Panentheism.  Revisionism.  Anarchocapitalism.



Essays by Me

Essays by Others


From Aquinas to Whitehead: 

Seven Centuries of

Metaphysics of Religion


Charles Hartshorne


Aquinas Lecture for 1976

Marquette University Press, 1976


When I began preparing this lecture I thought I should try to find some way to mitigate the extent of my disagreements with the Thomistic position, seek some almost neutral subject, or perhaps make a comparison of Thomism with my version of process philosophy largely without argument as to which is nearer the truth.  However, for better or worse, I hope for better, I have departed from this plan.  For one thing it has seemed reasonable to assume that those who selected me for this honor must know my views.  To understate these views to blur issues, would perhaps be an inappropriate way to respond to what seems an act of courage on the part of those who invited me.

The subject of this lecture is too vast for more than extremely sketchy and selective treat-ment.  However, much of what I shall omit is well known.  It is chiefly some rather neglected aspects of intellectual history that I shall be giving you.

I have been called “an anti-Thomistic Thomist.” There is much truth in the description: the Angelic Doctor expressed sharply defined views on some of the chief topics with which I have been concerned.  With some, but by no means all, of these views I feel compelled to differ quite definitely.  Both the agreements and the disagreements seem more definite than would be suggested by terming me an anti-Hegelian Hegelian – as Marx might be said to be.  I do agree with Hegel that the [philosophic] truth is in some sense the union of contraries” and that, in the subject-object correlation, subject “overlaps.”  But beyond these vague similarities I find little use for Hegel, whether by way of agreement or disagreement.  He seems to be pervasively ambiguous or unclear, and I aim at clarity.  So, I think, did the Angelic Doctor.

As Pegis has pointed out, Aquinas wrote chiefly theology rather than philosophy.  Here we are concerned with the philosophy that seems more of less clearly implied by, or used in, the theology.  Like many other great philosophers and theologians, Aquinas has been very variously estimated.  Even among members of the church to whose cause he was dedicated, this has been true.

Long ago in Paris I called upon a pious monk, Père Laberthonnière, who characterized the most influential of thirteenth century thinkers as “the greatest sophist that ever lived.”  When I asked him to illustrate his meaning, he opened a volume of one of the Summas to the place where the problem of evil is dealt with and it is pointed out that God, having the beauty or plenitude of the cosmos in view, endows each creature with its appropriate defects.  My French friend’s comment was, “Il s’amuse!”  I thought I understood what he meant.  He also declared that he “abhorred the Middle Ages.”  Like some Protestant scholars, he thought that the influence of Greek philosophy on theology was unfortunate.  I agree with him and them – with qualifications.

Gilson once wrote that Saint Thomas “never doubted” the axioms of his thinking.  This is the very reason why philosophers must undertake the task Aquinas saw no need of, the task of viewing critically the foundations of what Wolfson has called “the medieval synthesis.”  In philosophy no axioms have standing unless and until the possibility has been seriously considered that they are at best merely plausible, rather than genuinely self-evident and certain.  We have had too many illustrations of the risks of axiomatic assertion to dispense with caution at this point.  I shall now give an example of a seemingly self-evident truth which for two thousand years escaped critical examination, but which proved quite vulnerable once it had been so examined.

In Plato’s Republic, deity is defined as “perfect,” meaning possessed of a value or worth so great that no increase or improvement would be conceivable, and no decrease either, since the possibility of such corruption would be a defect.  (It was taken for granted that change which left the value identical would be meaningless.)  In the Timaeus, the concept of World Soul (the “moving image of eternity”) seems somehow exempt from the foregoing reasoning and to come only as close to unchanging perfection as possible while not quite attaining it.

According to Cornford, the World Soul is Plato’s real deity and is to be taken more seriously than the demiurge, the latter being a mythical figure – or a mere abstraction, the rational element in the World Soul.  We shall meet something like this idea again in Whitehead.  But Aristotle, “first and greatest of the neoplatonists,” dropped the World Soul and took divine immutable perfection literally.  He was followed in this for two millennia by nearly all theists in the West, and still to this day by some.

Aristotle drew an important consequence from the assumed immutability of deity.  A being that could not change can have no unactualized potentiality in its reality; whatever it could be it is.  It is pure actuality.  Any contingency with respect to it can only mean at most that some effects it might have produced have not occurred.  But in itself it is, necessarily, all that it is capable of being.  Any relations between deity and contingent events in the world (relations that might have been otherwise) will qualify the events but not deity.  Had the events and their relations been other-wise, deity would not have been otherwise.   Just this is what Aquinas asserts when he says that relations between God and the world are relations for the world but not for God.  So far there is agreement with “the [Greek] philoso-pher.”  But Aristotle deduces a momentous corollary: since to know something is to be related to it, to really have it as relatum, God cannot know contingent or changeable things.  He can know only eternal necessities, he can think only the essence of thinking itself, the form of forms.  At this point all Christian and most Islamic and Jewish thinkers (with Gerson-ides a notable exception) felt it necessary to depart from Aristotle.  They could not deny divine omniscience and retain any plausible agreement with Scripture.  The question remains, was not the Aristotelian deduction valid?  To know is to sustain a genuine relation to the known, a relation that must be contingent if the known is so; hence, a being without internal contingency cannot know contingent things.

The argument is by no means, as it is sometimes accused of being, that every property of the known must be also a property of the knowing and the knower.  Quite the contrary, there can be contingent knowledge of the necessary. Had I not existed, my knowledge of some necessary truth, say that two and two are four, would not have been.  So this knowledge is contingent, though its object is not.  It is the reverse contrast that makes trouble; for if a certain instance of knowledge could not have failed to be, how could its object fail to be?

We find the great scholastic agreeing with Aristotle that in all ordinary cases the knower conforms to, depends upon, the known, is in real relation to the latter.  However, we are boldly informed, with divine knowing, the case is opposite:  here the known depends upon the knowing and the knower.  Here the sole genuine relation is in the known.  It seems to follow that “God knows the world” is but an inverted and possibly misleading way of saying that the world is known by God.

I have argued against this view in many places.  What I want to do here is to stress the following:  Aristotle and Thomas are in my opinion splendidly right against much modern thought on two points -- there are one-way relations of dependency, and ordinary forms of knowing furnish instances.  One can know something because there is that something:  when we know a thing we do not thereby bring it into existence; rather, the existence of the thing is a condition of our enjoying this knowledge.  Now the very idea of such one-way dependence is flatly contradicted by Hume’s famous axiom, “the distinguishable is separable,” unless we mean by this, as Hume did not, that of two distinguishable terms, x and y, at least one must be capable of existing without the other.  Two-way separability is not entailed by distinguishability.  Not only Hume but many of his admirers down to this day, including the late Bertrand Russell, fail to see the importance of this reservation.

Aristotle and his great medieval admirer are also, I hold, right on a third point.  There is a one-way (and thus non-Humean) dependence of worldly things upon God.  God could have existed though every detail in the world had been otherwise, but without God nothing could exist.  Hume’s axiom, taken literally, would mean that either God and his creatures are indistinguishable or the latter could have existed without God.  So by a supposedly harmless or self-evident axiom Hume disposed of the basic theistic idea of divine independence as contrasted to creaturely dependence.  Why bother to write long discussions of the theistic question if the matter is so simply settled?

Hume was treating as self-evidently false two basic beliefs of most previous philosophy, the idea of the unique independence of deity and the idea of the one-way dependence of knowing on things known.  It is time we stopped letting Hume “get away with” this cavalier procedure.  I find admirable the Thomistic discussion of the point that, although the human mind is such that we feel compelled to say of every relation that it has a converse, thus “knowing” and “being known,” yet, in normal cases at least, the converse is merely a reverse way of expressing the sole ontological epistemic relation, which is the one actualized in the knowing rather than in the known.  To be known is not a real property, or is real only “in the mind.”  We know Plato; what is that to Plato?  It is indeed something to us.

Nothing in the foregoing paragraph justifies the medieval inversion of cognitive dependency in speaking (by analogy) of God’s knowledge.  The reasons given for this inversion include the considerations:  God is the cause of all things, and in knowledge of a cause its effects are known:  hence in merely knowing himself God must know whatever things he could produce and needs no further relation to the things.  According to the metaphysics that I accept and regard as the twentieth-century form of metaphysics (much as scholasticism represent-ed the medieval form), to know a cause adequately is indeed to know its possible results.  However, causes never imply any precise actual results, but only a range of possible ones.  Thus God, merely in knowing his eternal essence, would know “possible worlds” so far as these are eternally implied by the essence; but he would not thereby know the actual world.  Causes always leave results somewhat open for further decision.  This is the universal creativity that current metaphysics (process philosophy) regards as the form of forms.

It may seem that if the knower as such asymmetrically depends upon the known and yet there is one-way dependence of creatures upon God, then Aristotle was right, God cannot know the creatures.  We shall see that this does not follow.  Something in God may depend upon the creatures without his very existence or eternal essence being thus dependent.  God may have accidents as well as essence, and with respect to the latter, but not the former, he may be asymmetrically independent of the actual world.

We now skip to Spinoza.  He agreed with Aristotle in the view that knowing implicates the known:  hence if God is without contingency, then either (1) all things are as necessary as God or (2) God does not know all things.  Aristotle has taken the second horn of the dilemma; Spinoza, knowing well how revolutionary his decision was, took the first.  (Of course the Stoics had preceded him, but scarcely any medieval writer.) A third possibility remains:  admit contingency and change in deity as well as in the world.  The Plato of the Timaeus could be interpreted as furnishing a precedent for this view, but Plato scarcely made the matter clear.  On the whole, to admit divine change had to be a violent break with two thousand years of natural theology.

It was the little noticed heretical Christian sect of Socinians who dared to take this step.  (One Arabian thinker had, somewhat ambiguously, preceded them.)  The Socinians took human freedom seriously, interpreting this to mean that human decisions, so far as free, cannot be known in advance, since in advance they do not exist to be known.  (The apparent solution, the decisions are known not in advance but eternally, out of time altogether, they may or may not have discussed.  Some of us think that the solution is only apparent, for if the decisions do not exist in advance, a fortiori they do not exist eternally or out of time.   The idea of events spread out for divine contemplation in a finished series, some future to us, is a form of the “spatializing of time,” that Bergson has taught some of us to reject.)  The Socinians argued:  omniscience knows things as they are, the past and definite as such, the future and partly indefinite also as such.  To “know” the indefinite as definite is not knowledge but error.  Cicero had hinted at such a view long before, and so had the Arabian thinker mentioned.

If God acquires new knowledge as new things are there to be known, the eternity of God cannot mean his immutability.  “God is eternal,” the Socinians said, “in that he cannot not exist.”  This implies that the divine essence (what makes God God and not a mere creature) is necessarily actualized somehow, that is, in some states of knowledge that are omniscient in the sense defined, yet with contingent aspects and with significant increments as reality itself acquires new items.  There is in this knowledge no loss but only gain.  Change is taken not to entail corruptibility.  What a revolution!  It was two centuries before anything closely similar was again proposed.  The Socinians are the real forerunners of process theology, and indeed almost of process philosophy generally.  For if even deity is in process, the whole idea of becoming as an inferior form of being cannot be sound.  Moreover, the Socinians affirmed not only creaturely and divine contingency but also creaturely and divine creativity and freedom (at least for human creatures) in the strong sense of enriching the definiteness of reality.  Yet they preserved the necessary asymmetrical dependence of the creatures upon God. No creature, only deity, is such that it “could not not exist.”

The entire history of philosophical theology, from Plato to Whitehead, can be focused on the relations among three propositions:

(1)   The world is mutable and contingent;

(2)  The ground of its possibility is a being unconditionally and in all respects necessary and immutable;

(3)  The necessary being, God, has ideally complete knowledge of the world.

Aristotle, Spinoza, Socinus, and process philosophers agree that the three propositions, taken without qualification, form an inconsistent triad, for they imply the contradiction: a wholly non-contingent being has contingent knowledge (since its object might not have existed).  Aristotle and a few Jewish or Arabian disciples remove the contradiction by qualifying (3), the divine knowledge; Spinoza and the Stoics remove it by rejecting (1), worldly contingency; Socinus, Fechner, Lequier, and process philosophers remove it by qualifying (2), the immutability and sheer necessity of deity.  Thus all three propositions have been deliberately challenged.  In each case the challengers knew well what they were questioning.  And all agree that the triad is inconsistent.

Proposition (1) can be qualified in a more subtle way than by the outright Stoic rejection.  As process theologians hold about God that he is both necessary and contingent, both mutable and immutable, so one may, with Whitehead and Aristotle, hold about the world that it is both necessary and contingent.  For, granted that everything particular or specific in the world might have been different, it does not by any logical rule follow necessarily that there might have been no world at all, i.e., that God might have refrained from creating, or might have had no effects.  It is one thing for an agent to have freedom to do this or to do that instead; it is another for the agent to have freedom to do nothing.  What is the value of the alleged freedom not to act?  Is not any world better than none?  If so, there is no praise of God in the assertion that he was capable of doing the worst possible thing, i.e., letting his creative powers lie completely idle.  Whitehead says, in effect, that there mere abstract truth that there is a world, something distinguishable from God, is necessary, not contingent.  The existence of the world, some world or other, lies, he says, “beyond the accidents of God’s will.”  God does not choose to have a world, though he does choose to have one with such and such general characters, e.g., such and such natural laws.  As for the details of the world, they are not divinely chosen but are acts of creaturely freedom.  The Thomistic proposition, “existence is an act,” is good process philosophy.

There are nine possible ways of conceiving the modality of God and the world.  Using capital letters for divine modalities: N for divine necessity, C for divine contingency; small letters for worldly modalities: n for worldly necessity, c for worldly contingency: NC/nc, NC/n, N/nc; N/nc, N/n, N/c; C/nc, C/n, C/c.  Of these nine formally possible doctrines, six are historically important: NC/nc, process philosophy; N/n, Stoicism and Spinoza; Nc, medieval theology; N/nc, Aristotelianism; NC/c, presumably Socianism and perhaps Jules Lequier; C/c, doctrines of a merely contingent deity, Mill (in some moods at least), William James, and John Hick.

Against N/n there are two objections: (1) It destroys the asymmetry between dependent world and independent deity; for if God necessarily makes just the world that exists, then he is not independent of the world anymore than it is independent of him.  Yet the whole point of introducing God is the one-sided dependence of things upon him.  Moreover, (2) there is the principle of contrast: necessity is significant because there is also contingency.  Against N/c there is the argument of Aristotle, also of Spinoza and process philosophy, that N/c makes it impossible to construe the religious idea of divine knowledge.  As Maimonides put it, on this basis God has “knowledge” only in the sense in which the dogstar is a dog.  There is equivocation.  Gersonides took this as a reductio ad absurdum.  N/c also makes equally unconstruable what is meant by divine freedom.  Whatever God is, that he could not fail to be: hence if God is the decider who wills, “let there be such and such a world,” he could not have failed to be that very decider.  Wherein is the freedom?  Against NC/c there is the objection that, like N/c, it attributes to deity an idle capacity not to create at all.

Against C/c there is one of the two objections urged against N/n, that it violates the principle of contrast, and also the objection that if God is wholly contingent then we need an explanation of his existence.  The only explanation of the contingent is a genetic one, how it came to be, under what antecedent conditions.  But God is conceived as ungenerated, in essence un-caused.  It follows that the only explanation of his existence must be that of a priori necessity, as in 2 and 2 make 4.  There must be come inconceivability in the contradictory.  This is the point of the ontological argument, not that it alone suffices to prove the existence of deity (I agree with Thomas of Aquino that it does not), but that it shows the inadequacy of mere empiricism to adjudicate the theistic question.

In the nineteenth century, philosophers and theologians in increasing numbers began to move away from the classical view that becoming is merely an inferior form of being.  Thus Hegel proclaimed that mere being, like mere nonbeing, is empty, and that becoming is the synthesis.  But who knows what happens to contingency and freedom in Hegel?  I have tried to find out but have given up.  Hegel uses the word contingent, but what does he assert and what deny when he does so?  Let Hegelians answer.  I prefer people whose language is plainer than Hegel’s.  Schelling is sometimes clearer, but not much.

After Hegel at least three writers reaffirm the Socinian position concerning the dual modality and partial mutability of God:  these are:  Fechner and Pfleiderer in Germany, and Jules Lequier in France.  Perhaps only the last knew about the Socinians.  Fechner and Lequier had some influence on William James, who, however, failed to do justice to the theological aspects of their work.  In my opinion, they surpassed him as natural theologians.

Early in the present century additional philosophers and theologians adopted the view of a deity with both necessary and contingent, both eternal and temporal, aspects.  William P. Montague and E. S. Brightman were two of these, my teacher W. E. Hocking was a third.  Finally the great system-maker Whitehead distinguished two aspects of the divine reality, the one “primordial” and independent of all particular creatures, the other “consequent” and dependent upon particular creatures.

The principle that Socinus, Fechner, Lequier, and the other four just mentioned have in common I call the principle of dual transcendence.  Instead of distinguishing God from other being by terming him simply necessary, infinite, independent, eternal, while the others are simply contingent, finite, dependent, temporal, the contrast is made in dual terms:  God is, in uniquely excellent ways, both necessary and contingent, both infinite and finite, independent and dependent, eternal and temporal.  Brightman’s phrase “finite-infinite God” illustrates the duality in question.  If this scheme is to be shown to be acceptable, it is clearly necessary to meet two objections:  one that the duality is really contradiction, and hence logically impossible; and the other that, whereas simple transcendence gave an unambiguous contrast between deity and mere creatures, the dual version blurs and perhaps obliterates the contrast.

The question of contradiction is the easier one to answer.  The law of non-contradiction is incorrectly expressed by “no subject can have the predicates p and not-p;” one must add the qualification, “in the same respect.”  A person can change in some respects without changing in every respect; the world may be finite spatially and infinite temporally.  God may be immutable in his ultimate purpose but adopt new specific objectives in response to new acts by the creatures.  He may exist necessarily so far as his essence is concerned but contingently so far as inessential qualities are in question.  The two aspects are not on the same ontological level; for the essence or ultimate purpose is abstract and the specific aims are concrete.  And we can appeal to the Aristotelian principle that the abstract is real in the concrete.  God may have infinite potentialities but finite actuality. Potentialities are abstractions, only the actual is concrete.  Moreover, it is possibilities that are infinite; actuality is always a decision among possibilities, excluding some from realization.  Any possible state of the world would be content of God’s knowledge if it were actual, but not even God can contradictorily enjoy all possible world states as actual, for there are mutually incompossible ones.  Even the supreme artist must leave something undone.  Moreover, his creatures so far as free must do so also, and what they exclude is excluded even for God.  God would have made me the doer of some deed I might have performed, but since I did not perform it he now can never have that possible me.

The removal of the apparent contradiction in the idea of dual transcendence by distinguishing divine aspects or respects may be rejected on the ground of the divine “simplicity.”  But this begs the question.  Only nondual transcendence supposes that God is the simplest of realities and merely that.  Rather he is both the simplest and the most complex, the latter applying to his concrete reality.  And the distinction between the abstract and the concrete aspects is the duality we need to remove the contradiction.  Only God’s essence is simple, not his full reality as including also contingent realities.

Does dual transcendence blur the contrast between God and other realities?  I have argued at length that this is not the case.  Any creature has a temporal beginning and termination.  God has neither.  His form of temporality excludes birth and death; it also excludes corruption or any change consisting in decrease in value.  Only increase is possible for Him.  These are very clear differences indeed.  Again take the infinity of divine potentiality.  It too is unique to God.  We creatures are finite not only in actuality but even in potentiality.  We also are contingent not only in some but in all our qualities; we have individually, or even as species, no necessary essence that could not fail to exist.  With every pair of contraries it can be shown that the uniqueness of God is definitely statable in dual terms.  For instance, God, in contrast to us, is dependent upon, as knower of, not just some but all worldly events.  Thus his dependence, i.e., sensitivity or responsiveness, is as truly unique as his independence, both being with respect to all events.  Similarly, though the contrast actual-possible applies to God and the creatures, it applies uniquely to the former since only his actuality includes all actuality, and only his potentiality includes all potentiality.  God may have exhaustive awareness of what actualities there are; but, unless he is ready to acquire new actualities should they be actualized, his reality cannot measure the importance that we in practice assume, whatever we may say, for their actualization.  Just as for things to be actual must mean to be actual for God, so for them to be possible must mean to be possible for God.  Thus, if we acquire new knowledge of things already known to God, as we keep doing in science, although this removal of our previous ignorance, this self-improvement, is not such an improvement for God, who is never ignorant, nevertheless, the new human experiences involved are new data enjoyed by divine perception, and so God has new knowledge of new truths, instead of, as with us, removal of previous ignorance of truths already in being.  His knowledge is thus enriched, rather than made more adequate to its data.  Similarly, if we pass from ethically inferior to ethically superior modes of volition, we do not thereby ennoble deity, who cannot be ignoble. But we present God with a more beautiful creation than he enjoyed before.  On such matters Fechner was wonderfully clear long ago, in a world that was too busy to notice.  Fechner beautifully compares the appreciation in God of new  human responses to things not new to God with a human parent’s enjoyment of small children who, each in ways without exact precedent, respond with the thrill of novelty to features of the world long familiar to the parent1

I cannot think of a better example than Fechner’s of how true it is that things worth saying, not previously said, can be well said without producing much effect, at least for long periods of time.  There is an element of chance in such things.  It is quite clear that James, if (which I doubt) he ever read Fechner’s long chapter on “God and the World” in Zendavesta, misunderstood or forgot its message.  I say this because Fechner’s view meets James’s basic requirements that there be an open future for God and that our choices make a contingent difference to him.  So far from recognizing this common ground James writes as though Fechner’s God were simply one more version of “the absolute” for whom the future is a closed book.

More recently Berdyaev and Whitehead are similarly on James’s side in what mattered most to him, but not only did James die too soon to find this out, but also and more important is the fact that most of those influenced by James, notably John Dewey, never permitted them-selves to acknowledge how far theological developments went, early in this century, to provide the values that James sought.  Dewey’s critique of traditional theism is largely irrelevant to the work of Berdyaev, Whitehead, or Dewey’s colleague at Barnard College (Columbia), William P. Montague.  I once asked Montague if Dewey had ever adapted his criticisms of theology to Montague’s form of process metaphysics.  Montague thought I was correct in denying this.  Dewey writes in A Common Faith as though no such form of theism existed, indeed as though Socinus, Fechner, Lequier, Whitehead, or any thinkers like t hem were out of the question.  Most writers, especially those whose inspiration is largely British, are still so writing.  To quote the late matchless Mortimer Snerd, “That’s the way it goes.”

There was one important omission in Plato’s formula for soul or mind.  Mind is as remarkable for its capacity to be moved by others as for its “self-motion.”  Memory and perception are ways of being influenced, not of influencing.  It is objects as such that influence subjects, not vice versa.  This is merely the asymmetry referred to in the theory of knower and known.  If we think of the cosmic soul (Plato’s formula for deity) as moving but unmoved, we think of it as object not as subject.  To know is to receive influence.  To be known is to exert influence.  Every writer should be aware of this. He wants to be known so that he may move others.  All the knowing in him you please will not move others unless they become the knowers of this knowing.  It is odd that so much of the history of thought seems a denial of these patent truisms.

A curious attempt that I recall from a scholastic treatise to show how the unmoved can move others is the idea of a very strong man who lifts a weigh almost without seeming to move himself, whereas a weaker man would exhibit more obvious bodily movements.  More obvious but not m ore genuine or massive!  Plenty of change in the muscle tissues, the blood stream, and what not will alone make the weight rise.  Such mythical examples are not a good basis for sound thinking.  Physical examples which presume physical knowledge that is in fact not to be had, or which contradict the knowledge we do have, are best discarded.

We have been galloping back and forth through seven (or twenty-five) centuries of intellectual development.  Of course many questions have been ignored.  One of them is this: process philosophy, Socinius to Whitehead, seems to reject the conclusion of the argument in the Republic holding that God, being perfect, cannot change.  On what grounds is this rejection made?  It is not enough to point to the contradiction in combining the conclusion of the argument with the contingency of the world and the divine knowledge of that world.  It must be shown directly that the platonic argument is invalid.

Kant suggested a possible objection to the very idea of unincreasable perfection but characteristically drew from the objection not the need to revise the idea, but rather only the need to renounce claims of supporting the idea by theoretical reason.2   It was Whitehead who first clearly stated the Kantian objection as ground for a revised definition of divine excellence.  The objection is that there are incompossible values so that the notion of all possible value, fully actualized, is contradictory.3  Leibniz had acknowledged that the ontological argument presupposes what can be challenged, the belief that the definition of deity as the “sum of possible perfections” makes consistent sense.  Leibniz argued, however, that there can be contradiction only between positive and negative predicates, and perfections are wholly positive.  But in truth (as Kant points out) there can be contradiction between equally positive predicates.  Thus “red here now” contradicts “green here now.”  Or, if a poet chooses to express a certain sentiment in a sonnet rather than in some other verse form, what is rejected in such choice is as positive as what is affirmed.  The whole point of contingency lies here, that actualization, decision, is always exclusive of positive values.  Only fanatics think there is a uniquely good solution to every problem.  Even God must make contingent decisions to create a world; he must rule out good alternatives.  Even he cannot have the values of all possible worlds, all fully actualized.  According to Whitehead, this is the rationale for becoming, that no actuality can leave nothing further to seek.  Divine potentiality for value is absolutely infinite, but not even divine actuality can ever exhaustively actualize this potentiality.  Spinoza’s proof for his necessitarianism can be shown to depend upon the assumption that perfection, in the sense of exhaustive actualization of the possible, is itself possible.  For one who denies this possibility, the proof, like that of Leibniz for the possibility of unincreasible perfection, has no force.  Process philosophy makes this denial, not skeptically or agnostically as does Kant, but categorically.  Hence process philosophy revises the definition of divine excellence.  My way of putting this revision is to say that God is ideally good and great, not by being an absolute and unincreasible maximum of value, but by being unsurpassable by another than himself.  As Fechner brilliantly put it a century ago, only God can surpass God, but this he perpetually does by ideally absorbing the riches of creation unto himself.

The other unfinished business in our express trip through history is what happens to the idea of “matter,” which was so important in Greek and medieval thought.  For some philosophers “matter” is the name for an answer to a certain question.  For others, of whom Leibniz was the first Western representative, it is merely a name for the question itself, not an answer.  The question is, in the change from one state of things to another, what, other than form, i.e., definite qualities or properties (essential or accidental to the things), survives through the change?  Aristotle said, the “matter” survives, and this, with the essential forms, constitutes the identity of the things or substances.  The trouble is, if we abstract from all definite form, nothing definite seems to be left.  What is this, in itself wholly indefinite, something called matter?  Aristotle (and I think Aquinas) admitted that matter as such is known only by analogy.  However, the analogy is with something itself quite problematic.  Thus, if clay is modeled into a statue, the clay is matter compared to the shape given it in the statue.  But what after all is clay?  We know it in terms of its form, and modern physics finds nothing specifiable as persistent through physical changes except certain forms expressable mathematically as certain relationship patterns.  To say that the same matter persists through the succession of forms seems to add nothing but words to our knowledge.  A hydrogen molecule is such by virtue of its form, and the persistence of the molecule is known solely as the persistence of the form.

There is another Descartes said (and Augustine had said it before him), physical reality is essentially spatial or extended.  Extension, as Leibniz saw, is a matter of relations.  It is complex, not a simple quality like redness.  Thus a circle has its parts in a different set of relations from a square.  Location in space is relative, a matter of being nearer, that is causally more immediately effective upon and affected by, some things than others.  Extension is thus not an ultimate, further unanalyzable idea but coincides with a certain form of relatedness.  In relativity physics an account is given of the essential difference between spatial relations and temporal ones.  The difference is that between one-way causal dependencies, later upon earlier, not vice versa, and two-way relations, either of mutual independence (of single events) or mutual interaction (of things, i.e., event sequences, open to mutual influence with the speed of light).  None of this tells us what sorts of things or events are able to have these relations.  “Matter” or “physical” reality is merely a label for whatever can have them, it is not an answer to the question, what sorts of things can do so?  The Democritean theory of matter told the story right at the beginning:  an atom is a bit of “being” in “non-being,” i.e., in mere space, the void.  Matter is not a special kind of being save insofar as its shape or other forms are special.  Matter is only something or other, as opposed to nothing.

Traditionally there were other factors.  Thus matter was potentially in contrast to actuality, potential form in contrast to actual form.  Also matter was insentient.  In combination with the first point the second makes sense only on the supposition that mind as such is purely actual, so that something else is needed to constitute potentiality.  To some of us this seems a very odd idea of mind, with its sense of past and future, the former as already definite and beyond influence, the latter as in principle partly indeterminate but determinable and even now in process of being further determined.  What is potentiality but this determinable indetermi-nacy of the future?  What is mind apart from the process of experiencing the already determined past and evaluating and deciding options for the future?  Mind is activity, thinking, feeling, re-membering, planning, deciding – and this activity is in principle both actuality and possibility.  Does it really help to illuminate experiencing to suppose bits of mere stuff, or mere somethings, persisting through it?

However, common sense and many philosophers point to what seems good evidence that insentient somethings exist.  Concerning this evidence Leibniz, with a stroke of genius, made the following little understood suggestion:  there are indeed insentient things, e.g., rocks, gases, liquids, the earth; but these are aggregates of invisibly minute entities to which the criteria for absolute insentience do not apply.  These criteria are inertness (and even at absolute zero atoms are not entirely inert) plus lack of unity.  Maxwell later compared a gas to a swarm of bees. The swarm may seem immobile, or to move slowly in a languid way, but the individual bees are highly active, and each bee moves as one, not as a mere aggregate.  The dynamism of a gas is in the atoms or molecules.  So, according to Leibniz, is the sentience.  It comes to this, the dichotomy sentient-insentient is not a qualitative contrast, but a difference of logical type, that between the singular and the aggregate.  In my opinion this is the real secret of the concept of “merely physical” reality.  When we don’t know the dynamism we seem to face an inert mass, or one lacking in definite unities (thus a wind).

There is still the question:  What persists, other than form, from past to present?  Answer, what persists is the past itself, so far as it is still present in memory and perception.  The poet Longfellow almost stated the process philosophy point when he wrote, “All are architects of fate . . . our todays and yesterdays are the bricks with which we build.”  The past as still grasped (mostly unconsciously, or without introspective awareness) in the present is the “stuff” we have from the past.  Human perception as well as memory, according to Whitehead, is intuition of the past, especially, so far as perception is concerned, of immediately past events within the body, above all in the nervous system, but also, slightly indirectly, of events in the near environment outside the body.  Perception is (in my phrase) impersonal “memory” (in the broad sense - intuition of past processes); and what we ordinarily call by the word is personal, giving us our own past human experiences.  Thus mind as both sense of the past and intending, partly deciding, the future covers all the functions of matter.  I have yet to learn of any such function it cannot perform, provided one is sufficiently imaginative (as many are not), in conceiving the possible varieties of mind other than human, or even animal, with aspects of thought and consciousness reduced almost to zero in some cases.  Leibniz was a great innovator in all this.

Leibniz made two major and interrelated mistakes in his theory of matter.  One was that he took the genetic identity of a substance or monad to be absolute, a strict law of succession, thus excluding both creative moment by moment decision and also interactions between monads.  The other was that he admitted memory as intuition of the personal past but not perception in the proper sense of intuition of the impersonal past, the past of other individuals.  The monad “mirrors” the other monads, but only via the preestablished harmony, which is not a direct givenness of other singulars, but a mere correspondence, which God alone knows intuitively (by a principle not accounted for in the system).  The famous doctrine of “windowless monads” radically distorts the impersonal aspect of experiencing, i.e., perception.  Peirce and Whitehead, students of Leibniz, remedy this defect, as they do certain other bizarre features of the monadology.

For theology the revised Leibnizian theory has a certain importance.  It means that whereas traditional theology other than Berkeleyan had to relate God to two sorts of entities, minds and mere bodies, process theology other than Berkeleyan had to relate God to two sorts of entities, minds and mere bodies, process theology needs to consider only the first.  Moreover, the relation is intelligible by the very principle that explains the relations of memory and perception to their data in crated minds.  We are influenced by the personal and impersonal past because we intuit them.  We are influenced by God because we intuit God.  (Even Aquinas admits such an intuition, or, as a French writer terms it, “la saisie immédiate de dieu.”)  In process philosophy we, or the created minds, influence God for the same reason, that is, God intuits, or, in Whitehead’s phrase, “prehends” them.  The single principle of prehending, which is but an aspect of “creativity” or experience as, in principle and always, partly active or self-creative, utilizing previous events as materials for new syntheses, the syntheses themselves furnishing new such materials, and so on forever – this principle expresses not only how the world hangs together, but also how it depends upon and influences God.  No more magnificent metaphysical generalization has ever been made.

Gilson, when at Harvard with Whitehead, complained that he could not understand “creativity.”  “Is it a substance?  Is it an attribute?”  I respond, fifty years later, with the analogous queries: What, in Thomism, is “being”?  Is it a substance, or an attribute?  What is the “act of existing”?  Whitehead’s theory of creativity is his attempt to communicate his “intuition” (he uses that word here) of the act of existing.  That this is not a single substance or a mere attribute seems clear.  It is not God, because each creature exists by its own act of existing, dependent to be sure upon antecedent acts, including the antecedent eminent actions of deity.  But finally each actuality exists by its own self-activity:  it is creative, however trivially, of new determinateness, thereby enriching reality as previously there, including divine reality as previously there.

Berdyaev, Whitehead, and Tillich, three prominent and in many ways very different writers concerned with philosophy of religion, agree, almost in so many words, that the creatures, by their partly free or self-determining acts “enrich the divine life itself.”  In this doctrine they give a new meaning to the old saying, “the end of all existence is the glory of God.”  For my religious sense this consideration alone would lead me to prefer the new idea of perfection as capable of increase to the old idea of an immutable or absolute maximum.  (Also the avoidance of the classical problem of evil made possible by the new philosophy would seem almost enough to justify the same preference.)  Very literally we exist to enhance, not simply to admire or enjoy, the divine glory.  Ultimately we are contributors to the evergrowing divine treasury of values.  We serve God, God is not finally means to our ends.  Our final and inclusive end is to contribute to the divine life.

If this view seems to make God lacking in generosity, I suggest that the all-knowing and all-loving cannot give happiness to others without fully participating in and possessing this happiness just because it is realized by the others.  For such is love at its fullest, joy in the joy, and sorrow in the sorrow, of others.  The injunction, “seek to further a good beyond your own,” applies only to creatures that die and are more or less incapable of appreciating the benefits they may bestow upon others.  The imperishable and all-appreciating Eminent Being, however, can act for the good of all without transcending his own good as the inclusive goal.  Thomists will perhaps see that there is in this something analogous to certain doctrines of the Angelic Doctor – analogous to, but clearly not identical with, those doctrines.  Such is the “anti-Thomistic Thomism” of one exponent and explorer of the new possibilities that this century has discovered for philosophical or natural theology.

Gilson once wrote that we should all make our choice between Aquinas and Kant.  He fails to show and could not show that these two thinkers exhaust the reasonable possibilities.  They both share a concept of substance which the Buddhists had criticized effectively over a thousand years before.  They both define God in essentially the same way, by analogy, but with the requirement that there be no possibility of change, no unactualized but actualizable potentiality, in his reality.  Of course, there must be analogical aspects in the idea, but is it analogy to turn things upside down, as one must do to have as what corresponds to knowing in God the very opposite of what it is in creatures?  Neither Thomism nor Kantianism has any clear idea of creativity as a “transcendental,” applicable to every creature and to the creator. Both take too literally the idea of “sufficient” causal condition, or the strongest form of the principle of sufficient reason.  Events have necessary conditions and conditions “sufficient” for their possibility.  But what suffices for present actuality is only the new act of existing inherent in the present effect and not there in any past or eternal cause at all.

The objection to the notion of creative causation, meaning that which produces a net increase in reality, was that the cause “cannot give what it lacks”!  As though temporal genesis were a mere passing out or passing on, of something already real!  Rather it is growth, passage from les to more, in short, creation.  The effect is not “given,” it does not “come from” some antecedent haven, it becomes (German es wird), and this idea is ultimate.  No juggling with “being and not being” will turn the two into becoming.  Rather, starting with becoming, we can abstract being and not-being as aspects.  The past is, the future is not, except in the form of a range of possibilities, some more probable than others, out of which there will be some definite determination and exclusion, although there is no wholly definite determination of which one can truly say in advance that it will be.

Medieval theology and Kantianism share certain elements that I call materialistic.  The old comparison of deity with the sun, giving off energy while neither losing nor gaining any itself, was a metaphor the basis of which was not only physical rather than spiritual but was in fact mythical since there neither is nor could be such a physical object.  Far too little use was made of our higher levels of experience, love, sympathy, perception, memory, in thinking analogically about deity.  In Kant’s case there is a special form of materialism in the reasoning about substance.  Kant says that change implies a something that remains identical through change, and he reject a psychical theory of this something on the ground that the “soul” is too variable to meet the requirements.  So he opts for the physical atoms (or point-forces) as the (phenomenal) substance.  But change is no ultimate, not further analyzable idea, since it can be explained as the becoming of novelty in successive steps.  We say that the weather changes, but the fact can be expressed by reporting successive contrasting temperatures, etc.  If in present experience there is memory of previous joy or sorry, succeeded by sorrow or joy, certainly there has been change, i.e., the becoming of novel actuality.  As for identity, as we have seen, the past itself is intuited; also there are always some common characters between successive experiences, an din personal memory there is normally a special intimacy between earlier and later.

Kant’s idea of the summum bonum is largely medieval, a posthumous career (outside of time?  In time?  The mind boggles at Kant’s doctrine here.).  In this posthumous state, thanks to divine control, happiness and goodness will, or may, approach perfect correspondence.  God is the means to this desired end, not the end itself.  A wholly immutable deity can only be a means in relation to creaturely purposes.  This is obscured by language tending to gloss over the issue, as when God is declared the good for every creature.  The trouble is that our enjoyment of this good is no contribution to the divine good itself, which is defined as entirely self-sufficient.  Some of us seek a God we can serve, as much as or more than a God who can serve us.  Indeed the final function of God is to “endow our fleeting days with abiding significance” (Jewish ritual) by enabling our actions to enrich the divine life, which is imperishable and incorruptible (two dicta of the negative theology that need no qualifications or apologies).

I have quarreled enough with Gilson, a scholar from whom have learned quite a little.  I will now quarrel with Sir Karl Popper, from whom I have learned more, and whom I put high in the list of living philosophers.  He attacks Whitehead’s metaphysics by singling out a passage, rather unusual for Whitehead, in which rhetorical vividness is more apparent than precision.4  This is the notorious series of paradoxes about God and the world creating each other, and the life.  Sir Karl says he tried to be fair in choosing the selection.  He could have been more fair had he chosen another passage, or rather two passages, which in combination have the same purpose, but express it with more care, the passages in which Whitehead formally characterizes the two aspects, primordial and consequent, of deity.  The point, which Popper says he does not understand, is Whitehead’s version of dual transcendence.  Popper presumably has not had occasion to look very far into the history of this idea, except perhaps in the to me unsatisfactory form that it takes in Hegel.

One side of God’s nature is said to be “infinite, free, complete, primordial, eternal, actually deficient, and unconscious.”  The other side is “determined, incomplete, consequent, everlasting [meaning incorruptible, all change being gain, not loss], fully actual, and conscious.” The primordial nature is conceptual, “limited by no actuality which it presupposes,” whereas the consequent nature “originates with physical experience derived from the temporal world and then acquires integration the primordial side.”  It is clear that for Whitehead God is both infinite and finite (“it belongs to the nature of physical experience that it is finite”).  It should be said here that “physical” in Whitehead merely means experience whose data are concrete and particular, rather than abstract or general.  Infinity in the absolute sense is a conceptual entity, concerned with possibilities as such; not a possible actuality.  It is also clear that while the primordial nature is eternally complete and hence immutable, the consequent nature is subject to novelty in the form of additions, but not of loss or decrease.  Thus Whitehead is in the tradition begun by Socinus, continued in a long line of mostly little known writers, few of whom, it seems, were read by him or his critics.  This is one of the many reasons why so many have had difficulty reading him.  It is also one reason why I had less trouble than most.  I was already in this tradition.  I believed that there was novelty in God’s knowledge and that this did not imply any defect in that knowledge. Eventually I encountered the Socinian argument for this view.

Popper once wrote me that my having known Whitehead was an important reason why I see more in him than he, Popper, can.  I am not sure about the importance of this factor.  None of my Harvard, Freiburg, or Marburg teachers influenced me as Peirce, whom I have never seen, did.  I could give many other examples.  Books have been the great events in my life, apart from a few friends other than philosophers.

In an article on “Theism” that is in some respects very able in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy edited by Paul Edwards, a brief account of Whitehead’s theology ends with the observation that the “admitted and severe paradoxes” of the position make it doubtful if this approach can supersede the classical one.  I note that the paradoxes are not spelled out, and what is more significant some of the paradoxes that have led so  many to reject classical theism (the doctrine of simple transcendence, God as the immutable absolute) are also not spelled out, and some of them are not even mentioned.  This is the way philosophical controversy often, though fortunately not always, tends to go.  Sometimes present insights are dismissed in favor of tradition, sometimes a new fashion is exalted above any need for assimilating the past.  Example of the latter: Wittgenstein.

I have tried to show that the development of ideas during the last seven centuries of speculative thought about theism has a certain sense and has enlarged our comprehension substantially.  This is part of the answer to Popper’s complaint that when Whitehead appeals to progress as the justification of the speculative effort he fails to follow through and exhibit that progress.  In Whitehead’s work as a whole I think he did contribute effectively to such an exhibition.  To me it is really evident that Whitehead’s thinking took the basic insights of Spinoza, Leibniz, and Hume into account in a way that those three thinkers could not have taken process philosophy’s insights into account.  There is an asymmetry in the growth of philosophic ideas that is less different from that in the growth of scientific ones that is always realized.  Spinoza, Leibniz, or Hume could learn from process philosophy things they did not clearly conceive at all, whereas what they could teach a mature process philosopher is little more than the latter already knows - in part by studying these very predecessors.  “Philosophy never entirely recovers from the shock of a great philosopher” was Whitehead’s way of putting this asymmetry.  We do - or can - stand on the shoulders of the great men of the past.


1 For a translation of this Fechnerian passage see Philosophers Speak of God, by Hartshorne and Reese (The University of Chicago Press, 1953, 1963), p. 252.  In this book documentation for many of the historical points made in this Aquinas Lecture may be found.

2 See Kant’s essay, Ein Versuch die negative Grösse in die Weltweisheit einzuführen. 

3 On incompossible values see Hartshorne and Reese, op. cit., pp. v, 10, 279 (384), 284, 287, 506.

4 See Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), pp. 247-250.

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