A systems approach to the design of inductive inquiry

The problem of observation as a nonseparable component

In the late 1960s Churchman was invited by NASA to work on an automated organic chemistry laboratory (or ‘inquiring system’), presumably to detect possible traces of life (‘biosignatures’ in current Exomars terms). The laboratory was to land on the Mars surface and do its work all on its own using a mass spectrometer. Churchman’s contribution was to help design a suitable inquiring logic. Churchman later used the results to illustrate how a Leibnizian inquirer could be used in practice for more ‘down-to-earth’ purposes. It was important that the example would be neither too simple (to contain all the elements for a proper explanation), nor too complex (to be understood by the average reader). What follows now is a summary of Chapter 4 of the Design of Inquiring Systems (Churchman, 1971). An earlier version of the chapter is entitled “On the design of inductive systems: some philosophical problems” (Br J Philos Sci (1969) 20 (4): 311-323 doi:10.1093/bjps/20.4.311). It seems that Churchman’s work with NASA was not always well appreciated. Probably NASA scientists couldn’t or wouldn’t understand what he was talking about, as if he was from another planet (Mars?). That’s interesting because it was all about Mars, anyway.

The importance of induction      Induction is commonly understood as “The process of inferring a general law or principle from the observation of particular instances” (Oxford English Dictionary Online, accessed October 28, 2016). That is way too narrow. Carnap (1952) takes inductive inference to include all non-deductive inference. That may be a bit broad. It is important to note that deduction is not very practical: it can never support contingent judgments such as meteorological forecasts, nor can deduction alone explain the breakdown of one’s car, discover the genotype of a new virus, or reconstruct fourteenth century trade routes. Inductive inference can do these things more or less successfully because, in Peirce’s phrase, inductions are ampliative (i.e. adding to what is already known), whereas deduction only orders and rearranges our knowledge without adding to its content. We may conclude that induction is of crucial practical importance. The question then becomes: What distinguishes good from bad inductions? This is also known as The Problem of Induction. Churchman combined philosophy and management science to lift this question from the theoretical realm of philosophy to the practical world of planning and decision-making. Unfortunately, what he had to say about good induction was by and large lost in misinterpretations and a lack of practical approaches for its effective application. It is the business of this blog (not just this post) to bring “Churchman” back to life.

The induction process 1.0     In chapter 4 of the Design of Inquiring Systems Churchman discusses a “systems approach” to the design of inductive systems. The term “systems approach” can be applied because he applies system teleology to the design of inductive systems (see my post on Goal seeking by the systems approach). But first we must agree on what is meant by induction, so let’s take a look at below concept map (which is composed of 3 sub-maps that are intended to make sure you don’t lose track), in particular the right upper sub-map entitled “Induction process 1.0”. The main thing induction does here is to find and confirm a hypothesis (which could also be a plan or a project, since they are hypothetical solutions to the problem of planned human activity) to explain data (facts, observations, ‘reality’) using existing theory and background information. If it fails to do so, the process must be repeated. It is important to note that extralogical considerations enter into the design choices. Ideas about possible solutions and about the conditions of the situation enter into the process. There are no rigorous or mechanical procedures to find hypotheses from the data. Those involved look at clues, make guesses, and reject hypotheses in typically undefined ways. Could these intuitive moves be made explicit?


The induction process 2.0     … is the formalization of a more ‘intuitive’ design of the induction process using extralogical considerations. Its inspiration comes from Leibniz. For the sake of comparison I included a simple version of the Leibnizian inquirer (see my post on Leibnizian inquiring systems for the full version). What we see is ‘contingent truths’ (i.e. data, facts, observations), that must Continue reading

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Instilling the idea of non-separability

How to grasp an obscured yet fundamental truth?

Chapter 3 of Churchman’s “The design of inquiring systems” (1971) is entitled “On whole systems: the anatomy of goal seeking.” What this suggests is that the notions of ‘whole systems’ and ‘goal seeking’ are somehow related. It also suggests that the idea of ‘goal seeking’ can be disentangled by looking at its anatomy. In other words, the idea of ‘goal seeking’ needs to be dissected, or else we won’t understand what ‘whole systems’, and by extension ‘the systems approach’, mean or purport to achieve. Churchman himself admits that “the details are somewhat tedious”, which suggests that a non-genius like me won’t understand it, unless he really applies himself. With almost 40 pages the chapter is the longest in the book and I must admit:  It was tough going. Hope you find my brief useful. It may help if you first read my previous post on the same chapter. You may also like to read Churchman’s 1962 working paper “On inquiring systems“, which corresponds by and large to Chapter 3 of the book published 9 years later.

Four main steps       After having read the chapter “On whole systems”, I concluded that Churchman asks the reader to take four giant steps in order to really understand what he means by a system. None of these steps are likely to correspond to anything the reader has learned before, although he/she may be vaguely or intuitively aware of it. The reader must: (1) acknowledge the four main types of relationships in a human activity system; (2) conceptualize a factory as a simple, non-separable system, i.e. a system packed with interdependencies; (3) conceptualize how Churchman´s system categories can be used to learn about or (re-)design an actual system such as a factory; and finally (4) attempt to see the importance of a systems perspective of the world.


Explanatory models       [step 1] The designer seeking to improve human activity systems has 4 key explanatory models to conceptualize alternative systems that are hopefully more effective than the one they seek to improve on: (i) cause-effect relationships (A leads to B); (ii) producer-product relationships (A may lead to B under certain conditions; (iii) functional relations (A influences system aspect B); and (iv) teleological entities, i.e. human activity systems, rank and choose functional entities to achieve a purpose.

Factory as a system       [step 2] A factory is an example of a human activity system with a large number of interdependiencies, i.e. relationships that produce non-linear effects thus turning the factory into a non-separable system that is not overly complicated. The south-eastern quadrant of the concept map is sufficiently self-explanatory.

Non-separable systems     [step 3] What turns a relatively simple non-separable system such as a factory into something highly complex is a combination of parts with multiple feedback loops and the presence of humans. Continue reading

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Goal seeking by the systems approach

Its rationale, its structure, its application, and its definition

There are many ways of explaining the systems approach, but it is difficult to find a way that enables quick understanding and acceptance. While reading Churchman’s ‘The design of inquiring systems’ I came up with the following explanation. The bracketed numbers in the text refer to the grey numbers in the concept map. Simply stated, the systems approach applies system teleology to human activity in order to improve value creation. This could be interpreted as a clever answer to a very interesting question, the short version of which is: “What fundamental pattern underlies all human activity?” Or, formulated in another way, “What must we know for studying concerns of effectiveness?

Human activity         … is what the systems human-activity-as-teleological-systemapproach deals with in the broadest sense (1). The systems approach provides principles for inquiring into and redesigning the complex relationships (2) that characterize human activity (3). In the systems approach, ‘the bigger picture’ is an important concept, because it is necessary to better situate both complex inter-relationships and human activities (4).

Teleological system      Human activity can be considered to be a teleological system (5). This means that human activity is best understood by its ends or purposes. This simple idea is the foundation of the systems approach (6). According to Churchman a common, fundamental pattern characterizes all human goal seeking (7). This pattern underlies the systems approach, i.e. the systems approach explains what the pattern is and what principles must be followed for its application in practice (8).

Value creation    At its most simple the above pattern is the logical connection of fundamental concepts, three of which are: design, resources and value (9). The ‘bigger picture’ is also part of this fundamental pattern (10). The general purpose of human activity could be said to be the creation of value (11). Part of the human activity is the use of resources (and environmental factors) to create value. Another part is design, which attempts to understand what value to create, why, and how. Three roles can be distinguished Continue reading

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Leibnizian inquiring systems

Combining insights of Descartes, Spinoza to grow fact nets

As I wrote in a previous post, “Churchman suggests that the history of epistemology can be used as a source of design models for learning systems and their justification. To this end he takes the renaissance of epistemology by Descartes in the seventeenth century as the starting point, followed by Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Kant, Hegel and the American pragmatists, Singer in particular.” In this post I will summarize the chapter on “Leibnizian inquiring systems” in Churchman’s book on “The design of inquiring systems”. In this chapter Churchman writes how he understands Leibniz’s contribution to systemic inquiry, which is fundamental to our thinking about systems. And the world is packed with systems, many of which in dire need of Wicked Solutions. What more proof of the practical utility of philosophy does one need?

Diagnostic framework       One of the great problems of philosophy is the absence of a common language among philosophers. For the case of the epistemologies of Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Kant and Hegel Churchman solves this problem by first creating a unified diagnostic framework. He does so by using two basic learning models to create a 2 x 2 matrix, which provides 4 quadrants or options to associate the different philosophers with (see left hand part of the concept map below). The key aspect of the first learning model of input-process-output is that the input must be “given” (as in ‘data’), or not. The key aspect of the second, simple-to-complex learning process is that whatever it is that the process starts off with must be “clear”,  or not.

Clarity and “given”-ness       Locke is an exponent of empiricism: we are not born with innate ideas, so all our knowledge comes from experience, i.e. sensory data that are clear. He is in the upper-right quadrant number 1. On the opposite end (quadrant number 4) we find Leibniz, who argues that inquiry begins with unclear material which is not an input. In his metaphysics people are a higher class of monads. Very simply put, monads are indivisible entities such as atoms or persons. They lack a window for input, so perception of the outside world is mostly guesswork. This goes very well with Churchman’s pragmatist background. According to Churchman, all the other philosophers fail to prove their respective positions, including Descartes and Spinoza, of whom Leibniz nevertheless adopted some ideas. (Note: Locke and Kant are not discussed in detail in the chapter on “Leibnizian inquiring systems”).


Descartes        Inquiring systems process symbols. That’s why an inquiring system can also be called a processer. Symbols can be sentences, digital sets, images and so on. Descartes is well known for his method of radical doubt (“Cogito ergo sum”) Continue reading

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A systems view of God

The necessity of God from a systems perspective 

While reading Churchman’s chapter on “Leibnizian inquiring systems: fact nets”, I came across Anselm’s ontological argument. This never really hit home with me, so I decided to try and simplify it (hopefully not too much) by constructing a concept map on the basis of an explanation on the Internet (here) by Gideon Rosen. To me, this excursion into medieval thought is necessary to follow Churchman’s interpretation of the Leibnizian system of inquiry, which is useful background information for better understanding the systems approach to inquiry and intervention design.

Anselm       Saint Anselm was born into a noble Lombard family in northern Italy (1033). His name is of Germanic origin, ‘ans’ or ‘as’ meaning God (as in Oscar or Oswald) and (h)elm meaning helmet or protection (as in Wilhelm). He lived in the era of William the Conqueror with the Battle of Hastings (1066) and all that. He became a Benedictine novice in Normandy at the age of 27, was elected Abbot of Bec Abbey (formerly the most influential abbey in Normandy) in 1078, and held the office of archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 to 1109, where he was buried (but the location of his remains is no longer known, not dissimilar to what happened with the relics of Thomas Beckett. The latter requested that Anselm be elevated to sainthood at the Council of Tours in 1163).


Scholasticism            … is not so much a philosophy or a theology as a method of learning, as it places a strong emphasis on dialectical reasoning to extend knowledge by inference and to resolve contradictions. It evolved in monasteries and later universities from about 1100 onwards as a method in articulating and defending dogma in an increasingly pluralistic context. Anselm of Canterbury, as St. Anselm is often called, was one of the founders. Other key figures were William of Ockham (Ockham’s razor) and Thomas Aquinas, whose Summa Theologica is considered to be the pinnacle of scholastic and medieval Christian philosophy. By thoroughly and critically reading a particular book by a renowned scholar, scholastic students learned to appreciate the theories of the author. It reminds me of what I am doing with the work of Churchman. It also occurs to me now that concept mapping may be considered an application of Ockham’s razor (or the lex parsimoniae, i.e. the Law of Parsimony), although the concept map in this post is perhaps not the best example.

God      … is a concept of considerable philosophical importance, especially as the ultimate principle of one key concept or another for 17th century rationalists such as Descartes or Spinoza, so the proof of God’s existence is the keystone of many a philosophical scheme. Churchman summarizes the ontological proof of God’s existence of Anselm as follows: “a thing defined to have all maximal properties must exist.” In the well-known words of Leibniz the same proof becomes: “ God exists if He is possible.” After careful study of the consistency of definitions, Leibniz concludes, in the words of Churchman, that “ there is one and only one possible  model which includes the existence of a so-defined God. Hence, only those contingent truth nets that ultimately meet the requirement that God exists can be considered as candidates for validity. In other words, the existence of God is sufficient for a unique solution of the system of reality.” In one of my next post, I will explain what it all means.

The ontological argument        … in short, is meant to refute the ideas of a real or imaginary ( 😀 ) atheist, who denies God’s existence on rational grounds. Anselm manages to do that by bringing the atheist to contradict himself or herself. The steps are as follows: 1. Anselm defines God as the absolutely unsurpassable being; 2. The atheist is asked to imagine this to be a possibility, i.e. to consider it a possibility that such an unsurpassable being exists in his/her understanding; 3. God being unsurpassable in every property and aspect, must also be unsurpassable in terms of existence, or else he would not be unsurpassable in every property and aspect; 4. Therefore God’s existence is a logical necessity that cannot be denied without contradicting oneself.

Reductio ad absurdum          Gideon Rosen explains in some detail (here) that the ontological argument is in fact an “argument to absurdity”. This type of argument can take many forms, one of which is based on the idea that the denial of the assertion would result in a logical contradiction, as in this example: “There is no smallest positive rational number, because if there were, then it could be divided by two to get a smaller one.” The contradiction in the ontological argument lies in the fact that: “A being that cannot be conceived to be greater than it is can be conceived to be greater than it is.” At this point it is important to note that most contemporary philosophers do not accept contradictions as an element in proof, but consider it simply a limit to rationality, a boundary the rational mind cannot cross. I am inclined to concur.

Charles Hartshorne       … developed Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy into process theology. He also developed the neoclassical idea of God and produced a modal proof of the existence of God that was a development of St. Anselm’s Ontological Argument. I mention this to show that Anselm’s insight is not just a nice example of medieval scholastic reasoning, but continues to be relevant in some schools of philosophy, not just in the Vatican. The term “modal proof” means that the ontological argument does not stand alone, but is one strand in a fabric of reasoning which Hartshorne sometimes called “the global argument”. In doing so, Hartshorne follows the advice of Peirce and the example of Leibniz (and his contingent truth nets). Hartshorne (1897-2000) was one of two editors of the Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, the founder of American pragmatism. In my view, pragmatism and process thought form the theoretical pole while the systems approach (incl. Wicked Solutions) forms the practical pole. The works of Churchman form the link between the two poles and the gateway to their understanding, in theory and practice.

Socratic dialogue       The earlier dialogues of Plato , relating the debates of his teacher Socrates, raised the use of reductio arguments to a formal dialectical method (Elenchus), now called the Socratic method. A dialogue on Anselm’s ontological argument would go as follows (thanks to Anselm, his translators, and Gideon Rosen):
Anselmus: You see no proof of God’s existence, so you do not belief he exists. Is that right?
Atheist: Yes, that’s right. There is no shred of evidence for God’s existence.
Anselmus: Yet you have a clear idea in your mind of what it is you belief not to exist. To keep things simple, is it OK if I define God as a being than which nothing greater can be conceived?
Atheist: Yes, that’s a good way of understanding the meaning of the word God.
Anselmus: Now, let’s suppose that God exists in the understanding alone, similar to trolls and Santa Claus. Yet, God could be conceived to exist in reality, couldn’t he?
Atheist: Yes, of course. God can be conceived to exist or not to exist, no problem at all.
Anselmus: But you will agree that it is greater for a being to exist in reality than to exist in the understanding alone, won’t it?
Atheist: Well, yes. I can’t deny it.
Anselmus: But then we seem forced to conclude that a being than which none greater can be conceived can be conceived to be greater than it is. That’s self-contradictory, which leaves us no other conclusion than that God must exist in reality as well as in the understanding!

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Systemic design and inquiry

Designing models for learning systems

The first chapter of Churchman’s ‘The design of inquiring systems: basic concepts of systems and organization’ is called ‘Design and inquiry’. It is an introduction to a book about the design of inquiring systems for systemic design and inquiry. It provides definitions of the key concepts ‘systems’, ‘design’ and ‘inquiry’ and outlines how they are related. I used a concept map (see below) to enable me to write the following structured summary (with a few additions to enhance understanding).

Design      … is a general, human activity. It is synonymous with planning, optimizing etc. People design systems that serve purposes to satisfy the needs and desires of the same or other people. We can distinguish two categories of systems: personal systems and interpersonal systems. Personal systems are our lives and our selves. Interpersonal systems include transportation, medicine, and shelter to give just a few examples. Systems are composed of organized components, i.e. components and their inter-relationships. The systems dealt with here comprise people or groups of people – what else could have needs and desires to satisfy?


Design methods       A key activity in design is the identification and selection of design alternatives. This may be done with a design routine or a generalized systemic design methodology. Many design routines impose restrictive boundaries on the system to be designed. In Churchman’s words: “A central design issue is to decide on system boundaries and environment.” This is so because boundaries restrict the space for creativity, design alternatives, and meaning (in terms of moral value and its ground).

Human elements      Since design is a human activity, the human element is important. Only humans design and even when designing interpersonal systems, they are still concerned with their own or other people’s personal systems, viz. the implications for their lives or selves. This is so in a variety of ways: actors – whether in their role of designer or implementer – will protect their interests. As a result, acceptability may become part of the rationale of systemic designs.

Scientific inquiry      Churchman contrasts the scientific model with systemic forms of inquiry. Scientific inquiry limits the scope of design to accepted practice. Science seeks objective knowledge, i.e. knowledge that doesn’t reflect the interests of one group or person or another. But that too is a subjective interest with far-reaching consequences for design, both in method and in result. By defining design more broadly, a more general, systemic methodology can be adopted that is less restrictive and more prone to validate the design rationale.

Implementation     … is essential to design: if it doesn’t work (at all or properly) it is of no use, even if the purpose is so stated to satisfy human needs and desires. Implementation may threaten or favour certain interests, which in turn may affect acceptability in a variety of ways. This is a complex affair. Those who are (co-)responsible for implementation need the right knowledge to be able to implement properly. Defining this knowledge is a complex affair, too.

Design stipulations          Churchman identifies 6 things design must do: 1) distinguish between different sets of behavior patterns (what); (2) estimate how well each alternative set will serve a specified set of goals (when); and (3) communicate its thoughts to other minds to allow corresponding implementation (how); (4) avoid repeating the thought process when faced with a similar goal-attainment problem by using a general design methodology (why); (5) identify the whole relevant system and its components, including human creators (who); and (6) take into account the issues of comprehensiveness and effectiveness, including political and intellectual questions (how much).

The rest of the book      … looks at historical designs of inquiring systems. These days, the design of inquiring systems generally involves more science and research, whereas traditionally, philosophy or reflective thinking (thinking about thinking, doubting about doubting, learning about learning) was also used to learn about reality. Churchman suggests that the history of epistemology can be used as a source of design models for learning systems and their justification. To this end he uses the renaissance of epistemology by Descartes in the seventeenth century as the starting point, followed by Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Kant, Hegel and the American pragmatists, Singer in particular. Find it in your library! It is packed with insights. If you are just looking for a practical methodology to apply the systems approach on a problem of your own, try Wicked Solutions.

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A synopsis of process philosophy

A great lecture by Arthur F. Holmes

At the end of my last post (no, not that last post!) I admitted to my predilection for Whitehead, the father of process philosophy and theology. Unfortunately, his magnus opus, Process and reality, is notoriously difficult. Accidentally, I came across a playlist with a lecture series on the history of philosophy by Arthur F. Holmes (The playlist also includes lectures on Leibniz, Locke, Kant, Hegel and American pragmatism, which I will probably use as a background when I will deal with Churchman’s “The design of inquiring systems”). I found the first lecture on Whitehead (there are three in total) greatly elucidating, especially after I made a concept map (see below) of the lecture. I also made a transcription of the lecture, which you can download here. What follows in this post is a short description of the concept map, so a very, very brief introduction to Whitehead’s process philosophy. Best listen to the lecture, while keeping the concept map, the transcription, and possibly this post handy. You may learn something in a jiffy that others (really, really clever guys and gals) have taken months to master.


Process philosophy     … is nothing new. Process notions can be found in many traditions, including Buddhism (India), and Taoism (China), but also in the ideas of the pre-Socratic Heraclitus (Greece, 535-475 BC). Process philosophy in its modern guise was formally launched in 1929 when Whitehead (1861-1947) published his Process and reality.

Alfred North Whitehead    … was a ground-breaking philosopher (of science), physicist and mathematician from Thanet in Kent, UK. His main influences as a philosopher were modern science, Hegel, 19th century Romanticism and the Alexandrian fathers. His prime concern is the distinction between science and ethics, the separation of value and fact, a problem that also troubled Churchman (hence perhaps my liking of the two).

Mathematician and physicist   While in Cambridge he wrote Principia mathematica with Bertrand Russell. While teaching at London University he wrote about quantum physics and relativity theory. He reformulated the relational implications of both in a number of fallacies of science, including the fallacy of misplaced concreteness (esp. in relation to mechanistic abstractions) and the fallacy of simple location (which is based on non-relational ideas).

Hegel’s influence     … came to Whitehead mostly through the work of F.H. Bradley, a British idealist philosopher, who rejected empiricism – as did Whitehead. Hegel´s philosophy is best characterized as evolutionary idealism, in which the ‘free, creative spirit’ unfolds into self-consciousness using the well-known triad of thesis-antithesis-synthesis. This spirit is not a substance or thing, but a process, which Hegel studies by means of a phenomenology of human existence and history. Whitehead borrows most of these ideas from Hegel, with the exception of the ‘spirit’ idea (idealism). He is staunchly monistic (as am I) and prefers his evolutionary process to be naturalistic.

The evolutionary naturalism     … of Whitehead emphasizes process (instead of substance), relations (instead of non-relational, atomistic things), and an organic world view (instead of a mechanistic universe). Whitehead also adopts a phenomenological approach to the study of process as the basic notion of reality. His main subject of phenomenological study is human consciousness, as it is most directly accessible to us.

Sense perception      Of all the processes that make up human consciousness, Whitehead uses sense perception as the paradigm event to exemplify all the processes that constitute the universe. Whitehead’s theory of where our ideas come from differs from that of many of his predecessors. Sense perception follows from the intrusion of real, objective paradigm-eventdata (first step), which prompt us to consider a range of possibilities (second step) as to what this intrusion amounts to. In a third step, we select one of these possibilities or ideas as our ‘working hypothesis’. This hypothetical idea symbolically refers to the objective data that intruded upon our consciousness in the first place, be it by way of sound, touch, vision or otherwise. Whitehead is without doubt a realist (or naturalist) and not an idealist.

Eternal possibilities    The question now is as to where the possibilities of the second step come from? One could say it comes from our “stock of experiences”, as Dewey suggests. Whitehead prefers them to come from the so-called “logos structure” of God as developed by the Alexandrian church fathers such as Clemens and Origenes in the 2nd and 3rd century CE. These possibilities are possibilities of novelty that must have been created in some way. Without novelty no creative process is possible. To Whitehead God is the highest manifestation of creativity, whose stock of possibilities drives the cosmic process of creation. Whitehead does not claim any knowledge of the starting or end point of creation. On the basis of the evidence available to us there is only on-going creation.

Value     … can be observed at two points. In the first place in the range of possibilities, each of them being value-laden, whether it is for good or for bad. The second point is where we opt (or decide) for one possibility or the other. Whitehead wanted a cosmology that has a place for value. Modern science claims itself to be value-free by restricting itself to the facts and nothing but the facts, whereas Whitehead experiences aesthetic and moral value in the world and in nature. This experience of value is also expressed in Romanticism as exemplified by e.g. Wordsworth, whose poetry was a source of inspiration for Whitehead.

Process theology       Whitehead’s metaphysics has greatly inspired Christian theology and perhaps the theologies of other faiths. Important process theologians include Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000) and John B. Cobb (1925), who co-founded the Center for Process Studies with David Ray Griffin (1939) in 1973. Dr. Cobb maintains a blog, answering questions regarding process thought and faith. A very pleasant introduction to process theology is the one by C. Robert Mesle. The Divinity School of the University of Chicago was the place where process theology developed for at least 60 years.

Criticism    … of Whitehead and process philosophy comes from a variety of sources. Whitehead’s early friend and collaborator, Bertrand Russell, obviously criticized the theological aspects of process philosophy, since he believed religion to be little more than often harmful superstition. Arthur Holmes (who delivered the Youtube lecture on which most of the concept map of this post based) thinks Whitehead may have stretched his event-based monism too far by applying it to persons.

God     Whitehead leaves many questions on the nature of God unanswered. Perhaps he did so on purpose, to leave open the possibility of process naturalism as suggested by Mesle, who holds that “the world of finite, natural creatures is unified”, but not “in such a way as to give rise to a single divine Subject,” even of a non-supernatural kind as in process theism. A naturalistic God then may be conceived as the subjective projection of a unified world of finite, natural creatures, i.e. an ideal without the unified existence ascribed to it by theists, but well worth approximating as a conception in one way or another. Such a conception leaves ample room to position oneself as an atheist, agnostic or theist, all the while producing a lot of common ground between the three.

Appreciation     There can be no doubt that Whitehead’s philosophy is a valiant effort to bring value or the human quest for meaning and fact or the scientific quest for truth together in a single scheme. The scheme as a whole cannot be understood and appreciated by looking at it from a single angle. Taking human consciousness as a starting point for obtaining a phenomenological description of a paradigm event of cosmic process, both at macro-scale and micro-scale, as well of human as of divine reality,  was brilliant. Once theism is accepted, then the logos structure gives it a new twist (panentheism) that inspired many theologians, including Wieman and untold (not just Unitarian) others. There is also the romantic view of aesthetic and moral value in nature, which aligns well with this type of panentheism. Bertrand Russell, despite his criticism, could not possibly disprove of that.

Systems approach      What I like about the phenomenological description of the “paradigm event” of process is the way it fits with the systems approach. It is important to note that an event can be anything, from somebody’s biography (or life) to the history of the universe. A systems version of Holmes´ account of an event could be: a process (or project or policy) that experiences an intrusion of sorts (a “wicked problem”), which then may become the subject of an inquiry in a systemic way to suggest an infinite range of possibilities, which enables a decision in favour of one option or another. Another aspect of process philosophy is its process-relational vision, its view that reality is relational, through and through. Reality as a social process. Freedom is inherent in the world. To be an individual is to be self-creative, i.e. to take decision after decision. Furthermore, in Mesle’s words, “Experience is rich and complex. The clarity of sense experience is grounded in deeper but vaguer experiences of our relatedness to the world process. Adequacy to this wealth of experience [SH: which can be tapped by taking into account the perspectives of others] is the ultimate test of our ideas.” The value of the systems approach lies in its potential for finding better approximations to such adequacy.

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