by William Hendrichs Leue, PhD.

I quote from my Reminiscences for May, 1952 - a moment of triumph and vindication after two difficult years of the research and writing of the thesis:

Time went along in its usual fashion, pretty much as I have described this period in our lives, and now it was spring, with its dénouement in the completion of Bill's thesis - all 456 pages of it, as typed up by me, and then completed by a hired typist for the last section. We submitted it, but I must acknowledge some loss of belief in the success of the effort, based mainly on Bill's own lack of confidence. Then, on May 19, we received official notification from the Philosophy Department at Harvard that Bill's thesis had been accepted for PhD candidacy! The letter read as follows:

May 16, 1952

Mr. W. H. Leue
258 Mt. Vernon Street
West Newton 65, Massachusetts
Dear Mr. Leue:
I am happy to inform you that your Ph.D. thesis was accepted yesterday by a vote of the department. Your oral examination on the thesis is scheduled for Wednesday, May 28, at 2:00.

Sincerely yours

W. V. Quine, Chairman

Bill writes in his journal under the letter, "Years late, and long after hope had died."
And now it was time for his summons to the assembled philosophy department for his formal "defense of thesis," a time-honored tradition at Harvard for PhD theses! He must have been nervous, but that's not how he felt to me! Oh, what suspense! He described it to me in detail after we had put the kids to bed that evening. Here's his written description, taken from his journal:
Wednesday, May 28.
Fair and warm.
…Mary drove me over to Cambridge about one-thirty. I talked with some of the other graduate students for a while, then went in to see Miss Allen about ten minutes before two and asked her where the firing squad met. She said that they met upstairs in the faculty room, but that I had better wait in her office till I was called. They would discuss my case among themselves first and - ha! - read over that form I filled out the other day with the statement of my philosophical development on it.
The summons to the hearing came by telephone (oh, shades of Kafka). On entering I found the Harvard Philosophy Department in serried ranks assembled. Before the bell sounded for the first round I was led about the room and shook hands with each of my opponents. Then I was placed in the chair in the middle of the room. Quine sat at the end of the table and took out his watch. The others ranged themselves in a semi-circle, with old guards Demos and Lewis occupying the end positions behind my left and right shoulders respectively.
Quine gave the signal. Demos as senior reader had first crack at me and came charging in verbally from the corner. His questions were quick, pointed and business-like. I think maybe he finally read my thesis, but I don't think it convinced him. He probed out a weakness in my exposition of "subjective aim" and its relation to the primordial nature of God which I only partially parried. I thought it best to admit a "touché" in the hope of satisfying his appetite for blood. It seemed to make things better rather than worse, because I did much better at turning back his thrusts at my distinction between relative and absolute value. Though I tried to answer quickly and succinctly, I also tried to squeeze in a little exposition and explanation of terms to carry along those not too familiar with Whitehead.
Demos retired after fifteen minutes and Bugbee took over. He tried to be helpful, but seemed to feel that it was best to keep up the appearance at least of pressing me. After Bugbee had had his innings, each member of the department in turn was offered a crack at me, starting with Lewis as senior member. Lewis went back into Whitehead's writings on the philosophy of nature, with which I am none too familiar. I wasn't quite sure I was answering his question directly, but he seemed satisfied. Sheffer asked me, in effect, if I really took Whitehead's notion of God seriously as a religious notion. I sensed that my attitude was more important than what I actually said in answer to a question of this sort, so I injected a note of ingenuousness, saying that I had just recently come to take the problems of religion seriously after an unusually prolonged adolescent revolt. I didn't want to offend either the religionists or the atheists.
Almost everybody had a crack at me. Wild, as I expected, gave me some trouble on the categories of creation. I tried to avoid with him the tone of the defensive and assumed instead the tone of the patient expositor, since I felt that even if my answer was not satisfactory to him, being a rather emotional fellow, he would be more likely to register confusion than scorn.
Just when I thought that things were easing up a bit, Henry Aiken came in. I had understood that he wouldn't be able to attend at all. Henry gave me about the hardest time of all, driving in like a hound on the hunt to pursue me from one answer to another. For a split second I felt at bay, but, luckily, I recovered myself and pulled out of the blue an adequate answer to his questions as to why I felt Whitehead did not provide an adequate basis for the dignity of the ethical individual. What threw me off balance for a moment was that Henry, by chance or by real familiarity, seemed to know more about Whitehead than I had anticipated.

Demos and Bugbee were given final cracks at me. Bugbee tried to involve me in endorsing some of his more extreme views, and I had to weasel to avoid offending him and yet not getting myself stuck in his black-cow-ridden night.

Then it was over and Quine asked me to step out into the hall for a few minutes. It was only a few minutes, not more than three or four. Quine came out, shook my hand, congratulated me and said that when "a candidate does an extremely good job on the orals," they have a custom in the department of inviting him back in to be congratulated by the whole department. I reentered the room and shook hands with everyone again. Several of them said pleasant things, but I was too confused to remember them. Demos, Wild and Bugbee said that they would like to have me come and talk to them.
I floated across the Yard to Mass Avenue, tried calling Mary but nobody answered. I wandered on down to Charlie's place. Charlie [Fleischauer] wasn't at home, but I talked to Martha for a while, drank some of their home brew, called the house several more times, finally got Malcolm, who was cleaning. He said that Mary had gone out to get me, so I called Miss Allen and asked her to tell Mary where I was if she came looking for me. After a while I decided that I'd have to take the street car home. Mary picked me up as I was walking from Watertown Square to Newton Corner. … 
So now I am a doctor of philosophy at long last. I suppose the principal thing that robs the occasion of a feeling of great triumph is the realization that most of the barriers which I had to overcome in reaching this goal were erected by myself alone.
. ....New Harvard PhD ... ...Enjoying a moment ... .. .In a thoughtful mood....... 


*I have finally completed the transcribing of Bill's thesis - both in book form and on this website - having begun transcribing the bound copy sent back to us from Widener Library many years ago. Because it was onionskin, second carbon, this process was extremely slow and painful, taking me at least seven years, off and on! I am very glad to have done it, if only to acquaint myself more fully with its contents.

This paper is a splendid achievement, which re-reading has reinforced mightily for me! Its import seems to me potentially crucial in resolving several traditional gaps in human understanding of the nature of reality - between science and religion, between the view of reality as fact and the alternative view of it as process, as an organic whole, a living, breathing, feeling entity that supports us all - call that entity God, Allah, Jehovah, Tao, Wakontanka, Brahma or Nature. The language in which Whitehead's writing is couched is astoundingly complex and painfully "unpackable," at least for most of us - but Bill has done an extremely painstaking, faithful, scrupulously detailed analysis and synthetic reissuing of his writings. I am hoping and praying that one day a Whitehead scholar will come across this monumental work on this website and recognize its value! To take a look, click here.


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