|Born||O.S. 21 June 1676|
|Died||O.S. 13 December 1729 53) (aged|
|Alma mater||King's College, Cambridge|
|History, philosophy, theology|
Anthony Collins (21 June 1676 O.S. –13 December 1729 O.S.) was an English philosopher and essayist, notable for being one of the early proponents of Deism in Great Britain.
Collins was born in Heston, near Hounslow in Middlesex, England, the son of lawyer Henry Collins (1646/7–1705) and Mary (née Dineley).He had two sisters: Anne Collins (born 1678), who married Henry Lovibond (born 1675), and Mary Collins (born 1680), who married Edward Lovibond (1675–1737), a merchant and Director of the East India Company. Mary and Edward's son was the poet Edward Lovibond.
Collins was educated at Eton College and King's College, Cambridge, and studied law at the Middle Temple.The most interesting episode of his life was his intimacy with John Locke, who in his letters speaks of him with affection and admiration. In 1715 he settled in Essex, where he held the offices of justice of the peace and deputy-lieutenant, which he had previously held in Middlesex. He died at his house in Harley Street, London.
His writings gather together the results of previous English freethinkers. The imperturbable courtesy of his style is in striking contrast to the violence of his opponents; and, in spite of his unorthodoxy, he was neither an atheist nor an agnostic. In his own words, "Ignorance is the foundation of atheism, and freethinking the cure of it" (Discourse of Freethinking, 105).
His first notable work was his Essay concerning the Use of Reason in Propositions the Evidence whereof depends on Human Testimony (1707), in which he rejected the distinction between "above reason" and "contrary to reason", and demanded that revelation should conform to man's natural ideas of God. Like all his works, it was published anonymously, although the identity of the author was never long concealed.
Six years later appeared his chief work, A Discourse of Freethinking, occasioned by the Rise and Growth of a Sect called Freethinkers (1713). Notwithstanding the ambiguity of its title, and the fact that it attacks the priests of all churches without moderation, it contends for the most part, at least explicitly, for no more than must be admitted by every Protestant. Freethinking is a right which cannot and must not be limited, for it is the only means of attaining a knowledge of truth, it essentially contributes to the well-being of society, and is not only permitted but enjoined by the Bible. In fact the first introduction of Christianity and the success of all missionary enterprise involve freethinking (in its etymological sense) on the part of those converted.
In England this essay, which was regarded and treated as a plea for Deism, caused a great sensation, eliciting several replies, from among others William Whiston, Bishop Hare, Bishop Benjamin Hoadly, and Richard Bentley, who, under the signature of "Phileleutherus Lipsiensis", roughly handles certain arguments carelessly expressed by Collins, but triumphs chiefly by an attack on the trivial points of scholarship, his own pamphlet being by no means faultless in this very respect. Jonathan Swift also, being satirically referred to in the book, made it the subject of a caricature.
In 1724, Collins published the treatise Discourse of the Grounds and Reasons of the Christian Religion, with An Apology for Free Debate and Liberty of Writing prefixed. Ostensibly it is written in opposition to Whiston's attempt to show that the books of the Old Testament did originally contain prophecies of events in the New Testament story, but that these had been eliminated or corrupted by the Jews, and to prove that the fulfilment of prophecy by the events of Christ's life is all "secondary, secret, allegorical, and mystical," since the original and literal reference is always to some other fact. Since, further, according to him the fulfilment of prophecy is the only valid proof of Christianity, he thus secretly aims a blow at Christianity as a revelation. The canonicity of the New Testament he ventures openly to deny, on the ground that the canon could be fixed only by men who were inspired.
No less than thirty-five answers were directed against this book, the most noteworthy of which were those of Bishop Edward Chandler, Arthur Sykes and Samuel Clarke. To these, but with special reference to the work of Chandler, which maintained that a number of prophecies were literally fulfilled by Christ, Collins replied with his Scheme of Literal Prophecy Considered (1727). An appendix contends against Whiston that the book of Daniel was forged in the time of Antiochus Epiphanes.
In philosophy, Collins takes a foremost place as a defender of necessitarianism. His brief Inquiry Concerning Human Liberty (1717) has not been excelled, at all events in its main outlines, as a statement of the determinist standpoint.
He was attacked in an elaborate treatise by Samuel Clarke, in whose system the freedom of will is made essential to religion and morality. During Clarke's lifetime, fearing perhaps being branded as an enemy of religion and morality, Collins made no reply, but in 1729 he published an answer, entitled Liberty and Necessity.
Besides these works he wrote
Collins became renowned as one of the best read men in England. He was a bibliophile and book collector who amassed one of the largest private libraries of the time, consisting of some 6,906 books on all subjects, but particularly favoring works on history, theology, and philosophy.
It has been argued (see Jacobson, "The England Libertarian Heritage") that Collins was the unknown author of ten of "The Independent Whig" essays.
Collins married first Martha Child (1677–1703) a daughter of Sir Francis Child MP (1642–1713) and Elizabeth, née Wheeler (1652–1720). They had two sons both of whom died young, the eldest in infancy, the second was Anthony Collins (c. 1701 –1723); and two daughters: Elizabeth Collins (born c. 1700) who, in 1738, married Walter Cary; and Martha Collins (c. 1700 –1744) who, in 1741, married Robert Fairfax, 7th Lord Fairfax of Cameron (1706–1793). His second marriage was to Elizabeth Wrottesley (born c. 1680), a daughter of Walter Wrottesley, 3rd Baronet Wrottesley (1659–1712) and Eleanora, née Archer (1661–1692).
Deism is the philosophical position and rationalistic theology that generally rejects revelation as a source of divine knowledge, and asserts that empirical reason and observation of the natural world are exclusively logical, reliable, and sufficient to determine the existence of a Supreme Being as the creator of the universe. Deism is also defined as the belief in the existence of God solely based on rational thought, without any reliance on revealed religions or religious authority. Deism emphasizes the concept of natural theology, that is, God's existence is revealed through nature.
The Age of Reason; Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology is a work by English and American political activist Thomas Paine, arguing for the philosophical position of deism. It follows in the tradition of 18th-century British deism, and challenges institutionalized religion and the legitimacy of the Bible. It was published in three parts in 1794, 1795, and 1807.
Samuel Clarke was an English philosopher and Anglican cleric. He is considered the major British figure in philosophy between John Locke and George Berkeley.
William Whiston was an English theologian, historian, and mathematician, a leading figure in the popularisation of the ideas of Isaac Newton. He is now probably best known for helping to instigate the Longitude Act in 1714 and his important translations of the Antiquities of the Jews and other works by Josephus. He was a prominent exponent of Arianism and wrote A New Theory of the Earth.
This article contains information about the literary events and publications of 1729.
Freethought is an epistemological viewpoint which holds that beliefs should not be formed on the basis of authority, tradition, revelation, or dogma, and that beliefs should instead be reached by other methods such as logic, reason, and empirical observation. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a freethinker is "a person who forms their own ideas and opinions rather than accepting those of other people, especially in religious teaching." In some contemporary thought in particular, free thought is strongly tied with rejection of traditional social or religious belief systems. The cognitive application of free thought is known as "freethinking", and practitioners of free thought are known as "freethinkers". Modern freethinkers consider free thought to be a natural freedom from all negative and illusive thoughts acquired from society.
Matthew Tindal was an eminent English deist author. His works, highly influential at the dawn of the Enlightenment, caused great controversy and challenged the Christian consensus of his time.
Thomas Woolston was an English theologian. Although he was often classed as a deist, his biographer William H. Trapnell regards him as an Anglican who held unorthodox theological views.
Isaac Newton was considered an insightful and erudite theologian by his contemporaries. He wrote many works that would now be classified as occult studies, and he wrote religious tracts that dealt with the literal interpretation of the Bible. He kept his heretical beliefs private.
Charles Blount was an English deist and philosopher who published several anonymous essays critical of the existing English order.
Atheism, as defined by the entry in Diderot and d'Alembert's Encyclopédie, is "the opinion of those who deny the existence of a God in the world. The simple ignorance of God doesn't constitute atheism. To be charged with the odious title of atheism one must have the notion of God and reject it." In the period of the Enlightenment, avowed and open atheism was made possible by the advance of religious toleration, but was also far from encouraged.
Nathaniel Spinckes (1653–1727) was an English nonjuring clergyman, the leader in the dispute about the "usages" which split the nonjurors of the "non-usagers",, against returning to the first prayer-book of Edward VI, as the "usagers", led by Jeremy Collier, advocated.
Arthur Ashley Sykes (1684–1756) was an Anglican religious writer, known as an inveterate controversialist. Sykes was a latitudinarian of the school of Benjamin Hoadly, and a friend and student of Isaac Newton.
Deism, the religious attitude typical of the Enlightenment, especially in France and England, holds that the only way the existence of God can be proven is to combine the application of reason with observation of the world. A Deist is defined as "One who believes in the existence of a God or Supreme Being but denies revealed religion, basing his belief on the light of nature and reason." Deism was often synonymous with so-called natural religion because its principles are drawn from nature and human reasoning. In contrast to Deism there are many cultural religions or revealed religions, such as Judaism, Trinitarian Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and others, which believe in supernatural intervention of God in the world; while Deism denies any supernatural intervention and emphasizes that the world is operated by natural laws of the Supreme Being.
Thomas Bradbury (1677–1759) was an English Dissenting minister.
John Edwards (1637–1716) was an English Calvinistic divine.
John Jackson (1686–1763) was an English clergyman, known as a controversial theological writer.
John Rogers (1679–1729) was an English clergyman.
Joseph Hallett III (c.1691–1744) was an English nonconformist minister and author.
See Collins' library catalogue (ed. by Giovanni Tarantino):
|Wikisource has the text of the 1885–1900 Dictionary of National Biography's article about Collins, Anthony .|