Piety, therefore, is only a half of Puritanism. It is the essential part, no doubt; yet unless we consider the machinery of theory and demonstration which accompanied it, we can give no full account of Puritan thought and expression.
The New England Mind1
Puritanism was a mixture of tendencies, some of the most important being yearnings for absolutes, certainty, and understanding. Puritans yearned for a rational religion. They believed humans were created in the image of God and thus were rational and spiritual beings, for such was the idea of God then. Rationality and spirituality, rather than being opposite, were seen as intertwined in the intellect which “is a power of the reasonable (or religious) soul, whereby it understands the truth.”2 Puritans, in Augustinian fashion, did not think of the mind and heart as separated; instead, the intellect and religious affections were both faculties of the mind. The mind was considered the same as the soul. Logic was a set of strategies useful to the reasonable religious mind. An educated Puritan’s yearnings for rational religion found relief in logic; however, Puritans carefully chose the logic tradition they taught, modifying it according to their needs.
At the beginning of the century, Ramism was the favored logic among Puritans. Toward the end of the century, there were new political and religious developments and Ramism no longer had the cultural clout to support Puritans in their time of need. This book prints two influential Puritan manuscript logic textbooks from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries that attempted to meet Puritanism’s new intellectual needs. Charles Morton’s A System of Logick advocated the vigorous Aristotelianism that originated in textbooks by Philipp Melanchthon, Martin Luther’s righthand man in the Reformation. While Morton’s textbook was a viable option for the Puritans, Aristotelian logic seemed too limiting to most Puritans. Cartesian logic was more dynamic and William Brattle’s Compendium of Logick became the most popular and influential logic textbook at Harvard College from the 1690s through the middle of the eighteenth century.
Roman Catholics from Jesuits to Jansenists, Protestants from Anglicans to Puritans, and non-Christians of whatever type in the seventeenth century manipulated logic to support their theologies and serve their constituencies. All three types of logic, Aristotelian, Ramist, and Cartesian, were capable of being oriented more or less in directions to serve Christian education. Puritans relied on religiously-oriented humanistic logics. Of those religiously-oriented logics, there were some which were particularly supportive of their desire for religious certainty. Although humanistic logics, in general, diminished emphasis on absolute knowledge, some dogmatic strains developed. Morton’s and Brattle’s logics were of this dogmatically-inclined type.
I will be describing in this section of the book the historical context of dogmatically-inclined, religiously-oriented, humanistic logics such as Morton’s and Brattle’s. Because these logic textbooks were written to serve such a constituency, I devote much of this section to analyzing the motivations and then influence of Morton and Brattle. I will not explain all the parts of each logic. Neither text is important as an example of Aristotelian or Cartesian logic. They are important because they exemplify an idiosyncratic tradition of religiously-oriented and dogmatically-inclined humanistic logic textbooks which were useful in educational settings such as Harvard College.
Textbooks are pedagogical reductions, written to serve as a basis for a tutor’s gloss and, hopefully, as a spark to inspire further inquiry. To varying extents, textbooks reflect the values of the society that supports a college. Curriculum and textbook reforms do not march alone according to the whims of one professor. They usually bear witness to the reforms and events that are happening outside of the college. The realms of church and state—the principal patrons of a college—greatly influenced which logic dominated at certain times in certain regions. In the era of humanistic logic, the role of logic in the curriculum and the type taught reflected the society’s values and the conclusions that society sought from logic. An amazing number of logic textbooks were written in the seventeenth century by many of the greatest thinkers and many more by unknown tutors.
Walter Ong has called the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries the Age of Logic, writing: “The study of logic was somehow central to liberal education.”3 Logics competed with each other during this era and educated society was divided over which was the more rational. The late seventeenth century was the high point of this preoccupation in England. Norman Fiering tells us there was an “extraordinary philosophical storm in the Atlantic world of the late seventeenth century in logic, metaphysics, and epistemology”4 Since metaphysics and epistemology were part of humanist logic, the storm’s center was in logic. Dissenting academies in England experimented with new educational ideals and textbooks—Charles Morton’s academy leading the way from the late 1670s to 1686. Harvard College experienced radical curricular reforms between 1686 and 1695, and the importance of the discipline of logic in these reforms is shown by the fact that all four of the leaders at Harvard during the period were authors/epitomizers of logic textbooks: President Increase Mather, tutors John Leverett and William Brattle, and Charles Morton, who served first as a fellow then as vice president after 1697. On no other subject did they all write textbooks. Morton’s and Brattle’s were the most innovative, and Brattle’s had the longest influence.
Aside from their value as examples of an idiosyncratic tradition, the logic textbooks printed here can also help historians better understand Puritan books, sermons, and correspondence. Late seventeenth-century logic differed on definitions of key terms and levels of certainty accorded to propositions and demonstrations. Some modern historians have erroneously traced a definite influence of Cambridge Platonism and, more generally, latitudinarianism, on New England thought at the end of the seventeenth century, claims based primarily on Puritan appreciation of the writings of Henry More and John Tillotson.5 Latitudinarian influence is supposed to have contributed to an intellectual transition in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century from Puritanism to the Age of Reason, from the Age of Lent to the Age of Enlightenment. The outline of this transition seems clear to some: New Englanders appreciated the works of Henry More and John Tillotson and, for a variety of reasons, came to appreciate their less-than-dogmatic view of religion. Daniel Walker Howe writes that “one cannot but be struck by the similarities in style, content, and vocabulary” between some Cambridge Platonists and Jonathan Edwards.6 But, such a statement seems dangerous to me since shared language does not necessarily mean shared meaning. Context is important. New England Puritans in my understanding interpreted Cambridge Platonism and latitudinarianism in the light of Puritan dogmatic tendencies and applied definitions from their own logics to the writings of More and Tillotson, thereby systematically misunderstanding Cambridge Platonism and latitudinarianism.
For example, though Henry More might himself have accepted a system of probability and certainty that ranked “mathematical certainty” or “mathematical demonstration” as less-than-absolute certainty, Puritans reading More’s insistence on “mathematical demonstration” would have most likely understood the term as yielding nothing less than absolute dogmatic certainty or divinely communicated certainty. The scales rating the certainty of “mathematical demonstration” in the logics transcribed in this book were not the same as those of the Cambridge Platonists.
If a term such as “mathematical demonstration” could be understood in different ways, the much more loose term “faith” could lead to much confusion. “Faith” is a term in logic signifying the result of testimony. Faith can have many levels of certainty. John Tillotson’s most famous book dealing with the logic of Christianity was The Rule of Faith, or an Answer to the Treatise of Mr. I. S. entitled Surefooting, etc. (1666) and was popular among both Puritans and Deists, probably because even his definition of faith could be interpreted in different ways. Tillotson defined “faith” as:
a term of art used by divines, it signifies that particular kind of assent which is wrought in us by testimony or authority. So that divine faith, which we are now speaking of, is an assent to a thing upon the testimony or authority of God, or, which is all one, an assent to a truth upon divine revelation.7
This is a definition of faith that could have been derived from a number of logic textbooks and is very close to the definitions given by both Morton and Brattle. Different interpretations of this definition hinge on the certainty level accorded to divine faith. Tillotson, himself, probably had no dogmatic intent—divine faith would not be the equivalent of science. For Morton and Brattle, however, divine faith is equivalent to absolutely certain knowledge. In Morton’s and Brattle’s logics, divine faith is equivalent to (or even higher than) science on the scale of certainty.
Harvard students reading The Rule of Faith in the light of Morton’s and Bratde’s logics would think that Tillotson was affirming a much stronger certainty than he probably wanted to affirm. Puritans could then appreciate the archbishop’s emphasis on morality because Puritans would not consider him lax or lazy about biblical doctrine. However, The Rule of Faith could be read at the same time by less dogmatic Christians and Unitarians who could interpret it in the light of the blurry definitions of moral certainty that were taught in their own favorite logics. The language of latitudinarians, of which Tillotson was one of the most prominent, was hard to pin down in the seventeenth century and even more vaguely understood in the twentieth. John Bunyan wrote that “as to religion, [latitudinarians] turn and twist like an eel on the angle.”8 Tillotson was one of the most twisting of Bunyan’s eels. He hoped to be all things to all people, and he was a master at writing in a way that could be interpreted variously by various readers. To understand the Puritan appreciation of Tillotson, one must understand the logical terms and distinctions that the Puritans brought to the reading of Tillotson rather than simply assuming that Puritans appreciated his latitudinarianism.
We must always remember that logic in the seventeenth century was meant to be used constantly and consciously as the technology of rational living. Logic was not simply a discipline set aside in the corner of one’s education. In modern society we tend to rely on an innate natural logic for normal living and apply modern formal logic only in cases of specific need, such as computer software design. For most modern people logic is simply an arcane course taught at college, a type of language manipulation, similar to algebra. Textbooks and manuals of logic in the seventeenth century were not arcane; they were designed to be useful and read even in one’s leisure. John Harvard’s bequest of his private library to the college included three different logics.9 Ebenezer Pemberton, a student and friend of William Brattle, owned ten different logic books in his personal library.10 The largely self-educated Benjamin Franklin read The Port-Royal Logic while a boy in Boston. A proponent of right thinking joined with right living, Franklin advocated the importance of using logic to discover, defend, and convince others of the truth. In 1733 he gave his boyhood Port-Royal Logic to the Library Company believing that after he had applied its rules he had been led to erroneous conclusions.11 Franklin, therefore, changed his favored logic when he changed his theology.
The logic manuals that students copied into notebooks were to be kept, reused, and shared with others. The two logics transcribed in this book exist in multiple student transcriptions that were handed down through families. Young Jonathan Edwards, colonial America’s greatest philosopher and theologian, carried transcriptions of Morton’s and Brattle’s logics with him to Yale College. The logics had first been transcribed by William Partridge when a student at Harvard in 1687, then passed on to Warham Mather who passed them on to his half-sister’s husband, Timothy Edwards. Timothy passed them on to his son Jonathan. When Jonathan went to college he studied primarily under Elisha Williams, a graduate of Harvard who knew Brattle and Brattle’s logic well. Both Williams and Edwards did not think of logic as simply a subject for schools. They both tried to live by the logic they learned at Harvard and Yale. In Williams’s later political writings and Edwards’s theology and philosophy, logic was the foundation for right living.12
As manuals for right living, logic textbooks served in much the same capacity as devotional manuals. Charles E. Hambrick-Stowe’s The Practice of Piety: Puritan Devotional Disciplines in Seventeenth-Century New England shows how Puritans plagiarized and overtly used Roman Catholic devotional manuals. Morton and Brattle used Roman Catholic and other non-Puritan sources in much the same way.13 Devotional manuals were meant to be useful and so were logic textbooks. Devotional manuals and logic texts were formulaic and part of specific traditions.
A glance at the logic textbooks transcribed in this book will not yield much depth of knowledge about the logic of the era or its relationship to piety and religion. The logic textbooks used at Harvard were deceptively terse. The textbooks were more or less cut-and-paste outlines to be elaborated upon by teachers and compared with other texts, rather than books that stood alone. In order to understand them one has to know what went on in the classroom, the various sources from which cut-and-paste versions were created, and the traditions of logic that gave context to the terms and structure of the textbook and the cultural context. John Morgan in Godly Knowledge: Puritan Attitudes toward Reason, Learning, and Education, 1550–1640 writes on the dynamics of the classroom that transformed mere curriculum and texts into sources of Puritan living. He writes that “the puritan approach was to accept the basic curriculum, though to modify texts and subjects; to work within existing structures, though to introduce activities which would in practice demonstrate the aphorism that learning was but a handmaid to divinity.”14 Charles Morton wrote his logic textbook for use in his small house-academy in England where he was the only teacher. William Brattle wrote his for the students at Harvard who were being directed by two tutors, himself and John Leverett.
A final note of introduction: the two logics here support the tenets of a new area of philosophical and sociological scholarship in the 1990s, which studies the epistemological foundation that all humans have in trusting each other, weighing testimony, accepting the word of authorities, and having faith. Sociologists have long studied communities of knowledge, but modern epistemology has emphasized self-reliance and the rejection of trust, testimony, authority, and faith. Three important works have recently been published that focus attention on the importance of understanding the role of testimony in human knowledge: C.A.J. Coady’s Testimony: A Philosophical Study, Steven Shapin’s A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-century England, and John Hardwig’s “The Role of Trust in Knowledge.”15 Harvard College supported a community of knowledge built largely on an epistemological foundation of trust, testimony, authority, and faith. That foundation was taught in Morton’s and Brattle’s logic textbooks. As we today renew an interest in the epistemological importance of these values, terms, and logical techniques, A Logick System and Compendium of Logick can serve as a part of the past’s legacy that will help us in the future.