Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Whitehead on Freedom

I have been (half) joking lately with my friend Justin, a PhD student in process studies at CST, to put together a collection of the sayings of the brilliant and poetic philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead.  If you have never had the pleasure of reading one of Whitehead's more profound passages, today is your lucky day.  I have been working through his major works this fall and have recently been studying his book, "Adventures of Ideas."  This passage especially captured my attention in his fascinating discussion of freedom:

"There is a freedom lying beyond circumstance, derived from the direct intuition that life can be grounded upon its absorption in what is changeless amid change.  This is the freedom at which Plato was groping, the freedom which Stoics and Christians obtained as the gift of Hellenism.  It is the freedom of that virtue directly derived from the source of all harmony.  For it is conditioned only by its adequacy of understanding.  And understanding has this quality that, however it be led up to, it issues in the soul freely conforming its nature to the supremacy of insight.  It is the reconciliation of freedom with the compulsion of the truth.  In this sense the captive can be free, taking as his own supreme insight, the indwelling persuasion towards harmony which is the height of existence." (Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, p.67-68)

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