February 15, 1861 was born one of the most interesting philosophers of the twentieth century – Alfred North Whitehead. His life path outwardly did not abound with events: in 1880 he graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge University, from 1884 he began to teach mathematics at the same educational institution, from 1911 to 1923 he was professor of applied mathematics at a college at the University of London and at Imperial College London, in 1924 he was invited to Harvard University (USA) as a professor of philosophy. That, in fact, is all.
But at the same time, Whitehead created a grandiose, multifaceted philosophical concept that became a revolutionary challenge to the then (and now) dominant physicalist picture of the world (in which there is only matter and nothing but it).Whitehead saw how the fatal error of science – the tendency to fix and freeze reality – leads to a mechanistic dead state of the world and man. That dead state, which is divided into atoms and things, worlds and knowledge, nature and society, consciousness and body.
In the book Science and the Modern World, Whitehead wrote: “Science has taken on a new aspect that is not purely physical or biological. It becomes the study of organisms. Biology is the study of the larger organisms; whereas physics is the study of the smaller organisms.”
An organism was understood as an act interpreted in the spirit of panpsychism, in which living and considered “dead” matter, subjective and objective, are involved. Whitehead saw his task in developing flexible methods and concepts that are most suitable for expressing the organismic nature of everything that exists, the unity of the physical and mental.
In 1929, Whitehead published his main work Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, in which he set the task to draw a picture with procedural properties instead of “Newtonian” – substantialist and mechanistic pictures of reality. He conceived its implementation with the help of speculative methods and new categories of “philosophy of the organism”. Whitehead accepted the basic premise of empiricism – the initial predetermination of experience.
The subject of his research is not so much the natural and historical processes of development as diverse and intersecting vectors: feelings, goals, values that make up the procedural and qualitative specificity of experience. For the ontological description of reality, he created a complex categorical system.
In this system, reality appears as a set of events that are in the process of becoming and “feeling” events, each of which is in the continuum of time and self-realizes in conjunction with the Universe.
Reality is monistic in the sense that there is no split into the physical and mental, but at the same time it is pluralistic, because different vectors intersect in each event. Using the categories of “actual events” and ideal “eternal objects”, Whitehead explained novelty (emergence) and development as a combination of variability with relative stability, duration with discreteness, quantitative changes with qualitative ones.
He understood the subject-object relation in the spirit of neorealism and interpreted truth as the agreement of appearance and reality. The categorical system of ontology, Whitehead believed, can be logically connected only if the premise of the existence of an entity in the Universe “which imposes a ban on all relations except its internal relations” is accepted.
Rejecting the traditional Christian idea of God, he at the same time introduced the concept of God into cosmological metaphysics as the original potentiality of novelty. It is actualized in creative participation with the world. God is also the main guarantor of rationality and knowledge.
Whitehead saw the danger in the turn of modern civilization towards the development of ever more accurate knowledge and the use of analytical methods. He was not so much an opponent of rigid scientific rationality as an advocate of “complementary” rationality, which, in his opinion, is provided by speculative philosophy with its imprecise methods.
He made progress in the development of civilization dependent on the extent to which, striving for accuracy (abstract knowledge), people are guided by a metaphysical premise (that reality is not atomistic, but processual), and also to what extent their thinking is able to connect to the “adventure of ideas”, overcome orthodoxies and evaluate the problems of the present in the light of new ideals.
He believed that depending on the adoption of a mechanistic and atomistic or organic and procedural worldview not only our ideas about the relationship of science, social knowledge, religion and art would be significantly different, but social consequences would also be different.
The ultimate ethical goal of Whitehead’s “philosophy of the organism” is educational: to help people find meaning and wholeness in life. The philosopher held the idea that the educational process should not consist in the assimilation of established truths, but in involving students in the intensification of imagination.
The value aspect of education is the main one, and in this respect all education is religious: the most important skill of students is the correlation of value judgments with both facts and the ideal. Students should approach the idea of God as the ideal of the highest good primarily through self-creation and free search.