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  • The Harvard Lectures of Alfred North Whitehead, 1924–1925: Philosophical Presuppositions of Science ed. by Paul A. Bogaard and Jason Bell
  • William J. Meyer
The Harvard Lectures of Alfred North Whitehead, 1924–1925: Philosophical Presuppositions of Science. Edited by Paul A. Bogaard and Jason Bell. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2017. lii + 570 pp. $230 cloth.

In this expensive but invaluable book, students and scholars of Whitehead's philosophy and those more generally interested in the intersections of philosophy and science will find a treasure trove for gleaning the development, breadth, and depth of Whitehead's thought. This work, which consists of three independent sets of course notes from the previously unpublished lectures that Whitehead gave in his first year at Harvard in 1924–1925, is the first volume in a new and richly important series by Edinburgh University Press: The Edinburgh Critical Edition of the Complete Works of Alfred North Whitehead, overseen by series editors George R. Lucas Jr. and Brian G. Henning. This initial volume, which was skillfully edited by Paul Bogaard and Jason Bell, consists of eighty-five newly crafted lectures that Whitehead gave in his Phil. 3B course (Philosophy and Science) from noon to one on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays between September and May during his first year at Harvard (and he gave the same set of lectures at Radcliffe, though usually trailing one session behind, on those same days from nine to ten in the morning).

The Harvard notes were taken by two individuals. The first was Winthrop Pickard Bell, a Canadian scholar who was an instructor and senior tutor in philosophy at Harvard. Bell earned his PhD under Husserl at Göttingen in 1914 and was interned by the Germans as an "enemy citizen" during WWI, and he was a secret British and Canadian intelligence operative during and after the war, then served as a reader on Charles Hartshorne's PhD thesis at Harvard (xxviii). The second was William Ernest Hocking, a senior member of the Philosophy Department and an accomplished philosopher in his own right. The Radcliffe notes were taken by Louise R. Heath, who was a PhD student in philosophy at Harvard-Radcliffe at the time. Bell's notes are superbly organized, dated, and demarcated, capturing what appear to be detailed accounts of Whitehead's words, diagrams, and mathematical equations. In contrast, Hocking's notes are sparse outlines of each session, but they sometimes cut through with some insightful diagrams or formulations of Whitehead's thought. The two sets of Harvard notes come first in the volume and are arranged in a semisynoptic way followed by Heath's Radcliffe notes. Though Heath's notes are detailed like Bell's, they are not as precisely dated or demarcated, which makes it harder to discern where one day's thoughts end and the next day's begin. Indeed, one of the nice features of Bell's notes and the lecture format in [End Page 72] general is that one can pick up and read one or more of Whitehead's lectures and get pretty much a self-contained discussion. For instance, the reader gets brief and clear snapshots into Whitehead's understanding of key concepts, such as facts, actuality, and the Eternal, of which he says the Eternal is "the ground exhibited in every occasion of Realization = that which is true respecting … every occasion because it is an Occasion" (59).

If the substantive reward of reading Whitehead's later monographs, such as Science and the Modern World (1925) or Process and Reality (1929), is like watching a star athlete play at peak performance in game situations, then the great benefit of reading these course lectures is like having the privilege to watch that same athlete prepare in training camp as he thinks through and develops the intellectual distinctions and lines of argument that will shape his subsequent philosophy. Though I will leave final judgment regarding nuances to longtime Whiteheadian specialists, it is evident that many of the central themes of his later thought are here in the process of formation and articulation. For example, Whitehead is clearly developing here a philosophy of organism over against the dominance of mechanistic and materialistic thinking...


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