Whitehead’s View of Reality
Whitehead’s View of Reality developed from conversations between the authors about the need for a work that would be of assistance to students ready to undertake a study of Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and Reality. The volume begins with a biographical sketch of Whitehead’s life, in order that one can understand the various stages in his professional development as well as the radically changing times in which his thought progressed. It is hoped that the Whiteheads’ encounter with Gertrude Stein will provide the student with a stronger feeling of Whitehead as a person.
Charles Hartshorne undertook the task of placing Whitehead within a historical context. The context in which Whitehead is presented is that of being one of the few great philosophers in Western culture who engaged in speculative or metaphysical philosophy. The influence of Plato and Leibniz is noted, as well as Hartshorne’s personal preference for Peirce and Bergson in relation to Whitehead’s speculative philosophy. Whitehead agreed with all these great metaphysicians that the explanation of matter was to be sought in mind, not that of mind in matter. Hume, Kant, Russell and William James are noted as major non-speculative thinkers whose thought received careful consideration by Whitehead. Hume, the Buddhists, and Whitehead agreed that, strictly speaking, a so-called substance is a new concrete reality each moment. It is Hartshorne’s judgment that Whitehead does the best job of retaining aspects of truth in our commonsense notions of individual things and persons. Hartshorne also discusses the paradoxes that arise as we search for our self-identity. He contends that we can escape from these paradoxes if we accept Whitehead’s contention that concrete actualities are not in the last analysis enduring, changing substances but successive momentary stages of what are called substances or individuals. This should lead us to understand that we have an asymmetrical identity with the successive momentary stages of our relations.
Hartshorne also notes that the basic concepts developed by Whitehead are based on his understanding that actual entities are the real subjects that experience, perceive, remember, and think. Thus, the basic form of experience is perception. Hartshorne further suggests that perhaps Whitehead is the first philosopher to view perception, which includes memory, as experience of the past rather than of the present. In discussing Whitehead’s philosophical theology, Hartshorne indicats that his view of God was an alternative to the standard metaphysical conception of deity which had prevailed since Aristotle. The problem of divine knowledge had been at the core of the problems with classical theism. The issue was whether everything I do is decided at my coming to exist. If so, then we are nothing but a clog in the cosmic machinery. Hartshorne suggests that the first theologian to view this issue sharply was Fausto Socinus who took the idea of human decision-making seriously and rejected the notion that divine omnipotence determines human decisions. He suggested among others had something in common with the Socinians. Hartshorne concluds his remarks focusing on unresolved problems in Whitehead’s theism.
Creighton Peden’s responsibility is to present an exposition of Whitehead’s philosophy, with primary attention at first given to his basic terms, as well as to the foundation principles and structure of his method. Analysis is then given his metaphysical scheme from the perspective of his method. The focus of attention then shifts to Whitehead’s doctrine of God and his view of religion. Peden concludes with a comparative evaluation of Whitehead’s position with traditional Christian thought. Consideration is given to three general problems raised by traditional Christians. The first point of contention is that Whitehead’s God is not the infinite and eternal God of the Universe but is rather a limited God within the Universe. In the second case, traditional Christian theology would assert that Whitehead’s God does not actually save because he does not save the individual. The third problem would hold that Whitehead’s God is not the or a personal God.