Panpsychism


Alan Anderson

Sometimes panpsychism is understood as any belief that maintains that everything is psychical, mental, spiritual in nature, but traditionally it is understood to mean a certain pluralistic form of idealism.

My old teacher, Peter A. Bertocci (1910-1989), defined panpsychism as follows in Vergilius Ferm (ed.), Encyclopedia of Religion (Philosophical Library, 1945):

The view, closely related to ancient hylozoism, sponsored by such thinkers as Bruno, Leibniz, Fechner, Lotze, Renouvier, W. K. Clifford, C. A. Strong, J. Ward, and C. Hartshorne, that all of reality is constituted by psychic unities so graded in perceptive quality and organization as to explain inorganic, organic, and human phenomena.

Bertocci's teacher, Edgar Sheffield Brightman (1884-1953), in distinguishing panpsychism from other types of idealism, wrote in his An Introduction to Philosophy, 3rd ed., revised by Robert N. Beck (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963), pp. 292-93:

. . . all idealists agree that the universe consists of mind (personality) or of what is mindlike. Idealists differ, however, about how many distinct minds there are. Absolutists say that there is but one mind of which the apparent many are parts or functions. [Personalistic] Pluralistic idealists declare that nature is the active experience of one ultimate mind, but that an indefinitely large number of nondivine minds also exist. Panpsychism adds further to the mind population of the universe, for in addition to the persons and selves recognized by pluralistic personalists, the panpsychists find an elementary monad or self or mind cell for every minute constituent of nature. Some idealists insist more on consciousness as essential to mind; others more on purpose, value, or system. But, for all idealists mind or personality is the model on which all reality is constructed.
Charles Hartshorne (born 1897, still living in 2000), "Panpsychism," in Vergilius Ferm, A History of Philosophical Systems (Philosophical Library, 1950), pp. 442-53, begins:

PANPSYCHISM (from Greek for "all" and "soul") is the doctrine that everything is psychic or, at least, has a psychic aspect. It is sometimes held in the guise of a "two-aspect theory," that everything is both physical and psychical. In its more significant form, panpsychism is rather the view that all things, in all their aspects, consist exclusively of "souls," that is, of various kinds of subjects, or units of experiencing, with their qualifications, relations, and groupings or communities. The view has been accepted by a good many philosophers and scientists.

In contrast to "idealism," as this term is often used, panpsychism is not a doctrine of the unreality of the spatio-temporal world perceived through the senses, or its reduction to mere "ideas" in the human or divine mind. The constituents of this world are, for panpsychists, just as real as human minds or as any mind. Indeed, they are minds, though, in large part, of an extremely low, subhuman order. Thus panpsychism is psychical realism; realistic both in the sense of admitting the reality of nature, and in the sense of avoiding an exaggerated view of the qualities of its ordinary constituents. "Souls" may be very humble sorts of entities--for example, the soul of a frog--and panpsychists usually suppose that multitudes of units of nature are on a much lower level of psychic life even than that.

Panpsychism also contrasts with the monistic tendency of much idealism. It does not depreciate individual distinctness, and in its most recent forms it admits some degree of freedom or self-determination, even in the lowest orders of psyches. In so far, it is pluralistic. This pluralism of panpsychism is evidently connected with its realism. When Berkeley (1685-1753) reduced the physical world to "ideas" in human and divine minds, he was saying that the inorganic world lacks reality in the full sense of individuality--for an idea is a function of individuals rather than itself an individual. Hindu monism (Sankara, 8th century) is a more extreme denial of individuality to the constituents of nature. Panpsychism, in contrast, is able to admit all the variety of levels of individuality, including the ultramicroscopic, which are suggested by the discoveries of science.

On the other hand, the theory can do justice to the motif of monism. For Whitehead (1861-1947), Royce (1855-1916), Fechner (1801-1887), Varisco (1850-1933), Haberlin (1878- ), and other panpsychists have agreed that the system requires a God, and that individuals other than God, in spite of this otherness, are in God, not simply outside him. This does not have a one-sidedly monistic implication, because--as Whitehead has most clearly seen--individuals generally are not simply outside each other (the fallacy of "simple location") but in each other, and God's inclusion of all things is merely the extreme or super-case of the social relativity or mutual immanence of individuals.


A Practical Spirituality: Process New Thought

Charles Hartshorne's Psychicalism

Brief Excerpts from Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne

Process Philosophy and the New Thought Movement, with links to other process sites

Prehension

Whiteheadian Terminology

Healing in a Process New Thought Perspective

New Thought Movement Home Page

Created Jan. 6, 2000, by Alan Anderson, Contact Info.

Latest update Jan. 23, 2000