Some Comments on Randall Morris’ Process Philosophy and Political Ideology

by Charles Hartshorne

Charles Hartshorne taught at the University of Texas where he was Ashbel Smith Professor of Philosophy. He had a distinguished career at several other universities, particularly the University of Chicago and Emory University. His most recent book, Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method, was published by Open Court.

The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 149-151, Vol. 21, Number 3, Fall, 1992. 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.


Hartshorne comments on some misunderstandings Samuel Morris has of some of Hartshorne’s political views, especially his changing views on pacifism.

Some of Professor Morris' characterizations and criticisms of my political views seem fairly reasonable. Human political relations are complex and subtle indeed. There are, however, some serious failures of communication in one specific passage. For such failures, both parties may be partly at fault. I allow myself to think that I have usually written with more clarity than in the following quotation from my 1942 essay, "A Philosophy of Democratic Defense": If one loves A, B, and C, and if A can be prevented from killing or torturing B and C only by being threatened with loss of his own life, then there is an enforced choice between A's interest and those of B and C, and this is not less true because all the interests, including A's, have, through love, become as one's own. What love does mean is that, in killing A, one destroys or defeats a part of oneself, as it were, but with the sole alternative of seeing an even larger part of oneself doomed to frustration. In these few sentences I was trying to express ideas that require much more space to eliminate obvious ambiguities and guard against misinterpretations. I was using "interest" in a very broad sense indeed, and in Webster one finds how broadly the word can be used. It may mean whatever someone takes an interest in, regardless of whether it is truly advantageous for that person to do so, and regardless of how legitimate or illegitimate, wise or foolish, the interest might be. That Morris failed to understand this as my meaning is, I admit, partly explained by my phrase, "through love, become as one's own." I am here using love in an extreme sense of imaginative participation in the feelings of others. To understand another, as only God can fully do, is to feel their feelings, not as literally and simply one's own but as theirs yet empathetically also felt by oneself. Ethical or other approval is not necessarily involved. A psychiatrist would, I think, understand what I mean. "Legitimate" was Morris' word, not mine. No such notion was in my mind. The same with the word "true" in this context. I blame myself, however, for the ambiguity of "as one's own" I now see some difficulty also in "by love another's defeat is made partly one's own." One is not entirely pleased that even a scoundrel is unhappy. Emotional life is complex, as sadism and masochism indicate. Stalin said he was wonderfully pleased by the sufferings of his enemies, but most of us would not like to be Stalin. Even God, according to Whitehead (and Berdyaev says virtually the same), is "the fellow-sufferer who understands." Not grasping what I meant, my critic took off on his own and arrived at a radical distortion of anything I could ever in my life have intended. I suppose a deconstructionist might say, "I told you so." However, that is a somewhat different issue. Having done what I could to take my share of responsibility for the remarkable failure of communication that occurred in this case, I shall now try to show how complete the failure was. The essay quoted from was published in 1942 but was written well before that, at a time when my country had not yet officially entered into the war against Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito and their all-too-obedient subjects. The question was, Isolationism (and pacifism), or full entry into the war against three nations. It happens that I am one who never shared the enthusiasm so many seem to feel for the great killers of history. From Henry Fielding and Tolstoy, two great artists who were also, up to a point, sagacious thinkers, also from G. Borghesi (whom I knew) and H.G. Wells. I learned to rather despise as well as fear persons like Napoleon, much more, Mussolini and his understudy in villainy, Hitler. As for Hirohito, I used to admire him as a natural scientist, which he was, but I have recently learned that he, too, was an all-too-willing leader of military scoundrels. Japanese treatment of Korea and China seemed to me brutal imitation of European (and sometimes American) militarism and imperialism at their worst. I was in Germany when Hitler made his abortive putsch that put him in jail, all too briefly. I expected only harm from him. Imagine then the shock of being told that in my view the instigators of World War II, my implied examples of "A" in the quotation, had only legitimate interests. In my view Hitler and Mussolini were unwise and very wicked people. The problem was, how to stop them from proceeding with their program, described (by a Frenchman, I think) as "making a pigsty of Europe," and eventually of more than Europe. I must add that early in my adult life I had temporarily argued for pacifism, influenced by Tolstoy and some other writers, but had changed my mind, slightly before our entry into WWI. I hated war but could not permanently convince myself of the practicality of unqualified renunciation of military force. Do I hold a preferential theory of self-interest, so that 'A's true interests are whatever A thinks they are"? Not at all. Only God would fit the formula. Conflict is more or less unavoidable because people often act from preferences, legitimate or not, in their true interest or not. Nothing I say about politics is deduced merely from my definition of God as dually transcendent, or as all-others-surpassing-love. It is deduced from that, plus my understanding of human history, daily experience, and literature, and what these all show about human beings. The very existence of our animal species is not a metaphysical or necessary truth. My (and any) view of human nature can only be empirical and others may have a far truer view. So may human beings in general at some future time. My "metaphysics" is not refutable by refuting my political philosophy. If it were, then by my and Popper's definition, it would not be metaphysics. Metaphysical truth (Popper said it first) is truth that no conceivable observations could falsify. In some planet out in space there may be an animal species that is so much superior ethically to ours that a truly democratic socialism is possible for it. The mere metaphysics of deity cannot decide otherwise. I much dislike thinking that "rational animals," better than we are now, are nowhere to be found. The passage Morris quotes, written 50 years ago, is less than ideally clear; I hope my writing has gained in clarity in those years. However, I dispute the legitimacy of Morris' interpretation. Considering the date of Morris' book, it seems a pity he did not take Wisdom as Moderation (1985) into consideration. The last chapter is particularly relevant. especially with its discussion of the war-peace problem. I am surprised that Morris, in relation to that problem, focuses on an essay written well before the atomic bomb. I've had 50 years to learn better since then and much has changed in our knowledge of how technology has been making war itself more and more the real enemy, so that the pacifist position tends to come closer to the only adequate solution. Even my creative synthesis book (1970), which he does mention, is, in its last chapter, relevant (in ways he overlooks) to questions of mutual incompatibility and conflict, also to the ideal of equality. So-called energy is directly experienced only as emotion and otherwise is only a verbal check drawn on no known bank, unless it is subanimal forms of feeling. Wordsworth saw that long ago; Whitehead and I, independently, saw that he was right. So did many others, including another poet, Shelley. In other world-kinds or cosmic epochs, sentience could take forms we can only vaguely imagine, but the word matter is no addition to our knowledge of what we directly intuit. What we know is feeling and thought, hope and fear, memory and expectation; they are not mere words, as any pain or pleasure should tell us. We directly know heat and cold as feeling, the same with light. Value is what matters, and it consists of feeling; thoughts, as Whitehead puts it, are "intellectual feelings." Peirce says similar things, so have many if not all Buddhists, with their ''mind only.''