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Edwards, Jonathan (1703–58)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-K014-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Jonathan Edwards’ work as a whole is an elaboration of two themes – God’s absolute sovereignty and the beauty of his holiness. God’s sovereignty is articulated in several ways. Freedom of the Will (1754) defends theological determinism. God is the complete cause of everything that occurs, including human volitions. Edwards is also an occasionalist, idealist and mental phenomenalist. God is the only real cause of events. Human volitions and ‘natural causes’ are mere ‘occasions’ upon which God produces the appropriate effects. Physical objects are collections of sensible ‘ideas’ of colour, shape, solidity, and so on, and finite minds are collections of ‘thoughts’ or ‘perceptions’. God’s production of sensible ideas and thoughts in the order which pleases him is the only ‘substance’ underlying them. God is thus truly ‘being in general’, the ‘sum of all being’.

The beauty or splendour of God’s holiness is the principal theme of two late works – End of Creation and True Virtue (both published posthumously in 1765). The first argues that God’s end in creation is the external manifestation of his internal splendour. That splendour primarily consists in his holiness and its most perfect external expression is the holiness of the saints, which mirrors and depends upon it. True Virtue defines holiness as ‘true benevolence’ or ‘the love of being in general’ ([1765b] 1957–, vol. 8: 546), and distinguishes it from such counterfeits as rational self-love, instincts like parental affection and pity, and natural conscience. Since beauty is defined as ‘agreement’ or ‘consent’ and since true benevolence consents to being in general, true benevolence alone is truly beautiful. Natural beauty and the beauty of art are merely its image. Only those with truly benevolent hearts, however, can discern this beauty.

Edwards’ projected History of Redemption would have drawn these themes together, for it is in God’s work of redemption that his sovereignty, holiness and beauty are most effectively displayed.

Citing this article:
Wainwright, William J.. Edwards, Jonathan (1703–58), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-K014-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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