August 25, 2023
Thanks to Alissa Simon, HMU Tutor, for today’s blog.
Don’t forget the sensations, Whitehead reminds us. Near the end of “Part II: Discussions and Applications” in Whitehead’s book Process and Reality, he mentions his frustration at the fact that philosophers (logicians, really) have discarded emotion as largely unworthy of discussion. He notes the various reasons that feeling is difficult to discuss, but then reminds us that it is also an essential aspect of experience. Before explaining how an eternal object becomes a concrescence, Whitehead reveals part of his focus on feeling from the philosophical discussion. In “Chapter IX, The Propositions,” he writes:
“It is evident, however, that the primary function of theories is as a lure for feeling, thereby providing immediacy of enjoyment and purpose. Unfortunately, theories under their name of ‘propositions,’ have been handed over to logicians, who have countenanced the doctrine that their one function is to be judged as to their truth or falsehood. Indeed Bradley does not mention ‘propositions’ in his Logic. He writes only of ‘judgments.’ Other authors define propositions as component in judgment. The doctrine here layed down is that, in the realization of propositions, ‘judgment’ is a very rare component, and so is ‘consciousness.’ The existence of imaginative literature should have warned logicians that their narrow doctrine is absurd. It is difficult to believe that all logicians as they read Hamlet’s speech, “To be, or not to be: …” commence by judging whether the initial proposition be true or false, and keep up the task of judgment throughout the whole thirty-five lines. Surely, at some point in the reading, judgment is eclipsed by aesthetic delight. The speech, for the theatre audience, is purely theoretical, a mere lure for feeling.
“Again, consider religious emotion – consider a Christian meditating on the sayings in the Gospels. He is not judging ‘true or false’; he is eliciting their value as elements in feeling. In fact, he may ground his judgment of truth upon his realization of value. But such a procedure is impossible, if the primary function of propositions is to be elements in judgments.”
Obviously, Whitehead is correct that the lure for feeling is widely demonstrated in literature. In fact, it has been largely relegated to literature. Character analysis (which often relies on actions as a result of feelings) proves to be a form of communication and connection. Therefore, I thought that the following excerpt from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams would be a fun way to further underscore Whitehead’s point.
In the following passage, Ford, a being from somewhere near Betelgeuse, has been stranded on Earth for fifteen years. Ford knows that Earth is about to be annihilated, though the humans are completely unaware of their danger. The barman, however, intuitively connects with Ford’s feeling. This short passage is a nod to the fact that feelings increase the intensity of our existence and for Whitehead, intensity is vital. It also shows how feelings are, in some inexplicable way, universal.
“Ford was very kind – he gave the barman another five-pound note and told him to keep the change. The barman looked at it and then looked at Ford. He suddenly shivered: he experienced a momentary sensation that he didn’t understand because no one on Earth had ever experienced it before. In moments of great stress, every life form that exists gives out a tiny subliminal signal. This signal simply communicates an exact and almost pathetic sense of how far that being is from the place of his birth. On Earth, it is never possible to be farther than sixteen thousand miles from your birthplace, which isn’t very far, so such signals are too minute to be noticed. Ford Prefect was at this moment under great stress, and he was born six hundred light-years away in the near vicinity of Betelgeuse.
“The barman reeled for a moment, hit by a shocking, incomprehensible sense of distance. He didn’t know what it meant, but he looked at Ford Prefect with a new sense of respect, almost awe.
“’Are you serious, sir?’ he said in a small whisper which had the effect of silencing the pub. ‘You think the world’s going to end?’
“’Yes,’ said Ford.
“’But, this afternoon.’
“’Yes,’ he said gaily, ‘in less than two minutes I would estimate.’
“The barman couldn’t believe this conversation he was having, but he couldn’t believe the sensation he had just had either.”
In other words, the strange sensation experienced by the barman made him realize – if only for a moment – the uniqueness of the moment. Ford’s presence changed his experience and he emitted a physical response.
In upcoming weeks, we will continue to explore more of Whitehead’s Process and Reality.
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