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Alfred North Whitehead

Date de naissance: 15. février 1861
Date de décès: 30. décembre 1947

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Alfred North Whitehead, né le 15 février 1861 à Ramsgate et mort le 30 décembre 1947 à Cambridge , est un philosophe, logicien et mathématicien britannique. Il est le fondateur de l'école philosophique connue sous le nom de la philosophie du processus, un courant influent dans toute une série de disciplines : l'écologie, la théologie, l'éducation, la physique, la biologie, l'économie et la psychologie.

Au début de sa carrière, Whitehead écrit principalement sur les mathématiques, la logique et la physique. Son premier grand ouvrage A Treatise of Universal Algebra porte sur l'algèbre qu'il se propose d'unifier tout comme David Hilbert l'a fait avec les géométries non euclidiennes. Son œuvre la plus remarquable dans ces domaines demeure les Principia Mathematica , en trois volumes, œuvre majeure écrite en collaboration avec son ancien étudiant Bertrand Russell. Les Principia Mathematica sont considérés comme l'une des œuvres les plus importantes du XXe siècle en logique mathématique.

Durant la période allant de la fin des années 1910 au début des années 1920, Whitehead s'est progressivement tourné vers la philosophie des sciences et la métaphysique. Peu à peu il s'éloigne du logicisme et s'oriente vers la philosophie de la nature dans ses œuvres An Inquiry concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge et The Concept of Nature . Dans The Principles of Relativity , il discute et critique la théorie einsteinienne de la relativité. Sa pensée, partie des mathématiques, s'oriente vers une métaphysique dans laquelle l'idée de « process », parfois traduite en français par « procès », tient une place prépondérante. Il a développé un système de métaphysique complet, radicalement nouveau dans la philosophie occidentale. Aujourd'hui, les travaux philosophiques de Whitehead — notamment Procès et réalité — sont considérés comme les textes fondateurs de la philosophie du process.

Sa métaphysique est centrée sur les notions de préhensions et de relations. Le fait qu'il ne cherche pas les conditions de possibilité d'une connaissance, mais comment rendre compte de l'expérience, constitue une différence forte entre les métaphysiques de Kant et de Whitehead. Par rapport à Aristote et à Leibniz, chez lui l'harmonie de l'ordre du monde n'est pas donnée une fois pour toutes, mais doit évoluer pour répondre aux changements du monde. Dans cette optique, la notion de créativité occupe une place clé. Concernant sa théologie, elle est centrée sur une double nature de Dieu : sa nature primordiale et sa nature conséquente. La première est immuable alors que la seconde en lien avec le monde est muable. L'ordre du monde est fondé sur des relations entre ces deux natures et le monde qui, d'une certaine façon, coopère avec Dieu.

La philosophie du process de Whitehead insiste sur le fait qu'« il est urgent de voir le monde comme un réseau de processus interdépendants dont nous sommes partie intégrante, et que tous nos choix et nos actions ont des conséquences sur le monde qui nous entoure ». Pour cette raison, l'une des applications les plus prometteuses de sa pensée au cours des années 2000 concerne l'écologie, notamment l'éthique de l'environnement de John B. Cobb, Jr.

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Citations Alfred North Whitehead

„Knowledge does not keep any better than fish.“

—  Alfred North Whitehead
Context: For successful education there must always be a certain freshness in the knowledge dealt with. It must be either new in itself or invested with some novelty of application to the new world of new times. Knowledge does not keep any better than fish. You may be dealing with knowledge of the old species, with some old truth; but somehow it must come to the students, as it were, just drawn out of the sea and with the freshness of its immediate importance.

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„The task of philosophy is to recover the totality obscured by the selection.“

—  Alfred North Whitehead
Context: Philosophy is the self-correction by consciousness of its own initial excess of subjectivity. Each actual occasion contributes to the circumstances of its origin additional formative elements deepening its own peculiar individuality. Consciousness is only the last and greatest of such elements by which the selective character of the individual obscures the external totality from which it originates and which it embodies. An actual individual, of such higher grade, has truck with the totality of things by reason of its sheer actuality; but it has attained its individual depth of being by a selective emphasis limited to its own purposes. The task of philosophy is to recover the totality obscured by the selection. Pt. I, ch. 1, sec. 6.

„The universities are schools of education, and schools of research.“

—  Alfred North Whitehead
Context: The universities are schools of education, and schools of research. But the primary reason for their existence is not to be found either in the mere knowledge conveyed to the students or in the mere opportunities for research afforded to the members of the faculty. Both these functions could be performed at a cheaper rate, apart from these very expensive institutions. Books are cheap, and the system of apprenticeship is well understood. So far as the mere imparting of information is concerned, no university has had any justification for existence since the popularization of printing in the fifteenth century. Yet the chief impetus to the foundation of universities came after that date, and in more recent times has even increased. The justification for a university is that it preserves the connection between knowledge and the zest of life, by uniting the young and the old in the imaginative consideration of learning.

„Some philosophers fail to distinguish propositions from judgments; … But in the real world it is more important that a proposition be interesting than that it be true.“

—  Alfred North Whitehead
Context: Some philosophers fail to distinguish propositions from judgments; … But in the real world it is more important that a proposition be interesting than that it be true. The importance of truth is that it adds to interest. p. 259. Variant: It is more important that a proposition be interesting than that it be true. This statement is almost a tautology. For the energy of operation of a proposition in an occasion of experience is its interest, and its importance. But of course a true proposition is more apt to be interesting than a false one. As extended upon in Adventures of Ideas (1933), Pt. 4, Ch. 16.

„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.“

—  Alfred North Whitehead
Context: 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." The Concept of Nature (1919), Chapter VII, p.143 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18835/18835-h/18835-h.htm#CHAPTER_VII.

„The justification for a university is that it preserves the connection between knowledge and the zest of life, by uniting the young and the old in the imaginative consideration of learning.“

—  Alfred North Whitehead
Context: The universities are schools of education, and schools of research. But the primary reason for their existence is not to be found either in the mere knowledge conveyed to the students or in the mere opportunities for research afforded to the members of the faculty. Both these functions could be performed at a cheaper rate, apart from these very expensive institutions. Books are cheap, and the system of apprenticeship is well understood. So far as the mere imparting of information is concerned, no university has had any justification for existence since the popularization of printing in the fifteenth century. Yet the chief impetus to the foundation of universities came after that date, and in more recent times has even increased. The justification for a university is that it preserves the connection between knowledge and the zest of life, by uniting the young and the old in the imaginative consideration of learning.

„All the world over and at all times there have been practical men, absorbed in 'irreducible and stubborn facts'; all the world over and at all times there have been men of philosophic temperament, who have been absorbed in the weaving of general principles. It is this union of passionate interest in the detailed facts with equal devotion to abstract generalisation which forms the novelty of our present society.“

—  Alfred North Whitehead
Context: The new tinge to modern minds is a vehement and passionate interest in the relation of general principles to irreducible and stubborn facts. All the world over and at all times there have been practical men, absorbed in 'irreducible and stubborn facts'; all the world over and at all times there have been men of philosophic temperament, who have been absorbed in the weaving of general principles. It is this union of passionate interest in the detailed facts with equal devotion to abstract generalisation which forms the novelty of our present society. Ch. 1: "The Origins of Modern Science"

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„The vitality of thought is in adventure. Ideas won't keep. Something must be done about them.“

—  Alfred North Whitehead
Context: The vitality of thought is in adventure. Ideas won't keep. Something must be done about them. When the idea is new, its custodians have fervor, live for it, and, if need be, die for it. p. 100; Ch. 12, April 28, 1938.

„In the inescapable flux, there is something that abides; in the overwhelming permanence, there is an element that escapes into flux.“

—  Alfred North Whitehead
Context: In the inescapable flux, there is something that abides; in the overwhelming permanence, there is an element that escapes into flux. Permanence can be snatched only out of flux; and the passing moment can find its adequate intensity only by its submission to permanence.

„In the study of ideas, it is necessary to remember that insistence on hard-headed clarity issues from sentimental feeling, as if 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.“

—  Alfred North Whitehead
Context: In the study of ideas, it is necessary to remember that insistence on hard-headed clarity issues from sentimental feeling, as if 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 reasoning grasps at straws for premises and float on gossamer for deductions. p. 91.

„Seek simplicity and distrust it.“

—  Alfred North Whitehead
Context: 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." The Concept of Nature (1919), Chapter VII, p.143 http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18835/18835-h/18835-h.htm#CHAPTER_VII.

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„Ninety percent of our lives is governed by emotion.“

—  Alfred North Whitehead
Context: Ninety percent of our lives is governed by emotion. Our brains merely register and act upon what is telegraphed to them by our bodily experience. Intellect is to emotion as our clothes are to our bodies; we could not very well have civilized life without clothes, but we would be in a poor way if we had only clothes without bodies. Ch. 29, June 10, 1943.

„Religion is an ultimate craving to infuse into the insistent particularity of emotion that non-temporal generality which primarily belongs to conceptual thought alone.“

—  Alfred North Whitehead
Context: Philosophy finds religion, and modifies it; and conversely religion is among the data of experience which philosophy must weave into its own scheme. Religion is an ultimate craving to infuse into the insistent particularity of emotion that non-temporal generality which primarily belongs to conceptual thought alone. In the higher organisms the differences of tempo between the mere emotions and the conceptual experiences produce a life-tedium, unless this supreme fusion has been effected. The two sides of the organism require a reconciliation in which emotional experiences illustrate a conceptual justification, and conceptual experiences find an emotional illustration. Pt. I, ch. 1, sec. 6.

„Philosophy is the self-correction by consciousness of its own initial excess of subjectivity.“

—  Alfred North Whitehead
Context: Philosophy is the self-correction by consciousness of its own initial excess of subjectivity. Each actual occasion contributes to the circumstances of its origin additional formative elements deepening its own peculiar individuality. Consciousness is only the last and greatest of such elements by which the selective character of the individual obscures the external totality from which it originates and which it embodies. An actual individual, of such higher grade, has truck with the totality of things by reason of its sheer actuality; but it has attained its individual depth of being by a selective emphasis limited to its own purposes. The task of philosophy is to recover the totality obscured by the selection. Pt. I, ch. 1, sec. 6.

„The mentality of mankind and the language of mankind created each other.“

—  Alfred North Whitehead
Context: The mentality of mankind and the language of mankind created each other. If we like to assume the rise of language as a given fact, then it is not going too far to say that the souls of men are the gift from language to mankind. The account of the sixth day should be written: He gave them speech, and they became souls. Modes of Thought (1938).

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