The Unitarian Conscience: Harvard Moral Philosophy, 1805-1861

The Unitarian Conscience: Harvard Moral Philosophy, 1805-1861

The Unitarian Conscience: Harvard Moral Philosophy, 1805-1861

The Unitarian Conscience: Harvard Moral Philosophy, 1805-1861

Excerpt

The Unitarian conscience was first published by Harvard University Press eighteen years ago--meaning, of course, that it was researched and written even earlier. The dissertation from which it derived was completed in 1966. I am most pleased that Wesleyan University Press has seen fit to reissue it now and has accorded me this opportunity to reflect on the book and its meaning for a new generation of scholars and students.

I wrote this book with a twofold objective: first, to describe Unitarian moral philosophy in early nineteenth-century New England; and second, to show why this philosophy mattered to the development of American culture. The duality of purpose is reflected in the two-part organization of the book. Part One maps out the contours of moral philosophy at antebellum Harvard, then the center of American Unitarianism. It describes and analyzes this system of thought, tracing its Old World origins and explaining its appeal to a particular social group in terms of historical circumstances. Part Two shows the implications of this philosophy when it was carried into the realms of evangelical preaching, literature, politics, economic theory, education, philanthropy, and reform. A study in the application of ideas to community experience, it shows how fundamental the Unitarian moral philosophy was for antebellum New England and, by extension, how important Protestant moral philosophy was to American culture in general.

The Unitarian Conscience reflected my admiration for the work of the leading scholar of New England culture in the preceding generation, Perry Miller. In writing it, I felt that I was carrying forward into the nineteenth century the approach to intellectual history that . . .

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