A critique of Whitehead’s metaphysical cosmology
D. R. Khashaba
By way of preface, let me tell the story of this essay. I have always admired Whitehead and have always thought him the profoundest philosopher of the twentieth century. In Quest of Reality (2013) I devoted a chapter (VII) to Whitehead. In Metaphysical Reality ( 2014) I included a paper titled “Whitehead’s Real World” in which I maintained that Whitehead did not offer a metaphysical vision but a cosmology. On April 13, 2020,I posted to my blog an essay, “Whitehead Revisited”, incited by my reading for the first time Whitehead’s Concept of Nature (1919), which sent me to an article on Whitehead by Professor Gary L. Gerstein in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I found myself puzzled. Had I wronged Whitehead when I said that his philosophy was not metaphysical? That sent me back to Process and Reality (1929). The followimg notes give my thoughts as I ‘read’ (more correctly, listened to) Whitehead’s magnum opus.
There is such extensive fundamental agreement between Whitehead’s thought and mine that it is perhaps opportune at this early point to obviate a likely misunderstanding. I do not hesitate to confess my indebtedness to earlier thinkers or my sources of inspiration. But in truth I only read Whitehead’s main philosophical works when I had already fundamentally formed my philosophy. The only book of Whitehead’s that I read in my youth was The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1919). I only read his other philosophical books in my sixties when I was finally preparing my first book, first published in 1998 when I was already past my seventieth birthday. Perhaps this explains why, despite the close affinity in thought, my terminology differs from and sometimes conflicts with that of Whitehead.
However, this essay is not a study of Whitehead’s philosophy nor is it intended to comment on Process and Reality: it concentrates on Whitehead’s stand on metaphysics as exemplified mainly in his treatment of Kant and of the subject of God. Hence it underlines my differences with Whitehead and muffles my fundamental agreement with and great admiration for the philosophy of organism.
(Quotations are cited by Part, Chapter, and Section. All emphases within the quotations are in the original. I am using the digital version; my near-blindness denies me access to the print version.)
Whitehead’s Process and Reality is subtitled “An Essay in Cosmology”. In this essay I will, with utmost diffidence, try to show that Whitehead, in his inspiringly insightful philosophy of organism, has inadvertently strayed into an unnatural hybrid metaphysical cosmology. Now, in the Preface Whitehead writes: “… how shallow, puny, and imperfect are efforts to sound the depths in the nature of things. In philosophical discussion, the merest hint of dogmatic certainty as to finality of statement is an exhibition of folly.” That makes my venture doubly foolhardy. Moreover, to find fault with a philosophy I have always enthusiastically applauded is hardly a pleasant task. ― The following are mainly notes I wrote down while ‘reading’ (rather listening to) the book, which I reproduce with minimum editing, begging the Reader’s forbearance for typos and for sloppy editing which is all that my near-blindness permits me. If I have any sense this must be the last thing I write.
Whitehead’s Preface is much more important than a preface usually is. Why does Whitehead insist that he is working on a cosmology? The attempt to answer this question will be the backbone of this essay.
Whitehead speaks of “the scheme of ideas, in terms of which the cosmology is to be framed” and further on asserts that “the true method of philosophical construction is to frame a scheme of ideas, the best that one can, and unflinchingly to explore the interpretation of experience in terms of that scheme … all constructive thought, on the various special topics of scientific interest, is dominated by some such scheme, unacknowledged, but no less influential in guiding the imagination.” This completely agrees with what I have been advocating as the true nature of both philosophic and scientific thinking, with, however, a radical difference between the content of scientific thinking on the one hand and of philosophical thinking on the other hand. This is a crucial consideration that underlies this paper in its entirety. Science and philosophy sow different seeds and reap different crops. This was seen by Socrates-Plato and by Kant but was disregarded by Whitehead.
By disregarding the radical separation of science and philosophy Whitehead’s cosmology is transmuted into a would-be metaphysical vision, notwithstanding that Whitehead does not seem to be confronting the essentially metaphysical question of ultimate Reality (Being), except whe comes to speak of God, but fundamentally he is concerned with the actual world (‘the nature of things’). That is why, for support, he goes to Plato in the Timaeus, not in the Republic.
The Preface leaves me with one gaping question: what seems to me as Whitehead’s misconstruing of Kant. (This is dealt with at length hereafter.)
The list of nine “prevalent habits of thought”, that Whitehead would repudiate may be commented on in a supplement to the essay. That may possibly make a good summation. (See Supplement.)
The first chapter of Part I reveals a fundamental difference between Whitehead’s conception of philosophy and mine despite the pervasive affinity I have found between his thought and mine. I could only explain this by saying that there seems to be one variation of philosophical thinking that I ignored, that is philosophical cosmology, and there is one variation that Whitehead did not acknowledge but was intuitively groping for, and that is poetic philosophy. Perhaos Plato at times strained towards Whitehead’s amalgam of science and philosophy and came up with feeble gropings. That would be what I usually discount as Plato’s theoretic ventures. But Plato soared to the summit of poetic philosophy which, by its very nature, cannot be given explicit expression but can only be intimated in myth and parable. ― But a philosophical cosmology would, properly speaking, be no more than an imaginative cosmogony. (May the Reader forgive this chaotic note. Its confusedness, I hope, is remedied in what follows.)
To compensate for the divergence between Whitehead’s understanding of philosophy and mine, I find deep satisfaction in the notion of duration, which is fundamental in my philosophy; in the notion of ‘event’; in his special isages of ‘feeling’, ‘family’, ‘society’, ‘community’, ‘apetition’, ‘prehension’; in his emphasis on creativity, which is the all-in-all in my philosophy; and in the view that nature, the whole world, is a living organism. But I do not claim truth for all or any of my metaphysical views: I only say this is the only way I find the world intelligible.
Every original philosopher has his special language embodying his special universe of discourse. (See “Philosophy as Universe of Discourse”.) But Whitehead comes with a complete new language, with a complete new terminology. He aims at high precision (or rather ‘correctness’). But high prevision comes at a high price. Whitehead knows that there can be no final definitive precision. Yet the mathematician in him impels him to go to the limit; he thus defeats his own purpose. All language is fluid and needs to be fluid. But when the reader cannot bring in his own variations and private nuances to interpret the text for himself, the text fails to speak to him and he finds it obscure or meaningless.
I have always seen the Principle of Creativity as my special and original contribution to metaphysical thought. I held that all becoming is creativity. This is also crucial in Whitehead’s philosophy of organism. That stands to reason. Anyone who finds inspiration in Plato will see the cosmos as a living organism continually giving birth to new life. So Whitehead asserts (at I.II.IV) that “‘becoming’ is a creative advance into novelty”. Further on (II.I.VII) he writes:
“But Locke, throughout his Essay, rightly insists that the chief ingredient in the notion of ‘substance’ is the notion of ‘power.’ The philosophy of organism holds that, t in order to understand ‘power,’ we must have a correct notion of how each individual actual entity contributes to the datum from which its successors arise and to which they must conform.”
I am surprised to discover that much of Process and Reality does not interest me because it pertains to the cosmology and addresses what Whitehead considers relevant and necessary for his cosmology. I would never dream to say the same of Adventures of Ideas or of Modes of Rgought or of Religion in the Making.
I think scientists would be wise to absorb Whitehead’s philosophy of organism but they would be hampered in their work if they tried to carry out their work within his ‘scheme of ideas’. ― Perhaps in “Whitehead’s Real World” I was not far wrong.
To the practising scientist Whitehead’s philosophical statements will be useless generalizations. To proceed with his empirical research the scientist has to forget the philosophical insight and work with dead abstractions. Kant is vindicated.
It’s a pity that Whitehead, despite his great insights, has brought upon himself the relative neglect that has been his lot. He could satisfy neither the scientists nor the metaphysicians. In addition, he shared Kant’s seduction: he wanted his philosophy to justify his Christian heritage.
Whitehead tries to give a judicious account of Kant’s transcendental system but misconstrues Kant’s purpose.
“We have now come to Kant, the great philosopher who first, fully and explicitly, introduced into philosophy the conception of an act of experience as a constructive functioning, transforming subjectiVity into objectivity, or objectivity into subjectivity; the order is immaterial in comparison with the general idea. We find the first beginnings of the notion in Locke and in Hume. Indeed, in Locke, the process is conceived in its correct order, at least in the view of the philosophy of organism. But the whole notion is only vaguely and inadequately conceived. The full sweep of the notion is due to Kant. The second half of the modern period of philosophical thought is to be dated from Hume and Kant. In it the development of cosmology has been hampered by the stress laid upon one, or other, of three misconceptions:” (II.VI.V)
In my opinion, Whitehead’s approbation as well as his censure of Kant is misplaced. He ascribes to Kant more than Kant would acknowledge when he says that Kant “introduced into philosophy the conception of an act of experience” and he unjustly blames Kant for hampering the “development of cosmology” when cosmology, as such, lay outside the scope of Kant’s transcendental project.
“The contrary doctrine, that there is a ‘togetherness’ not derivative from experiential togetherness, leads to the disjunction of the components of subjective experience from the community of the external world. This disjunction creates the insurmountable difficulty for epistemology. For intuitive judgment is concerned with togetherness in experience, and there is no bridge between togetherness in experience, and togetherness of the non-experiential sort.” (II.VII.I)
This passage is highly revealing. Whitehead is blaming Kant for not aiming at what he (Whitehead) was aiming at; Kant was not constructing a cosmology and accordomg to his distribution of roles there is no place for such a cosmology in his project. Kant assigned himself a clearly defined task. Hume had shown that scientific reasoning is at base irrational; it has at its foundation the fiction of causality. Kant was in the first place a scientist and knew that science was doing valuable work. His aim was to rescue science. His solution was good and valid. Reason is not found in nature but is infused into nature by the mind as Plato knew. Whitehead was building a philosophical-scientific cosmology, a creation no one else envisaged, neither Descartes nor even Leibniz. Kant showed that scientists – under the creed of objectivity – are limited to the investigation of lifeless phenomena. Whitehead showed that scientists are wrong in thinking their objective knowledge gives a true vision of the world. That is what Whitehead castigates as the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. But Whitehead’s scheme, daring and inspiring as it is, breaks down and cannot but break down before reaching its final goal. For when Whitehead speaks of God he can neither claim empirical verity nor rational probity. The higher reaches of his cosmology are an imaginative vision that has no more claim to truth than Leibniz Monadology or Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Idea or my Creative Eternity.”
“The difficulties of all schools of modern philosophy lie in the fact that, having accepted the subjectivist principle, * * they continue to use philosophical categories derived from another point of view. These categories are not wrong, but they deal with abstractions unsuitable for metaphysical use. It is for this reason that the notions of the ‘extensive continuum’ and of ‘presentational immediacy’ require such careful discussion from every point of view. The notions of the ‘green leaf’ and of the ‘round ball’ are at the base of traditional metaphysics. They have generated two misconceptions: one is the concept of vacuous actuality, void of subjective experience; and the other is the concept of quality inherent in substance. In their proper character, as high abstractions, both of these notions are of the utmost pragmatic use. In fact, language has been formed chiefly to express such concepts. It is for this reason that language, in its ordinary usages, penetrates but a short distance into the principles of metaphysics. Finally, the reformed subjectivist principle must be repeated: that apart from the experiences of subjects there is nothing, nothing, nothing, bare nothingness.” (II.VII.V)
The ‘extensive continuum’ is the notion of the World as a living organism; it is the metaphysical Whole. Empirical science has no use for this notion. Bertrand Russell could not understand Wittgenstein’s assertion that you cannot make a statement about the World. Russell was thinking as an Empiricist and Wittgenstein knew that a statement about the All is metaphysical, and while his philosophy precluded metaphysics, his metaphysical turn of mind forced it on him. (See Russell, My Philosophical Development, p,86.)
What Whitehead finds wrong with the notions of the ‘green leaf’ and the ‘round ball’ is that they are taken to be actual objects. In the philosophy of organism the green leaf is an event, the round ball is an event, parts of the ever flowing, ever renewed world. This is a proper metaphysical insight and for a sane enlightened outlook on life and the world this insight has to be absorbed. But metaphysical insights are not workable in science; science, equally with mathematics, has to work in abstractions (concepts created by the mind); and it is not a fault in language that it is composed of such abstractions for it could not otherwise be an instrument of communication.
The last sentence in the above quotation sums the Idealist position. But this view, this insight, cannot be elicited from within the scientific mode of thinking. Again, Kant is right and Whitehead is unjustified in thinking that Kant erred.
At II.IX.II Whitehead writes:
“This difficulty is the point of Kant’s ‘transcendental’ criticism. He adopted a subjectivist position, so that the temporal world was merely experienced. But according to his form of the subjectivist doctrine, in the Critique of Pure Reason, no element in the temporal world could itself be an experient. His temporal world, as in that Critique, was in its essence dead, phantasmal, phenomenal. Kant was a mathematical physicist, and his cosmological solution was sufficient for the abstractions to which mathematical physics is confined.”
This is not fair to Kant who did not aim at metaphysics, which his transcendental system precluded, and had he intended a cosmology it would have been such as NASA would offer. Kant’s purpose was precisely prescribed: he wanted to delineate the proper scope of empirical science. His limiting of scientific knowledge to phenomena was not a diminution of science, for he (rightly) held that knowledge of phenomena is all the objective knowledge we can have. Accordingly, the ‘tempotal world’ can only be known to us as experienced. The only experient a human being knows is his own inner being. To think of nature as experiencing (‘feelimg’ in Whitehead’s sense of the term) is to trespass from the sphere of objective knowledge into the sphere of imagination. That is exactly what Whitehead does. He gives us a beautiful inspiring vision of the world as a living organism, a vision which can neither be empirically verified as science nor deductively demonstrated as mathematics but can only stand as poetic imaginative vision intimating ineffable mystic insight into the only reality we know, our own inner reality.
Whitehead is right in defining the limitations of Kant’s system bit he is mistaken in taking these limitations as failings. They are the limitations Kant set for himself. Hume had shown the irrationality of science in having at its basis the fiction of causality. Kant was in the first place a scientist. His aim was to save science. He rightly shows that reason is instilled into scientific statements by the mind. Kant shows that science can only deal and is required only to deal with lifeless phenomena. Scientists only go wrong when they think that their picture of the world reveals the reality of the world. Kant rightly limited pure reason to the examination of ideas in the mind. But he erred when he, instead of allowing the mind to create imaginative visions in the manner of Plato, and being at the same time loth to give up his religious convictions, sought to derive these convictions from Practical Reason. But Whitehead does not resort to subterfuge in the manner of Kant but presents his thoughts on God as reasoned comclusions integrally worked into his comprehensive philosophy.
ADDITIONAL MARGINAL NOTES
Whitehead was prone to overlook the insight – to which he himself gives emphatic expression – that there is no finality in philosophy. The philosophy of organism is enlightening and highly valuable but in the end is one other personal vision.
Whitehead gives much space to the discussion of probability. This whole discussion lies, in my opinion, outside the sphere of philosophy proper. The space Whitehead gives to the discussion of probability shows that he aims at a complete, comprehensive system, which is a chimera. It is akin to Leibniz’ dream of a ‘universal characteristic’, the illusion underlying the idea of logical symbolism. No knowledge is complete or definitive. The same can be said about the discussion of inductive judgments which properly belongs to the methodology of science. .
Section II.IX.V (which, in my opinion, clearly defines Whitehead’s project and reveals where he goes wrong and how and why he misconstrues Kant) begins thus:
“We ask the metaphysical question, What is there in the nature of things, whereby an inductive inference, or a judgment of general truth, can be significantly termed ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’?”
In the first place, I think, Whitehead’s conception of ‘the metaphysical question’ is mistaken as I will try to show. The ‘nature of things’ – even tin the physicists’ emaciated sense – can never be definitely known to the human mind, most decidedly not by inductive inference. Induction is the valued handmaid of science but it can never lead to finality or certainty. Whitehead’s expectation that such “an inductive inference, or a judgment of general truth, can be significantly termed ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’” is carefully guarded as is to be expected from such a great thinker, but it is basically flawed. To my mind, ‘the metaphysical question’ as framed by Whitehead is not metaphysical. ‘Metaphysics’ defined as Whitehead defines it stops short of the philosophic aspiration; it produces the semblance of a scientific cosmology that can satisfy neither the scientist nor the philosopher.
The lifeblood of science is abstraction. Bergson equally with Whitehead was wrong in thinking that science erred in working with abstractions. Not science but scientists err in thinking their abstractions, necessary for their work, are the stuff of the world. Why don’t we blame the mathematicians for their ultra-abstract abstractions? The error of mathematicians is opposite to that of the physicists: they think their abstractions are inherent in things. In truth there are no numbers, no circles, no squares in nature; that is the source of the incommensurate.
We see all of this clearly when Whitehead comes to speak of God. What he says of God can by no means fall within the province of science. It belongs to metaphysics proper. But as metaphysics it can only be an imaginative vision in the same class as Leibniz’ Monadology or Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Idea. When Whitehead speaks of God he aspires to true metaphysics but takes the wrong way to his goal.
At III.III.II Whitehead says:
“Apart from the intervention of God, there could be nothing new in the world, and no order in the world. The course of creation would be a dead level of ineffectiveness, with all balance and intensity progressively excluded by the cross currents of incompatibility.”
In my philosophy I simply say that all novelty, all originality, absolutely all becoming, is in no way intelligible unless we see creativity as an original dimension of ultimate Reality (Being). That is the gist of the Principle of Creativity in my metaphysics, the sum and substance of my philosophy of Creative Eternity. I prefer not to use the term ‘God’ because over the millennia it has been burdened with contradictory and often absurd meanings.
Whitehead of course has the right to use whatever terminology he chooses. But if what he says here is affirmed within his ‘scientific cosmology’ it can be no more than a hypothesis and cannot claim to be anything other a ‘likely tale’ (to borrow Plato’s happy phrase) that can never be ascertained. If it is to be accounted a philosophical insight, then it has to be seen as a poetic, imaginative vision, in which case the whole of his cosmology would be in a class with Plato’s Timaeus, for the Timaeus was Plato’s venture into cosmogony that was frankly presented as a myth. Plato’s profoundest metaphysical insights are to be found in his myths, in his poetic flights of the imagination, and in the unspeakable mystery of the Form of the Good. (When I speak of Plato’s myths I do not mean his well-known eschatological myths but what scholars take to ne doctrines.)
Whitehead speaks of ‘the aim of God’. This suggests a separateness of God from the world which gives God an actuality opposed to the actuality of the world. To me God does not have being over and above the being of the world but is the unity, the wholeness of the the World as the mind is not apart from the body or over and above the body but is the Totality, the Integrity that renders the body a living, thinking, creative organism.)
“The notion of nature as an organic extensive community omits the equally essential point of view that nature is never complete. It is always passing beyond itself. This is the creative advance of nature. Here we come to the problem of time. The immediately relevant point to notice is that time and space are characteristics of nature which presuppose the scheme of extension. But extension does not in itself determine the special facts which are true respecting physical time and physical space.” (IV.I.IV)
This exemplifies Whitehead’s vacillation between science and philosophy and the unnecessary separations he introduces and the difficulties he creates for himself thereby. I see “the creative advance of nature” as inherent in the character of “nature as an organic extensive community”. The World as a living organism simply lives, as a plant’s flowering is simply its life. Time and space are conceptual creations of the human mind, useful fictions of no relevance to metaphysics proper.
We may say that Whitehead’s cosmology is an impure metaphysics arising out of an illicit mixture of philosophy and science. It is a hybrid, an oddity that, despite its undeniable merits, defeats itself.
I am not certain that I can understand Whitehead’s thinking about God. I think he unconsciously brings in too much of Christian theology into his philosophy. And at certain points where his position is, let us say, metaphysical, I find that I have to differ with him. I will quote at length a crucial passage from his last summing up in Part V of Process and Reality and rather than breaking the unity of Whitehead’s statement I will comment om numbered phrases below:
“Thus, when we make a distinction of reason, and consider God in the abstraction of a primordial actuality1, we must ascribe to him neither fulness of feeling, nor consciousness2. He is the unconditioned actuality of conceptual feeling at the base of things; so that, by reason of this primordial actuality3, there is an order in the relevance of eternal objects to the process of creation4. His unity of conceptual operations is a free creative act, untrammelled by reference to any particular course of things5. It is deflected neither by love, nor by hatred, for what in fact comes to pass6. The particularities of the actual world presuppose it; while it merely presupposes the general metaphysical character of creative advance, of which it is the primordial exemplification. The primordial nature of God is the acquirement by creativity of a primordial character7.
1. A primordial actuality’ corresponds to an original dimension of ultimate Reality in my philosophy; to call it an actuality constitutes for me a contradiction in terms; and I do not call it an abstraction but a creative notion. But all of these points may be only differences in terminology.
2. Here I feel lost. Without feeling and without consciousness God cannot be God.
3. I do not ascribe activity or creativity to God but say that God is the Principle of Creativity.
4. To me, the ‘eternal objects’ (Plato’s forms) do not have or constitute a plane of being of their own. They are the children of of conceptual thinking, of finite minds. I admit no separation in ultimate Reality.
5. Again I see this as obfuscating the pure idea of God as pure intelligent creativity. God, metaphysically conceived, is not a creator but is the eternal Act, pure primordial creativity.
6. Love and hatred are only relevant to finite intelligences. Whitehead’s statement does not conflict with this.
7. Again this unnecessarily fragments what is one whole. Creativity has no need for acquiring a primordial character; creativity is the primordial character of ultimate Reality.That is why I insist that Creative Eternity is not an entity, not a being over and sbove the All, but is the intelligence, the intelligent creativity of the All.
“The consequent nature of God is his judgment on the world. He savcs the world as it passes into the immediacy of his own life. It is the judgment of a tenderness which loses nothing that can be saved. It is also the judgment of a wisdom which uses what in the temporal world is mere wreckage.” (V.II.IV)
This, as imaginative metaphor, is fine. But in the context of a ‘metaphysical cosmology’ can neither be verified empirically nor demonstrated deductively; and since it is not frankly offered as a poetic expression of an imaginative vision it invites us to dub it Whitehead’s theology.
“It is as true to say that God is permanent and the World fluent, as that the World is permanent and God is fluent.”
“It is as true to say that God is one and the World many, as that the World is one and God many.”
“It is as true to say that, in comparison with the World, God is actual eminently, as that, in comparison with God, the World is actual eminently.”
“It is as true to say that the World is immanent in God, as that God is immanent in the World.”
“It is as true to say that God transcends the World, as that the World transcends God.”
“It is as true to say that God creates the World, as that the World creates God.”
“God and the World are the contrasted opposites in terms of which Creativity achieves its supreme task of transforming disjoined multiplicity, with its diversities in opposition, into concrescent unity, with its diversities in contrast. …” (V.X.V)
This is Bacchic frenzy in which all distinctions and all identities are obliterated. We gain nothing by such unbridled expressions. For coherence of vision I need to conceive the Whole opposed to the Wholeness as the Principle of Intelligence and Creativity that is actualized in the Whole but cannot itself be conceived as actuality.
“In God’s nature, permanence is primordial and flux is derivative from the World: in the World’s nature, flux is primordial and permanence is derivative from God. Also the World’s nature is a primordial datum for God; and God’s nature is a primordial datum for the World. Creation achieves the reconciliation of permanence and flux when it has reached its final term which is everlastingness ―the Apotheosis of the World.
“ Opposed elements stand to each other in mutual requirement. In their unity, they inhibit or contrast. God and the World stand to each other in this opposed requirement. God is the infinite ground of all mentality, the unity of vision seeking physical multiplicity. The World is the multiplicity …” (V.X.VII. The digital version comes to an abrupt close mid-sentence.)
What makes me uneasy about such wide-sway statements is that they have a whiff of finality as if we were gre given to attain positive knowledge. I will not expand; I cannot add to what I have already said in earlier comments.
I think that Whitehead’s difficulties stem from his opposing God to the World, his taking God to be on par with the World. To me God and the World are not opposed but are the Natura naturans and Natura naturata of Spinoza that are not two but one; neither properly understood is conceivable apart from the other. Spinoza was right in asserting the unity of Substance, his fault was that his unquestioning acceptance of the Rationalist superstition of causal necessity rules out creativity and all originality.
There is only one sense in which I may permit myself to speak of God as a Person. As pure intelligence and pure creativity It (God) is not in the world and is not other than the world but is the intelligence of the All, the self-consciousness of the All ― not the self-consciousness of Itself, which would split it into subject and object, but rather it is the Whole self-conscious not of itself but of its Wholeness. In this sense and only in this sense I may speak of God as a Person.
I still maintain that Whitehead’s nest, most inspiring, phol books are Science and the Modern World (1926), Religion in the Making (1926), Adventures of Ideas (1933), Modes of Thought (1938). The value of Process and Reality (1929) resides in a handful of insightful notions. The rest lies outside the prop[er sphere of philosophy. It is not for me to speak of its value in the spheres of mathematics and logic but I make bold to say that its contribution to metaphysics proper equally with its contribution to physical science is negative. I fancy that Whitehead in the end came to see the faults of Process and Reality. I find Adventures of Ideas (1933) and Modes of Thought (1938) most ptofound, most inspiring, and most pleasant to read.
In the Preface Whitehead writes:
“These lectures will be best understood by noting the following list of
prevalent habits of thought, which are repudiated, in so far as concerns
their influence on philosophy:
(i) The distrust of speculative philosophy.
(ii) The trust in language as an adequate expression of propositions.
(iii) The mode of philosophical thought which implies, and is implied
by, the faculty-psychology.
(iv) The subject-predicate form of expression.
(v) The sensationalist doctrine of perception.
( vi) The doctrine of vacuous actuality.
(vii) The Kantian doctrine of the objective world as a theoretical construct
from purely subjective experience.
(viii) Arbitrary deductions in ex absurdo arguments.
(ix) Belief that logical inconsistencies can indicate anything else than
some antecedent errors.”
I will try to say a word about some of these points.
(i) With Plato and with Kant I limit the scope of ‘speculative philosophy’ to the examination by the mind, within the mind, of pure ideas of the mind. This does not give us knowledge but gives us intelligible imaginative visions: this is all the understanding we may ever have.
(ii) Language, the shadow of thought, was formed to be in the service of practice. Its limitations are dictated by its purpose. No formulation of thought or langusge can be definitive or certain but in myrh, parable, and metaphor we give expression to our imaginative visions intimating insights into our inner reality.
(iii) No comment.
(iv) This is a feature of language. What I have saud under (ii) suffices.
(v) No comment.
(vi) No comment.
(vii) This expresses Whitehead’s misconstruction of Kant’s position which I have dealt with sufficiently above.
(viii) This refers to dogmatic metaphysics. Whitehead verges on falling into the same fault.
(ix) We can never aspire to finality or certainty nor to completeness of comprehensive vision. Hence any thinker who dare think for himself cannot be free of inconsistencies. Indeed, complete consistence in a philosopher’s statements must be the mark of shallowness. But there is a world of difference between the inconsistence of originality and the inconsistence of mediocrity which is unpardonable. Whitehead is liable to the opposite fault: he strains after the mirage of comprehensiveness and perfect precision.
D. R. Khashaba
April 24, 2020