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Divine Beauty

The Aesthetics of Charles Hartshorne

Daniel A. Dombrowski

Publication Year: 2004

Considered by many to be one of the greatest philosophers of religion and metaphysicians of the twentieth century, Charles Hartshorne (1897–2000) addressed questions of aesthetics throughout his long career. Yet his efforts in this area are perhaps the most neglected aspect of his extensive and highly nuanced thought. Divine Beauty offers the first detailed explication of Hartshorne's aesthetic theory and its place within his theocentric philosophy. As Daniel A. Dombrowski explains, Hartshorne advanced a neoclassical or process theism that contrasted with the "classical" theism defended by traditionalist Jews, Christians, and Muslim believers. His conception of God was dipolar, which could attribute to God certain qualities that traditionalists would exclude. For example, in Hartshorne's view, God can embrace excellent aspects of both activity and passivity, or of permanence and change; classical theists, on the other hand, exclude passivity and change from their conceptions. Dombrowski goes on to explain the ramifications of Hartshorne's view of God for aesthetics, which for him had both broad and narrow meanings: all sensory feeling or sensation, in the broad sense, and a disciplined feeling for beauty, in the narrow sense. Included are discussions on Hartshorne's famous appreciation for the aesthetics of bird song; his view of beauty as a mean between two sets of extremes; his idea of the aesthetic attitude, which concentrates on values that are intrinsic and immediately felt; and the place of death in his aesthetics, in which the value of our lives consists in the beauty or intensity of experience that we contribute to the divine life. Filling an important gap in our understanding of Hartshorne, Divine Beauty also makes a persuasive case for the superiority of his neoclassical theism over classical theism.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press


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pp. vii-

Abbreviations of Works by Charles Hartshorne

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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-12

CHARLES HARTSHORNE WAS BORN in the nineteenth century and lived to philosophize in the twenty-first. Perhaps the most neglected aspect of his extensive and highly nuanced thought is his aesthetics, a discipline within philosophy to which he contributed as early as the 1920s in his Harvard doctoral dissertation (he minored in English literature at Harvard). His efforts in aesthetics . . .

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Chapter 1: Historic and Thematic Background

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pp. 13-26

WHEREAS THE INTRODUCTION LAID OUT in a preliminary way the concept of God that will be assumed throughout the book, the present chapter will sketch the historic and thematic background to Hartshorne’s aesthetics, concentrating on the background provided by Whitehead’s aesthetics as detailed by Sherburne, as an understanding of Hartshorne’s view is best facilitated via a consideration of where he agrees or disagrees with Whitehead (as well as with John Cobb, David Ray Griffin, Judith Jones, and other process thinkers). But I will also situate Hartshorne’s aesthetics vis-à-vis various scholars . . .

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Chapter 2: Beauty As A Mean

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pp. 27-43

ARISTOTLE IS RIGHTLY FAMOUS for his view that virtue consists in a mean between extremes, the latter being vices. To cite a contemporary example, some people are kind to friends, but neglect their civic duties; others support good causes, but they are unkind to personal associates. A virtuous person knows better. But the principle of moderation ...

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Chapter 3: The Aesthetic Attitude

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pp. 44-57

IN THE PRESENT CHAPTER I would like to highlight the fact that the aesthetic values treated in the previous chapter are aesthetic precisely because they are intrinsic and immediately felt. At the other extreme are what Hartshorne calls economic or ethical values, which are extrinsic (or instrumental) and eventual (as opposed to immediately ...

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Chapter 4: Birdsong

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pp. 58-73

IN CHAPTER 2 HARTSHORNE'S MODEL for aesthetic value was introduced; it was alleged to apply in a nonanthropocentric way. Eventually I will show in detail how it applies in the divine case; here I would like to show how it applies in a subhuman one. Both the aesthetic attitude discussed in Chapter 3 and the theme of beauty as a dual mean are ...

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Chapter 5: Sensation/Feeling

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pp. 74-89

IN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER I TOOK A FIRST STEP toward an understanding of Hartshorne’s nonanthropocentric aesthetics by showing the intelligibility of claiming not only that birdsong can be appreciated by us in aesthetic terms but also that the best way we have of accounting for birdsong is in terms of both its evolutionary significance and the function song performs in the aesthetically rich emotional lives of birds themselves. In the following chapter I will continue the effort to understand Hartshorne’s nonanthropocentric aesthetic theory . . .

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Chapter 6: Panexperientialism

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pp. 90-113

IN THIS CHAPTER I WOULD LIKE TO FINISH the effort, initiated in Chapter 4, to examine Hartshorne’s nonanthropocentric aesthetic as it relates to subhuman reality. We are in a more favorable position to understand panexperientialism as a result of the connection between sensation and feeling treated in Chapter 5 . . .

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Chapter 7: Beauty Merely in the Eye of the Beholder?

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pp. 114-128

BEFORE MOVING EXPLICITLY TO THE AESTHETIC elements in religious experience and to divine beauty as Hartshorne sees them, it will be worthwhile to consider aesthetic relativism. This is a popular view, even among those who are not ethical relativists. Beauty is merely in the eye of the beholder, it will be alleged. (In any defensible view, beauty is in ...

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Chapter 8: The Religious Dimensions of Aesthetic Experience

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pp. 129-151

NOW THAT HARTSHORNE’S GENERAL VIEW of aesthetic experience is on the table for criticism, including his view of subhuman aesthetic experience, we are in a position to consider in particular the religious dimensions of aesthetic experience so as to prepare the way for the next chapter, where cosmic or divine beauty is considered. . .

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Chapter 9: Absolute Beauty?

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pp. 152-168

THE ANSELMIAN (AND HARTSHORNIAN) VIEW of God as one who surpasses all others is implied in God’s being the proper object of worship. But what does it mean to be the greatest being? If a loving being is superior to a nonloving one, then God must exhibit eminent love and other ethical qualities in the best way possible, Hartshorne emphasizes. But what if the value in question is not ethical but aesthetic? . . .

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Chapter 10: Death and Contributionism

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pp. 169-194

WE HAVE SEEN THAT TWO EXTREMES are to be avoided in our language about God, in Hartshorne’s view. One is that we could “capture” deity in a verbal formula that would eliminate doubt, and the other is that we cannot say anything coherent about God. The former extreme leads to dogmatism or idolatry, whereas the latter leads to agnosticism or atheism (EA, 39). In between these two extremes lies a judicious mean, he thinks, wherein three levels of discourse about God can be distinguished . . .


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pp. 195-210


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pp. 211-226

Name Index

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pp. 227-230

E-ISBN-13: 9780826591760
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826514400
Print-ISBN-10: 0826514405

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2004

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Subject Headings

  • Hartshorne, Charles, 1897-2000 -- Aesthetics.
  • Aesthetics, Modern -- 20th century.
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