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William Wollaston

William Wollaston (1659-1724), English philosophical writer, was born at Coton-Clanford in Staffordshire, on March 26 1659.

On leaving Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, in 1681. he became an assistant master at the Birmingham grammar school, and took holy orders. In 1688 an uncle left him a fortune. He then moved to London, married a lady 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 (1st 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 books 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, 1691).

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

There is also an article on William Hyde Wollaston.

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