Flux and Metaphysics: an Introduction to Process Philosophy
Western metaphysics has been overwhelmingly defined by the task of uncovering, at the most basic level, the fundamental elements of existence—be it fire or water, Forms or souls, or atoms, quarks, or bosons. Usually the answer was taken to be some kind of substance, which remains the same and endures even during outward change. But what if the conventional view is a mistake? What if static entities or substances aren’t the bases for dynamic processes of action and change, but rather the result? What if change is more basic than persistence? What if being is essentially becoming?
In this course, we’ll explore what amounts to a shadow tradition within Western philosophy, sometimes called Process Philosophy, that precisely rejects the substance ontology first codified by Plato and which persists through most medieval, modern, and contemporary philosophy. For Process Philosophers—whose most exemplary representatives are Henri Bergson and Alfred North Whitehead—reality is continuously in flux, a standpoint that forces a rethinking not only of conventional metaphysics, but also, meta-philosophically, of philosophizing itself. Why, for process philosophers, is dynamism a better, more productive, philosophical paradigm than the conventional static view of reality? What follows from Process ontology—for epistemology, for the bifurcation of mind and body, for normativity, for science, for religion? After looking into the lapidary and enigmatic fragments of the Pre-Socratic Heraclitus (“the only thing that is constant is change”), we will explore the philosophies of two of the most explicit and important process philosophers: Bergson and Whitehead. We’ll delve into some of Bergson’s key texts such as Time and Free Will and “An Introduction to Metaphysics”, and tackle Whitehead’s magnum opus, Process and Reality. And throughout, we will ask: what does it mean for being to be essentially becoming?
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
February 03 — February 24, 2022