Process Philosophy and Nonsensationalism

This post is part of a series on Process Philosophy. View other posts in the series here.

Process Philosophy is meant to be appealing due to its integration of science and religion. This, in some ways, means concessions on both sides. Process Philosophy sacrifices some truths of religions in order to make it more appealing to science, while also denying some of the dogmatics of materialism in order to allow for religious truth.

One way it denies materialism is through its adherence to nonsensationalism. Nonsensationalism is the view that the kind of experience which is most basic to our human existence and knowledge is not that which we know through our 5 senses. Whitehead, for example, wrote that “science conceived as resting on mere sense perception, with no other source of observation, is bankrupt” (quoted in Griffin, 54). Furhtermore, philosophy “went wrong epistemologically… in holding that all… perception had to be sensory perception” (Griffin, 55).

Process Philosophy favors a “more fundamental mode of perception” (Griffin, 60). This form of perception is, to put it simply, experience or”prehension.” Part of this experience is being able to perceive causal links around us, despite not having sensory data to confirm the causal chain (60). One example of this nonsensory perception is the perception of one’s own body. There is a kind of immediacy to the awareness of one’s hands which does not involve any of the senses. Rather, one simply knows they are there and is able to experience them nonsensationally. We get sensations from the parts of our body, but this is not what grants us awareness; that which grants us awareness is more fundamental than, for example, touch (61-63).

Another example is the awareness of one’s own past. This is a continual problem with materialistic naturalism, and Process Philosophy presses this problem home. How does one use sensation to “remember” their past? The answer is that they don’t; rather, one is aware of the past with a kind of immediacy not provided by sensation. Yes, there are sensations which accompany memories, but they do not provide sense data to justify memories epistemically (64ff).

This doctrine of nonsensationalism is perhaps one of the most friendly parts of Process Philosophy to the Christian. While Process Philosophy explicitly denies substance dualism, I think its ideas about nonsensational awareness of things provides solid evidential basis for dualism. Furthermore, this doctrine of nonsensationalism as the more fundamental aspect of reality allows for religious experience to be a very real and evidential experience, for people perceive many of these religious experiences without sensation, but with the kind of immediacy that overcomes sensation totally (Griffin, 76ff). Therefore, it seems to me that at least this aspect of Process Philosophy is worth adopting by the classical theist. Next time, we’ll examine a doctrine which is not so friendly.


Griffin, David Ray. Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism: A Process Philosophy of Religion. Cornell University Press. 2001.


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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


2 thoughts on “Process Philosophy and Nonsensationalism

  1. “One example of this nonsensory perception is the perception of one’s own body. ”
    Actually, this is referred to as Proprioception or the Kinesthetic sense.

    I would be more convinced if this were based on an interpretation of 1 Corinthians 2:11a, “11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them?” Indirectly, this draw on a truth that when you are knowingly, as Paul puts it elsewhere, double-minded in all your ways, it is your conciousness of your spiritual perception coming into play. For your physical mind to discover and act on what your spirit already knows (e.g., the love for God we Christians have eventually professed in our lives; that created us in love before we even knew Him), is no small thing in this life.

    Posted by Mike | November 11, 2010, 3:59 AM


  1. Pingback: Process Philosophy and the Christian (Series) « - October 29, 2010

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