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Some notes on Essays in Science and Philosophy

The cover for the original edition of ESP.

Last week we discussed the preface to a 1936 collection of Whitehead’s essays that never appeared. Now it’s time to look at the book into which those essays were eventually subsumed: Essays in Science and Philosophy. In the process of doing the groundwork for two volumes of Whitehead’s collected papers for the Critical Edition, we recently discovered some things about it that are highly unusual and not widely known.

ESP is an odd collection. Not only does it lack cohesion (the scrapped 1936 book would have been considerably more cohesive), but it was also sloppily edited and rife with errors. The publisher even forgot to include the eleventh chapter, “Uniformity and Contingency,” in the table of contents. One contemporary reviewer was particularly harsh in his judgment of it:

Misleadingly heralded as a “new book” by Professor Whitehead, this is in fact a collection of previously printed papers, ranging in date of initial publication from 1911 to 1941, whose novelty consists chiefly in the occurrence, in this reprinting, of typographical errors happily absent from the original. The reader who here encounters for the first time the essay on “Mathematics and the Good” will be relieved, I am sure, to know that the “deflections” of the author referred to on page 102 were “reflections” in the volume from which this imperfect copy is derived.[1]

Adding insult to injury, the chapter entitled “Indication, Classes, Numbers, Validation” had originally been published in Mind in July of 1934[2] with serious printing errors that made its proofs wholly unintelligible, which Whitehead corrected with a list of corrigenda in the following issue.[3] The version of this essay in ESP did not take these corrigenda into account, so that it remains unintelligible, even in modern editions.

But setting aside the book’s shortcomings, the really strange thing about it has to do with its publication history. There has long been confusion, for instance, over whether the book was first published in 1947 or 1948. This matters because Whitehead died on December 30, 1947, and so the year of its publication has implications for his involvement in the project. After investigating the various versions of the book more closely, it is easy to see how confusion arose.

The original version of Essays in Science and Philosophy was published in 1947 by Philosophical Library. That 1947 is in fact the true year of publication is supported by the existence of a number of 1947 reviews for the book (such as the one quoted above). To describe it a little further: it is 348 pages (not counting front matter), consisting of twenty-three essays that had been published in various journals. As mentioned previously, the table of contents is missing the entry for “Uniformity and Contingency” that in fact appears on pages 132–148. The book was later reprinted by Greenwood Press in 1968.

Below is the front matter for the original edition of the book (click images to enlarge).

Now, here comes the really strange part. In 1948, Philosophical Library published another collection of Whitehead essays titled simply Science and Philosophy.

The content is the same as ESP save for the omission of two essays in the fourth and final part of the book: “Non-Euclidean Geometry” and “Indication, Classes, Numbers, Validation.” The pagination and typesetting is also different. It is 316 pages across the 21 essays and, unlike the original ESP, does not contain an index. Interestingly, in the “acknowledgements” section at the back of the book, the original publishers are thanked for allowing the reprint of “Non-Euclidean Geometry” and “Indication, Classes, Numbers, Validation”… the two essays which had in fact been left out. But the publisher (Philosophical Library) is the same. Even the publisher’s address listed in the front matter is the same.

Why would the same publisher put out a second version of very nearly the same book by the same author a year later, sans a few chapters and with a slightly tweaked title? It seems like an utterly baffling thing for a publisher to do, when they could have just re-printed the version they had, without going to all the bother of re-doing the typesetting. I emailed Philosophical Library about this issue a few weeks ago, but as it has been more than seventy years, they had no information to give me.

One possible, partial explanation might have to do with Whitehead’s death at the end of 1947. The death of an author tends to lead to a bump in the popularity of their books, which the publisher may have wished to capitalize on. Supporting this idea is that while the original ESP merely listed Whitehead’s name on the title page, the 1948 Science and Philosophy lists his name with all his titles, starting with “Late Emeritus Professor at Harvard.”

This sort of move by a publisher is hardly unprecedented. In fact, the same thing happened with Aims of Education. Whitehead’s close friend Felix Frankfurter, the U.S. Supreme Court Justice, had written an obituary for Whitehead a week after his death that appeared in the New York Times on January 8, 1948; New American Library took Frankfurter’s obituary and inserted it at the front of AE before the preface, and did a new typesetting that shrunk the number of pages from 247 to 166, likely to save money, publishing it as a new edition in 1949. Not to be outdone, Williams & Norgate had Baron Lindsay of Birker write a new two-page preface for the book and moved Whitehead’s own preface to the back as an “author’s note,” publishing the result as a new edition in 1950, though it was essentially little more than a reprint, as they did not change the typesetting for the rest of the book.

But this still doesn’t really explain ESP’s title change and the omission of two chapters. It is not even clear whether the error in Science and Philosophy was failing to omit the acknowledgements for the two missing chapters, or was rather failing to include the chapters themselves. Ronny Desmet pointed out to me in an email that it is possible they were omitted because they were some of the more highly technical essays in the book and contain a large amount of mathematical or logical formulae. This is a plausible explanation for a publisher that wished to capitalize on a surge of interest in the book amid a wider, less technically-inclined audience, and yet there are other essays still present in the book that fit this more technical profile.

Is it possible that Philosophical Library had such a mercenary mentality that they deliberately changed the title in hopes that confusion over whether this was a new Whitehead book would lead to increased sales? It seems unlikely. The aphorism “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity/incompetence” comes to mind. Perhaps the most plausible explanation is that Philosophical Library simply did not anticipate ever needing to reprint the book and prematurely melted down the copper plate masters, forcing them to typeset the book anew upon Whitehead’s death when demand for the book was increased (that Frankfurter mentioned the worth of this book in particular in his obituary likely increased demand for it even further).

This video, produced in 1947–the very year that ESP was first published–shows the print production process for books that was used at the time.

This explanation does leave the question of how the Greenwood reprint happened, but by 1968 technology had advanced sufficiently that it is possible that it could have been done from a copy of the original book without the need for the original copper masters.

It is worth noting that Science and Philosophy has actually been reprinted more recently than ESP: a new e-book version based on the 1984 Allied Books edition was published by Philosophical Library and Open Road Media in 2014. In contrast, ESP does not seem to have been reprinted since the 1970s.

This discussion would not be complete without mentioning that a British version of ESP also appeared in 1948. It included the two essays omitted in Science and Philosophy, along with a corrected table of contents and all-new typesetting (though at least some errors, such as “deflections” for “reflections” mentioned by the reviewer above, are still present). It is 255 pages and contains an index. The front matter indicates that it was “Printed in Great Britain by William Brendon & Son, Ltd. The Mayflower Press.”

Yet there are at least two versions of this edition: the version above says “First published 1948 by Rider & Company,” while the other (below, pictures courtesy of George Allan) says “Copyright, 1948, Philosophical Library, Inc.”

Both say they were printed in Great Britain, and yet the Philosophical Library version seems to have been intended for an American audience, including a dust jacket with a price in dollars (below). Aside from these differences, they are the same book. To my eyes, the Rider version looks more “original” in the sense that the font for Philosophical Library’s address on the publisher info page doesn’t seem to match with the text below about Mayflower Press, while in the Rider version it does.

George Allan speculated in an email to me that “It’s as though Philosophical Library sold its British rights to Rider, and used Mayflower Press to print books with Rider for British sales and the exact same book with Philosophical Library for USA sales.” Neither one acknowledges that the book was first published in 1947, which no doubt contributed to the subsequent date confusion in more recent years.

We may never be able to fully explain the strangeness of ESP’s publication history, but we can, at least, put to bed the question of the its original year of publication. Perhaps in the future some documentation will emerge which gives a fuller account of how all of this transpired.

I mentioned at the beginning that all this strangeness was discovered in doing the groundwork for two volumes of Whitehead’s collected papers as part of the Critical Edition. In these two volumes, our aim is to collect all of Whitehead’s essays that have appeared only in looser collections of his essays (such as ESP), or only in journals, or not at all, and present them in chronological order. These volumes will return to the original versions of Whitehead’s essays, noting differences in later versions and correcting long-standing errors (such as those in the unfortunate “Indication, Classes, Numbers, Validation,” a corrected version of which still has yet to appear anywhere). Hopefully this blog has helped to illustrate the need for such a project.


[1] Arthur E. Murphy, “Review: Essays in Science and Philosophy,” The Philosophical Review, Vol. 56, 1947, pp. 709–711.

[2] Mind, New Series, Vol. 43, No. 171, pp. 281–297.

[3] Mind, New Series, Vol. 43, No. 172, p. 543.


How to cite this blog: Petek, Joseph. “Some notes on Essays in Science and Philosophy.” whiteheadresearch.org. http://whiteheadresearch.org/2020/04/23/some-notes-on-essays-in-science-and-philosophy/

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