Who is William Paley?June 26, 2021
English theologian, philosopher. He introduced Theological Utilitarianism.
Born in Peterborough on July 1743, he died in Lincoln on May 25, 1805. Paley was educated there when his father, a pastor, was made head of Giggleswick Primary School. He studied mathematics at Christ’s College, Cambridge University, which he entered in 1759. He became a lecturer at Cambridge University in 1766 and a pastor in 1767. When he married in 1776, he left his post at the university, as per the rules. He held various positions within the church, taking on the vice-diocese of Carlisle.
Paley attributed the British hedonistic moral tradition to a divine source. What he is trying to do is to show utilitarianism as God’s command and to base this moral theory on a religious basis. According to Paley, human action is directed towards pleasure. Therefore, it is utility that determines behavior. God wanted man to be happy both in this world and the next. Happiness is in the general good. Virtue is to do good to humanity, it is determined by a utilitarian principle that aims eternal happiness and is based on the will of God. Action for the general good is God’s duty to man. Morality is the study of this duty.
Moral behavior is behavior that increases overall happiness. He should do actions that are good, and avoid actions that detract from general happiness. It will suffice to refer to “natural light” or to study the Bible to understand that the divine will is the basis for morality in general utility. In order to understand whether an action increases the general benefit, it is necessary to examine the consequences of that action.
With his pragmatic attitude, Paley opposes the moral views of Scottish Common Sense School philosophers. He rejects the concept of “moral sense” put forward by Reid and Stewart, and criticizes the approaches that base their moral judgments on principles such as innateness, instinct or intuition. According to him, the emergence of moral behavior depends on understanding, liking and approving that some actions are beneficial. Approved and appreciated action is for the general good.
In proving the existence of God, Paley relies on his observations. If asked how a rock encountered while walking around the mountain got to its location, the answer to be given is that the rock stood there, even if nothing is known about it. No one would be surprised by such an answer. However, if this question is asked about a watch found while walking on the road, the answer to be given in the absence of information will be strange this time. Because it is obvious that the parts of the watch that display great delicacy and balance were brought together for a purpose. This purpose is to show the time. When we look at nature, the bones and muscles of humans, animals and insects have come together in a purposeful balance, like the parts of a clock. Therefore, God as the maker of man and animal must exist.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook