John B. Cobb, Jr., Ph.D. is Professor of Theology Emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California, and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies there. His many books currently in print include: Reclaiming the Church (1997); with Herman Daly, For the Common Good; Becoming a Thinking Christian (1993); Sustainability (1992); Can Christ Become Good News Again? (1991); ed. with Christopher Ives, The Emptying God: a Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation (1990); with Charles Birch, The Liberation of Life; and with David Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (1977). He is a retired minister in the United Methodist Church. His email address is email@example.com..
The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 75-84, Vol. 21, Number 2, Summer, 1992. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
The philosophers of Hartshorne’s time tried to hold him as irrelevant or meaningless and his thought absurd, but they found this impossible. He answered their objects too astutely and responded critically to their own positions in ways they could not ignore.
(This article is a revised version of a lecture given on September 30, 1991 in Claremont California during a conference celebrating Charles Hartshorne and the publication of The Philosophy of Charles Hartshorne, Vol. XX in The Library of Living Philosophers Series, edited by Lewis Edwin Hahn [La Salle, IL Open Court Press, 1991].)
Today we are celebrating the publication of the twentieth volume of “The Library of Living Philosophers.” Its publication would be cause for rejoicing, whoever its subject. It is a sign that under its new editor, Lewis Hahn, this important series has a great future. But we are celebrating especially because this volume is on the philosophy of one whose thought has been of utmost importance to those of us related to the Center for Process Studies and whose person continues to be our inspiration.
Let me begin by describing the volumes in this series. The pattern is to have an intellectual autobiography, followed by critical essays and responses by the living philosopher, as well as a bibliography. Paul Schilpp, the founding editor, believed that too often critical questions are not raised about the thought of philosophers while they are alive. Later, scholars wonder fruitlessly how the philosophers would have answered certain questions. Schilpp wanted the questions asked while the philosophers could still answer.
In this respect the format has not always been successful. Sometimes critics have not understood their subjects well enough to formulate astute questions. Sometimes the philosophers have not understood the questions or have answered in generalities. But in this volume the ideal of the series is realized very well indeed. The twenty-nine commentators and critics for the most part understand Hartshorne’s philosophy well, and many of them raise quite provocative questions. Best of all, Hartshorne replies to each one with sensitivity and precision. Even where there is serious misunderstanding he works patiently at the task of clarification. The 160 pages of his replies genuinely answer many questions about his intention and meaning, sometimes in ways that even those who have followed his thought most closely will find fresh and illuminating.
Before dealing more substantively with the picture that emerges from this interaction, I would like to give you some statistics about the bibliography. The bibliography of philosophical writing includes 19 books and 478 articles and reviews. That is impressive. But even more impressive to me — as one who turned 65 not long ago — is that about half the books and half the articles were published after Hartshorne had reached that age.
In the book Hartshorne comments on the advantages of longevity for a philosopher and on his own good fortune in this respect. My personal projections have been to continue active as a productive scholar until I become 80. In view of that expectation, I have been even more struck by the fact that Hartshorne has published four of his 19 books and a hundred articles and reviews after his eightieth birthday.
Even this does not tell the whole story. The bibliography is complete only through 1987 when Hartshorne reached 90. He has published another book since then. And he still has plans! I wonder whether any other philosopher has continued so productive so long.
In addition to all this, there is a second bibliography, this one on ornithology. It is not nearly as long — sixteen articles and just one book. But Hartshorne tells us that a second book on birds is in the works!
Reading this book confirms the impression that Charles Hartshorne is, above all else, a metaphysician. I am not sure that any other major philosopher in the whole history of thought has concentrated attention so singlemindedly on metaphysics. Further, I feel little fear of contradiction in asserting that he is the greatest living metaphysician.
This is a tribute to his brilliance and hard work. It is also a tribute to his innerdirectedness.
Charles Hartshorne’s career has spanned a period in which to be a metaphysician was to swim against the stream. The twentieth century has been a time of nothing-but” thinking, ridiculing all attempts to plumb the depths of reality. Metaphysics survived chiefly in the shelter of the Catholic church, but Hartshorne did not associate himself with any of the forms of Thomism that were nurtured there. Indeed, he played the role of critic in ways not calculated to win friends among the Thomists. Instead, he did his metaphysical thinking in the midst of the most modern of the philosophers, in dialogue with logical positivists and modal logicians as well as pragmatists and phenomenologists.
Furthermore, he did not attempt to appease the hostility of the anti-metaphysicians by sacrificing theism or even minimizing its importance in his thought. On the contrary, God has played the central role in his metaphysics. That might be thought calculated to win support from the religiously inclined, but most of them wanted to distance themselves from philosophy and did not welcome his intrusion. In any case, much that he said about God was offensive to most of the believers. It is true that there is now a group of theologians who work positively with his ideas, but that is because some were converted to his way of thinking — not because he tailored his formulations so as to win allies.
Hartshorne has been a self-described rationalist in a time when “rationalism” has been a term of scorn among philosophers and theologians alike. This volume strongly confirms this judgment. Yet Hartshorne’s rationalism has involved a rejection of the older rationalism as well.
In the past, rationalism has been associated with deduction from first principles. The assumption has been that some starting point can be adopted with certainty and that reason can establish other truths deductively from that. It has generally been associated with a deterministic understanding of the world.
Not only does Hartshorne reject the conclusions of the earlier rationalism, he rejects its method as well. He continues to deduce the consequences of premises in a logical way, but this is in order to test them as hypotheses, not to establish the truth of their consequences. Only if the validity of deduced consequences can be tested in some other way does the method work.
For Hartshorne one very important method is to elaborate the logically exhaustive options in dealing with a traditional metaphysical issue, and then to examine the logical implications of each option. This enables him to avoid the common philosophical procedure of establishing one position by showing the weakness of a contrasting one. Hartshorne uses logical rules to make sure that all possible positions are considered. Often it is one of those heretofore not considered options that turns out to be the most adequate.
For example, philosophers have often argued for the necessity of God by showing the unacceptability of any idea that the divine existence could be contingent. Having shown the necessity of God’s existence, they conclude that no element of contingency can be found in God. Similarly, having shown the contingency of worldly entities and events, they deny to them any element of necessity. Hartshorne shows that this procedure ignores a variety of other options. One of these is that both God and the world are necessary in some respects and contingent in others. He argues that in fact the conclusions deducible from this hypothesis are far more plausible that those deduced from any of the other options.
This method and comments scattered throughout his replies in this volume make very clear that Hartshorne’s extensive use of reason and confidence in its power does not have all the features often associated with rationalism. He does not suppose that any of his beliefs derive from reason alone or can obtain objective certainty through reason. He recognizes that his thought is conditioned by his culture and his personal intuitions affected by his own upbringing. Attaining mutual understanding with persons who come from other perspectives, he knows, is very difficult. Without that, one cannot even consider attaining agreement.
But Hartshorne does not give up. And, furthermore, he does not believe that every metaphysical issue remains forever simply open. For example, even if many philosophers have not acknowledged that the relation of the present to the future is fundamentally different from its relation to the past, Hartshorne is convinced that the weight of reason strongly favors this asymmetry — and he is prepared to argue the point again and again.
Hartshorne’s rationalism, in its sharp antithesis to the dominant ethos of our time, shows up in his favored relation to historical materials. In some ways it is a return to the Medieval scholastic style, leaping over the Renaissance humanist reaction and all that has followed it. Of course, Hartshorne does not deny the value of the literary and historical treatment of the writings of past philosophers. To understand them in their own contexts has its place. But Hartshorne also believes that there are some basic issues, especially metaphysical ones, that have been recognized and treated in many historical contexts, and that what is said on these issues can be considered as a proposed solution to a problem that is not context dependent. For him it is more important, for the sake of contemporary philosophy, to discover the alternative solutions of these problems, and the arguments given in their support, than to locate old discussions in ancient contexts. If one finds that a solution is faulty because it overlooked an important alternative, one may note that in that historical epoch that alternative was not available for consideration. But the error remains an error, however understandable.
A highwater mark of rationalism has been the ontological argument. It moves from a rational idea, the idea of God, to the metaphysical reality of what is thought, independent of any empirical evidence. It has offended the sensibility of empiricists, who have responded, from Anselm’s day to ours, with quick rejection and ridicule. Despite Hartshorne’s difference from the older rationalism, this argument has fascinated him as well. From graduate school days on, he has been convinced that this quick rejection and ridicule are not warranted. For him the argument expresses a profound truth.
Hartshorne’s discussion of the ontological argument in earlier books has been thorough and extensive, if not always entirely easy to follow. In this book, his discussion is brief, but clear and clarifying. There is one point of which he is very sure. The idea of God is incompatible with the contingent existence of God. The mode of God’s being, if God exists at all, is necessity. That means that it cannot be a factual question whether God exists. If God does not exist, God’s non-existence is also necessary. We cannot discuss the matter as if what might not exist in fact does exist or what might exist in fact does not. All appeals to empirical evidence, that is, to contingent facts, whether in support of belief in God or in opposition to such belief, make this mistake.
This is a point that should shape all discussion of the existence of God. But the point is most clearly and finally made in the ontological argument. Hartshome believes that most ideas of God are incoherent, so that the God, so conceived, necessarily does not exist. But he also believes that a fully coherent idea of One who necessarily exists would entail the necessary existence of that One. It can not be possible to conceive God coherently if God’s existence is metaphysically imposssible. The main task, therefore, is to discover whether such a coherent idea is possible. And Hartshorne has made his greatest contribution to theism in his development of a relatively coherent doctrine of God.
I say “relatively coherent” because Hartshorne acknowledges that he has encountered problems he cannot solve. These are especially acute in the relation of God to the temporality described by relativity physics. Part of the problem is that the implications for time of that physics are inherently confusing even to the best physicists. But however it is interpreted, its relation to the unique serial order of divine experiences, as Hartshorne long thought of God’s time, is problematic.
Hartshorne once spoke of “proofs” of God’s existence. He now recognizes that the word proofs is misleading. It suggests that one could begin with unequivocal and indisputable premises. There are no such premises. But there are arguments. For Hartshorne now, the two most important arguments are those from order and from meaning. But the premises are themselves complex and themselves require supporting arguments.
For example, Hartshorne’s argument from order presupposes his psychicalism. That is, it is because he sees the universe as composed of myriads of self-determining individuals that the relative order resulting from their independent decisions requires explanation in terms of a cosmic principle of order. Further, it is because the order pervading this cosmic epoch is contingent that it must be explained by a decision rather than being itself an ultimate ground. If these premises are accepted, the argument for the conclusion is strong. If not, some other argument from order may be possible, but not this one.
Of course, Hartshorne does not regard his premises as arbitrary. He provides arguments for them as well. But these arguments require premises, too. And these premises in their turn require support.
I have been emphasizing the extraordinary independence of Hartshorne’s mind. Emphasizing this might lead to the impression that he has had a need to be different from everyone else. But that is not the case. He is at pains to identify those philosophers from whom he has learned and others with whom he finds himself in agreement. Only occasionally, and somewhat hesitantly, does he identify certain ideas as original with him. He is far more likely to understate than to overplay the distinctiveness of his own views.
Hartshorne repeatedly emphasizes his debt to Charles Saunders Peirce and to Alfred North Whitehead. In part this was their confirmation of intuitions he was already in process of developing before he encountered them. In part it was a matter of learning new ideas. In this volume there is not a great deal of discussion of his relation to Peirce, but there is considerable discussion of his relation to Whitehead.
Several essays in this volume treat of Hartshorne’s differences from Whitehead. Most of these are matters of emphasis rather than direct opposition. Yet emphasis is important, and there are also points of disagreement. Hartshorne notes in his generous response to my contribution that I have followed Whitehead more closely than him, and he is correct. That means that I have found Whitehead’s emphases more congenial and Whitehead’s doctrine on some, but not all, of the points of disagreement, more fruitful. This does not reduce my indebtedness to Hartshorne, since it is from him that I learned Whitehead.
So far as I can recall, I have never discussed in print my reasons for leaning toward Whitehead. This is partly because I have wanted only to praise my teacher, not to criticize his work. My contribution to this volume continues in that vein. It raises no objections or challenges. I suspect that, instead, honest criticism is the form of praise Hartshorne most appreciates. I shall use this occasion to express my reasons for preferring Whitehead’s emphases to his. I want also to express my delight that over the years the features of Hartshorne that made me uncomfortable have softened.
I noted above that Hartshorne no longer speaks of “proofs” of God’s existence or of anything else. The attitude expressed in the use of that word was part of that against which I reacted. He once wrote as if there were starting points for arguments that were not themselves thoroughly problematic. I found more congenial Whitehead’s sensitivities to the endlessly conjectural, hypothetical, or speculative character of all thought. There once seemed to be a real difference between Whitehead and Hartshorne on this point. Today it is only a matter of emphasis. I still prefer the Whiteheadian emphasis, but I find nothing to oppose in what Hartshorne now says.
Related to this difference is another. Metaphysics for Whitehead seems to be the final limit of speculative hypotheses that begin in particular fields of experience. As Hartshorne notes in criticism, the line between metaphysics and cosmology is not sharply drawn by Whitehead. Differentiating between what is universally true of all entities in our cosmic epoch and what must hold true in all cosmic epochs is, for Whitehead, a meaningful endeavor, but one in which success must be partial and uncertain at best. Earlier I described the quite different relation in Hartshorne between the metaphysical and the empirical. This difference has not softened over the years. Even though the two positions are not in direct conflict, they support different philosophical styles. I am more comfortable with Whitehead’s. I will illustrate.
Hartshorne’s approach to metaphysics is heavily dependent, as I have noted, on the formulation of exhaustive sets of possible positions on a particular issue. I am confident that much has been gained in this way. Hartshorne knows that this method works only when the terms of the discussion are clear and univocal. But he does not see this as an overwhelming problem. I, on the other hand, see the task of attaining clarity and precision about terms, especially metaphysical ones, as endlessly difficult. What a term means is bound up with what other terms mean, and these meanings already involve metaphysical assumptions. This is not in direct conflict with what Hartshorne says and does, but it makes me more interested in the pursuit of understanding than in argument. As Hartshorne notes, it is a complaint against Whitehead that he does not argue. That complaint, Hartshorne rightly says, is exaggerated, but it does point to a difference. The complaint would never be directed against Hartshorne!
The issue of the refinement of what is to be said, rather than accepting the terms commonly used in argument arises with respect to some of Hartshorne’s favorite language. For example, he has shifted from panpsychism to psychicalism in describing an important feature of his thought. My problem is with the continuing role of the term “psyche.” I think it means more to the hearer than Hartshorne intends and perhaps more to Hartshorne than is fully warranted or needed. I fear that it puts obstacles in the way of acceptance of what I regard as the basic truth of the position.
Let me explain. Hartshorne approaches the problem from the standpoint of the long debate about mind and matter. In that debate there was a tendency for participants to think they knew what “mind” means and what “matter” means. Hartshorne occasionally seems to accept those meanings and argue in terms of them for the ontological priority and generalizability of mind. However, he usually avoids this. “Psyche” includes “mind” but is not exhausted by it. “Mind” emphasizes thinking and is virtually inseparable from thinking in its denotation. “Psyche” brings emotion fully into play. Since feeling is so fundamental for Hartshorne, this is a great gain.
Furthermore, when we ask for continuities among all entities, we have nowhere to begin except with the occasions of psychic life. This is Hartshorne’s point, and I support it fully. It is aspects of the psychical that can be generalized, not the apparently inert objects of experience. Hence I find the shift from “mind” to “psyche” a great gain.
Nevertheless, from my point of view, “psychical” is still not the right word. Although it includes feeling, it also accents high grade aspects of conscious life such as thinking, recalling, and anticipating the remote future. Also “psyche” contrasts most directly with “soma;” so that it seems that what is generalized is not bodily. Careful reading of Hartshorne counters much of this, but not all.
For Whitehead what is to be generalized from our experience are precisely not those aspects which emerge in evolution for the first time in the animal psyche or soul. They are the primitive aspects of experience that do not require the complexities of a brain. For example, and most fundamentally, they are the physical feelings that constitute causality throughout the world. Of course, there are no physical feelings without subjective forms, and no subjective forms without subjective immediacy and subjective aims, and there is no subjective aim without some primitive flash of unconscious mentality.
I think that all Hartshorne really needs to mean by psychicalism is present in Whitehead. But the effect of overcoming the dualism of the psychical and the material by pronouncing entirely in favor of the psychical is different from overcoming the dualism of the mental and the physical by saying that both elements are present in every occasion as forms of feeling. The former sounds like the victory of idealism over materialism; the later, like the synthesis of idealism and naturalism in an idealistic naturalism or a naturalistic idealism. Again, the difference is one of language and emphasis more than doctrine, but language and emphasis are important, and I prefer Whitehead’s.
The objection to Whitehead for which Hartshorne is best known is against his doctrine of eternal objects. At this point I know that I do not know how to think. Hartshorne’s objections to treating the sensory continuum of color, for example, as though it were composed of a finite number of discrete shades, is quite convincing. On the other hand, his complaint that if all possibilities are primordially envisaged, the course of events can add nothing to what God already has, seems to me to confuse pure and impure possibilities and to be based on a different view of the relation of actuality to possibility than Whitehead’s. Since I know that contemporary mathematicians do not find Whitehead’s view of the ontological status of their objects attractive or illuminating, I am further shaken and perplexed.
But I am troubled by Hartshorne’s solution. In Whitehead as in Hartshorne God is the ground of order. But in Process and Reality, even more emphasized is that God is the ground of novelty. I like to say that it is because of God that there are novel order and ordered novelty. Also natural law changes as societies change. Whitehead’s analysis of how this happens is in his doctrine of conceptual feelings. I have found this both attractive and convincing, both existentially and ontologically. I am loath to say that there are no conceptual feelings or that conceptual feelings feel nothing at all. Hence I cling to the view that relevant possibilities, even when unrealized in the world, can and do play a role in my experience. I do not think Hartshorne denies this, but I have not learned how to interpret this aspect of my own experience in his conceptuality.
I now want to return from this discussion of differences between Whitehead and Hartshorne to Hartshorne’s own creative work. This has dealt in many areas of social importance. Another important part of it has been scientific.
It is often supposed that preoccupation with metaphysics makes one’s work irrelevant to the real problems of life, to matters of public policy, for example. At least in Hartshorne’s case, this is far from correct. A conversation with Jack Hutchison a couple of weeks ago suggested something of the direction I am taking in these remarks. He had noted with surprise Hartshorne’s writing about ecological issues long before this topic became fashionable. The same is true of feminism. Hartshorne has written on social and political policy and on such emotionally laden topics as abortion. In all these cases the relation of his views to his metaphysics is clear. I regret that this side of his work is not treated in this volume, but at eight hundred pages it is large enough.
It is also often supposed that rationalism is opposed to empiricism. But this does not apply to Hartshorne’s version. His rationalism is a sustained argument that most of what is, even in the life of God, is contingent. It is knowable, therefore, only by empirical study. But Hartshorne does not leave matters there. The conceptuality developed rationalistically provides hypotheses for empirical research that are often strikingly different from the ones actively tested by most scientists, since the latter work, largely unconsciously, out of a different metaphysics.
I was delighted to find that the first set of responses to Hartshorne’s work is identified as “empirical inquiries.” The very first essay is written by Charles Birch, who affirms Hartshorne’s influence on his biology. He has written on “Chance, Purpose, and Darwinism.”
But Hartshorne has not simply developed his metaphysical ideas and hoped that scientists here and there would find them fruitful. Nor has he depended, as we have here at the Center for Process Studies, on collaborative work. He has directly entered scientific fields with hypotheses suggested by his metaphysics, proposed testable hypotheses, and himself tested them against the empirical evidence.
His first book was of this sort. It is entitled The Philosophy and Psychology of Sensation. Generally a sensation has been taken to be primitive, and sensa related to different sense organs have been taken to be incommensurable. Hartshorne’s metaphysics led him to the hypothesis that more fundamental than the sensa are affects and that the same affect is expressed in sensa associated with diverse sense organs. His theory has not been influential in the ongoing course of psychology, so that those who do not understand how academic disciplines develop may suppose that it is outdated. Wayne Viney, a psychologist who has written about it in this volume, notes that there is much more evidence for the theory today than when Hartshorne put it forward. He also notes that even now a research program based on this hypothesis could prove quite fruitful.
Still more striking is Hartshorne’s lifelong research in ornithology, especially birdsong. Here he has not depended on the empirical research of others but has gathered his own data. Indeed, he has probably recorded more birdsongs from more parts of the world than has any other scientist.
Here, too, his research is guided by an hypothesis suggested by his metaphysics. According to this metaphysics, there is no drastic line separating human beings from other creatures. Evolution seems to give a great deal of support to this view, but the working assumptions of most scientists are still Cartesian. According to these assumptions, animal behavior is to be viewed mechanistically. Birdsong, for example, is assumed to be instinctual. Birds are programmed to act in ways that have had survival value, and their singing follows from this programming.
Hartshorne does not question that the ability to sing developed for an evolutionary reason. The same is true of our ability to speak. But this does not mean that the singing occurs only when and because of this evolutionary programming. Once the ability arises the results can be enjoyed!
From this general hypothesis that birds like to sing and enjoy their music, Hartshorne developed other hypotheses that are testable. He employed his extensive evidence in the testing of his hypotheses. The hypotheses were supported. Of course, this does not amount to proof of his general hypothesis, much less of his metaphysics. The debate continues among ornithologists. But some of the greatest specialists, including Alexander Skutch, who has contributed to this volume, are very favorably impressed with Hartshorne’s work, and he has been given full status in their professional society.
I need hardly point out that very few of the philosophers who pride themselves on their empiricism have made comparable contributions to empirical science in our century. It is ironic, in terms of the widespread prejudices against rationalism, that this should be so, but it is completely consistent with Hartshorne’s version of rationalism.
I hope these comments accurately reflect Hartshorne’s views of the relation of rationalism to empiricism. Rational inquiry shows that most of what we need to know is empirical. It shows that all empirical inquiry works with hypotheses informed by assumptions that should be rationally considered. But rational inquiry also shows that there is one set of questions that are not empirical. This set defines metaphysics. To complain that in doing metaphysics one does not attend to the particularity of the particular, but treats it only as an exemplification of metaphysical principles, is an objection to metaphysics itself as Hartshorne understands it. It is true, but not valid, in his view, as a reason for rejecting the enterprise. Metaphysical questions are far too important to set aside because they are not empirical.
The relation to phenomenology is different. Metaphysical hypotheses or insights arise in experience. To formulate them well requires close attention to experience. The hypothesis is that fundamental features of the philosopher’s experience are characteristic of everything whatsoever. Hence the phenomenological examination of experience is fundamental for Hartshorne’s metaphysics.
Nancy Frankenberry, in a brilliant essay, notes the tension between Hartshorne’s strong statements about the importance of phenomenology and his commitment to views of what is really going on that are quite different from what is phenomenologically observed. For example, Hartshorne is full committed to Whitehead’s epochal theory of time, which entails that human experience consists in a succession of momentary experiences. On the other hand, phenomenological accounts of experience present it as continuous.
This is one of those places where Schilpp’s hope was fulfilled. Hartshorne has a chance to answer the question that might otherwise not have been asked until after his death. What is immediately experienced and thus phenomenologically accessible both provides the starting point for reflection and must be explained by the conclusions of reflection, but the reflection must consider hypotheses that are only indirectly related to experience. In this case, staying with the hypothesis of a temporal continuum of experience leads to paradoxes, those of Xeno, for example. Reason, confronting paradox, seeks alternative hypotheses. If these can solve the paradox without generating new ones, and are compatible with the phenomenological evidence, even if not suggested by it, they should be accepted.
One mark of our time is that a philosopher who wins a following among theologians is handicapped among philosophers. Our support can be the kiss of death. George Lucas recently published a book entitled “The Rehabilitation of Whitehead.” In it he is trying to persuade philosophers to take Whitehead seriously by separating him from the theologians. In Hartshorne’s case such separation would be even more difficult. Some of us feared that our admiration as theologians would prevent Hartshorne’s inclusion in this series. We rejoice that it did not.
Wisely, I think, the planners of this volume emphasized the philosophical character of Hartshorne’s work in their selection of respondents. They did include a few scientists as well as a Buddhist and a Hindu. Quite late in the day they decided it was a bit artificial to exclude altogether attention to Hartshorne’s contribution to Christian theology, and I was invited to write an essay on this topic. For that I am grateful. Now that the book is published, I hope we theologians do no further harm by celebrating his achievement.
I was particularly pleased by the Buddhist contribution to this volume. The affinities between Hartshorne’s metaphysics and the Buddhist vision have been apparent, and they have been emphasized by Hartshorne himself. But most Buddhists have tended to belittle the similarities and to take offense at the rationalism and metaphysical theism. This prevents the kind of engagement from which they might benefit.
There are exceptions. One is Sallie King, who wrote the essay for this volume. King does not, of course, adopt the whole of Hartshorne’s theistic metaphysics or even his method. But she recognizes, rightly, I think, that certain topics have been left unnecessarily confused in Buddhist thought. For example, the reality of freedom or self-determination is at best paradoxically formulated, whereas Hartshorne shows that it can be clarified in a way that conforms with the basic Buddhist vision.
The autobiographical essay in his volume is forty pages. After writing this, Hartshorne developed it into a full-length book, The Darkness and the Light. This is the book I mentioned as not included in his bibliography.
Hartshorne’s biography is not filled with exciting adventures. His has been the life of a professor in American universities. Even his intellectual development lacks dramatic twists and turns. He tells us that his basic intuitions were in place at the age of fifteen. Indeed, he sees his ideas as quite continuous with those of his father. The enormous scientific and technological changes that have occurred since his birth in 1897 have dramatically altered the face of the earth, but they have been only the incidental backdrop for Hartshorne’s metaphysical reflections. Thus his life is coherent with his deep conviction that investigation of the necessary features of reality is only incidentally affected by changes in the contingent ones.
Although Hartshorne’s line of thought has been quite separate from the dominant philosophical currents of the century his life has spanned, he has not been personally separate from the leading actors. Much of his autobiography is an appraisal of these figures and of his relations to them. He is always charitable in his appraisals and quick to acknowledge his share of the responsibility when things went wrong, but he does not draw back from incisive judgments.
One senses that many of these other philosophers have not known what to make of this strange character who asked all the questions they held to be irrelevant or meaningless and believed many things they thought absurd. Many of them would have preferred to dismiss him as one of the crackpots who haunt the fringes of philosophy. But they could not. He answered their objections too astutely and responded critically to their own positions in ways they could not ignore if they were to remain responsible to their own convictions. On the whole they paid as little attention to his ideas and arguments as possible. Yet they could not quite exclude him from the conversation. In his “Preface” Lewis Hahn, the editor, notes that Hartshorne has contributed to eight of the first nineteen volumes of the series, more than any other philosopher. It was not possible to keep him entirely on the sidelines.
Nevertheless, the tendency to carry on philosophical discussion as if his ideas and arguments did not exist has been noteworthy. Sometimes I have thought Hartshorne hardly understood this phenomenon. Since he himself treated every idea according to its philosophical merits, and regardless of its source, it made no sense to him that the obviously interesting and important ideas he put forward together with elaborate argumentation elicited very little of the critical response he coveted. For example, a renewed discussion of the ontological argument in analytic philosophy as initiated by Norman Malcolm proceeded almost as if Hartshorne’s much fuller treatment had not been published. Hartshorne accepted this inequitable treatment with remarkable equanimity, although occasionally one detects a plaintive note.
I close as I began by celebrating the publication of this volume. Perhaps after these remarks you will understand better the depth of satisfaction that underlies this celebration. The twentieth-century, despite its anti-metaphysical character, has produced a great metaphysician. He has lived a lonely life (philosophically speaking), his arguments largely ignored by the mainstream. Even the following he has gathered has damaged his reputation in his own community more than it has helped. His admirers have wondered whether acknowledgement of his stature must await a later historical epoch or whether twentieth-century philosophy could also acknowledge it. We rejoice that, at least to the significant degree of inclusion in this series, twentieth-century philosophy has risen above its prejudices and recognized a strange and alien greatness.