Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy.

PALEY William (1785.)


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4to (261 x 219mm). [1], vii, [1], xxi, [1], vi, 657, pp. Without the half title. Some browning to the edges of the endpapers, extending slightly to the title page, small paper repair to margin of 3B3. Contemporary polished calf, spine with five single raised gilt bands, the second panel lettered in gilt on red morocco label, the rest with elaborate gilt floral tooling, with gilt Greek-key roll at head and tail (boards a little rubbed, front joint slightly cracked, but very much holding). London: Printed for R. Faulder,

First edition of William Paley’s first major contribution to philosophical thought. Originally formulated on the basis of his hugely popular lectures on moral philosophy at Christ’s College, Cambridge between 1766-1776, Paley wrote and published his Principles of Moral and Political Economy shortly after becoming Archdeacon of Carlisle in 1782. A diverse work, traversing political, proto-utilitarian, ethical, scientific, and theological concerns, its great significance lies in Paley’s contribution to the then evolving concepts of liberty and virtue, which straddled the transformation from eighteenth-century ‘whiggism’ into nineteenth-century ’liberalism’.


Despite being best known for his teleological argument for the existence of God - that is, the so-called watchmaker argument as expressed in his A View of the Evidences of Christianity (1794) and Natural Theology (1802) - Paley's Principles was an instant success. With its didactic style and lucidity of prose, it was almost immediately adopted as a required text for all undergraduates at Cambridge, continuing as a staple of the syllabus long into the nineteenth-century. Indeed, Charles Darwin would later acknowledge that his study of Paley's works at Cambridge 'was the only part of the academic course which ... was of the least use' to him (quoted in Printing and the Mind of Man, 245).


A lengthy two-part review in The Monthly Review concludes: "But we must conclude with recommending this work to the serious perusal of every Reader, who applies himself to the most important of all studies, the study of virtue." (Vol. LXIII, 1786, p. 414).


Provenance: William Constable, F.R.S. & F.A.S. (1721-1791) of Burton Constable Hall, East Riding of Yorkshire, with his armorial bookplate; an avid eighteenth-century collector, gathering a range of objects from works of art to numismatics, and scientific instruments to natural history specimens. With a few of Constable's characteristic pencil marginal notes and dashes to Paley's dedication to Edmund Law, Bishop of Carlisle; leaf 3D3 folded-in as a page-marker before binding and hence partially uncut. 

Stock Code: 221240

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