On the power of natural reason: a transcript and commentary of two letters from John Simson to Archibald Campbell in 1736

History of European Ideas 47 (4):561-572 (2021)
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Abstract

ABSTRACT This article presents two letters from the Glaswegian theologian John Simson (1667–1740) to his former student Archibald Campbell (1691–1756), professor of ecclesiastical history at St. Andrews as of 1733. After Simson’s condemnation for heresy in 1727–1728, Simson was in regular contact with Campbell, who also came to be scrutinised by a Committee for Purity of Doctrine in 1735–1736. The two letters by Simson address Campbell’s claim that without the support of divine revelation, natural reason is unable to discover any essential religious truths. Campbell presented this claim as directed against the Deists, but was accused by conservatively orthodox theologians of undermining the tenet of postlapsarian mankind’s inexcusability. In his letters, Simson argues for a stronger conception of natural reason – however not to protect inexcusability, but to argue for God’s goodness. In different ways, Simson and Campbell may thus both be seen to make elbow room for justification by works, and to encourage religious tolerance.

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