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An Introduction to
 Robert Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality

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Sneddon Thesis

- Part One

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Observer Interview

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Pirsig & Pragmatism

Chai at the Lazy Lounge






Part Two




AI = Adventures of Ideas

FR = The Function of Reason

MT = Modes of Thought

PR = Process and Reality

RM = Religion in the Making

SMW = Science and the Modern World

SYM = Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect

ZMM = Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance





CHAPTER V: A Process Analysis of Quality

Aspect A: Repetition

Aspect B: Novelty

Aspect C: Definition

Aspect D: Contrast

Aspect E: Limitation

Aspect F: Final Causation

Aspect G: World Orientedness

CHAPTER VI: The Art of Life



EPILOGUE: Constructive Postmodern Philosophy       




A Process Analysis of Quality

There is a very simple problem to face at this point. If one wants to hold that reality is value, or at least that value is a fundamental term in an analysis of reality, then the meaning of ‘value’ or ‘quality’ must be made very clear in order to avoid asserting empty platitudes. Those who assert that ‘everything is valuable in its own way,’ run the risk of arguing with an empty term, perhaps betraying serious naiveté. Robert Pirsig wrestles openly with this problem in ZMM:

Quality... you know what it is, yet you don’t know what it is. But that’s self-contradictory. But some things are [emphasis is mine unless stated otherwise] better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There’s nothing to talk about. But if you can’t say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists. If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn’t exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist. What else are the grades based. Why else would people pay fortunes for some things and throw others in the trash pile.’ Obviously some things are better than others but what’s the ‘betterness’? … So round and round you go, spinning mental wheels and nowhere finding anyplace to get traction. What the hell is Quality? What is it? (ZMM, 178)

This chapter is a first step towards an answer to this question. By drawing together some of the clearer statements made by Whitehead and Pirsig about quality, I shall outline the value dynamics that have been hinted at all along. I will make clear how, in what functions and relations, reality valuates itself, or how value manifests itself. By undertaking such a task of analysis of the passages from the respective writers, I am actually working towards a synthesis--a comprehensive understanding of ‘value’/‘quality.’ Some pertinent elements have already been discussed, such as the fundamental association of ‘value’ and ‘process.’ Other matters brought up in this chapter will merely be condensed forms of what has been discussed all along, and little further comment will be necessary. Paradoxically, in spite of the extensive citing of passages involved in this analysis, by undertaking this task I am actually moving away from the texts I have been examining. Several passages will be presented, followed by commentary on the pertinent aspect of ‘quality’ I think is illuminated by the selection. The synthesis will be built up in ‘aspects’, to use a Whiteheadian term.

Aspect A: Repetition

The Proto-Indo-European root of aretê was the morpheme rt. There, beside aretê, was a treasure room of other derived ‘rt’ words: ‘arithmetic,’ ‘aristocrat,’ ‘art,’ ‘rhetoric,’ ‘worth,’ ‘rite,’ ‘ritual,’ ‘wright,’ ‘right (handed),’ and ‘right (correct).’ When the morpheme appeared in ‘aristocrat’ and ‘arithmetic’ the reference was to firstness. Rt meant first. When it appeared in ‘art’ and ‘wright’ it seemed to mean created and of beauty. ‘Ritual’ suggested repetitive order. And the word ‘right’ has two meanings: right-handed and moral and esthetic correctness Rt referred to the ‘first, created, beautiful repetitive order of moral and esthetic correctness.’ (Lila, 441)

One of Phaedrus’ old school texts, written by M Hiriyanna, contained a good summary ‘Rta, which etymologically stands for “course”, originally meant cosmic order, the maintenance of which was the purpose of all the gods, and later it also came to mean right so that the gods were conceived as preserving the world not merely from physical disorder but also from moral chaos The one idea is implicit in the other and there is order in the universe because its control is in righteous hands…’

The physical order of the universe is also the moral order of the universe Rta is both This was exactly what the Metaphysics of Quality was claiming It was not a new idea It was the oldest idea known to man. (Lila, 444)

Dharma, like rta, means ‘what holds together.’ It is the basis of all order. It equals righteousness. It is the ethical code. It is the stable condition which gives man perfect satisfaction.

Dharma is duty… Dharma is beyond all questions of what is internal and what is external. Dharma is Quality itself, the principle of ‘rightness’ which gives structure and purpose to the evolution of life and to the evolving understanding of the universe which life has created. (Lila, 446)

The root fact is that ‘endurance’ is a device whereby an occasion is peculiarly bound by a single line of physical ancestry, while ‘life’ means novelty... The characteristic of life is reaction adapted to the capture of intensity, under a large variety of circumstances. But the reaction is dictated by the present and not by the past. It is the clutch at vivid immediacy. (PR, 104-105)

But values differ in importance. Thus though each event is necessary for the community of events, the weight of its contribution is determined by something intrinsic in itself. . . Empirical observation shows that it is the property which we may call indifferently retention, endurance, or reiteration. This property amounts to the recovery, on the behalf of value amid the transitoriness of reality, of the self- identity which is also enjoyed by the primary eternal objects. (SMW, 104)

The urge towards preservation of that which is valued is easily pointed out in human affairs. Much of the current interest in the development of an environmental ethic centres on this notion of preservation of that which is in danger. On the aesthetic side of value matters, a cursory survey of the history of art shows the development and exploration of styles or ‘schools’ of art which start as novel explorations, become rote, static ways of approaching things and wither because of a lack of change. Similarly, it has been my own experience that most people, in a purely unreflective attitude towards art, enjoy and actively seek repetition of their favorite songs, often to an extent that involves deliberate exclusion of novelty or freshness from the routine.

Whitehead has made this tendency into a metaphysical principle. Those forms, or complex eternal objects, which are valued are repeated by new actual occasions. This is a large part of the role of the physical prehensions in the process of concrescence. The result of such reiteration of pattern in the actual world is endurance of form, or order. Interestingly, Whitehead sees this as derivative from the conceptual order of the eternal objects, as envisaged in the primordial nature of god. Some sort of intuitive sense of this order seems to constitute the religious impulse for Whitehead.

For Pirsig, such repetition of actualized form is not derived from a deficiently actual state, rather, the primary quality dynamic is the development of patterns. If these patterns are felt to be successful, i.e., embody a more complex value state than relevant previous patterns, then they are repeated or preserved. Instead of being derived from a potential order, Pirsig’s stasis is the result of a fundamental urge from lack of differentiation to differentiation. Order is the product of actuality. The past is ordered because it is data that was once actual. The direct experience of the past, e.g., memory, retains the order already created.

Aspect B: Novelty

The Metaphysics of Quality translated karma as ‘evolutionary garbage. Karma is the pain, the suffering that results from clinging to the static patterns of the world. The only exit is to detach yourself from these static patterns, that is, to ‘kill’ them. (Lila, 463)

The good life is attained by the enjoyment of contrasts within the scope of the method. In its lowliest form, Reason provides the emphasis on the conceptual clutch after some refreshing novelty… Fatigue is the antithesis of Reason… Fatigue means the operation of excluding the impulse towards novelty. (FR, 22-23)

Aesthetic destruction is a positive component in subjective form, and is inconsistent with perfection. The subjective experience of aesthetic destruction will be termed a ‘discordant feeling.’ (AI, 256)

There are in fact higher and lower perfections, and an imperfection aiming at a higher type stands above lower perfections. The most material and the most sensuous enjoyments are yet types of Beauty. Progress is founded upon the experience of discordant feelings. The social value of liberty lies in its production of discords. There are perfections beyond perfections. All realization is finite, and there is no perfection which is the infinitude of all perfections. Perfections of diverse types are among themselves discordant. Thus the contribution to Beauty which can be supplied by Discord--in itself destructive and evil--is the positive feeling of a quick shift of aim from the tameness of outworn perfection to some other ideal with its freshness still upon it. Thus the value of Discord is a tribute to the merits of Imperfection. (AI, 257)

Evil is positive and destructive, what is good is positive and creative.

This instability of evil does not necessarily lead to progress. On the contrary, the evil in itself leads to the world losing forms of attainment in which that evil manifests itself. Either the species ceases to exist, or it sinks back into a stage in which it ranks below the possibility of that form of evil. (Religion in the Making [RM], 96)

As hinted at in the previous section, mere repetition is not an ideal value state. This condition results in destruction of value rather than extended enjoyment. Both Whitehead and Pirsig see ‘life’, in a very broad sense of the term, as being the embodied impulse towards novelty away from stale patterns of existence. Both recognize that such movement towards novelty ushers in new forms to repeat, and both assert that this is not an evil state. It is the nature of value-actuality to proceed by these ‘ratchet-like latchings.’

Ultimately, evil and good are to be defined in vague, evolutionary terms. Evil is that which hinders the achievement of deeper forms of quality-existence. Thus, the evil state in itself is a form of quality, but its social result is this destruction which is more evil that good. A good form of existence, by contrast, is not only deeply good in itself, but allows the development of further equally good conditions and even higher states.

The urge to novel value arrangements is an empirically demonstrable fact of human existence, albeit a difficult matter for value theorists to handle. This has probably been the source of the tendency to dismiss value matters as being ‘merely’ subjective. Take Pirsig’s example of the song. At first exposure, it is wonderful--the value experience is highly intense. But repeated listening decreases the experience of value. Everything ‘objective’ about the song remains the same--the key, the length, the instrumentation, the words.

And yet, the value experience has undeniably changed. For both Pirsig and Whitehead, the solution is noting the process or self-experiencing nature of reality. The real situation that is ‘me-listening-to-this-song’ has changed in its fundamental constitution. In Pirsigian terms, the original static patterns softened in the face of a Dynamic lure, then formed new static patterns of value. In Whiteheadian terms, one nexus or society, the song, introduced novel content for experience to the members of another society--myself. The resultant experience was new forms of existence in one sense, the society that is ‘me’ was changed. In another sense, a new nexus was formed, consisting of myself and the song, unified by the elements of data involved in experiencing the song. But once experienced, all future arrangements of the society ‘Andrew’ have this song, or this experienced-nexus, as part of their relevant history. Subsequent listenings introduce no new value content to this society. In both explanations, it is the objective world that has reconstituted itself in such a way so that this song is no longer such a value charged experience.

Of course, it is also empirically demonstrable that change is not univocally good. The assumption of a conservative attitude towards value matters is defensible because of a history of failures due to the adoption of novelty over repetition or order. Ultimately, such an attitude is self-defeating. Whitehead denies the existence of any substantial stasis because of the process nature of reality. Refusal to work with change is to accept decay, not stasis. Pirsig sees the matter of progress purely pragmatically. It is not reliably identifiable until after the matter. Some clue can be derived from analysis of the evident details, interpreted within his inorganic-biological -social-intellectual framework. But a truly Dynamic advance can be extremely hard to identify.

Finally, it should be noted that the introduction of novel content into an occasion, for Whitehead, is the function of the conceptual prehensions. The mental pole, somehow, is directly linked to the infinite potentiality found in the primordial nature of god. This allows the internal process of occasions of high complexity to transcend the data of the physical prehensions. For Pirsig, novelty is merely the general tendency the universe has--there appears to be no evidence for a realm of definite potentiality.

Aspect C: Definition

Quality is not a thing. It is an event.

(ZMM, 233)

But ‘decision’ cannot be construed as a casual adjunct of an actual entity. It constitutes the very meaning of actuality. An actual entity arises from decisions for it, and by its very existence provides decisions for other actual entities which supersede it.

(PR, 43)

Satisfactions can be classed by reference to ‘triviality,’ ‘vagueness,’ ‘narrowness,’ ‘width.’... Triviality arises from lack of coordination in the factors of the datum, so that no feeling arising from one factor is reinforced by any feeling arising from another factor... Harmony is [the] combination of width and narrowness... ‘vagueness’ is due to excess of identification… vagueness is an essential condition for the narrowness which is one condition for depth of relevance   The right chaos, and the right vagueness, are jointly required for any effective harmony. (PR, 111-112)

Remembering the poetic rendering of our concrete experience, we see at once that the element of value, of being valuable, of having value, of being an end in itself, of being something which is for its own sake, must not be omitted in any account of an event as the most concrete actual something. ‘Value’ is the word I use for the intrinsic reality of an event. (SMW, 93)

Realisation therefore is in itself the attainment of value. But there is no such thing as mere value. Value is the outcome of limitation (SMW, 94)

The ‘perfection’ of subjective form means the absence from it of component feelings which mutually inhibit each other so that neither rises to the strength proper to it. (AI, 256)

Value is inherent in actuality itself. To be an actual entity is to have a self-interest. This self-interest is a feeling of self-valuation, it is an emotional tone. The value of other things, not one’s self, is the derivative value of being elements contributing to this ultimate self-interest. This self-interest is the interest of what one’s existence, as in that epochal occasion, comes to. It is the ultimate enjoyment of being actual.

But the actuality is the enjoyment, and this enjoyment is the experiencing of value. (RM, 100)

Depth of value is only possible if the antecedent facts conspire in unison. Thus a measure of harmony in the ground is requisite for the perpetuation of depth into the future. But harmony is limitation. Thus rightness of limitation is essential for growth of reality. (RM, 152)

These passages present some of the themes that have been recurring throughout Of special interest are those passages in which Whitehead uses ‘value’ as a fundamental term, usually to describe the internal process of an occasion working towards a satisfaction.

The emphasis on the ‘decision’ or ‘satisfaction’, in these passages is very important Once decided, the internal process of an occasion is spent and the finished form, or superjected character, is all that remains. Both Pirsig and Whitehead recognize that not all ‘decisions’ are equal. There are two aspects of the satisfaction to be taken into account here: the internal ‘depth’ of the satisfaction and the social value. In the preceding section, the social nature was discussed. For internal quality in the Whiteheadian scheme, it is required that the occasion pull as wide as possible a diversity of aspects together into one harmonized feeling. Other alternatives for an occasion faced with a multitude of possibilities include banishing the majority into irrelevance through negative prehensions, or ignoring the details through the activity Whitehead describes with his category of transmutation. When experiencing the occasions that make up a nexus, an occasion can ‘transmute’ the multiple data into one datum of feeling that, supposedly, is an expression of the unifying principle of that nexus. However, such an activity runs the risk of dismissing important differences from the source data into irrelevance. Such an activity of transmutation is a second-order application of negative prehensions and the result is the same--a reduction in the variety of data to be unified. The resultant satisfaction can be classed according to the data it does unify. A high complexity, or high value, occasion actualizes many diverse eternal objects--’width’ of data--and does so in a manner that allows each element to contribute a significant measure of ‘information’ or ‘potency’ to the satisfaction-- ‘harmony.’ That is, the data are admitted in their full effectiveness and not as trivial elements in the decision.

In general for Pirsig, there is no significant division between internal and external complexity or value. Objects are macroscopic shapes of the generic value-process, classification according to static levels and Dynamic readiness is the most concrete analysis he provides. And yet, for an individual existing through time, there is a significant aspect in which internal constitution does contribute to the overall value status. A person can be flexible, open to Dynamic softening of static value patterns, or a person can be rigid, opposed to change. The individual in the more dynamic position is in a position of higher value. This dynamis, however, means primarily intellectual development, if not the development of a new static form (e.g. a state such as Samuel Alexander’s ‘deity’). This kind of internal determination of value applies to humans in particular because of our participation in intellectual patterns--the highest static level of evolution by Pirsig’s reckoning.

In spite of this difference about the relevance of internal/external differences to value matters, one highly significant matter is agreed upon: it is the ‘final’ shape--the satisfaction or the identifiable patterns--that largely constitutes some entity’s quality.

Moreover, this ‘shape’ is necessarily a ‘limitation’, for both Whitehead and Pirsig. Whitehead’s statement that ‘all value is the outcome of limitation’ is typical. The internal process of an occasion works towards a decision. Any analysis of the aspects of such a process--subjective form, physical and conceptual prehensions--deals with the value-charged activity that results in the final value shape--the satisfaction. In Pirsig’s scheme, enduring objects are defined primarily through the static levels of quality evolution they exemplify. Internal Dynamic readiness is defined largely by the state the world as a whole has reached. Once, before the development of intellectual static patterns of quality, a social or intellectual advance would have been highly Dynamic, and hence of more value than such an exemplification would be at present.

Aspect D: Contrast

Neither static nor Dynamic Quality can survive without the other. (Lila, 146)

But Dynamic Quality is not structured and yet it is not chaotic. It is value that cannot be contained by static patterns. (Lila, 171)

Thus ‘contrast’--as the opposite of incompatibility--depends on a certain simplicity of circumstance; but the higher contrasts depend on the assemblage of a multiplicity of lower contrasts, this assemblage again exhibiting higher types of simplicity. (PR, 95)

‘Contrast’ is probably best understood by drawing an analogy to a television picture’s contrast: differences contribute to and result in a unified, pleasing whole.

The experience of wider and deeper contrasts is integral to the whole process Pirsig describes of Dynamic Quality being shaped into static patterns. The higher patterns require the lower ones in order to come into existence and yet are different from them. Whitehead describes the higher contrasts as requiring lesser ones. Process-reality evolves--occasions do not start from ‘absolute zero’ at every moment. Instead, they depend upon past forms of experience to put them in a position for new, higher levels of evolving process.

Aspect E: Limitation

There’s a principle in physics that if a thing can’t be distinguished from anything else it doesn’t exist. To this the Metaphysics of Quality adds a second principle: if a thing has no value it isn’t distinguished from anything else. Then, putting the two together, a thing that has no value does not exist. (Lila, 121)

The fundamental basis of this description is that our experience is a value experience, expressing a vague sense of maintenance or discard; and that this value-experience differentiates itself in the sense of many existences with value-experience; and that this sense of the multiplicity of value-experiences again differentiates it into the totality of value-experience, and the many other value-experiences, and the egoistic value-experience. This is the feeling of the ego, the others, the totality. This is the vague, basic presentation of the differentiation of existence, in its enjoyment of discard and maintenance. (MT,150-151)

There is no such thing as bare value. There is always a specific value, which is the created unit of feeling arising out of the specific mode of concretion of the diverse elements. These different specific value-feelings are comparable amid their differences; and the ground for this comparability is what is here termed ‘value.’

This comparability grades the various occasions in respect to the intensiveness of value. The zero of intensiveness means the collapse of actuality. All intensive quantity is merely the contribution of some one element in the synthesis to this one intensiveness of value.

Various occasions are thus comparable in respect to their relative depths of actuality. Occasions differ in importance of actuality. (RM, 103)

Each occasion, in its character of being a finished creature, is a value of some definite specific sort. (RM, 109)

The essence of depth of actuality—that is of vivid experience--is definiteness. Now to be definite means that all the elements of a complex whole contribute to some one effect, to the exclusion of others. (RM, 113)

Everything that in any sense exists has two sides, namely, its individual self and its signification in the universe. (MT 151)

Before discussing ‘limitation’, the passage from Lila needs attention. At face value, this passage runs the risk of merely being nonsense. How can the ‘things’ in the second principle have no value if having no value equals non-existence? Apart from the clumsiness of the presentation, I think this passage does serve a purpose. It has already been noted that Pirsig is aiming for conceptual replacement with his scheme of a Metaphysics of Quality (v. treatment of ‘substance’, Chapter II)

This little passage is an example of this shift of conceptions taking place. In essence, he is saying that if one takes the common-sense understanding of distinguishing objects and then tries to analyze the value dynamic in this conception, one will realize that quality is central to the activity in a moment of perception. Then, returning to the principle from physics, one can formulate a new principle with Pirsig’s terminology. Instead of being dismissed as nonsense, this passage should be interpreted in light of Pirsig’s claim that his metaphysics satisfies demands of empirical evidence.

The relationship of limitation and value has already arisen, this section expands on that relationship. There are several implications to be noted, the first being that value is the result of limitation. The second point is that quality always has a character--briefly, there is no generalized ‘good’ but, rather, specific ‘goods’. Not only is limitation a function necessary to the actualization of value, but the resultant value-shape is an individual of some sort. The process of value-evolution produces things of individual character. Any differentiation of one from another is a result of the value process of the world at large This is an extension of a common sense attitude to the world. Although I am describable in general terms, there is also something that can only be classed as individual in character. This individual character is my value context--what I hold as important, what I have made to be important, and those attitudes and actions that inflict value judgments on the world. Or, in a more specialized example, within the world of popular music, plagiarism is ‘frowned upon.’ Not only is outright copying punished, but excessive similarity of composition detracts from the value experience for a ‘knowing’ listener. If a song has the same rhythm, melody, and chord changes as another song, then the later song has few characteristics to differentiate it from the earlier composition. If the words are also the same, then there are no formal differences--only accidental ones, such as the individual characters of the musicians executing the performance. As a casual reviewer of popular music, if I think a song is too similar to an earlier piece, then my enjoyment is lessened, and in my review I actually condemn the piece.

In Whiteheadian terms, an occasion unifies data into ‘one’ satisfaction. Not only is this satisfaction particular and unified, but it is individualized, in the sense of being different from all other such drops of process in the universe. An occasion springs from a specific past--its ‘actual world’--and posits its own future. This temporal breadth of an occasion of experience is integral to the development of individual character.

The process of the experience of self-valuation produces ‘selves’, in the sense of autonomous, free individuals. Robert Pirsig’s description of objects, including people, as consisting in collections of different sorts of patterns also involves individualization. Each particular pattern or collection of patterns is in a position to experience the rest of the universe from a perspective of an individual character, and the way such a collection responds to the Dynamic lure can be absolutely novel.

Whitehead points out that the fundamental ‘sense’ one has, the primary division one makes of the world, is a value division of self, others, and the world at large. I interpret this as one of Pirsig’s metaphysical principles--Quality evolves, resolving itself into patterns. Common sense will corroborate this. Value experience necessarily involves limitation--differentiating one thing from another, favoring one and rejecting the second. In one sense, the point of making value judgments is to individualize the world further--to define the characters of objects, ideas, people from without.

This aspect of ‘value’ also illuminates an ambiguity in the term ‘quality’. Pirsig notes this ambiguity but does not make much of it, and Whitehead seems to utilize it without comment in MT. It is an old philosophical approach to describe things in terms of primary and secondary (and even tertiary) qualities. These qualities ‘define’ the object in terms of sensa, or measurements, etc. In this expanded, synthetic sense of ‘value’, quality-reality differentiates itself using ‘qualities’ Qualities, or differentia, are the result of value in process, and they express the individualization central to the evolving process.

Aspect F: Final Causation

The statement that values are vague and therefore shouldn’t be used for primary classification is not true. There’s nothing vague about a value judgment. When a voter goes to a polling booth he’s making a value judgment. What’s vague about that? Isn’t an election a cultural activity? What’s so vague about the New York stock exchanges? Aren’t values what they’re dealing in?

How about the U.S. Treasury? Who in this world is more specific than the Internal Revenue Service? Values are not the least vague when you’re dealing with them in terms of actual experience. It only when you bring back statements about them and try to integrate them into the overall jargon of anthropology that they become vague. (Lila, 78)

Quality! Virtue! Dharma! That is what the Sophists were teaching. Not ethical relativism. Not pristine ‘virtue’. But arête. Excellence. Dharma! ...those first teachers of the Western world were teaching Quality, and the medium they had chosen was rhetoric. (ZMM, 371)

At the base of our existence is the sense of ‘worth’. Now ‘worth’ essentially presupposes that which is ‘worthy’. Here the notion of worth is not to be construed in a purely eulogistic sense. It is the sense of existence for its own sake, of existence which is its own justification, of existence with its own character. (MT, 149)

An entity is actual, when it has significance for itself. By this is meant that an actual entity functions in respect to its own determination. Thus an actual entity combines self- identity with self-diversity. (PR, 25)

The Category of Subjective Intensity. The subjective aim, whereby there is origination of conceptual feeling, is at intensity of feeling in the immediate subject, and in the relevant future... The greater part of morality hinges on the determination of relevance in the future. (PR, 27)

The focus is beginning to shift from generic value to human activity--the traditional area of examination for value matters. Both philosophers express unhappiness with previous attempts to handle human activity scientifically--the problem seems to have been lack of an adequate metaphysic, and it is exactly that aspect of the endeavour to describe the world that Whitehead and Pirsig have taken on. Humans are ‘just’ part of the scheme for both Pirsig and Whitehead. We exemplify some aspects of value-process particularly well, but not all. And, of course, some aspects of this process are of particularly high interest to us-- the traditional domains of ethics and aesthetics. Thus, everything said about the value activity of occasions and about evolving patterns of quality applies, with qualifications, to humans.

Much of what has been discussed involves the proposing of an end to achieve--a teleological interpretation of reality. This is all part of the re-interpretation of nature to accommodate a wider range of data. Final-causation seems to be an important part of human activity and if this metaphysic is to unite human value contexts with the rest of the world, then such activity must be explicable in terms applicable to all reality.

In brief, Whitehead makes the internal process of an occasion teleological. Moreover, such ‘microscopic process does take into account its effects on the immediate and relevant future beyond the bounds of the individual occasion. There is a whole world to be reckoned with. Pirsig’s scheme is all future oriented--introducing differentiation into the world as a response to the Dynamic lure of Quality in process. The important element to be worked out yet is the relationship between internal self-causing/self-valuation and value in the world at large.

The key to this problem, as with many problems in the hands of Whitehead and Pirsig, is the eliminating of many of the bifurcations of the past. Both philosophers insist that there is no sharp division between one’s self and the entire world. The problem with early attempts (v. Paul Schilpp’s ‘Whitehead’s Moral Philosophy’ in The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, 1961) to characterize Whitehead’s metaphysic as involving an ethic of private or self-interest is the narrow, and inappropriate, interpretation of ‘self’. Pirsig’s treatment of quality started with an attempt to transcend traditional subject-object divisions, and the resultant description of the world places the human at the front edge of the creative process responsible for the existence of the world. Our experiences, seemingly personal, take place within an expanded value context. Subjects carry the process, reacting to objects and a feeling of potentiality.

As both Pirsig and Whitehead point out, they are re-interpreting old ideas from a modern perspective. The idea of unification of self-valuation with activity in the world at large is aretê, the ancient Greek concept of excellence of character dictating one’s activity, and, conversely, this activity conditioning such ‘individualized’ quality. It is exactly this dynamic that will be examined in the final chapter.

Aspect G: World-Orientedness

I like the word “gumption”... The Greeks called it enthousiasmos, the root of “enthusiasm,” which means literally “filled with theos,” or God, or Quality. (ZMM, 296)

But the sense of importance is not exclusively referent to the experiencing self. It is exactly this vague sense which differentiates itself into the disclosure of the whole, the many, and the self. It is the importance of the others which melts into the importance of the self. Actuality is the self- enjoyment of importance But this self-enjoyment has the character of the self-enjoyment of others melting into the enjoyment of one self. (MT, 160-161)

The purpose of God is the attainment of value in the temporal world. (RM 100)

He noted that although normally you associate Quality with objects, feelings of Quality sometimes occur without any objects at all. This is what led him at first to think that maybe Quality is all subjective. But subjective pleasure wasn’t what he meant by Quality either. Quality decreases subjectivity Quality takes you out of yourself, makes you aware of the world around you. Quality is opposed to subjectivity. (ZMM, 233)

I disagree with them about cycle maintenance, but not because I am out of sympathy with their feelings about technology. I just think that their flight from and hatred of technology is self-defeating. The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha-- which is to demean oneself. (ZMM, 18)

I interpret Whitehead’s god, which he claims to be linked to the attainment of value, as being primarily a source of potentiality, a primitive urge upwards--to live, to live well, to live better, as he states in The Function of Reason--and an irrational principle of concretion. Whitehead’s god is not a personal god. According to this scheme, acting full of ‘gumption’ or ‘zest’ (Whitehead’s term) in the world is to participate in the god character much more than any inward directed prayer or worship to a personal god will accomplish. Such activities lack the world-directedness for real value accomplishment and transcendence of self. The analysis of ethics and aesthetics that follows will focus on concrete activity, with no exhortation to turn away from the world towards some hyper-real realm of value. 



The Art of Life

In a subject-object metaphysics morals and art are worlds apart, morals being concerned with the subject quality and art with object quality. But in the Metaphysics of Quality that division doesn’t exist. They’re the same. They both become much more intelligible when references to what is subjective and what is objective are completely thrown away and references to what is static and what is Dynamic are taken up instead. (Lila, 141)

The metaphysical doctrine, here expounded, finds the foundations of the world in the aesthetic experience, rather than--as with Kant--in the cognitive and conceptive experience. All order is therefore aesthetic order, and the moral order is merely certain aspects of aesthetic order. The actual world is the outcome of the aesthetic order, and the aesthetic order is derived from the immanence of God (RM, 104-105).

After all these pages, have we now reached a crossroads? In the first of these opening passages, Pirsig seems to be suggesting that the traditional division between ethics and aesthetics is a mistake. In fact, in his discussion of the matters, he focuses much more on morals, as if he thinks he has made aesthetics disappear. Whitehead seems to be suggesting the opposite, that moral issues are reducible to aesthetics. As they stand, these suggestions are irreconcilable.

Ultimately, this thesis is an attempt at a synthesis of the respective studies of existence and value made by Whitehead and Pirsig. The resultant synthetic value theory will be useful for interpreting and guiding human activity. By emphasizing ‘human activity’, I am taking one step back from the typical division between aesthetics and ethics. In fact, by studying the metaphysical systems of these two writers, I have been taking one step further back than ‘this, away from the division between human activity and reality ‘writ large.’ My current examination of human activity is not an isolated starting point, but a position I have built my way towards from more fundamental categories. Thus, this analysis of human behavior will initially stress what is common to aesthetic and moral matters. Differences will follow as is deemed appropriate.

At its briefest, this synthetic theory of value can be described by pointing out its most fundamental Whiteheadian aspect and its most fundamental Pirsigian aspect. From Whitehead, I wish to stress the matter of universal relatedness, from Pirsig, the analysis of the macroscopic world in terms of value in process, with emphasis on the independence of the differing levels of static value. There are secondary points concerning the dynamic particulars to be attributed to each author also I wish to preserve Whitehead’s emphasis on the achievement of an immediate, aesthetic value by each actual entity. From Pirsig, the concentration on a human as a locus of value activity, analogous to Whitehead’s societies of occasions, but with more emphasis on the unified activity of the whole.

I see the following as being the position of a human in the world I have arisen from a specific context of value experiences and judgments and I add to this value context. This world can be understood as consisting in and as having consisted in value dynamics. My feelings of aversion and adversion are real--they contribute to the general value functioning of the world. And yet, each judgment, each action, word and thought arises from this given value context. As an individual I am unique, yet I do not exist in a vacuum. A history presses in on me which is, in itself, permeated with value. The future, however, promises new intensities and patterns of quality. My position is in the present--the extended moment of reckoning stasis with dynamis. Thus, when I turn attention to some issue, action, or object as valuable, be it positively or negatively, it is a real state of affairs with which I am dealing. Actuality is produced in this present moment--the essence of existence is value permeated activity. My addition to the world issues in a situation novel in but not strictly novel in kind. But this interest of mine is new--to my limited perspective, there is novelty of kind--and the value context is changed my focus is the world’s interest in one matter, and then the historic context is increased by one form of value. This new development now stands to be reckoned with--value presses in on the new present.

Furthermore, my position is primarily a matter of self interest. But, as has been discussed at various times through this thesis, such interest is not to be understood as being necessarily at odds with the rest of the world. From a static view-point, I am a particular version of the process that has taken place and is to be held accountable for the rest of the world also there is universal interconnectedness. From a more dynamic perspective, I am one way in which the world is value actualized and value charged.

Finally, the standard that exists as a perpetual challenge to me in the world is this: the more I can positively charge this world with value, then the better the world is, and the more developed my character is. The qualifications introduced in the previous chapter apply here. Most significantly, there is the matter of limitation. Firstly, each human individual is obviously limited in ability and in possibilities of interest. To try to do everything is, in all probability, to accomplish very little. The depth and intensity of quality that can be achieved within narrow bounds is easily overlooked, the adage, “whatever you do, do it well,” stands as sound advice from the point of view of this synthetic value theory. Moreover, while it may seem that, from the perspective of an individual person, to have one all-consuming passion is probably to limit oneself excessively and even risk accomplishing more evil than good, the view from the standpoint of the world, universally interrelated and temporally extended, is different. Individuals embracing diverse interests will produce a more varied history than will well-meaning yet unremarkably similar people. The value lies in the details, quality produces individuality, and individuality produces quality. Homogeneity lacks Whitehead’s zest.

Finally, the positions suggested by the passages presented at the beginning of this chapter are reconcilable. The world can be seen as primarily an aesthetic order because each actual entity enjoys its measure of value. The realization of such particular quality is the goal of the value-process that characterizes the world at large. Yet this urge towards new realization that is better than what has passed is a moral urge the fundamental dynamic of reality is, “to live, to live well, to live better.” (FR 18)

Value-reality exhorts each individual detail to conduct itself in such a way as to achieve greater goodness. The moral and aesthetic orders are inextricably inter woven.

With this brief description of the individual within the world, it is time to examine the specific domains of aesthetics and ethics.


In this section I wish merely to indicate the dynamics that I see to be the germ of a theory of aesthetics within this synthetic value theory. To the achievement of this end, I intend to discuss both the aesthetic experience and aesthetic creation. This division is not to be taken to be a rigid one I see the acts of experience and creation of works of art as slightly specialized versions of the value activity that constitutes every aspect of the position of the human in the world. Examples of this wider sense of ‘aesthetic’ will be introduced during the course of this discussion. Both aesthetic creation and aesthetic gratification permeate all aspects of life, to a degree, also, there is aesthetic experience within acts of aesthetic creation, and at least an urge towards creation at the heart of such experiences.

In A Whiteheadian Aesthetic, Donald Sherburne argues that art objects have the same ontological status as propositions, and I largely agree with him. A Whiteheadian proposition, as discussed earlier, has a ‘mixed’ ontological status, and it functions as a lure to feeling. In the experience of a propositional feeling, an occasion prehends a particular state of affairs in relation to an eternal object. In other words, a proposition functions as a bridge between actuality and potentiality. The feeling of a proposition directs the process of becoming--there is an investigation of the relation between the nexus and the predicated potentiality. The affirmation or negation--the judgment--on the part of the experiencer brings about a new state of affairs for the experiencer. That is, the degree to which the proposition has ingression into a unity of feeling is an influence on the future of the experiencer, whereas the proposition remains as it was--a lure for other occasions. In more concrete aesthetic terms a work of art stands as a lure to experience for those interested. The experience of a work of art is an activity, and not a passive reception of some sort of information. There is some sort of creative, interactive performance on the part of the experiencer. The aesthetic experience is, in a way, the creation of a Whiteheadian society for a brief period of time. Once the intense aesthetic experience is finished, the work of art stands as it was but the experiencer leaves changed. The actual world from which the experiencer draws for new becoming has new relevant data if the aesthetic experience was significant. Such a process is permeated with value the initial lure is a feeling of value, the process of experience is a novel actualization of value patterns, and future experiences of value will have to reckon with this value data once it passes into history.

Although Robert Pirsig never discusses propositions, and has little to say about art, I think this view is consistent with his system. He sees the world as being value charged to such a high degree that there are fulfilling experiences to be had doing all sorts of things, and the experience of art work fades in special importance under such a scheme. But I am choosing merely to widen the sense of ‘aesthetic’ to include the activities Pirsig discusses. For example, in ZMM he spends considerable time discussing the maintenance of a motorcycle. Indeed, the very title of the book suggests that he sees such activity as an art! In this activity, the objective is to produce a situation, involving both the motorcycle and the maintainer, that is of high quality. At stake is an arrangement of the entire world. For instance, in the encountering of a serious problem, the maintainer can draw on the whole world and his/her own imagination for a solution. Ultimately, the quality of the situation is to be evaluated by reference to the maintainer’s ‘state of mind’--a feeling of satisfaction or peace of mind is the mark of a high quality situation, and feelings of unrest denote lower quality arrangements of the world.

This last point is important. Firstly, to deny that in any activity that is value charged there is special relevance to the experiencer is to slight the human experience of value. Donald Sherburne explicitly sees his Whiteheadian aesthetic as a theory of art for life’s sake, as opposed to being for art’s sake.

Secondly, Pirsig’s motorcycle example expands the temporal framework involved in this discussion. I have been speaking of the aesthetic experience in the singular as if it is something that happens then passes, and that is it. A more adequate description draws out this moment. Firstly, as has been noted, the data reside in the actual world of the experiencer permanently. Secondly, particularly good works of art are not exhausted in one encounter. There can be subsequent experiences which differ from previous ones in the kind of actualization that occurs. For example, the experiencer learns something specifically different from what had ingression before. Or there might be cumulative increase in depth of experience of virtually the same material. The amount of time over which a work of art captivates is, by this scheme, one indicator of the aesthetic value of the work. Thirdly, the experiencing of specific works of art takes place within the context of what both Pirsig and Whitehead designate as an art--the leading of a human life. It has already been pointed out that Pirsig considers motorcycle maintenance to be an art. In one of the most frequently quoted passages from ZMM he states that the real cycle a person works on is him/herself. Whitehead, in FR, claims that reason’s function is to promote the art of life, which has already been cited as, “to live, to live well, and to live better”. The experience of particular art works influences this ongoing artistic endeavour and as the human changes, so does the relevance of the standing propositions they can become more or less interesting and consequently more or less luring.

The content of the aesthetic experience has yet to be addressed. Since the form of the experience is two-sided, consisting of the experiencer and the object, it is appropriate that there be two aspects to the value-content of the experience. These aspects are specific information or data to be considered by the experiencer and a feeling of heightened importance of the current moment or epoch of the observer. In one sense there is novel content added to the actual world of the aesthetic participant, and in another sense there is emphasis on the current situation.

The matter of novel content is easily illustrated through reference to literature. A novel is particularly suited to the aesthetic enactment of ideas. Particular examples are plentiful. John Fowles’ The French Lieutenant’s Woman is a creative treatment of existentialism, writing, and evolution. Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook is about feminism, Marxism, Jungian psychology, writing, and families. In a way, these conceptual aspects are sub-propositions that can be taken up once the reader is lured in by the over-arching proposition that is the story. Obviously, any significant art work is not exhausted by such sub-lures. If this were all there is to art, then any first year philosophy, sociology, or psychology text would be a work of art, when in fact they obviously are not. Still, these sub-propositions do function as lures to the interested reader, and as such lead to new arrangements of value experience.

The other aspect is probably the more important to the understanding of the aesthetic experience. There is an immediate deepening of the experience of the value of the present. People are caught up in good art; they do not absorb such items or events passively or automatically, like air or sunlight. Instead, art captivates by, metaphorically speaking, adding a third dimension to typical experience. Besides the experiencer and the experienced world, art serves to illuminate this world and our place in it in a manner that emphasizes value depth. Oddly, this seems to happen by making the familiar foreign. For example, Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof is about fairly ordinary people over a very short period of time--an evening. A good performance of this play, however, can sensitize an observer to the drama or value-depth of any situation.

Williams’ play emphasizes typical tensions and character traits in such a way as to bowl the viewer over with the sheer quality or importance of every aspect. Yet it is merely a dramatic rendering of situations familiar to many--the same qualities exist to be recognized in our own lives. It is one function of art to develop this sensitivity to our own situations, even through the seemingly paradoxical method of portraying foreign situations.

Music has a special reference to the life of the observer. Sherburne, in his analysis of art as proposition, perhaps overstresses the need for a logical subject of the proposition in his description of music by giving that function to the listener. I think he is largely correct, but I think he risks misrepresentation of the conceptual element in the experience of music by describing the subject as being “you understood.” Certainly, music serves to deepen the immediate present, enveloping the listener as a piece unfolds. But the working of the proposition is not a conceptual matter--the listener does not have to understand him/herself to be the subject at issue. The reference happens in the experience. With this in mind, the novel content introduced through the strictly musical experience must be about the listener or about the music itself.

Pirsig’s macro-analysis of the world serves to remind us that we participate with the various art-forms in different ways. For example, he asserts that the medium of film is necessarily a social pattern of value, while his novel is primarily made up of intellectual patterns. (Lila, 303) An activity such as dancing he would probably describe as being biological, and maybe social. As humans, we participate in all of these levels of static quality, so these sorts of responses to works of art are legitimate. There is a measure of value to be enjoyed dancing to music and to deny this would be to slight a rather common human activity. The fact remains that the highest static level in Pirsig’s scheme is the intellectual level, the highest quality aesthetic experiences will have a measure of intellectuality about them. At its broadest, this means that the experiencer thinks about the experience. At one level, there is self-analysis as to enjoyment or satisfaction with the experience, and at a different level there is consideration of the components of the aesthetic-proposition--characters, plot, or the enactment of the sub-propositions already discussed. I imagine that the aesthetic experience involved in mathematical work consists largely in this intellectual sort. Also, this is the role of the critic in the aesthetic experience--deepening the static intellectual response.

Of course, there is still something missing here. If intellectual activity constituted the most significant aesthetic experience, then perhaps mathematics or philosophy would be the peak of the art world. Going to school would be the ultimate treat for an aesthete. Clearly, this is not the case. There is still Pirsig’s Dynamic Quality to be considered. By definition, the Dynamic experience is a vertical evolutionary development, as opposed to a horizontal one. That is, instead of an intellectual experience that develops one’s static intellectuality, there is a type of experience that stems from, yet throws into question, the intellectuality that is so human. Since this sort of experience is not definable in static terms, its nature cannot be adequately described before it happens. Still, I suspect that it is this element that really makes good art works stand up through time Dynamic Quality functions as a lure, just like Whitehead propositions. Once we engage with an art object as fully intellectual beings with an openness to Dynamic development, the quality of the resultant experiences is to be evaluated merely by assessing how successfully the object holds our interest. Some items are exhausted in moments, and some have captivated people for centuries.

The problem with much popular music is an inability to evoke a Dynamic response, settling for intellectual or social static responses at best. Much of rap and punk music depends upon a virtually uncritical acceptance of certain views of the world to create any interest at all in the listener. Such songs run like lectures or sermons about race relations, drug use, or whatever other problem is a hot topic at the time of recording. Certainly these songs provide a medium for dissemination of information, ideas, and opinions, but the lack of imagination in both the words and the music can be stunning. The result is music without the Dynamic component to elicit repeated aesthetic interest. To be fair, the situation with many songs is a limited measure of ‘creativity’ tempering the diatribe there is an aesthetic point to the music. But in the vast majority of cases, the sub-propositions are actually the main point, while the over-arching Dynamic aesthetic proposition is given short shrift, to the detriment to the experience.

There is an interesting phenomenon tied to the performance of some types of music--punk in particular. The audience members, largely male youths between the ages of 13-25, engage in ‘slam-dancing’ or ‘moshing’--dancing that involves purposeful violent contact amongst the crowd-members. Frankly, the description makes the activity sound completely pointless and destructive, and I suppose it is to a large degree. But to witness the phenomenon, with this and other aesthetic theories in mind, evidences a goal. The result of the continuous bumping is overload of the sense of touch; the individual is enveloped in a barrage of information from all parts of the body. Typically, the music accompanying the activity is literally ear-splitting in volume--overload of the sense of hearing and the use of indulgent lighting effects such as intense strobe lights overwhelms the sense of sight. The result is the short-circuiting of biology to imitate a Dynamic aesthetic experience. I say ‘imitate’ because, firstly, the basis of the experience, the level of static patterns that constitutes the foundation of the experience, is biological, not intellectual, Secondly, no novel content, no sub-propositions, are taken up for consideration. In other words, neither aspect of the aesthetic experience, as I have been describing it, is fulfilled.

This idea of a Dynamic experience being created in the participation in a work of art is not a new concept. Immanuel Kant, in his Critique of Judgment described part of aesthetic experience as that of the ‘sublime’: “We call sublime what is absolutely large” (103) and “Sublime is what even to be able to think proves that the mind has a power surpassing any standard of sense” (105) [Kant’s emphasis]. Kant discusses his ‘sublime’ mainly in connection with the aesthetic contemplation of nature, but I think the concept works here as well. Kant further divides the experience, or mental agitation, of the sublime into mathematical and dynamical components. In other words, the experience of being overwhelmed has an external static aspect and an internal Dynamic aspect. This kind of aesthetic experience both overwhelms the participant and fills the participant with aesthetic power so to speak. My punk slam-dancers are trying to find a quick substitute for this experience. I suppose drug use could accomplish the same effect. Also, I suppose frenzied religious ceremonies are attempts to evoke the same kind of static dissolving. Under the scheme here proposed, I think the immediate deepening of the experience of present quality is analogous to- the Kantian sublime. There is an awareness of present surrounding quality emphasized through the beholding of an art object.

I suspect, although I am not willing to assert the point, that aesthetic creation is largely the response to a Dynamic lure. The reason I present this as a hypothesis rather than an outright claim is that it would be rather easy to discredit. There are plenty of people who work as artists every day; surely their work becomes less Dynamically captivating and more merely workmanlike as their careers progress. The degree of static, cool-headed craft that must go into many poems, paintings, etc., surely weakens the stereotypical image of the artist consumed by aesthetic passion and working under the influence of some mystical muse. With all this in mind, I am going to propose that my description contains an important degree of truth. Within even the most controlled act of artistic creation, I suspect that there is a process of Dynamic lure, then static latching, then renewed luring and consequent responding until some sort of plateau is reached. There are important points to be noticed here. In the account of aesthetic experience, the active role of the participant was stressed. Here, the creator is seen as enjoying aesthetic experience in the process. Furthermore, it might be the case that the completion of a work of art is often a provisional end; assuming that the description of steps of lure and response is somewhat accurate, artists sometimes end by stopping themselves. The ‘job’ of the art object is to function as a lure and the way the artist has been responding up to this point has been to alter the work. This is hardly a radical suggestion. In a related matter, it seems entirely likely to me that people who are given to creating things are spurred to new creation by the aesthetic experiencing of other art objects. Writers, painters, musicians, etc., all influence each other. Stretching this state of affairs to include an artist’s relationship to his/her own creations is hardly to strain the bounds of credibility.

This description of artistic creation does not differ much from the working description Whitehead and Pirsig have provided to account for the physical world and all human activity--there is a value-charged lure to becoming to which every aspect of the universe answers. In Whitehead, the quality-process that is the world is aesthetic creativity: each actual entity, within the microscopic analysis, ends up enjoying its own proposed value nature. There is immediate satisfaction. This is also largely the case with Pirsig’s macro-analysis, but there is a difference. I think it is correct to describe the general activity of the world as enjoying its own nature, but I think humans actually forget this. We become distracted, and although we have a tendency to do things to intensify our immediate experiences, we are very often oblivious to the quality-nature of much of our world. Human aesthetic creativity is, in large part, a reminder of the microprocess Whitehead describes. It is activity directed towards the intensifying of immediate value. In principle, all human activities can be enjoyed or found repellent in themselves--digging graves, selling shoes, teaching philosophy, watching other people die. Aesthetic sensitivity, I suspect, enables us both to enjoy and to recognize the full extent of the positive and negative value in various situations.

There is one more point to be noted before turning the discussion to ethics: I am left with the feeling that much of this analysis of aesthetic creation, and especially of aesthetic experience, is framed in terms of unsatisfactory generality. The problem is that value creates individuality, and individuality enhances quality in return. This means that, whatever can be said about aesthetic experience in general, the highest quality aesthetic experiences should have an extremely high measure of particularity about them. The experiences will be individual. This is due both to the propositional content brought to the experience by the aesthetic object and to the actual world from which the observer arises to the aesthetic lure. This singularity of experience, I suspect, leads to differences of opinion on the quality of various art objects, and some may even dismiss aesthetics on the grounds of being merely subjective and hence of little importance (if not of little reality). This thesis, however, is largely an attempt to debunk this notion as a mistake that slights the depth of individual human value contexts.


The discussion of aesthetic experience focused on one person’s context of experience. Consequently, this discussion of ethics will deal with the relationships between people’s various contexts and of these contexts to the world as a whole. It will examine the age-old problem of balancing maximum individual enjoyment of value while allowing others to enjoy similar individual value contexts. Rights and responsibilities will also be addressed. Particular ethical problems will be addressed briefly.

In her book, Toward A Whiteheadian Ethics, Lynne Belaief seems to suggest that a Whiteheadian ethic would be very similar to a Kierkegaardian ethic; the individual struggles with ideals of love and goodness, and, failing to realize them, turns to god as a power able to realize ultimate goodness in the forms of love and order. In other words, active religious resignation is the result of pursuing the ethical urge to its end. This sort of view is here rejected for two reasons: 1) In response to Belaief, in strictly Whiteheadian terms, god is construed not as a personal god but as a source of potentiality or appetition and as a principle of concretion. This is not the kind of god to whom religious worship is typically addressed. Moreover, Whitehead’s later atheistic (in a narrow sense) position is evident in Lucien Price’s book, The Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead:

God is in the world, or nowhere, creating continually in us and around us. This creative principle is everywhere, in animate and so-called inanimate matter, in the ether, water, earth, human hearts. But this creation is a continuing process, and ‘the process is itself the actuality’, since no sooner do you arrive than you start on a fresh journey. In so far as man partakes of this creative process does he partake of the divine nature of God, and that participation is his immortality, reducing the question of whether his individuality survives death to the estate of an irrelevancy. His true destiny as co-creator in the universe is his dignity and his grandeur. (Price, 297)

Whitehead’s ‘god’ is not a personal entity but a principle in the universe. The ideals of love and order are not enshrined in this thesis either. 2) It is here held that the religious impulse is neither fundamental nor special, but merely one species of value experience. Robert Pirsig uses ‘god’ and ‘religion’ very casually, usually to designate functions of the value process that people necessarily undergo everyday. The synthetic value theory here proposed will do similarly: the religious impulse is not special, but merely one variety of value activity. It is not the end of ethics, nor is it central to this ethic, and it can in fact be immoral. For instance, Pirsig cites the Hindu and Buddhist religious prohibition of the eating of animal flesh. For Pirsig, this is fine in times of agricultural health, since he sees animals as being more highly evolved, in quality terms, than vegetables. But in times of famine, this religious stipulation should be given up: humans are higher up the quality chain than are animals, and it is immoral for any reason to sacrifice humans for animals (Lila, 190-191). The point is that Pirsig posits value and responsibility as matters for rational, empirical investigation. Examination of ‘the nature of things’ should guide conduct, not faith in some supernatural being or realm of value. Such resignation of evaluative powers is treason to Dynamic human nature.

The skeleton of this analysis of ethics can be presented here at the outset. At base, the ultimate responsibility constraining each person is development of individual value. This is reminiscent of the old interpretations (e.g. Schilpp, 1941) of Whitehead’s thought as entailing a private interest theory of ethics, but here serious qualifications can be brought in. Firstly, the notion of ‘privacy’ is rejected, at least as being ethically relevant. ‘Privacy’ is here understood in a rather narrow sense: that which is neither public in origin nor in consequence is private. There is individual activity and individual interest in this scheme but not private interest. Human affairs are so permeated by biological, social, and intellectual factors that are not particular to one individual that ‘privacy’, taken in its common sense usage, is rather relative. Each ‘private’ person is a moment of value-activity: this is the same activity that makes up the rest of the universe. Moreover, the Whiteheadian description of universal relatedness has been explicitly preserved here. The individual is seen as being constituted of relations to the rest of the universe. Thus, by being responsible for individual development, a person is responsible for one value aspect of the entire universe. ‘Private’ interest is dismissed as naive metaphysics. Secondly, ‘interest’ is here taken in a positive, active sense. When I hear that something is in ‘my best interests’, I think of matters that pertain to my biological survival and comfort. In this sense, private interest theories imply a mean, minimal sort of ethics—responsibility for individual survival. More commonly, ‘interest’ theories of activity are concerned with achieving individual happiness. Both sense of ‘interest’ are dealt with in this scheme. Subsistence is obviously of direct concern to every one of us, but it is so often achieved and surpassed, at least in civilized societies, that to limit an ‘interest’ theory to a narrow, ‘survival of the fittest’ sense seems to ignore obvious evidence. It is here suggested that individuals actively expand their contexts of value and celebrate the contents of this context. They have an ‘interest’, related to their sense of self-value, in this expanded context, and this is how individuals care about a portion of the universe. Finally, the rest of the world is to be respected on the basis of the often-mentioned universal relatedness.

There is somewhat of a collision of doctrines to be sorted out here. On the one hand there is Pirsig’s objective value-nature of the world, within which one examines matters cool-headedly in order to guide conduct. On the other hand there is the analogy I am making of the individual to Whitehead’s occasions which feel the world and admit or dismiss data into feeling. By so doing these occasions (and here people) create a value permeated self-identity. Both the cool-headed and the more passionate activities are human and must be reckoned with in an ethical theory.

There is a tension between these two positions. The description of the world Whitehead and Pirsig provide is ‘atomistic’. That is, they accept the evident plurality of ‘things’ in the world, and they describe this by reference to processes that have local foci. Self-creativity is here seen as the nature of things: items are not manifestations of a supernatural reality. Yet the whole--the web of relations of particular to particular--also has a quality-process-nature. Reality, in this holistic sense, advances through its particulars, yet transcends them by being immensely diverse. The whole is to be judged primarily by the diversity it promotes, and the individuals are to be judged primarily on the basis of the intensity of satisfaction achieved, Of course, to separate the whole from the parts absolutely is to deal in illusion: consequently, the individuals are responsible for promotion of diversity and the whole is to be judged by the respective intensities. Yet this aspect of assessment of the universe seems secondary to that already described. The dynamic tension by which the universe advances through a wave of particulars calls for individual interest before consideration of the whole. Thus the ethical goal is that which has already been described--individual enjoyment tempered by environmental respect. This goal is a balanced tension conducive to further process. ‘Order’ is involved at every moment, yet it is order that leads beyond itself. An element of unrest is essential--it is as important to the world as order. To hold order and love up as ethical ideals is to develop an ethic of stasis: the theory here sketched is a dynamic ethic. At every moment, the tension is balanced, then the new order is destroyed with the next wave of actualization.

Take an individual person for analysis. In times of severe hardship--prolonged periods of hunger, natural disaster, war--I would expect the average individual value context to shrink. Personal survival would be at the core of the context, probably including a small number of other people and possibly some objects. The dominating impulse would be preservation of this value context. Any damage to this minimal circle of quality would be damage to the person’s identity. Without some sort of minimum extended or projected self-value, many people would commit suicide. I am presenting this as being the typical case, but I suspect the exceptions would be numerous. Some people seem capable of maintaining a high level of ‘selflessness’, and are able to think of others, strangers even, when their own survival is directly threatened. I note this type of behaviour with admiration, but I do not think it is to be held up to be an ideal. If every person is saving the world, then other types of behavior--the intense enjoyment of small value contexts, including parts of the world that have been saved--are being neglected. This particular, individual behaviour of enjoyment is more likely to produce the diversity of actuality by which the whole is to be judged than is noble selflessness. Still, crises require heroes, and the behaviour is pointed out as a special exception. The other sort of exception is that sort of character that seems satisfied with an extremely narrow value context. Extreme self-reliance, even in the most dire of times, characterizes these people. Satisfaction with barely more than their own survival constitutes their typical value contexts. This seems excessively narrow, and it may often be the case, but this type of lifestyle is not to be dismissed as necessarily value-deficient. It is possible that these people experience deep, quietly personal satisfactions. Again, diversity of experience is be to encouraged, on the whole.

As a matter of fact, many people do not live the bulk of their lives in times of extreme crisis. Thus, the extreme narrowing of value-context that comes with emphasis on self preservation is not to be seen to be the rule nor held up as an ideal. Wider contexts of self-projection or interest are possible, and instead of merely preserving the contents of these individual contexts, we can actively celebrate our worlds. ‘Celebration’ is to be understood as being the wider sense of ‘aesthetic experience’ discussed earlier: a full recognition and enjoyment of the positive value of any situation.

In ZMM, Robert Pirsig provides a thorough examination of the kind of conduct I have been discussing. His example, of course, is maintaining a motorcycle. This example has already come up in the discussion of aesthetic experience: motorcycle maintenance is seen as an art. Giving all experience an aesthetic aspect, however, blends aesthetics and ethics. Hence, such attention to the value aspect of activity is seen here as being central to an ethical theory. The primary responsibility of any individual is to develop and enjoy a personal context of value. This in turn explicitly and obviously blends the ‘subjective’ self and the ‘objective’ world.

The difference between a good mechanic and a bad one, like the difference between a good mathematician and a bad one, is precisely this ability to select the good facts from the bad ones on the basis of quality. He has to care! ...I think that it will be found that a formal acknowledgment of the role of Quality in the scientific process doesn’t destroy the empirical vision at all. It expands it, strengthens it and brings it far closer to actual scientific practice.

I think the basic fault that underlies the problem of stuckness is traditional rationality’s insistence upon “objectivity,” a doctrine that there is a divided reality of subject and object... This eternally dualistic subject-object way of approaching the motorcycle sounds right to us because we’re used to it. But it’s not right. It’s always been an artificial interpretation superimposed on reality. It’s never been reality itself. When this duality is completely accepted a certain nondivided relation-ship between the mechanic and motorcycle, a craftsmanlike feeling for the work, is destroyed... By retuning our attention to Quality it is hoped that we can get technological work out of the noncaring subject-object dualism and back into craftsmanlike self-involved reality again, which will reveal to us the facts we need when we are stuck. (ZMM, 275-276)

The ‘stuckness’ to which he refers in this passage is exactly that--the matter of being stuck on a problem. In this example, the specific problem is a tiny ‘stuck’ screw which interferes with gaining access to the inside of the motorcycle engine. Taking an aloof attitude to the screw will not help it move; rather, involvement is needed. Knowing the bike, knowing about tools and machines, seriously devoting attention to the activity--activities such as these comprise the activity of care. Seeing the stuck screw as an opportunity for leaning, for developing the depth of one’s value context, is a good attitude. ‘Good’ here means practically productive and also advancing up the quality evolutionary chain. The state of mind that results from activity that involves dissolution of self in world-oriented activity is peaceful and exhilarated and ready to take on future challenges. The urge to expansion of the value context is difficult to suppress. Satisfaction gives way to new process.

By analogy, Whitehead describes occasions as undergoing the same development of quality when seemingly contrasting feelings are resolved into a higher, more complex unity. Instead of dismissing some prehension into irrelevance, a good state of affairs is achieved when the self expands, perhaps transcending the data provided by relevant history. Pirsig analysis of quality approaches to ‘stuckness’ involves the same activity writ large. Moreover, both Whitehead’s and Pirsig’s schemes involve transcending historic reality through involvement with the world. It is rigorous attention to detail that is going to allow the mechanic to come up with a way to free the screw, or the occasion to unify the contrasting feelings. Turning away from the world is not going to bring about better states of affairs.

Apart from the positive value involved in any situation, there is the social environment to be considered. Activity that promotes a diversity ‘of value contexts is good on the whole, and activity that erodes this diversity is evil. Activities such as atrocities performed by the Nazis must be awarded their individual measure of positive value because of the immediate experience of performance. But, on the whole, such activity grossly denies other people the opportunity for value actualization, and the world is poorer on the whole because of the reduced diversity of intensity of individual experience. Even the massive uniformity of experience within the Nazi movement is to be questioned because of the suppression of individual development. Inasmuch as each of us is an aspect of the world, it is our responsibility to promote, or at least not to prevent, diversity of experience.

This respect for diversity of individual experience involves refraining from the use of other people solely to intensify our own experience. Depth of value actuality comes about as a result of free, conscious integration with the world. Humans are to be accorded their measure of static, intellectual development and consequent possibility of Dynamic preparedness: in other words, they are to be assumed to be roughly equal to ourselves in ability to develop a value context. Further, since humans have considerable static intellectual development, it is to be assumed that the best activity we can enjoy has a high conceptual component, or a highly Dynamic component. It is to be noted that Dynamic here means self-critical development of intellectuality and not just something different from intellectuality. Biological experience is different from intellectual experience, but it is not a higher level of evolved quality. Exploitation of other individuals denies them this freedom of activity, and consequently decreases the diversity of intense experience in the world. This means that slavery, rape, torture, and similar abuses of other people are evil on this scheme. However, if entered willingly, some apparently evil situations are good on the whole. Sado-masochistic sexual activity, mutually agreed upon by adults, is more good than evil, providing that the freedom of choice is respected throughout the activity. Employing people for subsistence level wages, if they enter into the project willingly, might not be immoral. Of course, it is easily arguable that no person completely willingly attempts to live on minimum wage, and that such payment is, on the whole, evil.

Current interest in bio-medical issues such as respecting patient autonomy stems from this conflict between individual development of value contrast and the evil involved in using others to this end. A medical doctor performs his/her tasks on other people. Becoming caught up in the joy or Quality rush of intellectual pursuit in the name of medicine is, I assume, a genuine risk. Allowing patients to dictate their own treatment quite possibly decreases the value-development of the doctor’s experience. I am sure it can be frustrating to have patients decline certain courses of treatment on the basis of fear or religious belief. Such respect, however, is necessary for the world to develop as a whole.

In some cases, it is obvious that the patient will die, and it is questionable whether diversity of experience has in fact been promoted. Such perishing is, unfortunately, the risk involved in a trial and error evolutionary process. Such a process, on the whole, is probably largely to be trusted. The only step that can be taken to minimize this risk is wide-spread, extensive access to education and information. In other words, it is important to allow people to develop intellectually, which is the highest static aspect of human nature. Decisions about serious, quality laden matters should be made from as developed a position of expertise as possible. On this scheme, although the doctor must respect the decision of the patient to refuse treatment on religious grounds, the patient might be acting immorally if this religious foundation is not intellectually developed and maintained.

Abortion is another difficult bio-medical issue. This scheme advocates legislating the right to choose on behalf of the mother. Such a course of action is obviously not without drawbacks. For instance, it could be argued that a fetus is a paradigm example of an individual in a supremely dynamic state--open to all sorts of positive, creative development. Since Dynamic Quality is the ultimate lure in this metaphysic, abortion should be prohibited. I reject this argument for four reasons which must be considered together. Firstly, it denies the mother the Dynamic position of choice. Secondly, it ignores the mother own static development. Having a child against one’s will or in difficult circumstances can have devastating consequences, and legislation, which is a static development at the social level, must protect other static issues (see Chapter III). Thirdly, the fetus is not particularly deeply socially or intellectually statically developed, rather, it has only progressed biologically. In other words, the kind of Dynamic development it is in a position to undergo is social, or a development of and rebellion against the biological patterns. Such development, from the position of the developed adult world, is not Dynamic at all. And finally, one cannot count on the Dynamic development of the child leading to high communal quality. In the world, the child could turn out to be quite evil. Future static and Dynamic evolution must not be appealed to a high degree because of this uncertainty.

Perhaps the most interesting development this scheme brings to the study of ethics is the re-interpretation it provides of environmental ethics. In this synthetic value theory, understanding the role of the individual in the world is of paramount importance. Pirsig sees Quality everywhere; Whitehead describes an occasion as prehending the entire world and utilizing that data to project a unit of value into the future. Moreover, the data it prehends is already value charged, much like Pirsig’s world. The scheme here presented describes the position of an individual human as being responsible for a limited context of value which draws on the value-charged past for data, and being duty-bound to respect the free becoming of the rest of the universe. At its broadest, this ethical scheme is an environmental ethic. The individual is presented as being necessarily world-oriented, and self-interest is broadened to include the world at large.

One of the fundamental issues in typical environmental ethics is whether aspects of the world other than humans are valuable in themselves, or merely in reference to human use. This synthetic scheme accommodates both. The world is seen as self-valuating and self-enjoying. Human experience is one aspect of this general process. Following Whitehead, the human experience of value is taken as direct evidence for the reality of value experience in the universe. Not presuming to separate the human radically from the rest of the world, such self-valuing is taken to exist throughout nature. But the final actuality of the world of particulars is also here preserved. The universe advances through its details. Thus, the individual human experience is not to be drawn into service of the world as a whole.

If each person were to attempt to save the world, a distasteful homogeneity of experience would be the result. By paying serious attention to one’s own development, the environment in a wide sense is being served. Maintaining a respect for the free creativity of the rest of the world is not to deny that it is valuable in itself but rather to acknowledge that freedom of development is the essence of its value nature. It seems to me rather obvious that many of the specific problems discussed in environmental debate have been the result of human selfishness and that any restrictions upon our indulgent lifestyles must be seen as the pendulum swinging in the other direction. We are suffering from a backlash of cultural greed. I take this as further evidence of the balance of tension that must be achieved by every individual between self-enjoyment and worldly respect. This thesis is an examination and employment of philosophies that examine this tension. As humans, it is here asserted that we experience and develop an expanded sense of self-identity that includes a value context extended to include parts of the world. Also, the Whiteheadian doctrine of events that unify their entire world in a moment of self-creation has also been presented. Learning about the extent to which we expand our macro-selves to include portions of the world, and about the extent to which we incorporate the entire world in our micro-compositions is central to striking the right balance. 



Constructive Postmodern Philosophy

As noted in the Introduction, this thesis, and particularly the details of Chapter VI, places me directly in the midst of considerable philosophical development. Other thinkers have approached value phenomena with a Whiteheadian framework. There is a growing group of writers who subscribe to a kind of thought they call Constructive Postmodern Philosophy. These thinkers see their roots in the works of a handful of late nineteenth and twentieth century philosophers, and Whitehead is probably the most heavily drawn upon. Other major influences are Charles Peirce, William James, Henri Bergson, and Charles Hartshorne. Now, no one has been taking professional notice of Robert Pirsig, primarily because of the manner in which he presents his ideas--in novels produced for mass consumption, with merely slight attention to the rigors typical of academic work. Perhaps he will be held up in admiration as ‘Generation X’ matures. Whatever the case, I think his writing also fits neatly within the realm of interest of constructive postmodern thought.

The term ‘postmodern’ has been used for quite some time now. People employ the word to show that they think they are making a radical break with the presuppositions of the thought of the last four hundred years--the modern era. More accurately, postmodern thinkers claim to reject the errors and keep the insights of the modern era. The problem is identifying these errors and insights. The type of philosophy typically referred to as ‘postmodernism’ is a deconstructive philosophy, but the postmodern thought that draws from Whitehead is explicitly constructive and sees deconstructive thought as, “ultramodern, hypermodern, mostmodern” (Griffin 1993, 2). In more detail:

[Deconstructive or eliminative postmodernism] overcomes the modern worldview through an anti-worldview: it deconstructs or eliminates the ingredients necessary for a woridview, such as God, self, purpose, meaning, a real world, and truth as correspondence. While motivated in some cases by the ethical concern to forestall totalitarian systems, this type of post modern thought issues in relativism, even nihilism. It could also be called ultramodernism in that its eliminations result from carrying modern premises to their logical conclusions. (Griffin 1990, x)

Amongst the modern problems the constructive postmodernists see the deconstructionists as accepting and drawing to logical conclusions are the mind-body problem and the acceptance of mechanistic nature (Griffin 1993). The deconstructionists are unhappy with the world as described in terms of these two problems, but their solution is to accept them and show how this situation destroys concepts such as ‘self’, ‘purpose’, etc. Both of these problems are thoroughly dealt with by Whitehead in the details of his cosmology. The constructive postmodernists see their project in these terms:

[Constructive postmodernism] seeks to overcome the modern worldview not by eliminating the possibility of world- views as such, but by constructing a postmodern worldview through a revision of modern premises and traditional concepts. This constructive or revisionary postmodernism involves a new unity of scientific, ethical, aesthetic, and religious intuitions. It rejects not science as such but only that scientism in which the data of the modern natural sciences are alone allowed to contribute to the construction of our worldview. (Griffin 1990, viii)

This thesis has been an attempt to do exactly what this passage describes: posit a new unity of science, aesthetics, and ethics, here under the rubric of an investigation of value. Such a project falls into line with these self-proclaimed constructive postmodern writings quite nicely. Moreover, some of the results are the same. Particularly important to the constructionists are the related Whiteheadian concepts of panexperientialism (experience as the character of the entire universe) and universal relatedness. These concepts are central to the synthetic value theory proposed in this final chapter. Also, the constructionists write with an eye towards worldly matters: their essays discuss political economy, ethics, aesthetics, and religion as matters stemming from and directly important to the human experience in the world. My project in this thesis was to explore a metaphysical view of value in order to provide an adequate conceptual foundation for discussion of human value experiences. Wendell Berry, a thinker whom I would include amongst the constructionists, deals mainly with environmental issues and has re-interpreted the concepts of ‘community’ and ‘good work’ in a manner similar to what I have here presented. ‘Community’ is to be understood as a local recognition of real inter-relatedness, or a group of balanced expanded selves. It is a term that mediates between public and private interests. ‘Good work’ is what I have called the experience of world-orientedness:

And the real name of our connection to this everywhere different and differently named earth is “work”... The name of our proper connection to the earth is “good work,” for good work involves much giving of honor. It honors the source of its materials; it honors the place where it is done, it honors the art by which it is done, it honors the thing that it makes and the user of the made thing. Good work is always modestly scaled, for it cannot ignore either the nature of individual places or the differences between places, and it always involves a sort of religious humility, for not everything is known. Good work can be defined only in particularity, for it must be defined a little differently for everyone of the places and every one of the workers on the earth. (Berry 1993, 35-36)

Robert Pirsig’s attention to Quality as portrayed in the analysis of motorcycle maintenance is ‘good work’. I heartily endorse this notion.

Not only does this thesis fall comfortably amongst the works of constructive postmodernism, but I think it makes a positive contribution. One of the aspects of the constructionist writings that troubles me is the overwhelming interest in developing a postmodern religion. For example, one of the first books in David Ray Griffin’s SUNY Series in Constructive Postmodern Thought was entitled Spirituality and Society Postmodern Visions. Subsequent volumes in the series include much work on postmodern spirituality, including investigations of aesthetics and political economy that refer to the spiritual aspect of experience Wendell Berry is explicitly Christian, albeit very liberal in outlook. I am not opposed to the project if it is maintained carefully; I do, however, think that such an interest runs a grave risk of slipping back into modern or premodern terms, and becoming an apology merely for traditional religious institutions instead of a conscientious inquiry into human experience.

David Ray Griffin makes clear the task and problem quite well. In his essay, “Peace and The Postmodern Paradigm” he delineates what religious interest involves:

A basic failure of modern thought has been to underestimate the extent to which we are religious beings. By this I mean that we seek meaning (however unconsciously), and that we do this by trying to be in harmony with the ultimate nature of the world, as we perceive it. (Griffin 1988, 143)

I take ‘meaning’ to mean both understanding and value. By this definition, being religious does not necessarily involve explicit worship or proselytizing. Religion here is an aspect of high quality existence and means taking care of your own business to the best of your ability. This is so unlike typical meanings of religion that the use of the same term borders on equivocation. Moreover, this definition does not invoke any sort of deity; exactly this sort of invocation is the most risky aspect of discussing spirituality:

Postmodern thought would create new attitudes. It again speaks of God, but its God is not the God of medieval or early modern thought. For those who cannot break the connection between the word and this previous image, the word God should not be used, at least for a time. Perhaps Holy Reality is better. The Holy Reality is our Creator, but not in an external, unilateral sense. This Holy Reality stimulates us from within, urging us to create ourselves in optimal fashion, this Holy Reality moves us by giving us a dream, not a push. To imitate this Holy One is to provide others visions by which they can realize their own deepest potentialities for creativity. (Griffin 1988, 145-146)

I would like to point out that this is how Pirsig describes Quality, and that he even uses religious language on occasion to describe Quality and the experience of it. Now, the risk Griffin runs is a definite threat to conceptual progress. Apart from feelings one might have about religion and one’s relation to the nature of things, the only point I can see in the employment of religious terminology, such as ‘God’, to describe the human condition is to draw out a certain attitude of respect towards the topic or object in question. The deity seems to be that which deserves respect as a source and standard, yet the word ‘God’ has meant all sorts of other things as well (e.g., ‘judge’, ‘despot’), and these are not part of the postmodern vision. Using ‘God’ runs the risk of conceptual confusion because of the baggage involved. Moreover, if one can achieve the same sort of respect with a different term, then religious terminology is probably not necessary.

The positive contribution that I see this thesis as making to constructive postmodern thought is the providing of a analysis of ‘quality’ or ‘value’ that can be used in place of religious language without the risk of confusion. Chapter V of this thesis contains most of this examination of ‘value’. Moreover, I think ‘value’ is a term closer to average human experience than ‘God’. The world would be a better, higher quality place if more respect or worship were paid through the performance of our own affairs than to the mysterious natures of a myriad mysterious being. No doubt, this is largely what David Griffin intends, but I do not want to accept half-measures in the place of substantial progress. I see value theory as a more profitable and more postmodern pursuit than religion. Alfred North Whitehead went a long way towards creating the postmodern vision of god. Robert Pirsig took a similar concept, although probably not from Whitehead, and developed his notion of ‘Quality’ as what he took to be a more adequate substitute. In this thesis, I take the works of these two men and attempt to fill out this idea of quality or value. By so doing, I hope to point towards a new type of self and world respect. On that note, I offer this thesis as a tentative postmodern step towards acknowledging and understanding value-charged reality.



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