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Witherspoon, John (1723–94)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DB069-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 26, 2021, from

Article Summary

John Witherspoon, Scottish-American clergyman, political leader and educator, was born at Gifford, East Lothian, educated at Edinburgh University and ordained Presbyterian minister. In his mid-forties he went to America as president of the College of New Jersey, later Princeton University. He held political office for New Jersey and played a major role in organizing the Presbyterian Church in America and improving the College at Princeton. Witherspoon was representative of eighteenth-century Scottish and American Calvinists who tried to reconcile their orthodox theological doctrines with the Enlightenment’s philosophical currents of empiricism, scepticism, and utilitarianism by harmonizing reason and revelation. Although Witherspoon was a philosophical eclectic, Francis Hutcheson’s moral sense philosophy was the major source of his utilitarian ethics and republican politics. Witherspoon was not an original thinker, but his popularization of Scottish common sense and moral sense philosophy through his forceful personality and effective teaching laid the foundation for its dominance of nineteenth-century American academic philosophy.

Citing this article:
Fechner, R.J.. Witherspoon, John (1723–94), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DB069-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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