William Paley (July 1743 – 25 May 1805) was an English Christian apologist, philosopher, and utilitarian (...) best known for his exposition of the teleological argument for the existence of God in his work Natural Theology, which made use of the watchmaker analogy (also see natural theology).
(...) He lectured on Samuel Clarke, Joseph Butler and John Locke in his systematic course on moral philosophy, which subsequently formed the basis of his Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy; (...)
(...) The book was published in 1785 under the title of The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, (...) Paley strenuously supported the abolition of the slave trade, and his attack on slavery in the book was instrumental in drawing greater public attention to the evil trade. In 1789 a speech he gave on the subject in Carlisle was published.
Some of his other political, social and economic ideas are remarkably advanced. He [:]
- defends the right of the poor to steal, particularly if they are in need of food,
- and proposes a graduated income tax in order to limit excessive accumulations of wealth in few hands.
- He was also an advocate of enabling women to take up careers, rather than perpetually to depend on the property owned and inherited by male relations. (He was well aware of the fact that women lower in the social scale worked - his argument was with the system which prevented talented and capable middle-class women from taking a role in the economy.)
Paley's famous, and controversial, fable of the pigeons, which has a strong criticism of the system of property ownership and of the draconian means used to defend it - the Bloody Code - is found in Book III of Principles. John Law tried to get Paley to remove the passage, because it would prevent him becoming a bishop. Paley refused.
Paley's Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy was one of the most influential philosophical texts in late Enlightenment Britain. It was cited in several Parliamentary debates over the corn laws in Britain, and in debates in the US Congress. The book remained a set textbook at Cambridge well into the Victorian era. Even Charles Darwin was required to read it when he studied at Christ's College. But it was Natural Theology that Darwin was most impressed with, though it was not a book undergraduates were required to read.
Paley is also remembered for his contributions to the philosophy of religion, utilitarian ethics and Christian apologetics. (...) The main thrust of his argument was that God's design of the whole creation could be seen in the general happiness, or well-being, that was evident in the physical and social order of things. Such a book fell within the broad tradition of natural theology works written during the Enlightenment; and this explains why Paley based much of his thought on Ray (1691) and Derham (1711) and Nieuwentyt (1750).
(...) Perhaps the most famous is his analogy between a watch and the world. Historians, philosophers and theologians often call this the Watchmaker analogy. The germ of the idea is to be found in ancient writers who used sundials and Ptolemaic epicycles to illustrate the divine order of the world. These types of examples can be seen in the work of the ancient philosopher Cicero, especially in his De natura deorum, ii. 87 and 97 (see Hallam, Literature of Europe, ii. 385, note.). The watch analogy was widely used in the Enlightenment, by deists and Christians alike. Thus, Paley's use of the watch (and other mechanical objects like it) continued a long and fruitful tradition of analogical reasoning that was well received by those who read Natural Theology when it was published in 1802.
Since Paley is often read in university courses that address the philosophy of religion, the timing of his design argument has sometimes perplexed modern philosophers. Earlier in the century David Hume had argued against notions of design with counter examples drawn from monstrosity, imperfect forms of testimony and probability, and it has been assumed that Paley could not have read Hume. (...) Hume's examples ring true with many 21st century readers, and they appealed to some of Paley's 18th-century contemporaries as well. Paley adopted a number of Hume's points, although he rejected most (but not all) of those aspects of his arguments which were considered to be inconsistent with Christian theology. (...) Notably, Paley and Hume both rejected Scottish moral sense theory, on the grounds that one could not know with certainty that there was such a thing as a moral sense. Both based their philosophical hermeneutic in probability theory. Notions of evidence and probability were different then, being based in legal thought rather than statistics. Hume was trained as a lawyer, and Paley was regarded by his peers, some of whom were prominent lawyers themselves, as having one of the most acute legal minds of his age. Hume's arguments were only accepted gradually by the reading public, and his philosophical works sold poorly until agnostics like T H Huxley championed Hume's philosophy in the 19th century.
Today, Paley's name evokes both reverence and revulsion and his work is cited accordingly by authors seeking to frame the history of human thought. Even Richard Dawkins, an opponent of the design argument, described himself as a neo-paleyan in The Blind Watchmaker. Today, as in his own time (though for different reasons), Paley is a controversial figure, a lightning rod for both sides in the contemporary "war between science and religion". Consequently, it is difficult to read him with objectivity, as his writings reflect the thought of his time, but as Dawkins observed, his was a strong and logical approach to evidence, whether human or natural. The Oxford constitutional theorist A.V. Dicey had his pupils read the Evidences to teach them about legal reasoning. It is for such reasons that Paley's writings, Natural Theology included, stand as a notable body of work in the canon of Western thought.