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

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