Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Religious Sciences


John C. Robertson


The major finding of this study is that Whitehead is engaged in a religious as well as a metaphysical inquiry. This religious inquiry is not confined to the dogmas of one religion but seeks to outline the logical structure of rational religious inquiry itself. Whitehead tries to show through an examination of phenomenological evidence that the basic question addressed by high religions is "What is the character permanently inherent in the universe'?" The religious answer is not a dogmatic formulation but an intuition that settles conjointly the value of individuals for themselves and for each other and the value of the objective universe. But there can be no confirmation of the validity of a religious intuition.apart from some definite metaphysical way of conceiving the universe. Thus rational religion must have recourse to metaphysics for a scrutiny of its terms.

Examination of Whitehead's metaphysics reveals that it is not a deductive system 'based upon self-evident premises. Deduction can only magnify the testability of premises. Before systematization begins and after it has been Concluded the speculative philosopher must continue to confront, his tentative formulations with the circumstances to which they should apply. Metaphysics is an ongoing adventure in the clarification of thought. Examination of Whitehead's metaphysical inquiry indicates that while religion may serve as a source of suggestions as to how to conceive the ultimate features of everything that is, the final judgment as to what sorts of things there are and how they are interrelated are metaphysical decisions to be made on the basis of metaphysical criteria and not upon the basis of peculiarly religious evidence. The major instance where the generality of Whitehead is metaphysics might seem to be compromised by the introduction of a religious presupposition is the use of the concept "God" within his metaphysics. It is concluded that God is not introduced into his metaphysics as the logical subject of a particular religious intuition. God is introduced as a derivative metaphysical concept and the question of how this concept is to be understood and whether it refers to anything real is to be determined on the basis of metaphysical considerations.

At the point at which metaphysics is introduced into the structure of religious inquiry the question arises as to whether Whitehead's metaphysics compromises the generality of his religious inquiry. The first point to note is that any rational religion must have recourse to metaphysics to affirm the objective validity of its doctrines. It is clear that a metaphysics will not adjudicate seriously conflicting metaphysical presuppositions of different rational religions and find them equally valid. But this does not mean that serious discussion between conflicting religious traditions is arbitrarily terminated by the imposition of a metaphysics. In these instances a basic religious disagreement deepens into a basic metaphysical disagreement. The conflict is an invitation to a discussion of the first principles of metaphysics. This study also suggests that in his postulation of first metaphysical principles Whitehead does not arbitrarily dismiss divergent metaphysical conclusions.

Given the validity of Whitehead's metaphysics the question arises of how much can be affirmed solely upon the basis of an abstract general metaphysics and whether religion in any sense can be said to go beyond metaphysics. In Whitehead's view metaphysics does go beyond a mere intellectual unity of experience. The intellectual unity discerned by metaphysics is only a bringing to self-reflective awareness a unity that is already present at a more fundamental level of experiencing. However, in this study no adequate answer is found to the question of the extent to which metaphysics is demonstrative of more than an abstract intellectual unity in experience. It is concluded that in at least one sense religion does go beyond metaphysics. What escapes metaphysics is the concrete particularity of personal experience and the uniqueness of great religious insights whose "originality is the very element in their expression which remains unformularized" CRM 131). Religions claim more definite and concrete knowledge of the nature of things than can be ascertained on the basis of a general metaphysics. Given that these claims are consonant with the conclusions of metaphysics it is appropriate to assess these more detailed claims on the basis of more special evidence religious or otherwise (UM 107).

This thesis has found sufficient evidence to conclude that Whitehead is engaged in a religious inquiry whose purpose is to identify the sphere of religious activity in human life and to present an analysis of religious inquiry itself. The introduction of metaphysics into that inquiry has been examined in some detail. A partial answer has been suggested to the question of the degree to which religion may be said to go beyond truths discerned in a general metaphysics. The precise nature of the relation of ~his analysis of religious inquiry to Whitehead's fully developed discussion of the notion of God is a topic awaiting further exploration as is also the question of "the degree to which Whitehead's metaphysics may be considered demonstrative of more than an abstract intellectual unity of experience.

McMaster University Library

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