The Philosophy of the American Revolution

The Philosophy of the American Revolution

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Examines the philosophical sources behind the thinking of America's Revolutionary leaders, especially as incorporated in the Declaration of Independenceshow more

Product details

  • Paperback | 312 pages
  • 134.62 x 200.66 x 20.32mm | 385.55g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • New edition
  • New edition
  • 0195028910
  • 9780195028911

Review Text

White analyzes the epistemology, metaphysics, philosophical theology, and ethics which the Founding Fathers inherited from Locke, Burlamaqui, Hutcheson, and others and employs them to try to illuminate the political thought of the revolutionary generation. But the technical philosophy used by the Americans is of limited value in explaining their politics because many key concepts could be turned to widely divergent political purposes. Truths of morality and natural law were said to be perceived through a faculty called the "moral sense." But while Jefferson believed the "moral sense" of the ordinary man could be successfully cultivated, some of his political colleagues were not as optimistic. Similarly, man's fights derived from his "essence," but "essence" could be defined to suit any political view. Or the philosophy might simply he distorted for political convenience. White acknowledges all this but the reader seeking the sources of revolutionary political ideas is left high and dry in the many instances where philosophical verbiage is mere window dressing. Nonetheless, White's knowledge of that philosophy and its nuances of meaning enables him to make some suggestive clarifications of revolutionary documents. In the Rough Draft of the Declaration of Independence, for example, Jefferson said government should "secure these ends," while the final draft reads "secure these rights." White argues, citing a parallel Burlamaquian statement, that in the first context "secure" means "attain," while in the final draft it means "make secure" since in Jefferson's philosophy "fights" antecede government. Thus, Jefferson, in the final draft, diminished the role of government. Though the book does not live up to its title, its distinguished authorship - and White's success at expounding concepts - assures it of scholarly attention. (Kirkus Reviews)show more