More Process vs Substance/Object Discussion


Several responses to my last post are here at Knowledge Ecology, here at Immanence, here at Footnotes 2 Plato, here at After Nature, and at Immanent Transcendence.

I doubt I can give each the response it deserves but, at least to keep the conversation going, I have several questions/comments in regards to each response.

For Knowledge Ecology it is clearly the case that I need to read more Whitehead especially since he is the thinker who seems to be pulled back and forth the most across the divide (if it is in fact a divide) of OOO/OOP and PP. My lingering question is the distinction of the metaphysical and the non-metaphysical as it relates to substance vs process and the question of individuation. For me, the distinction really rests on whether the object or substance is metaphysically prior to, or important, or however you want to put it, to the processes or powers. In philosophies of dispositions it is often the case that dispositions, at their root, belong to objects, or natural kinds, and so forth. Grant’s philosophy (and some philosophers of dispositions such as Alexander Bird for instance) believe that you must have powers all the way down otherwise you fall into quidditism or some other universe where thinking does too much carving up of nature and the joints to make sense of it.

While the response at After Nature similarily calls for similarity or less difference I think there still remains a kernel of ontological difference if its processes or becoming or powers all the way down that object (or generate or individuate) as opposed to a universe peppered with things that power or process. So what’s the difference between objects that power and powers that object? The former focuses less on generation and destruction while simply ontologizing the difference between things where the latter ontologizies processes or events such as generation or destruction or evolution or change whereas it has to work to explain this and that. In the end perhaps it is just a metaphysics for the world as it appears with molten cores or withdrawnness to explain difference vs a metaphysical theory which explains worlding and not the particularity of things.

It’s here where I might have overstated process or Whitehead as doing violence to common sense as Footnotes discusses here. This lies in the trickiness of the term experience which also indexes discussions of panpsychism and Bergson’s memory.  Everything has experiences to the extent that what is not that thing is effected, changed, warped what have you by other things or by processes. But while there is an ontologically continuity between how a rock ‘experiences a pond’ and how a romantic German poet experiences a pond there is also a difference which functions on a different realm – I am still struggling as to whether is an ontological difference or an ontic difference. Footnotes writes”

” Unlike Woodard, I think metaphysical speculation is necessarily affective and existential. Philosophy must be involved  in the ethical complexities of everyday life among others, since it is only in response to these complexities that thinking emerges at all. If affect and ethics are not properly “metaphysical” topics, then I say to hell with metaphysics.”

And this is the tricky part about that struggle – this is the relation between affect and metaphysics. I always think there is a risk of enchantment feeding back too much onto a metaphysical theory that is posited because it makes sense. That theory however is always going to be speculative/imaginative and cannot be skinned of its affective colors but, it’s here Laruelle is useful – as there is an important task of splitting the decided real from the Real as One, from the world pushing affect to affect pushing the world. The latter is no doubt important in terms of affects, politics and the like, but when it starts to seep into the structure of reality I think it is important to appeal to reason. Again, this is easier said than done. Also, I appreciate the comment on Whitehead being for the muddleheaded as Schelling was often called by his students Professor Murky mind.

In the sense I am not sure if the differences have been overstated as Adrian states but again the relation to Whitehead is key. And this relates to the issue I have above of the metaphysical difference between a world of things that world and a world of worlding that makes things – that how does this difference, what could be the Spinoza Liebniz difference or the Plato Aristotle difference, map onto events as things. Is the thingness of the event its identifiability by other things or is this identifiability always already written into the world (Simondon’s preindividual fields, Platonic ideas as genetic) and so on?

This is also related to Jason’s concerns about continuity here mentions here which also swings us back around to Meillassoux’s absolute contingency.

Sorry this is a quick and dirty post now I just have to get Shaviro to chime in!  Thank you all for your well thought out responses.



5 Responses to “More Process vs Substance/Object Discussion”

  1. 1 Jason Hills

    I will repost this on my blog.


    I’ll respond to the question of the priority of “object” or “substance” to “processes” and “powers.” In short, the question is not coherent in my position, and I believe the same for Peirce and Whitehead, although I would defer to those more knowledgeable of Whitehead. Here’s why from my Dewey-Peircean position. First, in an event ontology, the fundamental unit would be an “event,” not “object” or “substance.” You question implies a substance perspective that event ontologies do not share, because all events occur in a history in which a power leads to an actual event, and actual events lead to emergent powers. There is no absolute priority of events, and any particular priority of powers over actual events is non-necessary.

    Moreover, one should be careful to scrub any conventional idea of (efficient) causation, e.g., that powers “cause” events, because the conventional models still lead one down mechanical conceptual metaphors. Yes, powers “cause” events in a way, but the details are quite different, e.g., powers/potentials are wholly separable from objects or substance on a Peircean view and there is not hard distinction between force and existence. The last point is notable because people usually take the quasi-Aristotelian view that existences “have” powers that exert force. Not so for Peirce. Further explanation could get knarly, as it invokes synechism/continuity. That is, nature has no joints, and most of our distinctions are at best Scotus’ formal distinction. This is where the term “speculative” comes in, as we formulate distinctions through abductive inference to better understand and hope that ideally we have achieved a formal distinction.

    It is not “processes or powers all the way down,” because actual events are when determinate existence, emergence, and true creativity occur. Reaching the boiling point of water, that phase change, is not something reducible to what is prior or after. “Creativity” should not be understood as “artistic” or “something new,” but genesis. The stability of creative phenomena, due to the stability or “habits” of the present configuration of the cosmos and local environment, are what give stability to creativity, e.g., the fact that water boiling is fairly predictable.

    As for the difference between “objects that power” (trans: actual events that power) and “powers that object,” their are numerous differences, but none of them are differences in power. They are differences in organization, time, history, etc., but perhaps the biggest difference in those two phrases is that the emergence of an “object” (actual event) is the emergence of new powers. See my recent post about the composability of entelechies. As for “powers that object,” that is mostly a temporal-historical distinction, i.e., the newly created powers of the object are already existent.

    I suspect that you and others presume that there’s an equivocation in the term “power” in your statement–presume that their should be. No, except that there are many, many instances of “power.” I have posted previously on whether the number of distinct, non-isomorphic powers can be infinite; see my blog on causal closure. I suspect that the answer must be “no” at the moment of cosmogenesis. We can construct limited infinite sets from permutations of finite powers, so it’s possible that a limited set of powers at cosmogenesis lead to an infinite set. We can also presume that there was no cosmogenesis.

    Not everything “has experiences” if I must nitpick from a Deweyan view. Experience is the activity of nature, and the term strictly denotes the transaction of entities. Experience is thirdness, possibly regarded minimally as degenerate thirdness. Whitehead has more elaborate views, e.g., regarding subjectivity, that I will leave to his scholars. There is a really important reason to use the word “experience” for this that I can answer later. As for the difference between a rock experiencing a pond and a German poet doing the same, assuming all three are there, I have a short answer. The German poet as a human being has modalities of experience that a rock doesn’t have, i.e., an organic body capable of consciousness and mind, that allows for more complex relations. The poet “interprets” or symbolizes its relations to the rock and pond in ways that the rock cannot, e.g., poetry versus the boring laws of nature for the rock. I suspect it could be called an ontic difference, but I’m not sure how you’re employing the terms. As for Matt’s other comments, those do not relate to mine and I’m not sure what he’s saying, since I do not see where affectivity comes in. By the way, “feeling” is NOT an “affect.” It may become one under certain human-inclusive conditions.

    As for “the relation to Whitehead is key,” that might be true, but I’m saying all this with only basic Whitehead knowledge that does not rely on that knowledge.

    • 2 Ben Woodard

      Hi Jason,

      I agree with much of what you have to say here – I hope it doesn’t seem as if I am trying to defend substance metaphysics or OOO/OOP – I am not. I’m trying to see mostly how those who have critiqued OOO/OOP from the view of anti-substance or non-substance are similar – and how thinkers not usually associated with becoming or process fit in as well. So I really liked your response and have a few (hopefully not too naive) questions:

      1-How does event relate to history in terms of relations relating to non-relations that is – is history a non-absolutized series of events that become history when certain events occur which direct the the path of future events?

      2-I agree with what you critique as quasi-Aristotelianism and this is why I like approaches that are powers all the way down or at least theories of powers that don’t rely on things have them (having powers that is).

      3-While you critique this move of powers all the way done I wonder how this relates to my own attempt at having kinds of transcendental regimes (transcendental in the Schellingian sense not the Kantian sense) in which any type of ground is transcendental in that in changes the kind of creativity or the recognizable form of an original contingency/Eventality…?) so appears to us as a kind of form but at metaphysical root doesn’t override a originary metaphysical continuity. To me Schellingian transcendence is a closure which appears simultaneously only epistemological and ontological.

      I must look into Dewey and go back through some of your recent posts.
      Thanks again for responding.

  2. 3 Jason Hills


    I think a clear answer is an exposition, not just an explanation, and thus I answered as I did.

    Other than Experience and Nature, reading primary sources on Dewey is not recommended, as one has to mine his books and become a specialist to gain enough to work with. Read Thomas Alexander’s John Dewey’s Theory of Art, Experience, and Nature first.

    I critique the move of “powers” all the way down, but let me explain. A “power” is a 1) capacitiy/pure possiiblity (dunamis), 2) telic activity (kinesis) and 3) realization unto actuality (entelechy). 1) & 2) are necessary, while 3) is what the power achieves if not inhibited. However, as entelechies are composable in ways not known in advance and are thus a source of creativity (generativity), there is a difference between a merely active power and a complex/nexus/dynamic system of powers that give rise to stable actual events (concretions of their composed entelechies). That is why it is not, to be precise, “powers” all the way down as powers implies only 1) and 2) but not 3) or its complexes.

    “History” refers to the morphology of the configuration or dynamic system of powers and actual events. “Time” is not a sufficient concept, because it cannot capture the intricacies of organization’ e.g., as I’ve said, the configuration is also causally efficacious, but that is historical and not temporal. Obviously, “history” does not mean “a series of events,” because a “process” is not a mere procession of unrelated or simply related events. The earlier events constitute the later ones, e.g., the impact of my foot on the rock constitutes my subsequences consciousness of kicking that rock. “Temporality” refers to the constitutions and relations of one event to another, possible and actual, whereas “history” primarily denotes their actual configuration, whole complexes and environments, and not just this event to that event (temporality). Apologies, as I’m responding quickly. A process is not a simple symmetric series of otherwise unrelated events, and that’s part of the reason that “history” and “temporality” have non-conventional denotations. cf. Whitehead objective immortality.

    By the way, there is no “history in terms of relations relating to non-relations,” because nothing can be unrelated, else we cannot speak of it. There might be something absolutely unrelated, but then we could never experience or know it, so I just ignore that possibility and it does likewise. This does not mean that all there is, is relations; it means that whatever exists must be related. That said, I take the modalities of being to include more than brute existence, and it is always possible that some possibility has never existed but could exist, as possibility is a distinct modality of being not dependent upon actuality. Real possibilities, of course, become dependent through existing.

    I read Schelling’s Freedom book intensely, as well as other literature, which has convinced me that I should refrain from making anything but the most basic claim. Hence, I can only remind you of the Peirce quote on Schelling that I gave you, but I cannot address “transcendental regimes.”

    Ah … another week before I won’t have time to make long replies like this.

  3. 4 Jason Hills

    p.s. if you’d like to see something *really* different, a friend of mine and Chinese Doaism/Confucianism/Buddhism scholar is comparing what I’ve said to Doaism. There are a lot of harmonies between pragmatist process and select Buddhism and Doaism. It’s a comment at .

    Ya, I’m really serious about the “pluralism,” and I encourage it in others. If you’re not already familiar, I can recommend a reader in Buddhism so that you can understand the see the parallels per emptiness or sunyata, etc. there are others in the blogosphere here that do some cross-over as well.

  1. 1 Interesting Discussion of Whitehead - event mechanics - event mechanics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: