Chapter 6: Nature, God, and Man by Paul Weiss

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

Chapter 6: Nature, God, and Man by Paul Weiss

Paul Weiss is Heffer Professor of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America.


In "Man in Nature,"1 Charles Hartshorne stated that his interests are ‘nature, God, and man, in about that order" (in Experience, Existence, and the Good, ed. Irwin C. Lieb [Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1961], P. 89).

It would be hard to find a more succinct statement which conveyed, not only the extraordinary range of Hartshorne’s thought, but his abiding concern with the most basic questions of mankind and philosophy, his concentration on pivotal issues, and his readiness to affirm just where he stands. These virtues characterize his entire career, a career which I have been privileged to grow with and to benefit from almost over its entire course. I am grateful for this opportunity to do honor to a philosopher who has signally occupied himself with illuminating and communicating independently, honestly, and courageously matters that are of importance to every one of us.

The originality of Hartshorne’s discussions about the nature of God, and particularly his daring and novel defense of the ontological argument, have led some to overlook the fact that, as he himself says, his primary interest lies elsewhere. It is good that this is so for, with Whitehead and most other process philosophers, the God about which he writes is pertinent primarily to the beliefs of Christians, particularly low-church Protestants. Little regard is paid by him or his colleagues to Judaism, and none at all to Islam or Shinto, although these take themselves to have beliefs, theologies, histories, and tasks quite different from those characteristic of Christianity. It is, moreover, rather difficult to tie a process account in with some of its current acceptances of pivotal Buddhist views, since the Buddhists take themselves to have a single coherent position in which there seems to be no room for anything like the God of the Western religions. However, when his discussions of God are freed from their religious trappings, it becomes apparent that what is being attended to is an irreducible reality, standing apart from but in vital interplay with actual entities. Once it is noted that his God has at least that status, that it is irreducible and final, the way is open for the acknowledgment (with both Plato and Aristotle) of a number of other equally basic realities. These, together with finite, transient, actual entities, determine the character and course of the cosmos. They allow us, also, to point up two unexplored topics, the examination of which should help us move to a new stage in philosophic understanding.

1. If God is a primal reality, existing outside the limits of religious interest or grasp, he can provide a locus for the referents of any and every possible religion. Different revelations, prophets, miracles, and expressions of faith -- for those who are able to make use of them -- provide agencies by means of which the transcendental majesty of the divine can be shown to be pertinent to men. More boldly, by acknowledging that there are other final realities on a footing with such a God, one is able to find a place for many different religions, even for those which pivot about things, animals, or signal events in nature. These religions can be viewed as specializing some ultimate reality other than the God on which Westerners fasten. Finally, if one envisages all final realities as being together only as merged, with all distinctness and determinateness lost, one will have a base toward which the religious interests of the East are directed. Better, by taking different Eastern religions to be occupied with reaching the still center of different final realities, where no diversity is to be found, and where there is no way of referring to anything else, one can come to see how Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and the mysticisms based on other religions can differ while being equally well grounded.

2. The ontological argument, so brilliantly and illuminatingly opened up again by Hartshorne, refers to God, not in his full concreteness and as involved with what is beyond him, but as he is by himself, forever, in his self-sufficiency. Might not the argument also be used to justify the acknowledgment of other ultimate realities as they stand apart from all else? Or is the ontological argument to be restricted to God, with the other ultimate realities "proven" in quite different ways? Or does the ontological argument perhaps apply to no one of them, but only to them together, with each having the status of what Hartshorne calls an "accident"? Or does this and similar arguments deal only with the centers of final realities, each of interest only to those who share a particular commitment?

The catholicity and the neutrality of philosophy, I think, requires one to accept the options that the first question offers us. We then can make provision for the insights of the most disparate religions, taking them to be occupied with different specializations of different ultimate realities. In this way it is possible to avoid disparaging the great events, myths, and central figures cherished by others, without being forced to subscribe to the claims of any one of them.

The second question is more difficult to deal with. To know whether ultimate realities can be proven to exist, by repeating the ontological argument or by tailoring it so that it is pertinent to their different natures, powers, and roles -- and this apart from any commitment to a particular religion -- requires one to do no less than produce the argument. Hartshorne’s "proof," unfortunately, is so closely tied to the questionable views of certain modal logicians that it is hard to know whether it can apply only to God or can also be extended to other ultimate realities. I think it gets and can get no further than the affirmation that the idea of God is the idea of an existent God. Surely, no argument can ever take one from an idea to a reality. And then one must face the question whether the ontological and cognate arguments may have to do, not with what is in fact real, but with what, as Hartshorne sometimes says, is an abstract aspect of this. And if the arguments are to have any pertinence to what concerns religious men, they will of course have to refer not to something abstract, or to what is common to all fundamental realities, but to just one of those realities, approached from a distinctive position. But whether one supposes that the ontological argument, or any others, deal with what is merely abstract, with what is common to all ultimate realities, or with the unspecified center of some final reality (the most promising I think of the alternatives), one will have to supplement the argument by what is known or acknowledged by religious men. Otherwise, what one "proves" will not be pertinent to what these call "God."

The topic should not be dropped before it is remarked that there are radical differences between Whitehead’s and Hartshorne’s views of God. Hartshorne deviates from his master, not always to his advantage, in holding that God exists moment after moment; that he is a kind of society, is not occupied with eternal objects, has an abstract and an accidental dimension, does not contrast with the world as a one for its many and a many for its one, is not a creature of a primary creativity, suffers with and loves men, and is getting better and better. Neither Whitehead nor Hartshorne has room for a God who is angry, who is not the only finality, or who creates. Neither, therefore, can do full justice either to the demands of the followers of Western religions or to the implications of a dispassionate metaphysic.


Most current defenders of the process view seem to be theologians. Hartshorne, instead, is primarily a philosopher. As he said, he has other interests. But it is not altogether clear whether his triad of interests -- "nature, God, and man, in about that order" -- is to be read as ascending or descending. If we are not to lose the benefit of his thought, it is necessary to put both man and nature in the foreground and keep God and other ultimate realities in the background. But it will then be necessary both to correct some excesses of the process view and to enrich it so that it makes provision for the fact that men are unitary, complex, living beings with distinctive privacies, persistent and responsible. It will also allow one to acknowledge a nature where such men can be together with other irreducible living beings, with the ultimate units they encompass, and with combinations of all of these.

Much of what we seek to know about nature and man is caught up in the question: If there is a cosmos of ultimate units, interplaying with final realities; are men and nature part of it? Every one, with the exception of scientists and philosophers, seems ready to answer this with a strong affirmative. We should join them, but with the qualifications which accrue when the answer is won by taking account of the views of those who reject it.

Existentialists, personalists, and phenomenologists have today been suddenly joined by linguistic analysts. None of them, confessedly, can find warrant for the claim that there is a world existing independently of man. Science, incidentally mathematics, philosophy of course, and surely religion are viewed by these different thinkers as having only conventional, social, or historic warrants. None, it is held, can be shown to be related to anything existing apart from man’s intentions, language, desires, concerns, talk, or presence. They inevitably cancel out the possibility of prehistory, natural cataclysms, birth and death (and, of course, the men who are able to be existentialists, or analysts, or whatever, maintaining that there could or could not be a world they did not constitute).

A philosophy which cannot get beyond personal commitments or a common language, no matter how carefully it speaks or how closely it adheres to current theories, is radically defective. And it will remain so, I think, if it is unable to allow one to affirm that there are animals, birds, trees, hills, rivers, a sun and moon, even when there are no men, or when they say nothing about these.

If it be allowed that science makes some kind of contact with more than theories, formulas, variables, formally defined values and constants, it must be added that any units with which it might rest will be publicly related entities with extensions conceivably divisible into smaller units. A cosmology dealing with irreducible unit-occurrences, interplaying with universally pertinent and irreducible powers, will then be outside its provenance. That fact, instead of showing the impossibility or uselessness of a cosmology, points up the inadequacy of a merely scientifically expressed account.

Whitehead and Hartshorne are in agreement with almost everyone else, and particularly with the classical atomists, in holding that the cosmos existed before there were men, that it will exist after men no longer do, and that both when there are men and when there are not, ultimate units exist and act more or less as they had always done. With the ancient atomists, they hold also that the cosmos embraces only ultimate unit-entities, all subject to the same universal conditioning powers. Although it is not altogether clear just how the atoms are known to be, it is quite clear that these atoms are not identifiable with the particles or waves with which current scientists have come to rest. Nor are they units which experiments have forced one to acknowledge. Rather, they are what such experiments and their objects are assumed to presuppose.

Process atomism improves on the classic in two important respects: It rejects the cosmic determinism that characterized the earlier view, and it denies that the ultimate units are static, public, and forever.

Though there seems hardly anyone today who explicitly accepts a cosmic determinism, the idea is implicit in the views of those contemporaries who, taking computers as their guide, seek to understand life and thought, and all their works, as summations of the moves of a multiplicity of units acting mechanically in the same ways always. The position is radically speculative and lacks supporting evidence. It also has the paradoxical consequence that it allows no place for the novel thoughts or minds of its proponents, or for the invention, making, use, sale, or understanding of the computers on which they ground their analogies. Because process atomism is not deterministic, implicitly or explicitly, it is able to make room for novelties, transience, diversity, and growth. That is enough to justify contemporary atomists in accepting it, and in rejecting the old form.

The second signal difference between process and classical atomism is perhaps the most widely known and most emphasized. Instead of taking ultimate units to be just filled-in regions of space, each substantial, persistent, and inert, Whitehead and Hartshorne hold instead that they have privacies and in effect are "living" units, coming into being and passing away, moment after moment, but not without preserving and transmitting what had already been achieved. It is hard to exaggerate the brilliance and daring exhibited in Whitehead’s account of the way in which unit actual occasions combine both a past and future, and a universal guidance and individual self-determination. Unfortunately, the achievement has been allowed, both by its defenders and by its critics, to get in the way of an adequate consideration of the question as to whether complex living beings, encompassing a number of parts and, of course, a number of ultimate units, are not more than sequences, societies, devoid of the power, and lacking the concreteness, the self-creativity, the retentiveness, projectiveness, and involvement with final conditions that is characteristic of the ultimate units.

There is no difficulty in, and, I think, there is good warrant for affirming, in opposition to Whitehead and Hartshorne, that all unit realities, whether ultimate or more complex, have an integrity of their own, with distinctive privacies, but that only the complex are able to be conscious and therefore to feel, that they alone can persist unchanged for indefinite periods, and that they are affected not only by cosmic conditions but by any living beings within whose confines they happen to be. I know that these claims are ignored by Whitehead and expressly rejected by Hartshorne, but it is hard to find good reasons for their decision to go so counter to their own desires to do justice to what is known about men and nature. Perhaps there would be less reluctance to acknowledge the irreducible reality of men and other complex unitary beings, each persistent, active, with its own characteristic privacy, were it more clearly seen that the rejection of traditional atomism does not leave one with just irreducible momentary units which, despite all lack of evidence, are to be taken as centers of feeling. There seems no reason to deny that those units exist through indivisible stretches of time, privately undergone. Nor need one hold that those stretches all have the same length. Different ultimate units, like complex beings, have no antecedently prescribed common span. Some may outlast others.

We are now, I think, in a position to take account of occurrences which so far have been deemed unacceptable to Whitehead, Hartshorne, and other process thinkers, though I think their acknowledgment makes the view more viable, comprehensive, and accurate. One must find a place for complex unit-beings, or be left with the unsolvable problem of knowing why ultimate units are bunched and separated differently in different places and at different times. Peirce thought that the fact could be explained by referring to the workings of a cosmic chance. The supposition is gratuitous. Units are bunched and separated because they are confined within and partly controlled by unitary, more complex living beings which subject their contained organs, cells, and eventually the smallest units in these to new conditions, adventures, and controls. When and where complex beings act, there the parts of them are to be found, kept together, redirected, brought into relationship with others in ways that no common cosmic conditions or self-creativity by distinct beings could explain.

Living beings are natural individuals, encompassing a multiplicity of other beings for which they inevitably provide careers, opportunities, locations, and neighbors they otherwise would not have. Unlike natural wholes, such as stones and streams, whose careers are a function of the parts within them or are due to the actions of those who use them, natural individuals act as units, limiting and affecting what they contain, and limited and affected by these in turn. The natural world encompasses all natural wholes and individuals and therefore, all ultimate units so far as they are joined with some and separated from all the others in ways not cosmically determined. Because a cosmology which is restricted to the study of the interplay of ultimate units and final conditions has no place for natural wholes or natural individuals, it cannot account for all the ways in which the parts of those wholes and individuals, and eventually the ultimate units within those wholes or individuals, are interrelated. Instead, it must content itself with taking the ultimate units where it finds them, bunched and separated in ways it cannot explain.

Natural wholes and individuals are not isolated. The individuals, particularly, have their environments, their fellows, and their enemies. They exist together as members of groups. Each interplays with others and with the very conditions with which the others interplay. Nature is the locus of the natural wholes and individuals in their severalty and as together. Because the individuals in nature act in ways they would not, were they entirely cut off from one another, or were they just indifferent to one another’s presence, the ultimate units in them are bunched and separated in additional ways.

Societies, like the natural individuals they contain, specialize the conditions which directly interplay with ultimate cosmic units. But like wholes, societies lack privacies and are unable to act. Natural individuals, though, not only can confine and affect what they encompass; they are able to initiate acts resulting in still other changes. Were one to deal with ultimate units cosmically, but as subject to the conditioning of just one final reality (let us say, with Hartshorne, a God), one would have to add that the final reality is specialized in the form of the unitary natures of living beings. Those beings are able to modify the effects directly produced by the interplay of the God and the ultimate units.

Natural wholes and individuals, the natural world which embraces them, and the nature where the individuals are grouped, all make a difference to the functioning and interrelationships of the ultimate units contained within the individuals and what these use. The conditions and the units together constitute the cosmos.

An adequate account of what occurs requires one to supplement a cosmology of atoms and final conditions with an account of complex beings. The acceptance of that addition would enable a process philosophy to soften its now hardened opposition to what it calls a "substantialist" view. That would still not be enough. To do justice to the facts, it is necessary to go further.

Men are individuals severally and together in nature. They also contribute to distinctively human enterprises, helping constitute cultures and civilizations. In these, the activities and relations that men have to one another, and the activities and interrelationships of the ultimate units that they contain, diverge from those they exhibit in the cosmos, as well as from those they exhibit in nature. Men create works of art. They participate in sports. They speak, inquire, work, forge symbols, vitalize traditions, make and manipulate diagrams, pray, and involve themselves in such diverse disciplines as science, politics, history, and philosophy. In these and other ways they produce domains. In these they interrelate created objects, while bounding them off from all else. The material used to produce the objects -- paintings, games, discourse, legislation, sacral objects, mathematics, theories, constructions, and the like -- is subject to distinctive conditions operating in those domains. This is enough to make a difference to what the objects in those domains encompass. The parts of a dancer’s body and therefore the ultimate units which are within the boundaries of her body are joined and separated by that body. They are also brought into new relations to one another and to what is in the bodies of others. Her dancing makes a difference beyond that which is produced by her as a natural individual

The study of domains is both vast and neglected. Universal, final conditions operate in each, but only through the help of creative men. These join conditions to natural objects and thereby produce new entities. To neglect domains and their contents is to overlook what makes a difference to the functioning and relationship of what is encompassed by natural wholes and individuals, the natural world, and nature. The danger is not avoided by those who attend only to ultimate units and the final powers with which they interplay.

A civilization is a set of domains, each bounded off from the rest. There, the values and concerns of men are transformed and preserved. At different times, different domains are to the fore, with the others recessive. At different times, consequently, ultimate units and thus what is cosmically knowable, are subjected to still further conditioning, not explicable by attending only to what is pertinent to the ultimate units indifferently, or even to them as affected by natural individuals, the natural world where these are together, or the nature in which they exist both by themselves and together.

The cosmos is the locus of ultimate units in direct interplay with what is final. Within the limits of that cosmos there are more complex realities specializing those conditions and thereby making the ultimate units within them be affected in additional ways. Once it is recognized that the complex realities impose intensified, limited versions of final conditions on their parts, and eventually on a limited number of ultimate units, one is no longer tempted to speak only of cosmic powers, cosmic conditions, and ultimate units, but will also acknowledge both nature and man, and the differences they make to what they encompass. Their acknowledgment does not require a change in a cosmological account focused on ultimate units and final realities. It adds to this, explaining what otherwise would be inexplicable. In addition, it takes notice of realities that can be encountered. But this requires one to resist the reductive tendencies of almost every cosmology, even one, like Whitehead’s and Hartshorne’s, where the ultimate units are supposed to be living and self-creative. Real natural Objects and men obviously cannot be in a cosmos which has a place only for atoms interplaying with final, empowered conditions. But the objects and men are surely real.

The cosmos contains conditions and ultimate units interplaying with these. It also contains specializations of those conditions as well as a limited number of units with which the specializations interplay. But natural objects and men, and what these produce, are not in the cosmos so far as they have or can make use of private, creative powers. Not to accommodate them in this guise is not to accommodate what is part of them in their full concreteness. The accommodation, however, will require one to supplement a cosmological account with a metaphysics. Nothing less than the two together will do justice to the presence and action of what the universe contains. A cosmology of interplaying ultimate units and empowered final conditions necessarily presupposes a metaphysical account of the reality of the units and the conditions, as able to act in these ways.

In order to provide a single, integrated, self-critical, controlled philosophy, able to be shared in by others, it is necessary to abandon Whitehead’s project of providing a likely story. Instead one must proceed step by step, first analyzing what is empirically known into its irreducible factors, then passing intensively toward them as able to affect one another, and finally showing how they in fact interplay. If one proceeds cautiously, defending every move, one will replace a view which seems as arbitrary as it is odd, more an exhibition of Whitehead’s genius and ingenuity than an account of what is, by one which rests on evidence, and will clarify what now is obscure.

The view at which we have now arrived is not far from one I have developed in other places. But until now I did not see how well some of it, while it diverges and goes beyond, still allows for an appreciation of some of the main cosmological claims which Hartshorne has urged over the length of his distinguished career. The fact makes me confident that what I have maintained is not altogether in error. I hope the indications here given of the way Whitehead’s and Hartshorne’s views are to be altered, and how they could be extended and filled out -- while maintaining their characteristic thrust and flavor -- will be accepted by Hartshorne as a tribute to the strength and promise of what he has already so splendidly achieved. I think his account still has grave, perhaps insuperable, difficulties with motion, perception, obligation, responsibility, action, human interchange, contemporaneity, God, and community. But I do hope that the present discussion will allow one to see that the scrawny and rather skeletal creature, unable to move, or to last for more than an atomic moment, which Whitehead brought to light fifty years ago, and whose lineaments have been somewhat altered and whose virtues have been extolled so insistently and sometimes stridently by Hartshorne over the years, has now been given some necessary transplants, been filled out a little, been given the capacity to endure, and has finally been turned into a creature that can grow. Perhaps in the form I have given it, it is even ready to be roasted.

Response by Charles Hartshorne

Paul Weiss, to my delight, has written what I take to be one of his most brilliant essays. I also find that he has given what for me is the best brief defense in all his writing of his own system. He claims, with some plausibility, that he takes various religious views into account better than my Protestant view, as he regards it, can do. He can also, with some plausibility, claim that he does more justice to ordinary good sense, by recognizing persons and animals as natural individuals, as well as natural wholes.

We should remember, I think, that Weiss and I, unlike any third person, had, before or early in our teaching careers, the experience simultaneously of working with the writings of Peirce as a whole and of trying to digest the flood of new ideas that Whitehead was pouring out in the late nineteen-twenties and early thirties. Moreover, if I am at all right, metaphysics in this century has to take seriously what Peirce, Bergson, Whitehead, and a few other leading process philosophers have in common in their rejection of a number of traditional Western beliefs. Hence to defend a metaphysics today one must relate it to the challenge of the process view. This Weiss does in the essay before us better than he has hitherto. It is a generous essay, and intellectual penetration requires thinking with the minds of others as well as with one’s own; it requires intellectual sympathy, and from this to generosity is not an unlimited distance.

There is some overstatement in Weiss’s formulation of the issues between us, but it stops short of the degree of caricature in which philosophers sometimes indulge. I suppose we nearly all grant ourselves this indulgence sometimes, but regard the extent to which we do so as one negative measure of our intellectual objectivity.

Concerning the religious aspect, numerous enthusiasts for my neoclassical theology in recent decades have been Catholics, and I hold a Catholic honorary degree. I have written evaluations of two Islamic thinkers, one medieval and one recent, and in neither case does my Protestantism have much to do with my valuations, which in the second case are largely positive. As for Judaism, I wrote an essay for a symposium which failed to find a publisher but in which I made it clear that in some ways I am closer to Judaism than to much historical Christianity. I believe that we shall never overcome anti-Semitism until we are able to admit that on some issues Jews have been more nearly right than Christians throughout the centuries. I was interested to learn that one of my most influential former students, Schubert M. Ogden, is the only writer who has formulated a theory of Christian incarnation that, in a scholarly study of incarnation doctrines, escaped censure on the ground of anti-Judaism. There is a branch of Hinduism, with some millions of followers in Bengal, two of whose monks have found my views congenial, as I do theirs.

That Buddhism presents a difficult problem for me I grant. But it may mean something that Suzuki, who ought to have known, said that he was not sure Buddhism was nontheistic. In any case I have definite reasons for holding that the Buddhist Nirvana has no unambiguous meaning on a nontheistic basis. The Buddhist poses a problem of the transitoriness of all things and values, but never quite tells us how nevertheless an infinitely precious something called Nirvana can abide. Whiteheadian objective immortality in God can tell us.

How best to conceive natural individuals is one of the subtlest of metaphysical issues. For many purposes what Weiss means by this concept is what Whitehead (and here my view is exactly his) means by ‘‘societies,’’ especially those with personal order (meaning the temporal order a,b,c, . . .) or by societies in which there is a dominant society with personal order. A human person, mind and body, is indeed an extremely "complex" individual. But its conscious reality in a sufficiently short period of time -- in the human case a smallish fraction of a second -- is for me or Whitehead a single actual entity, an ultimate unit, in Weiss’s language. Of course its body, some actualities of which it most directly prehends, is a nonpersonally ordered society, dominated by a personal one.

My reality now, in the present actual entity, is a complex act of prehending predecessors in such a way as to influence successors. And I-now more or less intend such influence. Slightly indirectly I-now act on my extra-bodily environment, more directly on my inner bodily environment. And of course I-now am influenced, slightly indirectly, by you as at a little earlier.

Is I-now abstract? Certainly not. What is abstract is what I-now and I-a-year-ago, still more what I-now and I-as-an-infant, even what I-now and I-as-a-four-week-old-fetus, or a mere fertilized egg, all have in common. Surely that is somewhat abstract, for it is what is left when everything my development has added to the egg or fetus is abstracted from. Is the whole society up to now abstract? Of course not. Its constituents are concrete actualities. For my human prehensions, they are abstract, but that is because my prehensions are not divine. For God, my career up to now is one of the most concrete, though plural, realities there now are.

There are only three basic options about genetic identity, identity through change. There is the strict-identity view of Leibniz, which holds that in me at birth, or before that, my manner of finally dying was included, along with my entire earthly career. This is the paradox that change is neither gain nor loss but simply a series of states all mutually implying one another and all timelessly included in my individual essence. This view, as Bergson says in another context, spatializes time. The opposite extreme is the Hume-Russell view of entire nonidentity. Each successive state is externally related both to its predecessors and its successors. This is again a symmetrical view. The third option is the asymmetrical one: states include and are constituted by predecessors but not by successors. This is the view of partial identity. It is genuine, but not complete, identity. My very past is there in me now. But my present was not in that past.

There seems to be no fourth equally clear possibility. There are only various nuances in the third or asymmetrical view concerning just how important or adequate the one-way inclusion of, or dependence upon, the past may be. It is plain that Weiss rejects the two symmetrical extremes, since he holds that the future is open and that absolute determinism and predestinationism are false, but does not go to the opposite or Humean extreme of a mere pluralism of states. Weiss’s and my views are two ways of trying to state the asymmetrical view of partial identity. It may be that no way of stating it has all the advantages and none of the disadvantages of the others. If there were such a possibility, philosophical disagreements would be less intractable than history seems to show that they are.

I prefer the language of actual entities, taken as ultimate, to the language of Western substantialism or individualism, for several reasons. It is more analytic, and yet it is reasonably compatible with ordinary language, because the context of use ordinarily tends to imply the qualifications which the theory of actual entities makes to genetic identities, so that for most purposes it is not necessary to be so analytic. In physics and metaphysics, however, including metaphysical aspects of theology, I hold that it is necessary.

There are two ways of avoiding contradiction in analyzing change. In one, the nonidentity of the subjects -- say I-now -- is determined by the times; in the other it is the predicates that include the temporal designations, say well-at-time-t and not-well-at-t’. But to me it seems clear that it is the business of predicates to be strongly time-independent while logical subjects are strongly time-dependent. There are, on almost any theory, many new persons every moment, but "well" and "not well" have had an abstract identity of meaning for many centuries and many people.

Weiss argues that the admission of substances explains the order in individual careers which otherwise may be hard or impossible to explain. I do not see the force of this reasoning. It is only knowledge of the orderliness of careers that leads us to speak of a career as that of a substance. The substantiality and the orderliness is the same thing expressed in two ways. Moreover, we still need to explain order between, as well as within, substances. With the Buddhists of two millennia I deny that the causal order and the substantial order must have two simply different principles of explanation. With White-head I hold that prehension (including divine prehensions of all actualities and every creature’s prehension of divine actuality) is the only positive explanation of order among events. Weiss has little chance to talk me out of that conviction. I consider it one of the greatest intellectual discoveries ever made. Alas, philosophers cannot agree. I do agree with Weiss that we must, to carry Out the idea, specialize, as he puts it, our idea of deity to account for the order of our cosmic epoch. I consider natural laws as divine decisions influencing creaturely actualities through their prehensions of deity.

Part of the explanation of order is in terms of creaturely intentions mutually to order themselves and their neighbors, including their inner bodily neighbors. Divine ordering leaves details only approximately or statistically specified. Each of us now is an orderer in our corner of existence. But the laws of nature go deeper than any nondivine decisions.

Weiss’s splitting up of finalities into deity and four others reminds me of Santayana’s doctrine that medieval theology put into its idea of God several ultimate aspects of reality that need to be distinguished -- thus truth, spirit, matter or power, and essence. I hold that it is more intelligible to put these things back together as the medievals had them, except that I would, in partial agreement with Santayana, say that the ultimate potentiality, or "matter,’’ is, as David of Dinant is reported to have said, also divine. The aspects of deity, as such, or in its essential or eternal nature, form the whole of the strictly ultimate, necessary, or eternal. The essence of worldliness, or of the non-divine as such, is simply whatever nondivine realities God is essentially aware of. God-with-creatures, some creatures or other, is no more than God; for God simply alone, the supreme Creator with no creatures, is an absurdity.

What divine creativity and nondivine creativity have in common, that is, creativity as such, is not something simply outside or additional to God, whose creative action makes divine use of all creaturely action. God is thus the uniquely inclusive reality, not as all determining, for possession is prehensive, that is, partly passive and receptive. In Heidegger’s phrase, it "lets things be." To fully know all is to possess all. What God necessarily and eternally possesses is whatever it is that is eternal or strictly necessary. And only divine possession is unqualifiedly adequate, or the definitive measure of the possessed. To know God fully is to know all there is. But only God knows God fully.

The "still center" between contrasting finalities, to which Weiss takes some oriental philosophies or religions to be especially sensitive, I should say was close to, but less illuminating than, the abstraction Whitehead calls creativity, of which divine creating is one aspect and nondivine creating the other. It is not more real than this duality, for its abstractness (or perhaps I should say ambiguity, or simply vagueness) does not measure reality. But allowing the idea to be so vague or noncommittal that the duality in question is not apparent may have its rewards. All perils and troublesome problems disappear. As the Vedic hymn puts it, where there is no other, no multiplicity, what is there to fear? I agree also with the Vedantists that creativity is not a merely objective thing, but is somehow the ultimate form of subjectivity. But ultimate here merely means common to all forms of reality. If it is taken to mean the supremely good or worshipful form, then the contrast with lesser and nonworshipful forms is essential, and many branches of Hinduism have acknowledged this. The principle of contrast is a criterion of metaphysical reasoning. What is true of simply everything is nothing very valuable all by itself.

I agree with Weiss that we must put the human being in the center of things in the methodological sense that our human self-knowledge is the necessary basis for giving meaning to our universal categories. We ourselves are, for ourselves, the samples of reality, more adequately, variously, and distinctly known than any other samples. This doctrine is found in Whitehead, Heidegger, Peirce, Bergson, Leibniz, and many others. Generalization has to be by analogy from human experiences. But that is why we cannot set up a sheer dualism of experience and nonexperience, mind and matter, sentient and insentient. Weiss seems to hold that, though all actuality has privacy, not all has feeling, memory, valuation, the psychical in its, broadest sense. What privacy totally vacuous of psychical predicates may be, I, like Leibniz, Peirce, Bergson, and many others, seem unable to understand.

The biggest difference between us, perhaps, is in method, in what we take as good evidence in philosophy, in our criteria for, or means of achieving, clarity, also in how we seek to learn from the history of philosophy, and in our views of the role of formal logic in metaphysics.

As example of all this, take the ontological argument. I have not used this argument as the way, or even as, by itself, a very good way, to justify belief in God. I have used it primarily to disprove certain assumptions about the nature of existential questions. I hold that Anselm discovered certain limits of empiricism. Observational facts cannot, as such, verify or falsify theism. It is a misunderstanding to suppose that we can conceive possible experiences that would contradict theism.

Weiss says that an idea cannot establish existence. If by idea he means a verbal definition or formula, I agree. But if by idea he means a formula whose coherent significance is known, then either it is the idea of a contingent existent, and then of course the idea does not guarantee existence, or it is the idea of a kind of thing that becomes contradictory or incoherent when taken as nonexistent, and then the only logically permissible conclusion is that it exists without possible alternative. In the case of theism, coherent conceivability is the same as existence. Aristotle said it: "With eternal things, to be and to be possible are the same." I am an Anselmian insofar as I am an Aristotelian or Peircean in theory of modality. My use of logical formalism in the ontological argument was to make clear the distinction between two assumptions of Anselm that depend on ideas, or meaning-postulates, other than logical constants and rules. I could then argue that one of these assumptions was valid if Aristotle, and many others besides Anselm, were right on the point mentioned above. I could give reasons for agreeing with them in this, and finally could draw the conclusion that the real weakness of Anselm’s position was that he not only gives no cogent reason for his other premise (that his definition of deity makes coherent sense) but that his argument itself can, as Findlay pointed out, be used to show the lack of coherence in the definition.

Very reasonably Weiss asks if the ontological argument does not apply to other ultimate abstractions besides deity? I have discussed this at length and have argued that it applies to all concepts on the same level of abstraction as deity. Hence it applies to the idea of nondivine reality as well as to divine reality, for the negation does not increase the concreteness, or introduce contingency. Hence though any particular world is contingent, world-as-such, some world or other, cannot be an empty, uninstantiated idea. However, world-as-such is not in the primary sense individual, but a necessarily non-empty class of individuals. Deity I interpret in the classical manner as not a class of individuals. Divine states I hold are indeed a necessarily nonempty class, but they are actual or possible states of one individual being, which I, but not Whitehead, interpret as a society -- a difficult point I admit. Deity is necessarily concretized somehow, but no multiplicity of divine individuals results. Nondivine reality is also necessarily concretized, but in a multiplicity of individuals or societies. Moreover, I interpret the contingency of divine states and of nondivine individuals by the same ultimate principle, which is the Leibnizian one of incompossibility -- applied, however, to God as Leibniz did not apply it. All concrete actuality is contingent; for it involves mutual incompatibility between positive alternatives, for example, green here-now or red here-now. God can have the one, or the other, in divinely prehended content, but not both.

In philosophy it is scarcely possible to overestimate the importance of ambiguity or the extent to which philosophical differences are verbal. Of course there are "natural individuals," unitary beings other than Whiteheadian actual entities. But how strict is the "unity" in question? If there is no qualification, then we are, in a crucial point, back with Leibniz. If there is qualification, just what is it? Today or yesterday I am largely the identical being, whose "identifying characteristic" (note the first word in this Whiteheadian formula) includes a certain birth eighty-four years ago, a certain body, not that of Paul Weiss or any person other than Charles Hartshorne), and above all a huge mass of largely unconscious but selectively accessible memories not those of any other person. We are not speaking of mere qualitative sameness of the person through change, but of numerical identity in much of the content prehended through memory and perception. Weiss is rightly thinking of the huge gap between Humean pluralism and what he sees as genetic identity; but he is thinking too little, I suggest, of the huge gap between his view and the Leibnizian one whose distinctive trait is its absolutization of genetic identity. He is subtly caricaturing the Whiteheadian-Hartshornean view of the individual, which, like his own, is intermediary between sheer oneness and sheer plurality in successive states of an individual.

The issue of individual identity arose in Buddhism, though differently than in European religions. The Hinayana was a radically pluralistic view of successive states of an individual; the Mahayana was also pluralistic in accepting the numerical multiplicity of states as more ultimate than personal identity, but with the understanding that there is a mysterious identity of all actualities whatsoever, transcending the difference between persons altogether. Leibniz thought the Mahayana view was comparable to his doctrine of monads (by divine selection) mirroring one another, although logically they "have no windows" or are wholly independent. No Buddhist had such a view. An individualistic pluralism, such as Europe has tended to have since Aristotle, the Buddhists deliberately avoided, except that the Hinayana in practice to some extent perhaps implied it by seeking salvation for self, with less stress on the Bodhisattva ideal of postponing complete Nirvana for self until all have attained it.

In Weiss’s series of contrasts between Whitehead’s and my idea of God, except for the first two phrases ("exists moment after moment, and . . . is a kind of society"), I would qualify every one of the contrasts, whether from my point of view or Whitehead’s. I do not simply deny eternal objects but limit them to categorial and mathematical abstractions, holding with Peirce, for example, that particular color qualities are emergents. I find a distinction in Whitehead’s theism as well as mine between "an abstract and an accidental dimension"; for me "the world," our world, is one among the many God prehends or will prehend, unless by "world" is meant the mere idea of the nondivine as such. I hold that God as consequent or concrete is indeed a ‘‘primordial creature" of primary creativity in whatever (somewhat ambiguous) sense Whitehead admits this creativity. Again I find in Whitehead the clear affirmation that God suffers with and loves the creatures, and (in aesthetic richness of content) is forever increasing, and in that sense getting better. I agree with Weiss that Whitehead and I do not regard "angry" as equally applicable to God as "loving." This may be partly temperamental. Human "righteous anger" has always been for me a dubious quality. I may have failed to think this question through. It certainly seems that if God can approve, God can disapprove, evaluate negatively. But if (human) love is blind, human hatred and anger are more so.

I am still farther from Weiss than Whitehead is in that I make God the finality, not one among others, Nature is what God knows as the present cosmic epoch in the creation of nondivine reality. The idea of deity as self-created goes back thousands of years in the Old World and many centuries in the New. What Whitehead adds is that nothing is merely self-created or merely created by others but always both. This, too, has been implicit in some older views.

I agree that only the complex individuals (i.e., societies) are able to be conscious, but I note the ambiguity of "and therefore to feel." Whatever is conscious feels, but "whatever feels is conscious" is valid only if the term "conscious" is used in the most general possible, and doubtfully useful, sense. An infant feels, but does it think to itself that it feels? Consciousness, as Whitehead and I use the term, is a special high-level case of sentience, not the universal case. That human beings are either conscious or (to their later memory at least) without feeling is because that is the human way (after infancy at least) of being sentient. It need not hold for all lower creatures.

I am especially pleased by Weiss’s noting that my philosophical theology is not the whole of my attempted contribution. In two of my books, one the earliest and the other almost the latest, there is no explicit mention of that or any other theology.

Another agreement I have with Weiss is that the Einsteinian or Whiteheadian conceptions of contemporaneity are not the whole story. But introducing a finality called Substance or Existence or Unity seems scarcely more than a verbal solution. I do agree that contemporary individuals interact, but I analyze this into a complex of one-way actions of each individual’s momentary states upon later states of the other. It is supposed to follow from quantum physics (Bell’s theorem) that not all influences are limited by the speed of light. The account of time in physics is an extremely difficult, controversial, technical subject. I am appalled by the difficulties.

What Weiss means by "privacy" as not necessarily psychical is perhaps to be related to Dewey’s contention that, although qualities as well as relations are everywhere, feeling or sensing need not be everywhere. Yet definite qualities are knowable only by sensing or feeling them. Shapes, say right-angled triangles, can be known by conceptual means, but mere concepts, apart from quite particular sensations or feelings, will not give us "blue." And I take experiences of pain or physical pleasure to exhibit in paradigm cases what Whitehead means by ‘‘feeling of feeling," which for Whitehead is what direct experience or prehension of concrete actualities universally is. My first book was in support of this idea. Weiss has suggested that this is my best book. It is certainly as original as any.

Well did Descartes say that in talking about pain we are discussing we know not what -- unless, I add, human pain is a human feeling of the feelings of subhuman bodily constituents -- a view that in Descartes’s time no one held. Descartes at least saw the problem. Pain is psychical but it is also physical, direct awareness of a bodily process. So is physical pleasure, a fact of which philosophers generally seem even less aware than they are of the similar status of pain. It is false that pain or pleasure tell us only of our own mental states. They tell us directly of bodily states. Doctors know this with respect to pain. Referred pain is no counterinstance. The bodily injury is always there, its spatial localization is a partly learned and fallible process involving more than one sense organ.

I close as I began by noting the high quality of this essay by Weiss. It does credit to both of us. I am deeply grateful.