Jonathan Edwards and the Limits of Enlightenment Philosophy

By Leon Chai | Go to book overview

Conclusion

THE FAILURE OF EDWARDS'S ARGUMENT against Arminian free will from a logical standpoint leads to several related questions, which it seems appropriate to consider here. The first is perhaps the most obvious: does the validity of Edwards's theological position rest on its ability to avoid the negative implications of the reductio? Secondly, what is the role of rationality in Edwards's scheme? And, finally, is any other form of rational analysis actually possible?

Strictly speaking, the inconsistency of a given position need not imply a complete failure to represent what is true. In some instances, inconsistency might result from a minor oversight. Under such circumstances, it is usually possible to redress that oversight without affecting the argument or position substantively. In other instances, only one portion of the argument might be affected. Thus we could still accept the rest of it as true. But what about more serious forms of inconsistency? What if, for example, we find a basic contradiction within a given position? Does that completely nullify its possible truth-value? Where the subject is purely logical in nature, we would have to say yes. In many situations, however, we know this is not the case. Instead, the logical expression of a position serves merely as an attempt to represent, clearly and coherently, a particular condition. In such instances, it seems to me, the capacity of a position to represent a particular condition need not be wholly compromised by its inconsistency. Representation, in other words, is more flexible than logical form. Thus one might say something meaningful about a given situation even though one's position is, from a logical standpoint, seriously or even fundamentally flawed. Oftentimes, especially with situations of greater complexity, we lack the whole picture. Thus, for all we know, a specific inconsistency might simply reflect a need for more comprehensive knowledge of what is involved. Inconsistency, then, need not imply falsehood. Frequently, it may signify nothing more than incompleteness.

What inconsistency does imply is our inability to prove what we believe, with the means at our disposal. To the extent that proof is presumably always better than its absence, failure to prove a point can have negative implications. Neverthe-

-114-

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Jonathan Edwards and the Limits of Enlightenment Philosophy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Acknowledgments *
  • Contents *
  • Introductory 3
  • Part I - The Problem of Sensation 7
  • Chapter I - The Argument for Empiricism 9
  • Chapter 2 - Religious Affections 22
  • Part II - Ideas, Objects, Mind 37
  • Chapter 3 - Idea and Object 39
  • Chapter 4 - Idealism 56
  • Part III - The Ends of Causal Analysis 73
  • Chapter 5 - Causation 75
  • Chapter 6 - Freedom of the Will 94
  • Conclusion 114
  • Epilogue 117
  • Notes 121
  • Primary Sources 159
  • Index 161
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