Martin Fotherby

(c. 1560—1620) bishop of Salisbury

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Martin Fotherby was born in Grimsby and died in London on 29 March 1619. He received his education at Cambridge, becoming a Fellow of Trinity. He took holy orders, becoming Archdeacon of Canterbury in 1596 and Dean in 1615. He was appointed chaplain to King James I, and was installed as Bishop of Salisbury in 1618, a year before his death. His place in the history of philosophy rests on one book, the Atheomastix, published posthumously in 1622. The work attempts to establish four truths: (1) That there is a God; (2) that there is only one God; (3) that Jehovah, the God of the Jews and Christians, is that one God; and (4) that the Bible is the Word of God. Fotherby has sufficient logical acumen to realize that, in order to ‘reduce’ the atheists, he must argue ‘by natural reasons, and secular authorities’, not begging the question by presupposing the very points at issue. He eschews arguments a priori, resorting instead to the well-trodden paths of the a posteriori arguments from universal consent and from design. His use of the argument from universal consent is of some interest, inviting comparison with the similar arguments of Herbert of Cherbury and Cudworth. Such arguments face a rather obvious objection. If the universal consent is genuine, there are no atheists needing to be ‘reduced’ – there seems to be a sort of pragmatic or rhetorical inconsistency inherent in using the premise that there are no atheists in order to convince an atheist that he is wrong. Either there are no atheists, in which case the argument from universal consent has a true premise but is not needed, or there are atheists, in which case its premise is false. Fotherby at least shows himself aware of this difficulty: there are, he admits, men who deny the existence of some gods (for example, the pagan deities of ancient Greece and Rome), men who say (insincerely) ‘there is no God’, and perhaps even men who think, in a moment of haste or passion, atheistic thoughts, but there is no one who sincerely and constantly denies the existence of all gods.

From The Continuum Encyclopedia of British Philosophy in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Philosophy.

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