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Victor Lowe papers

Identifier: MS-0284
Victor Lowe (born 1907) was a professor of philosophy at The Johns Hopkins University, and the biographer of mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead. This collection of papers largely relates to Lowe's research into the life of Whitehead and consists mainly of research notes, correspondence, and articles about Whitehead collected by Lowe. Included also are some personal papers which Lowe re-filed with these research files.


  • 1925-1988


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is housed off-site and requires 48-hours' notice for retrieval. Please contact Special Collections for more information. Collection is open for use.

Conditions Governing Use

Single copies may be made for research purposes. Researchers are responsible for determining any copyright questions. It is not necessary to seek our permission as the owner of the physical work to publish or otherwise use public domain materials that we have made available for use, unless Johns Hopkins University holds the copyright.


13.32 Cubic Feet (9 record center cartons, 1 letter size document box, 1 letter half-size document box, 2 legal size document boxes, 1 custom box (14 x 13.5 x 5 inches), 1 over-sized folder)

Biographical Note

Victor Lowe was born in Cleveland, Ohio, August 19, 1907. He was a professor of Philosophy at The Johns Hopkins University, and the biographer of mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead. Lowe received his B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Case University in 1928. Afterwards, he began graduate courses in physics combined with first courses in philosophy. Science and the Modern World published by Alfred North Whitehead in 1925 so impressed Lowe that he gave up the study of science to enter Harvard as a graduate student in philosophy.

Lowe received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1935 and wrote his thesis on the concept of Nature in Whitehead, Russell, and Alexander. He was an assistant in philosophy, 1937-1940, at Harvard and taught at Syracuse University and Ohio State University before coming to The Johns Hopkins University in 1947. He remained at Hopkins until his retirement in 1973 when he was appointed professor emeritus.

Lowe's principal philosophic interests, apart from Whitehead, were in American philosophy of the classical period: Charles Peirce, William James, Josiah Royce, George Santayana, and John Dewey. The body of Lowe's published writings consist almost exclusively of Whiteheadian thought.

Victor Lowe died on November 16, 1988, leaving behind the unfinished manuscript for Volume II. Professor Schneewind assumed the work of editing the material and saw the project to its completion with the publication of Alfred North Whitehead: The Man and His Work Volume II in 1990.

Scope and Contents

This collection of papers largely relates to Victor Lowe's research into the life of Alfred North Whitehead. It consists mainly of research notes, correspondence, and articles about Whitehead collected by Lowe. Included also are some personal papers which Lowe re-filed with these research files. These include Lowe's class notes taken as a student of Whitehead's and lecture notes used during Hopkins seminars.

The papers have been divided into three series, Personal, Alfred North Whitehead Research, and Writings. The papers which form Series 2 of this collection include Lowe's research about Whitehead for his many articles, conference papers, and 2 volume biography. The files are arranged in the way in which they were in his filing cabinets although Lowe's secretary, Mrs. Aggie Gold, appears to have rearranged them after his death. Included in Series 2, Alfred North Whitehead Research, are correspondence, lecture notes, student notes, research notes, a card file, reprints, book reviews, articles, and other secondary material. Manuscript material includes poetry written for Alfred North Whitehead by Conrad Hillberry and T. North Whitehead's unpublished autobiography, "Now I Am An American."

Perhaps the most engrossing project of Lowe's career was the Whitehead biography, Alfred North Whitehead: The Man and His Work. Within this series, one can see the research process leading to the accumulation of information which formed the chronolology of Whitehead's life. In 1968, Lowe began his research in England where he sought a sense of the place and time which inspired Whitehead. Naturally, Lowe paid great attention to Whitehead's education at Cambridge and the influences of fellow students, G. E. Moore, Henry Sidgwick, and John McTaggart. In order to learn something of the private man, Lowe also made a careful study of Mrs. Evelyn Whitehead. Each of these subjects is described in Volume I. Some attempt has been made to artifically assign topics to sections of the material to fit the scope of Volumes 1 and 2 of Lowe's published work.

Lowe's research on Whitehead was roughly divided into 9 topical groupings and these were retained. The groups are "The Cambridge Years," "Whitehead Family Research," "Understanding Whitehead," "The Harvard Years," "The British File," "Bertrand Russell," "Subjects in Whitehead Philosophy," "Writers on Whitehead," and "American Research: Correspondence and Interviews." Each section is arranged somewhat in alphabetical order. Examples of the types of material in each section are Lowe's research notes, correspondence with colleagues, reminiscences of ANW's contemporaries, and copies of secondary material.

The first grouping, "The Cambridge Years," contains largely secondary material describing the history of Cambridgeshire and student life at Cambridge University in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Lowe collected many articles from the Cambridge Review as well as published reminiscences from former students, James Stuart, George Gordon Coulton, and Sir William Cecil Dampier. He looked for elements unique to Cambridge: the Apostles, Math Tripos, the Fellowships as well as information about schedules, clubs and social activities, and his collected material relates to each of these subjects.

Two groupings, "Whitehead Family Research" in Box 2.2, and "Whitehead, Whitehead Family" in Box 2.4 include correspondence and notes about the Whitehead Family, and related Buckmaster and Wade families. Secondary material describes schools, villages, and houses with Whitehead family connections.

Understanding Whitehead, published in 1962, was Lowe's most ambitious work before beginning the biography. In this grouping are reviews of the volume from newspapers and principal philosophical journals. Reviewers include Walter E. Stokes, George Kline, Ivor LeClerc, and James B. Scanlan.

Another grouping is titled "The Harvard Years." Lowe considered the years, 1924 to 1937, to be Harvard's second golden age in philosophy. Whitehead taught there at that time alongside Ralph Barton Perry, C. I. Lewis, Harry Aristryn Wolfson, and W. Ernest Hocking. Lowe presented a paper at the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy in 1976 on this topic. The draft of his paper is included in this section as well as other items related to Whitehead's tenure at Harvard. Lowe's student notebooks, 1929-1931 from Whitehead seminars and those of John L. Mothershead and William Frankena are included.

In Boxes 2.3 and 2.4 is the "British File" containing interviews with notable English authors, philosophers, and professors. Lowe searched for an insight into pre-World War I England and the society which formed Whitehead, his colleagues and contemporaries. Mostly correspondence is included. Secondary material consists largely of published, biographical sketches. Here also is a photocopy of J. J. Thomson's autobiography, Recollections and Reflections (London: G. Bell and Sons Ltd., 1936) which provided Lowe with an accurate depiction of Trinity College and Trinity men. Correspondents include: Lucien Price, Ivor Grattan-Guinness, Karl Britton, Roy Harrod, Henry A. Hollond, Leonard Woolf, and Quentin Bell.

The grouping of "Bertrand Russell" material, which is of particular interest, is separate from the "British File" and can be found in Box 2.5. Bertrand Russell was a student of ANW at Trinity, collaborated with Whitehead on Principia Mathematica, and enjoyed a close relationship with the Whitehead family. Lowe corresponded with Russell, 1941-1968, mostly addressing questions about Whitehead. Holographic letters of Russell and Lady Dora Russell are part of the series as well as photocopies of Russell's lecture notes at Harvard (1927) and copies of the Whitehead- Russell correspondence.

Also in Box 2.4 is a grouping of material, "Subjects in Whitehead's Philosophy," each section containing Lowe's notes and research on topics such as pragmatism, evolution, cosmology, relativity, and structuralism as related to Whiteheadian thought. Also the influence of other philosophers on Whitehead: Nietzsche, Sartre and Teilhard de Chardin. Several sections (to be found in Box 2.6) include Lowe's notes on Whitehead's and Russell's theories on the method of extensive abstraction. (Lowe abbreviated this term as "M.X.A.")

"Writers on Whitehead," in Boxes 2.6 and 2.7, includes correspondence, reprints of articles, book reviews, and notes associated with authors writing about Whitehead. Some of these sections contain Lowe's correspondence with researchers whose writings about other philosophers might have uncovered a connection with Whitehead. An example of this is a section titled "Royce." Lowe corresponded with John Clendenning, the biographer of Josiah Royce (1855-1916). Lowe's notes are included in several sections pertaining to Whitehead's published writings. Lowe corresponded with and encouraged many young scholars (Louis Chiaravigliao, William Pizante, William A. Christian, John W. Felt) who were discovering Whitehead and this correspondece is also included.

In Boxes 2.8 and 2.9 is the last formal grouping of material, "American Research: Interviews and Correspondence." Again, there is mostly correspondence dealing with Lowe's reseach for Whitehead's period at Harvard. Included here are lecture notes of Whitehead's students at Harvard: Everett Nelson, George Conger, Edwin L. Marvin, and Thomas G. Henderson. A long, congenial association existed between Lowe and American philosopher, Max Harold Fisch, and several sections are devoted to their correspondence.

Victor Lowe indexed references and notes in a a 3 x 5 wooden card file. Two drawers, labeled "British" and "American" form a ready reference to much of his research filed in folders. The drawers contain over 1500 cards and have been left intact.

The final items in Series 2 include reprints of Lowe's published articles, other reprints of Whitehead articles, and a published piece about Ramsgate, the village where Whitehead lived as a child.

A small arrangement of Lowe's papers forms the Personal Series which is Series I. The papers were previously interfiled within the collection, but were separated into Series I to reflect a small portion of Lowe's graduate work and his teaching career at Johns Hopkins. Lowe's Hopkins lectures are not well represented. According to his secretary, Lowe disposed of his lecture notes. Those in this collection appear to be ones he planned to use in his research on Whitehead.

Lowe kept a series of philosophical journals in which he recorded his thoughts and ideas as well as representative writings of other philosophers. Parts of these notebooks were sometimes used as personal diaries. The journals and a diary for 1941 are included in Series I and span the years 1937 to 1959. They are filed in Box. 1.1

Included in Series I are Lowe's notebooks from Harvard, 1937- 1939. One series of notes is from "Philosophy of Science" taught by Willam Ernest Hocking (1873-1966) and another is from "Metaphysics" taught by Morris Raphael Cohen (1880-1947). Another Harvard notebook is from Arthur Lovejoy's class. Course notes used by Victor Lowe at Johns Hopkins, 1961-1972, are included here. The largest segment of lecture notes relates to Charles Sanders Peirce but notes for other graduate seminars in Whitehead and William James, plus a Seminar in British Philosophers represent Lowe's preparations for his classes.

The bulk of the personal correspondence is for the years 1982-1988. The letters concern the death of Lowe's first wife, Victoria Lincoln, and Lowe's efforts to publish her biography of Teresa of Avila. Congratulatory messages pertain to Lowe's remarriage and the publication of Volume I of his Whitehead biography. Correspondents include Katherine Benedict, Richard Threlkeld Cox, Cuthbert Daniel, Mabel Lewis, J. Padgett Payne, and Rhoda Silberman.

Lowe was a colleague of Hopkins professors, George Boas (1891- 1980), Albert Hammond (1892-1970), and Arthur Lovejoy (1873- 1962). Items related to these men are part of the Personal Series. Reprints of articles and announcements of memorials are among the Boas items. The Hammond material includes correspondence and Lowe's ideas for a speech before the Hammond Society in 1983.

In 1951 and 1952, as American universities agonized over questions of academic freedom and professors with perceived or known Communist party affiliations, Lowe became embroiled in a discussion of these issues with Hopkins colleague, Arthur Lovejoy and Sidney Hook of New York University. Arthur Lovejoy assumed an anti-Communist position, and Lowe argued that only individual teaching and research should be used to predict academic behavior. The Journal of Philosophy ultimately published their positions and rejoinders. (V. 48, No. 14: July 15, 1951 and V. 49, No. 4: Feb. 14, 1952). Lowe's notes and correspondence during this period are included in Series I. Copies of the 2 articles can be found in Box 2.10.

Series 1 also includes Lowe's passport, a bibliography and vita, and a photograph of Lowe and other colleagues from Johns Hopkins University is 1976. Papers related to business interests of Victor's father, Henry A. Lowe, are included in Series 1. A final item is Victor Lowe's journal which includes bibliographic references and notes on Freud's papers.

Series 3, filed in Box 3.1, includes a small arrangement of Lowe's Writings mainly from the 1950s. This material was included with the papers of Victoria Lincoln, received by the University in October 1990. The sections are arranged topically and include Lowe's notes, correspondence, and drafts of his writings. During Lowe's student years at Harvard, the faculty also included the American philosopher, C. I. Lewis (Clarence Irving Lewis, 1883-1964). In Series 3 are items which reflect Lowe's interest in Lewis's writings and thought: student notes, teaching notes, research notes, and notes from Lowe's interview with Lewis in 1954. In 1968, Lowe wrote an essay, "Lewis' Conception of Philosophy" which was published in The Philosophy of C. I. Lewis, V. 13, The Library of Living Philosophers, edited by Paul Schilpp. Lowe's correspondence with Lewis is included here as well as several reprints of Lewis's published articles. Lewis research is filed in Box 3.2.

Correspondence (1947-1968) in Series 3 deals largely with the publication of Understanding Whitehead. Other letters are from graduate students and "lay" philosophical students requesting Lowe's guidance regarding aspects of Whiteheadian thought.

In 1954, Lowe described his philosophical work as "an analysis of the concept of possiblility" and apparently planned a book on the subject. Included in Series 3 is the thesis for the book and the typescript of three chapters. During this period, Lowe published several articles in major philosophical journals. (Lowe's bibliography is included in Series 1). Notes and correspondence included in Series 3 support the subjects of his published articles. Here are sections on philosophical concepts including truth, categories, conceptual meaning, and possiblities. During the 1950s, Lowe began an exploration of Freudian psychology and considered a more serious study of psychoanalytic theories.

Lowe's personal life, his teaching career, and his study of Alfred North Whitehead were closely integrated. Within the collection as a whole, there is considerable overlapping of material. An example of this would be references to William Ernest Hocking. In 1939, Lowe was a student in Hocking's class in Metaphysics, and those notes are included in Series I. In Series 2 are more of Lowe's student notes, but specific to Hocking's concept of Idealism, a subject studied in comparison with Whiteheadian thought. Other references to Ernest Hocking are Hocking's student notes from Whitehead lectures in 1924, also in Series 2.

A detailed listing of all material in the collection can be found in the Container List. Like many researchers, Professor Lowe used a unique method of abbreviations for labeling his material. Titles are listed in the Container List as they appeared in his files.


The papers were given as a gift to the University by Mrs. Alice Gray Lowe, July 1990.

Related Materials

Related material can be found in the Alfred North Whitehead Collection MS.0282, Special Collections.

Processing Information

Finding aid prepared by Joan Grattan in September 1990.

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

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