The lore we are told inspired by, say, Putnam (not a disinterested spectator) and more recently Huw Price, who thinks we delude ourselves, is roughly this: after the founders of analytical philosophy had successfully ridden philosophy of its thirst for metaphysics, Quine, discerning a crack in Carnap's edifice, re-opened the door to our deposed Queen, μεταφυσική, in "On What There Is" (and "Two Dogmas"); with the door ajar and Alvin Goldman and Dan Dennett distracted by 'naturalizing' everything, Hillary Putnam developed a Quine-ean argument from the authority of science for the really real existence of numbers and, more significantly, David Lewis -- perhaps spurred on by some Antipodes -- drove a truck through the opening by embracing modal realism.
We love linear stories [Carnap --> Quine --> Lewis], don't we, so even the descriptive metaphysics of Strawson's Individuals (1959) can't quite be squished into, shall we say, our conceptual scheme. Now consider the following paragraph written in 1930:
The pursuit of metaphysics as the study of generic characters of existence has been slowly regaining its professional adherents. Once its central theme, reaction to the unchecked flights of nineteenth century romantic speculation has well nigh banished metaphysics as a legitimate subject matter for philosophy. But the problems which professional philosophers refused to consider became acutely pressing in the special sciences. It was to be expected that ere long comprehensive treatises on the nature of existence would appear, fashioned by philosophers were where sensitive to the advances of recent science as well to the ancient tradition that philosophy is the systematic study of being. To the series of distinguishes essays on metaphysics which contemporary philosophers have contributed, these volumes [by Whitehead--ES] are a notable addition.--Ernest Nagel (1930 "Alfred North Whitehead," republished in Sovereign Reason, p. 154.)
The point of ii-iii is to distinguish a good kind of metaphysics worthy of a "professional" from the bad kind of romantic speculation and, say, Neo-Thomism (Gilson, Maritain, etc) that Nagel criticizes in "Malicious Philosophies of Science" (which first appeared in The Partisan Review in 1943). Nagel does not name any of the good kind of professional metaphysicans that anticipated Whitehead. (Elsewhere Nagel engages critically and seriously with Blanshard, but Nagel would deny that Blanshard was sensitive to recent science.) But I suspect from some passing comments in Nagel's long review of Peirce's Collected Papers (discussed subtly by Jeff here), that Nagel has Husserl in mind. (I am open to alternative suggestions.) In addition, (iv) Nagel is writing before Stebbing's (1932) brilliant articulation of the possibility of a genuinely analytical metaphysics in which the "structure of the facts in the world to which reference is made" are analyzed (65). (Recall my post; Mohan's qualms; my rejoinder; and more here, Mohan's criticism; me again.)
Despite Nagel's "protest" against "the severe abuse of language to which Whitehead is partial" (156), in 1930 Whitehead has not yet been consigned to the infamous historical dustbin as Russell's mere co-author of the first edition; a dustbin where he could be found by Deleuzians and other admirers later. Even in 1948 Nagel grants that some Whitehead is still relevant for the professional: "it is not Whitehead, the speculative metaphysician, who has won the profound admiraton of all his readers. The excellence many of them cherish, is the excellence found in Whitehead, the acute analyst, the steadfast critic of closed systems and provincial dogmatisms, the incredibly sensitive commentator on the diversity and the flux of existence." (Sovereign Reason, 154)
It may be a coincidence that in the same year (1948), in "On What There Is," Quine's point is that we conceptualize the diversity of the "flux of experience" (Quine's terms) in various ways (for the purposes of control, prediction, etc) with the use of more or less sophisticated "posits;" we always run two kinds of risks: (a) we add structure that is not really present in experience (hence Quine's use of the language of "myth"); (b) we may leave stuff out that would have been worth conceptualizing and that may be available to us in other ways of characterizing experience (hence the problems of translations--if understood in terms of preserving isomorphism). [Recall this post.]
Now, I do not wish to claim that Quine ought to be seen as the proper heir to Whitehead (who was at Harvard when Quine arrived from Ohio), although I do not think it entirely silly either. But there were also other American readers of the metaphysical Whitehead that did help prepare the environment within analytical philosophy that was hospitable to Lewis's truck in upstate New York (recall here, here), maybe in Iowa, and definitely in the Minnesota Northlands (as Brit has so wonderfully documented).