January 30, 2008

Whitehead’s God might be preferable to Spinoza’s God for the role of the philosophers’ God, or the atheists’ God

It took me much longer than I had hoped, but I have finally finished a first draft of my chapter on Whitehead’s notion of God. It’s longer than it should be, and a bit all over the place (digressive) — and yet touches too briefly on a number of things that it would be good to flesh out in greater detail. And I didn’t quite manage to explain how and why Whitehead’s God might be preferable even to Spinoza’s God (its only competitor) for the role of the philosophers’ God, or the atheists’ God. In any case, the God I discern in Whitehead is (as far as I can tell) rather different from the one found in process theology. For what it’s worth, the article is here (pdf).
For the purposes of this chapter, I deliberately ignore the extensive literature on "process theology." Instead, I approach Whitehead’s notion of God from an insistently nontheological perspective. That is to say, I seek to situate Whitehead in relation to the radical critique of transcendence that runs through Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Deleuze: a critique that is also, in a certain manner, one of the major stakes in Kant’s transcendental argument, and in William James’ "radical empiricism."
From this point of view, it is tempting to follow Donald Sherburne’s (1986) effort to excise God altogether from Whitehead’s vision, the better to affirm a "neo-Whiteheadian naturalism" (83). But I think that God is too insistently present throughout the text of Process and Reality for this to be a viable option. I seek instead to develop a non-religious, or atheological, understanding of Whitehead’s God...

Whitehead has little interest in Nietzsche; in fact, he claims never to have read The Antichrist (Price 2001, 131). Nonetheless, Whitehead, like Nietzsche, puts the blame for all that is bad in historical Christianity upon St. Paul. Whitehead describes Paul as the man who "did more than anybody else to distort and subvert Christ’s teaching" (303); and he says that Paul’s "idea of God, to my mind, is the idea of the devil" (186). He explicitly prefers John to Paul (1926/1996, 76). All this is worth recalling at a time when such thinkers as Badiou (2003) and Zizek (2003) have cited Paul as an exemplary revolutionary figure. As I discuss further below, Whitehead rejects the sort of universalism that Badiou and Zizek champion, and attribute to Paul...
Whitehead implicitly follows Kant’s rejection of the physiotheological proof, in the very way that he structures his own argument. In his discussion of Religion in the Making (1926/1996), Whitehead proceeds from the "fact" of humankind’s "religious experience" (86); he is concerned with the social, psychological, and affective basis of religion, rather than with its possible objective truth. From this perspective, the argument from design is itself an emotional response.
It arises, as religion itself does, from our sense of wonder at the universe, and from humankind’s long habit of "artificially stimulating emotion" through ritual (22). But the emotions that are both the cause and the effect of religious practices cannot in themselves count as proof for any conception of God. If anything, religion’s "authority is endangered by the intensity of the emotions which it generates. Such emotions are evidence of some vivid experience; but they are a very poor guarantee for its correct interpretation" (83).
An und für sich Less of a Zizek blog than The Valve Observations on Early Moderns Saturday, January 19, 2008 by Adam
Spinoza seems to me to be miles ahead of any of these guys. I’m not ready to sign on and become a Spinozan, but he’s clearly the true radical. Posted by Adam Filed in Berkeley, Leibniz, Locke, Spinoza, Whitehead, philosophy One Response to “Observations on Early Moderns”

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