Benjamin Franklin termed himself a pragmatic deist. He believes "there is one Supreme must perfect being," however that this being is distant, and that it is not necessary to build a personal relationship with such a supreme God. He concluded that it was useful and correct to believe that a faith in God should inform our daily actions. However, he did not believe in sectarian dogma, burning spirituality or deep soul searching as a part of religion (Lopez, 87). Franklin's religious views are important in the shaping of his Enlightenment philosophy. His approach to religion drew from reason and careful reflection, he did not believe in the "frivolity" of emotional thought and connectivity, but instead focused on the pragmatic understanding of the divine. His conclusion after careful reason formulates a "Supreme Being that can be manifest in various ways, depending on the needs of different worshipers" (Lopez, 88). In contrast to Franklin's deism, Edwards was a strong Calvinist believer who strongly articulated the concept of God's ultimate determination of our fate. He argued against the Arminian position of self-determination in "Freedom of the Will," by explaining that every choice is determined by a previous act of the will and that every action we take and thus all choices we make are fundamentally determined by God. While their religious views differed strongly, Edwards like Franklin recognized the importance of utilizing reason as a mechanism to interpret his religion (Leon, 32). His logical analysis of Calvinism contributes to the understanding of pre-destination as the logical extension of faith. As a result, Edwards applied logic and reason to his religious determinism. Edwards at the same time recognized that "the knowledge of causation is unknowable and that we perceive only ideas not things themselves" (Fiering, 151-152).
Fundamental to the understanding of his philosophy is that as human beings we can only witness "images of...
Which contributes to our inability to truly understand the universe? The rhetoric behind Edward's religious views is the same used by Franklin to justify his deism. Both of these figures are Enlightenment thinkers because they apply reason and logic in the determination of their life philosophies. This is articulated through their views on religion.
The Age of Enlightenment was fundamental in shaping both of these profound American figures. For Benjamin Franklin, it meant the assumption of reason and logic in creating a strong political system for the United States. His devotion to the Enlightenment philosophy manifested in his political assertion that the United States needed a strong political document that would guide the nation through reason and prevent demagogue.
For Jonathan Edwards, the influence of Enlightenment philosophy allowed him to rhetorically understand his own religious convictions. He drew upon logic and reason to articulate a vision that the sins of this world can be mitigated by simple obedience to faith. Although on outward appearances, these two individuals have little in common; they were both profound Enlightenment thinkers because of the rhetoric they used to justify the motivation behind their lives. Franklin immortalized himself as a pragmatist and accomplished the ideal American Dream. Edwards in turn crafted a religious awakening that relied upon his knowledge and blending of Enlightenment philosophy to revitalize the religious zeal of New England.
Chai, Leon. 1998. Jonathan Edwards and the Limits of Enlightenment Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Fiering, Norman. 1981. Jonathan Edwards's Moral Thought and Its British Context. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.
Buxbaum, M.H., Critical Essays on Benjamin Franklin (1987)
Lopez, Claude-Anne, and Herbert, E.W., the Private Franklin…
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