but it may not be admitted into feeling by any of them.  A proposition that is admitted into feeling is said to be “realized” by a member of its locus.  This realization however, is not yet a propositional feeling; it may be a simple physical purpose, which feels the proposition not as a proposition, but merely as the subjective aim forming its purpose. I shall discuss this difference at more length below.  In order to understand the difference, however, I must first consider how a proposition may be related to the actual world of a member of its locus.

There are only two types of relationship between a proposition and the actual world of a member of its locus.  “The proposition may be conformal or non-conformal to the actual world, true or false.” [Ibid. (M, p. 284; C, p. 186).] In fact, the proposition must be true or false.  There are several important points to be noticed about this.  First, this is one way in which a proposition differs from an eternal object.  Eternal objects can never be true or false; they just are.  This is because “truth and falsehood are always grounded upon a reason.  But . . . a reason is always a reference to determinate actual entities.” [PR, III.4.i (M, p. 392; C, p. 256).] Since eternal objects in themselves abstract from all determinate actual entities, referring with absolute generality to any actual entities, there can be no reason upon which to found the truth or falsehood of eternal objects. Propositions, however, do have reference to determinate actual entities.  Hence they must be true or false.  Secondly, though propositions must be true or false, in themselves they are indeterminate as regards their truth or falsehood. [Ibid. (M, pp. 393, 394-395; C, pp. 257, 258).] That is, propositions contain as components determinate actual entities (their logical subjects) which are the reasons determining the true or falsehood of the proposition.  But if we consider the proposition itself, without recourse to the reasons, the proposition “tells no tale about itself.”  [Ibid. (M, p. 393; C, p. 257).] The proposition alone does not proclaim its truth or falsehood, only its possibility.   In this way, propositions are indeterminate and are like eternal objects.

A proposition shares with an eternal object the character of indeterminateness, in that both are definite potentialities for actuality with undetermined realization in actuality.  But they differ in that an eternal object refers to actuality with absolute generality, whereas a proposition refers to indicated logical subjects. [Ibid. (M, p. 395; C, p. 258).]

The proposition shares with actual entities the char-acter of referring to determined matter of fact, but differs from them in presenting not what is, but what might be in the given situation.  The proposition is thus a true  hybrid, exhibiting characteristics of both its parent entities.

There is yet one important point to be noticed about the truth and falsehood of propositions.  False propositions, when considered by logicians, are merely wrong.  Metaphysically, however, false propositions are the instrument of the world’s creative advance.

The conception of propositions as merely material for judgments is fatal to any understanding of their role in the universe.  In that purely logical aspect, non-conformal propositions are merely wrong, and therefore worse than useless.  But in their primary role, they pave the way along which the world advances into novelty.  Error is the price which we pay for progress. [PR, II.9.i (M, p. 284; C, p. 187).]

This profound observation calls for some explanation. A true proposition is one that conforms to the actual world of a member of its locus.

When a conformal proposition is admitted into feeling, the reaction to the datum has simply resulted in the conformation of feeling to fact, with some emotional accession or diminution, by which the feelings inherent in alien fact are synthesized in a new individual valuation.  The prehension of the proposition has abruptly emphasized one form of definiteness illustrated in fact. [Ibid. (M, p. 284; C, pp. 186-187).]

This describes the formation of a physical purpose and, as we have already seen [See Thesis, pp. 283, 286-287.], such physical purposes are not instruments of novelty in the universe.  A false proposition, in contrast, is one that does not conform to the actual world of a member of its locus.

When a non-conformal proposition is ad-mitted into feeling, the reaction to the datum has resulted in the synthesis of fact with the alternative potentiality of the complex predi-cate.  A novelty has emerged into creation. The novelty may promote or destroy order; it may be good or bad.  But it is new, a new type of individual, and not merely a new intensity of individual feeling.  That member of the locus has introduced a new form into the actual world; or, at least, an old form in a new function. [PR, II.9.i (M, p. 284; C, p. 187).]

It is primarily through the feeling of false or non-conformal propositions that novelty actually emerges in the world. The entity feeling a false proposition and deciding to actualize it, in doing so synthesizes what has been with what might be and creates something new.  For example, as I write this, the proposition “there exists a dissertation arguing a fundamental similarity between the philosophies of Whitehead and Lonergan” is false.  Entertaining this proposition, however, has lured me through long months of work to make it true.  Something similar occurs uncon-sciously throughout the universe, and is the way in which new truth is born.  That is why Whitehead says, “in the real world it is more important that a proposition be interesting than it be true.  The importance of truth is, that it adds to interest.” [PR, III.4.ii (M, pp. 395-396; C, p. 259).]

What, then, is the difference between proposi-tional feelings and the formation of physical pur-poses?  The simple comparative feelings—physical purposes and propositional feelings—have the same structure but are different feelings with different subjective forms.  Though every subjective aim is a proposition, physical purposes do not feel their aim as a proposition.  We have seen that one of the major characteristics of a proposition is its indeterminate-ness.  To have a propositional feeling is to feel that indeterminateness.  Physical purposes, in contrast, in their appetition push that indeterminateness to the background.  Further, a proposition reduces the datum of physical feelings to the status of bare logical subjects, food for possibility.  Physical pur-poses, in contrast, do not so reduce the datum of the physical feelings.  The actual entity forming a physical purpose continues to feel the datum of its physical feelings as factors in fact.  Hence, though the physical purpose is in actuality a proposition, the concrescing entity feeling its physical purpose does not feel it as a proposition.  The proposition has been “realized,” but it has not been “realized” that it is a proposition; the contrast involved in the union of its component parts has not been felt by the concrescing subject. [See PR, III.5.vii (M, pp. 421-423; C, pp. 276-277).] In a propositional feeling the con-crescing subject feels that contrast.

Propositional feelings do not necessarily involve consciousness. [PR, III.4.ii,iii,v (M, pp. 396, 399, 402; C, pp. 259, 261, 263); III.5.vii (M, pp. 427-428; C, p. 280).] As we shall see below, consciousness arises in a later integration involving propositional feelings as one of the components.  The subjective form of proposi-tional feelings, however, always involves “decision,” that is, adversion or aversion. [PR, III.4.iii (M, p. 399; C, p. 261).]

The subjective forms of propositional feel-ings are dominated by valuation, rather than by consciousness.  In a pure propositional feeling the logical subjects have preserved their indicated particularity, but have lost their own real modes of objectification.  The sub-jective form lies in the twilight zone between pure physical feeling and the clear conscious-ness which apprehends the contrast between physical feeling and imagined possibility.  A propositional feeling is a lure to creative emergence in the transcendent future.  When it is functioning as a lure, the propositional feeling about the logical subjects of the proposition may in some subsequent phase promote decision involving intensification of some physical feeling of those subjects in the nexus.  Thus, according to the various cate-goreal conditions, propositions intensify, atte-nuate, inhibit, or transmute, without necessarily entering into clear consciousness, or encountering judgment. [PR, III.4.v (M, p. 402; C, p. 263).]

The decision in the subsequent phase (the final determination of subjective aim) may also be to ignore the proposition even though it is felt.  Thus whether or not the proposition is effective as a lure, the concrescent subject entertaining it will make some decision relative to it.

Propositional feelings mark a stage intermediate between the largely unoriginative stage of physical purposes and the highly originative stage of conscious purposes.

The propositions are lures for feelings, and give to feelings a definiteness of enjoyment and purpose which is absent in the blank evaluation of physical feeling into physical purpose.  In this blank evaluation we have merely the determination of the comparative creative efficacies of the component feelings of actual entities.  In a propositional feeling there is the “hold-up” . . . of the valuation of the predicative pattern in its relevance to the definite logical subjects which are otherwise felt as definite elements in experience.  There is the arrest of the emotional pattern round this sheer fact as a possibility, with the corresponding gain in distinctness of its relevance to the future.  The particular possibility for the transcendent creativity—in the sense of its advance from subject to subject—this particular possibility has been picked out, held up, and clothed in emotion. [PR, III.5.viii (M, pp. 427-428; C, p. 280)]

Propositional feelings are thus very important in the life-histories of “enduring objects.”  They are the feelings that dominate within any “physical object” that displays growth.  Whitehead states this as follows:

. . . there is a zest for the enhancement of some dominant element of feeling, received from the data, enhanced by decision admitting non-conformation of conceptual feeling to other elements in the data, and culminating in a satisfaction transmitting enhancement of the dominating element by reason of novel contrasts and inhibitions.  Such a life-history involves growth dominated by a single final end.  This is the main character of a physical object in process of growth.  Such physical objects are mainly “organic,” so far as concerns our present knowledge of the world. [PR, II.9.i (M, pp. 285-286; C, p. 188)]

As an occasion admits into its concrescence the selected elements of the propositional lure, as felt contraries, it generates purpose of the sort that we can observe in physical growth of corpuscular societies.  Propositional feelings thus qualify efficient causation.  They are also the necessary but not sufficient condition of the possibility of conscious-ness.  “A felt ‘contrary’ is consciousness in germ.” [Ibid. (M, p. 286; C, p.188)] I now turn to a consideration of how consciousness arises.


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Intellectual Feelings and Consciousness: Complex Comparative Feelings

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