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Jonathan Edwards: The Beauty of Work A Colonial American argument for social responsibility in the workplace.

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Presentation on theme: "Jonathan Edwards: The Beauty of Work A Colonial American argument for social responsibility in the workplace."— Presentation transcript:

1 Jonathan Edwards: The Beauty of Work A Colonial American argument for social responsibility in the workplace

2 Why I’m interested in Edwards I’m a “blue-blooded Boston Brahman”. I’m a Christian ethicist and theologian. I’m the director of the Jonathan Edwards Center – Poland.

3 Why you are interested, intrigued or infuriated by Edwards. You teach or study American literature, culture, history and/or (business) ethics. You are forced to read/teach “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”.

4 Why we love/hate Edwards He’s a Calvinist. How do you like someone who believes God creates people just to send most of them to hell? He appeals to idealistic philosophy, metaphysics, and the Bible. He uses big words and archaic grammar.

5 Crossing Borders: Why we struggle to understand Edwards The “Sinners” sermon is a rhetorical masterpiece – but it is set in a cultural, intellectual, religious climate far removed from readers today.

6 Beyond Words – Crossing Borders For Edwards, ‘doctrinal statements’ function as grammatical rules implicit in discourse. Doctrine is foundational for the ethical, philosophical, theological structures that draw upon it. Theology is an “ad hoc performance … a tool in Christian communal self-description [which requires us to constantly restate doctrine] in the light of cultural and conceptual change.”

7 A paradigm shift in ethics A shift from universalist accounts toward particularist accounts ‘that proceed from within a specific historical and theological context.” This allows us to compare particular systems and authors.

8 The Edwards I Never Knew



11 Approaching Edwards A study of Edwards’ thought, and his influence on subsequent generations, provides insight into American culture, thought and literature. Cf. Stievermann: “Studying the History of American Protestantism through Jonathan Edwards: Versions of ‘America’s Theologian’ at Mid-Century”.

12 Approaching Edwards I will present an approach to Edwards that makes appeals to a wide group of readers today. Plus an application to business ethics.

13 God’s Sovereignty and Human Free Will? For Edwards free will is not an instrument for moral struggle and victorious achievement, but a capacity for friendship and mystic communion.

14 Edwards’ Ethics: Three main ideas Beauty is the key to understanding God as well as the nature and dynamics of (the spiritual) and moral life. The creation of the world was/is the joyful overflowing of the fullness of being and beauty in the divine life. The Christian (religious, human, ethical) life is renewed by participating in the divine life.

15 The Heart of Edwards’ Ethical Systems = Beauty Edwards’ ethics is not fueled by the fires of hell but enlightened by the the beauty of God.

16 Beauty is relational Beauty is “consent to being”. Primary (spiritual) beauty is warm, heart-felt consent to being in general. Secondary (natural) beauty is symmetry, proportion, harmony.

17 Divine Life is Relational Trinity: mutual relationship of love. God’s idea of himself is perfect – this is God the Son. The Holy Spirit is the result of mutual love between the Father and Son.

18 Hell? Yes! But erotic love? “In Edward’s Trinitarian writings there is a strong theme that accords with the emphasis in contemporary feminist ethics on the positive role of erotic love and intimacy.” William Danaher

19 Beauty is love Love is relationship. Love is the sum and root of all virtues, moral attitudes and actions.

20 Divine Life is Active Beauty is active not passive. It is not being beautiful but “beautifying”. God’s essential virtues are knowledge, love and joy.

21 Divine Life is Relational „The Father is the principle of happiness, the Son the principle of knowledge and understanding, and the Spirit the principle of love. Hence…the Father has love because the Holy Spirit dwells in him; the Father understanding because the Son dwells in Him, and so on.

22 Creation: Divine Life Overflowing God’s joy could not be contained, it overflowed and the world was created as an extension of the beauty and life of God. For God love is a disposition, a habit, a life-style. Edwards was a panentheist!

23 Creation: God enlarges himself God gives himself to others, creates them to love and be loved. Human beings are created in God’s image, to love, to seek relationships, to bless and to beautify.

24 The Image of God Humans beings created in the image of God are also active (dynamic), relational, creative beings. Personalism: Ethics arises from the encounter with another person.

25 Loving God and the World The proper response to God’s love is to welcome it and delight in it, as well as in the world’s “being” and well-being. Loving the world is to participate in God’s beautifying presence and activity in the world.

26 Participation in the Divine Life Our lives are transformed by perceiving beauty, by reverence for the presence and power of (divine, religious, ethical, human) life. This awakens a desire to participate in that life, to participate in its beautifying activity.

27 Edwards and John Lennon? “Imagine all the people …” Ethical Imagination Imagining the world as a better place is the first, essential step to making it a better place.

28 Colonial America: 1 st half 18 th Century Puritan villages become urban commercial centers. Community orientation fragmented by individualism and self-interest. Scarcity of land and capital. Local markets become regional, international. Development of business and free market. Free trade of ideas: enlightenment favored reason, evangelical pietism emotions (religion of the heart).

29 Edwards vis-à-vis changes Rejected sexual double standard. Criticized political quarrels. Sympathized with elite but critical of their tendency to abuse power. Critical of aggressive business practices. Wealth should be used for public good. Avoid cheating, gambling, speculation, indebtedness. Free market regulated by self-interest not public good.

30 Three Questions Communitarianism versus liberalism? Morality in business? Social responsibility in the marketplace? Common (ethical) ground between Christians, humanists, agnostics, followers of other religions?

31 Communitarianism vs. Liberalism Liberalism: John Locke, Adam Smith, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Stuart Mill, John Rawls Communitarianism: Charles Taylor, Michael Sandel, Alasdair MacIntyre, Michael Walzer, Amitai Etzioni

32 Core commitments of liberalism Constitutionalism: rule of law Individual human rights Special priority of individual rights with respect to the common good

33 Libertarians versus Liberals Libertarians (“classic liberals”) argue for a robust set of property rights that rules out government redistribution and requires a laissez-faire capitalist economy. (Egalitarian) liberals argue that some redistribution is necessary to preserve equality of opportunity and to prevent or ameliorate poverty.

34 Communitarianism The liberal tradition puts too much emphasis on individual liberty and too little on community. Community is a crisscrossing network of relationships between a group of individuals who share a common set of values, norms. Carrot and stick approach.

35 Communitarianism and Justice Community should replace justice; remedial justice is needed when community is absent. Principles of justice are based on the community’s shared understandings; there is no ahistorical, transcultural source of norms of justice. Community plays a greater role in principles of justice—there should be more focus on common good, less on individual rights.

36 Communitarianism vs. Liberalism Communitarians accept liberalism’s core commitments of constitutionalism and individual human rights. Communitarians argue for a communitarian form of liberalism, with a less expansive interpretation of basic human rights.

37 Edwards vis-à-vis Communitarianism and Liberalism A highly communitarian form of classical liberalism, drawn from his vision of the beauty of God. Driven by his theology, by his vision of God’s beauty, but open to other religious, ethical, humanist traditions.

38 Edwards & Business Ethics: 2 views (1)He was not interested in economics; took the side of Puritan morality versus incipient capitalism. (2)He was an implicit populist and protocapitalist.

39 Mark Valeri: Edwards & Business Ethics: 3 phases (1)Idealistic: Puritan ideals for economic practice. (2)Pragmatic: practical economic reform, focus on church not society. (3)Sceptical: looked to external controls of the market.

40 Phase 1: Virtue leads to wealth, but wealth corrupts A prosperous society was a godly society. A godly society was a cohesive society. In a cohesive society individuals sacrificed private interest for the public good. Therefore, a wise people relinquished their private interests for the common good.

41 Puritan paradox Goodness makes you wealthy. Wealth leads to depravity.

42 Phase 2: The visible church as a reforming society He believed spiritual regeneration brings social reformation. Revivals would spark social benevolence. Northampton's elite should model justice in their economic dealings.

43 Phase 2: Shades of Max Weber The rich should act industriously for the benefit of society. Sloth is a disgrace to one's calling. God prospers those who are of a liberal, charitable, bountiful spirit.

44 Phase 2: Max Weber, but … Wealth belongs ultimately to the community … individuals are stewards of the common wealth. Benevolence is most effective when channeled through the church.

45 Phase 3: Economic Crisis  market controls Crisis: inflation, depreciation, trade imbalance, budget (gov’t) deficits, poor investments, private debt. Edwards despaired of a Christian economic system, and proposed specific rules of economic policy.

46 Phase 3: Distrust of human nature  distrust of the market. Edwards did not trust the hidden hand of the market. His resistance to a market economy followed from his suspicion of private enterprise, which in turn resulted from his view of human nature as fallen and sinful.

47 Phase 3: A morally enlightened elite can regulate the market. Edwards was shocked by a vision of society where trade was more powerful than providence, goods more valued than grace. He held to a traditional moral economy, and reserved the preacher’s right to provide moral guidance.

48 Johan Serré: “Buying and Selling”: Edwards and the Free Market Edwards’ understood the most important threats to a free market economy (1) monopoly, (2) information asymmetry, (3) externalities. Edwards expressed insights into the ‘law of supply and demand’ and understood that “buying and selling” (if regulated) could benefit society.

49 Edwards and the Free Market Edwards differed most from free market theorists in his views of society: Society is an organic whole, a ‘body’, and not an aggregate of individuals. It does matter what people’s ‘preferences’ are and what choices they make. And it’s best if the teaching of Reformed pastors shape their preferences and guide their choices.

50 Edwards and the Free Market To Edwards, “buying and selling” was an “exercise of society” qualified as an “improvement of society” – though in need of regulation. Human beings are sinful, fallen creatures. Hence the pursuit of natural self-interest is a dangerous thing, and should be subordinated to true virtue.

51 Edwards and the Free Market The degree to which Edwards (mis)understood the free market does not devaluate his moral judgments. Rather his [particularist] ethics provides us with a a framework to judge the moral value of our current economic system.

52 Mark Valeri – Response to Edwards and the Free Market What this essay misses is the historical context for Edwards’s sermon. The economic thought coming from London was a late-stage mercantilism … The debate concerned government support for native industries (high tariffs, low internal taxes,) and encouragement of foreign trade (low tariffs, higher internal taxes). Also interest rates on credit, currency emission.

53 Mark Valeri – Response to Edwards and the Free Market The mid-eighteenth century context--the regnant economic ideology or the meaning of terms such as extortion or monopoly-- compels us to pause before we assume that Edwards really knew what a Smithian free market was. Nonetheless, this essay works well in thinking from Edwards forward rather than locking him into a pre-modern past economic ideology.

54 Caleb Henry: Jonathan Edwards on Property Rights The Trinitarian God creates a world that reflect his perfection. Creation reflects the divine nature by living in relational community. This relational love of God, given to and received by individuals, allows them to love all created reality.

55 Caleb Henry: Jonathan Edwards on Property Rights Humans are relational beings, created in God’s image, to love and be loved, to enjoy beauty and participate in making the world more beautiful.

56 Jonathan Edwards on Property Rights “Moral agents are social agents; affairs of morality are affairs of society.” Citizens must know the rules if they are to obey them. [Conversation, dialogue] Nature points to rights, but requires a government to put them into effect.

57 JE: Individual Rights and Social Constraints Edwards always discusses individuals within societal constraints. “The end of men’s uniting in a community is strength and firmness. This is the foundation on which we stand and on which our particular rights and privileges are built.”

58 JE on Property Rights and the Government Civil government has three main functions: Protecting property rights Maintaining order Establishing justice

59 Jonathan Edwards on Property Rights Edwards described justice in economic terms. The rich should not oppress the poor. The poor should not seek to defraud the rich.

60 Caleb Henry: JE: Self-Love and Property Rights Simple self-love: the love for oneself, one’s own good. Compounded self-love: the delight one has in the good of others; this is rooted in a law of nature. Both are good and needed. ‘The good of society requires justice.” But man’s self- interest can also undermine society.

61 Jonathan Edwards on Property Rights and the Community A man should enjoy the fruit of his labor and the benefit of his property. But the right to property never goes against the community.

62 JE: Social Responsibility in the Marketplace Scarcity should determine prices: it is God’s providential activity upon the whole society. Merchants should never use inflation to take advantage of the customer. Edwards seeks to ensure societal stability because economic instability undermines of individual rights.

63 JE: Social Responsibility in the Marketplace Charity is vitally connected to property rights. With societal privileges comes societal duties. “God has commanded charity through revelation, but also through natural reason.”

64 JE: Equal rights, unequal results There is no equality in the comparative value of individual labor, the inheritance or position given by one’s family, or the risk and correlated reward individuals were willing to face. Therefore, equal rights would, and should, lead to providentially controlled unequal results.

65 Edwards late 1740’s sermon on Ezekiel 22:12 Natural property rights flow from one’s instinctive desire to work toward goals. But those rights can never be isolated from natural law. Given man’s dynamic but fallen nature, there will always be tension between individual rights and the goal of the society.

66 Property rights and labor Property rights result from individual labor. Natural law requires a return for labor. Contracts guide labor (a form of compound love, hence of true virtue). When property rights become the end instead of a means, society is undermined. Self-interest must also seek the common good.

67 Property Rights and Providence Natural property rights will lead to varying distribution of wealth among the populace, but the providence that distributes monetary and societal privileges also gives duties. By explicitly connecting natural law and property rights, Edwards believes he has ensured societal stability.

68 Caleb Henry: Jonathan Edwards on Property Rights Edwards adapted Locke’s natural law arguments to construct a theory of individual property rights within an ordered society. Providence helps resolve the tension between the communal demands of natural law and the individual’s self- interested natural right to property.

69 Edwards and Work Ethics Anachronistic? Work ethics or work ethos? Trinitarian theology and work ethics? Relevance for agnostics, followers of other religions /no religion at all?

70 Edwards vis-à-vis Communitarianism and Liberalism A highly communitarian form of classical liberalism, drawn from his vision of the beauty of God. Driven by his theology, by his vision of God’s beauty, but open to other religious, ethical, humanist traditions.

71 Common Ground: Edwards for the religious, agnostics, and humanists. Edwards’ ethics is implicitly Christian. His insights can be restated as religious ethics. Or as humanistic ethics. “Borrowed transcendence”.

72 4 Common forms of consciousness 1.Aesthetic perception. 2.Conscience. 3.Natural pity. 4.Religious knowledge (via conscience). This gives Christians and non-Christians a foundation to work together.

73 Edwards and Ethical Systems Rules: deontological ethics Results: teleological ethics Virtue ethics

74 Morality in Business: Edwards’ Aesthetic Ethics An alternative to rule-based and utilitarian ethical systems. Grounded in recognition of beauty and reverence for being. Dynamic not passive. Inclusive, not exclusive. Engaged, interdependent not individualistic.

75 Social Responsibility in the Workplace Be active, not passive. Be present for others, seeking relationship, meeting needs. Seek the public (not private) good. Imagine and work for a better world (beauty, peace, justice).

76 Beauty is essential to well-being Can you imagine virtue and love as forms of beauty rather than as forms of goodness? Edwards helps us reclaim the innate and essential relation between aesthetics and ethics.

77 Homeward Toward Beauty Home is where we are right now. Home is a different way of being present, of appreciating the beauty we are given and experience, of enhancing the beauty of everything we touch.

78 Homeward Toward Beauty This is a journey of discovery. This is a social not individual journey. This is a journey towards greater beauty, peace, justice among people, between people and all being (animals, nature).

79 Homeward Toward Beauty “Our deepest religious responsibility is to love creation and hallow it – in order that it may be changed.” H. Richard Niebuhr

80 Christian love and virtue Christian love moves believers to meet the needs of all, not just fellow believers. Christian love drives Christian to active involvement in civil community. Love is active, will always result in practice. God is present in your neighbor, especially the poor. Love cares for bodies as well as souls.

81 Religious Ethics Today God’s love and joy and beauty are flowing into the world. God is present and available, not distantly and demanding. We are drawn toward beauty and invited to participate in beautifying the world.

82 To savor or save the world? Every morning I awake torn between a desire to save the world and an inclination to savor it. This makes it hard to plan the day. But if we forget to savor the world, what possible reason do we have for saving it? In a way, the savoring must come first.” E.B. White

83 Love and Beauty Apostle Paul: “Faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” Edwards: “Goodness, truth and beauty, but the greatest of these is beauty.”

84 Jonathan Edwards Center – Poland Ewangelical School of Theology in Wrocław Theologica Wratislaviensia: Vol. 7, 2012 Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Reader: Polish edition Sept. 2014 Library resources at EWST: Jonathan Edwards Collection; materials on history of American culture, religion, literature; best English language library in Poland for biblical and theological studies.

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