Protestant Theology since 1700 -- By: Miner Brodhead Stearns

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 103:412 (Oct 1946)
Article: Protestant Theology since 1700
Author: Miner Brodhead Stearns


Protestant Theology since 1700

Miner Brodhead Stearns

(Continued from the July-September Number, 1946)

{Editor’s note: Footnotes in the original printed edition were numbered 36–57 with 57 being used twice, but in this electronic edition are numbered 1–23, respectively.}

Modern European Philosophy

We left the study of the English philosophers, whom we had traced from Bacon through Hobbes, Locke, Hume, and other lesser lights, to go back to Descartes and follow another line, which led us through the German philosophers down to the present day. It now becomes necessary to return to England and to the 19th century in order to pick up the thread of philosophic development there. Before doing so, a passing reference may be made to Auguste Comte (1798–1857), the French founder of the Positivist School. He attacked the grounds of theism by declaring that we have no knowledge except of phenomena, and can therefore have no knowledge of final causes. He said that religion is only a product of the imagination. He recognized three stages of thought: the lowest was the mythical or theological, which explains the world and events by reference to supernatural beings; then came the metaphysical type of thinking; and highest of all was the positive, rejecting all a priori elements, recognizing the futility of trying to find the ultimate ground of things. This last is the perfection of philosophy. This type of philosophy is also called sensationalism, since all knowledge is acquired sollely through the senses.

Sensationalism also had its representatives in England in the persons of James Mill, John Stuart Mill, Alexander Bain, and Herbert Spencer. Sheldon groups these four men together1 since they held in common the following four tenets of sensationalism: (1) Sensation supplies the entire material

of knowledge. (2) Our necessary or intuitive beliefs are explained by the principle of the association of ideas. Because of this, this class of philosophers has also been called the Associational School. (3) There is no immediate consciousness of self, but only of particular feelings or exercises. We have no proof that the mind is anything more than a succession of psychical states. (4) Acts of the will, just as other events, come under the category of cause and effect. Determinism, or what Sheldon calls “necessitarianism,” is the name applied to this theory.

John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) admits that this last point involves a considerable paradox in his Examination of Sir William Hamiltons Philosophy, as quoted by Sheldon—”If we speak of the mind as a series of f...

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