Abstract and Keywords
In the eighteenth century it was thought that there could be no coherent or consistent system of morality without certain common religious beliefs. These were the belief in the existence of God; in his providential government of human affairs; in his justice and benevolence; and especially, in the prospect of an afterlife in which rewards and punishments would be distributed according to each person’s conduct before death. The latter was considered to be especially necessary, because justice in this life was many times left incomplete and the virtuous might suffer, while the wicked prospered, so that without the persuasion of a future state there appeared to be little to prevent the morally corrupt from pursuing their self-interest, whenever it suited them, even when doing so happened to violate their moral duties. There was therefore a perceived need for a theodicy of some kind, a theory of divine justice in this life and in a future state after death. This concept of the relationship between religion and morality was contested. Two issues, in particular, were of importance: the moral value of threatening punishments in an afterlife and the extent to which philosophical argument, without the aid of the Scriptures or other forms of revelation, was sufficient for knowledge of the afterlife.
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