- Saving Creativity in Whitehead and Saving Whitehead through Zhu Xi
At the fore of concern within Whitehead scholarship are the main interpretive issues revolving around the relationships of God, creativity, and the world. Some critics have charged that Whitehead’s mature thought suffers from a lack of coherence in his formulation of the relationship between God and creativity as they function in cosmic generativity, a charge proven difficult to overcome. Such critics have posed the following question. In light of Whitehead’s commitment to the Ontological Principle, how can God and creativity stand as separate formative elements in the world’s creative advance? This question illustrates, some say, how the separation of God from creativity within Whitehead’s process philosophy marks an internal incoherence that imperils its very foundations. If Whitehead refuses to regulate agency to anything other than actual occasions, then to have creativity as somehow prior to, separate from, or distinct from God would run afoul of the Ontological Principle and thus prove a devastating mistake.
One of the issues of this essay is whether Whitehead’s system can be rescued from the charge of incoherence between first principles. I argue that it can be saved by (1) John Berthrong’s reading of both Zhu Xi and Whitehead as East-West representatives of a reconstructed, world process philosophical tradition that views creativity, pluralism, coherence, and relationality as key elements for any adequate systematic description of the world; and (2) by Berthrong’s highly original and insightful rereading of Part V of Process and Reality in conjunction with his closer reading of certain passages from Adventures of Ideas and Modes of Thought, which in outline suggest a final transformational phase, fully consistent with the Ontological Principle, of the unfolding of Whitehead’s narrative account of God where God and creativity are united as the Eros and the Adventure of the Universe.
According to Berthrong’s thesis as set forth in his study Concerning Creativity,1 the systems of Zhu Xi and Whitehead are best analyzable according to a tripartite schema of form, dynamics, and unification, which he thinks will prove especially useful for the intercultural presentation of the issue of creativity in demonstrating that Zhu Xi can and does function as a much-needed hermeneutical aid to save creativity in Whitehead, and not, as Neville believes, as a hermeneutical weapon to be used against Whitehead. It is under the element of unification where I argue that Whitehead’s and Zhu Xi’s respective models of creativity share a remarkable correspondence and intercultural mirroring of themes to the extent that one can be read in terms of the other. The demonstration of strong affinity between these two masters of the world’s philosophical process tradition warrants the use of Zhu Xi as a curative [End Page 1149] model, which, when applied to Whitehead, can resolve the alleged incoherence in his philosophy. Such a comparative application will reveal the Category of the Ultimate to be a viable creative principle that, like Zhu Xi’s Supreme Ultimate, is universally all comprehensive and all pervading.
But there is another, potentially devastating, challenge to Whitehead’s system that this essay must first address in order for Berthrong’s solution to the charge of incoherence to be viable. One of Whitehead’s most original critics, the American philosopher and theologian Robert C. Neville, in his groundbreaking essay Creativity and God,2 posed perhaps the greatest and most illuminating critique ever leveled against Whitehead: the charge of incompleteness. If God and creativity are considered separate modalities of cosmological creativity, then God is but a limited element of mere cosmological generativity, rendering God as closed within the natural system, something Neville finds unacceptable because, for him, divinity is best understood as creating the world ex nihilo. In Whitehead’s system, God does not relate to his creatures as they become in the ontological act of pure creation. God stands on the sidelines of creativity, as a fellow sufferer, affording the lures or patterns of value relevant to the creative synthesis of each actual occasion—a vision that, Neville contends, is more poetical than systematic and rigorously dialectical.
But the power and thrust of Neville...