By Hilan Bensusan
In lecture 8 of Modes of Thought, called "Nature alive", Whitehead claims that the basic tenets of reality are organisms which are geared towards self-enjoyment, creative and purposeful. He then asks what is the evidence we have in favor of this idea. He finds the evidence in experience if conceived in a way that goes beyond the impressions of our senses. Earlier in lecture 2, he had compared an account of experience that attends only to sense impressions to an account of modern civilization that would be based on no more than the traffic signs on the main roads. In lecture 8 he brings together two main theses of the philosophy of organism: that organisms-like actual entity are the constitutive component of the concrete and that experience is to be thought more in line with Leibniz and Spinoza than with Descartes, Hume and Kant. The latter thesis the the evidence for the former.
Whitehead's conception of experience, albeit much inspired by Locke's indirect perception in its functioning, can be understood as flight towards externalism. If we take internalism as some sort of mentalism (as do evidentialists like Earl Conee and Richard Feldman), it is clear that Whitehead is conceived experience as something that goes beyond what is internal to the mind. More likely, though, the distinction between externalism and internalism has to be made in terms of reflective access or discrimination (for the externalist, me and my counterpart who's brain is in a vat are not in the same justificatory state, are not experiencing the same thing, even though we cannot discriminate in which state we are). Duncan Pritchard favors reflective access as a mark of internalism. If it is so, clearly experiences in Whitehead go far beyond what I can access in a reflective way - I can reflectively access what I see even in a disjunctivist account of perception according to which I cannot discriminate in which justificatory state I am (or whether I'm seeing an oasis or a mirage). I'd rather claim that discrimination is the touchstone dividing internalists and externalists. If we take this line, Whitehead would be embracing a fully externalist empiricism: what I experience (and what is justified through my experience) can escape my discrimination. Still, experience provides the basis for action and orients my beiefs about the world. It can even constitute a tribunal (more like Latour's tests of strength in Irréductions) , but not one whose verdicts are contents we can discriminate. I guess this is a promising position. A fully externalist empiricism conciliates (some) insights of empiricism with the exorcism with a narrow vision of experience as embraced by Cartesians like both Hume and Kant.