Thomas Jefferson: Uncovering His Unique Philosophy and Vision

Thomas Jefferson: Uncovering His Unique Philosophy and Vision

Language: English

Pages: 365

ISBN: 1616149523

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


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.

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electors were recallable by those persons electing them. Limited terms were also to ensure, to a lesser extent, that no one governing would neglect his domestic life for an undue length of time.27 Thus, the people would be happy because their governors would be virtuous, or as virtuous as possible, and thus, would be true representatives of their interests and of the advance of their nation. The governors would be happy, or as happy as possible, because they would be working toward the sort of

Hippocrates to the days of good Rush, but which of them is the true one? the present, to be sure, as long as it is the present, but to yield its place in turn to the next novelty, which is then to become the true system, and is to mark the vast advance of medicine since the days of Hippocrates.” Second, that law still relies heavily on the Latin language is not to show necessarily that Latin is “most conformable with the principles of justice.” It might be merely that law is conservative.

Andrew Holowchak, “Individual Liberty and Political Unity in an Expanding Nation: The Axiological Primacy of Wards in Jefferson's Republican Schema,” in Thomas Jefferson and Philosophy: Essays on the Philosophical Cast of Jefferson's Writings (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013), chap. 3. 10. P. S. Dupont de Nemours to TJ, April 21, 1800. 11. Thomas Jefferson, “Rockfish Gap Report,” in Thomas Jefferson: Writings, ed. Merrill D. Peterson (New York: Library of America, 1984), 459. 12. TJ to Peter

excluded force and corruption. It suggests that his moral ideals demanded honesty in both personal and political affairs, which suggests that his political ideals were answerable to moral ideals. In addition, it suggests that his epistemological ideals—given that Bacon, Locke, and Newton were dyed-in-the-wool empiricists—were empiricist.2 Jefferson—qua architect, lawyer, farmer, inventor, astronomer, statesman, classicist, anthropologist, musician, surveyor, philologist, naturalist, economist,

Christianity, Locke maintains that Christians and atheists ought not to have the patronage of the British Constitution: Christians, because they pledge allegiance to a foreign prince; atheists, because their atheism is anarchical. All other religions ought to be tolerated, which assumes that what they profess is in error but is politically harmless.78 Jefferson, in contrast to Locke, was for toleration of divergent religious beliefs, but he was also for free expression of divergent beliefs. His

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