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Edwards, Finney, and Mahan on the Derivation of Duties JAMES E. HAMILTON EDWARD H. MADDEN 1. THEREIS PROBABLYno area in the history of American philosophy less thoroughly understood than the Academic Orthodoxy of the first half of the nineteenth century . The minister-philosophers of America's burgeoning colleges referred to by this epithet were advocates of a free-will, evangelical Trinitarianism dedicated to the final overthrow of the Calvinistic determinism so ably defended by Jonathan Edwards. In one sense the epithet "academic orthodoxy" is inappropriate, since the Old Light Calvinists still strong at Princeton and Western Reserve constituted the genuine orthodoxy against which the New Light nondeterminists---armed with the doctrine of the will they learned from Thomas Reid and Dugald Stewart--were reacting. It would no doubt have pained Professor Charles Hodge of Princeton Theological Seminary had he thought that Finney and Mahan of Oberlin would ever be called orthodox in any sense on any issue by anyone! In another sense, the epithet can be applied legitimately,though even in thissense it must be qualificd carefully.I The New Light philosophcrs were orthodox in the sense that thcy had an agrccd-upon view of the nature of Christianity, the human will, and consciousness, the latterexpressed in an elaborate and detailcd faculty psychology that was presented monolithically as "the true philosophy" in the end, itwas "illustrated" in numerous textsrathcr than subjected to further rigorous criticism.There is an important element of truthin thisestimate,but in many cases,and on numerous issucs,we find mcmbers of the so-called orthodoxy holding absolutely opposite views on fundamental philosophical issues and arguing against each other with great acumen as well as heat. A notable example of a fundamental disagreement occurs in ethics, where some members of the orthodoxy followed the lead of Edwards while others emphatically rejected it. In spite of his Calvinistic determinism, Edwards showed to his own satisfaction (if not to many others) that man is still responsible for what he does and hence that there is nothing self-inconsistent in a Calvinist elaborating a moral philosophy. The moral system he elucidated is essentially teleological in nature, reducing, as it does, all the duties of man to the single one of advancing the good of being in general. Charles Grandison Finney of Oberlin, noted evangelist as well as theologian and philosopher, though he rejected Edwardsian determinism and the theological trappings of Calvinism, nevertheless followed Edwards in formulating a teleological view of ethics. While he was by no means alone in Cf. Joseph L. Blau, Men and Movements in American Philosophy (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1952), pp. 73-109; E. H. Madden, Civil Disobedience and Moral Law in Nineteenth-Century American Philosophy (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1968), pp. 3-84; and Herbert W. Schneider, A History o! American Philosophy, 2nd ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1963), pp. xv, 193-220. [347] 348 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY this respect, his was the minority view on this issue. Most of the New Light philosophers not only used the views of Reid and Stewart in attacking Edwards' doctrine of the will but also followed the Scottish philosophers on issues of moral obligation. Asa Mahan, first president of Oberlin, was one of the sharpest defenders of deontology in its intuitionistic form. He was a relentless and talented critic of Fitmey and Edwards, and the discussions at Oberlin were often lively indeed. One strand of Mahan's criticism was to show that utilitarianism is a false view and then to argue that Finney's theory is simply an instance of utilitarianism. Finney strenuously denied that he was a utilitarian. Among present-day philosophers William K. Frankena agrees with Mahan by interpreting Finney not only as a teleologist but also as a utilitarian.'-' Another strand of Mahan's criticism was the claim that any teleological view is mistaken, and that in fact there are many duties quite independent of each other and irresolvable into any generalized concept of duty. Finney replied to these arguments, and the debate at Oberlin continued unabated. The point of this paper is two-fold: (1) to evaluate the conflicting judgments, old and new, about whether Finney was a utilitarian and thereby to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 347-360
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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