True Self-love in Eighteenth-century New England: a Case Study of Roger Sherman and the Edwardsean Theological Tradition




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This dissertation charts the history of the idea of true self-love (i.e., the pleasure of the self- approbation of Christian love) as a form of moral motivation and a model for others-centeredness in the second half of the eighteenth century. It questions the solidity of Albert Hirschman’s famous thesis that religious self-love collapsed into economic self-interest by the century’s end. Conversely, I will show through the lens of Roger Sherman and his connection to the Edwardsean theological tradition (the group that through Jonathan Edwards synthesized the doctrine as sourced originally in Augustine) how evangelicals were shown a paradoxically self- denying form of self-seeking (i.e., ordering one’s ambition by seeking the welfare of another) as a way to satisfy the entrepreneurial impulse of the more mobile and acquisitive era of the 1750s and onward in ways that reconstituted the communalistic ethics of love, mutual obligation, and reciprocity. This dissertation highlights the persistence and the development of the idea. Doing so will alter our broader understanding of early American sociability, suggest a new framework for American secularization, and reveal an ideological source for nineteenth-century American sentimental literature.



History, Church, Theology, American Studies