Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000), Ashbel Smith Professor Emeritus at The University of Texas at Austin, was a preeminent philosopher of the twentieth century and one of the century’s most influential metaphysicians and philosophers of religion. Several decades before his death, Encyclopedia Britannica (fifteenth edition) referred to him as “the world’s greatest living metaphysician.”
He is best known as the leading representative of what came to be known as process philosophy, a philosophy initiated by Hartshorne’s friend and mentor, Alfred North Whitehead, and developed further by Hartshorne and other twentieth century figures. Hartshorne’s special interest was in applying process philosophy to questions about God and the relation of God to the cosmos. He thereby initiated and became the major representative of what has come to be known as process theology, or process theism, one of the most influential movements in philosophical theology of the twentieth century. Hartshorne was also instrumental in the revival of interest in St. Anselm’s ontological argument for the existence of God—a revival that contributed to the general resurgence of interest in philosophical theology in the latter half of the twentieth century. He was also a world-renowned ornithologist, whose book Born to Sing (1973) is a classic interpretation and world survey of bird song.
In his eighth and ninth decades Hartshorne exhibited a staggering literary vitality. In addition to his own publications, he contributed to four books devoted exclusively to his thought, giving detailed replies to essays by more than 60 scholars. One of these volumes was The Philosophy of Charles Hartshorne (1991), the twentieth installment of the prestigious Library of Living Philosophers Series. This distinguished series has included volumes dedicated to most of the century’s major philosophers, including Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, John Dewey, Alfred North Whitehead, Jean-Paul Sartre, Rudolph Carnap, Karl Jaspers, Karl Popper, and W. V. O. Quine. Hartshorne had contributed critical essays to eight previous volumes in this distinguished series, more than any other philosopher.
Beginning in the 1950s, conferences were held in his honor and on his philosophy in Brussels, Kyoto, Benaras, Melbourne, and in other parts of the world. He was elected president of numerous philosophical and theological associations, including the American Philosophical Association and the Metaphysical Society of America. His works influenced philosophers of religion in many traditions: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and others. The Center for Process Studies in Claremont, California, and the philosophical journal Process Studies are dedicated to the study and further development of the traditions of process philosophy and process theology initiated by Whitehead and Hartshorne.