Whitehead, Alfred North

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(b. Ramsgate, Kent, England, 15 February 1861; d. Cambridge, Massachusetts, 30 December 1947)

mathematics, mathematical logic, theoretical physics, philosophy.

Education, religion, and local government were the traditional interests of the family into with Whitehead was born, the son of a southern English schoolteacher turned Anglican clergyman. As a child Whitehead developed a strong sense of the enduring presence of the past, surrounded as the was by relics of England’s history. The school to which he was sent in1875, Sherborne in Dorset, traced its origin to the eighth century. At Sherborne. Whitehead excelled in mathematics, grew to love the poetry of Wordsworth and Shelley, and in his last year acted as head of the school and captain of games. In the autumn of 1880 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge. Although during his whole undergraduate study all his courses were on pure or applied mathematics, he nevertheless developed a considerable knowledge of history, literature, and philosophy. His residence at Cambridge, first as scholar, then as fellow, and finally as senior lecturer in mathematics, lasted from 1880 to 1910. During the latter part of this period he used to give political speeches in the locality; these favored the Liberal party and often entailed his being struck by rotten eggs and oranges. In 1890 he married Evelyn Willoughby Wade, whose sense of beauty and adventure fundamentally influenced Whitehead’s philosophical thought. Three children were born to them between 1891 and 1898: Thomas North, Jessie Marie, and Eric Alfred, who was killed in action with the Royal Flying Corps in 1918.

In 1910 Whitehead moved to London, where he held a variety of posts at University College and was professor at the Imperial College of Science and Technology. During this period, while active in assisting to frame new educational programs, he turned his reflective efforts toward formulating a philosophy of science to replace the prevailing materialistic mechanism, which in his view was unable to account for the revolutionary developments taking place in science.

In 1924, at the age of sixty-three, Whitehead became a professor of philosophy at Harvard University. There his previous years of reflection issued in a rapid succession of philosophical works of first importance, principally Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (1929). He retired from active teaching only in June 1937, at the age of seventy-six. Whitehead died in his second Cambridge ten years later, still a British subject, but with a great affection for America. He had enjoyed the rare distinction of election to fellowships both in the Royal Society and in the British Academy. In 1945 he was also awarded the British Order of Merit.

Whitehead’s life and work thus fall naturally into three periods which, although distinct, manifest a unity of development in his thought. At Cambridge University his writings dealt with mathematics and logic, although his thought already displayed those more general interests that would lead him to philosophy. In his second, or London, period, White-head devoted himself to rethinking the conceptual and experiential foundations of the physical sciences. He was stimulated in this work by participating in the discussions of the London Aristotelian Society. The writings of his third, or Harvard, period were distinctly philosophical, commencing with Science and the Modern World (1925), and culminating in Process and Reality (1929) and Adventures of Ideas (1933). These three works contain the essentials of his metaphysical thinking. Noteworthy among his several other books are The Aims of Education (1929) and Religion in the Making (1926), in which he combines a sensitivity to religious experience with a criticism of traditional religious concepts.

Although Whitehead’s intellectual importance lies mainly in philosophy itself, he did significant work in mathematics, mathematical logic, theoretical physics, and philosophy of science.

Mathematics And Mathematical Logic . White-head’s mathematical work falls into three general areas, the first two of which belong to his residence at Cambridge University, the third to his London period. The first area, algebra and geometry, contains his writings in pure mathematics, chief among which is his first book, A Treatise on Universal Algebra (1898). Other examples are papers on “The Geodesic Geometry of Surfaces in Non-Euclidean Space” (1898) and “Sets of Operations in Relation to Groups of Finite Order” (1899). The second area consists in work that would today be termed logic and foundations. It includes work on axiomatics (projective and descriptive geometry), cardinal numbers, and algebra of symbolic logic; it culminates in the three-volume Principia Mathematica, written with Bertrand Russell. The third area–less relevant from a mathematical point of view–contains the mathematical work that overlaps other fields of Whitehead’s scientific activity, mainly his physics and his philosophy of mathematics. His paper “On Mathematical Concepts of the Material World” (1906) is typical of the former; his Introduction to Mathematics (1911) lies in the border area between mathematics and the philosophy of mathematics.

Algebra and Geometry. Whitehead’s first book, A Treatise on Universal Algebra, seems at first glance entirely mathematical. Only in view of his subsequent development are several of his introductory remarks seen to have a philosophical import. This lengthy book, begun in 1891 and published in 1898, formed part of that nineteenth-century pioneering development sometimes referred to as the “liberation of algebra” (from restriction to quantities). Although the movement was not exclusively British, there was more than half a century of British tradition on the subject (George Peacock, Augustus De Morgan, and William Rowan Hamilton), to which Whitehead’s mathematical work belonged.

Whitehead acknowledged that the ideas in the Universal Algebra were largely based on the work of Hermann Grassmann, Hamilton, and Boole. He even stated that his whole subsequent work on mathematical logic was derived from these sources, all of which are classical examples of structures that do not involve quantities.

After an initial discussion of general principles and of Boolean algebra, the Universal Algebra is devoted to applications of Grassmann’s calculus of extension, which can be regarded as a generalization of Hamilton’s quaternions and an extension of arithmetic. Major parts of the modern theory of matrices and determinants, of vector and tensor calculus, and of geometrical algebra are implied in the calculus of extension. Whitehead’s elaboration of Grassmann’s work consists mainly in applications to Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry.

Although the Universal Algebra displayed great mathematical skill and erudition, it does not seem to have challenged mathematicians or to have contributed in a direct way to further development of the topics involved. It was never reprinted during Whitehead’s lifetime. It is plausible to think that, by the time the mathematical world became aware of the many valuable items of the work, these had been incorporated elsewhere in more accessible contexts and more modern frameworks.

Logic and Foundations. Confining itself to the algebras of Boole and Grassmann, the Universal Algebra never became what it was intended to be, a comparative study of algebras as symbolic structures. Whitehead planned to make such a comparison in a second volume along with studies of quaternions, matrices, and the general theory of linear algebras. Between 1898 and 1903 he worked on this second volume. It never appeared, and neither did the second volume of Bertrand Russell’s Principles of mathematics (1903). The two authors discovered that their projected second volumes “were practically on identical topics, “and decided to cooperate in a joint work. In doing so their vision expanded, and it was eight or nine years before their monumental Principia Mathematica appeared.

The Principia Mathematica consists of three volumes which appeared successively in 1910, 1912, and 1913. A fourth volume, on the logical foundations of geometry, was to have been written by Whitehead alone but was never completed. The Principia was mainly inspired by the writings of Gottlob Frege, Georg Cantor, and Giuseppe Peano. At the heart of the treatment of mathematical logic in the Principia lies an exposition of sentential logic so well done that it has hardly been improved upon since. Only one axiom (Axiom 5, the “associative principle”) was later (1926) proved redundant by Paul Bernays. The development of predicate logic uses Russell’s theory of types, as expounded in an introductory chapter in the first volume. The link with set theory is made by considering as a set all the objects satisfying some propositional function. Different types, or levels, of propositional functions yield different types, or levels, of sets, so that the paradoxes in the construction of a set theory are avoided. Subsequently several parts of classical mathematics are reconstructed within the system.

Although the thesis about the reduction of mathematics to logic is Russell’s, as is the theory of types, Russell himself stressed that the book was truly a collaboration and that neither he nor Whitehead could have written it alone.1 The second edition (1925), however, was entirely under Russell’s supervision, and the new introduction and appendices were his, albeit with Whitehead’s tacit approval.

Taken as a whole, the Principia fills a double role. First, it constitutes a formidable effort to prove, or at least make plausible, the philosophical thesis best described by Russell in his preface to The Principles of Mathematics: “That all pure mathematics deals exclusively with concepts definable in terms of a very small number of fundamental logical concepts, and that all its propositions are deducible from a very small number of fundamental logical principles.” This thesis is commonly expressed by the assertion that logic furnishes a basis for all mathematics. Some time later this assertion induced the so-called logicist thesis, or logicism, developed by Wittgenstein–the belief that both logic and mathematics consist entirely of tautologies. There is no evidence that Whitehead ever agreed with this: on the contrary, his later philosophical work indicates a belief in ontological referents for mathematical expressions. The thesis that logic furnishes a basis for all mathematics was first maintained by Frege but later (1931) refuted by Kurt Gödel, who showed that any system containing arithmetic, including that of the Principia, is essentially incomplete.

The second role of the Principia is the enrichment of mathematics with an impressive system, based on a thoroughly developed mathematical logic and a set theory free of paradoxes, by which a substantial part of the body of mathematical knowledge becomes organized. The Principia is considered to be not only a historical masterpiece of mathematical architecture, but also of contemporary value insofar as it contains subtheories that are still very useful.

Other Mathematical Work. At about the time Whitehead was occupied with the axiomatization of geometric systems, he turned his attention to the mathematical investigation of various possible ways of conceiving the nature of the material world. His paper “On Mathematical Concepts of the Material World” (1906) is just such an effort to create a mathematical although qualitative model of the material world. This effort differs from applied mathematics insofar as it does not apply known mathematics to situations and processes outside mathematics but creates the mathematics ad hoc to suit the purpose; yet it resembles applied mathematics insofar as it applies logical-mathematical tools already available. The paper conceives the material world in terms of a set of relations, and of entities that form the “fields” of these relations. The axiomatic mathematical system is not meant to serve as a cosmology but solely to exhibit concepts not inconsistent with some, if not all, of the limited number of propositions believed to be true concerning sense perceptions. Yet the system does have a cosmological character insofar as it tries to comprehend the entire material world. Unlike theoretical physics the paper is entirely devoid of quantitative references. It is thus an interesting attempt to apply logical-mathematical concepts to ontological ones, and is an early indication of Whitehead’s dissatisfaction with the Newtonian conception of space and time. In a qualitative way the paper deals with field theory and can be regarded as a forerunner of later work in physics.

The delightful little book An Introduction to Mathematics (1911) is another early example of Whitehead’s drifting away from the fields of pure mathematics and logic, this time more in the direction of philosophy of mathematics. The book contains a fair amount of solid although mainly fundamental and elementary mathematics, lucidly set out and explained. The object of the book, however, “is not to teach mathematics, but to enable students from the very beginning of their course to know what the science is about, and why it is essarily the foundation of exact thought as applied to natural phenomena” (p. 2). In it Whitehead stresses the three notions of variable, form, and generality.

Theoretical Physics . Whitehead’s contributions to relativity. gravitation, and “unified field” theory grew out of his preoccupations with the principles underlying our knowledge of nature. These philosophical considerations are presented chiefly in An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge(1919), The Concept of Nature (1920), and The Principle of Relativity (1922). A. S. Eddington, in his own book The Nature of the Physical World (Cambridge, 1929), comments: “Although this book may in most respects seem diametrically opposed to Dr. Whitehead’s widely read philosophy of Nature, I think it would be truer to regard him as an ally who from the opposite side of the mountain is tunnelling to meet his less philospphically minded colleagues” (pp. 249–250).

In a chapter on motion in the Principles of Natural Knowledge, Whitehead derives the Lorentz transformation equations, now so familiar in Einstein’s special theory of relativity. Whitehead’s derivation, however, was based on his principle of kinematic symmetry,2 and was carried through without reference to the concept of light signals. Consequently the velocity c in the equations is not necessarily that of light, although it so happens that in our “cosmic epoch,” c is most clearly realized in nature as the velocity of light. There are three types of kinematics. which Whitehead termed “cosmic epoch,” “elliptic,” or “parabolic,” according to whether c2 is positive, negative, or infinite. Whitehead pointed out that the hyperbolic type of kinematics corresponds to the LarmorLorentz-Einstein theory of electromagnetic relativity and that the parabolic type reduces to the ordinary Newtonian relativity (Galilean transformation). He rejected the elliptic type as inapplicable to nature.

In The Principle of Relativity Whitehead challenged the conceptual foundations of both the special and general theories of Einstein by offering “an alternative rendering of the theory of relativity” (page v). One of Whitehead’s fundamental hypotheses was that space-time must possess a uniform structure everywhere and at all times–a conclusion that Whitehead drew from a consideration of the character of our knowledge in general and of our knowledge of nature in particular. He argued that Einstein’s view that space-time may exhibit a local curvature fails to provide an adequate theory of measurement:

Einstein, in my opinion, leaves the whole antecedent theory of measurement in confusion when it is confronted with the actual conditions of our perceptual knowledge. . . . Measurement on his theory lacks systematic uniformity and requires a knowledge of the actual contingent field before it is possible.3

Whitehead proposed an action-at-a-distance theory rather than a field theory. He relieved the physicist of the task of having to solve a set of nonlinear partial differential equations. J. L. Synge, who ignored any consideration of the philosophical foundations of the theory, has clearly presented the mathematical formulas of Whitehead’s gravitational theory in modern notation.4

Using Synge’s notation, the world lines of test particles and light rays in Whitehead’s theory may be conveniently discussed by the Euler-Lagrange equations:

where 2L = –1 for test particles; 2L = 0 for light

rays;and . The Lagrangian L is defined:

where gmn is a symmetrical tensor defined by

In equation (3) δmn is the Kronecker delta; G is the gravitational constant; c is a fundamental velocity; and m is the mass of a particle with a world line given by x'n = x'n (s'n), where s' is the Minkowskain are length such that ds'2 = – dx'ndx'n; ym = xmx'm;

and . The parameter λ in equation (1)

is such that = (– gmndxmdxn). Latin suffixes have the range 1,2,3,4. Thus whitehead’s theory of gravitation is described in terms of Minkowskian space-time with x4 = ict (where and c is the speed of light in a vacuum).5 The basic physical laws of the Whitehead theory are invariant with respect to Lorentz transformations but not necessarily with respect to general coordinate transformations. Whitehead invoked neither the principle of equivalence nor the principle of covariance.

Clifford M. Will has challenged the viability of Whitehead’s theory by arguing that it predicts “an anisotropy in the Newtonian gravitational constant G, as measured locally by means of Cavendish experiments.”6 Using Synge’s notation, Will calculated Whitehead’s prediction of twelve-hour siderear-time earth tides, which are produced by the galaxy, and found Whitehead’ prediction in disagreement with the experimentally measured value of these geotidal effects. In Whitehead’s theory the anisotropy in G is a result of the uniform structure of space-time demanded by the theory.

In order to understand the relation of the anisotropy to uniformity we must recognize that in Whitehead’s theory gravitational forces are propagated along the geodesics of the uniform structure of space-time, while electromagnetic waves are deflected by the contingencies of the universe.7 This restriction in the propagation of gravity produces the variation in the gravitatinal constant. While Whitehead’s mathematical formulas imply this restriction, it is not demanded by his philosophy of nature. For Whitehead, gravitational forces share in the contingency of nature, and may therefore be affected, as electromagnetic waves are, by the contingencies of the universe.

In addition to the consideration of gravitation, in chapter 5 of The Principle of Relativity Whitehead extends his equations of motion to describe the motion of a particle in a combined gravitational and electromagnetic field. As Rayner points out,8 this is not a “true” unified field theory since it does not interpret gravitational and electromagnetic phenomena in terms of a single primitive origin.

It is possible to demonstrate, as did Eddington9 and synge,10 that the predictions of Whitehead’s theory and those of Einstein’s general theory of relativity are equivalent with respect to the four tests of relativity: the deflection of a light ray, the red shift, the advance in the perihelion of a satellite, and radar time delay. The equivalence of the two theories with respect to these tests rests in the remarkable fact that both theories, when solved for a static, spherically symmetrical gravitational field, produce the Schwarzschild solution of the field equations.

In accordance with his usual practice, Whitehead assembled Relativity from lectures that he delivered at the Imperial College, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and Bryn Mawr College. He did not publish in the journals of physical science nor enter into active discourse with members of the scientific community. His gravitational theory is not referred to in the formal treatments of relativity given by such authors as Bergmann, Einstein, and Pauli. The mathematical physicists who studied and extended Whitehead’s physical theories in the 1950’s had difficulty understanding his esoteric language and his philosophical ideas. While the two ends of Eddington’s tunnel have not yet been joined under the mountain, considerable progress has been made by the careful exposition of Whitehead’s philosophy of science by Robert M. Palter.11

In 1961 C. Brans and R. H. Dicke developed a modified relativstic theory of gravitation apparently compatible with Mach’s principle.12 It is significant that the Einstein, Whitehead, and Brans-Dicke theories represent distinct conceptual formulations, the predictions of which with regard to observational tests are all so close that it is not yet possible on this basis to make a choice among them. New experiments of high precision on the possible Machian time variation of G and on the precession of the spin axis of a gyroscope,13 as well as theoretical considerations such as the “parametrized post-Newtonian” (PPN) formalism,14 may be decisive, At present the Einstein theory is regarded as the most influential and elegant; the Brans-Dicke theory has perhaps the most attractive cosmological consequences;15 and the Whitehead theory, although clearly the simples, suffers from its obscurity.

Philosophy of Science . Whitehead once remarked that what worried him was “the muddle geometry had got into” in relation to the physical world.16 Particularly in view of Einstein’ theory of relativity, it was unclear what relation geometrical space had to experience. It was therefore necessary to find a basis in physical experience for the scientific concepts of space and time. These are, Whitehead thought, “the first outcome of the simplest generalisations from experience, and . . . not to be looked for at the tail end of a welter of differential equations.”17 The supposed divorce of abstract scientific concepts from actual experience had resulted in a “bifurcation of nature,” a splitting into two disparate natures, of which one was a merely apprent world of sence experience, the other a conjectured, causal world perpetually behind a veil. Aside from extrinsic quantitative relations, the elements of this latter world were presumed to be intrinsically self-contained and unrelated to one another. Somehow this conjectured, monadically disjunctive nature, although itself beyond experience, was supposed to account causally for the unified nature of experience. Whitehead rejected this view as incoherent and as an unsatisfactory foundation for the sciences. According to Whitehead, “we must reject the distinction between nature as it really is and experiences of it which are purely psychological. Our experiences of the apparent world are nature itself.”18

In his middle writings Whitehead examined how space and time are rooted in experience, and in general laid the foundations of a natural philosophy that would be the necessary presupposition of a reorganized speculative physics. He investigated the coherence of “Nature,” understood as the object of perceptual knowledge; and he deliberately although perhaps knowledge; and he deliberately, nature as thus known from the synthesis of knower and known, which falls within the ambit of metaphysical analysis.

Two special characteristics of Whitehead’s analysis are of particular importance: his identification of noninstantaneous events as the basic elements of perceived nature, and the intrinsically relational constitution of these events (as displayed in his doctrine of “significance”). Space and time (or space-time) are then shown to be derivative from the fundamental process by which events are interrelated. rather than a matrix within which events are independently situated. This view contrasts sharply with the prevalent notion that nature consists in an instantaneous collection of independent bodies situated in space-time. Such a view, Whitehead thought, cannot account for the perception of the continuity of existence, nor can it represent the ultimate scientific, fact, since change inevitably imports the past and the future into the immediate fact falsely supposed to be embodied in a durationless present instant.

Whitehead’s philosophy of nature attempts to balance the view of nature-in-process with a theory of elements ingredient within nature (“objects”), which do not themselves share in nature’s passage. Whitehead’s boyhood sense of permanences in nature thus emerged both in his mathematical realism and in his philosophic recognition of unchanging characters perpetually being interwoven within the process of nature.

Method of Extensive Abstraction. “Extensive abstraction” is the term Whitehead gave to his method for tracing the roots within experience of the abstract notions of space and time, and of their elements.

In this theory it is experienced events, not physical bodies, that are related; their fundamental relation lies in their overlapping, or “extending over,” one another. Later Whitehead recognized that this relation is itself derivative from something more fundamental.19 The notions of “part,” “whole,” and “continuity” arise naturally from this relation of extending-over. These properties lead to defining an “abstractive set” as “any setf of events that possesses the two properties, (i) of any two members of the set one contains the other as a part, and (ii) there is no event which is a common part of every menber of the set.”20Such a set of events must be infinite toward the small end, so that there is no least event in the set. Corresponding to the abstractive set of events there is an abstractive set of the intrinsic characters of the events. The latter set converges to an exactly defined locational character. For instance, the locational character of an abstractive set of concentric circles or squares converges to a nondimensional but located point. In analogous fashion, an abstractive set of rectangles, all of which have a common length but variable widths, defines a line segment. With the full development of this technique Whitehead was able to define serial times, and, in terms of them, space. He concluded that all order in space is merely the expression of order in time. “Position in space is merely the expression of diversity of relations to alternative time-systems.”21

In general Whitehead held that there are two basic aspects in nature. One is its passage or creative advance; the other its character as extended–that is, that its events extend over one another, thus giving nature its continuity. These two facts are the qualities from which time and space originate as abstractions.

The purpose of the method of extensive abstraction is to show the connection of the abstract with the concrete. Whitehead showed, for instance, how space is naturally related to the experience of events in nature, which have the immediately given property of extension. Whitehead’s procedure, however, is easily subject to misunderstanding. Most Whitehead scholars agree that Whitehead was trying neither to deduce a geometry from sense experience, nor to give a psychological description of the genesis of geometric concepts. Rather, he was using a mathematical model to clarify relations appearing in perception. Another mis-interpretation would be to assume that Whitehead took as the immediate data for sense awareness some kind of Humean sense instead of events themselves.

In his notes to the second edition of the Principles of Natural Knowledge Whitehead suggested certain improvements in his procedure. The final outcome of extensive abstraction is found in part 4 of Process and Reality, “The Theory of Extension,” in which Whitehead defines points, lines, volumes, and surfaces without presupposing any particular theory of parallelism, and defines a straight line without any reference to measurement.

Uniformity of Spatiotemporal Relations. In the Preface to The Principle of Relativity Whitehead states:

As the result of a consideration of the character of our knowledge in general, and of our knowledge of nature in particular. . . . I deduce that our experience requires and exhibits a basis of uniformity, and that in the case of nature this basis exhibits itself as the uniformity of spatio-temporal relations. This conclusion entirely cuts away the casual heterogeneity of these relations which is the essential of Einstein’s later theory.

The mathematical consequences of this conclusion for Whitehead’s theory of relativity have already been noted. It remains to indicate summarily the reasons that persuaded Whitehead to adopt this view.

Consonance with the general character of direct experience was one of the gauges by which Whitehead judged any physical theory, for he was intent on discovering the underlying structures of nature as observed. Further, he maintained the traditional division between geometry and physics: it is the role of geometry to reflect the relatedness of events: that of physics to describe the contingency of appearance. He also claimed that it is events, not material bodies, that are the terms of the concrete relations of nature. But since for Whitehead these relations were essentially constitutive of events, it might seem that no event can be known apart from knowledge of all those other events to which it is related. Thus, nothing can be known until everything is known–an impossible requirement for knowledge.

Whitehead met this objection by distinguishing between essential and contingent relations of events. One can know that an event or factor is related to others without knowing their precise character. But since in our knowledge on event discloses the particular individuals constituting the aggregate of events to which it is related, even contingently, this relatedness must embody an intrinsic uniformity apart from particular relationships to particular individuals. This intrinsic and necessary uniformity of the relatedness of events is precisely the uniformity of their spatiotemporal structure.

Whitehead provided an illustration of this in a discussion of equality.22 Equality presupposes measurement, and measurement presupposes matching (not vice versa). It must follow that “measurement presupposes a structure yielding definite stretches which, in some sense inherent in the structure; match each other.”23 This inherent matching is spatiotemporal uniformity.

It is well known that in his later philosophy Whitehead came to hold–contrary to his earlier belief–that nature is not continuous in fact, but “incurably atomic.” Continuity was recognized to belong to potentiality. not to actuality.24 It has even been claimed that this later revision removes the basic difference between Einstein and Whitehead, so that the Whitehead of Process and Reality offers only an alternative interpretation of Einstein’s theory of relativity, not an alternative theory.25 This claim, however, has not found wide support.

Despite some recent interest in it, Whitehead’s theory of relativity has been mainly ignored and otherwise not well understood. The Principle of Relativity has long been out of print, and it is impossible now to say whether it has a scientific future.


1. Bertrand Russell. “Whitehead and Principia Mathematica.” Mind, n.s. 57 (1948), 137–138.

2. For a discussion and derivation. see C. B. Rayner. “Foundations and Applications of Whitehead’s Theory of Relativity.” University of London thesis. 1953: “The Application of the Whitehead Theory of Relativity to Non-static. Spherically Symmetrical Systems.” in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 222A (1954), 509–526.

3.The Principle of Relativity. p. 83.

4. J. L. Synge, in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. 211A (1952), 303–319.

5. Whitehead’s requirement that space-time be homogeneous is not violated by a space-time of constant curvature. This extension of Whitehead’s theory has been carried out by G. Temple. “A Generalisation of Professor Whitehead’s Theory of Relativity,” in Proceedings of the Physical Society of London, 36 (1923), 176–193; and by C. B. Rayner, “Whitehead’s Law of Gravitation in a Space-Time of Constant Curvature,” in Proceedings of the Physical Society of London, 68B (1955), 944–950.

6. Clifford M. Will, “Relativistic Gravity in the Solar System . . .” p. 141.

7. Misner, Thorne, and Wheeler, Gravitation. p. 430. Whitehead’s theory is termed a “two metric” theory of gravitation. The first metric defines the uniform structure of space-time: the second, the physically contingent universe.

8. Rayner. “Foundations and Applications . . .” p. 23.

9. Sir A. S. Eddington, “A Comparison of Whitehead’s and Einstein’s Formulae,” p. 192.

10. J. L. Synge, The Relativity Theory of A. N. Whitehead (1951). In Ch. 13 of The Principle of Relativity Whitehead obtains a red shift that disagrees with Einstein’s by a factor of 7/6. This is in disagreement with the terrestrial Mössbauer experiments (see R. V. Pound and G. A. Rebka, Jr., “Apparent Weight of Photons,” Physical Review Letters. 4 [1960]. 337–341.). Synge observes. however, that the discrepancy lies in Whitehead’s use of a classical rather than a quantum mechanical model of an atom and is not due to Whitehead’s gravitational theory. See also C. B Rayer, “The Effects of Rotation of the Central Body on Its Planetary Orbits. After the Whitehead Theory of Gravitation.” in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, 232A (1955), 135–148.

11. Robert M. Palter. Whitehead’s Philosophy of Science.

12. C. Brans and R. H. Dicke, in Physical Review, 124 (1961), 925–935.

13. L. I. Schiff, “Experimental Tests of Theories of Relativity,” in Physics Today, 14 , no. 11 (November 1961), 42–48.

14. C. M. Will, op. cit.

15. R. H. Dicke, “Implications for Cosmology of Stellar and Galactic Evolution Rates,” in Review of Modern Physics, 34 (1962), 110–122.

16. Lowe, Understanding Whitehead. p. 193.

17.Principles of Natural Knowledge. p. vi.

18.The Principle of Relativity. p. 62.

19.Principles of Natural Knowledge, p. 202.

20.The Concept of Nature, p. 79: Principles of Natural Knowledge, p. 104.

21.The Principle of Relativity, p. 8.

22.Ibid., ch. 3.

23.Ibid., p. 59.

24. Leclerc. “Whitehead and the Problem of Extension.”

25. Seaman, “Whitehead and Relativity.”


I. Original Works. A chronological list of all Whitehead’s writings may be found in P. A. Schilpp (see below). The following works are of most scientific importance: A Treatise on Universal Algebra, With Applications (Cambridge, 1898); “On Mathematical Concepts of the Material World.” in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 205A (1906), 465–525, also available in the Northrop and Gross anthology (see below): Principia Mathematica, 3 vols. (Cambridge, 1910–1913), written with Bertrand Russell: An Introduction to Mathematics (London, 1911); “Space, Time, and Relativity,” in Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, n.s. 16 (1915–1916), 104–129, also available in the Johnson anthology (see below); An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge (Cambridge, 1919): The Concept of Nature (Cambridge, 1920): The Principle of Relativity, With Applications to Physical Science (Cambridge, 1922), which is out-of-print but may be obtained from University Microfilms. Ann Arbor, Mich.: also, pt. 1. “General Principles,” is reprinted in the Northrop and Gross anthology: Science and the Modern World (New York, 1925): Process and Reality; An Essay in Cosmology (New York: 1929). which is of scientific interest chiefly insofar as it gives Whitehead’s final version of his theory of extensive abstraction: and Essays in Science and Philosophy (New York. 1947), a collection of earlier essays.

Two useful anthologies of Whitehead’s writings are F. S. C. Northrop and Mason W. Gross, eds., Alfred North Whitehead: An Anthology (New York, 1961); and A. H. Johnson, ed., Alfred North Whitehead: The Interpretation of Science. Selected Essays (Indianapolis, 1961).

II. Secondary Literature. Paul Arthur Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, Library of Living Philosophers Series (New York, 1951). contains Whitehead’s “Autobiographical Notes,” a complete chronological list of Whitehead’s writings, and essays pertinent to Whitehead’s science by Lowe, Quine, and Northrop. Victor Lowe, Understanding Whitehead (Baltimore, 1962), is a valuable tool, especially pt. 2. “The Development of Whitehead’s Philosophy,” which is an enlargement of Lowe’s essay in the Schilpp volume. Robert M. Palter, Whitehead’s Philosophy of Science (Chicago, 1960), is a perceptive mathematical exposition of Whitehead’s views on extension and on relativity. In 1971 appeared Process Studies (published at the School of Theology at Claremont, California), a journal devoting itself to exploring the thought of Whitehead and his intellectual associates. The fourth issue of vol. I (Winter 1971) contains a bibliography of secondary literature on Whitehead, to be periodically updated.

The following are cited as examples of the influence of Whitehead’s thought on scientists or philosophers of science. In Experience and Conceptual Activity (Cambridge, Mass., 1965), J. M. Burgers, a physicist of some distinction. presents for scientists a case for a Whiteheadian rather than a physicalistic world view. Also, a strong Whiteheadian perspective dominates Milič Čapek. The Philosophical Impact of Contemporary Physics (New York, 1961).

Whitehead’s later metaphysics, although consistent with and developed out of his reflections on science, forms another story altogether. For a more general introduction to his thought and to the literature, see the article on Whitehead in Paul Edwards, ed., The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, VIII (New York-London. 1967), 290–296.

On Whitehead’s mathematics and logic, see Granville C. Henry. Jr., “Whitehead’s Philosophical Response to the New Mathematics,” in Southern Journal of Philosophy, 7 (1969–1970). 341–349; George L. Kline, ed., Alfred North Whitehead: Essays on His Philosophy, pt. 2 (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1963): J. J. C. Smart, ysis, 10 (1949–1950), 93–96, which is critical of the theory of types: Martin Shearn, “Whitehead and Russell’s Theory of Types: A Reply,” ibid., 11 (1950–1951) 45–48.

On Whitehead’s theoretical physics, see Sir A. S. Edington, “A Comparison of Whitehead’s and Einstein’s Formulae,” in Nature, 113 (1924), 192: Charles W. Misner, Kip S. Thorne, John Archibald Wheeler, Gravitation (San Francisco, 1973); C. B. Rayner, “Foundations and Applications of Whitehead’s Theory of Relativity” (Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 1953); A, Schild. “Gravitational Theories of the Whitehead Type and the Principle of Equivalence,” in Proceedings of the International School of Physics, “Enrico Fermi,” course 20 (Italian Physical Society and Academic Press, 1963), 69–115; Francis Seaman, “Discussion: In Defense of Duhem,” in Philosophy of Science, 32 (1965), 287–294, which argues that Whitehead’s physical theory in Process and Reality illustrates the assumption of geometric, without physical, continuity; J. L. Synge, The Relativity Theory of Alfred North Whitehead (College Park, Md., 1951); Clifford M. Will, “Relativistic Gravity in the Solar System, 11 : Anisotropy in the Newtonian Gravitational Constant.” in Astrophysical Journal, 169 (1971), 141–155; and “Gravitation Theory,” in Scientific American, 231 , no. 5 (1974), 24–33. which compares competing theories.

On Whitehead’s philosophy of science, see Ann P. Lowry, “Whitehead and the Nature of Mathematical Truth,” in Process Studies, 1 (1971), 114–123; Thomas N. Hart, S. J., “Whitehead’s Critique of Scientific Materialism,” in New Scholasticism, 43 (1969), 229–251; Nathaniel Lawrence, “Whitehead’s Method of Extensive Abstraction,” in Pgukisiophy of Science, 7 (1950), 142–163; Adikf Grünbaum, “Whitehead’ Method of Extensive Abstraction,” in British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 4 (1953), 215–226, which attacks the validity of Whitehead’s method (see Lowe’s reply in Understanding Whitehead, pp. 79–80): Caroline Whitebeck, “Simultaneity and Distance,” in Journal of Philosophy, 66 (1969), 329–340: Wolfe Mays, “Whitehead and the Philosophy of Time,” in Studium generale, 23 (1970), 509–524; Robert R. Llewellyn, “Whitehead and Newton on Space and Time Structure,” in Process Studies, 3 (1973), 239–258; Ivor Leclerc, “Whitehead and the Problem of Extension,” in Journal of Philosophy, 58 (1961), 559–565; Robert M. Palter, “Philosophic Principles and Scientific Theory,” in Philosophy of Science, 23 (1956), 111–135, compares the theories of Einstein and Whitehead.

See also Francis Seaman, “Whitehead and Relativity,” in Philosophy of Science, 22 (1955), 222–226; A. P. Ushenco, “A Note on Whitehead and Relativity,” in Journal of Philosophical, 47 (1950), 100–102; Dean R. Fowler, “Whitehead’s Theory of Relativity,” in Process Studies, 5 (1975), which treats the philosophical foundations of Whitehead’s theory of relativity; and Richard J. Blackwell, “Whitehead and the Problem of Simultaneity,” in Modern Schoolman, 41 (1963–1964), 62–72. The extent to which applications of Whitehead’s philosophical scheme agree with modern quantum theory has been discussed by Abner Shimony, “Quantum Physics and the Philosophy of Whitehead,” in Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 11 (New York, 1965), 307–330; and by J. M. Burgers, “Comments on Shimony’s Paper,” ibid., pp. 331–342. Henry J. Folse, Jr., “The Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Theory and Whitehead’s Philosophy of Organism,” in Tulane Studies in Philosophy, 23 (1974), 32–47, challenges Shimony’s conclusions.

William A. Barker

Karel L. De BouvÈre, S. C. J.

James W. Felt, S.J.

Dean R. Fowler

Whitehead, Alfred North

views updated May 18 2018

Whitehead, Alfred North

“Society” in Whitehead’s philosophy

Natural laws and the social environment

Human society and its institutions



Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947), British mathematician and philosopher, was born in Ramsgate, Kent, and educated at Sherborne School in Dorset and at Trinity College, Cambridge. After reading for the mathematical tripos, he taught for a time at Cambridge. There he collaborated with his former pupil Bertrand Russell in work on the logical foundations of mathematics, which led to their joint authorship of Principia mathematica (1910–1913). In 1911 Whitehead went to London, where he held the chair of applied mathematics at the Imperial College of Science. While in London he wrote books which showed how certain ideas, given formal expression in his logical work, could be developed in a philosophy of physical science (see 1919; 1920; 1922). With the publication of Science and the Modern World in 1925, it became apparent that Whitehead was also developing a comprehensive philosophy with a strong emphasis on the history of science in relation to the history of civilization. In 1926 he became professor of philosophy at Harvard University and remained in Cambridge, Massachusetts, until his death. This article will be confined to an attempt to draw attention to aspects of his thought which are of particular interest for the social sciences.

Whitehead had a strong propensity for nontechnical sociological reflection, and this shows itself throughout his work. It could indeed be said that his metaphysical views were formed by generalization from his views on human life in society as well as by generalization from certain logico-math-ematical and scientific concepts, so that the wealth of social and historical illustration scattered throughout his books is an integral, and not merely an incidental, part of his thought. This interest began in his youth: he was the son of a country clergyman at a time when the Church of England was closely bound up with the life of the local community. The England of his boyhood was, he recalled, “guided by local men with strong mutual antagonisms and intimate community of feeling” (see Essays …, part 1, “Personal,” p. 4). This gave him an appreciation for a society made up of individuals of strong and distinctive character within a local type, bound to each other by tacitly accepted ways of feeling rather than by explicitly held views. As a schoolboy at Sherborne, a small public school in the west of England, he was also in an environment where he could enjoy the sense of an inheritance from the past. At Sherborne he had a classical education in the Whig tradition of the time, from schoolmasters “who had read the classics with sufficient zeal to convert them to the principles of Athenian democracy and Roman tyrannicide” (ibid., pp. 33–34). Throughout his life Whitehead retained an interest in quoting widely from history, particularly from ancient history, by way of comparison and contrast with contemporary ways of life.His method was not that of the critical, scientific historian, as he was the first to admit: he used history in accordance with what Burke called “the spirit of philosophic analogy” and his illustrations must be read by historians and sociologists in that spirit.

“Society” in Whitehead’s philosophy

In Whitehead’s mature philosophy, the notion of “society” is generalized to become a key term. This is not to say that the only, or even the dominant, influence behind that philosophy is sociological. Certain new developments in physics had affected its formation; for instance, Whitehead recalled the excitement with which he first heard J. J. Thompson put forward the notion of the “flux of energy” in lectures on electrodynamics (see Whitehead 1933, p. 238): “Energy passes from particular occasion to particular occasion …with a quantitative flow and a definite direction.” In his later philosophy, the “energy” of the physicist became an abstraction from the concrete transmission of “experiences” from one actual entity to another, these experiences having emotional tone as well as quantitative properties. Each actual entity was conceived of as an act of experience arising out of data, and the word “feeling” was used for “this basic operation” (1929, p. 55). Each actual entity constitutes itself from the way it “feels” the other actual entities in its environment. Whitehead’s use of the word “feeling” here has often been criticized as giving a panpsychic, or perhaps a hylozoic, view of nature, and indeed it is hard to see how a notion whose primary meaning is psychological can be stretched, even in so reduced a sense, to apply to the constituents of what we would normally call “inorganic nature.” When extended upward, however, to describe how a human being builds up his life out of the ways in which he responds to his social relationships, the notion is more plausible.

These relationships are seen by Whitehead as more than external contacts, actions, and reactions. However difficult the notion, he did indeed hold that the transmission of energy in physical transactions is an abstraction from the transmission of “feelings” from one entity of nature to another, so that they are “re–enacted” in each successor in a route of entities. These routes, however, are seen not only as minuscule, but as of extremely brief duration. He described the smallest element in nature as known to physics—for instance, a fundamental particle—as not only a “route” but also a “society” of routes of actual entities. A route is a linear strand in which each successive member inherits from the preceding members. The strand will also exist within a “society” of other such strands, a “society” being a nexus of entities with a dominant characteristic arising from the ways in which these members are related to each other. It enjoys “social order” when a common element of form is displayed by each member in virtue of the conditions imposed on it by its relation to the others.

It might be thought that here Whitehead was talking simply about the gestalt properties of ordered wholes and about systems in which certain properties of the parts are attributable to them only in their relation to other parts. Although formally this is so, he was also saying that these mutual conditioning characteristics result from an actual re–enactment of the experience of one entity in another. This notion of “mutual immanence” is harder to appreciate than is the correlative part of his view, by which any molecular entities of which we are aware, from molecules and cells to rocks, trees, our own bodies, and human social wholes are societies within societies of smaller entities, supporting one another in dynamic interactions within an ongoing process. An analogous view of nature, in which the key notion is that of ordered systems within wider systems, has been put forward as providing a possible synthesis for the physical sciences and the “life sciences” under the term general systems theory (see Bertalanffy 1949; General Systems), and attempts are being made to find a use for these notions in political theory and sociology.

Natural laws and the social environment

Whitehead saw the universe in the widest sense as characterized by very general topological relations called “extensive connection.” These are relations of “overlapping,” “whole and part,” which underlie all the more specific forms of relationship. The particular forms of relationship which we call the laws of nature of our physical world are not universal. They are the most general patterns produced by the behavior of the dominant constituents of our “cosmic epoch” (which, as far as we know, are particles of matter with electromagnetic properties). But if the prevailing behavior patterns were to change—for instance, if there were increasing dominance of “living” over “nonliving” matter—so, too, there might be an emergence of new laws of nature. This “immanent” view of natural laws, as descriptive of dominant trends and as in principle modifiable as the trends are modified, may well be a plausible view of the character of social and economic “laws.” The distinction between “immanent laws” and “imposed laws” is a notion which has been used to good effect (with explicit acknowledgment to Whitehead) by Charles P. Curtis (1954) in writing of the relations between a legal system and the aspects of the social morality it regulates. Curtis has suggested that it is probably only in this social context that immanent law and imposed law coexist and are not alternative doctrines of the status of laws.

This notion of “immanent laws,” dependent on the predominant characteristics and behavior of the entities, allows the possibility of local types of order in a particular region. It is on these lines that Whitehead approached the problem of “internal relations,” a problem which also concerns sociologists (see Homans 1950, p. 9). Homans has referred approvingly to Whitehead’s view. If everything is integrally related to everything else, how can one make true statements about anything without taking its whole context into account? Whitehead’s answer (1926, pp. 235, 239) is to distinguish the general background of relationship from the multiplicity of limited subpatterns, any one of which may be analyzed without having to take account of all the others, some of which may be of negligible degrees of relevance. Moreover, an actual entity or “society” of entities responds to its environment according to what is relevant to its own dominant needs and interests.

This recognition that responses are made selectively to a perspective of the environment, rather than to the environment in its totality, is becoming a commonplace in sociological literature and has been especially discussed under the notion of the “image” (see Boorstin 1961 for the widespread implications of this notion; and Simon [1947–1956] 1957, pp. 196 ff.; [1947] 1961, pp. 137 ff., on “bounded rationality”). Chester Barnard (1938, pp. 194 ff. in the 1948 edition) noted the importance of the concept of selective response to an environment in connection with his analysis of decisions made in organizations and acknowledged his debt to Whitehead’s Process and Reality (1929), both for the concept and for the form of its expression. The concept includes the notion that the objective environment of a decision includes the purpose of the organization that results from previous decisions, and the notion of the environment as social as well as physical and as ordered selectively with reference to the purpose, this factor or that being selected as pertinent, relevant, or interesting. Nevertheless, there may be actual but ignored features of the total environment which can affect the purpose either favorably or adversely. Whitehead discussed this contrast between the total environment and the environment as selectively grasped (see Adventures of Ideas 1933, pp. 268–282).

Human society and its institutions

Every “society,” therefore, lives in an environment selectively discriminated; and the discrimination depends largely on instinctive needs, “feelings,” and, in a very general sense, valuations. This is a fortiori the case for societies in the ordinary sense of human society. The dispositions and interests which underlie selective responses are derived largely from the society’s own past, so that the members of every society have intuitively shared and inherited ways of feeling, shaping not only their values but also their habits of behavior. In Adventures of Ideas and Modes of Thought (1938) Whitehead discussed the conditions under which a new idea can modify socially inherited values and modes of behavior and can be an instrument in the transition to a new kind of social order. He noted how any idea arises in an environment of repetitive natural and social processes, “senseless agencies” not under rational control. The new idea is not likely to be efficacious unless it becomes united with ways of feeling which can be widely shared and which will be reflected in symbolic and practical, as well as in intellectual, forms of expression.

In Symbolism (1927) Whitehead wrote of the social importance of symbolism, including language and ritual, in heightening the significance of shared ways of feeling by delineating them through expression; and he thought the stability of a society needed the invocation of commonly shared symbols. He noted the contribution that is made by religion, especially in its ritual form, in adding zest and a sense of importance to the occasions of social existence; but he insisted that as religion becomes both more rationalized and more generalized, it is not merely a social factor —it is concerned with an individual’s own response to the universe beyond himself (1926).

In noting limitations on the chances of an idea’s being entertained, understood, or acted upon except in a favorable climate of opinion, which depends on modes of feeling and interest as well as on intellectual conditions, Whitehead showed he was aware of some of the considerations which go under the term “sociology of knowledge.” In Science and the Modern World (1925) he traced the interplay between aesthetic and religious interests, general ideas, practical needs, and social institutions in the rise of modern science. A dominant style of thinking depends on a dominant mode of interest, especially among the educated classes. Thus, history may be written from a religious or a political viewpoint, or from an interest in establishing hard matter of fact. The Greeks were interested mainly in dramatic views of the world, the Romans in legal forms of order; and neither of these represented the combination of interest in general principles and detailed observation of facts necessary for the scientific outlook. This combination was achieved in an amateur way by the philosophers and mathematicians of the seventeenth century— “the century of genius”—but it did not change the face of civilization until the nineteenth century, when it was combined with the growth of technology, in an “age of invention.” This needed a relatively prosperous middle class producing a succession of professionals who transmitted training in specialized techniques, especially through establishments such as the technological institutes in Germany.

In contemporary society Whitehead saw large organizations, especially professional organizations, as the factors determining the predominant type of social order, and he thought the quality of society depended largely on the kinds of ideas and purposes entertained by those who are influential in such organizations (1931; 1933, pp. 174 ff.). He saw the main stream of ability as canalized in professional specialties, rather than going into central direction and into producing general coordinating ideas, and he feared that this might make for a narrowing of imaginative powers. In The Aims of Education (1917–1922), he noted as a tragedy of youth the way in which the achievement of professional and technical expertise can stifle zest and the capacity for aesthetic enjoyment.

Whitehead saw the universe as a pluralistic society of societies, never static but always in process, and human societies as signal illustrations of this wider view. The members of each society derive their qualities through integral relationships with each other, and these relationships define the dominant type of social order. Yet there is also the possibility of the transition to new types of order, and these can originate in new emphases of interests and valuations of what is seen as important, heightened through intellectual and aesthetic expression and stemming from the creative powers of individual thinkers, artists, and reformers. Nevertheless, ideas and reforms become socially efficacious only through the subtle interplay of mutually supporting factors, and finally through being given appropriate embodiment in institutions. At the same time, Whitehead warned that we fall into the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” (Whitehead’s own term for a tendency against which his whole philosophy is a struggle) if we think, except for limited theoretical purposes, of “institutions”—or, indeed, of “laws,” “trends,” “forces”—as though these have an independent existence apart from the actual relationships of the actual individuals in the societies, whose large-scale patterns such words describe. This goes also for the society of the whole universe.

Dorothy Emmet

[Directly related is the entrySystems analysis, articles ongeneral systems theoryandsocial systems. Other relevant material may be found inScience, article onthe philosophy of science; and in the biography ofbarnard.]


(1910-1913) 1959-1960 Whitehead, Alfred north; and Russell, BertrandPrincipia mathematica. 2d ed. 3 vols. Cambridge Univ. Press. → An abridged paperback edition of Volume 1 was published in 1962.

(1917-1922) 1959 The Aims of Education, and Other Essays. New York: Macmillan; London: Benn. → A paperback edition was published in 1949 and reprinted in 1956 by New American Library.

(1919) 1925 An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge. 2d ed. Cambridge Univ. Press.

(1920) 1959 The Concept of Nature. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

1922 Principle of Relativity With Applications to Physical Science. Cambridge Univ. Press.

(1925) 1960 Science and the Modern World: Lowell Lectures, 1925.New York: Macmillan. → A paperback edition was published in 1960 by New American Library.

(1926) 1954 Religion in the Making: Lowell Lectures, 1926. New York: Macmillan. → A paperback edition was published in 1960 by Meridian.

(1927) 1958 Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect. New York: Macmillan. → A paperback edition was published in 1959 by Capricorn.

(1929) 1960 Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology. New York: Macmillan. → A paperback edition was published in 1960 by Harper.

1931 On Foresight. Pages xi-xxix in Wallace B. Donham, Business Adrift. New York: McGraw-Hill.

1933 Adventures of Ideas. New York: Macmillan. → A paperback edition was published in 1962 by New American Library.

(1938) 1956 Modes of Thought: Six Lectures Delivered in Wellesley College, Massachusetts, and Two Lectures in the University of Chicago. New York: Macmillan. A paperback edition was published in 1958 by Capricorn.

Essays in Science and Philosophy. New York: Philosophical Library, 1947. → Contains essays originally published between 1912 and 1941.


Barnard, Chester I. (1938) 1962 The Functions of the Executive. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

Bertalanffy, Ludwig von (1949) 1960 Problems of Life: An Evaluation of Modern Biological Thought.

New York: Harper. → First published as Das biologische Weltbild, Volume 1.

Boorstin, Daniel 1961 The Image. New York: Atheneum.

Curtis, Charles P. 1954 It’s Your Law. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.

General Systems. → Yearbook of the Society for the Advancement of General Systems Theory. Published since 1956.

Homans, George C. 1950 The Human Group. New York: Harcourt.

Lowe, Victor 1962 Understanding Whitehead. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.

Schilpp, Paul A. (editor) (1941)1951 The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. 2d ed. New York: Tudor. → Contains a comprehensive bibliography of White-head’s works.

Simon, Herbert A. (1947) 1961 Administrative Behavior: A Study of Decision-making Processes in Administrative Organization. 2d ed. New York: Macmillan. → A paperback edition was published in 1965 by the Free Press.

Simon, Herbert A. (1947-1956) 1957 Models of Man; Social and Rational: Mathematical Essays on Rational Human Behavior in a Social Setting. New York: Wiley.

Whitehead, Alfred North

views updated May 21 2018

Whitehead, Alfred North

Alfred North Whitehead (18611947) believed that the future course of world history depends upon people's decisions as to the relation between science and religion. In fact, the force of religious intuitions and the force of scientific endeavors are the two most powerful forces in history. Whitehead's solution to conflicts between science and religion was to suggest modifications in both science and religion, as each has been traditionally understood, so that an inclusive alternative world-view might be constructed. He turned to speculative philosophy for this constructive task. Whitehead proposed that philosophy attains its chief importance by fusing religion and science into one rational scheme of thought.

Life and influences

Whitehead was born in Ramsgate, England and grew up the son of an Anglican clergyman. His keen intelligence was evident early in life, and, when offered college scholarships to pursue either mathematics or classic literature, he chose the former despite what would be a lifelong fondness for the latter. After a stint as student at Trinity College of Cambridge, England, Whitehead continued on at the school for twenty-five years as fellow and professor. He also took up rigorous theological studies for nearly a decade. As a result of his study, however, he decided to affirm atheism. Whitehead was also elected a fellow of the Royal Society due to his prowess in universal algebra. During this time, he coauthored with fellow philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell (18721970) one of the most important philosophy books in twentieth century, Principia Mathematica (19101913).

Following his stint at Trinity, Whitehead moved to London and held positions teaching mathematics at University College London and London's Imperial College of Science and Technology. He served in a number of administrative capacities, including Dean of the Faculty of Science. Whitehead's interest in science resulted in the publication of Principles of Natural Knowledge (1919), The Concept of Nature (1920), and The Principle of Relativity (1922). The insights gained from academic supervision comprise the heart of his influential work pertaining to educational philosophy: The Organisation of Thoughts (1917) and The Aims of Education (1929).

In 1924, at age sixty-three, Whitehead left London for the United States to teach philosophy at Harvard University in Massachusetts. Whitehead was his most productive as a writer during his Harvard years, and the work he produced provides the basis for how he believed science, religion, and philosophy ought to relate. He wrote his most influential books while at Harvard, including Science and the Modern World (1925), Religion in the Making (1926), Adventures of Ideas (1933), and his magnum opus Process and Reality (1929).


Whitehead may have best summarized his overall view of the relationship between science and religion when he wrote, "you cannot shelter theology from science, or science from theology; nor can you shelter either one from metaphysics, or metaphysics from either one of them. There is no shortcut to the truth" (1926, p. 79). The convictions expressed in this statement prompted Whitehead to frame a coherent and logical system of general ideas in terms of which every item of experience could be interpreted. He was insistent that an adequate metaphysics or worldview must account for whatever is found in actual practice, including scientific and religious practice.

Although Whitehead had chosen atheism earlier in life, his stance toward God and religion changed as he attempted to construct an adequate worldview to account for science and religion. Like Aristotle twenty-three hundred years earlier, Whitehead came to postulate the existence of God because he found that the general character of reality requires an all-embracing, purposive, and loving deity.

Whitehead departed from Aristotle, however, in his primary insight that actual existence involves a process of becoming, rather than fixed states of being. Evidently influenced by quantum physics and Buddhism, Whitehead considered these basic units of actual existence to be events or moments of experience rather than bits of unalterable matter. Although the specific makeup of these events differs radically, every event exemplifies the same metaphysical principles.

The process of existence, argues Whitehead, is twofold: It is the becoming of events and the transition from event to event. Each event, occasion of experience, or actual entity (he uses these terms interchangeably) exists first as a subject and then as an object. Present events (subjects) are influenced by prior events (objects), and these events, when completed, become objects that exert influence upon subsequent subjects. An enduring individual in this process of becoming is a personally ordered chain of events, rather than a single, self-contained mind.

The process of life in which all things flow is a person's first vague intuition. And "the elucidation of meaning involved in the phrase 'all things flow,'" Whitehead argues in light of this intuition, "is one chief task of metaphysics" (1978 [1929], p. 208). Because he considers the flow of events to be primary, Whitehead's thought is often identified as process philosophy. This insight corresponds well with the general theory of evolution.

To say, however, that "all things flow" does not mean that all features of reality are changing. The principles of the universe, for instance, are eternally binding and, therefore, never change. Some aspects of God are also unchanging. These principles and aspects, however, are not actual events.

Not only are events the fundamental units of life, each essentially relates to others. When explaining how moments relate, Whitehead spoke of internal and external relatedness. Internal relations develop as each event arises out of its inclusion of prior events. The event begins with a "open window" to the totality of the past. Once the influence from the past has entered, the window closes and the entity forms itself in response to past influences. Whitehead calls this drawing upon the past via relations a prehension, and in this activity the production of novel togetherness occurs. The relations that an event has with past events are its internal relations; the relations it will have with events to come are its external relations. In short, interdependence is primary, because all events relate in community.

Whitehead's organismic philosophy of life, which supposes that all events are experiential and relational, presupposes that all events perceive. Perception is not limited to receiving sensory data by means of sensory organs (i.e., eyes, ears, nose). The perception that occurs most frequently is non-sensory, because most events in the universe are not sensory organs. This emphasis upon nonsensory perception, thought Whitehead, serves as a primary basis for overcoming mechanistic and materialistic tendencies in modern science.

The relatedness of all things does not mean that all events are entirely determined by others. Whitehead speculates that all events possess a degree of freedom such that none can be entirely controlled by others. The fact that each moment of experience is essentially free entails that neither the atoms below nor the gods above entirely determine the state of any particular event.

By affirming the necessary freedom of every individual, Whitehead's thought provides a basis for solving the age-old problem of evil. Free creatures, not God, are responsible for the occurrence of genuine evil. God is not culpable for failing to prevent evil because God cannot withdraw, override, or veto the freedom expressed when creatures act in evil ways.

Role of God

Although Whitehead came to speculate that God exists, the vision of God he offers, while congenial with much in sacred scriptures, differs from the visions most philosophers offer. For instance, Whitehead argues that "the divine element in the world is to be conceived as a persuasive agency and not as a coercive agency" (1968 [1933], p. 213). God's inability to coerce, when coercion is defined as completely controlling the actions of others, is not a result of divine self-limitation or a moral inability; non-coercion is an eternal law pertaining to all life.

In addition to never controlling individuals entirely, the persuasive God that Whitehead envisions both influences and is influenced by the world. God "adds himself to the actual ground from which every creative act takes its rise," speculates Whitehead, so that "the world lives by its incarnation of God in itself" (1996 [1926], p. 156). Then, "by the reason of the relativity of all things, there is a reaction of the world on God" (1978 [1929], p. 345). Whitehead's explanation of God's role in this reciprocal relation is oft-quoted: "God is the great companionthe fellow-sufferer who understands" (1978 [1929], p. 351).

The essential relatedness of all actualities implies that God has never been wholly isolated. God relates everlastingly, which implies that some realm of finite actualities or another has always existed (1968 [1933], p. 168). Or, as Whitehead argues, God did not dispose "a wholly derivative world" ex nihilo (1968 [1933], p. 216). This relational hypothesis provides a framework for affirming consistently that God expresses love in relationship, while also denying that God ever creates through absolute force. Both notions support a process answer to the problem of evil.

Whitehead suggested a novel scheme for how God influences the world. God offers an initial aim comprised of various possibilities for action to each emerging event. This aim is relevant to each event's particular situation. From the various possibilities in this aim, the event freely chooses what it will be. The fact that God provides an aim to all events is one way Whitehead can speak of God as creator. He did not believe that God wholly decides each aim's contents, however, each aim also contains influences derived from the activity of past creatures. God's persuasive activity includes what Whitehead calls the "graded relevance" of each aim's possibilities. Among all possibilities in an aim, one may be the ideal; the others are graded as to their relevance to that ideal. This scheme provides a basis for affirming that God creatively acts upon both simple and complex individuals: from atoms, genes, cells, and molecules to mice, whales, apes, and humans.

In offering an initial aim to every event, God acts, according to Whitehead, as the "goad towards novelty" (1978 [1929], p. 88). God offers new possibilities for more intense love and beauty when accounting for the past in light of the future. Because these possibilities are offered, a vision of a better wayreligiously, scientifically, and aestheticallyis available. Without divine influence, says Whitehead, "the course of creation would be a dead level of ineffectiveness, with all balance and intensity progressively excluded by the cross currents of incompatibility" (1978 [1929], p. 247). Whitehead's belief that God interacts lovingly with creation also presents a crucial underpinning for an adequate ecological ethic.

See also Aristotle; Buddhism; Divine Action; Evil and Suffering; Evolution; Freedom; Free Process Defense; Metaphysics; Panentheism; Physics, Quantum; Process Thought


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thomas jay oord

Whitehead, Alfred North (1861–1947)

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One of the twentieth century's most original metaphysicians and a major figure in mathematical logic, Alfred North Whitehead was also an important social and educational philosopher. Born in England, he was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he also taught mathematics from 1884 until 1910. He then moved to London, where he was professor of applied mathematics at the University of London until 1924. Receiving an invitation to join the philosophy department at Harvard University, Whitehead came to the United States and taught at Harvard until 1937. He remained in Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the rest of his life.

While Whitehead's metaphysical and logical writings merit his inclusion in any pantheon of twentieth-century philosophers, his work in social and educational philosophy is marked by singular qualities of imagination, profound analysis, and personal commitment. His thought resembles much in the philosophy of John Dewey (18591952). In the philosophy of higher education, where Dewey wrote very little, Whitehead is probably the most important figure since John Henry Cardinal Newman (18011890).

The Nature of Education

"Education is the acquisition of the art of the utilisation of knowledge." This simple sentence from Whitehead's introductory essay in his Aims of Education (1929, p. 4), epitomizes one of his central themes: Education cannot be dissected from practice. Whitehead's synthesis of knowledge and application contrasts sharply with educational theories that recommend mental training exclusively. His general philosophical position, which he called "the philosophy of organism," insists upon the ultimate reality of things in relation, changing in time, and arranged in terms of systems of varying complexity, especially living things, including living minds. Whitehead rejected the theory of mind that maintains it is a kind of tool, or dead instrument, needing honing and sharpening. Nor is it a kind of repository for "inert" ideas, stored up in neatly categorized bundles. It is an organic element of an indissoluble mind/body unit, in continuous relationship with the living environment, both social and natural. White-head's philosophy of organism, sometimes called "process philosophy," stands in continuity with his educational thought, both as a general theoretical backdrop for this educational position and as the primary application of his fundamental educational themes.

Educational Development and the Rhythm of Growth

Whitehead's general concept of the nature and aims of education has as its psychological corollary a conception of the rhythm of education that connects him with developmental educators such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau (17121778). For Whitehead, education is a temporal, growth-oriented process, in which both student and subject matter move progressively. The concept of rhythm suggests an aesthetic dimension to the process, one analogous to music. Growth then is a part of physical and mental development, with a strong element of style understood as a central driving motif. There are three fundamental stages in this process, which Whitehead called the stage of romance, the stage of precision, and the stage of generalization.

Romance is the first moment in the educational experience. All rich educational experiences begin with an immediate emotional involvement on the part of the learner. The primary acquisition of knowledge involves freshness, enthusiasm, and enjoyment of learning. The natural ferment of the living mind leads it to fix on those objects that strike it pre-reflectively as important for the fulfilling of some felt need on the part of the learner. All early learning experiences are of this kind and a curriculum ought to include appeals to the spirit of inquiry with which all children are natively endowed. The stage of precision concerns "exactness of formulation" (Whitehead 1929, p. 18), rather than the immediacy and breadth of relations involved in the romantic phase. Precision is discipline in the various languages and grammars of discrete subject matters, particularly science and technical subjects, including logic and spoken languages. It is the scholastic phase with which most students and teachers are familiar in organized schools and curricula. In isolation from the romantic impetus of education, precision can be barren, cold, and unfulfilling, and useless in the personal development of children. An educational system excessively dominated by the ideal of precision reverses the myth of Genesis: "In the Garden of Eden Adam saw the animals before he named them: in the traditional system, children named the animals before they saw them" (Whitehead 1925, p. 285). But precision is nevertheless a necessary element in a rich learning experience, and can neither substitute for romance, nor yield its place to romance. Generalization, the last rhythmic element of the learning process, is the incorporation of romance and precision into some general context of serviceable ideas and classifications. It is the moment of educational completeness and fruition, in which general ideas or, one may say, a philosophical outlook, both integrate the feelings and thoughts of the earlier moments of growth, and prepare the way for fresh experiences of excitement and romance, signaling a new beginning to the educational process.

It is important to realize that these three rhythmic moments of the educational process characterize all stages of development, although each is typically associated with one period of growth. So, romance, precision, and generalization characterize the rich educational experience of a young child, the adolescent, and the adult, although the romantic period is more closely associated with infancy and young childhood, the stage of precision with adolescence, and generalization with young and mature adulthood. Education is not uniquely oriented to some future moment, but holds the present in an attitude of almost religious awe. It is "holy ground" (Whitehead 1929, p. 3), and each moment in a person's education ought to include all three rhythmical elements. Similarly, the subjects contained in a comprehensive curriculum need to comprise all three stages, at whatever point they are introduced to the student. Thus the young child can be introduced to language acquisition by a deft combination of appeal to the child's emotional involvement, its need for exactitude in detail, and the philosophical consideration of broad generalizations.

Universities and Professional Training

The pragmatic and progressive aims of education, accompanied by Whitehead's rhythmic developmentalism, have ramifying effects throughout the lifelong educational process, but nowhere more tellingly than in their application to university teaching and research. Whitehead was a university professor throughout his life, and for a time, dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of London. Personal experience makes his analysis of higher studies pointed and relevant. Strikingly, Whitehead chose the modern business school as representative of modern directions in university theory and practice. As a Harvard philosopher, he was in an excellent position to comment on this particular innovation in higher education, since Harvard University was the first school in the United States to have a graduate program in business administration. The novelty of the business school should not be overestimated, since the wedding of theory and practice has been an unspoken motif of higher education since the foundation of the university in the Middle Ages. What has happened is that business has joined the ranks of the learned professions, no longer exclusively comprising theology, law, and medicine. The business school shows that universities are not merely devoted to postsecondary instruction, nor are they merely research institutions. They are both, and the active presence of young learners and mature scholars is necessary to their organic health. "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" (Whitehead 1929, p. 93). This community of young and old is a further extension of the organic nature of learning. It makes the university analogous to other living associations, such as the family. The place of imagination in university life illustrates Whitehead's insistence on the aesthetic element in education. Universities are not merely institutions of analytic and intellectual skills, but of their imaginative integration into life. There is a creative element to all university activity (and not merely to the fine arts), a creativity necessary to the survival of life in a world of adventurous change. "Knowledge does not keep any better than fish" (Whitehead 1929, p. 98) and, while universities have a calling to preserve the great cultural achievements of the past, this conservatism must not be allowed to degenerate into a passive and unreflective commitment to inert ideas. "The task of a University is the creation of the future" (Whitehead 1938, p. 233). Ironically perhaps, the modern university, even one containing a business school, should not be managed like a business organization. The necessary freedom and risk, so important to the inventive scholar, requires a polity "beyond all regulation" (Whitehead 1929, p. 99).

Civilization, as Whitehead expresses it in his 1933 book, Adventures of Ideas (pp. 309381), is constituted by five fundamental ideals, namely, beauty, truth, art, adventure, and peace. These five capture the aims, the rhythm, and the living, zestful and ordered progress of education and its institutional forms. They constitute a rich meaning of the term creativity, the ultimate driving source and goal of Whitehead's educational theory and program.

See also: Philosophy of Education.


Brumbaugh, Robert S. 1982. Whitehead, Process Philosophy, and Education. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Dunkel, Harold B. 1965. Whitehead on Education. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

Johnson, Allison H. 1958. Whitehead's Philosophy of Civilization. Boston: Beacon.

Levi, Albert W. 1937. "The Problem of Higher Education: Whitehead and Hutchins." Harvard Educational Review 7:451465.

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

Whitehead, Alfred North. 1929. The Aims of Education and Other Essays. New York: Macmillan.

Whitehead, Alfred North. 1933. Adventures of Ideas. New York: Macmillan.

Whitehead, Alfred North. 1938. Modes of Thought. New York: Macmillan.

Robert J. Mulvaney

Alfred North Whitehead

views updated May 14 2018

Alfred North Whitehead

English-born American mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) pioneered in mathematical logic, demonstrating that all mathematics may be derived from a few logical concepts. He also produced a comprehensive philosophical system in accord with contemporary science.

Alfred North Whitehead was born on Feb. 15, 1861, in Kent, England. His father, an Anglican clergyman, had a keen interest in education. Whitehead's character and intellectual orientation were largely shaped by his father's personality. After studying Latin, Greek, and mathematics in Dorsetshire, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1880 as a scholarship student in mathematics. Elected to a fellowship in 1884, Whitehead remained at Cambridge until 1910, rising to the position of senior lecturer.

In 1890 Whitehead married Evelyn Willoughby Wade, to whom he attributed his interests in moral, esthetic, and other humane values. The Whitehead's had three children; the youngest son's death in World War I profoundly affected Whitehead's later reflections on human life.

Early Work

At Cambridge, Whitehead concentrated on mathematical logic. He sought to develop an abstract (that is, nonnumerical) algebra. For the first volume of A Treatise on Universal Algebra (1898) he was elected to the Royal Society. His second volume was never published. Meanwhile, Bertrand Russell had worked independently on the logical foundations of mathematics and published Principles of Mathematics (1903). Whitehead and Russell collaborated for nearly a decade; the result was Principia Mathematica (3 vols., 1910-1913).

Widely recognized as one of the great intellectual achievements of all time, Principia Mathematica sought to demonstrate that mathematics could be deduced from postulates of formal logic. No work in logic since Aristotle's Organon has had a greater impact on the field than Principia Mathematica. Its influence on mathematics has also been considerable, manifest in the teaching of "new mathematics" in American schools today.

In 1910, in London, Whitehead wrote Introduction to Mathematics. In 1911 he began teaching at the University College, London, and in 1914 he became professor at the Imperial College of Science and Technology, subsequently becoming dean of the faculty of science in the University of London. During this period his interests centered on the philosophy of science.

Philosophy of Science

His 1906 paper, "On Mathematical Concepts of the Material World," had shown Whitehead's concern with connecting the formal concepts of a logicomathematical system, such as he conceived geometry to be, with features of the experienced world of space, time, and matter. In Enquiry concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge (1919) he introduced the method of extensive abstraction. This method defines, for example, a formal element, like a point, in terms of a whole convergent set of volumes of a certain shape extending over others of the same shape, like a nest of Chinese boxes.

These investigations were pressed further in The Concept of Nature (1920). Whitehead rejected the prevailing dualism. He defined nature as that which is "disclosed in sense experience"; and he stressed, not our simple awareness of particular sensations, but rather our deep-seated feeling of a spatiotemporally extended passage going on in nature. Moreover, Whitehead analyzed the passage of nature into events and objects. Events are happenings which, while they may overlap, come into being and pass away. Objects, on the contrary, are constant; they are patterns which recur. Whitehead claimed that such a pervasive pattern, an element of permanence in the flux, accounts for nature's uniformity. It is bound up with the categories of space, time, causation, and matter.

Whitehead, keenly interested in Albert Einstein's relativity theory, could not, however, accept it without a revision so radical as to constitute an alternative. The Principle of Relativity (1922) proposed a homaloidal conception of space and an absolutistic conception of measurement. (Physicists, however, have preferred Einstein's version of relativity for experimental reasons.)

Move to America

In 1924 Whitehead transported his family to America, where he became a philosophy professor at Harvard University. He devoted his Harvard years to elaborating a comprehensive philosophy.

Whitehead's 1925 Lowell Lectures at Harvard, published as Science and the Modern World (1925), immediately appealed to avant-garde thinkers not only in the sciences but also in religion and in the humanities. On the one hand, Whitehead wrote clearly about difficult points in the history of literature and science, such as romantic poetry and the new discoveries in quantum mechanics. On the other hand, he wrote numerous technical paragraphs which invited painstaking exegesis. The work, widely read and discussed, introduced Whitehead's own "philosophy of organism."

In 1926 Whitehead published his influential Religion in the Making. In Symbolism, Its Meaning and Effect (1927) he presented his theory of perception, marking his epistemology off from that of the empiricists. He noted two modes of perception: perception by presentational immediacy and perception by causal efficacy. Perception by presentational immediacy is the apprehension of distinct sense data— colors, sounds, shapes, and so on. Empiricists take this mode of perception to be fundamental, whereas Whitehead saw it as derivative from the mode of perception by causal efficacy. This second mode presents the deep-seated pervasive feelings that the perceiving organism has by virtue of its causal relations to other beings. By stressing perception by causal efficacy, Whitehead believed he would escape the subjectivism and skepticism into which traditional empiricism fell.

Process and Reality

Process and Reality (1929), probably Whitehead's most famous book in philosophy, presents his system of speculative philosophy, which he called "cosmology." According to Whitehead, speculative philosophy is the endeavor to frame a coherent set of basic concepts capable of interpreting every item of experience; he unveiled a technical system of 36 categories. It suffices here to cite four: actual entities, eternal objects, nexus, and creativity. Actual entities are the ultimately real things, coming into being and passing away. As momentary entities, they may be equated with the event constituting the leap of an electron from one orbit in its atom to another, or with an occasion of experience. Eternal objects, by contrast, are forms or qualities which recur in the passage of actual entities. A nexus is a society whose components are actual entities. Nexūs, or societies of actual entities, constitute the enduring objects—for example, trees and persons—encountered in ordinary experience. Creativity is the ultimate category, accounting for the novelty, the creative advance in the world. God is a derivative notion; it is an accident of creativity.

Process and Reality is widely considered the final formulation of the evolutionary, process philosophies which, stimulated in the first instance by the scientific achievement of Charles Darwin, were espoused by Herbert Spencer, Henri Bergson, and others.

As a result of his contributions, Whitehead was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1931. In his last major work, Adventures of Ideas (1933), he further clarified his key ideas, relating them to earlier ideas in the history of thought, particularly the basic concepts of Plato. He also offered an interpretation of history and civilization, revealing the extent to which a few leading ideas shape human destiny. Because of its lucidity, profundity, and relevance, Adventures of Ideas is the best introduction to Whitehead's philosophy.

In 1937 Whitehead became emeritus professor of philosophy at Harvard. He stayed on in Cambridge, Mass., continuing discussions with students, former students, colleagues, and friends. A sample of these was published by Lucien Price as The Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead (1954). In 1945 the British crown awarded Whitehead the Order of Merit, the highest honor it bestows on a man of learning. Whitehead died in Cambridge, Mass., on Dec. 30, 1947.

Further Reading

The basic study of Whitehead is Paul A. Schlipp, ed., The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1941; 2d ed. 1951). The best guide to Whitehead's thought is Victor Lowe, Understanding Whitehead (1962). Also noteworthy are Nathaniel Lawrence, Whitehead's Philosophical Development (1956), and Wolfe May, The Philosophy of Whitehead (1959). Special aspects of Whitehead's philosophy are dealt with in Dorothy M. Emmet, Whitehead's Philosophy of Organism (1932; 3d ed. 1966); A. H. Johnson, Whitehead's Theory of Reality (1952) and Whitehead's Philosophy of Civilization (1958); Ivor Leclerc, Whitehead's Metaphysics: An Introductory Exposition (1958); Robert M. Palter, Whitehead's Philosophy of Science (1960); Donald Sherburne, A Whiteheadian Aesthetic: Some Implications of Whitehead's Metaphysical Speculation (1961); John B. Cobb, Jr., A Christian Natural Theology: Based on the Thought of Alfred North Whitehead (1965); and Edward Pols, Whitehead's Metaphysics (1967). □

Alfred North Whitehead

views updated May 23 2018

Alfred North Whitehead


English philosopher and mathematician who made valuable contributions to the fields of pure and applied mathematics. Whitehead was educated at Cambridge and became a professor at the University of London and later at Harvard. He authored several important works, including A Treatise of Universal Algebra (1898), The Principle of Relativity (1922), which challenged Einstein's general theory of relativity, and Process and Reality (1929). He also co-authored the landmark book Principia Mathematica (1910-13) with philosopher Bertrand Russell.

Whitehead, A. N.

views updated Jun 27 2018

Whitehead, A. N. (philosopher): see PROCESS THEOLOGY.

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