Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Stefan Bernard Baumrin

Subject Categories



Delineated, Nature, Religion, William, Wollaston


This dissertation provides the first thorough exposition of the moral theory proposed by William Wollaston in his treatise The Religion of Nature Delineated (1724), and demonstrates it to be an innovative contribution to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries' project of developing a moral theory by reason alone (in which lie the origins of contemporary moral realism); with the foundational principle of acting in accordance with nature as the standard of morality. Wollaston's treatise contains an unrecognized innovation: the principle that rational agents express propositions by their actions--that, as propositions, have truth values--which makes it possible to determine the moral status of such actions by evaluating these truth values. The principle that actions express propositions to the same extent that verbal statements express propositions bridges the gap between ideas in the mind and the facts of the world (i.e., nature). It defines the deliberate actions of moral agents as natural events which can thus be evaluated in the same way that all natural objects and events are evaluated. Actions of moral agents can then be evaluated as to whether they are consistent or inconsistent with all other parts of nature. The correspondence between the truthfulness or falsehood of the propositions that moral agents express by their deliberate actions, and the empirical facts of the world, provides a focused method of evaluating the moral status of such actions in accordance with the empirical standard of moral realism. Also, in Wollaston's system, as it is the nature of human beings to seek happiness, and as acting in accordance with nature is the means of attaining happiness, the production or destruction of happiness determines the degree of the moral rightness or wrongness of actions. The dissertation also demonstrates that the prevalent criticisms of The Religion of Nature Delineated which have caused it to be largely disregarded do not engage the theory and are often directed at straw men.

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