Online Encyclopedia

CAMBRIDGE PLATONISTS

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V05, Page 97 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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CAMBRIDGE PLATONISTS  , a school of philosophico-religious thinkers which flourished mainly at Cambridge University in the second
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half of the 17th century . The founder was Benjamin Whichcote and the chief members were Ralph Cudworth, Richard Cumberland, Joseph Glanvill, Henry More and John Norris (see
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separate articles) . Other less important members were
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Nathanael Culverwel (d . 1651?),
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Theophilus Gale (1628-1678), John Pordage (1607-1681), George Rust (d . 167o), John Smith (1618-1652) and John Worthington (1618-'671) . They represented liberal thought .at the time and were generally known as Latitudinarians . Their views were due to a reaction against three main tendencies in contemporary
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English thought: the sacerdotalism of Laud and his followers, the obscurantist sectaries and, most important of all, the doctrines of Hobbes . They consist chiefly of a reconciliation between reason and religion, resulting in a generally tolerant spirit . They tend always to mysticism and the comtemplation of things transcendental . In spite of inaccuracy and the lack of critical capacity in dealing with their authorities both ancient and
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modern, the Cambridge Platonists exercised a valuable influence on English
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theology and thought in general . Their chief contributions to V . 4thought were Cudworth's theory of the " plastic nature " of
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God, More's elaborate mysticism, Norris's appreciation of Malebranche, Glanvill's conception of scepticism as an aid to Faith, and, in a less degree, the harmony of Faith and Reason elaborated by Culverwel .

The one

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doctrine on which they all combined to
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lay especial emphasis was the absolute existence of right and wrong quite apart from the theory of divine authority . Their chief authorities were
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Plato and the Neo-platonists (between whom they made no adequate distinction), and among modern philosophers, Descartes, Malebranche and Boehme . From these
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sources they attempted to evolve a philosophy of religion, which would not only refute the views of Hobbes, but would also
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free theology finally from the errors of
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scholasticism, without plunging it in the newer dangers of unfettered rational-ism (see Entices) . See Tulloch, Rational Theology in England in the 17th Century; Hallam, Literature of
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Europe (
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chap. on Philosophy from 165o to 'goo ; Hunt, Religious Thought in England; von Stein, Sieben Bucher zur Geschichte
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des Platonismus (1862), and
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works on individual philosophers appended to
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biographies .

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