The Emotive Philosophies of A. N. Whitehead: Lecture by Dr Michael Halewood

Interesting, if a little scattered, presentation of Whitehead’s core ideas by Michael Halewood (University of Essex) from last September.  The lecture took place as part of the Autumn Series of talks at the Parasol Unit (a foundation for contemporary art) in London, and touches on Whitehead’s treatment of aesthetics in particular.  The talk is audio only.  Halewood is the author of  A.N. Whitehead and Social Theory: Tracing a Culture of Thought (2011).

(From the website) Unlike more dogmatic writers, Alfred North Whitehead does not tell us what to think, but offers us ways of thinking differently. For this talk, Dr Michael Halewood will offer a survey of A. N. Whitehead’s on-going impact in contemporary thought, discussing his philosophy of education and the radical and intriguing demand he places on the role of art. Tracing ideas through Whitehead’s major metaphysical work, Process and Reality, Halewood will introduce some of the strange but enticing moves that Whitehead makes by differentiating between “feelings”, “emotion” and the “aesthetic”.

Biography

Michael Halewood is a senior lecturer at the University of Essex. He has written extensively on the work of Alfred North Whitehead, including his book A. N. Whitehead and Social Theory. Tracing a Culture of Thought(Anthem Press). He has also published pieces on the relation of contemporary philosophy to social theory, including texts on Deleuze, Badiou, Marx, Irigaray and John Dewey.

He is currently working on a book charting the development of the concept of “the social” in the 19th century, as well as a text titled Words and Things which investigates recent moves regarding how we think, talk and write about the world.

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Facing Gaia: A new enquiry into Natural Religion-Bruno Latour’s Gifford Lectures 2013

Bruno Latour’s recent (Feb,2013)  Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh deserve to be more widely viewed than they have been.  Indeed, if history is any guide, they probably will be, eventually.  Already I have heard about an upcoming workshop organized around the lecture series, and a book based on the series is forthcoming.  Past luminaries of these lectures, which were established to ‘promote and diffuse the study of natural theology in the widest sense of the term’ have included some of the most influential thinkers (and books) of the last century, including William James (1900-1902, The Varieties of Religious Experience), Henri Bergson (1913-14, The Problem of Personality), Hannah Arendt (1976, Life of the Mind), and, with particular significance for Latour, Alfred North Whitehead (1927-28, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology).

This last work, still notoriously troublesome despite its various revisions since Whitehead delivered it in Edinburgh almost a century ago, echoes throughout Latour’s six lectures.  Latour speaks; Whitehead stands at his shoulder.  It is clear that Professor Latour enjoyed following in ‘his philosopher’s’ footsteps. The key themes of the lectures circle around the implications of living in a new epoch in which humans are significantly affecting the earth’s ecosystem: the anthropocene.  The abstract for the series as a whole reads:

Facing Gaia. A New Inquiry into Natural Religion.

There could be no better theme for a lecture series on natural religion than that of Gaia, this puzzling figure that has emerged recently in public discourse from Earth science as well as from many activist and spiritual movements. The problem is that the expression of ”natural religion” is somewhat of a pleonasm, since Western definitions of nature borrow so much from theology. The set of lectures attempts to decipher the face of Gaia in order to redistribute the notions that have been packed too tightly into the composite notion of ”natural religion”.

Politics, science and religion are brought into dialogue, via a sustained contemplation of Gaia, rather than nature.  What this shift calls for above all is a (political) shift from matters of fact to matters of concern, which is, in itself, a Whiteheadian shift.  The draft text of the lectures is available here (pdf), but the published book is on the way.  The remaining five lectures are below the fold.  I have only recently finished viewing them all and I am not ready to offer a critique just yet.  I may have to read (and re-read) the notes or the book that emerges to fully grasp what Latour is  saying.  His project is vast, and requires, demands, serious attention.  These lectures are a good place to begin.

The abstract for the first lecture is:

Once Out of Nature – natural religion as a pleonasm

Lecture abstract

The set of questions around the two words “natural religion” implies that only the second word is a coded and thus a disputed category, the first one being taken for granted and uncoded. But if it can be shown that the very notion of nature is a theological construct, we might be able to shift the problem somewhat: the question becomes not to save or resurrect “natural religion”, but to dispose of it by offering at last a ”secular” version of nature and of the natural sciences.

They get better as they go on.  Persevere.  And enjoy!

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