An American Theism: Edwards, Peirce, Dewey, and the Philosophy of Return

Dissertation, The Pennsylvania State University (1996)
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Abstract

This thesis on an American Theism is intended to follow the perspective of American philosophy John Smith presents in America's Philosophical Vision. Smith sees the sense of American philosophy evolving from a tradition that includes Jonathan Edwards as its first significant figure. ;Smith develops the insight that Edwards's "sense of the heart" stands at the heart of American philosophy. Smith's work demonstrates how the sense of the heart is taken up in various forms in the classical American philosophers, Peirce, Dewey, and Royce. In Smith's work this sense appears primarily in a positive way. In this dissertation I claim that this same sense continues to operate in American philosophy and culture as a sense of a lack. American philosophy manifests this feeling of lack as the absence of a project or a defining sense that can hold both philosophy and philosophers together. I intend to show that we need both the presence of the sense of the heart as Edwards first defines it and its directing absence to express the core of American thought. The presence and absence of the sense of the heart is what I hope to articulate as the ground for an American Theism. ;Three sections comprise this dissertation. First, I examine Jonathan Edwards in order to develop a clearer understanding of the structure and content of his "sense of the heart." In section two, I draw the thought of C. S. Peirce together with Edwards around the self and semiosis. Section three contains a discussion of John Dewey's project of social change through democracy and education. I propose that Dewey's thought longs for a completion that evokes the sort of authority that is present in Edwards's reflective work. My general claim is that American philosophy is held together in terms of content and structure in the life and work of Edwards that can expand into a substantial critique of contemporary reflective and political problems. I call this platform of thought "American Theism." I demonstrate this sort of speech in a closing response to the philosophy of Cornel West

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