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  • Emergentism, Perspectivism, and Divine Pathos
  • Donald A. Crosby (bio)

In his book Divine Beauty: The Aesthetics of Charles Hartshorne, Daniel A. Dombrowski performs a welcome service by bringing into clear focus a large number of the extensive writings of Hartshorne and relating them to the topic of aesthetics.1 In so doing, he shows how central Hartshorne’s analysis of aesthetic experience is to various aspects of his thought, including but by no means restricted to his views on the nature of art and the place of the arts in human life. Dombrowski brings Hartshorne’s ideas on aesthetic experience into the context of the writings of aestheticians and other thinkers, comparing and contrasting his views with theirs, and in that way elaborating and clarifying Hartshorne’s views. He adds his own pertinent, provocative reflections to the mix and for the most part rises to Hartshorne’s defense on disputed matters. The result is a carefully researched, imaginatively organized, and thoughtfully developed discussion of interrelated themes running throughout Hartshorne’s thought.

I am deeply appreciative of the formidable amount of work and analysis that has gone into Dombrowski’s book and commend him for it. The critical comments to which I shall devote the rest of this essay are not meant in any way to detract from this appreciation. My discussion is directed exclusively at ideas expounded by Hartshorne himself, at least as Dombrowski presents these ideas. I am not sufficiently informed by my own firsthand readings of Hartshorne’s writings to question Dombrowski’s richly detailed interpretations of them. I take his word here for his interpretations of Hartshorne’s ideas; my discussion is not pointed in that direction. I offer my comments in the spirit of encouraging further inquiry into three important issues posed by Dombrowski’s book.

These issues do not bear directly on Hartshorne’s aesthetic theories or philosophy of art narrowly conceived. But they come prominently into view in the course of Dombrowski’s exposition of aspects of Hartshorne’s metaphysics and especially his philosophical theology, intimately related as he shows these two areas to be to Hartshorne’s ruminations on the character and scope of aesthetic experience. The three issues I shall discuss are Hartshorne’s classification of emergentism as simply a version of mind-body dualism; the implication [End Page 196] for the status of finite beings of his contention that God participates fully and completely in their immediate, firsthand experiences; and third, the plausibility and adequacy of his outlook on the pervasive evils of the world in their relations to his notion of “divine beauty” or the all-encompassing, all-assimilating aesthetic experiences of God.

I. Emergentism and Dualism

According to Dombrowski, Hartshorne alleges that there are only three philosophical possibilities for understanding the relations between mind and body: physicalistic monism, mind-body dualism, and panpsychistic (or panexperientialist) monism. Emergentism, Hartshorne contends, is not a fourth option but merely a transition from monism to dualism.2 I contend, however, that emergentism is a fourth option not reducible to any one or two of the other three. I begin my argument for this contention with a well-known feature of Hartshorne’s metaphysics, namely, his insistence that not only actualities but possibilities can and do come into being and pass away.3 That is, not all possibilities for all time need to be thought of as existing timelessly or forever. New possibilities, and not just new actualities, can emerge over time. This position makes Hartshorne more of an Aristotelian than a Platonist in his conception of the nature and status of possibility. In other words, all possibilities are for Hartshorne what Alfred North Whitehead calls “real possibilities,” possibilities resident in, made available by, and posed for the present by the past. There are no such things as so-called “pure possibilities” or “eternal objects” as Whitehead (or Plato) conceive them.4 This view means that Hartshorne’s key emphasis on creativity or novelty includes the creative emergence of genuinely new possibilities.

Thus, according to Hartshorne, what is possible at one time may not be so at a later time, and what is not possible at one time may become possible at a later...


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pp. 196-206
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