Dependence and freedom: The moral thought of Horace Bushnell

David Wayne Haddorff, Marquette University

Abstract

This dissertation argues that Horace Bushnell (1802-1876) rejected the prevalent utilitarian moral philosophy of his day and developed an alternative moral theory based upon Christian theology and experience. Bushnell claimed that human nature is inherently social, moral experience is interrelated with estrangement and restoration, and Christian piety is a transforming power in the world. Only Christian ethics, not moral philosophy, can be correlated with the mystery of human experience. The study of ethics does not begin with rational principles, norms, or rules elaborated by "moral science," rather with the human realities of estrangement, moral ambiguity, and innate desire for moral renovation. At the basis of Bushnell's moral thought is his organic view of human interdependence and the transforming power of moral character. Individuals are social beings, dependent upon God and interdependent in the human community, and their moral development arises from their dependencies. Christian morality is a way of life or a "life process" that matures through experience. Moral development occurs through one's dialectical experiences of estrangement and redemption, failure and success, discipline and freedom, reason and inspiration, and work and play. Christian ethics is not a science but an experience; ethics as an activity is a living response to God, others, and the world. Moreover, just as the individual experiences moral tension and estrangement, so does society, through its "organic connection" of sin, encounter social estrangement. Bushnell's social and political thought is reciprocal to his thought on human nature; both are an ethic of tension. Just as individuals are estranged and incapable of self-redemption, so too society, without religion, is estranged and incapable of moral restoration. Although sin, through its "organic connection," passes from one generation to the next, this "solidarity principle" can be turned to good by God's redemption through Jesus Christ. The redemptive power of salvation results in a "moral power," that coupled with the "solidarity principle," results in a transformative impulse in society. Christian piety is active; it is a "moral power" that transforms political, religious, economic, cultural, familial, and social institutions.

Recommended Citation

David Wayne Haddorff, "Dependence and freedom: The moral thought of Horace Bushnell" (January 1, 1990). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. Paper AAI9117345.
http://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI9117345

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