Date: 15th July 2021
Presenter: Miha Flere
Chapters: Ch. III “The Century of Genius” & Ch. IV “The Eighteenth Century”
Keywords: sensationalism, sense-objects, system, laws of nature, Husserl, Bergson, nominalism, organic realism, realism, idealism
33:28 (Matt): The ingression of sense-objects; the bracketing of the mind in The Concept of Nature; in Science and The Modern World Whitehead is still working out his ideas; in search for clarity and on the way to a systematic scheme.
34:17 (Sebastjan): Whitehead and Husserl; the way in which Whitehead introduces the notion of prehensions (and later substitutes it for the notion of event) is very Husserlian.
38:42 (Gabor): Whitehead is on the way to finding/developing his terminology; epistemological and metaphysical angles of explanations; the substitution of terms in later works (such as Process and Reality).
42:32 (Sebastjan): Similarities in presuppositions between Whitehead, Canghuillem, Husserl, Merlau-Ponty; One of these presuppositions being The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness (simple location and substance and quality).
45:36 (Evan): In addition to The Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness we can also mention the bifurcation of nature (from The Concept of Nature); Whitehead’s notion of fallacy is similar to what Husserl in the Crisis of European Sciences mentions as the surreptitious substitution; with regards to substance and quality we can see a difference between Whitehead and Husserl; Husserl tried to recuperate the notions of substance and quality within a phenomenological understanding; Cleopatra’s Needle (Concept of Nature).
57:44 (Matt): Husserl and Whitehead are an ideal contrast; critique of sensationalism; for Whitehead we should also focus on viscera (causal efficacy); recurring to pre-Kantian modes of philosophy; justifying induction; no need for a transcendental revolution; Whitehead as a provisional realist and Husserl as a provisional idealist.
1:01:52 (Gabor): Philosophical method; what makes Whitehead unique in the whole of 20. century philosophy is that he is a systemic thinker (not a methodological one).
1:06:07 (Sebastjan): Whitehead’s Anglo-American philosophical background; the main obstacle for Whitehead was empiricism; but in the German and French speaking world empiricism was already seen as being dead (because of Kant).
1:10:08 (Evan): Whitehead and Bergson; Whitehead is more a post-Kantian than a pre-Kantian thinker; but is post-Kantian in a different sense than are the phenomenologists; both Whitehead and Merleau-Ponty go down the road of formulating cosmologies.
1:18:04 (Evan): The mathematical sides of both Whitehead and Husserl; Husserl as an anti-realist/instrumentalist with regards to scientific/mathematical laws; Whiteheads defends a kind of realism with regards to scientific/mathematical laws; abstractions just because they are abstractions does not mean they are not real.
1:23:08 (Matt): The necessity of physical laws; the need for there being an order of nature; physical laws as habits; referring to p. 75 of SMW Whitehead says: “Let us grant that we cannot hope to be able to discern the laws of nature to be necessary. But we can hope to see that it is necessary that there should be an order of nature.”
1:29:31 (Miha): Whitehead as a peculiar systemic thinker; referring to Roland Faber’s article entitled Whitehead at Infinite Speed.
1:35:52 (Sebastjan): The notions of realism and idealism (or provisional realism and idealism) can become hindrances for thought; overcoming of such dichotomies.
1:39:24 (Primož): Is it possible to overcome such dichotomies? Plessner for one has identified the root cause of such dichotomies; there is a reason why such dichotomies are constantly coming up and not going away; we cannot escape dichotomies; we can only transcend dichotomies only in so far as we can transcend ourselves.
1:49:46 (Matt): Whiteheads organic realism as a form of philosophical diplomacy; to extract from the history of philosophy what is insightful and to lobotomize what is not; the forms and the facts are real; what is the reality of a form or of a fact; Whitehead is on the side of experience (in the Jamesian sense of the word).
1:53:42 (Evan): Regarding the usage of the word realism it is important to keep in mind that sometimes the contrast is with nominalism.
1:55:00 (Gabor): Is there anything such as laws of nature? Wheeler’s notion of “law without law”; referring to the guessing game “barkochba”; there is no pregiven form or law; Whitehead’s system is an assemblage.
2:00:13 (Miha): Referring again to Roland Faber’s article entitled Whitehead at Infinite Speed: “Whitehead’s approach to system is Process, and its appearance is – event.” (p. 40)
Plant of the week:
Southern succisella, also called frosted pearls (Succisella inflexa; sl. navadni objed) belongs to the teasel family (Dipsacaceae; sl. ščetičevke). This one was captured by the shore of Podpeško jezero: the species is commonly found on Ljubljansko barje (a (former) marshland south of Ljubljana) and in the lowlands of eastern part of Slovenia. It is native to southern and eastern Europe, but was also introduced to North America and can be occasionally found in the wetlands in northeast. The name Succisella comes from the Latin word succìdere, meaning “to cut away below” (sub (“under”) + caedere (“to cut”)), and it refers to its roots that appear to be cut off at their ends.
It is similar in appearance to the much more common pincushions (Scabiosa sp.; sl. grintavec) and widow flowers (Knautia sp.; sl. grabljišče), but its inflorescence is conspicuously dome-shaped, while pincushions’ and widow flowers’ inflorescence is flat. However, it was formerly considered to be part of the Scabiosa genus, which means that it was likely used for the same medicinal purposes as the other species of that genus, namely, to treat scabies and other afflictions of the skin, including sores caused by the bubonic plague. Folk tales say that its abruptly-cut roots were bitten off by the Devil, who was angry at the plant’s ability to cure these ailments.
Abridgment of Chs. III & IV
By: Miha Flere
Chapter III: The Century of Genius, p. 49-70
Firstly, Whitehead will give a short summary of the prevailing concepts from the previous two chapters.
(p. 49-50) The previous chapters were devoted to the antecedent conditions which prepared the soil for the scientific outburst of the seventeenth century.
The three main factors arrested attention: (1) the rise of mathematics, (2) the instinctive belief in a detailed order of nature, (3) and the unbridled rationalism of the thought of the later Middle Ages. (contra-3) The historical revolt was the definite abandonment of this method in favour of the study of the empirical fact of antecedents and consequences. In religion, it meant the appeal to the origins of Christianity; and in science it meant the appeal to experiment and the inductive method of reasoning.
Great emphasis is given by Whitehead to the accumulated capital of ideas in the seventeenth century. The crowded stage of this hundred years is indicated by the coincidences which mark its literary annals. (a) At its dawn Bacon’s Advancemeent of Learning and Cervantes’ Don Quixote were published the same year (1605). (b) The first quarto edition of Hamlet appeared in the preceding year. (c) Finally Shakespeare and Cervantes died on the same day, April 23, 1616. (d) In the spring of the same year Harvey is believed to have first expounded his theory of the circulation of the blood in a course of lectures before the Collage of Physicians in London. (e) Newton was born in the year that Galileo died (1642), exactly one hundred years after the publication of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus. (f) One year earlier Descartes published his Meditationes and two years later his Principia Philosophiae.
(p. 51) The scientific philosophy of this age was dominated by physics. This meant the concepts being used were not suitable for biology; and set for it an insoluble problem of matter and life and organism. The last half century before the present time has witnessed unsuccessful attempts to impress biological notions upon the materialism of the seventeenth century.
The root ideas of the seventeenth century were derived from the school of thought which produced Galileo, Huyghens and Newton, and not from the physiologists of Padau.
(p. 52-53) One unsolved problem of thought, so far as it derives from this period, is to be formulated thus: Given configurations of matter with locomotion in space as assigned by physical laws, to account for living organisms.
Whitehead now turns his attention to a quotation from Francis Bacon’s opening of section (or ‘Century’) IX of his Natural History (by which is meant his Silva Silvarum).
By word of his chaplain, Dr Rawley, we know that this work was composed in the last five years of his life (between 1620 and 1626).
(1) First there is the careful way in which Bacon discriminates between perception, or taking account of, on the one hand, and sense, or cognitive experience, on the other hand. In this respect Bacon is outside the physical line of thought which finally dominated the century. Later on, people thought of passive matter which was operated on externally by force.
(2) The whole passage and the context in which it is embedded, are permeated through and through by the experimental method, that is to say, by attention to “irreducible and stubborn facts,” and by the inductive method of eliciting general laws.
All the following statements, that Whitehead is going to make, refer to the aforementioned problem of induction (2).
The antithesis between the deductive rationalism of the scholastics and the inductive observational methods must chiefly be ascribed to Bacon. That being said, the man that most completely anticipated both Bacon and the whole modern pint of view was the artist Leonardo Da Vinci, who lived almost exactly a century before Bacon.
Leonardo also illustrated the theory which Whitehead was advancing in the last lecture (cf. 16),that the rise of naturalistic art was an important ingredient in the formation of our scientific mentality. (p. 54) Indeed, Leonardo was more completely a man of science than was Bacon. The practice of naturalistic art is more akin to the practice of physics, chemistry and biology than is the practice of law.
Going back to the question of induction Bacon had in his mind the belief that with a sufficient care in the collection of instances the general law would stand out of itself. We know now that this is a very inadequate account of the processes which issue in scientific generalisations.
The difficulties raised by induction emerged in the eighteenth century, as the result of Hume’s criticism. But Bacon was one of the prophets of the historical revolt, which deserted the method of unrelieved rationalism, and rushed into the other extreme of basing all fruitful knowledge upon inference from particular occasions in the past to particular occasions in the future.
(p. 55) Whitehead gives further clarification, that he is not trying to throw doubt on induction. His point is that the very baffling task of applying reason to elicit the general characteristics of the immediate occasion, as set before us in direct cognition, is a necessary preliminary, and not something to be frowned upon.
Either there is something about the immediate occasion which affords knowledge of the past and future, or we are reduced to utter scepticism as to memory and induction. The key to the process of induction is to be found in the right understanding of the immediate occasion of knowledge in its full concreteness.
We find ourselves amid insoluble difficulties when we substitute for this concrete occasion a mere abstract in which we only consider material objects in a flux of configurations in time and space. It is quite obvious that such objects can tell us only that they are where they are.
We must observe the immediate occasion, and use reason to elicit a general description of its nature (referring to the method of inquiry of the school-divinity as explained by the Italian medievalists on p. 11).
Induction presupposes metaphysics. In other words, it rests upon an antecedent rationalism. You cannot have a rational justification for your appeal to history till your metaphysics has assured you that there is a history to appeal to, and likewise your conjectures as to the future presuppose some basis of knowledge that there is a future already subject to some determinations.
(p. 56) In truth for Whitehead Induction is not in its essence the derivation of general laws. It is the divination of some characteristics of a particular future from the known characteristics of a particular past.
All we can ask of the present occasion is that it shall determine a particular community of occasions, which are in some respects mutually qualified by reason of their inclusion within that same community. That same community of occasions considered in physical science is the set of happenings which fit on to each other—as we say—in a common space-time, so that we can trace the transitions from one to the other. Accordingly, we refer to the common space-time indicated in our immediate occasion of knowledge. Inductive reasoning proceeds from the particular occasion to the particular community of occasions, and from the particular community to relations between particular occasions within that community.
For now, this is as far as Whitehead is willing to take the concept of induction, without taking into account other scientific concepts.
(3) A third point to be made regarding the quotation from Bacon’s work is that of the concept of quantity and quality.
Science was becoming (starting from the seventeenth century), and has remained, primarily quantitative. Search for measurable elements among (p. 57) your phenomena, and then search for relations between these measures of physical quantities. Bacon ignores this rule of science. For example, in the quotation given he speaks of action at a distance; but he is thinking qualitatively and not quantitatively.
Perhaps he was misled by the current logical doctrines which had come down from Aristotle. For, in effect, these doctrines said to the physicist classify when they should have said measure.
By the end of the century physics had been founded on a satisfactory basis of measurement, for which the finale exposition was given by Newton. Mass was chosen to be the common element of measurement. (i) The first triumph of the Newtonian conception was the law of gravitation, whilst its (ii) cumulative triumph has been the whole development of dynamical astronomy, of engineering, and of physics.
(p. 58) The development of the three laws of motion and of the law of gravitation occupied exactly two generations. It commenced with Galileo and ended with Newton’s Principia; and Newton was born in the year that Galileo died.
It constructs for us a vision of the material universe, and it enables us to calculate the minutest detail of particular occurrence.
(a) Galileo took the first step in noting that the critical point to attend to was not the motion of bodies but the changes of their motions. (b) Later Newton formulated his discovery —“Every body continues in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line, except so far as it may be compelled by force to change that state.”
This formulation also deals with a fundamental concept which is essential in scientific theory: this concept is “an ideally isolated system”. Such a system is not solipsistic, apart from which there would be nonentity. It is isolated as within the universe. The concept of an isolated system is not the conception of substantial independence from the remainder of things, (p. 59) but of freedom from casual contingent dependence upon detailed items within the rest of the universe.
As an example Whitehead considers the first law of motion. It asks what is to be said of a dynamically isolated system so far as concerns its motion as a whole, abstracting from its orientation and its internal arrangement of parts.
(a) Aristotle said that you must conceive such a system to be at rest. Accordingly, one should then conceive the forces arising from the reaction of alien bodies as being quantitatively measurable in terms of the velocity they sustain, and as directively determined by the direction of that velocity.
(b) Galileo added that the state of rest is only a particular case, and that the general statement is “either in a state of rest, or of uniform motion in a straight line.” The emphasis is thus on the magnitude of the acceleration and to its direction.
(p. 60) Next Whitehead raises his concern regarding unimaginative empiricism. Huyghens had produced the wave theory of light. But this theory failed to account for the most obvious facts about light as in our ordinary experience, namely, that shadows cast by obstructing objects are defined by rectilinear rays. Accordingly, Newton rejected this theory and adopted the corpuscular theory which completely explained shadows.
This shows the danger of refusing to entertain an idea because of its failure to explain one of the most obvious facts in the subject matter in question. Almost all really new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when they are first produced.
Returning to the concept of quantity (and quality) (3), Whitehead says the following. It remained for Newton to direct attention to mass as a physical quantity inherent in the nature of a material body, which is permanent during all changes of motion (the proof of the permanence of mass amid chemical transformations had to wait for Lavoisier, a century later). The next task was to find some estimate of the magnitude of the alien force in terms of the mass of the body and of its acceleration. In short force became the product of the two, mas and acceleration.
(p. 61) Having regard to this triumph, can we wonder that scientists placed their ultimate principles upon a materialistic basis, and thereafter ceased to worry about philosophy.
Whitehead goes on to suggest, that when we are criticising a philosophy of an epoch, we should not chiefly direct attention to those intellectual positions which its exponents feel it necessary explicitly to defend. There will be some fundamental assumptions which adherents of all the variant systems within the epoch unconsciously presuppose.
One such assumption underlies the whole philosophy of nature during the modern period. It is embodied in the concept which is supposed to express the most concrete aspect of nature. Stuff, matter, material, the particular name chosen is indifferent, it is anything which has the property of simple location.
(p. 62-63) The characteristic common both to space and time is that material can be said to be here in space and here in time, or here in space-time, in a perfectly definite sense which does not require for its explanation any reference to other regions of space-time.
Three things follow from this. (1) As regards time, if material has existed during any period, it has equally been in existence during any portion of that period. In other words, dividing the time does not divide the material. (2) Secondly, in respect to space, dividing the volume does divide the material. Accordingly, if material exists throughout a volume, there will be less of that material distributed through any definite half of that volume. It is from this property that there arises our notion of density. (3) Furthermore, this fact that material is indifferent to the division of time leads to the conclusion that the lapse of time is an accident, rather than of the essence, of the material. The material is fully itself in any sub-period however short. Thus the transition of time has nothing to do with the character of the material. The material is equally itself at an instant of time (here an instant of time is conceived as in itself without transition, since the temporal transition is the succession of instants).
This is the famous mechanistic theory of nature, which has reigned supreme ever since the seventeenth century. It is the orthodox creed of physical science, Furthermore, the creed justified itself by the pragmatic test. It worked. Physicists took no more interest in philosophy. They emphasized the anti-rationalism of the Historical Revolt.
(p. 64) For instance, Bergson called simple location a distortion of nature due to the intellectual “spatialisation” of things. Whitehead agrees with Bergson in his protest: but not with the idea that such distortion is a vice necessary to the intellectual apprehension of nature.
There is an error (not of the sort Bergson is talking about); but it is merely the accidental error of mistaking the abstract for the concrete. It is an example of what Whitehead calls the Fallacy of Misplaced Concretenes.
It is at once evident that the concept of simple location (a subset of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness) is going to make great difficulties for induction. For, if in the location of configurations of matter throughout a stretch of time there is no inherent reference to any other times, past or future, it immediately follows that nature within any period does not refer to nature at any other period.
The order of nature cannot be justified by the mere observation of nature. For there is nothing in the present fact which inherently refers either to the past or to the future. It looks, therefore, as though memory, as well as induction, would fail to find any justification within nature itself.
(p. 65) The fact that science had to wait for Hume to point out its flaw—the problem of induction, ignited thought the presupposition of simple location—gives further credence to the anti-rationalism of the scientific public. This is because the clergy were in principle rationalists, whereas the men of science were content with a simple faith in the order of nature.
There is another presupposition of thought which must be put beside the theory of simple location. The two correlative categories of Substance and quality.
Thus (a) simple location and (b) substance and quality, are both two exemplary manifestations of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. Thought if they are the only manifestations, Whitehead does not make clear.
(p. 66) Of course, substance and quality, as well as simple location, are the most natural ideas for the human mind, it is the way in which we think of things, and without these ways of thinking we could not get our ideas straight for daily use.
Whitehead continues with substance and quality. For example, we observe a body; there is something about it which we note. Perhaps, it is hard, and blue, and round, and noisy. The entity is the substratum, or substance, of which we predicate qualities. Some of the qualities are essential, so that apart from them the entity would not be itself; while other qualities are accidental and changeable.
(p. 67) The problem of such a conception can be shown through the example of two hypotheses of light (already mentioned before): (1) either it is transmitted by the vibratory waves of a materialistic ether (Huyghens), (2) or it is transmitted by the motion of incredibly small corpuscles of some subtle matter (Newton). But whatever theory you choose, there is no light or colour as a fact in external nature. There is merely motion of material. When the light enters your eyes and falls on the retina, there is merely motion of material. Then your nerves are affected and your brain is affected, and again this is merely motion of material.
(p. 68-69) Thus the bodies are perceived as with qualities which in reality do not belong to them, qualities which in fact are purely the offspring of the mind. Thus nature gets credit which should in truth be reserved for ourselves: the rose for its scent: the nightingale for his song: and the sun for his radiance. The poets are entirely mistaken. They should address their lyrics to themselves, and should turn them into odes of self-congratulation on the excellency of the human mind. Nature is a dull affair, soundless, colourless; merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly.
However, you disguise it, this is the practical outcome of the characteristic scientific philosophy which closed the seventeenth century. No alternative system of organising the pursuit of scientific truth has been suggested. It is not only reigning, but is without a rival.
(p. 70) Thereby, modern philosophy has been ruined. It has oscillated in a complex manner between three extremes. There are the (i) dualists, who accepted matter and mind as on equal basis, and two varieties of monists, (ii) those who put mind inside matter, and (iii) those who put matter inside mind.
(Matija Jama, Ob Ljubljanici, 1930’s, source: Wikimedia Commons)
Chapter IV: The Eighteenth Century, p. 71-92
(p. 71) Whitehead draws upon a certain contrast between the eighteenth century (a) and the Middle Ages (b).
On the one hand (a) there were the Parisian salons, where D’Alembert conversed with Voltaire. The man of the eighteenth century rationalised the social life of modern communities, and based their sociological theories on an appeal to the facts of nature. It was an age of reason, based upon faith. Accordingly, Hume based his Dissertaion on the Natural History of Religion upon his faith in the order of nature. On the other hand, there was (b) the cathedral of Charters and the haunting desire to rationalise the infinite. It was an age of faith, based upon reason. St. Anselm would have been distressed if he had failed to find a convincing argument for the existence of God, and on this argument he based his edifice of faith.
In comparing these epochs it is well to remember that reason can err, and that faith may be misplaced.
Referring back to the seventeenth century, Whitehead gives a further point to the fundamental duality of material and mind. In between there lie the concepts of life, organism, function, instantaneous reality, interaction, order of nature. Collectively they from the Achilles heel of the whole system.
(p. 72) A further comment is given by Whitehead on the previously mentioned Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness, more accurately to one of its manifestations, simple location. It is argued that no element of nature as apprehended in our immediate experience possesses this character of simple location. Having said that, it does not follow, that the science of the seventieth century was simply wrong. Whitehead holds that by a process of constructive abstraction we can arrive at abstractions which are the simply-located bits of material.
The advantage of confining attention to a definite group of abstractions, is that you confine your thoughts to clear-cut definite things, with clear-cut definite relations.
(p. 73) The disadvantage of exclusive attention to a group of abstractions, however, is that, by the nature of the case, you have abstracted from the remainder of things (contra).
You cannot think without abstractions; accordingly, it is of the utmost importance to be vigilant in critically revising your modes of abstraction (pro).
It is here that philosophy finds its niche as essential to the healthy progress of society. It is the critic of abstractions. A civilisation which cannot burst through its current abstractions is doomed to sterility after a very limited period of progress. An active school of philosophy is quite as important for the locomotion of ideas, as is an active school of railway engineers for the locomotion of fuel.
Sometimes it happens that the service rendered by philosophy is entirely obscured by the astonishing success of a scheme of abstractions in expressing the dominant interest of an epoch. This happened during the eighteenth century. (p. 74) They applied the seventeenth century group of scientific abstractions to the analysis of the unbounded universe.
This triumph of materialism was chiefly in the sciences of rational dynamics, physics, and chemistry. So far as dynamics and physics were concerned, progress was in the form of direct developments of the main ideas of the previous epoch. Nothing fundamentally new was introduced, but there was an immense detailed development.
(p. 75) In the second half of the century, Lavoisier practically founded chemistry on its present basis. He introduced into it the principle that no material is lost or gained in any chemical transformations. Chemical sciences now only waited for the atomic theory, in the next century.
In this century the notion of the mechanical explanation of all the processes of nature finally hardened into a dogma.
(p. 76) Whitehead mentions a couple of the most important mathematical physicists of the eighteenth and first few years of the nineteenth century, most of them French: Maupertuis, Clairaut, D’Alembert, Lagrang (Mécanique Analytique, 1787), Laplace, Fourier, Carnot. Out of the seven thinkers Whitehead will give further importance to Maupertuis (m) and Lagrange (l)
They aimed at discovering something more fundamental and more general than Newton’s laws of motion. They wanted to find some wider ideas, and in the case of Lagrange some more general means of mathematical exposition.
(m) He started with the idea that the whole path of a material particle between any limits of time must achieve some perfection of the providence of God.
(p. 77) There are two points of interest in this motive principle. (i) It illustrates the thesis which, Whitehead, was urging in his first lecture that the way in which the medieval church had impressed on Europe the notion of the detailed providence of a rational personal God was one of the factors by which the trust in the order of nature had been generated. (ii) Almost any idea which jogs you out of your current abstractions may be better than nothing.
For Maupertuis this lead him to enquire what general property of the path as a whole could be deduced from Newton’s laws of motion. Also his general idea led him to conceive that the property found would be a quantitative sum, such that any slight deviation from the path would increase it. Maupertuis conjecture was to suggest that a particle travelling through a field of force would realise the least possible amount of some quantity (calling it the “integral action between the time limits considered”).
This action, therefore, has to do with the interchange between the energy arising from motion and the energy arising from position. Mauperteus had discovered the famous theorem of least action.
(p. 78) Maupertuis was not quite of the first rank in comparison with such a man as Lagrange.
(l) He put the same question on a wider basis so as to make its answer relevant to actual procedure in the development of dynamics. His Principle of Virtual Work as applied to systems in motion is in effect Maupertuis principle conceived as applying at each instant of the path of the system. He grasped that he had gained a method of stating dynamical truths in a way which is perfectly indifferent to the particular methods of measurement employed in fixing the positions of the various parts of the system.
Later Herz (inventor of the electromagnetic waves) based mechanics on the idea of every particle traversing the shortest path open to it under the circumstances constraining its motion; and finally Einstein, by the use of the geometrical theories of Gauss and Reiman, showed that these circumstances could be construed as being inherent in the character of space-time itself.
Some additional advances, that Whitehead mentions, are the following: electrical discoveries of Galvani and Volta and the independent growth of psychology which was a result of its invocation by John Locke as a critic of metaphysical licence.
(p. 79) All the sciences of life were still in an elementary observational stage, in which classification and direct description were dominant.
Next Whitehead gives reasons for not mentioning the development of the later nineteenth century idealism.
The idealistic school, as hitherto developed, has been too much divorced from the scientific outlook. In the case of absolute idealism, the world of nature is just one of the ideas, somehow differentiating the unity of the Absolute.
(p. 80-81) These idealistic schools have conspicuously failed to connect, in any organic fashion, the fact of nature with their idealistic philosophies. Whiteheads point is that a further stage of provisional realism is required in which the scientific scheme is recast, and founded upon the ultimate concept of organism.
Whiteheads procedure will thusly consist of the analysis of space and time (or rather space-time).
Things are separated by space, and separated by time: but they are also together in space, and together in time, even if they be not contemporaneous. These will be called the (i) separative and (ii) prehensive characters of space-time. There is also the (iii) modal character of space-time. (iii) Everything which is in space receives a definite limitation of some sort, so that in a sense it has just that shape which it does have and no other, also in some sense it is just in this place and in no other (analogously for time). It is evident that the modal character taken by itself gives rise to the idea of simple location. But it must be conjoined with the seperative and prehensive character.
(i) Going into further detail the separate character of space, analyses a volume into sub-volumes, and so on indefinitely. Taking it in isolation, we should infer that a volume is a mere multiplicity of non-voluminous elements, of points of fact.
(ii) But it is the unity of the volume which is the ultimate fact of experience, for example the voluminous space of this hall. This prehensive unity is mitigated or limited by the separated unites of the innumerable contained parts. This unity is yet held apart as an aggregate of contained parts. Each part is something from the standpoint of every other part, and also from the same standpoint every other part, is something in relation to it.
If A and B are volumes of space, B has an aspect from the standpoint of A. This aspect of B from A is of the essence of A. The volumes of space have no independent existence.
(iii) Accordingly we can say that the aspect of B from A is the mode in which B enters into the composition of A. This is the modal character of space, that the prehensive unity of A is the prehension into unity of the aspects of all other volumes from the standpoint of A.
The shape of a volume is the formula from which the totality of its aspects can be derived. Thus the shape of the volume is more abstract than its aspects.
(p. 82-83) No epoch is homogenous. This is certainly the case with the eighteenth century. Whitehead has here in mind figures like John Wesley, Rousseau and especially Berkeley.
(p. 84) Referring to Berkeley, Whitehead says, he will not consider the subjective idealism witch has been derived from him, or the schools of development which trace their descent from Hume and Kant respectively. Whiteheads point will be that there is another line of development embedded in Berkeley. It will be remembered that the key problem lies in the notion of simple location. Berkeley, in effect, criticises this notion.
In Section 23 and 24 of his Principles of Human Knowledge (PHK) and Section 10 of the fourth Dialogue of Alciphron, Berkeley gives his answer.
(p. 85) It is made explicit in the first passage PHK, that Berkeley himself adopts an extreme idealistic interpretation. For him mind is the only absolute reality, and the unity of nature is the unity of ideas in the mind of God.
There is, however, another possible line of thought, which enables us to adopt an attitude of provisional realism, and to widen the scientific scheme in a way which is useful for science itself.
(p. 86) Referring to the previously mentioned quote from Francis Bacon’ Natural History (cf. 53): “(…) all bodies whatsoever, though they have no sense, yet they have perception:(…) a perception precedeth operation; for else all bodies would be alike one to another (…)”
Guided by Bacon’s insight, Whitehead emphasises, that he will from now on use the word prehension for uncognitive apprehension instead of the word perceive which is in its common usage, shot through and through with the notion of cognitive apprehension. With this new insight in mind, Whitehead urges us to reread the two quetes from Berkely (cf. 84):
(a) Now take Euphranor’s last remark (Section 10 of the fourth Dialogue of Alciphron): “Accordingly, there is a prehension, here in this place, of things which have a reference to other places.”
(b) Secondly go to the sentences, quoted from PHK (section 23 and 24), where Berkeley contends that what constitutes the realisation of natural entities is the being perceived within the unity of mind.
(p. 87) We can substitute the concept, that the realisation is a gathering of things into the unity of a prehension; and that what is thereby realised is the prehension, and not the things. This unity of prehension defines itself as a here and now, and the things so gathered into the grasped unity have essential reference to other places and other times. The mind can also be substituted for a process called prehensive unification.
With this, says Whitehead, the idea of simple location has gone. The things which are grasped into a realised unity, here and now, are not the castle, the cloud, and the planet simply in themselves; but they are the castle, the cloud, and the planet from the standpoint, in space and time, of the prehensive unification. In other words, it is the perspective of the castle over there from the standpoint of the unification here.
Whitehead calls attention to two parallels in the history of philosophy.
(i) The idea of perspectives was introduced by Leibniz, with his notion of monads mirroring perspectives of the universe. Though Whitehead is using something similar, he is toning the idea of monads into the unified events in space and time.
(ii) There is a greater analogy with Spinoza’s modes; that is why the terms “mode” and “modal” is used. Spinoza’s one substance is for Whitehead the one underlying activity of realisation individualising itself in an interlocked plurality of modes. Thus, concrete fact is process.
Each event is an individual matter of fact issuing from an individualisation of the substrate activity. (p. 88) But individualisation does not mean substantial independence.
An entity of which we become aware in sense perception is the terminus of our act of perception. Such an entity will be called a sense-object (for example, green of a definitive shade is a sense-object).
The way in which such an entity is related to space during a definite lapse of time is complex. It will be said, that a sense-object has ingression into space-time.
(1) The cognitive perception of a sense-object is the awareness of the prehensive unification into a standpoint A.
(2) The standpoint A is, of course, a region of space-time; that is to say, it is a volume of space through a duration of time.
(3) As one entity this standpoint is a unit of realised experience.
(4) A mode of a sense-object at A is the aspect from A of some other region B.
(5) Thus the sense-object is present in A with the mode of location in B.
Thus if green be the sense-object in question, green is not simply at A where it is being perceived, nor is it simply at B where it is perceived as located; but it is present at A with the mode of location in B.
(p. 89) Perception is simply the cognition of prehensive unification; or more shortly, perception is cognition of prehension. The actual world is a manifold of prehensions; and a “prehension” is a “prehensive occasion”; and a prehensive occasion is the most concrete finite entity, conceived as what it is in itself and for itself, and not as from its aspect in the essence of another such occasion.
Prehensive unification might be said to have simple location in its volume A. But this would be a mere tautology. Thus a prehension has simple location at the volume A in the same way as that in which a man’s face fits on to the smile which spreads over it.
(p. 90) We can frame our answer to Berkeley’s question as to the character of the reality to be assigned to nature.
We can be content with a provisional realism in which nature is conceived as a complex of prehensive unifications. Space and time exhibit the general scheme of interlocking relations of these prehensions. You cannot tear any one of them out of its context. Yet each one of them within its context has all the reality that attaches to the whole complex. Conversely, the totality has the same reality as each prehension; for each prehension unifies the modalities to be ascribed, from its standpoint, to every part of the whole.
A prehension is a process of unifying. Accordingly, nature is a process expensive of development, necessarily transitional from prehension to prehension. What is achieved is passed beyond, but it is also retained as having aspects for itself present to prehensions which lie beyond it.
Thus nature is a structure of evolving processes. The reality is the process. It is nonsense to ask if the colour green is real. The colour green is ingredient in the process of realisation. The realities of nature are the prehensions in nature, that is to say, the events in nature.
(p. 91) The word event may be used instead of the term prehension as meaning the thing prehended.
An event has contemporaries. This means that an event mirrors within itself the modes of its contemporaries as a display of immediate achievement. An event has a past. This means that an event mirrors within itself the modes of its predecessors, as memories which are fused into its own content. An event has a future. This means that an event mirrors within itself such aspects as the future throws back onto the present, or, in other words, as the present has determined concerning the future. Thus an event has anticipation.
The prophetic soul
Of the wide world dreaming on things to come.
(Shakespeare, Sonnet CVII.)
What has been given is an analysis of self-knowledge of our bodily event. By this we mean the total event, and not the inspection of the details of the body. This self-knowledge discloses a prehensive unification of modal presences of entities beyond itself.
(p. 92) It is the defect of the eighteenth century scientific scheme that it provides none of the elements which compose the immediate psychological experiences of mankind. Nor does it provide any elementary trace of the organic unity of a whole, from which the organic unities of electrons, protons, molecules, and living bodies emerge. Accordingly, to that scheme, there is no reason in the nature of things why portions of material should have any physical relations to each other. Let us grant that we cannot hope to be able to discern the laws of nature to be necessary. But we can hope to see that it is necessary that there should be an order of nature. The concept of the order of nature is bound up with the concept of nature as the locus of organism in process of development.