Philosophy begins in wonder. And, at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains. There has been added, however, some grasp of the immensity of things, some purification of emotion by understanding. Yet there is a danger in such reflections. An immediate good is apt to be thought of in the degenerate form of a passive enjoyment. Existence is activity ever merging into the future. The aim of philosophic understanding is the aim at piercing the blindness of activity in respect to its transcendent functions.

Alfred North Whitehead

Born: February 15, 1861

Died: December 30, 1947 (Age 86)

Alfred North Whitehead was an English mathematician and philosopher. He is best known as the defining figure of the philosophical school known as process philosophy, which today has found application to a wide variety of disciplines, including ecology, theology, education, physics, biology, economics, and psychology, among other areas.

In his early career Whitehead wrote primarily on mathematics, logic, and physics. His most notable work in these fields is the three-volume Principia Mathematica, which he wrote with former student Bertrand Russell. Principia Mathematica is considered one of the twentieth century's most important works in mathematical logic, and placed 23rd in a list of the top 100 English-language nonfiction books of the twentieth century by Modern Library.

Beginning in the late 1910s and early 1920s, Whitehead gradually turned his attention from mathematics to philosophy of science, and finally to metaphysics. He developed a comprehensive metaphysical system which radically departed from most of western philosophy. Whitehead argued that reality consists of processes rather than material objects, and that processes are best defined by their relations with other processes, thus rejecting the theory that reality is fundamentally constructed by bits of matter that exist independently of one another. Today Whitehead's philosophical works—particularly Process and Reality—are regarded as the foundational texts of process philosophy.

Available Documents: 3

Essays in Science and Philosophy
Book
1948
2
104
This is a collection of many of Whitehead’s papers that are scattered elsewhere. It was the penultimate book he published, and represents his mature thoughts on many topics. The first three chapters consist of Whitehead’s personal reflections illumined by flashes of his lively humor. They are picturesque and amusing. The remainder of the book consists of chapters on Philosophy, Education, and Science. They cover in depth his positions on many scientific and philosophical matters in an extraordinarily unified way. The final section of the book is devoted to excellent surveys of Geometry and Mathematics as well as a paper on Einstein’s theories.
Nature and Life
Lecture
October 1933
12,557
12
7
Two lectures delivered by Alfred North Whitehead at the University of Chicago on the complex relationship between nature, philosophy and science. Later published as part of the Cambridge Miscellany series in 1934.
Process and Reality
Book
1929
5
One of the major philosophical texts of the twentieth century, Process and Reality is based on Alfred North Whitehead’s influential lectures that he delivered at the University of Edinburgh in the 1920s. In it, he propounds a philosophy of organism (or process philosophy), in which the various elements of reality are brought into a consistent relation to each other. It is also an exploration of some of the preeminent thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, such as Descartes, Newton, Locke, and Kant.

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