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

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