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Early life and studies 
Clarke was born in Norwich, the son of Edward Clarke, an alderman of Norwich and Member of Parliament, and brother of John Clarke. He was educated at the free school of Norwich and at Caius College, Cambridge. The philosophy of René Descartes was the reigning system at the university; Clarke, however, mastered the new system of Isaac Newton.
Clarke then devoted himself to the study of scripture in the original, and of the primitive Christian writers. Having taken holy orders, he became chaplain to John Moore, bishop of Norwich, who became his friend and patron. He was presented by Moore to the rectory of Drayton, near Norwich. In 1706, through the influence of Moore, he obtained the rectory of St Benet Paul's Wharf, London. Soon afterwards Queen Anne appointed him one of her chaplains in ordinary, and in 1709 presented him to the rectory of St James's, Westminster. He then took the degree of doctor in divinity, defending as his thesis the two propositions: Nullum fidei Christianae dogma, in Sacris Scripturis traditum, est rectae rationi dissentaneum, and Sine actionum humanarum libertate nulla potest esse religio.
Correspondence with Anthony Collins 
The public correspondence of Samuel Clarke with the English freethinker Anthony Collins in 1707 and 1708 was a debate on the nature of consciousness. The principal focus of the correspondence was the possibility of a materialist theory of mind. Collins defended the materialist position that consciousness was an emergent property of the brain, while Clarke opposed such a view and argued that mind and consciousness must be distinct from matter. The correspondence also inquired into the origins of consciousness, personal identity, free will, and determinism.
Correspondence with Leibniz 
In 1715 and 1716 Clarke had a discussion with Gottfried Leibniz relative to the principles of natural philosophy and religion, which was at length cut short by the death of his antagonist. A collection of the papers which passed between them was published in 1717.
Later life 
In 1719 Clarke was presented by Nicholas Lechmere, 1st Baron Lechmere, to the mastership of Wigston's hospital in Leicester. In 1727, on the death of Sir Isaac Newton, he was offered by the court the place of master of the mint, worth on an average from £1200 to £1500 a year. This secular preferment, however, he refused.
On Sunday, the 11th of May 1729, when going out to preach before the judges at Serjeants' Inn, Clarke was seized with a sudden illness, which caused his death on the Saturday following.
In disposition Clarke was cheerful and even playful. An intimate friend relates that he once found him swimming upon a table. At another time Clarke on looking out at the window saw a grave blockhead approaching the house; upon which he cried out, "Boys, boys, be wise; here comes a fool." Dr Warton, in his observations upon Pope's line, "Unthought-of frailties cheat us in the wise," says, "Who could imagine that Locke was fond of romances; that Newton once studied astrology; that Dr Clarke valued himself on his agility, and frequently amused himself in a private room of his house in leaping over the tables and chairs?" He died in London.
Clarke published a Latin version of the Traité de physique of Jacques Rohault (1617(?)-1672) with notes, which he finished before he was twenty-two. The system of Rohault was based on Cartesian principles, and was previously known only through the medium of a crude Latin version. Clarke's translation (1697) continued to be used as a text-book in the university till supplanted by the treatises of Newton. Four editions were issued, the last being that of 1718. It was translated into English in 1723 by his younger brother John, dean of Salisbury.
In 1699 he published two treatises: Three Practical Essays on Baptism, Confirmation and Repentance and Some Reflections on that part of a book called Amyntor, or a Defence of Milton's Life, which relates to the Writings of the Primitive Fathers, and the Canon of the New Testament. In 1701 he published A Paraphrase upon the Gospel of St Matthew, which was followed, in 1702, by the Paraphrases upon the Gospels of St Mark and St Luke, and soon afterwards by a third volume upon St John. They were subsequently printed together in two volumes and have since passed through several editions. He intended to treat in the same manner the remaining books of the New Testament, but his design was unfulfilled.
As Boyle lecturer, he dealt in 1704 with the Being and Attributes of God, and in 1705 with the Evidences of Natural and Revealed Religion. These lectures, first printed separately, were afterwards published together under the title of A Discourse concerning the Being and Attributes of God, the Obligations of Natural Religion, and the Truth and Certainly of the Christian Revelation, in opposition to Thomas Hobbes, Spinoza, the author of the Oracles of Reason, and other Deniers of Natural and Revealed Religion.
In 1706 he wrote a refutation of Dr Henry Dodwell's views on the immortality of the soul, and this drew him into controversy with Anthony Collins. He also translated Newton's Opticks, for which the author presented him with £500. In 1709, at the request of the author, Clake revised William Whiston's English translation of the Apostolical Constitutions. In 1712 he published an annotated edition of Caesar's Commentaries, with engravings, dedicated to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. During the same year he published his treatise on The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity. It is divided into three parts. The first contains a collection and exegesis of all the texts in the New Testament relating to the doctrine of the Trinity; in the second the doctrine is set forth at large, and explained in particular and distinct propositions; and in the third the principal passages in the liturgy of the Church of England relating to the doctrine of the Trinity are considered. Whiston says that, some time before publication, a message was sent to him from Sidney Godolphin "that the affairs of the public were with difficulty then kept in the hands of those that were for liberty; that it was therefore an unseasonable time for the publication of a book that would make a great noise and disturbance; and that therefore they desired him to forbear till a fitter opportunity should offer itself,"—a message that Clarke entirely disregarded. The ministers were right in their conjectures; the work not only provoked a great number of replies, but occasioned a formal complaint from the Lower House of Convocation: the Blasphemy Act 1697 still made it an offence for any person, educated in or having made profession of the Christian religion, by writing, preaching, teaching or advised speaking, to deny the Holy Trinity. Clarke, in reply, drew up an apologetic preface, and afterwards gave several explanations, which satisfied the Upper House.
In 1724 he published seventeen sermons, eleven of which had not before been printed. In 1728 was published "A Letter from Dr Clarke to Benjamin Hoadly, F.R.S., occasioned by the controversy relating to the Proportion of Velocity and Force in Bodies in Motion," printed in the Philosophical Transactions. In 1729 he published the first twelve books of Homer's Iliad. This edition, dedicated to William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, was praised by Bishop Hoadly.
Soon after his death his brother, Dr John Clarke, published, from his original manuscripts, An Exposition of the Church Catechism, and ten volumes of sermons. The Exposition is composed of the lectures which he read every Thursday morning, for some months in the year, at St James's church. In the latter part of his life he revised them with great care, and left them completely prepared for the press. Three years after his death appeared also the last twelve books of the Iliad, published by his son Samuel Clarke, the first three of these books and part of the fourth having, as he states, been revised and annotated by his father.
Clarke's reputation rests to a large extent on his effort to demonstrate the existence of God and his theory of the foundation of rectitude. The former is not a purely a priori argument, nor is it presented as such by its author. It starts from a fact and it often explicitly appeals to facts. The intelligence, for example, of the self-existence arid original cause of all things is, he says, "not easily proved a priori," but "demonstrably proved a posteriori from the variety and degrees of perfection in things, and the order of causes and effects, from the intelligence that created beings are confessedly endowed with, and from the beauty, order, and final purpose of things." The theses maintained in the argument are:
- That something has existed from eternity
- that there has existed from eternity some one immutable and independent being
- that that immutable and independent being, which has existed from eternity, without any external cause of its existence, must be self-existent, that is, necessarily existing
- what the substance or essence of that being is, which is self-existent or necessarily existing, we have no idea, neither is it at all possible for us to comprehend it
- that though the substance or essence of the self-existent being is itself absolutely incomprehensible to us, yet many of the essential attributee of his nature are strictly demonstrable as well as his existence, and, in the first place, that he must be of necessity eternal
- that the self-existent being must of necessity be infinite and omnipresent
- must be but one
- must be an intelligent being
- must be not a necessary agent, but a being endued with liberty and choice
- must of necessity have infinite power
- must be infinitely wise, and
- must of necessity be a being of infinite goodness, justice, and truth, and all other moral perfections, such as become the supreme governor and judge of the world.
In order to establish his sixth thesis, Clarke contends that time and space, eternity and immensity, are not substances, but attributes-the attributes of a self-existent being. Edmund Law, Dugald Stewart, Lord Brougham, and other writers have represented Clarke as arguing from the existence of time and space to the existence of Deity.
Clarke's ethical theory of "fitness" is formulated on the analogy of mathematics. He held that in relation to the will things possess an objective fitness similar to the mutual consistency of things in the physical universe. This fitness God has given to actions, as he has given laws to Nature; and the fitness is as immutable as the laws. The theory was criticized by Jouffroy, Amédée Jacques, Sir James Mackintosh, Thomas Brown and others.
Clarke had an influence on Enlightenment philosophers including Lord Monboddo, who referred often to Clarke's writings. Clarke's work as a whole has been regarded as an attempt to present the doctrines of the Cartesian school in a form which would not shock the conscience of his time.
See also 
- W. Whiston, Historical Memoirs
- Preface by Benjamin Hoadly to Clarke's Works (4 vols., London, 1738–1742)
- On his general philosophical position, John Hunt, Religious Thought in England, passim, but particularly in vol. ii. 447-457, and vol. iii. 20-29 and 109-115, &c.;
- Rob. Zimmermann in the Denkschriften d. k. Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phil. Hist. Classe, Bd. xix. (Vienna, 1870);
- Henry Sidgwick, Methods of Ethics (6th ed., 1901), p. 384;
- Alexander Bain, Moral Science (1872), p. 562 foIl., and Mental Science (1872), p. 416;
- Leslie Stephen, English Thought in the Eighteenth Century (3rd ed., 1902), c. iii.;
- J. E. le Rossignol, Ethical Philosophy of S. Clarke (Leipzig, 1892).
- "Clarke, John (1682-1757)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- Venn, J.; Venn, J. A., eds. (1922–1958). "Clarke, Samuel". Alumni Cantabrigienses (10 vols) (online ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Clarke, Samuel; Collins, Anthony (2011). In Uzgalis, William. The Correspondence of Samuel Clarke and Anthony Collins, 1707-1708. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press. ISBN 978-1-55111-984-7.
- Georg Victor Leroy, Die philosophischen Probleme in dem Briefwechsel Leibniz und Clarke, Giessen, 1893.
- The Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity; London: Printed for James Knapton, at the Crown in St. Paul's Church-Yard, 1712.
- Samuel Clarke entry by Ezio Vailati in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- A fairly readable version of the correspondence with Leibniz and a correspondence with Joseph Butler