Providential Deism, Divine Reason, and Locke's Educational Theory

  • Clarence W. Joldersma Calvin College


This essay uses Charles Taylor's recent description of secularity to rethink an important historical example of the relation among religion, reason, and education. Locating Locke's educational theory in the historical period that Taylor calls providential deism, the article suggests that Locke's idea of good education, namely, moving students to follow the dictates of reason alone, cannot proceed without two related features of reason, its infallibility and its inherent attractiveness. These two, but especially the latter give reason a transcendent if not divine status, akin to Providential grace. The article claims that this not only gives education a central role in society's improvement, but it challenges Taylor's claim that Providential deism is an eclipse of grace. It does so by arguing that in this transition Providential grace comes in the form of reason's inherent attractiveness and that good education is key to expose students to this inherent attractiveness of reason.