Freethought Almanac

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July 5: Samuel Bailey (1791)

Copyright Museums Sheffield / Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationIt was on this date, July 5, 1791, that the English philosopher and philanthropist Samuel Bailey was born. He was educated first by his maternal grandfather and then at the Moravian school of Fulneck. He visited America to establish commercial connections, but became distracted by literary pursuits. Back in England he acquired a fortune as an industrialist and prominent citizen of Sheffield (widely known as “Bailey of Sheffield”) and became chairman of the Sheffield Banking Company, which he had helped to establish in 1831.

From 1821 he began publishing essays and acquired some repute in the philosophical world, which caused him also to be known as the "Bentham of Hallamshire" after British Utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham. He was several times elected president of the Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society. He published On the Formation and Publication of Opinions (1831), The Pursuit of Truth and the Progress of Knowledge (1844), Theory of Reasoning (1852) and a three-volume series, Philosophy of the Human Mind (1855, 1858, 1863).

But Bailey was a Deist and Utilitarian and his fellow Sheffieldians were alarmed to learn of his contempt for Christianity, as evidenced in a scathing anonymous work, Letters from an Egyptian Kafir on a Visit to England in Search of a Religion (1837), a defense of freedom of inquiry. His other works showed a mind tending toward empiricism, as opposed to mysticism – these were pre-Freudian times, after all, and the popular theory of mind tended toward the mystical – and a utilitarian concept of morals. As for moral concepts, as he explains in his Letters (3rd series, 1863), much like Epicurus, he finds that man is susceptible to pleasure and pain, that he likes or dislikes their causes, that he desires to reciprocate pleasure and pain received (cf. the Golden Rule), that he expects such reciprocation from others and that he feels more or less sympathy with the same feelings in his fellows. In other words, Samuel Bailey found no place for religion in morality. A philosopher in deed as well as word, at his death, on 18 January 1870, he left about £80,000 to Sheffield to be used for the public good.

Ronald Bruce Meyer

Our Fearless Leader.

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August 18: Superstition Eclipsed

King of Siam's Eclipse (1868): Churches and Eclipses It was on this date, August 18, 1868, that a total solar eclipse, called the King of Siam's Eclipse, Saros Series 133, was seen in what is now Thailand. This was during the reign of the very same King Mongkut who figures in the book by Anna […]

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