TOWARD LEARNING THEORY AND PRACTICE IN A. N. WHITEHEAD’S RADICAL EMPIRICISM: IDENTIFYING THE ROLE OF PROPOSITIONS
Through an investigation of the role of propositions and propositional prehensions or feelings, as understood within Alfred North Whitehead’s (1861-1947) postmodern philosophy, this speculative work recommends learning as “occasions of creating new capacity.”
Propositions are commonly understood by educators to play a significant role in education because they are used to directly transmit ideas and to assist learners consider the richness and validity of possibilities be they moral, technical or otherwise.
Whitehead’s notion of proposition as advanced within his “radical empiricist” philosophy differs significantly from the notion of propositions as logical or language constructs. A proposition for Whitehead has ontological status that does not depend upon human experience or on human expression of it.
What then is the ontological status of a proposition and what difference does this status make to educational processes? Ought educators re-think notions of what a proposition is to enrich teaching and learning practice?
Whitehead’s “radical empiricism” stands in stark contrast to traditional empiricism where knowledge is regarded significantly in terms of sense perception and reflection upon those perceptions. This work locates ideas of propositions and learning within a notion of reality as actual occasions or events which Whitehead advances as the ultimate units of reality.
Within this view of reality as actual occurrences of felt experience, propositions are a form of experienced feelings for what “could be”. These feelings of what “could be” arise in contrast to direct and conceptual feelings of “what is” as they create new capacities and constitute a form of creative advance in the universe.
Our most fundamental non-conscious and conscious experiences are of ourselves as the continuity of internal relations which are “the ultimate background or existential solidarity against which extensive relations emerge” (J. Jones, Religion in the Making, xvii). This is our “ragged edge” of experience, of continually engaging the future as “super-ject,” as constantly becoming subjectivity that projects from the past as the past perishes, and anticipates the future as the future becomes the present.
In this creative process, subjectivity is projected and lured into creative advance where the many influences and relations of engagement coalesce into constituting a new single reality or value, where, in Whitehead’s terms, “the many become one, and are increased by one.”
As and like experience itself, learning builds on the ongoing relationality and finiteness of experiencing from the past in anticipation of and projection into the future. Although each of us has conscious memories of the past including the immediate and the distant past, and conscious expectations or anticipations of the future including the immediate and distant future, our most fundamental experience is non-cognitive, organic familiarity of the self through the continuity of the relations of events that constitute continuing immediacy.
This work analyzes how propositional feelings in Whitehead’s scheme is constituted of non-conscious feelings upon which consciousness relies, how this understanding of propositions and propositional feelings may have the potential to affect what we understand learning and education to be, and how appreciation of these feelings has the potential to change approaches to teaching and learning.