Liberty and necessity in eighteenth-century Britain: the Clarke-Collins and Price-Priestley controversies
AbstractThis essay presents an analysis of two eighteenth-century controversies on liberty and necessity of the will . The first debate between Anthony Collins and Samuel Clarke took place in the early part of the century, and that between Richard Price and Joseph Priestley in the second half. The bulk of the essay relates to Clarke and Collins. In Chapter One I introduce the question of liberty and necessity in the context of a challenge to traditional theism through the work of Thomas Hobbes; Hobbes' compatibilist arguments were later adapted by Collins. In Chapter Two I consider Clarke's rationalist theology and his arguments for libertarianism presented in reaction to Hobbes in A Demonstration of the Being and Attributes of God (based on his 1704 Boyle Lecture series), and in Chapter Three the influence of John Locke on Collins' compatibilist position. Chapter Four is an examination of the texts of the debate itself , in the 'Dodwell' pamphlets published between 1707 and 1709, in Collins' A Philosophical Inquiry- Concerning Human Liberty (1717), and in Clarke's Remarks (1718) on Collin\s' book. I draw out evidence from the texts to show that, though nominally a general survey of the arguments, Collins wrote his Philosophical Inquiry with Clarke specifically in mind. In Chapter Five I turn to the later controversy between Richard Price and Joseph Priestley, considering Price's A Review of the Principal Questions and Difficulties in Morals (1758, revised 1769), Priestley's reply in The Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity Illustrated (1777), and finally the correspondence between them, published as A Free Discussion of the Doctrines of Materialism and Philosophical Necessity (1778). Price and Priestley were followers of Clarke and Collins respectively, and adapt many of their arguments. I argue that it is Priestley who develops the debate by incorporating Hume's reworking of causation in his Treatise (1739-40) and Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1st edition 1748), a conception which is rejected by Price. I conclude, however, that it is Price, in his development of Clarke's arguments, who comes closest of the four to a satisfactory position.
Arts, Faculty of
Philosophy, Department of