Saturday, June 2, 2012

What Is Process Philosophy?

I offer a few more paragraphs from my writings while editing my book. This is part of a attempt to explain process philosophy without referencing Hegel or Whitehead, since they are not wholly relevant to Deweyan process philosophy. (Yes, I omit the caveats.) It is part of the first chapter and was presumed in my recent Transactions article.


Process philosophy is about structured change. The fundamental questions include what is change, and how are things related so that change is possible. In Dewey’s philosophy, unlike historic thinkers such as Leibniz and Spinoza, process philosophy also accepts the reality of creativity and time. Real creativity means that new events need not be understood as latent in past events, since creation or genesis is possible that ties into Dewey’s notion that chance is real. This is also a rejection of efficient causality as the sole conception of causality, since the power that drives an efficient cause would be understood as latent and deterministic. Dewey also affirms the reality of time; time is neither just a Kantian inner form of representation that renders time unreal, nor a measured unit of duration that renders it a matter of human convention.
            What Dewey embraces is the idea that a process is about “acts,” “events,” and “relations.” An act, synonymous with a potentiality, is an explanation for change. In Aristotelian language, a potentiality is a triad of capacity or dunamis, activity or kinesis, and realization unto actuality or entelechy. An act changes something, and where a reader might expect to see “cause,” there the word “act” will be. An act occurs in an event, which is a concretion of prior acts or a change in existence. There can be no act without change, and no change without an act. To act upon something is to be related to it, but nothing can be acted upon unless the things are already related. Else, how could they come to be related so as to interact? Since Dewey is a naturalist, who argues that nature is the only kind of thing, in principle everything must be related as all natural things can transact. This basic insight leads to his theory of continuity that draws many more implications, one of which is that while all things are related, the relations need not be symmetric. Historical relations are asymmetric, as the past, present, and future unfold in that order. Acts, events, and relations are some basic elements of process, and though this is far from an exhaustive list, it is sufficient to comprehend what a process is. Provisionally, a “process” is a dynamic, interconnected series of act-events that I might best explain through a metaphoric example. 

The example that I use is of a train, which is instructive both where the analogy succeeds and fantastically fails. Since my book will not hinge on a multi-dimensional understanding of process, I feel no qualms about using an example that leads one to conceive of a process as linear or bidimensional.

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