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The Utility of Virtue

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Chapter Summary

Commerce in its broadest sense characterized Britain in the eighteenth century. Samuel Johnson's famous Dictionary of the English Language defined commerce as the "exchange of one thing for another". His first example of the word in use showed that it was not restricted to economic exchange. He quoted the Anglican theologian Richard Hooker's description of churches as places "for mutual conference, and, as it were, commerce to be had between God and us". Commerce of all types expanded dramatically from Joseph Butler's birth in the late seventeenth century to William Paley's death in the early nineteenth. The Christian, in theory, could protect his soul by withdrawing from secular affairs. The uncomfortably fuzzy boundaries between secular prudence and Christian virtue invested the moral sense of our conscience with deep religious and philosophical significance.

Keywords: Christian virtue; commerce; philosophy; religion



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