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Morgan, Thomas (d. 1743)

(d. 1743)

Thomas Morgan, the Welsh deist, dissenting minister, doctor of medicine, freethinker, and religious controversialist, was born of a poor family but received a free education from the Reverend John Moore, a dissenter. Morgan was ordained in 1714 and became minister of Burton two years later and subsequently of Marlborough; in 1720 he was dismissed from this last post for his growing unorthodoxy. He then took up the study of medicine and produced several books on that subjectPhilosophical Principles of Medicine (1725), The Mechanical Practice of Physic (1735), Letter to Dr. Cheyne in defence of the "Mechanical Practice" (1738).

Morgan is chiefly remembered, however, for his deistical tracts, or "Christian deistical," as he preferred to call them, in which he described himself as "M.D. and Moral Philosopher." The Moral Philosopher, in a Dialogue between Philalethes, a Christian Deist, and Theophanes, a Christian Jew (1737) is his major work. Controversy produced two further works under the same title, the second of 1739, subtitled "Being a farther Vindication of Moral Truth and Reason," and the third of 1740, subtitled "Superstition inconsistent with Theocracy." In 1741 he published A Vindication of the Moral Philosopher; Against the False Accusations, Insults, and Personal Abuses, of Samuel Chandler, Late Bookseller and Minister of the Gospel.

In general, Morgan was a rationalist espousing the five Common Notions of Lord Herbert of Cherbury. He was also one of the pioneers of historical criticism of the Bible, particularly of the Pentateuch, and was considerably influenced by John Toland and to some extent by Thomas Chubb. The latter's advocacy of free will, however, he strongly attacked in 1727 in A Letter to Mr. Thomas Chubb, occasioned by his "Vindication of Human Nature" and in 1728 in A Defence of Natural and Revealed Religion.

Morgan believed in the corruption of human nature and defended suicide for the "weary or satiated with living." His criticism of the Scriptures centered on the fact that so many different interpretations are possible and are accepted by so many different and sincere believers. Traditional religion, therefore, is not infallible but only probable, as is all history. Priestcraft, which instituted superstition, enthusiasm, and finally persecution, is the culprit for the erroneous notion of the infallibility of a catholic church. Reason and tolerance are the only cures.

See also Deism.


Additional works by Morgan include A Collection of Tracts occasioned by the late Trinitarian Controversy (1725); A Philosophical Dissertation upon Death. Composed for the Consolation of the Unhappy (1732); The History of Joseph Considered by Philalethes (1744). See also Sir Leslie Stephen's History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century (London: Putnam, 1876; the paperback edition, 2 vols., New York: Harcourt Brace, 1963, follows the revised edition of 1902), and the general bibliography under the Deism entry.

Ernest Campbell Mossner (1967)

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