Chapter Seven: Subjectivity and Objectivity within Open-Ended Systems
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91 7 Subjectivity and Objectivity within Open-Ended Systems Many contemporary philosophers and theologians have a deep distrust of classical metaphysics with its strong focus on logical analysis and organized thought systems purporting to give a comprehensive view of the God-world relationship or some other all-embracing topic. This attitude may partly be traced to the impact on the academy of Totality and Infinity by Emmanuel Levinas, in which he laid bare the contrast between “totalizing” rational modes of thought and the potential infinity of human subjectivity as seen, above all, in the “face” of the other.1 Likewise, the work of Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and others in “deconstructing ” classical texts in philosophy and theology so as to reveal their hidden mechanisms for power and control have made the rest of us alert to the subtle dangers of allegedly objective modes of thought. Yet reliance on subjectivity or a purely first-person perspective does not carry much weight in scientific research, where formal logic and systematic thinking are more or less taken for granted. So there is a tension between particularity , the inevitably subjective character of all human cognition, and the classical ideal of universal objectivity. In what follows I will first indicate how Whitehead and some of his followers (including Reiner Wiehl) may have overemphasized the role of subjectivity in nature through their almost exclusive focus on actual entities as “the final real things of which the world is made up.” 2 Then I will sketch the approach to systems theory of 1. Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1969), 21–30. 2. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, corrected edition, ed. David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne (New York: Free Press, 1978), 18. 92  Part Two: Systems Thinking in the Social Sciences the noted sociologist Niklas Luhmann, who seems to have downplayed or even eliminated altogether the role of subjectivity in his strictly objective, purely functional analysis of how nature works. Finally, I will indicate how my own reinterpretation of Whiteheadian societies as structured fields of activity for their constituent actual entities manages to give equal value to the necessary interplay of subjectivity and objectivity both in systems thinking and in the workings of nature. The Priority of Subjectivity over Objectivity The late Reiner Wiehl worked hard to reconcile the demands of rational objectivity and creative spontaneity within human subjectivity in a series of books and articles over the years. In the year 2000, for example, he published Subjectivität und System, in which he pointed to the different ways in which the notion of subjectivity can be employed first in the construction of objective rational systems and then in the interpretation of subjective worlds of experience. 3 For my purposes in this chapter, however, I will focus on his essay “Whitehead’s Cosmology of Feeling between Ontology and Anthropology,” in Whitehead’s Metaphysics of Creativity, edited by Wiehl himself and Friedrich Rapp. 4 Therein he compares Whitehead and Hegel on the theoretical presuppositions of a philosophy of life. Both Whitehead and Hegel, for example, rejected the classical notion of substance as the foundational concept of metaphysics. For substances or things only exist in the human mind as an unconscious abstraction from the dynamic flow of events taking place in reality. Hence, to focus on presumed substances or things is to commit what Whitehead calls “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness,” to mistake the abstract for the concrete. 5 Likewise, both thinkers turned to the notion of subjectivity as the true source for a genuine philosophy of life. But at this point they differed significantly in their metaphysical schemes. Hegel conceived his system as both the logical and historical self-manifestation of Absolute Spirit wherein objectivity and subjectivity are in the end perfectly reconciled . But Hegel in that respect was implicitly committed to a totalizing approach to reality. The process of the self-manifestation of Absolute Spirit 3. Reiner Wiehl, Subjectivität und System (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 2000). 4. Reiner Wiehl, “Whitehead’s Cosmology of Feeling between Ontology and Anthropology ,” in Whitehead’s Metaphysics of Creativity, ed. Reiner Wiehl and Friedrich Rapp (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1990), 127–51. 5. Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: Free Press, 1967), 51. Subjectivity and Objectivity within Open-Ended Systems  93 was already logically complete in his philosophy and in due time would presumably also...


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Subject Headings

  • Causation.
  • Cosmology.
  • One (The One in philosophy).
  • Many (Philosophy).
  • Philosophical theology.
  • Providence and government of God.
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