Élan vital, nisus, and creativity as treated in the thought of H. Bergson, S. Alexander, and A.N. Whitehead.
Kauffman, Alvin Harold
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The main problem of this dissertation is to compare and evaluate critically some of the salient aspects of élan vital, nisus, and creativity, as treated by Henri Bergson, Samuel Alexander, and Alfred North Whitehead. A subordinate purpose is present in that these doctrines will be viewed in relation to important and interesting phases of their historical setting. The Historical Setting. The earliest philosophical investigations into the problem of cosmology which are worthy or note form a group which provided what might be called the "theological explanations," and consisted of the cosmologies ot Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, and Aquinas. The rise of modern science, especially in its dependence upon the Newtonian physics, provided what has been termed "the scientific reaction to final causes." More recently, however, especially during the last half of the nineteenth century, and culminating in the first few years of the twentieth, three tendencies were observed each of which served to foreshadow respectively the three major syntheses which are the main subject of the present essay: neo-vitalism, emergent evolution, and developments in physics. In the course of more or less continuous discussions of these and related subjects which persisted during the first three decades of this century; there appeard a gradual and steadily increasing recognition that novelty is at the root or the matter. Some of the more important implications of novelty for the problem of this dissertation are crystallized into several problems under which (with others) each or the major syntheses is examined: epistemology (or how novelty may be known), time, emergence, complexity, law, predictability, intelligibility, and value. Henri Bergson's Élan Vital. The celebrated doctrine of the élan vital, or "life-force," is one ot the outstanding features of Bergson's entire philosophy, and certainly is central to his doctrine of "creative evolution." This "vitalistic" notion is the ultimate explanation of life, evolution, novelty, value, and later becomes identified with God, Likewise, it stands for cause and for individuality. However, particularly in these latter phases of his thinking, Bergson seems to oscillate between a monism and a dualism, with the idea of a static and inert matter as the adversary of the élan. This dualism, together with too great a dependence upon intuition as a means of identifying the élan vital, prevents an adequate synthesis. Samuel Alexander's Nisue. In the great work, Space, Time, and Deity, an exceedingly comprehensive study in emergent evolution is presented. Space-Time ie considered the matrix within which the novel qualities of matter, life, and mind are declared to have emerged; for every level there is a higher level: deity. Time is considered as the "mind" of Space throughout the early parts of the work, but at the end, and in later publications, nisus appears as the "restlessness of Time," as "endeavor" or an "effort to give birth," concepts which, to say the least, are idealistically oriented. Nisus together with the idea of value, however, is never adequately integrated with Alexander's original scheme, which leads to the suggestion that nisus is an addendum designed to relieve the inability or his otherwise naturalistic system to account for novelty. This, together with difficulty in causality and individuality, reveals weaknesses in his monistic synthesis. Alfred. North Whitehead's Creativity. Whitehead's great speculative ability combines with genius in mathematics and physics to form the background for his development of the doctrine of creativity. Much more complex; than either previous doctrine, the philosophy or organism affirms the primacy of process on both the microcosmic and macrocosmic scale, Process involves recognition of reality as pluralistic, in concrete togetherness or feeling relations with everything else. Hence, it is axio-centric and idealistic (panpsychistic), but realistic elements are maintained in the dipolar conception of all actual entities including God. God is not creator, but is necessary for all becoming. All creatures, including God, are characterized by creativity; or the category of the ultimate. The fact that Whitehead's individuals, including God, are actual, self-created to a degree; self-transcending, novel, multiple unities of intrinsic and instrumental value gives a remarkable harmony to his view. However, neglect of certain aspects of individuality (especially on the human level), and value (especially moral value), together with an apparent uncertainty regarding the precise nature of creativity prevents his pluralistic synthesis from being entirely adequate. The conclusions of this dissertation are as follows: 1. Historically, the three doctrines, élan vital, nisus, and creativity, have a significant place within three modern syntheses of the theological and scientific cosmologies. 2. There is observable in the thought of Bergson, Alexander, and Whitehead, a distinct tendency to appropriate in inverse chronological order certain key notions of Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus, all three of them making use (in the notion of novelty) of a modified ex nihilo doctrine or Aquinas. 3. Functioning, in a sense, as catalytic agents in this synthetic process, are certain developments within science itself: the neo-vitalistic movement in biology, the concept of emergent evolution, and the new physics with its emphasis upon space-time and the dynamic conception of matter. 4. All three doctrines, élan vital, nisus, and creativity, are related to, and represent important truths about real time, intuition, activity, novelty, value, and God. 5. Élan vital, a doctrine which affords significant insights concerning world-process, cannot, in its unanalyzed state, support the weight which the system requires of it, or become so coherently integrated with all that it does not include. 6. Élan vital, therefore, was observed to oscillate between a monism, which would account for wholeness, and a dualism, which would preserve the novel, living, growing, deeper, more valuable, and divine, aspects of things. 7. Nisus, a doctrine very similar to the spirit of the élan vital appears in a system which possesses greater coherence in its naturalistic aspects and presents further analysis in the realm of values and God, but is not organized coherently with the rest of the scheme, and has peculiar difficulties in the realms of causality and individuality. g. Nisus, therefore, was observed to be in the position of an addendum to a system already naturalistic and to function in such a way as to overcome certain difficulties intrinsic to that system. 9. Creativity, a doctrine which appears in a system far more adequate in almost every detail than either of the other two, both in its degree of analysis and in its coherence, undergoes an apparent threefold transtormation in the course of Whitehead's philosophical development, and results in considerable ambiguity as to its precise nature. 10. Creativity, therefore, if it really means simply the notion of process or activity, is a notion which, certainly in name, carries with it additional implications (at least that of novelty)--implications which are understandable but unnecessary; since they are adequately provided for by other aspects of the system.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University