Monday, April 9, 2012

Hartshorne's Creative Experiencing, Review Part 1

Charles Hartshorne.  Creative Experiencing: A Philosophy of Freedom (Edited by Donald Wayne Viney and Jincheol O), Albany: State University of New York Press, 2011.  Pp. 176 + Hardcover $75.00.  
Creative Experiencing is the last metaphysical testament of Charles Hartshorne.  The book-length manuscript was found among Hartshorne’s unpublished papers which are now deposited at the Center for Process Studies at the Claremont School of Theology.  Hartshorne mentions in the manuscript’s preface that he considered the book to be the final part of a trilogy including Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method (1970) and Wisdom as Moderation (1987).  This final piece of the trilogy, which he titled Creative Experiencing, was also to be his final contribution to “technical philosophy” (Editor’s Preface, vii).  The original unpublished manuscript included a table of contents, a preface, and thirteen chapters.  Five of the chapters were never published.  Thus, the discovery was essentially not only a complete work but a “scholar’s dream” come true (Editor’s Preface, ix).  The book’s overall importance centers on Hartshorne’s dialogue with pragmatism, phenomenology, metaphysics, and logic – in addition to his reflections on Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty – from a “neoclassical” or process point of view.  This book is by no means an “easy” read, nor could it be considered an “introduction” to Hartshorne’s philosophy.  Rather, it is indeed a capstone to his own technical philosophy and reading this book in tandem with the trilogy’s other two pieces would be advised in order to gain the most benefit.

“Metaphysics,” Hartshorne writes in the Preface, “is the attempt to interpret concrete experience rationally, in terms of the most general principles of valid reasoning” (Hartshorne, xi).  The first chapter, “Some Formal Criteria of Good Metaphysics,” seeks to establish “some good criteria for the distinction between good and bad metaphysics” (Hartshorne, 1).  In setting up the criteria for discerning good and bad metaphysics, Hartshorne immediately draws upon his two main influences: C.S. Peirce and Alfred North Whitehead.  The criteria for good metaphysics are as follows, and I repeat them here as they establish a framework for the entire book’s outlook.  

Criteria One: Leibniz’s proposition that metaphysical truth is all positive (mistakes in metaphysics are in denials, not assertions. What is to be denied in metaphysics is itself negative, and a double-negative is positive).  Therefore, metaphysics is rational but also speculative: it is the assertion of “what makes positive sense” – rationally, logically, and mathematically.

Criteria Two: No category is so absolute that there cannot be at least one contrariety equally affirmed (no category is a “mere” category).  Hartshorne writes, “[P]ossibility and actuality belong together, there can be no such thing as ‘pure actuality,’ actus purus, no such thing as the merely infinite or merely finite….[B]oth poles of ultimate contrarieties must be affirmed” (Hartshorne, 2).  To affirm opposite poles of a category is not contradictory for S is P and S is not P are always affirmed in difference aspects of S.  To this “unity of contraries” I would add that, by Hartshorne’s logic, there can be no “merely” transcendent against a “purely” immanent.  Hartshorne writes that “Hegel saw this and Peirce and Whitehead saw it” (Hartshorne, 2).  

Criteria Three: Wisdom as moderation of metaphysical positions.  “[G]iven an extreme position to which there is a contrary extreme, the truth is a mean between the extremes….Extreme monism is false and extreme pluralism is false….The truth is a moderate monism, which is also a moderate pluralism” (Hartshorne, 2).

Criteria Four: The Principle of Contrast.  “The function of a concept is to distinguish something from something else.  To say everything is necessary and nothing is contingent is to deprive ‘necessary’ of any distinctive meaning.  The same with saying everything is contingent….The Stoics and Spinoza, with their necessitarianism, and William James, and countless others with their contingentism, were all extremists.  The Principle of Contrast is a fourth way of stating the Leibnizian-Hegelian principle” (Hartshorne, 2).

Whitehead, we are told, is the philosopher whose metaphysical system best demonstrates a moderation of extremes between necessity and contingency, the finite and the infinite, the immanent and the transcendent, and the one and the many.  Whitehead was not an extreme monist or pluralist – the former denying a plurality of actualities, the later holding that actualities are completely interdependent, any one implicating all of the rest.  Whitehead’s metaphysics was able to accommodate each of these pairings, and Hartshorne seeks to include this type of Whiteheadian accommodation within his own metaphysics.

Another one of this chapter’s outstanding features is its discussion of nominalism.  “Pure nominalism is, of course, an extreme” Hartshorne tells us – because objects, if they are to be discernible, must have their own similarities and differences which relate to a temporal nature, where “similarity and difference are ultimate notions not to be compounded of something else” (Hartshorne, 6).  “[We cannot have] reality as a plurality of individuals, each simply identical with itself and simply nonidentical with its neighbors….[T]he final units of reality are not you or I but you-now, I-now…. “  To make sense of this we must understand that there is a temporal structure of reality.  The absolute independence of an object is an impossibility if the object’s identity relates to a future self that is as of yet undetermined as a particular.  Hartshorne explains that, “The nominalist can only conceive the future in the same terms as the past, as a sequence of particulars.  There are no such things as future particulars.  Nominalism…cannot understand futurity or possibility….[A]ctualization and particularization are one operation” (Hartshorne, 7).  

The chapter ends with the question of deity. Hartshorne finds that deity (here understood as an ultimate Influence or persuasive governance) exists within a contingent reality that evidences order dependent upon creaturely as well as divine freedom.  He writes, “Since there is freedom in every creature, the orderliness that any going on world requires is an inexplicable mystery unless the freedom of the creatures is inspired by a cosmically influential ordering power.  Either the creatures conspire to maintain a minimal order or they are ordered by the same universal Influence.  Since the order is contingent, there being other possible cosmic schemes, it is as though a cosmic decision has been made.  Neoclassical theism says there can be a cosmos of free creatures only because all the lesser freedoms are influenced by the supreme freedom, whose decisions determine the basic law as that are the rules for the game of life.  The rules obtain not for eternity but for some cosmic epoch.  If other laws are possible, with their own aesthetic possibilities, they too should be tried in good time” (Hartshorne, 8).  In this we see that the divine freedom is influential, not coercive in its decisions; the divine reality is supreme, but not without existing relative to a lesser freedom had by creatures.  Freedom, aesthetic possibility, is the basic law.

Chapter Two, “My Eclectic Approach to Phenomenology” articulates a phenomenological method which is a “descriptive science” – one that, in Whiteheadian terms, “gets its basic concepts from the most general aspects of experience” and which does not specifically reference the observer but experience itself” (Harsthorne, 11).  Hartshorne articulates how his phenomenology is different from Husserl’s and Heidegger’s - he met and briefly studied with both philosophers during his travels in Europe as a Sheldon Fellow in 1924-1925 (Hartshorne published the first English review of Sein und Zeit in 1929).  If some argue that phenomenology may never truly be a “realist” method of metaphysics due to the “human-centeredness” of its methodology (the charge is that the phenomenological method espoused by Husserl is “correlationist” because it refers its results to a human standpoint, that is, always to an observer), then Hartshorne’s version of phenomenology easily dodges the correlationist bullet.

Hartshorne emphasizes that the question of phenomenology is, “As what are sensations experienced?”   Disagreeing with Husserl and agreeing instead with Whitehead (and Peirce), Hartshorne explains that, “Experience-of-x is x plus something.  But the relation of the two is no mere and.  Experience-of-x includes x.  Whitehead uses ‘prehend’ for this inclusion” (Hartshorne, 12).  This is to say that reality is experiential and not just experiential-for a human observer which activates within an observation some experience.  Experience and sense (feeling) are instead said to be one.  Hartshorne’s phenomenology, being panexperiential and a priori in metaphysical orientation, shifts speculative query back into an exhibitive display of the real without recourse to a specifically anthropocentric intentionality.  As an “eclectic phenomenologist,” Hartshorne elaborates, “I can say…Husserl was right in seeking the source of meanings in concrete experience as such but dismally wrong in trying to conceive experience in abstraction from an actual world, without…dynamic agents other than the experiencing or experiencer itself” (Hartshorne, 24).  In this Hartshorne establishes the beginnings of a “non-correlationalist” phenomenology, indebted to both Peirce and Whitehead for its construction.

Chapter Three, “Negative Facts and the Analogical Inference to ‘Other Mind’ argues that all verified negative judgments depend on positive characters.  A complete absence of experience in another is impossible if an absolutely negative judgment concerning experience, what otherwise Hartshorne would call, “the Zero Fallacy” – a zero degree or negative amount of experience – is by itself impossible.  “’[N]ot conscious’ or ‘insentient’ is meaningful only if some positive character is incompatible with being conscious or sentient” (Hartshorne, 27).  Stated differently, when it comes to the problem of other minds, “absolute absence has no part in speculation” (Hartshorne, 27).  This thesis fits into a larger argument about panpsychism presented later in the book (Chapter Six).

Chapter Four, “Perception and the Concrete Abstractness of Science” builds on the previous chapter in that it articulates positive notions of the real “as nature might be (and once was) without any animals similar to man” (Hartshorne, 34).  Perceptions in their abstractness “yield structure and quality, but neither one with distinctness and sharply individual detail” (Hartshorne, 35).  These features may be discerned in such distinctness and detail infinitely – and taken as an ultimate principle, the definition of potential experience must be unlimited.  In genuine abstractness one finds that experience does not only have spatiotemporal structure but certain qualities found in the definition of experience generally, “sensory or emotional” experience which may be a “rich treasure” for the sciences.  Hartshorne’s naturalism is emphasized toward the close of the chapter, “Whether or not sensory and emotional qualities are confined to animals more or less similar to ourselves, they are certainly part of nature…” (Hartshorne, 37).  

Chapter Five, “Metaphysical Truth by Systematic Elimination of Absurdities” outlines first, a mathematical approach to ontology where “[M]athematics seeks universal, nonempirical, and necessary truths” obtained via both procedure and the discernment of patterns. Mathematical ontology thus studies “patterns that might conceivably exist and the necessary relations between such patterns” (Hartshorne, 43).  Second, the essay explains that if successful, metaphysics may articulate categorical but non-empirical statements (and classes of statements) about “the universe in its entirety yet also in its details…” where such the truth of such statements depends on the elimination of absurdities and the identification of incoherence (Hartshorne, 43).  
Hartshorne explains that a mathematical-metaphysical science must hold that “the most general abstractions, such as being, becoming, actuality, possibility, relation, and individual, should all have some positive instances” (Hartshorne, 44).  Here Hartshorne balances the contingentism of Hume with the rationalism of figures such as Leibniz and Spinoza.  Metaphysical truth, Hartshorne states, is a.) positive, and b.) mathematical.  However, these abstract truths are recognized in a matter of contingency.  “[T]he necessary can only be extremely abstract, and the very meaning of becoming is its piecemeal contingency” (Hartshorne, 45).  Additionally, positive metaphysical truth can be stated, but only given coherence among mutually compatible positive instances of statements: their opposite being necessary untruths or impossibilities.  Hartshorne notes that, “Specific ideas coming under universal categories are contingent in their application because they come in mutually incompatible but positive options….Choosing is not between a positive and a merely negative, but among positives” (Hartshorne, 47).  Metaphysical speculation is thus necessarily a positive science, but is limited by what is untrue or impossible.  In other words, there can be no mutually positive instances of incompossible values – incoherence or absurdity may be a test of what is metaphysically impossible.  Eliminating these absurdities is a process toward discovering metaphysical truth.

Hartshorne is a well-known panpsychist, and the chapter “The Case for Metaphysical Idealism” (Chapter Six) consists of some familiar Hartshornian arguments for the position of panpsychism.  This chapter essentially shows that panpsychism is not merely idealism but is rather a broad position concerning the nature of experience both concrete and abstract.  In this chapter we also find that Hartshorne’s position implies anthrodecentrism.  This comes to the fore in statements such as, “We understand that there is more in the world than we ourselves experience partly by taking into account what others experience.  If we are to believe that there is more than human-being experiences, can we do this otherwise than by implicitly grasping a meaning for ‘experience’ or ‘knowledge’ wider than the human?  The escape from the egocentric predicament is not by dismissing the very idea of a subject, but by recognizing a variety of subjects, actual and possible….We transcend species-centeredness (if we ever do) by recognizing a society wider than the human” (Hartshorne, 61).  Other than Peirce and Whitehead, another one of Hartshorne’s important interlocutors, G. W. F. Leibniz, is drawn upon in this essay.

“Partial though not complete predictability, I shall show, is an entailment of the creative-cumulative view” Hartshorne writes.  This thesis begins Chapter Seven, “Creativity and the Deductive Logic of Causality.”  We are told that “each instance of becoming is a ‘creative synthesis’ of the previous instances” and that deductively, that is, taken up from a previous but simultaneously geared into the future, causality is “one-way inclusion” (Harsthorne, 71).  Causation, we shall see, is understood in terms of aesthetics.
Taking up the difficulties of Hume’s view, but also the difficulties of “absolute idealism,” the Hartshornian process view sets out to articulate how achieving a future unity of stability based upon various data from the past is actually a matter of aesthetic principles: a unity of feeling.  In other words, Hartshorne turns to aesthetics in order to answer to the problem of determinism (a causally closed universe) but also to answer to the problem of an absolutely contingent universe (how to explain the reality of order).  Hartshorne answers as follows: “If the data are not sufficiently homogenous, no unity of feeling, no aesthetic harmony, can occur; if the data are excessively homogenous, if there is insufficient contrast, aesthetic achievement will also be impossible.  Aesthetic value is the mean between mere diversity [chaos, no predictability, absolute contingency] and mere unity [absolute order, total lack of freedom and determinism, absolute necessity] (Hartshorne, 78).  

In this theory, earlier data is implicated by its successors, but not without the novelty of aesthetic contrasts achieving new values and new states of feeling.  Real or existential possibility (potential, creativity) “actuates” into powerful intensities, the feeling of aesthetic-value contrasts given within the medium of experience.  Hartshorne notes that the achievement of future aesthetic value is a temporal, processive situation: a “will be” is a present causal situation, however novelty always references a “can be” possible, a more basic ontological mode of existence upon which the future, a “may be,” depends.

Chapter Eight, “The Meaning of ‘Is Going to Be’” states that, “If truth is about reality, then if realities are created in the course of time, so are truths” (Hartshorne, 81).  “For example,” Hartshorne asks, ‘The grass will be green’ is true if the grass will be green; but what is the force of the ‘will be’?” (Hartshorne, 81).  Here Hartshorne’s sides with Peirce in stating that triadicity is internal to the temporal structure of propositions, rather than their truth values.  Trivalence is determinately p, determinately not-p, and indeterminate with respect to p.  Predication is therefore not a timeless utterance.  In some respects this is an “evolutionary” approach to logic (again, mirroring Peirce).  We suppose long-run, statistical, or evolving information relative to the temporal dimensions of the terms that we use.  However, Hartshorne writes that, “’Truth changes’ not in random fashion, but according to a necessary general rule.  The vague and highly indefinite real possibilities for the remote future become “step-by-step replaced , or rather supplemented, by more and more definite possibilities, as that future becomes imminent” (Hartshorne, 85).  Truth is an irreversibly increase in definiteness as an indefinite future becomes more and more definite, a past that is concrete and particular.

Read Part Two HERE.