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Title: Divine sentences : philosophical and literary responses to religious 'enthusiasm'
Author: Dosanjh, Rajit
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1999
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When asked why he murdered a doctor who performed abortions, Paul Hill, a former Presbyterian minister from Florida, replied, "what I did was moral, and according to the highest legality ... God's law positively requires us to defend helpless people." (N.Y. Times, Sept. 24, 1995). How are the legal institutions of a liberal society to respond to such claims? How are they to pass judgement on those who profess allegiance to a higher law, without falling into the contradiction of merely asserting the authority to do so? My thesis seeks answers to these questions in the works of three philosophers and three Scottish writers, looking specifically at their encounters with that they described as religious 'enthusiasm' - the belief that one has been 'called' by God to enforce divine law over and against the laws of the state. The first three chapters of my dissertation compare the writings of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and David Hume on enthusiasm to their broader inquiries into the meaning of justice. All three philosophers recognize that enthusiasts base their authority on the claim that their words and deeds represent the will of God-a claim that cannot be 'proven' empirically. All three philosophers condemn enthusiasm for this appeal to the unknowable, to that which lies beyond perception and common experience. Yet only Hume is able to challenge enthusiasm without falling into self-contradiction because only he is able to offer a theory of justice that does not itself appeal to metaphysical, pre-linguistic sources of meaning. For Hume, language is an activity: to speak is to act upon the world and respond to its changing conditions. The meaning and validity of moral discourse, therefore, does not lie in what it represents but in what it does. By contrast, Hobbes and Locke are unable to break away from their own 'enthusiastic' belief that meaning is an 'essence' that is seen through language rather than created by language. The last three chapters of my thesis explore literary responses to religious enthusiasm, focusing on a series of novels about the Scottish Covenanters written in the early nineteenth century by Walter Scott, John Galt, and James Hogg.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available