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Alfred North WHITEHEAD


Alfred North Whitehead, English mathematician and philosopher, was born in England in 1861, schooled at home until age 14, and graduated at Trinity College, Cambridge, UK in 1884. Despite his poor publication record, he was promoted to a Lectureship in mathematics, and tought from 1888 until 1911. He started to work on a Treatise on Universal Algebra in 1891. Having little prospects of a mathematics chair at Cambridge, he moved to the University of London, UK, where he appointed lecturer in applied mathematics and mechanics (1911-14) and professor of mathematics (1914-24). Ultimately, he moved to Harvard, US, in 1924 where he was professor of philosophy and remained there for the rest of his life. "The first lecture in a course on philosophy which you had ever attended was the one given by yourself", was he reminded when, in 1945, he received the Order of Merit. He died in 1947 at the age of 86.


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.

As the Principia Mathematica neared completion, Whitehead turned his attention to the philosophy of science. This interest arose out of the attempt to explain the relation of formal mathematical theories in physics to their basis in experience, and was sparked by the revolution brought on by Einstein's general theory of relativity. In The Principle of Relativity (1922), Whitehead presented an alternative to Einstein's views.

Logicism, the theory that mathematics is in some important sense reducible to logic, consists of two main theses. The first is that all mathematical truths can be translated into logical truths or, in other words, that the vocabulary of mathematics constitutes a proper subset of that of logic. The second is that all mathematical proofs can be recast as logical proofs or, in other words, that the theorems of mathematics constitute a proper subset of those of logic.

Whitehead's life is often described as having three distinct phases roughly corresponding to his academic positions, and his influence can be felt in all three areas--that of a mathematician and logician (Trinity1884-1910), a philosopher of science (London 1910-1924) and a philosopher of metaphysics (Harvard from 1924 onward). During this latter period he developed a comprehensive metaphysical system which has come to be known as Process Philosophy. In contrast to traditional philosophies, he asserted the essential inter-relationship of matter, space, and time; that objects may be understood as a series of events and processes. This concept was elaborated further in his book Process and Reality (1929) to assert that the process of becoming, what he calls an actual occasion, rather than substance, constituted the fundamental metaphysical constituent of the universe. This was the genesis of the school of Process Philosophy which later influenced what has become to be known as Process New Thought. He stated that "nature is a structure of evolving processes. The reality is the process."

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 immutable God.


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).

An emerging book on Teilhard and Whitehead, developed along an integrative procedure

Other interesting pages on Whitehead (Google)

The following books by Alfred North Whitehead may be read online:

Religion in the Making
The Concept of Nature


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