Alfred North Whitehead


Reference Material - Irvine, A. D., "Alfred North Whitehead", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2003 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Excerpts from Science and the Modern World.(Lowell Lectures 1925)

"If the cause in itself discloses no information as to the effect, so that the first invention of it must be entirely arbitrary, it follows at once that science is impossible, except in the sense of establishing entirely arbitrary connections which are not warranted by anything intrinsic to the nature either of causes or effects....In view of this strange contradiction in scientific thought, it is of the first importance to consider the antecedents of a faith which is impervious to the demand of a consistent rationality." p4

"The pilgrim fathers of the scientific imagination as it exists today are the great tragedians of ancient Athens, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides.  Their vision of fate, remorseless and indifferent, urging a tragic incident to its inevitable issue, is the vision possessed by science.  Fate in Greek Tragedy becomes the order of nature in modern thought....Let me here remind you that the essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness.  It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things....This remorseless inevitableness is what pervades scientific thought.  The laws of physics are the decrees of fate." p10-11

"The faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivative from medieval theology." p14

"If science is not to degenerate into a medley of ad hoc hypotheses, it must become philosophical and must enter upon  a thorough criticism of its own foundations." p18

"Thought is abstract; and the intolerant use of abstractions is the major vice of the intellect.  This vice is not wholly corrected by the recurrence to concrete experience.  For after all, you need only attend to those aspects of your concrete experience which lie within some limited scheme.  There are two methods for the purifications of ideas.  One of them is dispassionate observations by means of the bodily senses.  But observation is selection.. .The other method is by comparing the various schemes of abstraction which are well founded in our various types of experience." p19-20

"...while the harmony of logic lies upon the universe as a iron necessity, the aesthetic harmony stands before it as a living ideal moulding the general flux in its broken progress toward finer, subtler issues." p20