Chapter 4: Hartshorne and Aquinas: A Via Media by William P. Alston

Existence and Actuality: Conversations with Charles Hartshorne
by John B. Cobb, Jr. and Franklin I. Gamwell (eds.)

Chapter 4: Hartshorne and Aquinas: A Via Media by William P. Alston

William P. Alston is professor of philosophy at Syracuse University.


The Hartshornean conception of God has exercised a profound influence on contemporary theology and philosophy. It is recognized as a major alternative to more familiar conceptions, and its merits and demerits are vigorously debated. The conception has a number of sources, but not least among them is Hartshorne’s criticism of the way of thinking about God that was brought to classic expression by St. Thomas Aquinas. In what still remains the most extended systematic presentation of his position, Man’s Vision of God, Hartshorne develops his conception as an attempt to remedy the defects he finds in the Thomistic view. And throughout his subsequent writings this foil is there, sometimes in the foreground, sometimes in the background, but always exercising a dominant influence. It is the Thomistic conception, or the general ways of thinking about God given definitive shape by Thomas, that Hartshorne takes as his chief rival, and he takes one of the basic recommendations of his position to be that it succeeds at those points where Thomas fails.

In contrasting his view with that of Thomas, Hartshorne presents us with a choice between two complete packages. No picking and choosing of individual items is allowed. And the secondary literature has, for the most part, followed him in this. Nor is this mere sloth or heedlessness on Hartshorne’s part. He explicitly propounds the view that the various elements of the Thomistic system are so tightly bound to each other that we cannot pick One or two without thereby becoming committed to the whole:

they all belong logically together, so that there is little use in judging any of them in isolation. Either we accept them one and all, or we reject them one and all, or we merely bungle the matter. Here is the explanation of the failure of many attempts at reconstruction in theology; they sought to pick and choose among ideas which are really inseparable aspects of one idea. Here also is seen the genius of the great theologians of the past, that they really saw the logical interrelations between a large number of affirmations (they are really and admittedly denials, negations) about God.1

And he often imputes an equally tight coherence to his own system. In opposition to this picture of the situation, I shall be arguing in this paper that the Thomistic theses rejected by Hartshorne are not by any means so tightly bound to each other as he supposes, and that one can, consistently and coherently, reject some and retain the rest. More specifically, I shall contend that Hartshorne’s arguments against the Thomistic denials of internal relatedness, potentiality, complexity, and contingency (of some properties), arguments that I take to be wholly successful, do not, as Hartshorne seems to suppose, suffice also to dispose of the Thomistic doctrines of omnipotence, immutability, nontemporality, creation ex nihilo, and unsurpassibility even by self. Nor do I find any other cogent arguments in Hartshorne against the attributes of the second group, though I will not be able to argue this last point in detail. Thus I shall be contending that the Hartshornean corpus leaves standing the possibility that a coherent, plausible, religiously adequate, and even true conception of God can be formed that combines the Hartshornean position on the attributes of the first group with a Thomistic, or at least something closer to a Thomistic, position on the attributes of the second group.

Here is a tabular presentation of the oppositions between what Hartshorne calls the "classical’ position, paradigmatically represented by Aquinas, and his own, neoclassical," position


1. Absoluteness (absence of

internal relatedness).

2. Pure actuality. There is no

potentiality in God for anything.

He is not.

3. Total necessity. Every truth

about God is necessarily true.



4. Absolute simplicity.

5. Creation ex nihilo by a free

act of will. God could have

refrained from creating anything.

It is a contingent fact that

anything exists other than God.

6. Omnipotence. God has the

power to do anything (logically

consistent) He wills to go.

7. Incorporeality.

8. Nontemporality. God does not

live through a series of temporal


9. Immutability. This follows

from 8. God cannot change since

there is no temporal succession in

His being.

10. Absolute perfection. God is,

eternally, that than which no more

perfect can be conceived.


Relativity. God is internally

related to creatures by way of

His knowledge of them and

His actions toward them.

Potentiality. God does not

actualize everything that is

possible for Him.

Necessity and contingency. God

exists necessarily, but various

things are true of God (e.g. His

knowledge of what is contingent)

that are contingently true of Him.


Both God and the world of

creatures exist necessarily, though

the details are contingent.


God has all the power any one

agent could have, but there are

metaphysical limitations on this.

Corporeality. The world is the

body of God.

Temporality. God lives through

temporal succession. But


Mutability. God is continually

attaining richer syntheses of


Relative perfection. At any

moment God is more perfect than

any other individual, but He is

surpassable by Himself at a later

state of development.





I shall go about my task as follows. I shall examine Hartshorne’s arguments against the Thomistic attributes in the first group (absoluteness, simplicity, etc.), and show that they cut no ice against the Thomistic attributes in the second group. In order to carry this through, I will have to show that the classical attributes in the latter group are in fact consistent with the neoclassical features in the first group. In discussing the classical attributes in the second group, I shall cast a cursory glance at Hartshorne’s other arguments against those attributes and suggest that they lack cogency. I would like to go on to argue for the religious adequacy of my "mixed" conception, but for that I will have to wait for another occasion.

Before starting on this task let me make explicit what I will not be challenging in the Hartshornean theology. First I readily and unreservedly grant that Hartshorne has made a powerful positive case for his conception of God as one that (a) is internally coherent, (b) has philosophical merit, (c) has important roots in the practice of theistic religion, and (d) nicely handles some nasty problems. Thus I allow that the full Hartshornean conception is an important alternative that must be seriously considered by contemporary theology, even though it is not my preferred alternative. Second, I acknowledge that theological thought during most of its history has been seriously hampered by the fact that the Hartshornean alternative has been almost totally ignored. Hartshorne has repeatedly shown how this neglect of an important alternative has led to bad reasoning. Finally, I grant that Hartshorne has shown the classical conception not to be required by the practice of theistic religions.


I now turn to a short sketch of what I take to be Hartshorne’s most important arguments against the classical attributes in Group I. Let us begin with absoluteness (in the sense of lack of internal relatedness), which is the key to the whole thing. Here I will distinguish between a very general line of argument that I do not regard as successful, and a more specific line of argument that seems to me to be completely successful.

The first argument hangs on some very general points about relations. For a given term in a relationship, the relation may be either internal or external to that term.2 A relation is internal to a term if that term would not be exactly as it is if it were not in that relationship; if, to some extent, the term depends on the relationship for its being what it is; otherwise it is external.3

But external relations are subject to two conditions. . . . First, every relation is internal to something, either to one at least of its terms or to some entity additional to these. Second, the entity to which the relation is internal is a concrete whole of which the externally related entities are abstract aspects. (MVG, 235)

The second point can be restated as: "The entity to which a relation is internal contains the relation and its relata as parts." We will find that this plays a major role in Hartshorne’s theology.

To continue the argument:

If the relation of the absolute to the world really fell wholly outside the absolute, then this relation would necessarily fall within some further and genuinely single entity which embraced both the absolute and the world and the relations between them -- in other words within an entity greater than the absolute. Or else the world itself would possess as its property the relation-to-God, and since this relation is nothing without God, the world, in possessing it, would possess God as integral part of its own property, and thus the world would itself be the entity inclusive of itself and the absolute. On any showing, something will be more than an immutable absolute which excludes its own relations to the mutable. (MVG, 238-39)

Thus on pain of admitting something greater or more inclusive than God, we must embrace the remaining alternative, which is that the term to which the God-creature relation is internal is none other than God.

I do not find this argument impressive. Grant that every relation must be internal to something. Why should we hold that the term to which a relation is internal "contains" the relation and the relata? Or, more basically, what is meant by this thesis’? In just what way does the one term ‘‘contain’ the others, or in just what way, as Hartshorne says in the passage quoted above, are the relata ‘aspects’’ of that term’? To focus the issue, let us consider why the second alternative in the last-quoted passage, that a God-world relation be internal to the world, is unacceptable. The reason given is that the world would "include" itself and the absolute in that case, and so would be "more" than the absolute. This reasoning shows that Hartshorne is reading more into his "containment" principle than he is entitled to. So far as I can see, the only sense in which one is entitled to say, in general, that the entity to which a relation is internal contains the terms, is that we have to refer to these other terms in describing that entity; that a reference to those terms enters into a description of that entity. But it doesn’t follow from this that those terms are contained in that entity as marbles in a box, or as thoughts in a mind, or as theorems in a set of axioms, or as you and I in the universe, or as the properties in the substance of which they are properties. Thus we are not constrained to hold that the entity in question is "greater" or ‘‘more inclusive’’ than those entities. And obvious counterexamples to this claim are not far to seek. On Hartshornean principles, and apart from those principles, when I think about God that relationship is internal to me. Does it follow that I am "more" than God, since, on the "containment" principle, I include God as an abstract aspect?4 Once we see the innocuousness of the "containment" that is implied by internal relatedness, the second alternative (the relation being internal to the creature) loses its repugnance, and the argument fails.

But Hartshorne also deploys a more specific argument for the same conclusion, one that depends on the character of a particular sort of relation, a relation in which God, by common consent, stands to the world. This is the cognitive relation. Hartshorne argues effectively that, in any case of knowledge, the knowledge relation is internal to the subject, external to the object,5 and, indeed, that cognitive relations are more constitutive of the subject the more certain, comprehensive, and adequate the knowledge.6 Whenever I know something, the fact that I know it goes toward making me the concrete being I am. If at this moment I see a tree across the street, I would not be just the concrete being I am at this moment (though I might be the same enduring individual or substance, according to standard criteria of identity for such beings) if I were not seeing that tree in just the way I am. I would be different from what I am in a significant respect. But the tree would still be just what it is if I did not see it.

This being the case, how can we both maintain that God has complete and perfect knowledge of everything knowable, including beings other than Himself, and still hold that God is not qualified to any degree by relations to other beings? I wholeheartedly agree with Hartshorne that we cannot. Classical theology has typically responded to this difficulty by alleging that, since all things other than God depend on God for their existence, their relations to the divine knower are constitutive of them rather than of God. The usual order of dependence is reversed. But Hartshorne effectively replies that, even if finite beings depend for their existence on the creative activity of God, it still remains true that if God had created a different world then He would have been somewhat different from the way He actually is by virtue of the fact that His perfect knowledge would have been of that world rather than of this world; and so the point still holds that divine cognitive relations to the creatures are partially constitutive of God.7

Now for the other traditional attributes in the first group. On reflection we can see that the above argument for the internal relatedness of God as cognitive subject presupposes that there are alternative possibilities for God, at least with respect to what creatures, or what states of creatures, He has as objects of knowledge. For if, as both Thomas and Hartshorne hold, it is necessary that God know perfectly whatever there is to know, and if there were no alternative possibilities as to what there is to know (whether by way of alternative possibilities for divine creativity or otherwise), then there would be no possible alternatives to the actual state of knowledge. And in that case the question as to whether God would be in any way different if He did not know what He does know would not arise. It would be like asking whether God would be different if He were not God, or like asking if the number 6 would be different if it were not 3 X 2. But if there are alternative possibilities for divine knowledge, then this implies both that there are unrealized potentialities for God, e.g., knowing some world (as actual) that He might have created but did not, and that some of the things true of God are true of Him contingently, i.e., that there is contingency in the divine nature. Hartshorne’s denial of absoluteness really presupposes the denial of pure actuality and of total necessity.

Thus there is an intimate connection between these three oppositions to the classical scheme. But in showing this we have also been exhibiting a vulnerability in the argument for relativity. For unless we are justified in the attribution of potentiality and contingency to God, the argument for relativity is lacking in cogency. Fortunately Hartshorne can, and does, argue independently for divine potentiality and contingency. Again he proceeds from premises admitted by his opponents, namely, that the world is contingent and that God freely creates the world He creates (and, therefore, could have created some other world instead).8 From the first premise we have the following argument.9

1.(A) God knows that W exists entails (B) W exists.

2. If (A) were necessary, (B) would be necessary.

3. But (B) is contingent.

4. Hence (A) is contingent

In other words, if what God, or any other subject, knows might not have existed, then God, or the subject in question, might not have had that knowledge. For if the object had not existed, it would not have been known. Hence God’s knowledge of the contingent is itself contingent. Therefore we can totally exclude contingency from God only by denying of God any knowledge of anything contingent, a step none of the classical theologians were willing to take.

From the thesis that God could have created some other world it follows that there are unrealized potentialities for God, namely, His creating worlds He does not create.10 Thomas’ distinction between active and passive potentialities11 does nothing to invalidate this point. Of course unrealized potentialities also follow from the first argument, and contingency from the second; for these notions are strictly correlative. If it is contingent that I am in states, then I might have been in some other state or had some other property instead (at a minimum, state non-S); that is, there are potentialities for me that I did not realize. And if there are potentialities that I might have realized but did not, then my not realizing them, and my realizing some alternative, is a contingent fact about me; it is one that might not have obtained.

Thus, starting from points insisted on by classical theology, Hartshorne has effectively shown that these points require the theologian to give up the classical attributes of nonrelativity, pure actuality, and total necessity. The final member of this group, simplicity, falls as well, since its main support was the absence of any unrealized potentialities in God.


Now let us turn to the classical attributes in Group 2, which I do not take Hartshorne to have succeeded in discrediting. I shall start with creation ex nihilo, since this is a fundamentally important element in classical theology, one I take to have deep roots in religious experience and practice. On this point there is a clear and sharp issue between Hartshorne and the classical tradition. For the latter not only is it the case, as Hartshorne would agree, that every finite individual owes its existence to the free creative activity of God, in the sense that apart from that creative activity that individual would not exist; in addition, it is wholly due to the free creative activity of God that anything other than Himself exists: it is contingent, and contingent on the will of God, that any created world at all exists. Whereas, for Hartshorne, it is a metaphysical necessity that there be a world of finite creatures, though not that there be just the one we have. This constitutes a significant difference in the area alloted to divine voluntary choice over against the area fenced round by impersonal metaphysical necessities.

Is the position of each party on this point in any way tied up with its position on the attributes of the first group? I cannot see that it is.12 Why should we suppose that a deity with unrealized potentialities and contingent properties, and qualified by His cognitive relations with contingent objects, must be in relation with some world of entities other than Himself? Why should it not be one of His contingent properties that He has created beings other than Himself? Why should the fact that He is qualified by his relations to other beings imply the impossibility of there being no other beings to which He is related and thereby qualified? I cannot see that the neoclassical properties in our first group are incompatible with the correctness of the suggestions just broached. In fact, it seems that the traditional doctrine of creation is much more attractive, plausible, and coherent in Hartshornean than in Thomistic garb. When decked out in the medieval fashion, it is saddled with just those difficulties exposed so effectively by Hartshorne in the arguments canvassed in Section II. It has to struggle to combine creation by a free act of will with the absence of alternative possibilities for God, and to combine the contingency of the world with the necessity of God’s act of creation and with the necessity of God’s knowledge of that world. Freed from those stultifying bonds it can display its charms to best advantage. It can mean what it says by "free act of will," by "contingency,’’ by "knowledge," and so on. I would say that in exposing the internal contradictions of classical theology Hartshorne has done it a great service and rendered its doctrine of creation much more defensible.

Indeed, to the best of my knowledge Hartshorne does not explicitly link his position on creation with his position on relativity, contingency, and potentiality, as he does link the latter with his position on temporality.13 On the other hand, he does present other arguments against the traditional position, none of which seem tome to have any substance. For one thing, he takes that position to be committed to a temporal beginning of the world, a bringing the world into existence at some moment of time. Against this he argues that a beginning of time is self-contradictory.14 Be this last point as it may, the doctrine need not be so construed. Classical theologians have repeatedly pointed out that creation ex nihilo does not necessarily involve a temporal beginning of the universe; though, of course, many of them believe that in fact there was such a beginning. It only requires the principle that there would be no universe at all but for the creative activity of God. This could be the case even if the universe is temporally infinite, with no beginning and no end. Whether "creation ex nihilo" is the best term for such a doctrine is not the basic issue. What is crucial is that we can combine the theses that (a) God’s not having done what is required in order that there be anything other than Himself is (was) a real possibility, and (b) the universe is temporally infinite.15

Hartshorne also argues that if God is thought of as absolutely perfect just in Himself, apart from a created world and his relations thereto, as classical theology would have it, then there can have been no point in creation.16 But even if this argument is sound, it does not show that the classical doctrine of creation is incompatible with the neoclassical position on relativity, contingency, and potentiality. It merely shows that in order to retain the former we must modify the classical position on perfection. And is the argument sound’? Why is it not intelligible to think of God as acting purely altruistically, rather than to increase his own perfection or bliss? In response to this. Hartshorne makes two points. (1) Altruism involves participation in the good or evil of another, which is incompatible with the classical doctrine of impassibility.17 But this argument is ineffective against the position that the classical doctrine of creation is compatible with regarding God as internally related to creatures through His awareness of them and hence passible. (2) If God cannot be benefited by the creation, we cannot serve Him or contribute to Him in any way.18 But even if God is purely altruistic vis-à-vis creation, we can serve Him precisely by furthering those altruistic purposes.

Hartshorne connects his opposition to the classical doctrine of omnipotence with his rejection of the classical doctrine of creation.19 To be sure, one might embrace creation ex nihilo while recognizing some limits to divine power (other than logical contradiction). Nevertheless it is true that Hartshorne’s position on creation, according to which it is metaphysically necessary that there be contingent finite beings, entails that it is not within divine power to bring it about that nothing exists other than God. And so Hartshorne is required by his position on creation to deny the classical doctrine of omnipotence. But does he have any independent arguments against that doctrine? There is at least one: since being is power, every being has some power just by virtue of being; but then it is metaphysically impossible that God should have all the power.20 Or to make this an internal argument against the classical doctrine, the conclusion could be softened to read: "If there is anything other than God, God does not have all the power there is." But even thus softened the conclusion does not cut against the classical doctrine, which maintains not that God has all the power there is, but rather that God has unlimited power, power to do anything He wills to do. This is quite compatible with God willing to bring creatures into existence with a power suitable to their status. That is, it is quite compatible with His delegating power to creatures. And this is the way that classical theology has construed the matter, although I would admit that Thomas, for example, can be criticized for the way in which he works out the details. The basic point is that the doctrine of unlimited power that goes with the classical doctrine of creation does not imply that no being other than God has any power.

Finally, the issue over incorporeality is tied up with the issue over creation. In chapter 5 of MVG, "The Theological Analogies and the Cosmic Organism," Hartshorne argues effectively that God is related to the world in two crucial respects as a human mind is related to its body: (1) God is aware, with maximum immediacy, of what goes on in the world, and (2) God can directly affect what happens in the world. On the principle that what a mind (1) is most immediately aware of and (2) has under its direct voluntary control is its body, Hartshorne concludes that the world is God’s body, and hence that God is not incorporeal. But this analogy can be pushed through all the way only if, as Hartshorne holds, the world (some world or other) exists by metaphysical necessity, independent of God’s will. Otherwise God will not be corporeal in the strongest sense -- essentially corporeal. Of course even if God brings it about by a free act of will that the world exists, we might still, in a sense, regard the world as God’s body. But in that case it would be a body that He had freely provided for Himself, one that He could just as well have existed without. He would not be corporeal in the way a human being is; He would not be essentially corporeal. If we understand corporeality in this stronger sense, and Hartshorne does espouse it in this sense, it is clear that it stands or falls along with Hartshorne’s position on creation. If the classical doctrine of creation is retained, one can deny essential corporeality, while still agreeing with Hartshorne on relativity, contingency, and potentiality.


In the foregoing section I allowed that the classical doctrine of creation is in trouble if we take God to be temporal. If God is temporal we have to think of Him as infinitely extended in time. If He began to exist some finite period of time ago, that would call for some explanation outside Himself; He would not be a fundamentally underived being. His ceasing to exist is impossible for the same reason. And if the fact that there is a physical universe is due to an act of divine will, that act, if God is temporal, would have to take place at some time. But then at whatever time it takes place God would already have existed for an infinite period of time; and we would be faced with the Augustinian question of why God chose to create the universe at that time rather than at some other. Thus if we think of God as temporal the most reasonable picture is the Hartshornean one of God and the world confronting one another throughout time as equally basic metaphysically, with God’s creative activity confined to bringing it about, so far as possible, that the world is in accordance with His aims. And conversely, if we are to defend the classical doctrine of creation we must think of God as nontemporal. Hence in order to hold that the classical doctrine of creation is compatible with the neoclassical doctines of relativity, contingency, etc., I must also show that the latter are compatible with the nontemporality of God. And, indeed, apart from this necessity of doing so, I am interested in defending that position.

Now for temporality and mutability. I shall take it that these stand or fall together. God undergoes change if he is in time. The possibility of existing completely unchanged through a succession of temporal moments I shall dismiss as idle. Divergence in the other direction -- change, in some sense, without temporal succession -- deserves more of a hearing, and I shall accord it that shortly. However, since Hartshorne is clearly thinking of the sort of change that consists of first being in one state, and then at some temporally latter moment being in a different state, I shall use the term in that way. Hence I shall be taking temporality and mutability to be coextensive.

It is a striking fact that Hartshorne considers the tie between relativity or contingency, and temporality or mutability, to be so obvious that he freely conjoins them, and treats them as equivalent, without seeming to feel any necessity for justifying the stance. Thus the conclusion of the argument for internal relatedness in God on pp. 238-239 of MVG, quoted above, is put in terms of mutability as well as relativity.

On any showing, something will be more than an immutable absolute which excludes its own relations to the mutable. It is therefore necessary to distinguish between the immutable and the absolute, if by absolute is meant the "most real,’’ inclusive, or concrete being. The immutable can only be an abstract aspect of God, who as a concrete whole must contain both this aspect and its relations to the novel and contingent. (Emphasis mine)

Thus Hartshorne takes the argument, which was explicitly an argument for internal relatedness, to also demonstrate mutability. Again, in the preface to DR (p.ix) Hartshorne states the basic thesis of the book in such a way as to indicate clearly his assumption of the equivalence of relativity and mutability.

The main thesis, called Surrelativism, also Panentheism, is that the "relative" or changeable, that which depends upon and varies with varying relationships, includes within itself and in value exceeds the nonrelative, immutable, independent, or "absolute" . . . . From this doctrine . . . it follows that God, as supremely excellent and concrete, must be conceived not as wholly absolute or immutable, but rather as supremely relative, "surrelative," although, or because of this superior relativity, containing an abstract character or essence in respect to which, but only in respect to which, he is indeed strictly absolute and immutable. (Emphasis mine)

We also get immutability assimilated to necessity. "It seems almost self-evident that a wholly necessary and immutable being cannot know the contingent and changing’’ (MVG, 242).

Although for the most part Hartshorne seems to take it as immediately evident that the relative and contingent would be mutable and temporal, there are occasional flashes of argument. At one place he simply asserts that a perfect being must change if relations to a changing world are internal to it.21 This line of thought may indeed be the source of the impression of self-evidence. Let us try to spell it out a bit. If God is what He is partly because of the way He is related to the world, and if the world is in different states at different times, thereby entering into different relations with God at different times, it follows that God must be in different states at different times. For at one time God will have one set of relations to the world; at another time another set. Hence, if these relations are internal to God, the total concrete nature of God at the one time will be partly constituted by the relations He has to the world at that time; and so with another time. Since these relations will be different at the two times, the total concrete nature of God will be correspondingly different.

This argument involves a petitio principii. Of course if God is temporal, then He will have different relations to the changing world at different times and so will undergo change. But that is just the question. We are all prepared to grant that God changes if he is temporal. We do not need the intermediate premise about relations to a changing world to derive mutability from temporality. On the other hand, if we do not assume divine temporality, the argument fails. If God is not in time, then the fact that relations to a changing world are internal to Him does not show that He changes. If He is not in time He is not susceptible of change. The relations in which He stands to the world as it is at various moments will qualify Him "all at once,’’ without temporal succession between different qualifications. It will be said that this is unintelligible. I will deal with that charge below.

Hartshorne also hints at an argument for the move from contingency to temporality.

Thus there is God in his essential, and God in his accidental functions. The only way such distinctions can be made conceivable is in terms of time; the essential being the purely eternal, and the accidental being the temporal, or changing, aspects of the divine. (MVG, 234)

I cannot see that contingency (in the sense of that which is not necessary, that the opposite of which is possible) is intelligible only for a temporal being that successively realizes various possibilities. It is true that a nontemporal being has no ‘‘open future" before it; once it exists then whatever is true of it is fixed, in a way in which that need not be the case for a temporal being. The latter can exist at a certain time, while it is yet undetermined which of various possibilities for its future will be realized. At least this is true if, as Hartshorne supposes, what is future is not yet determined. Nevertheless it can be true of a nontemporal being that although it is R it might not have been R; that, to put it in currently fashionable terms, there is a possible world in which it is not R. This is sufficient to make the fact that it is R a contingent fact. Moreover this sense or kind of contingency, there being some possible world in which it is not the case, is the basic one. Alternative possibilities for an as yet undetermined future constitute a particular sub-sense or sub-type. Its being contingent at this moment whether I shall finish writing this paper this week, is just a special case of the phenomenon of alternative states of affairs holding in different possible worlds. The additional feature in this case is that at this moment it is not yet determined which of these possible worlds is the actual world.

One who is indisposed to accept contingency without an open future should consider whether one could say that the past of a temporal being could be contingent in any respect. Is it now a contingent or a necessary truth that I went to bed at 10:15 P.M. last evening? In whatever sense we can recognize that to be a contingent truth we can also recognize various truths concerning a nontemporal being to be contingent.

Finally, let me point out that this ‘‘not true in all possible worlds" sense of contingency is the only one in which Hartshorne has given reason for supposing God to exhibit contingency without presupposing that God is temporal. Without that presupposition his argument simply amounts to the following. ‘‘The existence of the created world (or, less question-beggingly, things other than God), and any part thereof is contingent. Therefore it (they) might have been otherwise. Therefore any relation in which God stands to the world, e.g., creating it or knowing it, might have been otherwise, and so is contingent.’’ The conclusion of this argument is simply that any relation in which God stands to the world might have been otherwise. There is no license for drawing the further conclusion that God exists at a succession of temporal standpoints relative to each of which there is an open future.

But, it will be said, we are still faced with the apparent unintelligibility of a nontemporal being qualified by its relations to temporal beings. Is it possible to make sense of this? I think that we can distinguish a classical, or Thomistic, and a Whiteheadian version of this possibility; and I would argue that both are intelligible, though perhaps not equally acceptable on other grounds. Let us take the Thomistic version first. Here we think of God as not involved in process or becoming of any sort. The best temporal analogy would be an unextended instant, an "eternal now." This does not commit us to the standard caricature of a "static" or "passive" deity, "frozen" in eternal immobility. On the contrary, God is thought of in this conception as being preeminently active, but active in ways that do not require temporal succession. The idea is that such acts as acts of will and acts of knowledge can be complete in an instant. Can we think of such a God as being internally related to the world in the ways we have been envisaging?

As for as knowledge is concerned, it seems to me that the psychological concept of the specious present provides an intelligible model for a nontemporal knowledge of a temporal world. In using the concept of the specious present to think about human perception, one thinks of a human being as perceiving some temporally extended stretch of a process in one temporally indivisible act. If my specious present lasts for, e.g., one-twentieth of a second, then I perceive a full one-twentieth of a second of, e.g., the flight of a bee ‘‘all at once." I don’t first perceive the first half of that stretch of the flight, and then perceive the second. My perception, though not its object, is without temporal succession. It does not unfold successively. It is a single unified act. Now just expand the specious present to cover all of time, and you have a model for God’s awareness of the world. Even though I perceive one-twentieth of a second all at once, I, and my awareness, are still in time, because my specious present is of only finite duration, and, in fact, of much shorter duration than I. A number of such acts of awareness succeed each other in time. But a being with an infinite specious present would not, so far as his awareness is concerned, be subject to temporal succession at all. There would be no further awareness to succeed the awareness in question. Everything would be grasped in one temporally unextended awareness.

In presenting this model, I have said nothing about internal relatedness, but I cannot see that the intelligibility of the model depends on excluding that. Let us say that God would not be exactly what He is if the objects of His awareness were different. How does that make the concept of an infinite specious present less intelligible?

Volitional relations to the world can be handled in the same way. Of course, if we are strictly Thomistic and hold that God determines every detail of the world, then we can simply think of a single act of will that handles the whole thing and does not require temporal successiveness. But suppose we hold that God has endowed some or all of His creatures with the capacity to choose between alternative possibilities left open by the divine will. In that case many of God’s volitions and actions will be responses to choices by creatures the exact character of which God did not determine. Even so, if within a specious present we can have nonsuccessive awareness of a succession, why should we not have nonsuccessive responses to stages of that succession?

The concept of nonsuccessive responses to stages of a temporal succession of events may seem too much to swallow, even to those who are prepared to admit the intelligibility of the specious present for cognitive phenomena. Rather than stay and slug it out on this point, I prefer to give ground and switch at this point to the Whiteheadian concept of a nontemporal deity. This decision is prompted not only by cowardice, but also by the conviction that the Thomistic conception, excluding any sort of divine process or becoming, does run into trouble with divine-human interaction. It is surely central to the religious life to enter into commerce with God, to speak to Him and be answered, to have God respond to one’s situation, to have God act on and in us at certain crucial moments. These back-and-forth transactions are not felicitously represented in the classical scheme, especially when we recognize that God is not determining every detail of what happens. Let us see if Whitehead enables us to tell this part of the story better.

The Whiteheadian concept that would seem to offer some hope here is that of the concresence of an actual entity, the process by which an actual entity comes to be. Let us first see how Whitehead develops this notion for finite actual entities, and then look at the application to God.

An actual entity consists of the process by which it comes to be.22 Without trying to go into the details of this, let us note that the process is one of developing and unifying a set of initial "prehensions"23 into a more or less satisfying experiential whole. The particular feature of concresence that we are interested in at this moment is the fact that it does not involve temporal succession. Whitehead was convinced by Zeno-like paradoxes that process must be made up of indivisible units, "drops" or "bits" of becoming that do not themselves consist of earlier and later becomings.24 These quanta of becoming are called "actual entities." A finite actual entity occupies a certain position in the spatio-temporal matrix. It prehends the world from a certain perspective, one that can be determined from the relative fullness with which it objectifies the other actual entities it takes as its data. This position will involve temporal as well as spatial extension.25 But though it occupies a temporal duration, it does not come into being by successively occupying the parts of this duration. It happens "all at once."

In every act of becoming there is the becoming of something with temporal extension; but the act itself is not extensive, in the sense that it is divisible into earlier and later acts of becoming which correspond to the extensive divisibility of what has become. (PR, 107)

There is a becoming of continuity. but no continuity of becoming. (PR, 53)

The epochal duration is not realized via its successive divisible parts, but is given with its parts. (SMW, 183)

Hence all the parts of an actual entity are present to each other in a felt immediacy. The goal of the process, the final unity of feeling, is present throughout the process, shaping its course toward itself. Using the term ‘superject’ for the final upshot of the concresence, that which will be taken as datum for later concresences, Whitehead writes: "Thus the superject is also present as a condition, determining how each feeling conducts its own process" (PR, 341). Again: "The ideal, itself felt, defines what ‘self’ shall arise from the datum; and the ideal is also an element in the self which arises" (PR, 228).

In expounding this doctrine Whitehead appeals to James’ concept of the specious present, but it is clear that he is going beyond that concept. The psychological concept of the specious present is intended to embody the possibility that one might be aware of a process without successively being aware of its temporal parts. But this does not imply that the awareness itself is a process without succession. The concept of the specious present provides for process in the object and lack of succession in the awareness; it does not provide for the joint exemplification of these by the same entity. But that is just what Whitehead is claiming. Not only is an actual entity nonsuccessively aware of a process; it undergoes the process of its own development nonsuccessively. Thus the Whiteheadian notion of concresence is more radical, more paradoxical than James’ notion of the specious present. It is not entirely clear to me whether we can form an intelligible conception of process without temporal succession. This will obviously depend on our conception of time, and it is clear that the intelligibility of Whiteheadian concresence hangs on the intelligibility of an atomic or "epochal" conception of time, one that is very different from our usual way of thinking of these matters. But I will not be able to go into all that in this paper. Assuming that the Whiteheadian conception is intelligible, let us see how it could be used to form a conception of process without temporal succession in the divine life.

The answer to that ‘‘how" question is very simple, in outline. We simply think of God as a single infinite actual entity, whose "extensive standpoint" is unlimited in space and time. As an actual entity, God will undergo concresence, a development of Himself, His distinctive unity of experience, Out of His prehensions of the other actual entities. And since He is a single actual entity, not a "society’’ of temporally successive actual entities, like you or me, the various stages of His life will not occur successively in time but will occur or ‘‘be given" in one unity of felt immediacy. A finite actual entity, though enjoying the common privilege of all actual entities -- of concresence without temporal succession -- nevertheless occupies a particular finite position in the spatio-temporal continuum. But since God’s concresence is unlimited, His "position," if we may use that term, is the whole of time and space. He is subject only to the kind of process involved in concresence, not to the temporally successive process involved in ‘‘transition" from one actual entity to its successors.

On my reading, this is just Whitehead’s own conception of God. Throughout Process and Reality he refers to God as an actual entity. But then, unless Whitehead is going to "treat God as an exception to all metaphysical principles, invoked to save their collapse" (PR, 521), he must hold that there is no temporal succession in the divine life, just as there is none in the concresence of any other actual entity. This is, indeed, a controversial point in Whitehead exegesis,26 but I can see no other plausible way of reading the text. Let me mention two other points in support of my reading. U) Whitehead repeatedly makes the point that the divine concresence differs from the concresence of finite actual entities in taking its start not from "physical’’ prehensions of other actual entities but from a "conceptual" prehension, the "unconditioned complete valuation" of all eternal objects.27 But, by the nature of the case, there can be only one such unconditioned valuation. Hence God can only undergo a single concresence. (2) The world is objectified in God’s "consequent nature" without loss of immediacy.

The perfection of God’s subjective aim, derived from the completeness of His primordial nature, issues into the character of His consequent nature. In it there is no loss, no obstruction. The world is felt in a unison of immediacy. The property of combining creative advance with the retention of mutual immediacy is what . . . is meant by the term ‘everlasting’. (PR 524-25)

But mutual immediacy is retained only within a single concresence, not in the transition from one concresence to another. Again, we get the conclusion that the divine life consists in a single concresence.

When one reflects on Boethius’ formula for the eternity of God, quoted with approval by Aquinas,28 "the simultaneously whole and perfect possession of interminable life,’’ one may well be struck by its affinity to the Whiteheadian concept of an infinite concresence. I would say that one of White-head’s signal achievements was to develop a conceptual scheme for handling this classical notion of divine eternity, a scheme that does the job much better than any used by the classical theologians themselves.

It must be admitted that Whitehead’s view of God as a single infinite actual entity is incompatible with his principle that there is no prehension of contemporaries. Since God, on this view, is contemporary with every finite actual entity, being neither in the past nor in the future of any other actual entity, God, on the principle in question, would be able neither to prehend nor to he prehended by any other actual entity, a conclusion more radically at variance with religious experience and practice than the doctrine Whitehead was invoked to repair. In addition, such a windowless monad of a God would fail to perform His basic metaphysical functions in the Whiteheadian system. Hence God would somehow have to be made an exception to this principle, as Whitehead explicitly makes Him an exception to the principle that the concresence of an actual entity begins from physical prehensions. In this paper I am not concerned with how, or how successfully, this modification might be carried out. It is not my job here to develop or defend Whitehead’s metaphysics. I have merely sought to point out a way in which we might think of a nontemporal God as undergoing process, thereby reinforcing the point that the Hartshornean position on divine relativity, potentiality, and contingency does not necessarily carry with it the Hartshornean position on divine temporality.

Finally, the issue over temporality is intimately bound up with the issue over how to understand divine perfection. Hartshorne took this issue as the opening wedge of his battle with Thomism in MVG. In chapter 1 of that work Hartshorne distinguishes between absolute unsurpassability, impossibility of being surpassed by anyone, even oneself, and relative unsurpassability, impossibility of being surpassed by anyone else, but leaving open the possibility of being surpassed by oneself.29 This distinction has a point only for a temporal being. A being that does not successively assume different states could not possibly surpass itself, i.e., come to be in a state superior to its present state. The concept of surpassing oneself has application only to a being that is in different states at different times. Not surprisingly, Hartshorne takes advantage of the possibilities opened up by a temporal conception of God, and plumps for relative unsurpassability. At a later stage of his thought this becomes the notion of perfection as "modal coincidence" -- God, at any moment, actually is everything that is actual at that time (through his perfect ‘‘objectification" of everything in the world), and potentially is everything that is possible as of that moment.30 God’s actuality includes all actuality, and his possibilities include all possibilities. But if we are correct in holding that the Hartshornean position on relativity, contingency, and potentiality is compatible with a nontemporal conception of God, then it follows that the Hartshornean position on those Group I attributes is compatible with taking God to be absolutely unsurpassable, since, as we have seen, relative unsurpassability differs from the absolute variety only for a temporal being. The Thomistic, as well as the Whiteheadian, God cannot surpass himself at a later time, for he does not move from one time to another. He simply is what he is in one eternal now (Thomas), or in one indivisible process of becoming (Whitehead).

There is, to be sure, Hartshorne’s often repeated argument that since the simultaneous actualization of all possibilities is logically impossible (since some logically exclude others), the notion of a unique maximum of perfection makes no sense.31 But this argument construes perfection in a crude, quantitative way that is, to say the least, not inevitable. Absolute unsurpassability need not be so construed that to be absolutely perfect a being would have to be both in Paris and not in Paris at a given time (since these are both possibilities), and so on. Nor have the main classical theologians done so. Sometimes they say things that are not clearly enough distinguishable from this, as when Thomas speaks of the perfections of all things as being in God,32 but there is really no warrant for reading him as holding the absurd view that God actualizes every possibility. And Anselm’s idea that ‘‘God is whatever it is better to be than not to be’’33 is poles apart from the notion of the actualization of all possibilities. Thinking of the perfection of God along Anselmian lines, it remains to be shown that there is any logical impossibility in this being exemplified in a single state of a being.


I began this paper by contesting Hartshorne’s claim that the classical and neoclassical conceptions of God must each be accepted or rejected as a whole, that each is so tightly unified as to make it impossible to accept or reject one component without thereby accepting or rejecting the whole package. I have opposed this claim in the most direct way possible -- by doing what is claimed to be impossible. Actuality is the most compelling proof of possibility. More specifically and more soberly, I have presented strong reasons for viewing the matter in the following way. The points on which the two conceptions differ (and I have said nothing about the many points of agreement) can be divided into two groups. Group I contains such classical attributes as absoluteness (construed as absence of internal relatedness), total necessity, pure actuality, and simplicity -- along with their neoclassical counterparts, relativity, contingency, etc. Group 2 contains such classical attributes as creation ex nihilo, omnipotence, incorporeality, nontemporality, and absolute unsurpassability, along with their neoclassical counterparts. The neoclassical position on Group I does not entail the neoclassical position on Group 2, though it is, of course, consistent with it. On the contrary, the neoclassical Group I attributes can be combined with the classical Group 2 attributes into a consistent and coherent conception that captures the experience, belief, and practice of the high theistic religions better than either of Hartshorne’s total packages. (I have not argued for that latter claim in this paper.) Thus there is a rent in these supposedly seamless fabrics along the lines indicated by my division of the attributes into two groups. To be sure, this rent is not as extensive as it might conceivably be; I have not argued, nor does it seem to be the case, that one group of attributes in one conception implies the other group of attributes in the other conception. Indeed, I have not even suggested that the classical Group I attributes are consistent with the neoclassical Group 2 attributes, and it is pretty clear that they are not. How could an absolutely simple, purely actual deity be mutable and temporal? Nevertheless the rent is sufficiently serious to be worth our notice. Because of it we are faced with a much more complex choice than Hartshorne would have us believe.


The titles of certain works will be abbreviated as follows:

DR Charles Hartshorne, The Divine Relativity. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1948.

LP Charles Hartshorne, The Logic of Perfection. LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1962.

MVG Charles Hartshorne, Man’s Vision of God (originally published 1941). Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1964.

PR Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality. New York: Macmillan, 1929.

SMW Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World. New York: Macmillan, 1925.

1. MVG, 95. This view sorts ill with Hartshorne’s frequent assertion that the position contains internal contradictions. If each of the basic theses of the Thomistic theology entails all the rest, and if the whole set is contradictory, then each of the theses individually is contradictory, a most implausible conclusion.

We should also note that Hartshorne must be very careful as to just what set of propositions he alleges to have this tight logical interconnection. Otherwise he will be saddled with the unwelcome conclusion that one cannot attribute knowledge to God without accepting the whole Thomistic system.

2. MVG, 235; DR. 6-8.

3. DR, 6-7.

4. Hartshorne will reply that I am aware of God only in a dim, inadequate, incomplete, and abstract way when I think of Him, whereas God’s awareness of me is quite the opposite in these respects. I grant the point. The fact remains that when I am aware of God in any way, I am thereby related to God in a certain manner, and apart from that relationship I would not be exactly as I am. (You may substitute the solar system for God without affecting the argument.)

5. DR, 7; 17.

6. DR, 8- 10.

7. DR, 11. The matter is further complicated by the Thomistic principle that there is no distinction between God’s knowing and willing. However even if that extraordinary claim were accepted it is not clear that it would negate the point that God would be different from what He is, in his concrete reality, if He did not know what He knows.

8. And, as the classical theologian would add, could have refrained from creating any world at all. Hartshorne does not accept this addition; I will deal with that issue below. For now I am exploring implications of the common ground -- that God could have created a world different from the one He did create.

9. DR. 13 ff.

10. DR, 118; LP, 37; MVG, 108.

11. Summa Theologica, Iae, Q. 45, Art. I.

12. A crucial part of my support for this is contained in the next section, where I argue that temporality is not required by relativity, potentiality, etc. For if God is temporal, creation ex nihilo is difficult to maintain.

13. See below.

14. MVG, 233.

15. This may be contested on the grounds that an act of will must take place at a time and, hence, that a temporally infinite universe could not depend for its existence on an act of will. For whenever that act of will took place, the universe was already in existence. But this last claim is acceptable only if the Creator is in time.

16. MVG, 115-20; DR, 19.

17. MVG, 115-17.

18. MVG, 117-20.

19. MVG, 105-9.

20. MVG, 14.

21. DR, 19.

22. "How an actual entity becomes constitutes what that actual entity is. . . Its ‘being’ is constituted by its ‘becoming’" (PR 34-35).

23. A "prehension’’ is an apprehension without the "ap." That is, an awareness that may or may not be conscious.

24. PR, 105-7; SMW, 183-85.

25. The spatial dimension can be determined by tracing out simultaneity relations between actual entities.

26. See, e.g., Charles Hartshorne, "Whitehead’s Idea of God," in The Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, ed. P. A. Schilpp (New York: Tudor 1941); John B. Cobb, Jr., A Christian Natural Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965), pp. 176-92; Lewis S. Ford, ‘‘The Non-Temporality of Whitehead’s God," International, Philosophical Quarterly March, 1974.

27. PR, 134, 528.

28. Summa Theologica, Iae, Q. X. Art. I.

29. He also distinguishes between being surpassable in all, some, or no respects, but we will not need to attend to this and other distinctions that he draws in that chapter.

30. LP, 34-40.

31. MVG, 22, 37; DR, 144: LP, 36.

32. Summa Theologica, Iae, Q. 4, Art. 2.

33. Proslogium, chap. 5.


Response by Charles Hartshorne

I think I am entitled to be proud of my one-time student, William P. Alston. He has written a lucid essay which shows fine understanding of some aspects of my thought. I am encouraged by his acceptance of a substantial part of my criticism of classical theism as found in Aquinas; however, he sides with Aquinas and against me on some issues. He defends this partial disagreement with remarkable fairness. It is a privilege to defend oneself against such a critic.

The departures from Aquinas which Alston accepts are, I agree, the ones for which my argumentation is the most adequate and manifestly cogent. Nor is Alston the only one who has gone this far with me but parted company on some other issues. But he has made the case most lucidly for this half agreement, or half disagreement, with neoclassical theism.

My critic does not refer to Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method, my most philosophical book and the one coming closest to summing up my system. If he has read that book, he knows that I have come to state my position in philosophical theology in terms of the doctrine of ‘‘dual transcendence." Theists have tended to agree that deity contrasts with other forms of reality as the independent or absolute contrasts with the dependent or relative, also as infinite contrasts with finite, impassible with passible, necessary with contingent. The neoclassical view is that, while this traditional contrast is valid, it is only half of the story. Deity is indeed to be thought of as uniquely independent, infinite, impassible, and necessary. But, as Alston concedes, it will not do to suppose God exclusively necessary and in every way absolute or immune to influence. For this implies, to note only the most obvious objection, that God could not in any intelligible sense know a contingent world, whereas Aquinas and all the scholastics held that God does know such a world. So dual transcendence must be accepted, at least so far as necessity and contingency are concerned. There must be a supremely excellent way of being contingent. Otherwise, we have the Spinozistic doctrine, which few theists have been able to accept, that God, being wholly necessary, knows an equally necessary creation. For similar reasons, which Alston grants, there must be what the title of one of my books implies, a divine relativity or dependence. Thus the famous ‘negative theology’’ is not the whole story. But whereas, with Aristotle and much of the tradition, I hold that contingency and change belong together, as do necessity and eternity, my critic wants to separate contingency and change sharply in application to God. I hold that Aristotle was right: in my words, accidents do not happen in eternity. In Aristotle’s words, "With eternal things to be possible and to be are the same.’’ Seldom has a philosopher stated so much truth in so few words. It follows that any contingent aspects of deity must be noneternal, and vice versa. This is one of the two main reasons why Aquinas denied change of deity; he wanted to deny any contingent aspect of God. (The other reason is that an absolutely perfect being could have no reason to change, improvement being contradictory in this case, and capacity for degeneration being manifestly an imperfection.)

For me, Aristotle’s dictum, quoted above, is about as intuitively convincing as anything so fundamental can be. I believe that our understanding of contingency is inseparable from our intuition that, whereas past events are settled and definite, future events are not settled or definite. Indeed, as Whitehead says, there are no such entities as future events. There are only the more or less definite possibilities or probabilities constituting the future so long as it is future. Futurity and real possibility are one. Here Alston, somewhat to my surprise, argues that it would follow that there could have been no possibility of yesterday having been otherwise than it has been. He seems to forget that yesterday was once tomorrow. To say that yesterday might have been otherwise is to imply that, as things were the day before yesterday, or a year or a century ago, or at the big bang, or . . . , it was not entirely settled what yesterday was to be. Perhaps the day before yesterday someone made a free decision, not settled in advance, which influenced yesterday in a manner different from the way it would have been influenced if the decision had not been made. I think any pragmatist would see that my doctrine makes sense here. Each day we are deciding just what new items are to go into the ever-growing total past. The items are contingent in that the decisions are free. But the decisions once made, the possibility of making some alternative decision is gone forever. It remains true that there was such a possibility. To fully generalize the foregoing view, even the laws of nature, so far as contingent, are to be attributed to divine decisions made, not in eternity or for all time, but at a finite time in the past. I incline to Whitehead’s view of cosmic epochs, each with its own laws.

Alston quotes a passage from Man’s Vision of God which he takes to imply that if one rejects any of the propositions of classical theism one must reject them all, since they are "inseparable aspects of one idea." With this interpretation, the passage is mistaken. But it is not what I meant. I do not regard any philosopher’s system as so "tightly coherent." However, the passage as I read it does not quite say what my critic here takes it to say. Rather it says that a certain set of theses affirmed by Aquinas and other classical theologians, theses listed in the paragraph from which the passage is quoted, are inseparable. They are precisely those theses which are used to affirm nondual as distinct from dual transcendence. Propositions which the two theories of transcendence have in common are of course among those which I accept, rejecting only what restricts transcendence to the nondual form. Alston goes partway with me in this, but makes some exemptions that I do not make. Thus he accepts both sides of the dependent-independent and contingent-necessary contrasts as applicable to deity, but not changeable-unchangeable, embodied and bodiless, self-surpassable and self-unsurpassable. (He holds that God is at most contingently embodied, in case there is a world.) I agree that if one makes any of these three exceptions one should make them all, but I see no sufficient reason for making any.

To say that God is contingently such-and-such is to imply a genuine possibility of God’s not having been such-and-such. How is the actual divine state to be distinguished from and related to the merely possible one? I see no way other than that of some sort of time or sequential becoming. Curiously, Karl Barth tells us that there is "holy change" in God but "no potentiality." I hold with Aristotle, Aquinas, Lequier, and others, including Berdyaev, that contingency, potentiality, and some sort of change or temporality belong together. Whitehead finesses the issue, saying that God is "in a sense temporal." I prefer Berdyaev’s "divine kind of time."

As for self-surpassability I take this to be an essential religious value. As Fechner was the first to say, by knowing each new creature God surpasses God. This is for me the meaning of life, serving God by contributing (in ideal, optimally) to the divine life, "enriching it,’’ as Berdyaev says, and as Tillich says after him. Otherwise the old saying, "The aim of life is the service of God," lacks a clear meaning. Moreover, though Alston concedes that we influence God, he denies that this benefits God, who is absolutely perfect with or without us. My argument that absolute perfection, taken as fully concrete, is contradictory since there are incompatible possible goods, so that even God cannot exhaustively actualize them, Alston rejects, arguing that this is not what absolute perfection, taken as more than an abstraction, means. What then does it mean’? I think that Alston does not know and that nobody knows.

If Gods awareness of us contributes no value to God, then our existence is idle. The glory of God is the inclusive value; if we add nothing to it, then our existence adds nothing to reality as a whole. Value to God is the measure, not value to us. To be is to be for God. Alston says that we serve God by cooperating with the divine purpose. But then, by implication, he implies that how well we do so does not benefit God (for nothing does).

The twentieth century is not the thirteenth, and there is a whole set of questions which, in that earlier time, were all answered almost automatically in the same way, the way of the negative theology; but we have come to see these answers as highly controversial. Dozens of thinkers, especially in recent centuries, have been making the movement from nondual to dual transcendence. Whitehead’s "two natures of God" crystallizes a long development. Alston’s via media seems a somewhat arbitrary compromise, from this standpoint.

Taking God to be absolutely perfect in all respects (yet relative to the world!), my critic, with a certain partial consistency, also holds (with classical theism) that God does not necessarily create at all and might have existed solus. He expresses this by the old formula creatio ex nihilo. Such a "freedom" not to create at all would be freedom to be only potentially a creator, only potentially making any positive use of freedom. I see no enhancing of freedom in this wholly negative option, and no limitation in being essentially, rather than contingently, creative, or embodied in a cosmos, some cosmos or other.

We are offered the old argument that perfect love must be purely altruistic, must gain no benefit for self. I argue, on the contrary, that it is we, not God, who must act to produce values from some of which we cannot benefit ourselves, since we may not survive to know these values or, being incurably more or less ignorant, may not know the results of our actions, whereas God will survive and know what results from no matter whose actions. It is God who can and will vicariously rejoice in all joys and suffer with all sufferings. God has no motive that makes against creaturely good, hence no motive that is selfish in the proper sense. Rather, entirely the contrary, the divine love is the only pure love there is. This is my deepest conviction. Classical theism did not really conceptualize the idea of a God who "is love.

A subtle issue concerns my doctrine that a relative or dependent term includes the term (or terms) on which it is dependent. Or, the term for which a relation is internal includes the relation and the other term (or terms). Thus my relation to my ancestors is internal to me but not to them. I was not in their world but they are in mine. In the dim recesses of my largely unconscious perceptions and memories they are present; but I was not present in even the dimmest of the recesses of their memories or perceptions. In this sense each of us also includes the divine life, without for the most part consciously knowing it. However, God fully knows us with no limitations of dimness or unconsciousness. If Alston thinks this a difficult doctrine, I agree with him. But perhaps reality is difficult to comprehend. In any case, the doctrine that the divine reality is all-inclusive is meant in the sense that to know something unqualifiedly is to possess it entirely, to have it within one’s own reality. To know something in a qualified way, the creaturely way, is to have it in a qualified sense, below the level of distinct consciousness. I cannot detect my ancestors in myself, but God can detect them there. This is akin to Spinoza’s doctrine of clear and unclear ideas. At this point I, like Whitehead, am a Spinozist. And on this point Leibniz did not differ from Spinoza.

Although I shall not spell out the argument here, I think that there is an implicit contradiction in holding that we depend on God, who timelessly knows all our acts, past or future as they may be for us now, and yet our present reality does not necessitate our future acts. I here agree with Jules Lequier’s careful analysis of this problem. The classical doctrine is that God knows our acts not before they occur but timelessly. But what is true timelessly cannot be untrue at any time. If what I do tomorrow is not wholly definite now, still less is it definite eternally. Aquinas makes it as clear as possible that he is indeed "spatializing time" and thus, from the process point of view, falsifying it. In eternity there are only symmetrical dependencies. Only through becoming as creation of new presents, i.e., new items in a partly new total past which is adequately preserved for all the future, in God, can there be the mixture of contingency and conditional necessity (necessary conditions but no fully necessary consequences) which is reality.

As W. P. Montague saw so clearly (with no doubt some help from Peirce and Bergson), becoming as sheer growth, increase without loss, is the concrete reality and the secret of both being and becoming.

One last question. Can God do what God wills to do? Of course, but what does God will to do? Alston (departing from Aquinas who, and not alone in my opinion, is terribly equivocal on this issue) says that God wills that creatures shall have freedom, so that their decisions are made possible, but not fully determined, by God. I agree but add: God had no alternative to willing that there be some free creatures, first because (pace Alston) the idea of not creating at all could occur (if I may say so) only to a confused creature, second because, as Peirce, Bergson, and Whitehead have seen, by a "creature" we can consistently mean only a lesser form of the freedom or creativity which in eminent form is deity. Divine freedom is correlative to nondivine freedom in some form; both as such are necessarily and eternally existent, that is, with some instances or other. An actually creating, loving creator is the only unqualified necessity; all else more specific or particular than this abstract essence is contingent, the play of divine-creaturely freedom.

My warm thanks to Alston for his interesting and challenging essay.