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Utilitarianism in the Age of Enlightenment
The Moral and Political Thought of William Paley


Part of Ideas in Context

  • Date Published: June 2020
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781108464680

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About the Authors
  • This is the first book-length study of one of the most influential traditions in eighteenth-century Anglophone moral and political thought, 'theological utilitarianism'. Niall O'Flaherty charts its development from its formulation by Anglican disciples of Locke in the 1730s to its culmination in William Paley's work. Few works of moral and political thought had such a profound impact on political discourse as Paley's Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy (1785). His arguments were at the forefront of debates about the constitution, the judicial system, slavery and poverty. By placing Paley's moral thought in the context of theological debate, this book establishes his genuine commitment to a worldly theology and to a programme of human advancement. It thus raises serious doubts about histories which treat the Enlightenment as an entirely secular enterprise, as well as those which see English thought as being markedly out of step with wider European intellectual developments.

    • The first book-length treatment of an immensely influential tradition in moral philosophy
    • Offers a case study of mainstream social, political and religious thought in a momentous period in British and European history
    • Proposes a new view of the intellectual culture of the Enlightenment
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    Reviews & endorsements

    '… an impressive and enriching work.' Gregory Conti, The Review of Politics

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    Product details

    • Date Published: June 2020
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781108464680
    • length: 360 pages
    • dimensions: 155 x 230 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.54kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I. The Early Utilitarians:
    1. The development of Lockean moral philosophy
    2. Abraham Tucker and the call for 'moral policy'
    Part II. Paley's 'Moral Politics':
    3. William Paley's moral thought
    4. 'Taking the pruning knife to the branch': expediency in action
    5. Natural theology as an aid to virtue
    Part III. Paley's Politics:
    6. Utility and the science of politics
    7. Utility and the constitution
    8. Paley on crimes and punishments
    9. Utility and toleration
    Part IV. Property and Poverty:
    10. The problem of poverty
    11. From Paley to Malthus: utility and society after 1785
    Select bibliography.

  • Author

    Niall O'Flaherty, King's College London
    Niall O' Flaherty is a Lecturer in the History of European Political Thought at King's College London. His research focuses on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century moral, political and religious thought in Britain. He has published articles on William Paley and Thomas Robert Malthus, and is currently writing a book entitled Malthus and the Discovery of Poverty (forthcoming).

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