What is a process ontology

Process ontology

References to the history of science

The process ontology develops from the distortion of the ordering dynamics (the complementary identity in the equivalence principle e.g. in up and down, back and forth) to unsteady kinetics, already between Empedocles and Democritus. (S-DWdeP 122)

The process as a chain of discrete, typified events emerges from the tonos stream of an arachic dynamic.

In doing so, Whitehead reflects in particular the upheavals in modern natural science, which have led from mechanistic physics of Newtonian style to the theory of relativity and quantum physics, in biology to the theory of evolution. (F-WCP 14)

The process ontology should correctly be called event ontology, since processes are always understood as a chain or stream of events, and a numerical variety is therefore always assumed.

Event as a basic category

In contrast to the thing philosophy, which ends in a three-part network model (thing, property, relation), the process philosophy only assumes the event as a basic category. In addition, there is often the idea of ​​relational chaining and the categorization of the chains of events, so that the main categories of a process ontology are as follows:

(Compare: S-WNP 199, S-NGdE 17-26)

Elimination of carrier substances

Only modern science eliminates the carriers and leaves (since Mach, Einstein and others) only an arrangement of freely floating features; this has not yet penetrated into the implicit ontology of human interaction with their lifeworld and the explicit ontology of the sciences related to it. (S-HL 356)

Only objective events

Only objective facts are recognized. Subjective facts are not recognized.

Only discrete events, no relations

The idea that there are only events is called "actualistic event ontology". Representative: Singer.

See: Disputing the relations with Wilhelm von Ockham

See projectionism and extensionism: constellations (ordered sets) of recordable events

See: Discrete Ontology

Events and Relations

Events and connection relations

Process types: genera of the event chains

Ontology of the event chains as process types, e.g. physical, psychological, social.

Mentally, physically, socially

The process philosophy neglects the fact that the assumption of different types of events is also required, and that it is easy to think in stereotypes. (Mental, physical, linguistic events). Often there is only one type of relation that connects these events of the same type with one another: the connection.

(Musical) gestalt course as a chain of events

A Gestalt course can also be understood as a chain of events in the sense of process ontology.

... the unity of relational consciousness becomes a mere gestalt quality in the manner of a melody. (S-SdG 135)

Event beyond subject and object

Process ontology suggests a de-subjectified consciousness without consciousness. Affective being affected by feelings is inconceivable without an affected subject. This is why process ontology, through its lack of subject and object, ultimately becomes idealism.

Historical roots: Wilhelm von Ockham

In relation to Wilhelm von Ockam:

On the subject side, Wilhelm's fanaticism reaches its peak in the idea of ​​the superfluity of the subject, which was systematically elaborated on the thesis of complete subjectlessness (with the result of objectlessness) only in the empirical criticism of the late 19th century. (S-DWdeG 153)

Empirio-criticism: Avenarius, Mach

The empiriocriticists Avenarius and Mach made a philosophical system out of it. ... The radicalism of his singularism and constellationism brings Wilhelm close to a physicalism that obliterates subjectivity as well as things and only leaves associations of events - scholastically speaking: absolute accidents - for which it no longer makes any difference whether they are physical or mental. (S-DWdeG 154)
One [way] is the denial of subjectivity, the renunciation of conscious minds, outlined by Lichtenberg ("It thinks, one should say, as one says: there is lightning") and carried out by the empirical criticists Avenarius and Mach. If there is no conscious mind - no one who thinks, feels, speaks, does, and suffers, but only the corresponding neutral events - there cannot be a simple consciousness either, and the unity of relational consciousness becomes a mere gestalt quality in the manner of a melody. (S-SdG 135)

Hence: process ontology as the ontology of music in a triangle

See: Critique of the Inner World Hypothesis

Classification of the structural core

  • Pluralism instead of dualism
  • Genetic structuralism instead of substance metaphysics: structural instead of causal, genetic analysis
  • Self-determination instead of external control
Reality is made up of a multitude of independent, but internally interconnected process beings (pluralism). Such a process system results from a genesis that leads from an initial structure to an end structure. Structure and genesis are mutually dependent (genetic structuralism). The decisive moment in self-realization is self-regulation (Autoregulation), which result in equilibrium processes (Equilibration) expresses. ... As a continuation of the subject philosophy of modern times, but without its dualisms of matter and spirit, life and spirit, nature and culture, this position is able to stand up for an enlightened ideal of humanity. It leaves the "death of the subject" behind as well as it overcomes the dehumanizing tendencies of systems thinking and deconstructivism. (F-WCP 16)
Reality consists of a multitude of organismic process units with gradually increasing subjectivity. Thus a pluralism, an organizationalism, a process thinking and a subject thinking are asserted in one. These process units are independent beings, but they are internally connected to each other through internal relations, which adds relationalism as a further characteristic. As process units, they are self-creative; Creativity is a basic feature of reality. (F-WCP 35)

Subject thinking

"beyond subjectivism and objectivism" (Schwinn 1993) (F-WCP 39)

See: Idealism, especially Subjective Idealism

The - organismically based - subject thinking was exemplarily pre-demonstrated by Whitehead as a categorical counter-concept to the conventional conception of things (cf. Fetz 1981, 52-96). ... If one takes the subject-object experience seriously, then at the systematic starting point of philosophy there are no longer statements of the type "This stone is gray", but rather complex statements such as "I perceive that this stone is gray" (. ..). With that, the relation between the subject and the reference object - considered real - in the foreground. The substance-quality scheme is only of subordinate importance within this relationship: It stands for an abstraction, not for concrete reality (...). (F-WCP 37)

Process thinking

The process philosophy is inspired by the genetic question, i.e. the question in which series of events or chains of events something occurs. It is thus at odds with the phenomenological question.

Criticism of the static thing concept, which was scientifically solidified by Newton's basic concept of inert masses.

Becoming is therefore not a mere initial act, like the emergence of a substance, which is then followed by "being" for the duration of its existence. Rather, "being" is consistently bound to "becoming", in such an inward way that without "becoming" it falls back into nothingness. A being in the full sense therefore only has its existence in the process in which it constitutes itself; it is carried by this process and is the result of this process. (F-WCP 41)

Something possesses its being only through its work.

Not only the higher organisms, but all organismic units and thus ultimately reality as a whole consists of process beings that exist only because of their internal processes, for which these processes are constitutive. (F-WCP 42)

Stream of Consciousness: From Solid Body to Liquid

... reinterpretation of the soul as a stream of consciousness made by some authors around 1900 (James, Husserl), whereby the model of the solid body (soul as a house) was more or less consistently replaced by the model of a liquid. (S-Erk 192)

The model for James Stream of Consciousness was the breath stream.

Structural thinking

The holistic nature of structures means that the parts, i.e. the elements or substructures from which they are composed, do not have their being, their mode of existence and functioning independently of one another and of the whole. There are not external but constitutive internal relationships between the parts and the whole. This means that elements of a structure cannot be torn out of their context and causally explained as independent units. (F-WCP 45)

Operational systems theory

As a representative of operational system models, Luhmann can be classified as a process thinker because he follows a chain model of operations. The motivation behind an operative, time-driven system model is understandable: the reduction in complexity. However, he forgets that not only does time reduce complexity, but also situations:

Situations reduce complexity. Niklas Luhmann misjudged that. (S-WNP 277)

Statements such as:

  • Only communication communicates. Man is only the environment of a social system.

Continuum between mind and nature

Since Whitehead and Langer assume a continuum between 'spirit' and 'nature', they can integrate scientific results into their respective natural philosophy more easily than other theoretical schools. (Landweer / Renz in: Classical Theories of Emotion, p. 15)

Process as a chain or movement

Process as a chain of events

Process as rest in motion

  • physical exercise at rest

Feeling as a process

  • Feeling is treated as a process.
  • Feelings, on the other hand, cannot be discussed.


  • Heraklit ("everything flows" -Heraclit)
  • Avenarius
  • Hume
  • Spruce (act that does itself)
  • Whitehead
  • Do
  • Einstein
  • Luhmann
  • Donald Davidson
  • Rescher


But the Buddha's position with regard to the permanence of substances is actually much more radical: any persistence is negated in favor of a "conception of the individual as the product of a rapid succession of innumerable individual moments of existence that give the wrong impression of a self (âtman), whereas closer analysis shows that there is nothing permanent anywhere in the living. "(Stietencron, 2001, p. 37). According to Inada, the Buddha assumes that the present never stands still or is ascertainable, and that is why the present is also not definable or determinable. (KS-DbD 86 (Soul-That's you!))
In America especially that serves Process philosophy Alfred North Whiteheads (1861-1947) as the basis for dialogue with the Buddhist concept of pratîtyasamutpâda (Arising in mutual dependence), whereby one can also tie in with Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), who in the last decade of the 19th century had already understood the self not as a substance, but as an ever new event of creative self-creation. In his process-thinking, Whitehead touches on fundamental Buddhist principles, above all the insight into the non-substantiality of all appearances. John Cobb's process theology also plays a prominent role in this context ... (BL-BuC 271)


The uninterrupted change of the world in view has led philosophers in ancient China to a doctrine of beings that focuses on the fluid and fleeting. When everything flows and changes, no situation is the same as the other, phenomena cannot be recorded and basically cannot be conceptually fixed. Seen in this way, words in their situational "wandering meaning" are always just jug and mug words.
This view of the world contrasts with a European ontology, which elevated solid bodies to a model, handled unambiguous terms so that everything that exists appears to be extremely manageable, manipulable and controllable to humans.

Change and situation ontology on the one hand and substance ontology on the other each have different consequences for the world and self-interpretation. (GL-RB 87)

Plotinus as a mystic

If, however, as Plotinus sees it ..., the mind itself is the operation (energia), not only do subject and object coincide in self-thinking, but self-thinking, the operation, eats up subject and object, as it were, and nothing is left over as the absolute act of action according to Fichte, which does nothing but itself and has itself as an inner object, ... (S-DWdeP1 347f)
... an absolute event absorbing subject and object. (S-DWdeP1 348)

William of Ockham

See the erasure of the relation in Wilhelm von Ockham


Avenarius gives the desubjectivation of consciousness, from which the reference to someone who is conscious, has been removed, the first well thought-out form, but thus stands in a stream that extends from Hume to the present. (S-BW 13)
Avenarius no longer wants to accept a finding subject and just as little a found object, but only neutral, absolute prior discoveries, such as sensations without sensations and perceptions: "So it is not the I-denoted that finds the tree, but the I-denoted and the tree are quite evenly the content of one and the same found thing. " (S-H 17)
When Avenarius postulates a pre-discovery without what is found or found, he wants to avoid the subject-object split and demonstrates the consistency of this attempt by the example of the sensations that occur without a feeling subject being able to be distinguished from a feeling object. (S-SaP 332)
Avenarius sets out to recommend the language form that Wittgenstein only considered as a mental game following Lichtenberg for practice. Like pre-discoveries, there are of course only thoughts, feelings, volitions, forgiveness, speeches, actions in his world without someone who thinks, feels, wants, forgives, speaks or acts. (S-SaP 6)


In the three-tier object theory, Hume thus deletes the second tier by identifying with the first, but retains the degradation of the relations, so that the isolation of all substances from one another through their subsistence becomes an isolation of all events through a subsistence independent of all connections: "All events seem quite incoherent and isolated." (S-NGdE 24f)
In modern physics there is a shortened scheme introduced by Hume that merges things and properties into events and, apart from these, only allows relations. (S-WieP 19)
Hume has the confidence to claim of all people except a few metaphysicians "that they are nothing but a bundle or a collection of different perceptions that follow one another with indescribable rapidity and are constantly in flux and movement", for example the "perceptions of warmth and Cold, of light or shadow, of love or hate, of pleasure or displeasure. " (S-BW 13)
The next revision of the theory of objects was initiated by Hume, who merged substances and accidents (or modes) into events, but held fast to the confrontation with the relations and their devaluation. (S-Erk 157)
All events appear quite incoherent and isolated. (Hume, Inquiring Concerning Human Understanding. Part 2 of Section 7: "All events seem entirely loose and separate." German translation by R. Richter, reprint Hamburg 1973, p. 90)

See: to Wittgenstein

William James

William James, the inventor of the metaphor of the stream of consciousness, who later believed it to be the product of confusion with the stream of breath (Does consciousness exist ?, in: W. James, Essays in Radical Empiricist, London 1912, pp. 1-38 (S-Replica Pos285)
...; the breath takes care of that, when William James wanted to expose the so-called stream of consciousness. (S-III2 81)


Where do I stay in such a world of neutral elements? This is the question asked by the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte. He thus comes very close to the discovery of subjective facts, but fails to do so and walls the ego into an act of action that only does itself. (S-KE 26)

There is, however, another method of trying to deal with the gap opened up by Fichte between subjectivity and objective facts, namely the robust restriction to objective facts while deleting subjectivity. (S-H 17)

Henri Bergson

Edmund Husserl

If we cut the ego body from the empirical ego, and if we then limit the pure psychic ego to its phenomenal content, then it is reduced to the unit of consciousness, i.e. to the real complex of experiences (...) The phenomenologically reduced ego is therefore nothing peculiar hovered over the manifold experiences, rather it is simply identical with its own connective unit. (Husserl, Logical Investigations, Volume 2, Part 1. 4th Edition 1928, p. 353. Quotations: S-BW 14)


Throw-in from Lichtenberg against Descartes:

We become aware of certain ideas that do not depend on us; others believe that we at least depend on ourselves; where is the limit? We only know the existence of our sensations, ideas and thoughts. "It thinks, one should say as one says: it flashes. Accept cogitois already too much once you get through it I think translated. The I to accept, to postulate, is a practical need. " (Lichtenberg, cit.n .: RE-SuS 207, S-BW 13)
Lichtenberg thus anticipates Nietzsche's criticism of the phrase "I think" without, however, directly connecting it to questions of grammar. (RE-SuS 207)

... if you do away with speaking in the first grammatical position or at least discard it as misleading or insignificant philosophically. This is what Lichtenberg does with his apercu, which has become a household name:

"It thinks, you should say, as you say: it flashes. To say cogito is already too much as soon as you translate it as I think." (S-SaP 4)


Nature is a stage for the interrelated relationships of activities. All things change, activities and their interrelationships ... The Aristotelian idea of ​​the procession of forms has been replaced (in modern physics) with the idea of ​​the forms of processes. (Whitehead, Nature and Life, p. 36. Cit.n .: EW-PuS 70)
How an acutual entity becomes constitutes what that actual entity is; so that the two descriptions of an actual entity are not independent. Its 'being' is constituted by its 'becoming'. (Whitehead 1985, 23rd citations: F-WCP 40f)

See also: Spacetime as an objective process shape

Beyond the process ontological structural core:

Whitehead has constructed a monadic system based on the speculative assumption of the last microcosmic process units, the so-called actual entities or actual occasions. These are still below the smallest known physical units, with the result that Whitehead all physical entities, all living beings and also humans as a multitude of "societies" of such actual entities must interpret. (F-WCP 34)

Seriously do

"I cannot be saved." [Richard Avenarius: The human concept of the world, 3rd edition Leipzig 192, p. 82f.] (S-HL 366)
"The Elements form that I. I feel green, I mean that the element green occurs in a certain complex of other elements (sensations, memories). If I stop feeling green when I die, the elements no longer appear in familiar society. With that, all has been said." (S-BW 13)

Martin Heidegger

In particular the "young" Martin Heidegger.

The event is the neutral "and" in the title "Being and Time". The event is neither being nor time. (ZuS 46-7)
Oswald Schwemmer also comments on Martin Heidegger's thinking, which sometimes ends in stammering, "that as radical event-based thinking it leads to a speechless and perplexed excessive demand." (WH-RL 101)

The event as an in-between?

The event mysticism (S-HuH 412)


The world is all that is the case. (T1)
The world is the totality of facts, not things. (T1.1)
The world falls apart into facts. (T1.2)
In the state of affairs, the objects are interrelated like links in a chain. (T2.03)
According to Wittgenstein, simple, interlinked objects form the facts in configurations. (S-DWdeP2 581)

Mach inherited from the Viennese school of logical positivism, temporarily allied with Wittgenstein, who, after having discovered the paradox of recessive alienation from subjectivity in the Tractatus logico-philosophicus wrote about the soul, after taking up his teaching activity at Cambridge, he swung into the train of thought of Lichtenberg, Avenarius and Mach and that cogito to the It thinks tried to reinterpret. To get rid of subjectivity from the facts, he develops two strategies:

  • the conventionalist, according to which I as a subject or conscious person (each in his own way) am a pawn like the king in chess,
  • and an expressionist one, which turns the statement of subjective facts of being affective into mere announcement in the manner of interjections.
These proposals are untenable. (S-H 17)

Here it is obvious that Wittgenstein's difficulties with rule and rule-following are based on a nominalistic ontology, which probably resembles Hume's two-tiered ontology, with individual events and relations between them as the only object types.

In Wittgenstein's example, the individual events are the recordings of the atomic figure, and the relation consists in repetition. Between these repetitions, Wittgenstein measures the bond of the rule in the sense of a directly, intuitively given general (i.e. not only related to a single event) program in the same way as Hume misses the bond of causality as a justification of trust in an even sequence of events. Wittgenstein procures the replacement of what is missing in a way that is again analogous to Hume's expedient: Hume invoked association in the sense of the psychological laws of association in order to replace an intuitively and rationally reliable justification of the belief in expected uniformity with psychological motivation to put by habit. In Wittgenstein's case, the psychological association is replaced by something like a sociological one: the ingrained language game or the custom of a group of people who do not rationally justify trust in the uniformity of behavior of the relatives in the sense of obeying the rules, but make them so plausible that one does can rely on it on average. (S-SaP 387f)

Ernst Cassirer

Like many of his contemporary philosophical colleagues, Cassirer conceptualizes the life of consciousness with the metaphor of the current as set apart from the atomistic psychology of association based on stable elementary units of consciousness. This connects Cassirer with thinkers such as William James, Henri Bergson, Edmund Husserl and the young Martin Heidegger. (Heinz Paetzold: Ernst Cassirer - for an introduction. P. 137)

In order to understand the structure and meaning of culture, we have to set a metaphysics of the process. (Cassirer 1995, 240. cit.n .: F-WCP 40)

Jean Piaget


Niklas Luhmann

Luhmann as a representative of an operative system model.

Modern physics

The traditional ontology, which is based on the physiologistic-introjectionistic reductionism, replaces the situations ... since Hume and in modern physics also with a two-stage scheme (events with still degraded relations). (S-SaP 341)
In the meantime, Hume's abbreviation of the ontological categorization scheme by Leibniz, Locke and Kant has partially prevailed, namely in the theoretical way of thinking of exact natural science, which only considers multi-dimensional arrangements of events instead of substances, with a definitive departure from the classical concept of substance when the theory of relativity breaks with Etheric hypothesis, which was tenaciously retained by physicists up to our century for purely ontological reasons. (S NGE 25)


In contrast to the formal thinking stemming from Platonic inheritance, he sees eventual thinking in such questions for which there are hardly any examples so far, in his opinion at most in Bergson, Heidegger and Lyotard. (WH-RL 100)

An interest in a similar direction can be observed among thinkers in Europe and North America in the 20th century, when they put the "it" in the foreground for their argumentation on a fundamental and radically philosophical level. With that in mind, don't just take the twist

  • of the "it thinks" in Lichtenberg and Nietzsche, which has already been referred to, but also
  • that "there is" at Heidegger,
  • the "il y a" at Levinas and
  • to understand that "it succeeds" in Rombach.
Through these expressions, everyone draws attention to facts that cannot be expressed on the basis of direct expressive relationships. (RE-SuS 212)


The concept of the life of a being is nevertheless not that of an event, but rather that of one activity. (Schark 205)
Criticism of the concept of the stream of life (Schark 207)
If the question of the origin of the ego succeeds in temporarily stopping the flow of ideas and impulses of consciousness, a calmness occurs, which is experienced as a happy state of emptiness, but also as being flooded by a mild inner light. At the same time you feel weightless and disembodied. (F-R 111)

Broad and deep scope for the person

This includes the understanding that the present is not a point, but a space into which the will to live can pour itself into shape, just like in the future. Because the real present is anything but a point. It has a tremendous breadth and depth. (S-SdG 177. Quoted from: GE-WHe 57)

Ambiguous duration of the person

A particular difficulty concerns the division of time according to processes in the duration of the person. The person is not in the process of going through the episodes of his life, but is present from the start, at least in a larger part of them, in all these episodes himself. This arises for the past from the testimony of memory, but even more so for the future, from that of expectation. (S-WMW 86)
The young man is essentially a different person from the man or the old man, and the same applies to shorter episodes, and yet they are all the same person. There would be a contradiction between these two views if it were not possible to force it into a dichotomy. In my theory of manifoldness I distinguished undirected relationships from directed relationships and showed that such relationships arise through the splitting of those relationships, but that there are also non-splittable relationships. Such a situation can arise between two incompatible situations if these cannot be played off against one another by means of the relationship of contradiction, but remain bound together to a conflict through an unseparable relationship. (S-WMW 87)

Cultural criticism of the acceleration metaphor

Unconsciously, we only want to be up to date, in motion, because standing still has only negative connotations and would mean collapse. ... Only this constant stress gives us the certainty that we do not have to concentrate on ourselves. (MW-KK 59)

Direction without modal time impossible

The situation time cannot be trusted to lead. A direction can only be obtained from the flow of time and thus from the modal time.

Braking the rate of change