Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Jonathan Edwards in his Scottish(!) context

It’s always nice for me to discover how ideas were not worked out in a vacuum; even if everyone else either already knows they were not, or does not not care whether they were or not. In that light...I am reading The Scottish Enlightenment: The Scots' Invention of the Modern World by Arthur Herman. At the moment I am reading about some of the pioneers, including a Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746).

Everyone’s ultimate goal in life, Hutcheson decided, is happiness. 'He is in a sure state of happiness who has a sure prospect that in all parts of his existence he shall have all things he desires.' Vulgar people assume, mistakenly, that this means gratification of physical desires: food, drink, sex. But for Hutcheson the highest form of happiness was making others happy. (p.74)

Sound familiar? Sounded to me like Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) – except ‘making other people happy’ replaces 'God'. I suppose that's the enlightenment for you - people-centred and optimistic about human nature. It is interesting to me how Jonathan Edwards (the philosopher as well as theologian) came along and used these same ideas, and adapted them to his more Calvinistic and God-centred theology. These sort of observations, fascinate me.


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