Whitehead, Alfred North

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Whitehead, Alfred North

Alfred North Whitehead, 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).

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