Wednesday, May 8, 2013

JAMES WILSON AND THE SCOTTISH ENLIGHTENMENT

That's the title to a working paper by William Ewald, Professor of Law and Philosophy, University of Pennsylvania and that you may access here. I haven't read it yet. But for those interested, dig in.

60 comments:

wsforten said...

It seems to me that Mr. Ewald is desperately grasping at straws in order to avoid the obvious conclusion that the second most influential member of the Constitutional Convention had a deeply theological view of the law. The effect that Wilson's theological training had on his legal studies is abundantly evident in his Lectures on the Law. In those lectures, we find dozens of statements along the lines of: "Human law must rest its authority, ultimately, upon the authority of that law, which is divine." Mr. Ewald is focused so much on discovering secular roots for Wilson's statements in the Convention that he completely ignores the obvious and documented impact of Wilson's theological training and attempts to shift the focus to speculative possibilities of indiscernible influence from the leaders of the Scottish enlightenment.

Jonathan Rowe said...

LOL. Or perhaps you are the one who grasps at straws and misses the forrest for the trees.

wsforten said...

Well, that's certainly possible, Jon. I'll be the first to admit that I have every potential to be mistaken. But I wonder what opinion you have come to after your studies of James Wilson. Do you think that his view of the law was grounded in his understanding of the Bible or rather in a supposed influence from the Scottish Enlightenment?

Jonathan Rowe said...

I'm not sure if you understand what the "Scottish Enlightenment" even was.

For one, it's not an either/or thing with the Bible. That's a false dichotomy.

I've read Wilson's "Works" very carefully. And I see a lot of philosophical dithering. A lot of back and forth discussing how the Bible, reason and the senses are all incomplete without one another and work together to support and reinforce one another.

While Wilson presents a three legged stool of Scripture, Reason & the Senses, I don't see a whole lot of explicit verses and chapter of scripture citations. Though if you comb through the needles, I'm sure you can, using out of context citations, pretend like Wilson's Works are replete with citations to the Bible.

His Works are rather more of a broad, general, vague hat tip to Scripture.

Also, I'm familiar enough with your method to know that as soon as we start citing the vast influence of the Scottish Common Sense Enlightenment thinkers, you'll just throw spaghetti against the wall and try to credit the Bible with those sentiments.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Also that you would write "his view of the law was grounded in his understanding of the Bible" without futher clarification shows you either misunderstand Wilson's theology or are trying to mislead.

Wilson was explicitly NOT a Sola Scriptura guy and said, as I noted above, the Bible was an incomplete book.

When Wilson speaks of "divine" law one of the channels Wilson invokes is "natural" or that which is discoverable by reason.

Why not mention that in your question?

jimmiraybob said...

wsfortan -

I've read through the entire lecture(1) from which you've gleaned the quote. There is no way to distinguish the God that he describes as that of Cicero's or Epictectus' or that of the Christian preachers of his day or ours.

In all, shades of Adam Smith, he gives the trump card to the universal human moral sentiment or sense rather than appeal to any scriptural sources. He sounds more like the cosmopolitan Stoic than the Calvinist preacher. In fact, just the opposite:

It may, however, be proper to observe, that it is but candid to consider human nature in her improved, and not in her most rude or depraved forms. 'The good experienced man,' says Aristotle, 'is the last measure of all things.'u To ascertain moral principles, we appeal not to the common sense of savages, but of men in their most perfect state.

Although he mentions scripture in passing when he describes the divine law - it is a teaching lecture after all - he does not come back to it again as an authoritative source. Instead spending a good deal of time on reason and the moral sense. There is nary a mention of anything explicitly Christian or Jewish, New Testament or Old, or any subsequent modifications.

It would be very easy in hearing or reading this lecture once to come to the conclusion that he was a deist - as he does refer to the Deity and the Creator, etc., etc.

If your point is to use this lecture as a foundation for Wilson's deep devotion to Christianity or the Bible as a supreme moral authority, it just doesn't hold up. If your point is that he saw a divinity in the law, then yes.

Maybe there's something else? Perhaps I've missed something in my haste.

1) http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=2072&chapter=156442&layout=html&Itemid=27

jimmiraybob said...

And Jon, thanks for the link to the paper.

JMS said...

I have a very different and more jaundiced view of James Wilson. It stems from the question of approach: should we focus on what a historical actor wrote or did? The obvious answer is – both. But in the case of Wilson and Ewald’s essay, most scholars focus on what he wrote (and which your debate in the Comments section is about) , while I like to look at what he did. And if you look at Wilson and the history of the U.S. in the 1780s and 1790s (e.g., his reactionary rewrite of Paine’s radical PA state constitution of 1776, or as a Supreme Court justice, rubber-stamping certification of Hamilton’s Militia Act to militarily suppress the so-called “whiskey rebels”) in terms of “liberty and equality,” he comes off as a money-grubbing speculator in western lands devoted to his own self-interest (i.e., the creditor class), but who ends up in debtor’s prison twice and dies while evading his creditors. Perhaps his lasting legacy was the first Bankruptcy Act. I wonder if he ever reflected on the biblical scripture of, “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”

PS - Ewald's interpretation of the Glorious Revolution is appallingly sub-standard.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yeah Wilson did have a very sad end.

jimmiraybob said...

...Paine’s radical PA state constitution of 1776...

Having just finished - Warning, book plug coming - William Hogeland's Founding Finance, this was rattling around in the back of my mind as I was reading the lectures.

Continuing with the plug, Hogeland gave a talk at the Kansas City library(1) a few weeks ago which was taped by C-Span for future reference.

1)http://williamhogeland.wordpress.com/

Tom Van Dyke said...

While Wilson presents a three legged stool of Scripture, Reason & the Senses, I don't see a whole lot of explicit verses and chapter of scripture citations. Though if you comb through the needles, I'm sure you can, using out of context citations, pretend like Wilson's Works are replete with citations to the Bible.

Yah, I don't see the Bible much in there either.

Here's the thing--since all the cool guys don't thump Bible [Hume, the most coolest, is pretty much an atheist], an intellectual, a philosopher, wouldn't lean on scripture to make his arguments anyway. That's theology, not philosophy.

Natural law is the lingua franca. And in Wilson's case per the Scottish Common Sense Enlightenemnt, the "innate"

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moral_sense_theory

Jon also correctly notes Wilson's use of the "two channels" of divine revelation, scripture and natural law and natural theology, traditional Thomistic [Aquinas] natural law theory, which IMO Wilson funnels through the "Father of Anglicanism," Rev. Richard Hooker, who is often cited apparently approvingly* by John Locke.

_____
*Close reading of Locke indicates that Locke's agreement with the revered Hooker is often a disguised disagreement, but an un-close reading lets Wilson argue that Locke and Hooker say the same things. Wilson is so smart, I think he's purposely eliding the difference, not missing it, enlisting Locke for Hooker, Aquinas, and traditional natural law.

Anyway, those are my impressions of James Wilson. I like him very much, and consider him the best American thinker of the era.

wsforten said...

You're contradicting yourself, Jon. I agree that I asked you to defend a false dichotomy, and I am glad to see you point that out, but you see, if setting up the Scottish Enlightenment in opposition to the Bible is a false dichotomy, then that means that crediting the latter for the sentiments of the former is a valid position. You cannot logically condemn me in one sentence for distinguishing between the two and then criticize me in another for not distinguishing between them.

As for Wilson's citations of the Scriptures, let me point out that I have never claimed that he gives explicit verse and chapter citations. What I claimed was that the effect of his theological training is abundantly evident. Just as we understand Jefferson to be citing Bolingbroke when he wrote of the laws of nature and of nature's God even though he did not directly cite or quote him, so we can see in Wilson's writings dozens upon dozens of references to the teachings of Scripture. In one of his lectures, for example, Wilson stated that:

“Laws may be promulgated by reason and conscience, the divine monitors within us. They are thus known as effectually, as by words or by writing: indeed they are thus known in a manner more noble and exalted. For, in this manner, they may be said to be engraven by God on the hearts of men: in this manner, he is the promulgator as well as the author of natural law.”

One who is unfamiliar with the teachings of Scripture might read this statement without recognizing that Wilson is referencing Romans 2:14-15. He does not state which chapter and verse he is quoting nor even that he is quoting from the Bible, but no one who has studied the book of Romans and who is aware of Wilson's theological training would deny that this is a direct reference to the Bible. Here is the passage that Wilson is citing:

"For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another."

Sometimes Wilson's references to Scripture were more direct such as when he said:

“We have passed the Red Sea in safety: we have survived a tedious and dangerous journey through the wilderness: we are now in full and peaceable possession of the promised land: must we, after all, return to the flesh pots of Egypt?”

Many times those references are much more vague, and I would have to quote large sections of Wilson's comments to show the theological underpinnings which he assumed were already recognized by his listeners. I could fill many volumes expounding on these, and maybe someday I will. For now, however, let me direct you to a listing of some of Wilson's more obviously theological statements. You can find a list that I have compiled at: http://christian76.com/james-wilson/

You will note in that list that I do not shrink from including Wilson's references to reason and to natural law. For example, I included the following statement:

“How shall we, in particular cases, discover the will of God? We discover it by our conscience, by our reason, and by the Holy Scriptures. The law of nature and the law of revelation are both divine: they flow, though in different channels, from the same adorable source. It is, indeed, preposterous to separate them from each other. The object of both is — to discover the will of God — and both are necessary for the accomplishment of that end.”

This understanding of natural law, by the way, stems directly from Romans 1 and 2 as well as several other passages of Scripture such as Romans 10, Psalm 19, etc.

In regards to Sola Scriptura, this is another phrase that is defined in multiple ways. Wilson can be said to have agreed with the doctrine and also to have disagreed with it depending on which definition you use. Would you mind telling us which definition you are relying on in your charge?

wsforten said...

Jim,

I think that you may indeed have missed a few things in your haste. That Wilson was most certainly not a Deist can be seen in several of the quotations at the link that I provided from Jon above. Perhaps, one of the most direct evidences that Wilson was speaking of the Christian God rather than the god of Deism can be seen in his statement that:

"In compassion to the imperfection of our internal powers, our all-gracious Creator, preserver, and Ruler has been pleased to discover and enforce his laws, by a revelation given to us immediately and directly from himself. This revelation is contained in the holy scriptures."

Jonathan Rowe said...

WS,

Busy day at work again, so I'll deal with bits and pieces.

"You're contradicting yourself, Jon. I agree that I asked you to defend a false dichotomy, and I am glad to see you point that out, but you see, if setting up the Scottish Enlightenment in opposition to the Bible is a false dichotomy, then that means that crediting the latter for the sentiments of the former is a valid position. You cannot logically condemn me in one sentence for distinguishing between the two and then criticize me in another for not distinguishing between them."

Or maybe the Scottish Enlightenment represents the "doctrines of man." Maybe these doctrines are compatible with the Bible -- or maybe they are not.

Perhaps the better analogy is to Aristotle. Thomas found a way to make him "fit" with the Bible. Do we credit the Bible with Aristotle's teachings?

Jonathan Rowe said...

"One who is unfamiliar with the teachings of Scripture might read this statement without recognizing that Wilson is referencing Romans 2:14-15."

No. The Bible doesn't get credit for Wilson's quotation. This is the part of the Bible that can be used to smuggle, again Aristotle's natural law.

Deists who don't believe in a word of special revelation, likewise, can agree 100% with this:

“Laws may be promulgated by reason and conscience, the divine monitors within us. They are thus known as effectually, as by words or by writing: indeed they are thus known in a manner more noble and exalted. For, in this manner, they may be said to be engraven by God on the hearts of men: in this manner, he is the promulgator as well as the author of natural law.”

Or are Deists like Paine just ripping off the Bible without crediting it?

Mark Hall said...

My quick take:

There are two major strains of the Scottish Enlightenment with respect to natural law: Reid v. Hume. Wilson was influenced by the former. He embraced a traditional theistic view of natural law, and he believed its basic tenets could be known through one's moral sense. Yet it is necessary to reason from its basic tenets to solve difficult moral issues (i.e. it is not self-evident that one should disobey German law and hide Jews in your attic and then lie to Gestapo agents about having done so). By the same token, it is necessary to reason from Scripture to answer certain specific problems.

Through natural law and reason we can learn a great deal about morality and God, but Scripture is critical for those things "which relate to the Deity..." Indeed, that is why "one who has had the advantage of a common education in a Christian country, knows more, and with more certainty, than was known by the wisest of the ancient philosophers" [Aristotle?]. (Works, 521]

Some gimlet eyed Straussean will note that I have capitalized "Christian" whereas in the printed text it is lower case. However, in the original manuscripts of the lectures James capitalized the word (and others referring to the deity). It was Bird Wilson, editor of the first versions of the lectures (or perhaps the printer), who used lower case.

MH

Jonathan Rowe said...

Mark,

Thanks for dropping by. Those are very good points.

I don't support the Straussian who analyzed whether the "c" in "Christianity" was capitalized. I agree that's a bit ridiculous.

I do think, however, Gregg Frazer's fideistic evangelical Christian Straussianism has a point when he noted the "Christianity" of, for instance, Jonathan Edwards' is not a "mild" and "tolerating" religion, like Locke's.

"The high reputation which [Locke] deservedly acquired for his enlightened attachment to the mild and tolerating doctrines of Christianity secured to him the esteem and confidence of those who were its friends."


Tom Van Dyke said...

Mark wasn't speaking of a particular Straussian, I thought, only that capitalizing "Christian" is not a revisionism of what James Wilson wrote, but a correction of Bird Wilson's DE-capitalizing "Christian."

Like some atheist smartasses these days pointedly leaving "god" uncapitalized, conspicuously making a statement.

To leave Christian uncapitalized might suggest Wilson was making a statement, and to re-capitalize it leaves one open to misquoting the original source.

I meself had wondered about the uncapitalized "C" in that very passage, Jon:

"I am equally far from believing that Mr. Locke was a friend to infidelity. But yet it is unquestionable, that the writings of Mr. Locke have facilitated the progress, and have given strength to the effects of scepticism.

The high reputation, which he deservedly acquired for his enlightened attachment to the mild and tolerating doctrines of christianity, secured to him the esteem and confidence of those, who were its friends."
______________

As for Jonathan Edwards' Christianity being neither "mild" nor "tolerant," the reality might surprise us. He was no brute, and indeed some of his opponents such as Charles Chauncey and the "Old Lights" were the snobs.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Chauncy

"They are chiefly, indeed, young persons, sometimes lads, or rather
boys; nay, women and girls, yea, Negroes, have taken upon them to do
the business of preachers."---Charles Chauncey on the Great Awakening ~1740 CE

Mark Hall said...

No argument here that Locke and Edwards had very different understandings of Christianity. But I am sure it is no news to readers of American Creation that "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," just about the only sermon read by most Americans (if they have read anything at all by Edwards) is a very atypical sermon. He was far more likely to talk about God's grace.

wsforten said...

Come now, Jon. Surely you're not implying that Wilson had a higher view of Aristotle than he did of the Bible. In just the first volume of his Lectures on the Law, we find him denigrating Aristotle on nearly a dozen occasions. For example:

"It was one of the capital defects of Aristotle's philosophy, that he attempted and pretended to define the simplest things."

http://books.google.com/books?id=UlxHAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA58

"Shall the judgment of Aristotle supersede inquiry into its reasonableness? Shall the judgment of Aristotle, if found, on inquiry, to be unreasonable, silence all reprehension or confutation? Decent respect for authority is favourable to science. Implicit confidence is its bane."

http://books.google.com/books?id=UlxHAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA73

"the snare, in which Aristotle and the peripateticks had been caught -- that of admitting things too rashly as first principles."

http://books.google.com/books?id=UlxHAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA276

Though Wilson gave Aristotle a certain measure of decent respect, he did not hesitate in the least to point out areas of disagreement with him. When speaking of the Bible, on the other hand, Wilson had nothing but the highest praise. Whereas he saw deficiencies in Aristotle's views and corrected them, he turned to the Bible in order to correct the deficiencies in himself.

“But it should always be remembered, that this law, natural or revealed, made for men or for nations, flows from the same divine source: it is the law of God.

“Nature, or to speak more properly, the Author of nature, has done much for us; but it is his gracious appointment and will, that we should also do much for ourselves. What we do, indeed, must be founded on what he has done; and the deficiencies of our laws must be supplied by the perfection of his. Human law must rest its authority, ultimately, upon the authority of that law, which is divine.”

http://books.google.com/books?id=UlxHAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA103

“That our Creator has a supreme right to prescribe a law for our conduct, and that we are under the most perfect obligation to obey that law, are truths established on the clearest and most solid principles.”

http://books.google.com/books?id=UlxHAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA108

“With regard to laws which are divine, they truly come from a superior — from Him who is supreme.”

http://books.google.com/books?id=UlxHAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA108

“How shall we, in particular cases, discover the will of God? We discover it by our conscience, by our reason, and by the Holy Scriptures. The law of nature and the law of revelation are both divine: they flow, though in different channels, from the same adorable source. It is, indeed, preposterous to separate them from each other. The object of both is — to discover the will of God — and both are necessary for the accomplishment of that end.”

http://books.google.com/books?id=UlxHAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA120

We could go on and on, and I encourage you to read through the larger list at the link that I previously provided. To suggest that Wilson may have followed the teachings of Aristotle more than the teachings of Scripture is ridiculous to the extreme, and I hope that you will assure us that you had some other implication in mind.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Come now, Jon. Surely you're not implying that Wilson had a higher view of Aristotle than he did of the Bible."

I never said such a thing (indeed I did have some other "implication" in mind). Rather, I used Aristotle, and Thomas Aquinas' incorporation thereof, as an analogy.

On the other hand, the Scottish Common Sense -- "reason and the senses" -- thinkers (to whom I had in mind with my Aristotle analogy) -- well, yes I think one could make the case Wilson had a higher view of their philosophy, as a whole than he did of the Bible.

As noted above, Wilson believed in a three legged stool of scripture, reason and the senses. And he explicitly said the while scripture supports and confirms the latter two, it does not supersede these non-scriptural authorities. The role of scripture was to support and confirm the findings of reason and the senses, not the other way around.

"These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense."

http://tinyurl.com/bsfcawj

Jonathan Rowe said...

"When speaking of the Bible, on the other hand, Wilson had nothing but the highest praise."

I think this depends on how "highest praise" defines. To Wilson, the Bible was incomplete and in need of support from other non-biblical sources.

This is why Wilson was not a Sola Scriptura guy.

"But whoever expects to find, in [Scripture], particular directions for every moral doubt which arises, expects more than he will find. They generally presuppose a knowledge of the principles of morality; and are employed not so much in teaching new rules on this subject, as in enforcing the practice of those already known, by a greater certainty, and by new sanctions. They present the warmest recommendations and the strongest inducements in favour of virtue: they exhibit the most powerful dissuasives from vice. But the origin, the nature, and the extent of the several rights and duties they do not explain; nor do they specify in what instances one right or duty is entitled to preference over another. They are addressed to rational and moral agents, capable of previously knowing the rights of men, and the tendencies of actions; of approving what is good, and of disapproving what is evil."

Jonathan Rowe said...

“Nature, or to speak more properly, the Author of nature,..."

A Gregg Frazer/Straussian point: Wilson (like other Founders) purposefully blurs "Nature" with God -- the generic, naturalistic monotheistic "Author of Nature."

Mark Hall said...

I find that argument a stretch. I address it, and similar claims, in a recent essay. Here is a taste:

Some scholars have argued that the use of “distant” words for God or “vague and generic God-language” like “Nature’s God,” Creator,” and “Providence” is evidence that the founders were deists. It may be the case that deists regularly referred to God in this fashion, but so did indisputably orthodox Christians. For instance, the Westminster Standards (a classic Protestant Reformed confession of faith), both in the original 1647 version and the 1788 American revision, refer to the deity as “the Supreme Judge,” “the great Creator of all things,” “the first cause,” “righteous judge,” “God the Creator,” and “the supreme Law and King of all the world.” The Standards also regularly reference God’s providence, and even proclaim that “[t]he light of nature showeth that there is a God . . .” Similarly, Isaac Watts, the “father of English Hymnody,” called the deity “nature’s God” in a poem about Psalm 148: 10. . . .

Frazer, of course, would argue that they are theistic rationalists, but the point remains that one can't read too much into the fact that these folks referred to the deity with phrases like these.

Please note that I am not arguing that anyone who refers to God (by whatever name) is a sincere, orthodox Christian. The argument is simply that phrases like nature's God are not necessarily evidence of a departure from orthodoxy. The only way to get a handle on such things is to dig deeply into a particular founder's writings and practices. When one does this for Wilson, I see no good reason to describe him as either a deist or a theistic rationalist (although he did drift from his Presbyterian roots into a more tolerant Anglicanism and had a far too optimistic view of human nature for my tastes).

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yup. Frazer probably would say Watts was a theistic rationalist.

http://www.americanpresbyterianchurch.org/?page_id=893

JMS said...

MH - I really appreciate and agree with your conclusion that, "The only way to get a handle on such things is to dig deeply into a particular founder's writings and practices."

To jimmyraybob - Yes, I was channeling Hogeland. I hope you got to see him in KC. His book, Founding Finance is an eye-opener.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yeah, well, in Jamestown, which was all about the $$$ [actually £££, I guess], they ended up cannibalizing each other.

http://www.vnews.com/news/nation/world/5992735-95/cannibalism-at-jamestown

As for the rest, Mark Hall's response from 2011:

http://www.heritage.org/research/lecture/2011/06/did-america-have-a-christian-founding

Few doubt that Puritans were serious Christians attempting to create, in the words of Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop, “a shining city upon a hill” (a reference to Matthew 5:14).

Puritans separated church and state, but they clearly thought the two institutions should work in tandem to support, protect, and promote true Christianity.

Other colonies, however, are often described as being significantly different from those in New England. Historian John Fea, for instance, contends that “the real appeal of Jamestown was economic opportunity and the very real possibility of striking it rich.”[9]

It is certainly the case that colonists were attracted to the New World by economic opportunity (in New England as well as in the South), and yet even in the southern colonies the protection and promotion of Christianity was more important than many authors assume.

For instance, Virginia’s 1610 legal code begins:
Whereas his Majesty, like himself a most zealous prince, has in his own realms a principal care of true religion and reverence to God and has always strictly commanded his generals and governors, with all his forces wheresoever, to let their ways be, like his ends, for the glory of God….

The first three articles of this text go on to state that the colonists have embarked on a “sacred cause,” to mandate regular church attendance, and to proclaim that anyone who speaks impiously against the Trinity or who blasphemes God’s name will be put to death.[10]

wsforten said...

You are mistaken on several accounts, Jon. When Wilson said that the Scriptures "do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense," he was not saying that the Scriptures are inferior to reason nor even that they are equal. Wilson was so precise in his language that he devoted ten pages to defining the word "definition" before giving his definition of the word "law." Thus, when we read his statement about Scripture not superseding reason, it is important that we consider what the word "supersede" actually means.

According to Webster's dictionary, the word "supersede" used in a legal context means to postpone or defer; to fail to proceed with or discontinue; to refrain from or omit; to suspend the operation of. There is even a legal document known as a supersedeas which is an order commanding a stay of legal proceedings. Additional definitions of "supersede" include: to make obsolete, inferior or outmoded; to make void or to annul; to cause to be set aside; to force out of use; etc. In light of these definitions, it is evident that if we were to say that Scripture supersedes reason and the moral sense, then that would imply that reason and conscience are made void and should be discontinued. This is obviously not a proper understanding of the authority of Scripture for even the Bible itself records God as saying "Come now, and let us reason together." (Isaiah 1:18) If the Bible commands reasoning, then it would be erroneous to conclude that the Bible supersedes reason, and similar examples could be given for the moral sense.

To understand exactly what kind of relationship Wilson recognized to exist between reason and the Scriptures, we need only to read the paragraph prior to the one which you quoted. In that paragraph, we read:

"One superiour advantage the precepts delivered in the sacred oracles clearly possess. They are, of all, the most explicit and the most certain. A publick minister, judging from what he knows of the interests, views, and designs of the state, which he represents, may take his resolutions and measures, in many cases, with confidence and safety; and may presume, with great probability, how the state itself would act. But if, besides this general knowledge, and these presumptions highly probable, he was furnished also with particular instructions for the regulation of his conduct; would he not naturally observe and govern himself by both rules? In cases, where his instructions are clear and positive, there would be an end of all farther deliberation. In other cases, where his instructions are silent, he would supply them by his general knowledge, and by the information, which he could collect from other quarters, concerning the counsels and systems of the commonwealth. Thus it is with regard to reason, conscience, and the holy scriptures. Where the latter give instructions, those instructions are supereminently authentick. But whoever expects to find, in them, particular directions for every moral doubt which arises, expects more than he will find. They generally presuppose a knowledge of the principles of morality; and are employed not so much in teaching new rules on this subject, as in enforcing the practice of those already known, by a greater certainty, and by new sanctions. They present the warmest recommendations and the strongest inducements in favour of virtue: they exhibit the most powerful dissuasives from vice. But the origin, the nature, and the extent of the several rights and duties they do not explain; nor do they specify in what instances one right or duty is entitled to preference over another. They are addressed to rational and moral agents, capable of previously knowing the rights of men, and the tendencies of actions; of approving what is good, and of disapproving what is evil."

wsforten said...

When we consider the quote which you provided in the context of its preceding paragraph, it is evident that, while Wilson did not consider the Bible to supersede reason and conscience, he view it as supereminent to them in authority. The word "supereminent" means being extremely high or highest; being the most distinguished in rank or excellence. This view of the Scriptures is exactly what is meant by the phrase "sola Scriptura." This phrase does not mean that the Bible stands alone and that nothing else is to be considered valid in any area of life. It simply means that the Bible is supremely authoritative in the areas of which it speaks. This doctrine is echoed several times in Wilson's lectures, but one of the clearest statements of it can be found in the page immediately preceding the above quoted paragraph.

“Reason and conscience can do much; but still they stand in need of support and assistance. They are useful and excellent monitors; but, at some times, their admonitions are not sufficiently clear; at other times, they are not sufficiently powerful; at all times, their influence is not sufficiently extensive. Great and sublime truths indeed, would appear to a few; but the world, at large, would be dark and ignorant. The mass of mankind would resemble a chaos, in which a few sparks, that would diffuse a glimmering light, would serve only to show, in a more striking manner, the thick darkness with which they are surrounded. Their weakness is strengthened, their darkness is illuminated, their influence is enlarged by that heaven-descended science, which has brought life and immortality to light. In compassion to the imperfection of our internal powers, our all-gracious Creator, preserver, and Ruler has been pleased to discover and enforce his laws, by a revelation given to us immediately and directly from himself. This revelation is contained in the holy scriptures."
(http://books.google.com/books?id=UlxHAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA137)

In this respect, Wilson's Lectures present the same view of the Scriptures as Blackstone's Commentaries which I've condensed to:

"This law of nature is of course superior in obligation to any other. No human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this: and such of them as are valid derive all their authority from this original. But in order to apply this to each individual, it is still necessary to have recourse to reason by considering what method will tend the most to our own happiness. And if our reason were always clear and perfect the task would be pleasant and easy. But every man now finds the contrary in his own experience; that his reason is corrupt, and his understanding full of ignorance and error.

"This has given manifold occasion for the interposition of divine providence; which has been pleased, at sundry times and in diverse manners, to discover its laws by direct revelation. The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed law, and they are to be found only in the Holy Scriptures. These precepts, when revealed, are found to be really a part of the original law of nature. But we are not to conclude that the knowledge of these truths was attainable by reason, in its present corrupted state. The revealed law is of infinitely more authenticity than that moral system, which is framed by ethical writers. Because one is the law of nature, expressly declared so to be by God himself; the other is only what, by the assistance of human reason, we imagine to be that law. Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human law should be suffered to contradict these."
(http://www.increasinglearning.com/the-source-of-the-law.html)

Jonathan Rowe said...

"You are mistaken on several accounts, Jon."

Nope. Guess again.

History repeats itself as this is glorified version of the argument OFT used years ago.

For one, Wilson's view is not "the same" as Blackstone's. Second, Blackstone's argument isn't as "clear" as it seems.

As Gary North noted of the very passage of Blackstone referenced:

"Having said this, he then spent four volumes describing English common law with only a few footnote references to the Bible. In the first three volumes, running almost 500 pages each, each has one footnote reference to the Bible. The fourth volume, on criminal law (Public Wrongs), has ten references. Not one of them is taken by Blackstone as authoritative for civil law; they were seen merely as historical examples. There is not a single reference to “Bible,” “Moses,” or “Revelation” in the set’s index.

"How could this be if he was persuaded that biblical law and natural law are the same, but with biblical law so much clearer to us? Blackstone’s preliminary remarks were familiar in his era. Englishmen commonly tipped the brim of their epistemological caps to God and the Bible, but they did not take off their caps in the presence of God. They pursued their academic specialties just as Christians do today: with no systematic study of what biblical law specifically reveals regarding those disciplines. It was considered sufficient for Blackstone to have formally equated biblical law with natural law. Having done so, he could then safely ignore biblical law.

[...]

"This raises another question: Was Blackstone in fact deliberately lying? In a perceptive essay by David Berman, we learn of a strategy that had been in use for over a century: combating a position by supporting it with arguments that are so weak that they in fact prove the opposite….If he was not lying, then he was naive beyond description, for his lame defense of biblical revelation greatly assisted the political triumph of the enemies of Christianity in the American colonies. pp. 22-24."

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2008/12/protestant-case-against-natural-law.html

I'll address the rest later today.

jimmiraybob said...

JMS - I hope you got to see him in KC. His book, Founding Finance is an eye-opener.

Yes. I didn't have the time to buy and read the book ahead of time but did pick it up at the talk and got a good start on the train back to St Louis and just finished it. And, yes, I did find it very interesting.

I'd read his Declaration when it came out a year or two ago so I had a bit of a taste of the theme. Broadly speaking, I found the relationship between the likes of the Adams, Thomas Young, Herman Husband, and Timothy Matlock, given their very diverse religious beliefs and backgrounds (from Calvinist to Quaker (lapsed) to skeptic (apparent atheist?/deist). They all shared a common and uniting radical notion of liberty and separation which allowed then to work together. I thought Husband was fascinating and apparently so did some others at the talk who brought him up at Q&A.

Of course, the other fascinating theme is the one of liberty vs. egalitarianism - the "elites" and the people. Especially, as the title gives away, economic egalitarianism.

I give them, the talk and the book, all thumbs up. And, the talk will be coming up on CSpan.

jimmiraybob said...

It seems that a lot of the quotes being used are from Wilson's lecture notes. There's a difference between the lecture style, where knowledge of and about a topic are presented, and the sermon style, where one is overtly advocating for a position.

A professor in a lecture can present material passionately and in a manner that may seem to be advocacy but is instead emphasis.

I had a philosophy professor that would present Aquinas as passionately as Spinoza and tried to do so in their own "voice."

My point being that what Wilson expressed in the lecture may or may not be indicative of his personal views and, as he might say, his assent, but it certainly would go toward his understanding of the subject.

jimmiraybob said...

Wilson - "...one who has had the advantage of a common education in a Christian country, knows more, and with more certainty, than was known by the wisest of the ancient philosophers..."

This caught my eye when wsforten sent me back to do some more looking. In an age embracing uncertainty (in theology, philosophy, politics, commerce and science - not to mention his own life) what is he referring to? Was Wilson saying that certainty is a good? Or, could this be an off-handed swipe at certainty in the Christian Universities to which he refers?

While the schools founded on the various "key" ancient philosophers may have gotten quite dogmatic, my general take on the ancient philosophers is one of inquiry and uncertainty and competing ideas. And, given their large impact on his own thinking, was he really saying that certainty trumps uncertainty?

jimmiraybob said...

And, to my last comment (without delving into the critique itself):

"Our age is the age of criticism, to which everything must be subjected. The sacredness of religion, and the authority of legislation, are by many
regarded as grounds of exemption from the examination of this tribunal. But, if they on they are exempted, they become the subjects of just suspicion, and cannot
lay claim to sincere respect, which reason accords only to that which has stood the test of a free and public examination."
(1)

1) Kant in The Critique of Pure Reason (p. 5) @:

http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/kant/critique-pure-reason6x9.pdf

Tom Van Dyke said...

Or maybe the Scottish Enlightenment represents the "doctrines of man." Maybe these doctrines are compatible with the Bible -- or maybe they are not.

Well, Jon, the "innate moral sense" that even Hume believed existed is a Scottish Enlightenment centerpiece. This innate moral sense answers to a higher law than man's.

As for the Bible conflicting with that Higher Law, they were acknowledged as one in the same. [Even if you write the Bible out, there's a higher law than man's, i.e., the natural law: on this they all agreed.]

Jonathan Rowe said...

Wilson and Blackstone do NOT make the same argument (this shouldn't surprise us given one of Wilson's purposes as Whig was to refute the Tory Blackstone's understanding of Parliament's just powers).

Wilson does not criticize "reason" in these terms:

"And if our reason were always clear and perfect the task would be pleasant and easy. But every man now finds the contrary in his own experience; that his reason is corrupt, and his understanding full of ignorance and error."

On the contrary, Wilson speaks extremely highly of reason & conscience saying they "can do much" and "are useful and excellent monitors."

Wilson does talk about reason needing more; but uses the gentle terms, in need of "support and assistance."

Thus, the role of the Bible is to "support" and "assist" the findings of "reason and the senses." Further, revelation's role is to "improve[], refine[], and exalt[]" thereof.

So right from Wilson's mouth the qualifying terms he uses when describing the Bible's role are "support," "assist," "improve," "refine," "exalt," "confirm," and "corroborate." All of these terms connote a secondary role for revelation to play.

Moreover, if you read the ENTIRE passage of Works in context, when Wilson notes

-- "These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense" --

This is not just some aside; this is a concluding sentiment!

Jonathan Rowe said...

"[Sola Scriptura] does not mean that the Bible stands alone and that nothing else is to be considered valid in any area of life."

The problem is when Wilson talks about the Bible's inadequacies, he is not saying it doesn't contain everything you need to know like the manual for your automobile. He's saying it is MISSING "particular directions for ... moral" areas. He says the Bible is not designed to "teach[] new rules on" morality, rights and duties. But presupposes that man knows these things already. Things like, I suppose, that you have a right to revolt against tyrants. Something the Bible does not say! Or the doctrine of unalienable natural rights. Something the Bible does not teach!

Again, all of this connoting that the Bible plays the role of handmaiden to "reason and the senses."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Wilson and Blackstone do NOT make the same argument (this shouldn't surprise us given one of Wilson's purposes as Whig was to refute the Tory Blackstone's understanding of Parliament's just powers).

Jon is correct here as far as "positive" law. Elsewhere, Wilson argues against Blackstone and Burke's concept of law and rights as mere "social contract"--that Parliament is empowered to legislate anything, and rights are "granted" or negotiated [won] by the people from the government:

"Man, says Mr. Burke, cannot enjoy the rights of an uncivil and of a civil state together. By an uncivil contradistinguished from a civil state, he must here mean a state of nature: by the rights of this uncivil state, he must mean the rights of nature: and is it possible that natural and civil rights cannot be enjoyed together? Are they really incompatible? Must our rights be removed from the stable foundation of nature, and placed on the precarious and fluctuating basis of human institution? Such seems to be the sentiment of Mr. Burke: and such too seems to have been the sentiment of a much higher authority than Mr. Burke -- Sir William Blackstone."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Again, all of this connoting that the Bible plays the role of handmaiden to "reason and the senses."

I'm not sure that's precisely what he's getting at.

"But we are not to conclude that the knowledge of these truths was attainable by reason, in its present corrupted state. The revealed law is of infinitely more authenticity than that moral system, which is framed by ethical writers. Because one is the law of nature, expressly declared so to be by God himself; the other is only what, by the assistance of human reason, we imagine to be that law."

This echoes Locke, that even the sum of all great philosophers never came up with a cohesive moral code as comprehensive and perfect as the Bible's [and indeed Locke argues that's why God had mercy on man and gave him "special" revelation, the scriptures]:

"Or whatever else was the cause, it is plain, in fact, that human reason unassisted failed men in its great and proper business of morality. It never from unquestionable principles, by clear deductions, made out an entire body of the “law of nature.”

And he that shall collect all the moral rules of the philosophers, and compare them with those contained in the New Testament, will find them to come short of the morality delivered by our Saviour, and taught by his apostles; a college made up, for the most part, of ignorant, but inspired fishermen."


While it's true that the Bible doesn't cover everything in life, it's still more complete and pure than man's limited [and corrupted] reason.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Finally, in the context of the use of the term "supereminently," Wilson attacks the Bible for its incompleteness. "WHERE the latter give instructions..." [Emphasis mine.] Followed by, "[b]ut whoever expects to find,..."

Final finial thought: the definitions of the term "supersede" mean it's superior. Wilson says the Bible is not superior to the operation of "reason and the senses."

I don't see how you can say this squares with "Sola Scripture" which means "by Scripture Alone." Wilson unequivocally rejects that.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"But we are not to conclude that the knowledge of these truths was attainable by reason, in its present corrupted state. The revealed law is of infinitely more authenticity than that moral system, which is framed by ethical writers. Because one is the law of nature, expressly declared so to be by God himself; the other is only what, by the assistance of human reason, we imagine to be that law."

This is BLACKSTONE not WILSON.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, I didn't feel like double-checking because it doesn't matter. To my knowledge, Wilson would not disagree--the quote from Locke's Reasonableness of Christianity agrees, and Wilson digs the "Christian" Locke.

As for reason over revelation, again, they never saw them in conflict. Reason gives assent to the scriptures, and in fact the argument here is that the Gospels contain a great and purer truth than man's reason did or could--although Man's reason is good enough that it can acknowledge the truth when it sees it [i.e., the Gospel] and give its assent to it.

For instance, the "natural man" would not love his enemies nor turn the other cheek, but his reason can give assent to the beauty and truth of that, which is God's Word.

Or as Franklin put it,

""Revelation had indeed no weight with me, as such, but I entertained an opinion, that, though certain actions might not be bad, because they were forbidden by it, or good, because it commanded them; yet probably these actions might be forbidden because they were bad for us, or commanded because they were beneficial to us, in their own natures, all the circumstances of things considered."

IOW, The Bible proves itself to be true--you don't just have to take it on faith. Or at least that's the unifying argument in all this stuff you're discussing here.

Tim Polack said...

All I can say is I agree with JMS on M. Hall's comment that " The only way to get a handle on such things is to dig deeply into a particular founder's writings and practices."

Thought this was a great paper, thanks for the post. Wish I would have seen this earlier.

Had read this awhile back and found the way that continental thought became influential to the colonists through Scotland very interesting:
"From this point of view, the American legal system is as much an inheritor of the tradition of Roman law as it is of the common law."

As well as the role of the Highlands in spurring the Scots thought.

Don't know if Mr. Ewald (author) is looking to turn this into a book or further writings? But if so, some examples from Wilson's Constitutional speeches and other ways that Wilson's thinking influenced the founding would be great. A good way to go from theory to practice, and from continent to continent.

wsforten said...

Jon, you seem to be confusing chronology with authority. Wilson, Blackstone, Locke and countless Christian philosophers have claimed that the Bible was given second in chronology to reason and conscience because that which was given first proved to be inadequate due to the fallen nature of man. According to the Scriptures, God did not give written revelation until more than 2500 years of communicating with man through reason, conscience and occasional direct communication with individuals like Adam, Noah, Abraham and Job. This first written revelation consisted of the Law of Moses which is found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Dueteronomy. This Revelation was in place for 1500 years before it too was declared to be inadequate and was supplemented by the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (which, by the way, is arguably the most proven event in all of ancient history - see the research of Dr. Gary Habermas). In the case of the revelation of Christ, the Bible itself tells us that this was done precisely because the Law was found to be inadequate due to the fallen nature of man. Romans 8:3 says:

"For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh:"

Thus, the Law was given first; the Gospel was given second in order of chronology, and the Gospel was given to overcome the inadequacies of the Law. This does not, however, mean that the Law is better than the Gospel. In fact, the Bible specifically states that the Gospel is better than the Law. For example, we read in Hebrews 11:40 of "God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect." And earlier in that book, we find that "the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God." (Hebrews 7:19) Of Christ as compared to the Law, we read: "now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises." (Hebrews 8:6) And later in chapter 12, we see Jesus compared with Moses as "the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things." (Hebrews 12:24) Thus we see that the revelation of Christ which came after the Law and for the purpose of making up the inadequacies of the Law was not less than the Law but rather was supereminent to it.

wsforten said...

Now, you have claimed that because Wilson viewed the Bible as being given to "support," "assist," "improve," "refine," "exalt," "confirm," and "corroborate" reason and conscience, therefore, he must have viewed the Bible as being secondary to the dictates of reason and conscience. However, it is evident from Scripture that these are the very same reasons that Christ came in regards to the Law. In Romans 3:31, we are asked, "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law." And in Romans 8:4, we are told specifically that Christ came so "That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us." Then in Romans 10:4 we find that "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." These verses show that the Gospel was given for the purpose of supporting and fulfilling the Law, and yet, we have seen in the book of Hebrews that the Gospel is better than the Law which it supports. This demonstrates that it is possible for one revelation from God to be given later in time than and for the purpose of supporting another revelation while still being better and of greater authority than the first. Wilson recognized the purpose of the written revelation of the Bible as being to support and improve the unwritten revelation of reason and conscience, but it would be erroneous to conclude that he thus viewed written revelation as being subordinate in authority to that which was unwritten. On the contrary, he specifically states that the written is supereminent to the unwritten even though it does not supersede it just as the Bible reveals Christ to be supereminent though not supersedent to the Law.

By the way, your definition of "supersede" does not seem to fit with how that word is defined in the dictionary. Would you mind providing a source for your definition?

I would also like to see a source for your understanding of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.

In regards to Blackstone, I was not claiming that Wilson agreed with him in every area but merely that the two expressed the same view of the relationship between the Bible and human reason. They both viewed reason as being inadequate and in need of further, direct revelation from God. That Wilson expressed this view in gentler terms than Blackstone does not substantially refute that point.

Jonathan Rowe said...

No Mr. Fortenberry what Wilson said and what Blackstone said (whether Blackstone even believed it) is NOT the same, in principle.

They both believed reason needed Scripture, but Wilson explicitly argued Scripture as, in principle, a handmaiden to "reason the senses," while Blackstone did not (even if perhaps that's what Blackstone secretly believed).

As to the rest, there is, it seems to me, a lot of sophistry to unpack, and I may or may not do so as time permits.

Again, it seems to me, that the argument of "Christian-Deists"/unitarians/theistic rationalists -- something for which the "orthodox" scolded them back in the day -- that Christianity, in its essential form, is merely a "republication" of the law/light of nature, has tainted your understanding of biblical Christianity.

But then again, you are someone who thinks Bolingbroke -- who believed this -- not only is not a "Deist," but isn't even a "Christian-Deist," but rather a "Christian" simpliciter.

secularsquare said...

I know next to nothing about Wilson, but after this interesting debate I definitely will seek to learn something about him.

Just a question for Jon or TVD that might help clarify the issue (or simply introduce more grounds for disagreement.) How do the views of a post-Enlightenment Wilson compare and contrast with the pre-Enlightenment Aquinas? They both addressed the relationship between reason and revelation. They both argued that revelation (i.e. "we interrupt this cognitive apprehension of reality for a message from Almighty God") was somehow needed to supplement the conclusions of reason. What difference, if any, did the European/Scottish Enlightenment make on their perspectives?

--Lee

Jonathan Rowe said...

Secular Square:

That's a good question. First, there is debate as to how these "Christian" natural lawyers of the Enlightenment era understood the relationship between "reason" and "revelation." Frazer's thesis (and he's not the first to offer the observation) was they made revelation the handmaiden to reason, which flipped Aquinas' formula of making reason the handmaiden to Scripture.

Second, even if we conclude Wilson et al. followed Aquinas' more traditional formula, just as Aquinas used "reason" to "smuggle" Aristotle's more traditional teachings, the Enlightenment natural lawyers used "reason" to "smuggle" more modern ideas like the State Of Nature and a whole lot of other things.

Tom Van Dyke said...

SS asks: Just a question for Jon or TVD that might help clarify the issue (or simply introduce more grounds for disagreement.) How do the views of a post-Enlightenment Wilson compare and contrast with the pre-Enlightenment Aquinas?

My own reply is that what we think of as "The Enlightenment" is usually the European continent, say the philosophes of France, Voltaire, etc.

But the Scottish Common Sense Enlightenment [SCSE] is the one America followed: Francis Hutcheson, Thomas Reid. [Hume was a Scottish contemporary, but fairly non-theistic, and is an outlier in the SCSE as we think of it.]

The SCSE is what John Witherspoon taught at the College of New Jersey, now Princeton--among his students

one president (James Madison) and one vice president (Aaron Burr). He also instructed 9 cabinet officers, 21 senators, 39 congressmen, 3 justices of the Supreme Court, and 12 state governors. Five of the 55 members of the Constitutional Convention were his former students. Witherspoon’s impact on the ministry of the Presbyterian Church was also significant. Of the 177 ministers in America in 1777, 52 of them had been Witherspoon’s students.

http://billofrightsinstitute.org/resources/educator-resources/founders/john-witherspoon/

[If Chris Rodda wants to dispute those numbers, I stipulate any quibbles in advance. Point is, Witherspoon taught a lot of important guys.]

Now then, the SCSE Enlightenment believed in an "innate moral sense," which is necessary pillar of traditional [Thomistic] natural law theory--the "law written on men's hearts," that even the unchurched can know right from wrong. This isn't in conflict with scripture--in fact that quote is from Romans 2.

So reason and the natural law are pre-scriptural--nobody disputed that.

But what the Gospel did, according to Locke, Blackstone, and virtually every Christian thinker, was perfect our understanding of the natural law that already existed, but which man's "unassisted" reason hadn't managed to divine on its own.

A key figure in all this is Rev. Richard Hooker, an Anglican bishop, a Thomist, and a well-respected philosopher, behind whose skirts as "the judicious Hooker" Locke begins his more radical arguments--but the radicalism of which men like Hamilton and Wilson ignored in favor of traditional natural law theory.

We must also credit Calvinist resistance theory here as well, which developed the idea of political liberty as part of natural law and natural rights. But the SCSE was down with that too--many or most were of the Presbyterian Church--also known at first as "The Church of Scotland"!


See also

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2002/jan/19/highereducation.historybooks

Tom Van Dyke said...


Second, even if we conclude Wilson et al. followed Aquinas' more traditional formula, just as Aquinas used "reason" to "smuggle" Aristotle's more traditional teachings


Sort of, Jon. But Scholasticism took what was logical and true in Aristotle and subsumed it for Christianity, along the lines of the above arguments from Locke and Blackstone--that the Gospel held greater and deeper truths than man's "unassisted" reason had come up with to date.

What was true in Aristotle must agree with the Bible because truth cannot contradict truth.

But the Gospel's truth surpassed Aristotle's. If and when there is a conflict, it's Aristotle that must be wrong, and it was left behind.

[Yo Lee, as I write this, the thought occurs here that although the Puritans and Calvinists may be stoked on the entire Bible, the "Enlightenment" types tend to emphasize the Gospels, the Good News, the Word of God and "gentle religion" brought by Jesus the Messiah*. There might be something useful in this vein.]
___
*Unitarians could and did deny Jesus was divine, but still believed that Jesus was the Messiah bearing God's Word.

wsforten said...

Well, Jon. It is certainly possible that my view of biblical Christianity is tainted as you suggest. I don't think that it is, but I'm not so proud as to think that I am beyond error. If you have noticed a disagreement between my view of Christianity and the teachings of Scripture, I would be very appreciative if you would bring that difference to light. What is your view of biblical Christianity, and how does your view differ from mine?

Jonathan Rowe said...

I'm not wedded to any particular view of the Bible. I probably should have been more precise in defining "biblical Christianity," by which I meant traditional, conservative historic interpretations of the good book and not used the term "tainted."

But your arguments about what the Bible teaches come off as sophistic and "eccentric" in a Monica Dennington sense.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

Yes that's Aquinas' SPECIFIC understanding of how Scripture and reason relate. But it's not clear that such was Wilson's SPECIFIC understanding (though it does seem closer to Blackstone's; though Blackstone's deprecation of "reason" as "corrupted" seems even too harsh for Aquinas, who had more confidence in man's reason as I understand him).

What's clear about Wilson on which both sides can agree is Dr. Frazer's point that these rationalists (whether we call them "Christian rationalists" or "theistic rationalists") thought Scripture and natural reason agreed in a general sense.

Wilson uses terms like "support," "assist," "improve," "refine," "exalt," "confirm," and "corroborate" to describe what scripture was designed to for the law of nature as discovered by reason. (Or "reason" and the "senses.")

To me, that sounds strikingly similar to the views of someone like Matthew Tindal.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Tindal

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm not up on arguing Tindal, but His "Christianity Not Mysterious" is not the same as Locke's "Reasonableness of Christianity" Wiki says:

He argues against special revelation: "God designed all Mankind should at all times know, what he wills them to know, believe, profess, and practice; and has given them no other Means for this, but the Use of Reason."

Wilson was not a deist, neither was Locke.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Tindal

JMS said...

Back to TVD's SCSE and response to SS:

Rev. John Witherspoon is the MAN! – a “colossus” according to James Hutson, while Gary Wills considered him to be “probably the most influential teacher in the entire history of American education” (as noted by TVD), and the person given credit for introducing the Latin term “campus” into the American lexicon.

Jeffrey Morrison wrote that Witherspoon became “the principal trans-Atlantic aqueduct of the Scottish Enlightenment “common sense” philosophy” into late-18th century America. These “common sense” insights greatly influenced many founding documents such as the Articles of Confederation, Federalist Papers, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the First Amendment. The republican founders - orthodox and heterodox - embraced this philosophy as a useful means for building a foundation of civic virtue without formally instituting a national religion.

Witherspoon was president of Princeton (that “seminary of sedition”), signed the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation, served in the Continental Congress and was a ratifier of the Constitution (he was only a few blocks away from the Philadelphia convention in the summer of 1787, helping to draft a new national constitution for the Presbyterians). For those and even more reasons, he should be recognized amongst the top echelon of “founders,” and was universally admired by Rush, Adams, Franklin, Jay, Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Hamilton and Fithian (hat tip to John Fea).

Sorry, IMHO James Wilson does not make the grade.

As Morrison notes, Witherspoon’s acclaim suffers from a lack of primary sources. He did not keep a diary, the British vandalized Nassau Hall and his home and library during their defeat at the Battle of Princeton (1777), and for reasons known only to him, Witherspoon burned a lot of papers and correspondence before he died. Unlike his contemporaries, he did not seem concerned about his posterity.

I highly recommend Jeffrey Morrison’s book, “John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic,” very accessible in PB with only 128 pages of text (albeit small font – put on your “cheaters”).

wsforten said...

Jon, would you mind explaining how my argument appears to be sophistic? As far as I can tell, I have offered a valid counterexample to your claim regarding Wilson's view of revelation. Of course, I am admittedly biased in my own favor, so if you could explain your accusation, that would be very helpful.

I would also like to know what you view to be "traditional, conservative historic" Christianity. In order for you to properly claim that Deism, Unitarianism and Theist Rationalism has turned me away from traditional Christianity, you must first be capable of identifying that form of Christianity. So far, I have not seen any evidence of your ability to make such an identification, and while I am sure that you are more than capable of it, I would still prefer to have you identify exactly what you are talking about in order to prevent any possible confusion.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Sorry, IMHO James Wilson does not make the grade.

You may have a point about Witherspoon--we have precious little of his writings [primary sources] from which to assess the man.

But because he was a consummate teacher doesn't mean he was a particularly powerful or incisive mind, nor that he was a political leader more than follower. I think we have to give him an "Incomplete," if only because the dog ate our evidence.

My brief for James Wilson is his being asked to write Pennsylvania's Constitution; that by all accounts it was he, Madison, and Gouverneur Morris who did the most talking at the Framing; and in reading his Lectures on Law, I find his philosophical mind the sharpest, most erudite, and deepest of all the Founders' writings, and with the exception of the [IMO overrated] Jefferson, in near-total harmony with the leading sentiments of the Founding age.

[This is not to say the minds of the Founding age were unanimous on anything, but that Wilson's seem to encapsulate what more often became the consensus view.]

wsforten said...

Tom, you may find the book at the link below to be helpful in understanding Witherspoon. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but after reading the abstract, I'm definitely adding it to my list.

http://udini.proquest.com/view/john-witherspoons-forgotten-pqid:2423631001/

news said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, this looks quite bracing, Bill. Thx.

"These forgotten lectures reveal an interest by Witherspoon to examine antiquity in the flowing context of redemptive history, simultaneously recognizing the importance of salvation history and the progress of general history maintained and guided by providence. Further examination of Witherspoon's writings revealed the important role of history in his theological advancement. Witherspoon prioritized the historic and economic dynamic in the life of the Christian necessary to obtain real knowledge, emphasized the redemptive- historical character of salvation that achieves union with Christ, and downplayed exhaustive metaphysics in favor of the progressive and unfolding nature of God's work in the world. The relationship of history to theology became foundational for Witherspoon not simply as an extension of late Protestant scholasticism, an expression of Christian piety, or an excessive reliance on, or aversion toward, a specific enlightenment philosophy. In his writings, theology itself was undergoing change, and specifically in Witherspoon's case, toward integrating an important awareness of history. This awareness demonstrates the importance of history very early in the rise of Princeton theology."