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Concrescence —

The Australasian Journal of Process Thought

Causal Processes:
Steps towards a systematic and formal interpretation
of Alfred North Whitehead’s ontology
Ludwig J. Jaskolla
Hochschule für Philosophie
Philosophische Fakultät SJ
Kaulbachstraße 31a,
80539 München, Germany
l.jaskolla@hfph.mwn.de

The goal of this paper I can give some hints why it is systematic.
In recent analytic metaphysics the philosophy of Alfred To reach that goal I will briefly give an overview
North Whitehead has widely been ignored. For once this over the central methodological concepts introduced
seems to be due to the rather difficult textual situation by Whitehead; especially a formal description of the
in which many of Whitehead’s publications present notion of coherence. Then I will try to present a
themselves. But secondly, Whitehead’s philosophy seems theory of creativity that is in accordance with these
to be opaque and he fails to give an account for it methodological concepts. This theory of creativity will
that would be considered logically sufficient by modern depend mainly on the formal notion of coherence.
standards. This can be seen especially in Germany. For In a last step I will try to show that this theory of
example there is one translation of Process and Reality, creativity implies a concept of causally efficient processes
where the reader is advised to use Whitehead’s work as structuring the world into its actual shape.
quarry of philosophical ideas;1 —Whitehead as nothing
more than an aphoristic collection of philosophical 1. The Whiteheadian Notion of Coherence
thoughts from which anyone can choose whatever he
likes. Alfred North Whitehead places his own ontological
ideas within the rich tradition of Rationalism.2 He
Other accounts that try to read Whitehead systematically summarizes the different aspects of his philosophical
do not meet the formal requirements to position method under the notion of ‘speculative philosophy’
Whitehead in recent analytic metaphysics. This paper which means that a system of philosophical lemmata,
pursues the goal to set up the basis for a re-interpretation or “working hypotheses”3 , should fulfill a number of
of Whitehead’s central philosophical concepts in characteristics in order to be considered to be a ‘good’
a terminology that is both systematic and formal. philosophical theory.
Concerning ontology, with which I will be occupied
These criteria are:
most of the time, this means that this theory should be
able to cover the whole of reality; especially it should (1) Coherence of Ideas,
give us an account of entities and causal structures. (2) Logicity of Ideas and
Obviously I will not be able to show that systematicity is (3) Necessity of Ideas.
fulfilled for my re-interpretation but I am confident that
Beginning with the last entry of this list, the notion of

Concrescence (2009) pp. 11–18 ISSN: 1445–4297 © 2009 The Author
Published online by the Australasian Association for Process Thought, an affiliate of the International Process Network.

It is easy to Process and Reality by stating that in a coherent system see that in this conception there cannot be any essential of philosophical ideas “each presupposes the other that relations. Therefore. where some basic logical notions are non-circularity. I (causally). implied by first order logic.5 means that all relations between different ideas of a 9 Whitehead introduces the notion of Coherence in philosophical system are equally random.6 Prima facie. the other notions”. By this means that this structure should be applicable to proceeding this way my central idea will be that reality as a whole. ‘Coherence of Ideas’.) It easily can be seen that there is a logical conflict between . will give the formal description of Coherence for a dual system of philosophical ideas and then comment on it. and thus it would not be possible to prior to the other. As stated. An structure of Coherence seems to be circular in the isolated fact would stand in no essential relation to sense that one is unable to decide which hypothesis is any other fact. Thus. but in accordance with Ivor Leclerc I think an incoherent system of philosophical ideas allows for a that a systematic theory of Coherence is a central key torandom disconnection of different ideas which in reverse the understanding of Whitehead’s ontology. Jaskolla ‘Necessity of Ideas’ means that the structure of the system (A) and (B′′ ). in the modern to abstract one of these notions completely from the debate on Whitehead’s philosophy. Whitehead’s own explanation of this coherent system of philosophical ideas it is not possible notion is—somewhat—cryptic. which is highly counter-intuitive. (B′ ) Corollary: The ontological structure between (If some readers are not familiar with logical symbols these ideas is circular. (A) Logicity of Ideas: At the basic level of the After this first specification of the notion of coherence. To underline this point. The semantic philosophical concepts) that describe isolated facts. In Process and lemmata of a system of philosophical ideas should be Reality he writes: “It means that what is definable in one such that these relations do not violate the laws of first such notion cannot be abstracted from its relevance to order logic. First. In particular this means that (3) are fundamental relations of the world’s ontological for example a theory that describes concrete objects as structure.4 For ontological theories that doesn’t fall prey to the Circularity-Problem. Due to the aspects of these ideas if they are supposed to be length of this paper I will not be able to give a review of coherent). this This specified notion of coherence implies a rather seems to imply the following semantic structure for a interesting metaphysical consequence. defined. This would be less of a problem if find a philosophical concept that (a) describes this fact these considerations were only of semantic importance. The second notion of ‘Logicity of Whitehead himself has a strong modal intuition Ideas’ simply means: The different relations between the constructing the notion of Coherence. In a coherent dual system of working hypotheses A and B: (i) ‘A system of philosophical ideas there are no ideas (or presupposes B’ and (ii) ‘B presupposes A’. and so in Whiteheadian terms could The Circularity-Problem of Coherence: never be an adequate description of reality. poses theTherefore the notion of coherence means that in a greatest challenge. it will be necessary to give a of philosophical ideas should be applicable to a wide systematic interpretation of the notion of Coherence range of different experiences. and (b) is coherent with the other concepts of the but Whitehead tells us that the charateristics (1) to philosophical system. system of ideas. In the following ontology the different ideas presuppose each other paragraphs I want to argue for this assertion. in isolation they are meaningless”. Leclerc states that this debate.7 Therefore. please refer to the Appendix at the (B′′ ) Corollary: This violates the law of end of this paper. used in this paper. above. Whitehead’s notion of Coherence (B) Coherence of Ideas: At the basic level of the is based on a deep modal intuition. one can construct the following ‘bare substrata’ could never be a coherent philosophical problem. there is a wide range others (in particular when it comes to the essential of different interpretations of this notion.12 Ludwig J.8 The first characteristic. ontology there are no violations of the laws of first I want to return to what I promised some paragraphs order logic.

This theory would tell us that: We can transform this Definition 2-1 by the following ◻ Struct. In the first part of this section we will be returning to the Circularity-Problem of Coherence which was outlined If we put together the two conjunctive parts of 2-1* and solved in the preceeding section. structure of system of philosophical ideas. that theories of nature. 2-1 avoids the “the general idea {of} {. “bifurcative theories of nature”. On An n-dimensional system of philosophical concepts is reflection. Whitehead’s (in a dual system) both philosphical concepts. And Whitehead would tell us that if concept A is part of that system it has to hold true their problem is their lack of Coherence.. of Mental Facts ⊃ ¬ ◇ ¬ Struct. In be part of the system. the notion of Coherence makes a statement Coherence that has been developed in this section. The central aspects and return to the original definition 2-1. about the succession of philosopical concepts: The possibility-operator determines that the occurence of a 2. 18)). Obviously. and the term one system to a n-dimensional system of philosophical ideas. The concepts of One and .13 Definition 2-2: Coherence for a n-dimensional system At first this circularity seems only semantic. Such a theory some kind of reference to the world that is not in would only take one part of the conjunction 2-1* and principle deficient (cf.}”. Whitehead tells us. what to this problem is easily found: Reading Symbolism—its he called.n) ∶ distinction between the semantic and metaphysical level ◻(A i ⊃ ¬ ◇ ¬B j ∧ B j ⊃ ¬ ◇ ¬A i ) of our description of the world.} singularity {. iff: the fundamental ontological level there cannot be a ∀A i ∀B j ∀i. In fact. Setting up a theory of creativity concept is to be assumed before one can deduce the impossiblity of the non-occurence of the other concept. Many and Creativity. In of Creativity that depends highly on the notion of other words. This formal description of to understand the logical structure of such bifurcative Coherence postulates for a system to be coherent. One can easily generalise the Definition 2-1 for a dual The term many presupposes the term one. He states that One denotes system of philosophical ideas. necessarily that it is impossible for concept B not to But this shall not be the topic of this paper. that with respect to coherent.. 1928. A solution notion of Coherence to Whitehead’s rejection of. of Physical Facts rule— ◻(A ∧ B) = ◻A ∧ ◻B —into a Corollary 2-1*: This is a hidden supervenience thesis for the mental ◻(A ⊃ ¬ ◇ ¬B) ∧ ◻(B ⊃ ¬ ◇ ¬A) facts because they depend completely on the physical and split up 2-1* to take a closer look at the parts facts.12 that coherence makes no statement about the causal These two concepts stand in the relation of coherence.. for example by human concepts need to occur necessarily in a ‘well-formed’ language or deictic actions). the example of colour perception state that this is the whole of reality. j ∈ (1.. and symbolic analysis of the concepts One and Many is makes a statement about the necessary relations unproblematic (where ‘symbolic’ denotes all kinds of between them.. Coherence states that both references to the real world. we can say that there must be system of philosophical ideas as absolute. We can spell out the in (Whitehead. Definitions 2-1.11 whereas Circularity-Problem of Coherence because 2-1 tells us Many denotes “the notion of disjunctive diversity”.14 It could be noted that Whitehead himself states due to the distinction between The notion of Coherence has a central place in presentational immediacy and causal efficacy that all Whitehead’s philosophy: There is a direct relation of the symbolic reference is in principle deficient. it becomes of Whitehead’s ontology are One. Thus. A bifurcative meaning and effect as some kind of propaedeutics to theory of nature would be one that takes one aspect of a Process and Reality. the same holds vice the following sections I will try to outline a theory versa for the other part of the conjunction 2-1*. presupposes the term many. 2-1* and 2-2 give us a tool of the conjunction 2-1*.. and as such presuppose each other. Causal Processes 13 Definition 2-1: Coherence of a dual system meaning of this by an example—let’s suppose a theory in ◻(A ⊃ ¬ ◇ ¬B ∧ B ⊃ ¬ ◇ ¬A) which all the facts about humans are physical facts.10 obvious that the notion of Coherence presupposes Analogous to what was said in section 2.

real singularities—many—(cf. The first two can be summarised as the between two poles. The second describing that would enable us to distinguish when Whitehead is that real singularity is only possible in contrast to other talking systematically and when he is not. we face the pressing problem that Whitehead’s ontology is circular at If we take a closer look at the Definition 3-1.14 Ludwig J. whereas the third One and Many as isolated facts. functions one and many. The account provided here can thus be summarised by: (iii) But others like Jorge Nobo and Richard Rorty argued that there is only a feigned Circularity-Problem Definition 3-2: for One and Many. The preceeding section. if we consider our modal interpretation to every state q a certain amount of self-identity in respect of the concept of coherence that was developed in the of q’s standing in relations to other states q 1 . terminology as “complete abstractions”. only “direct. that ◻(one ⊃ ¬ ◇ ¬ many ∧ many ⊃ ¬ ◇ ¬ one) means q(one) or q(many). but they are a nice way to describe the boundaries of the continuous spectrum of However. Even coherent concepts of One and Many towards isolated. actual entity combines self-identity with self-diversity”. Jaskolla Many are so basic that it is impossible not to think of as complete abstractions are best understood via the reality as consisting of unities and multiplicities. the function one assigns to every state q a certain amount of self-identity in respect That it is only a feigned Circularity-Problem seems to of q’s being a singular entity. This solves the Circularity-Problem formally but it With the preceding framework of concepts set up. we can construe Many and composition q(one. or in Whiteheadian could also be called the ‘temporal notion of Creativity’. The function many assigns be reasonable. Then.17 Apart from the fact that is not possible without singularity—one—(cf. fulfilling the relation of coherence: Quine’s criterion: No entity without identity. we can see its most basic level. ‘limites’ are dispensable. These two poles denote the concepts ‘metaphysical notions of Creativity’. Thus. One and Many as isolated facts are the (mathematical) projections Definition 3-1: Coherence of One and Many of the state q towards the function one or many. transferred to the ontological level.15 doesn’t seem to be much of problem. To avoid isolated According to my interpretation of the texts. That mathematical concept of a ‘limes’.18 In addition. This self-identity saying anything of systematic ontological importance. we can does not tell us anything about the philosophical now ask: How can the most fundamental principle of consequences that are implied by the concept of Whiteheadian ontology—Creativity—be defined?23 Coherence between One and Many. intuitive constructs of the human mind which tries to abstract the experience”.21 One and Many . In a strict ontological sense these intuitively 16 . self-identical entity in R. There have been three main strategies that each part of the conjunction denotes a function that to solve this problem: can be used to ascribe a certain amount of self-identity (i) Christian tells us that Whitehead is not really to every entity on this spectrum. the first Christian is not able to provide a clear-cut criterion part of the conjunction in 3-1). there are facts (as excluded by the notion of Coherence) reality three inter-related notions of Creativity in Whitehead’s must be understood as a continuous spectrum R work. in recent analytic metaphysics many ideas are introduced autonomous facts. the second part of the it seems rather strange to develop an ontology but not conjunction in 3-1).20 Concerning the Continuum R.22 (ii) Many other authors did not see the Coherence of one and many demands that an actual Circularity-Problem at the most basic level of entity is always a (ontological) composition of the two Whitehead’s ontology at all19 . the circularity of the symbolic level is reality. many) describes q completely and One as a dual system of philosophical ideas standing in defines q as one.. q n . Thus. they are hypothetical there is no real argument for this. is determined by two different processes: the first when speaking about One and Many—he is talking describing self-formation by stating that real diversity “pre-systematically”.. to talk about anything of ontological relevance at the That is the reason for Whitehead telling us that “an most basic level of this ontology.

that this general process that can be deduced from Principle of Creative Advance or the Principle of Process. this notion very abstract and general concept of process. Gregg Rosenberg concept ‘process’. p) is a process (where q and p are states of real system). of one and many can be understood as a process and In principle this description should cover the whole of whether these processes can be understood as causally reality. if one uses of creativity implies that there is favoured direction in it to model the intererelations between different states at which the ‘creative advance’ evolves. We have to make sure that the conditions from 4-1 are and therefore makes a statement about the structure of met. Concerning reality as a whole. efficient. This first notion of Creativity is commonly used ∆(q(one. fact. This means. metaphysical application of creativity There are many reasons that this general theory of process must imply a notion of causality. .24 To describe the whole process of the universe (or: reality). p(one. then we could state that a Whiteheadian. The of one and many.26 Certainly ∆(q(one. There I will discuss whether the composition structure of the world based on the notion of Coherence. Thus. the structure of Coherence implies no favoured direction It makes a statement about the concrete structure and of time.27 Concerning the project of a systematic Whiteheadian The preceding third notion of Creativity should be ontology we can now take stock: it was possible to show considered as a transition to the following section of that there is a systematic description of the ontological this paper. The central idea would be to objective principle that governs the whole process of take one part of the conjunction in 3-1 – for example reality. functions one and many. This can be best understood if we possible to argue that the formal notion of Coherence analyse processes as the dynamic composition of the outlined in the preceding section of this paper implies a functions one and many. Reality. 3.25 sense. we have to ‘maximize’ the concepts of one and many. it is many in reality. many)) is bijective. many)). often used in Process and Reality. Causal Processes 15 (1) The first notion of Creativity is a direct descendent Definition 4-1: Process from Definition 3-2: It is the composition of the ∆(q. Therefore two states of a system can be (2) The second notion of Creativity imports this general interrelated by their continuously changing composition process into the particular entities in the universe. In contrast to (2). The direction of time will be dependent upon sequence of the compositions of the functions one and the initial conditions of the system ‘reality’. speaking in a temporal in Process and Reality. systematic ontology in terms of a formal notion of Creativity and Coherence is possible. the composition of one (here: ultimate matter of fact (the universe as a If we take one of the sides of the conjunctions defined in unity.”. and provides the fundamental iff p chronologically follows from q. Coherence of the functions one and many is the fact that ensures the self-identity of every entity in the universe. Creativity defines a relation which assigns one state change and persistence in every entity. Again there can of a system to a later state of a system by changing the be found widespread proof for this notion in Process and composition of one and many within the inital state. p(one. universe in its diversities. many). “Creativity is relation between q and p and ∆ is bijective. For example Can the third notion of Creativity be understood as in his book A Place for Consciousness – Probing the a process? First I will give a formal definition of the Deep Structure of the Natural World. In the following paragraphs I want to discuss. Causal Processes as a systematic.)) can be understood as an many). It has to be (3) The third notion of Creativity is often called the noted. Bijectiveness universals of universals characterizing ultimate matter of ensures that there are no gaps in the corresponding process.)) and many (here: universals of universals (the 3-1. that if one changes in a state q than also many must change. ∆ is an ontological principle of Whiteheadian ontology (cf. Again this notion is different times. whether this general notion of process implies a theory of causality. it is possible to define the following process ∆(q(one. If this can be shown. because the spectrum of reality is continuous. many)).

the answer is very at least in principle reality as a whole—i. implied by the temporal notion of in Whitehead’s ontology are causally efficient processes Creativity. but recent analytic metaphysics—it can rather be compared with a bundle-theoretic colouring. but nevertheless a change. or being constant in their composition. Now to take stock of what has been achieved during The latter will be interpreted as a ‘change with nothing the progress of this paper: It was possible to construct happening’. I am not able to spell and one that is synchronously temporal-directed and this out: It would be necessary to deduce several resembles conceptual causation. The temporal notion of Creativity interrelates at least 4.16 Ludwig J.e. temporal notion of Creativity is internally coherent.e. A minimal bivalent relation between compositions of one (2) What kinds of states are interrelated? and many with synchronic temporal direction (3) Is there an asymmetric temporal direction implied = conceptual causation. to Rosenberg’s account of final causation. we can define the follwing Nevertheless it remains unclear how exactly this account account of causality: of causality should be specified. that it gives easy to find: Ontologically speaking.e. Whitehead himself gives another hint: Only states of the i. Thus. which being synchronic inter-level causality is almost some kind of The title of this paper shows that much work has to Aristotelian formal cause. the basic items of a Whiteheadian ontology (i) that is despite of the same structure of the composition. Thus. the process from In general.29 efficient causation. the fundamental entities temporal direction. the in accordance with Whitehead’s own methodological spatiotemporal location of this composition has been demands. Considering question (2). Conceptual causation means that (i. Nevertheless my own research chronologically in such a way that the effect always on positioning Whitehead’s theory of concrete objects succeeds the cause. and therefore the temporal notion of a composition of one and many) and of what kind Creativity interrelates all kinds of states of reality. kind of state. This has nothing to do with any kind possible to show that Whitehead’s intuitions bear great of Backwards Causation that is sometimes discussed in resemblance to neo-aristotelian substance theories. efficient and preceeding paragraphs we stated that there is no fixed conceptual causation). a theory of causality should answer the one state of reality to another. bare substrata- cause are determined by the complexity level of the and substance theories) is very encouraging: It was conceptual cause. This turns now out to be an advantage: We governed by the concept of Creativity. Jaskolla points out that in most process-based philosophies account of causation that is deduced from Whitehead’s “processes are seen as essential elements of causation”28 . in the notion of causality?30 . Definition 4-2: Causal Processes The temporal notion of Creativity. can distinguish two accounts of the temporal notion These different concepts were presented in a way that of Creativity: one that is positively diachronically allows to position them in recent analytic metaphysics. actual entities and societies of actual entities) in the all complexity levels beneath the level of the conceptual framework of analytic theories (bundle-. Conclusion two states of reality. (ii) that is formally sufficient and (iii) covers changed. Due to length of this paper. changing in their composition of one and many. there is only one a general account of what it means to be an entity (cf. temporal-directed and resembles efficient causation. i. concrete Whiteheadian theories concerning different issues of recent analytic metaphysics and to compare Concerning efficient and conceptual causation: Efficient them in detail with the answers given in recent causation denotes that cause and effect progress analytic metaphysics. In the the causal structures of the world are (cf.e. implies the following causal following questions: structure: A minimal bivalent relation between compositions of one (1) How many states of reality are minimally and many with positive temporal direction interrelated by causality? = efficient causation. because. It is interesting to see that the be done in order to construct a systematic and formal . that Coherence can be shown for conceptual and continuous spectrum of reality are accepted as causes.

25) concept A holds. 632) some initial steps towards such an account. cf. 164. z — denote states of reality — for example 14. 28) ∆(. (Garland. 3) 7.. 1979. like ‘There are no mental facts in 18. then ¬ ◇ ¬A. cf. 34) aspects of Whitehead’s ontology. for example (Neville. (Whitehead.). cf. Σ(.. as one example (Chisholm.32 4. cf. (Nobo. (Whitehead. (Whitehead. cf. cf. If ◻A. (Whitehead.. (Leclerc. 24) 30. 1979. B.. 211 iii) ◻A — denotes that A holds in all possible worlds — A is 28. p.. 15. 1962. 1986). 21) negation ¬ or the logical conjunction ∧. 6. (Whitehead. 2004. 1967b. 222) interpretation of Whitehead’s system of categories31 . cf. cf. 225) ∃x ∶ B(x) — denotes that for at least one x the 26. 98).. It can be shown 17. 1979. 35-36) 10.... 1967a. (b) functional states or (c) real 23. of first order logic are used without definition. 3) Appendix: Logical symbols used in this paper 9. and then deducing the different Categories of Existence. 1979. 75–77) these concepts have indices.. cf. 1979.. cf. 19. cf.. The following considerations are mainly based on: (Whitehead. (Whitehead. 12. 22-30) 32. 211 iii) philosophical concept A holds. (Whitehead. (Moser.) — denote relations between (a) 22. 165. 1928.). 28. 175f. cf. Θ(. 1989) If large sets of philosophical concepts are considered. (Whitehead. 25. (Whitehead. 1979. (Arena. (Whitehead. 9) opinion the next steps would include setting up a formal 3. (Whitehead. Cat.. 1979. (Whitehead. 21) The operators and relational characters. 36) A. cf. 1979. 29. (Rosenberg.. 1967a. (Whitehead. 4) With this forecast. ix Cat. 214) this world’ qualify as philosophical concepts. (Whitehead. (Holl. (Whitehead. cf. 1979. 7–8) spatio-temporal entities. 21) q. C — denote philosophical concepts. (Whitehead. 27.. (Lowe. 1958. 21. 1979. 2004. cf. 1979. Causal Processes 17 account of Alfred North Whitehead’s ontology. In my 2. 20. 1979. In Endnotes the context of this paper. (Whitehead. 31.. (Whitehead. (Rosenberg.. cf. 1959. 1983. 1983. 1958.). (Leclerc.).. (Christian. 2003. it was only possible to take 1. (Whitehead. 1979. cf.. 1979. cf. 85 iii. I want to end my analysis of the basic 5. 22) In modal logic the two modal operators ◻ and ◇ are defined as follows: If ◇A. 1927. cf. 1992) certain ‘Structure of the Physical Facts’. 179-180). (Whitehead. 25) philosophical concepts. 1979. for example a 16. 10–12) that also propositions. like the logical 11. (Rorty. 25. 148-150) ◇A — denotes that A holds in at least one possible world — A is possible. 1979.Expl.Obl. 1975). 25.. 1979. 1979. 21f. 87. 1983). . 1979. 21) 13. 149) necessary. 21. then ¬ ◻ ¬A. (Whitehead. cf. ∀x ∶ A(x) — denotes that for all x the philosophical 24. xxi. entities. (Whitehead. 3-4) 8. (Whitehead. 222.

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