Alfred North Whitehead

Alfred North Whitehead

Born: 1861, Died: 1947.


- The basic concrete entities are not enduring subsstances, but events (later: ' actual entities' or 'actual occasions') related by their space-time relations and exemplifying their qualitative and mathematical patterns (later: 'eternal objects').

- Time is differentiated from space by the acts of inheriting patterns from the past (later: 'causal prehensions').

- Enduring perceptual and physical objects, as well as scientific objects and minds, or souls, are repetitions of patterns inherited through a series of events, or occasions.

- Physical causality is the inheritance of patterned energy from the past along the lines of the Minkowski comes constructed for special relativity theory.

- The paradigm for an actual occasion is a complete, momentary human experience, exemplifying causal prehensions in its acts of remembering and sensing, and conceptual prehensions in its acts of exemplifying these above patterns (eternal objects).

- The completeness of an actual entity, like a human experience, lies in the integration (concrescence) of all the various acts of prehending into one act according to some one aim (the subjective aim).

- This concrescence of an actual entity toward some one aim (final causality) is its process of becoming, distinguishable from its acts of inheritance from the past (efficient causality), and which gives rise to the process of temporal transition.

- God, too, is an actual entity, the concrescence of all acts of experiencing (prehending) into one everlasting act of experiencing (God's Consequent Nature), and it is God's conceptual prehensions of eternal objects that serve as lures (providing 'subjective aims' for finite actual occasions) and form the basis of order (God's primordial Nature) in the cosmos.


Alfred North Whitehead was a British-American philosopher, physicist and mathematician who worked in logic, mathematics, philosophy of science and metaphysics. His best known work in mathematics is the Principia Mathematica which he wrote with Bertrand Russell.

Whitehead did most of his work in mathematics while at Cambridge (UK) from 1884 to 1910.

The next phase of his career, at London from 1910 to 1924, dealt with philosophies of science and education. In 1924 he moved to Harvard University for the last phase. While there, Whitehead is perhaps most well known for conceiving process philosophy. He was invited to give the Gifford Lectures for 1927 at the University of Edinburgh, which resulted in the formidable but respected book Process and Reality. Process philosophy was later developed into process theology by theologian/philosophers Charles Hartshorne, John B Cobb, Jr, and David Ray Griffin. Process theology is a way of understanding God and the universe found to be fruitful by some in Christian and Jewish faiths. It has been found compatible by others as well. Whitehead's rejection of mind-body dualism is similar to elements in oriental faith traditions such as Buddhism.

In physics his best known work was a theory of gravity that competed with Einstein's general relativity for many decades. Whitehead's theory received less attention than Einstein's, and was generally discredited by 1972 with a comparison of experimental and predicted variability of the gravitational constant G. See A Comparison with Einstein's Theory, or Clifford Will's book, Theory and Experiment in Gravitational Physics, Cambridge University Press 1993 (ISBN 0521439736 ).

Whitehead's political views were, roughly, 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.

Major Books of Alfred North Whitehead

- A Treatise on Universal Algebra, 1898
- Adventures of Ideas, 1933
- The Aims of Education and Other Essays, 1929
- An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge, 1919
- An Introduction to Mathematics, 1911
- The Axioms of Descriptive Geometry, 1907
- The Axioms of Projective Geometry, 1906
- The Concept of Nature, 1920
- Essays in Science and Philosophy, 1947
- The Function of Reason, 1929
- Modes of Thought, 1938
- Nature and Life, 1934
- Principia Mathematica, Vol. I, Vol. II and Vol. III, with Bertrand Russell, 1910
- The Principle of Relativity with Applications to Physical Science, 1922
- Process and Reality, 1929
- Religion in the Making, 1926
- Science and the Modern World, 1925
- Symbolism, Its Meaning and Effect, 1926
- The Wit and Wisdom of Whitehead, 1926

Major Articles of Alfred North Whitehead

- 1906, On Mathematical Concepts of the Material World, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London
- 1945, The Organization of a Story and a Tale, with William Morgan, Journal of American Folklore

Quotes from Alfred North Whitehead

- "Everywhere order reigns, so that when some circumstances have been noted we can foresee that others will be present. The progress of science consists in observing these interconnections and in showing with a patient ingenuity that the events of this ever-shifting world are but examples of a few general connections or relations called laws. To see what is general in what is particular and what is permanent in what is transitory is the aim of scientific thought." (from "An Introduction to Mathematics", 1911)

- "A clash of doctrines is not a disaster - it is an opportunity." (from "Science and the Modem World", 1925)

- "Evil is the brute motive force of fragmentary purpose, disregarding the eternal vision." (from "Science and the Modem World", 1925)

- "Faith in reason is the trust that the ultimate natures of things lie together in a harmony which excludes mere arbitraries. ... To experience this faith is to know that in being ourselves we are more than ourselves: to know that our experience, dim and fragmentary as it is, yet sounds the utmost depths of reality: to know that detached details merely in order to be themselves demand that they should find themselves in a system of things." (from "Science and the Modem World", 1925)

- "Great art is more than a transient refreshment. It is something which adds to the permanent richness of the soul's self-attainment. It justifies itself both by its immediate enjoyment, and also by its discipline of the inmost being. Its discipline is not distinct from enjoyment but by reason of it. It transforms the soul into the permanent realization of values extending beyond its former self." (from "Science and the Modem World", 1925)

- "In formal logic, a contradiction is the signal of a defeat: but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress towards a victory. This is one great reason for the utmost toleration of variety of opinion. Once and forever, this duty of toleration has been summed up in the words, "let both grow together until the harvest."" (from "Science and the Modem World", 1925)

- "It belongs to the self-respect of intellectua to pursue every tangle of thought to its final unravelment." (from "Science and the Modem World", 1925)

- "[Religion] is the one element in human experience which persistently shows an upward trend. It fades and then recurs. But when it renews its force, it recurs with an added richness and purity of content. The fact of 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." (from "Science and the Modem World", 1925)

- "The science of pure mathematics, in its modern developments, may claim to be the most original creation of the human spirit." (from "Science and the Modem World", 1925)

- "Seek simplicity and distrust it." (from "The Concenpt of Nature", 1926)

- "The kingdom of heaven is not the isolation of good from evil. It is the overcoming of evil by good." (from "Religion in the Making", 1926)

- "Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness. It runs through three stages, if it evolves to its final satisfaction. It is the transition from God the void to God the enemy, and from God the enemy to God the companion." (from "Religion in the Making", 1926)

- "It is necessary in life to have acquired the habit of cheerfully undertaking imposed tasks. The conditions can be satisfied if the tasks correspond to the natural cravings of the pupil at his stage of progress, if they keep his powers at full stretch, and if they attain an obviously sensible result, and if reasonable freedom is allowed in the mode of execution." (from "The Aims of Education and Other Essays", 1929)

- "Education is the acquisition of the art of the utilization of knowledge." (from "The Aims of Education and Other Essays", 1929)

- "Education is the guidance of the individual towards a comprehension of the art of life; and by the art of life I mean the most complete achievement of varied activity expressing the potentialities of that living creature in the face of its actual environment." (from "The Aims of Education and Other Essays", 1929)

- "The function of a University is to enable you to shed details in favor of principles." (from "The Aims of Education and Other Essays", 1929)

- "Imagination is not to be divorces from the facts: it is a way of illuminating the facts." (from "The Aims of Education and Other Essays", 1929)

- "In a sense, knowledge shrinks as wisdom grows: for details are swallowed up in principles. ... The habit of the active utilization of well-understood principles is the final possession of wisdom." (from "The Aims of Education and Other Essays", 1929)

- "The literary side of a technical education should consist in an effort to make the pupils enjoy litarature. It does not matter what they know, but the enjoyment is vital. The great English Universities, under whose direct authority school children are examined in plays of Shakespeare, to the certain destruction of their enjoyment, should be prosecuted for soul murder." (from "The Aims of Education and Other Essays", 1929)

- "The secret of success [in education] is pace, and the secret of pace is concentration. But, in respect to precise knowledge, the watchword is pace, pace, pace. Get your knowledge quickly, and then use it. If you can use it, you will retain it." (from "The Aims of Education and Other Essays", 1929)

- "The tragedy of the world is that those who are imaginative have but slight experience, and those who are experienced have feeble imaginations. Fools act on imagination without knowledge; pedants act on knowledge without imagination. The task of a university is to weld together imagination and experience." (from "The Aims of Education and Other Essays", 1929)

- "You cannot be wise without some basis of knowledge, but you may easily acquire knowledge and remain bare of wisdom." (from "The Aims of Education and Other Essays", 1929)

- "We should seek to arrange the development of character along a path of natural activity, in itself pleasurable." (from "The Aims of Education and Other Essays", 1929)

- "The concept of "God" is the way in which we understand this incredible fact - that what cannot be, yet is." (from "Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology", 1929)

- "How shallow, puny, and imperfect are efforts to sound the depths in the nature of things. In philosophical discussion, the merest hint of dogmatic certainty as to finality to statement is an exhibition of folly." (from "Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology", 1929)

- "Philosophy is the endeavor to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of genral ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted." (from "Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology", 1929)

- "The safest general characterization of European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato." (from "Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology", 1929)

- "A rule of men over women remained and established feature of highly civilized societies. It survived as a hangover from barbarism." (from "Adventures of Ideas", 1933)

- "As society is now constituted, a literal adherence to the moral precepts scattered throughout the Gospels would mean sudden death." (from "Adventures of Ideas", 1933)

- "Creeds are at once the outcome of speculation and efforts to curb speculation." (from "Adventures of Ideas", 1933)

- "The folly of intelligent people, clear-headed and narrow-visioned, has precipitated many catastrophes." (from "Adventures of Ideas", 1933)

- "The keynote of idolatry is contentment with the prevalent gods." (from "Adventures of Ideas", 1933)

- ""Quality" is best measured by those who "use" a product rather than by those who make it.
Apart from some transcendent aim the civilized life either wallows in pleasure or relapses slowly into a barren repetitin with waning intensities of feeling." (from "Adventures of Ideas", 1933)

- "The recourse of to force, however unavoidable, is a disclousure of the failure of civilization." (from "Adventures of Ideas", 1933)

- "Wherever there is a creed, there is a heretic round the corner or in his grave." (from "Adventures of Ideas", 1933)

- "Human nature loses its most precious quality when it is robbed its sense of things beyond, unexplored and yet insistent." (from "Harvard: The Future" published in Atlantic, 1936)

- "Dogmatism is the anti-Christ of learning." (from "Modes of Thought", 1938)

- "The future is big with every possibility of achievement and of tragedy." (from "Modes of Thought", 1938)

- "The great thinkers from whom we derive inspiration enjoyed insights beyond their own systems. They made statements hard to reconcile with the neat little ways of thought which we pin on to their name." (from "Modes of Thought", 1938)

- "Philosophy begins in wonder. And, at the end, when philosophic thougght has done its best, the wonder remains." (from "Modes of Thought", 1938)

- "There is a unity of the body with the einvironment, as well as a unity of the body and soul into one person." (from "Modes of Thought", 1938)

- "Nothing is more curious than the self-satisfied dogmatism with which mankind at each period of its history cherishes the delusion of the finality of its existing modes of knowledge." (from "The Philosophy of John Dewey", 1939)

- "[Apart from God] every activity is merely a passing whiff of significance." (from "The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead", 1941)

- "The thorough skeptic is a dogmatist. He enjoys the delusion of complete futility." (from "The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead", 1941)

- "A philosopher of imposing statute doesn't think in a vacuum. Even his most abstract ideas are, to some extent, conditioned by what is or what is not known in the time when he lives." (from "Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead")

- "The events which we see, and whch look like freaks of chance, are only the last steps in long lines of causation." (from "Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead")

- "Ideas won't keep. Something must be done about them." (from "Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead")

- "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." (from "Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead")

- "Lucien Price: Were you ever thrashed by your parents when you were a child?
Whitehead: No. When I needed to be punished, they would give me a dose of medicine and tell me they were sorry I wasn't feeling well." (from "Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead")

- "Machiavelli wrote rules for a short-term success." (from "Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead")

- "[Man's] true destiny as co-creator in the universe is his dignity and his grandeur." (from "Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead")

- "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." (from "Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead")

- "People make the mistake of talking about "natural laws." There are no natural laws. There are only temporary habits of nature." (from "Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead")

- "Periods of tranquility are seldom prolific of creative achievement. Mankind has to be stirred up." (from "Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead")

- "The task of democracy is to relieve mass misery and yet preserve the freedom of the individual." (from "Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead")

- "The things we, as human beings, do not have in common are as nothing to the things that we do have in common." (from "Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead")

- "What plays the devil in human affairs is mistaking a halftruth for a whole truth." (from "Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead")

- "When great departures come in the lives of peoples, they are generally the result of two or more causes coming together; but although one man cannot initiate such great changes, once these changes are in motion, one man may be able to give them their direction, this way or that." (from "Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead")

- "When I read history, I want to know where I am. The date should be at the top of each page." (from "Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead")

- "A science which hesitates to forget its founders is lost."

- "The "silly" question is the first intimation of some totally new development."


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