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Price, Richard (1723–91)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DB057-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 15, 2021, from

Article Summary

Richard Price was a Welsh dissenting minister who contributed widely to philosophy and public life in latter-eighteenth-century Britain. The leading British ethical rationalist of the period, Price did much to establish intuitionistic and deontological traditions in ethics. He put forward searching criticisms of alternative empiricist conceptions, arguing that they could not account for morality’s necessity and that they lacked an adequate theory of moral agency. More constructively, he argued that, contrary to the empiricists, all knowledge depends on the contribution of reason, and that rationalistic moral knowledge is no more problematic in principle than ordinary empirical knowledge. He also articulated a normative ethics of integrity that stressed the duty diligently to search out moral truth and then to act on the truth as one sees it.

As a political philosopher, Price made fundamental contributions through his doctrine of liberty as self-determination. The moral duty individuals have to determine themselves by their best moral judgment, Price believed, ultimately grounds the values of political liberty, independence, and democracy as well. Price’s radicalism on these scores earned him the famous opposition of Edmund Burke. Nor was Price’s sponsorship of these ideas simply theoretical. He was an important friend of the American Revolution, and his pamphlets analysing and defending it were taken seriously by proponents and opponents alike.

Price also did important work on the mathematical theory of probability and in proposing and instituting various social and economic reforms and practices upon its basis. He was instrumental in making Thomas Bayes’ ideas about probability accessible to the learned world, and in making use of these and other probabilistic theories in developing insurance, self-help, and other financial schemes.

Citing this article:
Darwall, Stephen. Price, Richard (1723–91), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DB057-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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