Charles Hartshorne

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The reward for living is the living itself.

Charles Hartshorne (June 5, 1897October 9, 2000) was a prominent American philosopher who concentrated primarily on the philosophy of religion and metaphysics. 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.


  • the search for necessary truths, truths that are not only true, but they couldn’t have been false.
    • In the Veery journal interview in 1996, in reply to the question of "What is the most rewarding aspect of philosophy?" presented by Veery editor Steven Vita, later reprinted in 1997 in the Austin American-Statesman and then quoted from in The New York Times obituary entitled “Charles Hartshorne, Theologian, Is Dead; Proponent of an Activist God Was 103.”
  • Speculative Philosophy is the endeavour to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted. By this notion of 'interpretation' I mean that everything of which we are conscious, as enjoyed, perceived, willed, or thought, shall have the character of a particular instance of the general scheme.
    • The Logic of Perfection and Other Essays in Neoclassical Metaphysics (1962) p. viii
  • I think my great book is Born to Sing: An Interpretation and World Survey of Bird Song.
    • In Herbert F. Vetter, "Not The Average Philosopher", Harvard Magazine, May/June 1997, Volume 99, Number 5. Vetter was surprised by this, given Hartshorne's dozens of substantial books on theology.
  • Do you remember which way I was heading?
    • In Herbert F. Vetter, "Not The Average Philosopher", Harvard Magazine, May/June 1997, Volume 99, Number 5. Recounting Hartshorne's legendary absent-mindedness.
  • The secret of my success is longevity.
    • In Herbert F. Vetter, "Not The Average Philosopher", Harvard Magazine, May/June 1997, Volume 99, Number 5. On his selection to the Library of Living Philosophers

Man's Vision of God and the Logic of Theism (1941)

  • All things, in all their aspects, consist exclusively of 'souls', that is, of various kinds of subjects, or units of experiencing, with their qualifications, relations, and groupings, or communities.
    • P. 183.
  • God thus excludes the world; he is only its cause; in no sense is he effect, of himself or anything else. Pantheism (better, "pandeism," for again it is not really the theos that is described) means that God is the integral totality of ordinary cause-effects, and that there, is no super-cause independent of ordinary causes and effects.
    • P. 347.
  • God thus includes the world; he is, in fact, the totality of world parts, which are indifferently causes and effects. Now AR [absolute perfection in some respects, relative perfection in all others] is equally far from either of these doctrines; thanks to its two-aspect view of God, it is able consistently to embrace all that is positive in either deism or pandeism. AR means that God is, in one aspect of himself, the integral totality of all ordinary causes and effects, but that in another aspect, his essence (which is A), he is conceivable in abstraction from any one or any group of particular, contingent beings (though not from the requirement and the power always to provide himself with some particulars or other, sufficient to constitute in their integrated totality the R aspect of himself at the given moment).
    • P. 348.
  • These distinctions make sense only when AR [absolute perfection in some respects, relative perfection in all others] is assumed (hence Spinoza's failure, who assumed mere A). Just as AR is the whole positive content of perfection, so CW, or the conception of the Creator-and-the-Whole-of-what-he-has-created as constituting one life, the super-whole which in its everlasting essence is uncreated (and does not necessitate just the parts which the whole has) but in its de facto concreteness is created – this panentheistic doctrine contains all of deism and pandeism except their arbitrary negations. Thus ARCW, or absolute-relative panentheism, is the one doctrine that really states the whole of what all theists, if not all atheists as well, are implicitly talking about.
    • P. 348.
We live in a century in which everything has been said. The challenge today is to learn which statements to deny.

Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes (1984)

  • In Plato’s Republic one finds the proposition: God, being perfect, cannot change (not for the better, since "perfect" means that there can be no better; not for the worse, since ability to change for the worse, to decay, degenerate, or become corrupt, is a weakness, an imperfection). The argument may seem cogent, but it is so only if two assumptions are valid: that it is possible to conceive of a meaning for "perfect" that excludes change in any and every respect and that we must conceive God as perfect in just this sense.
  • The idea of revelation is the idea of special knowledge of God, or of religious truth, possessed by some people and transmitted by them to others. In some form or other the idea is reasonable. In all other matters people differ in their degree of skill or insight. Why not in religion?
  • In all countries and in all historical times there have been individuals to whom multitudes have looked for guidance in religion. Buddha, Lao Tse, Confucius, Moses, Zoroaster, Shankara, Jesus, Muhammed, Joseph Smith, and Mary Baker Eddy were such individuals. New examples are to be found within the lives of many of us. Pure democracy or sheer equalitarianism in religious matters is not to be expected of our human nature. Some distinction between leaders or founders and followers or disciples seems to be our destiny. But there is a question of degree, or of qualification. To what extent, or under what conditions, are some individuals, or perhaps is some unique individual, worthy of trust in religious matters? It is in the answer to this question that mistakes can be made.
  • [T]he traditional idea of divine perfection or infinity is hopelessly unclear or ambiguous and that persisting in that tradition is bound to cause increasing skepticism, confusion, and human suffering. It has long bred, and must evermore breed, atheism as a natural reaction.

"A hundred years of thinking about God" (1998)


Full title: "A hundred years of thinking about God: A philosopher soon to be rediscovered" an interview by Gregg Easterbrook, U.S. News & World Report (February 23, 1998).

  • The reward for living is the living itself.
  • No one in my family disbelieved in religion, and no one disbelieved in evolution, either.
  • What we need is to make a renewed attempt to worship the objective of God, not our forefathers' doctrines about him.
  • Musicians who have listened to birds believe [that birds derive pleasure from singing] much more than ornithologists, who are terrified of being accused of anthropomorphism... Having studied thousands of hours of birdsong from around the world, I am convinced some species possess an aesthetic sense, however limited compared to ours. It is part of human egotism to believe that only we have active minds.
  • The world has too many automobiles and televisions. Now the standard is there should be one car and TV for every person. This is not healthy for the environment or our souls.
  • Hitler made it impossible to keep believing in pacifism, which was one of the many terrible things he did to the world.
  • [W]e live in a century in which everything has been said. The challenge today is to learn which statements to deny.
    • Hartshorne's main reflection on a full 100 years of life.
  • I had a happy, idyllic, old-fashioned childhood. Go to the town where I spent that childhood, you will not find my happy hours there. Yet they remain definite constituents of a divine reality about which true statements can still be made. My happy childhood was a gift my parents and the world offered to God.
  • Too many intellectuals look down on religion and think it will go away. God is not going to go away. There are far more religious people in the world today than when I was born.
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