Critical Edition of Whitehead


With much of the correspondence and lectures now digitized, an ongoing transcription process, and an agreement with Edinburgh University Press to publish the print edition of Whitehead's published and unpublished works, the Critical Edition of Whitehead is well under way. It is anticipated that the Critical Edition will begin with several volumes of unpublished and largely unknown materials, including: (a) one volume of heretofore unpublished and largely un-interpreted correspondence between Whitehead and many of the leading figures in science, mathematics, and philosophy of his day (174 letters with 33 correspondents); (b) one volume of correspondence between Whitehead and Russell pertaining solely to the origins, composition, and interpretation of the Principia Mathematica; and (c) three volumes of edited lecture notes from the many participants in his key classes and seminars during his tenure at Harvard University (currently we possess some 40 sets of notes by 28 distinct note takers, with more frequently coming to light), focused on the substance and transformation of his own thought over that period in each of the several key areas of philosophy, including logic, the history and philosophy of science, and the metaphysical foundations of modern and contemporary science and cosmology.

The first of these volumes, edited by Paul Bogaard and Jason Bell, will feature a recently-discovered, heretofore unknown, methodical transcription of Whitehead’s original year-long course at Harvard, entitled “Process and Reality.”  Winthrop Pickard Bell, the young Canadian scholar and lecturer in philosophy at Harvard who transcribed these notes, was the first North American graduate student of Edmund Husserl at Göttingen, from whom he acquired the habit of thoroughness and attention to detail, making these notes an especially complete and revealing window into Whitehead’s first attempt at metaphysical synthesis and explication of what would become his complete system of thought. The notes offer meticulous renderings of lectures, discussions, and perhaps, most importantly, diagrams and copious mathematical and physics equations designed to demonstrate or reinforce the main thrust of each lecture.

In general, the lectures notes taken by Bell, Hocking, and several of Whitehead’s students over the ensuing years (such as W. V. A. Quine) are particularly exciting because they allow us to see into the mind of Whitehead as he was developing his philosophy.  Of enormous significance, in addition, is that these lecture notes are unique in recording the philosophers own diagrams, illustrations, and mathematical equations that Whitehead drew on the board in an effort to elucidate the topics of these lectures. We have absolutely no other written record of these original and invaluable aids to understanding Whitehead’s original meaning and intent of key ideas and their relations, leaving generations of subsequent scholars (often without the requisite scientific or mathematical background) to attempt to reconstruct or surmise on their own material to which we now have direct, unmediated access.

Collectively, these initial six volumes of correspondence and notes that the Editors envision as the first phase of the Whitehead Edition will shed considerable light on the proper composition, necessary textual corrections, and overall interpretations of Whitehead’s major published works. Accordingly, following completion of the initial six volumes of unpublished Nachlass, we propose to turn toward the critical editing of the previously published materials, starting with the materials that are currently in the public domain (all those works published prior to 1923, excluding the Principia itself) and then moving to the remaining works upon expiration of copyright.

Digitizing, transcribing, and editing the materials is time consuming and resource-intensive. If you are able to support the Edition through a financial contribution, it would be most appreciated. (Donate here.)

Editorial Board

General Editor: George R. Lucas, Jr.
Executive Editor: Brian G. Henning
Editorial Advisory Board: George Allan
Roland Faber
Nancy Frankenberry
Michael Halewood
Jude Jones
Helmut Maassen
Leemon McHenry
Editorial Assistants: John Becker
Richard Livingston
Joseph Petek

Find out more about the members of the board here.

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