Item of the Day: Priestley’s Memoirs (1806)

Full title:  Memoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley, to the Year 1795, Written by Himself: With a Continuation, to the Time of his Decease, By His Son, Joseph Priestley: And Observations on his Writings, By Thomas Cooper, President Judge of the 4th District of Pennsylvania: and the Rev. William Christie.  Northumberland: Printed by Jogn Binns.  1806.

Appendix, No. 2.

Of Dr. Priestley’s Metaphysical Writings.

The principle source of objection to Dr. Priestley in England, certainly arose from his being a dissenter; from his opposition to the hierarchy, and the preposterous alliance, between Church and State: an alliance, by which the contracting parties seem tacitly agreed to support the pretensions of each other, the one to keep the people in religious, the other in civil bondage.  His socinian doctrines in theology, and the heterodoxy of his metaphysical opinions, though they added much to the popular outcry raised against him, were not less obnoxious to the generality of Dissenters, than to the Clergy of the Church of England.  Nor is it a slight proof of the integrity of his character, and his boldness in the pursuit of truth, that he did not hesitate to step forward the avowed advocate of opinions, which his intimate and most valuable friends, and the many who looked up to him as the ornament of dissenting interest, regarded with sentiments of horror, as equally destructive of civil society and true religion. 

The extreme difference observable between the apparent properties of animal and inanimate matter, easily led to the opinion of something more as necessary to thought, and the phenomena of mind, than mere juxta position of the elements, whereof our bodies are composed.  The very antient opinion also of a state of existence after death, prevalant in the most uncivilized as well as enlightened states of society, confirmed this opinion of a separate and immortal part of the human system : for it was sufficiently evident, that no satisfactory hopes of a futurity after death, could be founded on the perishable basis of the human body.  It is only of late days, and from the extention of anatomical and physiological knowledge, that the theory, and the facts of animal organization have been at all understood; and without the conjunction of physiology with metaphysics, the latter would have remained to eternity, as it has continued for ages, a mere collection of sophisms, and a science of grammatical quibbling.  The doctrine of a future state, and that of an immaterial and immortal soul, became therefore mutual supports to each other; and herin the civil power willingly joined in aid of the dogmas of metaphysical theology, from observing the convenience that might arise in the government of civil societies, from inculcating a more complete sanction of rewards and punishments for actions in this life, by means of the dispensations in a life to come[…]  

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Filed under 1800's, Biography, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Posted by Matthew Williams

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