Epoché V, Ep. 7: Science and the Modern World, Chs. X & XI

Date: 16th September 2021

Presenter: Matthew Segall

Chapters: Ch. X “Abstraction” & Ch. XI “God”

Keywords: possibility, actuality, God, abstract relations, realm of eternal objects, divine envisagement, value, mathematics



00:00 (Matthew): Chapter X: Abstraction

32:20 (Matthew): Chapter XI: God


40:44 (Sebastjan): A rehabilitation of the possible/virtual/indeterminate in the thinkers of 20th century – clara et distincta are no longer considered a criterion of knowledge and ontology; similar happens in quantum mechanics; Is Whitehead actualizing the possible?; His introduction of the notion of God seems to be similarly forced as is the case with the early modern thinkers, i.e., as a solution to a difficult problem of one’s system (actualization/delimitation in Whitehead’s scheme).

47:43 (Matthias): In the creative synthesis, do the eternal objects become so complex that they become an occasion themselves (e.g., a many-sided form becomes a shape of a tree), or is there always a split, which God traverses by actualizing the thing?

48:57 (Matthew): In any instance wherein we as cognitive beings are considering the realm of eternal objects, these eternal objects are part of an actual occasion of experience. In abstraction from the aesthetic synthesis – and regardless of their complexity – eternal objects are isolated, a disjunct multiplicity, valueless – aesthetic value is the matter that the actuality is made of; Ideality and actuality are distinct, but not dissociated: you cannot understand one without referring to the other.

52:04 (Sebastjan): What does it mean for something to be valueless? This concept is perhaps understandable in the case of dots and lines, but how is it compatible with the definition of, say, colour or sound, which presupposes a value (quality = value)? (Matthew): Whitehead on the impossibility of giving an exhaustive conceptual account of the physical pole. (Sebastjan): Formal relationality defines eternal objects: systematic relations provide meaning, but not value, e.g., there may be a colour space without specific colour qualities. (Matthew): The individual essence of red only becomes determinate when ingressed; in the realm of possibility, it is indeterminate, i.e, defined by its internal relationships to other colours.

58:23 (Hridija & Matthew): Frequency and wavelength as spatio-temporal limitations imposed upon the realm of possibility; Polemic on the nature of colour: Newtonian spectrum (gradient among all equally simple colours) vs. Goethean abstractive hierarchy where not all the colours are equally basic – the two points of view disagree on the nature of the abstract relation among colours.

1:02:30 (Miha & Matthew): Realm of eternal objects; the role of the divine in the primordial nature of God is by envisaging possibility (disjunct multiplicity), thus turning it into a realm (a systematic scheme of relationships among all the possibilities/eternal objects).

1:04:39 (Izak): Different mathematical approaches to truth and falsehood; In what way do eternal objects exist? (Sebastjan): A plethora of thinkers emphasizes constructive endeavour of individuals/cultures/etc., which plays a crucial role in opening up of the horizons of possibility; with Whitehead, this is not really addressed, but is rather swallowed up by the whole actualization process.

1:11:53 (Matthew): Whitehead on the evolutionary process that gives rise to ever more intense forms of valuation, and hence to a greater capacity to dip into the realm of potential, (i.e., to consider alternatives); Mathematics has allowed us to break through into the realm of eternal objects – which would not be the case had we not the sociological, institutional and symbolic scaffolfing that supports this kind of cognition; Error as a hallmark in the evolution; One of the reasons Whitehead is making reference to the realm of possibilities is to be able to justify the openness of the future – a justification not found in a system based solely on internal relations (e.g. Einsteinian block universe): according to Whitehead, (while the present is internally related to the past), the present is externally (= indeterminately) related to the future, so we cannot make discrete true/false statements about the future.

1:18:48 (Sebastjan): Whitehead’s mathematically (determinately) construed realm of possibility: an apodixis similar to Husserl’s? (Matthew): Law as imposed (determinately by God on actuality, see Newton, Descartes) and law as imminent (Whitehead: God imposes limits on possibility (e.g. geometrical principles of wholes relating to parts) + the more specific laws as emergent habits that come out of mutual interaction of relata (e.g. all the laws of physics)).

1:28:04 (Sebastjan & Hridija): Delimitation. (Matthew): Whitehead’s aesthetic argument for the existence of God: for us to have finite knowledge about anything at all, he presupposes an antecedent limitation upon the realm of possibilities: while irrational in itself, it is the ground of rationality (you cannot provide ground for the ground).

1:35:25 (Izak & Matthew): Formalization and intuitive dimension of mathematics.

1:44:38 (Sebastjan): In his last work, Merleau-Ponty was developing a system similar to Whitehead’s, but without the realm of eternal objects and God (as construed by Whitehead). (Matthew): Can we understand a universe that is not deterministic, without making reference to a realm of unrealised potentials? After accepting the existence of such a realm, Whitehead asked where this realm is, and here is where God enters the picture: eternal objects do not simply float into the world out of nowhere, but are already housed in the mind of God, i.e., of another actual entity.

1:52:51 (Sebastjan & Matthew): Divine envisagement; divine eros as Whitehead’s explanation for accumulation of novelty and complexity in the actual world, or why order (not completely) outweighs chaos; God as mediator between pure creativity and finite actuality.

1:59:19 (Adnan): Whitehead’s God on metaphysical level is in a way similar to what Kant’s ideal of pure reason is on the epistemological level; nonetheless, Whitehead is to Kant what Heidegger is to Husserl.

Plant of the week:

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis; sl. navadni ožepek) is a small aromatic shrub belonging to the mint family (Lamiaceae, sl. ustnatice). It can be found in the Mediterranean, Middle East and next to the Caspian Sea. In ancient times, Jews and Egyptians used it for purification, as it was considered to be the symbol of faith, physical purity and moral regeneration. Nowadays, it is used as a fresh or dried bitter herb in the Middle Eastern cuisine, and it is also an ingredient in absinthe, lending it its green colour. The above specimen was captured near Grabovica in the mountainous region southeast of Nevesinje in Herzegovina.

Abridgment of Chs. X & XI

By: Miha Flere

Chapter X: Abstraction, p. 194-214

(p. 195) In the previous chapter Whitehead has examined the reactions of the scientific movement upon the deeper issues which have occupied modern thinkers.

In this retrospect it has been kept in mind that the ultimate issue of the whole story is the patent dissolution of the comfortable scheme of scientific materialism which has dominated the three centuries.

In Whiteheads alternative scheme, the notion of material, as fundamental, has been replaced by that of organic synthesis.

In the preceding two chapters, the peculiar problems of modern science will be set aside. Such a standpoint will be termed “metaphysical”.

(p. 196) A justification for such an approach is to be sought, (i) in our direct knowledge of the actual occasions which compose our immediate experience, and (ii) in their success as forming a basis for harmonising our systematised accounts of various types of experience, and (iii) in their success as providing the concepts in terms of which an epistemology can be framed [by this it is met that an account of the general character of what we know must enable us to frame an account of how knowledge is possible].

(a) In any occasion of cognition, that which is known is an actual occasion of experience, as diversified [Whitehead added: Cf. my Principles of Natural Knowledge, Ch v, Sec. 13.] by reference to a realm of entities which transcend that immediate occasion in that they have analogous or different connections with other occasions of experience [a shade of red has relationships beyond the occasion in which it is implicated].

(b) Also, apart from the actual occurrence of the same things in other occasions, every actual occasion is set within a realm of alternative inter-connected entities.

Thus in Whitehead’s words the understanding of actuality requires a reference to ideality [the previously mentioned realm of alternative inter-connected entities]

(p. 197) The truth that some proposition respecting an actual occasion is untrue may express the vital truth as to the aesthetic achievement. It expresses “the great refusal”.

The transcendent entities spoken of [as forming a realm of alternative inter-connected entities or ideality] have been termed “universals”, though Whitehead will prefer to use the term “eternal objects”.

In their nature they are abstract, meaning that what an eternal object is in itself—that is to say, its essence—is comprehensible without reference to some one particular occasion of experience.

(p. 198) Thus an eternal object is to be comprehended by acquaintance with (i) its particular individuality, (ii) its general relationships to other eternal objects as apt for realisation in actual occasions, and (iii) the general principle which expresses its ingression, in particular actual occasions.

These three headings express two principles.

(1) The first principle is that each eternal object is an individual which, in its own peculiar fashion, is what it is. The individual essence is merely the essence considered in respect to its uniqueness. Further, the essence of an eternal object is merely the eternal object considered as adding its own unique contribution to each actual occasion. Every actual occasion is defined as to its character by how these possibilities are actualised for that occasion. Thus actualisation is a selection among possibilities. More accurately, it is a selection issuing in a gradation of possibilities.

(2) An eternal object, considered as an abstract entity, cannot be divorced from its reference to other eternal objects, and from its reference to actuality generally. Each eternal object has a “relational essence”.

If A be an eternal object, then what A is in itself involves A’s status in the universe, and A cannot be divorced from this status.

There stands a (Det) determinateness as to the relationship of A to other eternal objects, and an (Ind) indeterminateness as to the relationship of A to actual occasions.

(Det) Since the relationship of A to other eternal objects stand determinately in the essence of A, it follows that they are internal relations. This means that these relationships are constitutive of A.

(p. 199) (Ind) An entity cannot stand in external relations unless in its essence there stands an indeterminateness which is its patience for such external relations. The meaning of the term “possibility” as applied to A, is simply that there stands in the essence of A a patience for relationships to actual occasions.

The relationship between A and [a particular actual occasion] α is external as regards A, and is internal as regards α. The actual occasion α is to be understood as a synthetic prehension.

Truth and falsehood take the place of possibility.

(p. 200) The realm of eternal objects is properly described as a “realm” because each eternal object has its status in this general systematic complex of mutual relatedness.

(p. 201) An actual occasion is to be conceived as a limitation; and that this process of limitation can be still further characterized as a gradation (cf. 198).

The actual occasion α synthesises in itself every eternal object; and, in so doing, it includes the complete determinate relatedness of A to every other eternal object, or set of eternal objects. This synthesis is a limitation of realisation but not of content.

This process of limitation is achieved through grades of entry. These can only be expressed as relevance of value.

(p. 202) A [an eternal object] conceived merely in respect to its relationships to other eternal objects, is “A conceived as not-being”; where “not-being” means “abstracted from the determinate fact of inclusions in, and exclusions from, actual events”.

“A as not-being in respect to a definite occasion α” means that A in all its determinate relationships is excluded from α. Again “A as being in respect to α” means that A in some of its determinate relationships is included in α. But there can be no occasion which includes A in all its determinate relationships; for some of these relationships are contraries.

Thus, in regard to excluded relationships, A will be not-being in α, even when in regard to other relationships A will be being in α. In this sense, every occasion is a synthesis of being and not-being.

(p. 203) Whitehead now turns his attention to the problem of internal relations. The problem which arises is to explain how any particular truth is possible. In so far as there are internal relations, everything must depend upon everything else. But if this be the case, we cannot know about anything till we equally know everything else. Apparently, therefore, we are under the necessity of saying everything at once. This supposed necessity is palpably untrue.

(p. 204) The reason for the existence of finite relationships in the realm of eternal objects is that relationships of these objects among themselves are entirely unselective, and are systematically complete. We are discussing possibility; so that every relationship which is possible is thereby in the realm of possibility.

(p. 205) The eternal relatedness is the form—the εἶδος—the emergent actual occasion is the superject of informed value; value, as abstracted from any particular superject, is the abstract matter—the ὕλη—which is common to all actual occasions; and the synthetic activity which prehends valueless possibility into superjicient informed value as the substantial activity.

(p. 206) The difficulty inherent in the concept of finite internal relations among eternal objects is thus evaded by two metaphysical principles, (i) that the relationships of any eternal object A, considered as constitutive of A, merely involve other eternal objects as bare relata without reference to their individual essences, and (ii) that the divisibility of the general relationship of A into a multiplicity of finite relationships of A stands therefore in the essence of that eternal object.

(p. 208) According to Whitehead we can analyse the realm of possibility into simple eternal objects, and into various grades of complex eternal objects. A complex eternal object is an abstract situation. Whitehead cautions us that there is a double sense to the meaning of “abstraction”. There is abstraction from actuality, and abstraction from possibility.

Regarding abstraction from possibility Whitehead says the following: A [a simple eternal object] as in R (A, B, C) [a complex eternal object] is more abstract than A simpliciter. Thus we pass from the grade of simple eternal objects to higher and higher grades of complexity, we are indulging in higher grades of abstraction from the realm of possibility.

Any such route of progress will be called “an abstractive hierarchy”. Any abstractive hierarchy, finite or infinite, is based upon some definite group of simple eternal objects. This group will be called “the base” of the hierarchy.

(p. 209) An important notion regarding the abstractive hierarchy is “the condition of connexity”. An abstractive hierarchy in springing from its base includes in itself every successive grade from its base either indefinitely onwards, or to its maximum grade; and it is connected by the reappearance (in a higher grade) of any set of its members belonging to lower grades, in the function of a set of components or derivative components of at least one member of the hierarchy.

Following this, Whitehead makes two remarks regarding the finite/infinite character of abstractive hierarchies.

(a) An abstractive hierarchy is called “finite” if it stops at a finite grade of complexity. It is called “infinite” if it includes members belonging respectively to all degrees of complexity.

(b) It is to be noted that the base of an abstractive hierarchy may contain any number of members, finite or infinite. Further, the infinity of the number of the members of the base has nothing to do with the question as to whether the hierarchy be finite or infinite.

(p. 210) Conversely any complex eternal object defines a finite abstractive hierarchy to be discovered by a process of analysis. This complex eternal object from which we start will be called the “vertex” of the abstractive hierarchy: it is the sole member of the grade of maximum complexity.

Next Whitehead gives a step by step exposition of the process of analysis:

(1) First we star with a grade which is one lower than that of a given eternal object; this will be called the “proximate grade” for that object.

(2) Next we take these components of the vertex which belong to its proximate grade and we analyse them into their components. Among these components there must be some belonging to the proximate grade for the objects thus analysed. Add to them the components of the vertex which also belong to this grade of “second proximation” from the vertex.

(3) At the third stage we analyse as before. We find objects belonging to the grade of “third proximation” from the vertex; and we add to them the components belonging to this grade, which have been left over from the preceding stages of analysis.

(p. 211) The logical instrument which Aristotle used for the analysis of actual fact into more abstract elements was that of classification into species and genera. This instrument has its overwhelmingly important application for science in its preparatory stages. But its use in metaphysical description distorts the true vision of the metaphysical situation.

(p. 212) Some confusion of thought has been caused by the fact that abstraction from possibility runs in the opposite direction to an abstraction from actuality, so far as degree of abstractness is concerned.

(i) The simple eternal objects represent the extreme abstraction from an actual occasion; whereas (ii) simple eternal objects represent the minimum of abstraction from the realm of possibility.

So far Whitehead has been merely considering an actual occasion on the side of its full concreteness. It is this side of the occasion in virtue of which it is an event in nature. But a natural event, in this sense of the term, is only an abstraction from a complete actual occasion. A complete occasion includes that which in cognitive experience takes the form of memory, anticipation, imagination, and thought.

(p. 213) There is a common difference which discriminates these modes of inclusion [memory, anticipation, imagination, and thought] from the full concrete ingression which has been discussed. This differentia is abruptness. By this it is met that what is remembered, or anticipated, or imagined, or thought, is exhausted by a finite complex concept.

We always find that we have thought of just this—whatever it may be—and of no more. There is a limitation which breaks off the finite concept from the higher grades of illimitable complexity.

(p. 214) Any eternal object is just itself in whatever mode of realisation it is involved. This, Whitehead calls “the translucency of realisation”.

Thus the translucency of realisation, and the possible multiplicity of modes of ingression into the same occasion, together form the foundation for the correspondence theory of truth.

(Ibn Buṭlān depicts a pair of women picking hyssope leaves in his medical treatise Taqwīm as‑Siḥḥa (lat. Tacuinum Sanitatis) from ~1050. Source: artelista.)

Chapter XI: God, p. 215-223

(p. 215) Aristotle found is necessary to complete his metaphysical system by the introduction of a Prime Mover – God.

(1) In the first place if we are to accord to anyone the position of the greatest metaphysician, having regard to genius of insight, to general equipment in knowledge, and to the stimulus of his metaphysical ancestry; we must choose Aristotle.

(2) Secondly, in his consideration of this metaphysical question he was entirely dispassionate; and he is the last European metaphysician of first-rate importance for whom this claim can be made. After Aristotle, ethical and religious interests began to influence metaphysical conclusions.

(p. 216) The phrase, Prime Mover, warns us that Aristotle’s thought was enmeshed in the details of an erroneous physics and erroneous cosmology. In Aristotle’s physics special causes were required to sustain the motions of material things.

In the place of Aristotle’s God as Prime Mover, we require God as the Principle of Concretion. This position can be substantiated only by the discussion of the general implication of the course of actual occasions – that is to say, of the process of realisation.

We conceive actuality as in essential relation to an unfathomable possibility.

Another view of the same truth is that every actual occasion is a limitation imposed on possibility, and that by virtue of this limitation the particular value of that shaped togetherness of things emerges.

(p. 217) It will be Whiteheads task in this chapter to describe the unity of actual occasions. The previous chapter [Abstraction] centred its interest in the abstract: the present chapter deals with the concrete, i.e. that which has grown together.

Consider an occasion α: we have to enumerate how other actual occasions are in α, in the sense that their relationships with α are constitutive of the essence of α. What α is in itself, is that it is a unit of realised experience; accordingly we ask how other occasions are in the experience which is α.

The relationships among actual occasions are as unfathomable in their variety of type as are those among eternal objects in the realm of abstraction. But there are fundamental types of such relationships.

A preliminary for the understanding of these types of entry (of one occasion into the essence of another) is to note that they are involved in the modes of realisation of abstractive hierarchies, discussed in the previous chapter.

Thus in the same way (as seen in the previous chapter) that (a) every occasion is a synthesis of all eternal objects under the limitation of gradations of actuality, so (b) every occasion is a synthesis of all occasions under the limitation of gradations of types of entry.

(p. 218) In respect to these types of internal relationship between α and other occasions, these other occasions (as constitutive of α) can be classified in many alternative ways. These are all concerned with different definitions of past, present, and future.

Every actual occasion exhibits itself as a process: it is a becomingness. In so disclosing itself, it places itself as one among a multiplicity of other occasions, without which it could not be itself. It also defines itself as it particular individual achievement, focussing in its limited way an unbounded realm of eternal objects.

Any one occasion α issues from other occasions which collectively form its past. It displays for itself other occasions which collectively form its present. (p. 219) The occasion α also holds within itself an indetermination in the form of a future, which has partial determination by reason of its inclusion in α and also has determinate spatio-temporal relatedness to α and to actual occasions of the past from α and of the present for α.

There is also in α what, in the previous chapter, was termed as the “abrupt” realisation of finite eternal objects. This abrupt realisation requires (i) either a reference of the basic objects of the finite hierarchy to determinate occasions other than α (as their situations, in past, present, future); (ii) or requires a realisation of these eternal objects in determinate relationships, but under the aspect of exemption from inclusion in the spatiotemporal scheme of relatedness between actual occasions.

This abrupt synthesis of eternal objects in each occasion is the inclusion in actuality of the analytical character of the realm of eternality.

Whitehead terms this abrupt realisation the “graded envisagement” which each occasion prehends into its synthesis. This graded envisagement is how the actual includes what (in one sense) is not-being as a positive factor in its own achievement. It is the source of error of truth, of art, of ethics, and of religion. By it, fact is confronted with alternatives.

(p. 220) This general concept, of an event as a process whose outcome is a unit of experience, points to the analysis of an event into (i) substantial activity, (ii) conditioned potentialities which are there for synthesis, and (iii) the achieved outcome of the synthesis.

Each individual activity is nothing but the mode in which the general activity is individualised by the imposed conditions.

The general activity is not an entity in the sense in which occasions or eternal objects are entities. It is a general metaphysical character which underlies all occasions, in a particular mode of each occasion. There is nothing with which to compare it: it is Spinoza’s one substance.

In fact each general element of the metaphysical situation is an element of the substantial activity.

The general modal individualisation is limited in two ways: (a) It is an actual course of events, which might be otherwise so far as concerns eternal possibility, but is that course. (p. 221) Thus this firs limitation is a limitation of antecedent selection. (b) Restriction is the price of value. There cannot be value without antecedent standards of value, to discriminate the acceptance or rejection of what is before the envisaging mode of activity.

Thus a further element in the metaphysical situation, there is required a principle of limitation. Some particular how is necessary, and some particularisation in the what of matter of fact is necessary.

Their apparent irrational limitation must be taken as a proof of illusion and we must look for reality behind the scene. If we reject this alternative behind the scene, we must provide a ground for limitation which stands among the attributes of the substantial activity. This attribute provides the limitation for which no reason can be given: for all reason flows from it. God is the ultimate limitation, and His (p. 222) existence is the ultimate irrationality. For no reason can be given for just that limitation which it stands in His nature to impose.

In this argument the point to notice is, that what is metaphysically indeterminate has nevertheless to be categorically determinate. We have come to the limit of rationality. For there is a categorical limitation which does not spring from any metaphysical reason. There is a metaphysical need for a principle of determination, but there can be no metaphysical reason for what is determined. If there were such a reason, there would be no need for any further principle: for metaphysics would already have provided the determination.

Among medieval and modern philosophers, anxious to establish the religious significance of God, an unfortunate habit has prevailed of paying Him metaphysical compliments.