To review a point I have made in the past:
- A scientist is someone who engages in inquiry to discover new facts
- An engineer is someone who engages in inquiry to discover new applications for known facts.
- A technician is someone who engages in inquiry to maintain known applications.
We can add to this the mode of inquiry which characterizes philosophy
- A philosopher is someone who engages in inquiry in order to discover new meanings, and fully understand old ones.
Philosophers aren’t alone in this latter form of inquiry, but as I am a philosopher that is what I am working from. (Arguably, the philosopher’s position is more generalized and abstract than, say, that of the novelist.) I highlight the above so that we may take a poke at that most maddening and obscure subject, the meanings of Whitehead’s terms, (mostly) in his philosophical works. Because you’ll never learn the thinker’s meanings if you do not first learn the thinker’s language. With Whitehead, this means two things. First, you must “get inside” the structure of the man’s thinking, a step the overwhelming majority of scholars have categorically refused to do. The second is that you must disabuse yourself of the notion that, just because Whitehead uses a term that you find familiar, Whitehead is therefore using that term in a way that is familiar to you. This latter is the part that really drives some people – most especially myself – absolutely bananas.i We’ll approach these in order.
Now, while the second issue can drive one over the edge, I will add that the first one is pretty frustrating as well. In point of fact, it really, really annoys me. I mean, it REALLY annoys me. Let me illustrate it with a non-Whiteheadian example.
I much appreciate your thoughts1. Your definitions are intriguing so I ask how would you define a theologian
Gary Herstein said:
In case I failed to say as much above (I’ve not reread my post & I may have been sloppy) the idea of “definition” is inherently flawed; it presupposes that cases can be distinguished in an absolute manner, which is rarely the case (even in mathematics.)
That said, I would approach a *characterization* of “theologian” (and keep in mind that this is a heuristic distinction) as someone who has narrowed philosophical questions down to ones that specifically and explicitly refer to “God” in some manner. This narrowing will — in all practical circumstances — be expressed within the context of some manner of established orthodoxy. Even process theologians are coming out of some specifically *religious* context. And that religious context necessarily informs their theology in ways that are not necessary (even if they are often present) for philosophers.
Thus, even though Whitehead invokes the “G-word,” he was not a theologian, because his arguments about “God” were not only devoid of any reference to religion, they were frankly devoid of any possible such reference. Whitehead’s “God” is the rational basis of reality and the font of creativity, but it is less personal than Aristotle’s Unmoved Mover. One might as well try to go to church over a cheese pizza.
Any attempt to legislate that “everything refers to ‘God’,” can be legitimately rejected out of hand as vapid nonsense. One cannot make such a claim true by holding one’s breath, stamping one’s feet, and demanding (in between breaths) that it simply must be true, will never suffice to make that case.
So theology is necessarily a narrower pursuit than philosophy. This is not a challenge to theology’s legitimacy, merely a statement of fact.