Thomas Jefferson: Uncovering His Unique Philosophy and Vision
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This is the first book to systematize the philosophical content of Thomas Jefferson’s writings. Sifting through Jefferson’s many addresses, messages, and letters, philosopher M. Andrew Holowchak uncovers an intensely curious Enlightenment thinker with a well-constructed, people-sympathetic, and consistent philosophy. As the author shows, Jefferson’s philosophical views encompassed human nature, the cosmos, politics, morality, and education.
Beginning with his understanding of the cosmos, part one considers Jefferson’s philosophical naturalism and the influence on him of Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke. The next section critically examines his political viewpoints, specifically his republicanism, liberalism, and progressivism. The third part, “Jefferson on Morality,” analyzes Jefferson’s thoughts on human nature, his moral-sense theory, and his notion of “natural aristoi” (best or most virtuous citizens). Finally, “Jefferson on Education” reviews his ideas on properly educating the people of the new nation for responsible, participatory citizenry.
Jefferson conceived of the United States as a “great experiment”—embodying a vision of a government responsibly representative of its people and functioning for the sake of them. This book will help readers understand the philosophical perspective that sustained this audacious, innovative, and people-first experiment.
Democracy,” 70–71. 31. For example, TJ to William Carmichael, December 26, 1786; TJ to Edward Carrington, January 16, 1787; TJ to James Madison, December 20, 1787, and May 15, 1794; TJ to David Humphreys, March 18, 1789; TJ to Gouverneur Morris, November 7, 1792; TJ to John Taylor, June 1, 1798; TJ to Edmund Randolph, August 18, 1799; TJ to John Breckinridge, January 29, 1800; TJ to Elbridge Gerry, March 29, 1801; Jefferson, First Inaugural Address; TJ to Dr. William Eustis, January 14, 1809; TJ
Central College—and the expansive curriculum seems for the sake of creating a topnotch, nonpareil grammar school, worthy of Jefferson's approbation, which leaves university-level schools for true specialization. 28. Ideology, coined by A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy, is an inquiry into the operations of the mind, knowledge, and types of proof—roughly, an admixture of psychology, epistemology, and logic. A. L. C. Destutt de Tracy, Projet d’éléments d’idélogie (Paris: Didot, 1801). 29. Lord Kames,
and negative liberty are not mutually exclusive. Jefferson’s purchase of negative liberty is well illustrated by his commitment to free presses. Though he was scandalized and harassed by presses that catered to gossip more than to useful information—“Were I to undertake to answer the calumnies of the newspapers,” he writes to Maryland politician Samuel Smith (August 22, 1798), “while I should be answering one, twenty new ones would be invented”—he always openly advocated the free expression of
gave the woman one-half dollar, which she immediately used, not for a bout at the ale house, but to place her child at school. Finally, there was the American Revolution. “You [Head] began to calculate & to compare wealth and numbers: we threw up a few pulsations of our warmest blood; we supplied enthusiasm against wealth and numbers; we put our existence to the hazard when the hazard seemed against us, and we saved our country.” Heart sums, “I do not know that I ever did a good thing on your
Jefferson, likely because it affirmed his own suspicions on Jesus’s teachings, is that there can be no correct notion of morally appropriate action without benevolence. Here it is profitable to distinguish benevolence (well-wishing) from beneficence (well-doing). On the one hand, strictly speaking, one can act beneficently without acting benevolently—when one does the right thing for the wrong reason, for example, helping out a needy person only to extract some information from that person. On