Wednesday, January 5, 2011

On Solidity: Absent-Minded Science, Part III

For those of us who are contemplative, there is a tendency when encountering a philosophical system that is initially appealing to become overly excited. It is the system, the approach to explaining all of this (arms out-stretched), which we have been looking for and failed to find for so many years.

This happened to me a few years ago when I first encountered Alfred North Whitehead’s ideas. I’ve read widely in philosophy for decades now, but it was only when I was sufficiently inspired to write down my own ideas, my own theory of this, that I got serious about examining other serious theories. Whitehead was a British mathematician, logician, physicist, and philosopher. He spent the last decade or so of his academic life at the Harvard philosophy department and became, ironically, a key part of the American 20th Century philosophic tradition, along with William James, Charles Peirce, Josiah Royce, etc. Before then, he spent many years at Cambridge, where he famously collaborated with Bertrand Russell on the three-volume Principia Mathematica, a tour de force that attempted to reduce all of mathematics to simple logic. It failed, ultimately, but that’s a different story.

Whitehead is best-known today for his “process philosophy,” which he himself called the “philosophy of organism.” The basic idea of process philosophy, as with all Buddhist schools of thought, is that all of this is impermanent, flux, constant change – process. Whitehead wrote a number of books in the last phase of his career that fleshed out his incredibly rich philosophy. None is more rich – or more difficult – than his Process and Reality, which first appeared in 1929. This book presents Whitehead’s theory of everything and situates it within the Western tradition of John Locke, Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer, Hume, and others.

Whitehead’s system is compelling for a number of reasons, not least of which are its adequacy to the facts of human experience, its logical consistency, and the pedigree of its creator. It’s hard to find someone more qualified than Whitehead to create a comprehensive philosophical system, due to his background in mathematics, logic, and physics at the highest levels of academia.

Anyway, I became infatuated with Whitehead and his intellectual successors David Ray Griffin, John Cobb, Jr., Charles Hartshorne, and others, and here’s why.

Read the rest here or here.

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