Philip Valenti has rendered valuable service in publishing for the first time the unfinished and long-lost manuscript of James Logan (1674-1751), a leading Philadelphia Quaker who began his career as secretary to William Penn, amassed over time probably the best library in colonial America, and was a friend and [End Page 54] influence on Benjamin Franklin. Logan’s text represents the only known non-theological treatment of moral philosophy written in colonial America.
The work itself does not engage very well with our 21st-century categories of thought, but Valenti’s 70-page Introduction reveals the essay’s background and intentions at the interface between philosophy, science, mathematics and politics in Anglo-American culture during Logan’s lifetime. Valenti convincingly portrays Logan’s essay as a philosophical “declaration of independence” of American philosophical thought from the political affinities of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Isaac Newton and the Royal Society, whose influence in philosophy, science and politics had become hegemonic in Britain. Valenti argues that Logan’s essay represents a “Rosetta stone,” a “guide to unraveling the threads of American colonial thought leading to 1776, contradicting many currently accepted theories, and with significant implications for politics today” (p. 12). Among other things, he shows that Locke’s moral and political thought was not as widely embraced in the colonies as has been suggested, and that the Royal Society, far from advancing disinterested science, played politics with vengeance.
Although Valenti does not extend his analysis as far back as the English Civil War of the 1640s, his portrayal of Britain’s “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 shows the continued struggle of the English Commonwealth’s adherents (which included early Friends) against the oligarchical powers that advanced and dominated Britain’s imperial future. The political intrigue of these developments is too complex to be recounted here but brings to mind the interplay of philosophy, theology and early science in Umberto Eco’s novel, The Name of the Rose. Valenti tells the story with passionate, politically engaged clarity. [End Page 55]