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Joseph Priestley (1733—1804), philosopher, scientist and unorthodox theologian, was one of the intellectual giants of the Enlightenment. He wrote prolifically and made significant contributions in many areas of eighteenth-century life, including physical science, political economy, moral philosophy, history, education, metaphysics and theology. His work was highly influential, and among his followers were Jeremy Bentham, who took up his phrase ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’, and Jefferson, who made use of his ideas in the American Declaration of Independence.
J. T. Rutt’s Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestley is the only complete edition of Priestley’s non-scientific works. These range from short pamphlets written as a Unitarian minister in Leeds and Birmingham, the Millenial Biblical commentaries of his final years in America, and the radical tracts which led to his exile from England. The edition also includes his philosophical works such as the replies to Reid and other Scottish Thought figures, as well as his own editions of the works of Hartley and Anthony Collins.
Rutt knew Priestley and shared his views and this edition, produced when Priestley was a half-forgotten figure, is in many respects a labour of love. He was a careful editor, judiciously annotating a carefully prepared text. Priestley’s autobiography, together with the extensive extracts from his correspondence in the first two volumes, is still the necessary starting point for the study of Priestley’s life. Only two hundred copies of the original edition seem to have been printed and copies are virtually unheard of outside major libraries. In a critical introduction, John Stephens explores Rutt’s editorial principles, making this remarkable edition as useful as possible to modern scholars.
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