Cambridge Platonists

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Cambridge Platonists,

group of English philosophers, centered at Cambridge in the latter half of the 17th cent. In reaction to the mechanical philosophy of Thomas Hobbes this school revived certain Platonic and Neoplatonic ideas. Chief among these was a mystical conception of the soul's relation to God and the belief that moral ideas are innate in man. Although tending toward mysticism, the school also stressed the importance of reason, maintaining that faith and reason differ only in degree. The assertion of the founder of the school, Benjamin Whichcote, that "the spirit in man is the cradle of the Lord" became the motto for the entire movement. Other leading members were Ralph CudworthCudworth, Ralph,
1617–88, English theologian and philosopher. He was a noted representative of the Cambridge Platonists. Cudworth's most ambitious work, The True Intellectual System of the Universe, was never completed.
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, Henry MoreMore, Henry,
1614–87, English philosopher, one of the foremost representatives of the school of Cambridge Platonists. His writings emphasized the mystical and theosophic phases of that philosophy, and as he grew older mysticism dominated his writings.
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, and John Smith.


See G. R. Cragg, ed., The Cambridge Platonists (1968); E. Cassirer, The Platonic Renaissance in England (tr. 1953, repr. 1970).

Cambridge Platonists


a group of English religious philosophers of the second half of the 17th century who tried through Neoplatonic ideas to place Christianity on a rationalist foundation.

The leading exponents were the Cambridge professors R. Cudworth and H. More and J. Glanvill at Oxford. The Cambridge Platonists opposed the empirical and sensationalist tendency in English philosophy and struggled against it— particularly against the materialist teaching of T. Hobbes. Although they rejected the ancient Neoplatonic doctrine of emanation, substituting for it the creation of the world by god, they adhered to the Neoplatonic idea of world reason, which they regarded as the intermediary between god and the world, as unconscious “plastic nature” carrying out the will of the creator. They accepted the Cartesian critique of empiricism but rejected Descartes’s mechanistic conception of the physical world and affirmed a teleological view of nature.


Istoriia filosofii, vol. 2. [Moscow] 1941. Pages 212–13.
Smirnov, A. Istoriia angliiskoi etiki, vol. 1. Kazan, 1880.
Campagnac, E. T. Cambridge Platonists. Oxford, 1901.
Cassirer, E. Die Platonische Renaissance in England und die Schule von Cambridge. Leipzig-Berlin, 1932.
Passmore, J. A. R. Cudworth. Cambridge, 1951.
References in classic literature ?
In English philosophy too, many affinities may be traced, not only in the works of the Cambridge Platonists, but in great original writers like Berkeley or Coleridge, to Plato and his ideas.
Writers who might have been expected to stand firm for spirit and soul, like the Cambridge Platonist Sir Thomas Moore, urged, against their own positions, that souls possess both matter and bodies.
She was a pupil of Henry More, the celebrated Cambridge Platonist, whom she appears to have met through her stepbrother.
Panichas, "Henry More: Cambridge Platonist," The Reverent Discipline: Essays in Literary Criticism and Culture (Knoxville, Tenn.
Working from just such a definition, the Cambridge Platonist Benjamin Whichcote argues that "Enthusiasm is the Confounder, both of reason and religion; therefore nothing is more necessary to the interest of religion than the prevention of enthusiasm" (Whichcote 426-27).
They discuss Conway's tutelage under the Cambridge Platonist Henry More; her deep and often persuasive dissatisfaction with Cartesianism; her friendship with the intellectual adventurer Francis Mercury van Helmont, who encouraged her study of the Lurianic kabbalah; her long and unsuccessful search for a cure for her incapacitating headaches; and her eventual conversion to Quakerism, which she admired at least partly because of the fortitude Quakers showed in the face of suffering.
As she had in the Political Writings, Springborg makes the alliances between Astell and her contemporaries clear, especially Damaris Masham, Locke's companion, and Ralph Cudworth, the Cambridge Platonist.
Norris' is, of course, John Norris of Bemerton (1657-1711), last acknowledged Cambridge Platonist, Cartesian philosopher, and prolific author of theological and philosophical treatises - and a minor poet as well.
Emerson, I think, took his sense of "lustre" not just from Plutarch but from the 17th-century Cambridge Platonist Ralph Cudworth's True Intellectual System of the Universe, where the lustre is associated with the Neoplatonic image of the astral body, the subtle envelope that intervenes between soul and material body.
of La Rioja, Spain) explores the contributions that Cambridge Platonist Cudworth (1617-88) made to British writer, critic, and philosopher Coleridge's (1772-1834) concept of the symbol and related symbolic knowledge, which she finds central to his literary theory.
The idea of a moral preparation for the afterlife is commonplace in Anglican sermonizing (and, indeed, Hammond suggests a borrowing from Tillotson at this point), (13) especially on the occasion of All Saints' Day, but the necessity of an earthly, sensate preparation for Heaven is a particular emphasis of Norris, almost certainly derived from the Cambridge Platonist with whom he corresponded, Henry More; and Norris comes very close to Sterne in a passage immediately preceding the long passage Sterne definitely borrows for the remainder of his discussion:
The best known apocalyptic interpreter of the Restoration was probably the Cambridge Platonist and "latitudinarian" thinker Henry More, who attempted to rescue scriptural prophecy from the "fanatics" and to appropriate it for defense of the re-established Church of England.

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