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The Age of Immanence: Whiteheadian Metaphysics from a Farrerian Point of View

Smith, Simon (2009) The Age of Immanence: Whiteheadian Metaphysics from a Farrerian Point of View Process Studies Supplement (13). pp. 1-56.

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This article concerns two of the twentieth century’s greatest metaphysical thinkers: Alfred North Whitehead and Austin Marsden Farrer. It also concerns their efforts to address the most important problem facing philosophical theology. In this, they shared a single aim: to overcome the chilly indifference of ontological isolation with the warmth of action, real relation. Both Whitehead and Farrer recognized that the positivist demand for conceivability-criteria struck at the heart of theology. Farrer held out for a basic epistemological requirement: the knowing agent. This enabled him to transform verificationism into a principle of “experiencable difference.” Similarly, Whitehead met the challenge of modern philosophy with a principle of concrescence. Privileging action-concepts over the logical inertia of traditional ontology, he redefined classical metaphysics as concrete connection. Therein lies his importance to philosophical theology. It is my contention, however, that Whitehead took positivism too much to heart. This led him to push “active existence” to its ontological limits. The result is “being” exhaustively defined as “doing,” and a theology equivalent to “flattened naturalism.” Whitehead’s God avails Itself of real existence only within the matrix of other existents. This places the emphasis exclusively on the consequent mode. Unfortunately, it also undermines any pragmatic yield his constructs might offer because absolute consequentialism comes at the cost of actual intending. In the end, Whitehead’s radical revision of Aristotelian categories is too severe a metaphysical reaction. It leaves no opportunity, in Farrer’s terms, no “prior actuality,” for divine agency to exercise the choice to act. Drawing on P.F. Strawson’s analysis of the concept “person,” I have identified damaging parallels between Whitehead’s revisionary metaphysics and Sartrean existentialism. This defines the process theologian’s seemingly inevitable progress towards atheism (something many commentators, including Farrer, suspected). This suggests that the mistake of process activism is the same substantival disjunct which lies at the heart of classical theism. It is the misalignment of consciousness and bodily act, separating enquiring subject from objects known. In other words, the philosophy of mind that underwrites process theology continues to isolate (divine) consciousness from real, active, existence. The (divine) agent is thereby denied any reality but the most “primordially deficient.” This only preserves the radical separation of transcendence and immanence which, likewise, haunts scholastic theology. Like those he would refute, Whitehead ultimately surrendered the personalist presupposition of religious thought. In short, process theology aligned Creator with creation so completely that the personal God of Christian praxis is lost.

Item Type: Article
Divisions : Library and Learning Support
Authors :
Date : 2009
Copyright Disclaimer : © The Author(s)2013
Depositing User : Jane Hindle
Date Deposited : 25 Jul 2017 12:33
Last Modified : 16 Jan 2019 18:54

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