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

Individuals and the Whole in Process Ontology

This is a response to some recent posts on process philosophy in America by Jason/Immanent Transcendence.

The status of individuals in a process ontology is something I’ve explored in connection with Harman’s object-oriented ontology (HERE and HERE). Harman points to process ontologists like Whitehead and says they ignore the irreducible individuality of things (as withdrawn objects) in favor of the flux between them. I’ve argued against this characterization of Whitehead, since while it does have some relational implications when time is factored in, it is primarily an ontology of organisms, of emergent forms of individualization. Organisms, of course, are born and die. They exist in time, they become and perish. But the actual occasions realized in the course of an organic life form, to the extent that they are drops of experience and not inherited memories or unactualized ideals, do withdraw from the rest of the world. As drops, as satisfactions of subjective valuation, they are absolutely unique in the universe. They are novel creations. Whitehead famously describes this process as Creativity, where “the many become one, and are increased by one.” But immediately after deciding to prehend a world never experienced before, the occasion is overcome by time and transformed into a novel prehension of itself in the organic context in which it belongs. Finite occasions, in other words, are constantly being negated in the course of time by what surrounds them. Some call this “entropy” and say it rules the universe. I say, though finite things are swallowed whole by the world-soul, that this divine occasion cannot die because its life includes death (i.e., it is the Life of life).

Individual novelty becomes objectively immortal and is unified in the consequent experience of this divine occasion. However the concrescence of this cosmic occasion is ongoing. Its unity is never settled. There is no rest, even for God, since the divine, like finite occasions, must also deal with the power of Creativity, always provoking new values by unsettling past establishments of order. Whitehead’s is truly a process ontology, and not just a process cosmology. Not just the universe, but God too remains forever in the making. There is no God and no Cosmos, strictly speaking; there is cosmogenesis and theogenesis. The Creator is a process of creation.







2 responses to “Individuals and the Whole in Process Ontology”

  1. Jason Hills Avatar
    Jason Hills


    I wanted to add, since I added it late and it might be overlooked, that the event does become fully actual and thus individuated. However, only the even as past is such. From this perspective, there is a sense in which non-temporalist metaphysics treat the present as if it were the past. Actuality and individuation is an existential thing, but there is more to nature than existence; there is reality, e.g., possibility and law.

  2. Whitehead’s Divine Function (response to Knowledge Ecology) « Footnotes 2 Plato Avatar

    […] Individuals and the Whole in Process Ontology (footnotes2plato.com) […]

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