Seminar 2016-2017: Process Philosophy

This year we will investigate the relation between thought, spontaneity and movement – in short, living thought, or thought thinking experience. Spontaneity and movement are nothing fixed, and so it seems that a philosophical understanding of them must also itself be, at least to some extent, a fluid, moving or spontaneous understanding. What is required, it seems, is an unprincipled, an-archic form of thought: “‘life’ cannot be a defining characteristic. It is a name for originality, and not for tradition” (Whitehead). Perhaps we are moving outside of the realm of conceptual, discursive reason when we try to think spontaneous movement and the sense of originality, possibility, relationality and creativity associated with it: “process cannot be directly thought due to the static, form-endowing character of reason, anymore than permanence can be directly felt, due to the dynamic, form-excluding character of intuition” (David Hall). It could be that the awareness of movement leads us to draw quite specific limitations to what philosophical understanding can achieve and to open our minds to other forms of thought, or else it may lead us to review our understanding of philosophical thinking itself. In this seminar we will, therefore, explore “process” as a philosophical notion and investigate what we can, and what we can’t do with it.

The relation between the moving character of experience and the static nature of conceptual thinking has been at the basis of the development of philosophy since the Presocratics. It is central to the thought of Plato and Aristotle, and determines much of Hegel’s conception of the dialectic. In process philosophy we find another, distinctive, way of thinking through this relation.

“In Hegel, as in the landscape of process, things change incessantly (…) so it becomes above all important to learn that concepts are fluid here”(Bloch). Or is there a possibility for non-conceptual thought when dealing with process, or even for a non-verbal philosophical practice referring more to seeing than saying, such as for example the therapeutic character of philosophy in the later Wittgenstein, or aspects of Zen practice?

What, finally, are the implications of the questions process philosophy addresses for our own lives?

The seminar will explore the following themes:

  1. Intuition and reason, concept and experience
  2. What is creativity?
  3. Music, spontaneity and enslavement: Adorno and the dialectics of Jazz
  4. The logic and language of process
  5. Process metaphysics and the farewell to metaphysics
  6. Process east and west

Each theme is allocated in principle two sessions, but as the form of the seminar aims to follow the content, changes are not excluded and the understanding sought is itself a developing, spontaneous and hopefully collective process.

Required reading/texts discussed (full bibliographical details will be provided at the first session):

  1. Theodor W. Adorno: On Jazz and Farewell to Jazz
  2. Roger Ames and David Hall, Dao De Jing: “Making This Life Significant” – A Philosophical Translation
  3. Henri Bergson, An Introduction to Metaphysics
  4. Ernst Bloch, Subjekt-Objekt: Erläuterungen zu Hegel, part 1: Der Zugang. (no translation available yet, content will be summarised)
  5. David Bohm, On Creativity; Wholeness and the Implicate Order,  chs. 1-3: “Fragmentation and Wholeness”, “The Rheomode: An Experiment with Language and Thought”, “Reality and Knowledge Considered as Process”
  6. John Cage, Silence
  7. Chang Chung-Yuan, Original Ch’an: Teachings of Buddhism selected from The Transmission of the Lamp (selection)
  8. David Hall, Process and Anarchy: A Taoist Vision of Creativity
  9. Martin Heidegger, On the Way to Language (selection)
  10. Jack Kerouac, Essentials of Spontaneous Prose
  11. Alan White, Towards a Philosophical Theory of Everything, ch. 8: “Being”
  12. A. N. Whitehead, Modes of Thought
  13. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (selection)

I am looking forward to welcoming you as part of our journey this year. Sessions start on 10 October with an introductory seminar and are held bi-weekly during term times in Senate House, University of London, room 234, from 16:00-18:00. (For up-to-date schedule information see http://www.sas.ac.uk/support-research/events)

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