Friday, December 31, 2004

Whitehead's Theory of Perception

Whitehead’s theory or perception is integral to Whiteheadian panexperientialism. In particular, his analysis of ‘perception in the mode of causal efficacy’ lays the basis for the generalisation of elements of directly experienced feeling to the whole of nature. His theory of perception can also stand on its own and be fruitfuly utilised by other forms of panexperientialism, which may not be sympathetic to other aspects of Whitehead’s thought.

For these reasons, it is relevant to panexperientialist theory to examine critiques of Whitehead's theory of perception.

The following three links provide firstly, a criticism of Whitehead’s theory of perception; secondly, a response to this criticism; and thirdly, a further critique of ‘perception in the mode of causal efficacy’.

The Incoherence of Whitehead's Theory of Perception by Robert Kimball

Kimball on Whitehead and Perception by David L. Hildebrand

Error in Causal Efficacy by Robert H. Kimball

Here are some brief comments of mine on the latter paper listed above:

In “Error in Causal Efficacy”, Robert H. Kimball argues that in so far as Whitehead’s theory of perception is intended to stand alone without the rest of his system, then the theory is insufficiently justified. Kimball’s paper is primarily focussed on whether the theory of perception on it's own provides adequate justification that perception in the mode of causal efficacy ("PMCE")reveals actual causal connections. Kimball claims is that it doesn't, and therefore Whitehead’s theory of perception is inadequately justified.

I think consideration of Whitehead's methodology and of what he actually wrote in the theory of perception are sufficient to refute Kimball’s claims. In particular, strong arguments could be mounted to support the following points:

- Kimball’s claim that PMCE could be inaccurate or unreliable is incorrect, as PMCE by definition is incapable of error;
- Whitehead's theory of perception does not rely on the experience of PMCE alone to conclude that causation exists;
- it is unwarranted to expect that Whitehead’s theory of perception be devoid of any metaphysical or epistemological assumptions in order to be justifiable;
- the standard of certainty which Kimball applies to the theory of perception is inappropriate to Whitehead’s method of philosophising; and,
- the theory of perception and the other systematic considerations expounded in the works which comprise the theory of perception do provide adequate justification for belief in causal efficacy.

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Anonymous said...

could you provide a clear and simple explanation of PMCE?
I am sympathetic but have a hard time reading Process thought; except for occassional; breakthroughs.
In PHilosophy MAG Colin Wilson sais PMCE is a sort of "primal" instinctive awareness of MEANING-
that didn't make much sense to me-he seemed on a "trip" thanks DRJ

Justin said...

It's been a while since I have been reading Whitehead, so I would not be game to attempt a clear and simple explanation of anything he says right now.
The following article by David Ray Griffin may be of use:

Anonymous said...

THanks a lot Justin. I have read a bit of Griffin and I think he is good. I'll look up the website