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

Philosophical Essays

If you went in search of it, you would not find the boundaries of the soul, though you traveled every road—so deep is its logos.

Heraclitus

Thoughts are an independent power, continuing to act on their own, growing in such a way that they restrain their own mother (the soul).

Schelling

The account of the sixth day should be written, He gave them speech, and they became souls.

Whitehead

Arranged by date

“Carl Schmitt’s’ ‘Political Theology’: A Process Theological Intervention” (2022)

This essay critically engages with Carl Schmitt’s anti-liberal political theology, offering important interventions from the related perspectives of Alfred North Whitehead’s cosmopolitical process theology, philosophical personalism, and Bruno Latour’s Gaian political ecology. Schmitt’s criticisms of early 20th century liberalism are tested against Daniel Dombrowski’s admirable defense of a process reading of Rawlsian political liberalism. Since Schmitt was at least nominally Catholic, I also turn to the New Testament for a source of spiritual resistance to his fascist ideology.


“History and Importance of CIIS and PCC” coauthored with Robert McDermott (2022)

This essay in two parts (which the authors admittedly took great pleasure in writing) recounts the history of a graduate program that integrates philosophy, cosmology, and consciousness (PCC) within a private university, California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), founded in 1968 to research and teach Asian and western spiritual philosophies. The first part of the essay recounts the founding and evolution of CIIS and PCC; the second part situates PCC in its academic and broader cultural contexts while building a case for its significance. Robert McDermott, author of the first half, was president of CIIS when the PCC program was founded by Richard Tarnas; Matt Segall, the author of the second half, completed his doctorate in PCC in 2016 and was appointed to PCC core faculty in 2018. Both CIIS and PCC were founded and continue to be guided by spiritual ideals—particularly by the transformation of the modern materialistic mode of consciousness by an ever-deepening awareness of cosmic history and humanity’s role in the future of Earth evolution.

“Standing Firm in the Flux: On Whitehead’s Eternal Objects” (2022)

In this essay I introduce Whitehead’s initial conception of the realm of eternal objects in Science and the Modern World, fleshing out his published presentation with relevant notes from his Harvard lectures delivered concurrently. I also draw upon his more developed exposition in Process and Reality (1929) and the late lecture at Harvard “Mathematics and the Good” (1940), with the goal not simply of textual exegesis but of showing how the meaning of the fifth category of existence is exemplified in the gradual ingression of the idea in Whitehead’s imagination. I then address some of the prominent criticisms of Whitehead’s account of possibility. Given all the controversy and disagreement on the subtlest points of Whitehead’s doctrine over many decades of interpretation, I cannot now pretend in this brief essay to resolve the final meaning much less establish either the metaphysical necessity or extravagance of eternal objects. I aim only to sustain the effort at constructive thought begun by Whitehead, making his speculative hypothesis as explicit as possible while exploring the applications of his idea of ideas to the interpretation of experience, thus better preparing it for critical improvement (PR xiv).


“The Urgency of Social Threefolding in a World Still at War With Itself” (2022)

Rudolf Steiner’s proposal for the threefolding of society is introduced and applied to the present. It is argued that a conscious differentiation (not division) of economic, political, and cultural domains brings clarity to the healthy impulses seeking expression in each domain. The hope is that such a clarification facilitates the cultivation of the collective will and moral imagination required for addressing the thicket of social conflicts dividing humanity at both local and planetary scales.


“The Cosmological Context of the Origin of Life: Process Philosophy and the Hot Spring Hypothesis” coauthored with Bruce Damer (2022)

This coauthored chapter aims to contribute to origin of life research by approaching outstanding aporias from two complementary perspectives:
1) the empirical—explicating an emerging experimentally grounded hypothesis concerning the “progenitor” of living cells in the setting of wet-dry cycling in fresh water hot springs (written by Damer incorporating feedback from Segall), and 2) the metaphysical—leveraging the conceptual innovations of Whitehead’sorganic realism to overcome Kantian epistemic quandaries by better defining the cosmological conditions of life’s origin (written by Segall incorporating feedback from Damer). These two perspectives may find themselves in dialectical tension on some points. But the ultimate goal is to dynamically integrate the metaphysical and the empirical aspects of this research.


“Time in Physics and Philosophy: Whiteheadian Reflections on Bergson, Einstein, and Rovelli” in Einstein vs Bergson: A Quarrel on Time (2022)

This paper begins by revisiting the intellectual collision between Bergson and Einstein. Their crucial misunderstanding almost a century ago did not create but has exacerbated the modern bifurcation between natural science and human experience. After trying to help Einstein and Bergson understand one another, the process-relational cosmology of Alfred North Whitehead is introduced in an effort to articulate an alternative approach to healing the split between physics and experience. While Whitehead affirmed much of Bergson’s critique of scientific materialism, he did not entirely share Bergson’s views on temporality and departed in critical respects from the Frenchman’s vitalism. Finally, Whitehead’s cosmology is compared with Carlo Rovelli’s Loop Quantum Gravity model of spacetime. Instead of attempting to philosophically explicate scientific formalisms or synthesize mathematics and ontology, I invite these thinkers into dialogue around a question—“What is time?”—that cannot be properly addressed by any one discipline, as it requires us to generate and inhabit an intermediary zone between physics, philosophy, and common sense


“Goethe and Whitehead: Steps to a Science of Organism” in Holistic Science (2022)

This essay attempts to justify Goethe’s poetic view of Nature by comparing his method and its findings to those of Whitehead. I make the case that Whitehead’s philosophy provides cosmological context and metaphysical justification for the Goethean approach, thus strengthening its position in the debate over who is authorized to speak for—or, perhaps, as Nature. Whitehead’s protest against scientific materialism’s “bifurcation of Nature” into subjective experience and objective cause, and his reconstruction of mechanistic science on more experientially adequate organic grounds, provides the occasion for a reconsideration of Goethe’s poetic vision of the cosmos.


“Philosophical and Religious Implications of Psychedelically Occasioned Mystical Experience and Belief Change” (2022)

This brief paper introduces the recent resurgence in psychedelic psychology of religion, addresses some of the philosophical issues raised by empirical studies of chemically induced mystical experience and belief change, and speculates about the role of psychedelics in shaping the future of religion.


“Alchemical Consciousness After Descartes: Whitehead’s Philosophy of Organism as Psychedelic Realism” (2021)

This essay reinterprets Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy as a sort of psychedelic trip through hell and heaven and back again. Whitehead’s philosophy of organism is then offered as a more integral approach to understanding psychedelic experience.


“Restoring Architecture’s Cosmic Context” in The Side View (2021)

This essay explores architect Christopher Alexander’s attempt to re-imagine the mechanistic worldview still informing the common sense of most modern, industrial designers. We need a new living cosmology in order to once again generate architectural morphologies that resonate with human beings and our earthly contexts.


“Wordsworth’s Poetic Vision of Nature in Light of Whitehead’s Organic Philosophy” (2021)

This chapter interprets the nature poetry of William Wordsworth in light of the metaphysics of Alfred North Whitehead, such that the epistemological and cosmological implications of the former are brought more fully into philosophical view.


“The Varieties of Physicalist Ontology: A Study in Whitehead’s Process-Relational Alternative” in Journal of Philosophy, Theology, and the Sciences (2020)

This paper brings Alfred North Whitehead’s Philosophy of Organism into conver- sation with the recent panpsychist turn in analytic philosophy of mind. Whitehead’s unabashedly metaphysical project broadly aligns with recent critiques of reductive physicalism and the turn toward a conception of experience as basic to Nature. This paper thus examines physicalism’s dominant strategies for explaining consciousness, including eliminativism, epiphenomenalism, and emergentism, and concludes that the panpsychist alternative is superior. However, Whitehead’s process-relational pan- experientialism diverges in crucial respects from the dominant substance-property variants of panpsychism. I argue that Whitehead’s version avoids many of the con- ceptual difficulties plaguing the latter and that it thus represents a more formidable alternative to standard physicalism.


“Whitehead and Media Ecology: Toward a Communicative Cosmos” in Process Studies (2020)

This article brings media ecology into conversation with Alfred North Whitehead’s philosophy of organism in an effort to lure the former beyond its normally anthropocentric orientation. The article is divided into two parts. Part 1 spells out the way Whitehead’s approach can aid media ecology in developing a less anthropocentric theory of communication. Part 2 engages more specifically with Mark B. N. Hansen’s Feed-Forward: On the Future of Twenty-First- Century Media (2014). Hansen’s work is an example of the exciting new directions opened up for media theory by Whitehead’s panexperientialist ontology, but I argue that Hansen’s attempt to “invert” Whitehead’s theory of perception is based on a terminological confusion.

“Religion in Human and Cosmic Evolution: Whitehead’s Alternative Vision” in Unprecedented Evolution (2020)

This essay explores the evolutionary origins of human religion. Instead of trying to explain religion by reducing it to the favored terms of modern biology, psychology, or sociology, I proceed instead by attempting to let religion reveal itself by situating it within the evolutionary account offered by sociologist Robert Bellah and the cosmological scheme provided by philosopher Alfred North Whitehead.


“Why German Idealism Matters” in The Side View (2019)

This brief essay introduces the transformation of philosophy brought about by Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814), Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775–1854).


“Retrieving Realism: A Whiteheadian Wager” in International Journal of Transpersonal Studies (2017)

This essay argues that the organic realism of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) provides a viable alternative to anti-realist tendencies in modern and postmodern philosophy since Descartes. The metaphysical merits of Whitehead’s philosophy of organism are unpacked in conversation with Hubert Dreyfus and Charles Taylor’s recent book Retrieving Realism (2015). Like Dreyfus and Taylor, Whitehead’s philosophical project was motivated by a desire to heal the modern epistemic wound separating soul from world in order to put human consciousness back into meaningful contact with reality. While Dreyfus and Taylor’s book succeeds in articulating the problem cogently, its still too phenomenological answer remains ontologically unsatisfying. Whitehead’s process-relational approach invites philosophy to move closer to a real solution.


“The Function of Reason and the Recovery of an Earthly Architecture” in Function Lab (2016)

A short essay comparing Whitehead’s evolutionary cosmology to Christopher Alexander’s architectural approach.


“Minding Time in an Archetypal Cosmos” in Archai: The Journal of Archetypal Cosmology (2015)

With help from archetypal cosmology, as well as the genius of ancient Greek language and mythology, this essay aims to begin untangling the knot of time by naming and so differentiating three of its most important strands. Said otherwise, I want to introduce my readers to three gods, each of whom has a powerful hand in shaping our experience of time: Chronos, Kairos, and Aion.


“Ralph Waldo Emerson: Philosophical Lessons for a Civilization in Crisis” in Beacon of Mind (2015)

This essay offers some of Emerson’s philosophical lessons for American civilization.


“Logos of a Living Earth Toward a New Marriage of Science and Myth for Our Planetary Future” in World Futures (2012)

In this essay, I draw attention to the important epistemological and cosmological implications of enactivism, a still emerging paradigm within the life sciences. Guided by the insights of the enactive paradigm, I offer a new story of human origins and destiny in an attempt to contribute to a more livable future for our species and the rest of the community of life on Earth.

“Imagination in the Speculative Philosophies of Plato, Schelling, and Whitehead” (2012)

The aim of this essay is to sketch the striking similarities running through the thought of Plato (423-348 BCE), Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775-1854), and Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), especially as they relate to the power of poetic imagination.


“Participatory Psychedelia: Transpersonal Theory, Religious Studies, and Chemically-Altered (Alchemical) Consciousness” in The Journal of Transpersonal Research (2010)

The principal aim of this essay is to explore the influence of chemically-altered, or alchemical consciousness, not only on the founding and ongoing articulation of transpersonal theory, but on the origins of spirituality more generally. I attempt to support and expand Jorge Ferrer’s participatory turn toward “a more relaxed spiritual universalism” in the context of Gregg Lahood’s notion of psychedelically-induced cosmological hybridization and Robert Bellah’s account of religion in terms of “non-ordinary realities.” I also draw upon Richard Doyle’s thesis that psychedelics have functioned as “rhetorical adjuncts” in the evolution of spiritual discourse, as well as Michael Rinella’s study of the interplay between speech (the logistikon) and psychedelics (the pharmakon) in ancient Greek spirituality.

Footnotes2Plato © 2023 Matthew David Segall

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