philosophical obligations

Leon has linked to an article which explores the question: is God necessary for Whitehead’s system? This raises the question: say you are presented with two metaphysical systems identical save for the fact that one includes God and the other omits God. Are we as philosophers obliged to favor the Godless system?


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11 Responses to philosophical obligations

  1. dmf says:

    I find it useful to distinguish between theology and philosophy b/c I’m not a theist and would like to offer the public an alternative but in general where/what/who would such an obligation come from?

  2. khadimir says:


    What assumption leads you to suppose that philosophers are obliged one way or the other?

    To ask more than a preliminary question in response, a more interesting question is, “is the system that includes ‘God’ and the one that excludes ‘God” equivocating on the term ‘God?'” This is a lead-in question to a topic about which I’ve been pestering Matt of footnotes to plato. If we are not preserving a traditional notion of the godhead, widely understood, but are accepting syncretism, then precisely what reasons have we for the conversation, i.e., religious process metaphysics? I do not mean this as a challenge, but rather to note that the answer to the question should greatly alter the conversation and how we judge it. Matt has given a response, btw, but I do not think I am familiar enough with it to speak for him.


  3. plasticbodies says:

    As for principles motivating my question: I’d suggest that something like Ockam’s razor compels us to omit God if possible. As for this issue of getting clear on what we mean by God, I had in mind the biblical God since Leon’a linked article was regarding Catholicism.

    In fact, if we are not actively trying to explain things without appeal to theological presuppositions, then I might argue that we are not really doing philosophy. That is, if we are not willing to revise ALL of our presuppositions, myths, and superstitions, then we are not really in the critical mode. Philosophy must be unreservedly critical, it seems to me. As such, it must be lead to god, it should not depart from him.

    Now that I’ve said several provocative things…

  4. Leon says:

    Tom, I’ve posted responses in the links below. Quick note: there are both speculative and critical theologies (Schelling the former, and in an odd way, I think, Kant the latter … I am thinking ‘Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone’). There are even so-called “secular theologies” as I am sure you are well aware. So, method is important – as is discussing perhaps what of method will permit God in one system and perhaps eliminate God in another.

    Also, process Catholicism, or even process theism, is somewhat different from traditional concepts of the Biblical God (per Jason’s comment – I think we are equivocating on the term ‘God’). And so I can see Jason’s pestering of footnotes to plato: we all need to get clear on *what* God precisely we are talking about. It might be useful to see Hartshorne’s ‘Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes’ as a starter, but even in the context of the article that I referenced some of the theses presented have a process nuance not found in traditional takes of what God means. Moreso than the first article, the Bracken article is clear and concise. I would suggest any of Bracken’s books of a specifically Catholic process perspective.

    It would probably be helpful if I set out an exposition of what I take to be something like a “God function” or even what Jason may mean by “godhead.” Time of course at the present doesn’t allow this! (At least on my part.) I know anticipation is high for the ‘Speculative Naturalism’ book – I think that alot of where OOO tends to go (in certain directions) is going to get picked up in two ways: the ecological and the cosmo-theological.

    Hope all is well, links again are below.


  5. plasticbodies says:

    Let me emphasize that I am inquiring about philosophy, not theology, and that the idea of a secular theology smacks of contradiction. I know that recently much energy has been spent trying to bring god down to earth, but so much seems like wanting to have ones cake and eat it too. These are extremely touchy topics, so please forgive my confusion as I try to make my position as pointed as possible.

    Last night I heard a theologian on TV–in debate with two physicists–exclaim that his faith is in no way threatened by the advances in science. This position falls short of critical and philosophical because it refuses to remain open to both argument and evidence. Sure, you can have it both ways, but at what expense? At the cost of upholding multiple approaches to cosmology. But isn’t the very point of method to unify disparate modes of inquiry? To discard spurious modes?

  6. plasticbodies says:

    Let me add that I like this idea, Leon, of a “god function.” I hear the process folks championing something like this when they point out that we need to clarify what we mean by god. But we also need to ask if what we are arguing about is just a semantic issue. I also don’t think that a god function is enough for the Christian process philosophers. God for them has to be more than a function, right?

    As to Leon’s question about whether we must reject a system if it leads to theological conclusions… No, but we should not begin our systems with theological suppositions. Such a thing compromises the philosophical integrity of the inquiry, it seems to me. This is the inner her hermeneut speaking in me.

  7. Leon says:

    I think there are several issues at stake here:

    1.) Having identified something like a God-function, why link this to “God” at all? Why call it God rather than something else? This cannot be an issue of semantics if the integrity of the function thesis is to be maintained.

    2.) Method. Philosophy is not theology, true. We should not reject a system simply if it leads to theological conclusions, and we should not begin with theological suppositions either, true.

    3.) The conversation keeps beating around the same bush on the above two points yet demands elucidation concerning a third – the personhood of God, and it’s a shame that speculative query cannot take us further for the moment given that I am literally packing my apartment and procrastinating by blogging (!!!). So, I am going to leave it to Jason from here if he wants to try to tackle the issue of personalism (Jason, I remember you took that Scheler class!) Scheler is not a process philosopher so far as I know, but on the process side we do not wish to tack on God as a pious addition, nor simply concede that what the God-function purports to be is a semantic choice, equal only to some other just as well described ontological reality/function/etc.

    Process theists want a personal God with all of the trimmings (many trimmings as proposed by Scheler: the importance of aesthetic feeling, ordo amoris, and so on). So process theism advances a third problematic thesis in our conversation 3a.) a *personal* God. One that is *not* a mere verbal construction by 1. And one that is demonstrable in method by 2. Whitehead does not argue *for* God’s existence, Hartshorne does via modal logic and other means. This personal God *appears* to be integral for Whitehead’s metaphysics (debatable) and *is* integral to Hartshorne’s (not debatable).

    There has never been a process theologian on TV, so far as I know. If there was, then I’d be interested to take a look. But the majority of what one sees represented as theology on TV is hardly philosophically well argued.

  8. khadimir says:


    Thanks for raising the issue that I have been bringing up, but you go one further and give a helpful reference.


    I think it is more than a semantic issue, because I suspect that blurring the semantics allows for one to dance about one’s commitments, e.g., to orthodox Christianity or not. In Matt’s case, when I pressed him he espoused a deep regard for theosophy. Per my own practice of elenchus, part of my aim in social inquiries is to reveal what other’s commitments are even if they are not obvious to themselves. Hence, it was helpful to know, for instance, that Matt is going for a theosophical point of view, and thus further social inquiries adjust accordingly, as my I understand my part to be a fellow conversant and not an unasked instructor.

    On your last point, I’m not convinced that we should not begin our systems with theological assumptions. We must begin with some assumptions, and I think how we develop a given assumption is more important than rejecting some at the beginning, especially since such assent or rejection is likely to be a historical, social, or cultural function. But then, I don’t adhere to the view that rationality is separable from these. Nor wholly reducible either.

  9. dmf says:

    Winquist was trying to remind us that even after the death of God we still experience the intuitions/traumas/callings of the kind/scale of those traditionally identified with supernatural experiences/encounters and still start from positions/orientations of faith/desire (where our digging for justifications hit bedrock). From these insights (and those related ideas of Mark C.Taylor)some of his students came up with the unfortunate brand(ing) secular-theology but Charlie’s work was not Process theology and not ecstatic naturalism. There weren’t epiphanies in the darkness, the darknesses were the epiphanies…

  10. Tom,

    This is the kind of question I love to pursue possible answers to. I don’t know that there is a definite answer, only because language is too imprecise a tool for any closed metaphysical system to finally define all of its terms. I agree with what Leon said over on After Nature about Whitehead’s and Peirce’s “open” systems. Both found God to be a necessary element in philosophical speculation concerning the ultimate generalities of existence. Neither conceived of God in anything like the way contemporary televangelists do.

    I do not think philosophy has any obligation one way or another as regards a God function. Ockam’s razor doesn’t seem relevant in this context, at least not if we avoid the (IMO) misleading notion that “God” is somehow akin to a scientific hypothesis. I have tried, following James and Whitehead, to construe God as an experiential and historical fact, rather than a hypothesis meant to explain something. This will require more work, of course. I’ll try to post a more developed response when I get home from work this evening!


  11. khadimir says:


    I did more than take that Scheler course. My Master’s thesis was on Scheler’s response to Nietzsche on ressentiment.


    I think that’s a good strategy.

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