Alfred North Whitehead, OM was a British mathematician who became
a philosopher. He was born in Ramsgate, Kent, UK, and died in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. He wrote on algebra, logic, foundations
of mathematics, philosophy of science, physics, metaphysics, and
education. He is the coauthor, along with Bertrand Russell, of
the epochal Principia Mathematica.
Whitehead's career is conventionally divided into three phases:
He studied, taught, and wrote mathematics at Trinity College,
Cambridge, spending the 1890s writing his (1898) and working on
the Principia, 1900-1913. On Whitehead the mathematician and logician,
see Grattan-Guinness (2000, 2002), and Quine's chapter in Schilpp
(1941), reprinted in Quine (1995). Whitehead left Cambridge just
as the first volume of the Principia appeared, to protest the
dismissal, because of an adulterous affair, of a Trinity College
This period was mostly spent at University College London and
Imperial College London, where he taught and wrote on physics,
the philosophy of science, and the theory and practice of education.
In physics, Whitehead is best known for a theory of gravity that
differed from Einstein's general relativity. From the outset,
Whitehead's theory received less attention than Einstein's, and
was generally discredited by 1972, by a comparison of experimental
and predicted variability of the gravitational constant G.
1924, he accepted an offer of a Harvard University professorship
in philosophy, a subject he had not previously taught. The offer
had been instigated by a Boston businessman who partly endowed
the position. Whitehead was asked to give the 1927 Gifford Lectures
at the University of Edinburgh, which resulted in his (1929),
Process and Reality, the book that founded process philosophy
and is a major contribution to modern metaphysics.
A signal feature of Process and Reality is its philosophical use
of mereological and topological notions. Bowman Clarke argued
in the 1980s that this part of Whitehead's thinking was seriously
flawed, and showed how it could be repaired. Simons (1987) contains
an accessible review of Clarke's work.
feature of Process and Reality is its argument in favor of theism,
although Whitehead's God is understood differently from the revealed
God of Abrahamic religion. Process philosophy gave rise to process
theology, thanks to the theologian/philosophers Charles Hartshorne,
John B. Cobb, Jr, and David Ray Griffin. Some Christians and Jews
find process theology a fruitful way of understanding God and
the universe. Just as the entire universe is in constant flow
and change, God, as source of the universe, is viewed as growing
and changing. Whitehead's rejection of mind-body dualism is similar
to elements in faith traditions such as Buddhism.
political views were similar to libertarianism without the label.
He wrote: "Now the intercourse between individuals and between
social groups takes one of two forms, force or persuasion. Commerce
is the great example of intercourse by way of persuasion. War,
slavery, and governmental compulsion exemplify the reign of force."
married Evelyn Wade, with whom he had a daughter and two sons.
One son died in action while serving in the Royal Air Force during
World War I.
of Whitehead were produced by his former Harvard student, Victor
Lowe (1985) and Lowe and Schneewind (1990). A comprehensive appraisal
of his work is difficult because unlike Bertrand Russell, Whitehead
left no Nachlass; his family carried out his instructions that
all of his papers be destroyed after his death.
is the last refuge of human savagery."
consider Christianity to be one of the great disasters of the
human race.... It would be impossible to imagine anything more
un-Christianlike than theology."
society is now constituted, a literal adherence to the moral precepts
scattered throughout the Gospels would mean sudden death."
total absence of humour in the Bible is one of the most singular
things in all literature."