Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

The central aim in Alfred North Whitehead’s chief work, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, is to replace the traditional philosophy of substance with a philosophy of organism. The author’s thesis is that only a philosophy of organism can provide clarification of a universe in which process, dynamic actualization, interdependence, and creativity are disclosed as the primary data of immediate experience.

Although Whitehead expresses some far-reaching reservations regarding traditional modes of thought, he formulates his philosophy of organism through a dialogue with the great logicians, scientists, metaphysicians, and theologians of the past. He finds the thought of Greek philosopher Plato more decisive than that of German philosopher Immanuel Kant; he considers Henri Bergson more suggestive than Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel; he contends that John Locke was closer to a philosophy of organism than René Descartes; and he is ready to choose Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz over Aristotle. Western philosophy is defined by the author as a series of footnotes to Plato. Some of these footnotes he wishes to salvage and reformulate; others he is quite happy to see deleted. Of all the philosophical giants in the Western tradition, Kant is the least cordially received. The author makes it clear that his philosophy of organism constitutes a recurrence to pre-Kantian modes of thought. According to Whitehead, the “Copernican revolution” of Kant was not as revolutionary as many of his followers maintained it to be. Whitehead’s philosophy is a speculative philosophy formulated into a coherent and logical system of general concepts that are intended to provide the categorial interpretation for any and all elements of human experience.