Originally published in 1920 and based on the Tarner Lectures in the philosophy of science, this early work by Alfred North Whitehead made an important contribution to the development of philosophic naturalism. It also featured his assessment of the impact of Einstein's theories and the new findings of modern physics on the concept of nature.
Whitehead begins with a critique of generally accepted ideas about substance, space, and time, as inherited from ancient Greek philosophers, and as modified in the Enlightenment. To assume that matter is the basis of reality, he insists, is a longstanding error, whereby a metaphysical abstraction has been misinterpreted as a concrete reality. Interestingly, though he accepted Einstein's theory of relativity, he took issue with Einstein's interpretation of it, as well as popular conceptions of relativity that pictured "space bending" under the influence of matter and gravity. Instead of positing matter as the substratum of the universe, Whitehead argued for the "event" and the "process of becoming" as the starting points for analyzing reality. He felt this "organic" interpretation was closer to our direct, everyday experience of attributes and their relations than the abstract notion of matter assumed by philosophers and scientists for so many centuries. These ideas were later systematically presented in his most famous work, Process and Reality.
After publication, The Concept of Nature was widely praised. A. E. Taylor, writing in Mind, called it "the finest contribution, in my own judgment, yet made by any one man," and J. E. McTaggert, in The Cambridge Review, said that it was "one of the most valuable books on the relation of philosophy and science which has appeared for many years."
Though written many decades ago, Whitehead's reflections remain innovative and stimulating.