President Edwards’s Dissertation On The Nature Of True Virtue -- By: Anonymous
BSac 10:40 (Oct 1853) p. 705
President Edwards’s Dissertation On The Nature Of True Virtue1
It is a remark of Cicero:2 “Virtutes ita copulatae connectaeque sunt, ut omnes omnium participes sint, nee alia ab alia possit separari.” “Virtus,” he says again,3 “eadem in homine ac deo est.” It has ever been a tendency of philosophers to simplify the theory of morals, and reduce all the virtues to some one principle. Thus we have been told that all moral good consists in the mean between two extremes; or in acting agreeably to the dictates of reason; or in acting obediently to the conscience; or in gratifying our higher moral sentiments; or in obeying the will of God; or in acting so that all may safely imitate us; or in acting consistently with ourselves; or in living in harmony with ourselves; or in living in harmony with the constitution of nature; or in living in harmony both with ourselves and with all rational beings; or in striving after a likeness to God, or a union with God; or in reverence for the absolute; or in fitness; or in proportion; or in truth; or in justice; or in benevolence. The more common opinion of modern philosophers has been, that virtue may be reduced to benevolence to the universe. “It is,” says President Edwards,4 “abundantly plain by the Holy Scriptures, and generally allowed, not only by Christian divines but by the more
BSac 10:40 (Oct 1853) p. 706
considerable deists, that virtue most essentially consists in love. And I suppose it is owned by the most considerable writers to consist in general love of benevolence, or kind affection.” “Virtue,” he says again,5 “by such of the late philosophers as seem to be in chief repute, is placed in public affection or general benevolence.” We have already shown6 that President Edwards entertained in early life the same views on this topic which are developed in his Dissertation. They were no sudden, immature developments of his mind. It were easy to prove that he held them in common not only with the most eminent philosophers, but also with the most eminent of our divines. He has been represented as peculiar in his theories of morals; as an innovator who has gained but few disciples. An attempt has been recently made to prove, that on the subject of Virtue Bellamy differed from Edwards. Thus we read that Bellamy “followed Edwards on all the great principles of practical and theoretical divinity; but followed him not in this single exceptional case, wherein he was eccentric to...
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