Critical Edition of Whitehead Receives Generous Donations

Alfred Whitehead seated in front of fireplace.
Alfred North Whitehead, Image from Wikimedia Commons

February 15, 2023
By Jacqueline McCormick

The College of Arts & Sciences Philosophy department is the steward of a not-so-hidden jewel – the Critical Edition of Alfred North Whitehead, which landed two generous and anonymous donations totaling $100,000 this year. Born in the mid-19th century, Whitehead, a mathematician and philosopher, continues to influence thought from education to environmentalism. Whitehead's influence on Martin Luther King, Jr. is also well-documented, with handwritten notes from King highlighting the nature of truth as described in Whitehead's Concept of Nature. Whitehead's influence has also proliferated in places like China, where his emphasis on the interdependence between nature and humans is proving foundational to solving the country's problems. 


“We live in a day, says the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, "when civilization is shifting its basic outlook: a major turning point in history where the presuppositions on which society is structured are being analyzed, sharply challenged, and profoundly changed."

Martin Luther King, Jr., as quoted by the Critical Edition of Whitehead blog, written by professor Brian Henning


The team behind the Critical Edition includes Gonzaga philosophy professor Brian Henning, who founded the project and serves as its executive editor, and associate editor Joseph Petek, who works remotely from Wisconsin. Masters students in Gonzaga’s philosophy program also regularly contribute to the program by doing the initial painstaking work of transcribing hundreds of pages of handwritten materials. Their efforts are multi-fold and include the publishing of volumes of the Critical Edition through Edinburgh University Press as well as maintaining an archive of Whitehead's Harvard lectures, providing downloadable materials, a YouTube channel containing past conferences, writing research blogs, and much more. These intersections keep Whitehead's vast intellectual contributions alive and relevant.


The donations show an abiding interest in and support of Whitehead's contributions to mathematics and philosophy, and the funds will support staff and student wages, costs of permission and reproduction fees, specialized software to edit Whitehead's turn-of-the-century mathematical notation and other vital freely offered online resources, including the Whitehead Research Library and different administrative needs. 


Gonzaga Philosophy Master's students are allowed to engage in this bleeding edge project – centered on renewing and maintaining interest in the philosopher and how his legacy could lend solutions for contemporary problems. Associate editor Joseph Petek notes, "Alfred North Whitehead is one of the more underappreciated philosophers of the 20th century, and we are pleased to have now more of the financial resources we need to continue to critically edit his published and unpublished work." With this recent pair of donations, the world is signaling that Whitehead's legacy can continue in perpetuity.

Learn more about Whitehead Research Project