- Whitehead's Radically Temporalist Metaphysics: Recovering the Seriousness of Time by George Allan
Some process philosophers—David Ray Griffin chief among them—held that Whitehead offered a vision of the world that is both postmodern and constructive. Specifically, he viewed the reformed theology of process thought as essential to its constructive efficacy. With this collection of essays, George Allan has articulated a cogent case against this position. That is, Whitehead's system does offer a postmodern and constructive vision of the world—but precisely at the expense of a process theology. In his account, a postmodern and constructive process philosophy means a radically contingent temporality that is fundamentally incompatible with any permanent mode of being. All the theological functions within Whitehead's system can be adequately accounted for with exclusive reference to the necessary conditions that obtain for the world of interrelated, limited events. This is the core philosophical claim of the book, and I enthusiastically agree with Allan that it provides a powerful and attractive conceptual framework for establishing a nontheistic Whitehead. But Allan goes further and shows that Whitehead's later work has the requisite conceptual resources to make a case for his own atheistic position.
The book opens with an essay that outlines the reasons Whitehead gives for God's necessary inclusion in his system. Allan shows that God is primarily invoked to deal with the conceptual problems involved in mediating eternal objects, or conceptual possibilities, and the temporal world of physical prehensions. He concludes that Whitehead cites these reasons for God's existence to save face for his failure to abide by the axioms of process thought: "Whitehead gets into difficulty because of his presumption that possibilities must be essentially eternal and self-contained, having no essential relatedness to either the actual world or one another" (25). This self-contained nature of eternal [End Page 203] objects entails that a primordial mediating agency is required to "bridge the metaphysical chasm" between the timeless and the temporal. For Allan, this dualistic situation smacks of a Cartesian form of metaphysical incoherence. The interaction of the timeless and temporal realms requires a reified "God [that] is an event, but one that does not actually occur" (26). Allan thus makes it clear that the idea of any "eternal actual entity" is an oxymoron that undermines the core principles of process thought. To let the radically temporal vision of Whitehead's system fully shine, we need to "cleanse the philosophy of organism of its secular deity" (27).
The second and third chapters turn to the positive side of this endeavor, the recovery of a "genetic-functional" interpretation of eternal objects from Whitehead's own Categorial Scheme in Process and Reality (1929). This means that the abstract possibilities represented by Whitehead's eternal objects emerge entirely from temporal processes, with their relevance to concrescing agents determined and generated by the conditions for the possibility of creative advance. In the second chapter, for instance, Allan outlines three transcendental principles that Creativity demands: the Aristotelian transcendental, the Leibnizian transcendental, and the Hobbesian transcendental. Together, these stand for those conditions that are presupposed solely in the physical prehensions of actual entities. They describe the well-ordered harmony of an entity's prehensions vis-à-vis its own immediate subjective aims and those of the cosmic community at large.
For Allan, these sorts of transcendental principles can fully account for an "adaptively stable cosmos" without any theistic interventions: "Simply in order for an actual entity to instantiate Creativity … its initial subjective aim and the subjective forms of its initial prehensions must be oriented towards a best available outcome. The relevant eternal objects able to constitute that aim and the manner of its realization are therefore inherent 'in the nature of things', as features of the governing functions implicate in the achieved values of the perished actual entities initially prehended" (52). The critical point for Allan is that these transcendental principles are not reified as atemporal actual entities or eternal objects but stand for those coimplicated, relational conditions necessary...