Friday, August 30, 2013

John Witherspoon, The Cicero Of His Time

Some time ago, before I had done my own investigation concerning John Witherspoon's approach, I had read an article by Joseph DiLuzio on the relationship between John Witherspoon, moral philosophy and Scottish common sense realism. DiLuzio claimed:
'Witherspoon had arrived in the colonies promoting Scottish realism and that brand of moral philosophy advocated by Francis Hutcheson and argued against by his predecessor at Princeton, Jonathan Edwards'
 'that In practice, Witherspoon ignored the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity'
I will argue in what follows that there was an inherent conflict between Witherspoon’s Scottish Enlightenment philosophy on the one hand and his Calvinist Presbyterian orthodoxy on the other.'
The evidence points in the opposite direction. John Witherspoon's program represented precisely the direction Samuel Davies and Samuel Finley (and other Princeton trustees) wanted it to take. The claim that Witherspoon 'ignored the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity' is false, just read his sermons. John Witherspoon, as all real Calvinists, took the doctrine of the perspicuitas of Scripture seriously. This means that not just the enlightened, but everybody is able to understand it's message.

Witherspoon's focus on eloquence resolves the tension between the different aspects of his approach.  Shaftesbury is key to understanding how Witherspoon understood his role as the Cicero of his time:

'Those trained in analytic philosophy continue to have trouble reading Shaftesbury, largely because he self-consciously rejects systematic philosophy and focuses more on rhetoric and literary persuasion than providing numbered premises.'
Robert S. Null writes:
'Witherspoon as propagator of Scottish common sense philosophy in America is one of the most common pursuits in scholarly literature. To support and develop this interest, a greater degree of attention has been given to Witherspoon's lectures regarding moral philosophy and criticism (eloquence), relatively less to his lectures expounding divinity, and almost none to his lectures covering history and chronology'
Here a direct link between Jonathan Edwards, John Witherspoon & Princeton's biblical theology and apologetics in the 19th century emerges. Very interesting. I wish today more reformed theologians would be as pragmatic about the link between philosophy and theology as Witherspoon (and Samuel Finley). Would increase the value and strenght of anyone's education.

Slightly related, this brings me to a discussion of Calvin's famous opening line to his institutions:
'Nearly all the wisdom which we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.'

Thursday, August 22, 2013

H N Ridderbos & Biblical Theology

Biblical theology and apologetics at Princeton as developed during the time of Geerhardus Vos and B.B. Warfield are linked. This should make us very cautious when comparing Ridderbos to Geerhardus Vos while Ridderbos, during the 1944 split in the reformed churches (gereformeerd) in the Netherlands, sided with Kuyper over against Klaas Schilder:
"Schilder opposed Kuyper’s theory of ‘immediate regeneration.’ There was for him a failure to appreciate the regenerating Word"
As Paul Helm explains very well here that B. B. Warfield rejected Kuyper's theory of 'immediate regeneration' as well:
'But this faith that the prepared heart yields – is it yielded blindly and without reason, or is it yielded rationally, and on the ground of sufficient reason? Does God the Holy Spirit work a blind and ungrounded faith in the heart? What is supplied by the Holy Spirit in working faith in the heart surely is not ready-made faith, rooted in nothing and clinging without reason to its object; nor yet new grounds of belief in the object presented; but just a new power to the heart to respond to the grounds of faith, sufficient in themselves, already present to the mind.'
The idea behind creating a chair of biblical theology (held by Geerhardus Vos) was to apply this position. I suspect that inside 'Abraham Kuyper's' church important strands were on the side of Warfield & Vos and not on the side of Abraham Kuyper concerning this issue. The 1905 compromise circled around this same issue. The 1834 (Helenius de Cock's) seceders (of which Geerhardus Vos family was a descendant) did not accept Kuyper's theory. At the same time it's clear Abraham Kuyper's democratization project would not have existed without the covenant theology of the seceders. Those who think otherwise should study history. Geerhardus Voses biblical theology, firmly rooted in Princeton's covenant theology, is directly linked to the perspicuitas of scripture. Perspicuitas of Scripture is at the heart of Calvinism and was the motor of the Scottish Enlightenment. Bogue claims that Berkouwer and Jan Ridderbos thought that Princeton's covenant theology had arminian tendencies:
"Dutch Calvinism (he obviously means the Berkouwer brand) tends to view the Puritan doctrine of the covenant as the hole in the dike through which the Arminian flood poured."

In this context the question rises how H N Ridderbos 'biblical theology' fits into Princeton's philosophical/theological framework. It could well be antithetical to it, completely opposite to the intentions Warfield and Geerhardus Vos had when they created the chair of biblical theology at Princeton.

Let's see if we can find sources that confirm this reading.

To compare what Geerhardus Vos (or Princeton at the time) & H N Ridderbos understood as biblical theology we should offcourse first be clear on what Geerhardus Vos contribution to it actually was. There apparently are at least four different opinions on it. I myself agree with James Dennison's view.

Comparing Gaffin to Dennison's position might be helpful in understanding the difference between Vos and Ridderbos.

Interview with Gaffin on sanctification and justication might shed some light on this same issue.

B. B. Warfield's statement on what biblical theology is, "Scientific theology rests…most directly on the results of exegesis as provided in Biblical theology", is crystal clear, allthough Gaffin pretends it isn't. 

Richard Gaffin seems to dismiss Warfield's crystal clear definition of the purpose of biblical theology and instead emphasizes the catch phrase 'redemptive-historical' and goes on to talk about Kuyper and Bavinck.

Warfield links biblical theology to what every believer can and should do: read the bible. I miss this aspect in Gaffin's focus on the 'redemptive-historical'. I also don't think Gaffin is correct when stating that the approach of biblical theology is 'historical' while that of dogmatics is logical.

John Murray's statement comes close  to Warfield's understanding of the purpose of biblical theology.

Focusing just on history (even redemptive history) won't necessarily help bring out the correct meaning of the text. In fact reading the bible from back to beginning sometimes brings better results.

Biblical theology isn't a history lesson, it's showing how the case for it's truthfulness is much stronger then those socalled enlightened spirits claim. It's coherence transcends cheap shots against it's authority.

Purpose of biblical theology is not to create a new class of supposedly smart professors at Universities who can then subsequently look down on the simple bible believers. Quite to the contrary, the purpose of biblical theology was to give believers the weapons to take down the nonsense and educate the church.

People like Klaas Schilder understood this.

Bill Dennison's interpretation of Van Til's apologetics confirms the link between Warfield's idea of Biblical Theology and apologetics. He sees "Scripture interprets Scripture." at the heart of Vos biblical theology and adds 'Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. has stressed that the analogy of Scripture is implicitly Biblical-theological'. Bill Dennison states:
'this hermeneutical principle depicts the essence of the discipline of Biblical Theology.'
I suspect comparing Herman Ridderbos to Geerhardus Vos will reveal that they represent completely different and incompatible approaches. Some might call Ridderbosses approach redemptive-historical but that in itself isn't the heart of Biblical Theology, as Dennison explains in his article.

H N Ridderbos, just as Barth in a letter to Berkouwer, aimed to give fundamentalism a bad name by creating a false contradiction with 'his'(?) redemptive-historic theology.

This instrumentalisation of biblical theology  might explain some of the suspicion against redemptive-historic hermeneutic and preaching.

To understand the aim of biblical theology, a question James Dennison attempts to answer here, the comments by Rev Gosman at the inauguration of Geerhardus Vos are instructive. 

Hoe zijn de ontwikkeling van bijbelse theologie aan Princeton en heilshistorische prediking in Nederland verbonden?

Welke betekenis heeft Geerhardus Vos gehad in de ontwikkeling van bijbelse theologie in Nederland.

Arie Noordtzij theologie. 

 This is also an interesting quote:

It is reported that Herman Ridderbos, during his 1975 tour of the United States, when meeting Vos’ daughter, “seized her hand warmly when introduced and confessed a great deal of dependence upon her father in his own thinking. 

Beginning with moses 

Seakle Greydanus, his family lived in New Jersey, was very interested in American theology. It seems logical that he was the missing link between Geerhardus Vos and redemptive-historical preaching in the Netherlands.

One of his students was Herman Ridderbos who has acknowledge he has been deeply influenced by Geerhardus Vos. 

Ook zijn opvattingen aangaande kerkrecht wijzen op Presbyteriaanse invloed bij Greydanus. 

In 1946 Seakle Greydanus published his most important work, Scripture Principles for Scripture Interpretation

Riemer Roukema on greydanus.

In this book the direct link between Hodge on the one hand, and Kuyper/Bavinck on the other is clear. 

Bavinck's criticism of Hodge: 

inerrancy : the dutch 

Paul Helm on Hodge, Geerhardus Vos , Bavinck & Kuyper.

over opbouw van VU en kontakten met Princeton, interessant artikel.  

Biblical theology, as understood by Warfield and Vos, can easily be understood in the framework of Witherspoon's opposition to Hutcheson & Hugh's elitism concerning Rhetoric.

The framework in which we should understand Princeton's biblical theology is John Knox educational project.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Geerhardus Voses Democratization of Theology

James Dennison argues that Geerhardus Voses inaugural adress is dominated by the supernatural character of revelation. But it also seems dominated by two other important aspects of Presbyterian covenant theology: democratization and mission.

Both aspects are clearly visible in Jonathan Edwards & Samuel Davies sermons and work during the great awakening. Geerhardus Voses Biblical theology becomes incomprehensible without this context. Inerrancy debate can become very abstract outside of this framework.

An comment  that links biblical theology to the early years of Princeton (and Jonathan Edwards):

'Why not just follow the tried and true Historic/Redemptive (Covenantal) out line, sometimes called Biblical Theology? It is a staple for reformed churches and has been for many years. Early proponents were Jonathan Edwards and Geerhardus Vos. More recent is James Dennison and Michael Horton. I am personally not enthralled with this type of study but I do see the value. BTW the preaching style from this is called Christocentric and is the predominate style in the PCA and OPC.

But then again, it is reformed and Calvinist so often discounted and ignored as not relevant. Besides, we don't have any really cool graphics, or picture books, or charts or power points. Just the Bible and Christ.'

Monday, August 12, 2013

Third Earl of Shaftesbury's Rhetoric, Education & Politics

From the two quotes below it becomes obvious that Shaftesbury's influence on the Scots-Irish in general and Witherspoon in particular was immense. The emphasis on eloquence could mean that Witherspoon's understanding of Scottish philosophy was actually the closest to Shaftesbury's. It

On Shaftesbury's emphasis on Rhetoric and literary persuasion:
'Those trained in analytic philosophy continue to have trouble reading Shaftesbury, largely because he self-consciously rejects systematic philosophy and focuses more on rhetoric and literary persuasion than providing numbered premises.'
 On education (new link) in a blogpost by James Harriman-Smith:
“His work aimed at nothing other than returning philosophy to the world”: thus Lawrence Klein describes Shaftesbury’s Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, before going on to identify three aspects of this “philosophical worldliness”. These are: that philosophy should make people effective participants in the world, that philosophy was embedded in culture and history, and that this worldliness should have a political resonance.'

Sunday, August 11, 2013

How Witherspoon Used Hutcheson & Reid's Work

From my previous post it should now be clear that the debate on rhetoric and moral philosophy in Scottish philosophy is directly linked to preaching and theological questions. In 'The Selected Writings of John Witherspoon' Thomas Miller writes:
'Hutcheson helped create an intellectual environment where secular inquiry could be defended against orthodox Calvinists, who were appalled that ministers would attend the theater...Hutcheson's moral philosophy did serve to empower the politely educated as the voice of enlightened harmony while his moral-aesthetic assumptions tended to depict opposing political groups as self-serving and unreasonable factions.'
Witherspoon wrote his Ecclesiastical Characteristics in 1753 as a direct response to Hutcheson. In it he 'ridicules the idea that aesthetics can provide a model for morality', he rejects the idea 'that an enlightened individual can understand what is best for society' and he also rejects the 'common good' idea. John Witherspoon rejected the Jim Wallises & Michael Gersons of his day.

Which brings us to Thomas Reid, who offers an alternative to the moral-sense theories of both Francis Hutcheson and David Hume. What did John Witherspoon think of Thomas Reid's alternative?

In answering that question we should keep in mind that community intellectual John Witherspoon was, as Thomas Miller insists, first of all a practioner of the art of rhetoric. It's not hard to imagine how, at Princeton, Hutcheson's moral philosophy was converted into a potent revolutionary weapon through John Witherspoon's Calvinist heuristic. We could argue that the same thing happened to Reid's 'common sense'. Shouldn't we also keep in mind the fact that 'common sense', through Paine's pamphlet, took on a life of it's own in revolutionary America.

As with the declaration of independence, Stoics and Calvinist presbyterians will attach different meaning to the word happiness while reading Hutcheson on the intention of moral philosophy:
'The intention of moral philosophy is to direct men to that course of action which tends most effectually to promote their greatest happiness.'
Whatever Thomas Reid meant by common sense became secondary to the strategic purpose it served in America. Taken together Hutcheson's moral philosophy and Reid's common sense became the ideal vehicle for Witherspoon's Calvinist democratization project.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Linking Rhetoric To Moral Philosophy

C. Jan Swearingen, in a lecture at the 2012 Scottish Philosophy Conference, gives this brief definition of rhetoric in relationship to Francis Hutcheson:
'Hutcheson's concern with the rhetorical delivery system, that was the embodiment of Christian teaching, comes out most clearly in his open rejection of the idea that vice is part of our nature and the related idea that Christian teachings can encourage rather than discourage evil behaviour. The problem created in his mind by the heavy emphasis of Calvinist Christianity upon the fall and human depravity is in part rhetorical. If preachers ignore the fact that we have kind and generous affections by nature and instead focus on the fall and depravity this must affect the image that we have of ourselves and of one another. We will see not only ourselves but everyone else as wicked and since we treat people in accordance with our image of them, if we think everyone is wicked we will treat them as wicked. If the bad news about our wickedness is hammered home by our preachers and is consequently built into our responses to eachother, then we will tend to behave in such a way as to confirm this theologicaly driven stereotype. A dark Calvinism propounding the sinful nature of man and proclaiming the inevitable punishments of a wrathful God creates a paradox in Hutcheson's mind because it is in confilct with it's own expressed objective of strenghtening the virtue of the faithful. Hutcheson offers a similar challenge to philosophers and philosophies of selfinterest particularly those rejecting there are any affections in our nature and for this reason he rejects the inate ideas as proposed by Locke and Hobbeses similar ideas.'
Scottish Philosophy is also a debate on Calvinism and preaching. After listening to some lectures on John Witherspoon I looked for and found a quote from 'The Selected Writings of John Witherspoon' that summarizes that makes it possible to contrast Francis Hutcheson with John Witherspoon:
'Hutcheson himself had explicitly included rhetoric along with poetry and art as a study that strengthened sympathetic moral feelings through aesthetic refinement (Introduction 20), but is a quite different justification of rhetoric than that advanced by classical civic humanists like Aristotle and Cicero, who saw rhetoric and moral philosophy as related disciplines because they shared a concern for political action and civic ethics. While traces of the classical interest in political rhetoric can be seen in works like Hugh Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, political discourse is given far less attention than literary issues like sublimity and genius because they better exemplify the continuity between morality and aesthetics that was important to Blair as it was to Hutcheson.'
The genius of Hutcheson's moral philosophy summarized:
'Philosophiae Moralis Institutio Compendiaria was aimed at university students and had a large circulation within Scottish universities, Irish and English dissenting academies, and American colleges. The aim of the text was twofold: on one hand, to put forward an optimistic view of God, human nature, and the harmony of the universe; on the other hand, to provide students with the knowledge of natural and civil law required by the university curriculum.'

Witherspoon sides with Aristotle and Cicero over against Hutcheson. This element is key in understanding why John Witherspoon is both a giant in political philosophy and a giant in the Presbyterian Church. In his first lecture on moral philosophy he argues:
'The noble and eminent improvements in natural philosophy, which have been made since the end of the last century, have been far from hurting the interest of religion; on the contrary, they have greatly promoted it. Why should it not be the same with moral philosophy, which is indeed nothing else but the knowledge of human nature?'

'I am of opinion that the whole Scripture is perfectly agreeable to sound philosophy; yet certainly it was never intended to teach us every thing.'

'And indeed let men think what they will of it, they ought to acquaint themselves with it (moral philosophy). They must know what it is, if they mean ever to show that it is false.'
In other words, the claim by V L C in the introduction to Witherspoon's lectures on moral philosophy that 'he was not a creative philosopher; the leisure that reflection postulates had never been his.' is false. It's precisely because he was a creative philosopher that he got in conflict with the Hutcheson 'school'. And C.B. Bow's claim that 'Witherspoon did not significantly contribute to Common Sense philosophy' is misleading.

Let's assume I'm correct, in that case the Ecclesiastic Characteristics, published by John Witherspoon in 1753, should be considered at the heart of a broader philosophical debate among Scottish philosophers. Thomas Reid (who was given a professorship at King's College, Aberdeen in 1752) published his book An Inquiry Into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense in 1764. Was Thomas Reid influenced by John Witherspoon? John Witherspoon's dissertation might have further information.

Robert S. Null's dissertation on Witherspoon's Lectures on History and Chronology point possibly to Witherspoon's preference for redemptive-historical preaching:
'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.'
Quite an attractive possibility in my mind. It would explain his emphasis on rhetoric. Some of his sermons can be read online.  C. Jan Swearingen argues in a 2008 lecture on Samuel Davies and Patrick Henry:
'The pulpit oratory of Samuel Davies was the product of "New Light" or "New Side" Scottish Enlightenment teachings at the universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh and brought to the colonies after the 1720s by Scots and Scots-Irish Presbyterians.'
An interesting theory of the alleged link between Davies preaching and Scottish enlightenment. Also makes me want to read Swearingen's book Rhetoric and Irony: Western literacy and western lies.
Ecclesiastical Characteristics
Ecclesiastical Characteristics
Ecclesiastical Characteristics
Ecclesiastical Characteristics
Ecclesiastical Characteristics
Ecclesiastical Characteristics
Ecclesiastical Characteristics

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Victoire Ingabire, Rwanda, and the D.R.C.

Rwandan opposition leader Victoire Ingabire has been
in prison in Kigali for almost three years. The Supreme
Court has said they will rule on her appeal on November 1st
KPFA Evening News Anchor Anthony Fest: This past Wednesday, the prosecution and defense both rested their cases before the Rwandan Supreme Court, which is hearing the appeal of imprisoned opposition leader Victoire Ingabire. Ingabire has been in prison since October of 2010. That was the year she attempted to run for president against incumbent Paul Kagame. In October of last year she was sentenced to eight years for disagreeing with the official, Constitutionally codified history of the Rwandan Genocide. The prosecution also accused her of conspiring with members of the FDLR militia, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to destabilize Rwanda. KPFA's Ann Garrison spoke to Swiss Congolese historian BK Kumbi about Victoire Ingabire.

KPFA/Ann Garrison: BK Kumbi, Congolese people have marched alongside Rwandans carrying Victoire banners, most often when Rwandan President Kagame is visiting a European or American capital. Can you explain what Victoire means to you as a Congolese person?

BK Kumbi: Well, for me, Ingabire is hope for Africa, because this woman understood that we needed to live at peace in that region, and she understood very well that there was that influence from Paul Kagame in the region, and that we couldn't just analyze the situation of the Great Lakes Region, just taking into account Rwanda as a country in itself. She understood that we needed to talk about Rwanda in order to understand what was going on in the Congo. So I appreciated very much her intervention, saying that Congo needed peace, and I think that this is a figure that we should respect because she had really a lot of courage.

And I'm very touched because she's a woman also and a woman who didn't fear to say what was wrong there, and that she needed her country to be at peace, and she needed a reconciliation between the Tutsis and the Hutus, and she needed reconciliation among all the people living in that Great Lakes region, so she's a very important figure for me, and I think that all Congolese should be supportive of her because she's hope for Africa, and for Congo in particular.

KPFA: And that was Congolese Swiss historian and activist BK Kumbi on Victoire Ingabire. The Rwandan Supreme Court has said they will rule on Ingabire's appeal on November 1st. For Pacifica, KPFA, and AfrobeatRadio, I'm Ann Garrison.

BK Kumbi's website on Congo is: Don't Be Blind This Time.

Audio of this KPFA Radio News at

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Princeton School: Scottish-based Educational Philosophy

On page 159 of The Present State of Scholarship in the History of Rhetoric Lynee Lewis Gaillet writes:
"Scott Philip Segrest's 2005 dissertation, "Common Sense Philosophy and Politics in America: John Witherspoon, James McCosh, and William James," explains how Scottish eductors
"ofer a vision of man and society that avoids the rigidity of dogmatic foundationalism, on the one hand, and the slackness of foundationless ethics and politics, on the other"
 In his book The Scottish Connection Franklin E. Court writes
'At the Nottingham Academy on the Pennsylvania-Maryland border Samuel Finley had put special emphasis on the study of English and had encouraged as much instruction in belles lettres as was reasonably possible.'
 'Benjamin Rush was admittedly antagonistic toward the old classical curriculum'
'Benjamin Rush believed that studying classical languages for their own sake was relatively useless'
Scott Philip Segrest's short essay 'The Truth in American Common Sense' gives us an idea of how he understands the link between Common Sense and the Princeton School in which he acknowledges the important role of John Witherspoon and suggests understanding common sense requires 'confronting certain religious experiences'.

Scott Philip Segrest was invited to respond to Daniel N. Robinson's keynote at the 2012 conference on Witherspoon, Scottish Philosophy and the American Founding. In his keynote Robinson begins by asking 'just what is this Scottish Philosophy?' and answering his own question (@ 20:00):
'that certainly nothing that is obviously orthodox about it for it is pliant enough to leave ample room for both David Hume and John Witherspoon and it's assuredly not a political philosophy if with that in mind a political agenda of one sort or another. Then to the divisions between moderates and evangelicals, however else those divisions will not support an attempt to collapse scottish philosophy into a species of theological orthodoxy. I begin by noting Scottish philosophy is not only classical grounded but presupposes a disciplined study of ancient sources. This point is important enough to  include an illustration....' 

Robinson's claims further
 'that science and humanities were drifting apart' and the example that Locke chose medecin over rhetoric and had Boyle as mentor. Science moving decisevely away from most things Aristotelian. It was Decartes way of ideas right way of understanding, that would yield practical results' 
This ignores John Witherspoon & Hutcheson's understanding of the importance of Rhetoric and it's impact in America. In this context it's interesting to listen to Segrest's response at 0:48 in wich the direct link between covenant theology and democracy stands out. Segrest does not, however, adress how this influences Witherspoon's understanding of the lasting(!) importance of rhetoric. But that is made clear by John Witherspoon himself in his lectures on Moral Philosophy (Lecture 12):
'Democracy is the nurse of eloquence, because, when the multitude have the power, persuasion is the only way to govern them'
At 1:17 question on election of clergy in Scotland is directly linked to this discussion and the link between covenant theology and democratization. A question from the audience at 1:11 is also very interesting on link between education and evangelicals in 17th and 18th century Scotland & Witherspoon's Ecclesiastical characteristics.

Understanding the link between on the one hand covenant theology and on the other hand moral philosophy and rhetoric is a fundamental question which deserves much more scrutiny than it is getting. Segrest's lecture on Common Sense and Natural Law (at 9:00) has the merit of providing us implicitly with the link between natural law and moral philosophy:
'protestant natural lawyers in 17th and 18th century took the lead in developing the corresponding natural rights theories that gave rise eventually to such landmark forumations as found in the declaration of indepencence and later the UN universal declaration of human rights. The protestant natural rights theories which were adopted and adapted by the Scottish realists came closest to accounting for the moral claims I have mentioned with their dual classification of rights in terms of perfect and imperfect rights and their categories of duties to self. Generally the perfect rights were so basic as it justified the coercive use of force to guarantee them, like the rights of life, liberty and property....'
The moral philosophy of Hutcheson comes to mind here which is summarized in Hutcheson's phrase:
'The intention of moral philosophy is to direct men to that course of action which tends most effectually to promote their greatest happiness.'
The place attributed to natural law in moral philosophy should also make it possible to clarify it's relationship to covenant theology and Rhetoric, I suspect. Segrest summarizes Witherspoon's definition of moral philosophy in his book 'America and the Political Philosophy of Common Sense':
'Witherspoon defines "moral philosophy" as "that branch of Science which treats of the principles and laws of Duty or Morals." It's the "superior science" to which all other sciences (including even mathematics and natural science) are "but hand-maids" and includes under its rubric both ethics and politics. At its most fundamental level, moral philosophy is really "nothing else but the knowledge of human nature"
The relationship between natural law and reformed theology has been hotly discussed over the last couple of years, just think of the books and interview of John Witte and Bill Dennison. This radio discussion on Common Grace, Natural law and Eschatology gives some introduction to the debates. Note how Bill Dennison argues from covenant theology:
 'this operates well into the natural law question possibly as well in the long run, one other crucial to van Til's position is 'antithesis must allways precede common grace'
Makes you want to read the chapter 'Natural law and moral realism: the civic-humanist synthesis in Francis Hutcheson and George Turnbull' in Knud Haakonson's book Natural Law and Moral Philosophy: From Grotius to the Scottish Enlightenment.

It's a very interesting question to understand how Francis Hutcheson came up with the idea to create a 'civic-humanist synthesis' between moral realism and natural law. On page 65 we read:
'The heart of Pufendorf's theory is the notion of a law which institutes the moral realm by imposing duties upon agents possessed of free will. By contrast, the central concern of the moral realists is to show that there are moral values independent of any law.
The crucial figure in this situation is Francis Hutcheson, volubly supported by George Turnbull (his book on Principles of moral and christian philosophy can be read here)'
Hutcheson is clearly at the heart of a very interesting discussion. Notice the germs of his moral philosophy shaped by Hugo Grotius and in opposition to the outrage of Hobbes.Which brings us to

Grotius,Pufendorf and the Modern Theory of Natural Law

A Context and Structure for Francis Hutcheson’s Early Moral Philosophy

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Twittering with Rwandan President Paul Kagame's media advisor Phil Quin