Hartshorne’s New Book:
A Cause for Celebration
Review by Hyatt Carter
If you want to follow, and sometimes be dazzled by, some of the most lucid and elegant reasoning in twentieth-century philosophy and theology, this is a book you will want to read. Charles Hartshorne wrote more than twenty books over his long and productive life and this one, Creative Experiencing, is right up there at the top with the best of his efforts.
Charles Hartshorne has been hailed as “the Einstein of religious thought,” thus including him, as the foremost thinker in his field, within the pantheon of leading luminaries of the twentieth century.
Hartshorne lived to the ripe old age of 103 and even managed to publish a new book in his hundredth year. How can you possibly top that? One way would be to publish a new book posthumously, and Hartshorne (with a little help) has done just that with the publication of this new book. How the book came to light is a good story in itself:
Hartshorne had stipulated that, after his death, his philosophical papers were to be archived at the Center for Process Studies in Claremont, California. Emily Schwarz, Hartshorne’s daughter, asked Donald Wayne Viney if he would help her prepare the papers for the move. Viney, a Hartshorne scholar, readily agreed. In the summer of 2001, while going through the papers, Viney discovered the complete manuscript of an unpublished book: Creative Experiencing. Such a find, he said, was “a scholar’s dream.”
The journey to publication has taken a decade, but a new book by Hartshorne is well worth the wait and, as Viney says, “a cause for celebration.”
As the book clearly reveals, Charles Hartshorne is a careful, rigorous, and creative thinker. When he begins to turn an idea, as a potter turns a wheel, he turns it not just once, or twice, but over and over again, looking at it from various angles. I almost said all angles, but as Hartshorne would surely remind me, that is the divine perspective.
To follow him through a process of reasoning is, then, to follow a process of exhaustive analysis. If we follow the process carefully, from beginning to end, things come to be seen in a new light, sometimes with the luminosity of a rational epiphany.
I can remember when I first gained a glimpse of what he meant by “the logic of ultimate contrasts,”—I felt goose bumps on my arms. I threw back my head and laughed: loud. I was laughing in sheer intellectual joy at the beauty of what Hartshorne had revealed. But I was also laughing at myself—because I had believed as true an idea that Hartshorne had just shown was far from the truth, indeed, an idea that had it exactly backwards, upside down, topsy-turvy. And Hartshorne had finally turned it right-side up so that I could see how the absolute is contained in the relative, and not vice versa, as received “wisdom” would have us believe for centuries.
Charles Hartshorne’s writings scintillate with so many new ideas and “metaphysical inventions” that I have called him the Thomas Edison of philosophy and I have written elsewhere of 42 Examples of metaphysical and philosophical truths discovered by Hartshorne, ancient truths that he revealed in a new light, and of intellectual errors he helped to overturn. On pages 2, 9, 93, 118, and 125 of Creative Experiencing, mention is made of five such accomplishments by Hartshorne.
Hartshorne enjoyed robust intellectual vitality and productivity in his eighth and ninth decades. He shows, by something he wrote in the margin of the manuscript of Creative Experiencing, that he was still open to change and growth at age 89. What will surely be one of his lasting contributions to philosophy are his doctrinal matrices that present an exhaustive list of the formal options for thinking about God and the world—in terms of permutations of contrasting pairs such as necessity and contingency. Chapter nine presents a version of the matrices arranged in six columns. In the margin by this he wrote:
“Poor arrangement. Should be four rows and four columns. At 89 I still had not done it right.”
With some help from his mathematician friend Joseph Pickle he did get it right and the correct form appears in The Zero Fallacy, the book Hartshorne published in his hundredth year.
And then there is this:
From 1984 to 1991, when Hartshorne was in his late 80s and early 90s, four major books were published that were devoted to an analysis and critique of his work. In these four volumes, he wrote comprehensive responses to fifty-six scholars. If that isn’t intellectual true grit, what is?
In the final sentence of his Preface to Creative Experiencing, Hartshorne ends with a comment that helps to situate the book:
“With this book and its two predecessors, Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method and Wisdom as Moderation, my contribution to technical philosophy may be essentially complete.”
Here are the titles of the thirteen chapters that constitute the book. To give some flavor of Hartshorne’s writing, following each title is a quotation I have selected from that chapter.
1. Some Formal Criteria of Good Metaphysics
The key is love, not power. We should not worship God because besides divine love there is also divine power. It is the love that explains the power, not vice versa. Whitehead puts it bluntly, “the power of God is the worship He inspires.”
2. My Eclectic Approach to Phenomenology
My acid test of a thinker’s insight into experience as such is his stand on determinism.
3. Negative Facts and the Analogical Inference to ‘Other Mind’
I hold that the divine individuality differs from others not in being less flexible in its capacity for alternative states, as some of the supposed masters of doctrine tell us, but the exact opposite, in being infinitely flexible, precisely and incomparably the most variable of all individualities. But just as we remain “ourselves” through a certain limited range of variations, so does God, but through an unlimited range. God is not the least but the most “movable” of all movers of others, the most able to be himself through absolutely infinite variations in concrete detail.
4. Perception and the Concrete Abstractness of Science
What I call the “prosaic” fallacy is almost as naturally human as the pathetic fallacy. The world is neither the fairyland of primitive cultures nor the great machine of early modern science. Nor is it merely a vast but mindless organism. It is rather a vast many-leveled “society of societies.” Enormous imagination and courage, combined with careful weighing of rather complicated chains of evidence, are required if we are to arrive at much of an idea of this cosmic society. There is no easy path, whether sentimental or cynical. But we are not even fairly started on the right path if we overlook or deny the pervasive indistinctness of human experience or the evidence in direct awareness of two levels of feeling, the second derivative, logically and temporally, from the first.
5. Metaphysical Truth by Systematic Elimination of Absurdities
What the foregoing account comes to is that science and theology have for several centuries been in an unconscious conspiracy, as it were, to foist a bad metaphysics upon the educated public.
6. The Case for Metaphysical Idealism
For idealism is the doctrine that mind is as protean and multiform as the reality that mind is trying to know.
7. Creativity and the Deductive Logic of Causality
When we know what it is to be an effect, then we can also, by logical principles, derive what it is to be a cause, for that is the simpler case. A cause defines a set of possible effects, a set that, though it may not yet have an actual member yet, is bound to acquire one. As soon as we see that the key to causation is in the status of being an effect of antecedent conditions, we are ready to see also that both memory and perception are, by their very meaning, just such effects. And then we see what Hume overlooked.
8. The Meaning of ‘Is Going to Be’
If people had more imagination, I question if there would be so many determinists.
9. Theism and Dual Transcendence
Twentieth-century metaphysics, like twentieth-century science, poses questions scarcely conceived by the ancient Greeks or Jews, or the medieval, Islamic, or Hindu thinkers. Nor did Kant have much idea of them. This is a new ball game.
10. The Ontological Argument and the Meaning of Modal Terms
Between “foxes (or human beings) exist” and “deity exists” there is an infinite gulf. Anselm discovered this gulf, Aristotle and Philo were virtually aware of it; perhaps in time it will become normal for philosophers to be aware of it.
11. Categories, Transcendentals, and Creative Experiencing
Instead of “being,” creative experiencing should be taken as the inclusive transcendental. Concrete actuality, as we can know it, is experiencing as prehending a determinate past and, with each new total prehensive act, constituting a new determinate actuality that itself will be prehended by subsequent actualities. All this is what Whitehead means by creativity as “category of the ultimate.” “The many become one, and are increased by one.” Seldom has a philosopher said so much with so few words.
12. The Higher Levels of Creativity: Wieman’s Theory
In this age sober metaphysical reasoning is not widely appreciated. But its place is not taken by sober scientific reasoning. When good metaphysics goes, bad metaphysics tends to take over. “When the gods depart the half gods arrive.” The alternative to proper worship is idolatry. Perhaps never have so many forms of idolatry flourished as now.
13. Politics and the Metaphysics of Freedom
Freedom does not mean self-determination in the absence of determination by others; and, equally, determination by others does not mean the total absence of self-determination.