Whitehead Quotes

The Bible preserves for us fragments of the process [of change] as it affected one gifted race at a nodal point. The record has been written up by editors with the mentality of later times. Thus the task of modern scholars is analogous to an endeavor to recover the histories of Denmark and Scotland from a study of Hamlet and Macbeth. . . . And with a leap of six hundred years one version of the story ends with the creed of the Council of Nicaea. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

Where there is no anticipation, change has to wait upon chance, and peters out amid neglect.Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

There can be no contract which does not presuppose custom, and no custom leaving no loophole for spontaneous contract. It is this truth that gives vitality to the Anglo‑American Common Law. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

Creeds are at once the outcome of speculation and efforts to curb speculation. . . . Wherever there is a creed, there is a heretic round the corner or in his grave. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

There can be no successful democratic society till general education conveys a philosophic outlook. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

The Western doctrine of Grace, derived from St. Augustine, leans heavily towards the notion of a wholly transcendent God imposing this partial favors on the world. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

Through the Dialogues Socrates and Plato are engaged in expressing manners of thought. Hardly ever is there [discussion of] particular action. . . Pericles stresses the other side. He is thinking of the activities of the individual citizens. . . . The Periclean ideal is action weaving itself into a texture of persuasive beauty analogous to the delicate splendor of nature. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

Senseless agencies and formulated aspirations cooperate in the work of driving mankind from its old anchorage. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

In each period there is a general form of the forms of thought; and, like the air we breathe, such a form is so translucent, and so pervading, and so seemingly necessary, that only by extreme effort can we become aware of it. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

Mere physical nature lets loose a flood, but it requires intelligence to provide a system of irrigation. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

Great ideas enter into reality with evil associates and with disgusting alliances. But the greatness remains, nerving the race in its slow ascent. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

We notice that a great idea in the background of dim consciousness is like a phantom ocean beating upon the shores of human life in successive waves of specialization. A whole succession of such waves are as drams slowly doing their work of sapping the base of some cliff of habit: but the seventh wave is a revolution ‑ “And the nations echo round”. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

A great idea is not to be conceived as merely waiting for enough good men to carry it into practical effect. That is a childish view of the history of ideas.  The ideal in the background is promoting the gradual growth of the requisite communal customs, adequate to sustain the load of its exemplification. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

The history of ideas is a history of mistakes. But through all mistakes it is also the history of the gradual purification of conduct. . . . In this way Plato is justified in his saying, “The creation of the world ‑ that is to say, the world of civilized order ‑ is the victory of persuasion over force.” Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

Strife is at least as real a fact in the world as Harmony. . . . But until some outline of understanding has been reached which elucidates the interfusion of strife and harmony, the intellectual driving force of successive generations will sway uneasily between the two. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

Strife is at least as real a fact in the world as Harmony. . . . But until some outline of understanding has been reached which elucidates the interfusion of strife and harmony, the intellectual driving force of successive generations will sway uneasily between the two.  Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

The new industrial system which should have been a triumph for the liberal doctrines, did not work well. . . . The mere doctrines of freedom, individualism, and competition, had produced a resurgence of something very like industrial slavery at the base of society. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

In considering the history of ideas, I maintain that the notion of ‘mere knowledge’ is a high abstraction which we should dismiss from our minds. Knowledge is always accompanied with accessories of emotion and purpose. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

At the present time there are prevalent four main doctrines concerning the Laws of Nature:

the doctrine of Law as immanent,

That the order of nature expresses the essence of things

the doctrine of Law as imposed

Implies Deism, from which it follows that the Laws of Nature will be strictly obeyed. This inevitability provided the basis for scientific advance. Apart from some notion of imposed Law, the doctrine of immanence provides absolutely no reason why the universe should not be steadily relapsing into lawless chaos.

the doctrine of Law as observed order of succession, Law as mere description

It is the great positivist doctrine: It tells us to keep to things observed, and to describe them as simply as we can. This is all we can know.

the doctrine of Law as conventional interpretation

Modern scientists rely upon authority, but they rely upon different authorities from those to whom the Scholastics appealed. The modern assumptions differ from older assumptions, not wholly for the better.

Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

Unrestricted liberty means complete absence of any compulsory coordination. Human society in the absence of any compulsion is trusting to the happy coordination of individual emotions, purposes, affections, and actions. Civilization can only exist amid a population which in the mass does exhibit this fortunate mutual adaptation. Unfortunately a minority of adverse individual instances, when unchecked, are sufficient to upset the social structure. . . . There can be no evasion of the plain fact that compulsion is necessary and that compulsion is the restriction of liberty. Whitehead, Adventure of Ideas

Mathematics is thought moving in the sphere of complete abstraction.  Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, Lowell Institute Lectures 1925, from Alfred North Whitehead, An Anthology, MacMillan.

Seventeenth century scientific development would have been impossible without the development of mathematics. The notion of recurrence of day‑night, seasons, rotating bodies, heartbeats, breathing, some regularity of occurrence, makes measurement possible. Observation of that phenomenon by Pythagoras gave rise to the mathematic notion of periodicity. That notion was taken up in the science of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with Keplar’s laws of planetary orbits; Galileo’s observation of vibrations of pendulum; Newton’s theory of sound as periodic compression and decompression of air (condensation and rarefaction). Modern science depended upon the abstract notion of periodicity ‑ up to quantum physics.  Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, Lowell Institute Lectures 1925, from Alfred North Whitehead, An Anthology, MacMillan.

Speculative extension beyond direct observation spells some trust in metaphysics, however vaguely these metaphysical notions may be entertained in explicit thought. Our metaphysical knowledge is slight, superficial, incomplete. Thus errors creep in. But, such as it is, metaphysical understanding guides imagination and justifies purpose. Apart from metaphysical presupposition there can be no civilization. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

There can be no successful democratic society till general education conveys a philosophic outlook.  Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

[Philosophy] is a survey of possibilities and their comparison with actualities. . . . Its gifts are insight and foresight, and a sense of the worth of life, in short, that sense of importance which nerves all civilized effort. . . . But when civilization culminates, the absence of a coordinating philosophy of life, spread throughout the community, spells decadence, boredom, and the slackening of effort. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

It is fashionable to state that religion and science can never clash because they deal with different topics. I believe that solution is entirely mistaken. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

I hazard the prophecy that that religion will conquer which can render clear to popular understanding some eternal greatness incarnate in the passage of temporal fact. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

Familiar things happen, and mankind does not bother about them. It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.  Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, Lowell Institute Lectures 1925, from Alfred North Whitehead, An Anthology, MacMillan.

The roots of modern ideas lies with the Greeks. The Greek genius was philosophical, lucid and logical. They developed mathematic principles by a rigid adherence to deductive reasoning. the minds were infected with an eager generality. They demanded clear, bold ideas, and strict reasoning from them. . . . But it was not science as we understand it. . . The Greeks held a dramatic view of nature in which everything played a part. . . . The Greek drama was characterized by the inevitableness of destiny, which was the essence of dramatic tragedy. . . The remorseless inevitability is what pervades scientific thought. The laws of physics are the decrees of fate. Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World” Lowell Institute Lectures 1925, from Alfred North Whitehead, An Anthology, MacMillan.

The restless modern search for increased accuracy of observation and for increased detailed explanation is based upon unquestioning faith in the reign of Law. Apart from such faith, the enterprise of science is foolish, hopeless. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

There can be no living science unless there is a widespread instinctive conviction in the existence of an Order of Things, and, in particular, of an Order of Nature. Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World” Lowell Institute Lectures 1925, from Alfred North Whitehead, An Anthology, MacMillan.

Faith in reason is the trust that the ultimate nature of things lie together in harmony which excludes mere arbitrariness. It is the faith that at the base of things we shall not find mere arbitrary mystery. . . . This faith cannot be justified by any inductive generalization. It springs from direct inspection of the nature of things as disclosed in our own immediate past experience. Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World” Lowell Institute Lectures 1925, from Alfred North Whitehead, An Anthology, MacMillan.

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. Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World” Lowell Institute Lectures 1925, from Alfred North Whitehead, An Anthology, MacMillan.

With scientific thought being based upon quantification, it is no wonder that scientists placed their principles upon a materialistic basis and thereafter ceased to worry about philosophy.  Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World” Lowell Institute Lectures 1925, from Alfred North Whitehead, An Anthology, MacMillan.

Intolerance is the besetting sin of moral fervor. The first important pronouncement in which tolerance is associated with moral fervor, is in the Parable of the Tares and Wheat.

Intolerance is the besetting sin of moral fervor. The first important pronouncement in which tolerance is associated with moral fervor, is in the Parable of the Tares and Wheat. Alfred NorthWhitehead, Adventures of Ideas

Plato above all men introduced into the world this further essential element of civilization. . . . The moral of his writings is that all points of view, reasonably coherent and in some sense with an application, have something to contribute to our understanding of the universe, and also involve omissions whereby they fail to include the totality of evident fact. The duty of tolerance is our finite homage to the abundance of inexhaustible novelty which is awaiting the future, and to the complexity of accomplished fact which exceeds our stretch of insight. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

Considering some of Plato’s phrases and his own ideas:

If, then, Socrates, we find ourselves in many points unable to make our discourse of the generation of gods and the universe in every way wholly consistent and exact, you must not be surprised. Nay, we must be well content if we can provide an account not less likely than another’s; we must remember that I who speak, and you who are my audience, are but men and should be satisfied to ask for no more than the likely story.Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

Plato above all men introduced into the world this further essential element of civilization. . . . The moral of his writings is that all points of view, reasonably coherent and in some sense with an application, have something to contribute to our understanding of the universe, and also involve omissions whereby they fail to include the totality of evident fact. The duty of tolerance is our finite homage to the abundance of inexhaustible novelty which is awaiting the future, and to the complexity of accomplished fact which exceeds our stretch of insight. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

Considering some of Plato’s phrases and his own ideas:

After instinct and intellectual ferment have done their work there is a decision which determines the mode of coalescence of instinct with intelligence. I will term this factor Wisdom. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

Wisdom is persistent pursuit of the deeper understanding, ever confronting intellectual system with the importance of its omissions. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

These three elements, Instinct, Intelligence, Wisdom, cannot be torn apart.  Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas

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