For students and teachers of natural philosophy, this is essential reading.
English mathematician and philosopher ALFRED NORTH WHITEHEAD (1861-1947) contributed significantly to 20th-century logic and metaphysics. With Bertrand Russell he cowrote the landmark Principia Mathematica, and also authored An Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge, The Function of Reason, and Process and Reality.
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About the Author
Born on February 15, 1861, in Kent, England, ALFRED NORTH WHITEHEAD profoundly influenced the fields of science and mathematical logic. Readily admitting his indebtedness to such scholars as Henri Bergman, whose work constituted the main challenge to the mechanistic view of nature, Whitehead used his grounding in mathematics in his later investigation of metaphysics.
A lecturer in mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge University, from 1884 until 1911, Whitehead spent the first of three periods of his academic life concentrating on mathematics and logic. There he met his most famous student, Bertrand Russell, and the two composed the three-volume Principia Mathematica (1910-1913), a momentous work that advanced new theories in the study of logic. Second in influence only to Aristotle's Organon, the Principia Mathematica advanced the theory that mathematics could, in some important sense, be reduced to logic. This monumental work popularized modern mathematical logic, demonstrating its deductive power and exhibiting its connections with metaphysics and epistemology. By introducing such ideas as propositional function and type theory, Principia Mathematica paved the way for other logicians like Kurt Goedel, among others, to build their own mathematical theories. Even today, Whitehead and Russell's work remains controversial, with contemporary scholars debating its influence.
As a lecturer in applied mathematics and mechanics at the University of Londongenerally considered to be his second period of activityWhitehead focuseed his attention on the philosophy of natural science. In The concept of nature (1920), Whitehead argued that nature consists only of what the senses perceive. He dismissed as unnecessary the division of nature into apparent, the world as physically experienced, and causal, the world as scientific theories depict it. Influenced by Albert Einstein's theory of relativity, Whitehead thought that ideas employed in mathematics and physics, which are not directly identified through the senses, could be described in terms of the things that the senses do perceive. Whitehad also rejected the belief that every object possesses a simple spatial or temporal location and elaborated this theory and others in Process and Reality (1929). While at London, Whitehead served as the dean of the Faculty of Science, publishing several essays on education (collected in The Aims of Education and Other Essays).
In 1924, Whitehead moved to the United States, where he taught at Harvard, lecturing on general issues in philosophy. Here, Whitehead developed his work on metaphysicsstrongly influenced by his scientific backgroundcalling his concept of reality the "philosophy of organics" (which contradicted commonly held views of material substance) and rejecting the notion of a perfect, omnipotent God. Whitehead's process philosophy, which said that nature comprises dynamic processes and not fixed things, greatly influenced theologians in the latter half of the twentieth century. Christianity in particular found useful process pbilosophy's ability to link theology to the natural sciences, seemingly giving traditional Christian beliefs more credibility. Process philosophy also offers a solution to the problem of theodicyalthough God tries to realize value in the world, human beings can actually frustrate divine intentions in the natural process.
In 1945, Whitehead received the Order of Merit, a British honor that rewards achievement in science, art, or literature. Whitehead died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on December 30, 1947. Whitehead's other works include The Organisation of Thought (1916), Principles of Natural Knowledge (1919), The Principle of Relativity (1922), Science and the Modern World (1925), Religion in the Making (1926), Symbolism (1927), Adventures of Ideas (1933), and Essays in Science and Philosophy (1947).