Hartshorne, Charles

▪ 2001

      U.S. philosopher and theologian (b. June 5, 1897, Kittanning, Pa.—d. Oct. 10, 2000, Austin, Texas), developed what was called process philosophy, in which reality was held to be endless change. In this system God was conceived of not as an omnipotent, omniscient creator, as in traditional Judeo-Christian thought, but rather as a part of the evolving cosmos and as a being who responded to the changes that were taking place. Hartshorne entered Haverford (Pa.) College in 1915 but left in 1917 to join the Army Medical Corps. He took a supply of philosophy books with him to the front in France. After World War I he entered Harvard University, earning B.A. (1921), M.A. (1922), and Ph.D. (1923) degrees, and he then studied in Germany with the philosopher Martin Heidegger. Among his teachers at Harvard was Alfred North Whitehead, whose thought was an influence on Hartshorne's own philosophical system. He was also influenced by the thought of the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce, whose papers he edited with Paul Weiss. From 1928 to 1955 Hartshorne taught philosophy and theology at the University of Chicago and from 1955 to 1962 at Emory University, Atlanta, Ga. He then taught at the University of Texas at Austin until his retirement in 1976. He also held short-term appointments at a number of other universities. Among his more than 20 books were The Philosophy and Psychology of Sensation (1934), Beyond Humanism (1937), The Divine Relativity (1948), Reality as Social Process (1953), The Logic of Perfection (1962), Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes (1983), and Creativity in American Philosophy (1984). His 1973 book, Born to Sing, demonstrated his expertise in ornithology. He received a number of honorary degrees and served (1948–49) as president of the American Philosophical Association.

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▪ American philosopher and theologian
born June 5, 1897, Kittanning, Pennsylvania, U.S.
died October 10, 2000, Austin, Texas

      American philosopher, theologian, and educator known as the most influential proponent of a “process philosophy,” which considers God a participant in cosmic evolution.

      The descendant of Quakers and son of an Episcopalian minister, Hartshorne attended Haverford College before serving as a medical orderly in World War I. He completed his undergraduate education at Harvard University, where he also earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1923. Hartshorne studied in Germany (1923–25), where he met Martin Heidegger (Heidegger, Martin) and Edmund Husserl (Husserl, Edmund). He returned to lecture at Harvard (1925–28), after which he taught philosophy at the University of Chicago (1928–55) and at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia (1955–62). He then taught in the department of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin until his retirement in 1978, after which he was an emeritus professor for many years. A successful educator of several generations of students, he was noted for his good humour and abstinence from tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine. He also served as president of the American Philosophical Association and the Metaphysical Society of America.

      While at Harvard, Hartshorne was influenced by the ideas of two important philosophers, Charles Sanders Peirce (Peirce, Charles Sanders) and Alfred North Whitehead (Whitehead, Alfred North). With Paul Weiss, Hartshorne edited the work of Peirce, the American Pragmatist and logician, in six volumes that helped establish Peirce's reputation as one of America's most original and versatile thinkers. Hartshorne's work was also shaped by Whitehead, his friend and mentor. He adapted Whitehead's philosophy into a creative variation of metaphysics, which came to be known as “process theology” or, as Hartshorne called it, “panentheism” (“all in God”). In Hartshorne's philosophy, God's perfection is seen in the evolution and the creativity of living beings, and God is conceived as dualistic—both free and unfree, conscious and unconscious, and eternal and temporal. He did not think of God as strictly unchanging, therefore, but held that God was involved with humans in an ongoing process.

      Hartshorne was also engaged with the work of a third prominent thinker, St. Anselm (Anselm of Canterbury, Saint) of Canterbury. Although not convinced that it provided definitive proof, he defended Anselm's ontological argument of God's existence. He believed that the argument needed support from natural theology, and he developed a more subtle understanding of Anselm's argument. Hartshorne's attention to Anselm may have helped inspire interest in the medieval theologian in the second half of the 20th century.

      The subject of a volume in the Library of Living Philosophers series, Hartshorne wrote many books over his long and distinguished career. His principal works include Beyond Humanism (1937), The Divine Relativity (1948), Reality as Social Process (1953), The Logic of Perfection (1962), Aquinas to Whitehead: Seven Centuries of Metaphysics of Religion (1976), Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes (1983), and Creativity in American Philosophy (1984). His autobiography, The Darkness and the Light, was published in 1990. He also wrote a celebrated book on ornithology, Born to Sing: An Interpretation and World Survey of Bird Song (1973), which argued that some species of birds sing for pleasure.

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Universalium. 2010.

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