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Process Philosophy and Covid-19 conference

What Role Can Process Philosophy Play in Post-Covid 19 Times?

—A Report on the International Symposium on Process Philosophy and Covid 19

Wei Lan, Hongyu Lin, Jiarui Zhao

The tiny Coronavirus has almost changed everything. In Meijun Fan’s words, “No matter whethervarious kinds of tribalists and exclusivists like it or not, the Coronavirus has already tied the fate of all people in the world closely together. However, should weconsider the global pandemic from a process perspective? What role can process philosophy play in a post-Covid 19 world? [read more]

Responding to the questions above, the International Symposium on Process Philosophy and Covid 19 was held on August 23. The China Process Society, Center for Process Studies at Willamette University, the Institute for Postmodern Development of China, Harbin Center for Process Education at Harbin Normal University, the Cobb Institute, and Beijing Center for Process Studies at Beijing Normal University all cosponsored this symposium. More than 100 process scholars, Chinese and non-Chinese, participated in this event. At the opening ceremony, Prof. Philip Clayton, President of Institute for Postmodern Development of China, Andrew Schwartz, Executive Director of the Center for Process Studies, Fubin Yang, President of China Process Society, Prof. Hengfu Wen, Dean of the School of Education at Harbin Normal University, Meijun Fan, Board Member of the Cobb Institute, and Xiaoting Liu, Director of Beijing Center for Process Studies at Beijing Normal University, delivered welcome remarks on behalf of their organizations respectively.

The symposium mainly focused on two issues: diagnosing Covid-19 andexploring what role process philosophy can play in post-Covid 19.

Unlike mainstream thinking,which treats Coronavirus as a public health crisis or a medical crisis only, process thinkers at this conference regarded Covid 19as an ecological crisis, an ecological disaster, a result of distorting the relationship between humankind and nature, and a product of anthropocentrism.

Therefore, it is not enough or even dangerous to entirely rely on medical doctors to deal with Covid-19. According to Prof. Fubin Yang, Director of the Center for Ecological Civilization Promotion at Beijing Institute of Technology, Zhuhai,even when a vaccine is invented, it cannot work for good because the corona virus is also in process of evolution. From the point of view of process-relational philosophy, it may be a feasible approach to seek co-existence with the Coronavirus harmoniously.More importantly, we need to fundamentally reflect and transform our development model, education model, our way of thinking, way of production, way of consumption, and our way of living in order to create a new civilization: an ecological civilization.This requires the active participation of everyone and every country.Process philosophy and process thinkers can play an instrumental role in this process.

Prof. Xiuhua Zhang, Director of the Center for Process Marxism at China University of Political Science and Law,is convinced that process philosophy can shine in post-Covid times because as an organic cosmology, it can provide theoretical support for resolving conflicts between humankind and nature by reconstructing a new type of relationship between humans and nature, individuals and society. Dr. Dong Li, Assistant Professor at Inner Mongolia Normal University, agreed with Prof. Zhang and pointed out that process philosophy has begun to exert influence all around the globe,mainly due to a joint effort of US-Chinese process thinkers.

In the opinion of Li Yang, Professor at Harbin Normal University, Whitehead’s philosophy provides a process-relational cosmology for such a new ecological civilization.According to cosmology, the entire universe is an organic whole. Each actual entity is closely related to other actual entities. “The fate of humankind and nature are interwoven, they are a community sharing a common fate.” Dr. Andrew Schwartz claimed, “From the perspective of process philosophy, the interconnection experienced between the various coronavirus challenges is just an extension of a deeper truth—all things are interconnected.”

In his presentation titled “Covid Times Require a ‘Process Reset’:A Reflection on Our

Relationship with Earth”, Dr. Kevin Clark,Center for Organic Philosophy Washington State,

USA, called for us to envision a “processreset.” He proposed that we begin to experience our

process outlook anew through picturing mentally and feeling physically in our daily lives a

“living and continuously, reciprocally-interrelated Earth” with which we are continuously


To Dr. John Becker, visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Lyon College, Covid-19 is a great catastrophe which calls for the Second Enlightenment proposed by Zhihe Wang and Meijun Fan many years ago, which challenges us to alter the way we view relationships, commerce, society, and nature, and to revaluate what progress really is.

To Andrew Schwartz, creating an ecological civilization is the only way to save our planet.

He emphasized that “ building an ‘ecological civilization’ requires a comprehensive transformation such as the systems of society—economics and politics, systems of production, consumption, and agriculture, education, etc. Process philosophy can help realize such a transformation.According to Philip Clayton, it is crucial to awaken people’s ecological awareness and develop a consciousness of human community in order to create an ecological civilization.

To Weidong Lu, a Chinese social entrepreneur and the founder of Constructive Postmodern Practitioners Community in China, theWhiteheadian version of naturalistic theism lays a sound spiritual foundation for morality, ultimate value, meaning of life and common good, and compassion. “ It means a lot to me because it not only gives me a sense of meaning, but also helps me harmonize my mind and body, myself and the world. From now on, I will no longer feel lonely, and will have enough courage to cope with existentialistic nothingness and anxiety. To a seeker like me, nothing makes me happier than this.”

For Prof.Kun Wang of Zhejiang Normal University, the author of The First Handshake of Whitehead with China,thinksProcess Philosophy’s organic view of person,which has deep convergence with Chinese tradition, can help us rethink the relationship between the individual and community, between humans and nature.

Dr. Bob Mesle pointed out the concept of Relational Power of process philosophy can play an important role in rebuilding the relationships between humans and nature, country and country, individual and community. He thinks of relational power in three aspects: first, relational power is active, intentional openness to the world around us—to other people, cultures, ideas, and experiences; second, relational power is self-creativity; third, relational power is the strength to sustain mutual relationships, which often requires hard work and even suffering on our part. All three aspects of relational power will be vital to the tasks of nurturing and rebuilding our communities. Although it is not easy to apply this concept of relational power to our ordinary life, “process people in China have been inspiring examples of relational power,”  Dr. Mesle said.

For process educators, Covid-19 as an ecological crisis has demonstrated how urgent it is to reform education. Hengfu Wen argued that Covid-19 provides us a unique opportunity to enhance education for an ecological civilization and the Second Enlightenment. Using process philosophy to reform industrial education is the mission of our process educators.

Prof. HaipengGuo, Director of Whole Person Education Office at Beijing Normal University-Hong Kong Baptist University United International College (UIC) argued that Covid-19 challenges us to develop a postmodern learning model and education based on process-relational thinking.Zhonghui Yan, a translator of Aims of Education by Whitehead, reflects the disadvantage of online class based on Whitehead’s theory of the Rhythm of Education.

The topic of Dr.Zhihe Wang’s presentation was “Second Enlightenment and Science Restructuring—Toward a Postmodern Science with Dao,” in which he contended that modern science is responsible for Covid-19 because it not only gave us little warning in advance, but also dealt with it poorly after Covid-19 happened. All of this reminds us of both Isabelle Stengers’s prediction that “Academia is dying.”(Another Science is Possible,p.109), and Dr.Cobb’s assertion that “Western science community has become one of the most conservative communities.” Therefore, it is time to reflect science, restructure science, then develop a postmodern science with Dao for ecological civilization, a science which treats nature nicely, treats human beings kindly, treats non-science fairly, a comprehensive rather than fragmented science which see both parts and the whole, a science which has a sense of responsibility.

Prof. Lichun Li, director of Research Department at Changsha Party School, pointed out that China’s agriculture is facing serious problems such as farmland decrease, soil poisoning, and food safety due to copying the American industrial agriculture model. Constructive postmodern ecological agriculture not only criticizes modern agriculture, but also proposesfeasible solutions to the problems caused by modern agriculture. Guided by the common good of humans and nature, constructive postmodern agriculture can deliberately integrate the best of traditional agriculture, contemporary advanced science and technology and business models in order to promote organic agriculture. For example, Chinese farmers ran into trouble selling their produce at the beginning of Covid-19, but after rural electricity business(internet + agriculture) were timely involved, the problem of both selling and buying were solved quickly.

In his presentation, “The Bodily Dimension of Process Philosophy and the Construction of Post-Covid Culture”, Xiaohua Wang, literature professor at Shenzhen University, Vice Chair of Academic Committee of China Eco-aesthetics Society, stressed that process philosophy as a philosophy of organism has a physical dimension. It conceives humans as bodily beings. In Whitehead’s word, “it is this “withness” that makes the body the starting point for our knowledge of our world.” For Prof. Xiaohua Wang, true salvation can only happen if we regard  ourbody as a being in environment, and reconstruct human beings as participants of concrescence. He thinks this is a crucial way for process philosophy to participate in creating a post-Covid culture.

* Miss Wei Lan is a Ph.D student at Chinese Academy of Science University;

Miss Hongyu Lin is a graduate student at Harbin Normal University; Miss Jiarui Zhao is Ph.D student at Harbin Normal University. [/read]

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