Jonathan Edwards and the Limits of Enlightenment Philosophy

By Leon Chai | Go to book overview
Save to active project


ALTHOUGH WE HAVE EXAMINED several forms of Enlightenment rationality in some detail, we have not yet seriously considered rationality per se. For Locke, it has to do with the interpretation of sensory data. According to the Essay, our sensations convey information about various external objects. But how do we know whether that information really amounts to genuine knowledge? Here the role of rationality becomes evident within Locke's scheme. Obviously, we do not need rationality just to assimilate sensory data. To determine how to interpret such data, though, we need to apply rational analysis. Through rational analysis, we can ascertain that the sensory data we receive are not produced by the mind itself. But if not produced by the mind, they must originate from external sources. Thus we arrive at our belief in sensory data as a source of knowledge by means of rational inferences.

In contrast to Locke, Malebranche is less interested in the interpretation of sensory data than in that of the ideas to which such data give rise. From his standpoint, the one fact we cannot deny is that our ideas fail to describe external objects as they actually are. It is at this point that he begins to make use of rational analysis. Ideas that do not properly describe external objects cannot originate from those objects. Instead, there must be some other source. What Malebranche ultimately hopes to prove is that our ideas of external objects could only come from God. To do this, he needs to demonstrate that there is no other way to reconcile their material quality (essentially, their capacity to "modify" the mind via sensation) with their intellectual quality (i.e., their existence in the mind). Thus his analysis attempts to eliminate all other possibilities on the basis of inconsistency. He comes to the notion of God as the source of all our ideas of external objects by rational induction, as the only possible solution to all the requirements in question.

With Leibniz, finally, the definition of rationality changes somewhat. A discussion of necessity versus contingency in the Nouveaux Essais makes it clear that the only propositions endowed with strict necessity are those of geometry and meta


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Jonathan Edwards and the Limits of Enlightenment Philosophy


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 164

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?