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The first line of this couplet is often misquoted as "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing".(1733-34), a rationalistic effort to justify the ways of God to man philosophically.
Indeed, several lines in the Essay on Man, particularly in the first Epistle, are simply statements from the Moralist done in verse.
Although the question is unsettled and probably will remain so, it is generally believed that Pope was indoctrinated by having read the letters that were prepared for him by Bolingbroke and that provided an exegesis of Shaftesbury's philosophy.
"God sends not ill, if rightly understood." According to this principle, vices, themselves to be deplored, may lead to virtues.
For example, motivated by envy, a person may develop courage and wish to emulate the accomplishments of another; and the avaricious person may attain the virtue of prudence.
Those ideas were first set forth in England by Anthony Ashley Cowper, Earl of Shaftesbury (1671-1731).
They pervade all his works but especially the Moralist.
Believing that God's most characteristic attribute was benevolence, Shaftesbury provided an emphatic endorsement of providentialism.
Following are the major ideas in Essay on Man: (1) a God of infinite wisdom exists; (2) He created a world that is the best of all possible ones; (3) the plenum, or all-embracing whole of the universe, is real and hierarchical; (4) authentic good is that of the whole, not of isolated parts; (5) self-love and social love both motivate humans' conduct; (6) virtue is attainable; (7) "One truth is clear, WHATEVER IS, IS RIGHT." Partial evil, according to Pope, contributes to the universal good.
The main tenet of this system of natural theology was that one God, all-wise and all-merciful, governed the world providentially for the best.
Most important for Shaftesbury was the principle of Harmony and Balance, which he based not on reason but on the general ground of good taste.