Chapter II of Part V, "Final Interpretation," of Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, New York, Macmillan, 1929; Corrected Edition, ed. David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne, New York, Free Press, 1978. I am indebted to Hyatt Carter for transcribing the text, which I have only reformatted stylistically.
God and the World
Alfred North Whitehead
One most obvious problem is how to save the intermediate imaginative representations of spiritual truths from loss of effectiveness, if the possibility of modifications of dogma are admitted. The religious spirit is not identical with dialectical acuteness. Thus these intermediate representations play a great part in religious life. They are enshrined in modes of worship, in popular religious literature, and in art. Religions cannot do without them; but if they are allowed to dominate, uncriticised by dogma or by recurrence to the primary sources of religious inspiration, they are properly to be termed idols. In Christian history, the charge of idolatry has been bandied to and fro among rival theologians. Probably, if taken in its wide sense, it rests with equal truth on all the main churches, Protestant, and Catholic. Idolatry is the necessary product of static dogmas.
So long as the temporal world is conceived as a self-sufficient completion of the creative act, explicable by its derivation from an ultimate principle which is at once eminently real and the unmoved mover, from this conclusion there is no escape: the best that we can say of the turmoil is, “For so he giveth his beloved—sleep.” This is the message of religions of the Buddhistic type, and in some sense it is true. In this final discussion we have to ask, whether metaphysical principles impose the belief that it is the whole truth. The complexity of the world must be reflected in the answer. It is childish to enter upon thought with the simple-minded question, What is the world made of? The task of reason is to fathom the deeper depths of the many-sidedness of things. We must not expect simple answers to far-reaching questions. However far our gaze penetrates, there are always heights beyond which block our vision.
The notion of God as the “unmoved mover” is derived from Aristotle, at least so far as Western thought is concerned. The notion of God as “emi-nently real” is a favourite doctrine of Christian theo-logy. The combination of the two into the doctrine of an aboriginal, eminently real, transcendent creator, at whose fiat the world came into being, and whose imposed will it obeys, is the fallacy which has infused tragedy into the histories of Christianity and of Maho-metanism.
When the Western world accepted Christianity, Caesar conquered; and the received text of Western theology was edited by his lawyers. The code of Jus-tinian and the theology of Justinian are two volumes expressing one movement of the human spirit. The brief Galilean vision of humility flickered throughout the ages, uncertainly. In the official formulation of the religion it has assumed the trivial form of the mere attribution to the Jews that they cherished a misconception about their Messiah. But the deeper idolatry, of the fashioning of God in the image of the Egyptian, Persian, and Roman imperial rulers, was retained. The Church gave unto God the attributes which belonged exclusively to Caesar.
In the great formative period of theistic philoso-phy, which ended with the rise of Mahometanism, after a continuance coeval with civilization, three strains of thought emerge which, amid many variations in detail, respectively fashion God in the image of an imperial ruler, God in the image of a personification of moral energy, God in the image of an ultimate philosophical principle. Hume’s Dialogues criticize unanswerably these modes of explaining the system of the world.
The three schools of thought can be associated respectively with the divine Caesars, the Hebrew prophets, and Aristotle. But Aristotle was antedated by Indian, and Buddhistic, thought; the Hebrew pro-phets can be paralleled in traces of earlier thought; Mahometanism and the divine Caesars merely represent the most natural, obvious, idolatrous theistic symbolism, at all epochs and places.
The history of theistic philosophy exhibits various stages of combination of these three diverse ways of entertaining the problem. There is, however, in the Galilean origin of Christianity yet another suggestion which does not fit very well with any of the three main strands of thought. It does not emphasize the ruling Caesar, or the ruthless moralist, or the unmoved mover. It dwells upon the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operate by love; and it finds purpose in the present immediacy of a kingdom not of this world. Love neither rules, nor is it unmoved; also it is a little oblivious as to morals. It does not look to the future; for it finds its own reward in the immediate present.
Apart from any reference to existing religions as they are, or as they ought to be, we must investigate dispassionately what the metaphysical principles, here developed, require on these points, as to the nature of Cod. There is nothing here in the nature of proof. There is merely the confrontation of the theo-retic system with a certain rendering of the facts. But the unsystematized report upon the facts is itself highly controversial, and the system is confessedly inadequate. The deductions from it in this particular sphere of thought cannot be looked upon as more than suggestions as to how the problem is trans-formed in the light of that system. What follows is merely an attempt to add another speaker to that masterpiece, Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Any cogency of argument entirely depends upon elucidation of somewhat exceptional elements in our conscious experience—those elements which may roughly be classed together as religious and moral intuitions.
In the first place, God is not to be treated as an exception to all metaphysical principles, invoked to save their collapse. He is their chief exemplification.
Viewed as primordial, he is the unlimited concep-tual realization of the absolute wealth of potentiality. In this aspect, he is not before all creation, but with all creation. But, as primordial, so far is he from “eminent reality,” that in this abstraction he is “deficiently actual”—and this in two ways. His feel-ings are only conceptual and so lack the fulness of actuality. Secondly, conceptual feelings, apart from complex integration with physical feelings, are devoid of consciousness in their subjective forms. Thus, when we make a distinction of reason, and consider God in the abstraction of a primordial actu-ality, we must ascribe to him neither fulness of feel-ing, nor consciousness. He is the unconditioned actuality of conceptual feeling at the base of things; so that, by reason of this primordial actuality, there is an order in the relevance of eternal objects to the process of creation. His unity of conceptual opera-tions is a free creative act, untrammelled by refer-ence to any particular course of things. It is deflected neither by love, nor by hatred, for what in fact comes to pass. The particularities of the actual world pre-suppose it; while it merely presupposes the general metaphysical character of creative advance, of which it is the primordial exemplification. The primordial nature of God is the acquirement by creativity of a primordial character.
His conceptual actuality at once exemplifies and establishes the categoreal conditions. The concep-tual feelings, which compose his primordial nature, exemplify in their subjective forms their mutual sen-sitivity and their subjective unity of subjective aim. These subjective forms are valuations determining the relative relevance of eternal objects for each occasion of actuality.
He is the lure for feeling, the eternal urge of de-sire. His particular relevance to each creative act, as it arises from its own conditioned standpoint in the world, constitutes him the initial “object of desire” establishing the initial phase of each subjective aim. A quotation from Aristotle’s Metaphysics1 expresses some analogies to, and some differences from, this line of thought:
And since that which is moved and moves is intermediate, there is some-thing which moves without being moved, being eternal, substance, and actuality. And the object of desire and the object of thought move in this way; they move without being moved. The primary objects of desire and of thought are the same. For the apparent good is the object of appetite, and the real good is the primary object of rational wish. But desire is consequent on opinion rather than opinion on desire; for the thinking is the starting-point. And thought is moved by the object of thought, and one of the two columns of opposites is in itself the object of thought; . . .
Aristotle had not made the distinction between conceptual feelings and the intellectual feelings which alone involve consciousness. But if “concep-tual feeling,” with its subjective form of valuation, be substituted for “thought,” “thinking,” and “opinion,” in the above quotation, the agreement is exact.
There is another side to the nature of God which cannot be omitted. Throughout this exposition of the philosophy of organism we have been considering the primary action of God on the world. From this point of view, he is the principle of concretion—the principle whereby there is initiated a definite outcome from a situation otherwise riddled with ambiguity. Thus, so far, the primordial side of the nature of God has alone been relevant.
But God, as well as being primordial, is also con-sequent. He is the beginning and the end. He is not the beginning in the sense of being in the past of all members. He is the presupposed actuality of concep-tual operation, in unison of becoming with every other creative act. Thus, by reason of the relativity of all things, there is a reaction of the world on God. The completion of God’s nature into a fulness of physical feeling is derived from the objectification of the world in God. He shares with every new creation its actual world; and the concrescent creature is objectified in God as a novel element in God’s objectification of that actual world. This prehension into God of each creature is directed with the subjective aim, and clothed with the subjective form, wholly derivative from his all-inclusive primordial valuation. God’s conceptual nature is unchanged, by reason of its final completeness. But his derivative nature is conse-quent upon the creative advance of the world.
Thus, analogously to all actual entities, the nature of God is dipolar. He has a primordial nature and a consequent nature. The consequent nature of God is conscious; and it is the realization of the actual world in the unity of his nature, and through the transfor-mation of his wisdom. The primordial nature is con-ceptual, the consequent nature is the weaving of God’s physical feelings upon his primordial concepts.
One side of God’s nature is constituted by his con-ceptual experience. This experience is the primordial fact in the world, limited by no actuality which it pre-supposes. It is therefore infinite, devoid of all nega-tive prehensions. This side of his nature is free, com-plete, primordial, eternal, actually deficient, and un-conscious. The other side originates with physical ex-perience derived from the temporal world, and then acquires integration with the primordial side. It is determined, incomplete, consequent, “everlasting,” fully actual, and conscious. His necessary goodness expresses the determination of his consequent nature.
Conceptual experience can be infinite, but it belongs to the nature of physical experience that it is finite. An actual entity in the temporal world is to be conceived as originated by physical experience with its process of completion motivated by consequent, conceptual experience initially derived from God. God is to be conceived as originated by conceptual ex-perience with his process of completion motivated by consequent, physical experience, initially derived from the temporal world.
The perfection of God’s subjective aim, derived from the completeness of his primordial nature, is-sues into the character of his consequent nature. In it there is no loss, no obstruction. The world is felt in a unison of immediacy. The property of combining creative advance with the retention of mutual im-mediacy is what in the previous section is meant by the term “everlasting.”
The wisdom of subjective aim prehends every ac-tuality for what it can be in such a perfected system—its sufferings, its sorrows, its failures, its triumphs, its immediacies of joy—woven by rightness of feeling into the harmony of the universal feeling, which is al-ways immediate, always many, always one, always with novel advance, moving onward and never pe-rishing. The revolts of destructive evil, purely self-re-garding, are dismissed into their triviality of merely individual facts; and yet the good they did achieve in individual joy, in individual sorrow, in the introduction of needed contrast, is yet saved by its relation to the completed whole. The image—and it is but an image—the image under which this operative growth of God’s nature is best conceived, is that of a tender care that nothing be lost.
The consequent nature of God is his judgment on the world. He saves the world as it passes into the immediacy of his own life. It is the judgment of a ten-derness which loses nothing that can be saved. It is als