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John Locke and Jonathan Edwards: A Reconsideration
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John Locke and Jonathan Edwards: A Reconsideration PAUL HELM THERE IS NO DOUBT that Locke's Essay was a major factor in the philosophical development of Jonathan Edwards. In the Freedom of the Will he freely uses material from Locke's chapter "Of the Idea of Power" (Book II, Ch. 21), though he amends Locke's doctrine where he sees fit; in the Religious Affections he equally freely used l.x~ckean notions while never explicitly quoting or referring to Locke. In this paper I want to argue, on philosophical grounds, that this undoubted influence is subject to important qualifications? Edwards was not an empiricist, and it is too much to say that his philosophy was Locke-inspired; he draws on arguments from "the new way of ideas" only when these serve his wider aims. In the Freedom ol the Will Edwards was engaged in open polemic. He wanted to rebut the then-fashionable Arminlan view that a man's will was self-determined. Current interpretation of Edwards claims that in order to do this Edwards argued on two fronts: (1) He employed Lockean psychology (somewhat modified), arguing that the will must follow the greatest desire, that volitions were the causal outcome of the greatest motive. (2) He used logic, particularly the infinite regress argument showing that "if the will determines its own first act, then there must be an act of the will before that first act (for the determining is acting), which is a contradiction ." ' I want to argue that the overall effectiveness of Edwards' argument cannot be appreciated without taking account of another factor, the "theistic paradigms" * of virtue that Edwards finds in the moral necessity of God's will and of Christ's. The references to these matters in the Freedom of the Will cannot be dismissed as dated biblical intrusions, where Edwards the philosopher lapses into Edwards the revivalist; they are essential to his argument in the book. I want now to give This same point has been argued on historical grounds: Leon Howard claims, on the basis of a reconstruction of the text of Edwards' seminal Notes on the Mind, that Edwards was "more disposed to peck at Locke than to swallow him" (The "Mind" of Jonathan Edwards, A Reconstructed Text [Berkeley, 1963], p. 125). 2Quoted by Paul Ramsey in his "Introduction" to the Yale edition of Edwards' Freedom of the Will (New Haven, 1957),p. 30. Page references in my text to Freedom of the Will are to this edition. I owe this phrase to Dewey Hoitenga's "Logic and the Problem of Evil," American Philosophical Quarterly, IV: 2 (April 1967), 114-126. See below. [51] 52 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY an account of these paradigms, and to show how they figure in Edwards' overall ease. II Edwards' exposition of what I have called the paradigm~ occurs in two main contexts in the Freedom ol the Will, in Sections 1, 2, and 3 of Part III, and Sections 7 and 8 of Part IV, though a case could be made out for also including Sections I1 and 12 of Part H. The sections in Part III contribute to Edwards' enquiry as to whether "Any Such Liberty of Will as Arminians Hold, be Necessary to Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice, Praise and Dispraise, etc." That is, they form part of a quite general argument, part of Edwards' overall polemic, and are not merely incidental illustrations. For if Edwards cannot show that Arminian liberty is not necessary to moral agency, then his argument, whatever his earlier Lockean triumphs, will fail to impress his Arminian readership, and he will be open to the charge of not making out his own case while at the same time having shown the Arminian view of the will fo be incoherent. (The full title of Edwards' Freedom of the Will must be constantly borne in mind--.., that Freedom of Will which is supposed to be essential to Moral Agency, Virtue and Vice .... " Hence it is incumbent on Edwards to show the compatibility of determinism and "Moral Agency," not just the logical incoherence of self-determination.) So Edwards shows (1) that God is morally excellent yet that that excellence is necessary. By...