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Gay, John (1699-1745) (DNB01)

GAY, JOHN (1699–1745), philosophical writer, born in 1699, was the second son of James Gay (d. 1 June 1720), rector of Upton Pyne in Devonshire, by his wife Elizabeth (d. October 1732), daughter of Nicholas Hooper of Fulbrook, Braunton, in the same county. The poet John Gay [q.v.] was his cousin. He was educated at Tiverton grammar school, and entered at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, on 10 Jan. 1717-8. He was elected Blundell scholar on 12 Jan., and graduated B.A. in 1721 and M.A. in 1725. On 24 Jan. 1723-4 he was elected a fellow. While in residence he held the offices of Hebrew lecturer. Greek lecturer, and ecclesiastical history lecturer.

Gay is remembered on account of the 'Preliminary Dissertation' by him, prefixed to the translation by Edmund Law [q.v.] of the archbishop of Dublin's 'Essay on the Origin of Evil,' which appeared in 1731 [see King, William, 1650-1729]. This short treatise is one of the most interesting and important contributions to the utilitarian principle, which was frequently expressed at a later time by the formula, 'the greatest happiness of the greatest number,' an expression, however, which is not used by Gay. David Hartley (1705-1757) [q. v.] states that Gay's dissertation first suggested the theory of the possibility of deducing intellectual emotions from association, which he afterwards elaborated in 1749 in his 'Observations on Man.' Of more importance is the fact that Abraham Tucker [q.v.] and William Paley [q.v.] afterwards adopted a position almost exactly similar to Gay's. The views of Richard Cumberland (1631-1718) [q.v.] bear most analogy to those of Gay among his predecessors.

In 1732 Gay resigned his fellowship and was presented to the vicarage of Wilshampstead in Bedfordshire. He died on 18 July 1745, and was buried at Wilshampstead on 22 July. By his wife Elizabeth he had two sons and four daughters. Gay's dissertation was originally anonymous, but in 1758, after his death, a fourth edition of the 'Essay on the Origin of Evil' appeared, in which it was stated that it was chiefly composed by him. A fifth edition appeared in 1781. An article on 'The Ethical System of Gay' appeared in March 1897 in the 'Philosophical Review' of Boston.

[Information kindly given by the Master of Sidney Sussex College: Vivian's Visitations of the County of Devon, 1895, p. 394; Bedfordshire Notes and Queries, ii. 278; Stephen's English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, 1881, ii. 63, 109.]

E. I. C.