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


Charles Hartshorne has become the most forceful and convincing interpreter of Whitehead, and to him belongs principal credit for shaping the influence of process philosophy upon contemporary philosophical theology.


After joining the faculty in philosophy at Harvard University in 1925, where he began editing the collected papers of C. S. Peirce, Charles Hartshorne also served as an assistant to Alfred North Whitehead. "I am becoming a Whiteheadian without ceasing to be a Peircean," he once said to Whitehead. Subsequently, Hartshorne became the most forceful and convincing interpreter of Whitehead, and to him belongs principal credit for shaping the influence of process philosophy upon contemporary philosophical theology. But Hartshorne pursued this course because he found in Whitehead’s thought the most systematic formulation of convictions at which he had previously arrived, in some cases with the help of Peirce. Accordingly, his intellectual adventure has been, above all, one of philosophical construction, appropriating Whitehead and Peirce especially for his own metaphysical statement. In the Preface to an early volume, Hartshorne wrote: ‘To the mountainous -- I had almost said monstrous -- mass of writing devoted to ‘philosophical theology,’ what can there be to add? I answer simply, if without apparent modesty, there is exactitude, logical rigor." More than anyone else in this century, Charles Hartshorne has fulfilled this commission and, in doing so, has presented a comprehensive proposal which merits an assessment equally thorough and rigorous.

This volume is designed to honor Hartshorne’s achievement by contributing to that assessment. Most of the essays included were originally presented at a conference on his thought held at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago in 1981. In 1928, Charles Hartshorne left Harvard to join the faculty of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago; in 1943, he was jointly appointed to the faculty of the Divinity School and thereby to the Federated Theological Faculty, which also served Chicago Theological Seminary, Disciples Divinity House, and Meadville Theological Seminary, and he held this joint appointment until leaving Chicago in 1955. Thus, the Department of Philosophy, the Divinity School, and these other theological institutions collaborated with the Center for Process Studies, Claremont, California, in sponsoring the 1981 conference, At an opening banquet, Hartshorne himself was the featured speaker, and his autobiographical remarks on that occasion, "How I Got That Way," are included as the initial presentation in this volume.

The ordering of the essays that follow is not important to a reading of them. On the one hand, each is written as a more or less independent discussion with Hartshorne. On the other hand, precisely because coherence is, for Hartshorne, a criterion of adequate metaphysical formulation, a discussion of any one aspect of his thought implies comments upon his philosophy as a whole. For both reasons, then, one may without loss read in the volume as one prefers. Nonetheless, a broad pattern informs the organization. An opening essay on Hartshorne’s methodology is followed by eight others: the initial four focus in one fashion or another on Hartshorne’s discussion of theism and the latter four attend to other aspects and implications of his thought. In this way, the volume is designed to affirm Hartshorne’s contributions to the wider metaphysical enterprise even while it recognizes his chief interest, philosophical theology.

At the conference in his honor, Hartshorne responded to each paper. These replies, together with similar replies to those papers not read at the conference itself, are also included herein, the reply to each essay directly following it. As a consequence, these pages display Hartshorne reflecting at considerable length upon his own proposal in light of interpretations and criticisms offered. It is for this reason that the volume is subtitled "Conversations with Charles Hartshorne." The volume’s title was suggested by a comment included in Hartshorne’s response to the essay by R. M. Martin. Perhaps no other single claim better summarizes the constructive metaphysics which Hartshorne has advanced than his distinction between existence and actuality, upon which rests, among other things, his formulation and defense of neoclassical theism. "I rather hope," Hartshorne comments, "to be remembered for this distinction." The future of philosophy will be its own judge of Hartshorne’s most original contributions. But his colleagues and students who have written here are persuaded that he belongs to that small class of philosophers who merit enduring attention and appreciation within the philosophic adventure. It is, therefore, our privilege to recommend him to his successors. In doing so, we also intend to express our profound gratitude and respect to Charles Hartshorne.

We also gratefully remember two of the participants in these conversations, Eugene H. Peters and George Wolf, who died in 1983.

John B. Cobb, Jr.

Franklin I. Gamwell