Charles Hartshorne Biography


(Survey of World Philosophers)
0111207254-Hartshorne.jpg Charles Hartshorne (Center for Process Studies) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Article abstract: Hartshorne advanced the idea of process theology, which held that process or change was the basic characteristic of all beings, including God. This concept had a major influence on American Protestant theology.

Early Life

Charles Hartshorne’s father was an Episcopal clergyman, and his mother was the daughter of an Episcopal clergyman. Hartshorne began his college education at the Pennsylvania Quaker college Haverford, from which his father had graduated, spent 1917-1919 in the U.S. Army, and then went to Harvard. At Harvard, he studied with R. B. Perry, W. E. Hocking, and C. I. Lewis and wrote a dissertation on “the unity of all things in God.” He spent 1923-1925 as a postdoctoral student in Europe, where he attended lectures by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, then became a Harvard instructor and research fellow during the years 1925-1928. He taught at the University of Chicago from 1928 to 1955, where he was a colleague of Rudolf Carnap and Richard McKeon. He was part of the faculty of Emory University in Atlanta from 1955 to 1962 and the University of Texas in Austin from 1962 to his retirement in 1978. He continued lecturing and writing after his retirement and was the subject of a volume in the Library of Living Philosophers, the prestigious series founded by Paul Arthur Schilpp.

Life’s Work

Influenced most by the logician and metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead, as well as by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and Charles Sanders Peirce, Hartshorne developed his own variety of process philosophy. In this complex and wide-ranging system, the theory of reality is a version of idealism that is similar to many Buddhist traditions in its fundamental metaphysical stance. It posits momentary entities as the ultimate constituents of the world. However, Hartshorne’s view is unlike Buddhism because Hartshorne claims that the existence of God is a logical necessity.

Under mind-body dualism, minds are self-conscious beings and bodies are spatially extended beings. No thing can be both essentially self-conscious (as are minds) and essentially non-self-conscious (as are bodies). Minds and bodies interact. Under materialism, however, there are spatially extended things and no other kind of things. Minds are simply capacities of more complicated physical organisms. No issue of interaction arises.

Hartshorne partly reverses materialism. A materialist holds that every mental state is identical to a physical state. For Hartshorne, however, what are commonly called material states are mental states, or at least like them. A materialist also holds that many material states are not identical to any mental states at all; a large number of states are not mental in any sense or to any degree, which rules out, the materialist holds, any chance of reducing matter to mind.

Hartshorne rejected the idea that many material states cannot plausibly be thought of as mental rests because of his views concerning the fundamental constituents of the world. The basic or simple entities, he holds, are active items; anything inert is composite. These active basic entities are not perceptible as simple things because no simple item can be sensed; only composites are perceptible in the sense of being observed by sight, taste, touch, hearing, or smelling. Hartshorne holds that to be active is to be mental, to some degree and in some manner. Simple active entities are experiences or like experiences. Only in the case of our experiences are individual entities available to observation—to introspection, not sense perception.

Typically, mind-body dualists and materialists agree that however many kinds of items there are, the items there are kinds of are substances. A substance possesses qualities but is not itself a quality; it can, and typically does, endure through time and remains the same despite change of its nonessential qualities. Trees and persons are substances. Hartshorne denies that there are any substances; what appear to be substances are merely collections of simple active entities. His view, then, is not dualism or materialism, but idealism. It is not like Bishop George Berkeley’s idealism, for which (roughly) to exist is to be either a mind or a thought in a mind. It is an idealism for which to exist is either to be a simple item that is somehow and to some degree an experience or feeling, or to be a composite of such simple items. Minds for Hartshorne do not have but are composed of ideas.

According to Hartshorne, then, the ultimate constituents of reality are momentary concrete events, each being to some degree an experience. He holds that there are no positive properties that can be ascribed to material events that cannot be properly ascribed to mental events, and his view is idealistic rather than materialist or dualistic. His form of idealism, however, is one for which conscious and self-conscious beings are conceived of as made up of momentary experiences. In his process theory of reality, processes are composed of one momentary event after another. In a substance theory of reality, an event is simply an enduring substance coming to have a property it...

(The entire section is 2134 words.)