Samuel Stanhope Smith and Common Sense Philosophy at Princeton

Journal of Scottish Philosophy 8 (2):189-209 (2010)
In this article, I discuss how Samuel Stanhope Smith advanced Reidian themes in his moral philosophy and examine their reception by Presbyterian revivalists Ashbel Green, Samuel Miller, and Archibald Alexander. Smith, seventh president and moral philosophy professor of the College of New Jersey (1779–1812), has received marginal scholarly attention regarding his moral philosophy and rational theology, in comparison to his predecessor John Witherspoon. As an early American philosopher who drew on the ideals of the Scottish Enlightenment including Common Sense philosophy, Smith faced heightened scrutiny from American revivalists regarding the danger his epistemology presented to the institution of religion. The Scottish School of Common Sense was widely praised and applied in nineteenth-century American moral philosophy, but before the more general American acceptance of Common Sense, Smith already appealed to Reidian themes in his methodology and treatment of external sensations, internal sensations, intellectual powers, and active powers of the human mind. In this paper, I argue that Smith's use of Reidian themes for grooming his student's morality conflicted with the educational expectations from revivalists on Princeton's board of trustees who demanded more attention on orthodox theology. I identify Smith's notions of causation, liberty, and the moral faculty as primary reasons for this tension over Princeton's educational purpose during the first decade of the nineteenth century.
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DOI 10.3366/jsp.2010.0006
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Thomas Reid (1788). Essays on the Active Powers of Man. John Bell, and G.G.J. & J. Robinson.

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