Paley, William, Dd
Paley, William, D.D.
an eminent English divine and philosopher, and one of the most noted characters of the 18th century, was born at Peterborough, July, 1743. He was descended from an old and respectable family in Craven, in the West Riding of Yorkshire. During his infancy his father removed to Giggleswick, in Yorkshire, near the family property, having been appointed head-master of King Edward's School in that place. William was educated under the paternal roof, and speedily distinguished himself by great abilities, a studious disposition, and a ripeness and discrimination of intellect. In his seventeenth year he was entered a sizar of Christ's College, Cambridge. But unhappily, seduced by the influence of a few gay and dissolute companions, the first two years of his college life were entirely lost or misspent. The bad fruits of this vagabond life made him a sadder and a wiser man, and with his wisdom there came that fortitude which helped him to disentangle himself from this disgraceful connection, and he resolved on a course of devoted study. So rapid was his progress that in 1763 he took the bachelor's degree with the highest honors. He then taught for three years in an academy at Greenwich. In 1765 he obtained the first prize for a prose Latin dissertation — the subject being A Comparison between the Stoic and Epicurean Philosophy with respect to the Influence of each on the Morals of a People, in which he characteristically argued in favor of the latter. Next year he was elected a fellow of his alma mater; Christ's College, and soon after colleague to Dr. Law in his public lectures on moral and political philosophy, as well as on the New Testament. This early occupation directed Paley's mind to subjects which, when more maturely studied, he gave to the public in works that have obtained him extensive fame as an author. Both as a college lecturer and a preacher, he was greatly admired for his sound sense and discretion, especially for his extraordinary skill in simplifying the most abstruse and difficult subjects, and bringing them down to the level of the humblest capacity. He had entered the priesthood in 1767, and in 1776, on his marriage. had of course been obliged to yield up his fellowship. His early patron. Law, who had become bishop of Carlisle, and who was well aware of Paley's merits, now promoted him in the Church by presenting him first to the vicarage of Dalston, Cumberland, then to Appleby, Westmoreland, till, in the course of years, he rose to be archdeacon of Carlisle (1782), and chancellor of the diocese (1785). He was a great friend to the abolition of the slave-trade; and in 1789, when the first great discussion in the House of Commons was expected, he drew up a short but appropriate and judicious treatise, entitled Comments against the Unjust Pretensions of Slave-dealers and Holders to be indemnified by pecuniary Allowances at the public Expense, in case the Slave-trade should be abolished, and sent it to the committee. The bishop of Durham, entertaining great respect for him, and recognising the valuable service which Paley had rendered to the abolition cause, presented him with the valuable rectory of Bishop Wearmouth, worth twelve hundred pounds a year. His last years, largely given to literary labors, were extremely .trying because of his impaired physical condition, but he bore his bodily pain meekly, ever trusting in the kind dispositions of a loving heavenly Father. Paley's piety with becoming progress became more fervent, elevated, and established as he advanced in life. He lingered, notwithstanding the malignity of his disease, until May 25, 1805, when he suddenly died. Dr. Paley was inclined to corpulency, and his countenance was no index of the intellectual and moral attributes — the suavity, benevolence, strong good sense, and clear judgment that distinguished him. Among his friends no man was more highly or more justly esteemed than Dr. Paley; his literary attainments were exceeded only by his many amiable traits of frankness and good-humor. In matters of opinion he was liberal- minded and charitable. He was a friend to free inquiry and an able supporter of the principles of civil liberty, as we have seen above in his position on the slave-trade. In his theology he was suspected of heterodoxy, having manifested a strong inclination to Arian sentiments. As a writer, he is distinguished not so much for originality as for that power of intellect by which he grasps a subject in all its bearings, and handles it in a manner entirely his own; for the consummate skill with which he disposes and follows out his argument, and for a style peculiarly suited to philosophical investigations strong, exact, and clear, and abounding in words and phrases which, though sometimes homely, express and illustrate his meaning most forcibly and most distinctly. Sir James Mackintosh, who is not always ready to endorse Paley's philosophical teachings, gives this enthusiastic commendation of Paley as an author: "This excellent writer, who, after Clarke and Butler, ought to be ranked among the brightest ornaments of the English Church in the 18th century, is in the history of philosophy naturally placed after Tucker, to whom, with praiseworthy liberality, he owns his extensive obligations.
His style is as near perfection in its kind as any in our language" (Works , 1, 183). The greatest and most important of Paley's works is The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy (1785; with Dissertations and Notes by Alexander Bain, 1853; annotated by Richard Whately, 1859). The general outlines of it had been delivered as lectures to: his pupils when he was a tutor in the university. In the first part of the "Principles," which treats of moral philosophy only (after giving some account of the law of honor, the law of the land, and the Scriptures, as rules of action; rejecting, after Locke, the notion of a moral sense, or an innate. capacity of moral judgment; and defining what he means by human happiness and virtue), Paley proceeds to explain the principles and to lay down the foundation of his system. His desire of introducing into the foundation of his system too much of the exactness of demonstrative science, has occasionally led him to define things which in their nature are indeterminate and cannot be brought within the limits of a precise and formal definition. His account of the law of honor and of virtue is of this character. He is also too fond of putting forward disjunctive propositions, and reasoning upon them as if they were exhaustive, as in the instance of the methods of administering justice. Hence his applications are sometimes fettered and his conclusions, defective. The gist of his views on these topics is found in book 2, "On Moral Obligation." A man is said to be obliged when he is urged by a violent motive resulting from the command of another. In moral matters, the motive is the expectation of future reward or punishment, and the command is from God. Hence private happiness is the motive, and the will of God the rule. But how is the will of God known? From two sources — the declarations of Scripture, and the light of nature; and the, method of coming at the divine will concerning any action by the light of nature is to inquire into the tendency of the action to promote or diminish the general happiness. Here, then, Paley arrives at his principle that "whatever is expedient is right. It is the utility of any moral rule alone which constitutes the obligation of it." Its utility is to be determined by a consideration of general consequences; it must be expedient upon the whole, in the long run, in all its effects collateral and remote, as well as in those which are immediate and direct. Having settled his principle, he proceeds to apply it to the determination of moral duties. He makes a threefold division of duties: namely, those which a man owes to his neighbor, or relative duties; those which he owes to himself; and those which he owes to God. The first set are determinate or indeterminate — determinate, such as promises, contracts, oaths. The obligation to keep a promise, according to the principle of expediency, arises from the circumstance that "confidence in promises is essential to the intercourse of human life;" and the sense in which a promise is to be interpreted is that which the promiser knowingly and willingly conveys to the mind. of the person to whom it is made. Contracts are mutual promises, and therefore governed by the same principles; consequently, whatever is expected by one side, and known to be so expected by the other, is to be deemed a part or condition of the contract. Oaths are to be interpreted according to the "animus imponentis," that is, in the sense which the imposer intends by them. Indeterminate duties are charity, gratitude, and the like. They are called indeterminate because no precise and formal limits can be assigned to their exercise. Another class belonging to this first set of duties originate from the constitution of the sexes. The second set of duties are those which a man owes to himself. As there are few duties or crimes whose effects are confined to the individual, little is said about them. A man's duty to himself consists in the care of his faculties and the preservation of his person, and the guarding against those practices which tend to injure the one or the other. 'he third division of duties are those which are due to God. In one sense, every duty is a duty to God; but there are some of which God is the object as well as the author: these are worship and reverence. The second part, which is devoted to the elements of political knowledge, is pervaded, in determining the grounds of civil government, and the reasons of obedience to it, by the same. principle as that which constitutes the foundation of his moral system — "Utility." Public utility is the foundation of all government. Hence, whatever irregularity or violations of equity, or fraud and violence may have been perpetrated in the acquisition of supreme power, when the state is once peaceably settled, and the good of its subjects promoted, obedience to it becomes duty. On the other hand, whatever may have been the original legitimacy of the ruling .authority, if it become corrupt, negligent of the public welfare, and cease to satisfy the expectations of the governed, it is right to put it down and establish another in its place. Writing under a government which holds to the union of Church and State, Paley of course prominently treated of religious establishments, and here also he allows the doctrine of expediency to have a controlling influence in his views and conclusions. He teaches that, as no form of Church government is laid down in the New Testament, a religious establishment is no part of Christianity; it is only the means of inculcating it. But the means must be judged of according to their efficiency; this is the only standard; consequently the authority of a Church establishment is founded in its utility. For the same reason tests and subscriptions ought to be made as simple and easy as possible; but when no present necessity requires unusual strictness, confessions of faith ought to be converted into articles of peace. In establishing a religion, where unanimity cannot be. maintained, the will of the majority should be consulted, because less evil and inconvenience must attend this than any other plan. On the same principle persecution is condemned and toleration justified; because the former never produced any real change of opinion, while the latter encourages inquiry and advances the progress of truth. Objection has frequently been taken to the principles on which Paley rests his system (comp. Dug. Stewart, Elements, vol. 2, and his Philos. of the Active and Moral Powers; Robert Hall, sermon on Infidelity; Fr.Wayland, Elem. of Moral Philos.; and the defence byWainwright, Paley's Theory of Morals, etc. ), but the lucidity and appositeness of his illustrations are beyond all praise. If his treatise cannot be regarded as a profoundly philosophical work, it is at any rate one of the clearest and most sensible ever written, even by an Englishman; and at least it brushed off into oblivion the shallow and muddy mysticism that had long enveloped the philosophy of politics. If it failed to- sound the depths of "moral obligation," there are excuses for this failure. Says Dr. Blackie, "Paley's definition of virtue: the doing good to mankind in obedience to the will of God, for the sake of everlasting happiness, characterizes the man, the book, the age, the country, and the profession to which he belonged, admirably. It is a definition that, taken as a matter of fact, in all likelihood expressed the feelings of 999 out of every 1000 British Christians living in the generation immediately preceding the French Revolution" (Four Phases of Morals, p. 308). In 1790 appeared Paley's most original and valuable work, the Horce Paulince, or the Truth of the Scripture History
of St. Paul evinced by a Comparison of the Epistles which bear his Name with the Acts of the Apostles, and with one another. The aim of this admirable work is to prove, by a great variety of "undesigned coincidences," the improbability, if not impossibility, of the usual infidel hypothesis of his time, viz. that the New Testament is a "cunningly devised fable." It was dedicated to his friend John Law, then bishop of Killala, in Ireland, to whose favor. he had been indebted for most of his preferments. In 1794 was published Paley's next important work, entitled A View of the Evidences of Christianity (republished seventeen times in twenty-seven years, and frequently edited and widely circulated, latest by Whately [N.Y. 1865. 12mo]). It is not equal in originality to its predecessor, but the use made of the labors of such eminent scholars as Lardner and bishop Douglas is generally reckoned most dexterous and effective, as the materials are wrought up with so much address and disposed with so much skill, and the argument is laid before the reader in so clear and convincing a form, that it must be pronounced one of the most valuable and important books of the kind. The argument, which is opened and illustrated with singular ability, is briefly this: A revelation can be made only by means of miraculous interference. To work a miracle is the sole prerogative of the Supreme Being. If therefore miracles have been wrought in confirmation of a religion, they are the visible testimony of God to the divine authority of that religion. Consequently, if the miracles alleged in behalf of Christianity were actually performed, the Christian religion must be the true one. Whether the miracles were actually performed or not depends upon the credibility of those who professed to be witnesses of them, that is, the apostles and first disciples of Jesus Christ; and their credibility is demonstrated from this consideration — "that they passed their lives in labors, dangers, and sufferings voluntarily undergone in attestation of the accounts which they delivered, and solely in consequence of their belief in those accounts; and that they also submitted, from the same motive, to new rules of conduct." They could not have been deceived; they must have known whether Christ was an impostor or not; they must have known whether the miracles he did were real or pretended. Neither could they have been deceivers; they had no intelligible purpose to accomplish by deception; they had everything to lose by it. On the other hand, by being still — by letting the subject rest they might have escaped the sufferings they endured. It is perfectly inconceivable, and entirely out of all the principles of human action, that men should set about propagating what they know to be a lie, and yet not only gain nothing by it, but expose themselves to the manifest consequences — enmity and hatred, danger and death. In 1802 Paley published perhaps the most widely popular of all his works, Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, which, however, is based, and to a large extent borrowed from the Religious Philosopher, the work of a Dutch philosopher named Nieuwelntyt, an English translation of which appeared in 1718-1719. The plagiarisms are most palpable, but have been accounted for by Paley's own method of composition. The Natural Theology was "made up" from his loose papers and notes written while he was a college tutor, and in the course of such a long time as elapsed since its first compilation, Paley had forgotten the sources from whence he derived them. It is also but fair to state that he has taken nothing which he has not greatly improved — "nihil tetigit, quod non ornavit." Paley has made that clear, impressive, and convincing which in the original was confused, illogical, and tiresome. He has added, too, more than he has borrowed; and, as in all the rest of his productions, the matter is arranged and the argument followed out with consummate judgment. His object is to establish the fact of benevolent design in the works of the visible creation. Hence the existence of a Supreme Designing Intelligence is inferred; and his personality, unity, ahd goodness demonstrated. It is not only one of the most convincing, but one of the most delightful books in the English language. "In the character of a defender of the faith," says the Quarterly Review, "we would hold up Paley to almost unmingled admiration; in any other character his praise must be more qualified. The department of theology with which alone Paley was thoroughly conversant was the Evidences. He had not the necessary qualifications for a complete investigation of the doctrines. But see him how we will, we always find the good sense of a plain, shrewd, practical Yorkshireman displayed on these branches of religion. We think it next to impossible for an unbeliever to read the Evidences, in the order of his arrangement; unshaken. His Natural Theology is philosophy in its highest and noblest sense, scientific without the jargon of science; profound, but so clear that its depth is disguised. He cares not whence he fetches his illustrations, provided they are to the purpose." A valuable edition of this work, with notes and scientific illustrations, was published (1.836-39) by lord Brougham and Sir C. Bell, the former furnishing a preliminary discourse on natural theology. This discourse is divided into two parts: the first contains an exposition of the nature and character of the evidence on which natural theology rests, with the intention of proving that it is as much a science of induction as either physical or mental philosophy; and the second is devoted to a consideration of the advantages and pleasures which the study is calculated to afford. Subjoined to the volume are some notes on various metaphysical points connected with the subject. Besides the above works, Paley was the author of various sermons and tracts. Several editions of his entire works have also been published. One in four volumes, containing also posthumous sermons, and published by his son, the Rev. Edmund Paley, in 1838, may be regarded as the standard edition. There is also an American edition, with Life (Phila. 1851, 8vo). See, in addition to the authorities already quoted, Memoirs of Wm. Paley, by W. Meadley (Sunderl. 1809, 8vo, and often); Ueberweg, Hist. of Philos. ii, 91, 391; McCosh, Scotch Philos. p. 301; Morell, Hist. Philos. 19th Century, p. 103, 267 sq.; Hagenbach, Hist. of Doct. vol. ii (see Index); The Quart. Rev. (Lond.), ii, 83 sq.; 9:388 sq.; Encyclop. Brit. s.v.; English Cyclop. s.v.; Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Auth. s.v.