American Philosophy

Process Philosophy

What was Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy?

Whitehead believed that it is impossible to have an idea of simple spatial or temporal location. He claimed that in our immediate experience nothing possesses “this character of simple location.” Instead, Whitehead held that simple location requires a process of “constructive abstraction” that is made up of considerations of existing volumes extended over one another, such as a nest of baskets, Russian dolls, or pots of different sizes. Every location has an aspect of itself in every other location and thereby mirrors the entire world. (It’s unlikely that Whitehead meant literally “mirrors,” so much as he wanted to emphasize that things are not completely self-contained or isolated from other things.)

Moreover, what we imagine to be objects are actually constructed events and processes. Process, not substance, is the basic unit of the world. The work of philosophy is to explain the relations or connections between scientific and logical descriptions of reality and our everyday experience (of nested volumes). To believe that science directly describes experience is to commit the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness.”


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