Whitehead, Alfred North (1861–1947)

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Alfred North Whitehead, the philosopher and mathematician, made one of the outstanding attempts in his generation to produce a comprehensive metaphysical system that would take account of scientific cosmology.

Whitehead was born at Ramsgate on the Isle of Thanet and wrote of his boyhood in a country vicarage on the East Kent coast in the "Autobiographical Notes" (The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, pp. 314) and, more vividly, in some of the essays in Essays in Science and Philosophy (pp. 352). The religious (Anglican) background of his home and the experience of companionship with strong characters in a close-knit community made impressions that left their mark on his later philosophy. With these went a Wordsworthian sense of man's continuity with nature. In his education at Sherborne, an ancient public school in Dorset, he was taught the classics and history, less in a detached spirit of scholarship than as exercises in the study of what Michael Oakeshott has called "the practical past"a living tradition illustrating general ideas and pointing to analogies in contemporary life. This approach to history remained with him and is apparent in his philosophical books, especially Science and the Modern World and Adventures of Ideas. It is a use of history in the spirit of what Edmund Burke called "philosophic analogy."

Whitehead also learned a good deal of mathematics at Sherborne, and in 1880 he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, with a scholarship in mathematics. In 1884 he was elected to a fellowship at Trinity. Bertrand Russell was his most distinguished pupil, and from 1900 to 1911 they collaborated on the Principia Mathematica, which attempted to prove that mathematics could be deduced from premises of formal logic. In his obituary note on Whitehead, Russell wrote that although one or the other would take primary responsibility for writing some parts, every part was always discussed by both of them, the whole work being a complete collaboration. W. V. Quine, in his essay "Whitehead and the Rise of Modern Logic," called Principia Mathematica "one of the great intellectual monuments of all time." (The fourth volume, which Whitehead was to have written on the logical foundations of geometry, never appeared.)

Whitehead resigned his lectureship from Cambridge in 1910 and moved to London. He taught at the University of London until 1914, when he became professor of applied mathematics at the Imperial College of Science and Technology. During this period Whitehead did his most intensive work in the philosophy of science.

In 1924, Whitehead accepted an invitation to a chair in philosophy at Harvard University. He was then sixty-three; the transfer gave him the opportunity to develop his philosophy of science into a full-scale metaphysical philosophy.

Whitehead's work is commonly described as falling into the three periods indicated above: the early years in Cambridge up to 1910, when he was collaborating with Russell on the logical foundations of mathematics; the middle years in London up to 1924, when he was writing on the philosophy of science; and the last years in America, when he wrote first and foremost as a metaphysician. This division can, however, be overstressed. The philosophical interests explicit in his later work can be found implicitly in the earlier work, and some of the general assumptions of Whitehead's logical and mathematical work influence the later philosophy. Rather than as a succession of interests, his thought can best be interpreted as a developing unity. This is the approach of Victor Lowe in the essay "The Development of Whitehead's Philosophy" and in his book Understanding Whitehead. Wolfe Mays has remarked that the progression of Whitehead's thought can be looked on as a spiral, returning to certain general notions from different standpoints, rather than as a succession of stages.

Logical Foundations of Mathematics

Whitehead and Russell had been working independently on the logic of mathematics. Russell had become acquainted with the work of Giuseppe Peano in 1900 (Gottlob Frege's work came to their attention shortly after) and was working on Principles of Mathematics (Cambridge, U.K., 1903). Since 1891, Whitehead had been working on A Treatise on Universal Algebra, for which he was made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1903. In the Treatise he developed some ideas of Hermann Grassmann's Ausdehnungslehre (theory of extension) of 1844 and 1862, attempting to give a general formal description of addition and multiplication that would hold for all algebras. The Treatise was little noticed at the time; it is discussed by Quine in the essay "Whitehead and the Rise of Modern Logic."

In 1906 the Royal Society published Whitehead's memoir On Mathematical Concepts of the Material World, in which he put forth an interpretation of concepts formalized in a logico-mathematical scheme as basic notions describing the material world. Whitehead sought to define the concepts of a geometry from which, as a formal system, the theorems of Euclidean geometry can be derived and which can be interpreted by notions of space, time, and matter. At this early stage he was already dissatisfied with the Newtonian scheme of the material world as composed of atoms each occupying a position in absolute space at an absolute time. In On Mathematical Concepts of the Material World the ultimate entities that compose the universe are said to be lines of force. A particle is the field of a line of force at a point; particles are thus defined as elements in a field, and a point as not just having simple location in space but as an element in a linear polyadic relation R, so that R (a, b, c ) means the points a, b, c are in linear order. This makes the notion of both a point and a particle a vector and not a scalar one.

Whitehead had been impressed as an undergraduate by J. J. Thomson's lecture "The Poynting Flux of Energy in Electrodynamics," describing the transmission of energy with quantitative flow and definite direction (see Adventures of Ideas, p. 238); in The Philosophy of Whitehead (pp. 235260) Mays comments on the significance of this notion of the flux of energy for Whitehead's later work, leading to a view of nature as routes of events or occasions inheriting from each other. Lowe says that the developments in physics that interested Whitehead when he wrote the memoir were vector physics, the theories of molecular and submolecular energetic vibration, and the rise of "field" as a basic concept. The influence of all these ideas, generalized in different terminologies, can be seen throughout his work.

Philosophy of Science

The twofold interest in logico-deductive schemes and in empirical interpretations can also be traced throughout Whitehead's work. Indeed, he saw the connection between such schemes and the vague world of our experience as the central problem of philosophy. He sought the connection by describing a logical scheme as a systematic and generalized formulation of relationships crudely observable in experience.

The next link in this line of thought is the development of his method of extensive abstraction. There is an exposition of this in "The Anatomy of Some Scientific Ideas" (The Organization of Thought, Ch. 7); it is also discussed in An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge (Part III). The method of extensive abstraction is a topological device by which such geometrical elements as points are defined, through concepts of "whole and part" and "overlapping," as relations between volumes of a certain shape extending over others of like shapefor example, rectangles, circles, or ellipsesso that a pattern like a nest of Chinese boxes is produced:

A "point" is not an ideal entity at the center or even an ideal limit of this route of approximation. It is defined as the whole convergent set. Similarly, a straight line can be defined as the direction of a route of overlapping ellipses or oblong rectangles, for example:

Whitehead looks on this type of definition as having an analogy in a perceived relation. No one can perceive Euclidean points with position and no magnitude or lines with length and no breadth, but volumes extending over other volumes can be perceived. The relations of "extending over" as formulated in the method of extensive abstraction are topological constructs, making precise relations that are also perceptible. This attempt to combine a view of logical schemes as reached from perceived relations with a view of them as theoretical constructs for which interpretations may be sought in experience underlies much of Whitehead's work.

objects and events

A combination of theoretical construction and alleged derivation from experience also appears in Whitehead's analysis of nature in terms of "events" and "objects" given in the books of his middle period, The Principles of Natural Knowledge and The Concept of Nature. He claimed continually that the starting point is empirical. Just as in his earlier On Mathematical Concepts of the Material World he had attacked the notion of atoms externally related to one another in absolute space and time, so in his later analysis of nature (which he defined as "disclosed in sense experience"), he attacked the ultimacy of the Humean analysis of our experience into distinct impressions of sensation, such as visual sensations of colored patches. He believed that our more deep-seated experience was of something going on with spatiotemporal spread. This "passage" of nature could be divided into "events," so that its constituents are thought of not as enduring atoms but as happenings that can be described as events extending over other events. The writing of this article is a slice of the passage of nature, an event extending over the writing of this sentence, which is an event extending over the writing of this word. Thus, we converge by a route of approximation to what is happening here and now (again, an application of the basic notion of a pattern of volumes and durations extending over one another).

Events display recurrent patterns, the forms and properties of which Whitehead called "objects" and, in the later books, "eternal objects." This is his version of the problem of universals as abstract forms of recurrent recognizable characteristics in the passage of nature. The phrase "eternal objects," along with the interest in Plato shown in his later work, particularly in Process and Reality, might suggest that Whitehead took a Platonic realist view of a realm of such abstract entities. This is not so; his view was nearer to the Aristotelian one of universalia in rebus or, in his own phrase, "seeking the forms in the facts." His "objects" are "ingredients" in the process of events; they are "pure potentials" actualizable in an indefinite number of instances. At the same time he was no nominalist; the objects are more than names for observed resemblances. They are properties and relations that are exemplified in recurrences in patterns that can be precisely formulated.

Different types of objects can be distinguished. First, there is a "sense object"; for example, a color like Cambridge blue is perceived as situated in an event. A sense object requires a relation between a "percipient event," the "situation" to which it is referred, and active and passive conditioning events relating the percipient event to the situation. Second, there is the "perceptual object," a determinate association of sense objects in a series of situations strung together in a continuity and perceived as one prolonged eventfor instance, that red and black coat. Perceptual objects can be delusive, as in reflections in mirrors or diffractions in water. Third, "physical objects" are those objects whose relations to events condition the appearance of the perceptual objects, as, for instance, the straight stick that appears bent in water. Fourth, "scientific objects" are inferred, nonperceived objects, such as "electrons," that account for the general properties and relations within events that constitute the situations in which physical objects are ingredients. At the stage of science in which Whitehead was writing he instanced electrons as the ultimate scientific objects. He would no doubt have welcomed the further refinements that have occurred since in discoveries of fundamental particles.

Whitehead would also have seen these developments as supporting his distinction between "uniform" and "nonuniform" objects. A uniform object is located in an event throughout a duration and also characterizes any slice of that duration. Perceptual objects are normally uniform; a bar of iron as perceived in any duration however small is still a bar of iron. A nonuniform object needs a minimum time span in order to be expressed at all; he thought a molecule, for instance, cannot exist in a lesser time than that required by the periodicity of its atomic constituents. Whitehead was impressed by the possibility suggested by the physics of his time that the ultimate scientific objects might be nonuniform rather than uniform. The development of quantum theory reinforced this idea. The notion of atomic events, or "occasions," displaying nonuniform objects and forming continuities through their overlapping so that they produce physical and perceptual objects, becomes a crucial one in Whitehead's later work. The distinctions and relations between different levels of objects are discussed in The Principles of Natural Knowledge (Ch. 7) and, more briefly, in the papers "Time, Space and Material" and "Uniformity and Contingency."

relativity principle

Objects situated in events form patterns among themselves that are constituents in wider patterns, finally dependent on a uniform pervasive pattern that expresses the uniformity of nature as an ongoing passage of related events with spatiotemporal spread. The attempt to unify notions of space, time, and matter, along with his attempt, stemming from On Mathematical Concepts of the Material World, to relate these to a set of formal notions underlying a geometry, led Whitehead to have a particular interest in Albert Einstein's general and special theories of relativity. Whitehead published his own alternative in The Principle of Relativity (1922). He refused to give a crucial role to special facts, notably the velocity of light, and, unlike Einstein, insisted that space must be "homaloidal" (that is, of uniform spread). His reason for this seems to follow from his view of abstraction, which led him to think that a logico-mathematical scheme of notions must be precisely realized in the physical world. Whitehead also believed that the possibility of measurement depended on exact congruence between one region of space and another, independently of physical bodies. Thus, though there are analogies in their conception of relativity, Whitehead's view depends on there being a noncontingent uniformity in spatial relations and is less open to experimental applications.

Whitehead's theory is set forth in his book The Principle of Relativity and in his article "Einstein's Theory: An Alternative Suggestion," contributed to The Times in 1920 and reprinted in The Interpretation of Science. Whitehead's views on relativity have not, however, been taken up by physicists.


Science and the Modern World (given as Lowell Lectures at Harvard in 1925) is perhaps the most inspired expression of Whitehead's metaphysical philosophy. It is a book in which lucid and illuminating reflections on the history of science in relation to philosophy are interspersed with technically difficult passages; the book might have been written, as one reviewer remarked, by Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But the technical passages are less overlaid with idiosyncratic terminology and a labored attempt at producing a system than is Process and Reality (1929). Those who find Process and Reality excessively forbidding can gain a very fair impression of the best of the later Whitehead by going from Science and the Modern World to his last books, Adventures of Ideas and Modes of Thought.

In Modes of Thought the analysis of nature into events and objects becomes an analysis of nature into "actual occasions," understood as unities that synthesize their relations to other occasions in their own "processes of becoming." Such a unity is called a "concrescence of prehensions," from concrescere, "to grow together," the end product being something concretum, "concrete," and from prehendere "to grasp," suggesting an active relationship but not necessarily a conscious awareness (as is suggested by the word apprehension ).

Instead of events extending over other events Whitehead now spoke of "societies" (also called nexūs, the plural of the Latin nexus ) of actual occasions, which can be structured by subsocieties and which can inherit characteristics from one another in serial order, in which case they are called "enduring objects." "The real actual things that endure [such as stones or animal organisms] are all societies. They are not actual occasions" (Adventures of Ideas, p. 262).

This general view of larger units in nature as systems of smaller units with their own inner structure is called "the philosophy of organism." The notion of organism had already been defined in The Principles of Natural Knowledge (p. 3) as "the concept of unities functioning and with spatio-temporal extensions," a notion that it is said cannot be expressed in terms of a material distribution at an instant. (The definition of nonuniform objects as needing a time span for their expression may be recalled.) It is suggested that the notion of organism, thus interpreted, could be a unifying one between the physical and biological sciences, physics becoming the study of the smaller and biology of the larger organisms.


In the earlier books Whitehead had attacked the "bifurcation of nature" as the kind of view of appearance and reality that assigns secondary qualities such as colors to subjective experience and primary qualities to the physical sphere. Instead of this division he wrote about perception as nature ordered in a perspective from the standpoint of an event within nature itself called the percipient event, all perceived qualities being qualities of nature in that perspective.

In Science and the Modern World and in Symbolism (1927) the view of perception is developed in terms of what it is to be a percipient event. We start from the notion of an actual occasion as a "prehending" entity in active interaction with its whole environment. The primitive mode of perception is not, Whitehead insisted, an apprehension of clear-cut sense data or Humean "impressions of sensation." Rather, it is a vaguer sense of environing realities pressing in upon us. Whitehead called this "perception in the mode of causal efficacy" and thought that it is mediated primarily through kinesthetic organic sensation. "Philosophers," he said, "have disdained the information about the universe obtained through their visceral feelings, and have concentrated on visual feelings" (Process and Reality, p. 169 [184]; references to Process and Reality give the page of the Cambridge edition, 1929, followed by the page of the New York edition, 1929). This is a causal, not a phenomenalist, view of perception, in which the functioning of the physiological organism (disregarded by David Hume) is crucial. Environing events are mediated through the organism, becoming finally transmuted into conscious sensations, which are then projected as sensa qualifying regions of the contemporary world (this is called "symbolic reference" and "perception in the mode of presentational immediacy"). Since there is a time lag between the transmission of influences from the environment and the projection of sensa onto the contemporary world (events that are strictly contemporaneous must in Whitehead's view be causally independent), there is always a chance that perception in the mode of presentational immediacy will not give veridical information about the state of the environment, as when we perceive a yellow patch in the sky that we take to be a star, though the star has long since gone out of existence.

In "the mode of causal efficacy" the qualities of environing events are mediated through organic experiences of the percipient's body. The most difficult aspect in Whitehead's theory is the transmutation of an emotional organic experience into a sensum. He found a link in our use of color words such as red and green to describe certain affective states.

This notion of the sensa as qualifications of affective tone is a paradox for philosophy, though it is fairly obvious to common sense. A red-irritation is prevalent among nerve-racked people and among bulls. The affective tone of perception in a green woodland in spring can only be defined by the delicate shades of the green. (Adventures of Ideas, p. 315)

But can an irritation be "red" except by metaphor (waiving the question of whether bulls do have color vision), and does Andrew Marvell's "green thought in a green shade" mean that "green" characterizes the thought or, rather, that there is an overwhelming awareness of green in the environment?

process and reality

Whitehead's comprehensive metaphysical philosophy was presented in "An Essay on Cosmology," in Process and Reality, based on the Gifford Lectures given at the University of Edinburgh during the 19271928 session. Whitehead distinguished cosmology from metaphysics (which he held dealt with the formal character of all facts), maintaining that cosmology described the general characteristics of our "cosmic epoch." That is, it took account of the empirical character of a particular type of world orderin the case of our world order, one characterized by electromagnetic events, dimensions, shapes, and measurability. Laws of nature, Whitehead held, were not part of the ultimate metaphysics of the universe; they could change their character with the rise and fall of different cosmic epochs dominated by different kinds of facts.

Process and Reality is a very difficult book, partly because of its vocabulary and not least when words of ordinary speech, such as feelings, are used with special meaning. Its manner of presentation is also difficult; the reader is confronted in the second chapter with the "categoreal [sic ] scheme," comprising a category of the ultimate, 8 categories of existence, and 27 categories of explanation. He may find it advisable to read on and turn back to the scheme in the hope that what is there set out in summary form may become clearer in the light of the further discussions.

Lowe, in Understanding Whitehead, gives what is probably the most balanced presentation of Whitehead's work as a whole. Some of its notions are interpreted by analogy with more traditional metaphysical ones in Ivor Leclerc's Whitehead's Metaphysics, where comparison starts from the Aristotelian discussion of what it is to be a complete fact. Some aspects of the notions of "actual entities," "eternal objects," and their relations are considered in detail by William A. Christian in An Interpretation of Whitehead's Metaphysics ; he has a particular interest in Whitehead's doctrine of God and its resemblance to and difference from more traditional views. The main drawback of these otherwise able books is that they seek to elucidate Whitehead's system in its own terms. It is likely that the contribution of Process and Reality can be estimated only if philosophers working independently of direct exegesis find that some of its ideas can be developed, perhaps in different terminology, and put to use in particular philosophical problems. It is likely, too, that these will be ways of thinking that take more account of the philosophy of science and vary more from the main tradition of European metaphysics than do these authors. It is a merit in Mays's book The Philosophy of Whitehead that it points out that behind Process and Reality lies the influence of Whitehead's early interest in axiomatic systems, as well as in electromagnetic field theories, especially the notion of the flow of energy. The book, however, criticizes Whitehead's realist metaphysical cosmology from the standpoint of a different philosophy of science.

It would be impossible to epitomize Process and Reality even in a longer treatment than can be given here. Attention can, however, be called to certain features. There is continuity with lines of thought in the earlier books, but the language becomes more naturally applicable to sentient experience. This is partly due to Whitehead's reading of Henri Bergson, F. H. Bradley, and William James, all of whom influenced him in shaping his own particular form of organic pluralism. It is also, however, due to a deliberate onslaught on the notion of "vacuous actuality," existence entirely devoid of subjective experience. Thus, Whitehead's "actual entities," while still linear events, are presented as processes of self-formation with "subjective aim." Actual entities are "epochal" happenings that take a minimal time span to become and which then perish; they are succeeded by others that conform to them and thus secure the continuity which Whitehead held was necessary if we are to have recognition of enduring objects and the expectation of continuing regularities which he believed to be necessary if induction is to be justified. The overlapping of events by other events in a field becomes the "objectification" of an actual entity in other actual entities, whereby the "feelings" and qualities of one entity are transmitted to others.

The notion of objectification is one of the most difficult of all Whitehead's views, and it is doubtful whether any satisfactory elucidation of it has yet been made. He envisaged objectification as more than a response to a stimulus and more than a causal interaction; in some sense it is a genuine reenactment of the feelings of one actual entity in another, and he maintained that we can experience this transition of feeling. The use of the term feeling presents great difficulty. Whitehead used it as a technical term for "the basic generic operation of passing from the objectivity of the data to the subjectivity of the actual entity in question" (Process and Reality, p. 55 [65]). This is to maintain that every entity, however lowly, appropriates its responses to the rest of its world in some form of sentient experience, but this does not necessarily involve consciousness. Consciousness he saw as a rare kind of sentience arising within experience; experience does not, as idealists have held, arise within consciousness.

The difficulties in this theory stem partly from Whitehead's insistence that there should not be basically different kinds of entities in the worldorganic and inorganic, for instance, or minds and bodies. All entities should display the same general character. He then took certain psychological notions and generalized them (by claiming that consciousness is incidental, not essential) to cover biological and even physical processes.

I find myself as essentially a unity of emotions, enjoyments, hopes, fears, regrets, valuations of alternatives, decisionsall of them subjective reactions to the environment as active in my nature. My unitywhich is Descartes' "I am "is my process of shaping this welter of material into a consistent pattern of feelings. The individual enjoyment is what I am in my role of a natural activity, as I shape the activities of the environment into a new creation, which is myself at this moment; and yet, as being myself, it is a continuation of the antecedent world. (Modes of Thought, p. 228)

As a description of the kind of concrescence of prehensions I find myself to be, this is persuasive. Extended downward to describe the inner life of molecules, it strains the imagination. The possibility of making this generalization depends, Whitehead said, on our holding that "the energetic activity considered in physics is the emotional intensity entertained in life" (ibid., p. 232). Thus, Whitehead did not concern himself with the issue of freedom versus determinism as a special problem in human action. Insofar as actual entities conform to their environment and immediate past, there is determinism; insofar as any entity modifies its response through its unique subjective element of feeling, there is freedom. So freedom is a "clutch at novelty" that can appear at any point in nature.

Is it, in fact, possible to make the same general categories cover every kind of existent? Whitehead rejected "emergence" views, according to which different levels of existents may display special irreducible properties. (This view also has its difficulties.) Moreover, when Whitehead made the same "categoreal" characteristics apply to all actualities, it is possible that some of the notions he thus generalized may be of a more abstract type than others with which he connected them; one may suspect, for example, that this is so in the case of energy and emotion. Also, he held that all forms of experiencephysiological and psychological and the distinctive kinds of the latter, such as moral, aesthetic, and religiousmust be particular exemplifications of the same basic principles. It is by no means evident that a coherent theory of experience must imply this; there may be reasons why the principles of aesthetics, for example, might differ from those of morality or religion.

Natural Theology

Whitehead's interest in religion runs throughout his philosophy and is by no means confined to its later phase, though it is there that he sought to express it in a natural theology. He saw religion as sustaining a sense of the importance of an individual's experience within the social relationships and experience of his life. Beyond this broadly sociological interest, he held that religion was also concerned with permanence amid change. He connected the idea of permanence with the conception of a general ordering of the process of the world that could provide the ground first of "extensive connection," then of all more specific orderings. The ordering of the world, called "the primordial nature of God," has been compared by Mays to a sort of cosmic propositional function, a "form of definiteness" that can then be instantiated by "values," which are actual processes of events. But though Whitehead did indeed speak of the primordial nature of God as a "conceptual prehension" and, as such, "deficient in actuality," the interpretation of it as simply a formal schema omits the point that to Whitehead the notion of "conceptual prehension" includes "appetition," an urge toward the realization of the forms (or eternal objects) so prehended. This drive to realization is said to supply all particular actual entities with their "subjective forms," and God is thus represented as "the principle of concretion" whereby actual processes take their rise. God does not create other actual entities; he provides them with an initial impetus to self-creation. Each actual entity, including God, is a particular outcome of "creativity," which is said to stand for the continual process by which the many elements in the world are synthesized into new unities, each being called a "concrescence," described as a "production of novel togetherness." It is the creative advance into novelty of a pluralistic process. In response to the processes of becoming of the other actual entities of the world, God acquires a "consequent nature," in which they are "objectified" (again this difficult notion of reenactment) in his own self-formation, which appears to be coterminous with the process of nature.

The difficulties in Whitehead's natural theology are great, not least because he used traditional religious language in ways that may suggest misleading analogies. The most perceptive development of his natural theology is that of Charles Hartshorne, especially in Philosophers Speak of God (with William L. Reese, Chicago, 1953) and The Logic of Perfection (La Salle, IL, 1962). Hartshorne states, however, that his own views in natural theology were taking shape before he came in contact with Whitehead's work, which acted as a reinforcement.

Whitehead's Influence

It was suggested above that Whitehead's contribution may best appear if other philosophers find seminal ideas in it that they can develop independently. Hartshorne's work in natural theology may be one example; others would be work on concepts on the border between the physical and biological sciences, such as W. E. Agar's A Contribution to the Theory of the Living Organism (Melbourne, 1943), J. H. Woodger's Biological Principles (London, 1929), and R. S. Lillie's General Biology and Philosophy of Organism (Chicago, 1945). Some sociologists have also found support in Whitehead for views of societies as ongoing processes composed of subsocieties with ramified interrelations. H. H. Price has shown interest in the phenomenology of organic rather than visual sensations (see his paper "Touch and Organic Sensation," PAS 44 [19431944]: 130, especially his treatment of what he calls "bilateral dynamic transactions"). The main influence on contemporary philosophy is no doubt the pioneering logical work of Principia Mathematica.

Whitehead received the rare distinction of being awarded the Order of Merit. He had a gift for writing that showed itself at its best in the striking phrase and the vivid metaphor or analogy (some of these have been collected by A. H. Johnson in The Wit and Wisdom of Alfred North Whitehead, Boston, 1947). His style is less happy when this very gift of fine writing tempted him to be vaguely grandiose. Hence, rigorous critical interpretation is needed, which is more likely to be rewarding insofar as it leads to more than pure commentary.

See also Logic, History of.


works by whitehead

A bibliography of Whitehead's works up to 1941, including articles in journals and references to selected reviews of books, was compiled by Victor Lowe and R. C. Baldwin and is in The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, edited by Paul A. Schilpp (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1941, 2nd ed., New York: Tudor, 1951). George L. Kline lists Whitehead's works that have been translated into other languages in Process and Divinity; Philosophical Essays Presented to Charles Hartshorne, edited by William L. Reese and Eugene Freeman (La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1964), pp. 235268. A number of essays in this book deal with aspects of Whitehead's work.

Lucien Price's Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (London, 1961) contains transcripts from memory of some of Whitehead's conversations in his last years. However, the dialogues show the side of Whitehead that came out in conversation with a classical humanist and give little impression of him as a philosopher of science.

Only principal logical and philosophical books and articles are listed below.

A Treatise on Universal Algebra. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1898.

On Mathematical Concepts of the Material World. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series A (1906). Reprinted in Alfred North Whitehead: An Anthology, edited by F. S. C. Northrop and Mason W. Gross. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1953, pp. 1182. This book also has extracts from Whitehead's main works and a note on terminology by Gross.

Principia Mathematica, 3 vols. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 19101913. Written with Bertrand Russell.

An Introduction to Mathematics. London: Williams and Norgate, 1911.

The Organization of Thought. London: Williams and Norgate, 1917. This work, with others presented to the Aristotelian Society between 1916 and 1923, has been reprinted in The Interpretation of Science, edited by A. H. Johnson. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1961. The chief essays are "Space, Time and Relativity" (1915), "Time. Space and Material" (1919), and "Uniformity and Contingency" (1922); the book also contains other occasional papers on the philosophy of science and some occasional addresses given in Whitehead's last years.

An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1919.

The Concept of Nature. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1920.

The Principle of Relativity. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1922.

Science and the Modern World. New York: Macmillan, 1925.

Religion in the Making. New York: Macmillan, and Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1926.

Symbolism, Its Meaning and Effect. New York; Macmillan, 1927: Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1928.

Process and Reality. New York: Macmillan, and Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1929. Two separate editions.

The Function of Reason. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1929.

The Aims of Education and Other Essays. New York: Macmillan, and London: Williams and Norgate, 1929. This includes shorter versions of The Organization of Thought and "Space, Time and Relativity," as well as "The Anatomy of Some Scientific Ideas."

Adventures of Ideas. New York: Macmillan, and Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1933.

Nature and Life. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, and Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1934. The best general presentation of Whitehead's dissatisfaction with the Newtonian scheme of the material world.

Modes of Thought. New York: Macmillan, and Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1938.

Essays in Science and Philosophy. New York: Philosophical Library, 1947.

"Immortality" and "Mathematics and the Good," in Schilpp, op. cit. Whitehead's last two lectures.

works on whitehead

Haack, S. "Descriptive and Revisionary Metaphysics." Philosophical Studies 35 (1979): 361371.

Hartshorne, Charles. Whitehead's Philosophy: Selected Essays, 19351970. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1972.

Leclerc, I., ed. The Relevence of Whitehead. New York: Humanities Press, 1961.

Leclerc, I. Whitehead's Metaphysics: An Introductory Exposition. 2nd ed. London: Allen & Unwin, 1965.

Lowe, V. Alfred North Whitehead: The Man and His Work. 2 vols. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985, 1990.

Lowe, V. Understanding Whitehead. 2nd ed. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1966.

Nobo, J. L. Whitehead's Metaphysics of Extension and Solidarity. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986.

Palter, R. M. Whitehead's Philosophy of Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960.

Quine, W. V. "Whitehead and the Rise of Modern Logic." In The Philosophy of A. N. Whitehead, edited by P. A. Schilpp. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1941.

Ross, Stephen David. Perspectives in Whitehead's Metaphysics. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1983.

Russell, Bertrand. "Whitehead and Principia Mathematica." Mind 57 (1948): 137138.

Dorothy M. Emmet (1967)

Bibliography updated by Benjamin Fiedor (2005)

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Whitehead, Alfred North (1861–1947)

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