Guest: Frederick Ferré
An enormous shift in worldview is taking place all around us, the eminent philosopher Frederick Ferré assures us. After 600 years of the modern era characterized by reductionism, materialism, the mechanistic and linear, Dr. Ferré has created a new philosophical context. It reflects the creativity of the universe itself and gives us a chance to choose between futures. Dr. Ferré grounded his philosophical approach in values and in a recognition of profound connectedness at every level. What seems to him appropriate to the “post-modern”, as he began calling our era at the beginning of his long career? “Bring together, say, Christian and Muslim and Jewish and secular and Hindu and Buddhist and science -- all of these ultimate frames of meaning. Tolerate their plurality and interpret all of them themselves from within the metaphysical framework of organicism that values the personalistic.” Professor Ferré know that his “polymythic personalistic organicism” takes some explaining. “Start with organicism. It’s the broadest term, the genus term, so it’s last. The essentials? Organicism is intimately relational. It offers the deepest context for things. (It is) grasping, apprehending, comprehending -- all of these are the basic terms of relationality that an organismic thinker would like to put at the center of things. “And organicism is not an absolute. At no place is there an absolute line between the dead and the living. That is, the universe is in one sense is alive. It’s value creating. And in a very dull sense, it’s aware. The tiniest elements of reality grasp each other, and incorporate aspects of each other into their character too, (Alfred North Whitehead) says. So what you've got really is a churning universe of what Whitehead -- a great mathematician before he was a philosopher -- called a vibratory universe in his wonderful book, Science in the Modern World. I’m very indebted to Whitehead.” Dr. Ferré describes first non-living, then living, and different degrees of living-ness, more intensity and more complexity, until the behaviors associated with personality then emerge. That leads us to his personalistic. “Humans are not utterly unique, but there is uniqueness. And that’s the personalistic. At a certain level of complexity, personhood -- the behaviors of personality -- appears in the universe. Personalistic organicism wants to say that that's a very important thing to notice. We can take account mentally of that which is absent from us. And thanks to that, we can anticipate or think about different futures. We can examine intellectually or mentally alternative futures and that gives us a chance to choose between futures, depending upon our norms, our preferences, our sense of what is right.” And the poly-mythic?“It’s another level that we’re talking about here. By the ‘mythic level’ I’m talking about ‘that than which there is no wider.’ All these ultimate frames of meaning: Christian and Muslim and Jewish and secular and Hindu and Buddhist and scientific. Multi, poly-myths.”Why go beyond studying and teaching philosophy to creating a new one?“I believe in constructive post-modernism, which means that you don't just stop with the ashes and the rubble around. Don’t just deconstruct what’s wrong with the modern. Build something!”
We recently asked a eminent friend how he characterizes Frederick Ferré. We liked the reply so much that we are adopting it as our own. Heroic. Long before others saw the centrality of connectedness, Dr. Ferré was exploring the outer edges where our era is changing, pushing out long-sclerotic boundaries. We are profoundly grateful for Dr. Ferré’s keen intellect, remarkable insights, clarity of expression, genuine kindness as well as his great good humor. We admire the way he lives his life with passion and flair and are honored to call him and his beloved wife, Barbara, our friends.
Being and Value, Knowing and Value, and Living and Value are published by State University of New York (SUNY) Press. Dr. Ferré’s Philosophy of Technology and Ethics and Environmental Policy are published by the University of Georgia Press. To learn a great deal more about Dr. Ferré, his life’s work -- specializing in the philosophy of religion, environmental philosophy and the philosophy of technology -- and his path as a scholar and environmental leader, visit his page on the University of Georgia website. We recorded our first conversation with Dr. Ferré in July, 2002, our second in November, 2007. James Carse provides a complementary view of philosophy and religion in The Religious Case Against Belief. In Descartes' Bones, Russell Shorto provides an important perspective on how enlightenment philosophy affected the creation of the United States. Psychologist and scientist Paul Ekman and His Holiness the Dalai Lama have examined together the deep connection of humans with all sentient beings in their jointly written Emotional Awareness. Psycholobiologist Frans de Waal's research shows the evolutionary connects between human notions of morality and ethics and the adaptive behaviors of other social animals, specifically chimpanzees. Ian Tattersall is is the Director of and Curator in the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History. in the absence of physical evidence, he thinks that art (the creation of beauty) may be what separated behaviorally modern homo sapiens from anatomically modern homo sapiens. And, here's a little background information on Paula Gordon and Bill Russell, the Program co-hosts.