The Metaphysics of Experience: A Companion to Whitehead's Process and Reality

The Metaphysics of Experience: A Companion to Whitehead's Process and Reality

The Metaphysics of Experience: A Companion to Whitehead's Process and Reality

The Metaphysics of Experience: A Companion to Whitehead's Process and Reality

Synopsis

The Metaphysics of Experience styles itself as "a Sherpa guide to Process and Reality, whose function is to assist the serious reader in grasping the meaning of the text and to prevent falls into misinterpretation." Although originally published in 1925, Process and Reality has perhaps even more relevance to the contemporary scene in physics, biology, psychology, and the social sciences than it had in the mid-twenties. Hence its internal difficulty, its quasi-inaccessibility, is all the more tragic, since, unlike most metaphysical endeavors, it is capable of interpretating and unifying theories in the above sciences in terms of an organic world view, instead of selecting one theory as the paradigm and reducing all others to it. Because Alfred North Whitehead is so crucial to modern philosophy, The Metaphysics of Experience plays an important role in making Process and Reality accessible to a wider readership.

Excerpt

Elizabeth Kraus's The Metaphysics of Experience remains the best introduction to and commentary on Whitehead's philosophical system despite the twenty years of scholarship on the subject since she wrote the first edition. Griffin and Sherburne's corrected edition of Process and Reality appeared too late for that first edition, and the present edition has been corrected to take advantage of their superb research. There have been scores of monographs and many volumes of Process Studies that have clarified issues distinguishing divergent approaches to interpreting Whitehead, but none replaces or corrects the elegant introduction and exposition in this book.

Process and Reality is the single most important book of speculative metaphysics in the twentieth century, the pioneer and benchmark for all subsequent systems such as those of Paul Weiss, Justus Buchler, and Charles Hartshorne—and this for several reasons. First, its categoreal scheme is presented as an hypothesis, as Whitehead explains in his first chapter and Kraus in her second. Thus at a stroke Whitehead moves around the fashionable critique of metaphysics as a priori and foundationalist, a critique begun by Hume and Kant. Like pragmatism, Whitehead's process philosophy was never modernist, only late modern, and therefore unaffected by the negative moves of postmodernism.

Second, Process and Reality was written by a mathematician and scientist whose categories were devised for congruence with the twentieth-century revolution in physics. This is a distinct advance upon the idealistic systems of the nineteenth century which could well be rejected as naїve. But Whitehead coupled his scientific probity with religious and aesthetic sensibilities virtually unparalleled among recent systematic thinkers. The entire tradition of process theology derives from his work. His influence on aesthetic and ethical thinking is as powerful and recent as Joseph Grange's Nature: An Environmental Cosmology (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997). The range of Whitehead's experience thus spans the experiential contours of the century, save for the horrors of war and mass death that occurred after his final writings.

Third, Process and Reality is not about systematic metaphysics; nor is it a programmatic sketch of a system: it is an actual system worked out in elaborate detail. This is what Hegel called “the labor of the notion” in philosophy, the painstaking development of a philosophical system. As such, it is ready for assessment as an hypothesis. Many . . .

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