Weiss Hails Whitehead's 'Life of Thought'

To interpret Alfred North Whitehead's imponderable work and thought the CRIMSON invited the views of Paul Weiss, professor of Philosophy at Yale and editor of the "Review of Metaphysics," who worked for his master's and doctor's degrees under the tutelage of Whitehead here from 1927 to 1929. This is the second half of Professor Weiss' discussion.

The awkwardness and obscurity of much of its style, the detailed technical discussions of which it is full, the abstractness of many of its issues, will prevent "Process and Reality" from over directly affecting more than a small number of industrious and independent thinkers. But its indirect effect has been and will continue to be enormous, it should forever remain, a landmark in the history of the intellect, a perpetual source of fundamental ideas, a monument in metaphysics, cosmology and theology, a watershed separating off twentieth century from nineteenth century thought.

According to "Process and Reality," this universe is made up of a host of beings. Whitehead called them "actual occasions." Each was a point where the finished met the possible, where the ideas of God joined history, where the physical was interwoven with the mental. Each according to him, "prehended," laid hold of and made internal to itself all that lay beyond it, in the world that had been and in the world that might be, to constitute a novel present unity. Each was the juncture of the whole of the past and the whole of the future.

Whatever had been and could be was relevant to each occasion. Nothing was simply located, here and not in some sense also there, without significance for anything beyond it. But just what meaning the rest of the universe had for this particular thing only this particular thing could decide and then only when and as it came to be. Each being, according to Whitehead, made itself be what it was. Each was an adventure in self-creation, an adventure which looked backwards for material and forwards for guidance, but which was finally performed in the solitude of absolute privacy. This was true both of those actual occasions we locate in men and of those we locate in stones or chemical compounds. We are all, the living and the dead, the human and the subhuman, part of one future. We have different yet similar origins, careers and destinies. Each of us is a cosmic artist making use of the whole welter of the actual and possible to make that private unity which is ourselves most truly.

An actual occasion exists for but an atomic moment, a short stretch of time which cannot be subdivided. It takes the whole of such a moment for an occasion to make itself be, and when that moment is over the occasion passes away. Perishing is thus the inevitable accompaniment of creation.


But each thing is remembered in a sense by God, and each is "prehended," taken account of and thus preserved, by all that comes thereafter. Each of us is naught but a series of somewhat closely related actual occasions. No one of us is permanent, no one of us is duplicatable, no one of us is forever without effect on everything there will be. We are internally richer, more intense than other beings perhaps and occasionally we may have a flicker of a consciousness denied to others, but in principle we are like all other beings. Like all else we are focal points unifying the cosmos in a fresh and original way, offering ourselves as material to be unified by what else might follow, and together with all other things in this space time world, interplaying with and complementing that supreme actual occasion, God. This is a cosmology in which there is no place for the hard, colorless, self-sufficient atoms of the past, but which grounds deep and firm the modern view that the fundamental realities are interrelated quanta events in a cosmic space time.

"Process and Reality" will last as long as our scientific epoch does. His "Adventures of ideas" because not subject to the vicissitudes of scientific fashions, is a more enduring book. But not for that reason alone. It will, I believe, be read, pondered and discussed long after all of us are gone. It is a classic of our time, a wise book, a mellow one. Whitehead felt that it was his best. At once profound and lucid, original and erudite, comprehensive and detailed, it deals with the roots and fruits of cosmology, religion, art, ethics and civilization. In a hundred different ways it points up the limitations of language, of scholarship, of traditional science and religion, and gently but surely leads one to see that the history of civilization is but a special case of the history of a cosmos in which ideas can and sometimes do "persuade" the brute facts of life and experience to be harmonized, muted and ennobled. There is a faint but sure drive in things towards excellence which deserves to be encouraged, nursed, supported. We are civilized to the degree that we refuse to allow this bias forward excellence to be blocked by force or quieted by a dogmatic supposition that the richness of the ideal has already been exhausted.

Throughout, but perhaps no better than in the final words of this book, there is summarized a life time of thought and a life time of civilized living. At the heart of the nature of things, there are always the dream of youth and the harvest of tragedy. The adventure of the universe starts with the dream and reaps tragic beauty. This is the secret of the union of rest with peace that the suffering attains its end in a harmony of harmonics. The immediate experience of this final fact, with its union of youth and tragedy, is the sense of peace. In this way the world receives its persuasion towards such perfections as are possible for its diverse individual occasions