Alfred North Whitehead

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Alfred North Whitehead
Born (1861-02-15)15 February 1861
Ramsgate, Kent, England
Died 30 December 1947(1947-12-30) (aged 86)
Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
Era 20th century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Process philosophy
Process theology
Main interests Metaphysics, mathematics
Notable ideas Process philosophy
Process theology

Alfred North Whitehead, OM FRS[1] (15 February 1861 – 30 December 1947) was an English mathematician and philosopher. He wrote on algebra, logic, foundations of mathematics, theology, philosophy of science, physics, metaphysics, and education. Whitehead supervised the doctoral dissertations of Bertrand Russell and Willard Van Orman Quine, thus influencing logic and virtually all of analytic philosophy. He co-authored the epochal Principia Mathematica with Russell and later wrote the metaphysical treatise Process and Reality.


[edit] Life

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 the best public school 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.[2] 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.[3]

In 1910, he resigned his position at Trinity College to protest against the dismissal of a colleague because of an adulterous affair. He also ran foul of a Cambridge byelaw 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.[further explanation needed]

After the war, Russell and Whitehead seldom interacted, and Whitehead did not contribute 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.[4] Later he embraced Theism.[5]

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 theories.

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 continues to be controversial. Even Tanaka, who suggests that G disagrees with experimental findings, admits that his work does not actually refute Whitehead's formulation.[6] A more lasting work was his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge (1919), a pioneering attempt to synthesize 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 was also one 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 opinions about a vast range of human endeavors. 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.[7] Another student influenced by Whitehead was Charles Malik, the drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights's preamble, and later president of the UN General Assembly. Malik wrote his PhD dissertation about Whitehead, in which Malik compared Whitehead's Metaphysics of Time to that of Martin Heidegger.

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.

[edit] Ideas

Whitehead's metaphysical views, which he called process philosophy emerged in The Concept of Nature (1920) and were expanded in Science and the Modern World (1925), also an important study in the history of ideas and the role of science and mathematics in the rise of Western civilization. Indebted 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."[8]

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 set out what was to become known as process philosophy. 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"[9] and as the "constant companion of my poem."[10]

Process and Reality is known for its defense of theism, although Whitehead's God differs essentially from the revealed God of Abrahamic religions. Whitehead's Philosophy of Organism gave rise to process theology, thanks to Charles 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 Eastern philosophical traditions such as Buddhism and Taoism.

The main tenets of Whitehead's metaphysics were summarized in his 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."[11]

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.[12]

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."[13]

[edit] Bibliography

  • 1898. A Treatise on Universal Algebra with Applications. Cambridge Uni. Press. 1960 reprint, Hafner.
  • 1907. The Axioms of Descriptive Geometry. Cambridge Uni. Press.[14]
  • 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.[15][16][17]
  • 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.

[edit] References

  1. ^ Whittaker, E. T. (1948). "Alfred North Whitehead. 1861-1947". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 6 (17): 280–226. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1948.0031.
  2. ^ Venn, J.; Venn, J. A., eds. (1922–1958). "Whitehead, Alfred North". Alumni Cantabrigienses (10 vols) (online ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ On Whitehead the mathematician and logician, see Grattan-Guinness (2000, 2002), and Quine's chapter in Schilpp (1941), reprinted in Quine (1995).
  4. ^<\ref> Although his father was an Anglican vicar and he had been brought up as an Anglican, he began to move towards the Roman Catholic Church (perhaps due to his wife's influence), although in the end he chose neither and embraced Agnosticism around the mid-1890s
  5. ^ His view of God, as the source of the universe, was therefore as growing and changing, just as the entire universe is in constant flow and change
  6. ^ Y. Tanaka: The Comparison between Whitehead's and Einstein's Theories of Relativity (From the viewpoint of empirical tests)
  7. ^ Skinner, B.F. 1957. Verbal Behavior, appendix.
  8. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2006.
  9. ^ Von Hallberg, Robert. Charles Olson: The Scholar's Art. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1978: p. 2.
  10. ^ Polis is this: Charles Olson and the Persistence of Place. Dir. Ferrini, Henry, and Ken Riaf.
  11. ^ Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead, recorded by Lucien Price, p. 13, 2001
  12. ^ Adventures of Ideas p. 105, 1933 edition; p. 83, 1967 ed.
  13. ^ Morris, Randall C., Journal of the History of Ideas 51: 75-92. p. 92.
  14. ^ Owens, F. W. (1909). "Review: The Axioms of Descriptive Geometry by A. N. Whitehead". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 15 (9): 465–466.
  15. ^ Shaw, James Byrnie (1912). "Review: Principia Mathematica by A. N. Whitehead and B. Russell, Vol. I, 1910". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 18 (8): 386–411.
  16. ^ Bernstein, Benjamin Abram (1926). "Review: Principia Mathematica by A. N. Whitehead and B. Russell, Vol. I, 2nd edn., 1925". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 32 (6): 711–713.
  17. ^ Church, Alonzo (1928). "Review: Principia Mathematica by A. N. Whitehead and B. Russell, Volumes II and III, 2nd edn., 1927". Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 34 (2): 237–240.

[edit] Further reading

  • 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"
  • Chul Chun: Kreativität und Relativität der Welt beim frühen Whitehead: Alfred North Whiteheads frühe Naturphilosophie (1915–1922) - eine Rekonstruktion, mit einem Vorwort von Michael Welker, Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag 2010, ISBN 978-3-7887-2352-1
  • Contemporary Whitehead Studies (book series). Rodopi.
  • Durand G., 2007. "Des événements aux objets. La méthode de l'abstraction extensive chez A. N. Whitehead". Ontos Verlag.
  • During, Elie. 2007. "Philosophical twins ? Bergson and Whitehead on Langevin's Paradox and the Meaning of 'Space-Time'" in Durand, G. & Weber, M., eds., Alfred North Whitehead's Principles of Natural Knowledge. Frankfurt & Lancaster: Ontos Verlag.
  • During, Elie. 2008. "Durations and Simultaneities : Temporal Perspectives and Relativistic Time in Whitehead and Bergson" in M. Weber (ed.), Handbook of Whiteheadian Process Thought. Frankfurt & Lancaster: Ontos Verlag.
  • Grattan-Guinness, Ivor, 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.
  • Griffin, David Ray, 2007. "Whitehead's Radically Different Postmodern Philosophy. An Argument for Its Contemporary Relevance", New York: State University of New York Press.
  • Hartshorne, Charles (1972). Whitehead's Philosophy: Selected Essays, 1935-1970. University of Nebraska Press
  • Henning, Brian G. The Ethics of Creativity: Beauty, Morality, and Nature in a Processive Cosmos. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005.
  • Holtz, Harald and Ernest Wolf-Gazo, eds. Whitehead und der Prozeßbegriff / Whitehead and The Idea of Process. Proceedings of The First International Whitehead-Symposion. Verlag Karl Alber, Freiburg i. B. / München 1984. ISBN 3-495-47517-6
  • Johnson, A. H. (Allison Heartz), Ed., (2007) The Wit and Wisdom of Alfred North Whitehead. Kessinger Publishing.
  • 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.
  • Martin, Richard Milton, 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.
  • Pedraja, Luis G., 2011. "Alfred North Whitehead," in Beyond the Pale: Reading Theology from the Margins, Edited by Miguel A. De La Torre and Stacey M. Floyd Thomas. Westminster John-Knox Press. ISBN 978-0664236793
  • Willard Quine, 1941, "Whitehead and the rise of modern logic" in Schilpp (1941). Reprinted in his 1995 Selected Logic Papers. Harvard Univ. Press.
  • Rapp, Friedrich and Reiner Wiehl, eds. Whiteheads Metaphysik der Kreativität. Internationales Whitehead-Symposium Bad Homburg 1983. . Verlag Karl Alber, Freiburg i. B. / München 1986. ISBN 3-495-47612-1
  • Rescher, Nicholas, 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, 2011. Thinking With Whitehead: A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts. translated by Michael Chase, Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
  • Weber, Michel, 2006. Whitehead's Pancreativism—The Basics. Frankfurt: Ontos Verlag.
  • Will, Clifford, 1993. Theory and Experiment in Gravitational Physics. Cambridge University Press.

[edit] External links