Constructing Worlds

Frederick Ferré

     ... philosopher. A voice for “constructive” (in contrast to deconstructive) postmodern ideas, Dr. Ferré retired as Chairman of the Philosophy Department and is Professor Emeritus at The University of Georgia. He is the author of numerous articles and many books, including his constructive postmodern trilogy Being and Value, Knowing and Value, and Living and Value, part of the State University of New York (SUNY) Series in Constructive Postmodern Thought.

The modern era is dead and grinding through the revolutionary shift into an era that does not yet have a name is painful. Frederick Ferré is among the philosophical revolutionaries who uses the stop-gap phrase “postmodern” for what comes next. His “constructive postmodernism” is a philosophy of profound hope and a far cry from the “deconstructionists” who once held sway in academic circles.

Just as the pre-modern era was characterized by connectedness, the modern era had an analytical, atomistic worldview. Copernicus, Newton and Descartes led us into modernity and a 300 year quest for perfect certainty. We got elegant mathematical formulas, to be sure. But, Dr. Ferré says, values were pushed out of the modern era because they could not be quantified. Along with values went the legitimacy of experiences -- they became mental productions instead of things embedded in nature. The very idea of “mind” lost out to the material brain. The result? Modern despair.

Now the modern has ended and we’re experiencing the birth pangs of the next era. Dr. Ferré wants what’s coming -- by whatever name -- to be constructive and to be informed by the science of ecology, not physics. His worldview is based in experience and action, dynamic to the core -- even equilibrium states are always changing, he reminds us.

The universe itself is intent on creating beauty, Dr. Ferré proposes, naming the process “kalogenesis” from the Greek. His criteria for kalogenesis are experiences which offer the most possible satisfaction, harmony, complexity and intensity. But along with the awe inspiring potential of kalogenesis comes its inevitable counter forces -- evil and ugliness. Dr. Ferré accepts this profound tragic streak in the universe. He thinks of his approach as “personalistic organicism” -- we’re all inescapably part of the universe’s organic whole, and at the same time, we are required to grow, to make judgments and to be morally responsible for the choices we make.

Dr. Ferré’s philosophy is grounded in the real world and deeply relevant. He uses it to wrestle with technology, politics and economics. We need political wisdom, he says, especially in light of a crying need for social constraints on what is technically possible. We have yet to tap capitalism’s vast potential for creativity, he says, while today’s unrestrained institutions are creating unacceptable and often irreversible ugliness and evil, all over the world.

So Dr. Ferré offers us rules of thumb for acting ethically, reminding us to use good judgment about which principle applies under what circumstances: “Do No Harm.” “Create Good.” “Be Fair.” And “Create New Good.”

Remember, this is an experience-based philosophy, and Dr. Ferré urges us all to get going. Don’t try to act alone, he says, we’re social creatures in a vastly interconnected universe. Find others to join you in the creation of beauty, whether it's stopping vandalizing developers or challenging the laziness and inattention of philistines -- stand up to ugliness and evil. Let your conscience by your guide. And get started. It’s how a new consciousness of a constructive postmodern era will grow and spread.

[This Program was recorded July 13, 2002, in Highlands, North Carolina, US.]

Conversation 1

We’re in the grinding middle of a revolution, transitioning from one era to the next, says Frederick Ferré. He offers Paula Gordon and Bill Russell the possibility that this revolution can lead to a constructive (not de-constructionist) postmodern era. He describes pre-modern and modern Western culture and defines “modernity,” now ending.

Conversation 2


With a nod toward French postmodernists, Dr. Ferré traces his own intellectual heritage to the great British philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, and Whitehead’s ideas leading to “constructive postmodernism.” We must know ideas’ historical context to understand them, Dr. Ferré contends, and explains why. He contrasts pre-modern people’s view of the world (connected at all levels), with modern analytical and atomistic perspectives divorced from nature. Noting that the facts are all the same in his three volumes on values (only the angles of approach differ,) Dr. Ferré explains why the modern era rejected epistemology -- the philosophy of how we know what we know -- creating an “epistemological gap” that led to modern despair.

Conversation 3

Dr. Ferré offers a new philosophy, akin to the science of ecology (not physics as in modern times,) and reminds us that even equilibrium states are always changing. The notions of balances and cycles are reframed. Moving from metaphysics and epistemology to ethics, Dr. Ferré proposes that the meaning of the universe is in the creation of beauty (“kalogensis”). He shows why ugliness and evil are beauty’s eternal companions. Key to a constructive postmodern ethics, he says, is participation in the world -- both appreciating and acting -- and he expands. Dr. Ferré unsentimentally shows the importance of spreading harmonious experiences among people and across species. He gives examples from across Western history of how inescapable conflict and challenges are when one cannot avoid questioning previously unquestioned ethical views. He distinguishes the ugliness created by Philistines from that caused by Vandals.

Conversation 4

The universe is a deeply social place, Dr. Ferré contends, and says his own (Whiteheadian) view of reality (his metaphysics) is dynamic to the core. His examples range from the universe’s largest to its smallest known entities. He puts humans’ connectedness at the heart of who we are, then makes his idea of “personalistic organicism” accessible. He shows why we are morally responsible for the choices we make. Being a social creature looks quite different from one species to another, he reminds us, with examples. Applying his idea of ethics to pressing environmental challenges, Dr. Ferré assures us that institutions which stress efficiency above all else quickly become Vandals in a free market run amok. Rejecting regimented economic states, he insists markets need social controls and explains why.

We have a burning need for political wisdom, Dr. Ferré says, linking politics to economics. He gives vivid current examples of where ethics, economics and politics converge. Calling judgments unavoidable and urging us not to be afraid to make them, Dr. Ferré fleshes out his four “rule of thumb” principles for being ethical: “Do No Harm”; “Create Good”; “Be Fair”; and “Create New Good”. He expands on what he means by “kalogenesis.” If a person wants to be constructive in the emerging new era, remember that we live in an essentially social universe and find others with whom to collaborate, Dr. Ferré prescribes, eager for people to come together to create beauty and to allow that consciousness to grow and spread. He suggests tangible possibilities.

Conversation 6

Experience is basic to the universe, Dr. Ferré assures us, and we are awash in values. He outlines his criteria for “kalogenesis”: experiences which offer the most possible satisfaction, harmony, complexity and intensity. Growth is essential, he says, and requires we constantly make judgments about it. Dr. Ferré calls us -- individually and as a species -- to let our consciences be our guides and to let them mature as we grow.



Our conversation took place at the mountain retreat where Dr. Ferré and his charming wife, Barbara, both welcomed us with unprecedented warmth. We thank them for a memorable day, full of good cheer and camaraderie and a lovely lunch. Thanks also to Weibi, both for her role in the day and in the books.

Dr. Ferré’s articulation of a constructive postmodern philosophy is an enormous gift to the present and to the future. His original ideas are timely and accessible, a significant counter force to the distractions of the de-constructionist perspective which has for too long dominated The Academy, giving us all tools with which to make a positive turn as we confront the pressing needs of this postmodern era. We are deeply respectful of Dr. Ferré’s command of the Western philosophical tradition and keenly appreciate his even handed treatment of a wide variety of perspectives. Thank you, Dr. Ferré, for lighting the way toward the possibility of a more beautiful future.



Related Links:

Frederick Ferré’s magisterial trilogy Being and Value, Knowing and Value and Living and Value are all published by and available from State University of New York (SUNY) Press.

Here are Dr. Ferré's curriculum vitae and our second program with him recorded in Atlanta, November 2007. In March, 2008, we recorded a series of conversations, the first of which is here, in both audio and video.

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