Intitulé : Anglais philosophique
Présentiel et EAD vidéo
Enseignant : Elie During
Thème du séminaire en 2013-2014 : « Crazy Metaphysics? The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead »

Descriptif du cours


Originally used to discredit the speculations of British romanticism, the expression « crazy metaphysics » is often targeted today at those philosophical doctrines which strike common sense as far-fetched, counter-intuitive or incredibly bizarre. The philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) seems a good candidate. After pioneering work in the foundations of mathematics, which led to the publication of the celebrated Principia Mathematica (1910-1913, co-authored with Bertrand Russell), Whitehead went on his own way to develop new and ingenious views on the philosophy of science as well as classical metaphysical issues, in an attempt to reconcile immediate experience, science and metaphysics. Some of his claims are assuredly puzzling. For example, objects do not have simple spatial or temporal location: “in a certain sense, everything is everywhere at all times”. Events do not “happen” to objects; rather, it is objects that are aspects or dimensions of events. An event can last for hours, such as the Great Pyramid between 5pm and 11pm. Processes, not substances, are the fundamental constituents of the world (“the flux of things is one ultimate generalization around which we must weave our philosophical system”). God himself is in some respect temporal and mutable. And yet one should also acknowledge the importance of “eternal objects”… Can metaphysics get any crazier? The paradox is that Whitehead liked to describe himself as a philosopher of “common sense”. Some of his seemingly most revolutionary ideas stem from a distrust of the common tendency to mistake the abstract for the concrete (“fallacy of misplaced concreteness”), that is to substitute elaborate intellectual schemes for immediate experience. We shall try to elucidate this paradox by studying excerpts from some of Whitehead’s major works: The Concept of Nature (1920), Science and the Modern World (1926), Process and Reality (1929). Drawing parallels with earlier and later philosophers (Berkeley, Leibniz, Bergson, James, contemporary “four-dimensionalists”) will be useful in this task.

Most (but not all) of the course will be held in English. It will involve reading, translating, commenting and discussing. Minimal linguistic skills are required. Instructions and documents will be made available on the course webpage (coursenligne.parisnanterre.fr) as things unfold.



Alfred N. WHITEHEAD, The Concept of Nature, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1920 (trad. fr. Le Concept de nature, Paris, Vrin, 1998).

— Science and the Modern World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926 (trad. fr. La Science et le monde moderne, Paris, Le Rocher, 1994).

— Process and Reality, New York: Macmillan, 1929 (trad. fr. Procès et Réalité, Paris, Gallimard, 1995).


Commentaires utiles en langue française :

Didier DEBAISE, Un empirisme spéculatif, Paris, Vrin, 2005

Gilles DELEUZE, Le Pli, Paris, Minuit, 1988.

Alix PARMENTIER, La Philosophie de Whitehead et le problème de Dieu, Paris, Beauchesne, 1968.

Bertrand SAINT-SERNIN, Whitehead. Un univers en essai, Paris, Vrin, 2000.

Isabelle STENGERS, Penser avec Whitehead, Paris, Seuil, 2002.

Jean WAHL, Vers le concret, Paris, Vrin, 2004.


Mode de validation pour les étudiants présentiels en contrôle continu : un exercice à la maison et un partiel lors de la dernière semaine de cours.


Mode de validation pour les étudiants présentiels en contrôle dérogatoire et les étudiants du master accompagné (lorsque le cours est proposé également à distance) : un écrit à la fin du semestre + un oral à la fin du semestre.

Mis à jour le 30 juin 2013