Friday, June 1, 2012

The Continuity of Experience and Nature as a Situation

In another excerpt from my book manuscript, I would like to connect Dewey’s with Whitehead’s work, and perhaps demonstrate to Matt of Footnotes to Plato a point of similarity and difference. The connection is the theory of situations, wherein Dewey claims that nature grows into “wholes;” he is adopting the cosmic “organicist” view common around the turn of the last century. Whitehead can be understood as perfecting this view, whereas is primarily concerned with the human. In the context, I am explicating Thomas Alexander’s John Dewey’s Theory of Art, Nature,and Experience: Horizons of Feeling.

The theory of situations explains the way that experience and nature are continuous. The situation is the fundamental ontological unit for Dewey. An explication of the theory of situations will resolve the third outstanding problem, the tension between Dewey’s phenomenology and metaphysics, for it demonstrates the continuity of the two. This is enabled by the resolution of the second problem, the continuity of experience and nature.

Experience grows into organic wholes, situations, which are functional and oriented toward an end. In Whitehead’s parlance, this is concrescence. The elements of the wholes are, per Dewey, “events,” “res,” “states of affairs,” “interactions,” and “transactions,” etc. The first three elements are roughly synonyms as are the last two, although each imply the other, for “every existence is an event,” although not exclusively one (LW 1:63).

Elements become parts of a situation as they integrate into its unity. This occurs through their mutual interaction as they realize emergent potentials and thereby develop towards integration. The unity of a plurality of transactions define an event or a thing, which in this case is a situation. Situations are unified in a prereflective manner that gives them continuity and sense, and this unity is qualitatively apprehended. That is, situations are the “wholes in terms of which the context qualitatively defines and reveals itself” (LW 1:63). Situations develop, and there is always the possibility of disintegration as well as integration towards unity. 

Sadly, my articles will be published years before my book, although the book was written years before! In subsequent articles, I explicated the details of: what a “potentiality” is; how a potentiality becomes a phenomenal or experienced possibility; the various kinds of continuity and its temporal structure; basic gestalts in the logical analysis of the temporal structure of continuity when going from the environmental, bodily, to conscious phases; the apprehension of potentiality as a feeling and then a quality, etc. Since Alexander largely abandoned the project implied above—recall that I am explicating his work—I had to pick it up where he left off. The applications of all these articles are only discussed in detail in the book; I have tried to make the work reciprocal since I cannot have them published in the right order.

This is a lightly edited selection of a copyrighted work. All rights are reserved.

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