First Harvard Lecture

Download the PDF of Whitehead’s first Harvard lecture here (click the thumbnail/link under “Files”).


Background and additional reading on Whitehead’s first Harvard lecture

Whitehead arrived in America on August 27, 1924, and delivered his first lecture in Harvard’s Emerson Hall about a month later, on September 25, at noon. It is not known whether he composed the lecture before or after his departure from England. It was Whitehead’s first lecture in the first class he had ever taught on philosophy, which appeared in Harvard’s course catalog as “Philosophy 3b: Philosophical Presuppositions of Science.”

Prior to the discovery of this manuscript, the Whitehead Research Project had published three sets of notes on Whitehead’s first year of Harvard lectures as The Harvard Lectures of Alfred North Whitehead, 1924–1925: Philosophical Presuppositions of Science (HL1), which included notes on this first lecture. A comparison of these notes with the manuscript reveals that Whitehead did not follow his manuscript exactly. For example, the notes record a reference to Spinoza, who is never mentioned in the manuscript, while an extended metaphor about a boy and his cricket ball in the manuscript does not show up anywhere in the notes (though it does show up in Whitehead’s lectures later in the year). It seems likely that Whitehead did not deliver roughly the last four pages of the manuscript, possibly due to time constraints.

Paul Bogaard, the editor of HL1, wrote an essay about what can be gleaned from the differences between this manuscript and the notes of his lectures, which appears both in Process Studies 48.2 and in the book Whitehead at Harvard, 1924–1925, an anthology of essays based on the 2017 WRP conference on the significance of HL1. Most of Whitehead’s original manuscripts have been lost to time, and we may owe the survival of this one to the fact that Whitehead at one point intended to include it in a collection of his essays that was never published. In fact, one of the only markings on the manuscript appears on the third page next to a paragraph in which Whitehead discusses his plans for the next lecture; he probably intended to delete this material for the version that would appear in the book.