Reason and the Claim of Ulysses

Idealistic Studies 4 (1):18-34 (1974)
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Abstract

This essay is a comparative study of two rationalists in as far as they differ in their understanding of the nature of Reason. It is an essay written from the point of view of Alfred North Whitehead’s process metaphysics, an essay which, while remaining almost completely free of Whitehead’s confusing and complex technical vocabulary, explicates and defends Whitehead’s conception of Reason by focusing on just those points where Whitehead deviates from the position taken by a second contemporary rationalist, Brand Blanshard. The title of the essay refers to Whitehead’s use of the symbols “Plato” and “Ulysses” to personify what he views as the two aspects of Reason. Blanshard is familiar with Whitehead’s position and has briskly attacked Whitehead’s use of the symbol “Ulysses.” The full import of the symbol “Ulysses” is not, however, immediately apparent in those places where Whitehead uses it and it is my deep suspicion that Blanshard, and undoubtedly many other readers of Whitehead, fail fully to grasp the import of this symbol because they do not see that it derives its power in large part from its relationship to Whitehead’s somewhat obscure account of the nature of propositions and how they function in the world. Therefore Part I of this paper both explicates the doctrine of propositions held by Whitehead and interprets the meaning of the symbol “Ulysses” in the light of that explication. Part II turns polemical and argues simultaneously for the soundness of Whitehead’s view of the nature of Reason and the inadequacy of Blanshard’s alternative position.

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