Charles Hartshorne

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Hartshorne, Charles (5 June 1897 - 9 October 2000)

Harsthorne was born in Kittanning, Pennsylvania, the son of Francis Cope and Marguerite (Haughton) Hartshorne. He was a student at Haverford College (1915-1917), received his A.B. from Harvard in 1921, his A.M. in 1922, and his Ph. D. in 1923. Afterwards, he did postgraduate work at the University of Freiburg (Germany) 1923-1925) and the University of Marburg (1925).

During World War I, he served in the U. S. Army 1917-1919. He married Dorothy Eleanore Cooper on 22 December 1928, and they had one daughter, Emily Lawrence (Mrs. Nicolas D. Goodman).

An instructor in philosophy and then research fellow at Harvard, Hartshorne later taught philosophy at the University of Chicago, Emory University, and the University of Texas. He also taught at Stanford; the New School for Social Research in New York City; Goethe University in Frankfort; Banaras Hindu U in Varanasi, India.

Those who knew him well knew of his intense interest in birdsong, for he was an ornithologist, the author of Born to Sing: An Interpretation and World Survey of Bird Song (1973).

Said to be one of the most influential students in our day of Alfred North Whitehead and a leader of the school of process philosophy, he also was a force in the rising philosophical stature of Charles Sanders Peirce. Hartshorne’s idea of “God” flows from two basic premises of process philosophy as most systematically elaborated by Whitehead: a conception of the universe in terms of becoming rather than being, and an insistence on the social nature of every aspect of reality. In process philosophy, God is a participant in cosmic evolution. As Hartshorne rendered his idea of God, it is one of religious value as well as philosophical consistency, one summarized by philosopher Peter H. Hare as “a temporal society of experiential occasions.”

His Beyond Humanism: Essays in the New Philosophy of Nature (1937) envisioned a new philosophic movement, one that would progress and be a “genuine integration (for the first time) of all the modern motifs” of humanism, one for which a specific name, not humanism, would eventually arise. He also wrote The Divine Relativity: A Social Conception of God (1948) and Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes (1984).

Panentheism

Asked in 1946 by former student Warren Allen Smith to comment on the word “panentheism,” Hartshorne wrote:

  • It’s too bad that I can’t recall where it was that I learned the word panentheism. I didn’t coin it, and for a good while after I first heard it I was accustomed to think it a rather foolish thing. But the more I thought about the problem of theism and pantheism the more I came to think a third term was needed, and “all in God” does seem to suggest that God is more than a mere totality of ordinary things, which would be compatible with “all is God.” So I began using it. Since then I read somewhere about a use of the word going back a good while and wondered if that wasn’t the earliest, but now I forget the reference. V. Ferm has a definition in the Dictionary of Philosophy, but it is less definite than I think one needs to be. And he doesn’t go into the history of the thing at all.

In Hartshorne’s 1946 metaphysics class at the University of Chicago, Smith was nonplused by the elaborateness of Professor Hartshorne’s professing. Wrote Smith,

  • At the nearby Unitarian society which we both attended, Hartshorne was invited to speak to students interested in humanism, naturalism, or John Dewey, which he declined to do. Meanwhile, it was difficult to bring up anything but metaphysics in class. On the final day, when he asked the class to extrapolate as to the possible benefit metaphysics would be in our future, several students were exuberant and particularly praised his explanation of the difference between pantheism and panentheism. When it came my turn, I simply replied, “None.” He laughed in the friendliest fashion, along with the class, knowing previously of my interest in naturalism. What I had not revealed to him, however, was my ignorance in being unable to follow his line of reasoning. Somehow I felt this was a personal deficiency upon my part and concluded that philosophy was not to be a part of my future, whereupon I switched my major from philosophy to literature, not even knowing at that time that there was a school of logical positivists who, like me, denied the validity of metaphysical assertions. Pantheism, however, has remained an interest, for which Hartshorne gets all the credit, although it still remains something of a mystery how any person as superior in intelligence as Dr. Hartshorne could possibly have chosen to spend his entire lifetime developing such metaphysical minutiae, i.e., panentheism, with such apparent relish. He likely viewed those with a converse view in similar fashion.

God, According to Hartshorne

Hartshorne wrote a definitive article about God in An Encyclopedia of Religion, edited in 1945 by Vergilius Ferm.

A Biography by Donald Wayne Viney

Donald Wayne Viney wrote a biography of Hartshorne that was published in American Philosophers Before 1950, that is found at the Harvard Square Library.

A Bibliography by Dorothy C. Hartshorne

Dorothy C. Hartshorne, his wife, compiled a primary bibliography of her husband's works.


(Marcus Borg of Oregon State University claims Hartshorne is a panentheist, one who believes that everything is in God, that he is not a pantheist who believes that everything is God. Borg is an Episcopalian. As for Hartshorne’s inability to recall where he learned the word "pantheism,” see the entry for Karl Krause, who used the word in the 1830s.)