The Philosophy of Organism
Peter Sjöstedt-H introduces Whitehead’s organic awareness of reality.
The philosophy of organism is the name of the metaphysics of the mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. Born in Kent in 1861, schooled in Dorset, Alfred headed north and taught mathematics and physics in Cambridge, where he befriended his pupil Bertrand Russell, with whom he came to collaborate on a project to develop logically unshakable foundations for mathematics. In 1914, Whitehead became Professor of Applied Mathematics at Imperial College, London. However, his passion for the underlying philosophical problems never left him, and in 1924, at the age of 63, he crossed the Atlantic to take up a position as Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University. He died in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1947. His intellectual journey had traversed mathematics, physics, logic, education, the philosophy of science, and matured with his profound metaphysics, a complex systematic philosophy that is most comprehensively unfolded in his 1929 book, Process and Reality.
The philosophy of organism is a form of process philosophy. This type of philosophy seeks to overcome the problems in the traditional metaphysical options of dualism, materialism, and idealism. From the perspective of process philosophy, the error of dualism is to take mind and matter to be fundamentally distinct; the error of materialism is to fall for this first error then omit mind as fundamental; the error of idealism is also to fall for the first error then to omit matter as fundamental. The philosophy of organism seeks to resolve these issues by fusing the concepts of mind and matter, thereby creating an ‘organic realism’ as Whitehead also named his philosophy. To gain an overview of this marvelous, revolutionary, yet most logical philosophy, let’s first look at what Whitehead means by ‘realism’, then at the meaning of its prefix, ‘organic’.