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Jonathan Edwards and the Development of American Democracy
Unformatted Document Text:  Harris 13 attendant noblesse oblige. People are grateful to others because they are forced to be dependent on those established by society as their betters. Dependence is the fundamental relationship underlying the republican notion of gratitude. Edwards, however, considers gratitude dependent upon a prior benevolence, making it only of secondary value. 38 With gratitude relegated to lesser status, the dependence upon which it relies is less important, allowing people to reconsider the necessity of social hierarchies. Given Edwards’s previously discussed attack on the half-way covenant, itself at the root of much of Puritanism’s hierarchy, this attack on the nature of gratitude and its relevance to virtue levies yet another powerful attack at the roots of Puritan society, without acknowledging that he is doing such a thing. Once again, a social definition of virtue is rejected in favor of one that depends on the primacy of the individual, and an idea that supports hierarchy is rejected in favor of one that could potentially encourage some degree of social leveling. Epistemology Edwards was “the first and most radical … of American empiricists.” 39 He focused on the sensational psychology of John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and considered the heart to be the seat at which the senses were processed and knowledge about the world was obtained. Again, as with virtue, Edwards has made knowledge an individual product and has subordinated the outside world to its perceptions through an individual’s senses. Unlike Hume, however, Edwards keeps his empiricism within some bounds, and at the same brings religious events into the realm of the empirically knowable, at least by the grace of God. 38 “True Virtue.” p. 123. 39 Perry Miller. “Jonathan Edwards on the Sense of the Heart.” Harvard Theological Review Vol. 41, No. 2 (Apr. 1948). p. 124.

Authors: Harris, John.
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Harris 13
attendant noblesse oblige. People are grateful to others because they are forced to be dependent
on those established by society as their betters. Dependence is the fundamental relationship
underlying the republican notion of gratitude. Edwards, however, considers gratitude dependent
upon a prior benevolence, making it only of secondary value.
With gratitude relegated to lesser
status, the dependence upon which it relies is less important, allowing people to reconsider the
necessity of social hierarchies. Given Edwards’s previously discussed attack on the half-way
covenant, itself at the root of much of Puritanism’s hierarchy, this attack on the nature of
gratitude and its relevance to virtue levies yet another powerful attack at the roots of Puritan
society, without acknowledging that he is doing such a thing. Once again, a social definition of
virtue is rejected in favor of one that depends on the primacy of the individual, and an idea that
supports hierarchy is rejected in favor of one that could potentially encourage some degree of
social leveling.
Epistemology
Edwards was “the first and most radical … of American empiricists.”
He focused on
the sensational psychology of John Locke’s An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and
considered the heart to be the seat at which the senses were processed and knowledge about the
world was obtained. Again, as with virtue, Edwards has made knowledge an individual product
and has subordinated the outside world to its perceptions through an individual’s senses. Unlike
Hume, however, Edwards keeps his empiricism within some bounds, and at the same brings
religious events into the realm of the empirically knowable, at least by the grace of God.
38
“True Virtue.” p. 123.
39
Perry Miller. “Jonathan Edwards on the Sense of the Heart.” Harvard Theological Review Vol. 41, No. 2 (Apr.
1948). p. 124.


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