Philosophy Index

Alfred North Whitehead

Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) was an English mathematician, logician and philosopher, perhaps best known as co-author of Principia Mathematica with Bertrand Russell, and for his own Process and Reality.

Process and Reality

In Process and Reality, Whitehead describes his metaphysical system, which he calls “philosophy of organism”. Whitehead says that the fundamental components of reality are occasions of experience. All things are a series of experiences, and those experiences form out of reactions that depend on previous experiences. However, these experiences are not deterministic. Instead, process philosophy states that free will is the inherent process of the universe, with experiences dictating what is, rather than the other way around.

Whitehead's metaphysics can be compared to that of Spinoza, who claims that God is the single substance of which all things are made. However, for Whitehead, God consists of all experiences, as well as all potential experiences. Rather than being an omnipotent, all-powerful being, God's role in Whitehead's philosophy is to provide possibilities for the universe, which are then either accepted into experience or denied existence. God is still omnipresent, as God experiences all of the things that come into being, or “becoming” as process philosophers often say.

Whitehead's stance in metaphysics is somewhat surprising for a prominent logician. However, as he was well-versed in physics, Whitehead developed his version of process philosophy in part as a reaction to the rapidly changing landscape of physics. Witnessing the challenge to Newtonian physics brought by Albert Einstein's relativity, as well as the bizzare new theories of quantum mechanics, Whitehead's speculation that reality may itself bend to experience may be seen, in part, as a reaction to the alarming developments in the scientific world.

Selected Works

  • Principia Mathematica (with Bertrand Russell, 1910)
  • Process and Reality (1929)
  • Adventures of Ideas (1933)

Vitals

Name: Alfred North Whitehead
Born: February 15, 1861
Died: December 30, 1947
Titles: Order of Merit