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Ford, Lewis S. Transforming Process Theism.

Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000. xxii + 380 pp. Paper $27.95--One rarely encounters a work of such metaphysical breadth and ambition. Ford offers no narrowly focused criticism or proposal, but, as the title claims, a transformation of process theism. This is no maverick project, but one based on careful critical analysis and appropriation of the thought of Whitehead and his major interpreters. Ford's commitment to Whitehead's thought, although evident, is not uncritical. He is prepared to make modifications, even radical ones, so long as the general tendency of Whitehead's thought is not abandoned. Thus, Ford seeks to develop Whitehead's process theism but holds that Whitehead's mature notion of God is inadequate and that his successors have not successfully addressed this inadequacy. Ford therefore undertakes the current project. His transformation of process theism involves jettisoning Whitehead's notion of God's primordial nature and reconceiving God as pure everlasting concrescence, indeed, as future activity. This last notion constitutes Ford's most radical development. Fully aware that the notion initially appears perplexing, perhaps unintelligible, Ford devotes much attention to developing it and drawing out its implications. He divides his project into three parts: (1) Whitehead's thought and the unresolved problem in his notion of God; (2) responses to that problem by Whitehead's interpreters and followers; and (3) Ford's own transformative project.

In the first part, "Whitehead's Successive Concepts of God," Ford describes how Whitehead, having rejected classical theism, sought a "satisfactory concept of Divinity" (p. 26) and an "alternative understanding of creation" (p. 34). Ford's examination proceeds by way of compositional analysis of Process and Reality (PR). In the various compositional strata of PR, Ford finds "three concepts of God: the early concept as nontemporal and nonconcrescent, the middle concept as nontemporal and concrescent, and the final concept as temporal and concrescent" (p. 46). The crucial middle concept resulted from Whitehead's concern to account for both realized and unrealized eternal objects. Increasingly insisting on the ontological priority of becoming (p.90) and his developing idea that "all unity must be first achieved by some process of concrescent unification" (p. 54), Whitehead came to conceive of God as the "nontemporal conceptual realization of all eternal objects" (p. 52). This set the stage for his move to process theism in which he adopted the notion of God's consequent nature. Whitehead, however, was never able fully to integrate his conception of God as both primordial being and consequent becoming.

Whitehead's final conception leaves us with a "problematic legacy" (PP. 130-44). The consequent nature, since it is becoming, is not prehensible. God cannot, then, be effective through it. However, if divine effectiveness is vested in the nontemporal primordial nature, God's response to particular circumstances affecting the consequent nature is only apparent. Thus "the world affects the consequent nature, but the consequent nature cannot affect the world" (p. 137). The unsolved problem is how to understand God as simultaneously effective in the world and as affected by it.

The second part of the book, "The Search for the Prehensibility of God" considers attempts to deal with this legacy. Each of these attempts (Ford's previous work included) assumes that effectiveness requires prehensibility. Since prehensibility requires determinateness, such projects inevitably reassert a version of the very problem they seek to overcome. In the book's third part, "The Imprehensibility of God," Ford challenges the assumption, arguing instead that God is imprehensible and is best conceived as future creativity (p. 241). This gives rise to the need for several modifications, the most central one being the introduction of the notion of future activity. Ford elucidates this difficult notion by pairing modes of actuality with temporal modes. He suggests that we consider "two orders of temporality, one for being, the other for becoming" (p. 186). From the standpoint of being, events are either determinate beings and in the past or are (yet) nonbeings and in the future. In the order of becoming, temporal designation corresponds to the degree of determinateness. "Each present act of becoming progresses from that which is primarily indeterminate to that which is completely determinate (having the character of the past). Earlier phases of concrescence are the least determinate, hence most like the future" (p. 186). Pressed beyond the concrescence, Ford argues that there is an "indeterminate creativity that is earlier than an occasion"--that in the order of becoming lies in the occasion's future (p. 186). God is this indeterminate creativity drawing all actual occasions into the experience that is the everlasting divine concrescence.

Future readings of PR and projects in process theism will have to take account of this book. As with most seminal works, it is subject to obscurities of expression and thought. Bad editing of infelicitous expressions and numerous typographical errors irritatingly exacerbate some of these. The obscurity of thought, however, will undoubtedly be clarified in the discussion to which Ford's book should give rise.--Scott F. Pentecost, Trinity School at River Ridge.
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Author:Pentecost, Scott F.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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