Reforming Witherspoon’s Legacy at Princeton: John Witherspoon, Samuel Stanhope Smith and James McCosh on didactic Enlightenment

Charles Bradford Bow (Corresponding Author)

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4 Citations (Scopus)


The College of New Jersey (which later became Princeton University) provides an example of how Scottish philosophy influenced American higher education in an institutional context during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This article compares the administrations of John Witherspoon (served from 1768 to 1794), Samuel Stanhope Smith (served from 1795 to 1812) and James McCosh (served from 1868 to 1888) at Princeton and examines their use of Scottish philosophy in restructuring the curriculum and reforming its institutional purpose. While presiding over Princeton during its most significant transitional moments, these philosophers of the Scottish School of Common Sense instituted different versions of moral education. Meanwhile, Witherspoon's legacy of balancing the interests of Evangelicalism and Scottish philosophy as Princeton's driving purpose influenced the creation and reception of nineteenth-century programmes of moral education. The broader question this article addresses is: how did the interconnecting points among Scottish philosophy, Calvinism and moral education inform notions of didactic Enlightenment at Princeton across a century?
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)650-669
Number of pages20
JournalHistory of European Ideas
Issue number5
Early online date31 Oct 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2013



  • Scottish philosophy
  • John Witherspoon
  • Samuel Stanhope Smith
  • James McCosh
  • education
  • Evangelicalism

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