Charles Hartshorne

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Charles Hartshorne
Charles Hartshorne.png
Portrait of Charles Hartshorne circa 1990
Born(1897-06-05)June 5, 1897
DiedOctober 9, 2000(2000-10-09) (aged 103)
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Process philosophy
Main interests
Metaphysics, Philosophy of religion
Notable ideas
Process theology
Modal proof of the existence of God

Charles Hartshorne ( /ˈhɑːrtsˌhɔːrn/ ; June 5, 1897 – October 9, 2000) was an American philosopher who concentrated primarily on the philosophy of religion and metaphysics, but also contributed to ornithology. He developed the neoclassical idea of God and produced a modal proof of the existence of God that was a development of St. Anselm's ontological argument. Hartshorne is also noted for developing Alfred North Whitehead's process philosophy into process theology.

Philosophy of religion is "the philosophical examination of the central themes and concepts involved in religious traditions". Philosophical discussions on such topics date from ancient times, and appear in the earliest known texts concerning philosophy. The field is related to many other branches of philosophy, including metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics.

Metaphysics Branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of reality

Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that examines the fundamental nature of reality, including the relationship between mind and matter, between substance and attribute, and between potentiality and actuality. The word "metaphysics" comes from two Greek words that, together, literally mean "after or behind or among [the study of] the natural". It has been suggested that the term might have been coined by a first century CE editor who assembled various small selections of Aristotle’s works into the treatise we now know by the name Metaphysics.

God the supreme being, creator deity, and principal object of faith in monotheism

In monotheistic thought, God is conceived of as the supreme being, creator deity, and principal object of faith. God is usually conceived as being omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (all-present) and as having an eternal and necessary existence. These attributes are used either in way of analogy or are taken literally. God is most often held to be incorporeal (immaterial). Incorporeality and corporeality of God are related to conceptions of transcendence and immanence of God, with positions of synthesis such as the "immanent transcendence".


Early life and education

Hartshorne (pronounced harts-horn) was born in Kittanning, Pennsylvania, and was a son of Reverend Francis Cope Hartshorne (October 4, 1868 - April 16, 1950) and Marguerite Haughton (September 6, 1868 - November 4, 1959), who were married on April 25, 1895 in Bryn Mawr, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Rev. F. C. Hartshorne, who was a minister in the Protestant Episcopal Church, was rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Kittanning from 1897-1909, then rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania for 19 years (from 1909-1928). After resigning from the ministry in late 1927 or early 1928, within a few years Francis was appointed pension fund manager of the Protestant Episcopal Diocese of Philadelphia.

Kittanning, Pennsylvania Borough in Pennsylvania, United States

Kittanning is a borough and the county seat of Armstrong County in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. It is situated 44 miles (71 km) northeast of Pittsburgh, along the east bank of the Allegheny River.

Among Charles' brothers was the prominent geographer Richard Hartshorne.

Richard Hartshorne was a prominent American geographer, and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who specialized in economic and political geography and the philosophy of geography. He is known in particular for his methodological work The Nature of Geography, published in 1939.

Charles attended Haverford College between 1915–17, but then spent two years as a hospital orderly serving in the US Army. He then studied at Harvard University, where he earned the B.A. (1921), M.A. (1922) and PhD (1923) degrees. His doctoral dissertation was on "The Unity of Being". He obtained all three degrees in only four years, an accomplishment believed unique in Harvard's history.

Haverford College college in Pennsylvania

Haverford College is a private liberal arts college in Haverford, Pennsylvania. All students of the college are undergraduates and nearly all reside on campus. The college was founded in 1833 by area members of the Orthodox Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) to ensure an education grounded in Quaker values for young Quaker men. Although the college no longer has a formal religious affiliation, Quaker philosophy still influences campus life.

Harvard University Private research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with about 6,700 undergraduate students and about 15,250 postgraduate students. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor, clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning. Its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world's most prestigious universities.

From 1923-25 Hartshorne pursued further studies in Europe. He attended the University of Freiburg, where he studied under the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl, and also the University of Marburg, where he studied under Martin Heidegger. He then returned to Harvard University as a research fellow from 1925–28, where he and Paul Weiss edited the Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce v. 1–6 and spent a semester assisting Alfred North Whitehead.

University of Freiburg Public research university in Freiburg, Germany

The University of Freiburg, officially the Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg, is a public research university located in Freiburg im Breisgau, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. The university was founded in 1457 by the Habsburg dynasty as the second university in Austrian-Habsburg territory after the University of Vienna. Today, Freiburg is the fifth-oldest university in Germany, with a long tradition of teaching the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. The university is made up of 11 faculties and attracts students from across Germany as well as from over 120 other countries. Foreign students constitute about 18.2% of total student numbers.

Edmund Husserl German philosopher, known as the father of phenomenology

Edmund Gustav Albrecht Husserl was a German philosopher who established the school of phenomenology. In his early work, he elaborated critiques of historicism and of psychologism in logic based on analyses of intentionality. In his mature work, he sought to develop a systematic foundational science based on the so-called phenomenological reduction. Arguing that transcendental consciousness sets the limits of all possible knowledge, Husserl redefined phenomenology as a transcendental-idealist philosophy. Husserl's thought profoundly influenced the landscape of 20th-century philosophy, and he remains a notable figure in contemporary philosophy and beyond.

University of Marburg German university

The Philipps University of Marburg was founded in 1527 by Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse, which makes it one of Germany's oldest universities and the oldest Protestant university in the world. It is now a public university of the state of Hesse, without religious affiliation. The University of Marburg has about 25,000 students and 7,500 employees and is located in Marburg, a town of 72,000 inhabitants, with university buildings dotted in or around the town centre. About 12 per cent of the students are international, the highest percentage in Hesse. It offers an International summer university programme and offers student exchanges through the Erasmus programme.


After Hartshorne worked at Harvard University, he became a professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago (1928–1955), and was also a member of the University's Federated Theological Faculty (1943–1955). He then taught at Emory University (1955–62), followed by the University of Texas (1962–retirement). He published his last article at age 96 and delivered his last lecture at 98. [1]

University of Chicago Private research university in Chicago, Illinois, United States

The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois. Founded in 1890, the school is located on a 217-acre campus in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, near Lake Michigan. The University of Chicago holds top-ten positions in various national and international rankings.

Emory University private research university in Druid Hills, Georgia, United States

Emory University is a private research university in Atlanta, in the U.S. state of Georgia. The university was founded as Emory College in 1836 in Oxford, Georgia, by the Methodist Episcopal Church and was named in honor of Methodist bishop John Emory. In 1915, Emory College moved to its present location in Druid Hills and was rechartered as Emory University. Emory maintained a presence in Oxford that eventually became Oxford College, a residential liberal arts college for the first two years of the Emory baccalaureate degree. The university is the second-oldest private institution of higher education in Georgia and among the fifty oldest private universities in the United States.

University of Texas at Austin public research university in Austin, Texas, United States

The University of Texas at Austin is a public research university in Austin, Texas. It was founded in 1883 and is the flagship institution of the University of Texas System. The University of Texas was inducted into the Association of American Universities in 1929, becoming only the third university in the American South to be elected. The institution has the nation's eighth-largest single-campus enrollment, with over 50,000 undergraduate and graduate students and over 24,000 faculty and staff.

In addition to his long teaching career at the previous three universities, Hartshorne was also appointed as a special lecturer or visiting professor at Stanford University, the University of Washington, Yale University, the University of Frankfurt, the University of Melbourne and Kyoto University. He served as president of the Metaphysical Society of America in 1955. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1975. [2]

Intellectual influences

Hartshorne acknowledged that he was greatly influenced by Matthew Arnold (Literature and Dogma), Emerson's Essays, Charles Sanders Peirce, and especially by Alfred North Whitehead. [3] Rufus Jones was his Haverford teacher and continuing mentor. He also found inspiration in the works of Josiah Royce (Problem of Christianity), William James, Henri Bergson, Ralph Barton Perry and Nikolai Berdyaev. He conducted a lengthy correspondence over some twenty-three years with Edgar S. Brightman of Boston University about their respective philosophical and theological views.

In turn Hartshorne has been a seminal influence on the theologians Matthew Fox, Daniel Day Williams, Norman Pittenger, Gregory A. Boyd, Schubert M. Ogden (born March 2, 1928) and John B. Cobb, on the American philosophers Frank Ebersole and Daniel Dombrowski, and on the Australian biologist-futurologist Charles Birch.

Philosophy and theology

The intellectual movement with which Hartshorne is associated is generally referred to as process philosophy and the related area of process theology. The roots of process thinking in Western philosophy can be found in the Greek Heraclitus and in Eastern philosophy in Buddhism. Contemporary process philosophy arose in large measure from the work of Alfred North Whitehead, but with important contributions by William James, Charles Peirce, and Henri Bergson, while Hartshorne is identified as the seminal influence on process theology that emerged after World War Two.

The key motifs of process philosophy are: empiricism, relationalism, process, and events.

The motif of empiricism in process thought refers to the theme that experience is the realm for defining meaning and verifying any theory of reality. Unlike classical empiricism, process thought takes the category of feeling beyond just the human senses of perception. Experiences are not confined to sense perception or consciousness, and there are pre-sensual, pre-conscious experiences from which consciousness and perception derive.

The motif of relationalism refers to both experiences and relationships. Humans experience things and also experience the relationship between things. The motif of process means that all time, history and change are in a dynamic evolutionary process. The final motif of events refers to all the units (organic and inorganic) of the world.

While Hartshorne acknowledges the importance of Whitehead on his own ideas, many of the elements of his philosophy are evident in his dissertation, written in 1923, prior to his encounter with Whitehead. Moreover, Hartshorne was not always in agreement with Whitehead, especially on the nature of possibility. Whitehead construed the realm of possibilities in terms of what he called Eternal Objects. Hartshorne was never happy with this way of speaking and followed Peirce in thinking of the realm of possibility as a continuum which, by definition, has no least member and which can be "cut" in infinitely many ways. Definite qualities, for example, a particular shade of blue, emerge in the creative process.

Another difference between Whitehead and Hartshorne is that the Englishman usually spoke of God as a single actual entity whereas Hartshorne thought it better to think of God as a personally ordered series of actual entities, each exhibiting the abstract character of divinity, as necessarily supreme in love, knowledge and power. In Hartshorne's process theology God and the world exist in a dynamic, changing relationship. God is a 'di-polar' deity. By this Hartshorne meant that God has both abstract and concrete poles. The abstract pole refers to those elements within God that never vary, such as God's self-identity, while the concrete pole refers to the organic growth in God's perfect knowledge of the world as the world itself develops and changes. Hartshorne did not accept the classical theistic claim of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing), and instead held to creatio ex materia (creation out of pre-existent material), although this is not an expression he used.

One of the technical terms Hartshorne used is pan-en-theism, originally coined by Karl Christian Friedrich Krause in 1828. Panentheism (all is in God) must be differentiated from Classical pantheism (all is God). In Hartshorne's theology God is not identical with the world, but God is also not completely independent from the world. God has his self-identity that transcends the universe, but the world is also contained within God. A rough analogy is the relationship between a mother and a fetus. The mother has her own identity and is different from the unborn, yet is intimately connected to the unborn. The unborn is within the womb and attached to the mother via the umbilical cord.

Hartshorne reworked the ontological argument for God's existence as promulgated by Anselm. In Anselm's formula, "God is that than which no greater can be conceived." Anselm's argument used the concept of perfection. While Hartshorne believed that his reformulated ontological argument is sound, he never claimed that it was sufficient unto itself to establish the existence of God. Throughout his career, from the time of his dissertation, he relied upon a multiple argument strategy, commonly called a cumulative case, to establish the rationality of his di-polar theism.

Hartshorne accepts that, by definition, God is perfect. However, he maintains that classical theism, be it Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, has held to a self-contradictory notion of perfection. He argues that the classical concept of a deity for which all potentialities are actualized fails. Hartshorne posited that God's existence is necessary and is compatible with any events in the world. In the economy of his argument Hartshorne has attempted to break a perceived stalemate in theology over the problem of evil and God's omnipotence. For Hartshorne, perfection means that God cannot be surpassed in his social relatedness to every creature. God is capable of surpassing himself by growing and changing in his knowledge and feeling for the world.

Hartshorne acknowledged a God capable of change, as is consistent with pandeism, but early on he specifically rejected both deism and pandeism in favor of panentheism, writing that "panentheistic doctrine contains all of deism and pandeism except their arbitrary negations". [4]

Hartshorne did not believe in the immortality of human souls as identities separate from God, but explained that all the beauty created in a person's life will exist for ever in the reality of God. This can be understood in a way reminiscent of Hinduism, or perhaps Buddhism's Sunyata (emptiness) ontology [ dubious ] namely that a person's identity is extinguished in one's ultimate union with God, but that a person's life within God is eternal. Hartshorne regularly attended services at several Unitarian Universalist churches, and joined the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Austin, Texas. [5]


Hartshorne's philosophical and theological views have received criticism from many different quarters. Positive criticism has underscored that Hartshorne's emphasis on change and process and creativity has acted as a great corrective to static thinking about causal laws and determinism. Several commentators affirm that his position offers metaphysical coherence by providing a coherent set of concepts.

Others indicate that Hartshorne has quite properly placed a valuable emphasis on appreciating nature (even evidenced in Hartshorne's hobby for bird-watching). His emphasis on nature and human-divine relationships to the world has goaded reflective work on developing theologies about pollution, resource degradation and a philosophy of ecology. Allied to this has been Hartshorne's emphasis on aesthetics and beauty. In his system of thought science and theology achieve some integration as science and theology provide data for each other.

Hartshorne has also been an important figure in upholding natural theology, and in offering an understanding of God as a personal, dynamic being. It is accepted by many philosophers that Hartshorne made the idea of perfection rationally conceivable, and so his contribution to the ontological argument is deemed to be valuable for modern philosophical discussion.

It has been said that Hartshorne has placed an interesting emphasis on affirming that the God who loves the creation also endures suffering. In his theological thought the centrality of love is very strong, particularly in his interpretation of God, nature and all living creatures. Hartshorne is also appreciated for his philosophical interest in Buddhism, and in stimulating others in new approaches to inter-religious co-operation and dialogue.

Langdon Gilkey questioned Hartshorne's assumptions about human reasoning experiences. Gilkey pointed out that Hartshorne assumes there is an objective or rational structure to the whole universe, and he then assumes that human thought can acquire accurate and adequate knowledge of the universe.

In Hartshorne's theology there is no literal first event in the universe, and the universe is thus regarded as an actually infinite reality. This has led some to point out that as Hartshorne has emphasized that every event has been partly determined by previous events, his thought is susceptible to the fallacy of the infinite regress.

Other critics question the adequacy of panentheism. The point of tension in Hartshorne's theology is whether God is really worthy of worship since God needs the world in order to be a complete being. Traditional theism posits that God is a complete being before the creation of the world. Others find that his argument about God's perfection is flawed by confusing existential necessity with logical necessity.

In classical Protestant and Evangelical thought, Hartshorne's theology has received strong criticism. In these theological networks Hartshorne's panentheist reinterpretation of God's nature has been deemed to be incompatible with Biblical revelation and the classic creedal formulations of the Trinity. Critics such as Royce Gordon Gruenler (born January 10, 1930), Ronald Nash and Norman Geisler argue that Hartshorne does not offer a tripersonal view of the Trinity, and instead his interpretation of Christ (Christology) has some affinities with the early heresy of the Ebionites. It is also argued that Hartshorne's theology entails a denial of divine foreknowledge and predestination to salvation. Hartshorne is also criticized for his denial or devaluing of Christ's miracles and the supernatural events mentioned in the Bible.

Other criticisms are that Hartshorne gives little attention to the classical theological concepts of God's holiness, and that the awe of God is an undeveloped element in his writings. Alan Wayne Gragg (born July 17, 1932) criticizes Hartshorne's highly optimistic view of humanity, and hence its lack of emphasis on human depravity, guilt and sin. Allied to these criticisms is the assertion that Hartshorne over-emphasizes aesthetics and is correspondingly weak on ethics and morality. Others have indicated that Hartshorne failed to understand traditional Christian views about petitionary prayer and survival of the individual in the afterlife.


See also

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Panentheism is the belief that the divine pervades and interpenetrates every part of the universe and also extends beyond space and time. The term was coined by the German philosopher Karl Krause in 1828 to distinguish the ideas of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775–1854) about the relation of God and the universe from the supposed pantheism of Baruch Spinoza. Unlike pantheism, which holds that the divine and the universe are identical, panentheism maintains an ontological distinction between the divine and the non-divine and the significance of both.

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  1. Douglas Martin, "Charles Hartshorne, Theologian, Is Dead; Proponent of an Activist God Was 103," The New York Times , October 13, 2000.
  2. "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter H" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 7 April 2011.
  3. Cf. Michel Weber and Will Desmond (eds.). Handbook of Whiteheadian Process Thought (Frankfurt / Lancaster, Ontos Verlag, Process Thought X1 & X2, 2008) and Ronny Desmet & Michel Weber (edited by), Whitehead. The Algebra of Metaphysics. Applied Process Metaphysics Summer Institute Memorandum , Louvain-la-Neuve, Les Éditions Chromatika, 2010.
  4. Charles Hartshorne, Man's Vision of God and the Logic of Theism (1964), p. 348, ISBN   0-208-00498-X
  5. "Charles Hartshorne". Unitarian Universalist Association. Archived from the original on 2011-07-23. Retrieved 2007-03-14.


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