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17. Whitehead and Post-Structural Philosophies

Updated: Aug 23, 2019

Section head: Fernando Silva e Silva



1. Whitehead’s philosophy in France

Fernando Silva e Silva –


Despite his long career in England and the important lectures taught and works published in the US, Alfred North Whitehead does not seem to have ever been truly incorporated in anglophone philosophy, at least not until very recently. On the other hand, the philosopher found very early on avid readers in France, Jean Wahl being the most pivotal among them. In 1920, Wahl, defying what was then in fashion in the philosophical circles, already touched upon anglophone pluralist thought in his main dissertation, Les Philosophies pluralistes d’Angleterre et d’Amérique. In this early work, Whitehead’s name appears only once. Later, in the 1930s, however, the English philosopher is the main theme of the long study La philosophie spéculative de Whitehead, published in 1931, and he also figures proeminently in Wahl’s work Vers le concret, 1932. After World War II, Wahl will be one of the most important philosophical figures in France and through his teachings a whole generation will be introduced to Whitehead’s thought. Two well-known students of his were Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Gilles Deleuze. To Merleau-Ponty, Whitehead represents an important addition to his metaphysical speculations, playing a relevant role in his courses in the Collège de France about Nature, taught between 1956 and 1960. In Deleuze’s case, Whitehead is a sort of philosophical role model whose thought appears in his works since the 1960s all the way to the end of the century, although he very rarely cites the English philosopher directly. In this work, firstly I explore Wahl’s reading of Whitehead’s work and his role as an intermediary for its reception in France. Secondly, I show broadly how Whitehead appears in Merleau-Ponty’s and Deleuze’s works.


2. Objetos eternos: aonde vivem? O que comem?

Vinícius Portella –


Whitehead’s mysterious eternal objects seem, at first sight, to offer an oxymoronical locality for the ideal. Right at the beginning of “Process and Reality”, he says an eternal object “can only be described in terms of its potential for ‘ingression’ into the becoming of actual entities”, and that its analysis discloses only other eternal objects. There can be no new eternal object. So they ingress in the eventuality of the world through the selection that is made through the concrescence of actual entities. But from where? Or yet: what are they doing when they are not needed? Whitehead seems to think about them as pure possibilities, but the color red, one of the few examples that he gives of an eternal object, seems to be an historical event. Unless he means a slice of the electromagnetic spectrum (in which he would have been, at least, imprecise), “redness” as an event is born from the slice of the spectrum made by the optical apparatus of a mammal. Where was the eternal object “red” before the spectrum was sliced that way? Waiting its cue in a warehouse somewhere, floating in the sky? Can this “eternity” from which objects ingress in actuality be considered a temporal extension of infinite or indefinite length? Building up from the ontogenetic problematics of Gilbert Simondon, I will try to offer a materialist and ecological reading of Whitehead’s weird Platonism, this apparent postulation of a necessary locus of all potentiality to account for creativity and contingency.


3. Complementarity between the Process Conceptions from Whitehead and Deleuze

Ilona Schweitzer –


Both the process philosophy from Whitehead and the philosophy of difference from Gilles Deleuze are answers to the models of substance philosophy from Leibniz and Spinoza, but are simultaneously attempts to develop modern Metaphysics in accordance with the Philosophy of Science. My claim is that both of these conceptions are complementary to each other.

Even though Whitehead's metaphysical constructions are moved by a theistic element and in opposition in Deleuze the perpetuum mobile of cosmological processes is made up by an overarching dialectical situation, both philosophers share the same ontological assumption, specifically the modal differentiation of the physical. For Whitehead, this differentiation is organized in the order of relevance of eternal objects, a hierarchical structure of the physically possible. Deleuze conceptualizes it as difference of intensity as such that is described through hisconcept of difference. There are also isomorphic views of virtuality in the metaphysical conceptions. Both have a concept of structure; Whitehead sees it in the relational integration of eternal objects, whereas Deleuze in the dialectics of ideas that are themselves modal structures. However, in Deleuze, the structures evolve in time like waves, and in Whitehead actual entities evolve as entities forming themselves. The determining element of the evolution of symbolic structures lies within their physicalities, while the determining element in the physically described actual entities corresponds to a conceptual ingression. These opposing conceptions of potentiality are complementary in the way the cosmological process is viewed as a holistic whole. From the perspective of evolving structures, a dynamic physicality is the changing moment while from the perspective of evolving actual entities the conceptual ingression, i.e. structural input, is the call for development.

Complementarity can also be found between the conceptions of subjectivity in the Metaphysics from Whitehead and Deleuze.

Deleuze follows Leibniz in equating subjectum with injectum, and in interpreting the principle of folding as the power of contraction of a self-inclusion that produces a monadic inwardness. From Whitehead's perspective, the historic way of self-realization of an actual entity can be called „subjective” in the way in which an actual entity establishes itself as a physical entity in its environment before being able to become functional.

While the subjectum in Deleuze and Leibniz has psychological power over a physical aggregation, such an aggregation in the Whiteheadian sense is only conceivable after the process of self-formation of multiple actual entities.


4. Organic nonlinearism of Whitehead and Simondon

Kamila Kwapińska –


Simondon’s and Whitehead’s process theories are distinctive and, while both organic, operate on different causalities. This presentation will firstly explore similarities in the nonlinear causalities of Simondon and Whitehead and, secondly, it will discuss their variations and discuss the ontological consequences these structures entail.

Causal links for process philosophies (organic realism) will be first specified by describing their non-linear structure in opposition to non-processual approaches (metaphysical realism). To discuss linearism, I will comment on Aristotle’s Metaphysics and The Event Universe: The Revisionary Metaphysics of Alfred N. Whitehead by Leemon McHenry. I will argue that linearism (linear structure) of causes presupposes a structural relationship between metaphysical truths about the universe and its accidents in the material world – the structure is a correspondence between dual reality and through causation implicates truth values. Differently, nonlinear and relative structure of causality comes inherently from within an organism of any level and its environment and is abstracted from metaphysical truths in its actuality and its realisation. Therefore, when in linearism endurance is a feature of substance framed in qualities, in nonlinearism endurance comes from creativity which actively shapes occasions – possibilities are being realized in societies through a process of becoming and the eternal patterns.

Being as a process of becoming and being as a process of individuation demand non-linear structures of causality where causal lineages are situated between history/prehistory, a pre-individual level, its milieu as universe, future and its psychic nowness. For Simondon, causation is mediation, without which there would be no passage of time. Similarly, for Whitehead causation mediates through becoming of actualities and their spacetimes. This change from linear to non-linear is then connected to a non-linear understanding of time, which, for both of organic approaches, redefines teleology and fuses it with a value of now, rather than value of truth. An intrinsic value of now in actual entities in processes of actualization or individuation is crucial for causal (in)determination in both Whitehead and Simondon. To discuss Simondon and Whitehead’s notions of causation, I will discuss Simon Mills’ Gilbert Simondon as well as Leibniz, Whitehead and the Metaphysics of Causation, by Pierfrancesco Basil. I will point out how the indeterminism of both approaches blurs a difference between cause and effect. At the conclusion of this paper, I will speculate on further questions this research raises, in particular a potential comparison between Whitehead’s notion of the function of reason alongside Simondon’s notion of ontogenesis.


5. Becoming and Continuity in Bergson and Whitehead

Keith Alan Robinson –


Although both Bergson and Whitehead respond to Zeno in their mature works they take opposing paths. For Whitehead Zeno’s paradoxes are formative for his own conception of time and process such that there can only be, as he says, a “becoming of continuity”. For Bergson, by contrast, Zeno’s paradoxes are ‘false problems’ because essentially they rely upon a spatialized conception of time that covers over the “continuity of becoming”. In this paper I will use Whitehead’s and Bergson’s contrasting approaches to Zeno to bring out their differing conceptions of time and process. The use of Zeno as a foil will enable us to present a sharp contrast between their respective conceptions of becoming so that they can be viewed as inversions of each other. In the final section I will briefly compare Bergson’s and Whitehead’s methods insofar as these are related to their conceptions of time and their shared effort to think becoming and continuity.

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