1902 Encyclopedia > Samuel Clarke

Samuel Clarke
English philosopher and divine
(1675-1729)




DR SAMUEL CLARKE (1675-1729), a celebrated Eng-lish philosopher and divine, was the son of Edward Clarke, alderman of Norwich, who had represented that city in parliament for several years. He was born October 11, 1675; and having finished his education at the free school of Norwich in 1691, removed thence to Caius College, Cambridge, where his uncommon abilities soon began to display themselves. Though the philosophy of Descartes was at that time the reigning system at the university, yet Clarke easily mastered the new system of Newton, and contributed greatly to the spread of the Newtonian philosophy by publishing an excellent translation of Rohault's Physics with notes, which he finished before he was twenty-two years of age. The system of Rohault was founded entirely upon Cartesian principles, and was previously known only through the medium of a rude Latin version. Clarke not only gave a new translation, but added to it such notes as were calculated to lead students insensibly to other and truer notions of science. " The success," says Bishop Hoadley, " answered exceedingly well to his hopes; and he may justly be styled a great benefactor to the university in this attempt." It continued to be used as a text-book in the university till supplanted by the treatises of Newton, which it had been designed to introduce. Whiston relates that, in 1697, he met young Clarke (at that time chaplain to Moore, bishop of Norwich), then wholly unknown to him, at a coffee-house in that city, where they entered into conversation about the Cartesian philosophy, particularly Rohault's Physics, which Clarke's tutor, as he tells us, had put him upon translating. " The result of this conversation was," says Whiston, "that I was greatly surprised that so young a man as Clarke then was should know so much of those sublime discoveries, which were then almost a secret to all but to a few particular mathe-maticians. Nor do I remember," continues he, " above one or two at the most, whom I had then met with, that seemed to know so much of that philosophy as Clarke." This translation of Rohault was first printed in 1697, 8vo. There have been four editions of it : the last and best is that of 1718, which has the following title :—Jacobi Rohaulti Physica. Latine vertit, recensuil, et uberioribus jam Annotationibus, ex illustrissimi Isaaci Newtoni PTiilo-sophia maximam partem haustis, amplificavit et ornavit S. Clarke, S.P.T. Accedunt etiam in hac quarta editionenwo? aliquot tabulce ceri inoisce et Annoiationes multum sunt auctce. It was translated into English, by Dr John Clarke, dean of Sarum, and published in two vols. 8vo.
Clarke afterwards turned his thoughts to divinity, and in order to qualify himself for the sacred office, devoted himself to the study of Scripture in the original, and of the primitive Christian writers. Having taken holy orders, he became chaplain to Moore, bishop of Norwich, who was ever afterwards his constant friend and patron. In 1699 he published two treatises,—one entitled Three Practical Essays on Baptism, Confirmation, and Repentance, and the other, Some Reflections on that part of a book called A myntor, or a Defence of Milton's Life, which relates to the Writings of the Primitive Fathers, and the Canon of the New Testament. In 1701 he published A Paraphrase upon the Gospel of St Matthew, which was followed, in 1702, by the Paraphrases upon the Gospels of St Mark and St Luke, and soon afterwards by a third volume upon St John. They were subsequently printed together in two volumes 8vo, and have since passed through several editions. He intended to have treated in the same manner the remaining books of the New Testament, but something accidentally interrupted the execution of his design.
Meanwhile Bishop Moore gave him the rectory of Drayton, near Norwich, and procured him a parish in the city. In 1704 he was appointed to the Boyle lectureship, and chose for his subject the Being and Attributes of God. Having been appointed to the same office in the following year, he chose for his subject the Evidences of Natural and Revealed Religion. These lectures were first printed in two distinct volumes, but were afterwards collected together, and published under the general title of A Discourse concerning the Being and Attributes of God, the Obligations of Natural Religion, and the Truth and Certainty of the Christian Revelation, in opposition to Hobbes, Spinoza, the author of the Oracles of Reason, and other Deniers of Natural and Revealed Religion.
In 1706 he wrote a refutation of some positions which had been maintained by Dr Dodwell on the immortality of the soul, and this drew him into controversy with Collins. He also at this time wrote a translation of Newton's Optics, for which the author presented him with ¿£500. In the same year also, through the influence of Bishop Moore, he obtained the rectory of St Bennet's, Paul's Wharf, London ; and he soon afterwards appeared at the court of Queen Anne, who appointed him one of her chaplains in ordinary, and afterwards, in 1709, presented him to the rectory of St James's, Westminster. On his elevation to this latter office, he took the degree of doctor in divinity, defending as his thesis the two propositions :—" 1. Nullum fidei Christiana; dogma, in Sacris Scripturis traditum, est recta; rationi dissentaneum, no article of the Christain faith, delivered in the Holy Scriptures, is disagreeable to right reason, and 2. Sineactionum humanarum libértate nidia potest esse religio, without the liberty of human actions, there can be no religion. During the same year, at the request of the author, he revised and corrected Winston's English translation of the Apostolical Constitutions.
In 1712 he published a carefully punctuated and annotated edition of Caesar's Commentaries, adorned with elegant engravings. It was printed in folio, 1712, and afterwards in 8vo, 1720, and dedicated to the duke of Marlborough. During the same year he published his celebrated treatise on The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity. It is divided into three parts. The first contains a collection and exegesis of all the texts in the New Testament relating to the doctrine of the Trinity ; in the second the doctrine is set forth at large, and explained in particular and distinct propositions ; and in the third the principal passages in the liturgy of the Church of England relating to the doctrine of the Trinity are considered. Whiston informs us that, some time before the publication of this book, a message was sent to him from Lord Godolphinand other ministers of Queen Anne, importing " that the affairs of the public were with difficulty then kept in the hands of those that were for liberty ; that it was therefore an unseasonable time for the publication of a book that would make a great noise and disturbance ; and that therefore they desired him to forbear till a fitter opportunity should offer itself,"—a message that Clarke of course entirely disregarded. The ministers were right in their conjectures ; and the work not only provoked a great number of replies, but occasioned a formal complaint from the Lower House of Convocation. Clarke, in reply, drew up an apologetic preface, and afterwards gave several explanations, which satisfied the Upper House ; and on his pledging himself that his future conduct would occasion no trouble, the matter dropped.
In 1715 and 1716 he had a discussion with Leibnitz relative to the principles of natural philosophy and religion, which was at length cut short by the death of his antagonist. A collection of the papers which passed between them was published in 1717. In 1719 he was presented by Lord Lechmere to the mastership of Wigston's hospital in Leicester. In 1724 he published seventeen sermons, eleven of which had not before been printed. In 1727, upon the death of Sir Isaac Newton, he was offered by the court the place of Master of the Mint, worth on an average from ¿£1200 to ¿61500 a year. This secular preferment, however, he absolutely refused,—a circumstance which Whiston regards as " one of the most glorious actions of his life, and affording undeniable conviction that he was in earnest in his religion." In 1728 was published "A Letter from Dr Clarke to Benjamin Hoadley, F.R.S.. occasioned by the controversy relating to the Proportion of Velocity and Force in Bodies in Motion," printed in the Philosophical Transactions. In 1729 he published the first twelve books of Homer's Iliad. This edition was printed in quarto, and dedicated to the duke of Cumberland. " The translation of Homer, who was Clarke's favourite author," says Bishop Hoadley, " with his corrections, may now be styled accurate ; and his notes, as far as they go, are indeed a treasury of grammatical and critical knowledge. He was called to his task by royal command, and he has performed it in such a manner as to be worthy of the young prince for whom it was laboured." The year of its publication was the last of Clarke's life. Hitherto, though not robust, he had always enjoyed a firm state of health : but on the morning of Sunday, 11th May 1729, when going out to preach before the judges at Sergeant's Inn, he was seized with a sudden illness, which caused his death on the Saturday morning following. He died, May 17, 1729, in the 54th year of his age.
Soon after his death were published, from his original manuscripts, by his brother Dr John Clarke, dean of Sarum, An Exposition of the Church Catechism, and ten volumes of sermons, in 8vo. His Exposition is composed of the lectures which he read every Thursday morning, for some months in the year, at St James's church. In the latter part of his life he revised them with great care, and left them completely prepared for the press. Three years after his death appeared also the last twelve books of the Jliad, published in 4to by his son Mr Samuel Clarke, the first three of these books and part of the fourth having, as he states, been revised and annotated by his father.
Clarke was of a cheerful and even playful disposition. An intimate friend relates that happening to call for him he found him swimming upon a table. At another time, when Clarke and several other men of ability and learning were indulging in diversion, on looking out at the window he saw a grave blockhead approaching the house; upon which he cried out, " Boys, boys, be wise; here comes a fool." This turn of his mind is confirmed by Dr Warton, who, in his observations upon the line of Mr Pope,
" Unthought-of frailties cheat us in the wise," says, " Who could imagine that Locke was fond of romances; that Newton once studied astrology ; that Dr Clarke valued himself on his agility, and frequently amused him-self in a private room of his house in leaping over the tables and chairs ; and that our author himself was a great epicure 1"
[Clarke, although in no department a genius of the first order, was a man of great general ability. He was eminent as a theologian, a mathematician, a metaphysician, and a philologist. His chief strength lay in his logical power. He was so disciplined and skilful a reasoner as to be able to contend on equal terms even with a Butler or a Leibnitz. Few have defended so well so many good causes. The materialism of Hobbes, the pantheism of Spinoza, the empiricism of Locke, the determinism of Leibnitz, Collins's necessitarianism, Dod well's denial of the natural immortality of the soul, rationalistic attacks on Christianity, and the selfish morality of the sensationalists,—_ all found in him a formidable opponent, possessed of great strength of mind, extraordinary dialectic skill, and a thorough conviction of the importance and truth of the principles which he advocated.
His fame as a theologian and philosopher rests to a large extent on his demonstration of the existence of God and his theory of the foundation of rectitude. The former is not, as it is often described, a purely a priori argument, nor is it presented as such by its author. It starts from a fact, aud it often explicitly appeals to facts. The intelligence, for example, of the self-existence and original cause of all things—the main question between theists and atheists—is admitted to be " not easily proved a priori" but argued to be " demonstrably proved a posteriori from the variety and degrees of perfection in things, and the order of causes and effects, from the intelligence that created beings are confessedly endowed with, and from the beauty, order, and final purpose of things." The propositions maintained in the argument are—" 1. That something has existed from eternity ; 2. That there has existed from eternity some one immutable and independent being ; 3. That that immutable and independent being, which has existed from eternity, without any external cause of its existence, must be self-oxistent, that is, necessarily existing ; 4. What the substance or essence of that being, which is self-existent or necessarily existing, is, we have no idea, neither is it at all possible for us to comprehend it; 5. That though the substance or essence of the self-existent being is itself absolutely incomprehensible to us, yet many of the essential attributes of his nature are strictly demonstrable, as well as his existence, and, in the first place, that he must be of necessity eternal; 6. That the self-existent being must of necessity be infinite and omnipresent, 7. Must be but one, 8. Must be an intelligent being, 9. Must be not a necessary agent, but a being indued with liberty and choice, 10. Must of necessity have infinite power, 11. Must be infinitely wise, -and 12. Must of necessity be a being of infinite goodness, justice, and truth, and all other moral perfections, such as become the supreme governor and judge of the world."
In order to establish his sixth proposition, Dr Clarke contends that time and space, eternity and immensity, are not substances but attributes,—the attributes of a self-existent being. Edmund Law, Dugald Stewart, Lord Brougham, and many other writers, have, in corsequence, represented Clarke as arguing from th=; existence of time and space to the existence of Deity. This is a senous mistake. The existence of an immutable, independent, and necessary being is supposed to be proved before any reference is made to the nature of time and space. Clarke has been generally supposed to have derived the opinion that time and space are attributes of an infinite immaterial and spiritual being from the Scholium Generate, first published in the second edition of Newton's Principia (1714). The truth is that his work on the Being and Attributes of God appeared nine years before that Scholium. The view propounded by Clarke may have been derived from the Midrash, the Kabbalah, Philo, Henry More, or Cudworth, but not from Newton. It is a view difficult to prove, and probably few will acknowledge that Clarke has conclusively proved it.
His theory as to the nature, foundation, and obligation of virtue is to the following effect. Things differ from one another in their natures. They necessarily, therefore, stand in different relations to one another. From these different relations of things there must arise an agreement or disagreement of some things to others, a fitness or unfitness of the application of different things one to another. Thus there is a fitness or suitableness of certain acts in certain circumstances to certain persons and an unsuitableness of others founded on the nature of things and persons, apart from all positive appointment whatso-ever. It is only imperfection or perversion of intelligence which can make the relations of things, and the fitness and unfitness involved in them, appear to be other than what they are. The fundamental truths of morals are absolutely and in themselves what they seem, no less than the truths of geometry. The obligation to virtue is involved in the very recognition of the moral relations which arise out of the necessary and eternal differences of things. It is impossible for us to apprehend them otherwise than as laws of reason which ought to guide our actions. Prior to all consideration of the divine will or law there is obligation; and God, although under no necessity to create, must, having resolved to create, have respect to certain propor-tions, abstractly of eternal necessity, and, having resolved to act, must determine His will according to eternal reason. His own law to himself is the law which He has given to every rational being, and which He has sanctioned by rewards and punishments. These are a secondary source of obligation.
This theory has been misunderstood and misrepresented in various ways. Jouffroy, Amed^e Jacques, Sir James Mackintosh, Dr Thomas Brown, &c, criticise it on the assumption that Clarke made virtue consist in conformity to the relations of things universally, although the whole tenor of his argument shows him to have had in view only conformity to such relations as belong to the sphere of moral agency. We may admit, however, that he might have pro-fitably insisted more on the fact that the relations and fitnesses spoken of are those which afford a reason and rule of action to the will. In this respect the doctrine of the distin-guished German philosopher Herbart, which, while resolving morality into relations, lays stress on the fact that these relations are relations of will, may be regarded as an improvement of that of Clarke. It is erroneous to represent Clarke as confounding mathematical and moral relations, as overlooking that the relations involved in morality must be distinct from those involved in mere truth, or as meaning by the " fitness" which is constitutive of morality the adaptation of means and ends. In reality, he simply states an analogy between mathematical and moral truths, assigns to moral principles the distinctive peculiarity of being related to the will, and being liable to be set aside, and denotes by fitness the accordance of things with a standard by which they can be judged.
When Clarke's doctrine, that rectitude is a conformity tc certain relations, has been accurately understood, it cannot: fail to be obvious that, although it must be vindicated froai

many of the objections which have been urged against it, no one can justly regard it as more than the mere starting-point of a theory. It must be followed up by a great amount of research before it can approximate to what a theory should be. Bat there is no reason why it should not be followed up by research in various directions, nor why it should not be made much more precise and definite than it has yet been. The relations involved in morality may be compared with those involved in pure science, in utility both personal and general, and in beauty, and ought to be, for it is only thus that what is distinctive of them can be brought clearly and completely out. More, perhaps, than any other theory on the nature of virtue, the theory of relations suggests and implies the necessity of a minute scientific inquiry into how truth, beauty, utility, and goodness are connected and distinguished. By Socrates and Wollaston truth and goodness, by Plato, Shaftesbury, and Herbart beauty and goodness, and by the selfish school and the utilitarian school of moralists, utility and goodness, have been, if not identified, too nearly so, while there have been held errors as great although directly contrary to these, separating unnaturally goodness from truth, or from beauty, or from utility ; and it lies directly in the way of those who adopt the theory of relations to institute an investiga-tion into the whole subject of the connection of truth, beauty, utility, and goodness, so thorough and comprehen-sive as to show what is true and what erroneous in all these views, and what are the resemblances and differences, the identities and distinctions, in the things themselves.
As to the biography of Clarke see the Life by Bishop Hoadley, and Whiston's Historical Memoirs. As to his philosophical, ethical, and theological tenets, there may be consulted Bishop Law's Inquiry into the Ideas of Space, Time, &c., several works of Dr John Balguy (referred to in article BALGUY), Dugald Stewart's Dissertation, Sir James Mackintosh's Dissertation, Lord Brougham's Discourse on Natural Theology, Dr Turton's Natural Theology, Wardlaw's Christian Ethics, Dr Chalmers's Natural Theology, and Hunt's Re-ligious Thought in England, passim, but particularly in vol. ii. 447-457, and vol. iii. 20-29 and 109-115, &c. The most elaborate essay on his philosophy as a whole is, perhaps, that by Prof. Zim-mermann in the Denkschriften d. k. Akademie der Wissenschaften, I'hil.-Hist. Classe, Bd. xix.,Vienna, 1870. It treats of English rationalism before Clarke, his life, the general character of his philo-sophy, his criticism of materialism, his defence of natural religion, his discussion with Leibnitz, and his moral philosophy. (R. F.)]










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