THE MARCH OF METAPHYSICS

Two dozen steps from ancient Greek thought to the panexperientialism of Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne, and its use in New Thought.

Religion, often guided by faith over reason, is a way in which people combine their beliefs, attitudes, and actions in relation to whatever they consider to be most important (generally including a belief about the existence and nature of a God or gods), in trying to live life most satisfyingly.

Philosophy (literally, the love of wisdom) is a rational attempt to know what life is all about: how to think validly, how we know anything, what truth is and how it should be tested, what good and bad are, what is most important, what beauty is, and what the underlying assumptions and methodologies of all the special areas of knowledge are. In other words, as traditionally understood, philosophy is the study of the biggest questions that face human beings.

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that seeks to understand the most basic nature of all reality, to discover what anything must be like in order to be at all.

VARIOUS OUTLOOKS

1. The mythological prelude: the attempt to come to terms with the universe through the use of imaginative, storytelling insight.

2. The Milesian curtain raiser: rational, literal thought, rather than poetic storytelling, produces the conclusion that everything comes from one thing, generally conceived to be a physical something, such as water or air.

3. The Heraclitean essential insight: process and Logos: balanced becoming. Everything is changing, in an orderly way. We cannot step into the same river twice.

4. The Eleatic denial of change: static being.

5. The atomistic compromise of changeless material atoms with change through rearrangement: materialism, mechanism.

6. The Socratic recognition of oneself as immortal soul.

7. The Platonic embrace of Eleatic changelessness for full reality, but mind as self-moving; non-material Forms. Basically otherworldly.

8. Aristotelian, largely this-world oriented, side track with a God of isolated aloofness.

9. Epicurean application of atomism in a pain-avoiding search for sheltered contentment.

10. Stoic practical psychology of mind control for virtue, (alignment with Nature, Reason, God), combined with freedom-denying pantheism.

11 Jesus' apotheosis of love and practical, direct application of awareness of presence of God to remedy human problems.

12. Neoplatonic blend of mysticism and emanation, an uneasy balance of monism and dualism.

13. The Medieval muddle of flip-flopping between Plato and Aristotle.

14. Protestant Reformation provided no clear resolution of problems.

MATERIALISM or NATURALISM (Only matter or lifeless energy is real) and MECHANISM (Everything acts in a machine-like way, non-teleological [non-purposive]):

15. Hobbes (1588-1679) and La Mettrie (1709-51) advanced materialism.

16. Newton (1642-1727) united scientific discoveries into the "Newtonian world machine."

DUALISM (Mind and matter are equally real.):

17. Descartes (1596-1650) and Locke (1632-1704) presented a dualism of mind and matter.

IDEALISM (Everything is mental or spiritual.):

18. Leibniz (1644-1716) converted atoms from matter to mind, but considered them "windowless" and called them monads (units) in a panpsychism, an idealism of many minds. 19. Berkeley (1685-1753) discarded material substance, and Hume (1711-1776) dropped spiritual substance, leaving only phenomena.

Kant (1724-1804), responding to skepticism Hume, saw mind as orderer of experience, but denied possibility of knowing things in themselves.

Fichte (1762-1814), Schelling (1775-1854), and Hegel (1770-1831) (followed by such thinkers as Bradley [1846-1924] and Royce [1855-1916]) sought the thing itself and produced an idealism of one mind (absolute idealism).

20. Bowne (1847-1910) (followed by Brightman [1884-1953] and Bertocci [1910-1989]) formulated Personalism (personal idealism), emphasizing the indispensability of personhood for a sound metaphysics.

21. Einstein (1879-1955), Planck (1858-1947), and other scientists demolished earlier materialistic science (but its assumptions continue to prevail in commonsensical view of reality), and replaced substance with essentially lifeless process (activity, change) as basic.

22. Whitehead (1861-1947) (combining Plato, Leibniz, Romantic poets, and 20th century physics) formulated his "philosophy of organism" or process philosophy, recognizing the quanta (momentarily-existing bursts of energy) of physics as living, interrelated units that he called occasions of experience, the building blocks, the "concrete" actualities in terms of which everything must be explained (the ontological principle). Avoiding the fallacy of misplaced concreteness, material things are recognized as collections or aggregates (abstractions or constructions) of occasions. God selects from possibilities (eternal objects, like Plato's Forms or Ideas) and provides them to occasions of experience as they start to develop; the occasions blend these potentialities with the influences of the past in order to produce new creations, which immediately are converted from subjectivity to objectivity, and (in objective immortality) forever influence all later-developing occasions of experience. Persons are successions of highly complex occasions that preside over the successions of vast collections of less complex occasions constituting their bodies. Hartshorne (born 1897) independently developed his similar views and advanced a panentheism that recognizes all as in God and the universe as God's body.

METAPHYSICS IN THE NEW THOUGHT MOVEMENT

23. Traditional (Substance) New Thought drew on the insights and practices of Quimby (1802-66), Evans, Hopkins, C. Fillmore, Cramer, Troward, E. Holmes, and others, and accepted substance idealism.

24. Process New Thought builds on the same foundations, but goes beyond them to substitute a process idealistic view of reality, including a growing, fully personal God, serial selfhood, evolving natural laws (recognized as abstract formulations of habitual interactions), and personal immortality, as well as objective immortality. God is morally unchanging as perfect good, acting in such ways as to promote the maximum satisfaction of every bit of existence. God is perfect love-intelligence, understood as involving a recycling process of (1) offering to each occasion of experience the best, individually tailor-made possibilities, (2) allowing freedom of choice in co-creation with God, (3) appreciatively, perfectly preserving all effort-accomplishment as the completed occasion, and (4) presenting it to upcoming occasions as part of the past, in relation to which newly-offered perfect possibilities are to be blended by the new occasion.

God is the mind, soul, spirit, personality of the universe, recognizing the universe as God's body. Healing is receiving of God's specifically-designed good, offered uniquely to each one. There is no acting, impersonal law, but the regularity, reliability, constancy of God's love may be considered at least its equivalent. Reality is not enduring substance, but is a vast collection of momentarily-developing units of experience.

For additional information on Process New Thought, see Process Philosophy and the New Thought Movement and Summary of "The New Thought Movement: A Link Between East and West, as well as Anderson and Whitehouse, New Thought: A Practical American Spirituality, especially Chapter 6, which includes a table of comparisons of traditional Judeo-Christian thought, conventional Substance New Thought, and Process New Thought; part of that chapter can be found at Healing in a Process New Thought Perspective.

More on process metaphysics, apart from New Thought, can be found at Center for Process Studies; and Japan Internet Center for Process Studies, including, with many quotations, the valuable Contextual Index of Process and Reality and The Australasian Association for Process Thought, Richard Lubbock's Alfred North Whitehead for dummies; the periodicalProcess Studies, and Brief Excerpts from Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne.

For information on various types of metaphysics, see Metaphysics: Multiple Meanings

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Created February 2, 1997, adapting part of the author's Healing Hypotheses
by Alan Anderson
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Latest update (not text) June 20, 1998