A new and exciting approach to the history of philosophy has begun to displace the narrative produced by nineteenth-century historiographers indebted to Hegel. Instead of understanding the history of philosophy as a progressive attempt to resolve perennial problems of the human condition, scholars such as Michel Foucault have highlighted the need to inquire into what has been pushed aside or suppressed in the study of the history of philosophy. Such a project reconsiders who count as major thinkers and radically reexamines their works and themes. It provides a means for appreciating why philosophers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries who refuse to emphasize specifically modernist topics like subjectivity and autonomy have been pushed to the margins of what is studied today as modern philosophy.
On the surface, this new project has contributed to a wave of fashionable activities concerning the expansion of the philosophic canon, the materialistic deconstructionism known as New Historicism, and the Nietzsche-inspired critique of foundationalist epistemology and metaphysics called postmodernism. But in testing the limits of how far such strategies can be extended in philosophy, these movements have often produced nothing more than deconstructive or poststructuralist "readings" of classical texts. As with earlier Marxist or psychoanalytic approaches, they are sometimes understood simply as alternative interpretations proposed by enthusiasts bent on demonstrating the power of their new toys.
By invoking such contemporary thinkers as Foucault, this book on Jonathan Edwards runs the risk of being understood as merely an application of this new philosophic historiography. Indeed, to some extent it is, insofar as it portrays Edwards' philosophy in other than solely modernist terms. The novelty of this kind of historiography lies not, however, in its offering simply another view of Edwards' thought, but in the way it challenges the dominant practice of considering modern ( seventeenth- and eighteenth-century) thinkers in exclusively classical-modernist terms.
Because medieval discourse appeals to the same classical practices assumed by early modernist thinkers, the questions that I address are not concerned with whether Edwards is a medieval or a modern thinker—an issue that vexed scholars several decades ago. Today the problem of modernity (or modernism) reflects the challenge posed by postmodernity, a challenge to the philosophic pursuit of rationality, unity, certainty. From the postmodern perspective, the modernity of Descartes and Locke merely extends the classical (and medieval) presuppositions of philosophy itself, presuppositions amplified by Kant and Hegel. In the Nietzschean critique of classical modernity, the superficial distinctions of classical, medieval, and modern collapse, because all three perspectives