Rationality, Contributionism, and the Value of Love: Hartshorne on Abortion
by Anita Miller Chancy
Anita Miller Chancey currently works at the University of Missouri – Kansas City School of Medicine in the office of Medical Education and Research. 2411 Holmes, Kansas City MO 64108. E-mail:email@example.com The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 85-97, Vol. 28 , Number 1/2, Spring - Summer, 1999. 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.
Abortion is a recurring theme in Charles Hartshorne’s later works. He discusses aspects of abortion in Wisdom as Moderation, (1987), Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes (1984), and in his autobiography, The Darkness and the Light (1990). In 1981 he published "Concerning Abortion: An Attempt at a Rational View" in The Christian Century; it drew a heated response.
Despite the timeliness of the abortion question, and the relevance and potency of Hartshorne’s views, no scholarly work has been published on this area of his thought. The recent spate of books containing critical essays and Hartshorne’s personal responses has disregarded his opinions on abortion as though they were non-existent. Unfortunately even the prestigious Library of Living Philosophers volume fails in this respect. Valuable opportunities have been lost for Hartshorne to add a unified response to his discussions on this sociologically and philosophically significant topic. Given Hartshorne’s age, this is regrettable.
In addition to his publications on abortion, in 1981 Hartshorne accepted an invitation to debate abortion with pro-life advocates at Dartmouth College. It was an action he later called "unwise" (TBEF 38). He stated afterward in personal correspondence:
I did not win the debate at Dartmouth and I did not debate well. I have never debated formally and don’t like the combative, victory at any cost, atmosphere . . . .[(T)hat] my students had more interest in the truth I am confident. I have written an effective reply I think to letters to the Christian Century on my essay. That way I may win.
This paper begins by detailing Hartshorne’s view of abortion, which is rooted in his philosophical views on God and rationality, and his theory of contributionism, which holds that the ultimate value of human life is in the contribution it makes to God. Hartshorne believes that a woman’s rationality and capacity for contributing richer experiences to God allow her wants, needs, and desires to supersede those that can be assumed on behalf of a nonrational, marginally contributing fetus. He believes that no other person and certainly no governmental body should dictate a woman’s decision about abortion. However, in supporting his position he emphasizes only rationality’s contribution to God, ignoring other important contributors, particularly his own vision of love as the highest of values, and our most God-like attribute.
Hartshorne refers to attempts to legally abolish abortion, an issue which lacks clear public consensus, as "tyranny" (CS21 45). He is critical of those who automatically value a fetus over the productivity and activity of the pregnant woman, and condemns those, particularly men, who would dictate the limits of her choices. Hartshorne’s strong "pro-choice" position is a natural outgrowth of his view of those qualities which make humans uniquely valuable.
Hartshorne links the value of all creatures to what they directly contribute to God. While he maintains that every life and life-form contribute in some way to the Divine life, he also claims that our individual capacity for rational thought and moral sensitivity allows humans to contribute more to God than any other creatures. This becomes problematic when considered against the backdrop of Hartshorne’s more general positions. I believe that Hartshorne compartmentalizes his thinking on abortion and value, focusing exclusively on rationality He neglects the value of mutual experiences, and the value of love, even though he distinctly emphasizes both in much of his work When considering abortion, Hartshorne fails to acknowledge in any positive way how the lives of less complex creatures, particularly human creatures, contribute to the qualities and abilities which affect the experiences we bring to God. Love for others is an important part of experience, and adds a value to our lives that is different from, yet no less precious than, the value of rational thinking. The foundation of human value is broader than its cornerstone of rationality, and Hartshorne clearly upholds this view when discussing areas other than abortion.
An examination of the roots of Hartshorne’s position on abortion begins with his vision of what I call the "creaturely continuum." Hartshorne views all life on a rising continuum which represents the value of creatures. This continuum does not represent possible or potential value to God, but only fully realized value. He boldly states, "I hold that the ultimate value of human life, or of anything else, consists entirely in the contribution it makes to the divine life" (WM 118). Hartshorne refers to this as the doctrine of contributionism. While he maintains that every life and life form contributes in some way to the Divine life, he also claims that our individual capacity for rational thought allows humans to contribute more to God than other creatures.
Under no circumstances does Hartshorne lower creatures as valueless. Like diamonds of differing sizes, they are merely less valuable in a world that is completely precious. This may be a difficult fact to keep in sight, however, for in discussing abortion Hartshorne consistently focuses on the variations in creaturely value, which are represented by movement up or down the creaturely continuum.
Hartshorne’s position on abortion is also influenced by his theory of aesthetic value, which emphasizes that a diversity of experiences balanced by an aesthetically pleasing amount of complexity and orderliness contributes to life and to God, more fully than do less balanced experiences. Creatures capable of self-reflectively enjoying aesthetic values contribute richer, more diverse experiences than simpler creatures. Humanity’s unique contribution to God is in the depth and richness of its moral and aesthetic feelings.
A fetus of any sort, be it pig, primate, or human, begins its life at the bottom of the creaturely continuum as a single egg cell, in a position similar to a single-celled paramecium or amoeba. Each creature ascends the continuum, attaining at least whatever level its genetic programming allows. Any adult mammal will be higher on the continuum than any fetus, for one is reaching its apex, while the other is just beginning its ascent. The specific species is not the relevant issue, but how much diversity of experience each creature can incorporate at that given moment.
An adult porpoise, capable of experiences that include the use of sophisticated communication and socially interactive behavior, is clearly higher on the continuum than a newborn human baby, whose experiences are primarily basic reflexive actions, and less interactive.
Consider the creatures at the high end of the continuum: members of the primate family, porpoises and whales, and at the very top, humans. It takes only a few months for a human baby to pass all creatures except for the most capable large-brained mammals. Soon even these are passed, as the very young child begins to demonstrate the higher cognitive functions that are found only at the top of the continuum.
Why are we so special? What separates us from the whales and apes and puts us at the very top of the creaturely continuum? Language, for a beginning. It is no small accomplishment to grasp abstract thinking and represent it symbolically (WM 100, 124). We are also the most creative and inventive of all creatures, showing tremendous diversity in our actions. But most importantly we are able to reason and develop morals by which we recognize right and wrong. Hartshorne sees this as a powerful component of value, one that, so far as we know only humans are able substantially to contribute to God.
H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr., sums up Hartshorne’s position succinctly:
All else being equal, the contribution of moral agents who can experience the world in a rich and deep sense will be grater than that of less developed and less complex experiencers of the world. We do not all equally contribute to God. (PHC 162)
According to Hartshorne, the top of the continuum is not gained, nor is it retained, simply by having a human origin. It is attained as we develop those qualities that characterize humans as different from other animals. He states, "The line between the human and the subhuman is crossed in the life of each one of us, if by human one means, actually rational" (WM 119).
Hartshorne carries this to its limits, for he would not elevate the human fetus or infant to any point on the continuum that it could not sustain through its capacity for experience. Nor would he allow persons in a coma, who are incapable of experiencing, or the feeble-minded elderly, who have an impaired ability for rational thought, to remain at the top of the continuum.
This is no mere academic exercise for Hartshorne, but a strongly personal view that leads him to state:
Does this distinction apply to the killing of a hopelessly senile person (or one in a permanent coma)? For me it does. I hope that no one will think that if, God forbid, I ever reach that stage, it must be for my sake that I should be treated with the respect due to normal human beings. (TCC 44, cf. DL 115)
A careful definition of the word "person" is essential to understanding Hartshorne’s arguments on abortion. Indeed he quotes Webster’s dictionary; and names it as the "secret source" of the entire abortion controversy. There are two definitions: the first, which is most commonly used by "pro-life" proponents, is simply a human being or individual. The second, more specific definition, is that of a being who is able to reason and distinguish right from wrong. Hartshorne holds that this second definition best illuminates the differences between human and subhuman. He is adamant that rationality and morality are the measure of personhood (WM 32).
Hartshorne is not alone in this view Mary Anne Warren refers to a human being in a moral sense as "a full-fledged member of the moral community" whose traits include, but are not limited to, consciousness and the ability to reason. She also specifies a genetic sense of the term, in which "any member of the species is a human being, and no member of any other species could be" (TM 53).
Hartshorne has no patience for those holding a genetic view of personhood, who claim that the potential represented in a fertilized human egg cell is equivalent to an actual person. For Hartshorne, the difference between actual and potential is crucial. Having potential is an indefinite state, while actuality is identifiable, ascertainable, and functional. (This can be easily understood by considering the difference between potential money earned and actual money earned.) A potential person has only potential contributions that may or may not be made to God, while an actual person is an actual contributor to the Divine life, and therefore far more valuable. Hartshorne explains,
The question, however, concerns, not the value of the origin, or the possible eventual stage of development, of the fetus, but the value of the actual stage. Not everything that can be is, and the ‘equal value of the actual and the possible’ is not an axiom that anybody lives by or could live by. (OOTM 101)
Hartshorne occasionally becomes vexed with those who fail to understand his position that the question the issue of abortion raises is the question of personhood. He once pointedly observed that "no one denies that its origin is human, as is its possible destiny. But the same is true of every unfertilized egg in the body of a nun" (CSPM 21, 42).
Contributing invaluably to Hartshorne’s view of genetic identity and abortion were the differences between his twin brothers, James and Henry. Despite sharing identical genetic structure, they had highly individual personalities. Hartshorne attributes this to differences in the life experiences each encountered, including differences in prenatal experiences, such as their position in the womb. According to Hartshorne, this individuality simply cannot be accounted for generically:
What crude thinking it is that identifies individuality with mere genetic chemistry! What made my twin brothers, now no longer living, physically individual was something more than the chemistry of their cells. This something more was the structure of their nervous systems. And that is just not there in the fertilized cell. Nor could it be predetermined by the cell, for then my brothers Henry and James would have been mere duplicates. They were far from that. (DL 57)
This point of view is echoed by the emergence theory of psychogeny (the study of the origin of the mind), which holds that individuality is not defined genetically. According to Wayne Viney and William Douglas Woody,
Psyche [mind] is not conceived as a given or as a completed work at any time; it is never guaranteed or safe. If conditions are favorable, it grows and such growth, according to at least some forms of emergence theory, is not just quantitative, it can be truly qualitative. If conditions are unfavorable, either in the biological substrate or in the environmental context, growth may falter. Whatever else Psyche may be, it is not an absolute. (TP 10-11)
For Hartshorne the ability to think rationally, on at least an elementary level, is a milestone in human life. It is a line we cross from being an animalistic human "creature" to being an individual human "person," capable of moral thoughts and actions.
Yet it is impossible to cross this line unaided. Whether one speaks of a fetus, an infant, or a very young child, no development at all is possible without a great commitment of time, effort and care, first from the mother bearing the child, then after birth, by her and other caregivers. There are contingencies to contend with during and even before development: Is the egg healthy? Was the egg fertilized? Is the pregnant woman addicted to alcohol or drugs that might overwhelm the developing cells? Does she have a disease such as diabetes that makes maintaining pregnancy difficult? An unhealthy or addicted mother’s problem may destroy the fetus entirely, or may stunt its development so severely that there is little hope for normalcy after birth. Here the fetus’s welfare is inescapably in the hands of the mother.
The newly born infant is incapable of all but the most rudimentary reflexive actions. Without continual tending from other persons, it would quickly die, and personhood would never be attained. But life or death, is not the only issue.
Mental and emotional health are essential factors if the infant is to develop into a rational creature capable of the actions we consider human (OOTM 116, DL 244). Hartshorne reminds us:
A fetus is not like a seedling in a forest which, with luck and being let alone, will grow into a mature tree; on the contrary, a fetus can become rational and moral only if a lot of human effort is devoted to that end. (WM 59)
The continuation of life, too, has many contingencies. Simply stated, babies require time, attention, and love. One only has to remember the terrible stories of under-socialized babies in wartime orphanages to recognize the need for love and care. If it is not met, the resulting child may be human, but still not capable of anything beyond animalistic experiences and reactions.
When we return to the creaturely continuum, it is easy to see that under normal circumstances no matter what point the fetus or infant has progressed to on the continuum, its mother, already a fully rational person, is clearly situated at the top. The fetus and the infant simply do not display the characteristics of rationality and moral discernment which Hartshorne considers to be essential components of personhood. The fetus cannot at any stage, therefore, counterbalance the needs and desires of the pregnant woman, for it cannot match her value -- the experiences she contributes to the Divine life.
Despite his belief in the intrinsic value of all creation, fetuses and even infants are, in Hartshorne’s mind, only shadows of persons yet-to-be. Therefore, he takes this position to its extreme, considering neither abortion nor infanticide full-fledged murder (WM 123). He states:
I have little sympathy with the idea that infanticide is just another form of murder. Persons who are already functionally persons in the full sense have more important rights even than infants. Infanticide can be wrong without being fully comparable to the killing of persons in the full sense. (TCC 44)
In Hartshorne’s view of contributionism, should a woman desire to choose abortion, even if unfortunate or reprehensible on other grounds, she may do so without the moral condemnation of murder. Murder is not a term that can be properly applied to a fetus, for it lacks the essential components of personhood. This position is, for both pro-life proponents and some pro-choice proponents, a drastic view, for it does not preclude abortion at any stage of pregnancy.
Hartshorne is critical of people, particularly men, who would legislate or in any way order pregnant women to do what men themselves are not capable of -- bearing a child (TBEF 35. 38). The consequences of such legislation are simply too grave. He states his position plainly and forcefully:
Abortion is indeed a nasty thing, but unfortunately there are in our society many even nastier things, like the fact that some children are growing up unwanted. This for my conscience is a great deal nastier, and truly horrible.
Hartshorne believes that a woman’s rationality and capacity for contributing to God allow her wants, needs, and desires to supersede any that can be assumed on behalf of the non-rational fetus, including what is sometimes called a "right-to-life." He believes that no other person can fully comprehend the complexities an individual must weigh when making such a decision. Therefore, no one other than the individual is entitled to make that decision. Finally, he believes that no governmental body should dictate whether or not abortion is an available choice.
The question Hartshorne scholars must consider is whether he has been consistent with his own philosophical beliefs when discussing abortion. Hartshorne takes the position that rationality is the only essential consideration in this debate. I believe it can be argued that rationality as the highest measure of creaturely value is not consistent with Hartshorne’s overall philosophical vision.
In my opinion, when discussing abortion Hartshorne uncharacteristically underplays the direct value our social experiences have for God. He relegates relationships and socialization to a lower status than rationality, yet emphasizes that we cannot reach rationality and moral sensitivity without them. He focuses solely on the roundabout contribution to experience made by our ability to think, reason, and make moral choices. Most importantly, when discussing abortion Hartshorne neglects his own emphasis on the primacy of love. Throughout Hartshorne’s work love has been the standard by which decisions are best determined, yet he fails to think as broadly on abortion as he does on most other philosophical questions.
Certainly rationality is relevant to the abortion question. For Hartshorne, its importance lies in the fact that the higher the level of rationality the higher the level of experiences creatures are able to contribute to God. Rational beings are capable of richer, more diverse, and more moral experiences than non-rational beings. They increase God’s pleasurable prehensions -- God’s sharing in, experiencing, and feeling of our feelings -- in ways beyond the capabilities of non-rational creatures. Hartshorne says:
Cruelty to other creatures, or to oneself means contributing to vicarious divine suffering. Hence, of course we should love our fellows as we love ourselves, for the final significance of their joy or sorrow is the same as the final significance of our joy or sorrow, that they will be felt by God. (OOTM 28)
Much of what people find troubling about abortion is the fact that it halts a life on the upswing, a life that could grow into and become almost anything we could imagine. It is an even deeper dilemma for this reason than euthanasia, which only occurs when life is on the downswing, already sliding toward death. To end a life on the downswing is sometimes the loving thing to do. Seldom is this true of life on the upswing, and the circumstances must be bleak indeed, for ending life so early to be a loving choice.
Love, too, is why we become so angry when a woman is casual about having an abortion. We find her casual attitude offensive. It often seems such a decision is made quickly, lightly or selfishly. Yet we feel deep sympathy and empathy for the woman who agonizes over her choice, and finally decides that abortion is the best, most caring decision she can make for herself, the fetus, and other children she may have. Each woman takes the same action. Each woman has an abortion, yet we as observers have strongly differing reactions, and differing amounts of respect for their decisions. The difference lies in the amount of love behind their choices.
Despite the fact that Hartshorne believes all creatures are intrinsically valuable to God, when he discusses abortion he focuses on the only value humans contribute, excluding non-rational creatures. Only when discussing abortion does Hartshorne convey this disassociation between humans and other creatures.
I believe Hartshorne’s focus on rationality as the source of our highest value is misplaced. While it has a vital and unique contribution to make, rationality alone is not what elevates humans above other creatures. Rationality is not our most God-like quality; it is merely our least animalistic attribute.
When considering value to God, there are distinctions that can be made other than the one between rationality and non-rationality. The distinction between loving actions and unloving actions is just as important (and sometimes just as ambiguous) as the distinction between the capacity or lack of capacity for rational thought and moral understanding. Surely the person who is both rational and loving contributes more value to God than one who is rational and full of hate.
We protect our children, both as parents and through legislation, from people who would contribute hate to their lives, whether those people are rational or not. This protectiveness is, in many circumstances, extended against those who are simply unloving or non-loving toward children. We would not willingly choose such a person, no matter how rational, as a friend, companion, or guardian for them. The contributions unloving people might make to children run the risk of damaging them, and there is little doubt on anyone’s part that the contributions of hate-filled persons create serious damage to the lives around them, whether child or adult.
Yet given appropriate supervision, we do not protect children from experiences of non-rational people, such as the mentally handicapped, in the same way. Many of the mentally handicapped are only marginally rational, yet extremely loving. The persons around them gain from sharing their experiences, and we teach our children to respond to them kindly or lovingly rather than with fear. If this is a sensible view of what we believe non-loving and non-rational people contribute to our children’s experiences, it should be a reasonable beginning for considering what they would contribute to God. Certainly I am unwilling to accept the idea that non-rationality squanders God’s experiencing of the world in the same way hate does. How can a simple lack of rationality have even less value than outright wickedness?
If we are more valuable to God than other creatures, it is because rationality and morality make us capable of a love more like God’s own love than any other creature. When discussing how God "fully appropriates every feeling of value there is," Hartshorne states: "The highest intrinsic value must be the value of the most perfect and inclusive form of love" (OOTM 81). According to Hartshorne, we are to love others as we love ourselves, and to love God with all we are, for that is how we best contribute to God (WM 83). Hartshorne also states: "Whatever good qualities of experience we enjoy, or help others to enjoy, will be indestructible elements in the Life, love for which is, so far as we understand ourselves, our inclusive concern. If there is any serious rival to this as an aim, I do not know of it" (OOTM 120). Love is the best standard we have of value to God, for it is our best understanding of God. Indeed, to insist on any other standard would be demeaning, for it would rob even the most highly rational beings of value.
Hartshorne discusses the significance of experience in connection with the development of identity and individuality, and again when he discusses the development of rationality He considers social experience to be crucial for developing the emotional health that leads to rationality. But social experience is also crucial for developing love. Love, like rationality, cannot develop unaided. Neither intellect nor rationality is sufficient for love to develop. The interplay between self and others is essential to love, both before and after we become rational.
Hartshorne must face certain criticisms if he excludes love from his measure of value. Consider that he plainly states, "In sober truth, how can one love a fetus, by all evidence with less actual intelligence than a cat, as one loves oneself? I say, it cannot be done. Self-righteousness is not the same as love, whether for God or the creatures" (TBEF 35).
Hartshorne does not explain his assumption that only the intelligence of the fetus determines whether one is able to substantially feel love for it. I think this statement captures the basis for his highly utilitarian view of the abortion issue, and I think it is a fundamental error which misdirects Hartshorne away from his own emphasis on love. It contrasts oddly with much of his other work. Here Hartshorne seriously and uncharacteristically underestimates the sources, depth, and quality of the loving feelings of many mothers at the very least, and probably many fathers, grandparents, and others as well. The simple fact that these feelings exist demonstrates that the idea of love cannot be dismissed as irrelevant to the abortion question. Hartshorne’s sole focus on rationality without including love distorts the picture.
Love for a fetus can be clearly shown to be separate from any question of intelligence. Consider that millions of women have loved the life within them just the way they love themselves -- and sometimes better, or at least with more care and kindness, than they love themselves. The intelligence of the fetus plays no essential part in this experience. The pregnant woman cannot treat the fetus worse -- less lovingly or with less care -- than she treats herself. She can, however, treat it better than she might normally treat herself. It is common to find that a woman takes better care of her health during pregnancy through good nutrition, adequate rest, avoiding drugs, and having prenatal checkups. These are not simply acts of self-righteousness, but actions of love and concern for the fetus’s current as well as future well-being.
It might be claimed that a woman who would take these actions on behalf of her fetus would not be the sort of woman who would consider an abortion, But such assumptions perpetuate precisely the sorts of prejudice that should be dispelled -- that only "bad" women, or women who would make "bad mothers." would ever consider or obtain an abortion.
Next, consider the grief a miscarriage produces. That grief is more than sadness at the loss of a potential person. The simple knowledge that the fetus exists alters the lives of the people whose existence it touches. One’s thinking changes, and certain actions change as well. If the miscarriage is in the latter stages of pregnancy, grief is more pronounced, for the mother suffers the loss of shared experiences with the fetus as well as the anticipated time together. This grief is experienced even when for some unhappy reason it is a relief that the pregnancy ended. Truly, isn’t this the loss we suffer at any stage of life? Death is in many aspects simply the loss of shared experiences.
Shared experiences help create love. In discussing abortion Hartshorne seems to have forgotten that he calls "life sharing, delighting in the lives of others the most fundamental aspect of love" (WM 119). Hartshorne also says, "The primacy of love means that there is no possible value that any being could have simply in and by itself, or simply by its own decision" (OOTM 45). According to Hartshorne, even God must have a world to experience, and to love.
Only when discussing abortion does Hartshorne fail to account for synergy in our relationships. Synergy between two creatures creates a value beyond what either of them can create independently, even when some creatures are non-rational. This means there is a value in our lives that is not accounted for at an individual level. Experiences do not have to be based on intelligence and rationality to create this value. Even fetuses can contribute synergistically to value by influencing the lives of those around them. Our merely knowing they exist alters our behaviors and choices. This is precisely why Hartshorne opposes legislating against abortion -- he recognizes the power of the relationship and the alteration of experiences that will occur due to the fetus’ existence. That relationship may create love, fear, worry or hope, but it is clearly not valueless, nor experience-free. If it were, there would be no need for debate about abortion.
Take as an example the infant which Hartshorne considers a non-person. This infant is not capable of directly contributing anything much, relatively speaking, to God. Yet through a relationship with the infant, its mother or father can develop a new capacity for maturity, strength, and love. Children, too, who learn about loving and caring for others more helpless than themselves, whether goldfish or baby brothers, become capable of more depth of feeling in their experiences and relationships. They develop a larger capacity for contribution to the Divine life than they would be capable of without those experiences and relationships. They learn to be more loving, They grow into it, as we all do. Hartshorne says:
Apart from our interest in others, what are we? Start with those others that are our bodily cells, and go on to our sympathy with characters in history and fiction, our love for relatives and friends, other lesser animals, plants. Apart from all this, we have no self. It is our loves that make us anything worth mentioning. (OOTM 108)
Those whose existence allows us the opportunity for growth in love have a value that cannot be properly measured when rationality is the yardstick. Growth and the rounding off of the rough edges of our humanity occur when our lives and experiences touch. Relationships with others who cannot give back anything of apparent value to us or to God still create more value than any single person can contribute.
Clearly there is more to be considered under the topic of abortion than Hartshorne’s simplistic view that the value of the pregnant woman’s rationality and morality outweighs the lack of rationality and morality of the fetus. Even by Hartshorne’s own standards, the best measure for value may not be rationality, for he says the following:
It is human beings who do not, and could not possibly, get the full value of the good they bring to others. By the time a good deed reaches its result in the other, the benefactor may be dead or far away and know nothing about it. At best, no human being can fully share in the experiences he or she helps others to enjoy. Nor can we fully share in the sufferings we cause others. Our limited power to perceive and understand guarantees that. Hence there is need for us to be willing to furnish others with values we are ourselves unable to fully profit from. Every parent or teacher experiences this. Accordingly, we will, if we are ethical, try to bring good to others some of which can never become our good. (OOTM 120)
It is clear that value is created in our lives that would not exist without love. The value of loving feelings and experiences is not strictly individual, nor is it solely based on intelligence and rationality. Without love, experience is incomplete. Without love, rationality has the capacity to remain inhuman and immoral, which contributes little to God. It cannot be excluded from the criteria for value.
Further, it is disconcerting to find all humanity pooled together at the tip of the creaturely continuum, just beyond rationality’s threshold. If such a continuum must be devised, it should continue far beyond the point of rationality, in order to demonstrate the position of those whose experiences and actions better emulate God’s love. The continuum is misleading if it fails to differentiate between the Hitlers and the Mother Teresas of the world. It fails to represent an important aspect of our value.
Hartshorne appears to compartmentalize his thinking about abortion. It is the only place in his philosophy where he attempts to ignore the value of our social experiences, which cannot sensibly be discounted. This much is clear from the significance he places on social experience as essential to rationality. He may be justified in removing sole emphasis from the genetic view of humanity and pointing up the problems inherent in dealing with potentiality, but they should not be dismissed from the deliberation. They, too, are a part of our humanity.
Hartshorne’s neglect of the synergistic effects of love as it applies to fetuses and infants is a signature of this compartmentalized thinking. He separates abortion, neglecting to apply to the issue ideas that are, for Hartshorne, central metaphysical and theological beliefs. Love, both human and Divine, has always been a defining concept in Hartshorne’s work.
Even so, Hartshorne takes a solidly pro-choice stance: that no one can fully understand the complexities an individual weighs when making a decision about a pregnancy; that no governmental body is entitled to dictate to individuals what the available choices are, including abortion; and that ultimately the woman directly involved has the right to make a decision about her commitment to a pregnancy without moral condemnation. A further implication of Hartshorne’s position, although never expressly stated, is that abortion on demand, at any stage of pregnancy, is endorsed. This is an unpalatable position to many who might otherwise agree with Hartshorne’s views.
Those who turn to these criticisms hoping for a firm argument against abortion and Hartshorne’s support of it will not quite find what they seek. The addition of love to contributionism does not alter Hartshorne’s position in the strong sense of disallowing abortion on moral grounds. But while it does not provide grounds for a general condemnation of abortion, this addition may allow a moral distinction to be made between an abortion chosen in a thoughtful, loving manner, and one carelessly or selfishly chosen.
Certainly a further examination of the tension between love, rationality, and the ability for moral sensitivity is needed to determine the appropriate proportion of emphasis among these criteria, as is a careful examination of their moral implications. A thorough philosopher looking to modify Hartshorne’s position might also wish to examine the consequences of using Hartshorne’s conception of love as the sole determining factor in the abortion issue, to probe Hartshorne’s views on potentiality and to consider the criticisms of those who see Hartshorne’s position as too utilitarian in nature.
Examining Hartshorne’s ethics against his metaphysical and theological views is fertile ground for further investigation. It allows insight into the internal strength of his work, as well as searching out his flaws and inconsistencies.
CC21 Charles Hartshorne, "Concerning Abortion: An Attempt at a Rational View," The Christian Century 21(1981), 42-45. Reprinted in Speak out Against the New Right. Edited by Herbert F. Vetter. Boston: Beacon Press, 1982,152-157. Also reprinted in The Ethics of Abortion. R.M. Baird and S.E. Rosenbaum. Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Press, 1989,109-114.
DWV Charles Hartshorne, Personal letter to Donald Wayne Viney, May 4,1981.
PCH H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr, "Natural Theology and Bioethics," The Philosophy of Charles Hartshorne Library of Living Philosophers Volume XX, Edited by Lewis Edwin Hahn. La Salle, Ill: Open Court, 1991,159-168.
TBEF Charles Hartshorne, "Scientific and Religious Aspects of Bioethics," Theology and Bioethics Exploring the Foundation, and Frontiers, Edited by Earl E Shelp. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Co., 1985,27-44.
TM Mary Anne Warren, "Moral and Legal Status of Abortion," Th Monist 53 (1973),43-61.
TP Wayne Viney and William Douglas Woody, "Psychogeny: A Neglected Dimension in the Teaching of the Mind-Brain Problem," Teaching of Psychology 22(1995), 173-177.