Charles Hartshorne
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Hartshorne's Austin TX home office where much has already been boxed up and sent to the Center for Process Studies. Picture was taken the day of his memorial service, at the First Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Austin TX, Saturday, December 9, 2000. The chair by the binoculars in the window is where Hartshorne sat looking out onto his yard.

View out Hartshorne's office window. His ashes were scattered on the lawn,
December 9, 2000.

Looking back at Hartshorne's office window from the outside.

Reflections on Charles Hartshorne
Duane Voskuil, November 2000

When I left the Hope College campus in 1959 to attend my first APA convention at Loyola University during my junior year, I had no idea meeting Charles Hartshorne would change my life. During one of the smoke-filled social mixers after a presentation on Tillich, I was standing near a small group talking with Hartshorne. He offered that if Tillich were going to take up the theistic issue, “he should do a better job of it or get out of the business.” Years passed before I understood the frustration that likely engendered that atypical indictment: Hartshorne had already, and with much clarity, laid out the logic of the divine dipolarity and dual transcendence necessary for a rational theistic concept that Tillich, like most theologians, failed to appreciate.

In 1960 I was awarded a fellowship at Emory University where I took graduate classes from Hartshorne. It didn’t matter much what the classes were, since, as the saying went, one studied the same concepts anyway. Hartshorne introduced me to a life-long, life-altering study of process philosophy and was my thesis advisor. Only years later could I separate Hartshorne’s ideas from Whitehead’s and begin to appreciate Hartshorne’s clarity and insights. I was humbled to find someone who had examined the theistic subject with such insight.

Atlanta in the ‘60s was a very different and stressful environment from the rural Midwest I knew. The Ku Klux Klan could be found marching on one side of the street and blacks seeking social equality on the other. Hartshorne was unambiguous in his moral stand during classes and at gatherings in his home with his gracious wife Dorothy. From his use of low-tech transportation (a modest bicycle left leaning against the building) to a personal life-style that eschewed smoking, Hartshorne was a philosopher I was proud to emulate. Here was a man who not only thought clearly about the most abstract of subjects––metaphysics and the meaning of “divinity”–– but tried to make lifestyle choices that looked beyond the myopic present. Even when he found himself espousing an unfortunate bias of our society, Hartshorne faced the shortcoming. In an April 1994 letter written a year before his wife died, he responded to a draft I sent him of my Introduction text, composed from a gender-neutral and process standpoint:

“Your fascinating speculative views about the cosmic mother are a welcome plus. They make sense to me. I have never cared for the idea of God as a father, although (and I am aware of no good reason for this) during most of my career I have unthinkingly, like nearly all the other men, used the male gender in referring to God or to our species; but about two decades ago I did begin to think about, and began avoiding, this practice. Women are too important to be treated as secondary.”

My trip through the academic world has not been smooth, and my encounters with Hartshorne all too infrequent. I last saw him in 1968 when I drove him to his hotel after he’d lectured at the University of Missouri. I shared with him the excitement I’d felt at an APA convention discussing some philosophical issues throughout the night, to which he quipped, “I’ve never lost any sleep over philosophy,” one reason, perhaps, despite his apparent frailness, he lived so long! I did, however, write to him occasionally, and he always wrote back, at times with many pages on many subjects. Once, after finally managing to compose some original philosophical work and nervously sharing some drafts with Hartshorne, he responded with an overly generous, but treasured, comment: “Your understanding of Whitehead’s philosophy and of mine seems excellent.”

When Hartshorne noticed I had a moral concern to protect male, as well as female, minors from nonconsensual genital amputations, he volunteered that allowing him to be circumcised was “the only serious mistake” his parents made in rearing him. Two years before losing my teaching position in 1996 for raising this taboo subject as an ethics issue in classes and the community, he wrote that “such things should not be done to either sex.”

Hartshorne once considered becoming a poet rather than a philosopher. Even as a philosopher, the path he chose was one not well-trodden, for, as he noted, there “are strong forces opposing the careful consideration of God.” But his path has been a major inspiration for me and countless others. So my deepest thanks to Charles Hartshorne who made clear how––when all our feelings have faded and our bones are ash––all our acts yet live in the “silent memory of God” forever.

Charles Hartshorne at 102 years
Charles Richey
Austin TX
Thursday, 9 September 1999

At the age of 102 Charles Hartshorne is free of disease and pain. He moves about very little, sleeps or lies quiescent three quarters of the clock around, and can’t read for content with any consistency. He complains of deafness, but eschews his hearing aid, finds eating a burden, watches no television or other entertainments, doesn’t enjoy music, and doesn’t follow the news at all. It seems a dull world for him, but there are a few ways to build bridges to his isolation. Visitors are the best distraction if they can respond to his repertory of stories and declarations, but he tires in an hour or so even of their presence. He writes on the margins of magazines and books, mostly comments of approval or disapproval. The recent copy of Time magazine with the cover comment “How Man Evolved” had the word “Man” heavily scored out and “persons” scrawled beside it. Sentences and paragraphs in block printing show up infrequently on blank scraps of paper. They relate to his belief system about himself or his metaphysics, but are disconnected.

His daughter Emily now lives on the property in a small house which was once his office and which has in the last year been remodeled totally into an effieciency apartment with a kitchen and attic. It is unfortunately not large enough to contain her necessities, but that may not be a problem much longer; she has plans to be married (she was divorced several years ago) to a librarian at the University of Texas, and they plan to buy a house apart from here.

Charles rarely speaks of his own death or of those he knows who have died. He never falls into either reverie or reminiscence, at least aloud, tells hardly any stories at all, and never comments with sorrow, regret, or pleasure about the past. One of the few and the oddest prediliction he has is that he likes to be taken to a local barbershop, “The Sportsman”, to have is hair trimmed. When I introduced him there several years ago it was as an alternative to the randomly chosen cut rate shops he had visited, and I hadn’t any idea how it would serve, being an old fashioned, male bastion with stuffed local game trophies on the walls, almost a caricature. The barbers make a great fuss over him because of his age, call him “perfesser”, and carry on for his amusement. He now refers to the place as the greatest institution he knows, indeed, the greatest possible. It is the only place he will be persuaded to go without demurral. Go figure.

He has good and bad days and hours, cycles around the trend, but the trend is toward cessation of function. I see no attachment to persons, places, or subjects motivating him to life except for his daughter, and she has many other preoccupations to persue. The only topic he returns to with positive feeling is the achievments of his career--his books. He keeps two stacks of them, the five and the fifteen, and occasionally opens one to look at, usually the autobiography, as if assuring himself there was indeed a past, an individuality, a life.

We have tried to schedule as many days as possible with an active period; bath aide twice a week, companions twice a week, all of them women. Women are much better than men, so if visitors can bring wives, girlfriends, or are themselves women, so much the better. By his own declaration, he prefers women to men. One woman academic philosopher on a afternoon pilgrimage received his lecture on his dedication to feminism. On the way to her car I commented on it, leading her to remark, without any rancor at all, that his grasp of the subject was saved from absurdity only by his obvious sincerity.

As Billy Pilgrim noted, and so it goes. If any can visit, call ahead, but early notice is not necessary. Have any of you been drawn to the ethics of this Australian, Singer, who is to be at Princeton?

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