Tag Archive: process philosophy


“Ultimately, the thinking of speculative pragmatism that is activist philosophy belongs to nature. Its aesthetico-politics compose a nature philosophy. The occurrent arts in which it exhibits itself are politics of nature.

“The one-word summary of its relational-qualitative goings on: ecology. Activist philosophy concerns the ecology of powers of existence. Becomings in the midst. Creative change taking place, self-enjoying, humanly or no, humanly and more.”

These two short paragraphs close the Introduction to Brian Massumi’s recent, and thoroughly Whiteheadian, book Semblance and Event. They serve as a good epigraph to what I’d like to discuss here, which is the “neo-Whiteheadian wave” I see arising in cultural theory and its connections to ecology and to “speculative realism” (which, in Massumi’s hands, becomes speculative pragmatism; the differences are worth exploring).

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With Whiteheadian process philosophers and object-oriented ontologists meeting minds in Claremont, Chris Vitale softening up to OOO, Levi Bryant declaring himself a process philosopher — more precisely, that he’s “always been, [is], and will always be a process philosopher” — and Ian Bogost sharing a very sympathetic attempt to develop commonalities between the two schools of thought, one could be forgiven for thinking we might be on the verge of a big philosophical group hug. That said, there remains much to chew on in these developments, and I think (and hope) that many of those involved will be doing that for some time to come. Several of the Claremont talks are now available online in one form or another: Ian Bogost’s paper is here, Steven Shaviro’s can be found here, Isabelle Stengers’ talk and Donna Haraway’s response have been shared here (on a wonderful new blog that not only shares many common interests with this blog, but uses the same WordPress theme, sans my background image), and Graham Harman live-blogged it all here.

Having now caught up with at least some of these, I want to throw out a few quick thoughts of my own on what makes a process-relational philosophical perspective not superior, but just very attractive, to me and I believe to others. It’s one of the pieces of process philosophy that I think is worth remembering in all these debates, and a reason why I believe that Whitehead’s re-entry into philosophical discourse (outside of the milieu of hardcore Whiteheadians) marks a significant shift in philosophy today.

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Process-relational theory primer

One of the tasks of this blog, since its inception in late 2008, has been to articulate a theoretical-philosophical perspective that I have come to call “process-relational.” This is a theoretical paradigm and an ontology that takes the basic nature of the world to be that of relational process: that is, it understands the basic constituents of the world to be events of encounter, acts or moments of experience that are woven together to constitute the processes by which all things occur, unfold, and evolve. Understanding ourselves and our relations with the world around us in this way, it is argued, can help us unwind ourselves from out of a set of dualisms that have ensnared modern thought over the last few centuries. In contrast to materialist, idealist, dualist, and other perspectives that have dominated modern western philosophy, a process-relational perspective more explicitly recognizes the dynamic, complex, systemic, and evolving nature of reality.

What follows is a brief summary of the process-relational perspective. It is followed by some bibliographic starting points and by a list of links to some of the more substantive posts on this blog that have dealt with process-relational theory.

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Buddhist objects & processes

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Does object-oriented ontology = Buddhism? Tim Morton has been making intriguing sounds to that effect, and Levi Bryant has begun to ask him the hard questions about how and whether that might be possible — of how to “square the circle” of independent substances (OOO) with Buddhism’s conditioned genesis (a.k.a. dependent arising, codependent origination).

Tim’s task strikes me as quite challenging, especially because Buddhism is conventionally thought to be as relational as philosophical traditions can get. Levi has a clear exposition of conditioned genesis, which he rightfully depicts as the cornerstone metaphysical principle on which Buddhist practice, psychology, and soteriology are all built.

It’s necessary, however, to think carefully about Buddhism’s relationality. One of the popular metaphors for thinking about conditioned origination is the idea of Indra’s jeweled net. Levi uses the image of a spider web, but the idea is the same. He writes:

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Bennett’s conatus

Just as I was getting ready to wind up the Bennett discussions yesterday, Scu posted a substantial piece about chapter 7, and promised more to come on chapter 8. I’m glad to see it, since I thought there could have been more discussion about both (and about some general issues throughout the book).

Picking up on the same lines I had noted (“Since I have challenged the uniqueness of humanity in several ways, why not conclude that we and they are equally entitled? [...] To put it bluntly, my conatus will not let me “horizontalize” the world completely”), Scu writes:

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