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Whitehead and Idealism
International Online Conference: Bucharest, Romania, 1-2 October 2024
Organizer: Constantin Rădulescu-Motru Institute of Philosophy and Psychology of the Romanian Academy, Department of Western Philosophy

Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), the celebrated British philosopher, mathematician and logician, studied and spent the first part of his teaching career in Cambridge. He was friends with W.R. Sorley, an idealist thinker, to whom he probably owed his initiation to philosophical thinking. As a graduate student he read Kant, Lotze, and Bradley, the foremost British defender of absolute idealism. As a member of the Cambridge Apostles and a junior academic he was around philosophers of idealist leaning, such as James Ward, of whom he saw a good deal, and the young G. F. Stout. He became friends with J.M.E. McTaggart, the greatest of the British personal idealists, and also an important Hegel commentator. Later, he was close to Lord Haldane, another idealist influenced by Hegel. The philosophical ambiance in which Whitehead’s thinking evolved, before the turn of the century, was idealistic.

He was seriously exposed to realism only after Russell followed Moore in his crusade against idealism, and Whitehead started collaborating with Russell. At first Whitehead was a spectator of the realist revolution in philosophy, but eventually he participated in it, during his London period, and was perceived as a member of the Neorealist school, alongside Samuel Alexander and Thomas Percy Nunn. He developed a highly original philosophy of physics, free from metaphysical considerations, i.e., independent of any doctrine concerning ‘the synthesis of the knower and the known.’ As one of the leading British specialists in Einstein’s theory of relativity, he took a position against those who thought this, the most advanced physical theory of the day, provided support for idealism.
However, when he became a metaphysician, he didn’t wholly reject idealism, nor did he ignore it as a hangover of the past, but claimed to transform ‘some main doctrines of Absolute Idealism onto a realistic basis.’ Thus Whitehead explicitly set his grand metaphysical system in the prolongation of the idealist tradition, not without acknowledging, at the same time, heavy obligations to the British and American realist schools. But what does this ‘transformation’ amount to? What is the depth and spread of the influence idealism - absolute, personalist, panpsychist, British or German, classical or contemporary - had on Whitehead’s metaphysical thinking? As an exponent of the ‘meeting of extremes in contemporary philosophy,’ in Bosanquet’s terms, did Whitehead apply Lotze’s dictum that ‘only inquiries conducted in the spirit of realism will satisfy the wishes of idealism?’ Is his metaphysical scheme a sui generis vindication of absolute idealism?
That Whitehead is a part of the idealist tradition seems to be further confirmed by the fact that the last Mohican of absolute idealism, Timothy Sprigge, discussed, adopted or transformed some main doctrines of the philosophy of organism.
The intention behind the organization of this conference is to give scholars interested in these and related aspects of Whitehead’s philosophy the opportunity to discuss and assess the relevance of the various strands of the idealist tradition to Whitehead’s metaphysics and to process metaphysics generally, as well as the relevance of process-relational philosophy to present day anti-materialist explorations in general metaphysics and philosophy of mind.

Please submit your abstracts for blind review to by July 31, 2024. Along with your abstract, please include a separate document containing a cover letter that includes the following information: the title of your presentation, your name and academic affiliation, a brief description of your research field, and a list of your main publications. Notification of acceptance will be sent no later than August 31, 2024. The conference will be conducted in English and organized by Bogdan Rusu (invited) and Claudiu Baciu (Department of Western Philosophy at the Constantin Radulescu-Motru Institute of Philosophy and Psychology, Romanian Academy, Bucharest). The conference will be held online on 1-2 October 2024.