According to Dr. John B. Cobb, Jr., co-author (with Herman Daly) of the seminal, award-winning book, For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, the Environment, and a Sustainable Future, we are living at the end of an era. At the beginning of the 21st century, it has become increasingly clear that the technologically and scientifically advanced civilization we have created is unsustainable. Our over-reliance on fossil fuels, carelessness in the management of our technology, and exploitation of the world’s natural resources cannot be continued indefinitely, and it cannot be wished for all people without threatening to destroy the conditions for life itself.
It is the conviction of the organizers of this conference that the problems we face are deeper than mere technical problems commonly addressed by American and Chinese participants in this civilization, and are rooted in a mechanistic, domineering, ecologically-unsustainable world-view that must be changed if we are to survive and flourish beyond our current difficulties. A new, ecologically-grounded world-view must be elaborated and brought to bear on our problems before it is too late. The conference believes that the philosophy of Whitehead is just the worldview to answer this global crisis.
The “we” who are planning this conference belong to a group of thinkers who have long believed that Alfred North Whitehead provides the best alternative to the Cartesian and Kantian views of the world, which ground and pervade modernity. We have been working in many fields, often encountering others who share most of our concerns and insights. We do not, however, know of any other thinker who offers a vision as comprehensive and rigorous as Whitehead’s. In his philosophy we find a conceptuality that can ground and unify the creative and promising work that others are already doing. We believe that Whitehead offers not just an alternative to the modern organization of thought and life, but the most promising one. We invite those who know that the transformation and survival of civilization require an alternative to join us in considering this alternative.
Our conference will largely be devoted to displaying the Whiteheadian alternative. It will show that members of the Whiteheadian family have already pioneered in significant ways and that the Whiteheadian alternative is sufficiently advanced across the range of human concerns to provide the shared vision so urgently needed. We invite those who know that we need to think in more organic, relational, integrated, nondual, and processive ways to find a home in the Whiteheadian community. We need a great deal of help in working out and implementing this alternative vision.
To join the Whiteheadian family does not mean to agree with Whitehead in every detail. That would be impossible. Whitehead’s philosophy was “in process” throughout his life. His followers continue that process of change and development – and they do so in diverse directions. We argue intensely with one another. There is no Whiteheadian orthodoxy to which one must subscribe. But as a group we are deeply convinced that Whitehead builds on the most remarkable findings of recent science to show us a positive way to deal with a wide range of questions, including scientific ones. These are questions to which the currently dominant answers often support just those policies and lifestyles that are leading toward catastrophe. We believe that “modern” ideas, dating back to the seventeenth century, still shape our educational, political, and economic institutions and deeply influence our religious communities as well. Some of them have outlived their usefulness and do immense harm.
We welcome all who will work with us in replacing these now outdated “modern” ideas with others that support the emergence of ecological civilization. We believe our work is strengthened when we understand it as expressive of a comprehensive vision relevant in all fields of thought and life. We believe that Whiteheadian thought offers the vision we need. Accordingly, most of this conference is devoted to developing and displaying the alternative the followers of Whitehead favor with the help of congenial thinkers on the various topics. We need the help of many if change is to be effected. It is time, indeed long past time, for thinkers and activists to seize an alternative. We claim this one is ready to be seized. We invite you to join us in examining this claim. Even if you have no interest in Whiteheadian philosophy, we invite you to work with us for an ecological civilization.