English Deists Shaftesbury, Mandeville, Dodwell, Bolingbroke
The Deistic controversy died out in England about the middle of the eighteenth century. The Deistic literature had exhausted its stock of materials, while its tenets had never obtained a strong hold on the people. The cold, inflexible, rational supernaturalism of Paley (d. 1805) was considered as the final settlement of these long conflicts.
From the beginning, however, there had been a class of
critics, representatives of the old Renaissance spirit, and inimical, therefore,
to the Stoic and Christian ethics, who had only partially shared the views of
the Deists, and in some ways had advanced to a position far beyond them.
Shaftesbury (d. 1713), in opposition to the utilitarian and supernaturalist ethics of Locke and Clarke, developed the conception of a strictly autonomous moral code having its basis in a moral instinct in man whose end is to bring individual and society to harmonious self-perfection.
Bernard Mandeville (1733) adopted the Epicureanism of Hobbes and Gassendi, studied moral problems in the skeptical spirit of Montaigne and La Rochefoucauld, gave the preference to Bayle over the Deists, and developed empiricism into a sort of Agnosticism. He criticized the prevailing morality as a more conventional lie.
Christianity-which the Deists had wished, while reforming, to maintain the
declared impossible, not only as a religion, but as a system of morality. His
Free Thought on Religion (1720) has caused him to be included in the
ranks of the Deists; but his real position is brought out in the Fable of the
Henry Dodwell (d. 1711), in Christianity not Founded on Argument (1742), attempted to demonstrate the invalidity of the rationalistic basis for Christian truth constructed by the Deists, from the very nature of the religious impulse, which, being opposed to rational argumentation, calls for the support of tradition and mystery, and finds fascination in the attitude of credo quia absurdum.
The only proof proceeds from a mystic inner
enlightenment; logical demonstrations like those of Clarke or the Boyle lectures
are only destructive of religion. Bolingbroke (d. 1751) voices the French
influence in a capricious and dilettante manner.
Despising all religions as the product of enthusiasm, fraud, and superstition, he nevertheless concedes to real Christianity the possession of moral and rational truth; an advocate of freedom of thought, he supports an established church in the interest of the State and of public morals (Letters on the Study and Use of History 1752; Essays, 1753).
See the following in three parts:
- French Deism: deistic Humanism, Pantheism
- The English Deists: Introduction
- Is it Unitarianism or Deism?
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- The French Deists: J. J. Rousseau
- Romanticism, Rousseau, and Primitivism
- Rousseau: An Interesting Madman
- Rousseau and the Revolt Against Reason
- Information on John Locke (Unitarian)
- John Locke on reason and faith.