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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Alfred North Whitehead and the sociology of knowledge


Photo source: Wikimedia Commons, Wellcome Trust

Photo license: CC BY-SA 4.0


Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) was a philosopher best known for co-authoring Principia Mathematica in 1910 with Bertrand Russell. Historian Carl Becker said,


"Professor Whitehead has recently restored a seventeenth century phrase - 'climate of opinion'. The phrase is much needed. Whether arguments command assent or not depends less upon the logic that conveys them than upon the climate of opinion in which they are sustained." (The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-century Philosophers, 1932)


The rest of this post is some quotes from Whitehead.


Sociology of knowledge


"A philosopher of imposing stature doesn't think in a vacuum. Even their most abstract ideas are, to some extent conditioned by what is or is not known in the time when he lives." (Quoted in Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead by Lucian Price)


"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." (Adventures of ideas, 1933)


"The main importance of Francis Bacon's influence does not lie in any peculiar theory of inductive reasoning which he happened to express, but in the revolt against second-hand information of which he was a leader." (The Aims of Education, 1929)




"The ultimate metaphysical principle is the advance from disjunction to conjunction, creating a novel entity other than the entities given in disjunction." (Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, 1929)


"Philosophy is the self-correction by consciousness of its own initial excess of subjectivity... the task of philosophy is to recover the totality obscured by the selection." (Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology, 1929)




"By relieving the brain of all unnecessary work, a good notation sets it free to concentrate on more advance problems, and in effect increases the mental power of the race." (An Introduction to Mathematics, 1911)


"Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them." (An Introduction to Mathematics, 1911)


"The science of pure mathematics, in its modern developments, may claim to be the most original creation of the human spirit." (Science and the Modern World, 1925)