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The Wit and Wisdom of Alfred North Whitehead



  Contents:

  The Nature and Function of Philosophy
  Critical Comments Concerning Philosophers and Philosophy
  Thought
  Science
  Morality
  Social Philosophy
  Philosophy of History
  Religion
  Education


1. The Nature and Function of Philosophy


Philosophy asks the simple question, What is it all about? (Phil. Rev. p. 178)

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. (M.T. p.232)

Every philosophy is tinged with the colouring of some secret imaginative background, which never emerges explicity into its trains of reasoning. (S.M.W. p. 11)

Philosophy is not a mere collection of noble sentiments. A deluge of such sentiments does more harm than good. ... It is not - or, at least, should not be - a ferocious debate between irritable professors. It is a survey of possibilities and their comparison with actualities. In philosophy, the fact, the theory, the alternatives, and the ideal, are weighed together. Its gifts are insight and foresight, and a sense of the worth of life, in short, that sense of importance which nerves all civilised effort. Mankind can flourish in the lower stages of life with merely barbaric flashes of thought. But when civilisation culminates, the absence of a co-ordinating philosophy of life, spread throughout the community, spells decadence, boredom, and the slackening of effort. (A.I. p. 125)

If my view of the function of philosophy is correct, it is the most effective of all the intellectual pursuits. It builds cathedrals before the workmen have moved a stone, and it destroys them before the elements have worn down their arches. It is the architect of the buildings of the spirit, and it is also their solvent. (S.M.W. p.x.)

The use of philosophy is to maintain an active novelty of fundamental ideas illuminating the social system. It reverses the slow descent of accepted thought towards the inactive commonplace. (M.T. p. 237)

The philosophic attitude is a resolute attempt to enlarge the understanding of the scope of application of every notion which enters into our current thought. The philosophic attempt takes every word, and every phrase, in the verbal expression of thought, and asks, What does it mean? It refuses to be satisfied by the conventional presupposition that every sensible person knows the answer. As soon as you rest satisfied with primitive ideas, and with primitive propositions, You have ceased to be a philosopher. (M.T. p. 234)

Philosophy, in one of its functions, is the critic of cosmologies. It is its function to harmonise, refashion, and justify divergent intuitions as to the nature of things. It has to insist on the scrutiny of the ultimate ideas, and on the retention of the whole of the evidence in shaping our cosmological scheme. Its business is to render explicit, and - so far as may be - efficient, a process which otherwise is unconsciously performed without rational tests. (S.M.W. pp. ix-x)

Philosophy is the welding of imagination and common sense into a restraint upon specialists, and also into an enlargement of their imaginations. By providing the generic notions philosophy should make it easier to conceive the infinite variety of specific instances which rest unrealised in the womb of nature. (P.R. p. 26)

The philosophy of science is the endeavour to formulate the most general characters of things observed. These sought-for characters are to be no fancy characters of a fairy tale enacted behind the scenes. They must be observed characters of things observed. (Princ. Rel. p. 5)

We must not expect simple answers to far-reaching questions. However far our gaze penetrates, there are always heights beyond which block our vision. (P.R. p. 519)

Things which are temporal arise by their participation in the things which are eternal. (P.R. p. 63)

It is the foundation of the metaphysical position which I am maintaining that the understanding of actuality requires a reference to ideality. (S.M.W. p. 228)









The Wit and Wisdom of Alfred North Whitehead


2. Critical Comments Concerning Philosophers and Philosophy


The besetting sin of philosophers is that, being merely men, they endeavour to survey the universe from the standpoint of gods. (Phil. Rev. p. 179)

If we consider philosophical controversies, we shall find that disputants tend to require coherence from their adversaries, and to grant dispensations to themselves. (P.R. p. 9)
The chief error in philosophy is overstatement. (P.R. p. 11)

Philosophy destroys its usefulness when it indulges in brilliant feats of explaining away. It is then trespassing with the wrong equipment upon the field of particular sciences. Its ultimate appeal is to the general consciousness of what in practice we experience.... Speculative boldness must be balanced by complete humility before logic, and before fact. It is a disease of philosophy when it is neither bold nor humble, but merely a reflection of the temperamental presuppositions of exceptional personalities. (P.R. p. 25)
The combined influences of mathematics and religion, which have so greatly contri buted to the rise of philosophy, have also had the unfortunate effect of yoking it with static dogmatism. (P.R. p. 14)

Systems, scientific and philosophic, come and go. Each method of limited understanding is at length exhausted. In its prime each system is a triumphant success: in its decay it is an obstructive nuisance. (A.I. p. 203)

Philosophy may not neglect the multifariousness of the world - the fairies dance, and Christ is nailed to the cross. (P.R. p. 513)

The chief danger to philosophy is narrowness in the selection of evidence. This narrowness arises from the idiosyncrasies and timidities of particular authors, of particular social groups, of particular schools of thought, of particular epochs in the history of civilisation. The evidence relied upon is arbitrarily biased by the temperaments of individuals, by the provincialities of groups, and by the limitations of schemes of thought. (P.R. p. 512)

What I am essentially arguing against is the bifurcation of nature into two systems of reality, which, insofar as they are real, are real in different senses. One reality would be the entities such as electrons which are the study of speculative physics. This would be the reality which is there for knowledge; although on this theory it is never known. For what is known is the other sort of reality, which is the byplay of the mind. Thus there would be two natures, one is the conjecture and the other is the dream. (C.N. p. 30)

We live in a world of turmoil. Philosophy, and religion, as influenced by orthodox philosophic thought, dismiss turmoil. Such dismissal is the outcome of tired decadence. We should beware of philosophies which express the dominant emotions of periods of slow social decay. Our inheritance of philosophic thought is infected with the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, and with the decadence of eastern civilisations. (M.T. pp. 109-10)

Philosophy has been haunted by the unfortunate notion that its method is dogmatically to indicate premises which are severally clear, distinct, and certain; and to erect upon those premises a deductive system of thought. But the accurate expression of the final generalities is the goal of discussion and not its origin. (P.R. pp. 11-2)

The great thinkers from whom we derive inspiration enjoyed insights beyond their own systems. They made statements hard to reconcile with the neat little ways of thought which we pin on to their names. (M.T. p. 113)

The theory of Induction is the despair of philosophy - and yet all our activities are based upon it. (S.M.W. p. 35)

There remains the final reflection, how shallow, puny, and imperfect are efforts to sound the depths in the nature of things. In philosophical discussion, the merest hint of dogmatic certainty as to finality of statement is an exhibition of folly. (P.R. p. x)

When any eminent scholar has converted Plato into a respectable professor, by providing him with a coherent system, we quickly find that Plato in a series of Dialogues has written up most of the heresies from his own doctrines. (A.I. p. 134)

He (Plato) is never entirely self-consistent, and rarely explicit and devoid of ambiguity. He feels the difficulties, and expresses his perplexities. No one could be perplexed over Aristotle's classifications; whereas Plato moves about amid a fragmentary system like a man dazed by his own penetration. (A.I. pp. 187-8)

Plato...gave an unrivalled display of the human mind in action, with its ferment of vague obviousness, of hypothetical formulation, of renewed insight, of discovery of relevant detail, of partial understanding, of final conclusion, with its disclosure of deeper problems as yet unsolved. (Harvard p. 264)

No two of his (Plato's) dialogues are completely consistent with each other. No two modern scholars agree as to what any one dialogue exactly means. (Harvard p. 262)

Plato grasped the importance of mathematical system; but his chief fame rests upon the wealth of profound suggestions scattered throughout his dialogues, suggestions half smothered by the archaic misconceptions of the age in which he lived. (M.T. p. 3)

Aristotle ... derived his own sources of thought from Plato's theoretical activity. He dissected fishes with Plato's thoughts in his head. He systematised the welter of Platonic suggestions, and in the course of his work he modified, improved, and spoilt. But he did introduce into sciences other than Astronomy the much-needed systematic practice of passing beyond theory to direct observation of details. Unfortunately this was the one aspect of life which never had any direct influence on any succeeding epoch. (A.I. p. 136)

European philosophy is founded upon Plato's dialogues, which in their methods are mainly an endeavour to elicit philosophic categories from a dialectic discussion of the meanings of language taken in combination with shrewd observation of the actions of man and of the forces of nature. (A.I. p. 293)

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. (P.R. p. 63)

This Platonic ideal (liberal education) has rendered imperishable services to European civilisation. It has encouraged art, it has fostered that spirit of disinterested curiosity which is the origin of science, it has maintained the dignity of mind in the face of material force, a dignity which claims freedom of thought. Plato did not, like St. Benedict, bother himself to be a fellow worker with his slaves; but he must rank among the emancipators of mankind. (A.E. p. 71)

The insistence in the Platonic culture on disinterested intellectual appreciation is a psychological error. Action and our implication in the transition of events amid the inevitable bond of cause to effect are fundamental. An education which strives to divorce intellectual or aesthetic life from these fundamental facts carries with it the decadence of civilisation. Essentially, culture should be for action, and its effect should be to divest labour from the associations of aimless toil. Art exists that we may know the deliverances of our senses as good. It heightens the sense-world. (A.E. pp. 73-4)

An evil side of the Platonic culture has been its total neglect of technical education as an ingredient in the complete development of ideal human beings. This neglect has arisen from two disastrous antitheses, namely, that between mind and body, and that between thought and action. I will here interject, solely to avoid criticism, that I am well aware that the Greeks highly valued physical beauty and physical activity. They had, however, that perverted sense of values which is the nemesis of slave-owning. (A.E. pp. 77-8)

I lay it down as an educational axiom that in teaching you will come to grief as soon as you forget that your pupils have bodies. This is exactly the mistake of the post-renaissance Platonic curriculum. But nature can be kept at bay by no pitchfork; so in English education, being expelled from the classroom, she returned with a cap and bells in the form of all-conquering athleticism. (A.E. p. 78)

If once you conceive fundamental fact as a multiplicity of subjects qualified by predicates, you must fail to give a coherent account of experience. The disjunction of subjects is the presupposition from which you start, and you can only account for conjunctive relations by some fallacious slight of hand, such as Leibnitz's metaphor of his monads engaged in mirroring. The alternative philosophic position must commence with denouncing the whole idea of "subject qualified by predicate" as a trap set for philosophers by the syntax of language.(Princ. Rel. pp. 13-4)

The Leibnitzian theory of the "best of possible worlds" is an audacious fudge produced in order to save the face of a Creator constructed by contemporary, and antecedent, theologians. (P.R. p. 74)

I do not like this habit among philosophers, of having recourse to secret stores of information, which are not allowed for in their system of philosophy. They are the ghost of Berkeley's "God", and are about as communicative (anti-Hume and Russell). (Uniformity and Contingency, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, N.S. Vol. XXIII, p. 13)

Why should we perceive secondary qualities? It seems an extremely unfortunate arrangement that we should perceive a lot of things that are not there. Yet this is what the theory of secondary qualities in fact comes to. (C.N. p. 27)

Humes theory of a complex of . . . impressions elaborated into a supposition of a common world is entirely contrary to naive experience. . . . A young man does not initiate his experience by dancing with impressions of sensation, and then proceed to conjecture a partner. . . . The unempirical character of the philosophical school derived from Hume cannot be too often insisted upon. (P.R. p. 480-1)

Empiricists . . .refuse to admit experience, naked and unashamed, devoid of a priori fig leaf. (Criticism of the sensationalist dogma of Hume) (P.R. p. 221)

It is almost indecent to draw the attention of philosophers to the minor transactions of daily life, away from the classic sources of philosophic knowledge; but, after all, it is the empiricists who began this appeal to Caesar. (P.R. p. 264)

Kant ... was led to balance the world upon thought - oblivious to the scanty supply of thinking. (P.R. p. 229)

Modern idealisms have contri buted the unhelpful suggestion that the phenomenal world is one of the inferior avocations of the Absolute. (P.R. p. 178)

Bradley's argument proves that relations ... are indiscretions of the absolute. (P.R. p. 350)

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 (M.T. pp. 69-70)

The pragmatic test can never work, unless on some occasion - in the future, or in the present - there is a definite determination of what is true on that occasion. Otherwise the poor pragmatist remains an intellectual Hamlet, perpetually adjourning decision of judgment to some later date. (P.R. p. 275)

It is in respect to ... "stubborn fact" that the theories of modern philosophy are weakest. Philosophers have worried themselves about remote consequences, and the inductive formulations of science. They should confine attention to the rush of immediate transaction. Their explanations would then be seen in their native absurdity. (P.R. p. 197)

The recourse to metaphysics is like throwing a match into a powder magazine. It blows up the whole arena. This is exactly what scientific philosophers do when they are driven into a corner and convicted of incoherence. They at once drag in the mind and talk of entities in the mind or out of the mind as the case may be. (C.N. p. 29)
The philosophical principle of the relativity of space means that the properties of space are merely a way of expressing relations between things ordinarily said to be "in space." Namely, when two things are said to be "both in space" what is meant is that they are mutually related in a certain definite way which is termed "spatial." It is an immediate consequence of this theory that all spatial entities such as points, straight lines and planes are merely complexes of relations between things or of possible relations between things. (PA.K. p. 4)

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The Wit and Wisdom of Alfred North Whitehead


3. Thought


There is Reason, asserting itself as above the world, and there is Reason as one of many factors within the world. The Greeks have bequea thed to us two figures, whose real or mystical lives conform to these two notions - Plato and Ulysses. The one shares Reason with the Gods, the other shares it with the foxes. (F.R. pp. 6-7)

Faith in reason is the trust that the ultimate natures of things lie together in a harmony which excludes mere arbitrariness. It is the faith that at the base of things we shall not find mere arbitrary mystery. (S.M.W. p. 27)

A clash of doctrines is not a disaster - it is an opportunity. (S.M.W. p. 266)

An attack upon systematic thought is treason to civilisation. (A.I. p. 208)

It requires a very unusual mind to under take the analysis of the obvious. (S.M.W. p. 6)

An unflinching determination to take the whole evidence into account is the only method of preservation against the fluctuating extremes of fashionable opinion. (S.M.W. p. 268)

Logic is the chosen resort of clear-headed people, severally convinced of the complete adequacy of their doctrines. It is such a pity that they cannot agree with each other. (Harvard p. 263)

In the study of ideas, it is necessary to remember that insistence on hard-headed clarity issues from sentimental feeling, as it were a mist, cloaking the perplexities of fact. Insistence on clarity at all costs is based on sheer superstition as to the mode in which human intelligence functions. Our reasonings grasp at straws for premises and float on gossamers for deductions. (A.I. p. 91)

One source of vagueness is deficiency of language. We can see the variations of meaning; although we cannot verbalise them in any decisive, handy manner. Thus we cannot weave into a train of thought what we can apprehend in flashes.... For this reason, conventional English is the twin sister to barren thought. Plato had recourse to myth. (Phil. Rev. pp. 182-3)

We are told by logicians that a proposition must be either true or false, and that there is no middle term. But in practice, we may know that a proposition expresses an important truth, but that it is subject to limitations and qualifications which at present remain undiscovered. (S.M.W. p. 262).

The man with a method good for purposes of his dominant interests, is a pathological case in respect to his wider judgment on the co-ordination of this method with a more complete experience. Priests and scientists, statesmen and men of business, philosophers and mathematicians, are all alike in this respect. (F.R. p. 8)

No systematic thought has made progress apart from some adequately general working hypothesis, adapted to its special topic. Such a hypothesis directs observation, and decides upon the mutual relevance of various types of evidence. In short, it prescribes method. To venture upon productive thought without such an explicit theory is to abandon oneself to the doctrines derived from one's grandfa ther. (A.I. p. 286)

It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copybooks and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilisation advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle - they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments. (Intro. Math. p. 61)

I will not go so far as to say that to construct a history of thought without profound study of the mathematical ideas of successive epochs is like omitting Hamlet from the play which is named after him. That would he claiming too much. But it is certainly analogous to cutting out the part of Ophelia. This simile is singularly exact. For Ophelia is quite essential to the play, she is very charming - and a little mad. Let us grant that the pursuit of mathematics is a divine madness of the human spirit, a refuge from the goading urgency of contingent happenings. (S.M.W. p. 31)

The first use of 0 was to make the Arabic notation possible - no slight service. We can imagine that when it had been introduced for this purpose, practical men, of the sort who dislike fanciful ideas, deprecated the silly habit of identifying it with a number zero. But they were wrong as such men always are when they desert their proper function of masticating food which others have prepared. (Intro. Math. p. 65)

Traditional ideas are never static. They are either fading into meaningless formulae, or are gaining power by the new lights thrown by a more delicate apprehension. They are transformed by the urge of critical reason, by the vivid evidence of emotional experience, and by the cold certainties of scientific perception. One fact is certain, you cannot keep them still. (S.M.W. p. 269)

For, whereas you can make a replica of an ancient statue, there is no possible replica of an ancient state of mind. There can be no nearer approximation than that which a masquerade bears to real life. (S.M.W. p. 200)
Human nature loses its most precious quality when it is robbed of its sense of things beyond, unexplored and yet insistent. (Harvard p. 265)

Inventive genius requires pleasurable mental activity as a condition for its vigorous exercise. "Necessity is the mother of invention" is a silly proverb. "Necessity is the mother of futile dodges" is much nearer to the truth. The basis of the growth of modern invention is science, and science is almost wholly the outgrowth of pleasurable intellectual curiosity. (A.E. p. 69)




The Wit and Wisdom of Alfred North Whitehead


4. Science


To see what is general in what is particular and what is permanent in what is transitory is the aim of scientific thought. (Intro.Math. p. 11)

The aim of science is to seek the simplest explanations of complex facts. We are apt to fall into the error of thinking that the facts are simple because simplicity is the goal of our quest. The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, Seek simplicity and distrust it. (C.N. p. 163)

A science which hesitates to forget its founders is lost. (A.E. p. 162)

No science can be more secure than the unconscious metaphysics which it tacitly presupposes. (A.I. p. 197)

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. (S.M.W. pp. 14-5)

Faith in the possibility of science, generated antecedently to the development of modern scientific theory, is an unconscious derivate from medieval theology. (S.M.W. p. 19)

The scientists of the Renaissance and their immediate successors of the seventeenth century, to whom we owe our traditional concepts, inherited from Plato, Aristotle and the medieval scholastics. It is true that the New Learning reacted violently against the schoolmen who were their immediate predecessors: but, like the Israelites when they fled from Egypt, they borrowed their valuables - and in this case the valuables were certain root-presuppositions respecting space, time, matter, predicate and subject, and logic in general. (Princ. Rel. pp. 5-6)

The results of science are never quite true. By a healthy independence of thought per. haps we sometimes avoid adding other people's errors to our own. (A.E. p. 233)

Matter-of-fact is an abstraction, arrived at by confining thought to purely formal relations which then masquerade as the final reality. This is why science, in its perfection, relapses into the study of differential equations. The concrete world has slipped through the meshes of the scientific net. (M.T. p. 25)

There can be no true physical science which looks first to mathematics for the provision of a conceptual model. Such a procedure is to repeat the errors of the logicians of the middle ages. (Princ. Rel. p. 39)

Consider ... the scientific notion of measurement. Can we elucidate the turmoil of Europe by weighing its dictators, its prime ministers, and its editors of newspapers? The idea is absurd, although some relevant information might be obtained. I am not upholding the irrelevance of science. Such a doctrine would be foolish. For example, a daily record of the bodily temperatures of the men, above mentioned, might be useful. My point is the incompleteness of the information. (M.T. pp. 25-6)

Many a scientist has patiently designed experiments for the purpose of substantiating his belief that animal operations are motivated by no purposes ... Scientists animated by the purpose of proving that they are purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study. (F.R. p. 12)

Science is simply setting out on a fishing expedition to see whether it cannot find some procedure which it can call the measurement of space and some procedure which it can call the measurement of time, and something which it can call a system of forces, and something which it can call masses, so that these formulae may be satisfied. The only reason - on this theory - why anyone should want to satisfy these formulae is a sentimental regard for Galileo, Newton, Euler and Lagrange. The theory, so far from founding science on a sound observational basis, forces everything to conform to a mere mathematical preference for certain simple formulae. (C.N. pp. 139-40)

Science has always suffered from the vice of overstatement. 'In this way conclusions true within strict limitations have been generalised dogmatically into a fallacious universality (F.R. p. 22)

Nothing is more curious than the self-satisfied dogmatism with which mankind at each period of its history cherishes the delusion of the finality of its existing modes of knowledge. Sceptics and believers are all alike. At this moment scientists and sceptics are the leading dogmatists. Advance in detail is admitted: fundamental novelty is barred. This dogmatic common sense is the death of philosophic adventure. The Universe is vast. (Phil. Dewey p. 478)

A few generations ago the clergy, or to speak more accurately, large sections of the clergy were the standing examples of obscurantism. Today their place has been taken by scientists. (F.R. pp. 34-5)

A self-satisfied rationalism is in effect a form of anti-rationalism. It means an arbitrary halt at a particular set of abstractions. This is the case with science. (S.M.W. p. 289)

(According to Locke) Nature gets credit which should in truth be reserved for ourselves: the rose for its scent: the nightingale for his song: the sun for his radiance. The poets are entirely mistaken. They should address their lyrics to themselves, and should turn them into odes of self-congratulation on the excellency of the human mind. Nature is a dull affair, soundless, scentless, colourless; merely the hurrying of material, endlessly, meaninglessly. (S.M.W. P. 80)

Unfortunately in this book of nature the biologists fare badly. Every expression of life takes time. Nothing that is characteristic of life can manifest itself at an instant. Murder is a prerequisite for the absorption of biology into physics as expressed in these traditional concepts. (Symposium: Time, Space and Material, Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume Il, p. 45)

On the absolute theory, bare space and bare time are such very odd existences, half something and half nothing. They always remind me of Milton's account of the Creation, with the forepaws of the lions already created and their hinderquarters still unfinished -

"The tawny lion, pawing to get free
His hinder parts, ......"

It seems so much simpler to sweep all this odd assortment of existences into the mind; and then all their contents have to follow them into the same dustbin as being nothing else than the outcome of the diseased mentality of existence. (Discussion: The Idealistic Interpretations of Einstein's Theory, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, N.S. Vol. XXII, p. 131)

The independence ascribed to bodily substances carried them away from the realm of values altoge ther. They degenerated into a mechanism entirely valueless, except as suggestive of an external ingenuity. (S.M.W. p. 280)

His cosmology (Newton's) is very easy to understand and very hard to believe. (A.I. p. 168)

In the present-day reconstruction of physics, fragments of the Newtonian concepts are stubbornly retained. The result is to reduce modern physics to a sort of mystic chant over an unintelligible Universe. (M.T. p. 185)

(Physics- refers to ether, electrons, molecules, intrinsically incapable of direct observation.) On this theory we must entirely separate psychological time, space, external perceptions, and bodily feelings from the scientific world of molecular interaction. This strange world of science dwells apart like the gods of Epicurus, except that it has the peculiar property of inducing our minds to play upon us the familiar antics of our senses. (Princ. Rel. p. 62)

The old foundations of scientific thought are becoming unintelligible. Time, space, matter, material, ether, electricity, mechanism, organism, configuration, structure, pattern, function, all require reinterpretation. What is the sense of talking about a mechanical explanation when you do not know what you mean by mechanics? The truth is that science started its modern career by taking over ideas derived from the weakest side of the philosophies of Aristotle's successors. In some respects it was a happy choice. It enabled the knowledge of the seventeenth century to be formulated so far as physics and chemistry were concerned, with a completeness which lasted to the present time. But the progress of biology and psychology has probably been checked by the uncritical assumption of half-truths. 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. (S.M.W. 24-5)

The doctrine of evolution. . . . interprets the vanishing of species and of sporadically variant individuals, as being due to maladjustment to the environment. This explanation has its measure of truth: it is one of the great generalisations of science. But enthusiasts have so strained its interpretation as to make it explain nothing, by reason of the f act that it explains everything. We hardly ever know the definite character of the struggle which occasioned the disappearance. The phrase is like the liturgical refrain of 'a litany, chanted over the fossils of vanished species. (F.R. pp. 3-4)

Judgments of worth are no part of the texture of physical science, but they are part of the motive of its production. Mankind has raised the edifice of science, because they have judged it worth while. In other words, the motives involve innumerable judgments of value. Again, there has been conscious selection of the parts of the scientific field to be cultivated, and this conscious selection involves judgments of value. These values may be aesthetic, or moral, or utilitarian, namely, judgments as to the beauty of the structure, or as to the duty of exploring the truth, or as to utility in the satisfaction of physical wants. But whatever the motive, without judgments of value there would have been no science. (A.E. pp. 228-9)

(Whitehead's approval of the spirit of science.) When Darwin or Einstein proclaim theories which modify our ideas, it is a triumph for science. We do not go about saying that there is another defeat for science, because its old ideas have been abandoned. We know that another step of scientific insight has been gained. (S.M.W. p. 270)
(Whitehead emphasises the value of the new mentality produced by science.) (People now have) to forge every sentence in the teeth of irreducible and stubborn facts. This new tinge to modern minds is a vehement and passionate interest in the relation of general principles to irreducible and stubborn facts. (S.M.W. p. 3)




The Wit and Wisdom of Alfred North Whitehead


5. Morality


The chequered history of religion and morality is the main reason for the widespread desire to put them aside in favour of the more stable generalities of science. Unfortunately for this smug endeavour to view the universe as the incarnation of the commonplace, the impact of aesthetic, religious and moral notions is inescapable. They are the disrupting and the energising forces of civilisation. They force mankind upwards and downwards. When their vigour abates, a slow mild decay ensues. Then new ideals arise, bringing in their train a rise in the energy of social behaviour. The concentration of attention upon matter-of-fact is the supremacy of the desert. Any approach to such triumph bestows on learning "a fugitive, and cloistered virtue," which shuns emphasis on essential connections such as disclose the universe in its impact upon individual experience. (M.T. pp. 26-7)

Moral education is impossible apart from the habitual vision of greatness. (A.E. p. 106)

Morality consists in the aims at the ideal, and at its lowest it concerns the prevention of re-lapse to lower levels. Thus stagnation is the deadly foe of morality. Yet in human society the champions of morality are on the whole the fierce opponents of new ideas. (A.I. p. 346)

As society is now constituted a literal adherence to the moral precepts scattered throughout the Gospels would mean sudden death. (A.I. p. 18)

Moral codes have suffered from the exaggerated claims made for them. The dogmatic fallacy has here done its worst. Each such code has been put out by a God on a mountain top, or by a Saint in a cave, or by a divine Despot on a throne, or, at the lowest, by ancestors with a wisdom beyond later question. In any case, each code is incapable of improvement; and unfortunately in details they fail to agree either with each other or with our existing moral intuitions. The result is that the world is shocked, or amused, by the sight of saintly old people hindering in the name of morality the removal of obvious brutalities from a legal system. Some Acta Sanctorum go ill with civilization. (A.I. p. 374)

Moral codes are relevant to presuppositions respecting the systematic character of the relevant universe. When the presuppositions do not apply, that special code is a vacuous statement of abstract irrelevancies. (M.T. p. 18)

Unseasonable art is analogous to an unseasonable joke, namely, good in its place, but out of place, a positive evil. It is a curious fact that lovers of art who are most insistent on the doctrine of "art for art's sake" are apt to he indignant at the banning of art for the sake of other interests. The charge of immorality is not refuted by pointing to the perfection of art. Of course it is true that the defence of morals is the battlecry which best rallies stupidity against change. Perhaps countless ages ago respectable amoeba refused to migrate from ocean to dry land - refusing in defence of morals. (A.I. pp. 345-6)

The love of humanity as such is mitigated by violent dislike of the next-door neighbour. (The Atlantic, Vol. 169, p. 172)

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. (M.I. p. 65)

All advanced thinkers, sceptical or otherwise, are apt to be intolerant, in the past and also now. On the whole, tolerance is more often found in connection with a genial orthodoxy. (A.I. p. 63)

Fortunately there are a great many things which do not much matter, and we can have them how we will. The opposite point of view has been the nursery of fanaticism, and has tinged history with ferocity. (A.I. p. 256)

To know the truth partially is to distort the Universe. For example, the savage who can only count up to ten enormously exaggerates the importance of the small numbers, and so do we whose imaginations fail when we come to millions. It is an erroneous moral platitude, that it is necessarily good to know the truth. The minor truth may beget the major evil. (A.I. p. 311)

The doctrine of minds, as independent substances, leads directly not merely to private worlds of experience, but also to private worlds of morals. (S.M.W. p. 281)

Ultimate values were excluded. They were politely bowed to, and then handed over to the clergy to be kept for Sundays. A creed of competitive business morality was evolved, in some respects curiously high; but entirely devoid of consideration for the value of human life. . . . To God's question, men gave the answer of Cain - "Am I my brother's keeper?"; and they incurred Cain's guilt. This was the atmosphere in which the industrial revolution was accomplished in England, and to a large extent elsewhere. (S.M.W. pp. 291-2)




The Wit and Wisdom of Alfred North Whitehead


6. Social Philosophy


The vigour of civilised societies is preserved by the widespread sense that high aims are worth while. Vigorous societies harbour a certain extravagance of objectives, so that men wander beyond the safe provision of personal gratifications. All strong interests easily become impersonal, the love of a good job well done. There is a sense of harmony about such an accomplishment, the Peace brought by something worth while. Such personal gratification arises from aim beyond personality. (A.I. p. 371)

The worth of men consists in their liability to persuasion. . . . Civilisation is the maintenance of social order, by its own inherent persuasiveness as embodying the nobler alternative. The recourse to force, however unavoidable, is a disclosure of the failure of civilisation, either in the general society or in a remnant of individuals. Thus in a live civilisation there is always an element of unrest. For sensitiveness to ideas means curiosity, adventure, change. Civilised order survives on its merits, and is transformed by its power of Recognizing its imperfections. (A.I. p. 105)

The essence of life is to be found in the frustrations of established order. (M.T. p. 119)

The art of progress is to preserve order amid change, and to preserve change amid order. Life refuses to be embalmed alive. The more prolonged the halt in some unrelieved system of order, the greater the crash of the dead society. (P.R. p. 515)

There are two principles inherent in the very nature of things, recurring in some particular embodiments whatever field we explore - the spirit of change, and the spirit of conservation. There can be nothing real without both. Mere change without conservation is a passage from nothing to nothing. . . . Mere conservation without change cannot conserve. For after all, there is a flux of circumstance, and the freshness of being evaporates under mere repetition. (S.M.W. p. 289)

No static maintenance of perfection is possible. . . . Advance or Decadence are the only choices offered to mankind. The pure conservative is fighting against the essence of the Universe. (A.I. p. 354)

It is the first step in sociological wisdom, to recognize that the major advances in civilisation are processes which all but wreck the societies in which they occur:-like unto an arrow in the hand of a child. The art of free society consists first in the maintenance of the symbolic code; and secondly in fearlessness of revision, to secure that the code serves those purposes which satisfy an enlightened reason. Those societies which cannot combine reverence to their symbols with freedom of revision, must ultimately decay either from anarchy, or from the slow atrophy of a life stifled by useless shadows. (Symb. p. 88)

In formal logic, a contradiction is the signal of a defeat; but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress towards a victory. This is one great reason for the utmost toleration of variety of opinion. Once and forever, this duty of toleration has been summed up in the words," Let both grow together until the harvest." (S.M.W. p. 267)

Other nations of different habits are not enemies: they are godsends. Men require of their neighbours something sufficiently akin to be understood, something sufficiently different to provoke attention, and something great enough to comm and admiration. We must not expect, however, all the virtues. (S.M.W. p. 298)

Political loyalty ceases at the frontiers of radical incapacity. (A.I. p. 79)

The solution provided by the doctrine of the sole sovereignty of the State, however grateful to Protestants and to sovereigns, is both shocking and unworkable, a mere stick with which to beat Papists in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a mere way to provide policemen for the countinghouses of merchants. (A.I. p. 76)

The thought of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries rationalised its political philosophy under the fiction of the "Original Contract." This concept proved itself formidable. It helped to dismiss the Stuarts into romance, to found the American Republic, and to bring a out the French Revolution. (A.I. p. 71)

The thoughts of Galileo and Newton were of supreme interest, but the habits of mankind between the dates 1690 and 1750 were very slightly altered. The total effect was that fortunate people had a new theme of intellectual enjoyment. Indeed, within this period the introduction of cheap spirits, such as gin, probably did more harm to English life than all the noble thoughts of the Royal Society did good. (Atlantic, Vol. 169, p. 175)

Today the notion of a master race is being revived, and most of us agree that it means the moral degradation of mankind. (Atlantic, Vol. 169, p. 173)

The enjoyment of power is fatal to the subtleties of life. Ruling classes degenerate by reason of their lazy indulgence in obvious gratifications. (A.I. p. 106)

It is the nemesis of the reign of force, of the worship of power, that the ideals of the semidivine rulers centre upon some variant of Solomon's magnificent harem of three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines. The variation may be toward decency, but it is equally decadent. Christianity has only escaped from the Near East with scars upon it. . . . There stands the inexorable law that apart from some transcendent aim the civilised life either wallows in pleasure or relapses slowly into a barren repetition with waning intensities of feeling. (A.I. p. 108)

War can protect; it cannot create. Indeed, war adds to the brutality that frustrates creation. The protection of war should be the last resort in the slow progress of mankind towards its far-off ideals. (Atlantic, Vol. 163, p. 320)

Desire for money will produce hard-fistedness and not enterprise. There is much more hope for humanity from manufacturers who enjoy their work than from those who continue in irksome business with the object of founding hospitals. (A.E. pp. 69-70)

The Greek insistence on the golden mean and on the virtue of moderation entered into our [British] philosophy of statesmanship, sometimes reinforcing our natural stupidity, sometimes moderating our national arrogance. (Atlantic, Vol. 138, pp. 196-7)
(Criticising the British Labor Party at the time of the Munich crisis) Today they clamour for a crusade in Central Europe, depending for success on the intervention of the Heavenly Powers. It is one lesson of history that these last-mentioned powers are usually on the side of common sense. Of course, miracles do happen; but it is unwise to expect them. (Atlantic, Vol. 163, p. 311)





The Wit and Wisdom of Alfred North Whitehead


7. Philosophy of History


The universe is not a museum with its specimens in glass cases. Nor is the universe a perfectly drilled regiment with its ranks in step, marching forward with undisturbed poise. (M.T. p. 123)

The Egyptians wanted bricks, so they captured the Hebrews. (A.I. p. 14)

The moral of the tale is the power of reason, its decisive influence on the life of humanity. The great conquerors, from Alexander to Caesar, and from Caesar to, Napoleon, influenced profoundly the lives of subsequent generations. But the total effect of this influence shrinks to insignificance, if compared to the entire transformation of human habits and human mentality produced by the long line of men of thought from Thales to the present day, men individually powerless, but ultimately the rulers of the world. (S.M.W. pp. 299-300)

In each age of the world distinguished by high activity there will be found at its culmination, . .. . some profound cosmological outlook, implicitly accepted, impressing its own type upon the current springs of action. . . . 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. (A.I. pp. 13-4)

The summit of human attainment does not wait for the emergence of systematised doctrine, though system has its essential functions in the rise of civilisation. (Auto. p. 8)

Under the influence of physical science, the task of history has more recently been limited to the narration of mere sequences. This ideal of knowledge is the triumph of matter-of-fact. Such suggestion of causation, as is admitted, is confined to the statements of physical materialities, such as the economic motive. Such history confines itself to abstract mythology. The variety of motives is excluded. You cannot write the history of religious development without estimate of the motive-power of religious belief. The history of the Papacy is not a mere sequence of behavior. (M.T. pp. 24-5)

(Modern world is partially the result of interest in abstract mathematics.) Yet, if many modern philosophers and men of science could have had their way, they would have been dissuading Greeks, Jews, and Mohammedans from such useless studies, from such pure abstractions for which no foresight could divine the ghost of an application. Luckily they could not get at their ancestors. (A.I. pp. 199-200)

History can only be understood by seeing it as the theatre of diverse groups of idealists respectively urging ideals incompatible for conjoint realization. (A.I. pp. 356-7)

A race preserves its vigour so long as it harbours a real contrast between what has been and what may be; and so long as it is nerved by the vigour to adventure beyond the safeties of the past. Without adventure civilisation is in full decay. (A.I. p. 360)

In ethical ideals we find the supreme example of consciously formulated ideas acting as a driving force effecting transitions from social state to social state. Such ideas are at once gadflies irritating, and beacons luring, the victims among whom they dwell. The conscious agency of such ideas should be contrasted with senseless forces, floods, barbarians, and mechanical devices. The great transitions are due to a coincidence of forces derived from both sides of the world, its physical and its spiritual natures. Mere physical nature lets loose a flood, but it requires intelligence to provide a system of irrigation. (A.I. p. 21)

Great ideas enter into reality with evil associates and with disgusting alliances. But the greatness remains, nerving the race in its slow ascent. (A.I. p. 22)

The slow issue of general ideas into practical consequences is not wholly due to inefficiency of human character. There is a problem to be solved, and its complexity is habitually ignored by impetuous seekers. The difficulty is just this: It may be impossible to conceive a reorganisation of society adequate for the removal of some admitted evil without destroying the social organization and the civilisation which depends on it. An allied plea is that there is no known way of removing the evil without the introduction of worse evils of some other type. (A.I. p. 24)

The Methodist preachers aimed at saving mens souls in the next world, but incidentally they gave a new direction to emotions energising in this world. The movement was singularly devoid of new ideas, and singularly rich in vivid feelings. (A.I. p. 27)

The robber barons did not conduce to the prosperity of Europe in the Middle Ages, though some of them died prosperously in their beds. Their example is a warning to our civilisation. (A.I. p. 124)




The Wit and Wisdom of Alfred North Whitehead


8. Religion


Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness. (R.M. p. 16)

If you are never solitary, you are never religious. Collective enthusiasms, revivals, institutions, churches, rituals, bibles, codes of behavior, are the trappings of religion, its passing forms. They may be useful, or harmful; they may be authoritatively ordained, or merely temporary expedients. But the end of religion is beyond all this. (R.M. p. 17)

That religion will conquer which can render clear to popular understanding some eternal greatness incarnate in the passage of temporal fact. (A.I. p. 41)

Religion is the vision of something which stands beyond, behind, and within, the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility, and yet the greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond all reach -- something which is the ultimate ideal, and the hopeless quest. (S.M.W. p. 275)

Religion is tending to degenerate into a decent formula wherewith to embellish a comfortable life. (S.M.W. pp. 269-70)

Neither religions nor individual men demonstrate their sanctity by their ejaculations. (A.I. p. 21) !!!!!

Religion will not regain its old power until it can face change in the same spirit as does science. Its principles may be eternal, but the expression of those principles requires continual development. (S.M.W. p. 270)

The fact of the religious vision, and its history of persistent expansion, is our one ground for optimism. Apart from it, human life is a flash of occasional enjoyments lighting up a mass of pain and misery, a bagatelle of transient experience. (S.M.W. p. 275)

Apart from religion, expressed in ways generally intelligible, populations sink into the apathetic task of daily survival, with minor alleviations. (Atlantic, Vol. 163, p. 318)
Generality is the salt of religion. (R.M. p. 44)

History, down to the present day, is a melancholy record of the horrors which can attend religion: human sacrifice, and in particular the slaughter of children, cannibalism, sensual orgies, abject superstition, hatred as between races, the maintenance of degrading customs, hysteria, bigotry, can all be laid at its charge. Religion is the last refuge of human savagery. The uncritical association of religion with goodness is directly negativated by plain facts. Religion can he and has been, the main instrument for progress. But if we survey the whole race, we' must pronounce that generally it has not been so. (R.M. pp. 37-8)

In a communal religion you study the will of God in order that He may preserve you; in a purified religion, rationalised under the influence of the world-concept, you study his goodness in order to be like him. (R.M. p. 41)

Conduct (in communal religion) is right which will lead some god to protect you; and it is wrong if it stirs some irascible being to compass your destruction. Such religion is a branch of diplomacy. (R.M. p. 41)

A religion, on its doctrinal side, can thus be defined as a system of general truths which have the effect of transforming character when they are sincerely held and vividly apprehended. (R.M. p. 15)

Creeds are at once the outcome of speculation and efforts curb speculation. . . . Wherever there is a creed, there is heretic round the corner or in his grave. (A.I. p. 66)

Whatever be the right way to formulate religious truths, it is death to religion to insist on a premature stage of precision. The vitality of religion is shown by the way in which the religious spirit has survived the ordeal of religious education. (A.E. p. 62)

A dogma which fails to evoke any response in immediate apprehension stifles the religious life. (R.M. p. 137)

Religions commit suicide when they find their inspirations in their dogmas. (R.M. p. 144)

A system of dogmas may he the ark within which the Church floats safely down the flood tide of history. But the Church will perish unless it opens its windows and lets out the dove to search for an olive branch. Sometimes even it will do well to disembark on Mount Ararat and build a new altar to the divine Spirit - an altar neither in Mount Gerizim nor yet at Jerusalem. (R.M. pp. 145-6)

The task of Theology is to show how the World is founded on something beyond mere transient fact, and how it issues in something beyond the perishing of occasions. The temporal World is the stage of finite accomplishment. We ask of Theology to express that element in perishing lives which is undying by reason of its expression of perfections proper to our finite natures. In this way we shall understand how life includes a mode of satisfaction deeper than joy or sorrow. (A.I. p. 221)

The attack of the liberal clergy and laymen, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, upon systematic theology was entirely misconceived. They were throwing away the chief safeguard against the wild emotions of superstition. (A.I. p. 207)

The defect of the liberal theology of the last two hundred years is that it has confined itself to the suggestion of minor, vapid reasons why people should continue to go to church in the traditional fashion. (A.I. p. 218)

Importance arises from this fusion of the finite and the infinite. The cry, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die," expresses the triviality of the merely finite. The mystic, ineffective slumber expresses the vacuity of the merely infinite. Those theologians do religion a bad service, who emphasize infinitude at the expense of the finite transitions within history. (M.T. p. 108)

It is customary to undervalue theology in a secular history of philosophical thought. This is a mistake, since for a period of about thirteen hundred years the ablest thinkers were mostly theologians. (A.I. p. 165)

Among medieval and modern philosophers, anxious to establish the religious significance of God, an unfortunate habit has prevailed of paying to Him metaphysical compliments. He has been conceived as the foundation of the metaphysical situation with its ultimate activity. If this conception be adhered to, there can be no alternative except to discern in Him the origin of- all evil as well as of all good. He is then the supreme author of the play, and to Him must therefore be ascribed its shortcomings as well as its success. (S.M.W. p. 258)

When the Western world accepted Christianity, Caesar conquered; and the received text of Western theology was edited by his lawyers. The code of Justinian and the theology of Justinian are two volumes expressing one movement of the human spirit. The brief Galilean vision of humility flickered throughout the ages, uncertainly. In the official formulation of the religion it has assumed the trivial form of the mere attri bution to the Jews that they cherished a misconception about their Messiah. But the deeper idolatry, of the fashioning of God in the image of the Egyptian, Persian, and Roman imperial rulers, was retained. The Church gave unto God the attri butes which belonged exclusively to Caesar. (P.R. pp. 519-20)

The Reformation, for all its importance, may be considered as a domestic affair of the European races. (S.M.W. p. 2)

God made his appearance in religion under the frigid title of the First Cause, and was appropriately worshipped in white-washed churches. (A.I. p. 157)

The more power of God is the worship He inspires. That religion is strong which in its ritual and its modes of thought evokes an apprehension of the commanding vision. The worship of God is not a rule of safety it is an adventure of the spirit, a flight after the unattainable. (S.M.W. p. 276)

The life of Christ is not an exhibition of overruling power. Its glory is for those who can discern it, and not for the world. Its power lies in its absence of force. It has the decisiveness of a supreme ideal, and that is why the history of the world divides at this point. (R.M. p. 57)
(Apart from God) . . . every activity is merely a passing whiff of insignificance. (Imm. p. 698)






The Wit and Wisdom of Alfred North Whitehead


9. Education


The students are alive, and the purpose of education is to stimulate and guide their self-development. It follows as a corollary from this premise, that the teachers also should be alive with living thoughts. (A.E. p. v)

Education is the acquisition of the art of the utilisation of knowledge. (A.E. p. 6)

Culture is activity of thought, and receptiveness to beauty and humane feeling. Scraps of information have nothing to do with it. A merely well informed man is the most useless bore on God's earth. What we should aim at producing is men who possess both culture and expert knowledge in some special direction. (A.E. p. 1)

When one considers in its length and in its breadth the importance of this question of the education of the nation's young, the broken lives, the defeated hopes, the national failures, which result from the frivolous inertia with which it is treated, it is difficult to restrain within oneself a savage rage. In the conditions of modern life the rule absolute, the race which does not value trained intelligence is doomed. Not all your heroism, not all your social charm, not all your wit, not all your victories on land or at sea, can move back the finger of fate. (A.E. p. 22)

It must never be forgotten that education is not a process of packing articles in a trunk. Such a simile is entirely inapplicable. It is, of course, a process completely of its own peculiar genus. Its nearest analogue is the assimilation of food by a living organism: and we ail know how necessary to health is palatable food under suitable conditions. (A.E. p. 51)

I do not share in this reverence for knowledge as such. It all depends on who has the knowledge and what he does with it. That knowledge which adds greatly to character is knowledge so handled as to transform every phase of immediate experience. (A.E. p. 49)

The pupils have got to be made to feel that they are studying something, and are not merely executing intellectual minuets. (A.E. p. 15)

Knowledge does not keep any better than fish. You may he dealing with knowledge of the old species, with some old truth; but somehow or other it must come to the students, as it were, just drawn out of the sea and with the freshness of its immediate importance. (A.E. p. 147)

There is only one subject matter for education, and that is Life in all its manifestations. Instead of this single unity, we offer children Algebra, from which follows; Geometry, from which nothing follows; Science, from which nothing follows; History, from which nothing follows; a Couple of Languages, never mastered; and lastly, most dreary of all, Literature, represented by plays of Shakespeare, with philological notes and short analyses of plot and character to he in substance committed to memory. (A.E. p. 10)

The sense for style ... is an aesthetic sense, based on admiration for the direct attainment of a foreseen end, simply and without waste. `Style in art, style in literature, style in science, style in logic, style in practical execution have fundamentally the same _aesthetic qualities, namely, attainment and restraint. The love of a subject in itself and for itself, where it is not the sleepy pleasure of pacing a mental quarter-deck, is the love of style as manifested in that study. Here we are brought back to the position from which we started, the utility of education. Style, in its finest sense, is the last acquirement of the educated mind; it is also the most useful. It pervades the whole being. The administrator with a sense for style hates waste; the engineer with a sense for style economises his material; the artisan with a sense for style prefers good work. Style is the ultimate morality of the mind. (A.E. p. 19)

You may not divide the seamless coat of learning. What education has to impart is an intimate sense for the power of ideas, for the beauty of ideas, and for the structure of ideas, together with a particular body of knowledge which has peculiar reference to the life of the being possessing it. (A.E. p. 18)

A narrow convention as to learning, and as to the procedures Of institutions connected with it, has developed.... Thus, to a really learned man, matter exists in test tubes, animals in cages, art in museums, religion in churches, knowledge in libraries. (Harvard p. 265)

We are too exclusively bookish in our scholastic routine. The general training should aim at eliciting our concrete apprehensions, and should satisfy the itch of youth to be doing something ... In the Garden of Eden Adam saw the animals before he named them: in the traditional system, children named the animals before they saw them. (S.M.W. p. 285)

The success of language in conveying information is vastly overrated, especially in learned circles. Not only is language highly elliptical, but also nothing can supply the defect of first-hand experience of types cognate to the things explicitly mentioned. (A.I. p. 370)

A language is not a universal mode of expressing all ideas whatsoever. It is a limited mode of expressing such ideas as have been frequently entertained, and urgently needed, by the group of human beings who developed that mode of speech. It is only during a comparatively short period of human history that there has existed any language with an adequate stock of general terms require a permanent literature to define them by their mode of employment. (R.M. p. 34)

First hand knowledge is the ultimate basis of intellectual life. To a large extent book-learning conveys second-hand information, and as such can never rise to the importance of immediate practice. Our goal is to see the immediate events of our lives as instances of our general ideas. What the learned world tends to offer is one second-hand scrap of information illustrating ideas derived from another second-hand scrap of information. The secondhandedness of the learned world is the secret of its mediocrity. It is tame because it has never been scared by facts. (A.E. p. 79)

Whenever a textbook is written of real educational worth, you may be quite certain that some reviewer will say that it will be difficult to teach from it. Of course it will be difficult to teach from it. If it were easy, the book ought to be burned; for it cannot be educational. In education as elsewhere, the broad primrose path leads to a nasty place. This evil path is represented by a book or a set of lectures which will practically enable the student to learn by heart all the questions likely to be asked at the next external examination. (A.E. pp. 6-7)

The fading of ideals is sad evidence of the defeat of human endeavour. In the schools of antiquity philosophers aspired to impart wisdom, in modern colleges our humbler aim is to teach subjects (A.E. p. 45)

In order to acquire learning, we must first shake ourselves free of it. (M.T. 7 pp. 7-8)

(Study of the past) The main danger is the lack of discrimination between the details which are now irrelevant and the main principles which urge forward human existence, ever renewing their vitality by incarnation in novel detail. (Harvard Business Review, Vol. 11, p. 436)

The history of human thought in the past is a pitiful tale of self-satisfaction with a supposed adequacy of knowledge in respect to factors of human existence. We now know that in the past such self-satisfaction was a delusion. (Imm. p. 683)

Learning preserves the errors of the past, as well as its wisdom. For this reason, dictionaries are public dangers, although they are necessities. (Imm. p. 691)

The history of thought is a tragic mixture of vibrant disclosure and of deadening closure. The sense of penetration is lost in the certainty of completed knowledge. This dogmatism is the anti-Christ of learning. (M.T. p. 81)

The Greeks and the Romans at their best period have been taken as the standard of civilisation.... The particular example of an ancient society sets too static an ideal, and neglects the whole range of opportunity. It is really not sufficient to direct attention to the best that has been said and done in the ancient world. The result is static, repressive, and promotes a decadent habit of mind.... The most un-Greek thing that we can do is to copy the Greeks. For emphatically they were not copyists. (A.I. pp. 352-3)

To this day 1 cannot read King Lear, having had the advantage of studying it accurately at school. (Atlantic, Vol. 138, p. 197)

What purpose is effected by a catalogue of undistinguished kings and queens? Tom, Dick, or Harry, they are all dead. General resurrections are failures, and are better postponed. (A.E. p. 13)

Thus in the modern world, the celibacy of the medieval learned class has been re. placed by a celibacy of the intellect which is divorced from the concrete contemplation of the complete facts .... (There) is the restraint of serious thought within a groove .... The dangers arising from this aspect of professionalism are great, particularly in our democratic societies. The directive force of reason is weakened. The leading intellects lack balance. They see this set of circumstances, or that set; but not both sets together. The task of co-ordination is left to those who lack either the force or the character to succeed in some definite career. (S.M.W. P. 283)

But after all, it is the blunt truth that we want. The final contentment of our aims requires something more than vulgar substitutes, or subtle evasions, however delicate. The indirections of truth can never satisfy us. Our purposes seek their main justification in sheer matter-of-fact. All the rest is addition, however important, to this foundation. Apart from blunt truth, our lives sink decadently amid the perfume of hints and suggestions. (A.I. p. 321)

Abstract speculation has been the salvation of the world - speculations which made systems and then transcended them, speculations which ventured to the furthest limits of abstraction. To set limits to speculation is treason to the future. (F.R. p. 60)

Through and through the world is infected with quantity. To talk sense is to talk in quantities. It is no use saying that a nation is large, - How large? It is no use saying that radium is scarce, - How scarce? You cannot evade quantity. You may fly to poetry and to music, and quantity and number will face you in your rhythms and your octaves. Elegant intellects which despise the theory of quantity, are but half developed. They are more to he pitied than blamed. The scraps of gibberish, which in their school days were taught to them in the name of algebra, deserve some contempt. (A.E. pp. 11-2)

Whatever be the detail with which you cram your student, the chance of his meeting in after life exactly that detail is almost infinitesimal; and if he does meet it, he will probably have forgotten what you taught him about it. The really useful training yields a comprehension of a few general principles with a thorough grounding in the way they apply to a variety of concrete details. In subsequent practice the men will have forgotten your particular details; but they will remember by an unconscious common sense how to apply principles to immediate circumstances. Your learning is useless to you till you have lost your textbooks, burnt your lecture notes, and forgotten the minutiae which you learned by heart for the examination. What, in the way of detail, you continually require will stick in your memory as obvious facts like the sun and the moon; and what you casually require can be looked up in any work of reference. The function of a University is to enable you to shed details in favor of principles. When I speak of principles I am hardly even thinking of verbal formulations. A principle which has thoroughly soaked into you is rather a mental habit than a formal statement. It becomes the way the mind reacts to the appropriate stimulus in the form of illustrative circumstances. Nobody goes about with his knowledge clearly and consciously before him. Mental cultivation is nothing else than the satisfactory way in which the mind will function when it is poked up into activity. (A.19. pp. 41-2)

The field of acquirement is large, and the individual so fleeting and so fragmentary: classical scholars, scientists, headmasters are alike ignoramuses. (A.E. p. 73)

I am sure that one secret of a successful teacher is that he has formulated quite clearly in his mind what the pupil has got to know in precise fashion. He will then cease from half-hearted attempts to worry his pupils with memorising a lot of irrelevant stuff of inferior importance. (A.E. p. 57)

Too many apples from the tree of systematised knowledge lead to the fall of progress. (M.T. p. 79)

You may take the noblest poetry in the world, and, if you stumble through it at snail's pace, it collapses from a work of art into a rubbish heap. (A.E. p. 109)

There are three main methods which are required in a national system of education, namely, the literary curriculum, the scientific curriculum, the technical curriculum. But each of these curricula should include the other two. What I mean is, that every form of education should give the pupil a technique, a science, an assortment of general ideas, and aesthetic appreciation, and that each of these sides of his training should be illuminated by the others. (A.E. p. 75)

Mere literary knowledge is of slight importance. The only thing that matters is, how it is known. The facts related are nothing. Literature only exists to express and develop the imaginative world which is our life, the kingdom which is within us. It follows that the literary side of a technical education should consist in an effort to make the pupils enjoy literature. It does not matter what they know, but the enjoyment is vital. The great English Universities, under whose direct authority school children are examined in plays of Shakespeare, to the certain destruction of their enjoyment, should be prosecuted for soul murder. (A.E. pp. 88-9)

The antithesis between a technical and a liberal education is fallacious. There can be no adequate technical education which is not liberal, and no liberal education which is not technical; that is, no education which does not impart both technique and intellectual vision. In simpler language, education should turn out the pupil with something he knows well and something he can do well. This intimate union of practice and theory aids both. The intellect does not work best in a vacuum. (A.E. p. 74)

The human mind was not evolved in bygone ages for the sake of reasoning, but merely to enable mankind with more art to hunt between meals for fresh food supplies. Accordingly few people can follow close reasoning without considerable practice. (A.E. pp. 127-8)

In the past, classics reigned throughout the whole sphere of higher education.... All this is gone, and gone forever. Humpty Dumpty was a good egg so long as he was on top of the wall, but you can never set him up again. (A.E. pp. 93-4)

In classics we endeavour, by a thorough study of language, to develop the mind in the regions of logic, philosophy, history and of aesthetic apprehension of literary beauty. The learning of the languages - Latin or Greek - is a subsidiary means for the furtherance of this ulterior object. When the object has been obtained, the languages can be dropped unless opportunity and choice lead to their further pursuit. (A.E. p. 96)

Very little of Roman literature will find its way into the kingdom of heaven, when the events of this world will have lost their importance. The languages of heaven will be Chinese, Greek, French, German, Italian, and English, and the blessed Saints will dwell with delight on these golden expressions of eternal life. They will be wearied with the moral fervour of Hebrew literature in its battle with a vanished evil, and with Roman authors who have mistaken the Forum for the footstool of the living God. (A.E. p. 104)

The history of Europe is the history of Rome curbing the Hebrew and the Greek, with their various impulses of religion, and of science, and of art, and of quest for material comfort, and of lust of domination, which are all at daggers drawn with each other. The vision of Rome is the vision of the unity of civilisation. (A.E. p. 115)

The function of Latin literature is its expression of Rome. When to England and France your imagination can add Rome in the background, you have laid firm the foundations of culture. The understanding of Rome leads back to the Mediterranean civilisation of which Rome was the last phase, and it automatically exhibits the geography of Europe, and the functions of seas and rivers and mountains and plains. The merit of this study in the education of youth is its concreteness, its inspiration to action, and the uniform greatness of persons, in their characters and their staging. Their aims were great, their virtues were great, and their vices were great. They had the saving merit of sinning with cart ropes. (A.E. p. 106)

The task of a University is the creation of the future, so far as rational thought, and civilized modes of appreciation, can affect the issue. The future is big with every possibility of achievement and of tragedy. (M.T. p. 233)

The fate of the intellectual civilisation of the world is to-day in the hands of this group (Eastern U. S. Universities). . . . Once Babylon had its chance, and produced the Tower of Babel. The University of Paris fashioned the intellect of the Middle Ages. (Harvard p. 261)

The careful shielding of a university from the activities of the world around is the best way to chill interest and to defeat progress. Celibacy does not suit a university. It must mate itself with action. (Harvard p. 267)

The tragedy of the world is that those who are imaginative have but slight experience, and those who are experienced have feeble imaginations. Fools act on imagination without knowledge; pedants act on knowledge without imagination. The task of a university is to weld together imagination and experience. (A.E. p. 140)

During the school period the student has been mentally bending over his desk; at the University he should stand up and look around. For this reason it is fatal if the first year at the University be frittered away in going over the old work in the old spirit. At school the boy painfully rises from the particular towards glimpses at general ideas; at the University he should start from general ideas and study their applications to concrete cases. (A.E. p. 41)

In my own work at universities I have been much struck by the paralysis of thought induced in pupils by the aimless accumulation of precise knowledge, inert and unutilised. It should be the chief aim of a university professor to exhibit himself in his own true character - that is, as an ignorant man thinking, actively utilising his small share of knowledge. (A.E. p. 58)

Nothing is more difficult than to distinguish between a loud voice and vigour, or a flow of words and originality, or mental instability and genius; or a big book and fruitful learning. Also the work requires dependable men. But if you are swayed too heavily by this admirable excellence, you will gather a faculty which can be depended upon for being commonplace. (Harvard p. 266)

Imagination is a contagious disease. It cannot be measured by the yard, or weighed by the pound, and then delivered to the students by members of the faculty. It can only be communicated by a faculty whose members themselves wear their learning with imagination. (A.E. p. 145)

The university imparts information, but it imparts it imaginatively. At least, this is the function which it should perform for society. A university which fails in this respect has no reason for existence. This atmosphere of excitement, arising from imaginative consideration, transforms knowledge. A fact is no longer a bare fact: it is invested with all its possibilities. It is no longer a bur. den on the memory: it is energising as the poet of our dreams, and as the architect of our purposes. (A.E. p. 139)

Satire is the last flicker of originality in a passing epoch as it faces the onroad of staleness and boredom. Freshness has gone; bitterness remains. (A.I. p. 358)

Every intellectual revolution which has ever stirred humanity into greatness has been a passionate protest against inert ideas. Then, alas, with pathetic ignorance of human psychology, it has proceeded by some educational scheme to, bind humanity afresh with inert ideas of its own fashioning. (A.E. p. 2)

This careful definition and limitation, so as to explain an infinity not immediately apparent to the senses, was very characteristic of the Greeks in all their many activities. It is enshrined in the difference between Greek architecture and Gothic architecture, and between Greek religion and modern religion. The spire on a Gothic cathedral and the importance of the unbounded straight line in modern geometry are both emblematic of the transformation of the modern world. (Intro. Math. P. 119)

(With the downfall of Greece) the untroubled faith in lucidity within the depths of things, to be captured by some happy glance of speculation, was lost forever. Duller men were content with limited accuracy and constructed special sciences: thicker intellects gloried in the notion that the foundations of the world were laid amid impenetrable fog. They conceived God in their own image, and depicted him with a positive dislike of efforts after understanding beyond assigned methodologies. Satan acquired an intellectual character, and fell by reason of an indecent desire to understand his Creator. (A.I. pp. 132-3)

Satan's journey helped to evolve order; for he left a permanent track, useful for the devils and the damned. (P.R. p. 147)

Lord Beaconsfield, in one of his novels, has defined a practical man as a man who practices the errors of his forefa thers. The Romans were a great race, but they were cursed with the sterility which waits upon practicality. (Intro. Math. pp. 40-1)

Modern scholarship and modern science reproduce the same limitations as dominated the bygone Hellenistic epoch, and the bygone Scholastic epoch. They canalise thought and observation within predetermined limits, based upon inadequate metaphysical assumptions dogmatically assumed. The modern assumptions differ from older assumptions, not wholly for the better. They exclude from rationalistic thought more of the final values of existence. The intimate timidity of professional scholarship circumscribes reason by reducing its topics to triviality, for example, to bare sensa and to tautologies. It then frees itself from criticism by dogmatically handing over the remainder of experience to an animal faith or a religious mysticism, incapable of rationalisation. (A.I. p. 151)

(Professors of Alexandria.) These men conventionalised learning. But they secured it. Their work survived two great religious revolutions, the rise of Christianity and the rise of Mohammedanism. It provided both these religions with their philosophical theologies. It fitted them out with heresies and with orthodoxies. (A.I. p. 133)

Gibbon's history demonstrates a twofold tale. It tells of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire through a thousand years. . . . But throughout this history, it is Gibbon who speaks. He was the incarnation of the dominant spirit of his own times.... Thus, Gibbon narrates the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and exemplifies the prelude to the Decline and Fall of his own type of culture. (A.I. p. 5-6)

The medieval movement was too learned. It formed a closed system of thinking about other people's thoughts. In this way, medieval philosophy, and indeed modern philosophy, detracted from its utility as a discipline of speculative Reason by its inadequate grasp of the fecundity of nature and of the corresponding fecundity of thought. The scholastics confined themselves to framing systems out of a narrow round of ideas. The systems were very intelligently framed. Indeed they were marvels of architectonic genius. But there are more ideas in heaven and on earth than were thought of in their philosophy. (F.R. pp. 35-6)

The Empire (Holy Roman) was a failure mitigated by a few successes. (A.I. p. 38)

(The 18th century.) It was the age of reason - healthy, manly, upstanding reason; but, of one-eyed reason, deficient in its vision of depth. (S.M.W. p. 86)

But if men cannot live on bread alone, still less can they do so on disinfectants. (S.M.W. p. 87)

The nineteenth century was a period of great achievement, suggestive of an ant hill. It failed to produce men of learning with a sensitive appreciation of varieties of interest, of varieties of potentiality. It criticised and exploded, where it should have striven to understand. (M.T. p. 61)

The nineteenth century exaggerated the power of the historical method, and assumed as a matter of course that every character should be studied only in its embryonic stage. Thus, for example, "Love" has been studied among the savages and latterly among the morons. (Symb. p. 6)

The greatest invention of the nineteenth century was the invention of the method of invention. (S.M.W. p. 141)

The mass of fables termed history ... (A.I. pp. 246-47)

The history of ideas is a history of mistakes. But through all mistakes it is also the history of the gradual purification of conduct. (A.I. p. 30)

In the earlier (modern) centuries the professional influence, as a general sociological fact, was mainly a welter of bygone flashes of intelligence relapsing into customary procedures. It represented the continual lapse of intellect into instinct. (A.I. p. 77)

A blindness which is almost judicial ... being a penalty affixed to hasty, superficial thinking,. . . (S.M.W. p. 157)

The large practical effect of scepticism is gross acquiescence in what is immediate and obvious. Postponement, subtle interweaving, delicacies of adjustment, wide co-ordinations, moral restraint, the whole artistry of civilisation, all presuppose understanding. And without understanding they are meaningless. (Harvard, p. 263)

The worlds experience of professed seers has on the whole been very unfortunate. In the main, they are a shady lot with a bad reputation. Even if we put aside those with some tinge of insincerity, there still remain the presumptuous, ignorant, incompetent, unbalanced band of false prophets who deceive the people. On the whole, the odds are so heavily against any particular prophet that, apart from some method of testing, perhaps it is safer to stone them, in some merciful way. (F.R. pp. 52-3)

The thorough sceptic is a dogmatist. He enjoys the delusion of complete futility. (Math and Good p. 670)

The middle class pessimism over the future of the world comes from a confusion between civilisation and security. In the immediate future there will he less security than in the immediate past, less stability. It must be admitted that there is a degree of instability which is inconsistent with civilisation. But, on the whole, the great ages have been unstable ages. (S.M.W. p. 299)

Tautology is the intellectual amusement of the Infinite. (M.T. p.71)

Language, is always ambiguous as to the exact proposition which it indicates. Spoken language is merely a series of squeaks. (P.R. p. 403)

Nothing does more harm in unnerving men for their duties in the present than the attention devoted to the points of excellence in the past as compared with the average failure of the present day. (S.M.W. p. 294)
The ultimate motive power, alike in science, in morality, and in religion, is the sense of value, the sense of importance. It takes the various forms of wonder, of curiosity, of reverence, or worship, of tumultuous desire for merging personality in something beyond itself. This sense of value imposes on life incredible labours, and apart from it life sinks back into the passivity of its lower types. (A.E. pp. 62-3)











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The Wit and Wisdom of Alfred North Whitehead
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