Thursday, April 26, 2012

Hartshorne's Creative Experiencing, Review Part 2

(Back to Part One of this review, HERE.)

Chapter Nine, “Theism and Dual Transcendence” unpacks the idea that God is an individual, but one that is not “properly a particular."  In other words, God is properly a Transcendent individual.  But what does this mean?  Hartshorne answers that, God must be “[a] being radically superior to all other beings” (Hartshorne, 93).  But is there more to this definition?  The superiority of God, we are told, is not a relation of infinity, for example, to nothing – but a relation to the finite.  Not a relation of transcendence to an immanence that is so absolute that the relation does not hold.  Relation, rather, must always be positive and relative.  In other words, “[A]ll actuality is finite and relative, and…although the primordial nature of God is absolute, infinite, and deficient in actuality, God’s consequent nature is actual and finite, and is ‘in flux’ and ‘always moving’” (Hartshorne, 94).  This means that the Transcendent God’s superiority is “di-polar,” where “di-polarity” means relative-absolute, contingent-necessary, complex-simple, temporal-nontemporal, concrete-abstract, finite-infinite, possible-impossible, dependent-independent, and social-nonsocial.  Thus, God’s particularity proper falls under the principle of dual Transcendence.  Underscoring this principle in a universe of creative freedom, where God, too, is a creative individual (whose creative act and knowledge of what is created is forever increasing), Hartshorne concludes that, “Necessary is only that there be some world or other, and some appropriate divine knowledge of whatever world there is.  All the rest is contingent” (Hartshorne, 101).

Other than panpsychism, Hartshorne is also well known for rehabilitating the ontological argument – especially as Anselm conceived it.  In Chapter Ten, “The Ontological Argument and the Meaning of Modal Terms,” Hartshorne echoes the likes of Norman Malcolm and Alvin Plantinga in asserting that modal terms such as contingent, possible, and necessary may adequately be applied to a coherent idea of God.  As Hartshorne puts it, “I maintain that Anselm was literally correct; the ‘nonexistence of God’ is a phrase with no corresponding coherent thought or possible reference” (Hartshorne, 110).  The chapter explores in modal logic Hartshorne’s updating of the ontological argument and weaves in the notion that a becoming God is just a supremely necessary as one thought to be “pure actuality.”  We are told that not until the distinction between “existence” and “actuality” is made clear can the ontological argument achieve what it sets out to do.

Chapter Eleven, “Categories, Transcendentals, and Creative Experiencing,” distinguishes (in a Scholastic manner) categories from transcendentals.  “A category is a concept applicable to every being except God.  A transcendental is a concept applicable to every being including God” (Hartshorne, 113).  Hartshorne accepts the five transcendentals, but thinks that nothing in the transcendentals involves becoming, even as a possibility.  The essay sets out to challenge the idea of immutable perfection and to show how becoming applies to the supreme being, God.   Hartshorne parses out the ontology behind a “becoming God” and how that God is “actual” but also “existent” in different senses of being.  In “the logic of immanence and Transcendence” we find that becoming possibility means being creative.  God is the supreme being who possesses the supreme amount of creativity and freedom, the creatures lesser so.  Instead of “being” Hartshorne thus prefers to say that God is a “creative experiencing.”  

Chapter Twelve is titled “The Higher Levels of Creativity: Wieman’s Theory.”  This chapter argues that “neither creative novelty nor value can be totally lacking, or at zero, in any concrete actuality…how far above zero the novelty or the value may be is left open” (Hartshorne, 129).  For Hartshorne, all value is a felt harmony.  Even in intense suffering there is a display of some value.  The value of harmonious feelings is proportionate to their intensity, where intensity is established by “the depth and variety of the contrasts in the data” (Hartshorne, 129).  All of experience is value, and all of experience is a creation of some sort of value.  With this in mind, Hartshorne continues to explain that how creative value is added ultimately involves a social relation, dependent upon “the extent to which we open ourselves to the influence of others….[in] ‘creative interchange’” (Hartshorne, 131).  The main proponent of such a theory, in addition to the likes of Berdyaev, Whitehead, Bergson, and others – all whose moral imperative was, “Be creative and foster creativity in others”- was Henry Nelson Wieman, a figure whose career involved for the main teaching in the department of philosophy at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (that department known for its specialization in process philosophy, pragmatism, and phenomenology).  

By creative Wieman meant a mode of “exchanging thoughts and feelings” which produces rich experience and which tends to “optimalize” the capacities of the participants in the exchange.  In many ways this theory resembles Nicholas Rescher’s: a creative reality is the way it is because that is the best (metaphysical optimalism of creative value, or axiogenesis).  The uniqueness of Wieman’s theory is the fact that it takes creative exchange into the realm of culture and religion, focusing on the relationship between human culture and God.  Wieman’s belief is that “The aim of life should be the glory of God,” where what we observe in the creative capacities of the human is God (Hartshorne, 131).  Hartshorne builds on this and states that, taken as ultimate category and ground, creativity is divine in the sense that both creature and Creator add to nature and culture. In the creative life there is always symmetry: some form of mutual creativity and spiritual exchange.

This theme comprises the concluding chapter, “Politics and the Metaphysics of Freedom.”  In it, political freedom simply means that “the behavior of citizens be protected against determination by the rulers” (Hartshorne, 137).  Here I see Hartshorne raising the shield of a process-theory of freedom against the likes of deterministic political and social philosophical systems, such as those found in Hegel or Spinoza.  A truly “social” conception of freedom must demand that God not rule in such a way that would determine or even coerce the creatures if freedom is to be preserved.  Freedom, an act of  creative addition of value to the universe, is politically a metaphysics involving more or less determinative behavior, true, however it is Hartshorne’s thesis that behavior must never be totally determined, that is, controlled, by those (or even a being) whose power ultimately exercises some total or absolute influence over all others. 

Despite the challenge of Hartshorne’s at-times difficult style of writing, the essays’ arguments are compelling.  This book truly is a testament to Hartshorne’s metaphysical genius, and Creative Experiencing is the perfect capstone to a trilogy of books that outlines the essentials of one of the twentieth-century’s greatest process-relational philosophers.  

 I would recommend this book, and the other two in the trilogy, especially to those looking to expand their knowledge of process-philosophy vis-à-vis studies in Whitehead, or more generally to anyone simply looking to master the essentials of Hartshorne.