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Contextual Quote


"Organicism in the maximally broad sense, entails a commitment to the thesis that there is a metaphysical continuity between the natural world, life, and (human) mindedness. We are metaphysically continuous with the rest of the cosmos."

- Otto Paans [1]


"Kant’s Copernican Revolution says that in order to explain rational human cognition and authentic a priori knowledge, we must hold that necessarily, the manifestly real world structurally conforms to our minds, rather than the converse. The Organicist Revolution, in turn, says that the real possibility of human consciousness, cognition, caring, rationality, and free agency, and therefore also the “Copernican” necessary structural conformity of world -to-mind, provided that we actually do exist , is built essentially into the non-equilibrium thermodynamics of organismic life, and necessarily underdetermined by any and all naturally-mechanical processes and facts. Hence the Organicist Revolution in philosophy that’s implied by liberal naturalism and natural piety not only includes Kant’s Copernican Revolution, but also goes one full revolutionary cycle beyond it."

- Robert Hanna [2]


1. Robert Hanna:

"Organicism is a liberally naturalistic and pro-scientific, but also anti-mechanistic and anti-scientistic conception of the world, including ourselves. Organicism is committed to the metaphysical doctrine of Liberal Naturalism. Liberal naturalism says that the irreducible but also non-dualistic mental properties of rational minded animals are as basic in nature as biological properties, and metaphysically continuous with them.

More precisely, according to liberal naturalism, rational human free agency is an immanent structure of essentially embodied conscious, intentional, caring human animal mind; essentially embodied conscious, intentional, caring human animal mind is an immanent structure of organismic life; and organismic life is an immanent structure of spatiotemporally asymmetric, non-equilibrium matter and/or energy flows. Each more complex structure is metaphysically continuous with, and embeds, all of the less complex structures.

Again: Human freedom is dynamically inherent in and dynamically emerges from essentially embodied conscious, intentional, caring human animal mind. And essentially embodied conscious, intentional, caring human animal mind is dynamically inherent in and dynamically emerges from life. Thus human freedom is dynamically inherent in and dynamically emerges from life. Moreover, life is dynamically inherent in and dynamically emerges from spatiotemporally asymmetric, non-equilibrium matter and/or energy flows. Therefore, human freedom, human mind, and life are all dynamically inherent in and dynamically emerge from spatiotemporally asymmetric, non-equilibrium matter and/or energy flows.

In view of liberal naturalism, to borrow an apt phrase from the later Wittgenstein, our rational human free agency is just our own “form of life,” and free agency, as such, grows naturally in certain minded animal species or life-forms. Correspondingly, freedom grows naturally and evolves in certain species of minded animals, including the human species, precisely because minds like ours grow naturally and evolve in certain species of animals, including the human species

Another name for liberal naturalism is “Objective Idealism.”


2. Glenn Albrecht:

"organicism is characterised by the use of organic analogy or metaphor to establish philosophical theories of relationship and development. Most commonly, a natural organism, for example a plant or human being, is held up as paradigmatic for all contexts where complex organisation is either evident or desired. When claiming that a complex organisation is organic, philosophers usually point to major features manifested by organic life that have philosophical importance. When features of organic life like harmony of interests, co-operation, self-regulation and self-realisation are applied to human social life powerful explanatory and evaluative concepts become available to philosophers."



Otto Paans:

"To sketch the outline of my particular variation of organicist thought, I’ll use a distinction between three types of organicism.

(1) Anthropocentric organicism

This version of organicism is broadly Kantian and transcendental idealist in orientation, including an innatist/apriorist component, an existentialist component, and a dignitarian component, which places the “organism’s point of view,” and in particular the standpoint of an essentially embodied, morally imperfect rational agent, or finite person, at the center of the overall account of the cosmos. In particular, the notions of anti-mechanism and epigenesis are crucial for versions of anthropocentric organicism.

(2) Cosmic organicism

Broadly Schellingian and Hegelian in inspiration, and somewhat absolute idealist in orientation, in which the organic unity to which the very notion “organicism” refers to the entire universe, which in turn is a self-conscious mind. Some versions of cosmic organicism have theological overtones, in which every event in the universe is a thought in a cosmic mega-mind that is perhaps God’s mind. Depending on how you read Hegel’s Phenomenology, his Philosophy of History, and the Philosophy of Right, this self-conscious cosmic (and possibly divine mind) works teleologically towards some sort of final goal, fulfillment, or self-realization, overcoming all dialectical tensions during its development.

(3) Empiricist-pragmatist organicism

Expressed in various ways in the work of Charles Sanders Peirce, Henri Bergson, John Dewey, Hans Driesch, Alfred North Whitehead, D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, Charles Hartshorne and – in a more existential vein – Paul Tillich, in which the notions of creativity and processual flow take center stage. Versions of empiricist-pragmatist organicism tend to take the world “as it is” as departure and minimize any theorizing about innate structures and/or the a priori in the Kantian sense, and typically also reject the idea of teleology in the sense of final causes or the unfolding of a cosmic and possibly divine mind."



Otto Paans:

"Versions (2) and (3) share a common feature: they do away with the individual “human, all-too-human” self as the ultimate metaphysical category. In mystical readings of cosmic organicism, the human self and its rational agency disappear altogether in the ultimate progress of the Absolute. In the empiricist-pragmatist version, the self is just one of the many organisms and events that constitute the never-ending processual flow of the universe. That this thought about the annihilation of the self is not original to organicism can be observed by the long and refined development of various Buddhist traditions, in which the “self” is an illusion that needs to be overcome, sometimes referred to as the “Great Death” (Nishitani, 1983: p. 21).

The basic philosophical worry that crops up here is that personal responsibility vanishes within the idea of an endless processual flow: if we are all locked in a cosmic dance that unfolds in time, why bother to change anything at all? Indeed, why care in the first place? What end serves our agency in such a never-ending, flowing scheme of things? More specifically, the worry is that the self-annihilating version of organicism leads to passive resignation and/or a withdrawal from the world, even if it were on fire.

Let’s call this the Objection from Quietism, directed against cosmic organicism and empiricist-pragmatist organicism alike.

But if we take a closer look at version (1) we may see some undesirable consequences as well. On one classical pre-Kantian or Leibnizian reading of this version of organicism, we end up with a modern version of the medieval depiction of the Great Chain of Being: God at the top, and His special creation – the rational human animal – just below him, and then further down the animals and plants, all the way down to fungi and eukaryotes. So, in this scenario, we might end up with a kind of rigid hierarchical ontological structuring of the world, and a denial of both inherent creativity and processual deployment. On another reading of version (1), in which the rational human animal possesses a central and special, indeed privileged, place, then we open the door to an unconstrained subjective idealism, relativism, or even solipsism in metaphysics and epistemology — a version of Berkeleyean idealism without-God, or Fichtean idealism—whereby “man is the measure of all things” as the classic Protagorean phrase has it.

Let’s call this the Objection from Self-Centeredness, directed against anthropocentric organicism.

Relatedly, in the domain of ethics, anthropocentric organicism may naturally lead to a second undesirable consequence. If the self is the ultimate reality, why should we not act egoistically? After all, why should we not take it easy on ourselves? Here, of course, we can invoke the classical virtues like altruism, self-sacrifice, honor, empathy etc. But then, the hard-nosed egoist can just reply that these are either useless, sentimental fictions or simply pragmatic rules to prevent us from bashing each other’s skulls in all the time. We may be able to derive a minima moralia from them, but not any kind of robust moral framework. So, the worry is that this type of organicism cannot provide any form of robust morality and consequently a normative structure to evaluate human conduct.

Let’s call this the Objection from Egoism, directed again against anthropocentric organicism."


The Alternative of Expressive Organicism

Otto Paans:

"My own position on organicism combines elements of the three previous versions of organicism, and therefore constitutes a distinctively fourth version, called expressive organicism. More precisely, all three of the objections spelled out above against anthropocentric organicism, cosmic organicism, and empiricist-pragmatist organicism—respectively the objections from Quietism, Self-Centeredness, and Egoism—can be avoided or dispelled by combining the best that the three versions above have to offer, in combination with re-reading the philosophical traditions that have been handed down to us. It is worth noting that the version of organicism developed here is a hybrid with reference to the earlier distinction made earlier. As a theory, it has a unity and coherence of its own, and is not a mere recombination of disparate theories.


Against that theoretical backdrop, I’ll now briefly sketch a seven-point picture of expressive organicism."


For more, see the entry on Expressive Organicism


Robert Hanna:

"Mostly, but not entirely. E.g., Hayne Reese and Willis Overton overlook Whitehead and process philosophy in their coverage of organicism in their (1970), a survey article much-used by psychologists up through the end of the 20th century. But that oversight may only reflect East Coast vs. West Coast professional academic biases in the 1960s and early 1970s. At roughly the same time, Whiteheadian process philosophy had a brief popular heyday, and indeed has survived into the 21st century, but not usually in philosophy departments or psychology departments, instead almost exclusively in theology programs or privately funded consciousness-studies institutes, especially in California, e.g., at Claremont. In any case, even despite blinkered neglect by mainstream professional academic philosophers and psychologists, process metaphysics has in fact been productively updated, in a larger theoretical and sociocultural context, by a few prescient philosophers in the 2010s: see, e.g., (Gare, 2011)"



The Critique of the Mechanistic Worldview

Robert Hanna:

"Keeping all that in mind, we can now get a fairly firm conceptual grip on the mechanistic worldview. According to the mechanistic worldview, everything in the natural or physical universe taken as a whole, and also in all its basic parts, aka the cosmos, is essentially either a formal automaton or formal machine (i..e, a formal mechanism), or a natural automaton or natural machine (i.e., a natural mechanism). More precisely, the doctrine of universal formal mechanism says that all communicative content, semantic content, logical content, mathematical content, pictorial content, any other kind of representational content, and information more generally, is strictly determined by Turing-computable algorithms and/or recursive functions; and the doctrine of universal natural mechanism says that all the causal powers of everything whatsoever in the cosmos are ultimately fixed by what can be digitally computed on a universal deterministic or indeterministic real-world Turing machine, provided that the following three plausible “causal orderliness” and “decompositionality” assumptions are all satisfied:

(i) its causal powers are necessarily determined by the general deterministic or indeterministic causal natural laws, especially including The Conservation Laws, including The 1st Law of Thermodynamics, and also The 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, together with all the settled quantity-of-matter-and/or-energy facts about the past, especially including The Big Bang,

(ii) the causal powers of the real-world Turing machine are held fixed under the general causal laws of nature, and

(iii) the “digits” over which the real-world Turing machine computes constitute a complete denumerable set of spatiotemporally discrete physical objects.

Therefore, if the mechanistic worldview is true, then all organisms are nothing but more-or-less complex biological automata, or “survival machines” (Dawkins, 2006), and in particular we’re nothing but “biochemical puppets” (Harris, 2012) or “moist robots.” Correspondingly, the essential character of the uncritical and unreformed sciences as Whitehead and Husserl knew them between the two world wars, but also and especially since the end of World War II, decade after decade, right up to 6 am this morning — is nihilism.

By “nihilism,” I mean this: the psychological, moral, and political attitude or doctrine which says either

(i) that nothing in the world has any meaning or value at all (absolute nihilism), or (ii)that nothing in the world has any meaning or value over and above what can be systematically reduced to

(iia) what is purely material/physical and essentially non-mental,

(iib) what is driven and governed by purely non-teleological causal powers and principles, and

(iic) what expresses purely instrumental and essentially egoistic/self-interested or utilitarian/public values (reductive nihilism).

The characteristic nihilism of the uncritical and unreformed sciences is reductive nihilism. More specifically, then, by the essentially reductive-nihilist character of the uncritical and unreformed sciences, I mean the fourth Horseman of The New Apocalypse, the four-part hegemonic ideology of

(i) advanced capitalism,

(ii) neoliberalism-&-neofascism,

(iii) the digitalization of world culture, and

(iv) universal formal and natural mechanism, aka the mechanistic worldview, in all its social-institutional and sociopolitical complicity, collaboration, and entanglement with the other three Horsemen.

More generally, since 1950, Eisenhower’s “military -industrial complex” has gradually evolved into what I call the military-industrial-university-digital complex, which in turn is constituted by a worldwide power-elite that thereby controls and guides all nation-States and their governments, that call The Hyper-State.

I call this power-elite “ The Hyper-State” because

(i) it exists over and above first-order nation-States, as a global social institution,

(ii) it’s a State - like social institution that actually possesses more military, industrial, higher-educational, and digital power than any first-order nation-State, or league of such States, and

(iii) its authoritarian coercive activities not only mirror those of the governments of first-order States, but also do so in a hypertrophied format that has global scope.

So the mechanistic worldview is fully complicit, collaborative, and entangled with the military-industrial-university-digital complex and The Hyper-State alike.

This complicity, collaboration, and entanglement of the reductive-nihilist uncritical and unreformed sciences, along with all their further implications, is The Bad News About Science that’s carried in the saddle-bags of The Four Horsemen. Less figuratively put, it’s the problem of science and the modern world again, but greatly intensified and ramified over the course of the past century. And most bluntly put, here and now, at the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century, the problem is simply that the uncritical and unreformed sciences are literally killing the modern world, and especially the most oppressed and vulnerable among us, in all relevant senses of that phrase: intellectually, aesthetically-&-emotionally, morally, socio-culturally, socio-politically, spiritually, and biophysically/ environmentally, or in a word, existentially, both individually and collectively. Moreover, it’s absolutely crucial to recognize that criticizing and reforming the sciences in this broadly and radically Whiteheadian way, and also, as we’ll soon see, in a broadly and radically Kantian way — not dissimilarly to Husserl, whose Crisis of European Sciences looked to Kant-inspired transcendental phenomenology and to a broadly and radically Kantian conception of human rationality(Hanna, 2014 ) — is not an attack on the rational, moral, and sociopolitical need for “science literacy” (Siegel, 2021a), nor is it in any sense anti-science. On the contrary, it’s robustly pro-science, and at the same time, equally anti-scientistic (Haack, 2017) and anti-anti-science.

In other words, and to put it in concrete, simple terms: my view is equally distinct from, and equally opposed to, on the one hand,

(i) those sanctimonious lawn-signs that proclaim SCIENCE IS REAL, and science-worship more generally, and on the other hand,

(ii) so-called “alternative facts” and “post-truth,” flat-earthers, anti-vaxxers, and climate change denialists.

A philosophical, moral, and sociopolitical plague on both their houses. Indeed, these two equally bad, false, and wrong views are nothing but dialectically opposed flip-sides of the same coin: if there hadn’t been scientism, then there wouldn’t have been anti-science as a new counter-enlightenment reaction to it; and without anti-science to beat endlessly with a sanctimonious sociopolitical stick, scientism wouldn’t be glorified on lawn signs and richly rewarded by government funding agencies. Therefore, stripping the uncritical and unreformed sciences of their reductive nihilism, and re-establishing them on neo-organicist foundations, would save and sustain science , just as it would save and sustain the rest of the world."



1. Otto Paans:

"Surveyed from a bird’s-eye point of view, mainstream contemporary Western metaphysics has rejected any form of organicism as foundational principle of the cosmos, and consequently it has rejected this doctrine as a “root metaphor” (Pepper, 1942). A root metaphor is a fundamental explanatory model that is captured in a single complex image. Organicism takes the living organism (as processual, purposive, and self-organizing, in a homeostatic balance and symbiosis with its natural environment) as its root metaphor, as opposed to the mechanistic worldview, which takes the machine (for example, in different eras, the clock, the steam engine, or the digital computer) as its root metaphor.

The contemporary rejection of organicism is ironic, as this was precisely one of the working principles of many German idealists, a philosophical school that may well be regarded as one of the most inventive periods of Western modern philosophy, and moreover, a philosophical movement that still makes its influence felt, even in those areas where contemporary metaphysics reigns supreme. We could easily pursue the pedigree of philosophical organicism backwards in time, encountering earlier formulations of its core concepts in the thought of Spinoza and Duns Scotus; but equally, we might survey its pervasive influence in 18th, 19th, and early 20th century thought, notably in the philosophies of the later Kant, Goethe, Fichte, Hegel, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Bergson, and A. N. Whitehead, although this is not the aim of this essay. Suffice it to say that the organicist worldview has a long history in Western philosophy, and under vastly different forms, also in various Eastern philosophies. However, with the rise of Anglo-American classical or post-classical Analytic philosophy, and its scientistic alliance with the formal and natural sciences, philosophical organicism has been explicitly or implicitly dismissed as anti-scientific."

(Source: Otto Paans, Reason, Subjectivity, Organicism. Borderless Philosophy 5 (2022): 161-212)

2. Robert Hanna:

"In his brilliant, break-through 1925 Lowell Lectures, published as Science and the Modern World (1967), Alfred North Whitehead worked out a fundamental critique of European formal and natural sciences up through the first two decades of the 20thcentury, together with a radically reformed conception of those sciences by means of a profoundly original organicist cosmology, and the outlines of a new philosophy of civilization or Kultur-philosophie. Edmund Husserl tackled the same basic set of issues — a fundamental critique of European formal and natural sciences, a radically reformed conception of those sciences, and a new philosophy of civilization — in his unfinished Crisis of European Sciences , written in 1936, but not published until 1954 (Husserl, 1970).

Let’s call the shared philosophical target of Whitehead’s and Husserl’s books, the problem of science and the modern world.

Husserl’s ideas were absorbed into the mainstream post-World War II phenomenological tradition (Moran, 2012). Nevertheless, not only were Whitehead’s ideas a full century ahead of their time, but also, for various fairly dire world-historical, sociocultural, social-institutional, and more generally socio-political reasons, they’ve been mostly ignored since then."


More information

* Article: Cold Reason, Creative Subjectivity: From Scientism and the Mechanistic Worldview To Expressive Organicism. Otto Paans. Borderless Philosophy 5 (2022): 161-212