Whitehead, Alfred North
Alfred North Whitehead 1861–-1947
English philosopher, mathematician, and essayist.
Whitehead is counted among the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century. His philosophy of organism is recognized as an outstanding contribution to Western thought. Whitehead's most complete statement of this systematic speculative philosophy appears in his Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (1929), which describes the universe as an endless series of interrelated events and views material objects as abstractions within the spatio-temporal flow of occurrences. In several of his works, particularly Science and the Modern World (1925), Whitehead studied the history of science and criticized the fundamental assumptions of scientific materialism. In place of mechanistic theories, Whitehead proposed his dynamic, event-based system. A noted mathematician, Whitehead is also remembered for his fruitful collaboration with mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell on their Principia Mathematica (1910-1913).
Whitehead was born in Ramsgate, Kent, England, in 1861 to Alfred Whitehead, an Anglican priest and headmaster, and Maria Sarah Buckmaster, the daughter of an affluent London businessman. Whitehead was schooled in Ramsgate and later attended the Sherborne school in Dorset. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1880. Whitehead began his career as a lecturer in mathematics at Trinity in 1885 and published his first text on mathematics, A Treatise on Universal Algebra, in 1898. By 1910 Whitehead's collaboration with his former student Bertrand Russell had culminated in the first of three volumes of their Principia Mathematica, a work of symbolic logic that established the reputations of both philosophers. After departing from Trinity College, Whitehead became a lecturer in applied mathematics and mechanics in 1911 at University College, London. In 1914 he accepted a professorship in applied mathematics at the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London, where he remained for the next decade, and acceded to the position of Chief Professor in mathematics. By the early 1920s Whitehead's interests had begun to shift toward the philosophy of science and to metaphysics. He left England to teach philosophy at Harvard University in 1924 and remained primarily in the United States for rest of his life. During his time at Harvard and as a guest lecturer in Britain, Whitehead produced his principal works of systematic philosophy, including Science and the Modern World and Process and Reality. Whitehead received numerous awards and honors for his philosophical work in the latter portion of his life. He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1947.
In addition to his collaborative Principia Mathematica, Whitehead is highly regarded for his philosophical texts, the majority of which were derived from his scholarly lectures. Three related works, An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge (1919), The Concept of Nature (1920), and The Principle of Relativity, with Applications to Physical Science (1922), detail Whitehead's philosophy of science. The Concept of Nature contains Whitehead's Trinity College Tarner Lectures. It features a critique of scientific materialism—which holds that all physical entities are constituted of some basic but unknowable material substance—the idea having been contradicted in the twentieth century by the relativistic theories of Albert Einstein. The Concept of Nature also questions what Whitehead called the philosophical bifurcation of nature, the barrier between what an observer perceives to be real and what may be its actual nature—the mind/matter dichotomy that has troubled epistemologists for centuries. Another significant concept in these works deals with the interrelated and abstract nature of space-time and material substance. These texts also introduce Whitehead's metaphysics—his theory of reality as a continuous flow of occurrences or events. Science and the Modern World expands Whitehead's earlier critique of modern scientific materialism. Surveying the principles of scientific thought since Greek antiquity, Whitehead questioned the mechanistic assumptions upon which an empirical understanding of the universe is based. He continued by forwarding his theory of an organic mechanism as a substitute for traditional materialism. The theory bears similarities to the concept of relativity, especially in terms of what Whitehead called the “percipient event”—a key feature of this metaphysical system that visualizes events as “prehending” one another in a joint continuum. Explaining the concept in Science and the Modern World Whitehead wrote, “In a certain sense, everything is everywhere at all times. For every location involves an aspect of itself in every other location. Thus every spatio-temporal standpoint mirrors the world.” Religion in the Making (1926) and Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect (1927) extend the ethical and theological components of Whitehead's system by presenting his notions of value, creativity, and the divine. Process and Reality details Whitehead's philosophy of organism and view of God as an abiding entity and the source of concrete actuality. In it Whitehead elaborated his concept of reality as composed of events—what he called “actual entities.” Three later works, The Function of Reason (1929), Adventures of Ideas (1933), and Modes of Thought (1938), consider a variety of topics and applications of Whitehead's philosophy to cultural and social issues. Additionally, Adventures of Ideas contains Whitehead's metaphysical proof of the existence of God. Among his other works, Whitehead's lectures urging reform in all arenas of education and the removal of “inert ideas” that cloud the process of learning are included in The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1929).
Describing the encompassing nature of his philosophical project, Whitehead observed that “Speculative Philosophy is the endeavor to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted.” In many respects, Whitehead's critics have acknowledged his success in this effort. Still, commentators have viewed his thought as dense and have noted that his brilliant ideas are sometimes obstructed by flaws of organization and style in his writings. Additionally, since it was Whitehead's contention that ordinary language was often inadequate to express the concepts of his metaphysics—and indeed that the object-predicate nature of language ran counter to his theory—his frequent use of neologisms and expanded definitions for existing words has contributed to this perception. Other critics have avowed the scope and comprehensiveness of Whitehead's system but have observed that his thought has sometimes failed to receive the attention it deserves. And while several scholars have considered Whitehead's philosophical debt to prior thinkers—William James and Henri Bergson among them—most have found his work to be strikingly innovative and original. When not explicating varied aspects of Whitehead's philosophy, many contemporary critics have also gauged its affinities to other modes of knowledge, including the spiritual teachings of Buddhism and the poetic insights of William Wordsworth, Gertrude Stein, Rainer Maria Rilke, and others.
A Treatise on Universal Algebra (nonfiction) 1898
The Axioms of Projective Geometry (nonfiction) 1906
The Axioms of Descriptive Geometry (nonfiction) 1907
Principia Mathematica. 3 vols. [with Bertrand Russell] (nonfiction) 1910-13
An Introduction to Mathematics (nonfiction) 1911
The Organization of Thought, Educational and Scientific (philosophy) 1917
An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge (philosophy) 1919
The Concept of Nature (philosophy) 1920
The Principle of Relativity, with Applications to Physical Science (philosophy) 1922
Science and the Modern World (philosophy) 1925
Relgion in the Making (philosophy) 1926
Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect (philosophy) 1927
The Aims of Education and Other Essays (essays) 1929
The Function of Reason (lecture) 1929
Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (philosophy) 1929
Adventures of Ideas (philosophy) 1933
Nature and Life (philosophy) 1934
Modes of Thought (philosophy) 1938
Essays in Science and Philosophy (essays) 1947
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SOURCE: “A. N. Whitehead: Physicist and Prophet,” in From the Uncollected Edmund Wilson, Ohio University Press, 1995, pp. 56-72.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1927, Wilson evaluates Whitehead's philosophy, calling Whitehead “perhaps one of the greatest creative minds of our day.”]
Alfred North Whitehead was born in 1861, the son of Canon Whitehead, Vicar of St. Peter's on the Isle of Thanet. In the current number of the Atlantic Monthly, he has given some account of his childhood and of that region of the Kentish coast from which he comes. The characteristics of the people who have to cope with the currents, fogs, and storms of the English Channel are, he tells us, “obstinacy and a tendency to lonely thought.” Of his father, he says that he was perhaps “the last of those East Kentish clergymen who were really homogeneous with their people, and therefore natural leaders on all occasions, secular and religious.” He knew all the farmers and laborers and had played cricket and hunted with their fathers. He read Gibbon, hated “cant,” and his favorite Bible character was Abraham. And one is struck, in Dr. Whitehead himself, for all his bent scholar's shoulders, by precisely those qualities of hardiness and independence which he describes as characteristic of Kent. One realizes that his intellectual strength is the strength of a stout ruddy-cheeked English stock,...
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SOURCE: “Whitehead's Philosophy,” in Problems of Men, Philosophical Library, 1946, pp. 410-18.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1937, Dewey examines the basic method of Whitehead's philosophy.]
Mr. Whitehead's philosophy is so comprehensive that it invites discussion from a number of points of view. One may consider one of the many special topics he has treated with so much illumination or one may choose for discussion his basic method. Since the latter point is basic and since it seems to me to present his enduring contribution to philosophy, I shall confine myself to it.
Mr. Whitehead says that the task of philosophy is to frame “descriptive generalizations of experience.” In this, an empiricist should agree without reservation. Descriptive generalization of experience is the goal of any intelligent empiricism. Agreement upon this special point is the more emphatic because Mr. Whitehead is not afraid to use the term “immediate experience.” Although he calls the method of philosophy that of Rationalism, this term need not give the empiricist pause. For the historic school that goes by the name of Rationalism (with which empiricism is at odds) is concerned not with descriptive generalization, but ultimately with a priori generalities from which the matter of experience can itself be derived. The contrast between this position and Mr....
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SOURCE: “The Philosophy of Whitehead,” in The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, Northwestern University, 1941, pp. 643-61.
[In the following essay, Dewey explicates the fundamental structure of Whitehead's philosophy of experience.]
It was long the fashion for philosophers to base their doctrines upon what each one happened to regard as “first principles,” the latter being “premises” in their capacity of coming logically first. When the principles were regarded, under the influence of Aristotelianism, as axioms or self-evident truths, apart from which there was no demonstration of other truths (and without demonstration no “science”), they seemed to descend directly via pure intellect, out of the ether of reason, situated next to God or perhaps in his own intrinsic abode. Even if there were some special occasion in virtue of which they were humanly noted, there was nothing beyond them or outside of them from which, as truths, they arose or upon which they depended. One might as well suppose that the stars, and not simply the view of them, were dependent upon the ladder by which one, perhaps, mounted to see them as to give attention to the setting in which “principles” were formulated. When the latter were called postulates, in place of premises, there was gain in candor and in knowledge by philosophers of what they were about. But the change did not of...
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SOURCE: “The Philosophy of Whitehead,” in The Antioch Review, Vol. 8, No. 2, Summer, 1948, pp. 223-39.
[In the following essay, Lowe surveys Whitehead's systematic philosophy, assessing it favorably.]
Philosophy is the product of wonder. The effort after the general characterization of the world around us is the romance of human thought. The correct statement seems so easy, so obvious, and yet it is always eluding us. We inherit the traditional doctrine: we can detect the oversights, the superstitions, the rash generalizations of the past ages. We know so well what we mean and yet we remain so curiously uncertain about the formulation of any detail of our knowledge. … We have to analyze and to abstract, and to understand the natural status of our abstractions.
A civilization which cannot burst through its current abstractions is doomed to sterility after a very limited period of progress.
These sentences shine with the self-evidence that only genius can effect. And they are words spoken for our time. When Alfred North Whitehead died on December thirtieth he was in his eighty-seventh year; but it is barely twenty years since he wrote the books that made him first among metaphysicians. He was then teaching at Harvard, and I remember how he used to walk through the Yard: a little...
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SOURCE: “A. N. Whitehead and the Philosophical Synthesis,” in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. LII, No. 9, April 28, 1955, pp. 225-43.
[In the following essay, Hintz studies Whitehead's philosophy of religion.]
At the time of Whitehead's death in 1947, a contemporary American philosopher appraised Whitehead's achievement as follows: “It would be absurd to claim that he solved all philosophical problems. Yet, when one sees among the followers of Whitehead, logicians and metaphysicians, scientists and theologians, Bergsonians and intellectualists, one is compelled to admit that he stands almost unique among recent philosophers in the way in which he reconciled opposing strains in modern thought and achieved the unification without eclecticism which is the true philosophical goal.”1
In the present paper, it is my purpose to suggest the philosophical synthesis achieved by Whitehead through the interdependence of his philosophy of science, his metaphysics, and his philosophy of religion and to propose that this synthesis is actually centered in his theory of religion and of God. I shall attempt to indicate the major part which these particular concepts played in achieving an integration of his whole philosophical position.
It should be noted at the outset that Whitehead's philosophy of science is as inseparable from his metaphysical theories as his...
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SOURCE: “Alfred North Whitehead,” in Portraits From Memory, and Other Essays, Simon and Schuster, 1956, pp. 99-104.
[In the following essay, Russell, co-author with Whitehead of the Principia Mathematica, offers a personal remembrance of his colleague.]
My first contact with Whitehead, or rather with his father, was in 1877. I had been told that the earth is round, but trusting to the evidence of the senses, I refused to believe it. The vicar of the parish, who happened to be Whitehead's father, was called in to persuade me. Clerical authority so far prevailed as to make me think an experimental test worth while, and I started to dig a hole in the hopes of emerging at the antipodes. When they told me this was useless, my doubts revived.
I had no further contact with Whitehead until the year 1890 when as a freshman at Cambridge, I attended his lectures on statics. He told the class to study article 35 in the textbook. Then he turned to me and said, “You needn't study it, because you know it already.” I had quoted it by number in the scholarship examination ten months earlier. He won my heart by remembering this fact. His kindness did not end there. On the basis of the scholarship examination he told all the cleverest undergraduates to look out for me, so that within a week I had made the acquaintance of all of them and many of them became my lifelong friends....
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SOURCE: “Whitehead and Berdyaev: Is there Tragedy in God?,” in The Journal of Religion, Vol. XXXVII, No. 2, April, 1957, pp. 71-84.
[In the following essay, Hartshorne traces affinities in the ethical thought and philosophies of religion of Whitehead and Nicolas Berdyaev.]
The obvious differences between A. N. Whitehead and Nicolas Berdyaev seem to have obscured their remarkable similarities. Thus, while one was logician and mathematician, the other was theologian and historian of culture. The one aimed at technical precision and appealed mainly to the secular intelligence; the other frankly employed partly mythical language and appealed mainly to the Christian tradition. The Anglican background of Whitehead contrasts with the Greek Orthodox background of Berdyaev. (Curiously enough, both men did much of their work outside their native countries.) Neither writer seems to have had the slightest influence upon the other (Berdyaev was thirteen years younger, having been born in 1874). These may be the reasons why no one appears to have noted the profound coincidence in the religious philosophy of the two seers, one of their common characteristics being that both seem to call for this appellation. The present discussion will focus attention on the similarities between the two thinkers, largely ignoring differences.
First, we may observe that Berdyaev, although he writes as a Christian,...
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SOURCE: “Emerson and Whitehead,” in PMLA, Vol. LXXV, No. 5, December, 1960, pp. 577-82.
[In the following essay, Campbell considers similarities in the views of Whitehead and Ralph Waldo Emerson concerning “man's relation to Nature and God.”]
In his discerning book entitled Emerson's Angle of Vision, Sherman Paul has pointed out two fundamental ways in which Whitehead, in spite of some obvious differences, is like Emerson. Both Emerson and Whitehead, says Paul, exalted the moral, ethical, and imaginative science of the seventeenth century over the analytical rationalism of the eighteenth century, and, as a logical consequence of this emphasis, both condemned Lockean sensationalism in the same way.1 Following Professor Paul's suggestion, the purpose of this study is to explore in some detail the basic views of Emerson and Whitehead about religion—man's relation to Nature and God. The remarkable similarities between the views of Emerson and those of Whitehead on this subject may not indicate much, if any, indebtedness of the twentieth-century philosopher to his nineteenth-century predecessor, but if these parallels are extensive and important enough, they may well indicate that Whitehead's total achievement in the philosophy of religion is like that of Emerson—that, religiously, Whitehead may be said to be a kind of twentieth-century Emerson, in one important way, as may...
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SOURCE: “Alfred North Whitehead: A Shift of Emphasis,” in The Texas Quarterly, Vol. VIII, No. 1, Spring, 1965, pp. 39-45.
[In the following essay, Wendler discusses Whitehead's significant contribution to the shift in contemporary thought from an emphasis on substance to a focus on process.]
The world according to ordinary human experience is a world of objects which for all practical purposes are separate, distinct, and individual. The classic statement of this view—arrived at by a quite natural extension of the presuppositions of simple human practice—is able to be found in the works of the philosopher Aristotle, who placed discrete substances and their modes of qualification among the metaphysical ultimates, and made them fixtures of logic and language as well. The same view, considerably modified, received its modern physical formulation in the guise of seventeenth-century scientific materialism, according to which the final character of reality—all of it, and every aspect of it—is able to be described in terms of the fortunes of bits of matter externally and mechanically related to each other in space and time: The only entities are material entities; the only causes are mechanical causes; the only relations between entities are external relations.
Having rough regard to its period of maximum influence, the world-view inherent in materialism may be said to extend from...
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SOURCE: “Evil and Unlimited Power,” in The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. XX, No. 2, December, 1966, pp. 278-89.
[In the following essay, Madden and Hare point out internal contradictions in Whitehead's conception of God.]
The classical problem of evil arises because God's unlimited power and goodness, on the one hand, and the existence of apparently gratuitous evil, on the other, seem to be incompatible. In this statement of the problem, the notion of “gratuitous” is important. The critic of theism, after all, is not simply lamenting the fact that the world is not perfect. He admits that some evil serves good ends. He insists, however, that some evil resists explanation, is apparently gratuitous, and hence constitutes a serious problem for the Christian.
There are a number of possible strategies open to one in meeting this problem. He can try to show that God's unlimited power and goodness are, in fact, compatible; or show, through linguistic analysis, that the problem is meaningless; or show, through the use of the notions of commitment and mysticism, that the problem can be safely ignored. There are, however, grave difficulties with all these moves. So the most reasonable alternative move for one who wishes to remain more or less within the theistic tradition is to try to modify the notion of unlimited power in a way that neither does violence to this tradition nor founders on...
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SOURCE: “Whitehead's Ethic of Feeling,” in Ethics, Vol. 81, No. 2, January, 1971, pp. 161-68.
[In the following essay, Press characterizes Whitehead's metaphysics as based upon a moral philosophy of aestheticism.]
At the root of Whitehead's metaphysics, I shall maintain, is a moral philosophy, a philosophy of the good, and this moral philosophy is an aestheticism. For it is Whitehead's belief that the metaphysical order is constituted by “‘Value’ is the name I use for the intrinsic reality of an event”1—and his evident conviction that aesthetic experience contains the dominant value of life. Thus Whitehead writes that his metaphysical doctrine “finds the foundations of the world in the aesthetic experience,” that “all order is aesthetic order,” and that “the moral order is merely certain aspects of the aesthetic order.”2 At the same time, since the “aesthetic attainment,” which is the “ultimate creative purpose,”3 is an affective attainment, Whitehead's moral philosophy is an ethic of feeling, more precisely, of “depth of intensity of feeling.” In accordance with the rigorous laws of aesthetic experience—the laws, as Whitehead writes, of “contrast under identity”—it is “the ultimate creative purpose that each unification [in the “drops of experience” which are the ultimate metaphysical...
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SOURCE: “Buddhist Thought and Whitehead's Philosophy,” in International Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. XIV, No. 3, September, 1974, pp. 261-84.
[In the following essay, Griffin explores parallels between Whitehead's thought and the doctrines of Buddhism.]
The idea behind this paper is that both Buddhist and Christian thought and existence can be enriched by appropriating elements from each other, and that the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead can serve as the basis for this mutual enrichment by providing a “higher synthesis” of traditional Buddhist and Christian modes of thought.1 However, the focus of the essay is primarily on Buddhism's relation to Whitehead, both because of limitations of space, and because Christian thinkers have already for many years been employing Whiteheadian categories to reformulate Christian thought and thereby reform Christian existence.
The paper is composed of two parts. In Part I some central Buddhist notions are discussed in four sections. In Part II the related Whiteheadian ideas are explicated, with a view towards suggesting how Buddhism might use them to overcome what seem to be some inherent problems.
“Buddhist thought” is, of course, much too complex and diverse to characterize in summary form. There are few if any doctrines shared by all schools of Buddhist thought. Hence some estimation of the...
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SOURCE: “Whitehead's Differences from Buddhism,” in Philosophy East and West, Vol. XXV, No. 4, October, 1975, pp. 407-13.
[In the following essay, Hartshorne focuses on the differences between Whitehead's theories and Buddhist belief, particularly in relation to Whitehead's views on causal asymmetry.]
Whitehead has profound points of agreement with Buddhism. It is almost harder to state the important differences than the aspects of agreement. This is the more remarkable in that evidences of actual influence of Buddhist works upon him are slight. For the Western thinker, as for the great Asiatic tradition, concrete entities are momentary, and change is successive creation of new entities, rather than successive changes in identical ones. On both sides the attenuation of the idea of genetic or personal identity is accompanied by a corresponding attenuation of the idea of nonidentity between persons or things. One is internally related to one's own past, but also to the past of others. For both doctrines, the point is relevant to the question of motivation and the relations of self-interest and altruism. Regard for self and regard for those who are normally viewed as others turn out to be special cases of a universalized altruism for which one's past or future states are as genuinely “other” as the states of another person. For both doctrines also the entire cosmos is, in principle, embraced in this...
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SOURCE: “Some Basic Differences between Classical and Process Metaphysics and Their Implications for the Concept of God,” in International Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. XXII, No. 85, March, 1982, pp. 3-20.
[In the following essay, Keller analyzes several fundamental areas of disagreement between proponents of classical and process metaphysics—the latter group represented by Whitehead. Considering the opposing natures of primary substance, causation, and value held by these two camps, Keller examines consequent differences in their conceptions of God.]
In recent year one topic of sustained attention among philosophers of religion, at least among those with a metaphysical bent, has been the debate between proponents of a classical or Thomistic doctrine of God and proponents of a process doctrine.1 In both cases the doctrine of God is only part of a broader metaphysical tradition, which I term “classical metaphysics” and “process metaphysics” respectively. The former term refers most particularly to Thomistic metaphysics, but more generally also to metaphysical systems which share with Thomism certain features, especially its use of the concept of substance to designate the primary entities and its understanding of causation. The term “process metaphysics” refers most particularly to the metaphysical systems of Alfred North Whitehead and of Charles Hartshorne and more generally...
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SOURCE: “Poetry and the Possibility of Theology: Whitehead's ‘Views Reconsidered,’” in Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. L, No. 4, December, 1982, pp. 507-20.
[In the following essay, Brown examines Whitehead's views on “poetry's connection with theology and metaphysics.”]
Important as Whitehead has been to much contemporary theology, few students of theology (and still fewer of philosophy) have given careful consideration to various aspects of Whitehead's thought lying outside his metaphysical system per se. Even scholars like Bernard Meland (1969, 1976) and Lyman Lundeen (1972), while emphasizing that there is more to Whitehead than a metaphysical scheme, have discussed such matters as his theory of language without ever giving a truly satisfactory account of the specific topic that concerns us here—namely, Whitehead's views as to the connection between theology and poetry (i.e., literary art).
Whitehead, of course, was no theologian—at least not in the usual sense of the word.1 His approach to literature, moreover, was that of a dedicated, sophisticated amateur. Yet, as we will see, Whitehead's ideas concerning poetry's relation to theology, and especially metaphysical theology, are by no means peripheral to his thought or lacking in theological import. In point of fact, Whitehead argues in a distinctive way that a thorough theological...
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SOURCE: “Robert Duncan's ‘Momentous Inconclusions,’” in Sagetrieb, Vol. 2, No. 2, Fall, 1983, pp. 71-84.
[In the following essay, Johnson considers Robert Duncan's poetry in relation to Whitehead's process philosophy.]
I'd cut the warp to weave that web
in the air
let image perish in image,
leave writer and reader
up in the air
ropes of the first water returned by a rhetoric
the rain swells.
The teasing whimsy of these opening lines of Robert Duncan's “Where It Appears, Passages 4”1 would seem to distance him from Roy Harvey Pearce's “hope for poetry.” A dozen years ago, discussing what Whitman means to contemporary poets and especially Duncan, Pearce defined the mission of the American poet as “simply to tell us the truth in such a way that it will be a new truth, and in its newness will renew us and our capacity to have faith in ourselves, only then together to try to build the sort of world which will have that faith as its necessary...
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SOURCE: “Russell and Whitehead: A Comparison,” in Insights and Oversights of Great Thinkers, State University of New York Press, 1983, pp. 255-68.
[In the following essay, Hartshorne compares the thought of Bertrand Russell and Whitehead, judging Whitehead the greater philosopher.]
Russell is the most gifted Englishman alive. Russell doesn't understand the importance of the past, or of tradition, and—he won't qualify. Bertie says that I am muddle headed, but I say that he is simple minded. Seek simplicity and mistrust it.
Alfred North Whitehead
As a teacher I regard Whitehead as perfect. Asymmetrical relations are the most relational of relations.
A UNIQUE COLLABORATION
The ten-year long collaboration of Russell (1872-1970) and Whitehead (1861-1947) was an unprecedented affair. Never before had two thinkers of their stature struggled together so arduously to produce a work so influential upon philosophical inquiry as Principia Mathematica. Yet, and this illustrates the tragicomedy of philosophy, probably no two thinkers whose training and knowledge were so similar have ever differed more in their mature philosophies than these two. It also says much about philosophical difficulties that the profession in general appears to have only a confused and inadequate grasp of the nature and...
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SOURCE: “Wordsworth's Summer Vacation Reflection: Its Connection with Alfred N. Whitehead's Thought,” in New Letters, Vol. 51, No. 2, Winter, 1984-5, pp. 119-26.
[In the following essay, Cappon discusses the relationship between Whitehead and William Wordsworth as inheritors of the ancient Greek philosophy of flux originated by Heraclitus.]
Is it true that in our lives there can be moments of very special significance? Something like this belief seemed to occur to Wordsworth when, after returning home from college to the cottage where he had lived, he stepped out in the evening to roam the surrounding fields. Are such special moments possible for us to attain provided that we have not previously been quiescent and inert? According to the poet a human being can reach, under certain circumstances, a stage of spiritual nakedness as in the presence of the divine. So it was, in his feeling, on the occasion of this walk. He felt that the force of living reality can have the capacity of pervading the mind of a person in such a fashion that a special “power,” a sense of being, could thaw the “sleep” that too often takes a long-standing possession of us. Through such a force he believed that a person can spread
abroad His being with a strength that cannot fail.
(Prelude IV, 1805, 1. 160—)
There is a...
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SOURCE: “The Ramifications of Whitehead's Theory of Experience,” in The Monist, Vol. 68, No. 4, October, 1985, pp. 439-50.
[In the following essay, Ford studies Whitehead's concept of experience “as a unification of many past actualities.”]
Whitehead's philosophy is thought by many to be a modern-day rationalism, yet the rationalistic criteria of logical consistency and coherence are balanced by the empirical criteria of applicability and adequacy. He understands metaphysics to be “the endeavour to frame a … necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted. … Here ‘applicable’ means that some items of experience are thus interpretable, and ‘adequate’ means that there are no items incapable of such interpretation” (PR 4).1 Experience is fundamental. Without the appeal to experience we could not determine whether our metaphysical proposals pertained to the actual world or merely to its possible alternatives.2
Although there is a wealth of phenomenological insight describing the salient features of human experience in Whitehead's writings, such as in Symbolism (1927), part II of Process and Reality (1929), and Modes of Thought (1938), which bear considerable affinity with William James's radical empiricism, I shall not examine them here, preferring to focus on the more...
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SOURCE: “Gertrude Stein: The Pattern moves, the Woman behind Shakes It,” in Women's Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. 13, Nos. 1 and 2, 1986, pp. 33-47.
[In the following essay, Mizejewski explores the Whiteheadian consciousness of Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons.]
Since Gertrude Stein's Tender Buttons was published in 1914, its colorful chunks of language and imagery have been shaken in the kaleidoscopes of a dozen critical modes to produce a myriad of readings, designs, and explanations. The multitude of critical approaches attests to its brilliance and obscurity at once: readers presented with this wild, semi-verbless appraisal of objects, food, and rooms are justifiably intimidated but also challenged to find the “key” to a work in which “A Piece of Coffee” is “More of a double. A place in no new table,” and in which “Red Roses” are “Cool red rose and a pink cut pink, a collapse and a sold hole, a little less hot.”1
Tender Buttons has been described as a series of prose poems, although no traditional genre can do justice to its departures from all traditions, genres, and syntax. Divided into three sections, “Objects,” “Food,” and “Rooms,” it uses things, occasions, or phrases as the starting points of “descriptions” that do not describe or “definitions” that do not define. Under “Objects” we find...
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SOURCE: “From Buddha to Orpheus: Rainer Maria Rilke's Quest for Internal Relations,” in Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol. LXXIII, No. 1, Spring, 1990, pp. 149-67.
[In the following essay, Doud investigates correspondences between Rainer Maria Rilke's poetry and Whitehead's metaphysics.]
As early as The Notebook of Malte Laurids Brigge it had been the concern of Rainer Maria Rilke to distinguish between authentic death and inauthentic death (1985,9-16). How we die is the quintessential human question. To die a death of one's own is to have lived a life of one's own. To die merely clinically after a life devoid of originality and empty of the struggle to realize one's uniqueness is the ultimate failure. In his poem “Requiem” (1982, 73-87) Rilke chastizes the gifted painter, Paula Becker, for having failed to die her own death. It is not her passing in itself that is mourned, but her refusal to authenticate her own creative possibilities.
My thesis is that Rilke's concern with death and authenticity is matched in seriousness by his concern with the aesthetic principles of Einsehen and Weltinnenraum. Einsehen and Weltinnenraum cannot be fully appreciated without a metaphysical doctrine of internal relations, such as that developed in the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead.
A Whiteheadian reading of the Sonnets to...
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SOURCE: “Williams, Whitehead and the Embodiment of Knowledge: ‘A New Order of Knowing,’” Sagetrieb, Vol. 9, No. 3, Winter, 1990, pp. 57-95.
[In the following essay, Holsapple regards the correlation between Whitehead's ideas in Science and the Modern World and William Carlos Williams's in The Embodiment of Knowledge.]
Returning to Rutherford, New Jersey, aboard the S.S. Pennland in September, 1927, William Carlos Williams wrote a series of letters to his wife, Floss, who had stayed in Europe with the two boys. In those letters, Williams discussed how he anticipated returning to work and how he hoped to develop five or six new writing projects. He acknowledged a risk to their marriage in separating, but felt that they were right to do so, even obliged as parents to break “that staleness of schooling” in Rutherford by putting the two boys in a European school for a year. He mentioned that “We have ended a period as you say and now we are going on.”1 And on Tuesday, the third day at sea, he wrote to her,
Yesterday I finished my philosophy. The last chapters are easy and very fine. They deal with art and manners. If you ever get hold of the book, Science and the Modern World (Whitehead) you should read the final chapters.
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SOURCE: “Alfred North Whitehead,” in Founders of Constructive Postmodern Philosophy, State University of New York Press, 1993, pp. 165-95.
[In the following essay, Cobb presents a detailed survey of Whitehead's speculative philosophy.]
I. SPECULATIVE POSTMODERNISM
Although Whitehead (1861-1947) never used the term “postmodern,” the way he spoke of the modern has a definite postmodern tone. Especially in his book Science and the Modern World, the modern is objectified and its salient characteristics are described. Whitehead is appreciative of the accomplishments of the modern world, but he clearly recognizes its limitations as well, and he points beyond it. He sees his own time as one of new beginnings as fundamental as those that constituted the shift from the medieval to the modern world.
Whitehead explicitly identifies the new beginnings in two areas. The first is physics. Both relativity and quantum theory break with the assumptions of modern physics and call for fundamental reconstruction of the scientific program. Here Whitehead, himself a mathematical physicist, undertook to make a major contribution by developing his own relativity theory. While giving Einstein full credit for his discoveries, Whitehead was dissatisfied with the conceptual foundations and implications of Einstein's theory. From his alternative theory can be generated most,...
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SOURCE: “The Nature of Nature: Kant and Whitehead,” in Metaphysics as Foundation, edited by Paul A. Bogaard and Gordon Treash, State University of New York Press, 1993, pp. 42-58.
[In the following essay, Treash compares Whitehead's philosophy of organism to the modern, Kantian conception of nature.]
If Whitehead's philosophy of organism marks the beginning of either a revival of concern for the philosophy of nature or a substantiative contemporary metaphysics, then it is quite true that from its outset this movement has been intimately concerned with the problem of how nature is conceived. Neither is it an exaggeration to suggest that by the time he wrote Process and Reality a large part of Whitehead's undertaking was defined by his reliance on a sharp distinction between how the philosophy of organism understands nature and what he repeatedly insists is the conception of nature that dominates in modern thought. This modern conception is that nature, its objects and its laws, are “constructs” or, in even more contemporary terminology, “models” framed by individuals or by the members of a school, but not representations of a system or world that is independent of subjects. Whitehead was convinced that such a conception of nature is perverse and must be avoided, as almost the first page of Process and Reality makes plain. In the book's preface he lists nine “prevalent habits of...
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SOURCE: “Some Reflections on Sartre's Nothingness and Whitehead's Perishing,” in The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. XLVIII, No. 1, September, 1994, pp. 3-17.
[In the following essay, Sherburne discusses Whitehead's notions of metaphysical perishing and relatedness as they compare with Jean-Paul Sartre's idea of “nothingness.”]
Three philosophers do justice to man as a part of nature: Aristotle, Hegel, and Whitehead.
Paul Weiss's observation points directly and succinctly to the very heart of the metaphysical enterprise as I understand it, which is to develop categories that do justice to the rich, multifarious structures and experiences that constitute human nature but which are so articulated that the human nature so described is clearly embedded in, and is a part of, the wider nature that constitutes the subject matter of the physical sciences. Looking back at a few of the giants in the philosophical tradition, there are some, like Hobbes and Democritus, who focus very hard on that wider nature, but I worry that they have not really done justice to human nature in their philosophizing. Other insightful thinkers like Sartre and Heidegger worry me because they turn their backs on science and that wider nature in order to focus, and focus brilliantly, upon the structures of human consciousness. Given this...
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Woodbridge, Barry A., ed. Alfred North Whitehead: A Primary-Secondary Bibliography. Bowling Green, Ohio: Philosophy Documentation Center, 1977, 405 p.
Extensive bibliography of works by and on Whitehead, indexed chronologically and by subject.
Lowe, Victor. Whitehead: The Man and His Work, Volume I: 1861-1910 and Volume II: 1910-1947. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985-1990, 740 p.
Standard biography of Whitehead.
Barineau, R. Maurice. The Theodicy of Alfred North Whitehead: A Logical and Ethical Vindication. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1991, 199 p.
Surveys and evaluates Whitehead's theory of God.
Christian, William A. An Interpretation of Whitehead's Metaphysics. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1959, 419 p.
Analytical study of Whitehead's speculative philosophy, particularly as it is presented in Science and the Modern World and Process and Reality.
Code, Murray. Order and Organism: Steps to a Whiteheadian Philosophy of Mathematics and the Natural Sciences. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985, 265 p.
Considers Whitehead's mathematical thought and its...
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