Charles Hartshorne on Metaphilosophy, Person and Immortality, and Other Issues

by John Kennedy and Piotr Gutowski

John Kennedy, a doctoral candidate at the Angelicum University in Rome, is writing his dissertation on Charles Hartshorne s doctrine of immortality. Piotr Gutowski is Assistant to the Chair of the History of Modern Philosophy, Katolicki Uniwersytet Lubelski, Al. Raclawickie 14, 20-950 Lubin, Poland. His articles on process thought are in English and Polish.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 256-278, Vol.19, Number 4, Winter, 1990. 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 questioning Charles Hartshorne, the authors find that he is a prolific writer on topics ranging from neoclassical theism, the ontological argument for the existence of God, and philosophical psychology, to aesthetics, pacifism, and ornithology.

Charles Hartshorne was born in June 1897. In a lifetime which spans the best part of a century, he has been a prolific writer on topics ranging from neoclassical theism, the ontological argument for the existence of God, and philosophical psychology, to aesthetics, pacifism, and ornithology. It is with the first two areas that he has mostly been associated. Many would excuse a philosopher if he made a decision to take things a little easier once he had reached ninety-two. And yet, Charles Hartshorne seems to have little interest in such retirement. There is very little evidence that he has lost any of his rather distinctive zest for writing and for philosophical debate.

From reading Hartshorne’s writings one may get the impression that he is often impatient and dismissive towards opposing viewpoints, which at times borders on a self-confidence that is difficult to accept. However, there is often a difference between the spoken word and the written word. This is certainly true as regards Hartshorne. He is a very kind and welcoming person. His dismissal of conflicting views comes from a blend of a wide, open-minded reading of the history of philosophy, together with a carefully reasoned analysis. Such a blend is combined with a wonderful sense of humor and unique life-experience which brought Hartshorne into contact with such great minds as E. Husserl, M. Heidegger, C. I. Lewis, A. N. Whitehead, R. Carnap, and K. Popper.

The interview which follows is the result of our meeting with Dr. Hartshorne and his lovely wife, Dorothy, which took place over a two-day period (May 20-21, 1989) at their home in Austin. Texas. The topics discussed here reflect our respective interests: metaphilosophy (P. Gutowski), and the issue of person and immortality (J. Kennedy). There are, however, many other issues which emerged naturally in the course of our discussion with Dr. Hartshorne, which cannot be easily classified under these two topics. Among these are perception, the question of time, existence and actuality, personal identity, and the nature of God.

The text which we present is an abbreviated version of our discussion with Dr. Hartshorne, and it does not reflect the exact, original order of our questions and Hartshorne’s answers. It does not capture the warmth and hospitality of Charles and Dorothy Hartshorne -- two wonderful people, not just husband and wife but real companions who support each other. We have not included their sharing of their experiences of how they first met over sixty years ago, and their many experiences from travelling together in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, and Australia. It was clear to us that here were two people who were still very much in love, who have been enriched by each other’s presence, and who have made a real impact on our world. We have been rather privileged to have been welcomed into their home.


PG: How do you see the relation between science and metaphysics?

CH: Metaphysics claims necessary truth. Peirce says that metaphysics is not factual: it is an analysis of concepts. It is not a study of contingent, empirical facts. It is the analysis of concepts, but it gives us knowledge. Peirce says that just analyzing concepts can give us knowledge, and I’m as much a Peircean as a Whiteheadian. It’s hard to be certain that I was not as much influenced by him as by Whitehead.

The physicist might be factually mistaken, but if his view even makes sense it can’t contradict a metaphysical truth, because nothing that could be true can contradict the necessary. So, if the physical theory is even possibly true then my metaphysics cannot disagree with it. And there is another thing: I think it’s presuming on human weakness to suppose that the metaphysician will just operate and forget about science. Mortimer Adler talks that way. But we know historically, that time after time, the state of science influenced a metaphysician even when he thought it should not have or did not. I think it’s very clear that Aristotle’s metaphysics was strongly influenced by what he thought was scientific fact. So, I cannot just belittle what the scientist says, because I could be making a mistake. It is also true that he could be making a mistake. Where there’s disagreement, there is a mistake somewhere. Because of that, I do not believe in theologians like Karl Barth saying, You do not have to worry about what the philosophers are saying -- I think we had all better worry, at least a little, about what any careful, serious, sincere person says. PG: What about common sense and metaphysics? Is common sense a source of metaphysical notions? Can it confirm or falsify philosophical theories? CH: Well, Peirce’s critical commonsensism is about right. Common sense is not exact, and every philosopher should know that. For instance, a fellow who says there is no order in nature -- nothing like laws of nature -- that’s not good common sense, because every living animal wants to make expectations about the future on the grounds that there are legitimate expectations about it. But is the order absolute? Now that’s something else. Common sense cannot guarantee that, because it does not have this kind of exactitude. PC: So would you regard common-sense knowledge as valid for philosophy? CH: If you do not expect it to be too precise. You see, I have never taken seriously Berkeley’s kind of idealism, that nature is only ideas in our minds and in God’s mind. I went around for just a little while challenging people to refute it. It was kind of a game, but I do not think lever believed it, and I have never taken anti-realism very seriously. Richard Rorty talks this way sometimes -- we know what we say about nature. Certainly, if we don’t know that, we should shut up.

PG: Do you think that the history of philosophy can help in metaphysics?

CH: Certainly! My own method is profoundly historical. That is where I agree with Richard McKeon, although he carries it to extremes. Avoid extremes. In every case of a dichotomy there is a trichotomy. Peirce taught me that too. I do not believe here in any exception. I am deeply historical. This is the reason why I value Popper so much more than Quine. Quine has very little history, whereas Popper has a good deal. Peirce stated it almost perfectly when he said that one-sided, extreme positions furnish the thin soil which is most easily turned up to reveal absurdities. That’s exactly what I think. Extremes show you how to go wrong -- they show you how not to do it.

PG: But if you want to evaluate what was wrong in a given historical position, you have to have some criteria which are not historical.

CH: Take this table;1 that is not historical, but it takes into account the possible historical positions with regard to necessity and contingency. That’s my way of going at the history of philosophy, and I had that principle at almost the beginning of my career. You see, I was trained by two logicians, Whitehead being a third, and Peirce a fourth. My whole career has been based on four logicians in a way. You could add Aristotle as a fifth and Plato as a sixth, because I think that for his day Plato was a logician. All of these are my heroes, and you can include Leibniz in that. They were all logicians.

PG: Do you think metaphysics has any clear structure?

CH: Well, there is no linear order -- that’s part of the difficulty. Hegel was right about that. There is no absolute beginning or ending, but if you carry that to an extreme you’ll have Hegel saying at the end of a long story, when you ask for evidence -- "well, you’ll have to go back and read it over again." That’s hopeless. That’s a council of despair. Some of these things must have a little independence.

JK: What is it in human beings that has allowed us to develop metaphysics?

CH: Human beings, unlike the other animals, look ahead in a definite way and, because they have a language, they can generalize beyond any particular limit. They can ask not only what will happen tomorrow, but what will happen in a thousand years. They can ask what will happen in a million years. They can ask if there is anything which will never happen, or anything which will always happen. There is nothing like that in the other animals so far as we can suppose. But it is in us and there is no reason to think that we can go back and start to live just like the others. Our species is like the other higher animals, apes and whales especially, except for this linguistic capacity and the ability to use symbols to a degree vastly beyond the capacity of other planetary animals.

JK: That linguistic and symbolic ability -- is that the main thing that distinguishes humans from animals?

CH: Our symbolic power -- that’s it. It is not the ability to use tools. Quite a few other animals -- for example, birds -- can do that to a slight extent.

JK: What about our ability to reason?

CH: Well, that goes with language, I suppose. If people do not have it at all we think they are hopeless idiots, or that they’re crazy. I guess, I do not know that reasoning is all that different from using language. It seems to me pretty obvious that any vigorously thinking animal is going to come upon the theistic question. Any powerful language will make that possible. Take the idea of the cosmos as a whole having a mind. Well, that’s an obviously simple thing. If you’ve got a language, why wouldn’t you come to that? Animals have minds or souls -- whatever you may call it. Trees probably do not. What about the cosmos? That’s not a big step. Because all you have to be able to do is to say "everything."

PG: You regard yourself as a moderate thinker. . .

CH: I believe I am by far the most consistent moderationalist that’s ever been in philosophy, or pretty nearly. It tends to get you into eclecticism. Not so many years ago, when I finally got around to reading Victor Cousin, the French eclectic philosopher, I found myself very sympathetic to him. He said a lot of good things. He was not far wrong -- he was more right than lots of non-eclectic philosophers, just because he tried to learn from everybody. In that sense, I think we all ought to be eclectic, and I’ve learned from just about everybody. Take Epicurus: he is a hero for me because, where Democritus talked as though everything was necessary, Epicurus argued for chance and necessity -- not just chance and not just necessity, but both. Even the atoms wriggle a little bit. Do you know that Charles Peirce read that? He was a physicist, a mathematician, and a logician. Except for one or two courses, he was largely self-taught in philosophy. He learned languages and he read Greek philosophy. He came across Epicurus when he was in his thirties. Apparently he said to himself, "Now how does the problem of chance and necessity look in the light of the physics I know?" The more he thought about it, the more he liked the Epicurean standpoint. For example, the laws of gases fitted. They do not tell you what this or that molecule will do. They give you a statistic or two but certainly not the whole picture. It is always a question of chance. I do not think determinism was ever good metaphysics. It was always a mistake. For the natural sciences it worked pretty well for centuries, but it wrecked metaphysics and it more or less ruined theology.

PG: Summarizing Insights and Oversights of Great Thinkers, you say that in the roots of metaphysics there is ultimately some kind of intuition and faith. But if this is so, how can I know that my own faith or my own insight is correct?

CH: You do not have to know it, you just do the best you can. You do not know automatically. The best logicians and mathematicians talk about intuition. They practically all use the term ‘counter-intuitive’ but they do not trust it absolutely. They want a good reason. They do not trust it because we’re not God, so we Cannot be absolutely certain. Popper is very strong on that. Popper and Peirce are very close and that’s why Popper thinks Peirce is one of the great philosophers. He’s never quite admitted that about White-head, but he does admit it about Peirce, who was a thorough-going fallibilist, the first most thoroughgoing that there’s ever been -- much more so than Descartes.

Take the theistic proofs. I’ve developed six of them in my book Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method. I worked on the set of proofs for twenty years, and I finally got it about right. I still think it’s much better than the traditional ways. You do not pretend to have absolute deductive necessity from premises that everybody has to admit. You can get deductive in an argument for God but can you guarantee that everybody must accept the premises? There is always an intuitive aspect there. We can’t be absolutely certain. I think there are a lot of things that we might as well take as certain unless there is something which turns up to really make them doubtful. But we should not have foolish doubts. Peirce says that knowledge and faith go together. Where there is knowledge there’s also faith, and Peirce also says in a number of places that extreme pessimism is wrong in principle. To be alive is to have, at least, a glimmering of optimism. You’d have to be virtually dead if you have no hope whatever. Schweitzer’s view was a bit like that. The man that denies the value of life, but goes on living contradicts himself. It may not be a verbal contradiction, but it is a contradiction and one of the worst kinds. Obviously the opposite extreme -- that everything is all for the best and that we have nothing possible to worry about -- that’s wrong too.

PC: Would you agree that practice can confirm or falsify philosophical theories?

CH: It does not constitute truth. It constitutes meaning, and James kept sliding over that distinction. Peirce never forgot it. James missed a big point. He was so proud of his empiricism -- that’s exactly what makes it impossible for him to have good philosophical theology. James wanted to say that if it works nicely, if it’s encouraging, that almost shows that it must be true. Well, that’s terribly vague and unhelpful. There are a lot of comforting illusions, but it’s dangerous to live by them or to cherish them. It’s better to try and face reality. James never really worked that out. He was always afraid that you might say it’s all merely wishful thinking. But wishful thinking has practically no relevance to metaphysics. It is not that it would be nice to believe in God; it’s that life does not make any sense without God. Every moment of your life you are affirming that it makes sense. The other animals may not think life makes sense, but they behave just as though they were thinking that it did. But we cannot do that; we cannot live just as the non-human animals. I believe that you have to have a philosophy of life, of human life. You can hardly expect to get that from science. You can get it from religion. It may not give you a complete philosophy of life but it gives you some beliefs about it.

PG: Why then do we have atheists?

CH: Partly because the theologians have done such a bad job -- that’s why I’m not very kind to them. They practically made atheism utterly inevitable, by defining God in rotten ways. Many of them define God as the cosmic tyrant, determining everything, not giving freedom to anything. Of course, that made atheism inevitable.

PC: Can we be certain about the existence of God?

CH: We can have a reasonable conviction -- that’s the most I claim. I think it is reasonable and I think it’s become considerably more reasonable. Suppose a philosopher is a strict determinist -- that wrecks him immediately. How could he prove God? Then God has to be "omnipotent." Either God does nothing, or God does everything and we do nothing. How can theism be a religious idea if we do not do anything? I’ve looked at Thomas Aquinas over and over again, and he’s either completely ambiguous or he is saying what I want him to say. I cannot see any other position. He’s either talking nonsense or he’s saying what I’m saying. But if he’s saying what I’m saying, then he’s not a Thomist! Take Kant; he was stuck in the Middle Ages. There is nothing new about his idea of God, except that he cannot prove it. It’s the same old idea -- no limit put to omnipotence. He talks about our noumenal freedom. Now, how do you fit that together with the power of God? In fact, the whole Middle Ages hardly faced the question of human freedom. That is where I go back to Epicurus. And it is not just human freedom. Epicurus objects to the fact that the poor little atom is not given any freedom. Epicurus struck the bull’s eye. He was not approximately right, he was just right! Every active singular has a little bit of freedom. The Greeks did not know what the active singulars were, except at most in animals.

PG: There are, however, process thinkers who, despite their acquaintance with what you call a correct definition of God, prefer humanistic or atheistic positions. They would argue that God is redundant in process thought -- everything which God explains is already explained without God. I am thinking here of Donald Sherburne.

CH: But Sherburne likes Tillich, so he’s got something very close to a theology unless Tillich was a fraud. I’m not sure. I think that if the theist is an intelligent one and has not been tricked by some stupid theological foolishness -- the main difference between the theist and the atheist is that one of them understands himself and the other does not. If it is true that to live well is to live as if there is a God, how clear are the atheists about that? Over and over again, you will find atheists talking about having an ethics without referring to God. Yes, I will grant that, but are they really thinking carefully about the fact that they are mortal and that our species is mortal? If they really thought that through, how does it add up to anything? How is there any treasury of achievement? That’s a Buddhist phrase, by the way.

PG: When we look at the history of metaphysics, it seems to me that there are many different and internally consistent systems.

CH: Now, when you say there are a lot of systems that are consistent, I guess you imply that they are definite. I say, give me two, that’s all I want. In fact, I’m not even sure of one.

PG: What do you mean by definite?

CH: Definite enough to have any importance. It’s partly the pragmatic test -- if there be any way it could be rationally used in action. Definite enough so it’s worth arguing about. I think that what Spinoza meant by mode is sufficiently indefinite that it’s hardly worth arguing about. It’s unclear what he could mean. He said it’s the way the angles are in a triangle, or it’s like the drops of water in the sea. That cannot possibly be right -- that does not help you a bit.

PG: As I understand Spinoza, this bed, for example, is a modus of the matter, one of the substance’s attributes.

CH: Yes, a modification. But how can an absolutely eternal and fully determined thing change? How can there be an absolutely necessary change? I do not think that makes any sense. Change as such can be necessary, but not a particular change. How can a particular change be necessary? A thing has to become something it is not -- how can that be necessity? It looks like a contradiction. Change has to be a creation, and Whitehead spells that out. I believe in causality, but not in the strict deterministic sense. Causality is responding to a multiplicity of influences. What turns this multiplicity of factors into a single new factor? You see, my experience now is just as much one thing as all the previous experience that I remember -- all that complexity has produced a new mode, a unity. "The many become one and are increased by one." I regard this as a deduction of change as such -- of contingency as such.

PG: I am still not sure about Spinoza. It seems to me that his system can be made consistent.

CH: By becoming unclear?

PG: No, it may be inadequate, but it may be perfectly consistent and clear. The fable, "Little Red Riding Hood" may not correspond to reality or to experience, but it is clear and consistent. And this is what I mean -- that there may be many different metaphysical systems which are internally consistent, although they are inadequate.

CH: I do not believe it. I just do not believe it. I’ve read McKeon -- he tries to make sense out of everything in Spinoza. And I find it the most opaque stuff I’ve read. It’s no clearer than Spinoza. You can have verbal consistency if you leave some of your words so unexplicated that nobody knows what they mean. You can always escape contradiction, but you have to be still saying something positive. Take the question of materialism. Is materialism consistent? I would mean by materialism the view that there are some parts of nature where there is nothing psychical, nothing mental, nothing spiritual at all. I say there is no non-question-begging criterion for the total absence of mind anywhere. Even God could not know this, be-cause in my view the only way God knows is by prehending. But to prehend the concrete is to feel the feelings of others -- I am convinced that’s what experiencing is.

PG: Who do you have in mind when you criticize materialism? Which type of materialism is it?

CH: Emergent materialism. First you have mere matter, no mind at all. Then you have mind. Well, I say nobody knows what mere matter would be -- that’s a negation. No statement is complete which is purely negative. That’s why I think it’s nonsense to say there might have been nothing.

PG: I would like to ask you now about the problem of time in relation to the concept of God.

CH: That’s a hard problem.

PC: Whitehead speculated about God as a timeless singular actual occasion. . .

CH: He did not say timeless. I’d be surprised if you can find that phrase. And he also says that the Consequent Nature is in flux. I haven’t been able to understand that as clear in his writing.

PG: Well, if God is everlasting concrescence, and concrescence is not in time. . .

CH: Each of my actual entities is timeless in that sense.

PG: And if God is one single actual entity, then God is timeless.

CH: Sure, but I consider that a sheer mistake in Whitehead. I cannot pretend to agree with that, and neither does John Cobb. I cannot see how that can be right. My former student Jorge Nobo thinks he’s proved the opposite, but when I examine his language carefully it seems that he and I are saying pretty close to the same thing in slightly different ways.

PG: The idea of timelessness seems to be at least logically possible?

CH: No. I would say it is an empty abstraction -- it could not possibly be concrete. I do not think it is logically possible at all. I think that a lot of logicians would agree with me. I think concrete means change, and one step from the most general ideas towards the concrete, immediately, gives you contingency. That is the only concreteness we know and I do not see anything in the world to imply any other. Everything changes that we know to be concrete. Think how many things the Greeks thought were timeless, except they moved a little bit. They moved in a perfect circle. That’s the most minimal kind of change that you can imagine. Well, that was said in total ignorance, but think how influential it was -- even the hills were supposed to be everlasting! We ought to be jarred out of this casual way of talking about the eternal. It’s a tremendous jump from any reality we know, and there’s no basis for it that I can see.

PG: But when we think about God, we are aware that God can be different from the things we know by our experiences.

CH: Absolutely true. Think of the difference between ordinary change, and change which does not mean loss at all of the past. That’s an enormous difference. Human memory is only faintly and remotely and fragmentarily like that. It’s an enormous jump. There are so many different ways of arguing the thing. All our concepts, I think, are temporal -- Kant said that. The only way we can apply the concepts is through the structure of time. I think he was absolutely right. Timelessness is not such a glorious thing -- why make such a fuss about it? What do you get by it? I do not see that you gain anything. And do not forget why we do this. Plato as usual gave the argument before the others. I think eventually he knew better. Plato said, in The Republic, and not later, that God is perfect and therefore cannot change. This assumes a definite idea of perfection. You can define perfection in certain ways, for example, all value possibilities, all actualized. Hut you have Leibniz’s incompossibles. Are they all actualized in God? They cannot be. That is just one of the many antimonies you get into. Well, then would you say that it’s fine to have antimonies because that shows that you are thinking about God, and God has to be inconceivable? But there’s so much that is inconceivable without that. How can I conceive a wholly cosmic epoch? How can one cosmic epoch be succeeded by another with different laws? If the laws change we could hardly have ever known how. To relate God’s temporality to the worldly temporality -- now, that’s a hard problem. I posit a divine temporality, but how you relate that to worldly temporality, I’m not sure I know.

PG: In your writings you often refer to pantheism.

CH: Yes, I use the phrase classical pantheism and I mean Spinoza and the Stoics. I mean determinism, theological determinism. Now that is a lot different from indeterministic panentheism, where everything is in God but everything is not determined by God. And God is not identical with the world. Plato’s analogy does not say that God is the world. I’m not my body and in my dreamless sleep I am not there. There is no "I" in me in dreamless sleep, so far as I know, unless we go on dreaming. There’s just a body.

PG: What do you mean by dual transcendence?

CH: Do you know that my idea of dual transcendence is not only strongly implied by the Socinians, who knew what they were doing, but by another Italian, a Venetian named Postello? He lived around the time of Socinus and he applied the polarities to God.

It’s just as important that God is finite as that God is infinite, and God transcends us just as definitely in the way of being finite. There’s a sense in which I am infinite, and there’s a sense of my being finite. There’s a sense in which God is infinite and a sense in which God is finite, but the two senses as they apply to God are radically different.

JK: In the context of the finite-infinite, you refer to Brightman quite a lot.

CU: Finite-infinite God. It makes me furious when people say that Brightman believed in a finite God. He believed in a finite-infinite God and he meant the infinity as much as he meant the finitude and without contradiction.

PG: Here we have a problem of how to relate two aspects.

CH: There’s an answer. The finite is the concrete, the concrete includes the abstract. That’s Aristotle, except when he talked about God.

PG: In the response to Richard Martin’s article in Existence and Actuality you said that the distinction between existence and actuality is the most fundamental in your philosophy, and that you hope to be remembered for it.

CH: David Tracy said that it was my great break-through and he is right, but this is part of my general habit of looking beyond dichotomies. They are never adequate -- one side is hopelessly vague every time.

PG: Could you explain this distinction a little bit?

CH: It’s perfectly clear. ‘Actual’ contrasts with possible; ‘exists’ does not. I exist but I have a lot of unactualized possibilities. It is events which are actualities, not persons. And a person is a string of events. The events are the full actuality. What does it mean to say that I exist today? It means that whatever made me Charles Hartshorne up to now made me that person up to yesterday. It’s still expressed in actualities. These are what Whitehead calls ‘actual entities.’ I got the key there from Whitehead’s actual entities, but he never distinguished it sharply from existence. Actual entities do not exist, and experiences do not exist. That’s contrary to good English.

PG: So what exists?

CH: Persons. Societies of actual entities are what exists, and species of societies exist. Species of animals exist, provided there are animals having actual experiences -- not existing experiences, but actual experiences. It’s clear. Show me any lack of clarity in that and I’ll give you $50!

PG: We cannot say, then, that micro-beings, that is, actual occasions, exist. They are actual. Existence can only be ascribed to societies of actual entities?

CH: Yes, but societies can be macroscopic or microscopic. Societies are sequential. They are the societies of actualities, and they are what exists. You see, you do not ask: "Does the experience you are having now exist?" Nobody would ask that. It would be a very unnatural use of language and I think that’s one of the ways in which language is wise. There is a lot of wisdom in language. One of my favorite examples of that is: you can say "I love me," but you cannot say "I love I" -- that’s ghastly English and it’s bad philosophy. I could not love myself if it was just my present experience. What I’m loving of myself is my past experience, and my sense of future experiences. If that is not clear, show me something clearer. I bet you cannot do it!

PG: One of the very fundamental metaphysical problems is the problem of universals. There are some important differences between Whitehead and you on this matter. Could you explain them?

CG: It’s wrong to think, and Whitehead comes far too close to it, that things have quality by having universals, eternal objects ingressing in their experience. I think that’s a very dubious way of talking. You see, the nominalistic alternative is to talk about similarity. Now the idea of similarity is a very special idea. What do I mean by yellow? I mean the color of dandelions and so on. A lot of things are similar in their color, and what that similarity is about, I call that, "yellow." But it does not mean that yellow is any definite entity. And if you deny that, then you’ve got to face the fact that there are similarities among universals. They too have similarities and dissimilarities. The universal, "yellow," has a lot of similarity to the universal "orange" which it does not have to the universal "red." So, you’ve got to take similarity as very fundamental -- and it’s more fundamental in a way than this notion of ingression.

The Person and Immortality

PG: There is something intriguing in your view of time in relation to memory and perception. In our experience, the present is very distinct from the past and the future, and perception is distinct from memory. In your view, however, perception seems to be only a special case of memory.

CH: I sometimes define perception as impersonal memory. Is that what you mean?

PG: Yes. Could you explain it?

CH: Actually the present we know is always the very near past, and here again there are antecedents. As I remember, Paul Natorp in his book on psychology said that introspection is really awareness of the immediate past. Ryle says that introspection is really memory -- it’s a special use of memory. I think that Whitehead is saying that as well. I know myself intuitively because I intuit my past experiences. But the actuality that does that knowing does not prehend itself. Prehension is never an identity relation. It’s always a one-way relation and one of my puzzles is, what do I do with clairvoyance? In some cases it’s very hard to argue away. They look impressive, as though somebody intuits a concrete and even an accidental future thing. I’m not sure what to say about that, except that I’m not going to change my system until a lot of experts have accepted clairvoyance. But I admit that I think it’s a puzzle; and one fairly good philosopher of science is convinced that clairvoyance does occur, and it would mean that there is a kind of reverse memory of what’s going to happen.

PG: Could you clarify in what sense you use the term ‘experience’? You seem to use it not only in an epistemological, but also in an ontological sense -- it is not only that we have experiences but the world consists of experiences.

CH: Well that’s not the initial thing. That’s a conclusion. But each moment you or I have an experience, in that, perhaps we’re having visual perception, perhaps it’s hearing something, or maybe we’re feeling a sore foot or a slight headache or toothache -- all sorts of things, and in addition we’re remembering our past and so on -- but in each moment there is just one experience. Now I think it was Hobbes who seemed to think that there’s no unitary present experience. Carnap thought that was odd, and I agree with him. There is a whole experience, but it isn’t just cognizing. That’s a hopeless mistake, and Husserl comes much too close to that; he separates off all feeling as being somewhat irrelevant. Nonsense. If I do not know something when I have a toothache, then I’m a pretty stupid person. I know there is something wrong with me. That’s knowledge, not just feeling; and feeling, not just knowledge.

JK: Would you interchange the words ‘feeling’ and ‘experience’ and say that they are similar?

CH: Feeling is a minimal function of experience. I would say memory is another, but it could be very minimal -- extremely minimal. It could be memory that was hopelessly ineffective except for the past millisecond. That’s in principle conceivable. Human memory can go back many years. It cannot go back centuries, and we do not have any animals that can go that far back. There’s no reason why God’s memory cannot go back infinitely far. Now, that’s a real difference. And if you want things that we cannot fully understand -- that is an example. God can supposedly know an infinite number of items, definitely; we cannot.

JK: Do you think that a lot of people find it difficult to accept what you say about feeling?

CH: What did Morris Cohen, an important teacher and a brilliant man, say? What’s the use in thinking that our furniture or our clothing feels? Nobody ever said that! Cohen was not a stupid thinker, but he was being stupid at that moment, and he did not know it. Nobody ever said that clothing feels -- except maybe F. C. S. Schiller. The biggest encyclopedia of philosophy in English is edited by Paul Edwards. He is one of the most biased men. He wrote the essay on panpsychism, and he mentions all the right names, including mine, but the only person he deals with in any extensive way is F. C. S. Schiller. Who cares about Schiller? He was a pragmatist and I do not think any pragmatist bothers about him now. He’s practically a forgotten guy. Edwards names but dismisses Leibniz, Peirce, Whitehead, Bergson, and me. He’s got all the right names, but the only one he talks about is the one that does not matter a bit. It was Schiller who tried to persuade himself that all sorts of things have something a little bit like mind. And Edwards defines panpsychism to mean that. Everything has mind: the table has a mind, the blanket has a mind. If you leave it that way and show how absurd it is, you’ve defined it as absurd, and so it is.

JK: Is there any difference between your view and Whitehead’s when it comes to the mind-body relation?

CH: His whole theory of mind-body relations I accept. I spell it out more explicitly than he sometimes does. And he has a funny little remark about the cells that I do not fully understand, though I’ve thought about it carefully. But I’m practically a pure Whiteheadian on the mind-body relation, which is the basic epistemological problem. Whitehead is clear that what I do most directly experience when I experience that bed is not the bed, but it’s something back in my body. He accepts the physiological evidence for this.

PG: Do you have to go to physiology when you talk about perception? Phenomenologists have contributed a good deal of excellent analyses of perception cognition without it.

CU: I cannot get any great thrill out of all that stuff. We know we have a body. I doubt if we are going to be any wiser because we try to forget that. You know what Peirce said? A philosopher should not pretend to doubt what he believes in his heart. And especially not if all our practical thinking assumes it.

PG: But when I see the bed I do not think about my neurons. Practically speaking, I see the bed directly.

CH: It’s not necessary to be a philosopher to be practical, in certain basic animal and human ways -- and that is why the world got on for a long time without much of what we now think of as philosophy. We did not have to have it. But now that we have so much science and so many conflicting hypotheses and so many conflicting religions, we’ve got to be much more sophisticated. We’ve got to try to decide now what are the beliefs that we only pretend to give up but cannot really give up. I’m a complete pragmatist in that sense. I’ve no interest in any idea that has no relevance to any conceivable practical value. William James put the challenge very clearly: "God is, in every sense, immutable." What does that do for me in any possible practical way? God has all possible value whether I exist or not. How does that have any bearing on how I act? I have to forget it to act -- in fact, I think I have to deny it. I think that James and Peirce were just simply right in this.

JK: When you refer to body, do you refer to identity, to self-identity?

CH: No. You mean the personally ordered society, the history of which involves these gaps in which there is dreamless sleep? You know the funny thing is that people talk as though life is a continuous stream of consciousness. They’ve forgotten that it is broken in one’s sleep. They’ve forgotten that and that’s not a detail either. I am myself and I was myself yesterday; but in deep dreamless sleep, in what sense am I myself? One’s sense of identity is partly a matter of having virtually or nearly the same body, and partly a matter of memory, and also partly a matter of having a reasonably stable environment too.

PG: But in what sense do you speak of the "sameness" of the body?

CH: I do not see that there is any great mystery about that. You see, to say that a thing changes in some respects does not mean that it changes in every respect. You know, perhaps my triadic distinction is between two extremes and a mean between them. There is the Leibnizian extreme that even before I was born I was a fellow who was going to die at a certain time, at a certain age, in a certain way -- and in between there was a law of succession determining everything that was going to happen. That’s an extreme view of self-identity and it makes change and time an utter riddle. And a French scholar of Leibniz said he ought to have said that time was unreal. But he did not dare say that. But Leibniz was utterly handicapped because he had to think about God’s knowledge as timeless. So it fitted nicely, that timelessly I am whatever I ever was or ever can be. That is one extreme, and David Hume is the other extreme. There’s at most a similarity -- there’s no identity at all. That means that my past might have been somebody else’s past; or as Bertrand Russell says, five minutes ago the world might have begun, for all I know. If we’re going to tolerate that kind of stuff, we’ll never know where we are or anything much. Really all the known factual truths we have are about the past. In fact, it’s only thanks to the past that we have much to talk about. So those are the extremes. We have a middle way. Aristotle virtually had it. You know that one of the first books on contemporary European philosophy with a section on Whitehead was written by Bochenski. Bochenski is a great man and it was a good book. I remember saying to Bochenski that reality consists of events. He replied that Aristotle said that, even though he did not say it as clearly as that. I’m very fascinated by the fact that he had that much insight. In terms of the big contrast between Leibniz and Hume, Aristotle is in the middle and that’s the only reasonable place to be. Whitehead is also there, and so is Paul Weiss who quarrels with me on this issue. They are all there in the middle and we’re quarrelling about fine points.

JK: But you would be critical of somebody who would see the soul in any kind of substantial way?

CH: The functions that were ascribed to substance, some of them -- not all of them -- have to be performed by something. Whitehead speaks of ‘societies’, especially personally ordered societies. And I accept Whitehead completely on that.

PG: You usually criticize the concept of substance, but the Aristotelian concept of substance was a middle way. Aristotle thought about substance as being relatively, rather than totally, self-identical.

CU: On some issues I was not fair to him. I’ve changed my mind. That is because I forgot one of my own main points. I see that I should have been looking for the moderate view of substance, and he had it. One of the few things I regret about Insights and Oversights of Great Thinkers, for example, is that I was so scornful about Aristotle’s theory of substance. That was a mistake, and I should not have said that. It was, at best, a good theory for its time. The worst thing about it was that it was weak on the inter-relations of substances. No substance can be predicated of another substance. That’s not so. You cannot describe anybody well without mentioning the friends and enemies of that person. The way Aristotle talks, that should not be the case -- a single substance logically ought to be able to be itself in a vacuum. Now he does not believe that but it’s not worked out in a reasonable way. He does have a right view of temporality -- that the past is a precondition of what’s already there now, and what happens tomorrow is not a precondition of what is there now. Whatever my descendants may do, I am what I am; but if you say I am what I am whatever my ancestors did -- that does not make much sense. But Aristotle did not overstate what is meant by self-identity. He knew that it did not mean absolute identity. It meant identity in essentials but not in the accidents. There he is in the middle ground compared to the genuine extremes.

JK: So you would agree that your concept of person is parallel to the Aristotelian idea of substance?

CH: Sure, if he had not said this thing that a subject cannot be predicated. A subject can be part of the predicate of another subject. To be a friend or an enemy of somebody -- that’s an important characteristic of a person. Aristotle did not have a proper theory of internal and external relations. The problem is hardly discussed. I think you can find it in Plato though, but I doubt if Aristotle was ever clear. Yet Aristotle was clear on one point: he said that if an animal walks around a pillar, the animal is related to the pillar, but the pillar is not related to the animal. That is because the animal perceives the pillar, and the pillar does not perceive the animal. That makes a good deal of sense. It’s just a fragment. It seems that he never works that into a system.

JK: Are we just the sum of our relations?

CH: No. The final concrete terms are what Whitehead calls actualities. They’re not just a bundle of relations. An experience is not a bundle -- it’s a complex prehension, an exceedingly complex prehensive experience. Of course you can have adjectives like "happy." A person can be happy and there are any number of degrees and kinds of happiness, and to some extent you can detach those from what the person is happy about; similarly with painful, unpleasant experiences. If you take an actual entity as a noun, then you have the old subject-predicate thing: an actual entity is the subject, and "happy" or "dismal" is the predicate. But suppose you want to say that the subject knows. The question is: "Knows what?" or "Does some action about what?" You’ve got to bring in the other side. Without relations, nothing is. There could not be any adjectives without nouns and propositions without terms and relations. And a complete theory of subject, predicate, noun and verb is hardly worked out yet. You have to have a calculus of individuals in order to make a formal logic, and I’ve not gone into that very thoroughly.

PG: For an existential Thomist, the sphere of existence is the most important metaphysical dimension. Now, if we do not think in this context, in the perspective of existence, but only in the perspective of nature, then it may seem that relations are essential; but if we include the aspect of existence as the most important, then we may say, for example, "I am married to a certain person," but when this person dies it does not destroy my being. I still exist, so this relation is not essential to my being as a person. I may change my nationality, I may change my relations.

CH: I think that the Aristotelian notion of accidents covers that. You see, Whitehead says that the self-identity of a society is not an absolute thing. It is relative, it has degrees. Was I myself as a newborn baby? I would say that I was not. There was no ego there in the sense that there is now, and certainly there was not in the fetus. That’s a very loose and weak kind of identity. Certainly chemical things were foetally determined about me -- ultra microscopic things -- that’s all. So to call that a person -- that’s what makes me so furious about these pro-life people. You have to be very careful in going back with the idea of person. You see, once a person is a few years old, you can always identify that person as one who had those previous experiences. You have to get this gradual society going a little bit -- then you can say that what continues can be called a "society," but then the further along you go the less can be added. It is already fairly largely determined.

JK: How then would you define a person?

CH: As Whitehead would: that a "person" is "a personally ordered society of actualities," and every person is incarnate in a body, including God as a person. The universe is the divine body. Whitehead made a bad mistake in rejecting Plato at this point. The whole idea of a "self" is a tricky one. The first person pronoun can be used in obviously very different ways. I was born in Kitanning. What does the "I" mean -- my kind of consciousness as a philosopher? No, that did not even exist in Kitanning. So you have to be very careful. Suppose you say, "I just had a new idea;" the "haver" of that idea is not the fellow who lived twenty-seven years ago. He never had that idea and never will have that. It’s the slightly new "haver" of ideas in the sense that I’m a new subject of a new self, even though I would say it’s still the same mind or person.

PG: Would you say that human self-identity is real?

CH: I have not denied that it is real, but it is partial identity. Leibniz defined complete identity and defined it rightly. It means that all the properties are the same. But that’s a very trivial kind of identity. It’s not useful. It has nothing to do with personal identity. But you see, day after day, I have the same childhood -- nobody else’s -- and I’m the only one who has it. So that’s real identity -- it does not change. It does not acquire any new properties. I acquire new properties in relation to it; it does not acquire new properties in relation to me. You see, I radically deny that the past changes at all. Of course, as soon as it is past there is a new present. The past is indestructible; that’s what is meant by the immortality of the past. It applies not just to me but to animals, and to everything. Bergson said it. Bergson said that duration is creation or nothing. It’s not destruction -- just creation.

JK: Mention of the immortality of the past brings me to ask you about immortality and death.

CH: Max Scheler had a few brilliant insights. I do not think he was a great philosopher, but he had some great flashes of insight. We ought, he said, to know intuitively that we’re going to die even if we’d never seen a corpse, never heard of death or anything, by the fact that when we’re young we have an open future and we can do this and that and the other thing. When we decide not to do this -- that’s a limitation that we’ve now accepted. Well then, we make another decision, not to do something -- we might have done it but we’re not going to. We get ourselves more and more bound in with the things we’re not going to do, and it’s too late to do them. From all this we ought to know that we’re going to die, he says. I think it’s a wonderful insight: it makes sense to regard our lives as temporarily finite, as well as spatially finite, and Peirce saw that and he saw immortality as an attempt to make us infinite in time, although we’re finite in space. He said, "Give me any argument to show that we’re not finite in time, and I’ll show you a similar argument that we must be infinite in space." I do not believe, and I do not think that scientists ought to believe, that the world is infinite. Einstein said, and he was probably right, that we could never prove that it was infinite empirically. But we might prove that it was finite. I do not see any use for an infinite space; but an infinite time, that’s different. Even Kant made the distinction, and I’m pleased to note that G.E. Moore is on my side. G.E. Moore says we do not need any infinite space, but we need a beginningless past-time and an endless potential future time.

JK: Could you say something about your views on immortality and the possibility of life after death?

CH: I’ve just been quoting Peirce on that.

JK: You mentioned in a recent letter to me that Peirce has been influential in this regard. I’ve read quite a good deal of your work and you very rarely refer to Peirce in this context.

CH: Well, I only discovered recently what Peirce says. His view was that it is nobler not to believe in [what’s conventionally meant by] immortality, because it forces us to look beyond ourselves for our ultimate aim. That seems to me to be exactly right. And the ancient Jews conformed to that. I’m astonished and shocked how seldom Christians remind themselves that the people who first had the kind of belief in God that we more or less have did not believe in personal immortality. Christians forget that, just as much as they can. In a poem written in 1912 (when I was 14), I presuppose a conventional idea of heaven, but after encountering Whitehead on objective immortality I felt that nothing more was needed.

JK: You refer to your mother at one point -- that she believed in personal immortality.

CH: She never talked about it, and I do not think she would have been shocked by Whitehead’s ‘objective immortality’ in the mind of God. It might have caused a little bit of a stir in her mind, but I do not think she’d have been very much upset.

JK: What about your father’s belief?

CH: He was very reserved about it, and I do not know that it would have shocked him terribly. Reinhold Niebuhr told me he would not say that a Christian could not accept objective immortality.

JK: You seem to argue very strongly that it’s the idea of an infinite future in terms of immortality that you would criticize. Is there room for the possibility that for some period of time there could be personal immortality?

CH: Non-infinite survival would provide what you suggest here, but I see no very strong reason to accept it. I think it is essentially an inability to take seriously the formula, "Love God with all our being." You see there are two questions: "Do we survive death?" and "Do we have further experiences?" It’s an entirely different question, an enormously different question. Does this new phase of my career or your career after death, go on infinitely, forever, or not? Now the gap between the finite and the infinite is an infinite gap. People forget that you’d have to know that this survival is somehow so strong that it could go on forever. You’d have to know that God is determined to see to it that it goes on forever. Otherwise, you would not know a thing -- you’d just know that you would survive for a while. I first got that idea from reading Peirce. I’m proud of Bergson (I’m a Bergsonian to quite an extent); Bergson said that he was inclined to believe in immortality, but then later he said that he was not talking about an infinite survival. I thought much more highly of him for that. It’s hard enough, maybe, to believe that God can be deathless, but to grab it for ourselves I think is typical human egotism.

JK: When I read what you said about personal immortality, while I’m inclined to agree with a lot of it -- for example, your rejection of egoism -- I still have some difficulties with it. My hope for my father’s immortality would not be from any egoistic motive but because I would like him to retain his identity in God’s eyes, that he would be remembered precisely as an individual by God, as distinct from any impersonal sense.

CH: But that is how God remembers him, because that’s what he was; he is remembered as what he was.

JK: In that sense is there personal immortality?

CH: Sure. What’s more personal than all the experiences your father ever had and all the experiences the cells of his body ever had?

JK: But he has no future?

CU: You see this is "everlastingness." We forget that there are two kinds of change. There’s a change which involves loss, and maybe there’s a change which involves no loss but only increase. Even the angels do not have that, do they? You have to remember that God’s memory surpasses anything that we have as memory, infinitely. In fact, if Whitehead is right -- he did not quite spell it out -- he seems to believe in an infinite past. And when I asked him about it he seemed to confirm that, and I do not see how his categories would allow him not to. So God is aware of an infinity of past actual entities. Now, compare that to human memory; that’s a fantastic difference. It’s really an infinite difference.

JK: In Christian terms we speak of God as forgiving, and the notion of redemption. Do you feel that the value of the past can change? Even though the past may not change, its value may change for the present?

CH: Obviously the present gets new things out of it [the past], but that value is not back there in the past. The past was when it was, and it can never be or have been anything other than it was. But, you see, human memory does not measure that. I think that apart from God we do not know what truth is, and that is another reason why I believe in God.

JK: Would you argue, then, that God remembers all our experiences, whether good or bad, positive or negative?

CH: You cannot separate the positive from the negative. That’s one reason why God has to be a suffering God. You see I’m going back to one of the early heresies, patripassionism. When I looked it up I saw that they mixed it up with some other things that I do not believe, and that’s true of every heresy I’ve ever looked into. For example, it’s true in Japan. There are a whole lot of heretical forms of Buddhism, quasi-Buddhism in Japan and quasi-Shinto, and each one has a nice idea but it has some other ideas which are not so nice. But to go back to suffering. How can you know what feeling is without yourself feeling? How can you know what pain is if you never feel pain? I do not think that means anything. You might think there’s something that causes creatures to run away from things or something. We would not really know what it’s like to feel pain.

PG: So remembering is the main function of God, the main reason we need God?

CH: I’m glad you put it that way. People ask what does God do in the world; that’s as though the only important thing God can do is done in, or to, the world. Equally important is what God does with the world, not to it. This enables the world to do things to God, and this echoes back to the creatures. God enjoys the beauty of the world; the creatures in their own way enjoy God’s vision of the beauty of the world -- it goes back and forth. Now, how a non-theistic view can be better than that, I just cannot imagine. Some may say it is only wishful thinking. Well, I say if the wishful thinking amounts to wishing that life made some sense, it seems to me that’s very different from wishful thinking. It’s wishful thinking if the mother of a child who has done something felonious goes on thinking that it is a wholly nice child. That kind of thinking maybe is not a very good thing; but, you see, life still makes sense whether she’s right or wrong. Kant said we cannot prove that God exists, but we can show that ethics does not make much sense without God -- therefore he believed in God. I do not reject that. My only quarrel with that is, if it were the only reason, that, I think, would be very suspicious. The absence of other reasons would be really a reason against it. If there’s only one argument for God, and even it scarcely seems conclusive, that’s a pretty weak case. Kant thought that a thoroughly thoughtful ethical person who disbelieved in God was a fool, because he was believing in something that was not really believable or worthwhile. But he was trapped in the view that we have to get a reward in heaven. We do not have to get a reward in heaven for our lives to make sense. Kant thought that the summum bonum must be the perfect marriage of virtue and happiness. That’s in God: He has the summum bonum; we do not have to have it. We contribute to it. As far as I’m concerned, that’s enough, even though some people may say it isn’t. What I would say to that is that when you say you love God with all your being, do you or do you not mean what you say? I mean what I say. Some do not. It’s clear that they do not: their attitude is, I must have my reward. The rational attitude in ethics is not to ask what is in your own self-interest. As Quine says, it’s just as rational to be interested in somebody else’s future. The one great thing about the Buddhists is they got away from self-interest as the principle. And the Christians ought to, if they believe what they say when they speak of loving your neighbor as yourself. What has that to do with self-interest? You’re not supposed to love your neighbor only because he or she is useful to you. That’s abominable.

JK: One belief that you seem to be very clear about is that God needs a world.

CH: Some world or other, yes. Of course, there are lots of people who have said that. I’m by far not the only one.

JK: Would that, in terms of the future, mean that there is always going to be some world for God?

CH: Yes. You’re aware of Whitehead’s phrase, ‘cosmic epochs’? He believes in a beginningless and endless succession of cosmic epochs. That too has a precedent. I think it was Tertullian who said that God has created an infinity of worlds one after the other, but he destroys each one before he makes the new one. Well, in terms of modern physics, that’s like asking, "What was before the Big Bang?" Now, whatever it was, we probably cannot know it, and the laws would have been partly different, so it is inaccessible to us; but God has an awareness of all those others. This is an enormously imaginative thing. That’s the way this man’s mind works. Take his phrase, "In the slow sunrise of a thousand years." A certain idea that was there all along finally becomes important. The Buddhists were like that. Talk to a Buddhist about the whole world beginning four thousand years ago -- that would seem utterly childish to a Buddhist, as it does to Whitehead.

PG: In terms of the whole universe, you seem to ascribe mind to it?

CH: But not to the sun and the stars, not to the galaxies.

PG: And mind would be ascribed also to the metaphysical units like actual occasions or the units of creative synthesis?

CH: No one of my occasions has a mind of its own; that’s a wrong way of talking. I would not even apply the word "soul" there really. I have a soul. That’s probably a better way to talk, but each of my occasions has its own feelings.

PG: You do not mind if somebody refers to you as being an idealist: In what sense do you use the term "idealism"?

CH: Peirce used it a good deal as I do. Whitehead did not. Peirce called himself an idealist over and over again. He put it the following beautiful way: "Mind is the sole self-intelligible thing, and therefore it is entitled to be considered the fountain of existence." I think that’s a marvelous sentence, and only Peirce could have said it. And it has a double meaning -- self-intelligible -- it’s explained in terms of itself and it understands itself. How can matter do that? You say matter can do that too. Well, maybe matter as being able to do that is what I mean by mind. But it prehends, feels others’ feelings. At least there’s no matter that is not able if not as a whole, then in its constituents, to do that according to my view.

PG: So Leibniz in that sense would also be an idealist?

CH: Sure, and I guess he would have said so. Plato was an idealist not just because he believed in the ‘Ideas’. That’s a very silly view of Plato. Burnett put it rightly and I only repeat it. Plato’s great discovery was not the ‘Forms’ but the ‘Soul’. The whole Republic is about the ‘Soul’. Timaeus is about the ‘Soul’, and the Phaedrus is about ‘Soul’. That is what drives the world, not the ‘Forms’.

JK: Not every process writer would agree with you in terms of how you see the relationship between God and psychicalism.

CH: Schubert Ogden has one bone to pick with me and it’s so subtle. He thinks that theology should not be burdened with psychicalism -- that’s an extra baggage they do not have to carry, and he does not like my saying that God is ‘supreme consciousness.’ He says that’s another metaphor like Tillich’s word ‘symbolic.’ It applies to God only symbolically. I think that theology got along with a mind-matter dualism for two thousand years but it always was an awkward thing. That’s what Berkeley tried to remedy; it’s what Peirce tried to remedy. I think it’s about time that we ought to be sophisticated enough to face the fact that if we can use mind or knowledge or love -- any of these psychological predicates to apply to God, to make the whole jump from us to God -- we ought to be able to make the downward jump from us to atoms or particles and not come to zero. Because when you come to zero what have you got left of God? All of the creatures must be images of God in some attenuated sense, and the scholastics said that, especially in the Reformation period. If there’s no mind I do not see how there’s God. A lot of physicists believe that mind is everywhere. Sewell Wright was a thoroughly convinced psychicalist. He did not think that a bed has feelings or feels. It’s the molecules and the cells that feel, But Fechner had just the wrong kind of psychicalism. Fechner knew there were two kinds: there’s the monadological and the synecological kind. The synecological kind thinks it’s the big things that have mind. The earth has a mind, the other planets, I suppose -- I would not think the moon. And the universe has a mind. Well, the universe is a very different thing than the moon, an extremely different thing. The moon does not have it’s own laws; the cosmos has its own laws. That’s a mighty difference. That’s a big jump. Plato knew it. When you’re talking about the universe, you’re talking about a principle, not just a big detail.

General Issues

PG: You said in some of your writings that necessity may be established only by intellectual experiment. Are you somewhat influenced by Husserl’s concept of imaginative variation?

CH: Yes, that’s one of the true things that Husserl said. He had a lot of foolish things, but that was one of the true things. Whitehead says the same thing independently. We must think of experience -- drunk experience, sober experience -- we must go through all the possibilities.

PG: What do you see as the value of current philosophical orientations, e.g., deconstructionism?

CH: Well, they take a quarter of the truth and try to make it a whole truth. There’s some truth in what they say. Language is very tricky and so on. There’s a new book about Derrida. I’m tempted to buy it and look into it a little more carefully. They admit themselves, or so I’m told, that deconstructionism must also be deconstructed, an "ism" that cannot be taken very seriously or very literally. It’s as though we were completely trapped behind language -- as though by having language we’re cut off from the world. They’re dealing with other (non-human) animals (and with inanimate objects) and they’re dealing with us, so they’re better off without language. They do not know they do not have a world, we cannot know that we have a world -- but they have a world just the same and we have it too. It seems to me so obvious that some things are literally true about nature -- for example, that there are all those other animals. What’s untrue about that? Why worry about whether it’s true or not?

PG: What about neo-pragmatism and these types of thinkers? You mentioned Richard Rorty.

CH: I do not know what his philosophy amounts to. He keeps insinuating various things. Thus he believes that there is no genuine freedom -- he’s a determinist. There was a time when great minds believed that -- they do not do it now. Does Popper believe it? No. Did Peirce believe it? No. Did Whitehead believe it, did Bergson? Who believes it? Rorty! Good luck to him!

JK: You mentioned that you would regard Niebuhr as the best theologian in America.

CH: I would say that Jonathan Edwards, Tillich, and Niebuhr are the three best theologians this country ever had. And I would put Tillich third, I think, even though he knew more philosophy than the others. I think that Edwards was a genius, and I think that Tillich was a great man. Niebuhr said that he was not confident that it was wrong to accept Whitehead’s ‘objective immortality’ as the real thing, but he said that he preferred to leave it a mystery. Well, I do not want to quarrel with that,

JK: Would you regard your writings as being close to Christianity or closer to Judaism, or, in fact, closer to Buddhism?

CH: I would say that the parables of Jesus, and the way he said that the two "great" commandments summed up everything, are what I believe -- but if you say you’re a Christian, then people think that you have to believe in heaven and maybe in hell too, and who knows what. And the Book of Revelation -- I, and my father and D.H. Lawrence and Charles Peirce and A.N. Whitehead (very different people), all agree -- the Book of Revelation has no place in the Bible -- It’s a mess. It’s rotten. It’s not Christian at all, and it’s not good for anything. That book should not have been there. It’s amazing -- my father was so pleased when he found two great philosophers who agreed with him and D.H. Lawrence. He knew about Lawrence, but did not know about Peirce or Whitehead -- he was tickled to death. So that’s the trouble about saying that you’re a Christian. And there’s another thing -- there’s anti-semitism. I’m inclined to say the following: if you’re so sure that the Christians were right on all the religious issues and the Jews were wrong, then you’re awfully close to anti-semitism and I would not trust you. There’s a very good chance that they were right part of the time against the Christians -- a very good chance. Everything I know about human nature supports this.

JK: Probably one of the key differences between Judaism and Christianity concerns the meaning of the resurrection.

CH: Yes. That’s where my father is stuck -- and he acted a little bit anti-semitically, too. He thought there must have been something miraculous. He was willing to doubt lots of miracles, but somehow if there was nothing miraculous, how did the thing ever get going? The man was dead, crucified. Why did it not just end? I do not know, but then I do not know why Buddhists succeeded. To me that’s extraordinary. I cannot explain it, so that kind of evidence is not enough for me. Dr. Samuel Johnson -- that was his argument, and I know a learned scholar in Chinese and Japanese and that’s her argument. She’s a historian. I would have to be a better historian, and take a lot of time before I could trust this, if I ever could.

JK: At one stage you say that when we speak about Jesus we’re speaking about matters of history, and that’s a separate issue from matters of philosophy.

CH: Of course I agree that a religion has to be partly historical. It’s partly about human beings, and that’s not a metaphysical issue unless you generalize it terrifically. You’ve got other possible planets with possible inhabitants and some Christians do not like that idea. But I know some humanists -- and this just makes me laugh -- who were so humanistic they thought it was a ghastly idea that we were not the only rational animals in the universe. I have no sympathy for that. They want a universe to be small enough so that we’re the biggest thing in it. That’s not my wish -- I do not care how big the universe is -- and I hope there’s some species somewhere that are better than we are. That ought to be quite conceivable.

PG: If you were to single out some of your contributions to philosophy or theology, what would they be?

CH: I do not know. I cannot choose much among my books. My first philosophical book was Beyond Humanism. I would say that is pretty much superseded. They reprinted it and some still like it. I called myself a naturalist then. I’ve given that up. I think that’s misleading. God is not natural as most naturalists think of things. For me "naturalist" means "one fascinated by nature." They are fascinated by human nature.

JK: One final question concerns the rather optimistic thrust of your writings. Do you believe that good will outweigh evil?

CH: I do not believe that any animal can be forced to live. I think that any animal that lives wants to live. It may not say so. You cannot live, certainly not long, without wanting to live. The cells of your body have their own little wills to live, so they will carry you along to some extent; but if you do not want to live, if you do not get any satisfaction out of living, you’ll not live long, and you’ll do a lot of damage to yourself psychologically. Therefore, I think that Schopenhauer was almost as wrong as he could have been. He claimed that, since we’re never content with what we have now -- we always want something else and we move on and on to something different -- this means that we’re forever discontented. I think that is a fallacy. I think we live because we do get satisfaction out of living. We do not live very vigorously or very well, if we do not. And Schopenhauer got a lot of satisfaction out of life, sometimes in pretty illegitimate ways, according to his own beliefs. He was an extraordinary puzzle. So the classical statement that "Being, as such, is good," is a little more true than many people have realized. There is some good even in painful experiences. If not, you’d lose consciousness. I remember the case where a mother who had lost her husband said that she did not want to live. Then they brought her baby out, and she said, "Well, I’ll live for you." The difference is that when she was not thinking of the child she got no satisfaction out of living, but the child gave her satisfaction. In a sense I’m a fundamental optimist. Optimism is much more right than pessimism. But extremes are always bad. Extreme optimism would mean that you’d be careless about dangers -- that is something else. I do believe there is some good in all life, and when we complain about our experiences and say how bad they are, we mean that they could be so much better. We do not mean that there is no good at all -- there’s always some good. Reality is basically good.


1. The table that was referred to is the following:


1. N.n C.n NC.n O.n

2. N.c C.c NC.c O.c


4. N.O C.O NC.O O.O

I = God is in all respects Necessary.

II = God is in all respects Contingent.

III = God is (in diverse respects) Necessary and Contingent.

IV = God is impossible (or has no modal status).

1. = World (what is not God) is in all respects necessary.

2. = World is in all respects contingent.

3. = World is (in diverse respects) necessary and contingent.

4. = World is impossible (or has no modal status).