“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Speculative Philosophy and Incarnationalism in Whitehead and Meillassoux

I’ve just finished Whitehead’s lectures on the philosophy of religion, published as Religion in the Making (1926). He intended these lectures to “show the same way of thought” displayed in his lectures a year earlier, published as Science and the Modern World, only this time directed at religion. The last several thoughts expressed by Whitehead in these lectures, some of which will be quoted momentarily, brought my mind immediately to the implications of Meillassoux’s way of thinking the inexistence of God. At first glance, the two thinkers appear diametrically opposed in method and in aim. But I am increasingly convinced that there is a covert process theology hiding in the margins of Meillassoux’s texts; or at least that these texts will come to record his eventual conversion to some form of incarnationalism (or what I’ve elsewhere called Christological realism). Meillassoux’s philosophy is an account of the world-process, of that which is and is not, in terms of what is absolutely contingent: hyper-chaos. Whitehead’s philosophy is inclusive of Meillassoux’s hyper-chaos (termed creativity), but it is perhaps most clearly characterized by his panentheistic cosmology. Whitehead is explicit about the metaphysical function of God in the world, while Meillassoux has thus far only speculated on the moral function of God’s future act of world redemption. With the deepening of speculation into the real comes an appreciation, I have found, not only of the “physically wasting” aspect  of the universe, but also the “spiritually ascending” (RitM,  p. 144). Meillassoux appears to agree, even if he has only suggested God’s existence as a future possibility. Whitehead goes further in articulating a cosmological scheme in which God is the primordial and everlasting actuality; but he does not, in so doing, ignore contingency:

“[The Universe] is thus passing with a slowness, inconceivable in our measure of time, to new creative conditions, amid which the physical world, as we at present know it, will be represented by a ripple barely to be distinguished from non-entity. The present type of order in the world has arisen from an unimaginable past, and it will find its grave in an unimaginable future” (ibid.).

Extinction is here given its due. But for Whitehead, the arche-fossil is always also a zoö-fossil (as Jacob Sherman put it in his lecture on Meillassoux earlier this year). “The world lives,” says Whitehead, “by its incarnation of God in itself” (ibid.). The world lives. Our daily life is the gift–the miracle–of divine incarnation. We do not merely inherit the past as a mute necessity, but breathe its feelings through the divine element in our experience, “[clothing its] dry bones with the flesh of a real being,” receiving the pains and purposes of its life anew within ourselves (Process & Reality, p. 85). The achievements of times past seem to recede into infinite darkness, but God remembers everything by giving to the passage of finite matters of fact an immortality of spirit.

Knowledge of ancestrality, from an explicitly incarnational perspective, is recognized to be possible only given the felt presence of the World-Soul or Cosmic Christ–that Life which breathes through all things to connect the (dis)orders of the past (chaos) with the order of the present (cosmos) (i.e., which redeems all injustices through the harmonizing power of Love). The omniscience of omnipotence, or absolute knowledge of contingency foretold by Meillassoux leads inevitably, not to nihilism, but to the spiritual realization of omnibenevolence, of the Love that “is before all things,” and in whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). If this analysis is correct, Meillassoux only dismisses fideism to re-affirm its object through the apotheosis of reason.







5 responses to “Speculative Philosophy and Incarnationalism in Whitehead and Meillassoux”

  1. More on Myth « Footnotes to Plato Avatar

    […] in structure, is the incarnation, which I have unpacked in relation to speculative metaphysics here, here, and here. I would also want to challenge Bryant’s caricature of Plato. The notion of […]

  2. Intuitive Thinking as a Spiritual Activity: Socrates, Jesus, and the Wisdom of Love | Footnotes to Plato Avatar

    […] Speculative Philosophy and Incarnationalism in Whitehead and Meillassoux (footnotes2plato.com) […]

  3. After Finitude and Fideism comes Speculative Christianity? | Footnotes to Plato Avatar

    […] of radical contingency, taken to its extreme in The Divine Inexistence, leads to a reformed Christian incarnationalist scheme, where human value is derived, not from a past act of incarnation, but from our hope for […]

  4. Philosophy of the Human in Whitehead and Schelling (response to Knowledge-Ecology) | Footnotes to Plato Avatar

    […] take a look at another text of his, Religion in the Making (I’ve done a little research on this HERE), but in MoT he suggests it has something to do with “[emphasizing] the unity of ideal inherent […]

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