Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Summary of Dissertation topc: turn to nature in 17th century England.

This isn't really even the topic.It's relaly just the background. It's only the introduction, and not even all of it. I paln to put the whole synopsis on my site smoeday, with footnotes and everything. In the mean time, I hope someone gets something out of this (sorry about the fn's not time to make them, but I might put up the bib soon).



The latitudinarians have been underrated as significant shapers of modern thought. Thanks to historians such as Margaret Jacobs and Steven Shapin, the latitudinarians are appreciated as political support in the rise of Newtonian science. Thinkers such as John Patrick and Edward Stillingfleet championed and won the cause of Newtonian science, assuring its place in modern thought by giving it a currency in the general English public that could not be ignored (Jacobs, 15). Accepting Robert Boyle’s social project, they believed that Newtonian science offered a method of acuity and, at the same time, would settle disputes and create social stability with their version of Anglicanism at the political center. The latitudinarians used Newtonian science as a tool for their own social hegemony (Jacobs, 16; Shapin, 2). Church historians such as William Spellman view them primarily as failed theologians whose contributions to the history of theology were scant at best (1). What seems to be missed by both secular and church historians alike is the significant contribution of the latitudinarians in conditioning the educated public for future developments of the enlightenment and transforming the Western tradition in thought from an ontological to an epistemological enterprise. The latitudinarian mission did not begin as a desire to create a new epistemic authority, but in seeking to clear a political space for their reading of Newtonianism they created an epistemological vacuum that could only be filled by empirical science. This was an unavoidable direction, one to which the latitudinarians were irrevocably committed once they embraced Robert Boyle’s project, because it committed them to an epistemic solution to the problem of social authority. In fact, my argument is that the latitudinarians’ major contribution, overlooked as it is, came in achieving the opposite of their stated goals; although they wanted a science-driven Christianity bolstering social order, their work led to a Christianity largely driven out of science.


The shift from biblical revelation to nature in the seventeenth century comes as the culmination of a long development of intellectual history. I use the phrase “the turn to nature” to mark this shift. The turn itself was a long process, beginning in the twelfth century, and culminating in the rise of enlightenment autonomy and modern science. Along the way the turn to nature included aspects of reformation fideism, the skeptical crisis of the sixteenth century, and the quest for certain knowledge (in the works of thinkers like Descartes). I will not dwell on these developments but will include an overview of the historical background in the first chapter. My analysis will begin in detail with the social situation of the restoration period and Boyle’s social project, and will focus on the following two areas: (1) The seventeenth-century shift from revelation to nature, (2) and the separation of human nature from its relation to grace and its inclusion in nature as a purely naturalistic fact.



Historical Background

In the twelfth century, Christian philosophy achieved its major social hegemony through almost universal acceptance of a vast theological system, a tradition that embodied both ontology and epistemology, and also motivated social hegemony in the form of dual power, church and state. This system began to unravel after the twelfth century with the late scholastic rise of scientific naturalism and the sixteenth-century reformations. In the mystical ontology of the church, nature was an extension of grace. “Man” was at the center of this system, and human nature united the realms of both nature and grace. As Eugene Fairweather points out, elemental nature (that is excluding human nature) was a symbol of divine truth (St. Augustine) rather than a means of knowledge. (237).. According to William Abraham, Luther and Calvin changed the nature of scripture from primarily a means of bestowing grace to primarily a source of epistemic authority (12). Prior to that time epistemic authority was grounded not in scripture alone, but in all of church tradition, which started with scripture but also church authority and natural theology (logic and reason about the natural world). Luther’s emphasis upon sola scriptura combined with the priesthood of the believer multiplied the problem he tried to solve: that there was no single clear-cut authority to which a Christian might turn in epistemic matters (Stout, 45). Many natural philosophers, such as Descartes, were trying to overcome this situation through the quest for certain knowledge.


The turn to “the book of nature,” first as a supplement, then as a replacement, for biblical revelation and church authority came largely in answer to the political and social conflicts of the religious wars. The disputants could not agree upon biblical readings; thus, it was hoped that science would provide indisputable answers (this was the essence of Boyle’s social project).
Latitudinarianism began after the English civil war, with the nonjuror controversy at Cambridge concerning confession of Protestant faith. As a movement, it fell into two time periods, demarcated by the so-called “glorious revolution” of 1688. The first phase does not pertain to this project. In the second phase, the latitudinarians became Newtonians and embraced Boyle’s social project, which was to use Newtonian science to establish the truth of religious doctrine and thus assure peace in society by means of an objective criterion for truth. Through their sermons, pamphlets, and private discussions they spread the word about Newton and his seeming connection to the divine mind. As a group they tended to be Whigs (although some were Tories) and churchmen, a few were scientists, most were members of the Royal Society. In so doing, however, they set up a situation in which deism later triumphed in England and much of the scientific world was conditioned to hear LaPlace’s statement “I have no need of that hypothesis” (God) and to divorce science from religion in modernity (Hahn, 256).

8 comments:

tinythinker said...

Do you have an Abstract?

I know you said this is part of a summary, but what about an abstract? The problem, theoretical foundation, methological approach, results (or even anticipated results), and (if appropriate) conclusion?

Assume you are talking to someone, like me, who has ZERO background in your field. What is the overall point (big picture) of your work and what are the specific points of your particular contribution to this big picture? If you had to make a bullet point list of your hypotheses or results/conclusion, what would it look like? Now, try thinking about how you would explain those bullet points (what they mean and why they matter) to someone who is not a historian or Biblical scholar.

Have you submitted chapters to your thesis advisor yet?

J.L. Hinman said...

I dont' have an abstract.This is liberal arts. This is actually form the proposal that goes to grad studies committee to get them to let me do the work. Its formt the old version that wasn't enough like a proposal I think the new version is more like it, when they accept it I'll put it up. I can send you the whole entire old version if you are interested. But I entedn to put it on Doxa soon.

The upshot is really that I porve that our modern undestanding what rules out reveltaiton as epistemic authority and grounds authority in demonstration is not the result of finding that revelation was wrong or that it held back scinece, but actually grows out of a desire (of the lats) to prove revelation.

tinythinker said...

I assumed an abstract would be an integral part of any dissertation. It's not a scientific format, though there are sometimes preferred formats for particular branches of science. Do you mean to say that if you tried to publish your research or present it at a professional conference there would be no abstract to explain to the reader/audience the essential aspects of your work?

We have to have an abstract in the first part of our disseration, and it's part of a university-wide template. I understand that prior to becoming a doctoral candidate there is a longer summary produced for the dissertation committee, the overview document, but I've never heard of not needing an abstract at all. Huh.

J.L. Hinman said...

I have an outline. If I was donig an article for a jouirnal or presenting a paper at a conference I would do an abstract. I don't see that as a tool for helping me writ it.

tinythinker said...

Sure it can help. It is a mini-outline of everything you need to do, of what you are trying to say. Basically my dissertation is just an expansion of the outline. The chapters fill out the details of what is summarized in the abstract at the beginning.

J.L. Hinman said...

yes, but I've been working on this thing for 10 years. so have tons of abstracts and outlines and all that. It's just time to write the dman thing, you know? I mean this was old before my paretns got sick in 97. You know what I'm saying? the thing my parents, caring for them for three years and then my bother's mental illness, kept me from working on it for many years, it's something I've worked on and off for along time.

tinythinker said...

I agree about getting it done--that's why I was offering some suggestions. If the desired goal is unclear then the writing can meander back and forth and here and there and up and down and so forth without ever coming to an conclusions. In your current outline how many chapters do you anticipate? How many have you written?

Terry said...

jl, hope you got this Big Dog done since '05. i just used some of your info for my dissertation project. in depth psychology we would say the dissertation chooses us, we don't choose the dissertation. the gods or goddesses or whomever are the holders of infinite knowledge. can you access them through meditiation or something and get THEIR advice?---terry