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Wollaston, William

WOLLASTON, WILLIAM (1650-1724), English philosophical writer, was born at Coton-Clanford in Staffordshire, on the 26th of March 1659. On leaving Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in 1681, he became an assistant master at the Birmingham grammarschool, and took holy orders. In 1688 an uncle left him a fortune. He then moved to London, married a kdy of wealth, and devoted himself to learning and philosophy. He embodied his views in the one book by which he is remembered, The Religion of Nature Delineated (ist ed. 1722; 2nd ed. 1724). He died in October 1724.

Wollaston's Religion of Nature, which falls between Clarke's Discourse of the Unchangeable Obligations of Natural Religion and Butler's Sermons, was one of the popular philosophical boolcs of its day. To the 8th edition (1750) was added a life of the author. The book was designed to be an answer to two questions: Is there such a thing as natural religion? and, If there is, what is it? Wollaston starts with the assumption that religion and morality are identical, and labours to show that religion is " the pursuit of happiness by the practice of truth and reason." He claims originality for his theory that the moral evil is the practical denial of a true proposition and moral good the affirmation of it (see ETHICS). Wollaston also published anonymously a small book, On the Design of the Book of Ecclesiastes, or the_ Unreasonableness of Men's Restless Contention for the Present Enjoyments, represented in an English Poem (London, i6gi).

See John Clarke, Examination of the Notion of Moral Good and Evil advanced in a late book entitled The Religion of Nature Delineated (London, 1725); Drechsler, Uber Wollaston's Moral-Philosophie (Erlangen, 1802) ; Sir Leslie Stephen's History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century (London, 1876), ch. ih. and ch. ix. ; H. Sidgwick's History of Ethics (1902), pp. 198 sq.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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