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The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 16.3 (2002) 151-166

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Panpsychism and the Philosophy of Charles Hartshorne 1

D. S. Clarke
Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

This article outlines the doctrine known as "panpsychism" as developed by Charles Hartshorne and defended by him during most of our century against the competing worldviews of universal mechanism and humanism. Unlike Hartshorne's natural theology, which has attracted a certain following, his version of panpsychism has been largely neglected, mistakenly being dismissed as a wild, unsubstantiated flight of metaphysical fancy. There are several reasons for this neglect. One reason is the prevalence of the alternatives of universal mechanism and humanism presented to us by the principal traditions in Western philosophy: either all natural forms, including ourselves, are governed by the mechanistic laws of nature, or we humans with freedom and self-consciousness and a capacity for guiding ourselves by norms enjoy a special exemption. Debates between these two opposing conceptions have occupied center stage to the neglect of the panpsychist view. Another reason is the link that unfortunately has been established between panpsychism and Hartshorne's controversial applications of an event metaphysics to mentality, leading to the mistaken view that to adopt a contemporary version of panpsychism is to subscribe to these applications. The final reason is that the strongest argument for panpsychism has not been explicitly formulated by its advocates, including Hartshorne. This article is a reappraisal of Hartshorne's version of panpsychism, separating its enduring legacy from its more implausible features.

The discussion is divided into three parts. The first summarizes some key features of the doctrine as developed by Hartshorne, including the [End Page 151] distinction between natural bodies with unity of organization and aggregates, and the logical basis for panpsychism through analogical inferences. The second part addresses some difficulties with Hartshorne's version of panpsychism that arise from both his views on psychic causation between parts and wholes and his attempt to establish a simple base for mental attributions. Finally, I offer a defense of panpsychism called the "Origination Argument" which elaborates on Hartshorne's strongest argument for the doctrine.

Hartshorne's Formulation of Panpsychism

Hartshorne's formulation is an adaptation derived from Whitehead's Process and Reality. Retained from Whitehead's system is the conception of mentality in terms of ordered sequences of psychic events that Whitehead called "actual entities" or "actual occasions." These ordered sequences are defined by causal relations between a present occasion and its temporarily prior predecessor occasions. An organized natural body to which we attribute mentality is regarded within this system of event metaphysics as just such an ordered sequence. To attribute mentality to a body is to regard it as having a perspective on things, a point of view with a present qualitative aspect that is both constantly changing and preserving elements of its past. It is also to attribute spontaneity of behavior as the special feature of those bodies with mentality.

But not every object is a suitable subject for such mental attribution. Hartshorne also follows Whitehead in noting the all-important distinction between an organized natural body and an aggregate or collection of unified natural bodies. An animal certainly qualifies as an organized natural body, as would single-celled organisms such as protozoa and amoebae. Also qualifying would be eukaryotes such as viruses, and molecules, atoms, as well as particles that exhibit unity of organization over time. 2 But neither a plastic container, nor a rock, nor a tree would seem to qualify. Artifacts such as plastic containers, tables, and computers are excluded on the grounds that they are not natural bodies with an evolutionary history. A rock is excluded on the grounds that it is an aggregate without unity of organizing structure. On the same grounds, trees and plants in general are excluded, since the structure they possess functions only to transport nutrients to their constituent cells. The cells exhibit the requisite unity in a way that the supporting structures provided by plants as wholes do not. Hartshorne criticizes what he terms the "synechological" panpsychism of Gustav...


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