The Philosophy of Jonathan Edwards: A Study in Divine Semiotics

By Stephen H. Daniel | Go to book overview
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Edwards' typological claims are based on a matrix of relations that defines the order of the world and the processes of reasoning. His emphasis on the communicative character of reality challenges the classical dismissal of speech as subordinate to an independent ontology. In its place he proposes a nonfoundationalist account of how signification is possible without having to rely on a metaphysics of subjectivity. Admittedly, the fall into subjectivity (along with its incumbent problems of skepticism) depicts the condition of sinful humanity. But Edwards does not assume that a logic that distances human beings from God, the world, and one another can serve as the model on which to defend assertions of the integrity of creation.

Likewise, though he borrows much of Neoplatonism's vocabulary of emanation and communication, Edwards cannot accept its implicit reduction of creation and its history to mere illusion. To locate the significance or meaning of existence outside of the world means drawing up the same barriers to intelligibility found in peripatetic distinctions of things, ideas, and words, or of matter and form. Only in the attempts to break through these distinctions does Edwards discover the procedures to undercut the difficulties raised by their forced dichotomies.

My focus on Edwards' semiotics attempts to open up a new space for investigation, one that resists the temptation to associate him with either the transcendent symbolism of Neoplatonism or the Aristotelian empiricism of Locke. When scholars have sought a middle ground in portraying Edwards' thought—as in Sang Lee's Leibnizian or process-theology retention of dispositional subjectivity—the logic of Edwards' communicative ontology recedes into the background.1 The reason for this is that the implicit perspectivalism of a Leibnizian monadology does not account for how subjectivity itself is meaningful only in the context of the discourse in which it is a function.

In referring to the Stoic-Renaissance alternative to the classical (Platonic, Aristotelian, Lockean) mentality, I have invoked Foucault's depiction of it as a system of signification in which things signify as much as do ideas or words. Apart from describing the assumptions of such an episteme, though, I have not made explicit either why we should refer to this logic of signification as Stoic

See Sang Hyun Lee, The Philosophical Theology Jonathan Edwards, 3-10, 50, 78.


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