Main CategoriesMetaphysics and the SupernaturalMetaphysics, Mysticism and Esoterica Process and Reality (Corrected Edition)

Process and Reality (Corrected Edition)

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Every real-life object may be understood as a series of events and processes.

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Whitehead suggests that process, rather than substance, should be taken as the fundamental metaphysical constituent of the world. Process thought sees all of reality as one interconnected whole; and Whitehead's background in biology, mathematics and philosophy enabled him to develop a unified worldview in which religion and science are harmonized.

Whitehead argued that reality consists of entities called "units of concresence," by which he meant the coming together of all that preceded an entity to make it what it is at that particular instant in time. He called each instant a unified "drop of experience", which are more primary than the physical entities in which the experience resides (e.g., our brains). Consciousness and subconscious experience exists in all life at different levels, and is pushing the universe forward toward ever higher expressions of creativity and awareness. God, who is the foundation of all experience, "prehends" all existence with perfect knowledge and perfect love and pushes each actual entity forward through persuasion (not coercion).

Process-oriented thought was widely discussed and debated by the philosophers of ancient India. Among these philosophers were Buddhists who spoke of worldly existence (samsara) as consisting of an ongoing chain of "interrelated becoming" (Pratitya Samutpada). Meditation was utilized to penetrate the stream of consciousness whereby one became aware of the intrinsic process-oriented fleeting nature of existence, known as anitya, and hence become awakened (nirvana).

Later Buddhist philosophical schools, such as Yogacara, developed the view that so-called "Absolute Consciousness" is the ultimate reality, and hence, this school was known as the "Mind-only" school. Elements of a process philosophy emerged in Western thought with Heraclitus' fragments in which he posits the noumenon, the ground of becoming, as agon or "strife of opposites" as the underlying basis of all reality defined by change.


"In Process and Reality, rather than assuming substance as the basic metaphysical category, Whitehead introduces a new metaphysically primitive notion that he calls an actual occasion. On Whitehead's view, an actual occasion is not an enduring substance, but a process of becoming...

“There persists,” says Whitehead, “[a] fixed scientific cosmology which presupposes the ultimate fact of an irreducible brute matter, or material, spread through space in a flux of configurations. In itself such a material is senseless, valueless, purposeless. It just does what it does do, following a fixed routine imposed by external relations which do not spring from the nature of its being. It is this assumption that I call ‘scientific materialism.’ Also it is an assumption which I shall challenge as being entirely unsuited to the scientific situation at which we have now arrived” (1925, 22).

The assumption of scientific materialism is effective in many contexts, says Whitehead, only because it directs our attention to a certain class of problems that lend themselves to analysis within this framework. However, scientific materialism is less successful when addressing issues of teleology and when trying to develop a comprehensive, integrated picture of the universe as a whole.

According to Whitehead, recognition that the world is organic rather than materialistic is therefore essential for anyone wanting to develop a comprehensive account of nature, and this change in viewpoint can result as easily from attempts to understand modern physics as from attempts to understand human psychology and teleology.

Says Whitehead, “Mathematical physics presumes in the first place an electromagnetic field of activity pervading space and time. The laws which condition this field are nothing else than the conditions observed by the general activity of the flux of the world, as it individualises itself in the events” (1925, 190). The end result is that “nature is a structure of evolving processes. The reality is the process” (1925, 90).

Whitehead's ultimate attempt to develop a metaphysical unification of space, time, matter, events and teleology has proved to be controversial. In part, this may be because of the connections Whitehead saw between his metaphysics and traditional theism. According to Whitehead, religion is concerned with permanence amid change, and can be found in the ordering we find within nature, something he sometimes called the “primordial nature of God” (1929c, Pt 5, Ch. 2, secs 1-7).

Thus although not especially influential among contemporary Anglo-American secular philosophers, his metaphysical ideas continue to have significant influence among many theologians and philosophers of religion."      ~Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), British mathematician, logician and philosopher best known for his work in mathematical logic and the philosophy of science. In collaboration with Bertrand Russell, he authored the landmark three-volume Principia Mathematica (1910, 1912, 1913) and contributed significantly to twentieth-century logic and metaphysics.

Editor Griffin, David Ray
Coeditor Sherburne, Donald W.
Author Whitehead, Alfred North
Book Type Trade Paperback
Page Count 413 pp.
Publisher The Free Press 1985
Gold Medal

Gold Medal


  Gold Medal Essential Reading

Browse these categories as well: Metaphysics, Mysticism and Esoterica, Masterworks of the Western Mystery Tradition, Science, Physics and the Unified Field, Gold Medal Essential Reading

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