Existence and Actuality: Conversations with Charles Hartshorne
by John B. Cobb, Jr. and Franklin I. Gamwell (eds.)
Chapter 1: Methodology in the Metaphysics of Charles Hartshorne by Eugene H. Peters
Eugene Peters was professor of philosophy at Hiram college, upon his death in 1983.
For Charles Hartshorne, a metaphysical statement is a unique form of statement. It is to be distinguished from empirical (that is, factual) assertions, which if true at all are true contingently. Metaphysical statements, if true, are true not contingently but necessarily. The point is that a metaphysical truth does not itself stand for a fact but for a principle, one which obtains for all facts, actual or possible. Such a principle is, to use Hartshorne’s phrase, a universal correlate of fact.1 A metaphysician, then, seeks to identify and formulate principles which, though inescapable, are nonetheless missed or denied through confusion, inconsistency, or lack of definite meaning.
Necessary truths may of course fail to qualify as metaphysical. Consider, for example, the mathematician’s claim that 97 is a prime number. Though that claim could never be false, and is therefore true necessarily, it may be taken as a hypothetical truth. That is. if there were ninety-seven elements in a set, they could not be arranged in the manner of a set of elements which were not prime. Yet there need be no set of ninety-seven elements. Hypothetical necessities are, for Hartshorne, relations which hold among possibilities. And since possibilities are not unreal, truths such as “97 is a prime number’’ do in a sense tell us about the world. Yet, for Hartshorne, a hypothetical necessity is essentially a denial, a denial that any state of affairs could ever furnish an exception to the relation found in the hypothetical necessity. Be what they may, facts will never present ninety-seven elements that are nonprime. But to state what can never obtain does not suffice to tell us what does obtain — except among certain (that is, not among all) possibilities.
The metaphysical necessity, being a feature common to all factual possibilities, is categorical or nonhypothetical. This means it is illustrated by any and every fact. For though facts may each have incompatible alternatives, and in this sense be restrictive (that is, selective) of possibilities, facts are in no way restrictive of the universal correlates of fact. Hence, no matter which facts they are, the facts will exhibit those correlates. It follows that metaphysical principles are essentially positive, that they identify features, meanings, or characters which, while present in every actuality, yet exclude no conceivable entity or state of affairs. Hartshorne states: ‘‘Metaphysical truths may be described as such that no experience can contradict them, but also such that any experience must illustrate them.”2
The truths of metaphysics, being categorical, apply positively to (are exhibited in) any actuality. But, we may ask, what if there were no actualities? In order for these truths to be applicable, there have to be facts to which they apply, facts in which they are illustrated. One should, for clarity, distinguish facts from actualities, facts being, for Hartshorne, states of affairs or contingent truths. It may “in fact” be clear and warm today. On the other hand, that state of affairs — the state of being clear and warm — may not obtain. Yet, if not, it is a fact that it does not. So what is not actual, but only possible, is as much a matter of fact as what is actual. This is only a way of stating that truths of fact may be either positive or negative, and that a truth of fact is such no matter whether it is positive or negative. Of course we may express a positive fact in a negative way. For example, we may say, “It’s not cloudy or cold,” when we find it clear and warm. Likewise a negative fact may receive positive expression — for example, when, as indicated by the context, we assert that it is clear and warm as a way of denying (say) fog and cold.
Now, for Hartshorne, there is an intrinsic negativity in every state of affairs that is merely possible. For he holds that the actual is the definite, the possible the more or less indefinite.3 And this means that the possibility of X is deficient by comparison with the actuality of X. There is in an actuality positive quality or character which is absent in its possibility. We might, then, be led to pronounce the possibility a negative fact — relative to its actualization. But Hartshorne uses the term “negative fact” in the sense explained above; he does not take it to refer to the character of possibilities as such. Indeed, he refers to “positive possibility,” an expression which would be confusing were possibilities as such taken to be negative facts.
The negative fact is a fact which is alternative to one which obtains; it is a state of affairs which might have been realized, or may be. It is “the road not taken” — a possibility not brought to fruition. The negative fact is not that possibility which was in fact realized, but that (Or those) excluded by the realization, that (or those) incompossible with the fact realized. But if every positive fact entails negative facts (as alternatives excluded), is it also true that every negative fact entails positive facts? If not, then there could be negative facts excluded from realization by nothing positive, or, in other words, negative facts not really excluded at all. But a negative fact which has no positive bearing, no relevance in or for actuality, and which makes no empirical difference, is a privation and only that. Hartshorne repudiates the view that excluded alternatives are merely negative, and instead contends that any possible fact is partly positive.4 And, since positive facts always entail negative facts, any possible fact is also partly negative. In brief, then, Hartshorne holds that any fact is a complex having both positive and negative aspects. I gather that Hartshorne is proclaiming a kind of “ontological principle” that the possible can never be sheared from its connections with actual things, that actuality is the base with respect to which all other things are relegated to their respective places.
Now, if any fact whatever is partly positive, never merely negative, then it follows that the things which are actual, had they been excluded from actualization, and thus remained possibilities, would have been excluded by alternative actualities, whatever actualities they might have been. So each actualization is an achievement of definite, positive content, yet an achievement which comes at the price of other actualities which might have been — and may yet be.
The supposition that metaphysical principles refer to factors which, though they pervade possibilities as universal ingredients, yet might fail to characterize actualities, since there need be none, is a supposition countermanded by Hartshorne. For that supposition violates what he calls the principle of positivity, that is, the principle that there can be no sheer absence or nonentity. Thus, we return to Hartshorne’s characterization of metaphysical truth as categorical, as applicable positively to any actuality. Such truth then is ever-present, ever-exemplified.
But how has Hartshorne established his principle of positivity, or has he established it at all’? The question is of importance because he uses that principle — the ineradicableness of the positive, or the primacy of the positive — as a weapon not only against those who espouse purely negative facts but against those who propose metaphysical principles which involve exclusive negativity. There are, we noted, nonfactual truths which are hypothetical. At least some of these truths are essentially negative. Hartshorne’s example is: “Two apples and two apples are four apples.”5 This statement, he would hold, is analytic or empty, since it merely elucidates the import of certain terms in our language. It is really a denial, a denial that there might ever be an exception wherein two pairs of apples failed to make up a set of four apples. “It tells us nothing positive,”6 says Hartshorne.
So there may be purely (or essentially) negative necessary truths, namely, hypothetical necessities. The point is that entities may be contingent, yet by nature or by definition rigidly require certain consequences or entailments. Hypothetical necessities, then, implicitly deny hypothetical (that is, imagined) denials of their analytic connections — such hypothetical denials being meaningless. Thus the negativity of such truths is not that of negative facts. Hypothetical necessities neither affirm nor deny the actuality of those entities to which they attribute the analytic connections.
But with metaphysical necessities we are talking about another species of nonfactual truth: the species whose members are positive necessities, illustrated in every fact. Still, our formulation is not quite accurate. Metaphysical truth is purely positive, but it applies primarily to concrete entities. Indeed, though Hartshorne accepts the formula that metaphysics explores “being qua being,’’7 he holds that metaphysics is the theory of concreteness.8 The theory of concreteness will include a theory of abstractness, thus maintaining the crucial distinction between concrete and abstract. True, any entity can be thought, experienced, and valued. And any entity is a potential for becoming.9 Yet such metaphysical claims must make room for the diversity of concrete and abstract, applying in one way to the concrete and in another to the abstract. There is, then, no single, perfectly general characterization neutral or indifferent to all differences among entities. We would reach a similar conclusion were we to take account of the distinction between the entities which are particulars and those which are the aggregates of particulars. So metaphysical truth is positive in being exhibited in every actual fact, yet it is not in precisely the same sense exhibited in mere groups of actualities, and is exhibited in possibilities with even greater qualification. When Hartshorne speaks, then, of metaphysical factors common to all possibilities, we understand him to be referring chiefly to factors any conceivable actuality (more accurately, any concrete singular or particular) will exhibit, not to factors which characterize possibilities or abstractions as such. But since possibilities are not nonentities, and are indeed factual — as are groups of actualities — we may wonder whether it is entirely appropriate to describe metaphysical truth as purely positive. Moreover, would we not be justified in distinguishing ontology, that is, the theory of being as such, from the theory of concreteness, since the system of all the basic types of entity must exhibit some commonality among those types, however formal and empty it may be?
If the theory of concreteness applies to concrete singulars in a way it does not apply to groupings of such singulars, or to abstractions, then there is a restrictedness about the theory. For example, if concrete happenings possess internal relations while abstract entities do not, then the theory of concreteness will apply with restriction. I do not mean that the theory of concreteness cuts off or excludes what might otherwise obtain, but that it relates properly and unqualifiedly (one might say unequivocally) only to actualities, not to other classes of entity. The entities of those other classes are not negative facts excluded by the metaphysical truths of the theory of concreteness. Indeed, for Hartshorne, the concrete is the inclusive form of reality, that from which all else is derivative.10 So the possible and the actual do not stand related as adjacent realms, but as aspect or constituent is related to including whole. Even so, it remains true that metaphysical principles of the concrete whole need not apply to the aspects or constituents of the whole, or need not apply in the same way.
The positivity of metaphysical truth, then, is its universality as correlate of all (unit) actualities, of those which are and have been, as well as of those which are only possible or conceivable. It is this, I believe, which Hartshorne intends when he speaks of metaphysical statements as existential. They state those variables of which any and every actuality is, was, or is destined to be a value. It becomes even more obvious at this point why the principle of positivity — every negative fact has its positive side — is of such importance for Hartshorne. A merely negative fact, a sheer de facto absence or privation, would be a peculiar state of affairs to which metaphysical principles perhaps do not extend, unless they do apply unqualifiedly to the abstract and indefinite as well as to the concrete. And, as we have seen, metaphysics is the theory of the concrete. To admit purely negative facts is in effect to give an independence to possibilities, to sever them from their residency in and relevance for actuality, and thus to deny (and even invert) Hartshorne’s contention that actualities are the concrete from which all else is abstractable as aspects or constituents. Much more is at stake for Hartshorne than a mere rejection of Platonism (which he finds unacceptable even in the guise of Whitehead’s doctrine of eternal objects). For a purely negative fact, having no bearings in actuality, would make no empirical difference whatever and therefore could not be detected, unless by superhuman faculties. Nor could such a fact be easily imagined or conceived — at least not by humans — if indeed it could be imagined or conceived at all. But, further, if we grant to possibilities a self-sufficiency or independence, or a primacy with respect to actualities, we face ultimately the notion that there might have been (or may yet be) only nonactualities. With this notion the purely negative is accorded the status of a principle which does not now reign, but could reign, and might once have done so.
It matters little whether the nothing is taken as sheer possibility, or as the absence even of that. Nothing would be known to no one. Nor could it be. According to Hartshorne, what is beyond any and all knowledge or experience is simply meaningless.11 It has perhaps not been sufficiently noticed that he is an idealist in holding that knowledge defines reality. “With Peirce, and all the idealists, if not all the metaphysicians, I submit that we must start with experience or knowledge, and in terms of it define ‘reality.’ “12 Of course, it will not suffice to tell the pure negativist (he who denies that ‘‘something exists” is a necessary truth) that to be is to be known. For he asserts that were there no world, there would be neither knower nor known. Hartshorne’s position, however, is that our statements simply lack meaning whenever we allege the sheer impossibility of X’s being known (even by God). So it is not just that to be is to be known, but also that to be significant (as an utterance) or possible (as the extralinguistic referent of an utterance) is to be so for some conceivable knower. From this perspective, the metaphysical is that which could be absent from no conceivable experience, and hence is in principle unfalsifiable, since no experience could contradict it. Necessary existential truth (metaphysical truth) means to be capable, in principle, of being apprehended by any knower.
It is all-important to recognize that Hartshorne transforms the metaphysical issue into a question of verifiability and nonfalsifiability. Denials of metaphysical truth stand for or denote the wholly negative and at the same time the meaningless. For the denial of factors which are accessible to any knower represents a sheer negation and thus amounts to a denial of know-ability itself, as well as of meaning. So a metaphysical truth may be identified as a statement which can never be known to be false, but is verified by any and every experience. Incidentally, while it is clear how the wholly negative can be said to imply the strictly unknowable, it is not clear how the strictly unknowable can be said to imply the wholly negative.13 Hartshorne, I believe, intends both implications.
In any event, Hartshorne’s practice is to call attention to the negativity of certain metaphysical claims. As metaphysical negations, they are — like the purely negative principle “nothing exists” — incapable ever of verification, and falsifiable by any experience whatever. Materialism, determinism, and atheism are each essentially denials, materialism being a denial of experience, determinism of creativity, and atheism of the unsurpassable form of experience and creativity. These doctrines could never be known to be true, since they exhibit nothing positive — no datum — to know or experience. Being exclusively negative (that is, presenting no incompatible positive correlate) they cannot possibly be true; hence, their contradictories are true a priori.
Thus theism (the existence of God) is true necessarily, granting that the idea of God itself is not confused or self-contradictory. Hartshorne says: “If there is no property whose instantiation excludes divinity (and I know of none), then either purely negative facts are possible, or the non-existence of deity is impossible.”14 Determinism may seem positive because “indeterminism” is linguistically negative. But to suppose that temporal advance is wholly predictable is to deny that the future brings genuine increase of actuality. So conceived, time would afford nothing to know or experience, since nothing would constitute the differences distinguishing past, present, and future. Rejecting the pure negativity of determinism leaves us indeterminism — of some sort or degree, short of absoluteness — as the metaphysical truth. A similar argument supports psychicalism. For the pure absence of feeling involves the presence of some property incompatible with feeling (unless we allow purely negative facts). Hartshorne grants that extremes of disunity or of monotony do exclude feelings, as, for example, in the case of rocks or perhaps trees. “But there are no facts showing that either reason [disunity or monotony] applies to the minute constituents of these things, or to the universe as a whole.”15 Since only these two properties exclude feelings, concrete actualities will always be characterized by feeling, though aggregates of such actualities, or their arbitrarily distinguished parts, may not be.
The basic simplicity of Hartshorne’s view of metaphysical principles is not often noticed. All experience (even God’s) must have data — something there, positively given. And any datum of experience is really present, though perhaps not where or when it is thought to be. On the other hand, what neither is nor can be a datum of experience, even for God, is unreal. Metaphysical error, as Hartshorne says, is recognized by its lack of positive meaning, by its failure to afford a datum of any sort for experience. We cannot of course observe that certain characters are common to all conceivable states of reality — though we may observe that they are common to some. But we can discern that certain claims can never furnish anything experienceable. They are therefore bereft of meaning (as indicated by unclarity or inconsistency) and so necessarily false. The proper method then is to seek to detect and eliminate metaphysical error while checking to see that our metaphysical assertions are supported by experience.
It may be argued that inanimateness, for example, is directly experienced, and if so is really there. The rock appears inert and dead. What appears in fact is a persisting, hard, colored surface enclosing a volume. ‘‘Inert’’ and “dead” are inferences which we take the appearances to imply. We infer the lack of individuality, of sensitivity, and of activity. “But where we fail to perceive individuality of action this negative fact, this failure, must not be turned into a positive affirmation, a success, the insight that no such individuality is present in that part of nature.”16 The minute, imperceptible constituents of the rock may very well be animate individuals. Our errors in perception concern, in part, our willingness to draw conclusions as to what is not given in experience — which can of course never be a datum.
The claim sometimes heard that Hartshorne is a rationalist can be seen, in light of our discussion, to be misleading.17 Nonfactual truths, if categorical, are not about language or logic; they refer to the common aspects of all possibilities. Moreover, possibilities are states of affairs which are knowable or experienceable. “Once the connection with conceivable experience is broken,” Hartshorne asserts, “we lose control over the meaning of our words.”18 If a statement could, in principle, receive no verification, it would be without meaning. So, while he is not an empiricist, Hartshorne is no philosophical linguist or logician; he is an experientialist, interested in the principles of experience as such. If Hartshorne is a rationalist, it is because experience possesses universal and inescapable features.
But what is the basis for Hartshorne’s contention that meaning and truth are inseparable from conceivable experience? Sometimes, by way of argument, he will ask what does or could make something true. For example, he asks: “What ‘makes’ statements true for all the future?”19 or “What could make it true that a final event had happened?”20 Hartshorne suggests, through such examples, that to be true is to be true for some knower, ultimately for the divine knower. But, once more, is there a cogent justification for this idealist view? I think we have here a fundamental starting point in Hartshorne’s philosophy, a starting point which represents his intuition: thought (meaningful discourse) is concerned with awareness, actual or possible, creaturely or divine. One of the problems is that some philosophers have had a rather different intuition. Leibniz, Schopenhauer, James, and Heidegger have asked why there is something rather than nothing — assuming thereby the meaningfulness of what could not possibly be known, of a pure negativity. Again, Kant’s thing-in-itself, though transcendent of experience, is taken by Kant as real, not as impossible (as Hartshorne takes it). It is hard to see how Hartshorne could support his principle of “the unreality of the unknowable” without assuming it, since all his arguments seem to rest finally on that principle. Yet Hartshorne is critical of philosophers who, without proof, assume the truth of a doctrine. And so we must ask what support (beyond intuition) he can muster for his idealist principle.
Moreover, are there not statements which, while verifiable and in principle unfalsifiable, are by no means metaphysical necessities? Hartshorne considers “I am living.”21 He remarks that if “I” here refers to a definite subject other than God, then another subject could know its nonexistence. Yes, if, for example, Lincoln once said, “I am living,” we could now falsify the statement; that is, we could find evidence for denying that Lincoln is alive. But I do not think this disposes of the matter. Suppose what is meant is that “I am living” is exclusively verifiable when, and only when, the subject (the “1”) states it. In that case, the statement means: “I am living now, as I speak these words.” Recall that Descartes held “that this proposition: I am, I exist, is necessarily true every time that I pronounce it or conceive it in my mind.’22 To take another example, consider the statement, “I (now) feel cold.” If I am reporting, not misrepresenting, my experience, the assertion seems unfalsifiable: it could never be known to be false.
Since purely negative facts are taken to be meaningless because they would represent something unknowable, even by God, the axiom of positivity, that every fact must have positive aspects,23 is, clearly, dependent on Hartshorne’s idealist or experientialist postulate. What is less obvious perhaps is that another of Hartshorne’s principles, the ultimate coincidence of real and logical possibility, depends on that same postulate. Thought, he holds, is concerned with at least potential awareness. Everything thinkable (logically possible) must then constitute a realizable datum, that is, a datum realizable somewhere at some time. But what of a logically possible state of affairs which is simply never realized? Presumably some alternative state of affairs would be forever actual, despite its never having been actualized — unless of course an endless, unbroken series of alternative states were successively realized. But, on this general hypothesis, the logically possible state would never itself become an experienceable datum, being ever excluded from realization.
Hartshorne repudiates any such hypothesis and holds rather that any actuality was once future: it could not be eternal. Indeed, whatever is eternal is noncontingent, that is, not a possibility at all; in this, Hartshorne holds, he is in agreement with Aristotle. The distinction between the logically possible and the really possible is pragmatic, not ultimate. So remote in our past, or in our future, is the time when the logically possible was, or will be, realizable, it has no relevance for ordinary purposes. The laws of nature are the most general of contingencies now prevailing, and for ordinary purposes possibilities excluded by those laws are regarded as ‘‘only logically possible,” while possibilities not excluded by them (or by historical circumstances) are regarded as “really possible.” But Hartshorne argues: ‘It is only because of lack of clarity or definiteness that really impossible descriptions appear to us as logically possible.”24 That is, it is because of lack of clarity or definiteness that we regard a description as only logically possible. Descriptions which are logically possible (which “make sense” and involve no contradiction) are also really possible — somewhere in space-time. So if there are other logically possible laws of nature, those now obtaining are not eternal but contingent, and must have had a genesis.
In general, there can be no eternal contingencies — whether laws of nature or more specific states of affairs; all contingencies must once have been future. Otherwise, “many things logically possible must always have been and always be really impossible.”25 And, once more, these things would themselves never furnish data for awareness. A possibility which was eternally only a logical possibility, though it would not be a purely negative fact, would nonetheless be an eternally negative fact, a privation never to be redeemed through actualization. “Possible worlds” are neither nothing at all nor actualities. “Possible worlds are . . . real possibilities, not merely logical ones.”26 In turn, real possibilities are experienceable (by some subject or other) as real future states. I remark that Hartshorne, who never breaks the connection of thought with conceivable experience, might be called an empiricist who has reflected seriously on the meaning of futurity.27
If ‘‘logically possible” implies “really possible,” does the contrapositive hold? Are we to suppose that what cannot really occur (that is, what causality forbids) is logically excluded as well? Yes, if an event is always so related to its antecedent causal conditions, including causal laws, that these operate as limitations on it, the events of the past molding and restricting their immediate successors — though not deterministically. For then the character of each event is set within a context, often a narrow one, provided by its predecessor events, a context of real possibility. It is really impossible for an event to be Out of its context; to be so would be for the event to be what it is not, which is logically impossible, that is, contradictory.
According to Hartshorne, all thought — if free of absurdity or inconsistency — represents something necessary (and so never simply future) or else something contingent (and so now future, or once future).28 In either case, the modal concept is related to the experienceable, furnishing a potential datum for knowledge or awareness. But how convincing is Hartshorne’s theory of the coincidence of logical and real possibility? Why should the two species of possibility not represent a strict dualism? And why should there not be eternal, if inexplicable, contingencies, positive or negative? I can think of no more fundamental answer, from Hartshorne’s point of view, than the following: “only logically possible” affords nothing to experience, at least, nothing to experience directly, whereas real possibility is in principle experienceable (as futurity). Even if this answer is essentially true — and Hartshorne does not give it in so many words — we can once more challenge the logical dependence of being upon being known. The philosophers who have espoused a dualism of real and logical possibilities seem not to have been troubled by the prospect of what would, ever and always, be unexperienceable. Moreover, can we not think of cases in which something logically possible fails to be really possible? Or are we to accept Hartshorne’s contention that in such cases we are just ignorant of the manner in which causal conditions have rendered the thing in question logically impossible? How could such a contention be justified, since we can never be aware of the extent or particularity of our ignorance?
Even Hartshorne’s earliest writings disclose his experientialist orientation. Recall that his first book was The Philosophy and Psychology of Sensation. He conceives reality as the object of experience, that which is known or valued. Thus Hartshorne belongs broadly within the idealist tradition.29 At one of the recent meetings of the American Philosophical Association, a young man who stood up to speak identified himself as “the last idealist in captivity.’’ One might, on impulse, think it is Hartshorne to whom the phrase should apply. However, there are and will continue to be any number of idealists; ‘‘the last idealist” has yet to be born. And Hartshorne is by no means “in captivity’ ‘ — though the man and his system are indeed captivating. We are accustomed to refer to the influence of Peirce and Whitehead on Hartshorne, and of course their influence on him is unmistakable. But at the core of Hartshorne’s philosophy is, less obviously but just as surely, the idealist influence of his teacher W. E. Hocking and of Josiah Royce, who was Hocking’s teacher, and perhaps even of the Quaker mystic Rufus Jones, Hartshorne’s teacher at Haverford.
1. See Charles Hartshorne, The Logic of Perfection and Other Essays in Neoclassical Metaphysics (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1962), p. 296.
2. Ibid., p. 285.
3. See, for example, Charles Hartshorne, Reality as Social Process: Studies in Metaphysics and Religion (Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press, 1953), p. 88.
4. See Hartshorne, The Logic of Perfection, p. 283.
5. See ibid.
7. See Charles Hartshorne, Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1970), p. 162.
8. See ibid., pp. 24-26.
9. See ibid., p. 26.
10. See ibid., p. 27.
11. See Hartshorne, The Logic of Perfection, p. 283.
12. Hartshorne, Creative Synthesis and Philosophical Method, p. 170. See also ibid., pp. 25-26, and Hartshorne, The Logic of Perfection, p. 296.
13. I have previously argued that each actual happening has a subjective uniqueness which defies appropriation — even by God. See my The Creative Advance (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1966), pp. 125-28, and Hartshorne’s reply in his Comment in The Creative Advance, pp. 140-41.
14. Charles Hartshorne, “The Structure of Metaphysics: A Criticism of Lazerowitz’s Theory,’’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 19 (December 1958): 236.
15. Ibid., p. 237.
16. Hartshorne, Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method, p. 51.
17. See ibid., p. 97.
18. Ibid., p. 58.
19. Hartshorne, “The Structure of Metaphysics,” p. 233.
20. Charles Hartshorne, “Real Possibility,” The Journal of Philosophy 60 (October 1963): 602.
21. Hartshorne, Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method, p. 170.
22. René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. Laurence J. Lafleur (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1960), p. 24.
23. See Charles Hartshorne, “Negative Facts and the Analogical Inference to ‘Other Mind,’ ” no. 21 in Dr. S. Radhakrishnan Souvenir Volume, ed. I. P. Atreya et al. (Moradabad, India: Darshana International, 1964), p.
24. Hartshorne, “Real Possibility,” p. 594.
25. Ibid., p. 595.
26. Ibid., p. 597.
27. I add, as “circumstantial evidence” of Hartshorne’s empirical bent, his lifelong interest in and writings about birdsong (of which the most important is his recent book Born to Sing), and in addition his high regard for Karl Popper.
28. See Hartshorne, “Real Possibility,” p. 598.
29. But, in an earlier review, Hartshorne points out that even phenomenologists have failed to be sufficiently concrete in interpreting experience, and have tended to employ traditional and abstract conceptions, to the neglect of such ideas as feeling, willing, valuing, loving, and hating. See Charles Hartshorne, review of Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung, by Edmund Husserl, in The Philosophical Review 38 (May 1929): 285.
Response by Charles Hartshorne
My good friend Peters is right. I am an idealist. So was Peirce, who said so, and Whitehead, who did not say so but who did affirm what he called “reformed subjectivism.” So were Emerson, my first philosophical hero, and Royce, my second philosophical hero. I could greatly prolong the list, but must mention Leibniz and Bishop Berkeley. My first and really great teacher in psychology, L. T. Troland, was an idealist, in the psychicalist form. Several other psychologists that I took seriously and learned from were also of this persuasion. But, curiously enough, when I came to my first clear conviction on the materialism-dualism-idealism issue it was not of any particular philosopher or writer that I was thinking but of life and nature as I then experienced them while serving in a humble role in an army hospital. It was experience, not books, that convinced me and still does. I had not then read Leibniz or Berkeley, and knew nothing of Peirce or Whitehead. And the books in which Royce expounded his idealism were the ones I had not read. Emerson’s essay declaring his idealism I had, I think, read, but long before; and I could not have given any but the vaguest account of what was in the book of Emerson’s Essays that I read and was inspired by four or five years earlier.
It is important to distinguish several meanings of “idealism.” In some writers it means the theory of universally internal relationships (as in Royce, many Anglo-Hegelians, Blanshard) or the theory that reality is so unitary that relations and a plurality of related terms are appearances not the reality (Bradley). By these definitions lam not an idealist, nor were Peirce or White-head. My idealism is less monistic than that of Royce or Bradley. This is not because of the influence of Peirce or Whitehead, but because of that of my Harvard teachers (Hocking, Perry, and Lewis) and of the writings of William James. Also my modicum of common sense. I read Bradley and Bosanquet and judged them perverse or extreme on this point.
Another meaning of idealism, which I call epistemological or subjective idealism, is that when we experience something, have it as immediate intuitive datum, it is nothing but a quality of our own mental state (Berkeley’s or Locke’s idea or Hume’s impression). I used to challenge my friends to refute this view when I was reading Berkeley for the first time, but I do not recall having really believed it. What is given to us does qualify our mental state, but it is never merely such a quality. It has first of all its own status, independently of us as at the given moment, and it then becomes a constituent of our mental state as aware of (prehending) it. An independent reality is what we intuit, and the intuiting makes us dependent on it, not vice versa. Being given to a particular experience or momentary subject is an external or non-constitutive relation for the reality that is given. In this sense solipsism is a metaphysical, not merely a practical, absurdity. It is nonsense. In this sense realism is metaphysically obligatory. Any metaphysical idealism must also be epistemologically realistic to be valid.
Being given to a particular experience, say ‘E’, is not constituent of what is given; this is the valid sense of realism. It is quite another matter to affirm that a reality might not be given at all, to any experience or subject. The human species, to take an analogous case, will exist so long as there are some human beings. Each of us continues the existence of the species. But no one of us, and no particular set of us, was required for that continuance. If not I, someone else might have done, and the same for you and you kind you, whoever you are.
Return now to the question of the givens in experience. Whitehead rightly holds that it is inherent in being an event to be destined to be superseded by further events, to acquire the status of being past. Pastness is not an intrinsic character of past events. Pastness is an external relation. It is in and for the new events that the old are past, not for themselves. For or in themselves they were only present. They are past presents, because of the fact of being given to new presents. This actual being given is nothing to them. In memory, past experiences are given as such to present experiences. They were not so given to themselves. The most they could know in this respect was only that they were bound to become data for some future subjects able to objectify them.
Epistemological realism is entirely compatible with metaphysical idealism. It is subjects that depend on objects, meaning by objects simply what are given to subjects. But we know from memory, interpreted in an intuitively natural way, that past experiences or subjects can be given to present experiences or subjects This is at least one way in which pastness can be explained in purely psychical terms. A present instance of the psychical has a past instance as its datum. In perception we have the other main way in which experiences have data. We know from physics and physiology that the thunder and lightning precede our experience of them. I follow Whitehead in generalizing this to include even events in the body as experienced. The neural disturbance that we feel as pain has just happened when we first experience it. Pain is not naturally taken as simply nonpsychical. The intuitively right description, in my judgment, is that pain is our participation in a bodily suffering that is first cellular and becomes ours by our act of participating in, sympathizing with, this bodily distress. In some cases at least the given is psychical.
Epistemological realism not only does not contradict metaphysical idealism, it greatly strengthens the case for it. It removes a host of paradoxes that idealism would otherwise involve. Perry’s “fallacy of argument from the egocentric predicament” becomes irrelevant. What I now experience does not in the least depend upon my now experiencing it; however, this is not because its reality need not be experienced at all, but rather because being experienced
by someone does not in the least entail being experienced by me. “To be is to be (destined to be) perceived (or remembered, or both)” — this is a formula that an infinity of possible instances could actualize. Similarly, that every event is destined to be superseded by successors for which it will be past is a general formula from which no particular instance is deducible. This is just logic. It never was good reasoning to derive epistemological idealism from metaphysical idealism.
To repeat, we experience as givens some realities that are themselves experiences, or have psychical character. Do we experience anything that is unequivocally nonpsychical? I put this question to myself in 1918 and gave a negative answer. Before me Berkeley put the question, less sharply perhaps, and gave the negative answer. So did Croce. I was delighted when I learned about their anticipatory agreement with a position I had arrived at. Thunder is growl-like, groan-like, and the negative psychical meaning of growls and groans is not a mere association by contiguity. (See my book on sensation.) Pains and physical pleasures are merely the most obvious cases of the psychical nature of the given. Whitehead told me that this was the reason for his rejection of materialism.
To have something actual or concrete as given is to feel its feelings. No one put this so simply and clearly as Whitehead did in his formula “feeling of feeling.’’ But Peirce had the idea, and a hospital orderly had it, knowing nothing of Peirce or Whitehead. What only Whitehead had was the utter clarity of expression and analysis of the temporal and logical structure of physical prehension or feeling of feeling. In this “of” relation is the sociality of existence, its universally sympathetic duality of structure. Whitehead’s rejection of the nearly universal assumption of the continuity of experiencing, his notion of unitary or quantum instances of prehending, is an important part of his achievement, distinguishing it from the views of Peirce or Bergson.
Realism, as process rationalism interprets it, is the self-transcendence of subjects in arriving at, and adding to, an independent, preexistent world. As to the units composing that world, we either take them to be universally subjects of some sort, presumably of many sorts mostly widely different from human subjects, or we know not what most of them are. The alternative to idealism is not materialism or a definite dualism but agnosticism. Matter is whatever fits the equations of physics and biology, whose account of matter is extremely abstract. What fills in the outlines we either can never know or we conceive it in terms of an indefinitely or completely generalized comparative psychology. The transcendence of the subject to reach independent objects is either social, sympathetic, or it is a leap in the dark. This is my deepest conviction, the hunch on which I feel happy to gamble.
I apologize to Peters for not dealing in detail with his essay. It happens that this is a time when I appear obligated to do a number of things simultaneously. I was surprised by his apparent equating of “rationalist” and “linguistic analyst or logician.” I am not a distinguished logician, familiar with the present state of the subject. But neither was Spinoza or Leibniz, who are the classical rationalists. Nor was Whitehead, who called himself a rationalist. But I appeal to elementary logical principles far more than Bergson or William James, for example, did. Or than Heidegger did. I think George Lucas’s term “process rationalist’’ applies to me. True enough, I am an experientialist, yes indeed.
My argument for the principle of positivity is that by accepting it we avoid many absurdities and incur no comparable ones. The alleged idea of purely negative facts plays no constructive role in science (Sir Karl Popper recognizes this in his doctrine that the datum of scientific observation is always something positive). It leads to the dismal paradox (among others) that, although there might have been nothing there is something — not that anything brought this about or could explain or make it possible, but Still, in sheer arbitrariness, with no reason, condition, or cause, there is something. Why waste time and energy on such needless and useless formulations? In this regard, the Wittgenstein phrase is irresistible, it seems to me: “Language is here idling.” If no experience could tell you what you mean, why suppose that you mean anything?