Stanford University

Charles Hartshorne (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Charles Hartshorne was born in the nineteenth century and lived to
philosophize in the twenty-first. He was born in Kittanning,
Pennsylvania (U.S.A.) on June 5, 1897. He was, like Alfred North
Whitehead, the son of an Anglican minister, although many of his
ancestors were Quakers. After attending Haverford College he served in
World War One in France as a medic, taking a box of philosophy books
with him to the front. After the war Hartshorne received his doctorate
in philosophy at Harvard, and there he met Whitehead. Most of the
major elements of Hartshorne’s philosophy were already apparent by the
time he became familiar with Whitehead’s thought, contrary to a
popular misconception. From 1923–1925 a postdoctoral fellowship took
him to Germany, where he had classes with both Husserl and
Heidegger. But neither of these thinkers influenced his philosophy as
much as C.S. Peirce, whose collected papers he edited with Paul
Weiss. In addition to many visiting appointments, Hartshorne spent his
teaching career at three institutions. From 1928–1955 he taught at the
University of Chicago, where he was a dominant intellectual force in
the School of Divinity, despite the fact that he was housed in the
Philosophy Department, where he was not nearly as influential. He was
at Emory University from 1955 until 1962, when he moved to the
University of Texas at Austin. Hartshorne eventually became a
long-term emeritus professor at Austin and lived there until his death
on October 9, 2000. His wife, Dorothy, was as colorful as her husband
and was mentioned often in his writings. Hartshorne never owned an
automobile, nor did he smoke or drink alcohol or caffeine; he had a
passion for birdsong and became an internationally known expert in the

Three primary methodological devices or procedures are at work in
Hartshorne’s metaphysics. First, he very often uses a systematic
exhaustion of theoretical options—or the development of position
matrices, sometimes containing thirty-two alternatives(!)—in
considering philosophical problems. This procedure is evident
throughout his philosophy, but it is most apparent in his various
treatments of the ontological argument. To take another example, he
thinks it important to notice that regarding the mind-body problem
there are three options available to us, not two, as is usually
assumed: some form of dualism, some form of the materialist view that
psyche is reducible to body, and some form of the panpsychist
(or, as he terms it, psychicalist) view that body is in some way
reducible to psyche if all concrete singulars (e.g., cells or
electrons) in some way show signs of self-motion or activity. Thomas
Nagel famously considers this third option, but Hartshorne actually
defends it.

Second, Hartshorne frequently uses the history of philosophy to see
which of the logically possible options made available by position
matrices have been defended before so as to avail ourselves of the
insights of others in the effort to examine in detail the consistency
of these positions and to assess their consequences. Nonetheless,
those logically possible options that have not historically found
support should be analyzed both in terms of internal consistency and
practical ramifications. It should be noted that Hartshorne’s use of
the history of philosophy often involves lesser known views of famous
thinkers (like Plato’s belief in God as the soul for the body of the
whole natural world, or Leibniz’s defense of panpsychism) as well as
the thought of lesser known thinkers (such as Faustus Socinus,
Nicholas Berdyaev, or Jules Lecquier).

Third, after a careful reading of the history of philosophy has
facilitated the conceptual and pragmatic examination of all the
available options made explicit by a position matrix, the (Greek)
principle of moderation is used by Hartshorne as a guide to negotiate
the way between extreme views on either side. For example, regarding
the issue of personal identity, the view of Hume (and of Bertrand
Russell at one stage in his career) is that, strictly speaking, there
is no personal identity in that each event in “a person’s life” is
externally related to the others. This is just as disastrous,
Hartshorne thinks, as Leibniz’s view that all such events are
internally related to the others, so that implicit in the fetus are
all the experiences of the adult. (This Leibnizian view relies on the
classical theistic, strong notion of omniscience, wherein God knows in
minute detail and with absolute assurance what will happen in the
future.) The Humean view fails to explain the continuity we experience
in our lives and the Leibnizian view fails to explain the
indeterminateness we experience when considering the future. The truth
lies between these two extremes, Hartshorne thinks. His view of
personal identity is based on a conception of time as asymmetrical in
which later events in a person’s life are internally related to former
events, but they are externally related to those that follow, thus
leading to a position that is at once partially deterministic and
partially indeterministic. That is, the past supplies necessary but
not sufficient conditions for human identity in the present, which
always faces a partially indeterminate future.

Only the first of these methodological devices or procedures supports
the widely held claim that Hartshorne is a rationalist. His overall
method is a complex one that involves the other two methods or
procedures, where he does borrow from the rationalists, but also from
the pragmatists and the Greeks. It must be admitted, however, that
Hartshorne was educated in a philosophic world still heavily
influenced by late nineteenth and early twentieth century

Philosophers commonly use a metaphor that suggests that the chain of
an argument, say for the existence of God, is only as strong as its
weakest link. Hartshorne rejects this metaphor on Peircian grounds. He
replaces it by suggesting that various arguments for the existence of
God—ontological, cosmological, design, etc.—are like
mutually reinforcing strands in a cable.

He argues that Hume’s and Kant’s criticisms of the ontological
argument of St. Anselm are not directed at the strongest version of
his argument found in Proslogion, chapter 3. Here, he thinks,
there is a modal distinction implied between existing necessarily and
existing contingently. Hartshorne’s view is that existence alone might
not be a real predicate, but existing necessarily certainly is. To
say that something exists without the possibility of not existing is
to say something significant about the being in question. That is,
contra Kant and others, Hartshorne believes that there are necessary
truths concerning existence. To say that absolute nonexistence in some
fashion exists is to contradict oneself; hence he thinks that absolute
nonexistence is unintelligible. It is necessarily the case that
something exists, he thinks, and, relying on the ontological
argument, he also thinks it true that God necessarily exists.

On Hartshorne’s view, metaphysics does not deal with realities beyond
the physical, but rather with those features of reality that are
ubiquitous or that would exist in any possible world. And he does not
think that it is possible to think of a preeminent being that only
existed contingently since if it did exist contingently rather than
necessarily, it would not be preeminent. That is, God’s existence is
either impossible (positivism) or possible, and, if possible, then
necessary (theism). He is assuming here that there are three
alternatives for us to consider: (1) God is impossible; (2) God is
possible, but may or may not exist; (3) God exists necessarily. The
ontological argument shows that the second alternative makes no sense.
Hence, he thinks that the prime task for the philosophical theist is
to show that God is not impossible.

In addition, Hartshorne’s detailed treatment of the argument from
design is connected to his view of biology. It is hard to reconcile an
omnipotent, classical theistic God with all of the monstrosities and
chance mutations produced in nature, but the general orderliness of
the natural world is just as difficult to reconcile with there being
no Orderer or Persuader at all. Belief in God as omnipotent, he
thinks, has three problems: (1) it is at odds with the disorderliness
in nature; (2) it yields the acutest form of the theodicy problem; and
(3) it conflicts with the notion from Plato’s Sophist,
defended by Hartshorne, that being is dynamic power
(dynamis). An omnipotent being would ultimately have
all power over others, who would ultimately be powerless. But any
being-in-becoming, according to Hartshorne, has some power to
be affected by others and to affect others; this power, however
slight, provides counterevidence to a belief in divine omnipotence. In
contrast, God is ideally powerful, on the Hartshornian view. That is,
God is as powerful as it is possible to be, given the partial freedom
and power of creatures.

Hartshorne’s dispute with traditional or classical philosophical
theism concerns not so much the existence of God, but rather
its assumption that the actuality of God (i.e., how
God exists) could be described in the same terms as the existence of
God. A God who exists necessarily is not necessary or unchanging in
every other respect (e.g., in terms of divine responsiveness to
creaturely changes), he thinks. Although Hartshorne believes that the
medieval thinkers were correct in trying to think through the logic of
perfection, he also thinks that this logic has traditionally been
misapplied in the effort to articulate the attributes of a being
called “God,” roughly defined as the greatest conceivable
being. The traditional or classical theistic logic of perfection sees
God as monopolar in that regarding various contrasts
(permanence-change, one-many, activity-passivity, etc.) the
traditional or classical philosophical theist has chosen one element
in each pair as a divine attribute (the former element of each pair)
and denigrated the other.

By way of contrast, Hartshorne’s logic of perfection is dipolar.
Within each element of these pairs there are good features that should
be attributed in the preeminent sense to God (e.g., excellent
permanence in the sense of steadfastness, excellent change in the
sense of preeminent ability to respond to the sufferings of
creatures). In each element in these pairs there are also invidious
features (e.g., pigheaded stubbornness, fickleness). The task for the
philosophical theist, he thinks, is to attribute the excellences of
both elements of these pairs to God and to eschew the invidious
aspects of both elements. However, it should be noted that
some contrasts are not fit for dipolar analysis (e.g.,
good-evil) in that “good good” is a redundancy and
“evil good” is a contradiction. The greatest conceivable
being, he thinks, cannot be evil in any sense whatsoever.

Hartshorne does not claim to believe in two gods, nor does he wish to
defend a cosmological dualism. In fact, we can see that the opposite
is the case when we consider that, in addition to calling his theism
dipolar, he refers to it as a type of panentheism,
which literally means that all is in the one God by means of
omniscience (as Hartshorne defines the term) and omnibenevolence. All
creaturely feelings, especially feelings of suffering, are included in
the divine life. God is seen by Hartshorne as the mind or soul for the
whole body of the natural world (see above regarding Plato’s World
Soul), although he thinks of God as distinguishable from the
creatures. Another way to categorize Hartshorne’s theism is to see it
as neoclassical in the sense that he relies on the classical
or traditional theistic arguments for the existence of God and on the
classical theistic metaphysics of being as first steps in the
effort to think through properly the logic of perfection. However,
these efforts need to be supplemented, he thinks, by the efforts of
those who see becoming as more inclusive than being. God is not
outside of time, as in the Boethian view that is influential among
traditional philosophical theists, but rather exists through all of
time, on Hartshorne’s view. On the neoclassical view, God’s permanent
“being” consists in steadfast benevolence exhibited through
everlasting becoming.

God is omniscient, on Hartshorne’s view, but “omniscience” here refers
to the divine ability to know everything that is knowable: past
actualities as already actualized; present realities to the extent
that they are knowable according to the laws of physics (e.g., what is
present epistemically may very well be the most recent past, given the
speed of light); and future possibilities or probabilities as
possibilities or probabilities
. On the traditional or classical
conception of omniscience, however, God has knowledge of future
possibilities or probabilities as already actualized. According to
Hartshorne, this is not an example of supreme knowledge, but is rather
an example of ignorance of the (at least partially) indeterminate
character of the future.

The asymmetrical view of time, common to process thinkers in general
(e.g., Bergson, Whitehead, Hartshorne), in which the relationship
between the present and the past is radically different from the
relationship between the present and the future, also has implications
for Hartshorne’s theodicy. A plurality of partially free agents,
including nonhuman ones, facing a future that is neither completely
determined nor foreknown in detail, makes it not only possible, but
likely, that these agents will get in each other’s way, clash, and
cause each other to suffer. On this view, God is the fellow sufferer
who understands.

Hartshorne views the cosmos as a “metaphysical monarchy,”
with God as the presiding, but not omnipotent, head, and he sees human
society as a “metaphysical democracy,” with each member as
an equal. This makes him a liberal in politics if
“liberalism” refers to the egalitarian belief that none of
us is God. Although Hartshorne and Whitehead are both political
liberals, Hartshorne is, despite his view of panpsychist reality as
thoroughly social, more of a libertarian liberal and Whitehead more of
a redistributive liberal. In axiology as well as in
metaphysics/theodicy, freedom is crucial, on Hartshorne’s view.

Hartshorne’s panpsychism (or psychicalism) entails the belief that
each active singular in nature, even those like electrons and plant
cells that do not exhibit mentality, is nonetheless a center of
intrinsic, and not merely instrumental, value. As a result,
Hartshorne’s metaphysics is meant to provide a basis for both an
aesthetic appreciation of the value in nature, as well as for an
environmental ethics where intrinsic and instrumental values in nature
are weighed.

As a published expert on bird song, Hartshorne is the first
philosopher since Aristotle to be an expert in both metaphysics and
ornithology. He writes specifically of the aesthetic categories
required to explain why birds sing outside of mating season and when
territory is not threatened—two occasions for bird song that are
crucial to the behaviorists’ account. Birds like to sing, he

Hartshorne’s criticism of anthropocentrism is due not only to his
concern for God, but also for beings-in-becoming who experience in a
less sophisticated way than humans. To say that all active singulars
feel—leaving out of the picture abstractions like
“twoness” or insentient composites of active singulars
that do not themselves feel as wholes—is not to say that they
are self-conscious or that they think. As before, however,
Hartshorne’s axiology is ultimately theocentric in character.

It seems fair to say that analytic philosophers, in general, even
analytic philosophers who are theists, have largely ignored
Hartshorne’s philosophy. (The point is debateable. There has been a
move among many analytic philosophers who are theists, as in Richard
Swinburne, away from the eternal, Boethian God who is outside of time
altogether. Might it be that Hartshorne’s influence is greater than
initially appears to be the case when the temporality, or the
sempiternity, of the God of many analytic philosophers is concerned?)
This is in contrast to his wide influence among theologians, which is
odd when it is considered that he is not a theologian and does not
rely on sacred scripture or religious authority for his
insights. Another oddity is the fact that Hartshorne’s influence among
theologians is due to the defense he offers of
the rationality of belief in a neoclassical God.

There is at least one important philosopher whose work indicates the
sort of debate that has occurred between Hartshorne and analytic
theists, who tend to rely on traditional or classical versions of the
concept of God. That is William Alston. There are two reasons why an
evaluation of Hartshorne’s philosophy is facilitated by a
consideration of Alston’s critique. First, Alston is as important a
theist as any among analytic philosophers and his criticisms of
Hartshorne’s thought are like those of other analytic philosophers
like Thomas Morris, Richard Creel, Michael Durrant, Colin Gunton, and
others. And second, Alston is a former student of Hartshorne’s and is
thoroughly familiar with Hartshorne’s arguments. Alston is a
philosopher who is not scandalized by Hartshorne’s panentheism, nor by
his neoclassical theism. But Alston thinks that the contrast that
Hartshorne draws between his neoclassical theism and the classical
theism of Thomas Aquinas is too sharp.

Alston thinks that Hartshorne presents neoclassical theism and
classical theism as complete packages, whereas it would be better to
be able to pick and choose among individual items within these
packages. Alston seeks some sort of rapprochement between Thomism and
neoclassical theism, a rapprochement that Hartshorne himself would
like to bring about to the extent that he is a neoclassical
thinker, but that is difficult to accomplish to the extent that he is

A consideration of ten contrasting attributes will best facilitate an
initial understanding of Hartshorne’s view of God. Consider the first
group of attributes treated by Alston.

1. absoluteness (absence of internal relatedness) 1. relativity (God is internally related to creatures
by way of knowledge of them and actions toward them)
2. pure actuality (there is no potentiality in
2. potentiality (not everything is actualized that is
possible for God)
3. total necessity (every truth about God is
necessarily true)
3. necessity and contingency (God exists necessarily,
but various things are true of God contingently, e.g., God’s knowledge
of what is contingent)
4. absolute simplicity 4. complexity

Alston distinguishes two lines of argument regarding absoluteness and
relativity, which he sees as the key contrast. Alston thinks that only
one of these is successful. As indicated in the diagram above, what
Hartshorne means by absoluteness is absence of internal relatedness. A
relation is internal to a term of a relation just in case that term
would not be exactly as it is if it were not in that relationship.
Hartshorne’s view is that God has internal relations to creatures by
way of knowing and acting towards them and receiving influence from them.

On Alston’s interpretation, Hartshorne’s first line of argument is to
say that if the relation of the absolute to the world really fell
outside the absolute, then this relation would necessarily fall within
some further and genuinely single entity that embraced both the
absolute and the world and the relations between them. Thus, we must
hold, according to Hartshorne, that the God-creature relation is
internal to God; otherwise we will have to admit that there is
something greater or more inclusive than God. Alston does not find
this argument convincing because it includes the claim that God
“contains” the world due to the internal relations God has with the
world. Alston’s view is that the entity to which a relation is
internal contains the terms only in the sense that those terms enter
into a description of the entity, but it does not follow from this
that those terms are contained in that entity as marbles are in a

Divine inclusiveness, for Hartshorne, is sometimes like the
inclusion of thoughts in a mind, but usually it is described as like
the inclusion of cells within a living body. It is never like the
inclusion of marbles in a box. The inorganic and insentient character
of a box is inadequate as a model for divinity, he thinks, and divine
inclusiveness is never like the inclusion of theorems in a set of
axioms, as it might be for certain idealists. Divine inclusiveness in
Hartshorne is organic inclusiveness.

Hartshorne’s second argument against absoluteness fares much better,
according to Alston. He agrees with Hartshorne’s stance regarding the
cognitive relation God has with the world; in any case of knowledge,
the knowledge relation is internal to the subject, external to the
object. When a human being knows something, the fact that she knows it
is part of what makes her the concrete being that she is. If she
recognizes a certain tree she is different from the being she might
have been if she had not recognized the tree. But the tree is
unaffected by her recognition. Likewise, according to Alston, one
cannot maintain that God has perfect knowledge of everything knowable
and still hold that God is not qualified to any degree by relations
with other beings.

One might respond to Alston and Hartshorne on this point by saying
that since creatures depend for their existence on God, their
relations to God affect them, but not God. Richard Creel
seems to make this very point. But even if beings other than God
depend for their existence on God, it still remains true that if God
had created a different world from the one that exists at present,
then God would be somewhat different from the way God is at present:
God’s knowledge would have been of that world and not this
one, according to both Alston and Hartshorne.

Alston’s concessions to Hartshorne’s concept of God extend to
contrasts 2–4. The above argument for the internal relatedness of God
(as cognitive subject) to the world presupposes that there are
alternative possibilities for God, and if there are alternative
possibilities for divine knowledge then this implies that there are
unrealized potentialities for God. Pure actuality and
total necessity cannot be defended as divine attributes,
according to Alston and Hartshorne. Alston’s version of Hartshorne’s
argument goes as follows:

(1) (a) “God knows that W exists” entails (b) “W exists.”

(2) If (a) were necessary, (b) would be necessary.

(3) But (b) is contingent.

(4) Hence (a) is contingent.

We can totally exclude contingency from God only by denying God any
knowledge of anything contingent, a step that not even traditional or
classical theists wish to take. Contrast 4 must also be treated in a
dipolar way in that the main support for a doctrine of pure divine
simplicity is the absence of any unrealized potentialities in God.

In sum, Alston and Hartshorne agree on contrasts 1–4, except for the
fact that Hartshorne’s concept of divine inclusiveness, in contrast to
Alston’s, is organic in character.

Regarding a second group of attribues, however, Alston and many other
theists who are analytic philosophers diverge from Hartshorne rather

5. creation ex nihilo by a free act of will;
God could have refrained from creating anything
5. both God and the world of creatures exist
necessarily, although the details are contingent
6. omnipotence (God has the power to do anything God
wills to do that is logically consistent)
6. God has all the power one agent could have given
metaphysical, in addition to logical, limitations
7. incorporeality 7. corporeality (the world is the body of God)
8. nontemporality (God does not live through a series
of moments)
8. temporality (God lives through temporal succession,
but everlastingly)
9. immutability (God cannot change because God is not
temporally successive)
9. mutability (God is continually attaining richer
syntheses of experience)
10. absolute perfection (God is eternally that than
which no more perfect can be conceived)
10. relative perfection (at any moment God is more
perfect than any other, but God is self-surpassing at a later stage of

Concerning contrast 5, Alston takes creation ex nihilo to be
fundamental to theism because it has deep roots in religious
experience. He thinks that to say that God has unrealized
potentialities and contingent properties is not to say that God
must be in relation with some world of entities other than
God. Alston admits that Hartshorne legitimately points out some of the
internal contradictions contained in the classical theistic version of
creation ex nihilo, but he claims that there is no connection
drawn by Hartshorne between divine creation and metaphysical
principles regarding relativity, contingency, and
potentiality. Alston’s belief seems to be that those who accept
creation ex nihilo are not saying that there is absolutely
nothing at any stage: there is God. Rather, creation ex
only means that there is nothing out of which God creates
the universe. Here Alston seems to agree with Norman Kretzmann,
Eleonore Stump, and most other theists who are analytic philosophers.

Alston’s stance here is problematic for two reasons, from Hartshorne’s
point of view. First, although belief in some sort of divine
creativity has deep roots in the history of religious experience, it
is not clear that these roots have to tap into creation ex
. For example, it is not clear that creation ex
is the sort of creation described in Genesis, in that when
the Bible starts with the statement that the spirit of God hovered
above the waters, one gets the impression that both God and the
aqueous muck had been around forever. If one believes in creation
ex nihilo, however, as Alston does, one might nonetheless
claim that creation ex nihilo does not necessarily mean a
temporal beginning to the act of creation. But even on this hypothesis
there are problems, and this would seem to be Hartshorne’s second
point. If Plato and Hartshorne are correct that being is
dynamic power, then the sort of unlimited power implied by creation
ex nihilo is impossible. Hartshorne would argue, contra
Alston, that there is a connection between belief in creation ex
(as opposed to creation ex nihilo) and the
metaphysical principle that being is dynamic power. Creation ex
, Hartshorne thinks, is a convenient fiction invented in
the first centuries B.C.E. and C.E. in order to exalt divine power,
but it is not the only sort of creation that religious believers have
defended, nor is it defensible if being is dynamic power.

Concerning contrast 6, Alston claims that belief in creation ex
and belief in divine omnipotence are separate beliefs such
that to argue against the former is not necessarily to argue against
the latter. Hartshorne tries to do too much, he thinks, with the claim
that being is power when he uses this claim to argue against divine
omnipotence. According to Alston, God can have unlimited
power, power to do anything that God wills to do, without having
all power in that, if being is power, the creatures also have
some power.

On Hartshorne’s interpretation of Alston, however, God can have
unlimited power, but not all power, because God delegates some power to
others. Although God does not have all power, Hartshorne thinks that on
Alston’s view God could have all power. In effect, what Alston
has done, according to Hartshorne, is reduce his stance regarding
divine omnipotence to that regarding creation ex nihilo in
that the claim that God could have all power is due to the prior belief
that God brings everything into existence out of absolutely nothing, a
belief that Alston thinks has to be the traditional one and in point of
fact is intelligible. It is not quite clear to Hartshorne, however,
that it is unquestionably the traditional one, nor is it clear to him
that we can develop an intelligible concept of “absolutely

Hartshorne’s Platonic or Bergsonian argument against creation ex
, in simplified form, looks something like this: one can in
fact imagine the nonexistence of this or that, or even of this or that
class of things, a fact that gives some the confidence to
(erroneously) think that this process can go on infinitely such that
one could imagine a state in which there was “absolutely nothing.”
However, not every verbally possible statement is made conceptually
cogent by even the most generous notion of “conceptual,” according to
Hartshorne. At the specific, ordinary, empirical level negative
instances are possible, but at the generic, metaphysical level only
positive instances are possible, on this view. The sheer absence of
reality cannot conceivably be experienced, he thinks, for if it were
experienced an existing experiencer would be presupposed.

Contrast 7 deals with divine embodiment. Alston is willing to grant
that God is embodied in two senses: (1) God is aware, with maximal
immediacy, of what goes on in the world; and (2) God can directly
affect what happens in the world. That is, Alston defends a limited
version of divine embodiment, similar to that defended by Richard
Swinburne. However, Alston is sceptical regarding a stronger version
of divine embodiment wherein the world exists by metaphysical
necessity such that God must animate it. Alston is willing to
accept the idea that God has a body, but only if having such
a body is on God’s terms. It seems that this weaker version of divine
embodiment defended by Alston, as opposed to Hartshorne’s stronger
version wherein there is essential corporeality in God, stands or
falls with the defense of creation ex nihilo. In fact,
despite Alston’s desire to examine each contrast individually, as
opposed to Hartshorne’s stark contrast between classical theistic
attributes (all ten of them) and neoclassical attributes (all ten of
them), he ends up linking his criticisms of Hartshorne regarding
contrasts 5–7, at the very least. All three of these classical
theistic attributes stand together only with a defensible version of
creation ex nihilo.

Contrasts 8–9, concerning nontemporality and immutability, are also
linked by Alston. He concedes that if God is temporal, Hartshorne has
offered us the best version to date of what divine temporality and
divine mutability would be like. Alston dismisses as idle the view
that God could remain completely unchanged through a succession of
temporal moments, but this admission still leaves us, he thinks, with
the following conditional statement: “God undergoes change if
God is in time.” Alston’s critique of Hartshorne’s view also consists
in a refusal to grant that contingency and temporality are coextensive
in the way mutability and temporality are. Alston believes, contra
Hartshorne, that God can be in some way contingent (that any relation
in which God stands to the world might have been otherwise) and still
be nontemporal.

Alston knows that the notion of a nontemporal God who is qualified by
relation to temporal beings will strike Hartshorne as
unintelligible. Alston’s attempt to make his position intelligible
rests on his own Thomistic-Whiteheadian stance, or better, on his
Thomistic or Boethian interpretation of Whitehead (strange as this
seems). We should not think of God as involved in process or becoming
of any sort. The best temporal analogy, he thinks, for this conception
is an unextended instant or an “eternal now.” For Alston
this does not commit one, however, as Hartshorne would allege, to a
static deity frozen in immobility. On the contrary, according to
Alston, God is eternally active in ways that do not require temporal
succession. God’s acts can be complete in an instant. Alston includes
God’s acts of knowledge, a stance that at least seems to conflict with
one of the concessions he made to Hartshorne regarding the first group
of attributes.

The Boethian-Thomistic notion of the specious present for God, on the
analogue of a human being’s perceiving some temporally extended
stretch of a process in one temporally indivisible act, is also
defended by Alston. For example, one can perceive the flight of a bee
“all at once” without first perceiving the first half of
the stretch of flight and then perceiving the second. One’s perception
can be without temporal succession even if the object of one’s
perception is, in fact, temporally successive. All we have to do, on
Alston’s view, is expand our specious present to cover all of time and
we have a model for God’s awareness of the world. This is a much more
difficult project for Hartshorne to imagine than it is for
Alston. Apparently Alston thinks that it is easy to conceptualize God
“seeing” Neanderthal man (or Adam), Moses, Jesus, and
Dorothy Day all at once in their immediacy. Here Alston has a view
similar to that of William Mann.

But even if it were possible to have nonsuccessive awareness
of a vast succession, which Hartshorne would deny, it is even more
implausible, from Hartshorne’s point of view, to claim, as does
Alston, that God could have nonsuccessive responses to stages
of that succession. It might make more sense for Alston to say
“indesponses” or “presponses” rather than
“responses,” as Creel would urge.

It is correct of Alston to notice that there is no loss in God, but
this is not incompatible with God’s temporality, according to
Hartshorne. There can be succession in God without there being loss or
perishing due to the fact that God’s inheritance of what happens in
the world and God’s memory are ideal. Hartshorne thinks that the
future is incomplete and indeterminate for God as well as from our
limited perspective. Alston, by way of contrast, wants to defend a God
who is not strictly necessary in actuality, but is contingent,
despite the fact that God does not undergo temporal change,
nor is God fluent. Hartshorne’s defenders, by way of contrast, think
that one of the greatest virtues of process thinking is its effort to
eliminate what they see as such self-contradiction in philosophical

Alston’s treatment of contrast 10, concerning absolute versus relative
perfection, follows from what he has said regarding contrasts
8–9. Relative perfection in God, as opposed to absolute perfection,
has a point only for a temporal being; hence God is absolutely
perfect, according to Alston. A being that does not successively
assume different states could not possibly surpass itself. Here, once
again, Alston engages in linkage, thereby, at the very least,
confirming Hartshorne’s belief that we need both to consider the
divine attributes together and to determine whether the classical
theist’s linkage or the neoclassical theist’s linkage is more
defensible. For the most past, Alston opts for classical theism. Or
more precisely, he thinks that the strongest concept of God is
acquired when we take a modified version of the neoclassical
attributes in contrasts 1–4 and combine them with the classical
attributes in contrasts 5–10.

This rapproachement in Alston between classical theism and
neoclassical theism is a step beyond James Ross’s belief that these
are two competing descriptions of God at an impasse. Hartshorne seems
to agree with Ross. Neoclassical, dipolar theism already
includes the best insights of classical theism, he thinks.

From Hartshorne’s point of view the linkage of attributes
within the first group and within the second group
needs to be corrected by a greater concern for reticulating the
attributes in these two groups. He thinks that an explanation is
needed regarding how Alston can be committed to both monopolar and
dipolar theism. For example, Alston ends up defending the view that
God is changed by the objects God knows (pace the neoclassical,
dipolar attributes), but these are not changes that occur in time
(pace the classical, monopolar attributes). It is one thing,
Hartshorne thinks, to say that God exists in a nontemporal specious
present, and it is another to say that God is changed by temporal
beings in a nontemporal specious present. The former view is at least
problematic, he thinks, and the latter seems to be part of the
traditional classical theistic view wherein, from a Hartshornian
perspective, inconsistency goes in the guise of mystery.

Follow us