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Paley, William (1743–1805)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DB056-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 17, 2024, from

Article Summary

William Paley, theologian and moral philosopher, expressed and codified the views and arguments of orthodox Christianity and the conservative moral and political thought of eighteenth-century England. Paley says that his works form a unified system based on natural religion. Like others during this period, Paley thought that reason alone, unaided by revelation, would establish many Christian theses. He is confident that a scientific understanding of nature will support the claim that God is the author of nature. Paley belongs to the anti-deist tradition that holds that revelation supplements natural religion. The most important revelation is God’s assurance of an afterlife in which the virtuous are rewarded and the vicious are punished. Natural and revealed religion, in turn, provide the foundation for morality. God’s will determines what is right and his power to reward and punish us in the afterlife provide the moral sanctions. On the whole, Paley is concerned with sustaining Christian faith, and ensuring that people known what their duties are and do them.

Citing this article:
Brown, Charlotte R.. Paley, William (1743–1805), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DB056-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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