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Cambridge Platonists

Subject Philosophy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405106795.2004.x


M etaphysics, ethics, philosophy of religion A group of philosophers and theologians in the seventeenth century, mainly associated with the University of Cambridge, who took Plato and Neoplatonism as their authorities. The chief representatives included B. Whichcote (1609–82), J. Smith (1618–52), R. Cudworth (1617–80) and H. More (1614–87). The Cambridge Platonists characteristically emphasized the role of reason and consciousness, which they acclaimed to be “the candle of the Lord” (Whichcote's phrase). Metaphysically, this position is antagonistic toward mechanism and materialism, especially that of Hobbes . In anticipation of Kant , it claimed that consciousness is not secondary and derivative, but is rather the architect of reality. Ethically, the Cambridge Platonists stressed love, character, and motivation, rather than external and universal creed and moral principle. It paved the way for the eighteenth-century British moral philosophers, such as Hume and Hutcheson , for moral sense theory and the intuitionist moral tradition. In religious terms, these philosophers opposed Calvinism , sectarianism, and fanaticism. They argued that people accept the existence of God due neither to some doctrine nor to the supreme will of God, but out of one's inner rational love. It proposed a rational theology and broad toleration. “English seventeenth-century philosophy seems ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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