Quantcast Donald W. Sherburne "Whitehead without God"


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Revised from The Christian Scholar, L, 3 (Fall 1967).  See Lewis S. Ford's An Appraisal of Whiteheadian Nontheism elsewhere on this site.

“When a human being tries to formulate a general concept of the universe, he is bound to use his favorite preconceptions in his descriptive generalizations of experience.  Whitehead’s preconceptions were largely Platonic and religious. . . . The experiment of naturalizing Whitehead’s metaphysics of nature might well be tried.   The idea has long been attractive to a few students of Whitehead, but I know of no attempt to carry it out full-scale.”

Victor Lowe, Understanding Whitehead Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1962, 87f.

Whitehead without God

Donald W. Sherburne

I had been tempted to perform the experiment of naturalizing Whitehead’s meta-physics before I read these sentences.  They encouraged me to continue my reflections and I have now arrived at the point where I believe that the experiment can be conducted successfully.  I am engaged in working out the myriad details of the enterprise and I expect that, sooner or later, the results will appear in book form.  On the present occasion, a journal issue devoted to exhibiting the implications for theology of post-Whiteheadian metaphysics, it is my function to point out that post-Whiteheadian metaphysics, in one of its developments, points towards a radical theology in the sense made popular by the Death of God movement.  The body of this article will present some of the issues which lead to my disillusionment with the concept “God” in the framework of Whitehead’s system and will adumbrate some of my suggestions for recontouring that system.  But before I enter into that discussion, I will say a brief word about where my project leaves me in regard to the whole religious enterprise.

Exorcizing the concept “God” from the system leaves me in a stance very similar to that of Paul van Buren, who holds that the essence of Christianity is an ethical message about how to live a life and that “God” talk is a dated, misleading, unhelpful, obscure way of saying what Christianity wants to say about what it is to be a man and to live a moral life.  To slip into Whiteheadian technical terminology, I understand Jesus as a figure the story of whom we objectify with peculiar vividness as a result of his power to grasp the successive subjective aims of generations and generations of men by the sheer massiveness and compelling weight of the ideal vision which he has presented as a lure promising richness and depth of feeling in human satisfactions.  Those who have been grasped and oriented in their life values by this lure have been called Christians.  “God” talk and the language of miracles, immortality, and saving grace have created a good bit of the aesthetic compulsion behind this lure in past generations.  In our generation there is danger and hope—danger that these noncognitive accouterments will lose their aesthetic harmony and hypnotic power when integrated with the basic prehensions of science, and be reverted into impotent and empty symbols, jarring, ugly, and without force in final satisfactions: hope that the power of Jesus as lure will reassert itself in an aesthetic context devoid of supernaturalism, a context such that (the language now picks up echoes of van Buren) the vision of Jesus, the free man, free from authority, free from fear, “free to give himself to others, whoever they were”1—such that this vision in its earthly, human purity will lure our aims to a harmonious concrescence, integrating scientific insight and moral vision and producing a modern, intensely fulfilling human satisfaction.

What role does the concept “God” play in Whitehead’s system?  There are three main roles: (1) God preserves the past and in so doing creates significance, meaningfulness, and also provides the ontological ground for the claim that truth is immortal; (2) God provides the ontological ground, the “somewhere,” for eternal objects; (3) God is the source of subjective aims in temporal occasions, and in this role is the principle of limitation productive of order, the source of novelty, and the source of the real perspective standpoint within the extensive continuum for each occasion.  A naturalistic reinterpretation of Whitehead’s scheme has to show (1) that in some one, at least, of these roles the concept “God” violates the fundamental metaphysical principles of the system and thereby introduces incoherence into the scheme, and (2) that the system can be so interpreted and modified that each of these roles is superfluous.  In this essay I shall concentrate on the issue of the past.  My first concern, in Part A below, will be to show that on either the orthodox interpretation of Whitehead (as presented in Whitehead’s writings and expounded by William Christian), or on the interpretation offered by Charles Hartshorne and John Cobb, there is incoherence.  This will require some detailed textual analysis, but when accomplished it will meet the first requirement.  I will then adumbrate, in Part B, the manner in which I intend to resolve the problem of the past.  Finally, in Part C, I will introduce considerations designed to show not only that God, viewed as ground of the past, is superfluous, but that his other roles, the role of ontological ground for eternal objects and the role of providing subjective aims, are also superfluous.


The question of the status of the past is crucial in Whitehead’s thought as a result of his systematic account of the nature of a full fact.  That which is fully and finally real for Whitehead is termed an actual entity, or actual occasion.  An actual entity is a microcosmic entity, and, as microcosmic, analogous to the atoms of Democritus or the monads of Leibniz; macrocosmic things of ordinary experience such as trees, mountains, people, are conceived as societies, or nexus, of actual entities, and more specifically as four-dimensional societies, and societies of societies stretched out in space and time.  The enduring things of the universe are societies; individual actual entities do not endure, but are momentary drops of experience that become, concresce, by synthesizing into a fully definite unity of feeling the elements provided by their environment.  Their becoming is also their perishing.  They do not linger over their feelings when completed but perish in handing on the synthesizing vitality of subjective feeling to subsequent generations of actual entities.

This brief summary of fundamental notions is sufficient to permit the introduction of the problem of the status of the past.2  The universe is a realm of perpetual perishing, a realm where actual entities enjoy their brief moment of subjective immediacy and then quickly slip into the status Whitehead refers to as objective immortality.  The key question is this, what does it mean to say that an actual entity is objectively immortal?  These objectively immortal actual entities are the past, and one is tempted to ask with Francois Villon, Ou sont les neiges d’anton?”  Where are the snows of yesteryear and how are they related to the present?  In terms of what scheme of ideas is their efficacy on the present to be understood? The Whiteheadian answer to these questions is simply that the past is preserved as objectively immortal in the consequent nature of God and has what efficacy it has on the present as a result of the role played by God at the birth of every actual occasion.  There are problems with this Whiteheadian answer, however, and we must approach this account with the aim of making these problems apparent.

The key problem concerns how God gets to perceive occasions in the first place so that they can be taken up as objectively immortal into his consequent nature.  But how this is a problem can be seen only after we first descend to the level of an ordinary temporal occasion, A, and ask how it can prehend a past occasion, X, which is part of A’s actual world.  William Christian analyzes this question with great care in his book, An Interpretation of Whitehead’s Metaphysics,3 and, since his analysis seems to me an eminently fair and accurate account, I will draw upon it heavily.  Christian notes that Whitehead doesn’t seek to prove that the past is given, he rather assumes the obvious fact that the past is given and then asks,  How is it possible that the past is given now?  (Christian, 320).  To ask this question is to ask for a reason, and Whitehead has a basic principle, termed the ontological principle, which asserts that “actual entities are the only reasons” (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 37).  The reason we give to explain how the past can be given now must be a reason which refers ultimately to an actual entity or entities as ontological ground for the past.  Christian argues that the grounding actual entity cannot be the past actual occasion X because “X has now perished and is no longer actual, whereas the only ‘reasons’ according to the ontological principle are actual entities” (Christian, 321) and also cannot be the concrescing occasion A because “the occasion for which the data are given cannot be the reason why the data are given” (Christian, 322).  God is the only actual entity available to do the job.  Christian holds that God, who prehends all occasions, has prehended X, and since God, unlike X, does not perish but endures everlastingly, God presents to A, for A’s prehension, an aspect of himself which includes his (God’s) prehension of X.  In this way the past is given for A to prehend.

This is the account I find compatible with Whitehead’s often tantalizingly imprecise discussions, but I find it quite unacceptable.  If God, has prehended the past occasion X, then, since God endures everlastingly, God can be the ontological ground, the reason, explanatory of how X can be given as datum to a concrescing actual occasion A.  But this is a big “if,” for how is it possible for God to prehend X?  It is an integral part of Christian’s argument to say, “God in his consequent nature prehends X” (Christian, 327).  But now all the problems that clustered about the ontological ground of X when we thought of A prehending X come back to haunt us when we rise back up to the level of God and raise the question how it is possible for God to prehend X.  Christian, as noted above, argues that it is not possible that the presently concrescing entity be the ground of the givenness of the past.  In the present instance God is the concrescing entity, so God cannot be the ground of the givenness of X when God is prehending X.  God is in unison of becoming with every occasion (cf. Christian, 333-334), but it is the definition of contemporary occasions, occasions in unison of becoming, that neither of them prehend the other (cf. Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 102).  Therefore, even though God was around and prehending something when X was becoming, and hence was actual, God could not then have been prehending X.  When X was past, then the possibility was open for God to prehend X.  But, of course, X was then not actual, not formaliter, but objective, drained of subjectivity.  So the problem of the ontological ground for X, when X was prehended by God, remains unsolved.  Any way that this problem is approached is going to make God an exception to principles governing and limiting normal, temporal, actual entities.  To say that God in his consequent nature can prehend a contemporary actual entity, a then-concrescing occasion, is to provide a ground for the datum (viz, the actuality of the then-concrescing occasion) but is to make an exception of God in order to prevent the collapse of the system.  To say that God can prehend datum occasions when they have no ground, or to say that God, as prehending subject, can somehow provide a ground for occasions he prehends in a way that temporal actual entities cannot, is again to make an exception of God.  Nowhere in Christian or in Whitehead do I find a way out of this impasse.  Hence I offer this specific difficulty as the first systematic reason why I find Whitehead’s system with God incoherent.

One possible position, held in the past by Charles Hartshorne, is to affirm an alternative I have rejected, i.e., to affirm that God does prehend actual occasions as they are concrescing.  If this were an acceptable view, then there would be no problem about the availability of the past.  I must argue in more detail that this alternative is unacceptable.  I shall begin by expanding the argument, already adumbrated, that it is a violation of the principles of Whitehead’s system to suggest that contemporary actual entities can prehend each other.  I shall then show that this view rests on the assumption of the omnispatiality of God, the assumption that God is everywhere, and I shall attack this assumption, particularly as it is defended by John Cobb, in some detail.

It is a violation of the principles of White-head’s system to suggest that contemporary actual entities can prehend each other.  It is a clear-cut principle of his system that “so far as physical relations are concerned, contemporary events happen in causal independence of each other” (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 95).  Whitehead adds in a footnote.  “This principle lies on the surface of the fundamental Einsteinian formula for the physical continuum.”  In Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 102 Whitehead provides what amounts to a definition of “contemporary”:  “Actual entities are called ‘contemporary’ when neither belongs to the ‘given’ actual world defined by the other.”  But Hartshorne, whose purpose was to find a way of preserving the past everlastingly in its full subjective immediacy, insisted that God prehends contemporaries as they are concrescing so that what God will know and preserve will be those entities in the immediacy of their becoming, so that he will know and preserve them formaliter and not objective (the way ordinary temporal entities know and preserve occasions in their past).  Occasions prehended, however, are occasions in the actual world of the prehending subject.  Therefore, since God prehends contemporaries, contemporary occasions are in the actual world of God, a result which contradicts the Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 102 definition of “contemporary.”  In this instance God is not exemplifying what Whitehead calls “the principle of contemporary independence” (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 96); rather, he is treated as an exception to this principle invoked to save the collapse into nothingness of the past.  In this sentence I have been recalling against Hartshorne one of the most well-known passages of Process and Reality: “In the first place, God is not to be treated as an exception to all metaphysical principles, invoked to save their collapse. He is their chief exemplification” (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 521).

It might be helpful at this point to enlarge upon the view held by Hartshorne so that his assumptions will emerge more clearly. Hartshorne warns us at one point that, “the poetic majesty of the conception of unfading everlastingness of all occasions in God (down to the de facto present) should not blind us to the simple, cogent reason for the idea.”4  The reason for the idea is the doctrine of the immortality of truth; holding a correspondence view of truth, Hartshorne feels he requires the unfading everlastingness of all occasions in God to make the notion of truths about the past intelligible.  The end is to ground a theory of truth; the immediate means to this is the doctrine of the unfading everlastingness of all occasions in God; the proximate means then becomes the doctrine that God prehends actual occasions as they are becoming, as they are contemporary with the appropriate moment in his developing consequent nature; finally, the remote assumption grounding this proximate means, and hence the whole edifice of Whiteheadian interpretation at stake here, is the assumption that God is everywhere and hence includes the regional standpoint of every temporal actual entity.  It is this ground floor assumption that must be examined very closely.

As I read Hartshorne, he maintains that “God is not spatially localized” (Schilpp, 545) and the meaning of this phrase is that God is everywhere—“God is not spatially separated from things” he has written (Schilpp, 545), and in a recent book he claims that deity, the universally immanent, is everywhere.5  Given this assumption Hartshorne is then able to say that since God, being everywhere, includes the regional standpoint of every temporal actual entity, he must intuit all occasions wherever they are as they occur” (Schilpp, 545).  This puts Hartshorne where he wants to be, because to intuit (prehend) actual occasions as they occur is to intuit (prehend) them formaliter, as they exist in the immediate subjectivity of concrescence, and since God is everlasting, and experiences all actual occasions formaliter, actual occasions are preserved everlastingly (in their full, warm, subjective immediacy) in the consequent nature of God.6  This interpretation resolves the question of the status of the past, the problem of how the past is given as datum for concrescing actual occasions, and the question of a ground for truth claims about the past.  It is an impressive accomplishment and certainly exhibits why Hartshorne has become a leading interpreter among many theologically inclined neo-Whiteheadians.  But I am myself unhappy with the interpretation, as I have already indicated to some degree, and we must turn now to a more careful analysis of the basic assumption of the omnispatiality of God.

This doctrine of the omnispatiality of God assumes that “it is possible for the region that constitutes the standpoint of one occasion to include the regions that constitute the standpoints of other occasions.”  This quote is from John Cobb,7 and since Cobb has presented the clearest, most sustained defense of this assumption underlying the interpretation of his mentor (he dedicates his book to Hartshorne), I shall attack the assumption as it is presented and defended by Cobb.

1. My first point is that there already exists a carefully documented set of arguments which shows that within the Whiteheadian system it is impossible for there to be any relation of overlapping or inclusion among standpoints of actual occasions.  This set of arguments occurs in Chapter 4 of Christian (especially pp. 92-103) and, in order to repudiate the Hartshornian interpretation, marshals a great deal of evidence from (1) the theory of coordinate division, (2) the doctrine of the solidarity of the extensive continuum, (3) Whitehead’s explanation of the physical transmission of energy, (4) the epochal theory of time, (5) the doctrine of durations, and (6) Whitehead’s analysis of the contemporary world.  Cobb acknowledges these arguments (Cobb, 86, fn. 77) and in the accompanying text states that he will, implicitly, be directing his paragraphs against Christian’s objections.  I do not find that Cobb has met Christian’s objections at all adequately, and I count this failure my first point against the Hartshorne-Cobb assumption that there can be a sharing of standpoints.

2. My second point is that I do not see how one who adheres to the doctrine of regional inclusion can avoid affirming that one prehension has two subjects and this implication of the doctrine constitutes a reduction ad absurdum.8  That if established, it would be a reductio is clear from passages such as the following:  “A feeling is in all respects determinate, with a determinate subject, determinate initial data. . .”; no feeling can be abstracted either from its data, or its subject” (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 338 and 355).  My view here hinges on my understanding of the nature of a concrescence and its relationship to its region.

A concrescence is a growing together into a unity of feeling (a satisfaction) of a mass of feelings, or prehensions, which all have one and the same subject.  This growing together is a quantum phenomenon with temporal and spatial dimensions.  The concrescence arises out of a past, a past that limits the possibilities open to that concrescence.  The most general limitations of all placed on the concrescence by the past have to do with the extensive characteristics which structure the past.  The past, the actual world at that instant, in virtue of its actual structure, limits the pure potentiality of the realm of eternal objects in regard to extensive relationships that might have obtained for that concrescence and converts that pure potentiality into the real, limited potentiality facing that, and any other, concrescence that is to arise out of just that world (Cf. Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 102).  The only possibilities that are real possibilities in the unfolding of the extensive character of the actual world are those that are compatible with the realized extensive character of the objectively immortal past.  “The extensive continuum” is the name for this set of extensive relationships exemplified in the past and limiting the future:

. . .the real potentialities relative to all standpoints are coordinated as diverse determinations of one extensive continuum.  This extensive continuum is one relational complex in which all potential objectifications find their niche.  It underlies the whole world, past, present and future. . . . It is not a fact prior to the world; it is the first determination of order—that is, of real potentiality—arising out of the general character of the world. . . . This extensive continuum is “real,” because it expresses a fact derived from the actual world and concerning the contemporary actual world (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 103.

These passages should make it clear that the extensive continuum is not a container sitting there waiting for actual occasions to happen in it; it is not an analogue to the notion of absolute space and time; it is not a fact prior to the world.  It is a set of conditions exemplified in the past which condition any future which is to arise out of that past.  It is a vast society, the widest of all societies, which lays down the obligation on everything which is that it conform to its very general sort of social order; it socializes into its extensive mold all the individuals which arise within it, just as we in our culture “Americanize” all the children born into it.  When Whitehead writes, “The concrescence presupposes its basic region, and not the region its concrescence” (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 434), I understand this phrase to mean that the actual presupposes that which is potential, that which is possible for it.  This interpretation is compatible with the following passages:  “The reality of the future is bound up with the reality of this continuum.  It is the reality of what is potential, in its character of a real component of what is actual. . . . With the becoming of any actual entity what was previously potential in the space-time continuum is now the primary real phase in something actual” (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 103 and 104).

Now this compressed account of the nature of the extensive continuum must be brought back to the point at hand, the point that the doctrine of regional inclusion cannot avoid affirming that one prehension has two subjects.  There is no region, actually, until a mass of feelings emerge and concresce; these feelings actualize the region.  The becoming of the actual occasion constituted by these feelings is a quantum phenomena; it is a drop of experience which, as a quantum, is so related to other quanta as to constitute a space-time continuum.  A region doesn’t become actual until a mass of feelings concresces to create one subject. Suppose, now, regional inclusion were to occur—what would have to be the case for this to be possible?  Since a region is not a bucket-like container that is there before it is filled, but, rather, is actualized by the emergence of a group of prehensions, it would have to be the case that these prehensions belonged to more than one subject.  But this, as we have seen, is a reductio.  But perhaps it might be argued that in this region prehensions which were to grow into two different subjects were intertwined.  To this suggestion I would reply that, no matter how complex and involuted the boundaries, there would be two regions, one actualized by each of the concrescing subjects.  Cobb suggests, in passages that will be analyzed in detail shortly, that “the regions occupied by some electronic occasions are entirely included in the regions occupied by some molecular occasions” (Cobb, 90).  I suspect he may have in mind an image of overlapping, as a layer of cold air and a layer of warm air may both overlay the same geographic region.  But that image won’t do here; as I have argued, there is no region, actually, before a mass of prehensions concresces.  But once that mass of prehensions has concresced, it is a region: “There is a spatial element in the quantum as well as a temporal element.  Thus the quantum is an extensive region” (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 434).  Any other mass of prehensions could only constitute another region.  Hence the only alternative left open to Cobb, as he argues that two actual occasions occupy the same region, is to hold that one prehension can have two subjects, and this is a suggestion which is incompatible with Whitehead’s doctrine of prehensions.

3. My third point is that Cobb is very seriously misleading in his argument that Whitehead considers molecules, electrons and protons to be enduring objects.  An enduring object is a personally ordered society, a society that is purely temporal in the sense that it is a mere thread of continuous inheritance containing no two actual entities which are contemporaries.  If a molecule were such a society, and if, as is clearly the case, electrons are contained inside molecules, then it would follow that “the regions occupied by some electronic occasions are entirely included in the regions occupied by some molecular occasions” (Cobb, 90—the argument begins on p. 89).  The thrust of the cumulative argument of Cobb’s book is that since Whitehead wrote statements that clearly imply that regional inclusion obtains between molecular and electronic occasions, we ought to be receptive to the suggestion that “soul” occasions include the regions of brain occasions and God includes the regions of all temporal occasions, because there is no principle involved in these latter two instances which has not been acknowledged by Whitehead himself in the case of the relations holding between molecular occasions and electronic occasions.  Since this analogy gives Cobb’s defense of the Hartshornian interpretation of God a good deal of the persuasiveness that it has, it is very important to recognize that the analogy is highly suspect since it is based upon a questionable reading of the Whiteheadian texts.  I must now show in some detail how this is the case.

Cobb prepares for this analogy early in his book; during his first discussion of societies (p. 41) he uses a molecule as his example of an enduring object.  Then later, when he really settles in to argue his interpretation, Cobb claims (p. 89) that Whitehead explicitly gives molecules, electrons, and protons as examples of enduring objects.  Cobb footnotes his claims.  The passages concerning molecules are given as Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 124-125 and 151.  These references must be examined carefully. In Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 124-125 Whitehead writes:

An event is a nexus of actual occasions interrelated in some determinate fashion in some extensive quantum: it is either a nexus in its formal completeness, or it is an objectified nexus. One actual occasion is a limiting type of event. The most general sense of the meaning of change is “the differences between actual occasions in one event.” For example, a molecule is a historic route of actual occasions; and such a route is an “event.” Now the motion of the molecule is nothing else than the differences between the successive occasions of its life-history in respect to the extensive quanta from which they arise; and the changes in the molecule are the consequential differences in the actual occasions.

Obviously, Whitehead does not in this passage say directly or indirectly that a molecule is an enduring object.  He merely says it is an historic route of actual occasions and that such a route is an event.  Now if it could be shown that Whitehead means the same thing by “event” that he means by “enduring object,” then Cobb would have his point, but (a) there are no grounds I can find at all to ground such an equivalence, and (b) quite to the contrary, “events” can be, though they need not be, spatially extended.  For example, the life span of the tree outside my window is an event, and the tree is not an enduring object in the technical sense, but rather a very complex structured society.  Speaking of events, Christian writes, “An event has temporal thickness (duration) and spatial spread.  Within its unity are temporal and spatial ‘parts’ (Christian, p. 177—italics mine).  Christian is here speaking of the concept “event” as used in Whitehead’s earlier works; the term doesn’t change its reference in the later works, though it practically drops out of the picture as being a less than ultimate concept (corresponding to the notion of a structured society) which gives way to the category of “actual entity” as the term descriptive of ultimate, concrete reality.  In this passage, then, we do not find Whitehead, even by inference via “event,” giving a molecule as an example of an enduring object.

Is Cobb’s claim substantiated any more adequately in Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 151?  The passage is set in the context of a discussion of structured societies and the two types of component groups that may be included in them, “subordinate nexus” and “subordinate societies.”

The distinction arises because in some instances a group of occasions, such as, for example, a particular enduring entity, could have retained the dominant features of its defining characteristic in the general environment, apart from the structured society.  It would have lost some features; in other words, the analogous sort of enduring entity in the general environment is, in its mode of definiteness, not quite identical with the enduring entity within the structured environment.  But, abstracting such additional details from the generalized defining characteristic, the enduring object with that generalized characteristic may be conceived as independent of the structured society within which it finds it [itself?].  For example, we speak of a molecule within a living cell, because its general molecular features are independent of the environment of the cell.  Thus a molecule is a subordinate society in the structured society which we call the “living cell.”  [Whitehead then goes on to say that a subordinate nexus cannot sustain itself apart from the special environment provided by that structured society.]

The first point to be made about this passage is that a given subordinate society may, or may not, be an enduring entity.  In the first sentence Whitehead picks “an enduring entity” as an example, but he could just as well have picked a structured society with spatial spread.  Structured societies may be very complex indeed, with their subordinate societies themselves containing subordinate societies: “The Universe achieves its values by reason of its coordination into societies of societies, and into societies of societies of societies” (Adventures of Ideas 264).  We could start with a society like a tree and then a cell would be a subordinate group within the tree and a molecule would be another subordinate group within the cell.  The point, then, is that a society, B, subordinate to another, A, may yet itself host further subordinate societies, C, D, E, who may in turn etc. etc.  In short, a subordinate society is not necessarily an enduring object, though, of course, a subordinate society may be an enduring object.  Secondly, we must note that Whitehead gives two examples of a subordinate society in this passage.  The first example is an enduring object, and Whitehead discusses this example for three sentences.  His second example of a subordinate society, introduced in the fourth sentence as a new example by the phrase “for example,” is a molecule.  It is an example of a subordinate society, however, and not on example of an enduring object.  The two examples are on coordinate levels; it is not the case that the second example is an example of the first example.  But this is how Cobb must read the paragraph.  If the analysis so far has not clinched my case, no question at all can remain when we note that on the very next page, in the context of this same discussion, Whitehead writes:  “Molecules are structured societies, and so in all probability are separate electrons and protons” (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 152).  This is no casual, careless statement; two sentences later Whitehead writes:  “But gases are not structured societies in any important sense of the term; although their individual molecules are structured societies” (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 152, italics mine).  Since a structured society cannot be an enduring object, Cobb cannot use the Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 151 discussion of subordinate societies to justify his claim that molecules are enduring objects.

At this point Cobb might be tempted to make one last ditch stand, arguing that I have begged the question by merely assuming that a structured society cannot be an enduring object, whereas what he is saying, when he says that one regional standpoint can include another, is that one enduring entity, one nonspatial, serially ordered society, can still be a structured society in that its temporally successive occasions can include the regional standpoints of the “narrower” actual entities which make up its subordinate societies and/or nexus.  If Cobb attempts to argue this way, then the issue boils down to what is meant by a structured society and I am convinced that if Cobb attempts to argue this way he would be misreading the nature of a structured society.  The following passage clearly rules out the interpretation of “structured society” which, I have suggested, Cobb might like to hold:  “A structured society consists in the patterned intertwining of various nexus with markedly diverse defining characteristics” (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 157, italics mine).  A structured society is not an entity above and beyond its component groups, anymore than a baseball team is some kind of entity above and beyond the sum of its players; rather, it “consists in” (or “consists of,” as we would put it on this side of the Atlantic) the patterned relations holding among its component entities.  This passage effectively rules out any attempt to argue that an enduring entity could be a structured society, and consequently blocks the only possible counter-argument that I can see which Cobb might bring against my position.

So much for molecules; now we can turn to the Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 139-141 passages where, Cobb tells us (Cobb 89, fns. 83 and 84), Whitehead asserts that electrons and protons are enduring objects.  We have already seen that Whitehead says that “in all probability” electrons and protons are structured societies—this warns us both that (1) he is not ready to die in the last ditch over this issue, but (2) he is pretty certain that at the level of electrons and protons we have not yet gotten down to personally ordered, serial strands of actual occasions.  The first relevant passage, Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 139-140, occurs in the context of a discussion of what a “cosmic epoch” is, and more particularly, what the character of our cosmic epoch happens to be.

This epoch is characterized by electronic and protonic actual entities, and by yet more ultimate actual entities which can be dimly discerned in the quanta of energy.  Maxwell’s equations of the electromagnetic field hold sway by reason of the throngs of electrons and of protons.  Also each electron is a society of electronic occasions, and each proton is a society of protonic occasions.

This passage clearly does not say or imply that electrons and protons are enduring objects.  It says that an actual occasion which finds itself within an electron is called an electronic occasion and one which finds itself within a proton is called a protonic occasion.  It also says that electrons and protons are societies, but it gives no indication as to whether they are spatially thick, structured societies (my view) or enduring objects (Cobb’s view) except where Whitehead speculates about the dimly discerned “yet more ultimate actual entities—this could be taken to imply that electrons and protons are complex, made up of distinct types of subordinate entities, and this would support my claim that electrons and protons are structured societies.  It seems to me quite possible that Whitehead had the likely existence of these dimly discerned entities in mind when he wrote, as we have seen, that “in all probability” electrons and protons are structured societies.  The final relevant passage spans Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 140-141.

In speaking of a society—unless the context expressly requires another interpretation—“membership” will always refer to the actual occasions, and not to subordinate enduring objects composed of actual occasions such as the life of an electron or of a man.  These latter societies are the strands of “personal” order which enter into many societies; generally speaking, whenever we are concerned with occupied space, we are dealing with this restricted type of corpuscular societies; and whenever we are thinking of the physical field in empty space, we are dealing with societies of the wider type.  It seems as if the careers of waves of light illustrate the transition from the more restricted type to the wider type.

Thus our cosmic epoch is to be conceived primarily as a society of electromagnetic occasions, including electronic and protonic occasions, and only occasionally—for the sake of brevity in statement—as a society of electrons and protons.  There is the same distinction between thinking of an army either as a class of men, or as a class of regiments.

The message of this passage, clearly stated at the beginning and the end, is that when Whitehead speaks of the membership of a society, he is referring to its component actual entities and not to its component subordinate societies.  Again, it is the examples Whitehead uses which seem to be the source of Cobb’s confusion: “membership” does not refer to subordinate enduring objects “such as the life of an electron or of a man.”  I have italicized the word “life” here because it is the key to understanding the examples.  Now a man, the total man, is not an enduring object.  He is, rather, a very complex structured society which sustains, among many other societies, a regnant, personally ordered, subordinate society (an enduring object) which Whitehead refers to as “the soul of which Plato spoke” (Adventures of Ideas 267—see also pp. 263-264 for a clear statement of the distinction between “the ordinary meaning of the term ‘man,’ which includes the total bodily man, and the narrow sense of “man,” where “man” is considered a person in Whitehead’s technical sense, i.e., as the regnant, personally ordered society which he identifies as his equivalent of Descartes’ thinking substance and Plato’s soul).  Now this “soul” is the “life” of the man, and it is an enduring object, a personally ordered, purely temporal, continuous, subordinate society within the total, bodily man.  So the point of Whitehead’s example in the above passage would be that in talking about the membership of the complex structured society which is a total man, in the ordinary sense of the term, one is referring not to a subordinate society, such as the enduring object which is the life, or soul, of the man, but to all the individual actual occasions in all the subordinate societies and subordinate nexus which make up the man.  Now the situation with the electron is exactly the same.  The membership of the complex structured society which is the electron is not, properly speaking, any of the subordinate societies or nexus of the electron, such as the personally ordered society, the enduring object, which constitutes the “life” of the electron, but, rather, the individual actual occasions of which these subordinate entities are composed.  It should be very clear now that to speak of the enduring object which constitutes the life of an electron is not by any stretch of the imagination to identify electrons as enduring objects, as Cobb claims, which is the sole point that needs to be made about this passage.

We have now examined the passages in Process and Reality which, Cobb claims, exhibit Whitehead identifying molecules, electrons and protons as enduring objects and we have found that in none of the passages is Cobb’s claim substantiated.  Whitehead does not identify molecules, electrons and protons as enduring objects; he, rather, explicitly identifies them as structured societies, and I have defended with arguments and citations the pretty obvious point that a structured society cannot be an enduring object.  The conclusion from this examination of the texts is that the analogy between molecules and electrons on the one hand and God and actual occasions on the other is without foundation and very misleading, since it lulls the unwary reader into feeling that since Whitehead at least implicitly acknowledges overlapping regional standpoints in the first instance (which we have seen to be false) then to say that God is omnipresent, meaning that the standpoint of God includes the regions which constitute the standpoints of all actual occasions, is merely an extension of a general principle which Whitehead at least implicitly endorses.

Now that this analogy has been seen to be without foundation, what should we conclude about Cobb’s efforts to support Hartshorne’s position?  We should conclude that the effort to show that the Hartshorne-Cobb conclusions are really just below the surface in Whitehead’s own writings must be abandoned.  But showing that this analogy must be abandoned does not, I am the first to admit, conclusively show that the Hartshorne-Cobb development itself ought to be abandoned.  But it does, I believe, cause us to recognize their position as a development and to have real reservations about that development; it causes us to ask, what is the relationship between this development of the theology of Process and Reality and the underlying principles and categories which constitute the metaphysical substructure for that theology?  My own answer to this question is that they do not fit together very well.  Hartshorne himself writes with large strokes, with sweeping insight—his concern is to state his vision of God and then to look outward to other traditions and show the superiority of his own conception of God to alternative conceptions.  This has resulted in polemics of a high order, in argumentation which is original and subtle.  Cobb, on the other hand, has undertaken a task which is not so dramatic, but nevertheless badly needs doing, the task of relating Hartshorne’s theological vision to the ordinary, everyday categories of the process metaphysics which supports that vision.  The point of my textual arguments is to show that Cobb’s effort doesn’t come off very well; the job is not easy, perhaps impossible to do.  I understood Professor Hartshorne to say in conversation recently that he is now at work on a book setting forth his own metaphysical categories; it might be that with the publication of this book we will see that the process metaphysics involved has undergone a sea-change commensurate with, and integrated into, the sea-change that Hartshorne has wrought in Whitehead’s concept of God.  But until we have a chance to evaluate this new development we have to conclude, for the nonce, that there is an incompatibility between the Hartshorne-Cobb conception of God and the metaphysical categories and principles of Process and Reality.

In Part A I have exhibited some of the reasons which have led me to conclude that Whitehead’s system, with God, is incoherent.  The account of God which seems most compatible with Whitehead’s categories, and which is presented in detail by Christian, was shown to involve incoherence in that it explains how ordinary temporal actual entities can experience the past as given but includes no account which shows how God can experience the past without making God an exception to the principles of the system, a deus ex machina.  Hartshorne’s interpretation of God resolves the problem of the past, granted, but it does so only by violating the principle of contemporary independence and assuming that it is possible for the region that constitutes the standpoint of one occasion to include the regions that constitute the standpoints of other occasions, an assumption which I trust by now has been seen to be quite incompatible with Whitehead’s scheme of ideas.  I turn now to Part B, where my task will be to outline briefly how I would deal, in a neo-Whiteheadian system which lacks the concept “God,” with the problems and issues that have been raised in Part A.


There is an issue in connection with the past about which Whitehead is vague and ambiguous, and we must be precise in how we deal with that issue.  The question is, (a) do actual occasions immediately prehend only contiguous actual occasions, prehending all other, noncontiguous occasions mediately (i.e., as mediated by a string of actual occasions, such that each member of the string inherits immediately from another member of the string), or (b) do actual occasions, in some instances at least, immediately prehend noncontiguous actual occasions (e.g., actual occasions in their remote past)?  Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 345-346 and 435 imply clearly that (b) is the alternative Whitehead had in mind, for in each passage he presents a situation where a given occasion, X, inherits from another occasion, Y, in its past, which in turn inherits from Z, which is in its past—the point of each passage is to say that X inherits doubly from Z, both immediately and as mediated by Y.  Z is not in the immediate past of X, and yet X is exhibited as prehending Z directly.  In Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 183, however, Whitehead’s very similar example is presented in such a way that it is pretty clear he is thinking of the distant occasions as being given only mediately.  Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 468-469 is the most candid and conclusive discussion of this issue.  Whitehead presents the immediate-mediate distinction, replaces “the notion of continuous transmission in science” with “the notion of immediate transmission through a route of successive quanta of extensiveness,” and then reflects as follows:

It is not necessary for the philosophy of organism entirely to deny that there is direct objectification of one occasion in a later occasion which is not contiguous to it.  Indeed, the contrary opinion would seem the more natural for this doctrine.  Provided that physical science maintains its denial of “action at a distance,” the safer guess is that direct objectification is practically negligible except for contiguous occasions; but that this practical negligibility is a characteristic of the present cosmic epoch, without any metaphysical generality (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 468-469).

In our cosmic epoch, Whitehead opines, direct, immediate objectification is confined, for all practical purposes, to contiguous occasions.  Whitehead refers to “the evidence for peculiar instances of telepathy” and “the instinctive apprehension of a tone of feeling in ordinary social intercourse” as giving possible support for the view that hybrid physical prehensions can execute immediate objectification of noncontiguous actual occasions, but his tone here is very tentative.  Though he doesn’t refer to God in these passages, the system would require that God undergird any such immediate prehension of noncontiguous occasions by being the ground for the givenness of the remote past.

My own move here would be to generalize metaphysically the doctrine that Whitehead is willing to extend only to our cosmic epoch, i.e., I would insist in my version of the philosophy of organism that it is a categoreal demand that all prehensions be immediate prehensions of contiguous occasions.  As Whitehead acknowledges, this suggestion is compatible with the experience and categories of the scientist.  The few psychologists with whom I have discussed telepathy seem confident that if and when more is learned about telepathy it will not be necessary to “assume action at a distance,” and my own experience assures me that what Whitehead refers to as “the instinctive apprehension of a tone of feeling in ordinary social intercourse” is explicable in empirical terms, in terms of past experience and unconscious memories.  After all, we do make mistakes; many of us misread social feelings and commit gaucheries with alarming regularity, something one would be surprised at if our prehensions were as direct as Whitehead suggests might be the case.  Immediate prehension of noncontiguous actual occasions, if accepted, also renders the functioning of God arbitrary and ad hoc, another good reason for reformulating Whitehead’s position.  For example, if true, it would imply that God could present as a direct datum for an occasion of the stream of consciousness of Cheops the pyramid builder.  And this doesn’t mean a ghostly revisitation of the shade of Cheops; this means my immediate feeling now of Cheops making a specific decision in, say, the year 2900 B.C.  Now God doesn’t do this sort of thing.  There are times in the life of an archeologist or historian when such immediate feeling would give great satisfaction to the man and hence to God through his consequent nature, yet still God doesn’t make it available.  Rather than, Berkeley-like, explaining this as a result of the whim of God, it seems eminently more rational to me to eliminate the possibility of immediate prehension of noncontiguous actual occasions categoreally, which is what I propose.  All of our knowledge of the past is quite explicable in terms of a doctrine which limits immediate prehension to contiguous actual occasions.

Having eliminated the need for God to be ground for the remote past, by eliminating categoreally the possibility of prehending the remote past, we must flow ask whether God is necessary to enable an actual occasion to prehend a contiguous past occasion.  Here my answer is no—the past contiguous occasion is still actual, is still its own ground, as the concrescing occasion initiates its primary phase.  Whitehead makes statements which strongly imply that he would accept this view. In Adventures of Ideas 233 he writes:  “The present moment is constituted by the influx of the other into that self-identity which is the continued life of the immediate past within the immediacy of the present.”  In Adventures of Ideas 234 he again explicitly refers to the immediate past:  “The immediate past as surviving to be again lived through in the present is the palmary [primary) instance of nonsensuous perception.”  Again, “There is a continuity between the subjective form of the immediate past occasion and the subjective form of its primary prehension in the origination of the new occasion” (Adventures of Ideas 235).  Much work needs to be done in clarifying the relationship between creativity on the one hand and inheritance from the immediate past on the other—I have begun this clarification in section I of Chapter 2 of my A Whiteheadian Aesthetic.9  It has been a characteristic of the Hartshornian group to play down the notion of creativity at the same time that they augment the importance of God—God has encroached on the role Whitehead assigned to creativity.  It is a bizarre image, but it sometimes seems to me that the Hartshornians conceive of God as a rickshaw boy rather than a charioteer, as Whitehead himself saw it.  The charioteer image is more proper because God is only one of several formative elements: creativity is the motive power, the horses, of the system and God the power of persuasion which struggles to direct the ongoing surges of power, which are autonomous from, coordinate with, God.  But the Hartshornians don’t dwell much on creativity and seem to want to get God down front where he pulls as well as guides.  My position is that the concept “creativity” is adequate to provide a rational account of the process from an immediately past occasion to the presently emerging occasion contiguous to it.

We have shown that both the orthodox interpretation of Whitehead and the Hartshornian interpretation flirt with incoherence in their discussion of the past.  My own approach has been to turn to a naturalistic development of the scheme and suggest that by distinguishing between the remote past and the immediate past (a distinction other commentators, surprisingly, have not insisted upon) and dealing with each separately, a coherent account can be obtained.  Two issues are now left which I must address myself to briefly: the orthodox Whiteheadians and the Hartshornians would want to know, (a) how I handle the problem of truth, which Hartshorne, as we saw, indicated was one of the key issues which led him to his position, and (b) how I handle the question of significance, or meaning, on my naturalistic interpretation of Whitehead.

(a) Hartshorne’s objection to my position on truth would be that I assume that there are truths about the past and that truth is real now as involving a relation of correspondence with an object, the past; however, the past on my view is not real now, is not preserved in its full subjective immediacy in the consequent nature of God.  Hartshorne considers this paradox (see Schilpp, 543).  I don’t view the situation as a paradox.  Truth is a property of propositions.  In a proposition a predicative pattern is asserted either to be, or not to be, in whole or in part, exhibited in some logical subject or subjects.  Every occasion, as it completes its concrescence, is (1) located in a specific region of the space-time continuum, and (2) is perfectly definite in regard to the inclusion of every eternal object.  A proposition about the past asserts that in a given region of the space-time continuum a certain pattern of eternal objects either was or wasn’t exemplified.  In fact, that pattern either was or wasn’t exemplified, hence the proposition is either true or false—this is what the words “true” and “false” mean in this context.  (I would hold, however, in agreement with Hartshorne, that one could not say this concerning propositions about the future.)  It is indeed the case that there are many propositions about the past of which I do not know the truth value, and many, the truth values of which are completely unknown to anyone, and could not become known to anyone.  I see no paradox in holding that truths are immortal and also holding that many truths are unknown.  Correspondence, in the sense specified, is the nature of truth, the meaning of truth; yet the test of truth that we most frequently employ in connection with the past is the test of coherence:  historians and archeologists have nothing available to them that is not given in the present—this book, the reliability of which must be evaluated; this artifact, the significance of which must be construed—and coherence is the final test of their theories about the past built up from the givens of the present.  The historian and archeologist know what truth of fact is even though they may be perfectly aware that their accounts are only highly probable and that there is no conceivable way for anyone to know conclusively how closely their accounts approximate the truth.

(b) Hartshorne’s uneasiness in connection with truth may well be just one manifestation of his general concern with meaningfulness, or significance, a concern shared by Cobb and especially by Schubert Ogden.  Significance and the question of the past are related for the Hartshornians because by “ultimate meaning” they seem to mean “God preserves the past.”  If God did not preserve the past, they would find existence meaningless, absurd. The Hartshornians can do without the conventional notions of subjective immortality and a scheme of supernatural rewards and punishments,10 and can also do without a belief in a final order, in Tennyson’s “far-off divine event to which the whole creation moves” (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 169).  But God has to feel, to sympathize and to preserve: this “makes possible ‘a general confidence about the future,’ an assurance of the final worth of our life which will not be disappointed” (Ogden, 64).  As Cobb puts it, God doesn’t “assure the success of the good in the world,” but “the vision of God nevertheless guarantees the worthwhileness of present life whatever may be its temporal outcome.  In part it seems to be the sheer fact that there is a permanence ‘beyond, behind, and within, the passing flux of immediate things’ (Science and the Modern World 275) that inspires the sense of the worthwhileness of these things themselves. . . . But primarily Whitehead’s treatment of this theme, that values are after all worth achieving despite their transience, is associated with his doctrine of the consequent nature of God (i.e. the preservation of the past)” (Cobb, 218-219).  Since I eliminate God, what do I do about significance, about “the worthwhileness” of the “passing flux of immediate things”?

In answering, I look closely at Whitehead’s theory of value.  It is an axiology which makes aesthetic value primary.  What is valuable is intensity and depth of feeling.  Value arises in, is present in, “the passing flux of immediate things.”  Take God away and you don’t take away all value—there will still be the value, the significance, of experience as immediately felt by temporal subjects.  The worthwhileness of occasions is in the richness of the experience of occasions.  As agents we can make that experience either richer or poorer; there lies the ground of our obligation, whether there be a God to enjoy this realized value at second hand or not.  Personally, I find the second hand experiencing of God superfluous and redundant; God is a supernumerary.  If one were the type to be depressed at the thought that the sun will run out of energy some day and our planet become an empty chunk of rock, then I should think one would derive cold comfort in the thought that even at that time God will prehend the present as objectified in his consequent nature!  Ogden writes that in the consequent nature of God “we have a final standing or security that can nevermore be lost” (Ogden, 179).  I find this a strange kind of security; my past is already there, supposedly, but I have no awareness of this at all, no knowledge at all of its “final standing,” and that fact militates, or seems to me should militate, against security.  Since Whitehead wrote, Camus and Sartre have appeared on the scene.  I feel that what must be done is to bring the “absurd hero” within the context of a revised, naturalistic, neo-Whiteheadian ontology—this merger will dispel the harshness of bleak despair from the one position and the remnants of parsonage Victorianism from the other as it links creative insecurity, adventure, with a more penetrating metaphysical analysis than the existentialists were ever able to achieve.  There is a need, however, that in the process the existentialists’ insights into the human condition fill the psychological gaps in Whitehead’s philosophiz-ing.


In this final section I will suggest in a tentative manner how the two remaining roles of God (as ontological ground for eternal objects and as source of subjective aims in temporal occasions) could be rendered superfluous in a naturalistic, neo-Whiteheadian, system.

In connection with eternal objects my move is to play Aristotle to Whitehead’s Plato by giving forms of definiteness their ontological grounding in the concrete world of flux.  Whitehead consciously recognizes that his ontological principle—the principle that apart from actual entities there is nothing, bare nothingness—is a restatement of the general Aristotelian protest “against the Platonic tendency to separate a static spiritual world from a fluent world of superficial experiences” (Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 319—see also Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 64).  My criticism of Whitehead would be that while he makes token acknowledgment of the Aristotelian principle, his concept of God as a non-temporal entity ontologically grounding the realm of eternal objects shows that his heart basically remains with Plato.  In making the full Aristotelian move I am really drawing much of my insight from Science and the Modern World, a book four years earlier than the full-blown theory of Process and Reality.  It seems to me at least somewhat plausible to suggest that in the earlier work Whitehead did not feel he needed God as an ontological ground, but only to function as the principle of limitation, which is the role referred to in Process and Reality as “presenting the subjective aim.”  So my twofold task is first to show what it is about the treatment of eternal objects in Science and the Modern World which makes the Aristotelian move possible, and then secondly to suggest a way of handling the source of subjective aims without there being any need to implicate God in the procedure.

In Science and the Modern World Whitehead says that “every occasion is a synthesis of all eternal objects under the limitation of gradations of types of entry” (Science and the Modern World 252).  Whitehead can say this because in his chapter on “Abstraction” he has so conceived eternal objects that to have one involved in a concrescence is really to have all involved in a concrescence.  This is the case because no eternal object can be divorced from its reference to other eternal objects, a conclusion which follows from the assertion that the relationships holding between any given eternal object, A, and other eternal objects are internal relationships, i.e., the relationships of A to other eternal objects stand determinately in the essence of A, are constitutive of A.  This leads Whitehead to say:

Accordingly there is a general fact of systematic mutual relatedness which is inherent in the character of possibility.  The realm of eternal objects is properly described as a “realm,” because each eternal object has its status in this general systematic complex of mutual relatedness (Science and the Modern World 231).

The conclusion I want to pull out of these considerations is this:  if there is at least one actual entity in the world characterized by at least one eternal object, one specific form of definiteness, then this actual entity provides all the ontological ground required for the realm of eternal objects—an appeal to God is not necessary.11  And, indeed, in Whitehead, as in Aristotle, there is an eternity and an abeternity of becoming so that within the terms of the system it is inconceivable that there be any region of the extensive continuum, no matter how far it be extended fore or aft, where there is not a generation of actual entities exhibiting concrete forms of definiteness.  Each actual entity is, viewed from this perspective, a process of emerging definiteness where the process is the decision whereby the essence of each and every eternal object is either included or excluded from positive aesthetic feeling—is either positively or negatively prehended, to use the terminology of Process and Reality.

There is at least one problem visible at the surface level of this account.  An eternal object is supposed to bestow or withhold a specific, precise form of definiteness, but how can this be if every eternal object drags along with it, so to speak, the whole choir of eternal objects in virtue of the fact that its relationships to other eternal objects are internal relations?  The response lies in making it clear that the essence we have been talking about is the relational essence of A.  In addition, A has an individual essence which is its own peculiar character, its own unique definiteness, which is self-identical wherever it is ingredient in actual entities.  Let me try to make this clear and to illustrate the point with a simple example.  The relational essence of an eternal object specifies a particular how relationship.  This means, as Whitehead puts it, that “a particular determination can be made of the how of some definite relationship of a definite eternal object A to a definite number n of other eternal objects, without any determination of the other n objects, x1, x2, . . . x11, except that they have, each of them, the requisite status to play their respective parts in that multiple relationship” (Science and the Modern World 237).  Now to present an example of this relationship.  Every shade of color has a definite “how” relationship to every four-sided plane figure.  This definite “how” relationship is a component of the relational essence of each shade and each figure, and binds all the shades and all the figures together internally.  These possible relationships are, however, expressible without reference to the individual essence of any particular shade of blue or to the individual essence of any particular right-angled parallelogram.  The relational essence of turquoise blue vis-a-vis any four-sided plane figure is not unique to turquoise blue, but is the same as that of pea green and jet black.  Thus the individual essence of turquoise blue is quite aloof from the relational essence of turquoise blue and can characterize the specific definiteness of a particular actual entity without involving necessarily the specific individual essence of any particular geometrical shape, though through its relational essence it does specify the range, and the “how” relationship, of all possible geometrical figures, x1, x2,. . . x11, which have the requisite status to possibly merge with that individual essence turquoise blue in constituting the complex synthesis of forms which is the peculiar, concrete definiteness of an individual actual entity.  In this way there is individual, unique determination of actual entities while there is also the tight welding of relational essences into a realm of pure potentialities.

Let us turn now to the second systematic role filled by God, viz. the provision of a subjective aim.  In Science and the Modern World God in this role is described as providing an antecedent, ordering limitation upon values prior to any given concrescence and is referred to as the principle of limitation.  Whitehead correctly notes that there cannot be an emerging value without there being antecedent standards of value.  Here I find the past, and there is always a past for Whitehead as for Aristotle, adequate to perform this function.  There is always a past condition of limitation with its frustrations and narrowness, or its depth and eagerness for reiteration, out of which a present arises.  Introducing two new non-Whiteheadian technical concepts will enable us to understand, in the terminology of Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology, both the origin of subjective aims and the origin of creative modifications of subjective aims.  The two concepts are (1) that of an actual entity in the immediate past of a concrescing entity which I will call the dominant past actual entity for that concrescing entity, and (2) a group of past actual entities which I will call the obliquely influential past actual entities of the concrescing entity in question.  The physical prehension of the dominant past actual entity will constitute the subjective aim of the emerging entity.  In a simple, unstructured environment oblique occasions will offer no significant alternatives to the aim presented by the dominant past entity and concrescence will be essentially reiteration of prior forms of definiteness experience will be at the level of what Whitehead calls, technically, physical purposes.  In a complex, structured environment, however, the brain of a man for instance, there would be myriad oblique entities which, for example, might be themselves the termini of routes of inheritance from all over the body, which would introduce to the concrescing central entity all sorts of new data from the complex supporting organism (such as hunger pangs, visual impressions, memory traces, sounds, etc.) which were not directly inherited from the dominant past entity.  In these circumstances the possibilities for creative novelty in the synthesis of feeling which constitutes the satisfaction of the concrescing actual entity are great indeed.

Brief as they are, these remarks should indicate to someone familiar with Whitehead’s scheme of ideas how I would propose to deal with the topics of order, novelty, and subjective aim in a Whiteheadian scheme stripped of the concept “God.”



1 Paul van Buren, The Secular Meaning of the Gospel, (New York: Macmillan, 1963), 12

2 The account of technical Whiteheadian terminology is here kept to a bare minimum.  The reader wishing to refresh his understanding of Whitehead’s scheme is urged to consult my recent study, A Key to Whitehead’s Process and Reality (New York: Macmillan, 1966).

3 New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959, 319-330, hereafter referred to as “Christian.”

4 “Whitehead’s Idea of God,” in Paul A. Schilpp, editor, The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, (New York: Tudor, Second Ed., 1951), 543, hereafter referred to as “Schilpp.”

5  Anselm’s Discovery (LaSalle: Open Court, 1965), 125-126.

6 This last point emerges clearly in Hartshorne’s article, “Whitehead’s Novel Intuition” in Alfred North Whitehead: Essays on His Philosophy, George L. Kline, editor (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1963), 22.

7 A Christian Natural Theology, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965), 83, hereafter referred to as “Cobb.”

8 Although I continue to believe that this second point is valid, I now recognize that it is expressed inadequately.  In response to John Cobb, I have more recently argued that the doctrine of regional inclusion commits one to just those elements of the Newtonian position most explicitly rejected by Whitehead.  Cobb’s criticism of my position on this issue and my response will appear in Process Studies, 1, 2 (1971).

9 New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981; Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1970.

10 Cf. Ogden, The Reality of God and Other Essays (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), 36, hereafter referred to as “Ogden.”

11 It is interesting to note that at TIM 141 Whitehead writes: “The forms belong no more to God than to any one occasion.”

Posted April 15, 2007


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