This from a course to be taught in the fall at Rutgers. I’m a big fan of the Scottish common sense realists (especially Thomas Reid) and will be publishing an anthology later this year collecting together writings of Hume, Reid, and Paley on natural theology.
Professor Gregory Jackson
Seminar: The Anglo-American Enlightenment (350:629)
Tuesdays – 9:50am to 12:50pm
Bishop House, Room 211
In this course we’re going to take an extended look at the origins of “intelligent design,” a phrase coined not in our own time but in the context of the debates over science and religion in the eighteenth century. Far from believing that the two were irreconcilable, many of the Enlightenment’s influential thinkers worked tirelessly to integrate the material and spiritual worlds into a grand design that accounted both for the occult and the increasing importance of Newtonian physics and the natural sciences. We will range through the works of writers such as Ralph Cudworth, Jonathan Edwards, Cotton Mather, George Berkeley, David Hume, John Taylor, Anthony Collins, and Daniel Whitby. In so doing, we will explore emergent theologies that incorporated natural philosophy and empiricism (“evidential Christianity”), including
Jonathan Mayhew’s Seven Sermons, which articulated the rationalized “theology of virtue”; Samuel Webster’s Winter Evening’s Conversation Upon the Doctrine of Original Sin (1757); Hume on miracles; and Joseph Priestly’s Early Opinions of Jesus Christ (1789) and The History of the Corruptions of Christianity (1782), a book Thomas Jefferson deemed
essential reading. We will also read Edwards’s posthumous Dissertation Concerning the End for Which God Created the World (1755) and The Nature of True Virtue (1755), works that summarized orthodox Christians’ anxiety about the over rationalization of the Protestant theological tradition. We will link this historical exploration of design theory to contemporary concerns with science and religion as antithetical categories.
While taking place within a transatlantic context, these debates comprised a particularly important dimension of the American Enlightenment’s special interest in Deism and secular humanism. We’ll contextualize this venture in the century before, in Bacon, Hobbes, and Locke, concerning ourselves largely with epistemology. Because the 1692 Salem witch trials provide an apt synecdoche of the evidentiary crisis marking the onset of the American Enlightenment, we’ll examine the conflicting metaphysics, ontologies, and epistemologies that continued to promulgate an atavistic worldview on the one hand, and augur secular modernity on the other. And finally under full steam, we will examine
the importation of neo-stoicism and Baconian empiricism to the colonies, filtered through Scottish Common Sense Realism- key philosophical underpinnings of Enlightenment debates over natural religion and the religion of nature. Expect to read all or parts of Samuel Clarke’s Natural Religion (1705); Francis Hutcheson, System of Moral Philosophy;
Thomas Reid’s Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (1764); and Dugald Steward’s Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind. These classic texts of the Scottish and American Enlightenment illuminate the epistemological convergences that have come to characterize our secular modernity.