The pH Factor
A sustained time when I greatly enjoyed the adventures of ideas was the year or more I spent reading all the books, some twenty or so, by Charles Hartshorne. This was a time of clarity for me and I still find that CH is one of philosophy’s most lucid thinkers. He’s also a very good writer.
In homage to Hartshorne I christened what I call The pH Factor, with pH standing for “post-Hartshorne”—signifying how a reading of Hartshorne’s work leaves one with increased acumen and perspicuity. Two professional philosophers with whom I was in communication at the time agreed and, at my invitation, each of them wrote a response as follows:
From Donald Wayne Viney, professor of philosophy at Pittsburg State University:
The pH factor—I like that. I know first-hand what you are talking about when you use that expression. I credit the man’s writings with helping me pass my doctoral exams. Prior to reading Hartshorne, the history of philosophy was a confusing mass of theories parading one after another in the classes I took. After Hartshorne’s influence, the history of philosophy began to make some sense to me.
I resonate to what you say about spotting obvious errors that, before reading Hartshorne, would not have been obvious. I recall a conversation with a bunch of philosophers sympathetic to the views of Alvin Plantinga (non-Hartshorneans all) in a cafeteria in Bellingham, Washington, in 1986. We were discussing “possible worlds” and I was trying to convince the group that there is something fundamentally wrongheaded about the way Plantinga approaches the topic. “According to Plantinga,” I said, “the actual world is simply one of the possible worlds, but that jeopardizes or destroys the distinction between the possible and the actual.” Apparently, they’d never thought of that. One of them said, “You know, he’s right about Plantinga.”
I don’t recall convincing them that Plantinga was wrong about possibility, but at least the exposure to Hartshorne allowed me to see something that they did not, or at least to see it in a different way.
From Randall E. Auxier, associate professor of philosophy at Southern Illinois University:
I must confess that I used to excuse myself from reading Hartshorne by imagining he was just Whitehead’s hit man, and since I liked Whitehead, I wouldn’t stand in need of Hartshorne’s valuable services. Then I read The Divine Relativity and began to realize that here was an independent thinker who, while resonating with Whitehead, brings a very different message.
Hartshorne is more rigorous in pursuing a point, and far more tenacious in turning an idea over and over until he has seen all its implications. I do not think that anything short of Hartshorne’s remarkable thoroughness could have led me to loosen the bonds of childhood affection for the (incoherent) classical conception of God I carried around. And I was wasting my time trying to make sense of something that can simply be shown not to make sense. Now I am free to employ my energy more constructively in thinking about how to conceive of and serve the concrete God that is, not the concept of God I inherited.
A quote from Hartshorne to make you stop and wonder:
It is arguable that, had Einstein known a metaphysics more favorable to quantum physics than the Spinozism and other similar doctrines influencing him, he might not have spent the latter decades of his life vainly attempting to recover the absolute “incarnate reason” of classical causality which had been made irrelevant by twentieth-century discoveries, including his own.
The quotation is from Hartshorne’s essay, “Physics and Psychics: The Place of Mind in Nature,” in the book, Mind in Nature, edited by John Cobb and David Griffin, p. 94.