Process and Morality

In Weber (ed.), Handbook of Whiteheadian Process Thought. De Gruyter. pp. 198-206 (2008)

Brian G. Henning
Gonzaga University
Whereas traditional ethical theories limit morality to the relations between human beings, Whitehead seems committed to a fundamentally different model. Yet despite the longstanding consensus among process scholars that Whitehead’s philosophy of organism provides an ideal ground for a rich moral philosophy, particularly one encompassing ecological concerns, there is a relative dearth of scholarship on the topic. What is more, among those who do engage in such scholarship, there seems to be no agreement as to how to classify Whitehead’s ethics, which has at different times been labeled, among other things, a moral interest theory, a totalizing form of utilitarianism, and a virtue ethic.1 Some have even suggested that Whitehead’s metaphysics is consistent with a deontological approach (e.g. Lango 2001). Given the diversity of such conflicting interpretations, one might well wonder whether Whitehead can even be said to have a moral philosophy. In this essay, my primary aim is to bring clarity to the debate over Whitehead’s ethics by systematically examining Whitehead’s own scattered remarks on morality. I will demonstrate that, although he may not have systematically elaborated a complete moral philosophy, he did indeed affirm a model of morality that is every bit as unique, fallible, and speculative as his metaphysics.
Keywords Alfred North Whitehead  Ethics  Process Philosophy
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DOI 10.1515/9783110333299.1.215
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