- The Edinburgh Critical Edition of the Complete Works of Alfred North Whitehead, Volume I: The Harvard Lectures of Alfred North Whitehead, 1924–1925—Philosophical Presuppositions of Science ed. by Paul A. Bogaard and Jason Bell
The Edinburgh Critical Edition of the Complete Works of Alfred North Whitehead, Volume I: The Harvard Lectures of Alfred North Whitehead, 1924–1925—Philosophical Presuppositions of Science
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2017.
In 1926, John Dewey called Alfred North Whitehead's book Science and the Modern World "the most significant restatement for the general reader of the present relations of science, philosophy and the issues of life which has yet appeared." While within Pragmatism, such praise by Dewey was praise indeed, Whitehead's influence on the philosophical debate waned quickly after his death in 1947, owed mainly to the fact that we had a better text of Plato's Republic than of his magnum opus, Process and Reality, as was often quipped.
In 1978, Donald Sherburne and David Griffin published the Corrected Edition of Process and Reality, a major achievement of scholarship. And indeed—the Corrected Edition has become a cornerstone for the revival of Whitehead's process thought soon afterwards by what came to be known as Process Theology, the inauguration of the Whitehead Research Project, and vivid research activity by a vibrant international community. Today, the 10th International Whitehead Conference in Claremont attracts almost 1000 presenters from over 30 countries, many of whom consider Whitehead a relevant voice not only in contemporary philosophical discussion, but also in the context of larger ecological and ethical debates as well as contributions to scientific theory.
It is against this background of increasing relevance in a broadening scientific field that Edinburgh University Press has started to publish The Edinburgh Critical Edition of the Complete Works of Alfred North Whitehead. The ambitious plan of the Critical Edition is to release the entire textual corpus of Alfred North Whitehead, including personal letters and transcripts of his Harvard Lectures, much of which have [End Page 430] never been published before. In a contemporary scientific environment of Whitehead scholarship that widens its horizon, the Critical Edition intends to provide the comprehensive foundation all future studies can be based upon, thereby providing the same qualitative impulse for research as the Corrected Edition of Process and Reality did in 1978.
This year, the Critical Edition commenced with its first volume, The Harvard Lectures of Alfred North Whitehead, 1924–1925—Philosophical Presuppositions of Science, edited by Paul A. Bogaard and Jason Bell. As the title suggests, the series starts out slowly with transcripts of Whitehead's Harvard lectures. The second and third volume will comprise transcripts of his lectures as well, followed by a volume on Whitehead's personal letters. It will be some time before the Critical Edition is going to publish his main philosophical works that will form the scientific backbone of the edition. This leaves the first volume in a peculiar situation. As transcripts of his lectures cannot form the solid foundation for a detailed examination of Whitehead's closeknit cosmology, the volume has to attain philosophical relevance in a more scholarly way—The Harvard Lectures of Alfred North Whitehead are not about Whitehead's philosophy, but about the context of its development.
Ab initio, it seems the editors had a clear understanding of these special circumstances. Although the volume consists of 570 pages, it does not have any longueurs. Much to the contrary, the introduction, while comprising 45 pages, manages to give a concise overview over the series and contains an essential description of the Critical Edition's editorial principles as well as introductions to Alfred North Whitehead's biography, his published works and his Harvard Lectures 1924–1925. The fact that the editorial work on the transcripts of Whitehead's lectures forms the core of the volume is never in danger of being obfuscated by erudite detours.
Complementary to the crisp introduction, the lucid structure of the main text allows for good accessibility of a complicated and frayed field. One of the most important editorial decisions concerns the ordering of the material. There are...