An Essay in Philosophical Mormon Theology

Dissertation, Harvard University (1996)

Mormon leaders of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries generally directed their apologetic efforts at exhibiting the Biblical foundations of Mormon theology; more recently scholars have subjected the historical claims underlying Mormon assertions of religious authority to rigorous critical and apologetic examination. Careful philosophical evaluation of Mormon doctrines has been considerably less common among church leaders and scholars, alike; this essay is an attempt to defend Mormon thought philosophically, by rational argumentation and without appeal to Biblical authority or historical fact. ;Chapter 1 is an exposition of relevant Mormon beliefs. Mormonism presents its teachings as a body of revealed, rather than natural or rational, truths, and so any legitimate exposition of Mormonism's doctrine must be firmly grounded in its record of revelation; accordingly, the expository elements of this thesis, unlike the apologetic efforts, must respect the authority of religious texts. ;However, Mormonism's revelatory record does not speak unambiguosly, and so interpretive considerations pervade this essay. Abandoning the common libertarian prejudice of Mormon thought, the interpretation of Mormonism set forth in this essay incorporates determinism, raising philosophical concerns about the possibility of human freedom and responsibility; Chapter 2 deals with this web of issues. ;The existence of evil serves as the strongest counterargument to western religious beliefs; supposing religious belief can be defended by a successful theodicy, the need to offer some sort of positive rationale for religious faith remains as the next great challenge. Accordingly, a Mormon theodicy and a defense of faith comprise the most significant portions of this essay's defense of Mormon thought; if successful, the defense of faith also justifies Mormonism's insistence that faith is not only acceptable but meritorious. ;I believe this essay illustrates the vitality and integrity of Mormon thought by demonstrating its ability to resolve significant difficulties; in virtue of its particular interpretive commitments this essay also has an important role to play within the community of believers: it challenges faithful Mormons who champion other interpretations to show that their interpretions can meet the same challenges
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