Experience and Philosophy: A Review of Hartshorne’s Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 49, Vol. 2, Number 1, Spring 1972. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


The author offers a listing of Hartshorne’s achievements and difficulties, and concludes that his philosophy does not capture the living waters of experience. That is, it makes experience philosophically uninteresting.

I. Hartshorne’s Achievement

The twentieth century has not been graced with many complete philosophies. In Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method Charles Hartshorne demonstrates that his is among the few.1 Of course, completeness in a philosophy is relative to what the philosophy says it should contain. Hartshorne himself has said on many occasions that the problem of God is the consummate philosophic problem, and, in light of his earlier books, many people had suspected he was a one-issue philosopher; this book sets that fear to rest.2 The volume systematically covers all the main problems its basic principles say should be covered -- logical, epistemological, methodological, historical, moral and metaphysical. If Harts-horne’s philosophic world has less variety in it than, say, Paul Weiss’s there are philosophic reasons for it.3

Hartshorne’s book is also complete in its positioning of the personae. The dominant character, of course, is Charles Hartshorne himself. Without pretension he assumes his place as a grand master of American philosophy, citing opinions he developed fifty years ago, giving a personal history of his career, his friends and his controversies, but never losing the thread of his abstract argument. More than any other philosophy book I know, the identity of this one’s author is drawn out explicitly, yet without nostalgia or irrelevant anecdote. There is an alter ego to Hartshorne’s career depicted here, Paul Weiss, to whom the book is dedicated. Nonsectarian metaphysics in the middle two quarters of the twentieth century has survived in the careers of these two philosophers, virtually alone, and Hartshorne shows here what it has been like. In this respect Hartshorne’s book has the historical interest of Weiss’s Philosophy in Process volumes; but unlike Weiss’s historical reflections, Hartshorne’s are always in the context of his familiar abstract argumentation about what must be true apriori.4

Two things stand out in Hartshorne’s reading of history. First, his philosophy finds a location in the history of philosophy only by reinterpreting the main emphases of that history. In a sense every new philosophical position requires a reinterpretation of history. Whitehead had attempted something of the sort in Part II of Process and Reality: but Hartshorne carries the reinterpretation out thoroughly, from Plato and Aristotle to Nagel, Quine. Wittgenstein and von Wright.

Second, Hartshorne takes the history of philosophy to include Indian and Chinese philosophy as well as the footnoters of Plato. Not since Hegel has a major philosopher had this catholicity, and Hegel ruined his point by relating the traditions sequentially, not as alternatives. Like Whitehead. Hartshorne attacks the idea of substance as supposed by the Western tradition since the Greeks. To many in the West this attack seems preposterous. But in India and China, only a fool would believe in enduring substances! Hartshorne does not allow this polemical evidence to be discounted. The age in which a responsible thinker can ignore the traditions of the East is past.

The completeness of philosophy in Hartshorne’s book is also exhibited in the fact it is a book you would give to non-philosophical friends. Not that this book is any less tightly argued or given to symbolic expression than Hartshorne’s previous works. The arguments here are directed at intelligence, but not at academic sophistication per se. Hartshorne has hit the golden mean for pitching one’s philosophical address to both expert and layman.

Furthermore, Hartshorne is basically persuasive, at least to me, on at least seven basic points. Since this review was commissioned to be an outsider’s critique of Hartshorne’s philosophy, it is important to put the points of agreement forward at the beginning.

1. Hartshorne has not only urged the importance of metaphysics, but in this book he has also demonstrated it by example. "Metaphysics" in this context means the study of the conditions for, or what would be true in, any possible world. Hartshorne calls metaphysical statements apriori, and there may be some problems about that (discussed in VII below); but it is clear that metaphysical statements are not subject to test in any ordinary experimental way. Their importance lies in this, that the metaphysical structure of the world sets the conditions for experience, and if that structure is misunderstood, experience itself will be misunderstood. One cannot do without metaphysics; one can only have a better or worse metaphysics.

2. Hartshorne also makes clear the importance of systematic philosophy. Not all metaphysics is systematic and not only metaphysics is systematic. In fact, Hartshorne’s preoccupation with apriori philosophy may have led him to neglect a systematic consideration of some of the more experiential elements of life. In this, he again contrasts with Weiss. But he shows the importance of system in another way. In discussing why proofs for the existence of God are valuable, even though people might still reject them, Hartshorne points out that, at the very least, the proofs illuminate the price of rejecting the conclusion: namely, having to relinquish some of their premises or habits of inference (pp. 257f). So it is with the systematic connections of all life -- rejecting a belief in one domain might require paying a price somewhere else. The pedestrian applicability of this point is obvious in this day of environmental collapse beneath the weight of technological exploitation.

3. Hartshorne shows the viability of construing creativity rather than being as the basic metaphysical category. Whitehead. of course, had elaborated a system in which being was defined as potentiality for becoming in the creative process, and Bergson earlier has argued someone ought to invent such a system. But Hartshorne shows the "viability" of this program by using the Whiteheadian categories to sort through the main problems and figures of philosophy. Whereas it could still be argued against Whitehead that creativity is basic only within his own system. Hartshorne has shown that a great many other philosophers would have been better off with creativity at the root of their visions.

But "viability" is a weasel word for describing a philosophy. Elsewhere I have argued that Whitehead’s notion of creativity answers only to some cosmological questions about the world, leaving the more ultimate ontological ones untouched (6). For his part, Hartshorne’s interpretation of God so qualifies his meaning of creativity that the contrast between becoming and eternity within the cosmological process is softened, reduced in fact to what Peirce would call a "degenerate third."5 So I must claim that Hartshorne is at two removes from the truth. To reveal my position at the outset, I believe that the ultimate category at the ontological level has to do with creation ex nihilo, not with creativity bringing a new "one" out of antecedent manifolds (cf. 4). And at the cosmological level something like Plato’s irreducible contrast between being and becoming exhibits more intensity for experience than the swallowing of being into becoming, or vice versa.

4. Hartshorne masterfully demonstrates the importance of memory and perception for causation, and shows how Whitehead’s notion of "prehension" is a brilliant example of metaphysical generalization (pp. 910. One thing causes another by being prehended by it, and prehension is of some past occasion of experience. Hartshorne goes a long way toward showing the viability of this notion for interpreting causation in general. He does not show how the theory of prehension can render a consistent theory of causation, for Whitehead did that in Process and Reality. (especially Part IV that nobody reads!). Hartshorne shows instead, how the idea of prehension handles issues as formulated by the public philosophical discussion, This advance from the privacy of Whitehead’s system to the public arena is one of Hartshorne’s most important contributions. Hartshorne has always dealt with problems as formulated by public discussion, usually that of analytical philosophers, and he has argued consistently that his ideas solve their problems better than their own.

Once again, however, the viability of Hartshorne’s analysis must be qualified. The qualification I would append is to restore the doctrine of "perishing" to the significance Whitehead gave it. Hartshorne is concerned to say that actualities do not perish in any significant sense. His words are worth quoting:

Whitehead calls all past events "actual entities", or "actual occasions", and this in spite of his saying that actualities "perish", a metaphor which has sadly misled many (unless something else has sadly misled me). They "perish yet live for evermore" is the final word of Process and Reality, and to this I adhere, whether or not Whitehead did. The perishing, taken anything like literally, is an illusion occasioned by the hiddenness of deity from us. But, as Whitehead at least sometimes explicates the term, it has nothing to do with an internal change from vital actuality to a corpse or skeleton, but is merely the fact that the definite actual subject is now also object for further subjects. No longer is it the latest verge of actuality, since there is now a richer reality, including the latest one. This has nothing to do, at least in my theory, with an inner shrinkage or impoverishment. (p. 118)

Significant or not, something is lost from the present becoming of an occasion when it is finished and past. The occasion has lost its subjective feeling of being in process. This feeling has to do with entertaining a somewhat vague proposition as a lure for one’s own concretion, with subjective elements of negativity in not having embodied that proposition, in having alternative concretions, and so forth. To be sure, there are propositions intermediate in the concrescence of an occasion expressing this feeling of being in process. All prehension of past conscious thought depends upon a subsequent occasion’s having a hybrid-physical prehension of these intermediate propositions as embodied in the objectified subjective form of the finished occasion. In this sense, all continuity of conscious life depends on the objectification of those intermediate propositions. But there is a difference between these propositions themselves and the subjective feeling of them. The propositions are enjoyed subjectively and that gives them the special tone of subjective life. The feeling of deciding is not the same as entertaining in propositional form the alternatives for decision. Subject life is the feeling of incompleteness on the way to completion. It is the feeling of self-creativity. And that must pass away when completion is attained.

Is the perishing of subjective immediacy of creativity in an occasion a matter of significance? It seems to me this issue depends on whether one’s ultimate ontology is a monism in which the world is summed up in its achieved value---a value-oriented twist on the Aristotelian notion that the best being is that which is complete in itself -- or a fundamental dualism in which value-achievement is always contrasted with creative value-achieving. Hartshorne holds to the former view, whereas Whitehead held to the latter. I agree with Whitehead, for reasons to be given later. The point here is that the loss of immediacy of becoming is of essential significance to the dualistic view. If becoming stands in fundamental ontological contrast with being, then the rhythm of creating and perishing must be integrated with the rhythm of many which becomes a one (which in turn is part of a new many which becomes a new one, and so forth). Of course the rhythm of the immediate process has no being or achievement other than the determinate occasions it brings to fact; but that is the poignancy of change and becoming, always losing its thrust when it succeeds. And I must admit that Whitehead, in his discussion of the Category of the Ultimate in Process and Reality, emphasized the accomplishment in reality of the definite manys and ones, to the subordination of the infinite incompletion of creativity. Nevertheless, if we say, as I think we should, that the subjective feeling of creative unification of the incomplete is at the heart of human experience and the universe, and that our ontology should reflect this by maintaining the fundamental contrast between creative becoming and accomplished being, then perishing is a very important doctrine indeed!

5. Hartshorne presents the best case against determinism I have seen. In his introductory essay, "A Philosophy of Shared Creative Experience," he develops the notion of creativity through a careful polemic against determinism. and argues persuasively that no event can be analyzed exhaustively into the realities of its antecedents. At the very least the event must synthesize the antecedents in its own self. Even if the pattern for synthesis comes from antecedents, the synthesizing itself is new. It is interesting to complement Hartshorne’s arguments in this regard with Weiss’s. Weiss’s usual line is to say that if determinism is true, no change can take place because there could be nothing new (cf. 8:3-11 and 9:42-45). Hartshorne and Weiss are not usually so nicely complementary.

The source for both Hartshorne and Weiss’s opinions on this point is Charles Peirce, whose essay, "The Doctrine of Necessity Examined," presents a more dialectical argument than that of either of his students for why people might mistakenly believe in determinism (7: pars. 35-65). This remark is a good occasion for stressing Hartshorne’s indebtedness to Peirce. He is usually called a Whiteheadian and, judging on the basis of his language, for good reason. This book very clearly shows that Peirce was nearly an equal influence with Whitehead (cf. pp. xv f) and in fact where Hartshorne has departed from Whitehead it has often been for Peircean (or Roycean) reasons. He thinks Peirce’s categories should be purified, that they should be applied to God, and that Peirce’s emphasis on continuity is one-sided. But these are minor corrections compared (a) with his rejection of Whitehead’s doctrine of eternal objects, (b) with his claim that God is a society, not a single actual occasion. (c) with his wariness of the doctrine of phases in an actual occasion, and (d) with his modification of the Whiteheadian doctrine of perishing. Some graduate student should write a thesis on Peirce as the founder of process philosophy!5

The attack on determinism, quite apart from its systematic philosophical interest, is a matter of vital cultural importance today. The publication of B. F. Skinner’s Beyond Freedom and Dignity signals the direction in which our established social currents are carrying us in the reorganization of society to respond to new technological conditions. Skinner rightly sees that behavior control is one of the great problems of the technological age. But his conception of the solution is so derivative from his scientific mythology that the values at stake in behavior control are trivialized before the problem is taken up. Hartshorne’s attack on determinism should demythologize scientific determinism once and for all. It should be noted, however, that this is only a first step. Hartshorne’s vision of things does little to articulate positively either the wealth of human freedom and dignity or the achievements of culture attained through nobility and suffering that are necessary to be reappropriated if the real stakes in behavior control are to become apparent.

6. Hartshorne has demonstrated the viability of the doctrine that events, not substances, are the basic individuals of the world. Again, the theory was Whitehead’s, at least in its rough contours, but the viability for public discussion comes from Hartshorne’s work. In his chapter "Events, Individuals and Predication: Defense of Event Pluralism" Hartshorne shows how the process conception of events answers to the problems of predication better than the substance conception does. The main traditional defense of the doctrine of substance has been that it is required to make sense of predication, and Hartshorne attacks this belief at its core. This is the point at which he cites the authority of the Buddhist tradition with good results. The Buddhists, of course, have never been taken in by the substance doctrine, and Hartshorne reminds us we do not have to grope back to a few epigrams from Heraclitus to get a considerable body of interpretation of the claim that all things flow (p. 177).

A serious question must be raised here, however, concerning whether Hartshorne has proved as much as he believes. His chief polemical focus is to show that individual events are the most concrete of things because the connectives between events, taken by themselves, are always somewhat abstract and indifferent to the adventitious determinations of the events connected. I have no quarrel with this. But the question has long been raised, by Weiss among others, whether this view of events, and of persons as event-sequences, properly accounts for the continuity of the enduring human being. At the outset it can be admitted that the continuity is perhaps not as concrete as the events themselves. But for the most human purposes the continuity is much more important than the concreteness, and although Hartshorne admits this, he does not see much force in the point (p. 195).

7. As a final persuasive point, Hartshorne has made out the case for the greater excellence of relativity over independence, just as he rejects the substance doctrine of ultimate individuals, so he rejects the correlative belief, stemming from Aristotle, that self-sufficiency, the ability to be complete by oneself, is the greatest kind of excellence. Rather, the greater excellence is in being sensitive and responsive to the elements in the environment.7

The process model of a thing, of course, is the self-constitution of a new entity out of a plurality of past things, and Whitehead had worked out the basic logic of this position. But Hartshorne shows its advantages in a range of questions from metaphysics on the one side to ethics on the other. To be unrelated to something existent in one’s environment, to which there is a real possibility of being related, is a mark of stupidity and fragility.

Philosophical theses can have plausibility (or implausibility) on at least two levels. On the one hand they can be defended individually in the dialectic of the public discussion. On the other hand they can be defended as interpreted by a comprehensive systematic metaphysical theory. In the former the interpretive theory is presupposed but employed vaguely or suppressed from the discussion entirely. In the latter the individual theses stand or fall with the whole theory interpreting them. I believe Hartshorne has successfully defended the seven points mentioned above mainly on the first level. I have serious critical questions to raise about his theoretical interpretation of the whole. So, whereas I am persuaded of these theses in general, it may take some theory other than Hartshorne’s to interpret them systematically. To be sure. Hartshorne considers the systematic defense to be the most important. And in pursuit of this he tends to neglect the philosophical job of articulating the wealth of human experience; experience, for him, enters primarily in reference to the system. But it is with the system itself that I have my greatest quarrels. The remaining sections shall therefore be devoted mainly to negative criticisms at this level.

II Continuity

The problem of the continuity of individual life is the first issue to be taken up. No complaint is being voiced with the process commitment to events or with the claim that an enduring individual is an event-sequence. The problem concerns what distinguishes those event-sequences that are enduring individuals from those that are not.

Whiteheads answer is that the event-sequence of an enduring individual has all its members characterized by a certain pattern, or by closely resembling patterns, whereas other event-sequences do not. For instance, the event-sequence of a human being repeatedly exhibits the human arrangement of bodily parts, no matter how the person is postured in diverse events.

But the important kind of human continuity seems not to be organic, but rather mental. Prosthetic devices can replace a person’s body, but he would still be himself if his emotional and intellectual continuity were preserved. Yet conscious mental life is characterized by novelty of thought-pattern, not repetition. Whitehead in fact makes the point that repetition in the bodily environment is the necessary prerequisite for novelty of imagination. Therefore, repetition of pattern cannot by itself account for continuity. As Hartshorne points out, the event-sequences leading to mentally dominant events are generally of two basic types, memory and perception. A memory event-sequence goes back through brain events all of which belong to the remembering person. But perceptive event-sequences, by definition, are quickly traced out through the sense organs into the events of the environment explicitly not parts of the person. So whereas the memory event-sequence repeats the remembered pattern through occasions all of which are part of the person, a perceptive event-sequence repeats the perceived pattern through a series some of whose members in principle are outside the person.

Perhaps a person’s dominantly mental events are his own, not so much because they repeat a pattern intrinsically, but rather because they feel themselves always to be taking place in the environment of the person’s body, and that body is perceived to have a repeating pattern. There is a profound cosmological and phenomenological truth in this. A person’s feeling of continuity with his past thoughts reflects a feeling for their common setting; as William James said, a person’s thoughts seem "warm" to him.

The feeling that all one’s thoughts are possessed by oneself is not the only kind of continuity, however. Our experience seems committed to moral continuity. That is, a person is obligated to keep promises made in the past, even if he forgot them. He is obligated in the present to plan his future so as to be able to be responsible for his actions. And in less deontological kinds of situations, a person conceives himself as having a unique life, a career, with problems of life-style and of leading a meaningful life. These conceptions do not make much sense unless the person’s integral continuity is more than the embodiment of all his thoughts in the same body. Process thought, as it stands, does not easily explain this.

These, of course, are common-sense suppositions about what the continuity of human life consists in. To take account of them I would suggest the event model of life be modified in the following way. Let us distinguish among the data prehended in an event in an enduring individual between essential and conditional data. Essential data are factors determining the subjective form of the event. Conditional data are factors integrated by subjective form but not significant for determining the subjective form itself. There may he borderline data. Whitehead acknowledged what I call essential data in only one case, that of the basic lure for the subjective aim derived by a hybrid physical prehension of God. But in an enduring individual like a human being at least two and perhaps three kinds of essential features are needed. First, there must be essential features deriving from past events in the person’s life that carry obligation from the past Second, there must be essential features deriving from the future and binding a person’s present actions in terms of norms for future consequences These future-derived essential features might be consciously anticipated, but even if they are not a person still is responsible for unanticipated consequences. Third, if the event in question involves free choice, there may be essential features spontaneously arising as the person commits himself to a value chosen; these are not of special concern here. Now an enduring individual with personal integrity (as either an ideal or an accomplishment) is an event-sequence any of whose member events has essential data deriving from antecedent and consequent members of the sequence. This difference between plain event-sequences and ones with enduring integrity is a complication of the event model, but one that seems to be demanded by our common experience.

It is just at that last point, however, that Hartshorne would object. Perhaps our common experience is too narrow, biased in fact by the implications of a surreptitious substance ontology. Perhaps we should be open to the Hindu experience that continuity, when pressed, turns out to be the union of all in the world soul, Atman. Perhaps with the Buddhists we should say continuity is a mere appearance covering a mere multiplicity of flashes of reality. One of the greatest virtues Hartshorne sees in event-pluralism is that it does away with the metaphysical underpinning of egocentrism and the self-interest theory of motivation (pp. 190, 198 ff.). A person should make amends for his own past wrongs; but it also makes sense to say he should amend the past wrongs of his whole society. Likewise, a person should aim for the future good of all events affected by his present actions, not only those of his own person. Refutation of self-interest by denying the self, however, seems extreme surgery.

The critical point I want to make is not that Hartshorne has failed to account for continuity; his answer to that would be to deny the kind of continuity I have in mind. The critical point is that I can find no argument for his position on continuity. He cannot say that his position is strictly entailed by the event philosophy, because I have sketched how an event philosophy can be amended to account for very strong kinds of continuity. To make out his position Hartshorne would have to deal extensively with the problem of which experiences are normative for theories and how theories give better or worse renderings of those experiences. For reasons having to do with his theory of apriori metaphysics, discussed below, he does not take up this question. We should conclude, therefore, that at least for us Westerners, Hartshorne’s event pluralism does not articulate our sense of individual continuity.

III The Abstract and Concrete

The second serious question concerns the claim made throughout Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method that something abstract can be contained in something concrete. Hartshorne conceives the abstract and the concrete to be two poles, and the doctrine that the latter contains the former is his concept of dipolarity. Any event is dipolar and most importantly, God is dipolar, containing his abstract and necessary nature in his concrete and existential state at any given time.

The use of the word "abstract" is unfortunate here, since it may well be question-begging. It connotes that something abstract has been taken out of something larger and more concrete. But the truth of the matter may well be that something abstract merely is known because an instance of it is discovered in something concrete!

What sense does it make to say a universal is contained in a concrete particular? It is clear that an instance of a universal can be so contained. (Perhaps it is better to say that the concrete particular itself is an instance of the universal, and perhaps of several other universals also. Or perhaps the preferable language is to speak of the particular as instancing the universal.) In what sense is the universal contained in the particular when the latter is an instance of it? To this kind of question, two kinds of answers falling within the "realist" camp have been given. They can be called, for historical reasons, Aristotelian realism and Platonic realism.

An Aristotelian realist -- and Hartshorne is one -- holds that the problem of universals has to do with accounting for how similarities and identities develop in the concrete flow of events. Along with Peirce and Weiss, Hartshorne holds that particulars are completely determinate, and therefore can only be past events, and that universals are somewhat indeterminate, and can therefore characterize only the future. ‘When universals are abstracted from the concrete particulars, characters are derived from the past as vague potentialities for future realization. In this sense, all potentiality derives from concrete actuality, an Aristotelian thesis. This makes sense of Hartshorne’s contention in his chapter "Abstraction the Question of Nominalism," that the novel forms emergent in a creative event are not determinate before the event but become determinate by decision in the event; to deny this is to deny any real meaning to creativity. For the Aristotelian position, the real problem is to explain how forms get into the temporal process, and it makes sense to say that they emerge.

An emergent universal is nonsense to a Platonist, however. For a Platonist the only things that can change or come to be axe those essentially related to the existential temporal process, e.g. things that make decisions -- events, and the like. A universal is that by which we measure change and diversity as well as continuity. As Plato argued in the Parmenides, instances of forms can be alike or similar, but there is no similarity between the instances and the universal itself; otherwise you get into a third-man argument. So in a sense universals are not things, desiccated shapes imaging or being imaged in concrete particulars; rather they are norms, indeterminate in themselves, but determinate as measures of how the particular components of a complexity ought to go together. For a Platonist it is possible to abstract the pattern of a concrete thing and call it the form of the thing; but this is a shortcut to speaking the truth. The pattern is no more the universal than is the concrete thing so patterned; the only advantage of the pattern is that we can imagine it to be found in other particulars. But as Hartshorne. Weiss and others so well point out, concrete particulars always differ in their overall patterns; in fact, difference in individual identity comes down to difference in determinate pattern. The universal or form itself is the value finding embodiment in the world in "a certain way." Two particulars are alike because the same value measures their similar components with a pattern ingredient in both. Their components are similar by virtue of being measured by the same component values, and so on down. The causal reason why things are similar may well be that they both prehend the same past events, and therefore have the same components to be measured in their own subjective forms. But the metaphysical reason for the possibility of similarity and difference, according to the Platonic realist, consists in the fact that value can be ingredient with multiplicity in different parts of a process only by virtue of different structures or patterns. As a Platonist would say, the structured world is a compromise between chaos and the Good. There is ultimately only one real universal, the Form of the Good. We distinguish different forms because there are similar patterns of complexities recurring and therefore exhibiting similar patterns, each one of which seems to name a universal.

Whereas the Aristotelian story is about how universals appear in the historical process -- and in that sense they do seem to emerge -- the Platonic story is about how determinateness is possible. Regarding the latter, a decision to make pattern X ingredient in oneself as a measure of components a, b, c, is not possible unless X is indeed a way of measuring a, b, c, . . . together. Whether a, h, c,.. are measurable by X is totally irrelevant to whether a, b, c, . . . are in fact actual in the temporal process. The relation between the pattern in which the form measures the pattern’s components and the patterns of the components is quite eternal. Of course, if the components are never actualized in the real process, that relation is totally irrelevant to the course of events. But whether universals are relevant to the world makes no difference to the universals, conceived in this Platonic sense.

The Aristotelian story of how the universals come to be relevant to and function in the process of concrete events is compatible with the Platonic account of how change depends on its formal possibility. Platonists like Whitehead provide theories about the ingression of forms in things through prehension of the past as well as theories about the constitution of formal possibility as such in terms of eternal objects, the divine primordial decision, and the like. Whitehead unfortunately failed to emphasize the fact that eternal objects are norms, and had to say that eternal objects are empty except insofar as they are graded as relevant to the world by God. But his theory of propositional valuation is congenial for interpreting the eternal objects as norms, given determinate shape by the components they must measure together.

Aristotelians, however, have been less charitable in allowing the importance of both kinds of problems about universals. They assume that universals themselves must be like the instances of them in particulars, and then say the Platonic account ascribing independent existence to them is forced to believe in ghostly, wraithlike, disembodied essences. In discussing Platonism Hartshorne himself says, "I do not believe that a determinate color is something haunting reality from all eternity, as it were, begging for instantiation (p. 59). In light of what the Aristotelians are trying to explain, universals can be treated as patterns derived from past actualities. But thc function of universals to explain the Platonist’s problem of formal possibility precludes their being conceived as proceeding from actuality; they are necessarily the antecedent condition of actuality. The Platonic universal for some determinate color is the value that would be actualized if certain refracted light waves and certain conditions of perception are patterned a certain way; in no sense does the universal beg for instantiation, although the concrete world might be better if the color were instantiated.

And so whereas I have no important complaints to make about the positive things Hartshorne says about universals, since he is giving a good account of the Aristotelian problem, his negative points are ill-taken. It is a great mistake to reject all Platonic theories of universals, such as Whitehead’s regarding eternal objects (not that Whitehead’s particular account is necessarily satisfactory). This mistake has serious ramifications for Hartshorne’s view.

Return to his claim that the abstract is contained in the concrete exhaustively, that is, that the union of the abstract and the concrete is simply the concrete. With respect to how universals are ingredient in the world, this claim presents no problem. Universals are structures in the past abstracted as potentialities for actualization in the present, and they have no reality in the world except as potentialities; the concrete realization of them contains them. But with respect to the formal possibility of those universal structures, Hartshorne’s theory gives no account. That they are actually possible is not the issue, since they were actualized in the past. From the Platonist’s side, the interesting question is why certain forms of togetherness are coherent and others not, why certain forms have great harmony and others little or none. Unless this kind of question is addressed, the ontological structure of the world is taken for granted, not made intelligible. Although the question of how this or that form gets ingredient in the world is interesting, the more interesting question is what structure is, how it unifies multiplicity, how it stands related to chaos.

Pushed far enough -- and Hartshorne would surely push it that far -- the claim that structure itself needs an explanation might be thought self-contradictory. First principles are structures, and what could lie behind a first principle? But then, as Peirce said, the only thing that does not need an explanation is pure chaos; order is most of all in need of explanation, and the explanation of a state of affairs in terms of first principles is not as penetrating as the explanation of the first principles themselves. Whereas Hartshorne cites Peirce’s categories as illustrations of eternal metaphysical principles (in contrast to emerging ones), Peirce himself thought his categories of Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness evolved, evolution being the only way to explain the origin of order from chaos (7: pars 12-13). Whitehead in his turn, as Lewis Ford has pointed out, claimed that anything complex needs an explanation in a decision somewhere, and even the metaphysical structures of the world are the result of the divine primordial act giving order to the otherwise chaotic eternal objects (cf. 2). Admitting that difficulties can be raised with both Peirce’s and Whitehead’s accounts, some account of the formal possibility of potentialities is necessary.

IV. Dipolarity

Consider Hartshorne’s theory of God as dipolar in light of the foregoing criticism. For Hartshorne, the abstract nature of God consists in the apriori metaphysical conditions that would have to be exhibited in any possible world. As he has argued in his many discussions of the ontological argument, the metaphysical possibilities for God are not only possible but necessary. That is, there must be some existing actual entity exhibiting the metaphysical conditions, although how that necessary existence is actualized relative to the contingencies of the other events in the world is itself contingent. But each occasion in the divine life is an instance of necessary existence. In what does the normative force of the necessity reside?

Any subsequent divine event would prebend the necessity in the antecedent divine event and have to exhibit it. But if the necessity is completely contained as an abstract part of the antecedent divine event, there is no necessary reason for there to be any subsequent divine event to prehend it only if the abstract part of the divine nature is normative over possible divine events could those possible events be necessitated before they objectify the necessity prehended from their antecedents. But then that transcendent normativeness could not be "contained" in any concrete divine event, only illustrated.

Of course it could he argued that, if the metaphysical conditions are necessarily existent, then a~y subsequent state of the world, divine or not, would have to illustrate them and would therefore he divine. But if the abstract necessity is completely contained in an antecedent divine state, with no transcendent normativeness, then there is no metaphysical reason to expect any subsequent events. Now Whitehead could argue that the Category of the Ultimate, involving creativity, would guarantee a new one out of any old many. But because the dialectic in that Category of the Ultimate, involving creativity, many and one, would make it impossible to say in any sense that the Category is "contained" in a concrete actual entity, only illustrated, Hartshorne cannot avail himself of the Category of the Ultimate. In the long run even Whitehead’s move does not help (cf. 6). But it does take one step beyond Hartshorne.

Suppose Hartshorne were to grant that the metaphysical nature of God must be transcendent enough of any given concrete actualization of God to necessitate a successor divine occasion He would ask whether this transcendence necessitates another kind of super-divine ontological being. Would we be forced to say, he would ask, that there is some eternal divine individual beyond the temporal divine career, necessitating the divine occasions "totum simul"? The answer to that question would be Yes if and only if all universals, including normative ones, are real only in actual entities, as abstractions from their whole concreteness. That is, the answer is Yes only if the Aristotelian’s account of universals is true. But the answer is No if we acknowledge a contrast between the sphere of actual things and the domain of norms as such. Norms are not individuals and they are not actualities; they are only instanced in actualities. If norms are something like eternal objects, not like actual entities, then their normativeness can bind the progress of the actual world without being transcendent individuals, Platonic realism does not entail that the Form of the Good is an individual being. Only a view of universals like Hartshorne’s would have to bear a transcendent individual as the actual locus of a transcendent metaphysical norm.

(My own view is that the only way a norm can be effective in measuring actual affairs is by creating them ex nihilo (cf. 3 chs. 1-4, 7). So I do believe in a God beyond the metaphysical categories illustrated in temporal process; but such a God is indeed beyond the categories and cannot except by devious analogy be called individual, actual, knowledgeable, or a variety of other things Hartshorne attributes to his God. This theological view on my part also makes clear the investment I have in the notion that the universals can be collapsed into one norm of norms when the plurality measured by each norm is prescinded from.)

My conclusion is that Hartshorne’s notion of God as dipolar is much less useful than he thinks. As a consequence I think the many charts and comparisons of his idea of God with others, a primary preoccupation of this book, should be valued downward. At best God is dipolar in that his concrete nature contains instances of the normative principles that make him God, moment by moment. But the ontological status of those normative principles can by no means be reduced to the set of instances contained in the actual concrete events of the divine life.

V. God

If this conclusion is valid, then the far more important corollary is that the divine life Hartshorne calls God is not half of what it is made out to be. Beyond the divine life would be the normative metaphysical principles making it necessary that he instance them. And the transcendent status of those metaphysical principles is a more interesting prospect for divinity than Hartshorne’s God who, after all, is only infinitely big and old, bound by necessity in his essential nature, obliged to pay constant attention to all the rest of us, and limited in his creativity to choosing between only those alternatives having equal maximal value. I would not take a job like that without a guaranteed three month vacation! (In this respect, Whitehead’s God is no better off than Hartshorne’s, unless Lewis Ford can make out his case for a greater status for God’s primordial nature antecedent to the creation of the metaphysical categories or categoreal scheme [cf. 1 and 2].)

Excepting problems with Whitehead’s God, however. I want to argue for the advantages of his dualism of eternal objects and actual entities over Hartshorne’s monism of concrete actual entities containing the universal forms as abstract parts. My case is to be developed not in terms of the internal logic of the systems, but rather in terms of their overall applicability to experience.

Whitehead argued, and Hartshorne agrees, especially in the last chapter of Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method, that value consists in intensity of experience and that intensity is a function of contrast. Generally put, contrast occurs when two things not fitting together according to their own internal principles are fitted together by the special context of the experiencer, by the subjective form that experiences them together. The contrast is greater the more the things contrasted are different and the less their real differences are compromised by the subjective form of their togetherness.

Human experience would have the greater contrast, prima facie, if some kind of dualism is true rather than some kind of monism. There is a metaphysically irreducible contrast in human experience if it is always a compromise between pure order and chaos, between normativeness and the unmeasured, between unifying structure and the plurality of things to be unified. For the sake of intensity of contrast in experience, it would seem to be more desirable if a Platonic metaphysics were true, in which there is an irreducible dualism between Form and chaos, in which the realm of becoming is a measured compromise but still roiling with the forces of chaos, in which intelligibility belongs to the formal pole alone (chaos not needing an explanation) and in which the realm of becoming takes explanation only hypothetically.

But does experience indeed have this contrast? if so, its marks would be in an irreducibility of contrast between the lasting and the perishing, between joy and anguish, between accomplishment and loss, between progress and tragedy. In other words, the peculiar coherence of fundamental ambiguity is a more intense contrast than the coherence of simply actualized positive fact. I place great metaphysical importance on suffering as well as satisfaction. The function of the Wailing Wall in old Jerusalem seems to me one of the profoundest insights of religion, and it has its counterparts in other cults. To put the point in theological language, glorifying God is an activity essentially sustaining a basic contrast between lamentation and thanksgiving.

Is my basically religious vision of things aimed at the truth? Hartshorne would have to say it is not. According to his conception, Nothing really perishes from God’s memory: the world is fundamentally cumulative and lasting. Although anguish may be the momentary state, by metaphysical necessity God must objectify it in his own infinite felicity. Tragedy can only be a short-run view. To say the short run is all a human being may have, and that the tragedy for him is irreducible, still lacks poignancy. As Hartshorne says, and I agree, man identifies with the good of all his successor events, not only those that can be named with his name. But if this is so, Hartshorne’s denial of perishing means future felicity amends any present suffering, no matter how far future. My own religious intuitions tell me that if God wipes away the tears he does so because he chooses to do so, not because he is metaphysically obliged. The depths of my experience, and those of men through the ages and across all cultures, are slighted by metaphysical resolutions of its ambiguity. If the ambiguity is not the last word, at least its resolution should be accomplished by creative free choice, and our metaphysics should reflect this possibility.

VI. Symmetry and Asymmetry

It is always disappointing when a philosopher has to appeal to ultimate intuitions, Let me therefore return to more dialectical ground. One of the most interesting chapters of Hartshorne’s book is called "The Prejudice in Favor of Symmetry." Hartshorne’s point is that the metaphysical hassle between monists and pluralists regarding internal and external relations has resulted from construing the primary forms of relations to be symmetrical. He undertakes an ingenious logical argument to show that asymmetry is more basic than symmetry, and that equality can be defined in terms of inequality. Although not in a position to judge the sophistication of the logical theory involved, I find myself persuaded. The asymmetry Hartshorne has in mind as cosmologically significant is in his interpretation of causal process. An event constitutes, and is then perceived by, a later event. It is a condition for the later event, although the later event does not figure in its own constitution except in unusual cases of conscious anticipation. So we can say that in the causal relation, the effect is external to the cause and the cause internal to the effect. In perception, the object perceived is internally related to the perceiver; but the perceiver is externally related to the perceived.

The upshot of this for the cosmic vision of things comes in the chapter, "The Principle of Dual Transcendence and Its Basis in Ordinary Language." As we have come to expect, the dual transcendence consists in the fact God is universally necessary in his abstract character and universally relative in his concrete contingent character, these two sides being "reconciled by the old principle that the concrete contains the abstract" (pp. 236f). The point is that any finite event, with its evil and suffering, is externally related to the future events rectifying it. But the future events contain the past events as rectified, as best as possible. So Hartshorne concludes there is no "problem of evil." This does not mean there is no evil in the world. Rather, the evil is the result of finite choices other than God’s; but it is taken up and made the best of in God’s own subsequent events. So although there is a lasting fact of evil, no evil itself lasts as evil. All evil puts unchangeable conditions on the future; but the future can make the best of those conditions and it has infinite resources for that task. Again, my intuitions are that this makes things too easy.

The moral I would draw is that Hartshorne should not have taken the issue of symmetry as his focal argument (although I do not object to his arguments there). Instead, he should have taken up the claims of metaphysical dualism mentioned above. While the course of the world might go on with the asymmetrical causation Hartshorne describes, it also goes on, I believe, as a contrast between norms and chaos. So the present does not unambiguously include the past; it loses a little, perhaps sometimes the most important part. And the present cannot content itself with its freedom external to the future, knowing that the future will inevitably take it up. The reason I believe in the dualist theory is that it seems to do better prima facie justice to experience, and Hartshorne should consider it. Or he should show experientially that the apparent ambiguities of life are not to be taken at face value, and that experience is properly to be interpreted as his system calls for.

VII. Apriori Knowledge

This brings me to my last main point 0f contention. Hartshorne is a great believer in apriori knowledge. Apriori truths are those that must be illustrated by any possible world. There are two kinds of positive claims, says Hartshorne, those to which there are positive alternatives, and those for which positive alternatives are inconceivable. The former are empirical claims, the latter apriori metaphysical ones. Yet the latter are not mere tautologies of the sort that, once you deny the subject you can deny the predicate. On the contrary. it is contradictory to deny the subject. Of course, the positive apriori metaphysical affirmation might be completely meaningless; one needs a metaphysical system to show that the apriori claim is at least conceivable. But with such an interpretive scheme, if an apriori truth is conceivable, it is inconceivable that the world exists without it.

At the heart of these claims by Hartshorne is his defense of the ontological argument. As a reviewer I should probably attempt to refute his logic on this issue, but when denying the ontological argument, I always feel like a fool! So I shall leave that task to someone else, I do, however, have two lines of complaint about Hartshorne’s view of apriori truths.

First,. Hartshorne treats the matter almost exclusively from the standpoint of logica docens. That is, he discusses apriori truths from the standpoint of their having been discovered, where the only problem is to make them clear. One might think from this that making them clear is the discovery of them in the first place. But it makes good logical sense to say that as elements of human knowledge, the so-called apriori truths are mere hypotheses about the universal conditions of existence. I have no reason to think Hartshorne would deny this. (But then what we have in mind when thinking such truths are simply hypotheses, with varying degrees of plausibility). They are hypotheses about necessary conditions. But the conditions are not apriori; "apriori" refers to a modality of truth claims about them. Are the truths themselves apriori if they are hypotheses?

It may be impossible to conceive of an alternative to the claim that "whatever is a universal condition for any possible world is an apriori truth" But it surely is possible to conceive of alternatives to any candidate for such a truth. Therefore it can only be an hypothesis that such a claim (for instance that the necessity proved by the ontological argument is a concrete actual being) is a universal condition. Now how is that kind of hypothesis to be probated? By logic? Of course not, if it is conceivable that there are alternatives. (I hope to have shown above that there are very serious alternatives to Hartshorne’s conception of dipolar deity even within such neighboring philosophies as Whitehead’s.) Then is the hypothesis probated by experience? Not by any critical or finite experience. But neither by being exemplified in all experiences, because the very hypothesis at issue is whether all experiences are to be interpreted according to this hypothesis rather than some other. After all, the only alternative to a given hypothesis about a universal condition of experience would have to he a hypothesis that equally well claimed to interpret all experiences. So the decision would be made between the given hypothesis and some other (s) regarding which offers the best interpretation of all experiences. An alternative failing to interpret some finite set of experiences would not be a real alternative.

But now the truth ascertained by the process of probating the hypothesis certainly would not be apriori, even if the truths are about universal and necessary conditions. And what criteria do we employ in determining the "best interpretation of experience?" To some extent we can use formal criteria of elegance, simplicity and fruitfulness. For the most part, however, we employ appeals to our inarticulate, pervasive, and life-orienting experience. And "our" here sometimes means oneself, sometimes the whole race. Our experience, of course, is not completely inarticulate, being made sophisticated by having been carved up by dozens of subtle philosophical tools. Nevertheless there is always a difference between experience rendered by a philosophy and experience judging the rendering. The latter cannot be stated by itself -- and therefore is inarticulate. But it is recalcitrant, though corrigible, and thereby keeps us honest and wise, if not smart, I wish Hartshorne had paid more attention to the sense in which experience is the final arbiter. Sometimes it seems he does not believe it is. This is my second complaint.

The Hartshornean candidates for apriori truths rest, it seems to me, on an experiential sense too much refined by his philosophy. In other words, I suspect his experience confirms his theory, but his experience is too narrow. Who am I to complain about the funded experience of a man forty years my senior? It might be argued on my behalf that Hartshorne had forty years more to get enamoured of his philosophy, and hence blind to experiential counter-examples. But probably my own stage in life is more bound by philosophic categories, and the advantage of forty more years is a certain relaxation and catholicity. So my criticism is really itself an hypothesis: do the readers feel as I do that ambiguity, suffering and perishing have a more substantial place in human experience than is rendered by Hartshorne’s philosophy? (Hartshorne’s discussion of the role of experience in philosophic method [pp. 75-82] treats only memory and perception, not at all what life "adds up to.")

One of Hartshorne’s signal contributions is to have made metaphysics somewhat more respectable than it was, by virtue of his insistence on logical rigor and clarity. In this regard, Weiss would have done us all in, if he had not been balanced by Hartshorne! But love of logic may be Hartshorne’s weakest point at the same time. Not that I mean to detract one iota from the logical rigor he has attained. Still, his singular focus on it, his insistence that philosophy lives in logic first, may have made him less sensitive than he need be to the dialectical interplay of theory, which alone can be logical, and the experience to which theory is applied. One has the feeling that, although Hartshorne might convince one of a metaphysical truth, this would not enlighten one’s experience. Of course, Hartshorne would answer that if the truth is metaphysical it is embodied in any possible experience, and therefore has no empirical force. He might even claim that if a metaphysical truth made a difference to the way one experiences the world, it is an empirical claim in disguise. But surely it makes a difference to understand what the apriori conditions of existence are! At least the understanding should make us wiser. If Hartshorne’s metaphysical truths flatten our experience, solve our problems with metaphysical necessities, relieve our cares with confidence in principle instead of with felt concrete redemption, then his metaphysics impoverishes experience. And I know of no way to define truth so independent of value that a metaphysical scheme could be called true if it leaves our experience less rich than it found it.

VIII. Conclusion

This review began with praise for Hartshorne’s book as a complete philosophy. The most important sense of completion mentioned was that the book deals carefully with nearly all the philosophic questions its theory requires. But there is a bittersweet quality to this praise. My criticisms of the book amount in the end to the claim that Hartshorne’s philosophy, in its complete form, does not capture the living waters of experience, and that the reason it does not do so is that its categoreal scheme makes most of experience philosophically uninteresting. Hartshorne would answer that philosophy is not all of life, and that science, art, literature, religion, and a variety of other endeavors should articulate the rest. Of course he is right about the other tasks. But in a sense philosophy is about all of life. It should distinguish for us between the important and the trivial in the whole of things, showing their connections, and making its distinctions relevant to our sense of life’s basic meanings.

Philosophy’s tools for creating this wisdom are its categoreal schemes. With regard to Hartshorne’s categoreal scheme, I stand much closer to its commitments than I do, for instance, to those of Paul Weiss’s thought (cf. 5 and 3: ch. 2). But my sense of the upshot of Hartshorne’s philosophy is that it does not directly address the experiential problems of wisdom as well as Weiss’s does. In this review I hope to have lifted to attention some of the small categoreal difficulties that make all the difference in the world between mere metaphysical clarity and genuine philosophic wisdom.



1. Lewis S. Ford. "The Viability of Whitehead’s God for Christian Theology." Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association. 44 (1970), 141-51.

2. Lewis S. Ford. "Whitehead’s Categoreal Derivation of Divine Existence" The Monist. 54, 3 (July, 1970), 374-400.

3. Robert Neville. God the Creator. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968.

4. Robert Neville. "The Impossibility of Whitehead’s God for Christian Theology." Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, 44 (1910). 130-40.

5. Robert Neville. "Paul Weiss’s Philosophy an Process." Review of Metaphysics 24, 2 (December, 1970), 276-301.

6. Robert Neville. "Whitehead on the One and the Many." Southern Journal of Philosophy 7, 4 (Winter, 1969), 387-93.

7. Charles S. Peirce. The Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce. Edited by Charles Hartshorne and Paul Weiss. Vol. VI. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1935.

8. Paul Weiss. Man’s Freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950.

9. Paul Weiss. Modes of Being. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1958.


I LaSalle. Ill.: The Open Court Publishing Co., 1970. All page numbers in parenthesis refer to this book.

2 The importance of God for Hartshorne stems from his claim we have genuine univocal apriori knowledge of individuals only in the case of God; all other individuals are known as such by analogy. Also, since God includes the world, for Hartshorne (cf. e.g., p. 145), there are no problems left over. From the standpoint of wanting an interpretation of life, however, the problem of God is quite vague respecting most other interests. Hartshorne would respond that those other problems are contingent matters and not directly philosophical; philosophy is apriori; and cosmology is better left to the scientists.

3 "Uniquely complicated" is what Hartshorne gently calls Weiss’s system (p. 128).

4 Because of the specialized nature of the journal in which this review appears, a fairly broad familiarity with Hartshorne’s basic position can be assumed for the reader. If someone wants a brief sketch of what Hartshorne is about, he should buy this book and read the first chapter, "A Philosophy of Shared Creative Experience." This will at once reward philosophical achievement with money (a matter of justice) and reward the reader with an eminently clear and unimpeachable genuine exposition (a matter of wisdom).

5 Hartshorne interprets "eternity" as "everlastingness." and therefore loses the sharp modal contrast with becoming, expressed for instance in Whitehead’s or Tillich’s philosophy. Furthermore, for Hartshorne, the concrete becoming includes the abstraction of being without remainder. This makes the situation a ‘degenerate third" because the opposition or "secondness" between eternity and becoming is reduced to mere qualitative difference -- ever-presence versus sometimes-presence.

6 Actually, someone already has. See Elizabeth M, Kraus’, "Thought Before It Hardens: A Study in the Evolutionary Philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce." a dissertation presented to Fordham University, 1970. Dr. Kraus presents Peirce’s thought with the humor and systematic rigor Peirce would have used had he been Whitehead.

7 Perhaps Hartshorne’s most sustained defense of this point is in The Divine Relativity: a Social Conception of God (New Haven Yale University Press, 1948), Chapter Two, "God as Absolute, Yet Related to all."