William Paley

1743-1805. Anglican scholar; archdeacon of Carlisle from 1780. Educated at Cambridge, he gained fame through his books, several of which had long-lasting influence as textbooks, especially in his own university, though their power to convince was eroded in the nineteenth century by scientific and philosophical developments. He was not an original or subtle thinker, but was an “unrivalled expositor of plain arguments.” He claimed that his works formed a system; his thought drew upon and reflected the main elements of English theology as molded by eighteenth-century controversies. His Natural Theology (1802) sought to prove the being and goodness of God from the order of the world; the Evidences of Christianity (1794) argues on both internal and external grounds that Christianity is the true revelation of God; his Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy (1785), based on Cambridge lectures, is concerned, like several other works, with the duties resulting from natural and revealed religion. Here his utilitarianism anticipated Bentham, except that Paley retained a supernatural sanction. Paley took a lax view of subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles,* perhaps he inclined to Unitarianism at certain points, and he was a conservative apologist for the Church of England and the British Constitution. Nevertheless the sincerity and strength of his faith has too often been underestimated.

See M.L. Clarke, Paley: Evidences for the Man (1974).