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Malik, Charles. The Systems of Whitehead's Metaphysics.

MALIK, Charles. The Systems of Whitehead's Metaphysics. Edited by Habib Malik and Tony E. Nasrallah. Zouq Mosbeh, Lebanon: Notre Dame Louaize, 2016. 436 pp.--In the summer of 1937, having just received his doctorate at Harvard University under the direction of Professors Ernest Hocking and John Wild, Charles Malik devoted his energies to the production of the present volume, drawing upon his doctoral dissertation with a view to publishing it separately. Failing to get the support of Wild and others, he could not find a publisher. There may have been other reasons for their decline of support. Both Hocking and Wild were realists in the Aristotelian tradition, and one would think they should naturally have supported Malik. In fact, Malik produced one of the clearest expositions of Whitehead's philosophy that one is likely to find. His criticism is based on principles he derived from his subsequent study of Heidegger, who was persona non grata at Harvard in those pre-war days. It could have been that after he had studied with Heidegger, Malik gave the impression that he outgrew Whitehead. Malik put his critical study aside and entered the world of diplomacy and politics.

Charles Malik first encountered Whitehead when, as a college student at the American University in Lebanon, he was encouraged to read Science and the Modern World (1925). Religion in the Making was published a year later, Process and Reality appeared in 1929, and Malik pursued the study of those as well. After further reading he became convinced that he had to study with Alfred North Whitehead and wrote to him an admiring letter. Whitehead responded with an invitation to Harvard and told Malik that if he could pay his first semester's tuition, he would evaluate his work and subsequently advise him. Whitehead was appreciative of Malik's "stellar" work, and upon his recommendation the philosophy department gave Malik full support for his doctoral studies.

This was an exciting period in the history of science, given the recent promulgation of Einstein's theory of relativity and Bohr's quantum mechanics. The central concepts in science at the time were space, time, evolution, principles of thought and being, natural law, causal law, induction, potentiality, and relativity.

Malik begins his discussion of Whitehead by stating, "My express purpose in this work is to endeavor to understand and set forth the unity of Whitehead's philosophy." That was not an easy task, given that one had first to master Whitehead's unique language. What was one to make of difficult terms such as "sensa," "relatum," "connectivity," "concresence," "conceptual prehension," let alone "God's primordial nature," and "God's subsequent nature," or "To be is either to be an actuality or some feature of the essence of actuality"?

Confronted with Whitehead's eccentric philosophy, Malik became convinced that "[t]o speak of a philosopher's system is to mean that he is on the whole true to himself. . . . His beliefs articulate themselves into some unity no matter how rich his interests may be." Malik came to believe that the central message of Whitehead's philosophy of science is that "unless philosophy confronts science with a fully worked out picture of the concrete constitution of actuality, science does not really know the truths that it expresses, nor can it criticize its basic principles and presuppositions in a way that with enable it to progress."

It must be noted that, while Whitehead's philosophy is replete with insight, the problems which he discusses are not new. The scholastics had previously addressed most of them with greater clarity and precision. By contrast, Whitehead's language is poetic and fanciful. John Wild, although he was codirector of Malik's dissertation, admitted that he was not interested in Whitehead's metaphysics. Whitehead's process philosophy and its influence on process theology still attracts. The Metaphysical Society of America at its annual meetings sets aside, apart from its main program, a session for the meeting of The Society for the Study of Process Philosophies, on the assumption that few have mastered Whitehead's technical vocabulary.

Entering diplomatic service, Malik first served as the Lebanese representative to the United Nations, and then as the president of the Commission on Human Rights and president of the United Nations General Assembly. He was responsible for the drafting and adoption of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. After that service he returned to Lebanon, serving as dean and professor at the American University in his native country. Forced to flee Lebanon because of the civil war at the time, he returned to the United States, where he lectured extensively on human rights and other sensitive political subjects. He held professorships at Harvard, American University in Washington, Dartmouth, Notre Dame, and at the University of Waterloo (Canada). His last official post was at The Catholic University of America, where he served as the Jacques Maritain Distinguished Professor of Moral and Political Philosophy. His son, Habib, also served briefly there as an adjunct professor of philosophy in the School of Philosophy.--Jude P. Dougherty, The Catholic University of America
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Author:Dougherty, Jude P.
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 1, 2016
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