Date: 29th July 2021
Presenter: Primož Vidovič
Chapters: Ch. V “The Romantic Revolt” & Ch. VI “The Nineteenth Century”
Keywords: eternal object, definite potential, order of nature, unity, process, organism, occurence, recurrence, endurance, form, value, divine envisagement, tragic beauty, aesthetics
00:00 (Primož): Chapter V: The Romantic Reaction
20:03 (Primož): Chapter VI: The Nineteenth Century
30:06 (Matthias): What exactly are the eternal objects? They are almost like building blocks of nature, and they have intrinsic essences – at the same time Whitehead’s entities and organisms are contextual and process-oriented: how does that go together?
34:20 (Sebastjan): He uses the human body as a prototype to explain the coming together of the patterns from the outside and the inside: in an event there is a confluence of external aspects, and the world brings about the confluence of bodily aspects; fundamentally, there is an identical structure on the level of atoms, electrons, etc.
37:23 (Miha): The societies of entities; the structure of immediate experiences of a person is different from the jumbled-up experiences of a rock (i.e., a corpuscular society): in the latter all these individual actual occasions are building it up, but together they do not make a new occasion of experience; in a human being, atoms and then molecules, cells and organs build up a living person – it is a distinct, different occasion, something new; The difference between the enduring object and the eternal object.
43:15 (Hridija): What is the status of the enduring stability of the order of nature?; Instead of focusing on the mind, Whitehead was trying to transform the idea into a prehension: a unity of an event as found in Wordsworth, but in a much grander metaphysical scheme; things are getting their meaning out of participating in the process; the value of an event.
49:04 (Matthew): In Process and Reality, Whitehead will call the eternal objects definite potentials: they are real but not actual; they can be qualitative or quantitative – he brings this category into his process ontology in order to account for recurrence; process has to do with occurrence (here actual occasion will come in): occurrence is the process that is never the same twice, while recurrences allow us to recognize identities that persist; a persisting identity is an occurrence at the historical root of occurrences, it is repeating the same eternal objects with some fidelity – this is endurance. Whitehead’s whole scheme is composed of these three notions (recurrence, occurrence, endurance); he wants to both preserve a sense of continuity and interrelationship as well as atomicity and individuality.
56:09 (Matthias): Where are the eternal objects? (Matthew): Eternal objects are analogous to Platonic forms, except that they are not granted, pre-eminent actualities. Whitehead uses the term eternal objects because he wants to combat actualism (materialism): an idea that everything is already actualized and that the change or evolution is just a rearrangement of the already actualized parts. For him, there is a potentia in nature that has not yet been actualized anywhere in the universe – he will later say that the eternal objects are in the mind of God, i.e., an actual entity with an envisagement of the realm of possibilities that gives the latter some value: the pure possibilities that were akin to chaos (being not yet definite and hence all mixed-up – having a relational essence) receive a minimal teleological direction towards what is more beautiful (i.e., they become ordered in some minimal sense, so that they can be distinguished); the universe then follows this gradient in its ingression of possibilities.
1:03:28 (Matthias): In my understanding, recurrences are something that the human mind is doing. This is one of our hang-ups, the Buddha says – that the tree, for example, that we pass by each day, seems to be the same over and over. (Matthew): Whitehead wants a provisional realism and grants to a tree its own unity of experience – or at least to its cells: from a moment to moment, they are reiterating a pattern that does not depend on your mind – it is intrinsic to that event. There are organisms independent of your organism, they reiterate their own unity. After all, where does your mind come from?
1:06:50 (Sebastjan): Even in Nāgārjuna’s philosophy, despite the emptiness and interdependence, there are patterns (colors, shapes, etc.) that shape your concrete experiences. And this is what Whitehead is also saying: whenever a pattern occurs, it has certain determinants, and these are “eternal” because they are recurrent.
1:10:10 (Matthew): The only reason we can do science, talk about laws and apply mathematics to the periodicity of nature is because nature ingresses eternal objects; The example of twoness; The example of a person; The form persists though the matter is constantly changing.
1:17:05 (Izak & Timotej): Eternal objects vs. Husserl’s formal ontology. (Timotej): Different kinds of unities are discovered using the two methodologies: the phenomenological method does not allow for other types of unities except the cognitive one; but then, how can you even approach the unities alien to your own mind without ceasing to acknowledge that you cannot escape your perspective? Does Whitehead allow for a more rigorous definition of what constitutes individuality? He says that you have to distinguish between individual enduring objects that are continuously producing themselves and the phenomena with their source of individuality outside of themselves. Amongst the latter is perhaps the enduring tree for you. If you want to get to the actual unity of the tree, you have to figure out what it has to do to maintain its own structure, as a counterbalance to destructive force from the exterior.
1:32:55 (Matthew): The source of the order of nature in Whitehead has to do with the environmental context; the structure of cosmos is a nested series of organisms. The electromagnetic society is for him the largest environment within which more specific forms of order are sheltered – this is Whitehead’s theory of environmentality. We are immersed in all these orders, these layers of patterns, periodicities and rhythms: it is part of our nature and yet we are not determined by it because each moment of our experience is new and we are contributing back to the environment.
In Whitehead, unity is something we have to establish on aesthetic, not logical grounds. The unity of an organism is not an on/off switch: it has to do with the importance of the values that are realized by that occasion. Whitehead will talk about primate organisms: the only thing these smallest organisms can relate to would be eternal objects, since in these there are no smaller organisms. At that minuscule level of nature, there is a fusion of possibilities that gives rise to the first actuality. He talks about the organic structure of the atomic realm, and then about the phase of scaling-up of nature where there are just aggregates; here we get statistical laws and start to lose that organic unity that does not re-emerge until cellular life evolves. The experience that is realized in these units of emergent value is carrying aesthetic importance that allows us to say that it qualifies a new individual: a cloud of hydrogen gas is not an individual because is not realizing something of aesthetic importance as a unit, whereas a cell is. In a multicellular animal, a new unity is discovered by its body plan. This is different from Husserl’s notion of unity in that it is objective in Whitehead’s sense of that term: it is something that takes place outside of the mind of the mathematician, in a natural world, as a result of an aesthetic achivement by an organism.
1:41:14 (Sebastjan): Value and delimitation: according to Canguilhem, living beings are characterized by the polarity: it matters for them in what state they are. This is precisely their ability to delimit themselves: a certain normativity is inherent to them. A similar emphasis is to be found in Plessner. How does a delimitation get constituted?
1:44:26 (Matthias): Is the living object providing itself with a boundary? Is a certain kind of consciousness taking out Gestalts that seem to be enduring? That is the most subtle level of codependent origination for Buddhists: they would say that what happens here indeed has to do with the consciousness. Something that modifies doing (avijjā) has to draw the line.
1:47:02 (Sebastjan): In Whitehead, this is a continuous dialectical process. The moment of consciousness or the experience that goes all the way down is, of course, important: it allows for the actualization to happen and the change to enter. But it is not crucial or determinative: a synchronization is needed for a certain pattern to become endurant, and if you go way back, you will see that this has been happening continually – formations of pattern are dynamic.
1:50:35 (Hridija): I find the discrepancies of meaning associated with the words like mind and consciousness between Madhyamakas and Whitehead, since, having to live with the Cartesian dualism, even Whitehead is a victim of the history of ideas. He struggles with language; he is also trying to work on the bifurcation of nature. Therefore I think it is more complex than finding the direct analogy with the idea of self or mind or how causality works in the Eastern counterparts, because that problem is not there.
“Realization is in itself the attainment of value.” I think that instead of a common notion of value Whitehead means by it the simple manifestation of something in its particular order of existence – this is the delimitation: that it is that and nothing else.
1:55:19 (Timotej): I cannot imagine an individualized system maintaining itself just in virtue of its being polarized – this is something that just drives it forward, but it does not enable it to maintain a stable set of states. Whitehead always uses the phrase “value for itself” and thus does imply some sort of individuation – not just value in the sense of a drive; Simondon’s notion of individuation: solid states have a way of maintaining a boundary; he connects this to the notion of electrical polarity, which is for him the primal source of normativity.
1:58:32 (Matthew): In the first few pages of Process and Reality, Whitehead says that in the final interpretation his process philosophy is not all that different from the absolute idealism, it is just the matter of methodology deployed and how you get there. He really wants to emphasize that the form is where the value is: while it is true that all the forms are empty of intrinsic nature, it is in them where the importance, meaning and significance of reality are found. Whitehead is not as interested in stopping suffering (like the Buddhists are) – in fact, for him, the highest aim of the universe is tragedy: the realization of tragic beauty is teleology of all the cosmic evolution.
Plant of the week:
Carduus nutans ssp. micropterus (sl. ozkokrilati bodak) is a subspecies of musk or nodding thistle that is native to ex-Yugoslavia, Albania and a part of Italy. It is different from the type subspecies of Carduus nutans by the very characteristic that gave the latter its Latin and English names: its inflorescence is not nodding, but upright. It can be found in dry grasslands, and it especially prefers pastures, like the one in the picture, located in Otlica on Trnovski gozd (Trnovo forest plateau).
It is a particularly spiny plant, with stiff and long prickles rendering its leaves, stem, branches and the involucre of inflorescence untouchable. (It is interesting to note that the species of thistle that are adapted to dry evironments are typically spinier.) It is up to 1.5 m tall. Despite its hardy appearance, it only lives for two seasons: in the first year, it develops a large leaf rosette that overwinters; in the following summer, it grows a flowering stem. In some places in Europe, its inflorescence had been in use as a stiff-bristled brush for aligning and cleaning fibers.
Musk or nodding thistle is an introduced species in North America (first recorded in Harrisburg, PA, in 1853), South Africa and Australasia, and it is considered to be a noxious weed. It produces allelopathic substances which harm the surrounding plants (much the same as walnut trees do). Interestingly, a study has found the plumeless thistle genus (Carduus) to contain a disproportionally high number of species which are considered as noxious weeds, compared to other plant genera. They successfully spread in new environments due to their large production of very light seeds that are dispersed by wind – in such a way they need no co-evolution with new disperser animal species. Also, their biennial nature helps them to generate a large biomass. Nevertheless, in their native ranges, biennial thistles are noteworthy for their high wildlife value, providing copious floral resources for pollinators, seeds for birds such as goldfinches, foliage for butterfly larvae, and down for the lining of bird nests.
Pliny and medieval writers believed thistles to be a cure for baldness. In the early modern period, thistles were thought of as a remedy for headaches, canker sores, vertigo, jaundice and plague.
Abridgment of Chs. V & VI
By: Miha Flere
Chapter V: The Romantic Revolt, p. 93-118
(p. 93) In the last lecture Whitehead developed a parallel line of argument, which would lead to a system of thought basing nature upon the concept of organism, and not upon the concept of matter. In the present lecture Whitehead will consider how the concrete educated thought of men has viewed this opposition of mechanism and organism.
(p. 94) It is in literature (particularly in its more concrete forms, namely in poetry and in drama) that the concrete outlook of humanity receives its expression.
We quickly find that the Western people exhibit two attitudes which are inconsistent. (i) A scientific realism, based on mechanism, is conjoined with (ii) an unwavering belief in the world of men and of the higher animals as being composed of self-determining organisms. This radical inconsistency at the basis of modern thought accounts for much that is half-hearted and wavering in our civilisation. It would be going too far to say that it distracts thought. It enfeebles it, by reason of the inconsistency lurking in the background.
The individualistic energy of the European peoples presupposes physical actions directed to final causes. But the science which is employed in their development is based on a philosophy which asserts that physical causation is supreme, and which disjoins the physical cause from the final end.
(p. 95) When we leave apologetic theology (such as that of Paley and Hume), and come to ordinary literature, we find as we might expect, that the scientific outlook is in general simply ignored. So far as the mass of literature is concerned.
There are exceptions to this sweeping statement. A side light on this distracting inconsistency in modern thought is obtained by examining some of those great serious poems in English literature, whose general scale gives them a didactical character. The relevant poems are (m) Milton’s Paradise Lost, (p) Pope’s Essay on Man, (w) Wordsworth’s Excursion and (t) Tennyson’s In Memoriam.
(m) Though he was writing after the Restoration, voices the theological aspect of the earlier portion of his century, untouched by the influence of the scientific materialism.
(p) Pope’s poem represents the effect on popular thought of the intervening sixty years (p. 96) which includes the first period of assured triumph for the scientific movement.
(w) Wordsworth in his whole being expresses a conscious reaction against the mentality of the eighteenth century. What moved him was moral repulsion. He felt that something had been left out, and that what had been left out comprised everything that was most important.
(t) Tennyson is the mouthpiece of the attempts of the waning romantic movement in the second quarter of the nineteenth century to come to terms with science. Tennyson stands in his poem as the perfect example of the distraction mentioned above (p. 94)
“The stars”, she whispers, “blindly run”.
(Tennyson, In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 3)
Each molecule blindly runs. The human body is a collection of molecules. Therefore, the human body blindly runs, and therefore there can be no individual responsibility for the actions of the body. But the mental experiences are derived from the actions of the body, including of course its internal behaviour.
(p. 97) Whitehead goes on to suggest, that there are at least two possible theories as to the mind. (a) You can either deny it can supply for itself any experiences other than those provided for it by the body, (b) or you can admit them.
(a) If you refuse to admit the additional experiences, then all individual moral responsibility is swept away. (b) If you do admit them, then a human being may be responsible for the state of his mind though he has no responsibility for the actions of the body. The enfeeblement of thought in the modern world is illustrated by the way in which this plain issue is avoided in Tennyson’s poem.
In John Stuart Mill’s doctrine of determinism volitions are determined by motives, and motives are expressible in terms of antecedent conditions including states of mind as well as states of the body.
If the volition affects the state of the body, then the molecules in the body do not blindly run. If the volition does not affect the state of the body, the mind is still left in its uncomfortable position.
Mill’s doctrine is generally accepted, especially among scientists, as though in some way it allowed you to accept the extreme doctrine of materialistic mechanism.
(p. 98) It does nothing of the sort. Either the bodily molecules blindly run, or they do not. If they do blindly run, the mental states are irrelevant in discussing the bodily actions.
The traditional way of evading the difficulty is to have recourse to some form of what is now termed “vitalism”. This doctrine is a compromise. It allows a free run to mechanism throughout the whole of inanimate nature, and holds that the mechanism is partly mitigated within living bodies.
The gap between living and dead matter is too vague and problematical to bear the weight of such an arbitrary assumption, which involves an essential dualism somewhere.
Whitehead is maintaining that the whole concept of materialism only applies to very abstract entities (products of logical discernment). The concrete enduring entities, on the other hand, are organisms, so that the plan of the whole influences the very character of the various subordinate organism which enter into it. In the case of an animal, the mental states enter into the plan of the total organism and thus modify the plans of the successive subordinate organism until the ultimate smallest organisms, such as electrons, are reached.
(p. 99) Thus an electron within a living body is different from an electron outside it, by reason of the plan of the body.
But this principle of modification (like the electron being modified by the body) is perfectly general throughout nature, and represents no property peculiar to living bodies.
I would term the doctrine of these lectures, says Whitehead, the theory of organic mechanism (unhampered by the difficulties introduced by materialistic mechanism, or by the compromise of vitalism). In this theory, the molecules my blindly run in accordance with the general laws, but the molecules differ in their intrinsic characters according to the general organic plans of the situations in which they find themselves.
Whitehead calls attention to a certain change in tone which happened in the sixty years which separate the age of Milton from the age of Pope.
Milton ends his introduction with the prayer,
That to the height of this great argument
I may assert eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to men.
(Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I,Lines 24-26)
(p. 100) He recurs the same idea in the Samson Agonistes,
Just are the ways of God
And justifiable to men.
(Milton, Samson Agonistes, Line 293)
Milton addresses his poem to God, Pope’s poem is addressed to Lord Bolingbroke,
Awake, my St. John! leave all meaner things
To low ambition, and the pride of kings.
Let us (since life can little more supply
Than just to look about us and to die)
Expatiate free o’er all this scene of man.
A mighty maze! but not without a plan.
(Pope, An Essay on Man: Epistle I, Lines 2-6)
Pope as well as Milton (referring to the highlighted lines in both poems) were untroubled by the great perplexity which haunts the modern world. (a) The clue that Milton followed was to dwell on the ways of God in dealings with man. (b) Two generations later we find Pope equally confident that the enlightened methods of modern science provided a plan adequate as a map of the “mighty maze”.
(p. 101) Excursion is the next poem on the same subject. A prose preface tells us that it is a fragment of a larger projected work, described as “A philosophical poem containing views of Man, Nature, and Society.”
‘Twas summer, and the sun had mounted high.
(Wordsworth, The Excursion, Book I ”The Ruined Cottage”, First part, Line 1)
Thus the romantic reaction started neither with God (Milton) nor with Lord Bolingbroke (Pope), but with nature. We are here witnessing, says Whitehead, a conscious reaction against the whole tone of the eighteenth century.
A generation of religious revival and of scientific advance lies between the Excursion and Tennyson’s In Memoriam. The earlier poets had solved the problem by ignoring it (Milton, Pope).
Strong son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen Thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove.
(Tennyson, In Memoriam, A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: Prelude)
The nineteenth century has been a perplexed century, in a sense which is not true of any of its predecessors of the modern period. In the earlier times there were opposing camps, bitterly at variance on questions which they deemed fundamental. The importance of Tennyson’s poem lies in the fact that it exactly expressed the character of its period. Each individual was divided against himself. In the earlier time, the (p. 102) deep thinkers were the clear thinker (Descartes, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz). In the nineteenth century, some of the deeper thinkers among theologians and philosophers were muddled thinkers.
Matthew Arnold, even more than Tennyson, was the poet who expressed this mood of individual distraction which was so characteristic of this century.
Whitehead suggests to compare In Memoriam with the closing lines of Arnold’s Dover Beach
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
(Arnold, Dover Beach, Lines 35-37)
In English literature, the deepest thinkers of the romantic reaction were Keats, Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Shelley. Out of the four Whitehead will discuss Wordsworth and Shelley.
(p. 103) Wordsworth was passionately absorbed in nature. It has been said of Spinoza, that he was drunk with God. It is equally true that Wordsworth was drunk with nature. He weakens his evidence by his dislike of science. In this respect, his characteristic thought can be summed up in his phrase, “We murder to dissect” (Wordsworth, The Tables Turned, Line 28).
He alleges against science its absorption in abstractions. It is important therefore to ask, what Wordsworth found in nature that failed to receive expression in science. Whitehead asks this question in the interest of science itself; for one main positon in these lectures is a protest against the idea that the abstractions of science are irreformable and unalterable.
It is the brooding presence of the hills which haunts him. His theme is nature in solido, that is to say, he dwells on that mysterious presence of surrounding things, which imposes itself on any separate element that we set up as an individual for its own sake. He always grasps the whole of nature as individual in the totality of the particular instance.
(p. 104) Wordsworth’s The Prelude is pervaded by this sense of the haunting presences of nature.
Ye Presences of Nature, in the sky
And on the earth! Ye Visions of the hills!
And Souls of lonely places! can I think
A vulgar hope was yours when Ye employ’d
Such ministry, when Ye through many a year
Haunting me thus among my boyish sports,
On caves and trees, upon the woods and hills,
Impress’d upon all forms the characters
Of danger or desire, and thus did make
The surface of the universal earth
With triumph, and delight, and hope, and fear,
Work like a sea?
(Wordsworth, The Prelude: Book 1: Childhood and School-time)
Shelley’s attitude to science was at the opposite pole to that of Wordsworth. He loved it, and is never tired of expressing in poetry the thoughts which it suggests. It symbolises to him joy, and peace, and illumination.
(p. 105) In the fourth act of Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound the Earth and the Moon converse together in the language of accurate science. For example, the Earth’s exclamation,
The vaporous exultation not to be confined!
(Shelley, Prometheus Unbound, Act 4)
is the poetic transcription of “the expansive force of gases”, as it is termed in books on science.
I spin beneath my pyramid of night,
Which points into the heavens,—dreaming delight,
Murmuring victorious joy in my enchanted sleep;
As youth lulled in love-dreams faintly sighing,
Under the shadow of his beauty lying,
Which round his rest a watch of light and warmth doth keep.
(Shelley, Prometheus Unbound, Act 4)
This stanza could only have been written by someone with a definite geometrical diagram before his inward eye: As evidence, note especially the last line which gives poetical imagery to the light surrounding night’s pyramid.
(p. 106) For Shelley nature retains its beauty and its colours. Shelley’s nature is in its essence a nature of organism, functioning with the full content of our perceptual experience. We are so used to ignoring the implication of orthodox scientific doctrine, that it is difficult to make evident the criticism upon it which is thereby implied.
Furthermore, Shelley is entirely at one with Wordsworth as to the interfusing of the Presence in nature.
The everlasting universe of things
Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves,
Now dark—now glittering—now reflecting gloom—
Now lending splendour, where from secret springs
The source of human thought its tribute brings
Of waters—with a sound but half its own,
Such as a feeble brook will oft assume,
In the wild woods, among the mountains lone,
Where waterfalls around it leap for ever,
Where woods and winds contend, and a vast river
Over its rocks ceaselessly bursts and raves.
(Shelley, Mont Blanc: Lines Written in the Vale of Chamouni)
Shelley has written these line with explicit reference to some form of idealism (Kantian or Berkeleyan or Platonic). But however you construe him, he is here an emphatic witness to a prehensive unification as constituting the very being of nature.
Next Whitehead will speak of an interesting difference between Wordsworth’s and Shelley’s treatment of nature. Starting with Shelley.
(p. 107) Shelley thinks of nature as changing, dissolving, transforming as it were at a fairy’s touch. The leaves fly before the West Wind
Like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing.
(Shelley, Ode to the West Wind)
In the poem The Cloud it is the transformations of water which excite his imagination. The subject of the poem is the endless, eternal, elusive change of things:
I change but I cannot die.
(Shelley, The Cloud)
This is one aspect of nature, its elusive change: a change not merely to be expressed by locomotion, but a change of inward character.
Wordsworth was born among hills; hills mostly barren of trees, and showing the minimum of change with the seasons. He was haunted by the enormous permanences of nature. For him change is an incident which shoots across a background of endurance,
Breaking the silence of the seas
Among the farthest Hebrides.
(Wordsworth, The Solitary Reaper)
Every scheme for the analysis of nature has to face these two facts, change and endurance. There is yet a third fact to be placed by it, eternality.
A colour is eternal. It haunts time like a spirit. It comes and it goes. But where it comes, it is the same colour. It neither survives nor does it live. It appears when it is wanted.
(p. 108) Whitehead holds that philosophy is the critic of abstractions. Its function is the double one, (a) first of harmonising them by assigning to them their right relative status as abstractions, and (b) secondly of completing them by direct comparison with more intuitions of the universe, and thereby promoting the formation of more complete schemes of thought.
Both Shelley and Wordsworth express in their poems the elusiveness of eternal objects. Whitehead gives an example from Wordsworth’s poem:
The light that never was, on sea or land.
(Wordsworth, Elegiac Stanzas Suggested by a Picture of Peele Castle in a Storm, Painted by Sir George Beaumont)
For both poets nature cannot be divorced from its aesthetic values; and that these values arise from the culmination, in some sense, of the brooding presences of the whole onto its various parts.
(p. 109) A philosophy of nature must concern itself at least with these five notions: change, value, eternal objects, endurance, organism, interfusion.
Next we must settle, says Whitehead, whether this refashioning of ideas that accrued in science of the twentieth century be carried out on an objectivist basis or on a subjectivist basis.
(S) By the subjectivist basis Whitehead means the belief that the nature of our immediate experience is the outcome of the perceptive peculiarities of the subject enjoying the experience. Though there is a common world of thought associated with our sense-perceptions, there is no common world to think about. What we think about is a common conceptual world (like the world of applied mathematics) applying indifferently to our individual experiences which are strictly personal to ourselves.
(S/O) There is a half-way house of those who believe that our perceptual experience does tell us of a common objective world; but that the things perceived are merely (p. 110) the outcome for us of this world, and are not in themselves elements in the common world itself.
(O) The objectivist position holds that the actual elements perceived by our senses are in themselves the elements of a common world; and that this world is a complex of things, including indeed our acts of cognition, but transcending them. According to this point of view the things experienced are to be distinguished from our knowledge of them. The things pave the way for the cognition, rather than vice versa. The point is that the actual things experienced enter into a common world which transcends knowledge, though it includes knowledge. The things experienced and the cognisant subject enter into the common world on equal terms.
Whitehead gives tri reason for distrusting the subjectivist position.
(1) One reason arises from the direct interrogation of our perceptive experience. We seem to be ourselves elements of this world in the same sense as are the other things we perceive. The ultimate appeal (p. 111) is to naïve experience and that is why such stress is laid on the evidence of poetry. The point is that in our sense-experience we know away from and beyond our own personality; whereas the subjectivist holds that in such experience we merely know about our own personality.
(2) The second reason is based on the particular content of experience. Our historical knowledge tells us of ages in the past when, so far as we can see, no living being existed on earth.
(3) The third reason is based upon the instinct for action. Just as sense-perception seems to give knowledge of what lies beyond individuality (1), so action seems to issue in an instinct for self-transcendence. The activity passes beyond self into the known transcendent world. It is here that final ends are of importance. For it is not activity urged from behind, which passes out into the veiled world of the (p. 112) intermediate subjectivist. It is activity directed to determinate ends in the known world; and yet it is activity transcending self and it is activity within the known world. It follows therefore that the world, as known, transcends the subject which is cognisant of it.
The subjectivist position has been popular among those who have been engaged in giving a philosophical interpretation to the recent theories of relativity in physical science.
The distinction between realism and idealism does not coincide with that between objectivism and subjectivism.
(p. 113) In the past the objectivist position has been distorted by the supposed necessity of accepting the classical scientific materialism, with its doctrine of simple location. This has necessitated the doctrine of secondary and primary qualities.
It is an evident fact that our apprehensions of the external world depend absolutely on the occurrences within the human body. Some people express themselves as though bodies, brains, and nerves were the only real things in an entirely world. In other words, they treat bodies on objectivist principles, and the rest of the world on subjectivist principles. This for Whitehead will not do.
But we have to admit that the body is the organism whose states regulate our cognisance of the world. The unity of the perceptual field therefore must be a unity of bodily experience. In being aware of the bodily experience, we must thereby be aware of aspects of the whole spatiotemporal world as mirrored within the bodily life.
Whiteheads theory involves the abandonment of the notion that simple (p. 114) location is the primary way in which things are involved in space-time. In a sense, everything is everywhere at all times. For every location involves an aspect of itself in every other location. Thus every spatio-temporal standpoint mirrors the world.
You are in a certain place perceiving things. Your perception takes place where you are, and is entirely dependent on how your body is functioning. But this functioning of the body in one place, exhibits for your cognisance an aspect of the distant environment, fading away into the general knowledge that there are things beyond. If this cognisance conveys knowledge of a transcendent world, it must be because the event which is the bodily life unifies in itself aspects of the universe.
Thus Whiteheads theory tries to edge cognitive mentality away from being the necessary substratum of the unity of experience. That unity is now placed in the unity of an event. Accompanying this unity, there may or there may not be cognition.
(p. 115) What is the status of enduring stability of the order of nature? There is the summary answer, which refers nature to some greater reality standing behind it (The Absolute, Brahman, The Order of Heaven, God, etc.). For Whitehead this is no part of this lecture.
Nature exhibits itself as exemplifying a philosophy of the evolution of organism subject to determinate conditions (dimensions of space, the laws of nature, the determinate enduring entities, such as atoms and electrons).
But the very nature of these entities, the very nature of their spatiality and temporality, should exhibit the arbitrariness of these conditions as the outcome of a wider evolution beyond nature itself, and within which nature is but a limited mode.
(p. 116) One all-pervasive fact, inherent in the very character of what is real is the transition of things, the passage one to another.
The general aspect of nature is that of evolutionary expansiveness. These unities, which Whitehead calls events, are the emergence into actuality of something. How are we to characterize the something which thus emerges? The name “event” given to such unity, draws attention to the inherent transitoriness, combined with the actual unity.
Something which is for its own sake, must not be omitted in any account of an event as the most concrete actual something. “Value” is the word Whitehead will use for the intrinsic reality of an event.
Realisation therefore is in itself the attainment of value. But there is no such thing as mere value. Value is the outcome of limitation (cf. 130).
(p. 117-118) The definitive entity is the selected mode which is the shaping of attainment; apart from such shaping into individual matter of fact there is no attainment. The mere fusion of all that there is would be the nonentity of indefiniteness. The salvation of reality is its obstinate, irreducible, matter-of-fact entities, which are limited to be no other than themselves.
That which endures is limited, obstructive, intolerant, infecting its environment with its own aspects. But it is not self-sufficient. The aspects of all things enter into its very nature. It is only itself as drawing together into its own limitation the larger whole in which it finds itself. Conversely it is only itself by lending its aspects to this same environment in which it finds itself. The problem of evolution is the development of enduring harmonies of enduring shapes of value, which merge into higher attainments of things beyond themselves. Aesthetic attainment is interwoven in the texture of realisation.
In this lecture Whitehead endeavoured to make clear that the nature-poetry of the romantic revival was a protest on behalf of the organic view of nature, and also a protest against the exclusion of value from the essence of matter of fact.
(Fidelia Bridges, A Thistle in the Field, 1875, source: Wikimedia Commons)
Chapter VI: The Nineteenth Century, p. 119-141
(p. 119) The previous lecture (besides the topic of nature-poetry as opposed to materialistic science) also continued the endeavour to outline an objectivist philosophy, capable of bridging the gap between (a) science and (b) that fundamental intuition of mankind which finds its expression in poetry and its practical exemplification in the presuppositions of daily life.
As the nineteenth century passed on, the romantic movement died down. It did not die away, but it lost its clear unity of tidal stream, and dispersed itself into many estuaries.
The faith of the nineteenth century was derived from three sources: (1) the romantic movement, (2) advance of science, (3) advance in technology. Each of these springs had its origin in the previous period.
(p. 120) Out of the three it is technology that stands out the most to Whitehead. With it the process of change became quick, conscious, and expected. The greatest invention was the invention of the method of inventing. A new method entered into life. In order to understand this epoch, we can neglect all details of change, such as railways, telegraphs, radios, spinning machines, synthetic dyes, and concentrate on the method itself [the method of inventing]; that is the real novelty.
(p. 121) The prophecy of Francis Bacon has now been fulfilled.
Science, conceived not so much in its principles as in its results, is an obvious store-house of ideas for utilisation. But if we are to understand what happened during the nineteenth century, the analogy of a mine is better than that of a store-house.
One element in the new method is just the discovery of how to set about bridging the gap between the (a) scientific ideas, and the (b) ultimate product.
The possibilities of modern technology were first in practice realised in England. But the Germans explicitly realised the method by which the deeper veins in the mine of science could be reached. In their technological schools and universities progress did not have to wait for the occasional genius, or the occasional lucky thought. It represents the change from amateurs to professionals.
(p. 122) The transformation of the field of knowledge, which has been thus effected, has not been wholly a gain (its effects are discussed in the last lecture, p. 240-260).
In the period considered four great novel ideas were introduced into theoretical science. Two of these ideas are antithetical, and will be considered together.
(1) One of the first is that of a field of physical activity pervading all space, even where there is an apparent vacuum. This for Whitehead presupposed the idea of continuity.
(p. 123-124) At the start of the nineteenth century the notion of physical occurrences pervading all space held no effective place in science. Later it was revived through two sources. (i) The adulatory theory of light triumphed, thanks to Thomas Young and Augustin-Jean Fresnel. Accordingly, the ether was produced, as a sort of all pervading subtle material. (ii) The second source was Clerk Maxwell’s theory of electromagnetism (prepared with the help of Ampère, Oersted, Faraday). In accordance with the materialistic outlook, these electromagnetic occurrences also required a material in which to happen. So again the ether was requisitioned. Later the theory of electromagnetism (ii) swallowed up the theory of light (i).
(2) On the other hand the idea of atomicity had been introduced by John Dalton, to complete Lavoisier’s work on the foundations of chemistry. Ordinary matter was conceived as atomic: electromagnetic effects were conceived as arising from a continuous field.
In the first place the notions [continuity and atomicity] are antithetical; but, apart from special embodiments, are not logically contradictory. Secondly, they are applied to different regions of science (chemistry and physics).
(p. 125) The influence of atomicity was not limited to chemistry. The living cell is to biology what the electron and the proton are to physics. The cell theory was introduced into biology contemporaneously with, and independently of, Dalton’s atomic theory. Bichat in 1801 elaborated a tissue theory: Johannes Müller in 1835 described “cells” and demonstrated facts concerning their nature and relations: Schleiden in 1838 and Schwann in 1839 established their fundamental character. Later Louis Pasteur, carried over these same ideas of atomicity still further into biology. This introduced the notion of organism into the world of the minute beings.
(p. 126) The remaining pair of new ideas to be ascribed to this epoch are both of them connected with the notion of transition or change. They are the (3) doctrine of the conservation of energy which has to do with the notion of quantitative permanence underlying change, and (4) the doctrine of evolution which has to do with the emergence of novel organism as the outcome of change.
These four ideas transformed the middle period of the century into an orgy of scientific triumph.
(p. 127) When the century entered upon its last quarter, its three sources of inspiration, the romantic, the technological, and the scientific had done their work.
Then, almost suddenly, a pause occurred; and in its last twenty years the century closed with one of the dullest stages of thought since the time of the First Crusade.
But looking backwards upon this time of pause, we can now discern signs of change. (i) In the first place, the modern conditions of systematic research prevent absolute stagnation. In every branch of science, there was effective progress. (ii) In the second place, we can now see that the adequacy of scientific materialism as a scheme of thought for the use of science was endangered. We find the relations of mass and energy inverted; so that mass now becomes the name for a quantity of energy considered in relation to some of its dynamical effects.
(p. 128) But energy is merely the name for the quantitative aspect of a structure of happenings; in short, it depends on the notion of the functioning of an organism. The same relegation of matter to the background occurs in connection with the electromagnetic fields. The modern theory presupposes happenings in that field which are divorced from immediate dependence upon matter.
The atom is transforming itself into an organism; thus evolutionary theory is nothing else than the analysis of the conditions for the formation and survival of various types of organisms. In truth, one most significant fact of the later period is the advance in biological science.
(p. 129) According to Whitehead, science is taking on a new aspect which is neither purely physical, nor purely biological. It is becoming the study of organism. Biology is the study of the larger organism; whereas physics is the study of the smaller organisms.
We are thus faced with the question as to whether there are not primary organism which are incapable of further analysis. It seems very unlikely there should be any infinite regress in nature. What is then the character of these primary entities?
We must start with the event [the primary organisms are of the character of an event] as the ultimate unit of natural occurrence. An event has to do with all that there is, and in particular with all other events. This interfusion of events is effected by the aspects of those eternal objects (colours, sounds, scents, geometrical character), which are required for nature and are not emergent from it. Such an eternal object will be an ingredient of the one event under the guise, or aspect, of qualifying another event. There is a reciprocity of aspects, and there are patterns of aspects. Each event corresponds to two such patterns; (i) namely, the pattern of aspects of other events which it grasps into its own unity, and (ii) the pattern of its aspects which other events severally grasp into their unities.
(p. 130) The primary organism is the emergence of some particular pattern as grasped in the unity of a real event.
There is thus an intrinsic and an extrinsic reality of an event, namely, the event as in its own prehension, and the event as in the prehension of other events. The concept of an organism includes, therefore, the concept of the interaction of organisms.
The relationships of an event are internal, so far as concerns the event itself; that is to say, that they are constitutive of what the event is in itself.
In other words, the actual event is an achievement for its own sake (cf. 103, 116), a grasping of diverse entities into a value by reason of their real togetherness in the pattern, to the exclusion of other entities. It is not a mere logical togetherness of merely diverse things. If that were the case than “all eternal objects would be alike one to another” (cf. 53, 86).
This reality means that each intrinsic essence, that is to say, what each eternal object is in itself, becomes relevant to the one limited value emergent in the guise of the event.
Though each event is necessary for the community of events, the weight of its contribution is determined by something intrinsic in itself. What is this property?
According to Whitehead empirical observation shows that it is the property which we may call indifferently retention, endurance or reiteration.
(p. 131) The reiteration of a particular shape (or formation) of value within an event occurs when the event as a whole repeats some shape which is also exhibited by each one of a succession of its parts. Thus however you analyse the event according to the flux of its parts through time, there is the same thing-for-its-own-sake standing before you. Thus the event, in its own intrinsic reality, mirrors in itself, as derived from its own parts, aspects of the same patterned value as it realises in its complete self.
The total temporal duration of such an event bearing an enduring patter, constitutes its specious present (William James). Within this specious present the event realises (a) itself as a totality and (b) as grouping together a number of aspects of its own temporal parts.
There is, thus, in this event a memory of the antecedent life-history of its own dominant pattern, as having formed an element of value in its own antecedent environment. This concrete prehension, from within, of the life-history of an enduring fact is analysable into two abstractions, of which (i) one is the enduring entity which has emerged as a real matter of fact to be taken account of by other things, and the other (ii) is the individualised embodiment of the underlying energy of realisation.
(p. 132) Considering a general flux of events there is also an underlying eternal energy in whose nature there stands an envisagement of the realm of all eternal objects. There are three types of envisagement: (i) the envisagement of eternal objects; (ii) the envisagement of possibilities of value in respect to the synthesis of eternal objects; (iii) the envisagement of the actual matter of fact which must enter into the total situation which is achievable by the addition of the future.
(p. 133) The atomic material entities which are considered in physical science are merely these individual enduring entities, conceived in abstraction from everything except what concerns their mutual interplay in determining each other’s historical routes of life-history.
The laws of physics are the laws declaring how the entities mutually react among themselves. For physics these laws are arbitrary, because science has abstracted from what the entities are in themselves.
(p. 134) According to this theory [of organic mechanism] the evolution of laws of nature is concurrent with the evolution of enduring pattern. The general principle is that in a new environment there is an evolution of the old entities into new forms.
(p. 135-136) Material from which a materialistic philosophy starts is incapable of evolution. The latter is reduced to the role of being another word for the description of the changes of the external relations between portions of matter. There is nothing to evolve, because one set of external relations is as good as any other set of external relations. There can merely be change, purposeless and unprogressive.
What is required is an underlying activity—a substantial activity—expressing itself in individual embodiments, and evolving in achievements of organism. The organism is a unit of emergent value, a real fusion of the characters of eternal objects, emerging for its own sake.
Thus in the process of analysing the character of nature in itself, we find that the emergence of organism depends on a selective activity which is akin to purpose.
On the materialistic theory, there is material—such as matter or electricity—which endures. On the organic theory, the only endurances are structures of activity, and the structures are evolved.
Enduring things are thus the outcome of a temporal process; whereas eternal things are the elements required for the very being of the process.
(1) Let A be pervaded by an enduring structural pattern.
(2) Then A can be exhaustively subdivided into a temporal succession of events.
(3) Let B be any of the parts subdividing A.
(4) Then the enduring pattern is a pattern of aspects within the complete pattern prehended into the unity of A, and is also a pattern within the complete pattern prehended into the unity of any temporal slice of A, such as B.
For example, a molecule is a pattern exhibited in an event of one minute, and of any second of that minute.
There is then an enduring object with a certain unity for itself and for the rest of nature. Let us use the term physical endurance to express endurance of this type.
Only if you take material to be fundamental, this property of endurance is an arbitrary fact at the base of the order of nature; but if you take organism to be fundamental, this property is the result of evolution.
(p. 137-138) Another fact to be explained is the great similarity of these practically indestructible objects [referring to the similarity of electrons].
It seems as though a certain similarity were a favourable condition for endurance. Common sense also suggests this conclusion. If organisms are to survive they must work together.
(a) One way of revolving a favourable environment concurrently with the development of the individual organism, is that the influence of each organism on the environment should be favourable to the endurance of other organisms of the same type. (b) Further, if the organism also favours the development of other organisms of the same type, you have then obtained a mechanism of evolution adapted to produce the observed state of large multitudes of analogous entities, with high powers of endurance.
In surveying nature, we must remember that there are not only basic (i) organisms whose ingredients are merely aspects of eternal objects. There are also (ii) organisms of organisms.
(2) In the larger aggregations of matter (rocks, bodies of water, hills) the organic unity fades into the background. (p. 139) It appears to be but faint and elementary. It is there; but the pattern is vague and indecisive.
(3) In the living beings, the definiteness of pattern is recovered, and the organic character again rises into prominence.
The difficulty of studying the individual electrons, atoms, or molecules is that we know so little about their life-histories. We cannot keep an individual under constant observation. In general, we deal with them in large aggregates (rocks, bodies of water, hills).
But in the case of living beings, we can trace the history of individuals. We now find exactly the mechanism which is here demanded. In the (i) first place, there is the propagation of the species. (ii) There is also the careful provision of the favourable environment.
(p. 140) There are thus two sides to the machinery involved in development of nature. (1) On one side, there is a given environment with organism adapting themselves to it. The scientific materialism of the epoch in question emphasizes this aspect. (2) The other side of the evolutionary machinery, the neglected side, is expressed by the word creativeness. The organisms can create their own environment which alters the whole ethical aspect of evolution.
(p. 141) There is (a) the aspect of permanence in which a given type of attainment is endlessly repeated for its own sake; (b) and there is the aspect of transition to other things. Also there are aspects of (a) struggle and of friendly help. (b) Romantic ruthlessness is no nearer to real politics, than is romantic self-abnegation.