Charles Hartshorne (1897–2000)

1. Brief Vita

Charles Hartshorne (pronounced “hart’s horn”) was born in Kittanning, Pennsylvania on June 5, 1897, the second of six children and the eldest son of Frances Cope Hartshorne (1868-1950) and Marguerite Haughton Hartshorne (1868-1959). Educated at Yeates Boarding School (1911-1915) and Haverford College (1915-1917), he served as a volunteer in the Army Medical Corps in France during the Great War (1917-1918). Upon his return he completed the Ph.D. in Philosophy at Harvard University in 1923.

Hartshorne spent two years (1924-1925) as a Sheldon Traveling Fellow in Europe where he attended lectures by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. Returning to Harvard, Hartshorne was awarded Junior Faculty status and given the assignment to edit the papers of C. S. Peirce; he was later joined by Paul Weiss. The six volumes of Peirce’s Collected Papers that were edited by Hartshorne and Weiss were published from 1931 to 1935. Hartshorne was also assigned to be Whitehead’s assistant. He was therewith exposed to the two most important influences on his mature thinking. He later said that during these years, and for some years thereafter, he considered himself both Peircean and Whiteheadian, “in each case with reservations” (1970b, 216).

In 1928 Hartshorne joined the Philosophy Department at the University of Chicago; beginning in 1947 he held a joint appointment in the Meadville Theological School. The year of his arrival in Chicago he married Dorothy Eleonore Cooper (1904-1995). The Hartshorne’s only child, Emily, was born in 1940. In 1955 the family moved to Atlanta, Georgia where Hartshorne taught at Emory University. In 1962 they went to the University of Texas where Hartshorne became Ashbel Smith Professor of Philosophy. He retired in 1978 but continued to teach part-time for several years. Also of note is his major study in ornithology, Born to Sing: An Interpretation and World Survey of Bird Song (Indiana University Press, 1973). Hartshorne died in his sleep at his home in Austin on October 9, 2000.

2. Hartshorne’s Encounter with Whitehead

Hartshorne’s dissertation includes a quote from Concept of Nature and a brief discussion of congruence and coincidence from An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge (1923, 173-79), but Whitehead was not a major influence on him until 1925. Whitehead had been at Harvard for a year when Hartshorne returned from his European travels. Thus, the two met just as Whitehead was developing the process metaphysics with which his name is associated. When Hartshorne left for Chicago, Whitehead’s Process and Reality had yet to be written. Hartshorne’s notes for Whitehead’s 1925-26 Harvard lectures offer a rare glimpse into the genesis of Whitehead’s mature metaphysics (Hartshorne 2001).

That Hartshorne realized Whitehead’s importance is evident from his review of Symbolism (1927). He speaks of an “intellectual revolution” in metaphysics of which Peirce and Whitehead are the chief representatives. He singled out as their special contributions, the concepts of matter as living energy akin to human experience, causes as conditioning but not fully determining their effects, and time as asymmetrical becoming that is intrinsic to both matter and causation. It is clear that he already shared Whitehead’s view that experience is not synonymous with conscious, or even human, experience. Hartshorne offered two pieces of constructive criticism. First, greater clarity would be gained in the idea of the present conforming to the past if “sympathetic rapport” in social influence were as metaphysically basic as time. Second, sense data (associated with presentational immediacy) are no less infused with emotional coloring than are the feelings we have of our bodies and the environment (causal efficacy). These ideas figure prominently in Hartshorne’s first book in which he argues that sensory qualities lie along an “‘affective continuum’ of aesthetically meaningful, socially expressive, organically adaptive and evolving experience functions” (1934, 9).

Whether Whitehead read the review of Symbolism is uncertain—a letter of January 2, 1936 indicates that he stayed abreast of the American’s publications (Whitehead 1990). The expression of his views, however, moved in the directions that Hartshorne had suggested. In Science and the Modern World, the prehensive character of space-time is contrasted with simply located bits of matter. A prehension is an “apprehension which may or may not be cognitive” (SMW, 69). Only in Process and Reality, written between the summer of 1927 and the spring of 1928, does Whitehead explicitly wed the concept of prehension to that of feeling. Whitehead echoes the language of Hartshorne’s review by speaking of sympathy—feeling the feeling in another—as the primitive element in experience. Finally, Whitehead adopts Hartshorne’s second suggestion when he writes “The separation of the emotional experience from the presentational intuition is a high abstraction of thought” (PR 162-63).

Whether Whitehead’s augmented notions of prehension and presentational immediacy were responses to Hartshorne may be impossible to determine. Hartshorne never claimed to have influenced the development of Whitehead’s philosophy; but Whitehead was clearly the greatest influence on Hartshorne’s philosophical development. Nevertheless, the trajectory of Hartshorne’s thought is evident in his dissertation. As he would do throughout his career, he used the strategy of cumulative argument to show that God is the supreme instance of value, conceived as social and as inclusive of all creatures. Since divine power is relational, it is a contradiction to suppose that God determines all; freedom and choice are features of any consistently thinkable world (1923, 251, 253). Hartshorne advocated the reality of internal and external relations; curiously, he left unsettled the question whether the future is open, even for God (1923, 184, 301). He later reported that W. E. Hocking convinced him, prior to the dissertation, that an objection he raised to the temporality of God was ill-founded (1984, 155). An unequivocal doctrine of divine temporality became central to Hartshorne’s philosophy (Shields and Viney, 2003).

In retrospect, Hartshorne described the dissertation as a “best forgotten form of process philosophy” (1984, 103). He never published a page of it. Whitehead helped Hartshorne to sharpen his philosophy and provided him with a clearer technical vocabulary in which to express it. An event ontology plays no part in Hartshorne’s earlier reasoning, but he eventually embraced Whitehead’s epochal cumulative view of becoming as the clearest rendering of internal and external relations. He was fond of quoting Whitehead’s “The many become one and are increased by one” (PR 21). Whereas Whitehead spoke of actual entities, Hartshorne sometimes preferred the expression “dynamic singulars,” but he agreed that every concrete particular is dipolar, with physical and mental aspects. The idea that thought and reality express pairs of polar contrasts—particular/universal, necessary/contingent, actual/possible—became a hallmark of Hartshorne’s philosophy. For this “principle of polarity” he gave credit to Morris Cohen’s 1931 book Reason and Nature (1941, 138; 1990, 341).

Whitehead argued, using a variation of Zeno’s reasoning, that there is a becoming of continuity but no continuity of becoming (PR 35, 68-69). Hartshorne accepted Whitehead’s conclusion but he preferred an argument of Georg Henrik von Wright, presented in Time, Change and Contradiction (1968): if becoming is continuous, then either moments of zero duration have definite characteristics or some temporally thick processes have contradictory characteristics. With von Wright, Hartshorne rejected both disjuncts of the consequent; it follows that becoming is not continuous (1989, 74). While Hartshorne arrived at Whitehead’s conclusion by a different avenue, he called Whitehead’s talk of the earlier and later phases of concrescence within an actual entity “metaphorical” (1977, 273).

Hartshorne reserved his highest praise for Whitehead’s mature concept of prehension. He called it “one of the most original, central, lucid proposals ever offered in metaphysics” (1984, 109). Prior to exposure to Whitehead, Hartshorne had concluded that the most concrete bonds among dynamic singulars are affective, and we have seen that Whitehead eventually expressed himself in these terms. What impressed Hartshorne most is that prehension brings under a single generalization perception—including memory—and causation. If B prehends A, then A is perceived by B and is partial cause of B. Again, internal and external relations are preserved: B is internally related to A (for it is partly defined by its prehension of A) but A is externally related to B (for A would be itself whether or not prehended by B). The clearest illustration in human experience is memory, where the present experience includes its immediate past as a recent memory—one feeling that feels another; yet the immediately past experience can be itself whether or not it is followed by the experience that remembers it. Hartshorne called memory the psychical analogue of tree rings, for the rings reveal the tree’s past (1981, 5).

Hartshorne adopted Whitehead’s notion of a society as a nexus of entities that inherits a common element of form by means of positive prehensive relations. A society need not have the characteristics of its dynamic singulars. Thus, Hartshorne argues: “Feeling can be everywhere even though many things do not feel, somewhat as vibration can be everywhere even though chairs do not vibrate (only their microconstituents do)” (1997, 134). This whole/part distinction accounts for the fact that not every object of experience is an experiencing object. Moreover, societies vary in levels of complexity and organization. Whitehead refers to a tree as a democracy, for it has no center of awareness (AI 206). Other societies are monarchical, governed by a dominant strand of dynamic singulars; in humans this regnant society is called the self (Hartshorne 1953, 38).

3. Hartshorne’s Differences from Whitehead

The originality of Whitehead’s philosophy did not blind Hartshorne to what he considered its shortcomings. He described Whitehead as “somewhat sparing in argument” (1970a, 41). This is not to say that Whitehead never argued for his views, but his tone could be oracular. For example, Whitehead noted that a difficulty with the Semitic concept of God is actually proving it, and he was dismissive of attempts to do so, specifically the ontological argument (RM 70-71). With his own theism, he was content to “add another speaker” to Hume’s Dialogues (PR 343). Hartshorne, on the other hand, devoted considerable attention to a version of the ontological argument that he considered sound (1962 and 1965). He defended novel forms of other theistic arguments which provided the strands of a cumulative case for a neoclassical form of theism (Viney 1985). Hartshorne’s method, inspired as much by Peirce as by Whitehead, is to find logically exhaustive sets of options for thinking about God and the world and, by philosophical argument, narrow the alternatives to those with the least paradoxical consequences (Hartshorne 1991b).

Whitehead tried to conceive God as the chief exemplification of metaphysical principles (PR 343). Since, on Whitehead’s view, to be actual is to interact with other actualities, God must exist in a give-and-take relationship with the world. Hartshorne shared these ideas but believed that Whitehead was not successful in formulating a theology consistent with them. In Whitehead’s view, God is an actual entity whose concrescence is everlasting. God prehends worldly occasions (“Consequent Nature of God,” or CN), draws on a fund of eternal possibilities (“Primordial Nature of God,” or PN), and infuses into each emergent entity an initial aim for what it could become in light of accomplished fact. If, however, contemporaries cannot prehend each other (PR 66, 123, 169), then no non-divine entity could prehend God, for an everlasting concrescence would be contemporary with every occasion. Some argue that there can be prehensions between contemporary occasions (cf. PR 194, 230). At one time Hartshorne agreed, but he eventually embraced the independence of contemporaries, calling Whitehead’s language suggesting otherwise careless and shocking (1977, 272).

Hartshorne noted that the CN is a necessary, but abstract, feature of God (1972, 75-77). It is the characteristic of prehending non-divine entities, the existence of each of which is contingent. If the abstract must be rooted in the concrete, as both Whitehead and Hartshorne believe, then the CN, no less than the PN, must be grounded in a divine actuality (1991b, 202). This actuality, because it has contingent properties, must itself be contingent. Thus, in God there is a distinction between the individuality of deity, which is the necessary divine essence (PN and CN), and the embodiment of this individuality in concrete states. For example, it is God’s essence to be all-knowing, but it not God’s essence to know that a particular bird is singing. Knowledge of the bird’s singing is a contingent property of God: the contingency is not that God might have been ignorant but that God would have known something different had the bird not been singing. God’s knowledge of the bird singing is an element of the divine actuality, in contrast to the divine essence. Hartshorne argues that the divine essence cannot fail to be instantiated. If this is correct, then the set of divine actual states is necessarily non-empty.

Hartshorne most wished to be remembered for the distinction between existence and actuality (Cobb and Gamwell 1984, 75). Prima facie, it provides a coherent doctrine of the dual excellence of deity: with respect to existence and essence, God is eminently eternal, necessary, impassible, and infinite—in a word, absolute; but with respect to actuality, God is eminently temporal, contingent, passible, and finite—in a word, relative. For Hartshorne, God is a society with an abstract nature and concrete states, analogous to a person’s character and the ways that it is expressed. For Whitehead, God is an actual entity with a mental and a physical pole. Whitehead denied the societal view of God on the grounds that actual entities in societies lose something of the past, unlike divine prehensions (Johnson 1983, 9). Hartshorne replied that the unique excellence of retaining the past perfectly in memory must be true of the divine, whether it be an actual entity or a society (1964, 324).

Interestingly, the question of what God remembers is a point of tension between Hartshorne and Whitehead (or prevalent interpretations of the latter). Hartshorne found Whitehead’s metaphor of the perishing of actual occasions to be misleading, for every occasion “lives for evermore” in God’s memory (PR 351). Lewis Ford argued that Whitehead’s “momentous discovery” was that “the subject/object distinction is best understood as a difference in temporal modality” (Ford 1991, 325); the present actual entity is a subject which, upon completion of its concrescence, becomes an object for future subjects by being prehended by them. Hartshorne replied that past occasions are indeed the objects that are prehended by present occasions, but the object prehended is a subject, for as Whitehead urged, the being of an actual entity is its becoming (1991a, 650).

Hartshorne also departed from Whitehead in conceiving the world as God’s body (1941, 185). Whitehead rejected Plato’s World-Soul analogy saying that it was the parent of “puerile metaphysics” (AI 130). Hartshorne replied that this is a weak reason for rejecting the analogy (1991a, 642; 1991b, 214). He clarified that the analogy is not to mind-body dualism, but to a person and the cells of his or her body. As the cells of a body retain a relative independence of a person’s will, so the “cells” of God’s body retain their independence. Divine freedom sets the cosmic boundaries of all lesser freedoms. Second, localized bodies have an external environment, but God’s “environment” is wholly internal, which obviates the need for specialized organs. A consequence of Hartshorne’s panentheism (all-in-God) is that God necessarily has a body. It is misleading, however, to say that God’s existence depends upon the universe. Although it is not contingent that a universe exists, there is no universe upon which God’s existence is contingent.

The most important divergence between Whitehead and Hartshorne concerns eternal objects (henceforth, EOs). Whitehead’s one written response to Hartshorne deals with this subject (Whitehead 1990). Whitehead maintained that the determinateness of an actual entity is analyzable into where it is—its position within a nexus—and what it is, its definiteness (PR 25). The “what” of an actual entity is its “ingression” of EOs, defined as “forms of definiteness” (PR 22). An EO is any entity, “whose conceptual recognition does not involve a necessary reference to any definite actual entities of the temporal world” (PR 44). Whitehead distinguishes EOs of the objective species, which are the mathematical forms of Plato, from EOs of the subjective species, which are the forms of feelings—sensation, emotion, intensity, adversion, aversion, pleasure, and pain (PR 291). Examples of EOs include colors, sounds, scents, and geometrical characters (SMW 103). Having no necessary reference to particular actual entities EOs are pure potentials and none are novel (PR 22). Thus, Whitehead can speak of a color as eternal, haunting time like a spirit (SMW 87).

Hartshorne praised Whitehead for blurring the distinction between universals and particulars (1950, 18), but he departed from Whitehead in holding that some universals can be emergent. Hartshorne clarified that any quality of which there can be a negative instance in experience is emergent (1970a, 59). Whitehead’s principle of relativity—every “being” is a potential for every subsequent “becoming” (PR 22)—provides one key for understanding the concept of an emergent universal. Hartshorne uses the example: “lover of Shakespeare.” This is a universal, as it can be true of more than one individual; yet, it is emergent since it can have instances only subsequent to Shakespeare’s existence (1970a, 58). Of course, “lover of Shakespeare” is not a pure potential; Whitehead would call it the predicative pattern of a proposition (cf. PR 259). These differences between Whitehead and Hartshorne are arguably semantic.

There is more than a terminological difference concerning EOs of the subjective species. Hartshorne argues that these qualities are emergent. Hartshorne’s distinctive view was evident in his early work on the affective continuum. A continuum, by definition, has no least element but is infinitely divisible. On this theory, a shade of blue is one way of making an actual slice from the color continuum. If we judge two objects to be the same shade of blue it is not because we observe an identity of color but because we can discern no difference in their color. Hartshorne asks whether any empirical meaning can be given to absolute qualitative sameness. Observationally, sameness of color is not a transitive relation—gradations in color can be too subtle for any non-divine awareness to detect (1971, 76). Thus, for Hartshorne, similarity is not always a question of partial identity; similarity is as ultimate as identity (1970a, 59).

Hartshorne once asked Whitehead how the qualitative continuum could be constituted out of definite EOs if the extensive continuum could not be constituted out of points. “Isn’t a definite color a specification of a segment of this continuum rather than the continuum a composition of its parts?” Whitehead replied, “That is a subtle argument requiring further reflection” (Anon 1985). On Hartshorne’s theory “definiteness” collapses into “determinateness” (see Griffin in Ford 1973, 37-38). In Whitehead’s view, a definite shade of blue is possible prior to its being exemplified in a particular occasion. In Hartshorne’s view, the definite shade of blue is in the occasion and is one of infinite ways of making the blue segment of the continuum determinate. For Hartshorne, “the distinction between possible and actual is that between the relatively indefinite and the relatively definite, the determinable and the determinate” (1972, 32).

Hartshorne did not object to EOs of the objective species. Among the objects that he admitted as eternal are metaphysical universals (like Peirce’s Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness), the infinity of whole numbers, and cosmological invariants like Planck’s Constant (1970a, 59, 65; 1991a, 645). For Hartshorne, the ultimate backdrop of pure possibility for all actualization is EOs of the objective species together with the affective continuum. With these ideas, Hartshorne came nearer to a processive view of universals than did Whitehead. Despite these differences, there is a family resemblance in their ideas. As the togetherness of EOs (objective and subjective) comprise what Whitehead called the Primordial Nature of God, so EOs of the objective species and the affective continuum comprise what Hartshorne called the eternal aspect of deity.

Works Cited and Further Readings

1. Works by Charles Hartshorne

1.1. Books

1923. An Outline and Defense of the Argument for the Unity of Being in the Absolute or Divine Good (Ph.D. Dissertation, Harvard). Scheduled for publication by Open Court in 2007.

1934. The Philosophy and Psychology of Sensation (Chicago, University of Chicago Press).

1941. Man’s Vision of God and the Logic of Theism (Chicago, Willet, Clark and Company).

1948. The Divine Relativity: A Social Conception of God (New Haven, Yale University Press).

1953. Reality as Social Process: Studies in Metaphysics and Religion (Boston, Beacon Press).

1962. The Logic of Perfection (La Salle IL, Open Court).

1965. Anselm’s Discovery: A Re-Examination of the Ontological Proof for God’s Existence (La Salle IL, Open Court).

1970a. Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method (La Salle IL, Open Court).

1972. Whitehead’s Philosophy: Selected Essays, 1935–1970 (Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press).

1973. Born to Sing: An Interpretation and World Survey of Bird Song (Indianapolis, Indiana University Press).

1981 (with Creighton Peden). Whitehead’s View of Reality (New York, Pilgrim Press).

1983. Insights and Oversights of Great Thinkers: An Evaluation of Western Philosophy (Albany, SUNY Press).

1984. Creativity in American Philosophy (Albany, SUNY Press).

1990. The Darkness and the Light: A Philosopher Reflects Upon His Fortunate Career and Those Who Made It Possible (Albany, SUNY Press).

1997. The Zero Fallacy and Other Essays in Neoclassical Philosophy, edited and introduced by Mohammad Valady (Peru IL, Open Court).

1.2. Selected Articles and Chapters

1927. “Review of Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect by A. N. Whitehead”, Hound & Horn 1, 148-52.

1950. “Le Principe de relativité philosophique chez Whitehead,” Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale 55, 1, 16-29.

1964. “Interrogation of Charles Hartshorne, conducted by William Alston”, Philosophical Interrogations, edited by Sydney and Beatrice Rome (New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston), 319-54.

1970b. “The Development of My Philosophy,” Contemporary American Philosophy: Second Series, edited by John E. Smith (London, Allen and Unwin), 211-28.

1971. “Are There Absolutely Specific Universals?” Journal of Philosophy 68, 3, 76-78.

1977. “Additional Reflections” [On Jean-Marie Breuvart’s Les Directives de la Symbolisation et les Modeles de Référence dans la Philosophie d’A. N. Whitehead], Process Studies 7, 4, 271-74.

1989. “Von Wright and Hume’s Axiom,” The Philosophy of G. H. von Wright, edited by Paul Arthur Schilpp and Lewis Edwin Hahn (La Salle IL, Open Court), 59-76.

1991a. “A Reply to My Critics,” The Philosophy of Charles Hartshorne, edited by Edwin Lewis Hahn (La Salle IL, Open Court), 569-731.

1991b. “Peirce, Whitehead, und die sechzehn Ansichten über Gott,” Die Gifford Lectures und ihre Deutung: Materialien zu Whiteheads Prozeß und Realität, Vol. 2, edited by Michael Hampe und Helmut Maaßen (Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp), 194-216.

2001. “Notes on A. N. Whitehead’s Harvard Lectures 1925-26,” transcribed by Roland Faber, Process Studies 30, 2, 301-373.

1.3. Papers

Hartshorne’s philosophical papers and letters are housed at the Center for Process Studies at the Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, California. His ornithological papers and letters are deposited at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, Florida. The most extensive bibliography of Hartshorne’s philosophical works, initially compiled by Dorothy Hartshorne and updated by Donald Wayne Viney and Randy Ramal appears in Process Studies 30, 2 (Fall-Winter 2001), 374-405 and in Sia 2004, 195-223.

2. Readings on Hartshorne and Whitehead

Anon. 1985. Report on Hartshorne’s “My Enthusiastic but Partial Agreement with Whitehead,” presented at the Eleventh Congreso Ineramericano de Filosofia, Guadalajara, Mexico, November 15, 1985, Center for Process Studies Newsletter, 9, 4, 7.

Cobb, John B. Jr. and Franklin I. Gamwell (eds.). 1984. Existence and Actuality: Conversations with Charles Hartshorne (Chicago, University of Chicago Press).

Ford, Lewis S. (ed.). 1973. Two Process Philosophers: Hartshorne’s Encounter with Whitehead (Tallahassee FL, American Academy of Religion).

_____. 1991. “Hartshorne’s Interpretation of Whitehead,” The Philosophy of Charles Hartshorne, edited by Lewis Edwin Hahn (La Salle IL, Open Court), 313-37.

Johnson, A. H. 1983. “Some Conversations with Whitehead Concerning God and Creativity,” Explorations in Whitehead’s Philosophy, edited by Lewis S. Ford and George L. Kline (New York, Fordham University Press), 3-13.

Malone-France, Derek. 2006. Deep Empiricism: Kant, Whitehead, and the Necessity of Philosophical Theism (Lanham, MD: Lextington Books).

Sia, Santiago. 2004. Religion, Reason and God: Essays in the Philosophies of Charles Hartshorne and A. N. Whitehead (Frankfurt am Main, Peter Lang).

Shields, George W. and Donald Wayne Viney. 2003. “The Logic of Future Contingents,” Process and Analysis: Whitehead, Hartshorne, and the Analytic Tradition, edited by George W. Shields (Albany, SUNY Press), 209-46.

Viney, Donald W. 1985. Charles Hartshorne and the Existence of God (Albany, SUNY Press).

Whitehead, A. N. 1990. “Letter to Charles Hartshorne [dated January 2, 1936],” Alfred North Whitehead, The Man and His Work, Volume II: 1910–1947, by Victor Lowe, edited by J. B. Schneewind (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press), 345-47.

von Wright, Georg Henrik. 1968. Time, Change and Contradiction (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press).

Author Information

Donald Wayne Viney
Department of Social Sciences
Pittsburg State University, Pittsburg, KS

How to Cite this Article

Viney, Donald Wayne, “Charles Hartshorne (1897–2000)”, last modified 2008, The Whitehead Encyclopedia, Brian G. Henning and Joseph Petek (eds.), originally edited by Michel Weber and Will Desmond, URL = <>.