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Cudworth, Ralph

SARAH HUTTON


Subject Literature » Renaissance Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405194495.2012.x


Extract

Ralph Cudworth (1617–88) was one of the most important religious and philosophical thinkers of the seventeenth century. He was, with Henry More, the most significant of the Cambridge Platonists, whose tolerant, rational Christianity inspired the Latitudinarian movement. Cudworth wrote much, but published few books in his lifetime. His major work, the dauntingly erudite The true intellectual system of the universe (published 1678), presents a coherent anti-determinist philosophy but was never completed as planned. He published a handful of sermons, the most famous being his sermon preached before the House of Commons in 1647. His unpublished manuscripts are devoted mainly to the subject of free will. Some of these were published posthumously: A treatise concerning eternal and immutable morality in 1731, and Of freewill in 1848. Although dubbed a Platonist, he drew on a wide knowledge of ancient philosophy, especially Stoicism. This humanistic dimension of his thought belies his philosophical modernity, evidenced by his debt to René Descartes. Although critical of some aspects of Cartesianism, he used Descartes's concept of body as inert extension as a premise for dualism on the grounds that since corporeality is by definition passive, it is necessary to posit an active immaterial agent, that is mind or spirit, to explain life, thought, and motion. Cudworth's philosophy responds ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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