In March 1912 A. N. Whitehead wrote a letter which sheds new and important light on his own view of his mathematical goals. In this article I publish the letter for the first time and relate its contents not only to his mathematical career but also to his scientific, philosophical and educational interests.
The article by Mr. David L. Miller, called ‘Purpose, Design and Physical Relativity', in the July 1936 issue of Philosophy of Science, consists mainly of a commentary on the development of Whitehead's thought from the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge to Process and Reality. Now most criticisms of Whitehead so far published have been from realists of the anti-metaphysical Cambridge school, complaining that his later works retract the teaching of his earlier works on the philosophy of natural science; (...) and this complaint is raised quite unjustly, because a careful reading of the earlier works will show that there is nothing in them that precludes the logical possibility of a metaphysics of nature such as Whitehead expounded later. We should be grateful for any comment on Whitehead which does not repeat this hoary error. But unfortunately two opposed misinterpretations do not together make a correct interpretation. The opposite distortion of Whitehead is effected by those readers who, having found that the earlier books showed genius but were, alas, too much under the influence of ill-advised realist dogma, proceed to construe the succession of later books as the gradual self-correction of the great man towards a mature judgment which is in full accord with the reader's own. Of this distortion, I am afraid, Mr. Miller has given us an example. (shrink)
In 1933, as fourth Carus Lecturer, he expounded the view that the things of value in the history of philosophy are not the reasonings of the philosophers, but their imaginative visions of the universe and man's place in it; and he urged the philosophers of today to give the earth to the scientists, hand over the quest for certainty, and deliberately, "with right good will," undertake to explore the wide ocean of possibility. The present elaboration of those lectures into an (...) appreciative, yet critical, account of Varieties of Speculative Thought in the West from the Greeks to Bergson--so runs the book's subtitle--is first of all a fine presentation of most of the great visions that have been achieved by Occidental thinkers. In the discussion, Montague's own lively vision of man and the universe is brought out. (shrink)