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From The Journal of American Folklore, 58:229, July-September, 1945, 169.  An editorial footnote reads: “Dr. William Morgan died in 1935.  His unpublished MSS are now in Dr. Clyde Kluckhohn's possession; Dr. Kluckhohn made the arrangements for the publication of The Organization of a Story and a Tale and has read galley proof on it. Generous help from Mrs. Christiana Morgan made possible printing Dr. Morgan's complete study in one issue of the Journal.”

In this brief preface to Morgan’s essay (which runs from page 170 to 194 of the same issue), Whitehead expresses pleasure in noting the “considerable use” that this scholar, not a philosopher, made of one of his key philosophical ideas, “the occasion of experience.”  It is one of Whitehead’s last published writings.

Preface to William Morgan, “The Organization of a Story and a Tale” 


Alfred North Whitehead


In this account of The Organization of a Story and a Tale by Dr. William Morgan three types of scientific thought converge.  In the first place, and above all, there is Dr. Morgan’s own field work among the Navaho Indians, giving him direct first-hand knowledge of the workings of a primitive mentality.  In the second place, Dr. Morgan constructs his analysis with a firm grasp of the discoveries of modern psychology respecting the interweaving of emotion, perception, and belief, into some settled habit of mind.  Lastly, to my own great interest, Dr. Morgan has made considerable use, especially in his terminology, of my philosophical account of the rise of an occasion of experience, of whatever grade human or animal, out of the active influences of its environment.  Any valid philosophy ought to be able to furnish the categories of thought for the explanation of such particular experience.

Primitive human mentality has a special interest as throwing light on the mentality which pervades animal nature on the one hand, and in the other direction by illustrating the submerged basis of civilized thought and emotion.  The animal is a step below; civilized man is above, by a short step.  As we read Dr. Morgan’s fascinating account of the rise of story and tale, under the urge of initial perception, of fusion with antecedent memory, of distortion by emotion and purpose, it is interesting to speculate as to where we differ from the primitive.  The difference is not great, but it is very important.  It seems to consist in the absence of criticism respecting the associations of ideas casually evoked by each state of imaginative feeling as it arises.

There must be some primitive type of criticism respecting the suitability of suggested action for the purposes of immediate bodily existence.  But when imagination strays beyond immediate actions, there is no critical apparatus to guide it.  The story of the detachment of critical powers from their immediate purpose is the inner history of the growth of civilization.

Posted March 6, 2008

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