Alfred North Whitehead

  • English mathematician
  • Born February 15, 1861
  • Died December 30, 1947

Alfred North Whitehead (15 February 1861 – 30 December 1947) was an English mathematician and philosopher. He is best known as the defining figure of the philosophical school known as process philosophy, which today has found application to a wide variety of disciplines, including ecology, theology, education, physics, biology, economics, and psychology, among other areas. In his early career Whitehead wrote primarily on mathematics, logic, and physics. His most notable work in these fields is the three-volume Principia Mathematica (1910–1913), which he wrote with former student Bertrand Russell.

The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.

Speak out in acts; the time for words has passed, and only deeds will suffice.

It is in literature that the concrete outlook of humanity receives its expression.

In formal logic, a contradiction is the signal of defeat, but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress toward a victory.

I have suffered a great deal from writers who have quoted this or that sentence of mine either out of its context or in juxtaposition to some incongruous matter which quite distorted my meaning, or destroyed it altogether.

But you can catch yourself entertaining habitually certain ideas and setting others aside; and that, I think, is where our personal destinies are largely decided.

Seek simplicity but distrust it.

What is morality in any given time or place? It is what the majority then and there happen to like and immorality is what they dislike.

The art of progress is to preserve order amid change and to preserve change amid order.

True courage is not the brutal force of vulgar heroes, but the firm resolve of virtue and reason.

When you're average, you're just as close to the bottom as you are the top.

Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment is recognition of the pattern.

Knowledge shrinks as wisdom grows.

Simple solutions seldom are. It takes a very unusual mind to undertake analysis of the obvious.

Our minds are finite, and yet even in these circumstances of finitude we are surrounded by possibilities that are infinite, and the purpose of life is to grasp as much as we can out of that infinitude.

The guiding motto in the life of every natural philosopher should be, seek simplicity and distrust it.

Art flourishes where there is a sense of adventure.

Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance, is the death of knowledge.

It takes an extraordinary intelligence to contemplate the obvious.

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.

Art attracts us only by what it reveals of our most secret self.

If a dog jumps into your lap, it is because he is fond of you; but if a cat does the same thing, it is because your lap is warmer.

The absolute pacifist is a bad citizen; times come when force must be used to uphold right, justice and ideals.

Life is an offensive, directed against the repetitious mechanism of the Universe.

No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.

Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them.

Civilizations can only be understood by those who are civilized.

Wisdom alone is true ambition's aim, wisdom is the source of virtue and of fame; obtained with labour, for mankind employed, and then, when most you share it, best enjoyed.

Almost all new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when they are first produced.

Intelligence is quickness to apprehend as distinct form ability, which is capacity to act wisely on the thing apprehended.

We think in generalities, but we live in detail.

Every philosophy is tinged with the coloring of some secret imaginative background, which never emerges explicitly into its train of reasoning.

It is the business of the future to be dangerous; and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties.

Without adventure civilization is in full decay.

No period of history has ever been great or ever can be that does not act on some sort of high, idealistic motives, and idealism in our time has been shoved aside, and we are paying the penalty for it.

It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious.