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14. Process Philosophy and the Future of Democracy

Updated: Aug 23, 2019

Section head: Rodrigo Nunes



Democracy as Process Ecology

José Antonio R. Magalhães


In my presentation, I will inquire about the consequences of the process philosophy of authors such as A. N. Whitehead, Gilles Deleuze and Isabelle Stengers for the articulation between the concepts of democracy, technology and representation (both political and scientific).

As Jacques Rancière pointed out, if today representative democracy means almost the same as democracy tout court, in ancient times it would have sounded like an oxymoron. It was only in modernity that democratic power became captured in the representative mechanism, and many technologies of representation had to be invented for that purpose. Not only political ones, such as elections, parliaments and legal systems, but various others, including news media and scientific institutions. In all of those cases, modern representation tended to be produced as separate from immediate experience.

In recent years, all of those modern technologies seem to have entered a crisis. If, in the case of political representation, that has meant the discredit of political institutions and a new wave of authoritarian populisms, on the epistemological side that seems to correspond to the proliferation of climate change deniers and flat earth theorists. It’s not only political technologies of represent [… text to be uploaded]



Progress as the Creative Reframing of Concepts:

Whitehead and the Ethics of Expression

Lisa Landoe Hedrick, the University of Chicago


“Expression,” writes Whitehead, “is the one fundamental sacrament.” It is the fundamental means of community in nature. Whitehead’s aesthetics of symbolism support an account of rational communication, in the form of reasoned discourse, as a highly complex mode of real (ontological) togetherness. How we think and how we speak, in short, has real effects.

Whitehead understands the aesthetic function of language to be to produce what he calls “miracles of sensitiveness.” It is this sensitiveness that prevents the harmfulness of old symbols by facilitating their adaptation for the enlargement of social purpose (what Whitehead defines as “progress”). Symbols that are not creative become impediments to progress insofar as they cease to facilitate understanding and serve only to condition uncritical action. When the conservative forces of symbolism are not kept in check by the disruptive elements, communities that should be held together by reasons degrade into communities held together by instinct.

For Whitehead, language ought to at once preserve a community and individual freedom by enabling reason to “gain a foothold” in the form of public discourse. It is the primary means by which Whitehead thinks the “fundamental efficient symbolism of society” remains intact. Without it, he argues, the only means by which a society saves itself from dissolution is a reign of terror.

In this paper, I argue that an appeal to Whitehead can provide critical tools by which to gain a better understanding of the power of linguistic expression and its role in checking expressions of power. It is only by understanding the nature of symbolism that we can come to effectively critique its inadequacies. To avoid accusations of heteronomy or relativism, any case for an ethics of social (predominately linguistic) symbols must be able to demonstrate a standing, rather than imposed, obligation. “Free men obey the rules which they themselves have made,” writes Whitehead. Particularly in light of the eco-political exigencies of our time, demonstrating the standing obligation to reframe our concepts to serve the enlargement of social purpose could very well prove to be an existential imperative.


过程思想与当代中国的价值冲突进程

Process Thought and China’s Value Conflict Process Today

Kang Ouyang

Huazhong University of Science and Technology


This paper expressed author’s philosophical reflection to the Process Thought and China’s Peace Developing Process Today.

1, A Philosophical Reflection to Process Thought

Process thought is a very old idea in human wisdom history, but it especially explained in Whitehead’s philosophy. Because of his contribution, process thought and process philosophy become one of the most important philosophies and one of most useful research methodologies in today’s philosophy society.

Karl Marx also has very clear idea of process thought and process thought. He paid lots of attention to the process of development of natural world, human history, and people’s life. He especially insisted the progressive direction of the world and human life.

However, there are many common points between Karl Marx and Whitehead. According to the reading of their books and the understanding to their ideas, author would like to give some philosophical thinks to process and process thought from following aspects.

1) The nature of process is the existence of matters or events in the temporal movement. The main reference and the main methodology to understand process is temporal methodology. Though temporal methodology is not new in the history, but it has been used so broadly in the contemporary sciences, technology and social area. It means the importance of process thought as an existence in the temporal situation.

2) Processes are always concrete. Different processes have different subjects, such as matter, spirit, people or social event, and different environment, so different process have different moving status. The research to philosophy of process should pay the attentions to the different status of process.

3) Process is a kind movement with its own developing direction. There are mainly three statues of process: progress, stagnation or retrogress. One of the main tasks of process studies is to find, explain and evaluate the direction of process.

4) The basic motivation of process is the inner contradiction of matter or event. The different kinds of contradiction prompts the movement of process and changes its development direction.

5) Value is the most important elements in the process thought. Value conflict and value choices influences the developing direction of process, or changes the direction of the process thought.

6) Evolution is the main direction and the main characteristic of life, human being and social world.

7) Process study is actually a kind of complex studies. Both complex idea and complex research methodology are very important to a rational and effective study to process and process thought.

2, China’s Value Conflict Process Today

China’s modernization is a kind of peace development, and also a process with value conflicts. There are many value conflicts in China today. The conflict comes from different value elements: globalization; modernization; new science and high technology; the Western world; nationalism; market economic system, etc. Here I just mention following aspects.

1) The traditional Chinese values and the modern Western values. The Chinese socialist modernization should combine all meaningful value elements of human civilization into China no matter they come from the east or the west.

2) The Marxist Values and the non-Marxist Values. Chinese people tries to beyond the misunderstanding to Marxism learned from formal Soviet Union and wish to have a right and tolerate attitude to Marxism, Western Marxism and western ideology. They also tried to prompt the self-development of Marxism in today’s China.

3) The individual values and social values. In the modernization process, China needs to encourage all Chinese people to develop themselves and realize themselves as individuals. As a theoretical reflection of this debate, there were a very warm academic study to the theory of subjectivity and objectivity in the area of philosophy.

4) The values of social equality and the efficiency value of economic development. China is trying very hard to keep the rational balance between the social equality and productive efficiency.

5) The economic values and the moral values. China is trying to keep the balance of these two aspects: to keep the centre position of economic development and to enhance the moral and political education.

6) The universal values and the particular values. In the rapid process of modernization, people mainly ask for the universal value and the whole value, but in the practice, you have to pay much attention to the particular values.

Democracy as Process Ecology

José Antonio R. Magalhães


In my presentation, I will inquire about the consequences of the process philosophy of authors such as A. N. Whitehead, Gilles Deleuze and Isabelle Stengers for the articulation between the concepts of democracy, technology and representation (both political and scientific).

As Jacques Rancière pointed out, if today representative democracy means almost the same as democracy tout court, in ancient times it would have sounded like an oxymoron. It was only in modernity that democratic power became captured in the representative mechanism, and many technologies of representation had to be invented for that purpose. Not only political ones, such as elections, parliaments and legal systems, but various others, including news media and scientific institutions. In all of those cases, modern representation tended to be produced as separate from immediate experience.

In recent years, all of those modern technologies seem to have entered a crisis. If, in the case of political representation, that has meant the discredit of political institutions and a new wave of authoritarian populisms, on the epistemological side that seems to correspond to the proliferation of climate change deniers and flat earth theorists. It’s not only political technologies of represen- tation that seem to have lost their efficacy to produce legitimate power – scientific institutions are failing to guarantee knowledge too. Given the Anthropocene, our collective inability to sense our environment and act in accordance could be disastrous. A new theory-praxis of democracy seems urgent, especially one that can reconnect politics and science.

In my presentation, I will discuss democratic processes in terms of devices and applications that enable democratic power in various levels of abstraction. By engaging with contemporary authors who argue for a material view of political matter and imagine a democracy of things, I will seek a non-modern conception of democracy in which the democratic work is no more to produce unity out of diversity, but rather to potentialize difference in an ecology of processes.

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