Process philosophy

Process philosophy

Process philosophy (or Ontology of Becoming) identifies metaphysical reality with change and dynamism. Since the time of Plato and Aristotle, philosophers have posited true reality as "timeless", based on permanent substances, whilst processes are denied or subordinated to timeless substances. If Socrates changes, becoming sick, Socrates is still the same (the substance of Socrates being the same), and change (his sickness) only glides over his substance: change is accidental, whereas the substance is essential. Therefore, classic ontology denies any full reality to change, which is conceived as only accidental and not essential. This classical ontology is what made knowledge and a theory of knowledge possible, as it was thought that a science of something in becoming was an impossible feat to achieve [ Anne Fagot-Largeau, [ 7 December 2006 course] at the College of France, first part of a serie of courses on the "Ontology of Becoming" ] .

At the contrary, Process philosophy, or an ontology of the becoming, does not characterize change as illusory or as purely accidental to the substance, as in Aristotle's thought, but as the cornerstone of reality, or Being (thought as Becoming). Modern process philosophers include Henri Bergson, Charles Peirce, John Dewey, Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, Martin Heidegger, Friedrich Nietzsche, Nicholas Rescher, and Gilles Deleuze, a list to which some add Arthur Schopenhauer, Hegel, and even Spinoza. In physics Ilya Prigogine [Ilya Prigogine, "From being to becoming", W.H. Freeman and Company, San Francisco, 1980.] distinguishes between the `physics of being' and the `physics of becoming'.


In Ancient Greek thought

The formal development of this theory begins with Heraclitus's fragments in which he posits the nous, the ground of Becoming, as "agon" or "strife of opposites" as the underlying basis of all reality defined by change. That balance and conflict were the foundations of change and stability in the flux of existence.

Twentieth century

In the early twentieth century, a philosophy of mathematics was developing that favoured some specific foundations of mathematics that could be specified completely as a set of axioms. This positivist program could not be completed, although it remained for Russell and Whitehead to prove that so in 1913 - after which Whitehead elaborated what had been learned from attempts to escape process as the basis of ontology. This resulted in the most famous work of process philosophy — Alfred North Whitehead's "Process and Reality" - a work which continues that begun by Hegel but describing a more complex and fluid dynamic ontology. While process thought does describe truth as "movement" in and through determinates (Hegelian truth), and not these determinates as fixed concepts or "things" (Aristotelian truth), process thought since Whitehead is distinguished from Hegel in describing complexes of occasions of experience that arise or coalesce in becoming, rather than being simply dialectically determined from prior posited determinates. It is also distinguished in being not necessarily conflictual or oppositional in operation. Process may be integrative, destructive or both together, allowing for aspects of interdependence, influence, and confluence, and addressing coherence in universal as well as particular developments, which aspects are not condign to Hegel's system. Additionally, instances of determinate occasions of experience, while always ephemeral, are nonetheless seen as important to define the type and continuity of those occasions of experience that flow from or relate to them.

Whitehead's "Process and Reality"

Whitehead's background was an unusual one for a speculative metaphysician. Educated as a mathematician, he became, through his coauthorship and 1913 publication of "Principia Mathematica"' with Bertrand Russell, a major logician. Later he wrote extensively on physics and its philosophy, proposing a theory of relativity rivaling Einstein's. He was conversant with the quantum mechanics that emerged in the 1920s. Whitehead did not begin teaching and writing on process and metaphysics until he joined Harvard at 63 years of age.

The process metaphysics elaborated in "Process and Reality" proposes that the fundamental elements of the universe are . According to this notion, what people commonly think of as concrete objects are actually successions of occasions of experience. Occasions of experience can be collected into groupings; something complex such as a human being is thus a grouping of many smaller occasions of experience. According to Whitehead, everything in the universe is characterized by experience (which is not to be confused with consciousness); there is no mind-body duality under this system, because "mind" is simply seen as a very developed kind of experiencing. However, Whitehead is not an idealist in the strict sense. Whitehead's ideas were a significant development of the idea of panpsychism (also known as panexperientialism, because of Whitehead’s emphasis on experience).

Whitehead's philosophy resembles in some respects the monads of Leibniz. However, unlike Leibniz's monads, Whitehead's occasions of experience are interrelated with every other occasion of experience that precedes it in time. Inherent to Whitehead's conception is the notion of time; all experiences are influenced by prior experiences, and will influence all future experiences. This process of influencing is never deterministic; an occasion of experience consists of a process of "prehending" other experiences, and then a reaction to it. This is the "process" in "process philosophy". Because no process is ever deterministic, free will is essential and inherent to the universe.

Process philosophy, for some, gives God a special place in the universe of occasions of experience. God encompasses all the other occasions of experience but also transcends them; thus Whitehead embraces panentheism. Since, it is argued, free will is inherent to the nature of the universe, God is not omnipotent in Whitehead's metaphysics. God's role is to offer enhanced occasions of experience. God participates in the evolution of the universe by offering possibilities, which may be accepted or rejected. Whitehead's thinking here has given rise to process theology, whose prominent advocates include Charles Hartshorne, John B. Cobb, Jr., and Hans Jonas, who was also influenced by the non-theological philosopher Martin Heidegger. However, other process philosophers have questioned Whitehead's theology, seeing it as a regressive Platonism.

Whitehead enumerated three essential natures of God. The primordial nature of God consists of all potentialities of existence for actual occasions, which Whitehead dubbed eternal objects. God can offer possibilities by ordering the relevance of eternal objects. The consequent nature of God prehends everything that happens in reality. As such, God experiences all of reality in a sentient manner. The last nature is the superjective. This is the way in which God’s synthesis becomes a sense-datum for other actual entities. In some sense, God is prehended by existing actual entities.

Whitehead's influences were not restricted to philosophers or physicists or mathematicians. He was influenced by the French philosopher Henri-Louis Bergson (1859-1941), who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1927. Process philosophy is also believed to have influenced some 20th century modernists, such as D. H. Lawrence, William Faulkner and Charles Olson.Fact|date=February 2007

Process philosophy since Whitehead

Several fields of science and especially medicine seem to make liberal use of ideas in process philosophy, notably the theory of pain and healing of the late 20th century. The philosophy of medicine began to deviate somewhat from scientific method and an emphasis on repeatable results very late 20th century by embracing population thinking, and a more pragmatic approach to issues in public health, environmental health and especially mental health. In this latter field, R. D. Laing, Thomas Szasz and Michel Foucault were instrumental in moving medicine away from emphasis on "cures" and towards concepts of individuals in balance with their society, both of which are changing, and against which no benchmarks or finished "cures" were very likely to be measurable.

In psychology the subject of imagination was again explored more extensively since Whitehead, and the question of feasibility or "eternal objects" of thought became central to the impaired theory of mind explorations that framed postmodern cognitive science. A biological understanding of the most eternal object, that being the emerging of similar but independent cognitive apparatus, led to an obsession with the process "embodiment", that being, the emergence of these cognitions. Like Whitehead's God, especially as elaborated in J. J. Gibson's perceptual psychology emphasizing affordances, by ordering the relevance of eternal objects (especially the cognitions of other such actors), the world becomes. Or, it becomes simple enough for human beings to begin to make choices, and to prehend what happens as a result. These experiences may be summed in some sense but can only approximately be shared, even among very similar cognitions with identical DNA. An early explorer of this view was Alan Turing who sought to prove the limits of expressive complexity of human genes in the late 1940s, to put bounds on the complexity of human intelligence and so assess the feasibility of artificial intelligence emerging.

In the philosophy of mathematics, some of Whitehead's ideas re-emerged in combination with cognitivism as the cognitive science of mathematics and embodied mind theses.

Somewhat earlier, exploration of mathematical practice and quasi-empiricism in mathematics from the 1950s to 1980s had sought alternatives to metamathematics in social behaviours around mathematics itself: for instance, Paul Erdos' simultaneous belief in Platonism and a single "big book" in which all proofs existed, combined with his personal obsessive need or decision to collaborate with the widest possible number of other mathematicians. The process, rather than the outcomes, seemed to drive his explicit behaviour and odd use of language, e.g. he called God the "Supreme Fascist", echoing the role Whitehead assigned, as if the synthesis of Erdos and collaborators in seeking proofs, creating sense-datum for other mathematicians, was itself the expression of a divine will. Certainly, Erdos behaved as if nothing else in the world mattered, including money or love, as emphasized in his biography "The Man Who Loved Only Numbers".

ee also

*Gaston Bachelard
*Henri Bergson
*Gilles Deleuze
*Gilbert Simondon


External links

* [ Center for Process Studies] at the Claremont School of Theology. Primarily concerned with the thought of Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne, and the various modes of thought that have emerged out of their work.
* [ Whitehead Research Project] Dedicated to the research of, and scholarship on, the texts, philosophy and life of Alfred North Whitehead; and explores and analyzes the relevance of Whitehead's thought in dialogue with contemporary philosophies.
*sep entry|process-philosophy
* [ Chromatika website]
* [ Process and Reality. Part V. Final Interpretation]

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