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

Pre-Defense Dissertation Draft Completed

My dissertation defense is on Monday morning. I’ve just finished the “pre-defense” draft. I have until April 11th to finalize the published version. Below are the abstract, table of contents, and acknowledgements. 


  • Jacob Sherman, PhD, Chair
    Associate Professor, Philosophy and Religion Department, California Institute of Integral Studies


  • Sean Kelly, PhD
    Professor, Philosophy and Religion Department, California Institute of Integral Studies



  • Frederick Amrine, PhD
    Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, German Department, University of Michigan




In this dissertation, I lure the process philosophies of F.W.J Schelling and A.N. Whitehead into orbit together around the transcendental philosophy of Immanuel Kant. I argue that Schelling and Whitehead’s descendental aesthetic ontology provides a way across the epistemological chasm that Kant’s critiques opened up between experience and reality. While Kant’s problematic scission between phenomena and the thing-in-itself remains an essential phase in the maturation of the human mind, it need not be the full realization of mind’s potential in relation to Nature. I contrast Schelling and Whitehead’s descendental philosophy with Kant’s transcendentalism by showing how their inverted method bridges the chasm—not by resolving the structure of reality into clear and distinct concepts—but by replanting cognition in the aesthetic processes from which it arises. Hidden at the generative root of our seemingly separate human capacities for corporeal sensation and intellectual reflection is the same universally distributed creative power underlying star formation and blooming flowers. Human consciousness is not an anomaly but is a product of the Earth and wider universe, as natural as leaves on a tree. Through a creative interweaving of their process-relational orientations, I show how the power of imagination so evident in Schelling and Whitehead’s thought can provide philosophy with genuine experiential insight into cosmos, theos, and anthropos in the aftermath of the Kantian revolution. The two—anthropos and cosmos—are perceived as one by a common sense described in this dissertation as etheric imagination. This etheric sense puts us in touch with the divine life of Nature, which the ancients personified as the ψυχὴ του κόσμου or anima mundi.

Table of Contents

Abstract iv
Acknowledgements vii
Prologue — Imagining Cosmos, Theos, and Anthropos in Post-Kantian Process Philosophy 2
Chapter 1 — Kant as Guardian of the Threshold of Imagination 9
1.1 Whitehead, Schelling, and the Aftermath of Kant 16
1.2 The Kantian Mode of Thought 24
1.2.1 Thinking 27
1.2.2 Desiring 38
1.2.3 Feeling 42
Chapter 2 — Descendental Philosophy and Aesthetic Ontology: Reimagining the Kantian Mode of Thought 55
2.1 Aesthetic Ontology and Nietzsche’s Confrontation with Nihilism 70
2.2 Aesthetic Ontology in Sallis’ Elemental Phenomenology 95
2.3 Aesthetic Ontology in Deleuze’s Transcendental Empiricism 99
Chiasmus — Schelling and Whitehead’s Descendental Aesthetic: Crossing the Kantian Threshold 111
Chapter 3 — The Inversion of Kant: From a Mechanistic to an Organic Cosmology 132
3.1 The Refutation of Kant’s “Refutation of Idealism”: From Subject-Substance Correlation to Process-Relational Creativity 150
3.2 From Geometric Conditions of Possibility to Genetic Conditions of Actuality 167
Chapter 4 — Etheric Imagination in Naturphilosophie: Toward a Physics of the World-Soul 177
4.1 Traces of the Ether in Kant’s Opus Postumum 181
4.2 Etheric Imagination in Schelling and Whitehead 192
4.3 Nature Philosophy as “Spiritual Sensation” 201
4.4 Etheric Imagination and Vegetal Metaphysics 209
Epilogue — Incarnational Process Philosophy in the Worldly Religion of Schelling, Whitehead, and Deleuze 230
References 254


Without the intellectual encouragement and personal friendships of Jake Sherman, Sean Kelly, Fred Amrine, Brian Swimme, Robert McDermott, Eric Weiss, Elizabeth Allison, and Rick Tarnas, this dissertation could not have been written. Thanks to each of them, and also to the entire community of students in the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness Program for sharing their philosophical passion and for the conversations that helped spark many of the ideas expressed in what follows. Thank you, finally, to my fiancée Becca for her inspiring imagination, for her encouragement, and for her patience as I labored over drafts of this text for so many consecutive weeks.



6 responses to “Pre-Defense Dissertation Draft Completed”

  1. Yannick Baele Avatar

    Had he written his ‘Critique of Practical Reason’ two centuries later, Kant might not have said every citizen within a given society is bound to respect said society’s laws, however inept or iniquitous. As I don’t know much about Schelling and Whitehead, can you tell me whether either of them ever expanded on that particular subject ?

    “Altough it comes first in the world, the mind accepted to emerge in nature, according to nature”. This quote (my imperfect translation) comes from XVIII/XIXth century French socialist Jean Jaurès (The New Army, 1911).

    Is it possible to turn one’s back on or to get estranged from this ‘anima mundi’ ? How do conflict and war relate to it ?

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Conflict did not originate with human beings. The world-soul is already in conflict with itself, as its two tendencies toward bright expansion (light) and dark contraction (gravity) are the very engine of its creativity.

      Schelling was younger than Kant when the French Revolution erupted across the Rhine. He was enthusiastic about human beings claiming their creative cosmopolitical freedom from the Ancien Régime. Certainly nothing like Kant politically. Even in his later more conservative years, Schelling made no attempts to align his philosophy with royalty. Whitehead himself was active in the woman’s suffrage movement and certainly saw revolutionary movements as a crucial enlivening element in human history.

  2. Yannick Baele Avatar

    Read : XIX/XXth century French socialist (of course…)

  3. Provectus Ordo Seclorum Avatar
    Provectus Ordo Seclorum

    The quality of your presently available work is impressive and this defense is sure to impress the committee.

  4. Yannick Baele Avatar

    @Provectus Ordo Seclorum : “tout flatteur vit aux dépens de celui qui l’écoute”… Does “the committee” have to be “impressed” ? Arguments, please…
    @ MDS :

    – Are self-proclaimed moral authorities an adjuvant or an obstacle to a better individual/collective perception/definition of the A.M. ? Are they declensions or aberrations ? And is their sum equal to the total or closer to zero ?

    – The universe is said to be expanding “as we speak”. Expansion means lesser and lesser light. Doesn’t that strike you as a contradiction ?

    – In a down-to-Earth perspective, is what separates and distinguishes in this ‘anima mundi’ (i.e. individualism, national borders) per se the negative principle ?

    – If from its inception (but was there really an inception? Is it finite of infinite ?) the A.M. has been composed of antagonist forces, what is making these forces interact the way they do, and can one of these forces ever suppress the other ?

    – If so, is this bound to happen, or merely a possibility ? If not, is the A.M. bound to be an everlasting paradox, or is this merely a possibility ?

  5. PeterJ Avatar

    It sounds like a very interesting essay. I cannot comment on the details but the idea that Kant needs to modified by bringing in Whitehead and Schelling seems highly plausible from here. (Also Hegel and Bradley I’d want to say). I’d like to read it if it becomes public.

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