The Philosophy of Jonathan Edwards: A Study in Divine Semiotics

By Stephen H. Daniel | Go to book overview
Save to active project


Of the well-known philosophic minds of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Jonathan Edwards ( 1703-1758) is perhaps one of the most successful in escaping the historiographic impulse to categorization. With Edwards, many historians are dealing with an unknown quantity, a philosopher whose atomism, idealism, and doctrines of will and beauty frustrate attempts to force him into the empiricist-rationalist continuum that characterizes much of the historiography of modern philosophy.

Part of his elusiveness lies in his appeal to practices that undermine the logical and ontological policies of empiricism and rationalism. Because those policies exhibit the same features found in Platonic, Neoplatonic, or Aristotelian ways of thinking, Edwards' reluctance to adopt them amounts to nothing less than a repudiation of the strategies often taken to define philosophy itself. In terms of those classical notions of logical reasoning or ontological categories, Edwards' doctrines often appear out of touch with those of his contemporaries, and even when he appeals to topics we now acknowledge as philosophically significant, he invokes lines of argument that are seen as more appropriate for a theologian than for a philosopher.

It has become all but a commonplace to say that in order to identify the distinctively philosophic character in Edwards' work, we must situate him somewhere in the empiricist-rationalist continuum, or at least emphasize the Neoplatonic aspects of his thought. By these means (it is argued) we can begin to appreciate Edwards' historical contribution to the topics he addresses.

Such a tactic, however, overlooks how Edwards' philosophy is much more indebted to the Renaissance logic of Peter Ramus and to the ontology of early Stoicism. It is no wonder, then, that once Edwards' ideas are removed from this tradition, they seem to have little bearing on the philosophical debates of the Platonists, Aristotelians, and Lockeans. Accordingly, he is often written off as a historical curiosity.

From the perspective of Stoic-Ramist ontology, the classical-modern problems of epistemology and metaphysics are born out of a misdirected search for some ultimate foundation in terms of which everything else can be understood. According to this Renaissance mentality, the will to discern ultimate principles is itself blind to how the search for them is always already embedded in changing social and linguistic practices that preclude the possibility of there being such foundations.

For example, the classical-modern distinction of thing, idea, and word ignores the policies of discursive exchange by which such a distinction can function in the first place. As long as no one questions the propriety of the thing-idea-word distinction, debates about materialism versus idealism or


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
The Philosophy of Jonathan Edwards: A Study in Divine Semiotics


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
/ 212

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?