Chapter 2: What is Really Real?

Charles Hartshorne
by Alan Gragg

Chapter 2: What is Really Real?

"…the social point of view is the final point of view. All creatures are fellow creatures. Nothing is wholly alien to us or devoid of inner satisfactions with which, if we could grasp them, we might more or less sympathize. It is merely a question of how accessible to our perception and understanding the inner values may be."

-- The Logic of Perfection

The Centrality of Metaphysics in Hartshorne’s Philosophy

All thinking persons assume that they know, at least in part, what is really real. Many also know that at times they have been deceived or mistaken in thinking that such entities as pink elephants, dream images, or oases in deserts were really "there" in the world when in actuality they were not. Nevertheless, most people still believe that they know the difference between realities and illusions, mere wishes and hard facts, imaginary entities and actual things. Moreover, most contemporary Westerners would include minds, bodies, atoms, bacteria, airplanes, and mountains in the class of things which they know to be real; but they may be uncertain about the status in reality of God, mathematical entities, and logical concepts such as "possibility." The typical Western man probably feels sure that angels, devils, and spirits do not exist in reality but only as figments in deluded imaginations, but he is not ashamed to admit that he does not yet know whether there are such entities as people on other planets.

Nevertheless, the layman’s common-sense view of reality is baffled by such conundrums as the nature of time and space, the reality of human freedom, quantum jumps in physics, or the claim of modern science that colors are not really present in the objects of perception but only in the mind of the beholder. In addition, when exposed to such hoary doctrines of some classical Eastern religions and philosophies as that of the fundamental unreality or illusory character of the entire material world and that of the all-encompassing reality of God, the average Westerner can only respond with astonishment and incredulity. When subjected to puzzles, paradoxes, or conflicts, the certitudes about reality of the philosophically unsophisticated man quickly become either dogmatisms, doubts, or confusions.

Obviously, no thoughtful person can escape at least some unsophisticated ventures into metaphysics, for "metaphysics" is what philosophers call the discussion about reality and unreality, being and nonbeing, or existence and nonexistence. "Metaphysics" as a term is derived from two Creek words which, when literally translated, mean "after physics"; but this translation is misleading, because proper metaphysics in philosophy includes (not follows) the entities known to physics within its total purview. True, metaphysics may pursue methods and descry entities beyond the scope of physics and the other sciences, but it intends to encompass rather than exclude authentic scientific methods and knowledge.

In a word, then, one’s metaphysics is his comprehensive view of the universe or reality. A fully elaborated metaphysics would include an inventory of all real entities, a description of the various levels or degrees of reality or being, and an explanation of the nature of the difference between something and nothing or being and nonbeing. Customarily, philosophers will, for the sake of convenience, divide the metaphysical branch of philosophy into four major, interrelated subdivisions: ontology ("theory of being"), cosmology ("theory of the universe or nature"), anthropology ("theory of man"), and theology ("theory of God"). It seems, moreover, that the most satisfactory philosophy for the masses of humanity will be the one that affords the most adequate, comprehensive, and convincing answers to these four fundamental questions concerning the ultimate characteristics of being, nature, man, and God. And now to get to the point of this discussion, Charles Hartshorne is both willing and eager for his philosophy to be judged by this criterion.

As suggested in chapter one, Hartshorne has, in an era of widespread distrust or hostility on the part of philosophers toward metaphysics, remained unabashed in his commitment to metaphysics as the central concern of philosophy. Without disparaging the importance or intrinsic interest of such other philosophical disciplines as logic, theory of knowledge, or analysis of language, he has insisted that the urgent issues raised by these and other branches of philosophy can be viewed in proper perspective only within the context of an all-comprehensive metaphysical vision. And what an ambitiously all-encompassing metaphysical vision does Hartshorne delineate! Confident that metaphysics is a completely legitimate rational enterprise for philosophy, he avows that it studies that "logical class of entities, the universal categories of all actual and conceivable worlds."1 Elsewhere, Hartshorne declares that his approach to metaphysics achieves "validity in principle for all cosmic epochs,"2 meaning that the metaphysical categories which he derives are applicable not only to all aspects of this immense universe but also to all facets of every possible future universe. Indeed the correct derivation of such categories would appear to be no mean achievement for the finite human reason.

Regarding the metaphysical enterprise, Hartshorne is in complete agreement with Whitehead’s famous description of speculative philosophy:

Speculative Philosophy is the endeavour to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted. By this notion of ‘interpretation’ I mean that everything of which we are conscious, as enjoyed, perceived, willed, or thought, shall have the character of a particular instance of the general scheme. Thus the philosophical scheme should be coherent, logical, and, in respect to its interpretation, applicable and adequate. Here ‘applicable’ means that some items of experience are thus interpretable, and ‘adequate’ means that there are no items incapable of such interpretation.3

Accordingly, Hartshorne defines metaphysics as "the search for necessary and categorial truth" and describes metaphysical truths as those which no experience can contradict and which any experience must illustrate.4 In a helpful article on this subject, Hartshorne elaborates: "Metaphysics, in an old phrase, explores ‘being qua being,’ or reality qua reality, meaning by this, the strictly universal features of existential possibility, those which cannot be unexemplified"; and he gives as an example of such a necessary truth the affirmation that "experience as creative process occurs."5

Moreover, Hartshorne’s optimism and his aesthetic passion are voiced in his declaration that the truth which metaphysics discloses is both good and beautiful and that it can never be evil or ugly or objectionable.6 In tones reminiscent of Plato, he affirms, "Metaphysical truth is in some fashion a realm of beauty unsullied by any hint of ugliness."7 Therefore, we may summarize his position by stating that metaphysical inquiry for him is reason s search for those contemplatively satisfying and beautiful truths that are necessarily exemplified in all possible experiences and aspects of every possible or actual universe.

Hartshorne’s Method in Metaphysics

Granted the legitimacy and desirability of Hartshorne’s conception of the quest for metaphysical truths, the crucial question becomes how such a quest may be validly conducted. But on this question of the proper method in metaphysical research Hartshorne is quite explicit. A lengthy quotation seems justified at this point as the best means of setting forth his position:

Metaphysics is not a deduction of consequences either froni axioms dogmatically l)roclaimed true nor yet from mere arbitrary postulates or hypotheses. It is an attempt to describe the most general aspects of experience, to abstract from all that is special in our awareness, and to report as clearly and accurately as possible upon the residuum. in this process deduction from defined premises plays a role, but not the

role of expanding the implications of the axioms. The great historical error was to suppose that some metaphysical propositions have only to be announced to be seen true, and hence all their implications must be beyond questioning. The true role of deduction in metaphysics is not to bring out the content of the initially certain, but to bring out the meaning of tentative descriptions of the metaphysically ultimate in experience so that we shall be better able to judge if they do genuinely describe this ultimate. Axioms are not accepted as self.evident, then used to elicit consequences that must not be doubted. They are rather set up as questions whose full meaning only deduction of the consequences of possible answers can tell us.

When we know the meaning of the possible answers, we may, if we are lucky, be able to see that one of them Is evi. denily true to that residuum of experience which is left when all details variable in imagination have been set aside. Thus, self-evidence or axiomatic status is the goal of the inquiry. not its starting point. Metaphysical deduction justifies its premises by the descriptive adequacy of its conclusions; it does not prove the conclusions by assuming the premises. In this, metaphysics is like inductive science.8

From this statement we learn that Hartshorne’s method in metaphysics is one of abstraction and descriptive generalization. Since metaphysical truths are exemplified in all human experiences, they are exemplified in every one of our own concrete experiences. Therefore, if we could abstract those most general and common features of human experience from the welter of their vastly varied details, the residuum thus obtained would be metaphysical truth or truths; and, if our process of abstraction were sufficiently thorough and accurate, the resultant truths could be generalized as applying to all experiences in all possible universes. This statement of procedure makes manifest

Hartshorne’s assumption that the microcosm of any particular human experience, at the utmost level of metaphysical generality, resembles the macrocosmic universe even though the latter is an almost infinitely vast conglomeration of other experiences.

If this assumption is allowed Hartshorne (and its denial would entail the undesirable conclusion that the universe is incorrigibly unknowable by man), then it is theoretically possible to sit in one’s armchair and, by the method of abstraction and descriptive generalization, reflect one’s way to the ultimate truths about all facets of the universe in this and every cosmic epoch! However, Hartshorne does provide for the testing of the process of metaphysical abstraction by an assessment of the descriptive adequacy of its resultant truths to other experiences than those from which the truths were originally abstracted. Moreover, he would be quick to acknowledge that the most frequent and fertile source of error in a metaphysics that follows his method would be the inevitable human limitations upon the metaphysician’s powers to abstract from his experiences with sufficient generality for his conclusions to be universally valid. Finality and complete adequacy in metaphysical statement, manifestly, will never be achieved by man; and Hartshorne does not lay claim to these characteristics as properties of his own metaphysics. Yet he does contend that partial adequacy is possible and that he can demonstrate the necessity of some interesting and satisfying metaphysical truths -- truths that are also vital to the peace and well-being of the human race. What these truths and their implications are the remainder of this book will seek to describe and assess.

The Ultimate Units of Reality

Following the fashion set by the traditional founder of modern philosophy, René Descartes, Hartshorne locates the ground of metaphysical certainty in the immediate awareness of human consciousness. He reasons that the most certain and reliable knowledge accessible to man is the direct and intuitively self-evident knowledge of his own subjective experience. Since introspection gives us privileged access into the inner workings of our own consciousnesses, Hartshorne argues that, if we cannot have sure knowledge of human consciousness, then we cannot know anything else to which privileged access is not available; and his trust in reason will not permit him to acquiesce in the skeptical suggestion that no reliable knowledge is possible for man. Hence, the Hartshornian metaphysical edifice is based upon the bedrock of the fleeting human consciousness as the foundation and model of metaphysical knowledge. To Hartshorne it seems perfectly natural and obvious that subjective human awareness should be taken by all men as the ultimate clue to the nature of the universe:

The human specious present is the only epoch we directly experience with any vividness, just as the spatial spread 0f a human experience is the only atomic unit. In perceiving the non-human world we are always apprehending collectives, both spatial and temporal. To form even a vague conception of the singulars composing these collectives our only resource is to generalize analogically the epochal and atomic characters of human experiences.9

On the basis, therefore, of the metaphysical clue to reality discovered in human consciousness, Hartshorne deduces that the ultimate units of reality are the "atomic characters" of various experiences, which are varyingly designated as "unit-experiences," "experient-occasions," or "actual entities."10 Here he is adopting Whitehead’s succinctly-stated cosmology:

‘Actual entities’ -- also termed ‘actual occasions’ -- are the final real things of which the world is made up. There is no going behind actual entities to find anything more real. They differ among themselves: God is an actual entity, and so is the most trivial puff of existence in far off empty space. But, though there are gradations of importance, and diversities of function, yet in the principles which actuality exemplifies all are on the same level. The final facts are, all alike, actual entities; and these actual entities are drops of experience. complex and interdependent.11

As will be explained in chapter four, Hartshorne disagrees with Whitehead’s statement in this quotation that God is an actual entity; but, otherwise, Hartshorne’s metaphysics totally agrees with Whitehead’s declaration that the "final facts" are "actual entities" or "drops of experience." Moreover, each human being must be constituted of many millions of these "unit-happenings" or "experiences," because Hartshorne affirms that persons have about ten new ones per second and that they fit together so smoothly that the transitions between them go largely unnoticed.12 And inasmuch as everything in the universe is composed of similar unit-experiences or actual entities, the number of them that occurs at any given instant of time (if we may legitimately speak of such instants) must be stupendously large. These myriads of drops of experience in the Whiteheadian-Hartshornian metaphysical scheme correspond roughly to the monads of Leibniz’s world-view and to the energy quanta of modern physics as the basic building blocks of the universe.

It is essential to understand that, according to Hartshome, these drops of experience, as the ultimately real entities, are not permanently enduring "things" but rather very transient occurrences, happenings, occasions, acts, or events. Moreover, all these events are thoroughly value-oriented, for each one is a striving toward the realization of some value. As Hartshorne says, "Experience is an act; and every act at least strives to realize a value."13 Therefore, the cosmic universe at any given moment is a vast swarm of experience-events that are coming into existence, achieving some value, and passing out of existence. Once an experience achieves its aim or realizes some value, then it ceases to exist ("perishes" is Whitehead’s somewhat misleading term) in its unique form. Harts-home insists that the values in question here are not ethical values, since, according to him, ethical values cannot be universal. Instead, he holds that these are aesthetic values which are universal in scope. Hence, he concludes that aesthetic values are immediate values that are present in all experiences.14

Hartshorne is aware that his kind of metaphysics is a revolutionary change in perspective for most people. Whereas we usually think of things or people as individuals to which events happen, he advocates the converse proposition that things or persons are "certain stabilities…in the flux of events."15 He claims the support of modern science, especially current physics, for this recommended reversal of cosmological outlook. For example, he points out that quantum mechanics now suggests that atoms are not moving entities or things to which events happen but rather are the sequences of events or happenings themselves. If this suggestion is accepted, then we must accustom ourselves to thinking that there really are no such things as particles, atomic or otherwise, but only "particle-like events."16 Furthermore, when one becomes persuaded that such reasoning is sound and thus abandons the habit of supposing that events must happen to something rather than that happenings are the only real some-things, then he is well on the way toward a thoroughgoing Hartshornian cosmology.

In his first book, entitled The Philosophy and Psychology of Sensation, Hartshorne announces his agreement with the Whiteheadian idea that the materials of all nature are events composed of aesthetic feeling," claiming the additional support of modern physics for the contention; and he has never wavered in this conviction.17 Moreover, he also expounds in this work the further Whiteheadian notion, which he tirelessly repeats in his later works, that what the Constituent experiences or feelings of the universe experience are other experiences. Hartshorne considers it obvious that no feeling can merely feel itself but must always feel other feelings, a doctrine which he says C. S. Peirce was among the first to hold.18 Hence, he declares, "The world may be conceived as the increasing specification of the theme ‘feeling of feeling’ "; and he affirms that the "spontaneous conviction of all exalted moments of life" is the presentiment that the key to the nature of things is "the sensitiveness of living beings for each other."19

Accordingly, Hartshorne’s main thesis in this book on sensation is that such occurrences as the human awareness of the color red are best explained as the results of an "affective continuum" in which the mind feels the redness of the brain cells (!) which feel the redness of light rays which in turn feel the redness of the object perceived.20 Indeed, the conclusion of this work is adequately descriptive of Hartshorne’s lifetime of metaphysical labors, so that a lengthy quotation may be justified:

The possibility of a single science of nature at once follows. All individuals become comparable to ourselves, and physics may prove to be nothing but the behavioristic side of the psychology or sociology of the most universally distributed and low-grade or simple individuals. This is the only conception that can even pretend to represent an absolute ideal of scientific success. Its advantage is unique, and with every advance of science can only become more apparent. For everything moves toward it -- at least in the sense that it brings us nearer to the completion of less ambitious programs. and hence to the time when they can no longer function as goals -- and nothing can carry us beyond it…

The reason this ultimate program seems so remote or Incredible is partly that we have as yet no real conception of the variables exhibited in human experience, and hence do not see how widely different values from any occurring in our experience are abstractly conceivable as missing areas or extended portions of the domains of potential characters which the variables permit. The reason is also partly our ignorance of the details of nature on its behavioristic side, the superficiality of even our physics and, much more, of our biology and physiology.

When science has gained a more perfect picture of the spatio-temporal patterns exhibited by the life and adventures of a particle, including perhaps the evolution of the cosmos from a stage in which it did not contain this particle, and into one in which it will no longer contain it, then perhaps speculation as to an inner life of the particle. its pleasures, displeasures, etc., will take a more definite form. All science may thus become natural history, and all individuals studied by science, fellow-creatures. Physics will be but the most primitive branch of comparative psychology or of general sociology.21

We turn next to an explication of the term "panpsychism" as Hartshorne employs it.


Hartshorne defines "panpsychism" (from Greek words meaning "all-soul") as "the view that all things, in all their aspects, consist exclusively of ‘souls,’ that is, of various kinds of subjects, or units of experiencing, with their qualifications, relations, and groupings, or communities."22 He acknowledges that the term is somewhat misleading, because the ultimate unit-experiences are not the same as the traditional concept of the human soul; but he is content to employ it because of some analogy of feeling-experience between human souls and the actual entities. Hartshornian panpsychism, then, realizes that there might be infinitely many different kinds of "souls," ranging from electrons to God, and, therefore, recommends that we generalize our own internal experience as a cautiously employed "infinitely flexible analogy."23 It would set no limits to the possible variety of psychic life, leaving to the science of comparative psychology the task of actually describing the various kinds of souls there are; but it does contend that all things, including ultramicroscopic entities, consist of "minds" or "souls" even if many of them are on an extremely low, subhuman level.24 Hartshorne avows that we are chiefly indebted to three great philosophers, Plato, Leibniz, and Whitehead, for the creative insights that have brought panpsychism to its present impressive status as a full-scale metaphysical system.

Most obviously, Hartshorne’s panpsychism should be understood paramountly as an explicit repudiation of metaphysical materialism in all its forms, both ancient and modern. Similarly, it also repudiates metaphysical dualism in Cartesian or other forms that maintain that both mind and matter are equally ultimate principles of reality. Hartshorne vigorously argues that there is no evidence whatsoever, whether scientific or metaphysical, that even unambiguously suggests that the ultimate atomic units of the universe are dead, inert, and unconscious. To be sure, his panpsychism holds that the ultimate constituent units of all things are atomic; but they are atoms of conscious experience" at least remotely resembling human mental experiences. Hence, panpsychism categorically rejects as a colossal metaphysical error the entire tradition of atomistic materialism from Democritus to Lucretius to classical Newtonian mechanics.

Furthermore, Hartshorne launches a surprisingly strong assault upon the reigning scientific materialism of today and simultaneously presents a stout defense of his own position. For example, he asserts in the following fashion that there is not one shred of evidence that shows that the atomic and subatomic particles of physics must be lifeless or unconscious: "It is impossible to mention, and no one has mentioned, any fact which physics now asserts about the pattern of individual occurrences which contradicts the supposition that individuals as such are sentient creatures."25 In other words, the assumption that modern science has revealed or demonstrated that the universe is fundamentally composed of dead or mindless matter in purely mechanical motion is completely unwarranted and gratuitous.

Consequently, Hartshorne rejects the fashionable assumption that mind on planet earth has emerged from what was once mere matter. He denies that the notion of mere matter can be given any intelligible meaning, holding that "mere matter" is a totally opaque concept. He also disallows Descartes’ suggestion that "extension" is the main criterion of difference between matter and mind on the grounds that it has not been shown that mind cannot be extended in some respects. In addition, he contends that, before one can talk meaningfully of a material stuff devoid of experience, he must first show how to falsify the panpsychistic thesis that "mind or experience in some form is everywhere"; but this prerequisite demonstration is theoretically impossible for finite minds, because experience is conceivably capable of an infinity of forms and degrees. Therefore, he believes that he has a logically impregnable position in affirming that the zero case of mind would also be the zero case of reality.26 Hence, either we must talk about matter in terms of the infinitely flexible "psychic variables" of human mental experience, or we cannot talk intelligibly about it at all.27 Thus Hartshorne feels justified in the following caustic comment upon Santayana’s defense of materialism: " ‘Matter’ is the asylum of ignorance, pure and simple, whose only useful function is to postpone for a more convenient occasion the specification of the type of psychic reality required in the given case."28

Hartshorne does admit that panpsychism appears incredible to common sense at such points as the suggestion that stones may have feelings or be composed of sentient entities; but he counters the force of this objection by pointing out that such scientific conceptions as atomic and cellular structures of plants and animals also greatly transcend common sense. He also grants the common-sense view that a human corpse is a dead thing as a human body, but he still makes his panpsychistic point by insisting that even a corpse is composed of many living things and, as far as our knowledge runs, nothing else.29 In addition, he claims that his belief that there is only a relative and not an absolute distinction between mind and matter is given support by recent developments in physics that have shown that the differences between matter and various kinds of radiation are differences of degree and not of kind. Lest he be misunderstood, he says that panpsychism does not for once question the real existence of such entities as atoms or electrons but merely insists that such individuals must "feel" and "will" He does not shrink from the view that electrons "enjoy" their existence and deliberately alter their orbits in order to obtain vivid contrasts and thus avoid being bored.30

It is quite important to understand that, although Harts-home’s panpsychism resembles classical philosophical idealism in holding that reality is essentially mental or spiritual in character, it also defends the opposite of the standard Berkeleyan (or Kantian) idealism in epistemology or theory of knowledge. Whereas Berkeley seems to have maintained that an object is constituted by being known, Hartshorne’s realistic position in epistemology explicitly states that an object of knowledge is entirely independent of its being known by any particular subject. Conversely, Hartshorne also affirms that the subject of any knowledge always depends upon the objects of which it is aware. The subject is a different subject for knowing a particular object, but that object is in no degree different for being known by that subject.

Moreover, Hartshorne affirms that he does not contradict himself when he asserts the additional twin theses that every concrete entity is a subject (or has objects of knowledge) and that every such entity must be an object for some (anyone will do) subject.31 Furthermore, he argues that only the panpsychistic doctrine of an ocean of subjects internally related to their objects of knowledge can make sense of our deeply ingrained conception of the world as a real nexus of temporal succession of cause-effect relationships. Therefore, after extensive analysis of the many issues involved, he concludes emphatically that "we know nothing of a form of concreteness other than that of subjects" and that the only alternatives in ontology and cosmology are either panpsychism or agnosticism.32

Social Process

It is now possible to understand why Hartshorne designates his ontology and cosmology as "societal realism," "social organicism," or "social process." He means that ultimate reality actually is one vast social process or complexity of myriads of social processes. Each of the quadrillions of experience-occasions that comprise the universe is immediately and intrinsically social in nature, for experience is always experience of something else, namely, other experiences ("feeling of feelings") - Accordingly, "sympathy" is a key category of Hartshorne’s metaphysics. Every actual occasion has intrinsic reference…to preceding occasions, with which it has some degree of sympathetic participation, echoing their qualities, but with a new overall quality of its own as it reacts to them."33 That is, there are no completely isolated individuals in the universe. Every one of the ultimate units in the cosmos is related by some degree of awareness to some other ultimate events and responds sympathetically to this awareness. Preceding occasions act causally upon subsequent occasions, and the subsequent occasions react sympathetically to the preceding ones. The entire universe, therefore, may be envisioned as a virtually infinite series of instantaneous throbs and pulsations of sympathy. Moreover, all the larger (or more abstract) entities which are composed of the experience-events, from electrons to stones to animals to people to God, are bound in the bonds (or enjoy the freedom and love) of the universal sympathy.

We may now proceed to the exposition of Hartshorne ‘s conception of "organism" and "society," which are for him intimately interrelated terms. He defines an "organism as a whole whose parts serve as ‘organs’ or instrument [sic] to purposes or end-values inherent in the whole."34 For example, a man is aware of himself as an organism, since he is conscious of realizing purposes through the parts of his body as organs. Moreover, Harts-home maintains that an organism may have other organisms as parts or organs but that not all the parts of organisms need themselves be organisms. The human being is the best example of this principle. A man is an organism composed of bodily cells which are likewise organisms; but a finger of his hand is an organ and not an organism, although it is composed of organisms (the cells) and is also part of the larger organism, the entire body.35

In addition, Hartshorne holds that every lesser organ and organism is organic" in the sense of being parts of the one supreme cosmic organism, the universe, which he regards as a well-unified, purposive whole. Thus he can say that a mountain (or sandpile) is not itself an organism, being only an aggregation of molecules or atoms (or grains of sand); but a mountain is composed of organisms, the atoms or molecules, and is also an organic part of the cosmic organism. Such entities as plants and termite colonies Hartshorne designates as "quasi-organisms." They are composed of organisms, either plant cells or termites; but, since such groupings of organisms probably have no unified purpose of their own, they should not be regarded as true organisms. He concludes: "Thus it is reasonable to deny that mountains, trees, or termite colonies enjoy feelings, but not so reasonable to deny that atoms, tree-cells, and termites enjoy them."30 Similarly, Hartshorne suggests that various collections of people, such as races, classes, or nations, do not have a "group mind," even though they may occasionally act with some unitary purpose; therefore, they are not to be considered genuine organisms. He looks askance at the idea of "any group mind above the human individual and below the mind of the entire cosmos."37

In order to forestall objections to his social-organic theory, Hartshorne states that an electron or some similar ultimate particle may still be an organism even though it has no parts. In such cases of the simplest organisms, they may respond sympathetically to (or feel) their nearest equal neighbors in a community-like relationship. Such simplest particles would resemble disembodied spirits because their only embodiment would be their environment.38

Hartshorne furnishes a similarly interesting reply to the converse objection that the entire universe could not be one organism, since it has no environment ("There is nowhere to go from the universe")39 His neat reply to this difficulty is that, although the universe has no neighbors to which it may respond, it may still respond to its own ‘‘internal environment’’ or the various internal organs of which it is composed. The cosmic mind would, therefore, be the most fully embodied of all things, having the universe for its body, and would also be the integration of all lesser purposes, since its purpose would be the prosperity of all its parts and their collective totality.40

A further significant facet of Hartshorne’s social conception of the universe is his idea that the wills or minds of organisms influence their component organs or parts as well as being influenced by them. For instance, he contends that the laws of quantum mechanics are not sufficient to account for all aspects of why human beings think as they do. His reason is that the electrons in the human brain are not only influenced in their actions by other electrons but also by the fact that they are parts of a human brain and thus must move in certain ways partly because the human being thinks as he does.41 Nevertheless, Hartshorne also affirms that no organism may completely control or dominate its constituent parts. Moreover, he regards this as a self-evident truth, since total domination of the part by the whole would erase all meaningful distinctions between them. Furthermore, if one keeps clearly in mind the all-important time factor of Hartshorne’s societalism, it becomes clear that an actual whole can never act upon the actualities of which it is composed at any given moment but only upon subsequent actualities.

Hartshorne suggests that organisms may helpfully be regarded as societies which fall into two broadly different types, "democracies" and "monarchies." The democratic societies have no one supreme or dominant member, with examples being such things possibly as stones and probably as some cell-colonies and even special forms of many-celled plants and animals.42 Monarchic societies, on the other hand, do have a supreme or dominant member which radically subordinates the parts to its ruling purpose but which can never completely rob the parts of all measure of control over themselves. The best example of the monarchic society seems to be the case of the human personality which controls (albeit only partially) its own bodily cells. The human personality also presents the fascinating case of a monarchic society that may have democratic societies among its constituents; e.g., the cells of the heart appear to have no dominant member, although the total personality may influence the heart’s action to a certain extent. Hartshorne finds in this particular case a suggestive analogy for understanding the cosmic organism. The suggestion is that all societies, including the most democratic ones, are parts of an all-inclusive monarchic society, namely, the whole universe which is ordered by a single ruling member.43 Little examination is required to discern that the single ruling member of the universal organism or society is what Hartshorne understands God to be. The full explication of his doctrine of God, however, will be reserved for a later chapter.

Universal Becoming

As previously indicated, Hartshorne’s metaphysics draws very heavily upon Whitehead’s insights, and Hartshorne justifiably looks upon their common version of process philosophy as presenting a profound shift of perspective in Western metaphysics. He deliberately sets his "neoclassical metaphysics" in opposition and contrast to the heretofore dominant "classical" metaphysics of Western philosophy. One of the major differences between the two rival systems revolves around the terms "being" and "becoming." For classical Western metaphysics, such categories as "being" and "substance" are the more fundamental concepts, and "becoming" and "change" are explained in terms of being. The Whiteheadian-Hartshornian neoclassical metaphysics takes precisely the opposite tack: it treats "becoming" and "change" as the absolutely fundamental categories and accounts for "being" as an aspect of or within becoming. According to Hartshorne, Western classical metaphysics, receiving a powerful impetus from the depreciation of change by Plato and Aristotle, reached its culmination in medieval theology. This theology denied any change or contingency in the world on the grounds that their possibility was logically excluded by the assertion that the omniscient and immutable God could not change in any of his aspects, including his knowledge.

In contrast, Hartshorne affirms that Buddhism, in East. em philosophy, was the earliest great philosophy to stress becoming as basic reality. It insisted that momentary experiences which do not "change" but just "become" are the primary realities, a notion not fully developed in Western philosophy until Whitehead did so in the twentieth century.44 This emphasis in Buddhism largely accounts for the fact that Hartshorne frequently alludes to, and allies himself with, certain important features of Buddhist religious philosophy.

As far as Hartshorne is concerned, all the efforts of classical metaphysics down to the present day to explain becoming in terms of being are bound to be dismal failures. Instead of "explaining" change, they all essentially deny change by affirming that it is unreal or mere appearance or "being" viewed from the finite human perspective. And inasmuch as change is intuitively obvious to the universal common-sense experience of mankind, Hartshorne reasons that a metaphysics which denies change deserves universal rejection. Contrastingly, Hartshorne’s neoclassical metaphysics claims to provide a fully adequate explanation of being and permanence in terms of becoming. Succinctly stated, the explanation is as follows.

The ultimate units of experience, the actual occasions, just "happen" by virtue of creating themselves. However, in their self-creation, they always "remember" aspects of the immediately preceding occasions while creating a new synthesis of experience. Therefore, some facets of the past are always preserved in each succeeding set of experient. events, a process that literally goes on forever. It is the preserved aspects of past experiences in the ever-renewing present that we designate by such terms as "being," "substance," "permanence," and "stability." For example, the permanence of human personality consists in certain remembered aspects of past experiences that may occur as rapidly as ten per second. Hence, Hartshorne maintains that neoclassical metaphysics does not at all deny being and permanence but rather affirms them -- as aspects within the more ultimate process of universal and perpetual becoming.

Obviously, process metaphysics is an excitingly different vision of an everlastingly dynamic reality in comparison with the static universe of classical metaphysics. The world of neoclassical metaphysics is a world that is fresh and new every moment; but, of course, it is not totally new, inasmuch as the perpetually new creative syntheses of each moment always utilize elements of the previous creations.45 Hartshorne’s own summary statement is appropriate: "Neoclassical metaphysics is the fusion of the idealism or panpsychicalism which is implicit or explicit in all metaphysics with the full realization of the primacy of becoming as self-creativity or creative synthesis, feeding only upon its own products forever"46 Surely, some elements of Hartshorne’s impressive statement of his vision of an awesomely dynamic universe deserve not to be forgotten but to be preserved in all serious future efforts to create new syntheses in metaphysics!

The issue concerning the nature of time is inextricably intertwined with the notions of being and becoming, and the Hartshornian solutions to the problem are, as usual, intriguing. Just as he repudiates all conceptions of being that make problematic the reality of becoming, so Hartsborne also scorns all versions of time and eternity that swallow up time in eternity. His own constructive statement of the relationship may be described as an engulfing of eternity by the temporal process that is everlasting in duration.

In this regard, Hartshorne’s main strictures are directed against those theologians and metaphysicians who advance views that imply the eradication of all meaningful distinctions among past, present, and future times. Included in this group of thinkers would be all theologians who insist that the omniscient God knows in detail all future events from the beginning and all philosophers who (following Laplace) contend that the present state of matter in the universe has conclusively determined in detail all future states of the universe. Both approaches, according to Hartshorne, obliterate all real distinctions between present and future by implying that all events are real now in an eternal present that can be known by a properly qualified (i.e., omniscient) being. Such unwarranted "spatializations" (Bergson) of time thus make nonsense of the idea of genuinely creative becoming and, therefore, are contrary to man’s intuitive experience.

In contrast to such views, Hartshorne explicitly negates the notion that the events of the future can be known in detail by any being, including God. His line of reasoning is that, until they actually occur, all future events and their alternatives are merely possible, not actual; and even an omniscient God cannot know as actual what in fact is not actual but only possible. God knows the actual as actual and the merely possible as merely possible. For example, God cannot know specifically how many people will be living on earth at midnight, January 1, 2000 AD., for that number will not be precisely determined until that precise date. Consequently, no completely true statements can now be made about such future realities.

Just as he does with becoming, so Hartshorne affirms the ultimate reality of the temporal process. The only eternity there is, according to him, is not beyond but within that process. Describing his constructive theory as "modal-psychological," he takes some cues from St. Augustine and suggests that the temporal dimension of reality may be "best conceived as the memory-creativity structure of experience as such."47 If we follow his suggestions, the relations of contemporary things should be conceived of in terms of mutual involvement or noninvolvement, the past should be viewed as the perpetual memory of all that has happened to become determinate and actual, and the future should be considered as the anticipation of possibilities that are not yet actual and determinate.48

For Hartshorne, obviously, there is a fundamental difference between the past and the future, the past being the realm of actual individualities and the future being the realm of potential or possible individualities.49 Thus it is not inaccurate to say that the past is real in a way that the future is not. Hartshorne finds important evidence for this modal asymmetry between past and future in the human ability to remember past events vividly and in detail and to anticipate the future only vaguely and generally.50 Moreover, he holds that the past is completely fixed in irrevocable detail, since every event, once it is actualized, is real forevermore. Once an individual becomes, he never "unbecomes," because something cannot ever literally become nothing in Hartshorne’s cosmology. The reality of past events is partially preserved as newly synthesized elements in later events but fully and infallibly in the never-failing memory of God.51 Hartshorne explains further that a denial of the full reality of the past would entail the conclusion that no true statements could be made about the determinate character of past events ("Lincoln was assassinated"), whereas acceptance of his doctrine of the nonactuality of the future entails the falsity of all statements that ascribe completely determinate character to future events.52 "Maybe" is the only correct mode of reference to the future.

Inevitable Freedom and Tragedy

An unusually striking and important feature of Hartshorne’s cosmology is his oft-repeated insistence upon the reality and universality of freedom in nature. The creative aspect of becoming in his philosophy of process involves the idea that freedom is of the very essence of reality. Moreover, he believes that the question of real freedom, especially for man, is not merely academic but of vital practical concern to the future well-being of all humanity. In his opinion, any metaphysics is dangerous if it minimizes the possibility of radical evil through the misuse of freedom. Evil and tragedy are both grimly possible and actual if freedom is genuine. Accordingly, there is some validity to pessimism as one contemplates the real capacity of the human race to do evil and the possibility that mankind may precipitate incalculably tragic evil and suffering by its wrong decisions regarding destructive warfare and the population explosion.53 Given creative becoming as an everlastingly continuous process, Hartshorne declares that there will always be some evil in the world; but the amount of evil will always be at least partially determined by creative choices. Indeed, he acknowledges that the universality of freedom means that there is an element of stark tragedy inherent in the very constitution of the universe. Following Berdyaev, he traces the root of tragedy to creative freedom and avows that mankind will always be confronted with pervasive peril as well as sublime opportunity. He elaborates as follows:

All free creatures are inevitably more or less dangerous to other creatures, and the most free creatures are the most dangerous. Optimistic notions of inevitable, and almost effortless, progress are oblivious to this truth. They have tended to unfit us for our responsibilities. Man needs to know that he is born to freedom, hence to tragedy, but also to opportunity. He could be harmless enough, were he less free. Freedom is our opportunity and our tragic destiny. To face this tragedy courageously we need an adequate vision of the opportunity, as well as of the danger.54

Hartshorne clearly realizes that the manner of his defense of genuine freedom necessitates a definite break with metaphysical determinism in all its guises; and, consequently, he launches a vigorous attack upon it in several of his works. By "determinism" he means the view which asserts that all events are totally determined by their antecedent causes, so that, given a certain set of antecedent conditions, a particular result must follow necessarily. In contrast, he retorts that such complete determinism is never true for any event. In order to prevent any misconception, he stresses that neoclassical metaphysics does not contend that some events are uncaused but only that no events are fully determined by their causes.55 More fully, Hartshorne holds that all events (or ultimate individuals) have partial causes and no events have complete causes. Thus, in an important essay, he argues that "freedom requires indeterminism and universal causality"56 He freely admits that there is an element of regularity and order in nature which may be partially described in the statistical laws of science; but he also confesses his inability to give a rational explanation (other than the immanence of God) of why, in a world of freedom, we have an orderly cosmos instead of sheer chaos.57

Hartshorne’s view is that, although antecedent circumstances may predetermine in general the character of the next event, they cannot determine it absolutely and in all detail. Each moment exists in partial independence of all predecessors by virtue of an element of chance novelty and spontaneity in each occurrence; and this element of chance in each event means that it must be undeducible and unpredictable in determinate detail from all its predecessors combined.58 Therefore, he reasons that nothing, not even God, can rob persons of the self-determination that achieves a new creative synthesis in each moment of experience.59 In a brief paragraph, he delineates clearly the nature of freedom which is the birthright of every individual:

Freedom is an indetermination in the potentialities for present action which are constituted by all the influences and stimuli, all "heredity and environment," all past experiences, an indetermination removed only by the actuality (event, experience, act) itself, and always in such fashion that other acts of determination would have been possible in view of the given total conditions up to the moment of the act. A free act is the resolution of an uncertainty inherent in the totality of the influences to which the act is subject. The conditions decide what can be done and cannot; but what is done is always more determinate than merely what can he done. The latter is a range of possibilities for action, not a particular act.60

Hartshorne’s elaborate critique of determinism is too detailed and intricate to be adequately surveyed here, so that we shall have to be content with briefly stating only a few of many carefully wrought out points.61 First, he calls attention to the fact that modern metaphysical determinism arose in the Newtonian era when it was believed that science discovers absolute and immutable natural laws, but science has now totally abandoned this conception of law in favor of the theory that scientific laws are merely statistical descriptions of the way nature happens to work. Second, there has never been scientifically discovered and demonstrated a single law that is absolutely valid for all times and circumstances. Next, recent developments in quantum physics have revealed an ineradicable indeterminacy concerning motions of electrons, and thus we may have a hint from physical science itself that there is some contingency in the ultimate physical particles. Fourth, man in moments of decision is intuitively aware of contingencies in his actual determinations of the future, for he often chooses from a continuum of infinitely varied possibilities. Fifth, determinism implies that the concept of possibility is vacuous and that time and change are essentially unreal; but Hartshorne contends that he can rationally demonstrate that all three of these concepts, taken in their most pregnant sense, are indispensable categories. In sum, then, there is something logically arbitrary about every detail of the universe which the determinist cannot eradicate. Indeed, Hartshorne goes as far as to say that "the world as a whole is a matter of chance."62 In the final analysis, things happen just because they happen; there is no sufficient reason why things are as they are, and "preference is ultimate."63

What is really real? With remarkable tenacity and consistency, Hartshorne has expended his lifetime in teaching and writing that the only satisfying answer to this age old query must come from man’s direct interrogation of his most intimate experience, namely, his own intuitively discerned consciousness. From this source, if he has rightly divined the matter, disciplined rational insight may discern that the ultimate components of this actual universe (and of every possible universe) must be evanescent occasions of sympathetic experience of other experiences which create themselves in freedom and love and then dissolve at once into new syntheses of experience in a vast, dynamic process that shall never cease.


1. Reality as Social Process, p. 174.

2. Charles Hartshorne, Beyond Humanism: Essays in the Philosophy of Nature (Chicago: Willett, Clark & Co., 1937), p. 260.

3. Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (New York: Harper & Row, 1960), p. 4.

4. The Logic of Perfection, p. 285.

5. Charles Hartshorne, "Metaphysical Statements as Nonrestrictive and Existential," The Review of Metaphysics 12 (September 1958): 37, 42.

6. The Logic of Perfection, p. 288.

7. Ibid., (italics his).

8. Reality as Social Process, pp. 175-76.

9. Charles Hartshorne, "Panpsychism," in A History of Philosophical Systems, ed. Vergilius Ferm (New York: The Philosophical Library, 1950). p. 450.

10. Ibid., pp. 450-51.

11. Whitehead. Process and Reality, pp. 27-28.

12. Charles Hartshorne, "Introduction: The Development of Process Philosophy," in Philosophers of Process, ed. Douglas Browning (New York; Random House, 1965), p. xviii.

13. Reality as Social Process, p. 44.

14. Ibid.

15. The Logic of Perfection, p. 219.

16. Ibid., p. 218.

17. Charles Hartshorne, The Philosophy and Psychology of Sensation (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1934), p.16.

18. Beyond Humanism, pp. 183, 185.

19. The Philosophy and Psychology of Sensation, pp. 208, 13-14.

20. Ibid., p. 247.

21. Ibid., pp. 269-70.

22. "Panpsychisrn," p. 442.

23. Ibid., p. 445.

24. Ibid., pp. 442, 445.

25. The Philosophy and Psychology of Sensation, p. 269.

26. The Logic of Perfection, pp. 123-26.

27. Beyond Humanism, p. 121.

28. Ibid., p. 236.

29. Ibid., p. 166.

30. Ibid., pp. 190, 177, 191.

31. Reality as Social Process, pp. 69-70.

32. Ibid., p. 84.

33. "Panpsychism," p. 4.51.

34. The Logic of Perfection, p. 191.

35. Ibid., p. 192.

36. Ibid., p. 193.

37. Reality as Social Process, p. 62.

38. The Logic of Perfection, p. 196.

39. Ibid., p. 204.

40. Ibid., pp. 196-98. 204.

41. Ibid., p. 193.

42. Ibid., p. 200.

43. Reality as Social Process, p. 38.

44. "Introduction: The Development of Process Philosophy," pp. vi-vii.

45. Ibid., pp. xiv, xvi-xix.

46. Ibid., p. xxii.

47. Charles Hartshorne, "time," in An Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Vergilius Ferm (New York: The Philosophical Library, 1945), pp. 787-88; Reality as Social Process, p. 75.

48. "time," pp. 787-88; Beyond Humanism, p. 174.

49. The Logic of Perfection, p. 248.

50. Beyond Humanism, pp. 135-38.

51. The Logic of Perfection, pp. 246, 249-52.

52. "time," pp. 787-88.

53. The Logic of Perfection, pp. 5,12-14.

54. Ibid., p. 14.

55. Beyond Humanism, p. 150.

56. The Logic of Perfection, chap. 6.

57. Beyond Humanism, pp. 163-64.

58. Ibid., p. 156; Reality as Social Process, pp. 87-89.

59. The Logic of Perfection, pp. 230-33.

60. Ibid., p. 231.

61. Cf. especially The Logic of Perfection, chap. 6, and Beyond Humanism, chap. IX. Interestingly, Hartshorne does affirm that the present fully determines or logically implies the past but not, of course, the future. Cf. Beyond Humanism, p. 138.

62. Beyond Humanism, p. 131.

63. Ibid., pp. 132-33 (italics his).