Chapter 4: What Is Supreme Reality?

Charles Hartshorne
by Alan Gragg

Chapter 4: What Is Supreme Reality?

"They too have supposed that Deity must be the transcendental snob, or the transcendental tyrant, either ignoring the creatures or else reducing them to his mere puppets, rather than the unsurpassably interacting, loving, presiding genius and companion of all existence."

-- A Natural Theology for Our Time

Charles Hartshorne deserves the title "the God-intoxicated philosopher" as much as any thinker since Spinoza. Moreover, the extent and intensity of his lifetime of concentration upon the questions of the nature and existence of God have few equals in the history of philosophy. Beyond question, the animating spirit of the full range of his philosophizing has been essentially religious; and he has once suggested that philosophy is "the rational element in religion."1 With the broad perspective of one gifted with metaphysical genius, he affirms that an adequate philosophy of religion can only be developed within the framework of a comprehensive general philosophy; but the elaboration of his system makes clear that the doctrine of God is not just one facet but, as with Aristotle, the very zenith of his cosmology. In fact, Hartshorne explicitly states that, on the most fundamental level, the question of God is the sole question of metaphysics.2 And few informed persons would wish to deny that his neoclassical metaphysics makes it possible to develop a radically new conceptualization of God -- a conceptualization sorely needed in our time.

Nevertheless, although Hartshorne does demonstrate that metaphysics definitely can illuminate theology, his most profound lesson has been that right thinking about God can shed amazing light upon the entire metaphysical landscape. Accordingly, he declares that the knowledge of God is "the only adequate organizing principle of our life and thought."3 With force and effectiveness, nearly all of his works drive home the point that both man and nature point inevitably toward God and are incomprehensible apart from him. Previous chapters have already explained why he believes that thorough exploration of the questions of a cosmic mind in nature and of human immortality lead necessarily to the question of God; but we must now endeavor to delineate the full sweep of his philosophical theology as the climax of his cosmology.

The Inadequacies Of Humanism

In spite of what he considers to be its grievous limitations, it is evident that Hartshorne is favorably impressed by some aspects of atheistic humanism. He frequently acknowledges that there are assets as well as liabilities in the philosophies of such influential atheistic humanists as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, George Santayana, John Dewey, Bertrand Russell, and others. As especially noteworthy contributions of humanism, he cites such achievements as the protest against intellectual dishonesty in religion, encouragement of scientific research, insistence that love of God by theists should include love of man, concentration of attention upon man s earthly life, and promotion of the values of humility and kindness.4

Nevertheless, Hartshorne is also a powerful critic of humanism. He repeatedly insists that no form of atheistic humanism could possibly be a satisfactory philosophy for the masses of mankind in the long run. His chief reason for this insistence is that humanism cannot withstand a searching philosophical analysis. According to him, all atheistic philosophies, when weighed in the scales of fundamental metaphysics, are found wanting. He locates humanism’s main defects at the level of intellectual confusion and short-sightedness. As far as he is concerned, all atheistic humanisms fail to perceive that humanity cannot support itself alone in an indifferent or hostile universe. It seems obvious that human life cannot be fruitfully lived on the merely human level; and, therefore, humanism, when thoroughly consistent, defeats its own aims. Moreover, Hartshorne believes that his entire philosophy is a demonstration that the aims of humanism may be fully achieved only on the basis of neoclassical theism.

By the term "humanism" Hartshorne means the belief that man is the highest type of individual in existence and that "God" can only properly mean the noblest aspects of humanity. He also observes that it claims that man is essentially alone in the universe and that he is better off if he is made fully aware of this loneliness.5 However, Hartshorne enters the counterclaim that, if man believes that he really is all by himself in an unfriendly universe, then man will realize that he is not worthy of his own supreme devotion and will also become an easy prey for the race-worship and nation-worship that wreak havoc on mankind.6 He further charges that humanism suffers from the specific disease of "megalomania" or wishing to be God.7

Indeed, Hartshorne’s catalogue of ills that afflict those who have lost faith in nature and God as friends is a frightful list: "men are likely to grow bitter, or depressed and fearful, or genially cynical and selfish, or mad with megalomaniac ambition, or slavishly worshipful of power or wealth -- or just dull and apathetic and unimaginative, like a number of agnostics I have known."8 Moreover, he says that those humanists who, like Bertrand Russell in "A Free Man’s Worship," respond with defiance of nature and man’s fate, are only engaging in exercises in futility. Man’s intelligence raises the question of the long-range destiny of human life and values, and the honest humanist can only answer that all alike are destined for oblivion. Therefore, humanism denies the possibility of a permanent unity between man and nature; and it asserts that, in the long run, no human actions or values will make any difference whatever.9 And Hartshorne expostulates that such a creed is impossible for man to live by.

In an impressive study entitled "Humanism as Disintegration,"10 Hartshorne argues further that humanism Cannot but fail to achieve the integration of human personality. No personality, says he, can satisfactorily adjust to the thought of a future time when all its values will have vanished and all his achievements be just as if they never had been. Thus man cannot live a unified life apart from belief in the divine memory of all things past.

Moreover, Hartshorne contends that the finite personality cannot soberly adjust to its own finitude but will suffer from some form of megalomania, unless it knows itself to be in the presence of an actually infinite reality that understands and loves it. Still further, in a specially interesting point, he asserts that humanism cannot synthesize for persons both knowledge and love. This inability derives from the fact that the humanist can really love only mankind but needs to know all of nature, thus requiring of man a loveless knowledge of nature. Indeed, Hartshorne reasons that humanism cannot even integrate the notion of knowledge itself. The only thing that a purposive rational mind can fully understand is another such mind, and, therefore, to assert that nature is godless is to deny that it can be intelligible to man. Finally, Hartshorne stresses the ethical and social defectiveness of humanism: if the total universe and even human bodies are essentially loveless machines driven by blind forces, "then it is impossible that the conception of spirit or love should have more than a very fitful hold upon us."11

Nevertheless, Hartshorne employs more than a strategy of negative critique of humanism. He also constructs a strong case for his thesis that belief in God is the only alternative to a hopeless paradoxicality of language. His position is that intensive analysis of all the fundamental categories of language discloses either unavoidable paradoxes or the reality of God as an indispensable aspect of the categories’ meanings.12 In his own words, "Language is bound to generate paradox if one attempts to purify it of all theistic implications; standard language is essentially theistic."13 In fact, Hartshorne suggests the propriety of regarding theism itself as just the full elucidation of the categorical meanings of unavoidable linguistic terms 14

For Hartshorne, all such terms as "causality," "matter," "mind," "private," "knowable," "ordered," "good," "evil," "the past," and "certainty," cannot be understood as having any clear, unparadoxical meaning apart from God as depicted by neoclassical metaphysics. For example, in the specific case of privacy, what sense does it make to talk of your feelings as being either like or unlike mine, since an objective comparison between them can never take place? Hartshorne’s reply is that it makes no sense at all -- unless all private states are directly known by God who actually does make the comparison in question.15

Therefore, for all the foregoing reasons and for others that have not been stated, Hartshorne holds that humanism is incapable of ever doing full justice to the depths and implications of the human existence which it prizes so highly.

The Inconsistencies of Classical Theism

As we have already indicated, although Hartshorne adjudges humanism to be inadequate, he does hail its laudable traits. However, the tradition of Western classical theism does not fare quite so well under his critical scrutiny. It is only slight exaggeration to state that he feels the traditional Western religious and philosophical understanding of God to be such a mass of errors and inconsistencies as to require removal in toto from the body of metaphysical thought. In fact, he regards the traditional doctrine of God as so rationally untenable that, if it were the only conceivable notion of God, he would himself be driven to adopt atheistic humanism in spite of its shortcomings.

In a word, what Hartshorne finds so repugnant to both sound logic and true religion in the classical Western doctrine of God is the idea that God is an Absolute Being of Changeless Perfection. He maintains that this notion was the bastard child which resulted from the wedding of Greek metaphysics with the highest religious truth of the Bible. Among the chief officiators at this unfortunate (according to Hartshorne) union were such giant philosophical or theological minds as Philo, Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Descartes, and Kant.16 In Hartshorne’s judgment, the doctrine that God is "a being in all respects absolutely perfect or unsurpassable"17 is the source of the trouble. Moreover, with logical rigor and religious zeal, he proceeds to demonstrate that this doctrine involves traditional theism in a whole raft of paradoxes and inner contradictions, in the hope that he might encourage its entire abandonment by thoughtful people.

What are some of the inherent inconsistencies of traditional theism? Following Hartshorne’s extended discussion in his Man’s Vision of God and the Logic of Theism,18 we shall cite six examples related to God’s absoluteness, omnipotence, changelessness, omniscience, love, and bliss. First, if God’s absoluteness is total and "perfect," then he cannot be related to or relative to the world and man. But this means that God is completely unmoved and untouched by any good or evil which man may do and that man can make absolutely no difference to God. Yet, when judged by biblical and religious insight, such consequences seem patently false or absurd. They are especially repellent to Hartshorne, who feels that one of the highest religious motivations is the desire which man may have of doing some action in order to bring joy to the heart of God. Moreover, he also suggests that, when a man such as Beethoven creates new forms of beauty in the universe, his creativity makes a difference even to God by adding new values to his experience.19

In regard to omnipotence, simple analysis reveals at once that God cannot literally have "all" power if there are any other beings in the universe whatever. If there are any beings other than God, then they must have at least some minute amount of power. Otherwise, they would not be beings at all; for what is a being with absolutely no power at all? Hartshorne readily allows that God may be supremely powerful; but, in a world of creatures, it does seem plain that he cannot be literally "all-powerful"20

In the third place, that God is completely changeless in every respect seems to follow from the idea of his perfection. If he is already totally perfect, how could he change at all, since any change would either imply or produce imperfection? But since the state of the world changes every moment, must not the states of a loving, wise, and concerned God also change each moment in response to the changes in the world process? Possibly some aspects of God’s character and his constant adequacy may be unchanging, but surely not all aspects of God’s being and action.21

Next, if God’s "omniscience" is taken to mean that he knows all things that actually are, then Hartshorne agrees that God is omniscient. However, he argues that such an attribute cannot be extended to include God’s specific foreknowledge of all or even any future events, inasmuch as no future events are now actual or real in such a manner that God could know them. For instance, how could God now know who "is" (from the standpoint of eternity) the fiftieth president of the United States, since there is not yet any determinate entity in either the present or the future?22

Fifthly, as far as Christians are concerned, Hartshorne’s logic is probably most telling in regard to God’s love. If God truly loves man, then it seems plain that he has some desires or "passions" and that he cannot be absolutely independent and immutable. What sense would it make to speak of God’s love at all if it did not mean that he wants man’s well-being and responds to both man’s obedience and his waywardness?23

In the sixth place, it must be obvious that, if God’s love is real, then his bliss cannot be absolute and perfect. Surely, God is displeased by man’s sinfulness, weeps over human folly and cruelty, and suffers with mankind in its manifold agonies. How then can we seriously affirm that he dwells in perfect bliss?24 And how indeed could Western Christianity and theism have defended for so many centuries a conception of God so glaringly inconsistent with itself and inimical to the biblical portrayal of God as the heavenly Father who grieves over his estranged children?

In The Divine Relativity, Hartshorne develops a similar critique of traditional theism, being especially concerned to deny that all God’s attributes must be necessary as well as absolute. He convincingly demonstrates that some of God’s properties must be contingent if there are any contingent events or truths in the world. He reasons thus: if God’s knowledge that I exist is necessary knowledge, then my existence must be a necessity in God; but surely my existence is contingent existence, and, therefore, God’s knowledge of my existence must be contingent also. The supposition that God might have necessary knowledge of contingent truths Hartshorne would classify as a sad case of religiously motivated semantical nonsense.25

Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that Hartshorne believes that careful human reasoning could ever attain exhaustive knowledge of God’s nature without any remainder of mystery. On the contrary, he admits that there is no lack of theological mystery and that the reality of God is so vast that our fullest knowledge of him must be infinitesimally small by comparison. His vigorous objection is directed to the kind of theological thought that glories in alleged "insuperable paradoxes" about God without recognizing that some "paradoxes" are actually impossible contradictions and others are excuses for slovenly thinking. In one of his more sarcastic moods, Hartshorne defines a "theological paradox" as "what a contradiction becomes when it is about God rather than something else…"!26

Dipolar Theism

Hartshorne’s own constructive doctrine of God claims to correct the inadequacies of atheistic humanism and to avoid the contradictions of classical theism. As a matter of fact, his contention is that the emergence of neoclassical theism marks the beginning of an entirely new era in man’s thought about God. Moreover, he avers that, in the new theological era which has been inaugurated by process philosophy, neoclassical theism has thrust a new conception of God into the arena of debate, with the result that most previous descriptions of God are outmoded and must now be reworked. The bulk of Hartshorne’s numerous writings is a strenuous argument that the only viable theological options open for man today are either neoclassical theism or thoroughgoing skepticism and most of those who have taken the trouble to investigate fairly Hartshorne’s claims have been led to conclude that his version of theology is indeed a novel, rich, and profoundly subtle doctrine.

One will always misunderstand Hartshorne’s doctrine of God as long as he tries to conceive of God’s being as simple. His view is that the nature of God is irreducibly complex. To be exact, he says that there are two aspects or poles (hence the term "dipolar") to God’s nature and that neither pole can be comprehended apart from the other. Tersely expressed, God has both an abstract facet and a concrete facet. The abstract aspect of God is his absolute, eternal, and necessary existence; and, as such, this aspect can be known by abstract metaphysical argument and logical proof. On the other hand, the concrete aspect of God is his dependent, related, and contingent actuality; and it, being entirely inaccessible to rational proof, can only be known by direct, empirical observation or "encounter."27 Moreover, the concrete aspect of deity is greater than the abstract aspect and includes the latter within itself. Indeed, the abstract aspect of God is an unavoidable abstraction from his concrete actual experiences. Thus, despite the awkward phrase, "the abstract-concrete God" (or "the concrete-abstract God") is the simplest designation for God that avoids distortion of Hartshorne’s intentions.

The duality or polarity in God’s nature, when fully expounded, will be seen as the neoclassical theme that runs through every movement of the Hartshornian metaphysical symphony. For Hartshorne, the reality of God necessarily includes both his abstract existence and his concrete actuality. However, the reality of God so all-pervasively involves the total universe that to comprehend divine reality means simply to comprehend all the reality there is. The bare existence of God is the ultimate metaphysical abstraction, being correlative with the possibility of anything whatever. It is thus totally nonspecific and capable of being correlated with any situation whatsoever; and this quality gives to it both absolute independence and infinite flexibility or relativity.28

Consequently, Hartshorne emphasizes that the existence of God is not a "state of affairs" that makes any recognizable difference in the world. As the ultimate Principle of possibility, a necessary feature of both actuality and nonactuality, it is the source of all states of affairs in the universe. In other language, God’s existence is not a fact but rather the principle of possibility of all facts. However, the actuality of God is related to the actuality of all things at a given moment and is also the Supreme Fact or State of affairs.29

Hartshorne seems to have arrived at his notion of a dipolar deity by adaptation of Morris Cohen’s "Law of Polarity" for purposes of defending Whitehead’s famous distinction between the primordial and the consequent natures of God. The Law of Polarity dictates that not just one but both components of pairs of ultimate contraries should be affirmed as true because they are mutually interdependent and correlative.30 Accordingly, Hartshorne, in obeying this law, insists that God is both absolute and relative, infinite and finite, individual and universal, active and passive, eternal and temporal, cause and effect, creative and created, et cetera. Moreover, he suggests that most traditional theisms and pantheisms have been vitiated by failure to observe this law. They seem to have suffered from the "monopolar prejudice," i.e., from the determination to assert of deity that one of a pair of contraries is true and the other is false.31

Examples of the monopolar prejudice would be those theisms that have insisted that God is active but not passive, necessary but not contingent, independent but not dependent, and cause but not effect. Naturally, they believed that they were denying notions that were unworthy of deity when they said that God is not passive, contingent, dependent, and effect; but Hartshorne labels such belief as pure prejudice. Why should it be considered more divine for God merely to act upon the world and not also to be acted upon by the world, or to be changeless and not also changing, or to have the world depend upon him and not also depend upon the world? Hartshorne replies that the preferred contraries only appear more worthy of God to those suffering from an overdose of the Greek metaphysics of permanence and immutability, whereas neoclassical metaphysics enables one to realize that the rejected contraries may be even more deserving of attribution to God than their favored partners.

Therefore, he seeks to replace monopolarity with di-polarity in all thought concerning God. Moreover, his intention is that his theology should be truly dipolar and not deemphasize either pole of a pair of ultimate contraries. Thus, contrary to a common misunderstanding, Hartshorne does not stress the divine becoming to the exclusion of the divine being. Rather, he asserts that both being and becoming apply to God, the divine becoming only being more ultimate in the sense of more inclusive and concrete than the divine being.32

But does not dipolar thinking regarding God involve Hartshorne in hopeless contradiction? He insists that the answer is negative. The contraries which he affirms of God are not contradictories, because each pole of a pair of contraries is asserted of a different aspect of God. Therefore, God is eternal in one aspect of his reality and temporal in another, and the same holds for infinite-finite, immutable-mutable, et cetera. For instance, God’s actual knowledge is finite because it is limited to the actual world at a given time, but his potential knowledge is literally infinite because it knows the potentially infinite worlds as potential. In the same manner, we may conceive God as necessary because of all things in the abstract pole of his reality, for he is the principle of possibility of all things; but he is also the contingent effect of all things in his concrete pole, because his actuality changes with every changing actual state of the world.

Furthermore, Hartshorne’s dipolar version of deity escapes many absurdities and the charge of being a doctrine of two gods through the principle of "categorical supremacy" or "dual transcendence." The point of this principle is that God is a radically unique individual in the most eminent sense. Therefore, he is different in principle from all other beings by virtue of being superior to them. His unique excellence means that he far surpasses every other reality in every aspect of both poles of his nature. Hence, every category that applies either to God’s existence or his actuality applies as the supreme instance or the "supercase" of that category. God’s existence, being, relativity, dependence, and love -are all uniquely and supremely cases of categoric excellence. Otherwise, without this superiority in principle over all others, the deity of God would be compromised in fatal fashion. No matter what faults are his, Hartshorne’s faith in the unique supremacy of God is absolutely beyond question.33

Apparently, Hartshorne’s favorite method of formulating the idea of God’s unique supremacy is in terms of "surpassingness." His formula is that God is "unsurpassable by another"; and from it he logically derives many of God’s attributes such as his creative inexhaustibility and his being eternally without beginning or end.34

Nevertheless, Hartshorne is most explicit in affirming that God is not absolutely perfect in all respects, on the grounds that an absolutely perfect being is inconceivable and impossible. Absolute perfection would have to mean the complete actualization of all possible values and seems to be no more imaginable than a greatest possible number. Hartshorne reasons that it is literally impossible for God to actualize all possibilities, for they are infinite in number, and some of them are mutually incompatible. Even God cannot behold the illustrious career of Charles Hartshorne in both the twentieth and the thirtieth centuries.

Consequently, we seem driven to the conclusion that no final state of maximum perfection is possible. God’s perfection must be a dynamic and continually growing one. In any given instant, God’s attributes must be categoric Instances that incomparably surpass those of all other beings; but God will perpetually surpass himself in every future instant as his successive states actualize more and more possibilities. Accordingly, Hartshorne speaks willingly of the relative perfection of God, a perfection that can never be fully maximized.25 There will be no end to the creative process or to the dynamic ongoing life of God. Hartshorne states the reason:

The infinity of possibilities in God’s nature is inexhaustible in actuality even by divine power, or any conceivable power. For each creative synthesis furnishes materials for a novel and richer synthesis.36

Therefore, God will always be "the All-surpassing One" who forever surpasses all other beings and himself in ihe everlasting creative advance.

Hartshorne also likes to define God in religious terminology as "the One Who Is Worshipped." Naturally, if God is deserving of human worship, he will be the All-surpassing One. But Hartshorne adds that the One who is properly worshiped will also be an all-inclusive being of universal love. Defining worship as "a consciously unitary response to life," he reasons that God must be the all-inclusive wholeness of the world, who is worshiped by an integrated human personality. If God were not all-inclusive of the world, then worshiping him would be a disintegrative instead of an integrative experience.37

Additionally, Hartshorne finds further evidence that God is all-inclusive love in the Jewish-Christian commandment to love the Lord God with all one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength. On the basis of this commandment, he contends that God must include all other beings within himself. Otherwise, one could not literally love God with all his heart and also delight, for example, in the singing of birds. However, if birdsong is somehow encompassed within God’s being, then taking delight in it would merely be a partial aspect of loving God with all one’s strength. In fact, any response one makes to the universe would be a form of the worship and love of God. Moreover, Hartshorne suggests that this same commandment is strong evidence that the God whom we worship with our whole being is himself love. His reason is twofold: it seems impossible that man could love God with the totality of his being if God were himself unloving; and it also seems that God could not really know the world without loving or participating sympathetically in it.38

Hartshorne confesses his belief that the insight into God as universal love was most clearly perceived by the ancient Jews and by Jesus, but the distinctive aspect of his position is the claim that secular philosophy can demonstrate and partially explicate the truth that "God is love."39 Of course, dipolar theism is his effort to unpack the metaphysical implications of "God is love." His conclusion is that metaphysics must maintain that the universe is held together by love or watch itself evaporate into thin air. Hence, the aphorism: "Cosmic being is cosmic experience, is cosmic sociality or love."40

"The metaphysics of love" is an appropriate label that Hartshorne is willing to accept for his philosophy. Furthermore, he asserts that the idea of God as love is "the supremely beautiful abstract idea"41 But the assertion "God is love" is intended as a dipolar truth about God. That God necessarily loves all things Hartshorne understands as a necessary truth which metaphysics may demonstrate, whereas that God loves me or any specific creature is a contingent truth which only actual creaturely experience may discover or enjoy. Moreover, Hartshorne distinguishes between God’s love for all creatures and his valuation of them. True, God must love all creatures equally, entering sympathetically and perfectly into the life of the lowliest insect as well as into the life of the greatest man; but this does not necessarily mean that God regards them both as of equal value. God may correctly perceive that different creatures have different values but still perfectly sympathize with the joys and sorrows of each.42

Furthermore, not surprisingly, Hartshorne maintains that the idea of God as all-inclusive of reality does not entail the pantheistic implication that the creatures have no real freedom in God. On the contrary, he argues that the perfect love of God must be willing to respect the freedom and accept the decisions of the creatures as real without necessarily approving them. For love, it seems, involves a willingness not only to act upon or for the beloved but also to be molded by the beloved.43

Obviously, Hartshorne’s deity is an eminently social God who corresponds exactly with the social nature of all reality. Indeed, it is not incorrect to say that God is the love, or sympathy, or sociality of things. Since mind or awareness is the most relational of all entities, Hartshorne concludes that God as eminent mind is the supremely related, most dependent being of all.44 Furthermore, because he is the surpasser of all others, his sociality must be an absolute relativity. Therefore, God by definition must be incapable of not sharing sympathetically all other feelings. His experience is the most eminent form of "feeling of feelings." "The eminent form of sympathetic dependence can only apply to deity, for this form cannot be less than an omniscient sympathy, which depends upon and is exactly colored by every nuance of joy or sorrow anywhere in the world."45

Moreover, God’s eminent sociality entails his eminent creativity. The ordinary sociality of actual occasions involves them creatively in influencing others; and, therefore, God’s supreme sociality must involve his supremely participating in the creation of other events. And by the same logic of eminence, God must be the supreme case of being creatively dependent upon and shaped by the creativity of others.46


"Panentheism" (literally meaning "all-in-God") and "Surrelativism" (short form of "Supreme-Relativism") are terms equivalent to "dipolar theism." Hartshorne uses all three terms interchangeably and with about the same relative frequency. However, "panentheism" explicitly contrasts with both "theism" and "pantheism," and it brings the relationship between God and the world into central focus. We use the term for the heading of this section in which the effort is made to render still more explicit Hartshorne’s view of this mutual relationship between God and the world.

Hartshorne’s position is that literally everything exists in God and that God, like the universe, has no external environment. All actualities are actual in God, and all potentialities are potential in God. "He is the Whole in every categorial sense, all actuality in one individual actuality, and all possibility in one individual potentiality"47 Panentheism thus differs from traditional theism by asserting that all the world is entirely inside God instead of outside him; and it diverges from pantheism by insisting that the creatures which are all in God nevertheless have a measure of genuine freedom, independence, and even capacity for evil. In distinction from pantheism, panentheism also asserts that, besides the totality of ordinary causes and effects, God as the inclusive whole may

act as a distinct causal agent upon the parts which constitute him and the cosmos.48 Moreover, panentheism includes the notion that God’s abstract essence or eternal existence is logically independent of, and hence distinguishable from, every particular world.49

The most important basis for the panentheistic insistence that everything must exist in God rests upon a logical analysis of the idea of divine omniscience coupled with a belief regarding the nature of relations in general. The argument runs as follows: God has knowledge of everything that exists, but to include relations within oneself must mean to include the terms of the relations; therefore, all that exists must exist within God, since God’s relation of knowledge of everything exists within himself.50 The crucially debatable premise is the statement that to include relations must mean to include their terms, but this is a highly technical point into which we cannot enter here.

However, we are now in position to understand why Hartshorne and Reese, in their impressive study of conceptions of God entitled Philosophers Speak of God, define the panentheistic deity as "The Supreme as Eternal-Temporal Consciousness, Knowing and including the World."51 Hartshorne admits that human persons may have knowledge of objects without embracing the objects within their personal being, but he counters that human knowledge is also fallible and imperfect. And in the case of God, he feels it is obvious that God’s actuality cannot be something different from his knowledge and/or love and their/its objects. Accordingly, he concludes that the world apart from God is an abstraction from the cosmic manifoldness as the integrated contents of the divine omniscience.52

By what analogy shall we conceive the relationship between God and the world? Hartshorne suggests that there is only one truly illuminating possibility. Just as he holds that man must conceive the nature of "matter" as analogous to human unit-experiences, so he also says that the human mind-body relationship is about the only available analogy for the relationship between God and the world. Stated precisely, the analogy is that God is to the world as the human mind is to the human body. Or, the world is God’s body, and God is the world’s mind-or soul. As in the case of man, God (or the world) is a single, besouled organism. Hence, Hartshorne says that God has direct access to all parts of the world through immediate social relations after the fashion of human minds’ being immediately aware of the states of their brain cells. Moreover, he declares that God is so highly exalted above the creatures that his immediate knowledge of all their states does not constitute a tyrannical or objectionable invasion of their rightful privacies.53

Naturally, employing the mind-body analogy for God’s relationship to the world is ample warrant for speaking of God as the Supreme Person. Hartshorne often affirms his conviction that Whitehead erred in referring to God as an actual entity, because he believes that God is a society of actual entities or a "society of societies";54 but this latest suggestion might tend to impair the usefulness of the mind-body analogy. At any rate, Hartshorne states that, as with a human personality, the concrete divine personality is partially new each moment, with each new divine self remembering its predecessors and anticipating vaguely its successors.55 However, he has little to say concerning how long a "moment" might be for God. Still it is because of the notion of God as Eminent Person that Hartshorne may bluntly pronounce, "Theology is an attempted psychology of deity."56

What does the panentheistic deity do for the world? Two things: he infallibly preserves each successive cosmic and subcosmic event in his perpetual memory, thereby rendering it immortal; and he gives order and guidance through inspiration to the creatures in the next phase of the creative Process.57 Hartshorne adopts the Whiteheadian view that God may really rule the world but that he does so chiefly by persuasion. God may order the world and set the limits beyond which freedom may not go. His social awareness results in action that prevents any unsocial behavior (e.g., Hitler) from getting entirely out of hand. That is, God may exercise a predominant-if-not-total influence upon the creatures and thus set relatively narrow limits to their freedom. Moreover, his influence is a form of persuasion, because he sets new ideals and orders of preference for each successive moment of creaturely existence.

However, the divine persuasion can only be effective if the creatures are aware of God’s feelings and desires each moment. Such awareness is exactly what Hartshorne affirms as the case. He holds that all subsequent actual entities feel God’s actual experiences in some deficient manner and, therefore, that we take our cues for this moment largely by knowing what God presently desires.58 Hartshorne’s own words are pertinent:

God orders the universe, according to panentheism. by taking into his own life all the currents of feeling in existence. He is the most irresistible of influences precisely because he is himself the most open to influence. In the depths of their hearts all creatures (even those able to "rebel" against him) defer to Cod because they sense him as the one who alone is adequately moved by what moves them. He alone not only knows but feels (the only adequate knowledge, where feeling is concerned) how they feel, and he finds his own joy in sharing their lives, lived according to their own free decisions, not fully anticipated by any detailed plan of his own. Yet the extent to which they can be permitted to work out their own plan depends on the extent to which they can echo or imitate on their own level the divine sensitiveness to the needs and precious freedom of all, in this vision of a deity who is not a supreme autocrat, but a universal agent of "per. suasion," whose "power is the worship he inspires" (Whitehead), that is, flows from the intrinsic appeal of his infinitely sensitive and tolerant relativity, by which all things are kept moving in orderly togetherness, we may find help in facing our task of today, the task of contributing to the democratic self-ordering of a world whose members not even the supreme orderer reduces to mere subjects with the sole function of obedience.59

In panentheism, God’s supreme relativity definitely means that God is a cocreator of man and the world and also that man is a cocreator of himself and of God. Each concrete state of God partially just springs into actuality spontaneously, but it is also partially produced by the prior states of God and of the world (including man).60 However, the influence of any single creature upon God is so slight that the momentary influence of the totality of creatures can never deprive God of his eminent freedom. Nevertheless, although Hartshorne asserts that all creatures participate in the universal creativity of self and others, with God as creator in the eminent sense, he specifically repudiates the classical Christian idea that God created the world ex nihilo or "out of nothing" Panentheism entails that there never could have been God without a world. Therefore, it rejects the idea of a first state of creation or a beginning of the universe. In addition, it affirms that every state of the universe has been created out of a previous state in the everlasting creative advance of God and the world which literally had no beginning and shall have no end.61

Perhaps the most notable and striking contrast between traditional theism and Hartshorne’s panentheism is the latter’s unflinching avowal of the suffering of God as a poignantly real and everlastingly unavoidable facet of divine experience. The suffering of God follows inevitably from the notions of his omniscient awareness and the world’s genuinely free capacity to produce suffering, tragedy, and evil. Therefore, the Christian doctrine of the Cross is raised to a metaphysical dimension, and God is seen to be totally vulnerable instead of wholly immune to suffering.62

Hartshorne’s position is that every actual entity or society of entities has some freedom that not even God can entirely control. Thus there is a division of powers and of responsibility in the universe that has tragic implications for both the universe and God.63 God may set the limits for the creaturely decisions, but he does not make their decisions for them; and inherent in the free decisions of the creatures are possibilities for both good and evil. A multiplicity of actual entities, each with a measure of free self-determination, presents an irremovable risk of conflict as well as opportunity for harmony. Accordingly, every new phase of the everlasting world process will afford more possibilities for evil, and evil will never be totally eliminated from the universe and the experience of God.64

The fact of evil is, therefore, a sobering reality which God can mitigate but not eradicate, but neither is its presence God’s will or responsibility. The free decisions of creatures for evil and good become the destiny of other creatures and of God. Hence, "there is chance and tragedy even for God."65 Moreover, God’s omniscient awareness deprives him of the human luxury of remaining oblivious to the misery of others. He must share perfectly in miseries as well as joys of all creatures, preserving this painful awareness in everlasting memory. Thus he is radically dependent upon others for his happiness, for he must suffer when others either endure or produce suffering.66 The panentheistic God perpetually actualizes himself both in the sublimely blissful joy of sharing the joys of others and in the cosmic crucifixion of feeling supreme sympathy for the agonies of all creatures. He is the cosmic Sufferer.

Reasons for Belief in the Dipolar God

As was stated in the preceding section, Hartshorne maintains that every actual entity is aware of the nature of God, at least in some deficient manner. He reasons that, as the universal and necessary principle of all existence, God must be present as a datum in every experience whatever, regardless of whether or not the experiencing subject is fully conscious of this presence. Therefore, he affirms that there is a latent awareness of God in the depths of every man. He also asserts that it is impossible for any man or animal to be totally unaware of deity. Hence, the difference between believer and unbeliever is one of different levels of awareness and self-understanding, with Hartshorne holding that it is the unbeliever who misunderstands or confuses the fundamental nature of his experiences.67

Furthermore, although Hartshorne believes that everyone actually has some faith in God, he points out that some of the traditional philosophical proofs for the existence of God, when revised to fit the neoclassical deity, may be relevant and useful in bringing to the level of conscious thought the awareness of God which all men feel. Moreover, he opines that these proofs are essentially arguments that reduce to absurdity any alternatives to panentheism by demonstrating their incoherence or vacuousness.68 Moreover, the proofs may show that the idea of the dipolar deity or the Unsurpassable Object of our worship is not nonsense.69

Hartshorne declares that there are many possible valid arguments for the existence of God, but his writings concentrate on perfecting various forms of neoclassical versions of the traditional "ontological" and "cosmological" proofs. Moreover, he has probably given more prolonged and intensive thought to the ontological argument than any other philosopher in history, and his studies have contributed notably to a recent revival of interest in it. As a result, both philosophers and theologians are now giving more serious attention to this and other theistic arguments than they have given in many decades.

Of course, a thorough exploration of the profundities of Hartshorne’s development of the ontological argument alone is much beyond the scope of the present study. He himself has written hundreds of pages on the subject.70 However, it will be within our purpose to explain generally how his treatment of the theistic arguments accords exactly with his neoclassical understanding of God.

The most essential step toward understanding Hartshorne’s development of both the ontological and the cosmological arguments is to keep well in mind that the deity whose existence he is trying to prove is dipolar in nature. And the existence of the dipolar deity is just one pole of his being, namely, the abstractly eternal and necessary pole. Harishorne repeatedly reiterates his affirmation that the theistic arguments only demonstrate the existence of God and that they tell us nothing whatever about God’s concrete actuality. The concrete actuality of God at any moment he considers to be entirely beyond the reach of metaphysical reason. Since the divine actuality is contingent, no proof can pertain to it. It can only be known through empirical observation and experiences.71

If, accordingly, one clearly remembers that only God’s abstract existence is in question, he can easily comprehend how a Hartshornian reformulation of the ontological argument is possible. In the eleventh century, Anselm of Canterbury gave the ontological argument its classical expression. In the second and possibly better of two formulations of this argument, he reasoned as follows: Since a being greater than God is by definition inconceivable, and since a being whose nonexistence is inconceivable is greater than a being whose nonexistence is conceivable, therefore, God must be a being whose nonexistence is inconceivable.

A typical Hartshornian restatement of Anselm’s argument in the language of modern modal logic runs about like this: Since God is by definition not conceivably surpassable, and since a being whose existence is necessary surpasses one whose existence is merely contingent, therefore, God’s existence must be necessary existence. In other words, God as the Unsurpassable One cannot fail to exist, or the nonexistence of the Unsurpassable One is a selfcontradictory concept. Hartshomne hails as Anselm’s great discovery the ideas that God’s mode of being is utterly unique in his perfection or unsurpassability and that contingent existence is inferior to necessary existence.72

The necessary existence of God may be readily understood as a self-evident truth in Hartshornian metaphysics. Hartshorne holds that the necessary is precisely the common denominator of all possible states of reality, but this common denominator is God’s abstract existence as such. Hence, Hartshorne’s formula that God is "necessarily somehow actualized."73 The how of divine actualization is a contingently different fact each moment, but that God is actualized is an eternally necessary abstract truth. God’s existence is the extreme abstraction from all the alternative concrete states of reality. That is, God’s creativity is the ground of possibility or, as the common factor of all possibilities, is coextensive with possibility as such. Thus his existence must be necessary, for every possibility is a realization of divine potentiality. Therefore, no matter what happens, God must exist. Is it possible that there might be no possibility at all? The very thought seems absurd or impossible. Therefore, God must exist necessarily. That is to say, possibility is a necessity!74

It deserves emphasis that Hartshorne’s understanding of God’s necessary existence means that this divine existence does not make any empirical difference whatever in the world. It is the ground of all differences and of any possible world. God’s existence does not compete with the existence of any other individuals whatever, for it is compatible with any sort of actuality at all. It does not necessitate that any specific entity either exist or not exist but only that something exist. God’s momentary actualities are determinate and do exclude many things, but his existence is absolutely flexible.75

Consequently, since God’s existence is not a question of fact, then it must be a question of meaning, i.e., a properly metaphysical question. Therefore, Hartshorne believes that the ontological argument has the great merit of not only recalling philosophers to their central metaphysical task but also of greatly clarifying the issues of theistic belief. The clarification of theistic belief comes from the fact that the argument has eliminated the possibility of empirical atheism and empirical theism. If God’s existence is not a factual question at all, then obviously nothing about the world and the experience of it could possibly either disprove his existence or prove it. Therefore, there seem to be only two possibilities left on the field, theism or positivism. By explicating the meaning of God as the Unsurpassable One, the ontological argument excludes the possibility of God’s nonexistence. The only alternatives that remain are either to affirm that "God" means necessary existence or means nothing at all (or is nonsense).76 Hence Hartshorne’s conclusion that the only logical way left to reject theism is not to deny the existence of God but to affirm that the very idea of God is either vacuous or selfcontradictory.77

Hartshorne asserts that, because the question of God’s existence is a question of meaning, there are as many possible arguments for God’s existence as there are purely general categories. Any such conception as knowledge, value, actuality, truth, goodness, or beauty could, by proper analysis, be shown to imply the others and the necessity of God’s existence. Therefore, he holds that any valid theistic argument is sufficient, since they are all interdependent on the nonempirical, metaphysical level.78

Hartshorne’s cosmological argument runs in this fashion: the undeniable reality of change and process implies that God eternally exists as the subject of all change, for otherwise there could be no genuine change at all. In other words, what changes if God does not exist necessarily? An alternative formulation is that the world as a unity is explainable only by the divinely inclusive love that binds the many into a single cosmic structure; and, therefore, the world of secular experience is nonsense if God does not exist.79 Similarly, one neoclassical version of the traditional teleological argument would be that the fact that the world has any order at all is only to be explained by an eternal divine Orderer, because apart from God it is impossible to understand why chaos and anarchy are not unlimited and supreme.80

In summation: "Apart from God not only would this world not be conceivable, but no world, and no state of reality, or even of unreality, could be understood."81 That is, one cannot think deeply and adequately about the world without thinking of God. Likewise, one cannot think of God without conceiving of the world. God and the world imply each other at the fundamental metaphysical level, each being the same thing from a different perspective. Therefore, we may appropriately conclude this survey of Hartshorne’s creatively novel conception of God with a quotation that epitomizes his central metaphysical insights:

"The only possible argument for God must show that doubt of God is doubt of any and all truth, renunciation of the essential categories of thinking."82



1. The Logic of Perfection, p. 132.

2. Ibid., p. 131.

3. Ibid., p. xiv.

4. Cf. Reality as Social Process, pp. 180-81

5. Beyond Humanism, pp. 2-3.

6. Ibid., pp. 52, 93.

7. Ibid., p. 59.

8. Ibid., p. 106.

9. Ibid., pp. 43-45.

10. Ibid., pp. 12-38.

11. Ibid., p. 29.

12. The Logic of Perfection, p. 159.

13. Ibid., p. 152.

14. Ibid., p. 153.

15. Ibid., pp. 150-59.

16. For interesting documentation and interpretation of this phase of development in Western theism, see Charles Hartshorne and William L. Reese, Philosophers Speak of God (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1953), chap. III.

17. Charles Hartshorne, Man’s Vision of God and the Logic of Theism (Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1964), p. 11.

18. Ibid., pp. 85-138.

19. Ibid., pp. 106-107, 109, 117-18, 135.

20. Ibid., p.89.

21. Ibid., pp. 96, 112.

22. Ibid., pp. 97-104.

23. Ibid., pp. 14, 115.

24. Ibid., pp. 13, 135.

25. Charles Hartshorne, The Divine Relativity: A Social Conception of Cod (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1948), pp. 116-17.

26. Ibid., pp. 1, 5.

27. See Charles Hartshorne, "Metaphysics in North America," in Contemporary Philosophy: A Survey, ed. Raymond Klibansky (Florence: La Nuova Italia Editrice, 1969), pp. 40-41.

28. The Divine Relativity, pp. 80-81.

29. Charles Hartshorne, "Is God’s Existence a State of Affairs?" in Faith and the Philosophers, ed. John Hick (New York: St. Martin’s Press, Inc., 1964), pp. 26-27, 31-32.

30. Philosophers Speak of God, pp. 2-3.

31. Ibid., pp. 3-7.

32. Ibid., p. 24.

33. Ibid., pp. 2-7.

34. Charles Hartshorne, A Natural Theology for Our Time (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1967), pp. 127-34.

35. Man’s Vision of God, pp. 12-21.

36. Charles Hartshorne, "The Dipolar Conception 0f Deity," The Review of Metaphysics 21 (December 1967) 285.

37. A Natural Theology for Our Time, pp. 3-7.

38. Ibid., pp. 7-14.

39. Man’s Vision of God, p. xiv.

40. Ibid.. pp. ix, 346-47.

41. "Is God’s Existence a State of Affairs?" pp. 28-29.

42. Ibid., pp. 29-30.

43. Charles Hartshorne. "A Philosopher’s Assessment of Chris. tianity," in Religion and Culture: Essays in Honor of Paul Tillich, ed. Walter Leibrecht (New York: Harper and Bros., 1959), p. 168.

44. The Divine Relativity, p. 8.

45. Ibid., p. 48.

46. Ibid., p. 29.

47. A Natural Theology for Our Time, pp. 20-21.

48. Alan’s Vision of God, pp. 347-48.

49. The Divine Relativity, pp. 88-91.

50. Ibid., p. 76; cf. Philosophers Speak of God, p. 271.

51. Philosophers Speak of God, p. 17.

52. Ibid., pp. 513-14.

53. Man’s Vision of God, pp. 174-92.

54. Charles Hartshorne, "Whitehead in French Perspective: A Review Article," The Thomist 33 (July 3, 1969) 578.

55. Man’s Vision of God, p. 351.

56. Charles Hartshorne, "Psychology and the Unity of Knowledge," The Southern Journal of Philosophy 5 (Summer 1967): 89.

57. "The Dipolar Conception of Deity," p. 284.

58. Ibid., p.288; The Divine Relativity, p. 142.

59. The Divine Relativity, p. xvii.

60. A Natural Theology for Our Time, p. 113.

61. Man’s Vision of God, p. 230.

62. Philosophers Speak of God. p. 15.

63. Man’s Vision of God, p. 30.

64. "The Dipolar Conception of Deity," p. 285.

65. A Natural Theology for Our Time, p. 123.

66. Man’s Vision of God, pp. 195-98.

67. "Is God’s Existence a State of Affairs?" p. 31.

68. "A Philosopher’s Assessment of Christianity," p. 173.

69. A Natural Theology for Our Time, p. 89.

70. See especially The Logic of Perfection, chap. 2, and Anselm’s Discovery: A Re-examination of the Ontological Proof for God’s Existence (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1965).

71. Anselm’s Discovery, p. 300.

72. Ibid., pp. 30, 34, 99, 134.

73. Ibid., pp. 3, 43.

74. The Logic o~’ Perfection, pp. 38, 149; Charles Hartshorne, "Necessity," The Review of Metaphysics 21 (December 1967)

75. The Logic of Perfection, pp. 68, 100-101, 108-109.

76. Ibid., pp. 72, 111, 116.

77. Charles Hartshorne. "What Did Anselm Discover?" in The Alan y.f aced Argument: Recent Studies on the Ontological Argu. ment for the Existence of God, eds. John Hick arid Arthur C. McGill (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1967), p. 322.

78. Man’s Vision of God, p. 251; A Natural Theology for Our Time, p. 53.

79. Man’s Vision of God, pp. 257-58, 290, 305, 337.

80. A Natural Theology for Our Time, p. 59.

81. Ibid., p. 53.

82. Man’s Vision of God, p. 340.