Joseph Priestley

Joseph Priestley

Overview
Joseph Priestley, FRS
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

 (13 March 1733 (O.S.
Old Style and New Style dates
Old Style and New Style are used in English language historical studies either to indicate that the start of the Julian year has been adjusted to start on 1 January even though documents written at the time use a different start of year ; or to indicate that a date conforms to the Julian...

)
– 6 February 1804) was an 18th-century English theologian, Dissenting
English Dissenters
English Dissenters were Christians who separated from the Church of England in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.They originally agitated for a wide reaching Protestant Reformation of the Established Church, and triumphed briefly under Oliver Cromwell....

 clergy
Clergy
Clergy is the generic term used to describe the formal religious leadership within a given religion. A clergyman, churchman or cleric is a member of the clergy, especially one who is a priest, preacher, pastor, or other religious professional....

man, natural philosopher
Natural philosophy
Natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature , is a term applied to the study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science...

, chemist
Chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

, educator, and political theorist
Political philosophy
Political philosophy is the study of such topics as liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a legal code by authority: what they are, why they are needed, what, if anything, makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect and why, what form it...

 who published over 150 works. He is usually credited with the discovery of oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

, having isolated it in its gas
Gas
Gas is one of the three classical states of matter . Near absolute zero, a substance exists as a solid. As heat is added to this substance it melts into a liquid at its melting point , boils into a gas at its boiling point, and if heated high enough would enter a plasma state in which the electrons...

eous state, although Carl Wilhelm Scheele
Carl Wilhelm Scheele
Carl Wilhelm Scheele was a German-Swedish pharmaceutical chemist. Isaac Asimov called him "hard-luck Scheele" because he made a number of chemical discoveries before others who are generally given the credit...

 and Antoine Lavoisier
Antoine Lavoisier
Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier , the "father of modern chemistry", was a French nobleman prominent in the histories of chemistry and biology...

 also have a claim to the discovery.

During his lifetime, Priestley's considerable scientific reputation rested on his invention of soda water, his writings on electricity
Electricity
Electricity is a general term encompassing a variety of phenomena resulting from the presence and flow of electric charge. These include many easily recognizable phenomena, such as lightning, static electricity, and the flow of electrical current in an electrical wire...

, and his discovery of several "airs" (gases), the most famous being what Priestley dubbed "dephlogisticated air" (oxygen).
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Encyclopedia
Joseph Priestley, FRS
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

 (13 March 1733 (O.S.
Old Style and New Style dates
Old Style and New Style are used in English language historical studies either to indicate that the start of the Julian year has been adjusted to start on 1 January even though documents written at the time use a different start of year ; or to indicate that a date conforms to the Julian...

)
– 6 February 1804) was an 18th-century English theologian, Dissenting
English Dissenters
English Dissenters were Christians who separated from the Church of England in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.They originally agitated for a wide reaching Protestant Reformation of the Established Church, and triumphed briefly under Oliver Cromwell....

 clergy
Clergy
Clergy is the generic term used to describe the formal religious leadership within a given religion. A clergyman, churchman or cleric is a member of the clergy, especially one who is a priest, preacher, pastor, or other religious professional....

man, natural philosopher
Natural philosophy
Natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature , is a term applied to the study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science...

, chemist
Chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

, educator, and political theorist
Political philosophy
Political philosophy is the study of such topics as liberty, justice, property, rights, law, and the enforcement of a legal code by authority: what they are, why they are needed, what, if anything, makes a government legitimate, what rights and freedoms it should protect and why, what form it...

 who published over 150 works. He is usually credited with the discovery of oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

, having isolated it in its gas
Gas
Gas is one of the three classical states of matter . Near absolute zero, a substance exists as a solid. As heat is added to this substance it melts into a liquid at its melting point , boils into a gas at its boiling point, and if heated high enough would enter a plasma state in which the electrons...

eous state, although Carl Wilhelm Scheele
Carl Wilhelm Scheele
Carl Wilhelm Scheele was a German-Swedish pharmaceutical chemist. Isaac Asimov called him "hard-luck Scheele" because he made a number of chemical discoveries before others who are generally given the credit...

 and Antoine Lavoisier
Antoine Lavoisier
Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier , the "father of modern chemistry", was a French nobleman prominent in the histories of chemistry and biology...

 also have a claim to the discovery.

During his lifetime, Priestley's considerable scientific reputation rested on his invention of soda water, his writings on electricity
Electricity
Electricity is a general term encompassing a variety of phenomena resulting from the presence and flow of electric charge. These include many easily recognizable phenomena, such as lightning, static electricity, and the flow of electrical current in an electrical wire...

, and his discovery of several "airs" (gases), the most famous being what Priestley dubbed "dephlogisticated air" (oxygen). However, Priestley's determination to defend phlogiston theory
Phlogiston theory
The phlogiston theory , first stated in 1667 by Johann Joachim Becher, is an obsolete scientific theory that postulated the existence of a fire-like element called "phlogiston", which was contained within combustible bodies and released during combustion...

 and to reject what would become the chemical revolution eventually left him isolated within the scientific community.

Priestley's science was integral to his theology, and he consistently tried to fuse Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

 rationalism with Christian theism. In his metaphysical texts, Priestley attempted to combine theism
Theism
Theism, in the broadest sense, is the belief that at least one deity exists.In a more specific sense, theism refers to a doctrine concerning the nature of a monotheistic God and God's relationship to the universe....

, materialism
Materialism
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

, and determinism
Determinism
Determinism is the general philosophical thesis that states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen. There are many versions of this thesis. Each of them rests upon various alleged connections, and interdependencies of things and...

, a project that has been called "audacious and original". He believed that a proper understanding of the natural world would promote human progress
Progress (history)
In historiography and the philosophy of history, progress is the idea that the world can become increasingly better in terms of science, technology, modernization, liberty, democracy, quality of life, etc...

 and eventually bring about the Christian Millennium
Millennialism
Millennialism , or chiliasm in Greek, is a belief held by some Christian denominations that there will be a Golden Age or Paradise on Earth in which "Christ will reign" for 1000 years prior to the final judgment and future eternal state...

. Priestley, who strongly believed in the free and open exchange of ideas, advocated toleration
Religious toleration
Toleration is "the practice of deliberately allowing or permitting a thing of which one disapproves. One can meaningfully speak of tolerating, ie of allowing or permitting, only if one is in a position to disallow”. It has also been defined as "to bear or endure" or "to nourish, sustain or preserve"...

 and equal rights for religious Dissenters
English Dissenters
English Dissenters were Christians who separated from the Church of England in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.They originally agitated for a wide reaching Protestant Reformation of the Established Church, and triumphed briefly under Oliver Cromwell....

, which also led him to help found Unitarianism
Unitarianism
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being....

 in England. The controversial nature of Priestley's publications combined with his outspoken support of the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

 aroused public and governmental suspicion; he was eventually forced to flee, in 1791, first to London
London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

, and then to the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, after a mob burned down his home and church
Priestley Riots
The Priestley Riots took place from 14 July to 17 July 1791 in Birmingham, England; the rioters' main targets were religious Dissenters, most notably the politically and theologically controversial Joseph Priestley...

. He spent the last ten years of his life living in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania
Northumberland County, Pennsylvania
There were 38,835 households out of which 27.30% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.40% were married couples living together, 9.60% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.10% were non-families. 30.20% of all households were made up of individuals and 15.50% had...

.

A scholar and teacher throughout his life, Priestley also made significant contributions to pedagogy
Pedagogy
Pedagogy is the study of being a teacher or the process of teaching. The term generally refers to strategies of instruction, or a style of instruction....

, including the publication of a seminal work on English grammar, books on history, and he prepared some of the most influential early timelines. These educational writings were some of Priestley's most popular works. It was his metaphysical works, however, that had the most lasting influence: leading philosophers including Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham
Jeremy Bentham was an English jurist, philosopher, and legal and social reformer. He became a leading theorist in Anglo-American philosophy of law, and a political radical whose ideas influenced the development of welfarism...

, John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill was a British philosopher, economist and civil servant. An influential contributor to social theory, political theory, and political economy, his conception of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state control. He was a proponent of...

, and Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher, biologist, sociologist, and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era....

 credit them among the primary sources for utilitarianism
Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism is an ethical theory holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes the overall "happiness", by whatever means necessary. It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined only by its resulting outcome, and that one can...

.

Early life and education (1733–55)


Priestley was born to an established English Dissenting
English Dissenters
English Dissenters were Christians who separated from the Church of England in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.They originally agitated for a wide reaching Protestant Reformation of the Established Church, and triumphed briefly under Oliver Cromwell....

 family (i.e., they did not conform to the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

) in Birstall
Birstall, West Yorkshire
Birstall is a large village in the metropolitan borough of Kirklees, West Yorkshire, England and situated roughly 6 miles south-west of Leeds. It features a quaint triangular Victorian marketplace, which replaced an earlier market on High Street in the Georgian area of the village further up the hill...

, near Batley
Batley
Batley is a town within the Metropolitan Borough of Kirklees, in West Yorkshire, England. It lies southeast of Bradford, southwest of Leeds and north of Dewsbury, near the M62 motorway. It has a population of 49,448 . Other nearby towns include Morley to the northeast, Ossett to the southeast...

 in the West Riding of Yorkshire
West Riding of Yorkshire
The West Riding of Yorkshire is one of the three historic subdivisions of Yorkshire, England. From 1889 to 1974 the administrative county, County of York, West Riding , was based closely on the historic boundaries...

. He was the oldest of six children born to Mary Swift and Jonas Priestley, a finisher of cloth. To ease his mother's burdens, Priestley was sent to live with his grandfather around the age of one; after his mother died five years later, he returned home. When his father remarried in 1741, Priestley went to live with his aunt and uncle, the wealthy and childless Sarah and John Keighley, 3 miles (5 km) from Fieldhead. Because Priestley was precocious—at the age of four he could flawlessly recite all 107 questions and answers of the Westminster Shorter Catechism
Westminster Shorter Catechism
The Westminster Shorter Catechism was written in the 1640s by English and Scottish divines. The assembly also produced the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Westminster Larger Catechism...

—his aunt sought the best education for the boy, intending him for the ministry. During his youth, Priestley attended local schools where he learned Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.

Around 1749, Priestley became seriously ill and believed he was dying. Raised as a devout Calvinist, he believed a conversion experience
Conversion to Christianity
Conversion to Christianity is the religious conversion of a previously non-Christian person to some form of Christianity. It has been called the foundational experience of Christian life...

 was necessary for salvation, but doubted he had had one. This emotional distress eventually led him to question his theological upbringing, causing him to reject election
Unconditional election
Unconditional election is the Calvinist teaching that before God created the world, he chose to save some people according to his own purposes and apart from any conditions related to those persons...

 and to accept universal salvation
Universal reconciliation
In Christian theology, universal reconciliation is the doctrine that all sinful and alienated human souls—because of divine love and mercy—will ultimately be reconciled to God.Universal salvation may be related to the perception of a problem of Hell, standing opposed to ideas...

. As a result, the elders of his home church, the Independent
Independent (religion)
In English church history, Independents advocated local congregational control of religious and church matters, without any wider geographical hierarchy, either ecclesiastical or political...

 Upper Chapel of Heckmondwike
Heckmondwike
Heckmondwike is a small town in the metropolitan borough of Kirklees, which is located geographically at the centre of West Yorkshire, England, south west of Leeds. Close to Cleckheaton and Liversedge, it is part of Cleckheckmondsedge, a name invented by J.B. Priestley to represent a West Riding...

, refused him admission as a full member.

Priestley's illness left him with a permanent stutter and he gave up any thoughts of entering the ministry at that time. In preparation for joining a relative in trade in Lisbon
Lisbon
Lisbon is the capital city and largest city of Portugal with a population of 545,245 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Lisbon extends beyond the administrative city limits with a population of 3 million on an area of , making it the 9th most populous urban...

, he studied French, Italian, and German in addition to Chaldean
Chaldean Neo-Aramaic
Chaldean Neo-Aramaic is a Northeastern Neo-Aramaic dialect. Chaldean Neo-Aramaic is spoken on the plain of Mosul in northern Iraq, as well as by the Chaldean communities worldwide. Most speakers are Chaldean Catholics....

, Syrian, and Arabic. He was tutored by the Reverend George Haggerstone, who first introduced him to higher mathematics, natural philosophy
Natural philosophy
Natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature , is a term applied to the study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science...

, logic, and metaphysics
Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

 through the works of Isaac Watts
Isaac Watts
Isaac Watts was an English hymnwriter, theologian and logician. A prolific and popular hymnwriter, he was recognised as the "Father of English Hymnody", credited with some 750 hymns...

, Willem 's Gravesande
Willem 's Gravesande
Willem Jacob 's Gravesande was a Dutch philosopher and mathematician.-Life:Born in 's-Hertogenbosch, he studied law in Leiden and wrote a thesis on suicide. He was praised by John Bernoulli when he published his book Essai de perspective. In 1715, he visited London and King George I. He became a...

, and John Locke
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

.

Daventry Academy


Priestley eventually decided to return to his theological studies and, in 1752, matriculated at Daventry
Daventry Academy
Daventry Academy was a dissenting academy, that is, a school or college set up by English Dissenters. It moved to many locations, but was most associated with Daventry, where its most famous pupil was Joseph Priestley...

, a Dissenting academy. Because he had already read widely, Priestley was allowed to skip the first two years of coursework. He continued his intense study; this, together with the liberal atmosphere of the school, shifted his theology further leftward and he became a Rational Dissenter. Abhorring dogma and religious mysticism, Rational Dissenters emphasized the rational analysis of the natural world and the Bible.

Priestley later wrote that the book that influenced him the most, save the Bible, was David Hartley's
David Hartley (philosopher)
David Hartley was an English philosopher and founder of the Associationist school of psychology. -Early life and education:...

 Observations on Man
Observations on Man
Observations on Man, his Frame, his Duty, and his Expectations is 18th-century British philosopher David Hartley's major work. Published in two parts in 1749 by Samuel Richardson, it puts forth Hartley's principal theories: the doctrine of vibrations and the doctrine of associations...

(1749). Hartley's psychological, philosophical, and theological treatise postulated a material theory of mind
Philosophy of mind
Philosophy of mind is a branch of philosophy that studies the nature of the mind, mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness and their relationship to the physical body, particularly the brain. The mind-body problem, i.e...

. Hartley aimed to construct a Christian philosophy in which both religious and moral "facts" could be scientifically proven, a goal that would occupy Priestley for his entire life. In his third year at Daventry, Priestley committed himself to the ministry, which he described as "the noblest of all professions".

Needham Market and Nantwich (1755–61)




Robert Schofield, Priestley's major modern biographer, describes his first "call" in 1755 to the Dissenting parish in Needham Market
Needham Market
Needham Market is a town in Suffolk, England. It initially grew around the wool combing industry, until the onset of the plague, which swept the town from 1663 to 1665. To prevent the spread of the disease, the town was chained at either end, which succeeded in its task but at the cost of...

, Suffolk
Suffolk
Suffolk is a non-metropolitan county of historic origin in East Anglia, England. It has borders with Norfolk to the north, Cambridgeshire to the west and Essex to the south. The North Sea lies to the east...

, as a "mistake" for both Priestley and the congregation. Priestley yearned for urban life and theological debate, whereas Needham Market was a small, rural town with a congregation wedded to tradition. Attendance and donations dropped sharply when they discovered the extent of his heterodoxy
Heterodoxy
Heterodoxy is generally defined as "any opinions or doctrines at variance with an official or orthodox position". As an adjective, heterodox is commonly used to describe a subject as "characterized by departure from accepted beliefs or standards"...

. Although Priestley's aunt had promised her support if he became a minister, she refused any further assistance when she realized he was no longer a Calvinist. To earn extra money, Priestley proposed opening a school, but local families informed him that they would refuse to send their children. He also presented a series of scientific lectures titled "Use of the Globes" that was more successful.

Priestley's Daventry friends helped him obtain another position and in 1758 he moved to Nantwich
Nantwich
Nantwich is a market town and civil parish in the Borough of Cheshire East and the ceremonial county of Cheshire, England. The town gives its name to the parliamentary constituency of Crewe and Nantwich...

, Cheshire
Cheshire
Cheshire is a ceremonial county in North West England. Cheshire's county town is the city of Chester, although its largest town is Warrington. Other major towns include Widnes, Congleton, Crewe, Ellesmere Port, Runcorn, Macclesfield, Winsford, Northwich, and Wilmslow...

; his time there was happier. The congregation cared less about Priestley's heterodoxy and he successfully established a school. Unlike many schoolmasters of the time, Priestley taught his students natural philosophy
Natural philosophy
Natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature , is a term applied to the study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science...

 and even bought scientific instruments for them. Appalled at the quality of the available English grammar books, Priestley wrote his own: The Rudiments of English Grammar
The Rudiments of English Grammar
The Rudiments of English Grammar was a popular English grammar textbook written the 18th-century British polymath Joseph Priestley....

(1761). His innovations in the description of English grammar, particularly his efforts to disassociate it from Latin grammar, led 20th-century scholars to describe him as "one of the great grammarians of his time". After the publication of Rudiments and the success of Priestley's school, Warrington Academy
Warrington Academy
Warrington Academy, active as a teaching establishment from 1756 to 1782, was a prominent dissenting academy, that is, a school or college set up by those who dissented from the state church in England...

 offered him a teaching position in 1761.

Warrington Academy (1761–67)


In 1761, Priestley moved to Warrington
Warrington
Warrington is a town, borough and unitary authority area of Cheshire, England. It stands on the banks of the River Mersey, which is tidal to the west of the weir at Howley. It lies 16 miles east of Liverpool, 19 miles west of Manchester and 8 miles south of St Helens...

 and assumed the post of tutor of modern languages and rhetoric at the town's Dissenting academy
Warrington Academy
Warrington Academy, active as a teaching establishment from 1756 to 1782, was a prominent dissenting academy, that is, a school or college set up by those who dissented from the state church in England...

, although he would have preferred to teach mathematics and natural philosophy. He fitted in well at Warrington, and made friends quickly. On 23 June 1762, he married Mary Wilkinson of Wrexham
Wrexham
Wrexham is a town in Wales. It is the administrative centre of the wider Wrexham County Borough, and the largest town in North Wales, located in the east of the region. It is situated between the Welsh mountains and the lower Dee Valley close to the border with Cheshire, England...

. Of his marriage, Priestley wrote:

This proved a very suitable and happy connexion, my wife being a woman of an excellent understanding, much improved by reading, of great fortitude and strength of mind, and of a temper in the highest degree affectionate and generous; feeling strongly for others, and little for herself. Also, greatly excelling in every thing relating to household affairs, she entirely relieved me of all concern of that kind, which allowed me to give all my time to the prosecution of my studies, and the other duties of my station.

On 17 April 1763, they had a daughter, whom they named Sarah after Priestley's aunt.

Educator and historian


All of the books Priestley published while at Warrington emphasized the study of history; Priestley considered it essential for worldly success as well as religious growth. He wrote histories of science and Christianity in an effort to reveal the progress of humanity and, paradoxically, the loss of a pure, "primitive Christianity".
In his Essay on a Course of Liberal Education for Civil and Active Life
Essay on a Course of Liberal Education for Civil and Active Life
Essay on a Course of Liberal Education for Civil and Active Life is an educational treatise by the 18th-century British polymath Joseph Priestley....

(1765), Lectures on History and General Policy
Lectures on History and General Policy
Lectures on History and General Policy is the published version of a set of lectures on history and government given by the 18th-century British polymath Joseph Priestley to the students of Warrington Academy....

(1788), and other works, Priestley argued that the education of the young should anticipate their future practical needs. This principle of utility guided his unconventional curricular choices for Warrington's aspiring middle-class students. He recommended modern languages instead of classical languages and modern rather than ancient history. Priestley's lectures on history were particularly revolutionary; he narrated a providentialist
Providentialism
Providentialism is a belief that God's will is evident in all occurrences. It can further be described as a belief that the power of God is so complete that humans cannot equal His abilities, or fully understand His plan...

 and naturalist account of history, arguing that the study of history furthered the comprehension of God's natural laws. Furthermore, his millennial
Millennialism
Millennialism , or chiliasm in Greek, is a belief held by some Christian denominations that there will be a Golden Age or Paradise on Earth in which "Christ will reign" for 1000 years prior to the final judgment and future eternal state...

 perspective was closely tied to his optimism regarding scientific progress and the improvement of humanity. He believed that each age would improve upon the previous and that the study of history allowed people to perceive and to advance this progress. Since the study of history was a moral imperative for Priestley, he also promoted the education of middle-class women, which was unusual at the time. Some scholars of education have described Priestley as the most important English writer on education between the 17th-century John Locke
John Locke
John Locke FRS , widely known as the Father of Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. Considered one of the first of the British empiricists, following the tradition of Francis Bacon, he is equally important to social...

 and the 19th-century Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher, biologist, sociologist, and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era....

. Lectures on History was well-received and was employed by many educational institutions, such as New College at Hackney, Brown
Brown University
Brown University is a private, Ivy League university located in Providence, Rhode Island, United States. Founded in 1764 prior to American independence from the British Empire as the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations early in the reign of King George III ,...

, Princeton
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

, Yale
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

, and Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

. Priestley designed two Charts to serve as visual study aides for his Lectures. These charts are in fact timelines; they have been described as the most influential timelines published in the 18th century. Both were popular for decades, and the trustees of Warrington were so impressed with Priestley's lectures and charts that they arranged for the University of Edinburgh
University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh, founded in 1583, is a public research university located in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The university is deeply embedded in the fabric of the city, with many of the buildings in the historic Old Town belonging to the university...

 to grant him a Doctor of Law degree in 1764.

History of Electricity


The intellectually stimulating atmosphere of Warrington, often called the "Athens of the North" during the 18th century, encouraged Priestley's growing interest in natural philosophy. He gave lectures on anatomy and performed experiments regarding temperature with another tutor at Warrington, his friend John Seddon
John Seddon of Warrington
-Life:The son of Peter Seddon, dissenting minister successively at Ormskirk and Hereford, he was born at Hereford on 8 December 1725. The Unitarian John Seddon , with whom he has often been confused, is said to have been a second cousin...

. Despite Priestley's busy teaching schedule, he decided to write a history of electricity
Electricity
Electricity is a general term encompassing a variety of phenomena resulting from the presence and flow of electric charge. These include many easily recognizable phenomena, such as lightning, static electricity, and the flow of electrical current in an electrical wire...

. Friends introduced him to the major experimenters in the field in Britain—John Canton
John Canton
John Canton FRS was an English physicist.Canton was born in Middle Street Stroud, Gloucestershire, the son of a weaver John Canton and Esther He had only a common education, after which he was put apprentice to a broadcloth weaver, but his leisure hours were devoted to mathematical studies, and...

, William Watson, and the visiting Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

—who encouraged Priestley to perform the experiments he wanted to include in his history. In the process of replicating others' experiments, Priestley became intrigued by unanswered questions and was prompted to undertake experiments of his own design. (Impressed with his Charts and the manuscript of his history of electricity, Canton, Franklin, Watson, and Richard Price
Richard Price
Richard Price was a British moral philosopher and preacher in the tradition of English Dissenters, and a political pamphleteer, active in radical, republican, and liberal causes such as the American Revolution. He fostered connections between a large number of people, including writers of the...

 nominated Priestley for a fellowship in the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

; he was accepted in 1766.)

In 1767, the 700-page The History and Present State of Electricity
The History and Present State of Electricity
The History and Present State of Electricity , by eighteenth-century British polymath Joseph Priestley, is a survey of the study of electricity up until 1766 as well as a description of experiments by Priestley himself....

was published to positive reviews. The first half of the text is a history of the study of electricity to 1766; the second and more influential half is a description of contemporary theories about electricity and suggestions for future research. Priestley reported some of his own discoveries in the second section, such as the conductivity of charcoal
Charcoal
Charcoal is the dark grey residue consisting of carbon, and any remaining ash, obtained by removing water and other volatile constituents from animal and vegetation substances. Charcoal is usually produced by slow pyrolysis, the heating of wood or other substances in the absence of oxygen...

 and other substances and the continuum between conductors and non-conductors. This discovery overturned what he described as "one of the earliest and universally received maxims of electricity", that only water and metals could conduct electricity. This and other experiments on the electrical properties of materials and on the electrical effects of chemical transformations demonstrated Priestley's early and ongoing interest in the relationship between chemical substances and electricity. Based on experiments with charged spheres, Priestley was among the first to propose that electrical force followed an inverse-square law
Inverse-square law
In physics, an inverse-square law is any physical law stating that a specified physical quantity or strength is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the source of that physical quantity....

, similar to Newton's law of universal gravitation
Newton's law of universal gravitation
Newton's law of universal gravitation states that every point mass in the universe attracts every other point mass with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them...

. However, he did not generalize or elaborate on this, and the general law
Coulomb's law
Coulomb's law or Coulomb's inverse-square law, is a law of physics describing the electrostatic interaction between electrically charged particles. It was first published in 1785 by French physicist Charles Augustin de Coulomb and was essential to the development of the theory of electromagnetism...

 was enunciated by French physicist Charles-Augustin de Coulomb
Charles-Augustin de Coulomb
Charles-Augustin de Coulomb was a French physicist. He is best known for developing Coulomb's law, the definition of the electrostatic force of attraction and repulsion. The [SI unit] of charge, the coulomb, was named after him....

 in the 1780s.

Priestley's strength as a natural philosopher was qualitative rather than quantitative and his observation of "a current of real air" between two electrified points would later interest Michael Faraday
Michael Faraday
Michael Faraday, FRS was an English chemist and physicist who contributed to the fields of electromagnetism and electrochemistry....

 and James Clerk Maxwell
James Clerk Maxwell
James Clerk Maxwell of Glenlair was a Scottish physicist and mathematician. His most prominent achievement was formulating classical electromagnetic theory. This united all previously unrelated observations, experiments and equations of electricity, magnetism and optics into a consistent theory...

 as they investigated electromagnetism
Electromagnetism
Electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental interactions in nature. The other three are the strong interaction, the weak interaction and gravitation...

. Priestley's text became the standard history of electricity for over a century; Alessandro Volta
Alessandro Volta
Count Alessandro Giuseppe Antonio Anastasio Gerolamo Umberto Volta was a Lombard physicist known especially for the invention of the battery in 1800.-Early life and works:...

 (who later invented the battery), William Herschel
William Herschel
Sir Frederick William Herschel, KH, FRS, German: Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel was a German-born British astronomer, technical expert, and composer. Born in Hanover, Wilhelm first followed his father into the Military Band of Hanover, but emigrated to Britain at age 19...

 (who discovered infrared radiation), and Henry Cavendish
Henry Cavendish
Henry Cavendish FRS was a British scientist noted for his discovery of hydrogen or what he called "inflammable air". He described the density of inflammable air, which formed water on combustion, in a 1766 paper "On Factitious Airs". Antoine Lavoisier later reproduced Cavendish's experiment and...

 (who discovered hydrogen
Hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

) all relied upon it. Priestley wrote a popular version of the History of Electricity for the general public titled A Familiar Introduction to the Study of Electricity (1768). He marketed the book with his brother Timothy, but unsuccessfully.

Leeds (1767–73)


Perhaps prompted by Mary Priestley's ill health, or financial problems, or a desire to prove himself to the community that had rejected him in his childhood, Priestley moved with his family from Warrington to Leeds
Leeds
Leeds is a city and metropolitan borough in West Yorkshire, England. In 2001 Leeds' main urban subdivision had a population of 443,247, while the entire city has a population of 798,800 , making it the 30th-most populous city in the European Union.Leeds is the cultural, financial and commercial...

 in 1767, and he became Mill Hill Chapel's minister. Two sons were born to the Priestleys in Leeds: Joseph junior on 24 July 1768 and William three years later. Theophilus Lindsey
Theophilus Lindsey
Theophilus Lindsey was an English theologian and clergyman who founded the first avowedly Unitarian congregation in the country, at Essex Street Chapel.-Life:...

, a rector
Rector
The word rector has a number of different meanings; it is widely used to refer to an academic, religious or political administrator...

 at Catterick, Yorkshire
Catterick, North Yorkshire
Catterick , sometimes Catterick Village, to distinguish it from the nearby Catterick Garrison, is a village and civil parish in the Richmondshire district of North Yorkshire, England...

, became one of Priestley's few friends in Leeds, of whom he wrote: "I never chose to publish any thing of moment relating to theology, without consulting him." Although Priestley had extended family living around Leeds, it does not appear that they communicated. Schofield conjectures that they considered him a heretic
Heresy
Heresy is a controversial or novel change to a system of beliefs, especially a religion, that conflicts with established dogma. It is distinct from apostasy, which is the formal denunciation of one's religion, principles or cause, and blasphemy, which is irreverence toward religion...

. Each year Priestley traveled to London to consult with his close friend and publisher, Joseph Johnson
Joseph Johnson (publisher)
Joseph Johnson was an influential 18th-century London bookseller and publisher. His publications covered a wide variety of genres and a broad spectrum of opinions on important issues...

, and to attend meetings of the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

.

Minister of Mill Hill Chapel


When Priestley became its minister, Mill Hill Chapel was one of the oldest and most respected Dissenting congregations in England; however, during the early 18th century the congregation had fractured along doctrinal lines, and was losing members to the charismatic Methodist movement. Priestley believed that by educating the young, he could strengthen the bonds of the congregation.

In his magisterial three-volume Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion
Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion
The Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion, written by 18th-century English Dissenting minister and polymath Joseph Priestley, is a three-volume work designed for religious education published by Joseph Johnson between 1772 and 1774...

(1772–74), Priestley outlined his theories of religious instruction. More importantly, he laid out his belief in Socinianism
Socinianism
Socinianism is a system of Christian doctrine named for Fausto Sozzini , which was developed among the Polish Brethren in the Minor Reformed Church of Poland during the 15th and 16th centuries and embraced also by the Unitarian Church of Transylvania during the same period...

. The doctrines he explicated would become the standards for Unitarians
Unitarianism
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being....

 in Britain. This work marked a change in Priestley's theological thinking that is critical to understanding his later writings—it paved the way for his materialism
Materialism
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

 and necessitarianism
Necessitarianism
Necessitarianism is a metaphysical principle that denies all mere possibility; there is exactly one way for the world to be. It is the strongest member of a family of principles, including hard determinism, each of which deny free will, reasoning that human actions are predetermined by external or...

 (the belief that a divine being acts in accordance with necessary metaphysical laws).

Priestley's major argument in the Institutes was that the only revealed religious truths that could be accepted were those that matched one's experience of the natural world. Because his views of religion were deeply tied to his understanding of nature, the text's theism
Theism
Theism, in the broadest sense, is the belief that at least one deity exists.In a more specific sense, theism refers to a doctrine concerning the nature of a monotheistic God and God's relationship to the universe....

 rested on the argument from design. The Institutes shocked and appalled many readers, primarily because it challenged basic Christian orthodoxies, such as the divinity of Christ
Christ
Christ is the English term for the Greek meaning "the anointed one". It is a translation of the Hebrew , usually transliterated into English as Messiah or Mashiach...

 and the miracle of the Virgin Birth
Virgin Birth
The virgin birth of Jesus is a tenet of Christianity and Islam which holds that Mary miraculously conceived Jesus while remaining a virgin. The term "virgin birth" is commonly used, rather than "virgin conception", due to the tradition that Joseph "knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn...

. Methodists in Leeds penned a hymn asking God to "the Unitarian fiend expel / And chase his doctrine back to Hell." Priestley wanted to return Christianity to its "primitive" or "pure" form by eliminating the "corruptions" which had accumulated over the centuries. The fourth part of the Institutes, An History of the Corruptions of Christianity
An History of the Corruptions of Christianity
An History of the Corruptions of Christianity, published by Joseph Johnson in 1782, was the fourth part of 18th-century Dissenting minister Joseph Priestley's Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion .-Summary:...

, became so long that he was forced to issue it separately in 1782. Priestley believed that the Corruptions was "the most valuable" work he ever published. In demanding that his readers apply the logic of the emerging sciences and comparative history to the Bible and Christianity, he alienated religious and scientific readers alike—scientific readers did not appreciate seeing science used in the defense of religion and religious readers dismissed the application of science to religion.

Religious controversialist


Priestley engaged in numerous political and religious pamphlet
Pamphlet
A pamphlet is an unbound booklet . It may consist of a single sheet of paper that is printed on both sides and folded in half, in thirds, or in fourths , or it may consist of a few pages that are folded in half and saddle stapled at the crease to make a simple book...

 wars. According to Schofield, "he entered each controversy with a cheerful conviction that he was right, while most of his opponents were convinced, from the outset, that he was willfully and maliciously wrong. He was able, then, to contrast his sweet reasonableness to their personal rancor." However, as Schofield points out, Priestley rarely altered his opinion as a result of these debates. While at Leeds, he wrote controversial pamphlets on the Lord's Supper
Eucharist
The Eucharist , also called Holy Communion, the Sacrament of the Altar, the Blessed Sacrament, the Lord's Supper, and other names, is a Christian sacrament or ordinance...

 and on Calvinist doctrine; thousands of copies were published, making them some of Priestley's most widely read works.

Priestley founded the Theological Repository
Theological Repository
The Theological Repository was a periodical founded and edited from 1769 to 1771 by the eighteenth-century British polymath Joseph Priestley...

in 1768, a journal committed to the open and rational inquiry of theological questions. Although he promised to print any contribution, only like-minded authors submitted articles. He was therefore obliged to provide much of the journal's content himself (this material became the basis for many of his later theological and metaphysical works). After only a few years, due to a lack of funds, he was forced to cease publishing the journal. He revived it in 1784 with similar results.

Defender of Dissenters and political philosopher


Many of Priestley's political writings supported the repeal of the Test
Test Act
The Test Acts were a series of English penal laws that served as a religious test for public office and imposed various civil disabilities on Roman Catholics and Nonconformists...

 and Corporation Acts
Corporation Act 1661
The Corporation Act of 1661 is an Act of the Parliament of England . It belongs to the general category of test acts, designed for the express purpose of restricting public offices in England to members of the Church of England....

, which restricted the rights of Dissenters. They could not hold political office, serve in the armed forces, or attend Oxford and Cambridge unless they subscribed to the Thirty-nine Articles
Thirty-Nine Articles
The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion are the historically defining statements of doctrines of the Anglican church with respect to the controversies of the English Reformation. First established in 1563, the articles served to define the doctrine of the nascent Church of England as it related to...

 of the Church of England
Church of England
The Church of England is the officially established Christian church in England and the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The church considers itself within the tradition of Western Christianity and dates its formal establishment principally to the mission to England by St...

. Dissenters repeatedly petitioned Parliament to repeal the Acts, arguing that they were being treated as second-class citizens.

Priestley's friends, particularly other Rational Dissenters, urged him to publish a work on the injustices experienced by Dissenters; the result was his Essay on the First Principles of Government
Essay on the First Principles of Government
Essay on the First Principles of Government is an early work of modern liberal political theory by 18th-century British polymath Joseph Priestley.-Genesis of work:...

(1768). An early work of modern liberal political theory
Liberalism
Liberalism is the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally, liberals support ideas such as constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights,...

 and Priestley's most thorough treatment of the subject, it—unusually for the time—distinguished political rights from civil rights with precision and argued for expansive civil rights. Priestley identified separate private and public spheres, contending that the government should only have control over the public sphere. Education and religion, in particular, he maintained, were matters of private conscience and should not be administered by the state. Priestley's later radicalism emerged from his belief that the British government was infringing upon these individual freedoms.

Priestley also defended the rights of Dissenters against the attacks of William Blackstone
William Blackstone
Sir William Blackstone KC SL was an English jurist, judge and Tory politician of the eighteenth century. He is most noted for writing the Commentaries on the Laws of England. Born into a middle class family in London, Blackstone was educated at Charterhouse School before matriculating at Pembroke...

, an eminent legal theorist, whose Commentaries on the Laws of England
Commentaries on the Laws of England
The Commentaries on the Laws of England are an influential 18th-century treatise on the common law of England by Sir William Blackstone, originally published by the Clarendon Press at Oxford, 1765–1769...

(1765–69) had become the standard legal guide. Blackstone's book stated that dissent from the Church of England was a crime and that Dissenters could not be loyal subjects. Furious, Priestley lashed out with his Remarks on Dr. Blackstone's Commentaries (1769), correcting Blackstone's interpretation of the law, his grammar (a highly politicized subject at the time), and history. Blackstone, chastened, altered subsequent editions of his Commentaries: he rephrased the offending passages and removed the sections claiming that Dissenters could not be loyal subjects, but he retained his description of Dissent as a crime.

Natural philosopher: electricity, Optics, and soda water


Although Priestley claimed that natural philosophy
Natural philosophy
Natural philosophy or the philosophy of nature , is a term applied to the study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science...

 was only a hobby, he took it seriously. In his History of Electricity, he described the scientist as promoting the "security and happiness of mankind". Priestley's science was eminently practical and he rarely concerned himself with theoretical questions; his model was Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin
Dr. Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A noted polymath, Franklin was a leading author, printer, political theorist, politician, postmaster, scientist, musician, inventor, satirist, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat...

. When he moved to Leeds, Priestley continued his electrical and chemical experiments (the latter aided by a steady supply of carbon dioxide from a neighboring brewery
Brewery
A brewery is a dedicated building for the making of beer, though beer can be made at home, and has been for much of beer's history. A company which makes beer is called either a brewery or a brewing company....

). Between 1767 and 1770, he presented five papers to the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

 from these initial experiments; the first four papers explored coronal discharges and other phenomena related to electrical discharge, while the fifth reported on the conductivity of charcoals from different sources. His subsequent experimental work focused on chemistry and pneumatics
Pneumatics
Pneumatics is a branch of technology, which deals with the study and application of use of pressurized gas to effect mechanical motion.Pneumatic systems are extensively used in industry, where factories are commonly plumbed with compressed air or compressed inert gases...

.

Priestley published the first volume of his projected history of experimental philosophy, The History and Present State of Discoveries Relating to Vision, Light and Colours (referred to as his Optics), in 1772. He paid careful attention to the history of optics and presented excellent explanations of early optics experiments, but his mathematical deficiencies caused him to dismiss several important contemporary theories. Furthermore, he did not include any of the practical sections that had made his History of Electricity so useful to practicing natural philosophers. Unlike his History of Electricity, it was not popular and had only one edition, although it was the only English book on the topic for 150 years. The hastily written text sold poorly; the cost of researching, writing, and publishing the Optics convinced Priestley to abandon his history of experimental philosophy.

Priestley was considered for the position of astronomer on James Cook's
James Cook
Captain James Cook, FRS, RN was a British explorer, navigator and cartographer who ultimately rose to the rank of captain in the Royal Navy...

 second voyage to the South Seas, but was not chosen. Still, he contributed in a small way to the voyage: he provided the crew with a method for making soda water
Carbonated water
Carbonated water is water into which carbon dioxide gas under pressure has been dissolved, a process that causes the water to become effervescent....

, which he erroneously speculated might be a cure for scurvy
Scurvy
Scurvy is a disease resulting from a deficiency of vitamin C, which is required for the synthesis of collagen in humans. The chemical name for vitamin C, ascorbic acid, is derived from the Latin name of scurvy, scorbutus, which also provides the adjective scorbutic...

. He then published a pamphlet with Directions for Impregnating Water with Fixed Air (1772). Priestley did not exploit the commercial potential of soda water, but others such as made fortunes from it. In 1773, the Royal Society recognized Priestley's achievements in natural philosophy by awarding him the Copley Medal
Copley Medal
The Copley Medal is an award given by the Royal Society of London for "outstanding achievements in research in any branch of science, and alternates between the physical sciences and the biological sciences"...

.

Priestley's friends wanted to find him a more financially secure position. In 1772, prompted by Richard Price
Richard Price
Richard Price was a British moral philosopher and preacher in the tradition of English Dissenters, and a political pamphleteer, active in radical, republican, and liberal causes such as the American Revolution. He fostered connections between a large number of people, including writers of the...

 and Benjamin Franklin, Lord Shelburne
William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne
William Petty-FitzMaurice, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, KG, PC , known as The Earl of Shelburne between 1761 and 1784, by which title he is generally known to history, was an Irish-born British Whig statesman who was the first Home Secretary in 1782 and then Prime Minister 1782–1783 during the final...

 wrote to Priestley asking him to direct the education of his children and to act as his general assistant. Although Priestley was reluctant to sacrifice his ministry, he accepted the position, resigning from Mill Hill Chapel on 20 December 1772, and preaching his last sermon on 16 May 1773.

Calne (1773–80)


In 1773, the Priestleys moved to Calne
Calne
Calne is a town in Wiltshire, southwestern England. It is situated at the northwestern extremity of the North Wessex Downs hill range, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty....

 and a year later Lord Shelburne
William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne
William Petty-FitzMaurice, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, KG, PC , known as The Earl of Shelburne between 1761 and 1784, by which title he is generally known to history, was an Irish-born British Whig statesman who was the first Home Secretary in 1782 and then Prime Minister 1782–1783 during the final...

 and Priestley took a tour of Europe. According to Priestley's close friend Theophilus Lindsey
Theophilus Lindsey
Theophilus Lindsey was an English theologian and clergyman who founded the first avowedly Unitarian congregation in the country, at Essex Street Chapel.-Life:...

, Priestley was "much improved by this view of mankind at large". Upon their return, Priestley easily fulfilled his duties as librarian and tutor. The workload was intentionally light, allowing him time to pursue his scientific investigations and theological interests. Priestley also became a political adviser to Shelburne, gathering information on parliamentary issues and serving as a liaison between Shelburne and the Dissenting and American interests. When the Priestleys' third son was born on 24 May 1777, they named him Henry at the lord's request.

Materialist philosopher


Priestley wrote his most important philosophical works during his years with Lord Shelburne. In a series of major metaphysical
Metaphysics
Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of being and the world, although the term is not easily defined. Traditionally, metaphysics attempts to answer two basic questions in the broadest possible terms:...

 texts published between 1774 and 1780—An Examination of Dr. Reid's Inquiry into the Human Mind (1774), Hartley's Theory of the Human Mind on the Principle of the Association of Ideas (1775), Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirit
Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirit
Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirit is a major work of metaphysics written by eighteenth-century British polymath Joseph Priestley and published by Joseph Johnson....

(1777), The Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity Illustrated
The Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity Illustrated
The Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity is one of the major metaphysical works of 18th-century British polymath Joseph Priestley.Between 1774 and 1778, while serving as an assistant to Lord Shelburne, Priestley wrote a series of five major metaphysical works, arguing for a materialist philosophy...

(1777), and Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever
Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever
Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever is a multi-volume series of books on metaphysics by eighteenth-century British polymath Joseph Priestley....

(1780)—he argues for a philosophy that incorporates four concepts: determinism
Determinism
Determinism is the general philosophical thesis that states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen. There are many versions of this thesis. Each of them rests upon various alleged connections, and interdependencies of things and...

, materialism
Materialism
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

, causation
Causality
Causality is the relationship between an event and a second event , where the second event is understood as a consequence of the first....

, and necessitarianism
Necessitarianism
Necessitarianism is a metaphysical principle that denies all mere possibility; there is exactly one way for the world to be. It is the strongest member of a family of principles, including hard determinism, each of which deny free will, reasoning that human actions are predetermined by external or...

. By studying the natural world, he argued, people would learn how to become more compassionate, happy, and prosperous.

Priestley strongly suggested that there is no mind-body duality
Dualism (philosophy of mind)
In philosophy of mind, dualism is a set of views about the relationship between mind and matter, which begins with the claim that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical....

, and put forth a materialist philosophy in these works; that is, one founded on the principle that everything in the universe is made of matter that we can perceive. He also contended that discussing the soul is impossible because it is made of a divine substance, and humanity cannot perceive the divine. Despite his separation of the divine from the mortal, this position shocked and angered many of his readers, who believed that such a duality was necessary for the soul to exist.

Responding to Baron d'Holbach's
Baron d'Holbach
Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach was a French-German author, philosopher, encyclopedist and a prominent figure in the French Enlightenment. He was born Paul Heinrich Dietrich in Edesheim, near Landau in the Rhenish Palatinate, but lived and worked mainly in Paris, where he kept a salon...

 Système de la Nature
The System of Nature
The System of Nature or, the Laws of the Moral and Physical World is a work of philosophy by Paul Henri Thiry, Baron d'Holbach . It was originally published under the name of Jean-Baptiste de Mirabaud, a deceased member of the French Academy of Science...

(1770) and David Hume's
David Hume
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment...

 Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion is a philosophical work written by the Scottish philosopher David Hume. Through dialogue, three fictional characters named Demea, Philo, and Cleanthes debate the nature of God's existence...

(1779) as well as the works of the French philosophers, Priestley maintained that materialism and determinism could be reconciled with a belief in God. He criticized those whose faith was shaped by books and fashion, drawing an analogy between the skepticism of educated men and the credulity of the masses.

Maintaining that humans had no free will
Free will
"To make my own decisions whether I am successful or not due to uncontrollable forces" -Troy MorrisonA pragmatic definition of free willFree will is the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints. The existence of free will and its exact nature and definition have long...

, Priestley argued that what he called "philosophical necessity" (akin to absolute determinism
Determinism
Determinism is the general philosophical thesis that states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen. There are many versions of this thesis. Each of them rests upon various alleged connections, and interdependencies of things and...

) is consonant with Christianity, a position based on his understanding of the natural world. Like the rest of nature, man's mind is subject to the laws of causation, Priestley contended, but because a benevolent God created these laws, the world and the people in it will eventually be perfected. Evil is therefore only an imperfect understanding of the world.

Although Priestley's philosophical work has been characterized as "audacious and original", it partakes of older philosophical traditions on the problems of free will
Free will
"To make my own decisions whether I am successful or not due to uncontrollable forces" -Troy MorrisonA pragmatic definition of free willFree will is the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints. The existence of free will and its exact nature and definition have long...

, determinism
Determinism
Determinism is the general philosophical thesis that states that for everything that happens there are conditions such that, given them, nothing else could happen. There are many versions of this thesis. Each of them rests upon various alleged connections, and interdependencies of things and...

, and materialism
Materialism
In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

. For example, the 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza
Baruch Spinoza
Baruch de Spinoza and later Benedict de Spinoza was a Dutch Jewish philosopher. Revealing considerable scientific aptitude, the breadth and importance of Spinoza's work was not fully realized until years after his death...

 argued for absolute determinism and absolute materialism. Like Spinoza and Priestley,
Leibniz argued that human will was completely determined by natural laws;
however, unlike them, Leibniz argued for a "parallel universe" of immaterial objects (such as human souls) so arranged by God that its outcomes agree exactly with those of the material universe.
Leibniz
and Priestley
share an optimism that God has chosen the chain of events benevolently; however, Priestley believed that the events were leading to a glorious Millennial
Millennialism
Millennialism , or chiliasm in Greek, is a belief held by some Christian denominations that there will be a Golden Age or Paradise on Earth in which "Christ will reign" for 1000 years prior to the final judgment and future eternal state...

 conclusion, whereas for Leibniz the entire chain of events was optimal in and of itself, as compared with other conceivable chains of events.

Founder of Unitarianism



When Priestley's friend Theophilus Lindsey
Theophilus Lindsey
Theophilus Lindsey was an English theologian and clergyman who founded the first avowedly Unitarian congregation in the country, at Essex Street Chapel.-Life:...

 decided to found a new Christian denomination that would not restrict its members' beliefs, Priestley and others hurried to his aid. On 17 April 1774, Lindsey held the first Unitarian
Unitarianism
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being....

 service in Britain, at the newly formed Essex Street Chapel
Essex Street Chapel
Essex Street Chapel, also known as Essex Church, is a Unitarian place of worship in London. It was the first church in England set up with this doctrine, and was established at a time when Dissenters still faced legal threat...

 in London; he had even designed his own liturgy, of which many were critical. Priestley defended his friend in the pamphlet Letter to a Layman, on the Subject of the Rev. Mr. Lindsey's Proposal for a Reformed English Church (1774), claiming that only the form of worship had been altered, not its substance, and attacking those who followed religion as a fashion. Priestley attended Lindsey's church regularly in the 1770s and occasionally preached there. He continued to support institutionalized Unitarianism for the rest of his life, writing several Defenses of Unitarianism and encouraging the foundation of new Unitarian chapels throughout Britain and the United States.

Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air


Priestley's years in Calne were the only ones in his life dominated by scientific investigations; they were also the most scientifically fruitful. His experiments were almost entirely confined to "airs", and out of this work emerged his most important scientific texts: the six volumes of Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air
Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air
Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air is a six-volume work published by 18th-century British polymath Joseph Priestley which reports a series of his experiments on "airs" or gases, most notably his discovery of oxygen gas .-Airs:While working as a companion for Lord Shelburne,...

(1774–86). These experiments helped repudiate the last vestiges of the theory of four elements
Classical element
Many philosophies and worldviews have a set of classical elements believed to reflect the simplest essential parts and principles of which anything consists or upon which the constitution and fundamental powers of anything are based. Most frequently, classical elements refer to ancient beliefs...

, which Priestley attempted to replace with his own variation of phlogiston theory
Phlogiston theory
The phlogiston theory , first stated in 1667 by Johann Joachim Becher, is an obsolete scientific theory that postulated the existence of a fire-like element called "phlogiston", which was contained within combustible bodies and released during combustion...

. According to that 18th century theory, the combustion or oxidation
Redox
Redox reactions describe all chemical reactions in which atoms have their oxidation state changed....

 of a substance corresponded to the release of a material substance, phlogiston.

Priestley's work on "airs" is not easily classified. As historian of science Simon Schaffer
Simon Schaffer
Simon Schaffer . He is a professor of the history and philosophy of science at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University and was until recently editor of The British Journal for the History of Science.-Life:Schaffer was born in Southampton and attended Varndean...

 writes, it "has been seen as a branch of physics, or chemistry, or natural philosophy, or some highly idiosyncratic version of Priestley's own invention". Furthermore, the volumes were both a scientific and a political enterprise for Priestley, in which he argues that science could destroy "undue and usurped authority" and that government has "reason to tremble even at an air pump or an electrical machine".

Volume I of Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air outlined several discoveries: "nitrous air" (nitric oxide
Nitric oxide
Nitric oxide, also known as nitrogen monoxide, is a diatomic molecule with chemical formula NO. It is a free radical and is an important intermediate in the chemical industry...

, NO); "vapor of spirit of salt", later called "acid air" or "marine acid air" (anhydrous hydrochloric acid, HCl); "alkaline air" (ammonia
Ammonia
Ammonia is a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen with the formula . It is a colourless gas with a characteristic pungent odour. Ammonia contributes significantly to the nutritional needs of terrestrial organisms by serving as a precursor to food and fertilizers. Ammonia, either directly or...

, NH3); "diminished" or "dephlogisticated nitrous air" (nitrous oxide
Nitrous oxide
Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas or sweet air, is a chemical compound with the formula . It is an oxide of nitrogen. At room temperature, it is a colorless non-flammable gas, with a slightly sweet odor and taste. It is used in surgery and dentistry for its anesthetic and analgesic...

, N2O); and, most famously, "dephlogisticated air" (oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

, O2) as well as experimental findings that would eventually lead to the discovery of photosynthesis
Photosynthesis
Photosynthesis is a chemical process that converts carbon dioxide into organic compounds, especially sugars, using the energy from sunlight. Photosynthesis occurs in plants, algae, and many species of bacteria, but not in archaea. Photosynthetic organisms are called photoautotrophs, since they can...

. Priestley also developed a "nitrous air test" to determine the "goodness of air". Using a pneumatic trough
Pneumatic trough
A pneumatic trough is a piece of laboratory apparatus used for collecting gases, such as hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Pneumatic troughs require a liquid such as water. Scientists also have used mercury in pneumatic troughs, but usually only for the collection of water-soluble gases...

, he would mix nitrous air with a test sample, over water or mercury, and measure the decrease in volume—the principle of eudiometry
Eudiometer
A eudiometer is a laboratory device that measures the change in volume of a gas mixture following a physical or chemical change.- Description :...

. After a small history of the study of airs, he explained his own experiments in an open and sincere style. As an early biographer writes, "whatever he knows or thinks he tells: doubts, perplexities, blunders are set down with the most refreshing candour." Priestley also described his cheap and easy-to-assemble experimental apparatus; his colleagues therefore believed that they could easily reproduce his experiments. Faced with inconsistent experimental results, Priestley employed phlogiston theory. This, however, led him to conclude that there were only three types of "air": "fixed", "alkaline", and "acid". Priestley dismissed the burgeoning chemistry of his day. Instead, he focused on gases and "changes in their sensible properties", as had natural philosophers before him. He isolated carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide , also called carbonous oxide, is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly lighter than air. It is highly toxic to humans and animals in higher quantities, although it is also produced in normal animal metabolism in low quantities, and is thought to have some normal...

 (CO), but apparently did not realize that it was a separate "air".

Discovery of oxygen


In August 1774 he isolated an "air" that appeared to be completely new, but he did not have an opportunity to pursue the matter because he was about to tour Europe with Shelburne. While in Paris, however, Priestley managed to replicate the experiment for others, including French chemist Antoine Lavoisier
Antoine Lavoisier
Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier , the "father of modern chemistry", was a French nobleman prominent in the histories of chemistry and biology...

. After returning to Britain in January 1775, he continued his experiments and discovered "vitriolic acid air" (sulfur dioxide
Sulfur dioxide
Sulfur dioxide is the chemical compound with the formula . It is released by volcanoes and in various industrial processes. Since coal and petroleum often contain sulfur compounds, their combustion generates sulfur dioxide unless the sulfur compounds are removed before burning the fuel...

, SO2).

In March he wrote to several people regarding the new "air" that he had discovered in August. One of these letters was read aloud to the Royal Society
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

, and a paper outlining the discovery, titled "An Account of further Discoveries in Air", was published in the Society's journal Philosophical Transactions. Priestley called the new substance "dephlogisticated air" which he made in the famous experiment by focusing the sun's rays on a sample of mercuric oxide. He first tested it on mice, who surprised him by surviving quite a while entrapped with the air, and then on himself, writing that it was "five or six times better than common air for the purpose of respiration, inflammation, and, I believe, every other use of common atmospherical air". He had discovered oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

 gas (O2).

Priestley assembled his oxygen paper and several others into a second volume of Experiments and Observations on Air, published in 1776. He did not emphasize his discovery of "dephlogisticated air" (leaving it to Part III of the volume) but instead argued in the preface how important such discoveries were to rational religion. His paper narrated the discovery chronologically, relating the long delays between experiments and his initial puzzlements; thus, it is difficult to determine when exactly Priestley "discovered" oxygen. Such dating is significant as both Lavoisier and Swedish pharmacist Carl Wilhelm Scheele
Carl Wilhelm Scheele
Carl Wilhelm Scheele was a German-Swedish pharmaceutical chemist. Isaac Asimov called him "hard-luck Scheele" because he made a number of chemical discoveries before others who are generally given the credit...

 have strong claims to the discovery of oxygen as well, Scheele having been the first to isolate the gas (although he published after Priestley) and Lavoisier having been the first to describe it as purified "air itself entire without alteration" (that is, the first to explain oxygen without phlogiston theory).

In his paper "Observations on Respiration and the Use of the Blood", Priestley was the first to suggest a connection between blood and air, although he did so using phlogiston theory
Phlogiston theory
The phlogiston theory , first stated in 1667 by Johann Joachim Becher, is an obsolete scientific theory that postulated the existence of a fire-like element called "phlogiston", which was contained within combustible bodies and released during combustion...

. In typical Priestley fashion, he prefaced the paper with a history of the study of respiration. A year later, clearly influenced by Priestley, Lavoisier was also discussing respiration at the Académie des sciences
French Academy of Sciences
The French Academy of Sciences is a learned society, founded in 1666 by Louis XIV at the suggestion of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, to encourage and protect the spirit of French scientific research...

. Lavoisier's work began the long train of discovery that produced papers on oxygen respiration and culminated in the overthrow of phlogiston theory and the establishment of modern chemistry.

Around 1779 Priestley and Shelburne had a rupture, the precise reasons for which remain unclear. Shelburne blamed Priestley's health, while Priestley claimed Shelburne had no further use for him. Some contemporaries speculated that Priestley's outspokenness had hurt Shelburne's political career. Schofield argues that the most likely reason was Shelburne's recent marriage to Louisa Fitzpatrick—apparently, she did not like the Priestleys. Although Priestley considered moving to America, he eventually accepted Birmingham
Birmingham
Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 , and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a...

 New Meeting's offer to be their minister.

Birmingham (1780–91)


In 1780 the Priestleys moved to Birmingham
Birmingham
Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 , and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a...

 and spent a happy decade surrounded by old friends, until they were forced to flee in 1791 by religiously motivated mob violence
Priestley Riots
The Priestley Riots took place from 14 July to 17 July 1791 in Birmingham, England; the rioters' main targets were religious Dissenters, most notably the politically and theologically controversial Joseph Priestley...

. Priestley accepted the ministerial position at New Meeting on the condition that he be required to preach and teach only on Sundays, so that he would have time for his writing and scientific experiments. As in Leeds, Priestley established classes for the youth of his parish and by 1781, he was teaching 150 students. Because Priestley's New Meeting salary was only 100 guineas
Guinea (British coin)
The guinea is a coin that was minted in the Kingdom of England and later in the Kingdom of Great Britain and the United Kingdom between 1663 and 1813...

, friends and patrons donated money and goods to help continue his investigations.

Chemical Revolution


Many of the friends that Priestley made in Birmingham were members of the Lunar Society
Lunar Society
The Lunar Society of Birmingham was a dinner club and informal learned society of prominent figures in the Midlands Enlightenment, including industrialists, natural philosophers and intellectuals, who met regularly between 1765 and 1813 in Birmingham, England. At first called the Lunar Circle,...

, a group of manufacturers, inventors, and natural philosophers who assembled monthly to discuss their work. The core of the group included men such as the manufacturer Matthew Boulton
Matthew Boulton
Matthew Boulton, FRS was an English manufacturer and business partner of Scottish engineer James Watt. In the final quarter of the 18th century the partnership installed hundreds of Boulton & Watt steam engines, which were a great advance on the state of the art, making possible the...

, the chemist and geologist James Keir
James Keir
James Keir FRS was a Scottish chemist, geologist, industrialist, and inventor, and an important member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham.- Life and work :...

, the inventor and engineer James Watt
James Watt
James Watt, FRS, FRSE was a Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer whose improvements to the Newcomen steam engine were fundamental to the changes brought by the Industrial Revolution in both his native Great Britain and the rest of the world.While working as an instrument maker at the...

, and the botanist, chemist, and geologist William Withering
William Withering
William Withering was an English botanist, geologist, chemist, physician and the discoverer of digitalis.-Introduction:...

. Priestley was asked to join this unique society and contributed much to the work of its members. As a result of this stimulating intellectual environment, he published several important scientific papers, including "Experiments relating to Phlogiston, and the seeming Conversion of Water into Air" (1783). The first part attempts to refute Lavoisier's challenges to his work on oxygen; the second part describes how steam is "converted" into air. After several variations of the experiment, with different substances as fuel and several different collecting apparatuses (which produced different results), he concluded that air could travel through more substances than previously surmised, a conclusion "contrary to all the known principles of hydrostatics". This discovery, along with his earlier work on what would later be recognized as gaseous diffusion, would eventually lead John Dalton
John Dalton
John Dalton FRS was an English chemist, meteorologist and physicist. He is best known for his pioneering work in the development of modern atomic theory, and his research into colour blindness .-Early life:John Dalton was born into a Quaker family at Eaglesfield, near Cockermouth, Cumberland,...

 and Thomas Graham
Thomas Graham (chemist)
Thomas Graham FRS was a nineteenth-century Scottish chemist who is best-remembered today for his pioneering work in dialysis and the diffusion of gases.- Life and work :...

 to formulate the kinetic theory of gases.

In 1777, Antoine Lavoisier
Antoine Lavoisier
Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier , the "father of modern chemistry", was a French nobleman prominent in the histories of chemistry and biology...

 had published Réflexions sur le phlogistique pour servir de suite à la théorie de la combustion et de la calcination, the first of what proved to be a series of attacks on phlogiston theory
Phlogiston theory
The phlogiston theory , first stated in 1667 by Johann Joachim Becher, is an obsolete scientific theory that postulated the existence of a fire-like element called "phlogiston", which was contained within combustible bodies and released during combustion...

; it was against these attacks that Priestley responded in 1783. While Priestley accepted parts of Lavoisier's theory, he was unprepared to assent to the major revolutions Lavoisier proposed: the overthrow of phlogiston, a chemistry conceptualized around elements
Chemical element
A chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. Familiar examples of elements include carbon, oxygen, aluminum, iron, copper, gold, mercury, and lead.As of November 2011, 118 elements...

 and compounds
Chemical compound
A chemical compound is a pure chemical substance consisting of two or more different chemical elements that can be separated into simpler substances by chemical reactions. Chemical compounds have a unique and defined chemical structure; they consist of a fixed ratio of atoms that are held together...

, and a new chemical nomenclature. Priestley's original experiments on "dephlogisticated air" (oxygen), combustion, and water provided Lavoisier with the data he needed to construct much of his system; yet Priestley never accepted Lavoisier's new theories and continued to defend phlogiston theory for the rest of his life. Lavoisier's system was based largely on the quantitative concept that mass
Mass
Mass can be defined as a quantitive measure of the resistance an object has to change in its velocity.In physics, mass commonly refers to any of the following three properties of matter, which have been shown experimentally to be equivalent:...

 is neither created nor destroyed in chemical reactions (i.e., the conservation of mass). By contrast, Priestley preferred to observe qualitative changes in heat, color, and particularly volume. His experiments tested "airs" for "their solubility in water, their power of supporting or extinguishing flame, whether they were respirable, how they behaved with acid and alkaline air, and with nitric oxide and inflammable air, and lastly how they were affected by the electric spark
Electric spark
An electric spark is a type of electrostatic discharge that occurs when an electric field creates an ionized electrically conductive channel in air producing a brief emission of light and sound. A spark is formed when the electric field strength exceeds the dielectric field strength of air...

."

By 1789, when Lavoisier published his Traité Élémentaire de Chimie
Traité Élémentaire de Chimie
Traité élémentaire de chimie is an influential textbook written by Antoine Lavoisier published in 1789 and translated into English by Robert Kerr in 1790.The book is considered to be the first modern chemical textbook...

and founded the Annales de Chimie, the new chemistry had come into its own. Priestley published several more scientific papers in Birmingham, the majority attempting to refute Lavoisier. Priestley and other Lunar Society members argued that the new French system was too expensive, too difficult to test, and unnecessarily complex. Priestley in particular rejected its "establishment" aura. In the end, Lavoisier's view prevailed: his new chemistry introduced many of the principles on which modern chemistry
Chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

 is founded.

Priestley's refusal to accept Lavoisier's "new chemistry" — such as the conservation of mass — and his determination to adhere to a less satisfactory theory has perplexed many scholars. Schofield explains it thus: "Priestley was never a chemist; in a modern, and even a Lavoisian, sense, he was never a scientist. He was a natural philosopher, concerned with the economy of nature and obsessed with an idea of unity, in theology and in nature." Historian of science John McEvoy largely agrees, writing that Priestley's view of nature as coextensive with God and thus infinite, which encouraged him to focus on facts over hypotheses and theories, prompted him to reject Lavoisier's system. McEvoy argues that "Priestley's isolated and lonely opposition to the oxygen theory was a measure of his passionate concern for the principles of intellectual freedom, epistemic equality and critical inquiry." Priestley himself claimed in the last volume of Experiments and Observations that his most valuable works were his theological ones because they were "superior [in] dignity and importance".

Defender of English Dissenters and French revolutionaries

Further information: Joseph Priestley and Dissent
Joseph Priestley and Dissent
Joseph Priestley was a British natural philosopher, political theorist, clergyman, theologian, and educator...

; see also: Commons:Joseph Priestley Cartoons


Although Priestley was busy defending phlogiston theory from the "new chemists", most of what he published in Birmingham was theological. In 1782 he published the fourth volume of his Institutes, An History of the Corruptions of Christianity
An History of the Corruptions of Christianity
An History of the Corruptions of Christianity, published by Joseph Johnson in 1782, was the fourth part of 18th-century Dissenting minister Joseph Priestley's Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion .-Summary:...

, describing how he thought the teachings of the early Christian church had been "corrupted" or distorted. Schofield describes the work as "derivative, disorganized, wordy, and repetitive, detailed, exhaustive, and devastatingly argued". The text addresses issues ranging from the divinity of Christ to the proper form for the Lord's Supper. Priestley followed up in 1786 with the provocatively titled book, An History of Early Opinions concerning Jesus Christ, compiled from Original Writers, proving that the Christian Church was at first Unitarian. Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

 would later write of the profound effect that these two books had on him: "I have read his Corruptions of Christianity, and Early Opinions of Jesus, over and over again; and I rest on them ... as the basis of my own faith. These writings have never been answered." Although a few readers such as Jefferson and other Rational Dissenters approved of the work, it was harshly reviewed because of its extreme theological positions, particularly its rejection of the Trinity
Trinity
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity defines God as three divine persons : the Father, the Son , and the Holy Spirit. The three persons are distinct yet coexist in unity, and are co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial . Put another way, the three persons of the Trinity are of one being...

.

In 1785, while Priestley was engaged in a pamphlet war over Corruptions, he also published The Importance and Extent of Free Enquiry, claiming that the Reformation
Protestant Reformation
The Protestant Reformation was a 16th-century split within Western Christianity initiated by Martin Luther, John Calvin and other early Protestants. The efforts of the self-described "reformers", who objected to the doctrines, rituals and ecclesiastical structure of the Roman Catholic Church, led...

 had not really reformed the church. In words that would boil over into a national debate, he challenged his readers to enact change:

Let us not, therefore, be discouraged, though, for the present, we should see no great number of churches professedly unitarian .... We are, as it were, laying gunpowder, grain by grain, under the old building of error and superstition, which a single spark may hereafter inflame, so as to produce an instantaneous explosion; in consequence of which that edifice, the erection of which has been the work of ages, may be overturned in a moment, and so effectually as that the same foundation can never be built upon again ....

Although discouraged by friends from using such inflammatory language, Priestley refused to back down from his opinions in print and he included it, forever branding himself as "Gunpowder Joe". After the publication of this seeming call for revolution in the midst of the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

, pamphleteers stepped up their attacks on Priestley and he and his church were even threatened with legal action.


In 1787, 1789, and 1790, Dissenters again tried to repeal the Test
Test Act
The Test Acts were a series of English penal laws that served as a religious test for public office and imposed various civil disabilities on Roman Catholics and Nonconformists...

 and Corporation Acts
Corporation Act 1661
The Corporation Act of 1661 is an Act of the Parliament of England . It belongs to the general category of test acts, designed for the express purpose of restricting public offices in England to members of the Church of England....

. Although initially it looked as if they might succeed, by 1790, with the fears of revolution looming in Parliament, few were swayed by appeals to equal rights. Political cartoons, one of the most effective and popular media of the time, skewered the Dissenters and Priestley. In Parliament, William Pitt
William Pitt the Younger
William Pitt the Younger was a British politician of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He became the youngest Prime Minister in 1783 at the age of 24 . He left office in 1801, but was Prime Minister again from 1804 until his death in 1806...

 and Edmund Burke
Edmund Burke
Edmund Burke PC was an Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher who, after moving to England, served for many years in the House of Commons of Great Britain as a member of the Whig party....

 argued against the repeal, a betrayal that angered Priestley and his friends, who had expected the two men's support. Priestley wrote a series of Letters to William Pitt and Letters to Burke in an attempt to persuade them otherwise, but these publications only further inflamed the populace against him.

Dissenters such as Priestley who supported the French Revolution came under increasing suspicion as skepticism regarding the revolution grew. In its propaganda against "radicals", Pitt's administration used the "gunpowder" statement to argue that Priestley and other Dissenters wanted to overthrow the government. Burke, in his famous Reflections on the Revolution in France
Reflections on the Revolution in France
Reflections on the Revolution in France , by Edmund Burke, is one of the best-known intellectual attacks against the French Revolution...

(1790), tied natural philosophers, and specifically Priestley, to the French Revolution, writing that radicals who supported science in Britain "considered man in their experiments no more than they do mice in an air pump". Burke also associated republican
Republicanism
Republicanism is the ideology of governing a nation as a republic, where the head of state is appointed by means other than heredity, often elections. The exact meaning of republicanism varies depending on the cultural and historical context...

 principles with alchemy and insubstantial air, mocking the scientific work done by both Priestley and French chemists. He made much in his later writings of the connections between "Gunpowder Joe", science, and Lavoisier—who was improving gunpowder for the French in their war against Britain
French Revolutionary Wars
The French Revolutionary Wars were a series of major conflicts, from 1792 until 1802, fought between the French Revolutionary government and several European states...

. Paradoxically, a secular statesman, Burke, argued against science and maintained that religion should be the basis of civil society, whereas a Dissenting minister, Priestley, argued that religion could not provide the basis for civil society and should be restricted to one's private life.

Birmingham Riots of 1791

Main article: Priestley Riots
Priestley Riots
The Priestley Riots took place from 14 July to 17 July 1791 in Birmingham, England; the rioters' main targets were religious Dissenters, most notably the politically and theologically controversial Joseph Priestley...

; see also: Wikisource:To Dr. Priestley. Dec. 29, 1792

The animus that had been building against Dissenters and supporters of the American and French Revolutions exploded in July 1791. Priestley and several other Dissenters had arranged to have a celebratory dinner on the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille
Storming of the Bastille
The storming of the Bastille occurred in Paris on the morning of 14 July 1789. The medieval fortress and prison in Paris known as the Bastille represented royal authority in the centre of Paris. While the prison only contained seven inmates at the time of its storming, its fall was the flashpoint...

, a provocative action in a country where many disapproved of the French Revolution and feared that it might spread to Britain. Amid fears of violence, Priestley was convinced by his friends not to attend. Rioters gathered outside the hotel during the banquet and attacked the attendees as they left. The rioters moved on to the New Meeting and Old Meeting churches—and burned both to the ground. Priestley and his wife fled from their home; although their son William and others stayed behind to protect their property, the mob overcame them and torched Priestley's house "Fairhill" at Sparkbrook
Sparkbrook
Sparkbrook is an inner-city area in south-east Birmingham, England. It is one of the four wards forming the Hall Green formal district within Birmingham City Council.-Etymology:...

, destroying his valuable laboratory and all of the family's belongings. Other Dissenters' homes were burned in the three-day riot. Priestley spent several days hiding with friends until he was able to travel safely to London. The carefully executed attacks of the "mob" and the farcical trials of only a handful of the "leaders" convinced many at the time—and modern historians later—that the attacks were planned and condoned by local Birmingham magistrates. When George III was eventually forced to send troops to the area, he said: "I cannot but feel better pleased that Priestley is the sufferer for the doctrines he and his party have instilled, and that the people see them in their true light."

Hackney (1791–94)



... Lo! Priestley there, patriot, and saint, and sage,
Him, full of years, from his loved native land
Statesmen blood-stained and priests idolatrous
By dark lies maddening the blind multitude
Drove with vain hate ....
From "Religious Musings" (1796)
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was an English poet, Romantic, literary critic and philosopher who, with his friend William Wordsworth, was a founder of the Romantic Movement in England and a member of the Lake Poets. He is probably best known for his poems The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Kubla...



Unable to return to Birmingham, the Priestleys eventually settled in Lower Clapton
Lower Clapton
Lower Clapton is a district within the London Borough of Hackney.It is immediately adjacent to central Hackney - bounded, roughly, by the western side of Hackney Downs , the Lea Valley , Clifden Road and the Lea Bridge Road...

, a district in Hackney
Hackney (parish)
Hackney was a parish in the historic county of Middlesex. The parish church of St John-at-Hackney was built in 1789, replacing the nearby former 16th century parish church dedicated to St Augustine . The original tower of that church was retained to hold the bells until the new church could be...

, Middlesex
Middlesex
Middlesex is one of the historic counties of England and the second smallest by area. The low-lying county contained the wealthy and politically independent City of London on its southern boundary and was dominated by it from a very early time...

 where he gave a series of lectures on history and natural philosophy at the Dissenting academy
Dissenting academies
The dissenting academies were schools, colleges and nonconformist seminaries run by dissenters. They formed a significant part of England’s educational systems from the mid-seventeenth to nineteenth centuries....

, the New College at Hackney
New College at Hackney
The New College at Hackney was a dissenting academy set up in Hackney, at that time a village on the outskirts of London, by Unitarians. It was in existence from 1786 to 1796...

. Friends helped the couple rebuild their lives, contributing money, books, and laboratory equipment. Priestley tried to obtain restitution from the government for the destruction of his Birmingham property, but he was never fully reimbursed. He also published An Appeal to the Public on the Subject of the Riots in Birmingham (1791), which indicted the people of Birmingham for allowing the riots to occur and for "violating the principles of English government".

The couple's friends urged them to leave Britain and emigrate to either France or the new United States, even though Priestley had received an appointment to preach for the Gravel Pit Meeting congregation. Priestley was minister between 1793 and 1794 and the sermons he preached there, particularly the two Fast
Fasting
Fasting is primarily the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time. An absolute fast is normally defined as abstinence from all food and liquid for a defined period, usually a single day , or several days. Other fasts may be only partially restrictive,...

 Sermons, reflect his growing millenarianism
Millennialism
Millennialism , or chiliasm in Greek, is a belief held by some Christian denominations that there will be a Golden Age or Paradise on Earth in which "Christ will reign" for 1000 years prior to the final judgment and future eternal state...

, his belief that the end of the world was fast approaching. After comparing Biblical prophecies to recent history, Priestley concluded that the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

 was a harbinger of the Second Coming of Christ
Second Coming
In Christian doctrine, the Second Coming of Christ, the Second Advent, or the Parousia, is the anticipated return of Jesus Christ from Heaven, where he sits at the Right Hand of God, to Earth. This prophecy is found in the canonical gospels and in most Christian and Islamic eschatologies...

. Priestley's works had always had a millennial cast, but after the beginning of the French Revolution, this strain increased. He wrote to a younger friend that while he himself would not see the Second Coming, his friend "may probably live to see it ... It cannot, I think be more than twenty years [away]."

Daily life became more difficult for the family: Priestley was burned in effigy along with Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine
Thomas "Tom" Paine was an English author, pamphleteer, radical, inventor, intellectual, revolutionary, and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States...

; vicious political cartoons continued to be published about him; letters were sent to him from across the country, comparing him to the devil and Guy Fawkes
Guy Fawkes
Guy Fawkes , also known as Guido Fawkes, the name he adopted while fighting for the Spanish in the Low Countries, belonged to a group of provincial English Catholics who planned the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605.Fawkes was born and educated in York...

; tradespeople feared the family's business; and Priestley's Royal Academy friends distanced themselves. As the penalties became harsher for those who spoke out against the government, and despite his being elected to the French National Convention
National Convention
During the French Revolution, the National Convention or Convention, in France, comprised the constitutional and legislative assembly which sat from 20 September 1792 to 26 October 1795 . It held executive power in France during the first years of the French First Republic...

 by three separate departments in 1792, Priestley decided to move with his family to America. Five weeks after Priestley left, William Pitt's
William Pitt the Younger
William Pitt the Younger was a British politician of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. He became the youngest Prime Minister in 1783 at the age of 24 . He left office in 1801, but was Prime Minister again from 1804 until his death in 1806...

 administration began arresting radicals for seditious libel
Seditious libel
Seditious libel was a criminal offence under English common law. Sedition is the offence of speaking seditious words with seditious intent: if the statement is in writing or some other permanent form it is seditious libel...

, resulting in the famous 1794 Treason Trials
1794 Treason Trials
The 1794 Treason Trials, arranged by the administration of William Pitt, were intended to cripple the British radical movement of the 1790s. Over thirty radicals were initially arrested; three were tried for high treason: Thomas Hardy, John Horne Tooke and John Thelwall...

.

Pennsylvania (1794–1804)




The Priestleys arrived in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 in 1794, where they were immediately fêted by various political factions vying to gain Priestley's endorsement. Priestley declined their entreaties, hoping to avoid political discord in his new country. As the couple traveled to their new home in Northumberland, Pennsylvania
Northumberland, Pennsylvania
Northumberland is a borough in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, United States. The population was 3,714 at the 2000 census.-History:Northumberland was founded in 1772. The land that became Northumberland was purchased from the Iroquois in the first Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768, and the...

, they stopped in Philadelphia, where Priestley gave a series of sermons and helped found the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia
First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia
The First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia is a Unitarian Universalist congregation located at 2125 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania...

. Priestley turned down an opportunity to teach chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania is a private, Ivy League university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States. Penn is the fourth-oldest institution of higher education in the United States,Penn is the fourth-oldest using the founding dates claimed by each institution...

, and the couple began building a home in the countryside.

Priestley's attempts to avoid political controversy in the United States failed. In 1795, William Cobbett
William Cobbett
William Cobbett was an English pamphleteer, farmer and journalist, who was born in Farnham, Surrey. He believed that reforming Parliament and abolishing the rotten boroughs would help to end the poverty of farm labourers, and he attacked the borough-mongers, sinecurists and "tax-eaters" relentlessly...

 published Observations on the Emigration of Dr. Joseph Priestley, which accused him of treason against Britain and attempted to undermine his scientific credibility. His political fortunes took an even worse turn when Cobbett obtained a set of letters sent to Priestley by the radical printer John Hurford Stone
John Hurford Stone
John Hurford Stone was a British radical political reformer and publisher who spent much of his life in France.Stone was born in Taunton, Somerset. After the death of his father, he went to live with his uncle, William Hurford, who was a coal merchant, in London...

 and the liberal novelist Helen Maria Williams
Helen Maria Williams
Helen Maria Williams was a British novelist, poet, and translator of French-language works. A religious dissenter, she was a supporter of abolitionism and of the ideals of the French Revolution; she was imprisoned in Paris during the Reign of Terror, but nonetheless spent much of the rest of her...

, who were both living in revolutionary France. Cobbett published the letters in his newspaper, asserting that Priestley and his friends were fomenting a revolution. Priestley was eventually forced to defend himself in print.

Family matters also made Priestley's time in America difficult. His son Henry died in 1795, probably of malaria
Malaria
Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease of humans and other animals caused by eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium. The disease results from the multiplication of Plasmodium parasites within red blood cells, causing symptoms that typically include fever and headache, in severe cases...

. Mary Priestley died soon after in 1796; she was already ill and never fully recovered after the shock of her son's death. After his wife's death, Priestley wrote to a friend: "I feel quite unhinged and incapable of the exertions I used to make. Having been always very domestic, reading and writing with my wife sitting near me, and often reading to her, I miss her everywhere." Priestley's family relations deteriorated even further in 1800 when a local Pennsylvania newspaper published an article accusing William Priestley, intoxicated with "French principles", of trying to poison the entire Priestley family—both father and son vigorously denied the story.

Priestley continued the educational projects that had always been important to him, helping to establish the "Northumberland Academy" and donating his library to the fledging institution. He exchanged letters regarding the proper structure of a university with Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson was the principal author of the United States Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom , the third President of the United States and founder of the University of Virginia...

, who used this advice when founding the University of Virginia
University of Virginia
The University of Virginia is a public research university located in Charlottesville, Virginia, United States, founded by Thomas Jefferson...

. Jefferson and Priestley became close, and when he had completed his General History of the Christian Church, he dedicated it to President Jefferson, writing that "it is now only that I can say I see nothing to fear from the hand of power, the government under which I live being for the first time truly favourable to me."

Priestley tried to continue his scientific investigations in America with the support of the American Philosophical Association. He was hampered by lack of news from Europe; unaware of the latest scientific developments, Priestley was no longer on the forefront of discovery. Although the majority of his publications focused on defending phlogiston theory
Phlogiston theory
The phlogiston theory , first stated in 1667 by Johann Joachim Becher, is an obsolete scientific theory that postulated the existence of a fire-like element called "phlogiston", which was contained within combustible bodies and released during combustion...

, he also did some original work on spontaneous generation
Spontaneous generation
Spontaneous generation or Equivocal generation is an obsolete principle regarding the origin of life from inanimate matter, which held that this process was a commonplace and everyday occurrence, as distinguished from univocal generation, or reproduction from parent...

 and dreams. Despite Priestley's reduced scientific output, his presence stimulated American interest in chemistry.

By 1801, Priestley had become so ill that he could no longer write or experiment. He died on the morning of 6 February 1804 and was buried at Riverview Cemetery in Northumberland, Pennsylvania. Priestley's epitaph reads:
Return unto thy rest, O my soul, for the
Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee.
I will lay me down in peace and sleep till
I awake in the morning of the resurrection.

Legacy


By the time he died in 1804, Priestley had been made a member of every major scientific society in the Western world and he had discovered numerous substances. The 19th-century French naturalist George Cuvier, in his eulogy of Priestley, praised his discoveries while at the same time lamenting his refusal to abandon phlogiston theory, calling him "the father of modern chemistry [who] never acknowledged his daughter". Priestley published more than 150 works on topics ranging from political philosophy to education to theology to natural philosophy. He led and inspired British radicals during the 1790s, paved the way for utilitarianism
Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism is an ethical theory holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes the overall "happiness", by whatever means necessary. It is thus a form of consequentialism, meaning that the moral worth of an action is determined only by its resulting outcome, and that one can...

, and helped found Unitarianism
Unitarianism
Unitarianism is a Christian theological movement, named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism which defines God as three persons coexisting consubstantially as one in being....

. A wide variety of philosophers, scientists, and poets became associationists
Association of Ideas
Association of Ideas, or Mental association, is a term used principally in the history of philosophy and of psychology to refer to explanations about the conditions under which representations arise in consciousness, and also for a principle put forward by an important historical school of thinkers...

 as a result of his redaction
Redaction
Redaction is a form of editing in which multiple source texts are combined and subjected to minor alteration to make them into a single work. Often this is a method of collecting a series of writings on a similar theme and creating a definitive and coherent work...

 of David Hartley's Observations on Man
Observations on Man
Observations on Man, his Frame, his Duty, and his Expectations is 18th-century British philosopher David Hartley's major work. Published in two parts in 1749 by Samuel Richardson, it puts forth Hartley's principal theories: the doctrine of vibrations and the doctrine of associations...

, including Erasmus Darwin
Erasmus Darwin
Erasmus Darwin was an English physician who turned down George III's invitation to be a physician to the King. One of the key thinkers of the Midlands Enlightenment, he was also a natural philosopher, physiologist, slave trade abolitionist,inventor and poet...

, Coleridge, William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads....

, John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill was a British philosopher, economist and civil servant. An influential contributor to social theory, political theory, and political economy, his conception of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state control. He was a proponent of...

, Alexander Bain
Alexander Bain
Alexander Bain was a Scottish philosopher and educationalist in the British school of empiricism who was a prominent and innovative figure in the fields of psychology, linguistics, logic, moral philosophy and education reform...

, and Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher, biologist, sociologist, and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era....

. Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher from Königsberg , researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology at the end of the 18th Century Enlightenment....

 praised Priestley in his Critique of Pure Reason
Critique of Pure Reason
The Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, first published in 1781, second edition 1787, is considered one of the most influential works in the history of philosophy. Also referred to as Kant's "first critique," it was followed by the Critique of Practical Reason and the Critique of Judgement...

(1781), writing that he "knew how to combine his paradoxical teaching with the interests of religion". Indeed, it was Priestley's aim to "put the most 'advanced' Enlightenment ideas into the service of a rationalized though heterodox Christianity, under the guidance of the basic principles of scientific method".

Considering the extent of Priestley's influence, relatively little scholarship has been devoted to him. In the early 20th century, Priestley was most often described as a conservative and dogmatic scientist who was nevertheless a political and religious reformer. In a historiographic review essay, historian of science Simon Schaffer
Simon Schaffer
Simon Schaffer . He is a professor of the history and philosophy of science at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University and was until recently editor of The British Journal for the History of Science.-Life:Schaffer was born in Southampton and attended Varndean...

 describes the two dominant portraits of Priestley: the first depicts him as "a playful innocent" who stumbled across his discoveries; the second portrays him as innocent as well as "warped" for not understanding their implications better. Assessing Priestley's works as a totality has been difficult for scholars because of his wide-ranging interests. His scientific discoveries have usually been divorced from his theological and metaphysical publications to make an analysis of his life and writings easier, but this approach has been challenged recently by scholars such as John McEvoy and Robert Schofield. Although early Priestley scholarship claimed that his theological and metaphysical works were "distractions" and "obstacles" to his scientific work, scholarship published in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s maintained that Priestley's works constituted a unified theory. However, as Schaffer explains, no convincing synthesis of his work has yet been expounded. More recently, in 2001, historian of science Dan Eshet has argued that efforts to create a "synoptic view" have resulted only in a rationalization of the contradictions in Priestley's thought, because they have been "organized around philosophical categories" and have "separate[d] the producers of scientific ideas from any social conflict".

Priestley has been remembered by the towns in which he served as a reforming educator and minister and by the scientific organizations he influenced. Two educational institutions have been named in his honor—Priestley College
Priestley College
Priestley Sixth Form and Community College is a sixth form college located on Loushers Lane, Warrington, England. It also offers adult courses, professional training on another site, and is an associate college of the University of Salford.- Pass Rates :...

 in Warrington and Joseph Priestley College
Joseph Priestley College
Joseph Priestley College was a further education college founded in 1955 serving the communities of South Leeds, West Yorkshire, England. It was named after Joseph Priestley, the famous scientist and co-discoverer of oxygen who was born nearby...

 in Leeds
City of Leeds
The City of Leeds is a local government district of West Yorkshire, England, governed by Leeds City Council, with the status of a city and metropolitan borough. The metropolitan district includes Leeds and the towns of Farsley, Garforth, Guiseley, Horsforth, Morley, Otley, Pudsey, Rothwell,...

 (now part of Leeds City College
Leeds City College
Leeds City College is the largest Further education establishment in the City of Leeds, West Yorkshire, England, with around 57,000 students, 2,300 staff and an annual turnover of £78 million. It officially opened on 1 April 2009...

) —and an asteroid, 5577 Priestley
5577 Priestley
5577 Priestley is an inner main-belt asteroid discovered on November 21, 1986 by Duncan Waldron at Siding Spring. It was named 5577 Priestley (1986 WQ2) is an inner main-belt asteroid discovered on November 21, 1986 by Duncan Waldron at Siding Spring. It was named 5577 Priestley (1986 WQ2) is an...

, discovered in 1986 by Duncan Waldron
Duncan Waldron
Duncan Waldron is a photographer and amateur astronomer.Duncan Waldron was born in Glasgow, Scotland. His first job was creating high quality reproductions of astronomical plates for the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh...

. In Birstall, the Leeds City Square
Leeds City Square
City Square is a paved open area in Leeds city centre in West Yorkshire, England.In 1897, the Leeds city council of the time wanted to improve the open space near to the Post Office and in 1899 work was completed. The city square was enhanced with the erection of statues, the grandest being the...

, and in Birmingham
Chamberlain Square
Chamberlain Square or Chamberlain Place is a public square in central Birmingham, England , named after Joseph Chamberlain.Its features include:*Birmingham Central Library*Paradise Forum...

, he is memorialized through statues, and plaques commemorating him have been posted in Birmingham and Warrington. Also, since 1952 Dickinson College
Dickinson College
Dickinson College is a private, residential liberal arts college in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Originally established as a Grammar School in 1773, Dickinson was chartered September 9, 1783, five days after the signing of the Treaty of Paris, making it the first college to be founded in the newly...

 has presented the Priestley Award to a scientist who makes "discoveries which contribute to the welfare of mankind". The main undergraduate chemistry laboratories at the University of Leeds
University of Leeds
The University of Leeds is a British Redbrick university located in the city of Leeds, West Yorkshire, England...

 were refurbished as part of a £4m refurbishment plan in 2006 and renamed as the Priestley Laboratories in his honor as a prominent chemist from Leeds.

Selected works




  • The Rudiments of English Grammar
    The Rudiments of English Grammar
    The Rudiments of English Grammar was a popular English grammar textbook written the 18th-century British polymath Joseph Priestley....

    (1761)
  • A Chart of Biography
    A Chart of Biography
    In 1765, 18th-century British polymath Joseph Priestley published A Chart of Biography and its accompanying prose description as a supplement to his Lectures on History and General Policy...

    (1765)
  • Essay on a Course of Liberal Education for Civil and Active Life
    Essay on a Course of Liberal Education for Civil and Active Life
    Essay on a Course of Liberal Education for Civil and Active Life is an educational treatise by the 18th-century British polymath Joseph Priestley....

    (1765)
  • The History and Present State of Electricity
    The History and Present State of Electricity
    The History and Present State of Electricity , by eighteenth-century British polymath Joseph Priestley, is a survey of the study of electricity up until 1766 as well as a description of experiments by Priestley himself....

    (1767)
  • Essay on the First Principles of Government
    Essay on the First Principles of Government
    Essay on the First Principles of Government is an early work of modern liberal political theory by 18th-century British polymath Joseph Priestley.-Genesis of work:...

    (1768)
  • A New Chart of History
    A New Chart of History
    In 1769, 18th-century British polymath Joseph Priestley published A New Chart of History and its prose explanation as a supplement to his Lectures on History and General Policy...

    (1769)
  • Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion
    Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion
    The Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion, written by 18th-century English Dissenting minister and polymath Joseph Priestley, is a three-volume work designed for religious education published by Joseph Johnson between 1772 and 1774...

    (1772–74)
  • Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air
    Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air
    Experiments and Observations on Different Kinds of Air is a six-volume work published by 18th-century British polymath Joseph Priestley which reports a series of his experiments on "airs" or gases, most notably his discovery of oxygen gas .-Airs:While working as a companion for Lord Shelburne,...

    (1774–77)
  • Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirit
    Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirit
    Disquisitions relating to Matter and Spirit is a major work of metaphysics written by eighteenth-century British polymath Joseph Priestley and published by Joseph Johnson....

    (1777)
  • The Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity Illustrated
    The Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity Illustrated
    The Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity is one of the major metaphysical works of 18th-century British polymath Joseph Priestley.Between 1774 and 1778, while serving as an assistant to Lord Shelburne, Priestley wrote a series of five major metaphysical works, arguing for a materialist philosophy...

    (1777)
  • Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever
    Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever
    Letters to a Philosophical Unbeliever is a multi-volume series of books on metaphysics by eighteenth-century British polymath Joseph Priestley....

    (1780)
  • An History of the Corruptions of Christianity
    An History of the Corruptions of Christianity
    An History of the Corruptions of Christianity, published by Joseph Johnson in 1782, was the fourth part of 18th-century Dissenting minister Joseph Priestley's Institutes of Natural and Revealed Religion .-Summary:...

    (1782)
  • Lectures on History and General Policy
    Lectures on History and General Policy
    Lectures on History and General Policy is the published version of a set of lectures on history and government given by the 18th-century British polymath Joseph Priestley to the students of Warrington Academy....

    (1788)
  • Theological Repository
    Theological Repository
    The Theological Repository was a periodical founded and edited from 1769 to 1771 by the eighteenth-century British polymath Joseph Priestley...

    (1770–73, 1784–88)

See also

  • List of liberal theorists
  • List of independent discoveries
  • Timeline of hydrogen technologies
    Timeline of hydrogen technologies
    Timeline of hydrogen technologies — A timeline of the history of hydrogen technology.-1600s:* 1625 - First description of hydrogen by Johann Baptista van Helmont...

  • Eraser
    Eraser
    An eraser or rubber is an article of stationery that is used for rubbing out pencil markings. Erasers have a rubbery consistency and are often white or pink, although modern materials allow them to be made in any color. Many pencils are equipped with an eraser on one end...


Primary materials



  • Lindsay, Jack, ed. Autobiography of Joseph Priestley. Teaneck: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1970. ISBN 0838678310.
  • Miller, Peter N., ed. Priestley: Political Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. ISBN 0521425611.
  • Passmore, John A., ed. Priestley's Writings on Philosophy, Science and Politics. New York: Collier Books, 1964.
  • Rutt, John T.
    John Towill Rutt
    -Life:Born in London on 4 April 1760, was only son of George Rutt, at first a druggist in Friday Street, Cheapside, and afterwards a wholesale merchant in drugs in Upper Thames Street, who married Elizabeth Towill. In early boyhood he was placed for some time under the care of Joshua Toulmin at...

    , ed. Collected Theological and Miscellaneous Works of Joseph Priestley. 2 vols. London: George Smallfield, 1832.
  • Rutt, John T., ed. Life and Correspondence of Joseph Priestley. 2 vols. London: George Smallfield, 1831.
  • Schofield, Robert E., ed. A Scientific Autobiography of Joseph Priestley (1733–1804): Selected Scientific Correspondence. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1966.

Biographies


The most exhaustive biography of Priestley is Robert Schofield's recent two-volume work; several one-volume treatments exist, all somewhat older: Gibbs, Holt and Thorpe. Graham and Smith focus on Priestley's life in America and Uglow and Jackson both discuss Priestley's life in the context of other developments in science.
  • Gibbs, F. W. Joseph Priestley: Adventurer in Science and Champion of Truth. London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1965.
  • Graham, Jenny. Revolutionary in Exile: The Emigration of Joseph Priestley to America, 1794–1804. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 85 (1995). ISBN 0871698528.
  • Holt, Anne. A Life of Joseph Priestley. London: Oxford University Press, 1931.
  • Jackson, Joe. A World on Fire: A Heretic, an Aristocrat and the Race to Discover Oxygen. New York: Viking, 2005. ISBN 0670034347.
  • Johnson, Steven
    Steven Berlin Johnson
    Steven Berlin Johnson is an American popular science author.-Education:Steven Johnson attended the prestigious St. Albans School as a youth. He completed his undergraduate degree at Brown University, where he studied semiotics, a part of Brown's modern culture and media department...

    . The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. New York: Riverhead, 2008. ISBN 1594488525.
  • Schofield, Robert E. The Enlightenment of Joseph Priestley: A Study of his Life and Work from 1733 to 1773. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997. ISBN 0271016620.
  • Schofield, Robert E. The Enlightened Joseph Priestley: A Study of His Life and Work from 1773 to 1804. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004. ISBN 0271024593.
  • Smith, Edgar F. Priestley in America, 1794–1804. Philadelphia: P. Blakiston's Son and Co., 1920.
  • Tapper, Alan. "Joseph Priestley". Dictionary of Literary Biography 252: British Philosophers 1500–1799. Eds. Philip B. Dematteis and Peter S. Fosl. Detroit: Gale Group, 2002.
  • Thorpe, T. E. Joseph Priestley. London: J. M. Dent, 1906.
  • Uglow, Jenny. The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002. ISBN 0374194408.

Secondary materials



  • Anderson, R. G. W. and Christopher Lawrence. Science, Medicine and Dissent: Joseph Priestley (1733–1804). London: Wellcome Trust, 1987. ISBN 0901805289.
  • Bowers, J. D. Joseph Priestley and English Unitarianism in America. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2007. ISBN 027102951X.
  • Braithwaite, Helen. Romanticism, Publishing and Dissent: Joseph Johnson and the Cause of Liberty. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. ISBN 0-333-98394-7.
  • Conant, J. B., ed. "The Overthrow of the Phlogiston Theory: The Chemical Revolution of 1775–1789". Harvard Case Histories in Experimental Science. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950.
  • Crook, R. E. A Bibliography of Joseph Priestley. London: Library Association, 1966.
  • Crossland, Maurice. "The Image of Science as a Threat: Burke versus Priestley and the 'Philosophic Revolution'". British Journal for the History of Science 20 (1987): 277–307.
  • Donovan, Arthur. Antoine Lavoisier: Science, Administration and Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN 052156218X
  • Eshet, Dan. "Rereading Priestley". History of Science 39.2 (2001): 127–59.
  • Fitzpatrick, Martin. "Joseph Priestley and the Cause of Universal Toleration". The Price-Priestley Newsletter 1 (1977): 3–30.
  • Garrett, Clarke. "Joseph Priestley, the Millennium, and the French Revolution". Journal of the History of Ideas 34.1 (1973): 51–66.
  • Fruton, Joseph S. Methods and Styles in the Development of Chemistry. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2002. ISBN 0871692457.
  • Kramnick, Isaac. "Eighteenth-Century Science and Radical Social Theory: The Case of Joseph Priestley's Scientific Liberalism". Journal of British Studies 25 (1986): 1–30.
  • Kuhn, Thomas
    Thomas Kuhn
    Thomas Samuel Kuhn was an American historian and philosopher of science whose controversial 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was deeply influential in both academic and popular circles, introducing the term "paradigm shift," which has since become an English-language staple.Kuhn...

    . The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
    The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
    The Structure of Scientific Revolutions , by Thomas Kuhn, is an analysis of the history of science. Its publication was a landmark event in the history, philosophy, and sociology of scientific knowledge and it triggered an ongoing worldwide assessment and reaction in — and beyond — those scholarly...

    . 3rd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. ISBN 0226458083.
  • Haakonssen, Knud, ed. Enlightenment and Religion: Rational Dissent in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN 0521560608.
  • McCann, H. Chemistry Transformed: The Paradigmatic Shift from Phlogiston to Oxygen. Norwood: Alex Publishing, 1978. ISBN 089391004X.
  • McEvoy, John G. "Joseph Priestley, 'Aerial Philosopher': Metaphysics and Methodology in Priestley's Chemical Thought, from 1762 to 1781". Ambix 25 (1978): 1–55, 93–116, 153–75; 26 (1979): 16–30.
  • McEvoy, John G. "Enlightenment and Dissent in Science: Joseph Priestley and the Limits of Theoretical Reasoning". Enlightenment and Dissent 2 (1983): 47–68.
  • McEvoy, John G. "Priestley Responds to Lavoisier's Nomenclature: Language, Liberty, and Chemistry in the English Enlightenment". Lavoisier in European Context: Negotiating a New Language for Chemistry. Eds. Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent and Ferdinando Abbri. Canton, MA: Science History Publications, 1995. ISBN 088135189X.
  • McEvoy, John G. and J.E. McGuire. "God and Nature: Priestley's Way of Rational Dissent". Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 6 (1975): 325–404.
  • McLachlan, John. Joseph Priestley Man of Science 1733–1804: An Iconography of a Great Yorkshireman. Braunton and Devon: Merlin Books, 1983. ISBN 0863030521.
  • McLachlan, John. "Joseph Priestley and the Study of History". Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society 19 (1987–90): 252–63.
  • Philip, Mark. "Rational Religion and Political Radicalism". Enlightenment and Dissent 4 (1985): 35–46.
  • Rose, R. B. "The Priestley Riots of 1791". Past and Present 18 (1960): 68–88.
  • Rosenberg, Daniel. Joseph Priestley and the Graphic Invention of Modern Time. Studies in Eighteenth Century Culture 36(1) (2007): pp. 55–103.
  • Rutherford, Donald. Leibniz and the Rational Order of Nature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. ISBN 0521461553.
  • Schaffer, Simon. "Priestley Questions: An Historiographic Survey". History of Science 22.2 (1984): 151–83.
  • Sheps, Arthur. "Joseph Priestley's Time Charts: The Use and Teaching of History by Rational Dissent in late Eighteenth-Century England". Lumen 18 (1999): 135–54.
  • Watts, R. "Joseph Priestley and Education". Enlightenment and Dissent 2 (1983): 83–100.

External links




Short online biographies
  • "Joseph Priestley: Discoverer of Oxygen" at the American Chemical Society
    American Chemical Society
    The American Chemical Society is a scientific society based in the United States that supports scientific inquiry in the field of chemistry. Founded in 1876 at New York University, the ACS currently has more than 161,000 members at all degree-levels and in all fields of chemistry, chemical...

  • Joseph Priestley at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation
    Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation
    The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation is a private non-profit foundation based in Princeton, New Jersey. It administers programs that support leadership development and build organizational capacity in education. Its current signature program is the...

  • Joseph Priestley from the Encyclopædia Britannica
    Encyclopædia Britannica
    The Encyclopædia Britannica , published by Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., is a general knowledge English-language encyclopaedia that is available in print, as a DVD, and on the Internet. It is written and continuously updated by about 100 full-time editors and more than 4,000 expert...

  • Joseph Priestley at the Chemical Heritage Foundation
    Chemical Heritage Foundation
    The Chemical Heritage Foundation is a library, museum, and archive in Philadelphia that was founded in 1982. Its founding president was Arnold Thackray, who was winner of the Dexter Award in 1983, and who continued to serve as president thru 2009....

  • ExplorePAHistory.com