CHAPTER 2-Search for a Comprehensive Vision. Everything is tied together. That is a fundamental premise as basic to modern physics and biology as to ancient Hinduism and Buddhism.
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Everything is tied together. That is a fundamental premise as basic to modern physics and biology as to ancient Hinduism and Buddhism.
Our growing awareness of ourselves as inescapably woven into the ecological web…demands that we stop thinking of ourselves and the world in terms of isolated atoms and “self-made men”and begin thinking in terms of relationships and processes.
If reality is inter-connected, relational, and dynamic, then thinking solely in terms of separation and changeless being is dangerous. Our ability to make sense of the world is at stake…. unless we can take seriously the ecological, cultural, religious, and economic interwovenness of our lives in this world, we are in serious danger of self-destruction. Process philosophy can help us come to that vital self-understanding.
The boldness of Whitehead’s quest is obvious—a theory of absolutely everything that is or ever could be. “At the end, in so far as the enterprise has been successful, there should be no problem of space-time, or of epistemology, or of causality, left over for discussion.
The scheme should have developed all of those generic notions adequate for the expression of any possible interconnection of things.”(PR xii)There is nothing half-hearted about this goal.
Whitehead isn’t just wondering about how everything that exists is connected but about how everything that could possibly exist is connected….That is a very bold quest.
‘ a single, unified system of thought?intellectual humility’
“…we must not pretend to know what we do not know. The loss of such intellectual humility marks the beginning of a closed mind and a closed system of thought.”
Speculative boldness must be balanced by complete humility before logic, and before fact” (PR17).
Yet, humility without boldness of thought can be laziness, an excuse for caving in to the cynical argument of the Sophists that we cannot know anything so there is no reason to inquire.
It is possible to have new insights, broader insights, that can help us both to solve old problems and to see new problems waiting round the corner.
Reason - a single, unified system of thought?“a coherent, logical, necessary system”
Whitehead’s philosophy appeals to both reason and experience. Neither alone is sufficient to deal with life in this world.
Speculative philosophy is the endeavor to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted.
By this notion of “interpretation” I mean that everything of which we are conscious, as enjoyed, perceived, willed, or thought shall have the character of a particular instance of the general scheme.
Thus the philosophical scheme should be coherent, logical, and in respect to its interpretation, applicable and adequate.
Reason – a single, unified system of thought?‘coherent’
Our ideas about the world should…be coherent. This thought would seem obvious…but achieving the goal isn’t easy to do.
Time and again great thinkers have… just left pieces out
David Hume, an eighteenth-century philosopher who was a wonderfully honest and bold thinker, frankly admitted that he could not find any way for us actually to know that causation happened.
All we can see is the sequence of events, not causation.
Any effort to create a comprehensive description of the world should be logical.
But time and again, especially in religious thought, people get to a problem their system cannot solve (like why a perfectly good and powerful God allows so much evil in the world)…They claim we can just rely on faith and mystery. …
many elements of the world, like human emotions, are not themselves logical. That is very different from saying that our ideas about those things can simply be illogical—self-contradictory.
It is not enough, however, for our ideas to be rational—coherent and logical; they must be applicable…to be of value they must tell us about the world we experience and live in. They must tell us about something in particular, not just everything in general.
So far as ideas explain particular situations, they can be said to be applicable…
But it is precisely the failure to apply to anything concrete that has made so many metaphysical systems seem foolish and worthless.
That is why WH tends to speak less of metaphysics and more of speculative philosophy, or imaginative and descriptive generalization.
Rationalism is an adventure in the clarification of thought
progressive and never final.
even partial success has importance. (PR9)
So, if we are going to create this coherent and logical system of ideas that …(also) struggles as far as it can toward adequacy—toward describing the basic principles that apply to everything that is or possibly could be—how do we go about it?
Search for that one idea, one truth that is absolutely certain beyond all possibility of doubt.
Like Rene Descarte
He does not model his system on formal mathematics
Begin with definitions and axioms and
Treat them as if they were perfectly clear, self-evident principles beyond all possible doubt.
Build a whole system of knowledge that would itself be certain, complete, and self-consistent
“ a single, unified system of thought?metaphysical categories…are tentative formulations of the ultimate generalities.”
“Philosophy has been haunted by the unfortunate notion that its method is dogmatically to indicate premises which are severally, clear, distinct, and certain; and to erect upon those premises a deductive system of thought” (PR8) .
The deepest aspect of this mistake is that
“metaphysical categories are not dogmatic statements of the obvious;
they are tentative formulations of the ultimate generalities”(PR8).
Whitehead believed that “[t]here is no first principle which is in itself unknowable,
not to be captured by a flash of insight”(PR4).
Whitehead…especially noted the problem of language: “Words and phrases must be stretched towards a generality foreign to their ordinary usage; and however such elements of language be stabilized as technicalities, they remain metaphors mutely appealing for an imaginative leap”(PR 4).
ROC is also a metaphor appealing for an ‘imaginative leap’.
The problem of language is one reason that it is so difficult to read Whitehead.
He was trying to express a new vision that fundamentally challenged many “common-sense” ideas. After all,“[i]n some measure or other, progress is always a transcendence of the obvious”(PR 9).
For better or worse, our common sense (our inherited set of beliefs) about the “obvious” is expressed in our ordinary language. Ideas that challenge and transcend those traditions cannot simply be expressed in the common language.
We must either redefine old words…or create new ones — (both) generating confusion….
ROC intends to transcend “our inherited set of beliefs”.We enlist your collaboration in transcending common sense.