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Thomas Paine
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Thomas Paine

Born: January 29, 1737 at Thetford, Norfolk in England
Died: June 8, 1809 in New York City
Arrived in America: November 30, 1774
Imprisoned in France: 1793-1802

The son of Quakers, Thomas Paine (1737-1809) made an impressive mark on American society and politics with his stinging political essays. His first, African Slavery in America, was published in 1775 and sharply criticized slavery as unjust and inhumane. Destined to be much more famous and influential was his pamphlet Common Sense, published on January 10, 1776.

The basis for this pamphlet was that common sense and plain facts dictated one course of action for the American colonies: separation from England. Advocating the most limited form of government possible, over 500,000 copies were sold, making it one of the most influential documents of the era.

It was another work, however, which would impact Paine personally - and not positively. Age of Reason, published in 1794, was a harsh criticism of the Bible and traditional religion. A deistic work which was usually treated as if it were atheistic, in it Paine argued that nature itself was God's only real revelation to humanity. Paine dismissed Christianity as false, dismissed the Bible as false, and condemned many traditional Christian doctrines as fundamentally immoral.

Paine argued for a rational religion and he didn't really present anything new - but he put a famous name to those ideas and spread them widely and the result was that he made even more enemies than he had before. Even people who had previously been supportive moved to distance themselves from him and Paine developed a reputation as an atheist. This reputation has continued down through modern times - even Theodore Roosevelt referred to him once as a "filthy little atheist."

Major works:

  • Common Sense (1776)
  • The Rights of Man (1792)
  • The Age of Reason (1794)
  • Essays on Religion (1797)

Also Known As: none

Alternate Spellings: none

Common Misspellings: none

Related Resources:

What are Political and Legal Philosophy
The Philosophy of Politics and the Philosophy of Law are often studied separately, but they are presented here jointly because they both come back to the same thing: the study of force. Politics is the study of political force in the general community, while jurisprudence is the study of how laws can and should be used to achieve political and social goals.

What is Philosophy?
What is philosophy? Is there any point in studying philosophy, or is it a useless subject? What are the different branches of philosophy - what's the difference between aestheitcs and ethics? What's the difference between metaphysics and epistemology?

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