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.