Abraham Tucker

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1739 portrait of Abraham Tucker by Enoch Seeman

Abraham Tucker (September 2, 1705 – November 20, 1774) was an English country gentleman, who devoted himself to the study of philosophy. He wrote The Light of Nature Pursued (7 vols., 1768–78) under the name of Edward Search.

Biography[edit]

Tucker was born in London of a Somerset family, the son of a wealthy city merchant. His parents died during his infancy, and he was brought up by his uncle, Sir Isaac Tillard. In 1721, he entered Merton College, Oxford, as a gentleman commoner, and studied philosophy, mathematics, French, Italian and music. He afterwards studied laws at the Inner Temple, but was never called to the bar.

In 1727 he bought Betchworth Castle, near Dorking, where he passed the remainder of his life. In 1736 Tucker married Dorothy, the daughter of Edward Barker of East Betchworth, cursitor baron of the exchequer. On her death in 1754, he occupied himself in collecting together all the letters that had passed between them, which, we are told, he transcribed twice over under the title of “The Picture of Artless Love.”

From this time onward, he occupied himself with the composition of his chief work, The Light of Nature Pursued, of which in 1763 he published a specimen under the title of “Free Will.” The strictures of a critic in the Monthly Review of July 1763 drew from him a pamphlet called Man in Quest of Himself, by “Cuthbert Comment” (reprinted in Parr's Metaphysical Tracts, 1837), “a defence of the individuality of the human mind or self.” In 1765 the first four volumes of his work were published. The remaining three volumes appeared posthumously. His eyesight failed him completely in 1771, but he contrived an ingenious apparatus which enabled him to write so legibly that the result could easily be transcribed by his daughter. In this way he completed the later volumes, which were ready for publication when he died.

He took no part in politics, and wrote a pamphlet, “The Country Gentleman's Advice to his Son on the Subject of Party Clubs” (1755), cautioning young men against its snares.

Work[edit]

His work embraces in its scope many psychological and more strictly metaphysical discussions, but it is chiefly in connexion with ethics that Tucker's speculations are remembered. In some important points he anticipates the utilitarianism afterwards systematized by Paley, who expresses in the amplest terms his obligations to his predecessor. “Every man's own satisfaction” Tucker holds to be the ultimate end of action; and satisfaction or pleasure is one and the same in kind, however much it may vary in degree. This universal motive is further connected, as by William Paley, through the will of God, with the “general good, the root where out all our rules of conduct and sentiments of honour are to branch.”

The Light of Nature was republished with a biographical sketch by Tucker's grandson, Sir H. P. St John Mildmay (1805), 7 vols. (other editions 1834, 1836, &c.), and an abridged edition by W. Hazlitt appeared in 1807. It is rather a miscellany than a systematic treatise, but contains much original and acute thinking.

Legacy[edit]

He strongly influenced Paley and is thought to have had some influence on Malthus and his theories.[citation needed]

Notes[edit]

References[edit]

Attribution
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Tucker, Abraham". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.  This work in turn cites:
    • James Mackintosh, Dissertation on the Progress of Ethical Philosophy (Edinburgh, 1832)
    • Leslie Stephen, English Thought in the 18th Century, iii, pp. 119–130.