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Neville’s Critique of Hartshorne

by David A. Pailin

David A. Pailin is Senior Lecturer and Head of the Department of Philosophy of Religion at Manchester University, Manchester M13 9PL England. The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 187-198, Vol. 4, Number 3, Fall, 1974. 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.


In his review article of Hartshorne’s Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method (PS 2:49-67), Robert Neville remarks that "one of Hartshorne’s most important contributions" has been his concern to deal "with problems as formulated by public discussion, usually that of analytical philosophers." The general effect of Neville’s review, however is to cast doubt on the justifiability of Hartshorne’s confidence that "his ideas solve their problems better than their own" (p. 51). While, as I shall occasionally indicate, I also find problems with certain parts of Hartshorne’s position, I want in this article briefly to indicate some of the reasons why, unlike Neville, I consider that Hartshorne may provide us with (or perhaps put us on the road toward) "genuine philosophic wisdom" as well as "mere metaphysical clarity" (p. 66).

Hartshorne’s metaphysics challenges the widespread prejudices in favor of empiricism by asserting the possibility, extent, and importance of a priori knowledge. Neville, however, is critical of this aspect of Hartshorne’s work. The somewhat rhetorical style of Neville’s comments at times makes it difficult to be sure what precisely he wishes to maintain, but it appears that he considers that Hartshorne’s metaphysics impoverishes experience" by flattening our experience and solving our problems "with metaphysical necessities" (p. 66). He also refuses to take up Hartshorne’s defense of the ontological argument (on the rather unsatisfactory ground that "when denying the ontological argument, I always feel like a fool") although he recognizes that it "lies at the heart" of Hartshorne’s understanding of these matters (p. 64). There are three basic issues here: the significance of Hartshorne’s work on the ontological argument, the justifiability of rejecting metaphysical claims in principle because they "impoverish" experience, and the correctness of holding that Hartshorne’s position does so impoverish experience.

Hartshorne notoriously has spent much time and energy in advancing what he regards as valid forms of the ontological argument. Although, as I have shown elsewhere,1 I am among those who are not convinced that he has managed to prove thereby the existence of God, I do not consider that Hartshorne’s work on the argument can consequently be ignored. In spite of failing to fulfil its primary intention, it provides certain fundamental insights into the nature of his understandings of reality and into what may well be the conditions of metaphysical thought.

One insight provided by Hartshorne’s work on the ontological argument is that the concept of the existence of God is something akin to a regulative idea for the rational thought about reality which is attempted in Hartshorne’s metaphysics. It shows, that is, that certain (and perhaps all) attempts to attain metaphysical understanding of reality presuppose a final unity and meaningfulness of reality and that this presupposition may only make sense in terms of God as an ontologically, valuatively, and rationally ultimate and unifying reality. One function of the ontological argument is thus to suggest the inescapability of the idea of God for our metaphysical understanding by arguing that the denial of God’s existence involves such understanding in self-contradiction. Such self-contradiction does not show that God exists but that such thought presupposes the reality of the greatest conceivable. To affirm on this basis that God does exist involves the further and controversial step of maintaining that there is sufficient correspondence between what is the case in itself and our understanding of it so that what satisfies our metaphysical understanding of reality reflects its actual structure.

It is the problematic character of this step which makes the ontological argument unsatisfactory as a proof of God’s existence although in the case of Hartshorne himself it was perhaps taken, implicitly if not explicitly, when, as he tells us, "about the age of seventeen, after reading Emerson’s Essays, I made up my mind (doubtless with a somewhat hazy notion of what I was doing) to trust reason to the end" (LP viii). On the other hand, the ontological argument as elucidated by Hartshorne does indicate the need for the concept of a greatest conceivable reality if we are to attain finally satisfying understanding. This is the concept of that beyond which thought cannot go, in which it completes its search for understanding, at which it really affirms only itself, and through which it relates all else.2 Leaving aside his views on its historical character, this is what R. G. Collingwood seems to be suggesting when he says that Anselm’s argument does not prove "that because our idea of God is an ideal of id quo maius cogitari nequit therefore God exists, but that because our idea of God is an idea of id quo maius cogitari nequit we stand committed to belief in God’s existence."3

Metaphysical thought, that is, can only seek satisfying understanding by assuming the reality of that in which it will find such finality. In this way the ontological argument, by drawing out the presupposition of metaphysical understanding, indicates that the choice before us is between holding that there is a God and that "reality" makes sense in some metaphysical manner, whether or not we can ever grasp what that sense is, and holding that there is no God and that any apparent metaphysical understanding of reality can only be an illusion which does not significantly correspond to the ultimate nature of things -- unless this "nihilism" be regarded as a kind of metaphysical understanding instead of its blank negation. Hartshorne has not only clarified these alternatives. Through his work on the concept of God he has also shown that the choice between them may be a genuine one since it is possible to meet those objections to the theistic alternative which claim that it is not a genuine option because of internal incoherence in the concept of the reality of that than which a greater cannot be conceived.

Another important insight provided by Hartshorne’s work on the ontological argument is into the logical status of claims about God. It does this by highlighting the peculiar nature of God’s mode of existence. Although the proper attribution of necessary existence to God does not show that God exists (unless we are prepared to allow that reality must have some significant correspondence to what is presupposed in our attempt to find ultimate meaning in reality -- an assumption which, as I have suggested, may not be easy to justify but is probably impossible to avoid in such metaphysical thought), it does show that God is either the ground of and compatible with all that is and all that is actually possible or is totally alien to all reality. From this it follows that there can be no straightforward empirical tests for God’s existence. Indeed, Hartshorne himself states that "the main function of the ontological argument" is not "to furnish a sufficient proof of theism" but "to show that the alternative to theism is positivism or a priori atheism" (CSPM 257; cf. AD 98, LP 31f). This insight is not unimportant in view of the claim that one condition of factually significant propositions is that they be conceivably falsifiable. Hartshorne’s work on the ontological argument shows that while empirical falsifiability is a condition of empirical claims, it may not be a condition of all factual claims and, in particular, it may not be a proper condition of certain fundamental claims about God.

In view of these two insights, then, I suggest that Hartshorne’s work on the ontological argument ought not to be summarily dismissed. At the same time, like Neville, I have some problems with Hartshorne’s understanding of a priori truths. I suspect, for instance, that Hartshorne’s distinction between necessary, a priori truths and contingent, a posteriori truths may commit the error of trusting in dichotomies (cf. AD xi, 134) when it is applied to our understanding of God’s activity. It seems to me, that is, that we need to distinguish at least between truths which are (1) a priori for God and for us, (2) a posteriori for God but a priori for us, and (3) a posteriori for God and for us. The third class of truths is largely composed of contingent, empirical facts.4 It constitutes the vast bulk of the truths which we can know. The first class of truths refer to the principles of reality which apply not only to the actual world but also to any actually possible world. They include the ultimate and inescapable metaphysical principles of being as such, and I do not find it satisfactory to describe their relation to God either in voluntarist terms (for they are not dependent upon God’s establishment of them) or in intellectualist terms (when these suggest that they are principles which are imposed upon God from beyond him). As in the case of God and good -- compare the conundrum "Is it good because God wills it or does God will it because it is good?" -- so here too the apparent question of the relationship must be shown to be in fact illusory since the concept of God necessarily implies that he embodies (indeed is the instantiation of) such ultimate principles. They may, therefore, be described as analytic a priori truths for us but in God. To determine them is to determine what in part God is in himself.

The second class of truths refers to the principles of reality which are established by God as Creator. If, that is, God is in a significant sense a free agent, some at least of his actions will not be necessary expressions of his intrinsic nature. Nevertheless, while contingent for him, establish what are for us necessary truths of reality since anthropological limitations of all our understanding may prevent conceiving of other universes which are actually possible for God as Creator. This distinction between the two kinds of a priori truths is probably crucial if God is to be understood as a personal agent. It a way to reconciling Hartshorne’s view of metaphysical principles as absolutely given (which would be true of the first class of truths) with Whitehead’s view that they are established by God (which would correctly describe the second class of truths -- if, that is, Whitehead’s "God" is to be understood as acting as a free agent when it is said that he "establishes" them) by suggesting that Hartshorne and Whitehead are here concerned with the nature of different types of a priori truth.

A basic problem with any proposed a priori truths (of either class) concerns their reference. Do they tell us, that is, about the actual structure of reality (as Hartshorne apparently presupposes that they must) or only about the ultimate structure of our understanding of reality? This is not an easy question to answer because it is not clear (in spite of Neville’s contrary assertion) that we really can conceive of alternative sets of a priori truths and because it is not clear how any evidence could be adduced to show that any such truths report what is the case and not just what our nature determines must seem to be the case for us. In his attitude to the external cognitive significance of the conclusions of our metaphysical reasoning, Hartshorne expresses a basic commitment to the principle of rationality as our rationality. Can this commitment be justified? Neville criticizes Hartshorne for not paying "more attention to the sense in which experience is the final arbiter" (p. 65; cf. p. 62 also). Although Hartshorne can legitimately respond that experience cannot decide about the structures which govern all our possible experience, Neville is probably correct when he suggests that Hartshorne’s a priori truths should be regarded as "hypotheses about the universal conditions of existence" (p. 64). It is not so obvious, though, how far these hypotheses may be regarded as significantly justified by being able to offer "the best interpretation of all experiences" (p. 65) since the criterion for "best interpretation" may be a product of the structure of our understanding.

Though there is not time to develop the point here, my own suspicion is that our final conclusions about necessary truths will be through interactions of considerations of experience and rational speculations.5 Even though it may conceivably be a reflection of our structures of understanding which in no significant way correspond to the structure of reality itself, it seems justifiable to accept as objectively true an understanding which is both essentially reasonable and offers more than any other hypothesis available a comprehensive, coherent, and consistent understanding of what we experience. To hold that such acceptance is not justifiable would be an expression of a skepticism which rejects in principle the possibility of any claim to objective knowledge. In spite, then of the unavoidable circularity of the reciprocal reasoning involved, Hartshorne’s stress on the a priori justification as well as the a priori status of truths at this level needs to be complemented and balanced by considerations of experience. This, however, is what in many respects Hartshorne is doing when he applies his understanding to our knowledge of reality. This passionate lover of bird song is no purely speculative and abstract thinker! Part of the confirmation of his views lies for me in the way in which they make more sense of experience than any rival theory of which I am aware.

Neville, however, holds that Hartshorne’s a priori metaphysics impoverishes our experience and should be rejected on the principle that no "metaphysical scheme" should be "called true if it leaves our experience less rich than it found it" (p. 66). This principle is not self-evident to me since it implies that richness, attractiveness, depth are always marks of truth. In contrast, I submit that one structure of understanding is to be preferred to another not simply on the grounds that it provides a less impoverished awareness and account than the other but primarily on the grounds that it provides a more correct awareness and account. The question of richness is only relevant when it can be shown that a certain structure of understanding brings to light actual characteristics which a different structure of understanding cannot perceive. In such cases, though, it is not the "richness" but the proper comprehensiveness that is the deciding factor. Valid a priori arguments, indeed, may be held only to "impoverish" experience in the sense that they show the intrinsic unsatisfactoriness of certain ways of understanding reality and bring to light the structures involved in any understanding of it which presupposes and is consistent with the principle of rationality.

Neville’s charge that Hartshorne’s views fail to enlighten experience and actually impoverish it also seems to me to be falsified in practice. In my experience at least Hartshorne’s a priori claims, far from impoverishing experience, actually enhance it by leading to a structure of understanding which gives due weight to both the abstract and the concrete, both the necessary and the contingent, both the unchanging and the changing aspects of reality. His metaphysics provides a structure for understanding both the unity and the variety, the independence and the interrelatedness of things; it allows us to accept the fleetingness of an experience of value and yet to grasp its eternal significance; its understanding of process recognizes the reality of both being and becoming. My "experience," then, is that the "inarticulate" experience which judges our understanding of experience (cf. p. 65) makes it impossible for me to conceive how Hartshorne’s a priori position can be judged to impoverish experience -- especially when it is compared with the inability of classical metaphysical systems to reconcile satisfactorily the significance of the contingent with the reality of the eternal. (I also find it hard to reconcile this claim about impoverishment with my regrettably slight personal acquaintance with Hartshorne. There is no schizophrenic break between this man and his beliefs, and it seems to me typical of both that the only "payment" he wanted for giving a lecture in my department at Manchester was to be taken into the countryside to hear and enjoy bird song -- not, as it happened, an easy payment to meet on a damp and misty autumn afternoon!)

Neville also criticizes Hartshorne’s a priori metaphysics for attempting to solve "our problems with metaphysical necessities" and relieve "our cares with confidence in principle instead of with felt concrete redemption" (p 66). Here the principle behind Neville’s criticism has some validity. When I face arguments which confidently tell me that all must (metaphysically must) be for the best and then look at the incidence of evil in the world, my sympathies are with Voltaire in caricaturing the Leibnizian Dr. Pangloss. British empirical prejudice makes me suspect that when a priori views and experience completely contradict each other the a priori is the more likely to be mistaken. On the other hand, when I consider Hartshorne’s work, it does not appear to me that he is as blithely confident about having solved our problems as Neville’s comments seem to imply. In A Natural Theology for Our Time, for example, he uses the Book of Job to claim that while "apart from God nothing could make sense," in the end we need to recognize "the mystery of cosmic power" (NTT 117ff). Futhermore, where experience is mixed, as with our experience of the world’s good and evil, a priori reasoning can be of considerable importance in supporting our confidence that some supposed "felt concrete redemption is no illusion but an authentic experience of what really is (and perhaps even must be) the case. On their own, without correlative experiences, Hartshorne’s "metaphysical necessities" may properly seem more like bright ideas or comforting illusions than actual truths. When they are accompanied by such experiences, however, they support our apprehension and understanding of those experiences and our commitment to their permanent validity. While, therefore, Hartshorne’s concern with the a priori aspects of our understanding may lead to criticisms that he overlooks the experiential aspect, his resulting insights in practice do not impoverish but confirm and enrich the believer’s experience of a saving God by setting that experience within a coherent, consistent, and comprehensive understanding of reality. In terms of Newman’s distinction between "real" and "notional" apprehensions and assents, Hartshorne’s a priori arguments justify the notional assents which provide the intellectual and theoretical grounding for the experientially informed real assents of living faith.

Hartshorne is able to unite thought and experience for the believer because he has largely succeeded in developing a concept of God that is internally coherent and externally adequate to religious faith in God as the proper object of worship. Neville, though, has several criticisms of this part of Hartshorne’s work, and to these we must now pay attention.

Neville is not happy with Hartshorne’s dipolar conceptuality and his distinction between abstract and concrete which lies at the heart of the dipolar conceptuality and of the crucial distinction between existence and actuality. Neville’s discussion of these issues is largely taken up with considerations of Platonic and Aristotelian views of universals in relation to Hartshorne’s commitment to "the old principle that the concrete contains the abstract" (CSPM 236f). In this connection Neville shows his preference for Platonic understanding to what he regards as Hartshorne’s more Aristotelian position. He admits, however, that he has "no complaints to make about the positive things Hartshorne says about universals, since he is giving a good account of the Aristotelian problem" although he finds Hartshorne’s negative points "ill-taken" (p. 59). I am not greatly disturbed, though, by Neville’s criticism that Hartshorne takes "the ontological structure of the world . . . for granted" rather than makes it intelligible." According to Neville, Peirce is correct in holding that "the only thing that does not need an explanation is pure chaos"; consequently order and first principles are not self-explanatory but need explanation (p. 59f). This criticism seems to me to be metaphysically questionable both in practice and in principle. In practice it is questionable because Neville seems to be asking for a kind of ultimate metaphysical explanation which may well be beyond the competence of human understanding. The anthropological limitations of our thought cast doubt on our ability to explain why reality has the structure that it does have. Here the answer to Job, as well as Philo’s response to Cleanthes’ arguments, reminds us that the "believer," religious or metaphysical, is not God:

Then the Lord answered Job out of the tempest:
Who is this whose ignorant words cloud my design in darkness?
Brace yourself and stand up like a man;
I will ask questions, and you shall answer.
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Tell me, if you know and understand.

Who settled its dimensions? Surely you should know. (Job 38:1-5a)

Frustrating as it may be to some, "That’s the way the cookie crumbles," i.e., that’s the way it is, must be the end of the explanatory road for us.

In principle Neville’s criticism seems to me questionable because it really seems to be asking for explanations of the basic principles of explanation. The nature of explanation, however, must presuppose such principles; otherwise explanation can never begin. Furthermore, in spite of Peirce, it is not chaos but the principle of rationality that does not need explanation. Indeed, it cannot be explained because it is presupposed in all thought seeking intelligibility. Pure chaos is the failure of rational thought to recognize any intelligible patterns or explanations, but such recognition or failure of recognition is itself dependent upon the principle of rationality. To hold that the metaphysical structures of the world are the result of a primordial divine decision rather than given as necessary is to prefer an ultimately voluntarist to Hartshorne’s intellectualist understanding, but it is not clear why the former can be judged as the more explanatory. The decision must either be in response to principles -- and so itself need explanation -- or be arbitrary and so be as inexplicable as the basic principles in the intellectualist position. In the end I suspect that the voluntarist view may attempt to explain the inexplicable -- the ultimate nature of God’s essential being -- whereas the intellectualist in the end is content to attempt to describe it. Both positions, furthermore, are probably somewhat hopeful in assuming that such matters are within our competence. What perhaps we may conclude is that the intrinsic status of God may well require us to regard both the voluntarist and the intellectualist positions (and both Hartshorne’s and Neville’s view of God’s primal creativity -- cf. p. 51) as illegitimate because they fail to recognize adequately the implications of God’s ontological, valuative, and rational ultimacy.

Be this as it may be, Neville describes Hartshorne’s use of the word "abstract" in connection with the problems of universals as "unfortunate" because it may beg the question by connoting "that something abstract has been taken out of something large and more concrete." I suspect, however, that the seat of the trouble is Hartshorne’s use of the word "contain" since it tends to lead to a reflection of the two poles as if the abstract existence and concrete actuality of an event refer to two separate components which together comprise that particular event (cf. the container and what it contains) whereas they properly indicate a formal distinction needed for our understanding of both the self-identity of that event and its identity with other events to compose a temporally persistent object. Furthermore, while Hartshorne himself relates the abstract/ concrete distinction to the question of universals (cf. CSPM 58ff), I suspect that this confuses the issue so far as the distinction is applied to the concept of God, for the relation of God’s abstract existence to his concrete actuality is not the same as (although in some respects it is analogous to) that of a universal to an individual instance of it. It is perhaps more like the relation of a principle to its sole, specific, and appropriate application in each particular situation, the crucial difference being that in the case of God we are not dealing with an intellectual idea but with that which necessarily must exist in some appropriate determinate form.

The recognition that the abstract/concrete distinction is formal suggests that the problem of the necessity of the divine reality does not lie in the fact that it implies that "an abstract part of the antecedent divine event" must necessitate and so be normative over" all subsequent divine events and therefore cannot be "‘contained’ in any concrete divine event" (p. 60). Such an understanding would raise the probably unacceptable paradox of the abstract’s having power over the concrete. Hartshorne’s view of the necessary existence of God does not raise this problem because the "abstract nature of God" is not properly a part contained in the divine reality (how, indeed, could what is abstract be part of the concrete?) but a way of distinguishing certain characteristics of that reality. The problem that is raised by Hartshorne’s understanding of God’s mode of existence, granting his view that God is not (as with Whitehead) a single occasion but a series of occasions, seems to be rather the question of what makes this series necessary and so unending. As God ensures the continuation of the series of occasions constituting the contingent world, does the continuation of the series of occasions of his own reality necessitate, as Neville puts it, "another kind of super-divine ontological being" (p. 61) -- whose continuation would, presumably, require the postulation of a super-super being and so on ad infinitum? Leaving aside the problem of the appropriateness of the apparently quantal model of successiveness which Whitehead and Hartshorne use to understand the process of becoming, the solution to this question does not, however, require the abandonment of the Aristotelian view of universals in favor of a Platonic one -- as Neville suggests -- but a recognition that the initial question is improper because it treats God, that which ensures all continuation, as a contingent object whose continuation needs to be ensured by another.

To ask how or why God is necessary and how or why we can know that he (and consequently created, contingent reality) will not fail to continue in the future is probably to ask an impossible because meaningless question. It is like asking what is the cause of the first cause or what happens after the end. God as the necessary being is the reality which acts as the regulative idea of our understanding of the successiveness of contingent reality, but as such he is the point at which such explanation and understanding stop. It seems reasonable to hold that if there is a God, "necessity" is a quality of his mode of being. It does not seem reasonable, though, for us to try to determine what structures make this "necessity" necessary for the future. It may be a nice question whether and how God can know that his reality is intrinsically necessary and so unending, but nice questions of this order unfortunately seem to require speculations that are highly unlikely to be within our competence. Those who engage in them -- or imply that the underlying questions are proper ones -- must face the heavy burden of proving that what they offer is more than ingenious connections of ideas. While Hartshorne allows that God is a series of occasions, it must not be forgotten that he also recognizes the unique status of God. In God’s case the series is not explicable by reference to another: the claim that God is necessary may, in this sense, be treated as a claim that while the future of all other entities is explicable in terms of another (i.e., God), God’s continuation is not so explicable, for with him all explanations are completed. God is the actuality whose existence is in fact necessary. He is not subject to "normative metaphysical principles" beyond himself which make it "necessary that he instance them" (as Neville puts it -- p. 61) for these principles are part of the structure of his being as God, the ontologically, valuatively, and rationally ultimate.

It is, incidentally, the failure to understand that the dipolar distinction of abstract existence and concrete actuality is a formal distinction by which the different attributes of God are to be understood that leads Colin Gunton into his seriously erroneous view of Hartshorne’s concept of God in his so-called "outline and assessment" of "Process Theology’s Concept of God" (1:294f). Gunton considers the logic of the dipolar concept "actually precludes the taking of initiative by God," since if God is "passive to what happens in the universe" in "one pole of his being," therefore he must be active in the other pole -- for, Gunton apparently assumes, since activity and passivity are polar opposites, so they must correspond to the abstract/concrete poles of the divine reality when applied to God. As Gunton makes clear, God’s concrete actuality is passive; therefore, he argues, activity must belong to God’s abstract pole. But, Gunton asks, "in what sense can an abstraction be conceived to act?" The answer is to point out that both activity and passivity, like God’s love, knowledge, and reality, are attributes of God and so to be understood in terms of the formal dipolar distinction. God’s passivity in terms of his abstract existence is absolute and necessary, for nothing occurs which does not occur in his experience also; in terms of his concrete actuality his passivity is contingent and relative for it depends on what actually occurs to be experienced. Similarly, in terms of God’s abstract existence, his activity is universal and unlimited, for nothing can ever be beyond the effects of his loving care; but in terms of his contingent actuality his activity is contingent upon what has in fact been created and is there to be influenced and upon what are the appropriate expressions of pure love in each particular situation. Both God’s activity and his passivity. that is, are to be understood according to the dipolar structure: they do not belong to opposite sides of the formal dipolar structure of understanding. While, however, process theology, as developed in principle by Hartshorne (Whitehead’s use of the distinction of the primordial and consequent natures of God seems to me to leave the meaning of the notion of God’s activity, at least in a personal sense, as more unsettled), makes it possible to talk significantly of divine activity, the actuality of divine existence badly needs further elucidation in process -- as in all other -- theology. When faced by demands that they ‘cash’ their claims about God as active, theologians too easily fall into vagaries and generalities. If talk about God is to express more than intellectually satisfying constructions, abstract ideals, and hopes, theologians will have to show in fact that Hartshorne is wrong when he says that "our knowledge of the concrete divine reality is negligibly small" (NTT 77).

Neville’s preference for Platonic metaphysical understanding comes out most clearly when he criticizes Hartshorne’s concept of God. As Neville recognizes, his own view that God is "beyond the metaphysical categories illustrated in the temporal process" means that he "cannot except by devious analogy be called individual, actual, knowledgeable, or a variety of other things Hartshorne attributes to God" (p. 61). Unless we are in effect to abandon all attempts to talk about God as such (a form of apophatic theology which Neville’s position seems to favor), the "devious analogy" to which he refers is so devious that it is hard to distinguish it from equivocation or even fraudulent misrepresentation. Theistic faith is unlikely to survive if it thoroughly maintains that its object is unknown and so is not parasitic upon unexpressed positive statements about God -- for, as Hume puts it, there is no significant difference between holding that God is totally unknown and holding that there is no God at all. If, then, theistic faith is to survive, it must find a way to talk about God which makes sense. It cannot accept the apparent nonsense of traditional theological claims that God is both impassible and loving, both timeless and active, both unchanging and creative. The recognition of these problems is not new although Hartshorne’s work on the concept of God has made important contributions to our understanding of them, not least by suggesting ways in which they can be avoided without detriment to the true deity of God. What Neville does not seem to recognize sufficiently is that theistic faith demands an understanding of God who is the object of its faith and worship (for the believer cannot relate himself to what is unknown to him) and, furthermore, that it generally demands a coherent concept of God who is not only the ontologically, valuatively, and rationally other but also an individual reality who instantiates these qualities in a personal mode of being. For Neville, therefore, to dismiss apparently out-of-hand the view that God is significantly to be described as individual, actual, and knowledgeable is for him to show that when he is talking about "God" he is not talking about the object of theistic faith and worship.

Although there are other points in Neville’s provocative article which perhaps ought to be taken up, I do not feel that this response should become another book! Much needs to be done to sort out the problems and develop the implications of Hartshorne’s process philosophy and dipolar panentheism. I hope, nevertheless, that my comments may indicate why one person at least on this side of the Atlantic (and hence somewhat isolated from the technical expertise, vocabulary, and sometimes apparently frenetic debates of the community of process thinkers) finds in Hartshorne’s work "genuine philosophic wisdom," especially as it develops insights into the logical status and conceptual structure of a theistic understanding of the concept of God. The major importance of Hartshorne’s work in my view’ is the way in which his dipolar panentheism indicates the possibility of a concept of God which allows believers to speak of him as an individual, personal reality and significantly to use active verbs of him -- like love, create, know, respond -- without denying anything that properly belongs to his ultimacy and worshipfulness and without falling into self-contradiction. It may be that theistic believers are wrong in holding that there is such a being as their faith implies; what Hartshorne has shown is that they probably cannot be shown a priori to be wrong through a demonstration of the internal incoherence of the concept of such a being.

 

References

AD -- Charles Hartshorne. Anselm’s Discovery. La Salle: Open Court, 1965.

CSPM -- Charles Hartshorne. Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method. La Salle: Open Court, 1970.

LP -- Charles Hartshorne. The Logic of Perfection and Other Essays in Neoclassical Metaphysics. La Salle: Open Court, 1962.

NTT -- Charles Hartshorne. A Natural Theology for Our Time. La Salle: Open Court, 1967.

1. Colin Gunton. "Process Theology’s Concept of God." Expository Times, 84/10 (July, 1973), 294f.

 

Notes

1. "Some Comments on Hartshorne’s Presentation of the Ontological Argument" in Religious Studies (October, 1968), 103ff; "An Introductory Survey of Charles Hartshorne’s Work on the Ontological Argument" in Analecta Anselmiana (Band 1, 1969), pp. 216ff.

2. This interpretation of the ontological argument indicates a basic agreement in the significance of the arguments in Anselm’s Monologion and in Aquinas’ five ways with that of Anselm’s Proslogion, for all of them can be interpreted as defining characteristics of the ground of ultimately satisfying metaphysical understanding. It also suggests that while ICant rejected the ontological argument as a proof of God’s existence, he affirmed this view of its significance when be established the concept of the ens realissimum as one of the ideas of pure reason.

3. R. G. Collingwood, Essay on Metaphysics, (Oxford, 1940), p. 190. It is a pity that Hartshorne does not refer to this discussion but to the earlier and somewhat different discussion of the ontological argument in his Essay on Philosophical Method when he discusses Collingwood’s views in Anselm’s Discovery. A. Donergan’s criticism of Collingwood’s statement (The Later Philosophy of R.G. Collingwood. [Oxford, 1962]. p. 265f) seems to me to arise from a failure to appreciate Collingwood’s point -- viz., that the ontological argument makes explicit a presupposition of thought which understands in terms, inter alia, of the concept of the greatest conceivable.

4. I say only "largely" because it will include facts of God’s acts, if any, which are a posteriori for him and for us such as a non-necessary decision to act in a certain way.

5. Cf. "Theistic Verification" in The Living God, edited by D. Kirkpatrick, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1971), pp. 48ff; "Can the Theologian Legitimately Try to Answer the Question: Is the Christian Faith True?" in The Expository Times. 84/11. (August, 1973), 325ff; "‘Credo ut intelligam’ as the Method of Theology" in forthcoming Analecta Anselmiana, Band 3.

6. Cf. "Process Theology -- Why and What? in Faith and Thought, 100 (1972), 45ff.


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