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1 October 2001 IN MEMORIAM: CHARLES HARTSHORNE, 1897–2000
Alexander F. Skutch
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Charles Hartshorne was born on 5 June 1897 in Kittanning, Pennsylvania, son of an Episcopalian clergyman. He attended Yeates, an Episcopalian boarding school near Lancaster. During a Christmas vacation, he bought a book in Philadelphia that changed his life, Chester A. Reed's Guide to Songbirds East of the Rockies, ”the first good one … in this country, possibly in the world.” It advertised a three-power field glass that cost five dollars, which Charles promptly ordered. Thus began his life-long interest in ornithology. At school he won a prize for an essay on nature observation, and contributed an article on birds to the school magazine.

Although Charles was early attracted to birds, they did not become his major interest. At Haverford College he began “a search for a philosophy of religion.” Toward the end of his second year at Haverford, the United States entered World War I. A recruiting officer for the U.S. Army persuaded him to enlist. He spent two years as an orderly at a base hospital in Normandy. After the war he entered Harvard University, where he studied for two years as an undergraduate and two years as a graduate student. After receiving his Ph.D. in Philosophy, he spent two years at European universities.

While teaching at Chicago in 1928, he married Dorothy Eleanore Cooper, a botanist and musician, who became his loyal and supportive companion, editor, and proof-reader. They had one child, Emily, who married Nicolas D. Goodman. Hartshorne was absent-minded, a vegetarian, rode a bicycle, did not own an automobile, and wrote letters to newspapers supporting feminism, abortion rights, and higher taxes.

To follow Hartshorne's professional life as a philosopher (he was the principal proponent of what is called “process theology”), his years of teaching at the University of Chicago, Emory University in Atlanta and the University of Texas (where he finally became Emeritus Professor), the course that he taught in German at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University at Frankfurt, his spell as Fulbright lecturer at Melbourne, Australia, and at Kyoto in Japan, his 17 books on philosophy and religion, his four honorary degrees including one from the University of Louvain in Belgium, and other honors at home and abroad, all would lead us too far from ornithology. In 1996, at the age of 98, he wrote his last article in an academic journal, and two years later he delivered his last lecture.

In July 1961, Charles and Dorothy visited our farm and nature reserve in southern Costa Rica, after they had accompanied a birding tour in Panama. Afield with him and his tape recorder, I learned his methods. A playback of the voice of a more or less distant bird drew it nearer to confront the intruder into the territory, repeating songs that gave better recordings. After four days with us, Charles, Dorothy, and my wife Pamela went up to San José to attend the Segundo Congreso Extraordinarie Ineramericano de Filosofia. Charles read two papers, “Whitehead's conception of God” and “Whitehead's theory of prehension.” After the Congress, Charles and I visited several parts of Costa Rica to record the songs of birds, especially wrens, while our wives preceded us to San José.

Charles joined the AOU in 1951 and became at Elective Member in 1979. He died at his home in Austin, Texas, at the age of 103. Although I never met him again, we continued a friendly correspondence, nourished by our interest in birds, despite disagreements on questions philosophical and theological.

“An Intellectual Autobiography of Charles Hartshorne” was published in The Philosophy of Charles Hartshorne, edited by Lewis Edwin Hahn (1991, Library of Living Philosophers, vol. 20; Open Court, LaSalle, Illinois). To this book I contributed Chapter 2, “Bird song and philosophy,” a critical assessment of Hartshorne's methods and conclusions.

Charles published at least 21 papers on bird song in journals and one book, Born to Sing: An Interpretation and World Survey of Bird Song, published by the University of Indiana Press in 1973, and recently reissued. That book is the fruit of much field work in many countries and North American states where his philosophic courses and lectures took him over many years. A feature of the book that has attracted much attention is “a world list of superior singers” including 194 species, from Australian lyrebirds to canaries, heard by himself or reported by others. Hartshorne also argued that some bird species had evolved the ability to appreciate melody and to sing for the sheer pleasure of it.

Alexander F. Skutch "IN MEMORIAM: CHARLES HARTSHORNE, 1897–2000," The Auk 118(4), 1034-1035, (1 October 2001).[1034:IMCH]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 October 2001
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