Alfred North Whitehead

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Whitehead, Alfred North,

1861–1947, English mathematician and philosopher, grad. Trinity College, Cambridge, 1884. There he was a lecturer in mathematics until 1911. At the Univ. of London he was a lecturer in applied mathematics and mechanics (1911–14) and professor of mathematics (1914–24). From 1924 he was professor of philosophy at Harvard. Whitehead's distinction rests upon his contributions to mathematics and logic, the philosophy of science, and the study of metaphysics. In the field of mathematics Whitehead extended the range of algebraic procedures and, in collaboration with Bertrand Russell, wrote Principia Mathematica (3 vol., 1910–13), a landmark in the study of logic. His inquiries into the structure of science provided the background for his metaphysical writings. He criticized traditional categories of philosophy for their failure to convey the essential interrelation of matter, space, and time. For this reason he invented a special vocabulary to communicate his concept of reality, which he called the philosophy of organism. He formulated a system of ultimate and universal ideas and justified them by their fruitful interpretation of observable experience. His philosophic construction as applied to religion offered a concept of God as interdependent with the world and developing with it; he rejected the notion of a perfect and omnipotent God. In 1945 he received the Order of Merit. His works include The Organisation of Thought (1916), Principles of Natural Knowledge (1919), The Concept of Nature (1920), The Principle of Relativity (1922), Science and the Modern World (1925), Religion in the Making (1926), Symbolism (1927), The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1929), Process and Reality (1929), Adventures of Ideas (1933), and Essays in Science and Philosophy (1947).


See J. W. Blyth, Whitehead's Theory of Knowledge (1941, repr. 1973); P. A. Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (2d ed. 1951, repr. 1971); A. H. Johnson, Whitehead's Philosophy of Civilization (1958, repr. 1962); V. A. Lowe, Understanding Whitehead (1962); D. M. Emmett, Whitehead's Philosophy of Organism (1966); C. Hartshorne, Whitehead's Philosophy: Selected Essays, 1935–1970 (1972); D. L. Hall, The Civilization of Experience (1973); V. Lowe, Alfred North Whitehead: The Man and His Work, 1861–1910 (1985).

Whitehead, Alfred North


Born Feb. 15,1861, in Rams-gate, Kent; died Dec. 30, 1947, in Cambridge, Mass. English mathematician, logician, and philosopher. Member of the British Academy (1931).

Whitehead lectured in mathematics at Cambridge University and became a professor of applied mathematics at the Imperial College of Science and Technology in London in 1914. In 1924 he was appointed a professor of philosophy at Harvard University, where he taught until 1937. A founder, with B. Russell, of the school of logicism in the philosophy of mathematics, Whitehead collaborated with Russell on the Principia Mathematica (vols. 1–3,1910–13), a seminal work that largely shaped the subsequent development of mathematical logic.

Whitehead, whose thinking evolved within the framework of neorealism, sought to integrate philosophy with the scientific discoveries of the 19th and 20th centuries. In the first period of his creative life, extending to the mid-1920’s, he attempted to solve the problem of the “bifurcation of nature” by representing nature as the unity of “events” and “objects.” The former he defined as the elementary factors of sense experience; objects were the nontransitory elements of nature, that is, the enduring aspects of transitory, or passing, events. Such a view of the world, according to Whitehead, makes it possible to interpret nature as a “process” and thus to reconcile the statement that nature is independent of thought with the assertion that nature is identical with experience.

During his second creative period Whitehead made a transition to objective idealism, which is related to Platonism. He proceeded from the ontological principle that all reality is part of experience—individual experience with respect to finite things, divine experience with respect to the world as a whole. In such a theory the process of the universe is interpreted as an experience of god, in which a transition of “eternal objects” occurs from the ideal world to the physical one, so that “actual occasions” (the processes of experience or individual acts) can be determined qualitatively. Because an occasion has a temporal character and is continually changing, it is organic. Hence, the concept of matter, in Whitehead’s scheme, may be replaced by the concept of organism, with the result that science now becomes the study of organisms.

As a sociologist, Whitehead recognized ideas as the driving force of society, and he stressed the absolute role of individual personality in history.


An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge. Cambridge, 1919.
The Concept of Nature. Cambridge, 1920.
Science and the Modern World. New York, 1926.
Religion in the Making. Cambridge, 1926.
Process and Reality. New York, 1960.
Modes of Thought. New York, 1938.
Essays in Science and Philosophy. New York, 1947.
Anthology. New York, 1953.
Adventures of Ideas. New York, 1959.
In Russian translation:
Vvedenie v matematiku. St. Petersburg, 1915.


Frankel, H. Zlokliucheniia idei. Moscow, 1959. (Translated from English.)
Bogomolov, A. S. “Neorealizm i spekuliativnaia filosofiia (A. N. Uaitkhed).” In the collection Sovremennyi ob”ektivnyi idealizm. Moscow, 1963.
Bogomolov, A. S. Angliiskaia burzhuaznaia filosofiia XXveka. Moscow, 1973. Chapters 4 and 5.
Bogomolov, A. S. Burzhuaznaia filosofiia SShA XXveka. Moscow, 1974. Chapter 5.
Hill, T. E. Sovremennaia teoriia poznaniia. Moscow, 1965. Chapter 9. (Translated from English.)
The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead. Edited by P. Schilpp. Evanston, 111., 1941.
Lawrence, N. Whitehead’s Philosophical Development. Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1956.
Mays, W. The Philosophy of Whitehead. New York, 1962.
Jordan, M. New Shapes of Reality: Aspects of Alfred North White-head’s Philosophy. London [1968]. (Contains bibliography.)


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