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The Whitehead book that never was

The first of two pages of a preface to an unpublished 1936 collection of Whitehead’s essays (click to enlarge).

Amongst the roughly five hundred items from Whitehead’s Lost Papers that were recently posted online, there was a two-page preface to an unpublished collection of Whitehead’s essays with handwritten emendations (see above). This preface was briefly discussed and parts of it quoted in the second volume of Lowe’s biography on Whitehead,[1] but it has not been seen in full before now. An examination of it reveals some interesting tidbits about Whitehead’s publications, though it raises as many questions as it answers.

The first thing to notice is the date: March 1, 1936, a year before Whitehead’s retirement from Harvard the following spring. Seven prospective chapters are named explicitly, five of which would later appear in the 1947 book Essays in Science and Philosophy (ESP). Based especially on this latter fact, and that the book seems to have been focused on education, the rest of the chapters can be guessed at, leading to the following table of contents:

I.       Memories
II.     The Education of an Englishman
III.    England and the Narrow Seas
IV.    The Study of the Past—Its Uses and Dangers*
V.     Mathematics and Liberal Education*
VI.    Science in General Education*
VII.  Historical Changes
VIII. The Aim of Philosophy
IX.    Harvard: The Future*
X.     First Harvard Lecture
XI.    Genius

The starred entries are the guesses, all of which appeared in ESP. Based on the fact that Whitehead wrote that “Genius” was the last chapter, and that his first Harvard lecture was chapter X, we can assume that there were at least eleven chapters, though possibly there were more.

The first three of the four guesses were all published well before the date on the preface, but the fourth (“Harvard: The Future”) was actually published in September of 1936 in The Atlantic.[2] It seems likely that Whitehead had composed this chapter for the book and then published it in The Atlantic when it was scrapped.

As for that last chapter, “Genius,” based on the fact that it was composed in 1919, we can be fairly certain that it was in fact Whitehead’s address on Founder’s Day at Stanley Technical Trade School, in which the following paragraph appeared toward the end:

In such an education everything depends on the teachers and on the pupils. We are discovering that in schools you cannot do without genius, genius of character, genius of insight, and genius of intellectual enthusiasm. Authorities who want successful schools must see to it that the conditions in the teaching profession are those in which genius can thrive.

This address also appeared in ESP, though it was re-named “Education and Self-Education.” The original address had been printed for private circulation only and so has not been widely available in its original form, but thankfully we found a copy of it in Whitehead’s papers (see below).

The title page of Whitehead’s 1919 address at Stanley Technical School (click link to see the entire document).

Interestingly, Whitehead’s copy of this address has been heavily emended, along with yet a third title: “A London Trade School,” with a roman numeral IV added:

(click to enlarge)

The fact that the chapter number (“IV”) is different from both the chapter number in this preface and in ESP suggests that Whitehead intended to include it as a chapter in yet another book (Aims of Education leaps to mind, though it could have been for another ultimately unpublished volume), but then decided against it. Curiously, the handwritten emendations made to this document are not reflected in the ESP version.

Two of these eleven chapters did not appear in ESP at all: “The Aim of Philosophy” ended up being printed in Modes of Thought (1938) as an epilogue, and his first Harvard lecture was never published (that is, until its discovery in Whitehead’s papers, now available online, in Process Studies 48.2, and the recently released book Whitehead at Harvard, 1924–1925).

The fact that Whitehead’s first Harvard lecture was set to be published in this 1936 book actually throws into question whether the manuscript we discovered is the original version that Whitehead delivered in September of 1924. It is possible that it was typed up from the original, or even adapted for the book. An argument for this is that it does not exactly reflect the lecture Whitehead actually delivered based on the accounts found in the notes of Winthrop Bell and Louise Heath in the first volume of Whitehead’s Harvard lectures.

But in the end, I think this explanation is unlikely, due primarily to this marked-off paragraph on the third page:

(click to enlarge)

Conversely in my next lecture I desire to illustrate how philosophical considerations may guide us in our search for that urgent necessity, namely a re-constitution of a coherent system of assumptions for physical science. This second lecture will be more purely scientific than is usual, or even proper, for a philosophical lecture. But I think that it will illustrate the possibilities of philosophy in an age when the fundamental conceptions of science are in process of re-constitution. I have planned the two lectures together so that they may jointly illustrate the practical bearing of science upon philosophy, and of philosophy upon science.

This paragraph would not have made sense to include in the essay as part of an edited book unless the cited second lecture was also going to be included. That it is the only paragraph that has been marked off suggests that this document was in fact the original manuscript for Whitehead’s first lecture, and that he planned to excise the offending paragraph.

It is not entirely clear why Whitehead decided not to include his first Harvard lecture in this collection, indicated by his crossing out of the final few lines on the second page:

(click to enlarge)

But the simplest explanation may be the best one: it does not fit particularly well with the rest of the included essays, which were mostly about education, while his first Harvard lecture was about philosophy and science.

Why was the book never published? It’s not clear. Whitehead’s biographer, Victor Lowe, may have known, but he died in 1988 before he could complete the second volume of the biography; the incomplete manuscript was edited by J. B. Schneewind and published in 1990. Lowe did not write of any events beyond the celebration of Whitehead’s birthday in February of 1931, before this prospective 1936 book was set to be published. The answer may yet lie buried in his papers at the Johns Hopkins University Library archives.


[1] Victor Lowe, Alfred North Whitehead – The Man and His Work, Volume II: 1910–1947 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990), pp. 43–44.

[2] The Atlantic, September 1936, 158, pp. 260–270.


How to cite this blog: Petek, Joseph. “The Whitehead book that never was.” whiteheadresearch.org. http://whiteheadresearch.org/2020/04/16/the-whitehead-book-that-never-was/

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