Paley’s first major contribution to philosophical thought in French translation

PALEY, W. Des différentes formes de gouvernement, et de leurs avantages ou désavantages respectifs; de la constitution Angloise, et de la liberté civile, Par William Paley, ….. Ouvrage traduit de l’Anglois, sur la quatrième Édition, par M. Bertin. A Paris, Chez l’Auteur, ….. & Chez Defer de Maisonneuve ….. 1789. 109, [3, blank] pp. 8vo. Original blue paper wrappers.

€ 450

Conlon 89:10307; The Dictionary of Eighteenth-Century British Philosophers, vol ii, pp. 671-677. First French edition, in fact a partial summery and translation, of Paley’s influential Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy. It was Paley’s first major contribution to philosophical thought and based on his much popular lectures on moral philosophy at Christ’s College. It is a diverse work dealing with political, proto-utilitarian, ethical, scientific and theological subjects and its great significance lies in Paley’s contribution to the then evolving concepts of liberty and virtue. “William Paley had argued in his Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy of 1785 that God’s will could be ascertained either through scripture or through the light of nature, and that the latter allowed us to determinre whether an act is right or wrong by its tendency “to promote or diminsih human happiness,” since it is God’s will that human beings live happily” (Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment, vol iv, p. 215). “Paley’s Principles is a handbook on the duties and obligations of civil life rather than a philosophical treatise. (…..) Paley believed that no special faculty is required to enable us to have moral knowledge. Thus he dismissed the views of those who have argued that morality requires either a moral sense, or an intuitive perception of right and wrong, or any other innate or instinctive capacity. (…..) The bulk of the Principles is a detailed discussion of our duties to others, to ourselves, and to God. The final part is an outline of the elements of political knowledge. The wide acclaim accorded to Paley’s work is said to have stirred Bentham to bring out his own version of the utilitarian doctrine in Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1789) (Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol vi, p 19). “His moral system, in which he is said to have anticipated Bentham, is the best statement of the utilitarianism of the eighteenth century” (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (IEP)). “Most important is Paley’s appropriation of Locke’s religious programme: to expound and defend the divine law as the rule of human life and to explore its sources in nature and revelation” (The Dictionary of Eighteenth-Century British Philosophers, with an extensive discussion of Paley’s work). – A very nice copy, uncut and with good margins.