Saturday, August 20, 2011

What Dewey Had to Say about Whitehead: Beginning a Realist Phenomenology


Below, I produce two quotes from Dewey's article on Whitehead, as they were contemporaries.  I offer this to Whiteheadians who are less familiar with Dewey and wonder why I keep invoking him for a pragmatic, realist, "process phenomenology."  Note that "realism" here has little to do with various analytic interpretations of realism.


the unity of nature and the phenomenon: no posited dualisms please
"This doctrine that all actual existences are to be treated as "occasions of experience" carries and elaborates, it seems to me, thesignificance contained in the propositions I quoted earlier about the depth and width of scope of experience. The idea that the immediate traits of distinctively human experience are highly specialized cases of what actually goes on in every actualized event of nature does infinitely more than merely deny the existence of an impassable gulf between physical and psychological subject-matter. It authorizes us, as philosophers engaged in forming highly generalized descriptions of nature, to use the traits of immediate experience as clews for interpreting our observations of non-human and non-animate nature.   It also authorizes us to carry over the main conclusions of physical science into explanation and description of mysterious and inexplicable traits of experience marked by "consciousness." It enables us to do so without engaging in the dogmatic mechanistic materialism that inevitably resulted when Newtonian physics was used to account for what is distinctive in human experience. That which on the negative side is simply an elimination of the grounds of the metaphysical dualism of physical and mental, material and ideal, object and subject, opens the road to free observation of whatever experience of any kind discloses and points toward:—free, that is, from a rigid frame of preconceptions." (LW
14:127)


Part of what "realist phenomenology" means for me is a continuity of the experienced thing, what I interact with on the level of the body, and the consciously experienced thing, which is a latter phase of the same natural process.  However, the consciously experienced things is "encoded" (symbolized), and thus this is not a representational theory of mind.  However, the conscious experience is of the real effects of the things; there's not reason to presume that quality is "all in the head" once one ditches Cartesian philosophy.


the identity of the world within and without experience
"For the generalization of "experience" which is involved in calling every actual existence by the name "occasion of experience" has a two-fold consequence, each aspect of this dual consequence being complementary to the other. The traits of human experience can be used to direct observation of the generalized traits of all nature. For they are intensified manifestations, specialized developments, of conditions and factors found everywhere in nature. On the other hand, all the generalizations to which physical science leads are resources available for analysis and descriptive interpretation of all the phenomena of human life, personal and "social." It is my impression that in his earlier writings Whitehead started preferably from the physical side, and then moved on to a doctrine of nature "in general" without much explicit attention to what may be called experience from
the psychological point of view, while in his later writings he supplements and extends the conclusions thus reached by adoption of a reverse movement:—that from specialized human experience through physical experience to a comprehensive doctrine of Nature. The "events" of his earlier treatises thus become the "occasions of experience" of later writings. But whether or not this impression is well-founded is of slight importance compared with the fact that Whitehead proceeds systematically upon the ground indicated in the following passage: "The world within experience is identical with the world beyond experience, the occasion of experience is within the world and the world is within the occasion. The categories have to elucidate this paradox of the connectedness of things:—the many things, the one world without and within."»6" (LW 14:128)

The difference between the world within and without?  Temporal-historical, not substantial.  Consciousness is an event that nature generates only under certain conditions.



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