Sunday, March 13, 2011

Joseph Priestley

Joseph Priestley, the theologian and natural philosopher, was born on March 13, 1733.   Priestley helped establish Unitarianism in Britain, and influenced Thomas Jefferson, with whom he corresponded after escaping with his family to America.  The escape was precipitated by personal attacks on Priestley, who spoke and wrote in an inflammatory way about what he perceived as corruptions of Christianity, and against the Test Act, which favored members of the Church of England for public office.

Priestley also engaged in scientific study, being the first to identify oxygen. He also created soda water, which is something Walter Scott might have enjoyed with whiskey.  A more salient connection however, is that both Priestley and Scott benefitted from at least one common educator; philosopher Dugald Stewart.

The term common, of course, refers not to Stewart's efficacy in teaching, but in its being shared by these two; and other famous individuals.  And whether or not one believes in Priestley's or Scott's views one must appreciate the strength of thought behind them.  In our current days of budget cuts, in Education and all walks of life, a fundamental review of what constitutes effective education could benefit all concerned.  The list of contributions from individuals like Priestley and Scott who benefitted from a background in philosophy points to substantial benefit from a reemphasis on its study.

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