The Philosophy of Jonathan Edwards: A Study in Divine Semiotics

By Stephen H. Daniel | Go to book overview

VI

FREEDOM AND MORAL AGENCY

The strategies for addressing the issue of free will have become so entrenched that any approach like Edwards', which challenges the fundamentally modernist presuppositions underlying the discussion, is either dismissed as beside the point or (worse) forced into one of the competing positions. His doctrine is typically identified as soft determinism or compatibilism, because he appears to claim that, even though our wills are determined, our actions (insofar as they are the result of our choices) are free. Thus Edwards is portrayed as rejecting, on the one hand, the hard determinist line that human beings have no freedom in action or choice, and on the other hand, the indeterminist view that free choices, like free acts, are chance, uncaused events.

A fourth option, the libertarian, person, or agency theory, is seldom invoked in discussions of Edwards, even though he alludes to something like it before dismissing it as unintelligible when applied to any being other than God.1 According to agency theory, choices and acts constitute the self rather than being caused by a self; to ask what causes someone to choose or act in particular ways is to search for the ends the person has in mind in virtue of doing such acts or making such choices. For Edwards, this merely begs the question of why any self rather than another is constituted in virtue of particular choices or actions. Since no being except God contains the rationale for its own existence, any explanation of why choices or acts occur at all requires that there be something to ground them. For the agency theorist to reply that no ground is needed for intelligibility other than that provided in virtue of after-the-fact choices or acts is to miss the point Edwards raises: namely, why is any particular choice or act made in the first place? In dismissing the need for an explanatory ground for choice or action, agency theory is ultimately reduced to indeterminism.

The question of free will turns, then, on how to provide a rationale for human choices and actions without allowing the fact of there being an explanation to overwhelm any possibility of freedom. By denying that such a rationale is compatible with freedom, the indeterminist concludes that freedom of the will is possible only if choices are chance events, undetermined finally

____________________
1
See Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will, ed. Paul Ramsey, 177-78; and Ramsey, ibid., 24-27.

-152-

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The Philosophy of Jonathan Edwards: A Study in Divine Semiotics
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • Introduction 1
  • I - The Prospect of Semiotics 11
  • II - The Discourse of Typology 41
  • III - The Logics of Creation 66
  • IV - The Trinity and Creation 102
  • V - The Ontology of Original Sin 130
  • VI - Freedom and Moral Agency 152
  • VII - The Knowledge of Beauty 177
  • Concluding Remarks - The Propriety of Christ 197
  • Bibliography 201
  • Index 208
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