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Process and Reality (Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of Edinburgh During the Session 1927-28) Paperback – July 1, 1979
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About the Author
An English mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead provided the foundation for the shool of thought known as process philosophy. With an academic career that spanned from Cambridge to Harvard, Whitehead wrote extensively on mathematics, metaphysis, and philosophy. He died in Massachusetts in 1947.
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Rather than describe the structure of the book, I'll just set out to discuss Whitehead's philosophical system in this work. Everything that exists is the same type of 'thing.' Everything that exists is what Whitehead called the Category of the Ultimate - creativity. Whether or not creativity has an actual existence on its own is debatable, even within this work. Nevertheless, at the end of the day all the exists is creativity (the new, the novel, creation constantly bursting with existence, a world situation that has never existed before and cannot be accounted wholly by the past). While Whitehead says that actual occasions are the "final real things of which the world is made up," actual occasions are themselves just bursts of creativity and experience. Actual occasions, as bursts of creativity are processes of 'becoming,' a philosophical term with rich history that is often used to contrast with a static, unchanging notion of 'being.' Actual occasions are invisible (obviously - as bursts of experience) and they go through this process of 'becoming,' what Whitehead called 'concrescence.' During this process actual occasions 'choose' what they will 'become.' This 'choice' nullifies the occasion's existence, but this 'choice' is remembered and experienced by the next actual occasion that occurs in that particular stream of experience.
God exists and is also an actual occasion, but a nontemporal one. Like all actual entities (occasions), God has a spiritual/physical side. The physical side is the world of becoming and the mental side is what Whitehead called 'eternal objects,' something akin to a Platonic Realm of the Forms. Like the forms, eternal objects are virtually anything than can be perceived. They're ways of becoming - possibilities of experience. Actual occasions cannot choose what they want to become on their own. They are merely self-creating subjects of experience. God knows each actual occasion and at each moment *shows* it, so to speak, what it can relevantly become according to its past and the past of its environment/world. This accounts for order in the universe and assures that not every actual occasion will make self-determining choices which result in chaos for the rest of the world. So, God is a middleman that helps the world evolve or become, ordering it, but not deciding for it. The final decision of what the world becomes as a whole is left to actual occasions.
Actual occasions sometimes cluster together into groups. Two types of these Whitehead called nexuses and societies. Both of these are different, yet still similar. Everything you can see is either one of these, likely highly complex versions. So, the more actual entities that cluster, the more complex an entity you can have, and this rich complexity of ordered actual occasions account for everything we see in the world around us.
This is a highly oversimplified version of what you will find in this book, but it is a good hint at Whitehead's overall philosophy in P&R. The first time I picked up this work, I couldn't make heads or tails of it. Don't expect to finish this quickly. Indulge slowly and think about it.
The book is arrainged in five "Parts". The first part gives an overview of philosophy, its aims and methods, together with a set of premises on which the substance of his philosophy will be built. He calls this set "The Categoreal Scheme" and intends the remainder of his book to be an exposition of this scheme. His work is, then, "systematic" in a way that the 20th century has largely rejected, and hearkens back to the 19th century. In fact, he does so explicitly, naming his book after Bradley's "Appearance and Reality", and stating that, despite their metaphysical differences, he and Bradly come to much the same conclusions.
The second part discusses the categoreal scheme in terms of the history of philosophy, with emphasis on the Empiricist tradition that begins with Locke, but covering the range of modern as well as ancient philosophy. In this section he elaborates his "philosophy of organism" which sees each actual entity as a psycho-physical unification of its environment, a unit of space, time, and value. Deeply influenced by early 20th century physics, Whitehead presents us with a universe that is dynamic. Grounded in Plato (Western Philosophy consists of "a series of footnotes to Plato"), he also presents us with a changeless ground for this dynamism. The result is a fascinating, modern interpretation of an ancient mode of thought.
The third and forth parts develop the philosophy of organism in its own terms, rather than in relationship to the history of philosophy or to science. These sections are of special interest to the technical philosopher, and continue to be the subject-matter of articles and books by professional philosophers.
The fifth and final part is a rhapsodic interpretation of the philosophy he has presented. This "Final Interpretation" has inspired a theological movement called "Process Theology", and provides provocative oracles for the amateur philosopher.
This is not an easy book to read once you get into part two, and it is recommended that the reader have some familiarity with philosophy. However, the determined undergraduate or the dedicated amateur will find that the complexity of Whitehead's jargon is not merely to impress the unintiated, but expresses a view of reality that aims to be "consistent, coherent, applicable, and adequate". The view from inside makes it worth the effort necessary to enter into Whitehead's universe. Once entered, it is a world you will not forget.