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The Australasian Journal of Process Thought

Causal Processes:
Steps towards a systematic and formal interpretation of Alfred North Whiteheads ontology
Ludwig J. Jaskolla
Hochschule fr Philosophie Philosophische Fakultt SJ Kaulbachstrae 31a, 80539 Mnchen, Germany

The goal of this paper

some hints why it is systematic. To reach that goal I will briefly give an overview over the central methodological concepts introduced by Whitehead; especially a formal description of the notion of coherence. Then I will try to present a theory of creativity that is in accordance with these methodological concepts. This theory of creativity will depend mainly on the formal notion of coherence. In a last step I will try to show that this theory of creativity implies a concept of causally efficient processes structuring the world into its actual shape.
1. The Whiteheadian Notion of Coherence

In recent analytic metaphysics the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead has widely been ignored. For once this seems to be due to the rather difficult textual situation in which many of Whiteheads publications present themselves. But secondly, Whiteheads philosophy seems to be opaque and he fails to give an account for it that would be considered logically sufficient by modern standards. This can be seen especially in Germany. For example there is one translation of Process and Reality, where the reader is advised to use Whiteheads work as quarry of philosophical ideas;1 Whitehead as nothing more than an aphoristic collection of philosophical thoughts from which anyone can choose whatever he likes.

Other accounts that try to read Whitehead systematically do not meet the formal requirements to position Whitehead in recent analytic metaphysics. This paper pursues the goal to set up the basis for a re-interpretation of Whiteheads central philosophical concepts in a terminology that is both systematic and formal. Concerning ontology, with which I will be occupied These criteria are: most of the time, this means that this theory should be (1) Coherence of Ideas, able to cover the whole of reality; especially it should give (2) Logicity of Ideas and us an account of entities and causal structures. Obviously I will not be able to show that systematicity is fulfilled for (3) Necessity of Ideas. my re-interpretation but I am confident that I can give Beginning with the last entry of this list, the notion of

Alfred North Whitehead places his own ontological ideas within the rich tradition of Rationalism.2 He summarizes the different aspects of his philosophical method under the notion of speculative philosophy which means that a system of philosophical lemmata, or working hypotheses3 , should fulfill a number of characteristics in order to be considered to be a good philosophical theory.

Concrescence, 2009, vol. 10: pp. 1118. ISSN: 14454297 2009 The Author Published online by the Australasian Association for Process Thought, an afliate of the International Process Network.


Ludwig J. Jaskolla (A) and (B ). Therefore, it will be necessary to give a systematic interpretation of the notion of Coherence that doesnt fall prey to the Circularity-Problem. By proceeding this way my central idea will be that Whitehead himself has a strong modal intuition constructing the notion of Coherence. In Process and Reality he writes: It means that what is definable in one such notion cannot be abstracted from its relevance to the other notions.8

Necessity of Ideas means that the structure of the system of philosophical ideas should be applicable to a wide range of different experiences.4 For ontological theories this means that this structure should be applicable to reality as a whole. The second notion of Logicity of Ideas simply means: The different relations between the lemmata of a system of philosophical ideas should be such that these relations do not violate the laws of first order logic. The first characteristic, Coherence of Ideas, poses the greatest challenge. Whiteheads own explanation of this notion issomewhatcryptic. Thus, in the modern debate on Whiteheads philosophy, there is a wide range of different interpretations of this notion. Due to the length of this paper I will not be able to give a review of this debate, but in accordance with Ivor Leclerc I think that a systematic theory of Coherence is a central key to the understanding of Whiteheads ontology.5

Therefore the notion of coherence means that in a coherent system of philosophical ideas it is not possible to abstract one of these notions completely from the others (in particular when it comes to the essential aspects of these ideas if they are supposed to be coherent). To underline this point, Leclerc states that an incoherent system of philosophical ideas allows for a random disconnection of different ideas which in reverse means that all relations between different ideas of a 9 Whitehead introduces the notion of Coherence in philosophical system are equally random. It is easy to Process and Reality by stating that in a coherent system see that in this conception there cannot be any essential of philosophical ideas each presupposes the other that relations, which is highly counter-intuitive. in isolation they are meaningless.6 Prima facie, this This specified notion of coherence implies a rather seems to imply the following semantic structure for a interesting metaphysical consequence. In a coherent dual system of working hypotheses A and B: (i) A system of philosophical ideas there are no ideas (or presupposes B and (ii) B presupposes A. The semantic philosophical concepts) that describe isolated facts. An structure of Coherence seems to be circular in the isolated fact would stand in no essential relation to sense that one is unable to decide which hypothesis is any other fact, and thus it would not be possible to prior to the other. This would be less of a problem if find a philosophical concept that (a) describes this fact these considerations were only of semantic importance, and (b) is coherent with the other concepts of the but Whitehead tells us that the charateristics (1) to philosophical system. In particular this means that (3) are fundamental relations of the worlds ontological for example a theory that describes concrete objects as structure.7 Therefore, one can construct the following bare substrata could never be a coherent philosophical problem. system of ideas, and so in Whiteheadian terms could never be an adequate description of reality. The Circularity-Problem of Coherence: (A) Logicity of Ideas: At the basic level of the ontology there are no violations of the laws of first order logic. (B) Coherence of Ideas: At the basic level of the ontology the different ideas presuppose each other (causally). (B ) Corollary: The ontological structure between these ideas is circular. (B ) Corollary: This violates the law of non-circularity, implied by first order logic. It easily can be seen that there is a logical conflict between After this first specification of the notion of coherence, I want to return to what I promised some paragraphs above. As stated, Whiteheads notion of Coherence is based on a deep modal intuition. In the following paragraphs I want to argue for this assertion. First, I will give the formal description of Coherence for a dual system of philosophical ideas and then comment on it. (If some readers are not familiar with logical symbols used in this paper, please refer to the Appendix at the end of this paper, where some basic logical notions are defined.)

Causal Processes


Definition 2-1: Coherence of a dual system (A B B A)

meaning of this by an examplelets suppose a theory in which all the facts about humans are physical facts. This theory would tell us that:

We can transform this Definition 2-1 by the following Struct. of Mental Facts Struct. of Physical Facts rule (A B) = A B into a Corollary 2-1*: This is a hidden supervenience thesis for the mental (A B) (B A) facts because they depend completely on the physical and split up 2-1* to take a closer look at the parts facts. Definitions 2-1, 2-1* and 2-2 give us a tool of the conjunction 2-1*. This formal description of to understand the logical structure of such bifurcative Coherence postulates for a system to be coherent, that theories of nature. And Whitehead would tell us that if concept A is part of that system it has to hold true their problem is their lack of Coherence. necessarily that it is impossible for concept B not to But this shall not be the topic of this paper. In be part of the system. Obviously, the same holds vice the following sections I will try to outline a theory versa for the other part of the conjunction 2-1*. In of Creativity that depends highly on the notion of other words, the notion of Coherence makes a statement Coherence that has been developed in this section. about the succession of philosopical concepts: The possibility-operator determines that the occurence of a concept is to be assumed before one can deduce the 2. Setting up a theory of creativity impossiblity of the non-occurence of the other concept. In the first part of this section we will be returning to the Circularity-Problem of Coherence which was outlined If we put together the two conjunctive parts of 2-1* and solved in the preceeding section. The central aspects and return to the original definition 2-1, it becomes of Whiteheads ontology are One, Many and Creativity.10 obvious that the notion of Coherence presupposes Analogous to what was said in section 2, Whiteheads (in a dual system) both philosphical concepts, and symbolic analysis of the concepts One and Many is makes a statement about the necessary relations unproblematic (where symbolic denotes all kinds of between them. In fact, Coherence states that both references to the real world, for example by human concepts need to occur necessarily in a well-formed language or deictic actions). He states that One denotes system of philosophical ideas. Thus, 2-1 avoids the the general idea {of} {...} singularity {...},11 whereas Circularity-Problem of Coherence because 2-1 tells us Many denotes the notion of disjunctive diversity.12 that coherence makes no statement about the causal These two concepts stand in the relation of coherence, structure of system of philosophical ideas. and as such presuppose each other. One can easily generalise the Definition 2-1 for a dual The term many presupposes the term one, and the term one system to a n-dimensional system of philosophical ideas. presupposes the term many.13 Definition 2-2: Coherence for a n-dimensional system
An n-dimensional system of philosophical concepts is coherent, iff:

A i B j i, j (1...n) (A i B j B j A i ) The notion of Coherence has a central place in Whiteheads philosophy: There is a direct relation of the notion of Coherence to Whiteheads rejection of, what he called, bifurcative theories of nature. A bifurcative theory of nature would be one that takes one aspect of a system of philosophical ideas as absolute. Such a theory would only take one part of the conjunction 2-1* and state that this is the whole of reality. We can spell out the

At first this circularity seems only semantic. On reflection, Whitehead tells us, that with respect to the fundamental ontological level there cannot be a distinction between the semantic and metaphysical level of our description of the world.14 It could be noted that Whitehead himself states due to the distinction between presentational immediacy and causal efficacy that all symbolic reference is in principle deficient. A solution to this problem is easily found: Reading Symbolismits meaning and effect as some kind of propaedeutics to Process and Reality, we can say that there must be some kind of reference to the world that is not in principle deficient (cf. the example of colour perception in (Whitehead, 1928, 18)). The concepts of One and


Ludwig J. Jaskolla

Many are so basic that it is impossible not to think of reality as consisting of unities and multiplicities. That there is no real argument for this, only direct, intuitive experience,15 doesnt seem to be much of problem. Even in recent analytic metaphysics many ideas are introduced intuitively 16 .

as complete abstractions are best understood via the mathematical concept of a limes; they are hypothetical constructs of the human mind which tries to abstract the coherent concepts of One and Many towards isolated, autonomous facts. In a strict ontological sense these limites are dispensable, but they are a nice way to describe the boundaries of the continuous spectrum of However, the circularity of the symbolic level is reality. transferred to the ontological level. Thus, we face the pressing problem that Whiteheads ontology is circular at If we take a closer look at the Definition 3-1, we can see its most basic level. There have been three main strategies that each part of the conjunction denotes a function that to solve this problem: can be used to ascribe a certain amount of self-identity (i) Christian tells us that Whitehead is not really to every entity on this spectrum. This self-identity saying anything of systematic ontological importance, is determined by two different processes: the first when speaking about One and Manyhe is talking describing self-formation by stating that real diversity pre-systematically.17 Apart from the fact that is not possible without singularityone(cf. the first Christian is not able to provide a clear-cut criterion part of the conjunction in 3-1). The second describing that would enable us to distinguish when Whitehead is that real singularity is only possible in contrast to other talking systematically and when he is not.18 In addition, real singularitiesmany(cf. the second part of the it seems rather strange to develop an ontology but not conjunction in 3-1). to talk about anything of ontological relevance at the That is the reason for Whitehead telling us that an most basic level of this ontology. actual entity combines self-identity with self-diversity.22 (ii) Many other authors did not see the Coherence of one and many demands that an actual Circularity-Problem at the most basic level of entity is always a (ontological) composition of the two functions one and many. The account provided here can Whiteheads ontology at all19 . thus be summarised by: (iii) But others like Jorge Nobo and Richard Rorty argued that there is only a feigned Circularity-Problem Definition 3-2: for One and Many.20 Concerning the Continuum R, the function one assigns

That it is only a feigned Circularity-Problem seems to be reasonable, if we consider our modal interpretation of the concept of coherence that was developed in the preceeding section. Then, we can construe Many and One as a dual system of philosophical ideas standing in the relation of coherence: Definition 3-1: Coherence of One and Many (one many many one) This solves the Circularity-Problem formally but it does not tell us anything about the philosophical consequences that are implied by the concept of Coherence between One and Many. To avoid isolated facts (as excluded by the notion of Coherence) reality must be understood as a continuous spectrum R between two poles. These two poles denote the concepts One and Many as isolated facts, or in Whiteheadian terminology as complete abstractions.21 One and Many

to every state q a certain amount of self-identity in respect of qs being a singular entity. The function many assigns to every state q a certain amount of self-identity in respect of qs standing in relations to other states q 1 ... q n . The composition q(one; many) describes q completely and defines q as one, self-identical entity in R. Thus, fulfilling Quines criterion: No entity without identity. One and Many as isolated facts are the (mathematical) projections of the state q towards the function one or many; that means q(one) or q(many).

With the preceding framework of concepts set up, we can now ask: How can the most fundamental principle of Whiteheadian ontologyCreativitybe defined?23 According to my interpretation of the texts, there are three inter-related notions of Creativity in Whiteheads work. The first two can be summarised as the metaphysical notions of Creativity, whereas the third could also be called the temporal notion of Creativity.

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If we take one of the sides of the conjunctions defined in 3-1, it is possible to define the following process (q(one; many), p(one; many)). The central idea would be to take one part of the conjunction in 3-1 for example (q(one; many)). This means, speaking in a temporal sense, that if one changes in a state q than also many must change. Therefore two states of a system can be (2) The second notion of Creativity imports this general interrelated by their continuously changing composition process into the particular entities in the universe. The of one and many. Coherence of the functions one and many is the fact that ensures the self-identity of every entity in the universe, We have to make sure that the conditions from 4-1 are and therefore makes a statement about the structure of met. Creativity defines a relation which assigns one state change and persistence in every entity. Again there can of a system to a later state of a system by changing the be found widespread proof for this notion in Process and composition of one and many within the inital state. Certainly (q(one; many), p(one; many)) is bijective, Reality.26 because the spectrum of reality is continuous. It has to be (3) The third notion of Creativity is often called the noted, that this general process that can be deduced from Principle of Creative Advance or the Principle of Process. the structure of Coherence implies no favoured direction It makes a statement about the concrete structure and of time. The direction of time will be dependent upon sequence of the compositions of the functions one and the initial conditions of the system reality. Thus, it is many in reality. This can be best understood if we possible to argue that the formal notion of Coherence analyse processes as the dynamic composition of the outlined in the preceding section of this paper implies a functions one and many. In contrast to (2), this notion very abstract and general concept of process, if one uses of creativity implies that there is favoured direction in it to model the intererelations between different states at which the creative advance evolves. Again this notion is different times. often used in Process and Reality.27 Concerning the project of a systematic Whiteheadian The preceding third notion of Creativity should be ontology we can now take stock: it was possible to show considered as a transition to the following section of that there is a systematic description of the ontological this paper. There I will discuss whether the composition structure of the world based on the notion of Coherence. of one and many can be understood as a process and In principle this description should cover the whole of whether these processes can be understood as causally reality. In the following paragraphs I want to discuss, efficient. whether this general notion of process implies a theory of causality. If this can be shown, then we could state that a Whiteheadian, systematic ontology in terms of a formal 3. Causal Processes as a systematic, notion of Creativity and Coherence is possible. metaphysical application of creativity Can the third notion of Creativity be understood as There are many reasons that this general theory of a process? First I will give a formal definition of the process must imply a notion of causality. For example in his book A Place for Consciousness Probing the concept process. Deep Structure of the Natural World, Gregg Rosenberg

(1) The first notion of Creativity is a direct descendent from Definition 3-2: It is the composition of the functions one and many, and provides the fundamental principle of Whiteheadian ontology (cf. Creativity is universals of universals characterizing ultimate matter of fact..24 To describe the whole process of the universe (or: reality), we have to maximize the concepts of one and many. Concerning reality as a whole, the composition of one (here: ultimate matter of fact (the universe as a unity.)) and many (here: universals of universals (the universe in its diversities.)) can be understood as an objective principle that governs the whole process of reality. This first notion of Creativity is commonly used in Process and Reality.25

Definition 4-1: Process

(q, p) is a process (where q and p are states of real system), iff p chronologically follows from q, is an ontological relation between q and p and is bijective. Bijectiveness ensures that there are no gaps in the corresponding process.


Ludwig J. Jaskolla

points out that in most process-based philosophies processes are seen as essential elements of causation28 . Whitehead himself gives another hint: Only states of the continuous spectrum of reality are accepted as causes.29 Nevertheless it remains unclear how exactly this account of causality should be specified. In general, a theory of causality should answer the following questions: (1) How many states of reality are minimally interrelated by causality? (2) What kinds of states are interrelated? (3) Is there an asymmetric temporal direction implied in the notion of causality?30 . The temporal notion of Creativity interrelates at least two states of reality, changing in their composition of one and many, or being constant in their composition. The latter will be interpreted as a change with nothing happening, but nevertheless a change, because, despite of the same structure of the composition, the spatiotemporal location of this composition has been changed. Considering question (2), the answer is very easy to find: Ontologically speaking, there is only one kind of state, and therefore the temporal notion of Creativity interrelates all kinds of states of reality. In the preceeding paragraphs we stated that there is no fixed temporal direction, implied by the temporal notion of Creativity. This turns now out to be an advantage: We can distinguish two accounts of the temporal notion of Creativity: one that is positively diachronically temporal-directed and resembles efficient causation; and one that is synchronously temporal-directed and resembles conceptual causation.

account of causation that is deduced from Whiteheads temporal notion of Creativity is internally coherent, i.e. that Coherence can be shown for conceptual and efficient causation. Thus, we can define the follwing account of causality: Definition 4-2: Causal Processes
The temporal notion of Creativity, i.e. the process from one state of reality to another, implies the following causal structure: A minimal bivalent relation between compositions of one and many with positive temporal direction = efficient causation. A minimal bivalent relation between compositions of one and many with synchronic temporal direction = conceptual causation.

4. Conclusion

Now to take stock of what has been achieved during the progress of this paper: It was possible to construct the basic items of a Whiteheadian ontology (i) that is in accordance with Whiteheads own methodological demands, (ii) that is formally sufficient and (iii) covers at least in principle reality as a wholei.e. that it gives a general account of what it means to be an entity (cf. a composition of one and many) and of what kind the causal structures of the world are (cf. efficient and conceptual causation). Thus, the fundamental entities in Whiteheads ontology are causally efficient processes governed by the concept of Creativity. These different concepts were presented in a way that allows to position them in recent analytic metaphysics. Due to length of this paper, I am not able to spell this out: It would be necessary to deduce several concrete Whiteheadian theories concerning different issues of recent analytic metaphysics and to compare them in detail with the answers given in recent analytic metaphysics. Nevertheless my own research on positioning Whiteheads theory of concrete objects (i.e. actual entities and societies of actual entities) in the framework of analytic theories (bundle-, bare substrataand substance theories) is very encouraging: It was possible to show that Whiteheads intuitions bear great resemblance to neo-aristotelian substance theories, but with a bundle-theoretic colouring.

Concerning efficient and conceptual causation: Efficient causation denotes that cause and effect progress chronologically in such a way that the effect always succeeds the cause. Conceptual causation means that all complexity levels beneath the level of the conceptual cause are determined by the complexity level of the conceptual cause. This has nothing to do with any kind of Backwards Causation that is sometimes discussed in recent analytic metaphysicsit can rather be compared to Rosenbergs account of final causation, which being synchronic inter-level causality is almost some kind of The title of this paper shows that much work has to Aristotelian formal cause. It is interesting to see that the be done in order to construct a systematic and formal

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account of Alfred North Whiteheads ontology. In the context of this paper, it was only possible to take some initial steps towards such an account. In my opinion the next steps would include setting up a formal interpretation of Whiteheads system of categories31 , and then deducing the different Categories of Existence.32 With this forecast, I want to end my analysis of the basic aspects of Whiteheads ontology.

1. cf. (Holl, 2003, 632) 2. cf. (Whitehead, 1979, 9) 3. (Whitehead, 1967a, 222) 4. cf. (Whitehead, 1979, 4) 5. cf. (Leclerc, 1958, 34) 6. cf. (Whitehead, 1979, 3) 7. cf. (Whitehead, 1979, 3-4) 8. cf. (Whitehead, 1979, 3) 9. cf. (Leclerc, 1958, 35-36) 10. cf. (Whitehead, 1979, 21)

Appendix: Logical symbols used in this paper

The operators and relational characters, like the logical 11. (Whitehead, 1979, 21) negation or the logical conjunction , of first order 12. (Whitehead, 1979, 21) logic are used without definition.
13. (Whitehead, 1979, 21) 15. (Lowe, 1962, 36)

q, p, z denote states of reality for example 14. cf. (Whitehead, 1928, 78) spatio-temporal entities. A, B, C denote philosophical concepts, for example a 16. cf. as one example (Chisholm, 1992) certain Structure of the Physical Facts. It can be shown 17. (Christian, 1959, 1012) that also propositions, like There are no mental facts in 18. cf. (Garland, 1983, 214) this world qualify as philosophical concepts.

19. cf. for example (Neville, 1983), (Moser, 1975), (Arena, 1989)

If large sets of philosophical concepts are considered, 20. cf. (Nobo, 1986), (Rorty, 1983, 7577) these concepts have indices. 21. (Whitehead, 1979, 28) (...,...), (...,...), (...,...) denote relations between (a) 22. (Whitehead, 1979, 25) philosophical concepts, (b) functional states or (c) real 23. The following considerations are mainly based on: (Whitehead, 1967b, 175f.), (Whitehead, 1979, 21f.), (Whitehead, 1967a, 179-180), entities. x A(x) denotes that for all x the philosophical concept A holds. x B(x) denotes that for at least one x the philosophical concept A holds.
(Whitehead, 1927, 98). 24. (Whitehead, 1979, 25) 25. cf. (Whitehead, 1979, 25, 85 iii, 87, 222, 225) 26. cf. (Whitehead, 1979, xxi, 25, Cat.Expl., 164, 211 iii) 27. cf. (Whitehead, 1979, 21, ix Cat.Obl., 28, 165, 211 iii)

A denotes that A holds in all possible worlds A is 28. (Rosenberg, 2004, 149) 29. cf. (Whitehead, 1979, 24) necessary. A denotes that A holds in at least one possible world A is possible. In modal logic the two modal operators and are defined as follows: If A, then A. If A, then A.
30. (Rosenberg, 2004, 148-150) 31. cf. (Whitehead, 1979, 22-30) 32. cf. (Whitehead, 1979, 22)


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