Updated: Apr 23, 2022
In a debate with his elder siblings about the existence of Santa Claus, my grandson, then 5 years old, triumphantly ended the argument with just two words: “Everything exists!” Was he right?
Just exactly what does exist? Philosophers and scientists have been debating this question since the dawn of recorded thought. Did it take a 5 year old to settle it once and for all?
According to 20th century British philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, the world consists exclusively of ‘actual entities’. Beyond actual entities, there is nothing.
Actual entities, however, have a rather complex internal structure. Each actual entity consists of (1) the ‘actual world’ it inherits and the ‘superjects’ (settled matters of fact) that constitute that actual world, (2) the ‘eternal objects’ that define the actual entity, (3) the ‘subjective aim’ that motivates it, (4) the ‘subjective forms’ that flow from the subjective aim and attach to the superjects and eternal objects appropriated by the actual entity and, finally, (5) the ‘satisfaction’ it achieves and, what amounts to the same thing, the ’superject’ that it in turn contributes backinto the world (i.e. to the actual worlds of other actual entities).
Before (logically) there is an actual world, there is a ‘multiplicity’, i.e. the totality of unrelated superjects available for ingression into a novel actual entity – in other words, pure disjunction kaos. Each novel actual entity transforms the universal multiplicity into its own unique actual world, a world specific to the subjective aim of the actual entity in question.
In constituting its actual world, an actual entity orders logos the superjects in the multiplicity based on their relevance to the actual entity’s subjective aim. An actual entity dismisses those superjects that are irrelevant to its project. The remaining superjects are either negated, because they are at cross purposes with the subjective aim, or they are appropriated, because they support the entity’s drive to satisfaction.
Each appropriation and each negation contributes to the identity of the ‘subject’, i.e. the actual entity. Superjects are appropriated with positive subjective forms and negated with negative subjective forms.
Negated superjects do not contribute directly to the actual entity but do they contribute indirectly, through their subjective forms. The inclusion of negative subjective forms in the satisfaction of an actual entity sharpens its definition and enhances its intensity.
Each actual entity is the synthesis of an entire actual world and, by extension, of the entire multiplicity. That unification is a function of the entity’s subjective aim, its ‘idea’ (usually not conscious) of itself, i.e. its idea of how it will contribute a novel synthesis (superject) to the actual worlds of other actual entities.
Each actual entity forms its subjective aim according to the ‘eternal objects’ it incorporates and the subjective forms it gives to those eternal objects. Eternal objects consist of ideal values (e.g. truth, beauty, justice) and physical qualities (e.g. red, blue, green).
Just as an actual entity imposes an order on superjects, so that same actual entity imposes an order on eternal objects.
Clearly, the structure of Being is complex. In fact, it is not a structure at all; it is a process – pure process! 20th century engineer and philosopher, R. Buckminster Fuller summed it up perfectly, “I seem to be a verb.”
Every stage in the origination, formation and satisfaction of an actual entity is pure process; but something is missing! In this world of pure process, where is ‘time’?
The multiplicity consists of superjects, settled matters of fact; they are timeless. Every actual world is an ‘ordered subset’ of the multiplicity. The subjective aim represents a quantum jump from the entity’s actual world to the entity’s satisfaction/superject. Just as with quantum jumps in particle physics, this jump does not take place in time.
The actual entity moves from its actual world to its satisfaction/superject by incorporating a selection of eternal object and by investing each of these eternal objects with a ‘subjective form’, a feeling, that is conducive to the entity’s satisfaction. Eternal objects, are, of course, ‘eternal’; like superjects they are not subject to change.
The selection of eternal objects is guided by a series of ‘propositions’, images (again, usually not conscious) that an actual entity has of itself. A proposition pairs a nexus of superjects (the ‘subject’ of the proposition) from the entity’s actual world with a nexus of eternal objects (the ‘predicate’ of the proposition).
Being, though pure process, has nothing to do with becoming and decaying, the hallmarks of so-called ‘time’. There is no growth, there is no decay; there is no birth, there is no death. Order does not ‘evolve’ or unravel. There is no entropy!
Each actual entity is a function of its own internal order logos but that order is architectonic, not temporal. As with quantum processes in particle physics and the Feynman diagrams that illustrate them, there is no ‘arrow of time’ in the actual entity’s process of self-constitution (what Whitehead calls ‘concrescence’).
Being is the being of actual entities. Nothing ‘exists’ outside of actual entities. But actual entities require a variety of different structural elements (e.g. eternal objects, propositions, subjective aims, subjective forms). Clearly, these elements ‘exist’, at least in so far as they contribute to the formation, definition and satisfaction of real actual entities. They are not Being, but they do exist.
Contemporary Italian philosopher, Emanuele Severino, wrote: “…Every order (ideal or real, illusory or true, factual or necessary) is a positivity…and as such it cannot befall it to not-be, and therefore it is eternal, immutable, imperishable: the ideal as ideal, the real as real, the illusory and the true as illusory and true, the factual and necessary as factual and necessary…Everything is eternal, according to its own distinctive mode of existence. And so everything that appears (this lamp, the sky, the things and processes of experience)…is also eternal.”
So, was my grandson right? Of course, he was! Everything does exist, including Santa Claus.
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