|These selections from Jonathan Edwards' early
writings already evince the themes that will form the backbone of his
later, more developed theology and philosophy.
Edwards adopts a form of eighteenth-century
philosophical idealism, a position that holds that material existence is
really a perception of the mind's consciousness of various qualities such
as light, color, motion, and so on. That human beings hold common
conceptions of the universe is because all qualities are upheld by the
consciousness of a divine Mind. Nothing exists without being perceived.
Therefore, rather than saying that there is "something" in
objects that causes us to perceive them in certain (often incorrect) ways,
our perceptions occur within ourselves and are caused by God. We can never
experience anything without perceiving it.
Note the following themes
"Of Being" (1721)
- The human mind cannot contemplate
"nothing" as a positive value.
- Infinite Being (i.e. God) is omnipresent and
necessary, so all space outside, beyond, and before creation is God.
- God's consciousness upholds all aspects of
existence of which we are unaware.
- If one were to contemplate a world without light
or motion, it would have no solidity since things are solid as they
resist space by extending themselves. Motion is necessary for
- The spiritual/mental is more substantial in
existence than the "physical."
- Can you imagine "nothing"? What would
it be like if you tried?
- What does it mean to believe that God upholds the
- Why does Edwards hold that the spiritual is more
real than the physical?
- How would Edwards respond to the quantum theory
Beauty of the World (1725)
- The beauty of the physical world derives from its
"consent" to Being (i.e. God), that is the world mirrors a
higher reality of spiritual harmony and proportion.
- The various aspects of the world belong together
by design; this correspondence mirrors a harmonious mind or soul.
- Some simple beauties are obvious and immediate,
while complex beauties are not so obvious but finally superior as
objects of contemplation.
- Do the various aspects of the world seem like
they "belong together"?
- Does the beauty of the world need to be related
to "higher" spiritual realities? Why or why not?
Images of Divine Things (1728)
- The world mirrors divine truths by God's
- Often the type is a repeated pattern, while the
anti-type (the thing anticipated) is a one time occurrence.
- Therefore, the scriptures interpret nature by
showing us the spiritual mysteries that the world's objects are types
of. (e.g. The sublimity of the world is a type of the sublimity of
God's work in the heavens.)
- Do you find Edwards' belief in material-spiritual
correspondences convincing? Why or why not?
- Which correspondences did you find interesting or
The Mind (1723)
- Why is something excellent? Because it has the
formal qualities of proportion and unity; even complex beauty can have
an overall simple unity.
- All beauty exists in identity of relation or
- Pleasure results from perceiving what agrees with
being. The complex beauty of the world can include or incorporate some
- Self-love is not truly excellent because
excellence needs to consent in relation to another.
- The consent of bodies and the harmony of the
world are types of the mutual love of beings for one another.
- To say that the material world exists only in
perception is not to deny that the material world is real; rather, God
orders the world of perceptions to be perfectly correspondent as if
the material world existed in a more gross manner.
- Can moral action be beautiful? Can
ideas be beautiful?
- How do we know when something is harmonious? How
do we know when we are "consenting to" or in harmony with
Resolutions (1722) & Apostrophe to Sarah Pierpont (c. 1723)
- How would you characterize Edwards' resolutions?
- Which ones do you find interesting or surprising?
- How does the short apostrophe on Pierpoint
illustrate some of Edwards' ideas about beauty and consent?