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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index W > Alfred North Whitehead Quotes > Philosophy

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Alfred North Whitehead
(15 Feb 1861 - 30 Dec 1947)

English mathematician and philosopher who worked in logic, physics, and later in his life spent more time on the philosophy of science and metaphysics. He worked with Bertrand Russell on Principia Mathematica which shows that logic underlies all mathematics.



Every philosophy is tinged with the colouring of some secret imaginative background, which never emerges explicitly into its train of reasoning.
— Alfred North Whitehead
In Science and the Modern World (1925), 7.
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It is a safe rule to apply that, when a mathematical or philosophical author writes with a misty profoundity, he is talking nonsense.
— Alfred North Whitehead
In An Introduction to Mathematics (1911), 227.
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It is a temptation for philosophers that they should weave a fairy tale of the adjustment of factors; and then as an appendix introduce the notion of frustration, as a secondary aspect. I suggest to you that this is the criticism to be made on the monistic idealisms of the nineteenth century, and even of the great Spinoza. It is quite incredible that the Absolute, as conceived in monistic philosophy, should evolve confusion about its own details.
— Alfred North Whitehead
In Modes of Thought (1938), 69-70.
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It is rigid dogma that destroys truth; and, please notice, my emphasis is not on the dogma, but on the rigidity. When men say of any question, “This is all there is to be known or said of the subject; investigation ends here,” that is death. It may be that the mischief comes not from the thinker but for the use made of his thinking by late-comers. Aristotle, for example, gave us our scientific technique … yet his logical propositions, his instruction in sound reasoning which was bequeathed to Europe, are valid only within the limited framework of formal logic, and, as used in Europe, they stultified the minds of whole generations of mediaeval Schoolmen. Aristotle invented science, but destroyed philosophy.
— Alfred North Whitehead
Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead, as recorded by Lucien Price (1954, 2001), 165.
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Philosophy asks the simple question, What is it all about?
— Alfred North Whitehead
In 'Remarks: Analysis of Meaning', The Philosophical Review (Mar 1937), 46, No. 2, 178. Collected in Barbara MacKinnon, American Philosophy: A Historical Anthology (1985), 406.
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Philosophy begins in wonder. And, at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains. There have been added, however, some grasp of the immensity of things, some purification of emotion by understanding.
— Alfred North Whitehead
In Modes of Thought: Six Lectures Delivered in Wellesley College, Massachusetts, and Two Lectures in the University of Chicago (1908, 1938), 168
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Science repudiates philosophy. In other words, it has never cared to justify its truth or explain its meaning.
— Alfred North Whitehead
Lowell Lecture (Feb 1925), 'The Origins of Modern Science', collected in Science and the Modern World (1925), 17.
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The ideal of mathematics should be to erect a calculus to facilitate reasoning in connection with every province of thought, or of external experience, in which the succession of thoughts, or of events can be definitely ascertained and precisely stated. So that all serious thought which is not philosophy, or inductive reasoning, or imaginative literature, shall be mathematics developed by means of a calculus.
— Alfred North Whitehead
In Universal Algebra (1898), Preface.
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The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. I do not mean the systematic scheme of thought which scholars have doubtfully extracted from his writings. I allude to the wealth of general ideas scattered through them.
— Alfred North Whitehead
In Process and Reality (1929), 39.
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When you are criticizing the philosophy of an epoch do not chiefly direct your attention to these intellectual positions which its exponents feel it necessary to defend. There will be some fundamental assumption which adherents of all the various systems of the epoch unconsciously presuppose.
— Alfred North Whitehead
In Science and the Modern World (1925, 2011), 61. This idea can be seen summarized as “All epochs of thought have unconscious assumptions,” but this is not a quote found in these few words in Whitehouse’s writings.
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See also:

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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- 80 -
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- 70 -
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- 60 -
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- 50 -
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- 40 -
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- 30 -
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- 20 -
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- 10 -
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