Thursday, June 21, 2012

Freethinking Anthony Collins


Sir Walter Scott knew something about Jonathan Swift, having written a bio on the author, and adding notes to “The Works of Jonathan Swift”, published in 1883 by Bickers & Son.  Swift knew something about today’s subject, philosopher Anthony Collins, who was born on June 21, 1676.  Swift’s Works includes a discussion of Collins’ “Discourse of Free Thinking”.  Swift's intro, below, gives a flavor of Swift’s analysis, and Collins' thinking.




MR. COLLINS'S DISCOURSE
OF
FREETHINKING;
PUT INTO PLAIN ENGLISH,
BY WAY OF ABSTRACT,
FOR THE USE OF THE POOR.
BY A FRIEND OF THE AUTHOR.
FIRST PRINTED IN 1713.

Anthony Collins, the celebrated Deist, who, notwithstanding his sceptical opinions, retained the friendship of Locke, published, in 1713, his "Discourse of Freethinking, occasioned by the Rise and Growth of a Sect called Freethinkers." It is believed to have been printed at the Hague, though the title-page bears London. Like Tindal, Collins pretended only to assail the encroachments of the Pagan and of the Romish priesthood, while his real drift was to undervalue and bring to contempt the established clergy of all countries and ages, to ridicule the Mosaical law, to weaken the evidences of revealed religion, and even to controvert, by insinuation at least, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. The treatise attracted much notice, and drew forth an host of answerers, among whom Whiston, Hare, Hoadley, and Bentley, were most conspicuous.
Swift also mingled in the controversy, yet rather with a political than a religious view. For, although the politics of the learned men and divines above-mentioned were opposite to his own, he has not hesitated, in his ironical defence of Collins, to assume the character of a Whig, as if to identify the deistical opinions of that author with those of the opponents of the Tory ministry. What gave a colour, though only a colour, to this charge was, that Toland, Tindal, Collins, and most of those who carried to licence their abhorrence of church-government, were naturally enough enrolled among that party in politics who professed most attachment to freedom of sentiment; and in this, as in many other cases, the vices, or scandalous opinions, of a small part of a political body, were unjustly held up as its general characteristics. Swift himself had reason loudly to complain of similar treatment in the succeeding reign, when, because the Jacobites were the enemies of government, all who opposed the ministry were called Jacobites. Laying aside consideration of this ungenerous advantage, the treatise is in itself most admirable…

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