Whiteheads Migration to Harvard – 1924

Alfred North Whitehead’s Migration to Harvard

Lowe, Victor

Published by Johns Hopkins University Press

Lowe, Victor.

Alfred North Whitehead: The Man and His Work: 1910-1947

Johns Hopkins University Press, 2020.

Alfred North Whitehead, 1932



Migration to Harvard

i/The great Philosophy Department in the time of William James. Chairman Woods’s effort to get Whitehead in 1920. The Royce Club. Roles of L. J. Henderson and Henry Osborn Taylor in securing Whitehead’s appointment in 1924. Whitehead’s motives for accepting the appointment.

ii/The voyage. The hurricane. James H. Woods.

iii/The Whiteheads’ housing in Cambridge.

iv/The Harvard-Radcliffe system. Raphael Demos, Whitehead’s assistant. Whitehead’s qualms about lecturing on philosophy.

v/Whitehead’s first lecture. The Harvard philosophers’ reaction to it. “Philosophical Presuppositions of Science.”

vi/How Whitehead spent a lecturing day. His habit in giving grades. The lectures of the first few weeks, as recorded by Louise R. Heath.

vii/Whitehead’s first seminar on metaphysics. His first seminar on logic, as remembered by Charles A. Baylis and J. Robert Oppenheimer.

viii/Susanne K. Langer’s work under Whitehead. Scott Buchanan. The Whiteheads’ Sunday evenings. C. I. Lewis, Whitehead, and the second golden age of philosophy at Harvard.

ix/Rosalind Greene. Agnes Hocking. Invitation to teach in the Summer Session at the University of California in Berkeley. The summer of 1925. Jessie’s arrival. End of first year in America.

Harvard Law – Class of 1924


Radcliffe College, Class 1924

On February 6, 1924, the President of Harvard Univer­sity, A. Lawrence Lowell, wrote to Whitehead, asking whether he would accept an appointment as Professor of Philosophy for five years at $8,000 a year. (That was then the top salary at Harvard. A complex story lies behind this invitation.

Inauguration of President A. Lawrence Lowell, 1909

The first decade of the twentieth century had seen the golden days of philosophy there, with William James, Josiah Royce, George Herbert Palmer, George Santayana, and Hugo Munsterberg. (Munsterberg was primarily a psychologist; until 1934 Psychology was not a department but an appendage to Philosophy. James retired in 1907 and died in 1910; in 1912 Santayana went to Europe for the rest of his life; Palmer reached retirement age in 1913; Royce and Munsterberg died in 1916. Late in 1919 the Professors of Philosophy—James Haughton Woods, William Ernest Hocking, and Ralph Barton Perry—undertook respon­sibility for finding men who could bring the Department’s standing up again. Bergson, Russell, and John Dewey were sounded out.

A unique but seldom remembered merit of the old department was Royce’s expertise in the philosophy of science; he had also offered courses in symbolic logic, and brought Principia Mathematica to the attention of graduate students. The Department would have a strong man in the philosophy of science if Whitehead could be persuaded to join it. Woods, as chairman, wrote to President Lowell about White­head on March 10, 1920. Lowell replied, “We must go slowly about Whitehead…. We must refrain rather ruthlessly from all additions that can be avoided. He feared a large deficit would be caused by a prospective raising of salaries.1

Julia Isham Taylor and Henry Osborn Taylor, who donated the money for Whitehead’s Harvard salary.

Nothing more was done until the fall of 1923. This time the idea of inviting Whitehead was put to Lowell by the biochemist Lawrence J. Henderson, and the necessary money was supplied by Henry Osborn Taylor.

Henderson was one of a group of about two dozen Harvard scientists who called themselves “the Royce Club. They took this name after Royce’s death, for he had formed the group to meet regularly for sup­
per and discussion of issues in the philosophy of science. On October 13 and 14 Henderson and two other members of the Royce Club, the entomologist William Morton Wheeler and the applied mathematician E. B. Wilson, were weekend guests at Taylor’s estate in Cobalt, Con- necticut.2 Henderson—probably on a visit to England that summer— had learned how close Whitehead was to retirement at the Imperial College of Science and Technology.[*] Either Henderson or Taylor quoted Bergson as saying that Whitehead was the best philosopher writing in English.3 All the men knew and liked some of Whitehead’s work; they felt it highly desirable that Harvard should get him.4 The upshot was that Henderson went to see Lowell. He was told that there was no money. Taylor’s pledge removed Lowell’s objection. Even after Harvard, at the end of 1926, changed the tenure of the appoint­ment from five years to “without limit of time,” either Taylor or his wife, Julia Isham Taylor, annually paid a sum equal to Whitehead’s salary—until he retired in 1937. The Whiteheads knew nothing of this until after Taylor’s death in 1941.

Henry Osborn Taylor was not a member of any academic faculty and had not been since youth. He was well-to-do, a scholarly historian with philosophical views. (His Medieval Mind appeared in 1911.) When he made his pledge to Lowell, Taylor was almost seventy, childless, and a strong friend ofHarvard College. The Taylors had come to know Whitehead on a visit to London, a few weeks before.5

In an account of Whitehead’s appointment written in 1961 by Hock­ing, Lowell’s letter of February 6 is not mentioned. Hocking wrote instead:

On February 4, President Lowell sent by way of Taylor a formal offer to Whitehead, with the appended remark: If you cable, you can add that the professors in the Department of Philosophy are de­lighted with the prospect of his coming.6

No cable was sent, and the delivery of Lowell’s letter of February 6 was delayed a week by a strike of dockworkers in Plymouth.7

Whitehead’s friend Mark Barr, living in New York at this time,
was a confidential friend of Taylor’s. Early in January Barr sounded out Whitehead, writing him that there was “a chance at Harvard”8 of a five-year appointment. On January 13 Whitehead sent Barr a highly significant letter in reply:

If the post should be offered to me, I should find the idea of going to Harvard for five years very attractive. The post might give me a welcome opportunity of developing in systematic form my ideas on Logic, the Philosophy of Science, Metaphysics, and some more gen­eral questions, half philosophical and half practical, such as Educa­tion.. ..I do not feel inclined to undertake the systematic training of students in the critical study of other philosophers.. ..If however I should be working with colleagues who would undertake this side of the work, I should greatly value the opportunity of expressing in lectures and in less formal manner the philosophical ideas which have accumulated in my mind.9

Twice in the course of his reply Whitehead wrote that he could not commit himself in response to an “unauthorized” letter. Taylor next enlisted Barr’s help in an effort to nail the appointment down. On February 4 Taylor got a telegraphed assurance from Henderson: “Full agreement President and Chairman Department Philosophy.” In a let­ter he wrote to President Lowell the next day Taylor, after mentioning the telegram, continued:

Thereupon I saw Mr. Barr and asked him to cable Whitehead that an invitation had been mailed him for a five years professorship at Harvard. This was to prepare him and forestall accidents.

Taylor then suggested that Lowell send Whitehead the formal offer in writing at once. The President obliged with his letter of February 6, mentioned at the beginning of this chapter.

The delivery of that letter was delayed a week by a dockworkers’ strike in Plymouth. Thus Taylor’s trick of getting Barr to cable White­head that an offer had been mailed before it was mailed—indeed, a day before the President wrote it—had an unexpected utility.

Whitehead’s forty years in academic positions, culminating in his London administrative work, had taught him—if so reticent a man needed the teaching—not to count on, or even talk about, a job offer until it came in writing from the person authorized to make it. I should be astonished if someone were to produce evidence that Whitehead talked about his Harvard offer before he had the offer in hand. The interesting question is whether he kept silence even to Evelyn. I think he did. The opportunity that fate was giving him for his old age was too special to share prematurely. Of course action on the offer would be decided with Evelyn; but she was not privy beforehand, if there is any truth in Lucien Price’s account of the arrival of Lowell’s letter:

The invitation to Harvard came in 1924, a complete surprise. The letter was handed him by his wife on an afternoon which was dismal without and within. He read it as they sat by their fire, then handed it to her. She read it, and asked, “What do you think of it?” To her astonishment he said, “I would rather do that than anything in the world.”10

Whitehead did not need to, or want to, mull over the Harvard offer, and Evelyn liked the adventure. In Whitehead’s letter of acceptance to Lowell on February 24, he raised just one question: was he right “in supposing that there will be a sum allocated for the expense of moving my household from England to Cambridge?” Someone, most likely Taylor, had mentioned this to him. Lowell replied that $1,000 would be paid to Whitehead for this purpose. In his letter of April 6 Whitehead astutely said: “It will be more convenient if it can be paid into my bank account in Cambridge. If it comes to England, one-third of it will go in income-tax.”

For Whitehead, the great thing about coming to Harvard as a pro­fessor of philosophy was that he would be free to do just what he most wanted to do—to develop the philosophical ideas that had accumulated in his mind, and to express them in lectures.

There was an end to his heavy load of administrative work at the Imperial College and in the University of London, and an end to teach­ing the mathematical subjects that he knew too well. But not an end to teacher-pupil relationships, which were always an essential part of his enjoyment of life. He said to Evelyn, “I have long wanted to teach philosophy.”11 He would not have to make any effort to maintain the freedom Harvard gave him. It was part of his welcome.

The same mail that brought President Lowell’s letter of February 6, 1924, brought one sent the same day by Professor Woods.

As Chairman of the Department, I wish to say how glad each mem­ber feels at the thought that you may decide to come. There is no difficulty in arranging the plans of the Department so that you could give your energy to the problems which interest you most.

Woods then asked whether Whitehead would like to give a lecture course on the philosophy of science, and devote one evening a week to discussion of metaphysics and logic with graduate students. These were the very subjects that Whitehead had mentioned in his January 13 letter to Mark Barr. Woods’s letter ended,

We should welcome you and Mrs. Whitehead with the utmost en­thusiasm, and we shall try to protect you from everything that would interfere with the development of your thinking.

What more could he hope?

Whitehead left London for Liverpool on August 15, 1924, and sailed for Boston on the SS Devonian the next day.

Name Official number Flag IMO DEVONIA 119970 GBR Year built Date launched Date completed 1905 22/03/1905 Vessel type Vessel description Passenger Excursion Steel Paddle Steamer Builder John Brown & Co Ltd., Clydebank

He and his wife took her maid with them; Mary had come to work for them as a young, un­trained girl, had been in their London house for several years, and was attached to them; she was willing to come to the American Cambridge. Bringing her along was an example of that good judgment in practical matters which Evelyn Whitehead had all her life. Mary’s presence made everything easier.

Jessie Whitehead stayed in London but was expected to join them a year later.

Whitehead began and finished such an incredible amount of philo­sophical work in his first years at Harvard that one is tempted to sup­pose he must have used the twelve days of the transatlantic voyage to get a head start. He was not in a race, but he wanted, as always, to spend a couple of hours of each day thinking and writing. Unfortunately, he was not a good sailor. And he was too naturally courteous a man to shut himself off for long from other passengers. On the ninth day out he wrote to his son, North, “I have not been able to do any writing on board—either too jumpy (at the beginning), or too much desultory conversation since the fine weather.” “Jumpy” is explained by what he had written four days earlier: “Intellectual operations have hitherto been reduced to the basic principle of not being seasick” in rough weather.

The Devonian was to reach Boston Harbor Tuesday afternoon, Au­gust 26. Instead he was writing in the middle of that afternoon:

Darling North

Such a disappointment—just when we were off Boston har­bour, about to pick up the pilot in half-an-hour, a sudden storm struck us and is still keeping it up. They say that it has come up from the Gulf of Mexico—anyhow it is a very healthy production. It was quite smooth before lunch—our luggage piled in the passages ready for landing, everybody tipped, goodbyes said and cards exchanged—when suddenly the wind began to howl, etc.—just like the stage storm in Wagner’s Der Fliegende Hollander introducing the hero—the imitation on Nature’s part is quite perfect.

America had greeted the immigrant philosopher with a summer hurricane. It was the first in his experience. But as a boy he had grown up beside the wicked Narrow Seas, in Ramsgate, where the harbor works had been built to provide a haven for ships in distress between Dover Strait and the mouth of the Thames. Nature’s violence was a fact of human life. In his letter to his son Whitehead wrote:

One silly woman came up to apologise to us for the inclement nature of the American weather which was greeting us. We assured her that we blamed the Creator far more than the Yankees. She seemed quite relieved at our taking that view of it.

The Devonian had to contend only with the edge of this hurricane—a liner a little farther out to sea nearly sank—and was able to anchor at the Quarantine Station that night.

Getting off the boat and through immigration and customs the next morning was a matter of one long wait after another. Whitehead’s account of the process in the letter he wrote to North that evening is amusing. It will be found in Appendix B.

Although the Whiteheads knew no established Harvard people, four persons were on the pier to greet them when they finally got off the boat at 11:30. The four had been there since 8 o’clock.12 Whitehead was the sort of person for whom Americans, without being asked, went out of their way to do things. The four were Woods, Henry Osborn Taylor and his wife, who had come up from their home in New York City, and Marjorie Tuppan.13 Miss Tuppan (of Gloucester, Massachusetts) had been in London a few years earlier as a research student (in economics) from Bryn Mawr College. The Whiteheads had taken her into their house one Christmas and become fond of her, and she of them.

Woods, at fifty-nine, was the oldest of the tenured philosophers at Harvard. His teacher, William James, had suggested that he enter the field of Indian philosophy. He became expert in it, in Far Eastern thought, and in Greek philosophy. He is now forgotten because he published so little. He was a Boston gentleman and scholar with an independent income, not a member of the new breed of professional philosophers. He was intensely proud of the Harvard Philosophy De­
partment, and raised money from outside sources to strengthen it. Woods was the one who got assurance from President Lowell that he would not veto Whitehead’s appointment on grounds of age (as he had vetoed the offer of a professorship to John Dewey). Jim Woods—tall, well built, goateed—was a very fine person, with an old-fashioned kind of wit and humor. Whitehead felt more at ease with him than with anyone else in the Department. The first day in Cambridge was all that Woods needed to make Whitehead feel at home in the Harvard Yard. Thereafter Woods helped him with everything, and for many years was his most valued colleague in the Philosophy Department.14


Everyone seemed to conspire to make the first day on American soil easy and pleasant. The twenty-five pieces of luggage, scattered in the passageways when the hurricane struck, were all together on the pier. A transfer company took the big pieces to a fine, smallish house at 116 Brattle Street. It had been engaged for the Whiteheads from September through May. The traveling luggage went with the party into two automobiles provided by Osborn Taylor.15 The destination was an unoccupied apartment in Radnor Hall, on Memorial Drive. It belonged to another friend, the Oxford psychologist William McDougall, who had joined the Harvard faculty a few years earlier. The Whiteheads would stay there until the house was ready for occupancy. Woods then took Whitehead to the Colonial Club (predecessor of the Harvard Fac­ulty Club) for lunch, and showed him the Yard and the rooms of Emerson Hall, where he would teach.

Whitehead liked Cambridge at once. It was more like the English Cambridge than any other American university town could be. He and Evelyn were so pleased with McDougall’s riverside apartment that Evelyn tried to rent another in the same building, and succeeded. Her gamble also succeeded: a new tenant took the house on Brattle Street at once. Whitehead wrote to North on October 4, “People are rather astonished that Mummy managed to acquire simultaneously one of the most desirable small houses and one of the most desirable flats in Cam­bridge, things that people wait years for.” This was a sample of Evelyn Whitehead’s quick genius in practical matters.

The apartment at 504 Radnor Hall was perfect for them. It was an easy walk—Whitehead loved walking—to both the Harvard and Rad­cliffe Yards. The living room and the study were reasonably spacious, the dining room was just right for small dinners, the study was large enough to accommodate the seminary (as Harvard called seminars) that would meet there on Friday evenings, and there was a room for Jessie and one for Mary. What Whitehead liked best of all was the view down and over the Charles River. And it was easy for Evelyn to furnish the apartment graciously. The $1,000 that Harvard was paying for trans­porting the Whitehead household across the Atlantic was more than enough. The high American tariff[†] enabled them to bring from their London flat the furniture that Evelyn guessed they would want and a quantity ofbooks: the steamship lines would rather carry such things to the United States for a pittance than sail with holds nearly empty of merchandise.


“I don’t understand,” Whitehead had written to North, “why people go for a sea-voyage to rest; it doesn’t act that way with us.” His first lecture would not be until September 23. Although he had hoped to leave England in time to arrive at the beginning of August, he still had plenty of time to rest from the voyage in his comfortable flat, and to write his first lectures in philosophy.

Whitehead named the lecture course “Philosophical Presuppositions of Science.” It would meet Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at nine o’clock in Radcliffe College, then at twelve in Emerson Hall. (This was the Harvard-Radcliffe system all through Whitehead’s years.)

He would have an assistant to take care of routine chores and read students’ papers. For this job Woods recommended, and the Depart­ment chose, the most experienced ofits untenured members, Raphael Demos, who was thirty-two and had been Instructor and Tutor in Philosophy for five years. Demos was the sort of young man White­head found most interesting.

Born Demetracopoulos, he had come to Cambridge as a poor immi­grant eleven years before; as a graduate student he had caught Bertrand Russell’s attention when Russell was Visiting Lecturer at Harvard in 1914. Demos was absorbed in metaphysics (he had once given the Department’s course in it) and—like Whitehead—was a passionate admirer of Plato. Demos and Whitehead had met in London in 1919, for young Demos had impressed the Harvard Department, earned his Ph.D. quickly, and been enabled to study for a year in the English Cambridge.

Demos told me16 that he could not recall that first conversation, but vividly remembered the one which occurred upon his being assigned to assist Whitehead. Whitehead took him by the arm, said “Let me explain my philosophy to you,” and walked him up and down in front of Emerson Hall for more than an hour, expounding his world-view. Demos did not tell him that he did not understand it at all.17

Of course, Whitehead felt some anxiety about lecturing for the first time on philosophy. Just how should he teach the ideas he wanted to expound, to students of whose capacities he knew nothing? And he was a bit worried about not having the general competence in his discipline which he had had when he taught mathematics, and which a professor in Harvard University should have. He was certainly competent in the philosophy of physics, but his main intention was to go beyond that, from the data of science and the concepts underlying spatio-temporal measurement to all sides of our experience of nature. He wanted to discuss idealism versus realism, and the basis of knowledge of the past and of the future, and to explore in a fresh way the ineluctable dualities of human existence—becoming and perishing, time and the timeless, actuality and possibility, individuality and continuity, fact and value. He had never been too shy to talk about these big subjects. Perhaps no one is. But conversation about them was one thing, lectures at Harvard another. So it was that in a letter, written the following April to North, who was taking on a new job, he said:

I do so sympathize with you about having the wind up, over facing work above one’s size and weight. Throughout my whole life, I have been facing a series of situations of that kind. I don’t think I am at all modest as to the things which I know I can do. But somehow the actual tasks, which I have had to undertake, have always in­volved a lot of things for which I know that I am incompetent.[‡] And as to my lectures here when the session opened—Oh my!

As Whitehead’s course was listed as a middle-level one, he could assume that his students were familiar with Aristotelian logic, some of Plato’s Dialogues, and the general positions of the chief modern philosophers. The presentation of his own ideas would involve contrasting them with those doctrines in the European tradition which he accepted and those which he rejected, especially in the thought of Plato, Des­cartes, Newton, and Hume. He had begun to reflect on some of them decades earlier, and in recent publications had included some criticism of Aristotelian logic and of Hume.* He felt quite sure that he was right in the basic criticisms he would make of Descartes’ position and Hume’s. But he would not undertake an examination of their texts, or write lists of their premises on the blackboard. What he had to say would not be said as a scholar; his fresh approach would in fact be more valuable; but the selectiveness of his learning might be noticed. Well, he could handle that, by confessing it. In fact, he made a habit of exag­gerating his ignorance.

The lectures began on Tuesday, September 23. The Harvard phi­losophers all came to Emerson Hall to hear the first one, along with almost all the graduate students and the college seniors who were con­centrating in philosophy. Harvard had caught an original thinker, the most distinguished man who had recently written in English on the philosophy of science. What did he have to say to them?

James Wilkinson Miller, then a freshman graduate student—he would become one of Whitehead’s junior colleagues, and finally pro­fessor of philosophy at McGill University—sent me his recollection:

After the appropriate interval following the stroke of the bell, Whitehead came in, dressed in nineteenth-century style, looking like Mr. Pickwick, and beaming benevolently.18

The chairman of the Department, Professor Woods, came with him to the platform and gave a short speech of introduction. Whitehead began by saying what an honor it was to be at Harvard—the university of William James. He probably mentioned other famous names. Then he launched at once into his lecture, which he had specially prepared for this occasion.

There does not seem to be any transcript of what Whitehead said. What is certain is that he surprised and dumbfounded his audience. Demos was probably the only one who had a notion of what was coming. The others thought of Whitehead as an expert in the philoso­phy of natural science, of physics in particular. They expected that his lectures would be from the point of view of the book they knew, his Concept of Nature (1920), with perhaps occasional deviations into Prin- cipia Mathematica. Nothing of the sort came from Whitehead’s mouth. As Miller remembers it, the opening lecture plunged us into a morass of absolutely unin­telligible metaphysics…. His longest and most difficult sentences all ended … with the gleaming words, ” … you know/’ We, of course, didn’t know anything, so far as that lecture was concerned. When the hour ended we were completely baffled, and in despair about the course, but we were also all in love with Whitehead as a person for somehow the overwhelming magic of his being had shown through.19

Miller was a student of epistemology and logic, of Hume and Russell; he had little sympathy with metaphysics. This orientation was strong at Harvard; half of Whitehead’s hearers were like Miller. The best-known professional philosopher among them, Ralph Barton Perry, said after­ward, “Those generalizations are too sweeping.’ 20 A younger man, Henry Sheffer, was the one who taught symbolic logic and carried on research in it. He was heard to mutter as he left the room, “Pure Bergsonianism: Pure Bergsonianism!’21 In this Department, that was name-calling; one talked about facts and logical relations, not about becoming or “process” and “reality”; profundity was out, cool analysis was in. It might in some sense be true, as Whitehead said, that “we experience the universe,’ but one did not dwell on this kind of fact.

Demos remembers Whitehead’s first lecture as a kind of oration. He told me that in his conclusion “the angels were singing,’

The professor whose interests were broader than those of anyone else, Woods, was probably pleased. So, I am sure, was Ernest Hocking; he was the unashamed metaphysician among them. The others, and the students, would simply have to learn what kind of thinker was here.

The title that Whitehead had supplied for his course was “Philosoph­ical Presuppositions of Science.’ Miller and his friends would expect presupposition to be treated as a logical relation between propositions. Russell would have written on the blackboard some sentence express­ing a proposition, like “Tuberculosis is caused by Koch’s bacillus.’ and explained that it presupposes that some diseases are caused by bacilli, and that every disease has a cause.

But Whitehead wanted to talk about the dependence of a scientist’s
conscious activity of identifying and investigating a phenomenon on the general features of his experiencing the world, both features which as a scientist he sets aside—for example, the values of nature—and those which he uses, like the distinction between possibility and actu­ality. In Whitehead’s practice, philosophy became the endeavor to de­scribe the totality from which scientists abstract. This had first place in his mind. Just before he left England, he had written in a Preface for the second edition of his Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowl­edge, “I hope in the immediate future to embody the standpoint of these volumes (that on The Concept of Nature and The Principle of Relativity) in a more complete metaphysical study.” But this intention was not gen­erally known: the second edition of the Enquiry would not be published until 1925.

The next year, and for three years thereafter, Whitehead gave his course a title that warned the unwary: “Philosophy of Science. General Metaphysical Problems.” The students now enrolled would get a little less metaphysics and more philosophy of mathematics and of physics in the second semester than in this one; that was because Whitehead’s lecture course and his seminar went with each other, in Whitehead’s mind and for the graduate students; and Woods’s suggestion, accepted by Whitehead, was that he offer a first-term seminar in metaphysics and a second-term seminar in logic. Consequently, this autumn, graduate students heard Whitehead’s metaphysical ideas in lectures and discussed them with him in the seminar.

How did Whitehead spend a lecturing day in his first term?[§] At nine o’clock he lectured at Radcliffe to nine or ten undergraduate and post­graduate women; only four of these were taking his course for credit. He then went to an office in Widener Library that Harvard had given him, to look over his notes. After refreshing himself with an orange and a little sandwich, he went to the Colonial Club for a short rest and a look at the English news in the New York papers. At the twelve o’clock lecture in Emerson Hall, his audience was about forty men, including some of the faculty. More than half were auditors who wanted to hear him expound his philosophy. “At the end of the lecture men come up
and ask questions. I usually make an appointment or two for a chat in my room at some other time.” By about a quarter of two, he would be home for lunch and a rest. After tea, he read or wrote up lectures. “We dine at seven, and go to bed at any time between 9 and I 1.” Whitehead was an early riser.

He told North in a later letter, “I lecture on what I like, and examine the men on my own course.”22 To keep the credit students from worry­ing about their grades while they were trying to understand his ideas, he made a habit of not giving any grades lower than B minus.

The first page of Louise Heath’s notes from Whitehead’s first Radcliffe lecture.

Whitehead did not “deliver” his lectures. Seated in a chair behind a table on the platform, he spoke to the class, which did not interrupt him. Occasionally he consulted what he had written down for his guidance. He did not keep those notes. I have not found anyone who attended the lectures at Harvard in 1924-25, took detailed notes, and kept them. But Louise R. Heath kindly supplied me with her notes of Whitehead’s lectures at Radcliffe that year. The ideas that he presented in the first weeks are of most interest, for he was expounding his own philosophy, the ideas that, as I said in Section i, had accumulated in his mind. On October 21 Professor Hocking began to attend the lectures. His notes from then to the end of the academic year may be found in Appendix I of Lewis S. Ford’s The Emergence of Whitehead’s Meta­physics.23 Those notes are valuable, because Whitehead enlarged or changed his thought as he went on in the course. Sometimes he began a lecture by saying he had been muddled in the preceding one.

Dr. Heath’s notes of the early lectures24 show that Whitehead began by saying that each age has its dominant philosophy, which reveals some aspect of a rationalism in human life. He proposed to elucidate the nature of the scientific movement not by looking for the scientist’s motives—that is a psychological business—but by asking what there is in the nature of things which requires that science should have the character it has. This is a metaphysical question. But metaphysics, Whitehead said, is more than an exploration of the presuppositions of science; its business is the critical appreciation of the whole intellectual background of man’s life; it is as near to poetry as to science.

In the first lecture at Radcliffe, and repeatedly thereafter, Whitehead insisted on the essential togetherness of things. In the past, he said, this was obscured by Aristotelian classification and its success. He main­tained the “complete relativity of reality,” and was expressing it “from the point of view of a realist who finds Spinoza the most significant of modern philosophers.” Early in the Radcliffe lectures Whitehead de­clared that reality was process, or becoming, in which a social entity is realized. “True reality is achievement of reactive significance.” Of course, nothing becomes in an instant of time; but the continuity of the flux exhibits atomic structures as embedded in itself

When Whitehead said that we must start from experience, he noted Hume’s skeptical argument about knowledge of other occasions of experience. He then repeated the sharp criticism of it that he had ex­pressed in his presidential address to the Aristotelian Society two years earlier, and concluded that Hume left scientific generalizations without any justification. (The title of that presidential address was “Unifor­mity and Contingency”;* it is a neglected classic.)

Soon Whitehead took up the status of physical objects. He presented three theories: (i) the substance theory; he thought it “a linguistic cook- up” to reduce all relations to predicates of substance; (ii) Bertrand Rus­sell’s theory that the object is a class of sense-data; is that what a boy perceives when he catches a ball? (iii) Whitehead’s own theory that the percipient somewhat vaguely but very insistently apprehends the con­ditioning of the sensory data; Whitehead only suggested this theory, which he did not affirm in print until Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect was published in 1927.

After remarking that for scientists electromagnetic phenomena “on the whole give us the fundamental elements on which the universe is built up,” Whitehead devoted several lectures to an exposition of Max­well’s Equations for the electromagnetic field. He was as untechnical as he could be. “Curl” and “divergence” did not appear, and instead of speaking of differentials, he spoke of a temporal rate of variation and a spatial rate of variation. He went on to the post-Maxwellian discoveries ofelectrons and protons, and to Planck’s constant. His idea was to give, as background for discussion of the physicist’s presuppositions, some idea of the world as the physicist saw it. I do not think that in later years he repeated his heroically untechnical exposition of Maxwell’s Equa­tions.

Still, I was surprised to see how much of the language and doctrine of Science and the Modern World Whitehead used in his first lectures at Radcliffe. The “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” is there. So is the claim that modern science was born of the union of methodical obser­vation and a conviction of the rationality of God. And he spent a good deal of time on his theory (not expressed after that book) that both electrons and protons are built of ultimate corpuscles which he called
primates. An ingredient of the lectures which is absent from Science and the Modern World and from Whitehead’s later publications is frequent criticism of Russell’s position on the issues discussed in the lectures.[**]

A few other points in Whitehead’s early lectures at Radcliffe should be noted. He remarked that the process of becoming, which is reality, is open to consciousness, but an individual’s consciousness is aware of only a small part of it. Process is essentially transition to otherness in which something is always retained. We should think of the existence, both of an atom and of a living thing, as rhythmic. (Whitehead called attention to the chapter on rhythms in his Enquiry.) Biology is the youngest of the sciences, and the study of physiological process has as good a chance as any other for the discovery of new physical facts. “No finite entity (Spinoza’s modes)” is in itself independently real, but is “a mere abstraction.” And of course he came down hard on using “con­figuration at an instant” as a basic concept in physical explanation.

From what Whitehead said in his first lectures, it appears that most of the key ideas of his mature philosophy were in his mind when he arrived from England; they needed precise verbalization, review, and further development into a system. t On November 23, writing to North about his lectures, he could say, “I am gradually feeling my way into a metaphysical position which I feel sure is the right way of looking at things.”

Whitehead met his seminar on metaphysics Friday evenings from TJO to 9:30. According to his own class book, fifteen students enrolled in it in the fall of 1924. A few faculty members also attended. A student read a paper on an assigned topic. Whitehead usually started the discus­sion, then broke in from time to time. He wrote to North on Novem­ber 9:

It is great fun. The men really discuss very well, with great urbanity and desire to get at the truth. There is rather less assertiveness and aggressive running of set theories than there would be at Oxford or Cambridge. Also, of course, they are not so witty, or epigrammatic. Any epigrams, that there are about, are let loose by me. I cannot exaggerate to you how much the educated well-bred American dis­likes bounce or assertiveness.

(Much has changed in American universities since 1924.)

At the beginning of the fall term several graduate students in phi­losophy went together to Whitehead and asked if he would give a course on Principia Mathematica.25 He answered that he would consider making it the topic of his seminar on logic in the second half of the academic year. One of those graduate students, Charles A. Baylis, informed me that when the time came Whitehead held discussions of •i-[††]5, “The Theory of Deduction,” with which the system of the Principia began.26 Those articles presented only the primitive ideas and propositions which were used in the logic of elementary propositions (propositions which make no reference to “all” or “some”), the defini­tion of implication, and the immediate consequences of these. Whitehead explained that the controversial definition of“p implies q” as “either pis false or q is true”* was harmless; but he did not, so far as Baylis remem­bered, discuss C. I. Lewis’s sharp criticism of it.t Sheffer and Eaton attended this seminar, but Lewis did not. He was working on his epistemology, and Sheffer always worked alone; there was little inter­change between the three eminent mathematical logicians in the Har­vard Philosophy Department at this time.

Another student in the seminar on logic was a very bright senior in Harvard College, J. Robert Oppenheimer. According to his memory, Whitehead gave a seminar on the Principia, and we worked through it at a pace, which was both breakneck and shambling. From time to time he would come to a theorem which puzzled him, and typically he would say, “Well that was one of Bertie’s ideas.” I learned a lot from him, perhaps more than I needed to know of mathematical logic and a little, for one never knows enough, of the greatness of the human spirit.27

It is not possible that the seminar “worked through” the three volumes of the Principia, at any pace, in one semester. But*i-*5 occupy only 37
out of almost 2,000 pages. Surely Whitehead selected some later articles of the Principia for exposition and comment; this would account for the “breakneck and shambling pace” that Oppenheimer remembered.

In Whitehead’s 1924 correspondence with Lowell and Woods, work with individual graduate students was not mentioned. But when he wrote to Woods on February 24 to accept his suggestions about the lecture course and seminars, he added, I shall expect, and hope, that individual students, or groups of stu­dents, may find it profitable to come to me at other times for infor­mal discussion.

On September 24, Susanne Langer wrote to Whitehead at Woods’s suggestion.28 She was a Radcliffe graduate student, and wanted White­head’s guidance in the writing of her Ph.D. thesis. She was living in Worcester, Massachusetts, where her husband, the historian William L. Langer, was teaching at Clark University. She came in by train to attend Whitehead’s Friday evening seminar, and for an individual con­ference about once a month.29 Her thesis was in symbolic logic. His direct supervision of it was minimal: he read a few pages of an early draft, to see if she had a good idea. After he saw that she did, she submitted nothing more until the thesis was completed.30 There was none of the chapter-by-chapter blue-penciling that became customary when America went in for the mass production of Ph.D.s after the Second World War. In Whitehead’s time, the candidates were assumed to be grown up, and the professors were assumed to be engaged in research when not teaching.

Mrs. Langer’s first published work was an article, “Confusion of Symbols and Confusion of Logical Types.”31 It disagreed with Rus­sell’s handling of that subject in the second edition (for which he alone was responsible) of Principia Mathematica. She took the manuscript to Whitehead, who said he could find nothing wrong with it. He then sent it to the editor of Mind, G. E. Moore, asking him to publish it and, if he had any doubts about that, to send it to Russell.32

Dissatisfied graduate students, if they were philosophizing along unusual lines, found a champion in Whitehead. Scott Buchanan was such a student. The Department was not inclined to accept his Ph.D. thesis, “Possibility,” but Whitehead persuaded them to do so, and practically took charge of Buchanan’s final oral examination in 1925.33 Whitehead’s power in the Philosophy Department was always great.

During term, the Whiteheads were at home to students on Sunday evenings. Others were welcome too. Nothing was allowed to interfere with these at-homes, which became extremely popular; only the Frankfurters’ rivaled the Whiteheads’. The refreshments were simply cookies and hot chocolate.

In 1920 Harvard got C. I. Lewis to join the Philosophy Department. He had earned a high reputation with his Survey of Symbolic Logic. When Whitehead came, Lewis had begun work on his theory of knowledge, which he called conceptualistic pragmatism. Whereas for Whitehead metaphysics was prior to epistemology, for which it must provide a niche, Lewis was quite Kantian. The year 1929 would see the publica­tion of both Lewis’s Mind and the World Order34 and Whitehead’s mag­num opus, Process and Reality. In his copy of the latter, Lewis wrote this marginal comment on one passage: “Has got the metaphysical cart before the epistemological horse, as usual.” Whereas Whitehead’s phi­losophy was deliberately speculative, Lewis eschewed speculation, and viewed philosophy as an effort to analyze and make explicit what we already know. In short, these two men were philosophical opposites. But there was no one in the English-speaking world who was White­head’s equal in speculative philosophy, and no one who was quite Lewis’s equal in analytic philosophy. Since Woods, Perry, and Hock­ing were already at Harvard, and the junior men included H. M. Sheffer, H. A. Wolfson (who became an authority on Spinoza and on medieval philosophy), R. M. Eaton (who soon wrote a superb General Logic), and the psychologists L. T. Troland, E. G. Boring, and Gordon Allport, it is fair to say that in 1924, when Whitehead arrived and Lewis was given tenure, a second golden age in philosophy, at least the equal of the first, began.[‡‡]

There was no Harvard “school” of philosophy; the men of the first golden age had established the tradition of not adding a new man who had the same mentality as someone already there. Another habit was that of general fidelity to an injunction which Charles W. Eliot, Presi­dent of Harvard in the first golden age, had uttered in his inaugural address, back in 1869: “Philosophical subjects should never be taught with authority.” Whitehead never wanted to do that. There was a third tradition which suited him perfectly. As Ralph Barton Perry said of the earlier age,

There grew up in the Department as its most characteristic mark the idea that the study of philosophy meant the achievement and defense of some philosophical “system” of one’s own.35

Before this, the teaching of philosophy had been almost entirely histor­ical. Now Sheffer was busy with his “relational logic” (unfortunately never published by him), Perry with his general theory of value, Lewis with his theory of knowledge.

As the new notable professor, Whitehead was asked to make several speeches in his first year at Harvard: on October 19, at the annual reception for graduate students and faculty of the Department of Phi­losophy; on April 5, to the Harvard Overseers’ Visiting Committee on Philosophy; on May 29, at Wellesley College’s celebration of its fiftieth anniversary.

Special lectures which he gave in his first year will be noticed in the next chapter.

The reader of the preceding volume of this biography will recall that I pictured Whitehead as a loner.[§§] He had a great many good friends but no confidant, no friend with whom he was completely intimate. This was also the case throughout his years at Harvard. He was on excellent terms with all the members of the Philosophy Department, and with many others, such as L. J. Henderson, Felix Frankfurter, and Henry Osborn Taylor. But his wife was no loner at all. In the fall of 1924 she met a friend of the Hackings, Rosalind Greene; the two soon became devoted to each other. An American of Dutch descent, t Rosalind was the wife ofHenry Copley Greene, a Harvard man who wrote plays, and translations from the French; both he and Rosalind had been in France many years; in the war he had been in charge of reconstruction and relief with the American Red Cross. Greene had studied philosophy, and from 1926 to 1928 would be Instructor in it at Harvard. Rosalind was in her late thirties. The Greenes had four beautiful daughters; the youn­gest, Ernesta, was the one who was in the most delicate health, but only
one of the four outlived their mother. Evelyn Whitehead’s letters to Rosalind Greene show that Evelyn’s love and sorrow for Eric, and Rosalind’s loving concern for her ailing daughters, formed quite a bond between them. Rosalind showered flowers and other tokens of warm friendship on the Whiteheads. For Alfred’s sixty-fourth birthday there was a party, with little Ernesta doing the icing on the cake.36 At the end ofJune 1925 the Whiteheads spent a week in the Greenes’ country house near Newburyport, Massachusetts.

To be sure, the Whiteheads’ feelings toward Rosalind Greene were charged with sentiment. Both Alfred and Evelyn were sentimental people. In speech and writing, he controlled his sentiments; she did not, she gushed. He was benevolent; she loved or hated. He was almost always reasonable; of her I would say what she truly said ofHocking’s wife, Agnes: she’s wonderfol, but you mustn’t expect her to be reason­able.[***]

It was Agnes Hocking who first brought Evelyn and Rosalind Green together. Agnes’s father was the Boston poet Richard Boyle O’Reilly. Undoubtedly a genius, she was the creator of the Shady Hill School in Cambridge.

In November, at the Greenes’ house, Ernest Hocking gave an ex­position of Whitehead’s new metaphysical ideas; the Whiteheads were present. On June 1, 1925, the Hackings drove the Whiteheads, along withJim Woods and Winthrop Bell, to Newport, Rhode Island, to visit the place where Berkeley wrote Alciphron. Bell, a Canadian, was In­structor and Tutor in Harvard’s Philosophy Department.

In both English and American academic circles, the fact that early in 1924 Whitehead had decided to migrate to Harvard soon became gener­ally known. From the University of California at Berkeley he received an invitation to teach in its 1925 Summer Session. The offer came in a letter written by John P. Buwalda, Dean of the Summer Sessions, on July 15, 1924. He said that the normal teaching load was two courses of five lectures per week, but that a somewhat lighter schedule “can usu­ally be arranged” for foreign scholars who were unaccustomed to such a load. The Session ran fromJune 22 to August 1; the honorarium would be $1,000. It was thought that he might like to give one course of lectures in mathematics and one in philosophy, but this could be de­cided later. Plainly, the purpose was to get the man Whitehead.

On August 5, ten days before he left London, Whitehead accepted the invitation by letter. The normal teaching load was “decidedly more” than he could undertake; he could lecture for four hours a week. He proposed one lecture course “in Philosophy, namely the Philosophy of Science, including logical and metaphysical questions arising there­in,” and one course in Applied Mathematics, dealing with either Elec­tromagnetism or Advanced Dynamics.

Whitehead would not have had to make special preparations for the summer teaching in Berkeley: he could boil down the philosophy lec­tures of his first year at Harvard, and some lectures he had given at the Imperial College. Nevertheless, he backed out of his acceptance of the California invitation. On December io he wrote in a letter to North’s wife, Margot, “We have dropped our California project for next sum­mer, with some relief on all counts—but it was impossible with Jessie arriving in July.” Jessie herself gave me a different motive for the deci­sion: fear that the altitude reached in going over the Continental Divide by train would be too much of a strain on her mother’s heart.37 No doubt this occurred to Whitehead; and in fact, in all his twenty-three years in America, he never went farther west than the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Evelyn wanted to be on hand when Jessie ar­rived. I think it likely that another motive played quite a part: White­head did not need the extra money, and he wanted to develop further the ideas he had expressed in his Harvard lectures rather than repeat them elsewhere.

Whitehead never again made a commitment to do summer teaching. Berkeley invited him for the 1926 Summer Session. On December 1, 1925, the President of the University of California, William Wallace Campbell, wrote Dean Buwalda that he had happened to see Professor Whitehead in Cambridge, and that Whitehead told him he could not come and hoped to come in 1927 but could not make a definite promise. The relations between the two philosophy departments were very friendly. Berkeley asked Whitehead again for the summer of 1929, without success. I suppose that some other universities tried and failed to get him for their summer sessions.

The famous Boston physician Richard C. Cabot and his wife, Ellen, were intimate friends of the Hackings. In July 1925 the Whiteheads spent weekends at the Cabots’ cottage fifteen miles from Boston. For August and the first half of September, they lived in a cottage on the edge of Lake Seymour in Morgan Center, northern Vermont; it was owned by L. J. Henderson, who was away and had placed it at their disposal; it was always referred to as Professor Henderson’s camp, and was ideal for living the simple life.

Jessie’s arrival actually occurred on June 29. The ship docked in New York. Evelyn, always possessive toward her, went to New York by train to meet Jessie. Alfred pulled strings to get a job for Jessie in the Harvard College Library, Widener. As she knew some Arabic, she was reasonably qualified for the job, and held it until she reached retirement age.

In December 1924 Whitehead had two bouts with flu. The dramatic illness in this first American year was Evelyn’s. As Whitehead wrote to North on August 16, “We picked a wonderfully decorative wildflower, like a gigantic wild mint. She crushed the leaves in her hands and put her face in it to smell. ” This was an Englishwoman’s introduction to poison ivy.

August 16 marked the first anniversary of the Whiteheads’ embarka­tion from Liverpool. A celebration was called for; he had written in May to Samuel Alexander, telling him how much he had enjoyed the switch from mathematics to philosophy. A bonfire was lit beside Lake Seymour. House guests were Raphael Demos and a wealthy young friend interested in philosophy, Roger Pierce. Those two, along with Jessie and the faithfol servant, Mary, then went for a row on the lake by starlight.38

It had been an enjoyable and productive year. Although Whitehead spent the rest of his life in the American Cambridge, he never became a citizen of the United States, but remained a visitor from England. Writing to North about a motor trip across the Canadian border, he said, “We … thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Union Jack over the Canadian Customhouse.” 39

Whitehead, as I said earlier, was very much a family man. He achieved a great deal in philosophy at Harvard. But when he wrote to North on December io, 1924, about North’s children, he said, “Bring­ing up a family is the most anxious of all occupations but, on looking back on life, it is by far the achievement most worth while.”[†††]

[*]For information about the Royce Club I am indebted to Hocking’s excellent article, cited in note 6 of this chapter.

tWhitehead’s salary was kept at the statutory limit, which was raised to S9,ooo in 1927, and to Si2,ooo in 1930.

tSee Chapter IV, Section v.

[†]Imposed by the Fordney-McCumber Act of 1922.

[‡]In his first teachingjob ( 1884) Whitehead was an Assistant Lecturer in Mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge; he was to give honors students, in small classes, the special preparation for the Mathematical Tripos which it was customary to get from a coach. Whitehead knew that he lacked the intimate knowledge of these examinations which the coaches had. The last task that Whitehead had to undertake in his mathematical career was to assume the chairmanship of the large Department of Mathematics at the Imperial College in London when Forsyth retired in 1923. It was not his forte.

[§]I draw on the description contained in his letter to North, November 9, 1924. The full text of the letter will be found in Appendix B.

[**]For example, Whitehead discussed Russell’s Introduction to the English translation of A. V. Vasiliev’s Space-Time-Motion, which Whitehead had recommended to his class.

tin “Whitehead as I Knew Him” Hocking wrote, “Any impression that he began his mature philosophical work in America is far from the fact.”

tThis is Whitehead’s slip. There were a few women in the seminar.

[††]This is known as Russellian or material implication.

tThis, and Russell’s answer to it (which might be summarized as “The definition is harmless”), were set forth in Volume I, page 267.

[‡‡]Woods died in 1934, Eaton in 1935. I should say that the second golden age ended in 1936-37. That was Whitehead’s last year in the Department, and the first for W. V. Quine, with whom a new period began.

[§§]See, for example, Volume 1, page 127.

tSee Whitehead’s remark on this in his letter of March 15, 1925, to North (Appendix B).

[***]See, in Appendix B, the second paragraph in Whitehead’s letter to North on Decem­ber 21, 1924.

[†††]The entire paragraph should be read (see Appendix B).