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Alfred North blackhead
Full name Alfred North blackhead
Born 15 February 1861(1861-02-15)
Died 30 December 1947 (aged 86)
Era 19th century philosophy
20th century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Process Philosophy
Main interests Metaphysics, Mathematics
Notable ideas Process Philosophy

Alfred North Whitehead, OM (15 February 1861 – 30 December 1947) was an English mathematician who became a philosopher. He wrote on algebra, logic, foundations of mathematics, philosophy of science, physics, metaphysics, and education. He co-authored the epochal Principia Mathematica with Bertrand Russell.



Whitehead was born in Ramsgate, Kent, England. Although his grandfather, Thomas Whitehead, was known for having founded Chatham House Academy, a fairly successful school for boys, Alfred North was educated at Sherborne School, Dorset, then considered one of the best public schools in the country. His childhood was described as over-protected, but when at school he excelled in sports, mathematics and was head prefect of his class.

In 1880, Whitehead matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was fourth wrangler and gained his BA in 1884.[1] Elected a fellow of Trinity in 1884, Whitehead would teach and write mathematics at the college until 1910, spending the 1890s writing his Treatise on Universal Algebra (1898) and the 1900s collaborating with his former pupil, Russell, on the first edition of Principia Mathematica.[2]

In 1910, he resigned his position at Trinity College to protest the dismissal of a colleague because of an adulterous affair. He also ran afoul of a Cambridge by-law limiting the term of a Senior Lecturer to 25 years.

In 1890, Whitehead married Evelyn Wade, an Irish woman reared in France; they had a daughter and two sons. One son died in action while serving in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. Meanwhile, Russell spent much of 1918 in prison because of his pacifist activities. Although Whitehead visited his co-author in prison, he did not take his pacifism seriously, while Russell sneered at Whitehead's later speculative Platonism and panpsychism. After the war, Russell and Whitehead seldom interacted, and Whitehead contributed nothing to the 1925 second edition of Principia Mathematica.

Whitehead was always interested in theology, especially in the 1890s. His family was firmly anchored in the Church of England: his father and uncles were vicars, while his brother would become bishop of Madras. Perhaps influenced by his wife and the writings of Cardinal Newman, Whitehead leaned towards Roman Catholicism. Prior to World War I, he considered himself an agnostic. Later he returned to religion, without formally joining any church.

Concomitantly, Whitehead developed a keen interest in physics: his fellowship dissertation examined James Clerk Maxwell's views on electricity and magnetism. His outlook on mathematics and physics was more philosophical than purely scientific; he was more concerned about their scope and nature, rather than about particular tenets and paradigms.

He was president of the Aristotelian Society from 1922 to 1923.

The period between 1910 and 1926 was mostly spent at University College London and Imperial College London, where he taught and wrote on physics, the philosophy of science, and the theory and practice of education. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society since 1903 and was elected to the British Academy in 1931. In physics, Whitehead articulated a rival doctrine to Einstein's general relativity. His theory of gravitation is now discredited because its predicted variability of the gravitational constant G disagrees with experimental findings.[3] A more lasting work was his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge (1919), a pioneering attempt to synthetize the philosophical underpinnings of physics. It has little influenced the course of modern physics, however.

Whitehead's Presidential address in 1916 to the Mathematical Association of England The Aims of Education in the book of the same title (1929a) pointedly criticized the formalistic approach of modern British teachers who do not care about culture and self-education of their disciples: "Culture is activity of thought, and receptiveness to beauty and humane feeling. Scraps of information have nothing to do with it."

In 1924, Henry Osborn Taylor invited Whitehead, who was then 63, to implement his ideas and teach philosophy at Harvard University. This was a subject that fascinated Whitehead but that he had also not previously studied or taught. The Whiteheads spent the rest of their lives in the United States. He retired from teaching in 1937. When he died in 1947 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., there was no funeral, and his body was cremated.

Whitehead had wise and witty opinions about a vast range of human endeavour. These opinions pepper the many essays and speeches he gave on various topics between 1915 and his death (1917, 1925a, 1927, 1929a, 1929b, 1933, 1938). His Harvard lectures (1924–37) are studded with quotations from his favourite poets, Wordsworth and Shelley. Most Sunday afternoons when they were in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Whiteheads hosted an open house to which all Harvard students were welcome, and during which talk flowed freely. Some of the obiter dicta Whitehead spoke on these occasions were recorded by Lucien Price, a Boston journalist, who published them in 1954. That book also includes a remarkable picture of Whitehead as the aged sage holding court. It was at one of these open houses that the young Harvard student B.F. Skinner credits a discussion with Whitehead as providing the inspiration for his work Verbal Behavior in which language is analyzed from a behaviorist perspective.[4]

A two volume biography was written by Victor Lowe (1985) and Lowe and Schneewind (1990); Lowe studied under Whitehead at Harvard. A comprehensive appraisal of Whitehead's work is difficult because Whitehead left no Nachlass; his family carried out his instructions that all of his papers be destroyed after his death. There is also no critical edition of Whitehead's writings.

Process philosophy

The genesis of Whitehead's process philosophy may be attributed to his having witnessed the shocking collapse of Newtonian physics, due mainly to Albert Einstein's work. His metaphysical views emerged in his 1920 The Concept of Nature and expanded in his 1925 '''Science and the Modern World''', also an important study in the history of ideas, and the role of science and mathematics in the rise of Western civilization. Indebted as he was to Henri Bergson's philosophy of change, Whitehead was also a Platonist who "saw the definite character of events as due to the "ingression" of timeless entities."[5]

In 1927, Whitehead was asked to give the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh. These were published in 1929 as Process and Reality, the book that founded process philosophy, a major contribution to Western metaphysics. Proponents of process philosophy include Charles Hartshorne and Nicholas Rescher, and his ideas have been taken up by French philosophers Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Gilles Deleuze. In poetry, the work and thought of American Charles Olson was strongly influenced by Whitehead's concepts. Olson referred to him variously as "the cosmologist"[6] and as the "constant companion of my poem."[7]

Process and Reality is famous for its defense of theism, although Whitehead's God differs essentially from the revealed God of Abrahamic religion. Whitehead's Philosophy of Organism gave rise to process theology, thanks to Hartshorne, John B. Cobb, Jr, and David Ray Griffin. Some Christians and Jews find process theology a fruitful way of understanding God and the universe. Just as the entire universe is in constant flow and change, God, as source of the universe, is viewed as growing and changing. Whitehead's rejection of mind-body dualism is similar to elements in traditions such as Buddhism.

The main tenets of Whitehead's metaphysics were summarized in his last and most accessible work, Adventures of Ideas (1933), where he also defines his conceptions of beauty, truth, art, adventure, and peace. He believed that "there are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil."[8] Whitehead's political views sometimes appear to be libertarian without the label. He wrote:

Now the intercourse between individuals and between social groups takes one of two forms, force or persuasion. Commerce is the great example of intercourse by way of persuasion. War, slavery, and governmental compulsion exemplify the reign of force.[9]

On the other hand, many Whitehead scholars read his work as providing a philosophical foundation for the social liberalism of the New Liberal movement that was prominent throughout Whitehead's adult life. Morris wrote that "...there is good reason for claiming that Whitehead shared the social and political ideals of the new liberals."[10]

Whitehead and Heraclitus

Funded by the Gifford endowment, Alfred North Whitehead wrote voluminously using concise abstract nouns and phrases given special and innovated meanings that cannot be understood as ordinary English. He believed the starting point of his philosophy was the flux of Heraclitus modified and supplemented by the thought of Aristotle but he does have an undefined: the referent of the English word process. Although he expands at great length on the concept he nowhere attempts to define what it is.

Whitehead did not see himself as a process philosopher but believed he was updating Heraclitus in the light of the mathematics and mathematical philosophers of his time. The key lecture is reproduced in Process and Reality.[11]

Using "all things flow" as the starting point for a "metaphysics of 'flux'", which he sees as implicit to various degrees in the philosophies of John Locke, David Hume and Immanuel Kant (but not Hegel), Whitehead does not present it as a mutually exclusive alternative to the "metaphysics of 'substance'" but as complementary. The latter "spatializes the universe" (according to Henri Bergson) but this is "the shortest route to a clear-cut philosophy" such as the Analytic Geometry of Descartes. The substance metaphysics is of less interest to Whitehead. Proclaiming that Newton "brusquely ordered fluency back into the world" with his Theory of Fluxions (the derivatives of differential calculus) Whitehead launches into an innovative elaboration of Heraclitus' upward-downward way, relying especially on Aristotle's theory of act and potency.

The way becomes the simultaneous occurrence of two processes: "concrescence" (in place of the upward) and transition (in place of the downward). The former is the unification of "particular existents" into new particular existents also termed "actual occasions" or "actual entities." In this process the final cause of the new unity is predominant. Transition is the "perishing of the process" (concrescence) in such a way as to leave the new existent as an "original element" of future new unities. This latter process is the "vehicle of the efficient causes" and expresses the "immortal past."

As in Heraclitus, a concrescence never reaches the unity of its final cause, hence Whitehead uses the term "presupposed actual occasions", which are "falsifications." An object therefore is identified with its concrescence; there is no other. The process of transforming "alien" entities into "data" for a new concrescence is termed a "feeling." Whitehead thus builds up statements that are scarcely less obscure, if at all, than those of Heraclitus: "... an actual occasion is a concrescence effected by a process of feelings."

In contrast to the becoming of Aristotle, a concrescence never results in the static act toward which it tends, but it does reach a "culmination" in which "all indetermination as to the realization of possibilities has been eliminated." This "evaporation of all indetermination" is the "satisfaction" of the feeling.

To explain the passage of the actual moment through time (the upward-downward way) Whitehead thus resorts to a unique blend of Heraclitus' flow and Aristotle's act and potency. The potency of Aristotle is the substrate in which all possibility resides, from which comes the actual, or determinate and specifically empowered beings by a process called "to become." Whitehead refers to the potency under the aegis of the future, or yet to come, as "reality." The reduction of the potential to the actual occurs in two processes: macroscopic, "the transition from attained actuality to actuality in attainment" and microscopic (concrescence), the "conversion of conditions which are merely real into determinate actualities." The past is "a nexus of actuality", which grows into what is currently the future. In summary:

The community of actual things is an organism; but it is not a static organism. It is an incompletion in process of production.



Works by Whitehead

  • 1898. A Treatise on Universal Algebra with Applications. Cambridge Uni. Press. 1960 reprint, Hafner.
  • 1911. An Introduction to Mathematics. Oxford Univ. Press. 1990 paperback, ISBN 0-19-500211-3. Vol. 56 of the Great Books of the Western World series.
  • 1917. The Organization of Thought Educational and Scientific. Lippincott.
  • 1920. The Concept of Nature. Cambridge Uni. Press. 2004 paperback, Prometheus Books, ISBN 1-59102-214-2. Being the 1919 Tarner Lectures delivered at Trinity College.
  • 1922. The Principle of Relativity with Applications to Physical Science. Cambridge Uni. Press.
  • 1925 (1910–13), with Bertrand Russell. Principia Mathematica, in 3 vols. Cambridge Uni. Press. Vol. 1 to *56 is available as a CUP paperback.
  • 1925a. Science and the Modern World. 1997 paperback, Free Press (Simon & Schuster), ISBN 0-684-83639-4. Vol. 55 of the Great Books of the Western World series.
  • 1925b (1919). An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge. Cambridge Uni. Press.
  • 1926. Religion in the Making. 1974, New American Library. 1996, with introduction by Judith A. Jones, Fordham Univ. Press.
  • 1927. Symbolism, Its Meaning and Effect. The 1927 Barbour-Page Lectures, given at the University of Virginia. 1985 paperback, Fordham University Press.
  • 1929. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology. 1979 corrected edition, edited by David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne, Free Press. (Part V. Final Interpretation)
  • 1929a. The Aims of Education and Other Essays. 1985 paperback, Free Press, ISBN 0-02-935180-4.
  • 1929b. Function of Reason. 1971 paperback, Beacon Press, ISBN 0-8070-1573-3.
  • 1933. Adventures of Ideas. 1967 paperback, Free Press, ISBN 0-02-935170-7.
  • 1934. Nature and Life. University of Chicago Press.
  • 1938. Modes of Thought. 1968 paperback, Free Press, ISBN 0-02-935210-X.
  • 1947. Essays in Science and Philosophy. Runes, Dagobert, ed. Philosophical Library.
  • 1947. The Wit and Wisdom of Whitehead. Beacon Press.
  • 1951. "Mathematics and the Good" in Schilpp, P. A., ed., 1951. The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, 2nd. ed. New York, Tudor Publishing Company: 666-81. Also printed in:
    • in The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, 1941, P. A. Schilpp, Ed.;
    • in Science & Philosophy; Philosophical Library, 1948.
  • 1953. A. N. Whitehead: An Anthology. Northrop, F.S.C., and Gross, M.W., eds. Cambridge Univ. Press.
  • Price, Lucien, 1954. Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead, with Introduction by Sir Ross David. Reprinted 1977, Greenwood Press Reprint, ISBN 0-8371-9341-9, and 2001 with Foreword by Caldwell Titcomb, David R. Godine Publisher, ISBN 1-56792-129-9.

Works about Whitehead and his thought

  • Browning, Douglas and Myers, William T., eds., 1998. Philosophers of Process. Fordham Univ. Press. ISBN 0-8232-1879-1, contains some primary texts including:
    • "Critique of Scientific Materialism"
    • "Process"
    • "Fact and Form"
    • "Objects and Subjects"
    • "The Grouping of Occasions"
  • Durand G., 2007. "Des événements aux objets. La méthode de l'abstraction extensive chez A. N. Whitehead". Ontos Verlag.
  • Griffin, David Ray, 2007. "Whitehead's Radically Different Postmodern Philosophy. An Argument for Its Contemporary Relevance", New York: State University of New York Press.
  • Ivor Grattan-Guinness, 2000. The Search for Mathematical Roots 1870-1940. Princeton Uni. Press.
  • ------, 2002, "Algebras, Projective Geometry, Mathematical Logic, and Constructing the World: Intersections in the Philosophy of Mathematics of A. N. Whitehead," Historia Mathematica 29: 427-62. Many references.
  • Charles Hartshorne, 1972. Whitehead's Philosophy: Selected Essays, 1935-1970. University of Nebraska Press
  • Johnson, A. H. (Allison Heartz), Ed., (2007) The Wit and Wisdom of Alfred North Whitehead. Kessinger Publishing.
  • Contemporary Whitehead Studies (book series). Rodopi.
  • Kneebone, G., 2001, (1963). Mathematical Logic and the Foundations of Mathematics. Dover reprint: ISBN 0-486-41712-3. The final chapter is a lucid introduction to some of the ideas in Whitehead (1919, 1925b, 1929).
  • LeClerc, Ivor, ed., 1961. The Relevance of Whitehead. Allen & Unwin.
  • Lowe, Victor, 1962. Understanding Whitehead. Johns Hopkins Uni. Press.
  • ------, 1985. A. N. Whitehead: The Man and His Work, Vol. 1. Johns Hopkins U. Press.
  • ------, and Schneewind, J. B., 1990. A. N. Whitehead: The Man and His Work, Vol. 2. Johns Hopkins U. Press.
  • Richard Milton Martin, 1974. Whitehead's Categorial Scheme and Other Essays. Martinus Nijhoff.
  • Mays, Wolfgang, 1959. The Philosophy of Whitehead. Allen & Unwin.
  • ------, 1977. Whitehead's Philosophy of Science and Metaphysics: An Introduction to his Thought. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
  • Mesle, C. Robert, 2008. Process-Relational Philosophy: An Introduction to Alfred North Whitehead," Templeton foundation Press. ISBN 978-1-59947-132-7
  • Nobo, Jorge L., 1986. Whitehead's Metaphysics of Extension and Solidarity. SUNY Press.
  • Willard Quine, 1941, "Whitehead and the rise of modern logic" in Schilpp (1941). Reprinted in his 1995 Selected Logic Papers. Harvard Univ. Press.
  • Nicholas Rescher, 1995. Process Metaphysics. SUNY Press.
  • ------, 2001. Process Philosophy: A Survey of Basic Issues. Univ. of Pittsburg Press.
  • Siebers, Johan, 2002. The method of speculative philosophy: an essay on the foundations of Whitehead's metaphysicis. Kassel: Kassel University Press GmbH. ISBN 3-933146-79-8
  • Schilpp, Paul A., ed., 1941. The Philosophy of A. N. Whitehead (The Library of Living Philosophers). New York: Tudor.
  • Smith, Olav Bryant, 2004. Myths of the Self: Narrative Identity and Postmodern Metaphysics, Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, [ISBN 0-7391-0843-3], contains a section called 'Alfred North Whitehead: Toward a More Fundamental Ontology' that is an overview of Whitehead's metaphysics.
  • Stengers, Isabelle, 2002. Penser avec Whitehead. Seuil.
  • Weber, Michel, 2006. Whitehead's Pancreativism—The Basics. Frankfurt: Ontos Verlag.
  • Will, Clifford, 1993. Theory and Experiment in Gravitational Physics. Cambridge University Press.

See also


  1. ^ Whitehead, Alfred North in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  2. ^ On Whitehead the mathematician and logician, see Grattan-Guinness (2000, 2002), and Quine's chapter in Schilpp (1941), reprinted in Quine (1995).
  3. ^ Y. Tanaka: The Comparison between Whitehead's and Einstein's Theories of Relativity (From the viewpoint of empirical tests)
  4. ^ Skinner, B.F. 1957. Verbal Behavior, appendix.
  5. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2006.
  6. ^ Von Hallberg, Robert. Charles Olson: The Scholar's Art. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1978: p. 2.
  7. ^ Polis is this: Charles Olson and the Persistence of Place. Dir. Ferrini, Henry, and Ken Riaf.
  8. ^ Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead, recorded by Lucien Price, p. 13, 2001
  9. ^ Adventures of Ideas p. 105, 1933 edition; p. 83, 1967 ed.
  10. ^ Morris, Randall C., Journal of the History of Ideas 51: 75-92. p. 92.
  11. ^ Whitehead, Alfred North (1929). Process and Reality: an Essay in Cosmology. The MacMillan Company. Chapter X: Process: pages 317–328. 

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.

Alfred North Whitehead, OM (15 February 186130 December 1947) was a British mathematician who became an American philosopher.



There is a quality of life which lies always beyond the mere fact of life; and when we include the quality in the fact, there is still omitted the quality of the quality.
The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, "Seek simplicity and distrust it."
  • In its solitariness the spirit asks, What, in the way of value, is the attainment of life? And it can find no such value till it has merged its individual claim with that of the objective universe. Religion is world-loyalty.
  • There is a quality of life which lies always beyond the mere fact of life; and when we include the quality in the fact, there is still omitted the quality of the quality.
    • Religion in the Making (February 1926), Lecture II: "Religion and Dogma"
  • Rightness of limitation is essential for growth of reality.
    Unlimited possibility and abstract creativity can procure nothing. The limitation, and the basis arising from what is already actual, are both of them necessary and interconnected.
  • The aim of science is to seek the simplest explanations of complex facts. We are apt to fall into the error of thinking that the facts are simple because simplicity is the goal of our quest. The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, "Seek simplicity and distrust it."
    • The Concept of Nature (1926)
  • We do not require elaborate training merely in order to refrain from embarking upon intricate trains of inference. Such abstinence is only too easy.
    • Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect (1927)
  • The mentality of mankind and the language of mankind created each other. If we like to assume the rise of language as a given fact, then it is not going too far to say that the souls of men are the gift from language to mankind. The account of the sixth day should be written: He gave them speech, and they became souls
    • Modes of Thought (1938)

An Introduction to Mathematics (1911)

  • The study of mathematics is apt to commence in disappointment... We are told that by its aid the stars are weighed and the billions of molecules in a drop of water are counted. Yet, like the ghost of Hamlet's father, this great science eludes the efforts of our mental weapons to grasp it.
    • ch. 1
  • It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle--they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.
    • ch. 5

Science and the Modern World (1925)

All the world over and at all times there have been practical men, absorbed in 'irreducible and stubborn facts': all the world over and at all times there have been men of philosophic temperament, who have been absorbed in the weaving of general principles.
Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind and within the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension...
  • Philosophy, in one of its functions, is the critic of cosmologies. It is its function to harmonise, refashion, and justify divergent intuitions as to the nature of things. It has to insist on the scrutiny of the ultimate ideas, and on the retention of the whole of the evidence in shaping our cosmological scheme. Its business is to render explicit, and — so far as may be — efficient, a process which otherwise is unconsciously performed without rational tests.
    • Preface
  • It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.
    • p. 4
  • All the world over and at all times there have been practical men, absorbed in 'irreducible and stubborn facts': all the world over and at all times there have been men of philosophic temperament, who have been absorbed in the weaving of general principles.
    • Ch. 1: The Origins of Modern Science
  • The science of pure mathematics, in its modern developments, may claim to be the most original creation of the human spirit.
    • Ch. 2: Mathematics as an Element in the History of Thought
  • The greatest invention of the nineteenth century was the invention of the method of invention.
    • Ch. 6: The Nineteenth Century
  • We cannot think first and act afterwards. From the moment of birth we are immersed in action and can only fitfully guide it by taking thought.
    • P. 187.
  • Religion will not regain its old power until it can face change in the same spirit as does science. Its principles may be eternal, but the expression of those principles requires continual development.
    • Ch. 12: Religion and Science
  • Religion is the reaction of human nature to its search for God. The presentation of God under the aspect of power awakens every modern instinct of critical reaction. This is fatal; for religion collapses unless its main positions command immediacy of assent. In this respect the old phraseology is at variance with the psychology of modern civilisations. This change in psychology is largely due to science, and is one of the chief ways in which the advance of science has weakened the hold of the old religious forms of expression.
    • Ch. 12: Religion and Science
  • Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind and within the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest.
    • Ch. 12: Religion and Science
  • The religious vision, and its history of persistent expansion, is our one ground for optimism. Apart from it, human life is a flash of occasional enjoyments lighting up a mass of pain and misery, a bagatelle of transient experience.
    • Ch. 12: Religion and Science
  • The worship of God is not a rule of safety — it is an adventure of the spirit, a flight after the unattainable. The death of religion comes with the repression of the high hope of adventure.
    • Ch. 12: Religion and Science
  • It is the business of the future to be dangerous; and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties.
    • Ch. 13: Requisites for Social Progress

The Aims of Education (1929)

  • Education is the acquisition of the art of the utilisation of knowledge.
  • For successful education there must always be a certain freshness in the knowledge dealt with. It must be either new in itself or invested with some novelty of application to the new world of new times. Knowledge does not keep any better than fish. You may be dealing with knowledge of the old species, with some old truth; but somehow it must come to the students, as it were, just drawn out of the sea and with the freshness of its immediate importance.
  • The consequences of a plethora of half-digested theoretical knowledge are deplorable.
  • The essence of education is that it be religious. Pray, what is religious education? A religious education is an education which inculcates duty and reverence. Duty arises from our potential control over the course of events. Where attainable knowledge could have changed the issue, ignorance has the guilt of vice. And the foundation of reverence is this perception, that the present holds within itself the complete sum of existence, backwards and forwards, that whole amplitude of time, which is eternity.
  • That knowledge which adds greatness to character is knowledge so handled as to transform every phase of immediate experience.
  • The universities are schools of education, and schools of research. But the primary reason for their existence is not to be found either in the mere knowledge conveyed to the students or in the mere opportunities for research afforded to the members of the faculty. Both these functions could be performed at a cheaper rate, apart from these very expensive institutions. Books are cheap, and the system of apprenticeship is well understood. So far as the mere imparting of information is concerned, no university has had any justification for existence since the popularization of printing in the fifteenth century. Yet the chief impetus to the foundation of universities came after that date, and in more recent times has even increased. The justification for a university is that it preserves the connection between knowledge and the zest of life, by uniting the young and the old in the imaginative consideration of learning.

Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (1929)

  • The chief error in philosophy is overstatement.
    • Pt. I, ch. 1, sec. 1
  • In all philosophic theory there is an ultimate which is actual in virtue of its accidents. It is only then capable of characterization through its accidental embodiments, and apart from these accidents is devoid of actuality. In the philosophy of organism this ultimate is termed creativity; and God is its primordial, non-temporal accident. In monistic philosophies, Spinoza's or absolute idealism, this ultimate is God, who is also equivalently termed The Absolute. In such monistic schemes, the ultimate is illegitimately allowed a final, eminent reality, beyond that ascribed to any of its accidents. In this general position the philosophy of organism seems to approximate more to some strains of Indian, or Chinese, thought, than to western Asiatic, or European, thought. One side makes process ultimate; the other side makes fact ultimate.
    • Pt. I, ch. 1, sec. 2
  • Rationalism is an adventure in the clarification of thought.
    • Pt. I, ch. 1, sec. 3
  • Our habitual experience is a complex of failure and success in the enterprise of interpretation. If we desire a record of uninterpreted experience, we must ask a stone to record its autobiography.
    • Pt. I, ch. 1, sec. 6
  • Philosophy is the self-correction by consciousness of its own initial excess of subjectivity. Each actual occasion contributes to the circumstances of its origin additional formative elements deepening its own peculiar individuality. Consciousness is only the last and greatest of such elements by which the selective character of the individual obscures the external totality from which it originates and which it embodies. An actual individual, of such higher grade, has truck with the totality of things by reason of its sheer actuality; but it has attained its individual depth of being by a selective emphasis limited to its own purposes. The task of philosophy is to recover the totality obscured by the selection.
    • Pt. I, ch. 1, sec. 6
  • Philosophy finds religion, and modifies it; and conversely religion is among the data of experience which philosophy must weave into its own scheme. Religion is an ultimate craving to infuse into the insistent particularity of emotion that non-temporal generality which primarily belongs to conceptual thought alone. In the higher organisms the differences of tempo between the mere emotions and the conceptual experiences produce a life-tedium, unless this supreme fusion has been effected. The two sides of the organism require a reconciliation in which emotional experiences illustrate a conceptual justification, and conceptual experiences find an emotional illustration.
    • Pt. I, ch. 1, sec. 6
  • The term many presupposes the term one, and the term one presupposes the term many.
    • Pt. I, ch. 2, sec. 2
  • Creativity is the universal of universals characterizing ultimate matter of fact. It is that ultimate principle by which the many, which are the universe disjunctively, become the one actual occasion, which is the universe conjunctively. It lies in the nature of things that the many enter into complex unity.
    • Pt. I, ch. 2, sec. 2
  • The ultimate metaphysical principle is the advance from disjunction to conjunction, creating a novel entity other than the entities given in disjunction.
    • Pt. I, ch. 2, sec. 2
  • The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.
    • Pt. II, ch. 1, sec. 1
  • Without doubt, if we are to go back to that ultimate, integral experience, unwarped by the sophistications of theory, that experience whose elucidation is the final aim of philosophy, the flux of things is one ultimate generalization around which we must weave our philosophical system.
    • Pt. II, ch. 10, sec. 1
  • The oneness of the universe, and the oneness of each element of the universe, repeat themselves to the crack of doom in the creative advance from creature to creature, each creature including in itself the whole of history and exemplifying the self-identity of things and their mutual diversities.
    • Pt. III, ch. 1, sec. 7
  • The chief danger to philosophy is narrowness in the selection of evidence.
    • Pt. V, ch. 1, sec. 1
  • There is a greatness in the lives of those who build up religious systems, a greatness in action, in idea and in self-subordination, embodied in instance after instance through centuries of growth. There is a greatness in the rebels who destroy such systems: they are the Titans who storm heaven, armed with passionate sincerity. It may be that the revolt is the mere assertion by youth of its right to its proper brilliance, to that final good of immediate joy. Philosophy may not neglect the multifariousness of the world — the fairies dance, and Christ is nailed to the cross.
    • Pt. V, ch. 1, sec. 1
  • The theme of Cosmology, which is the basis of all religions, is the story of the dynamic effort of the World passing into everlasting unity, and of the static majesty of God's vision, accomplishing its purpose of completion by absorption of the World's multiplicity of effort.
    • Pt. V, ch. II, sec. V
  • A precise language awaits a completed metaphysics.
  • In the inescapable flux, there is something that abides; in the overwhelming permanence, there is an element that escapes into flux. Permanence can be snatched only out of flux; and the passing moment can find its adequate intensity only by its submission to permanence.
  • Thus the universe is to be conceived as attaining the active self-expression of its own variety of opposites of its own freedom and its own necessity, of its own multiplicity and its own unity, of its own imperfection and its own perfection. All the opposites are elements in the nature of things, and are incorrigibly there. The concept of God is the way in which we understand this incredible fact that what cannot be, yet is.
  • Error is the price we pay for progress.
  • The art of progress is to preserve order amid change, and to preserve change amid order.
  • Whether or no it be for the general good, life is robbery. It is at this point that with life morals become acute. The robber requires justification.
  • For the kingdom of heaven is with us today.
  • We find here the final application of the doctrine of objective immortality. Throughout the perishing occasions in the life of each temporal Creature, the inward source of distaste or of refreshment, the judge arising out of the very nature of things, redeemer or goddess of mischief, is the transformation of Itself, everlasting in the Being of God. In this way, the insistent craving is justified--the insistent craving that zest for existence be refreshed by the ever-present, unfading importance of our immediate actions, which perish and yet live for evermore.

Adventures of Ideas (1933)

  • The human body is an instrument for the production of art in the life of the human soul.
    • Ch. 18
  • A general definition of civilization: a civilized society is exhibiting the five qualities of truth, beauty, adventure, art, peace.
    • Ch. 19
  • The deliberate aim at Peace very easily passes into its bastard substitute, Anesthesia.
    • Ch. 20
  • The deepest definition of youth is life as yet untouched by tragedy.
    • Ch. 20

Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1953)

Intelligence is quickness to apprehend as distinct from ability, which is capacity to act wisely on the thing apprehended.
Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment in recognition of the pattern.
A philosopher of imposing stature doesn't think in a vacuum. Even his most abstract ideas are, to some extent, conditioned by what is or is not known in the time when he lives.
  • There are no whole truths; all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.
    • Prologue
  • The vitality of thought is in adventure. Ideas won't keep. Something must be done about them. When the idea is new, its custodians have fervor, live for it, and, if need be, die for it.
    • Ch. 12, April 28, 1938
  • Intelligence is quickness to apprehend as distinct from ability, which is capacity to act wisely on the thing apprehended.
    • Ch. 17, December 15, 1939
  • Our minds are finite, and yet even in these circumstances of finitude we are surrounded by possibilities that are infinite, and the purpose of human life is to grasp as much as we can out of the infinitude.
    • Ch. 21, June 28, 1941
  • A culture is in its finest flower before it begins to analyze itself.
    • Ch. 22, August 17, 1941
  • What is morality in any given time or place? It is what the majority then and there happen to like, and immorality is what they dislike.
    • Ch. 22, August 30, 1941
  • The ideas of Freud were popularized by people who only imperfectly understood them, who were incapable of the great effort required to grasp them in their relationship to larger truths, and who therefore assigned to them a prominence out of all proportion to their true importance.
    • Ch. 28, June 3, 1943
  • Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment in recognition of the pattern.
    • Ch. 29, June 10, 1943
  • A philosopher of imposing stature doesn't think in a vacuum. Even his most abstract ideas are, to some extent, conditioned by what is or is not known in the time when he lives.
    • Ch. 29, June 10, 1943
  • With the sense of sight, the idea communicates the emotion, whereas, with sound, the emotion communicates the idea, which is more direct and therefore more powerful.
    • Ch. 29, June 10, 1943
  • Ninety percent of our lives is governed by emotion. Our brains merely register and act upon what is telegraphed to them by our bodily experience. Intellect is to emotion as our clothes are to our bodies; we could not very well have civilized life without clothes, but we would be in a poor way if we had only clothes without bodies.
    • Ch. 29, June 10, 1943
  • No period of history has ever been great or ever can be that does not act on some sort of high, idealistic motives, and idealism in our time has been shoved aside, and we are paying the penalty for it.
    • Ch. 32, January 13, 1944
  • The English never abolish anything. They put it in cold storage.
    • Ch. 36, January 19, 1945
  • Shakespeare wrote better poetry for not knowing too much; Milton, I think, knew too much finally for the good of his poetry.
    • Ch. 43, November 11, 1947


  • The ultimate goal of mathematics is to eliminate any need for intelligent thought.
    • Attributed to Whitehead in A = B (1996), by Marko Petkovšek, Herbert S. Wilf, and Doron Zeilberger, p. 3, but this may have its origins merely in a margin note submitted by a student, quoted in the book Concrete Mathematics : A Foundation for Computer Science‎ (1992) by Ronald L. Graham, Donald Ervin Knuth, and Oren Patashnik, p. 56

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[[file:|thumb|Alfred North Whitehead]] Alfred North Whitehead, OM (February 15 1861December 30 1947) was an English mathematician who became a philosopher. He was born in Ramsgate, Kent, England, and died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. He wrote on algebra, logic, foundations of mathematics, philosophy of science, physics, metaphysics, and education. He is the coauthor, along with Bertrand Russell, of the important Principia Mathematica.


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