Throughout the history of philosophy, cosmological
theories have always deservedly enjoyed a position of
special prominence. Of all recent cosmologies, or phi - losophies of Nature, perhaps the most comprehensive and
satisfactory is that offered. by Alfred North Whitehead.
Whitehead, always both mathematician and philosopher,
enjoyed a full career as mathematician at Cambridge and
London Universities before answering an invitation from
Harvard University to a chair in philosophy there. His
interests invariably carried him to the forefront of the
advance, and his more technical mathematical works bore
the imprint of a philosopher. His philosophy carried the
marks of its birth in mathematics and the physical sciences.
Although his Treatise on Universal Algebra (1898) won
him an enviable reputation, it was his collaboration with
Bertrand Russell in the first decade of the twentieth century on Principia Nathematica which proved his pioneering
genius. In the middle of this decade, Whitehead offered
to the Royal Society of London a memoir entitled "On
Mathematical Concepts of the Material World." This memoir,
which fell into oblivion, employed the symbolic technique
of Principia Nathematica in solving the fundamental problem of importance to cosmological theory. Given a set of
entities and a relation between those entities, Whitehead
attempted to show the whole of Euclidean geometry to be an
expression of the properties of the field of that relation. Certain extraneous relations served to associate
the axioms with the material world of the physicists, of
which Whitehead offered seven alternative concepts.
The first three volumes of Princiaá Mathematica had
been published, and Whitehead had begun his work on the
fourth, which was to have been concerned with the application of symbolic reasoning to the foundations of geometry
and the problem of space. But by this time the scientific
world had been captivated by the publication of the special and general theories of relativity by Einstein.
These novelties naturally attracted Whitehead, who wrote
several essays on the presuppositions of relativity.
Whitehead was convinced that the principle and the method
introduced by Einstein constituted a revolution in physical science, but found his explanation faulty.
A series of three important "Nature" volumes introduced the philosophy of "Nature" as conceived by Whitehead,
using his own interpretation of the meaning of the new
relativity. A powerful method of analysis, called the
Method of Extensive Abstraction and having as its purpose
the definition of spatial and temporal entities so as to
avoid a circularity of reasoning was born at this period.
The third of the volumes was devoted entirely to the development of his own theory of relativity, to which the
philosophically more satisfactory interpretation of relativity could be readily applied. From his original presuppositions Whitehead offered four alternative relativity
theories, one of which coincided with Einstein's, and two
of which were attempts at a unified field theory. The
fourth, a theory of gravitation, used a physical element,
the "impetus," instead of an infinitesimal metric element,
as Einstein had done. This theory proved to be empirically
less satisfactory than that of Einstein. But Professor
George Temple generalized this fourth theory by using a space -time of positive uniform curvature, and results more
satisfactory empirically than those of Einstein followed.
The philosophical advantages of Whitehead's relativity
were retained. This result seems to invite a more careful
consideration of Temple's generalization of ;Whitehead's
relativity than has been obtained at present.
But by this time Whitehead's speculations, which took
as their restricted field the area of nature in which mind
was irrelevant, began to concentrate on the enlarged field
of cosmological theory in its points of contact with metaphysics. The most important discovery he believed he had
made was that in this enlarged area, all the more special
physical and extensive properties of nature were dependent
for their existence upon process.
Now in his sixties, Whitehead accepted Harvard's invitation to a chair in philosophy. Within a very few
years he returned to the United Kingdom to deliver the
Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh, in which
the implications of adopting process as the central principle in the universe were systematically presented.
One outstanding; feature of these lectures has been
unfortunately ignored; it is a major and original suggestion of this thesis that the categoreal scheme of Process
and Reality is really the axiomatic scheme of "On Mathematical Concepts of the Material World" generalized on the
metaphysical level. An attempt at the application of the
symbolic method to the axioms (categories of explanation
and obligation) is made here. Thus the generalized problem in Process and Reality becomes, "Given a set of onto - logical existents and the operation of creativity, what
axioms regarding the operation of creativity will have as
their result that the more specialized discoveries of the
humanities and the sciences follow from the properties of
those entities forming the field of creativity?"
These lectures, although they offered a comprehensive
metaphysical system justifying the operation of physical
field theories, suffered under the misfa' tune that they
were given at just the time when the quantum mechanics
revolution was precipitated in the physical sciences.
From the point of view of quantum mechanics, therefore,
the philosophy of organism does not supply a satisfactory
cosmology within which it can operate. This is especially
unfortunate in view of his possibly superior physical
theory of relativity; possible points of expansion to allow for quantum mechanics are indicated, although they do
violence to the base of the philosophy of organism.
As the chief exemplification of the metaphysical
principles, Whitehead postulated a brilliantly conceived
metaphysical God who was important in physical cosmology.
It is suggested that this metaphysical God is, nevertheless, inadequate to satisfy the demands of the religious
Despite the originality of most of the elements introduced by Whitehead, a full understanding of his meaning
and an appreciation of his novelties is possible only by
referring his writings to their proper settings. Thus,
the philosophy of organism is explained against the background of the process philosophies of Bergson, Alexander,
and Horgan. Because of its many similarities in respect
to the setting of the cosmological problem and the essentials of the solution to the Timaeus, a special chapter is
devoted to the correspondence between the two. Whitehead's
relativity and philosophy of Nature requires an understanding of the development of the theory of relativity, the
world- models of the relativistic cosmologies, and the attempts at a unified field theory. Similarly, the memoir
of 1905 is described in a more general back ground setting
forth a broad picture of the state of geometry, physical
science, and philosophy at the turn of the century.
As a final reflection, certain presuppositions at the
base of Whitehead's philosophy of organism are investigated and evaluated. The points believed by the present
writer to be especially vulnerable in the philosophy of
organism are exposed. An experiment in suggesting the
prospectus of an alternative system which might avoid the
difficulties, and incorporate the advantages of, the philosophy of organism, is made with the warning that it is
no more than a suggestion.
Throughout the thesis, certain dominant strains of
"Ihitehead's thinking can be detected: the importance in
his mind of the axiomatic -deductive method in the sciences;
the realization that prevalent habits of thinking need to
be altered by new discoveries, but are resisted; the conviction that the sciences must be ontologically centered;
the faith in field theories; and the conviction that cosmology must be the search for the forms in the facts; to
designate the more outstanding convictions.