Alfred North Whitehead Quotes | Quotes by Alfred North Whitehead

1Mathematics as a science, commenced when first someone, probably a Greek, proved propositions about "any" things or about "some" things, without specifications of definite particular things.

2The factor in human life provocative of a noble discontent is the gradual emergence of a sense of criticism, founded upon appreciation of beauty, and of intellectual distinction, and of duty.

3Philosophy is the self-correction by consciousness of its own initial excess of subjectivity.

4The task of a university is the creation of the future, so far as rational thought and civilized modes of appreciation can affect the issue.

5Without deductive logic science would be entirely useless. It is merely a barren game to ascend from the particular to the general, unless afterwards we can reverse the process and descend from the general to the particular, ascending and descending like angels on Jacob's ladder.

6We think in generalities, but we live in detail. To make the past live, we must perceive it in detail in addition to thinking of it in generalities.

7Ninety 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.

8No religion can be considered in abstraction from its followers, or even from its various types of followers.

9As society is now constituted, a literal adherence to the moral precepts scattered throughout the Gospels would mean sudden death.

10The ideas of Freud were popularized by people who only imperfectly understood them, who were incapable of the great effort required to grasp them in their relationship to larger truths, and who therefore assigned to them a prominence out of all proportion to their true importance.

Alfred North Whitehead Quotes

11Without adventure all civilization is full of decay. Adventure rarely reaches its predetermined end. Columbus never reached China.

12The only use of knowledge of the past is to equip us for the present.

13Vigorous societies harbor a certain extravagance of objectives, so that men wander beyond the safe provision of personal gratifications.

14The vitality of thought is in adventure. Idea's won't keep. Something must be done about them. When the idea is new, its custodians have fervour, live for it, and, if need be, die for it. Their inheritors receive the idea, perhaps now strong and successful, but without inheriting the fervour; so the idea settles down to a comfortable middle age, turns senile, and dies.

15The real history does not get written, because it is not in people's brains but in their nerves and vitals.

16Whenever a text-book is written of real educational worth, you may be quite certain that some reviewer will say that it will be difficult to teach from it. Of course it will be difficult to teach from it. It it were easy, the book ought to be burned.

17Life is the enjoyment of emotion, derived from the past and aimed at the future.

18I 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.

19The merely well-informed man is the most useless bore on God's earth.

20The only use of a knowledge of the past is to equip us for the present. The present contains all that there is. It is holy ground; for it is the past, and it is the future.

Alfred North Whitehead Quotes

21Everything of importance has been said before by somebody who did not discover it.

22A great society is a society in which its men of business think greatly of their functions.

23Not ignorance, but ignorance of ignorance, is the death of knowledge.

24Education with inert ideas is not only useless; it is above all things harmful.

25It 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.

26In the study of ideas, it is necessary to remember that insistence on hard-headed clarity issues from sentimental feeling, as 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 reasonings grasp at straws for premises and float on gossamers for deductions.

27Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are cavalry charges in a battle - they are limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.

28War can protect; it cannot create.

29The theme of Cosmology, which is the basis of all religions, is the story of the dynamic effort of the World passing into everlasting unity, and of the static majesty of God's vision, accomplishing its purpose of completion by absorption of the World's multiplicity of effort.

30Art flourishes where there is a sense of adventure.

Alfred North Whitehead Quotes

31The human body is an instrument for the production of art in the life of the human soul.

32One main factor in the upward trend of animal life has been the power of wandering.

33The fixed person for the fixed duties who in older societies was such a godsend, in future will be a public danger.

34No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude.

35For 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.

36Algebra reverses the relative importance of the factors in ordinary language.

37The study of mathematics is apt to commence in disappointment.

38The result of teaching small parts of a large number of subjects is the passive reception of disconnected ideas, not illumed with any spark of vitality.

39It is impossible not to feel stirred at the thought of the emotions of man at certain historic moments of adventure and discovery - Columbus when he first saw the Western shore, Pizarro when he stared at the Pacific Ocean, Franklin when the electric spark came from the string of his kite, Galileo when he first turned his telescope to the heavens. Such moments are also granted to students in the abstract regions of thought, and high among them must be placed the morning when Descartes lay in bed and invented the method of co-ordinate geometry.

40Rightness of limitation is essential for growth of reality.

Alfred North Whitehead Quotes

41Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking of them.

42The many become one and are increased by one.

43Great people plant trees they'll never sit under.

44The point about zero is that we do not need to use it in the operation of daily life. No one goes out to buy zero fish.

45Value is coextensive with reality.

46Everyone is a philosopher. Not everyone is good at it.

47Knowledge shrinks as wisdom grows.

48Fertilization of the soul is the reason for the necessity of art.

49Aristotle discovered all the half-truths which were necessary to the creation of science.

50The study of mathematics is apt to commence in disappointment... We are told that by its aid the stars are weighed and the billions of molecules in a drop of water are counted. Yet, like the ghost of Hamlet's father, this great science eludes the efforts of our mental weapons to grasp it.

Alfred North Whitehead Quotes

51The aims of scientific thought are to see the general in the particular and the eternal in the transitory.

52From the moment of birth we are immersed in action, and can only fitfully guide it by taking thought.

53From the very beginning of his education, the child should experience the joy of discovery.

54I put forward as a general definition of civilization, that a civilized society is exhibiting the five qualities of Truth, Beauty, Adventure, Art, Peace.

55We think of the number "five" as applying to appropriate groups of any entities whatsoever - to five fishes, five children, five apples, five days... We are merely thinking of those relationships between those two groups which are entirely independent of the individual essences of any of the members of either group. This is a very remarkable feat of abstraction; and it must have taken ages for the human race to rise to it

56A man of science doesn't discover in order to know, he wants to know in order to discover.

57On the ostensible exactitude of certain branches of human knowledge, including mathematics. The exactness is a fake.

58The science of pure mathematics, in its modern developments, may claim to be the most original creation of the human spirit.

59Other nations of different habits are not enemies: they are godsends. Men require of their neighbours something sufficiently akin to be understood, something sufficiently different to provoke attention, and something great enough to command admiration. We must not expect, however, all the virtues.

60A clash of doctrine is not a disaster, it is an opportunity.