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Portrait of Alfred North Whitehead

Alfred North Whitehead

Mathematician and Philosopher
February 15, 1861 – December 30, 1947

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.

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Cover image for Essays in Science and Philosophy

Essays in Science and Philosophy

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.

Cover image for Modes of Thought

Modes of Thought

Whitehead believed that reality consisted of organic processes within processes, all interrelated and overlapping. These processes are the basis on which human experience, conscious and otherwise, becomes an ongoing center of integrated and novel freedom. In this collection of lectures he urges us to consider “Importance” as an ultimate notion underlying our impulse to create the various modes and sub-generalities of thought which guide our planning and acting.

Nature and Life

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.

Cover image for Process and Reality

Process and Reality

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.