Whitehead’s Anti-Substantivilism, or Process & Reality as a Cosmology to-be. Thought of the Day 39.0


Treating “stuff” as some kind of metaphysical primitive is mere substantivilism – and fundamentally question-begging. One has replaced an extra-theoretic referent of the wave-function (unless one defers to some quasi-literalist reading of the nature of the stochastic amplitude function ζ[X(t)] as somehow characterizing something akin to being a “density of stuff”, and moreover the logic and probability (Born Rules) must ultimately be obtained from experimentally obtained scattering amplitudes) with something at least as equally mystifying, as the argument against decoherence goes on to show:

In other words, you have a state vector which gives rise to an outcome of a measurement and you cannot understand why this is so according to your theory.

As a response to Platonism, one can likewise read Process and Reality as essentially anti-substantivilist.

Consider, for instance:

Those elements of our experience which stand out clearly and distinctly [giving rise to our substantial intuitions] in our consciousness are not its basic facts, [but] they are . . . late derivatives in the concrescence of an experiencing subject. . . .Neglect of this law [implies that] . . . [e]xperience has been explained in a thoroughly topsy-turvy fashion, the wrong end first (161).

To function as an object is to be a determinant of the definiteness of an actual occurrence [occasion] (243).

The phenomenological ontology offered in Process and Reality is richly nuanced (including metaphysical primitives such as prehensions, occasions, and their respectively derivative notions such as causal efficacy, presentational immediacy, nexus, etc.). None of these suggest metaphysical notions of substance (i.e., independently existing subjects) as a primitive. The case can perhaps be made concerning the discussion of eternal objects, but such notions as discussed vis-à-vis the process of concrescence are obviously not metaphysically primitive notions. Certainly these metaphysical primitives conform in a more nuanced and articulated manner to aspects of process ontology. “Embedding” – as the notion of emergence is a crucial constituent in the information-theoretic, quantum-topological, and geometric accounts. Moreover, concerning the issue of relativistic covariance, it is to be regarded that Process and Reality is really a sketch of a cosmology-to-be . . . [in the spirit of ] Kant [who] built on the obsolete ideas of space, time, and matter of Euclid and Newton. Whitehead set out to suggest what a philosophical cosmology might be that builds on Newton.


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