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Alfred Whitehead

Whitehead

Alfred Whitehead. "All truths are half-truths."

Another British philosopher, thirteen years older than Bertrand Russell, was Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947). He worked with Russell, the two producing Principia Mathematica, published in 1910. It is considered "one of the most important and seminal works in mathematical logic and philosophy since Aristotle's Organon."   note60

Whitehead was a mathematician turned philosopher who also addressed the issue of modesty in what one could know. He said:

There are no whole truths: all truths are half-truths. It is trying to treat them as whole truths that plays the devil.

This was recognition that we interpret drawing from generalizations that are approximations. It is a recognition of an interconnectedness and interdependence of ideas and knowledge. And it is a recognition, of course, of a limit to what we know. This was a part of Whitehead's scientism. Science struggles to be definite but is also tentative about its conclusions. It makes use of caution that is not the habit of those holding to ideas that rest on metaphysics.

Related to the interdependence and connectivity of ideas that constitute a large body of thought, he wrote that "Almost all new ideas have a certain aspect of foolishness when they are first produced.”

Other statements by Whitehead:

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

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.

Philosophy begins in wonder. And, at the end, when philosophic thought has done its best, the wonder remains.

Fools act on imagination without knowledge, pedants act on knowledge without imagination.

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

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

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.

This last statement had opponents among those who believed that morality, like the rule of Christian kings in recent centuries, had origins that were divine.

Sources

The History of Western Philosophy, Bertrand Russell, 1967

John Dewey, the Political Writings, edited by Debra Morris, Debra and Ian Shapiro, 1993

The Icarus Syndrome, Peter Beinart, 2010

www.goodreads,com, "Alfred North Whitehead" (quotes)

Copyright © 2009-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.