Wilber and Whitehead

[Photo Alfred North Whitehead].

For background, my previous post. The relevant sections I will be dealing with are from this article (section IV), scroll down to Appendix A.

So I summarized Wilber’s view on the mind-body problem honing in especially on his version 3a and 3b–mind as interior, body as exterior, with 3a being the relative process Whiteheadian view and 3b being the Nondual view.

Within 3a however Wilber says that Whitehead’s process philosophy suffered from a lack of dialogical (i.e. intersubjective, Lower Left in Quadrants) emphasis.

David Ray Griffin, arguably the world’s foremost process philosopher (and a remarkable Christian theologian) and Wilber had an interesting back and forth over this claim (of the deficiency in Whitehead’s thought) which is reproduced in the appendix to Wilber’s Essay.  [Long wondefully nerdy discussion to follow].

The difference boils down to how existents are related.  For Whitehead the primary poles are concrescence and prehension.  That is to say each moment is the sum of everything before plus this moment.  So all objects are subjects-become-objects aka pan-psychism.  Prehension specifies the way in which all beings (subjects and objects) through consciousness are prior to sensory experience/reflection cognizing one another.  What Griffin calls a “nonsensory sympathetic perception”.

Wilber agues that this view is easily open to critique from the postmodern interpretive schools of Continental European philosophy (Heidegger, Dilthey, Foucault, Merleau-Ponty), i.e.  that this empiricist model of Whitehead assumes individuals who then relate to objects as opposed to subjects-in-society/linguistic construction interpreting objects in/via social-collective construction. What is called in the postmodern-ese “monological”-ism:  “one view” as opposed to dialogical.

For Wilber:

Thus, even in Whitehead’s notions of concrescence and prehensive unification, I do not detect a vivid understanding of strong intersubjectivity. Rather, using a merely Whiteheadian process philosophy, one must construct intersubjectivity (and true dialogical experience) from a repeated application of prehensive unifications and concrescences, all of which are to some degree after the fact. I believe this hampers Whiteheadian process philosophy from becoming a truly integral philosophy. By adopting a quadratic, instead of limited dialogical, approach, I am not denying Whitehead but enriching him.

Griffin criticizes this description of Whitehead as monological.  Here is the correspondence between Wilber and Griffin on this point:

DG: “My only real problem with your discussion of Whiteheadian process thought is your criticism of it as monological….Each occasion is internally influenced by EVERY prior occasion and exerts influence on EVERY future occasion…. How much more relational could an ontology be? Indeed, some members of the camp refer to this as ‘process-relational’ thought. And some of us refer to this an ‘ecological’ view of the self….”

KW: “You can be ecological and relational and still be monological. Traditional systems theory, for example, is a relational and ecological model, but it is entirely in third-person it-language (monological). Most ecological sciences are monological. Almost all Gaia theories are monological. And to the extent that some Whiteheadians talk about I-it prehensifications–even in relational and ecological terms–they are often stuck in monological modes.”

DG: “Regarding monological: it is true that a Whiteheadian subject prehends only ‘objects.’ But this is by definition: whatever is prehended by a subject is by definition an object for that subject. It does not imply ‘objectivity’ in the (dualist) ontological sense…. The objects of the elementary prehensions… are ‘objects-that-had-been-subjects,’ so that the prehension (or feeling) of them is a ‘feeling of feelings.’ So it seems very misleading to use the term monological….”

KW: “Well, it’s tricky. For me, the intersubjective space is the background out of which the subject arises and in which the subject prehends objects, and that background permeates the subject (even if it entered as object), and then henceforth, as the new subject creatively emerges, it emerges in part from this intersubjectivity, and thus intersubjectivity at that point first enters the subject as part of the subject, not as an object-that-was-once-subject. This intersubjectivity is thus truly dialogical, not monological. Analogous to, e.g., somebody at moral-stage 5 will have his thoughts all arise within that space, but that structure was never an object, but rather forms part of the structure in which the new subject arises moment to moment, and thus enters the subject as prehending subject, not as prehended object that was once subject.”

DG: “I think I see your point–that what you call real dialogue involves a more [quadratic] view of the self. But given the subtlety of the distinction between this and Whitehead’s view, it seems misleading to characterize it as ‘monological.’ Why not distinguish between two kinds of dialogical positions–call yours ‘complete’ and call Whitehead’s ‘partial.'”

There’s a lot there, trying to break it down and chunk.

Griffin begins by pointing that concretion and prehension is wildly different than traditional materialism and empiricism which assumes isolated (non-processual) entities that just bounce around and bump into one another. What Griffin calls a “sensationist” epistemology.

Wilber grants this point (“it is relational”) and yet still wants to differentiate that this is not intersubjective in the truest sense.  There are relations and interactions and objects that were prior subjects, but for Wilber the key point is that the intersubjective is a permanent feature of reality (quadratic all the way up and down).  So the intersubjective is not that which arises first and foremost out of concretion and prehension however much deep relation granted is there, but rather what comes on the scene at any point of arrival of any manifestation in the universe.  It is not just prehension that goes all the way down but communication and all beings communication in a language (if not vocalized or self-consciously) that itself is always already within a given community.  Whether cells, insects, whales, or humans.

So Griffin concedes the point and makes an interesting observation about a complete dialogical versus a partial dialogical (which presumably would also include systems theory, ecological holistic views, etc.).

Clarity around this distinction could help make clear the different in integral thought between classical modernism (in Griffin’s terminology) and its attendant materialism and sensationist epistemology and these other “partial dialogical” ways.  AQAL integral is still complete dialogic, but the others are partial.  This would open a door to a fuller transcend and include understanding and appreciation of many of these “green” epistemologies and worldviews/metaphysics.

When all gets labeled “Flatland”, there is a theoretical purity and simplicity that is compelling and persuasive (and still fundamentally correct) but I’m not sure politically and philosophically it is the best way forward.

I think it could allow for a much healthier inclusion of these elements and a deeper process-oriented sense to enter integral thought.  Again it is there in Wilber’s writings where a “level” is really just a tendency to exist in a certain vector, fluid, open to change and modification, and recalling that intersubjective does always involve bodies (whether communication or ecological or both) as well as relations.

Otherwise there is a tendency for the AQAL system I find to become too static and blocky in its understanding by some and its application.

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Published in: on April 20, 2008 at 11:17 pm  Comments (2)  

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  1. […] my point–back to Derrida for a second.  The absent is theology and the intersubjective.  [Whitehead’s philosophy is only partially intersubjective not fully so].  Because Whitehead, as the son of an Anglican clergyman, grew up in the Anglican tradition of […]

  2. After reading this article, I just feel that I need more information on the topic. Can you suggest some resources please?


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