Panentheism.  Revisionism.  Anarchocapitalism.



Essays by Me

Essays by Others

From A History of Philosophical Systems, Vergilius Ferm, ed.  New York: The Philosophical Library, 1950, Chapter 35, pp. 442-453.  


Charles Hartshorne

PANPSYCHISM (from the Greek for “all” and “soul”) is the doctrine that everything is psychic or, at least, has a psychic aspect. It is sometimes held in the guise of a “two-aspect theory,” that everything is both physical and psychical.  In its more significant form, panpsy-chism is rather the view that 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.  The view has been accepted by a good many philosophers and scientists.

In contrast to “idealism,” as this term is often used, panpsychism is not a doctrine of the unreality of the spatio-temporal world perceived through the senses, or its reduction to mere “ideas” in the human or divine mind.  The constituents of this world are, for panpsychists, just as real as human minds or as any mind.  Indeed, they are minds, though, in large part, of an extremely low, subhuman order.  Thus panpsychism is panpsychical realism; realistic both in the sense of admitting the reality of nature, and in the sense of avoiding an exaggerated view of the qualities of its ordinary constituents.  “Souls” may be very humble sorts of entities––for example, the soul of a frog––and panpsychists usually suppose that multitudes of units of nature are on a much lower level of psychic life even than that.

Panpsychism also contrasts with the monistic tendency of much idealism.  It does not depreciate individual distinctness, and in its most recent forms it admits some degree of freedom or self-determination, even in the lowest orders of psyches. In so far, it is pluralistic.  This pluralism of panpsychism is evidently connected with its realism.  When Berkeley (1685-1753) reduced the world to “ideas” in human and divine minds, he was saying that the inorganic world lacks reality in the full sense of individuality––for an idea is a function of individuals rather than itself an individual.  Hindu monism (Sankara, 8th century) is a more extreme denial of individuality to the constituents of nature.  Panpsychism, in contrast, is able to admit all the variety of levels of individuality, including the ultramicroscopic, which are suggested by the discoveries of science.

On the other hand, the theory can do justice to the motif of monism.  For Whitehead (1861-1947), Royce (1855-1916), Fechner (1801-1887), Varisco (1850-1933), Haeberlin (1878-     ), and other panpsychists have agreed that the system requires a God, and that individuals other than God, in spite of this otherness, are in God, not simply outside him.  This does not have a one-sidedly monistic implication, because––as Whitehead has most clearly seen––individuals generally arenot simply outside each other (the fallacy of “simple location”) but in each other, and God’s inclusion of all tings is merely the extreme or super-case of the social relativity or mutual immanence of individuals.  Thus the monistic principle of inclusiveness itself is given a pluralistic aspect.  There are as many cases of “including other individuals” as there are individuals.

As approaches to panpsychism among the ancients, one might mention Plato’s doctrine that soul is the principle of all motion; Aristotle’s statements that the soul is in a manner all tings, that all tings are moved by God as the lover by what he loves (implying that all things love, and thus are sentient subjects, i.e., in the widest sense souls), that a soul is the form of any organized, self-moving body (implying that is––as there are reasons to think––nature consists entirely of more or less organized, self-moving bodies, and their aggregates or groupings, then nature consists entirely of besouled constituents); and certain echoes of the foregoing in Plotinus.  However, Plato seems to regard Space, or the Receptacle, as seemingly irreducible to soul, and he does not expressly state that universal Forms or Ideas are essentially functions of souls.  Aristotle has a bias––going even beyond Plato’s––in favor of unchanging actuality which leads him to identify soul primarily with what is in principle actual and fixed, and to account for change and potentiality in terms of some other principle or “matter”––as though the creativity of soul, its will to produce novel values, were not as striking a characteristic of it as any!  Indeed, the more conspicuous this character the higher the level of soul!  The Greeks could not make up their minds whether soul were essentially a principle of change, the principle of change indeed; or whether it was essentially a principle of fixity; again, whether soul was essentially a principle, the principle, of variation and particular individuality, or of identity and universality.  This rather implies an obscure apprehension on their part that soul is all these things, the principle of reality in its aspects of being and becoming!

The first clear statement of the panpsychist theory seems to have been the Leibnizian (1646-1716) monadology.  But it must be understood that any features of this earliest formulation are extrinsic to panpsychism as such.  That monads are percipient subjects, which collectively constitute the universe, is the panpsychic element in Leibniz.  This philosopher seems also to have been the first to develop clearly the insight (as it has seemed to most panpsychists) that “extension,” spatiality, is primarily a group character, that groups must have members, and that such members need not be extended, at least not in the same sense as the groups.  Groups have characters not possessed by their members, and perhaps extension is such a character.  An extended thing may be really many things, one here, another there, a third in a third place, the totality being indistinctly perceived by us as one “thing” with different parts in different places.  That ordinary extended things are such indistinctly perceived groups––the old atomistic conception of the Greeks––has been more and more verified by science, especially since Leibniz; what Leibniz contributed was the insight, almost entirely lacking previously, that there is no reason favoring, and strong reasons opposing, the supposition that the constituents of extended (i.e., composite) “physical” things are simply much smaller, extended physical things.  As against this materialistic interpretation of atomism, Leinbiz proposed a psychical one.  And indeed, if all the objects of external perception are, as atomism maintains, composites rather than singulars, then we cannot look to such perception to tell us what in principle it means to be a singular entity.  It is only the image we have a stone that is unitary, not the stone; therefore, it is illogical to regard atoms (the real units) as merely very small stones, or anything of a nature which we can know in the manner in which we know stones.  What other sort of nature, otherwise known, can be pointed to?  Leibniz replies, the human self is a singular entity with real unity, a unity which is known to us by immediate feeling.  Here is the model, and the only one available, for an idea of the singular reality as such.  The singulars, whose groupings form extension, in that diverse members of a group are in diverse places, are conceivable only as analogous to the self.  What Leibniz thus discovered is the immensely important fact (by which all materialism is rendered suspect) that it is not the function or within the capacity of external perception to tell us what things are, but only to tell us where they (and especially, where groups of them) are, in how small or large an area, and how they are changing their relative positions.  If we wish to know what the things thus distributed in the spatial system may be, we must supplement external perception by that which alone remains, internal perception, self-perception, intuitive grasp of the unitary nature of our experience.   We do know to some extent what and not merely where and when, this experience is.  If a man did not know what “experience” is, he could not claim to verify any assertion.  Furthermore, psychology can give a fair description of how experiences are integrated into the unity of personality.  Thus the “psychic” is a datum.

Of course, we cannot directly apply our internal experience to the characterization of things in general; we must generalize, extend into an infinitely flexible analogy, the basic traits thus accessible to us.  Panpsychism does not undertake to tell us what particular sorts of souls other than the human there are; only comparative psychology can attempt to do that.  Panpsychism merely says that ultimately comparative psychology is the inclusive science, with “physics” its most elementary branch; “physical” laws being (as one would put it today) statistical or group aspects of the psychological laws of the most elementary and widely distributed types of psyches.  The place of biology in this scheme is dealt with by the Australian biologist, W[ilfred]. E[ade]. Agar (1882-[1951])

If extension is due to groups, does this mean that a singular corresponds to a geometrical point?  Leibniz seems not wholly clear in his answer to t his question.  Many of his successors, e.g., Peirce (1839-1914) and Whitehead, would say that even a singular does occupy a space-volume, but the “extension” of this volume is different from that of visual objects, which are never singulars, and which always consist of indistinctly perceived members occupying diverse areas.  Moreover, the volume even of singulars would be meaningless apart from some community of singulars, since space is essentially a system of relations.  Extendedness is then not a property capable of distinguishing “mere matter” from mind, since minds, as entering into communal relations with one another, must exhibit extendedness.  A mind, according to most panpsychists, is not simply outside the space-time world.  It is also not at a mere point in that world, and nothing remains than that it be in an area of the world.  And indeed, if our experience had no spatial character, it could not acquaint us with extended things.

The panpsychist argument is thus not that extension must consist on inextended units.  The argument is rather:  physical objects, as perceived, are not singulars; the singulars of which they must be composed are conceivable only as more or less remotely resembling the human self (since this is for us the only distinctly intuited singular) but differing from that self in the immensely smaller area of its effective presence and operation, in the enormously greater number of its instances in a given world area, I the more monotonous character of its temporal changes.  Such differences can be explained as meaning that the singulars in question are, taken individually drastically subhuman in scope, importance, and power.  Only through their enormous numbers do they sometimes collectively seems superior to us, at least in brute power. Taken one by one, they are unimaginably trivial, in comparison with ourselves.  (Haeberlin and Royce deny this, for reasons that seem obscure.)

An alternative to the atomistic form of panpsychism was developed by Fechner, and later by Royce.  Fechner contrasts the atomistic or “monadological” view, which we have sketched above, to the “synechological.”   Whereas the former considers such things as atoms (or molecules, perhaps protons and electrons) as each a sort of rudimentary psyche or unit of experiencing, Fechner holds that these minute entities are merely the ultimate elements of “systems,” such as animal organisms, and only these systems as wholes are sentient subjects.  However, he classes among such systems not only animals, but plants, the earth and the other planets, and other such large bodies.  This is to some extent a return to the primitive and Greek view which saw in the heavenly bodies conscious and indeed divine beings.  Fechner is the greatest modern defender of this ancient conception.  But he adds to it an astonishingly eloquent exposition of the theory that plants—for example, trees—are to be regarded as sentient and conscious.  Whatever can be said of this view must, it seems, have been said by Fechner.  And his account of the earth-soul is similarly eloquent.  Since Fechner was a master of the scientific knowledge of his time, an authority in physics as well as “founder” of experimental psychology, one cannot but be impressed with his advocacy of the synechological alternative to monadological panpsychism.  It seems, nevertheless, doubtful if the advances of science since his time have served to support him.  On the one hand, the discoveries in microscopic life suggest that comparative psychology must in principle be extended indefinitely downward toward the minute.  A book has even been written on the Psychic Life of Microorganisms.  And the cellular structure of the higher organisms implies that such “systems,” to use Fechner’s term, consist of simpler systems, and certain analogies between cells and molecules, together with the phenomena of viruses, imply that the principle does not end with cells.  So we begin to see nature as consisting of organisms composed or organisms, on many levels, and Whitehead and others hold that even an electron is a rudimentary organism or systematic unity.  It seems arbitrary to halt the analogy which is basic to comparative psychology at any particular level (for other than practical reasons of scientific convenience relative to the given state of investigation).  But, on the other hand, some of the larger systems Fechner dealt with so enthusiastically seem to contemporary knowledge rather too loosely integrated to be accepted as sentient subjects.  Thus it is arguable that a tree has less unity than one of its own cells and even more, that the earth has less unity than the animals inhabiting it.

Royce’s panpsychism followed Fechner’s in some respects, but added the remarkable notion that not only individual animals, along with heavenly bodies, are sentient individuals, but that each species of animal as a whole is a single conscious individual. Here Royce exploits the impression that naturally arises in the lover of nature that a single species of bird (let us say) has its own individuality, which is much more striking than the individuality of single members of the species.  Each wood thrush sings much like all the others, but none sings like any other kind of bird.  “The song of the wood thrush” has a more impressive individuality than the song of this or that wood thrush.  Variations among the members of the species seem like moment to moment variations within one individual.  However, in drawing the inference that such a species is conscious, Royce has not so far had followers.

A more important contribution of Royce was the conception of diverse tempos of psychic life or of diverse spans of the specious present.  Thus whereas a man experiences events lasting over something like a tenth of a second as a series of events, and cannot distinguish distinctly those lasting much less than a tenth of a second, there might be individuals who would experience a millennium as a single happening, and others for whom a millionth of a second would be a distinct experience.  In this way, Royce tries to deal with the objection which his and Fechner’s form of panpsychism tends to arouse, that a planet does not seem to be doing anything very exciting or worth having feelings about.  On our time span, says Royce, nothing may happen to a planet worth being conscious of, but if the planet experiences a long period of time as a single happening, enough change may occur in such a period to provide contrasts dramatic enough for the planet consciousness.  This principle is also stressed by Whitehead, and it seems scarcely possible to doubt that it has validity, whether or not it justifies attribution of “souls” to heavenly bodies.  It is contrary to all reasonable analogies to think that even all animals have just the same span to their specious presents; much less, that the higher animals and microbes, or microbes and atoms, could do so.  It is such dimensions of variation as this, in principle infinite in extent––for if there be a specious present of a tenth of a second, why not one of a millionth of a second, or of a million years, or a billion––it is such unlimited variability as this that furnish the answer to the objection sometimes made to panpsychism as such, that it underestimates the variety of nature.  Before we could justify this objection we must first have established the limits of the variety of possible psychic life.  And who has been able to set such limits?  Until and unless they can be set, the objection has no definite meaning.  And it is always to be borne in mind that what a panpsychist cannot interpret as a single sentient subject he may be able to deal with as a group or crowd of subjects (the Leibnizian principle) or as an element in a more comprehensive single subject (the Fechnerian principle).

An important question is, how psychic singulars can interact or be related to one another, and thus constitute the extended world of “physical” reality.  Leibniz denied literal interaction, and substituted “preestablished harmony” through the divine fiat.  He has not been followed in this notion, which involves forbidding paradoxes.  Interaction has since been accepted by every representative panpsychist.  But the problem is, to point to something in experience that gives a basis for the concept of interaction.  Lotze (1817-1881) wrestled with the problem, but his solution is merely to posit that we are all parts of One spiritual being, whose parts interact, since they are not separate entities but are unified through the whole inclusive of them.  But this is largely verbal, as it stands.  Fechner’s view was similar.  Peirce and Whitehead are the thinkers who really effect an advance here.

According to Peirce, one of the three universal aspects of experience, or supreme categories, is “reaction,” which means, an element of experience containing intrinsic reference to something other than itself.  Peirce points out that experience is pervaded by a sense of duality, of dynamic relatedness to another, as in such pairs as effort-resistance, struggle-obstacle, “the novel––the expected,” present-past, feeling-thing felt, subject-object.  Pierce maintains cogently that this dynamic duality cannot be treated as a mere illusion, a mere feeling of reaction, but must be accepted as a felt reaction of feelings, a real transaction between an experience and something other than itself.  This real reference to another, Peirce calls Secondness or the Dyad.  His three categories are, Feeling-quality, Striving or Reaction, Meaning or Representation.  These correspond to the monadic, dyadic, and triadic elements of all experience respectively.  In this scheme panpsychism acquires greater precision of language than it formerly possessed.  That all is psychic means, all is feeling, in reaction with other feeling, and more or less shot through with meaning or sign-character.  (To reach Peirce’s conception, we must take Feeling to include all the qualitative content of sensation, often classed under cognition.)

An important contribution involved in Peirce’s view is his uniquely vivid sense of the spontaneous, creative, or chance-character of the life of feeling; the radical absurdity of looking for a reason for blue or green or sour or any other quality of feeling.  Process in its details issues from no necessity, but is a continual influx of unpredictable novelty.  Law is everywhere only statistical and approximate, and on the higher levels of mind the regularities are even less complete.  Another contribution is in the recognition of the basic rôle of sympathy in reality.  Feelings react with other feelings, but in this reaction is involved some degree of participation in the qualities of these other feelings.  A feeling feels the feelings to which it reacts.  Feelings echo to some extent the feelings around them, and this is the basis of the possibility of relationships among realities by which they constitute a world of things relevant to one another.

Similar ideas (developed independently) along with many new ones in a much more fully articulated system are found in the panpsychic metaphysics of Whitehead, who, it is probably safe to say, will stand out, with Leibniz, as one of the two great artificers of the panpsychic philosophy in its present form.

We have seen that the contribution of Leibniz to our theme was primarily his freeing atomism from its illogical alliance with materialism.  Atomism here means topological pluralism, the principle that in diverse perceived “places” are not merely parts of one extended thing, but always diverse things, collectives of which are what are perceived as extended.  Now the same principle can be applied to time as to space.  In different experienced moments of time are not merely different states, or temporal parts, of one thing enduring through time, but different things, and it is only sequences of these things that have extension or endurance through time. This temporal atomism or chronological pluralism is termed “epochalism” by Whitehead.  A single temporal unit or epoch is not a mere instant, but a “specious present,” a unitary experience or quantum of process, just as even the least thing in space, say an electron, is not a mere physical point.  In both cases, there is a unit which is not actually divided into, or composed of, smaller units; but, although not divided, it is conceptually divisible.  It is a least actual, but not a least possible, part of space or time.  The mathematical continuum of point-instants is the system of all possible divisions of space-time; the atomic-epochal units are the actual divisions at a given moment.  The human specious present is the only epoch we directly experience with any vividness, just as the spatial spread of a human experience is the only atomic unit.  In perceiving the non-human world we are always apprehending collectives, both spatial and temporal.  To form even a vague conception of the singulars composing these collectives our only resource is to generalize analogically the epochal and atomic characters of human experiences.

The units of reality, then, are unit-experiences, “experient-occasions,” or “actual entities,” not “souls.”  It may seem that the name panpsychism should no longer be applied (it is, to be sure, never used by Whitehead  himself).  However, “psychology without a soul” has long been with us, and the word “psyche” cannot conveniently be restricted to a certain theory of the temporal structure of experience rather than another.  Moreover, the analogy between the human soul and other individuals is still in force in Whitehead; it is merely given a more subtle, complex, and carefully generalized formulation. The tendency for experiences to occur in integrated sequences, expressive of enduring individuals characteristics, is not confined to human beings.  The higher animals have something analogous, though the modes of integration, through memory and persisting purposes and so on, are much simpler and radically inferior in degree of consciousness.  And even the sequences of occasions constituting a cell or an atom may have some bits of memory-echoes and flashes of rudimentary anticipation, and certainly there must be some continuity of quality running through these sequences.  So far as nature thus consists of enduring individuals, with self-identity through time, this identity will be analogous to that of souls.  But whereas the old theory admitted two forms of change, irreducible to any common principle: the creation of new actualities (such as souls), and the production of new states of an already existing actuality (such as new experiences of a soul), chronological pluralism or epochalism has but the creation of new actualities, i.e., unit experiences.  New souls do indeed come into being, but that is not an additional principle but a special application of the universal principles by which occasions supersede one another in time.  For every such occasion has intrinsic reference (somewhat as in Peirce’s theory of reaction) to preceding occasions, with which it has some degree of sympathetic participation, echoing their qualities, but with a new over-all quality of its own as it reacts to them.  Ordinary “memory” is merely a privileged case of this intrinsic reference of experiences to their predecessors, and the persistence of personality traits is a privileged case of the qualitative echoing of old experiences in new ones.  Some occasions form single strand sequences, each member of which echoes certain qualities common to the whole sequence.  This type of sequence is said to have “personal order,” since it is analogous to the stream of experiences constituting the inner life of a human person.  In other cases the relations of reaction (Whitehead’s term is “causal efficacy,” or “conformation of feeling to feeling,” or “physical prehension”) form multiple strand sequences structurally not analogous to a soul.  But always there is analogy to the unit experience from which all knowledge starts.

We can barely mention once more the new synthesis of theistic and pantheistic insights by which, especially in Fechner and Whitehead, God as supreme psyche completes the panpsychic system.  God includes the lesser subjects, but so that their freedom is preserved and his responsibility for the details of their acts is not unlimited.  This involves an aspect of passivity and process toward novelty in God, despite the eternal necessity of his existence and essential character.




W. E. Agar, The Theory of the Living Organism (Melbourne, London, 1943).

________, “The Wholeness of the Living Organism,” Philosophy of Science, vol. xv (1948), pp. 179-91.

A. Binet, The Psychic Life of Microorganism (Chicago, 1903).

G. T. Fechner, The Religion of a Scientist: Selections from G. Th. Fechner. Ed. and trans. by W. Lowrie (New York, 1946).

________, Zend-Avesta oder über die Dinge des Himmels und die Jenseits.  Vol. I (especially chs. x, xi) (Hamburg, Leipzig, 1851).

V. Ferm, First Adventures in Philosophy (New York, 1936).

P. Haeberlin, Naturphilosophische Betrachtungen (Zürich 1939-40).

________, Logik (Zürich 1947).

C. Hartshorne, Beyond Humanism (Part ii), (Chicago, 1937).

________, Man’s Vision of God (Chicago, 1941); New York, 1948).

G. W. Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics, Correspondence with Arnold, etc. (Chicago, 1902).

________, Monadology and Other Writings (New  York, 1898).

W. P. Montague, The Ways of Things (New York, 1940).

F. Paulsen, Introduction to Philosophy, tr. by F. Thilly (New  York, 1912).

C. S. Peirce, Collected Papers, Vol. I, VI (Harvard, 1931-35).

________, The Philosophy of Peirce: Selections, J. Buchler, ed. (New York, London, 1940.

________, Chance, Love and Logic (New York, 1923, 1949).

J. Royce, The World and the Individual, Vol. II (New York, 1901).

C. A. Strong, Essays on the Natural Origin of the Mind (London, 1930).

B. Varisco, Know Thyself (London, 1915).

A. Wenzl, Wissenschaft und Weltanschauung (Leipzig, 1939, 1949).

A. N. Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, (New York, 1925).

________, Process and Reality, (New York, 1929, 1949).

________, Adventures of Ideas, (New York, 1933, 1948).

________, Modes of Thought, (New York, 1938).

Back to Hartshorne page