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).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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.
points out that starting with the Cambridge Platonists, philosophers
In attending most closely to sympathy in the writings of Sir Kenelm Digby, Margaret Cavendish, thomas Hobbes, John Milton, the Cambridge Platonists, the third earl of Shaftesbury, David Fordyce, James Thomson, and David Hume, Lobis masterfully unravels the intricate and evolving connections and tensions between the discourses of "universal and magical sympathy" and "interpersonal and moral sympathy" in their works (3).
Only Cambridge Platonists of the previous century are briefly mentioned as his masters, hence "it is no surprise that [Shaftesbury] linked the feeling of beauty to recognition of the order of the universe and its goodness" (I:31).
It is Marxist, Maritainian, or inspired by some recognized group of thinkers (the Physiocrats, the Cambridge Platonists).
Bosworth views this book as a product of "the nascent climate of latitudinarianism in religion and political thought, and of the tentative assertion of rationality as a principle of religious enquiry, which characterize the Restoration and which find their earliest expression in the works of the Cambridge Platonists and John Locke" (p.
In the 17th century the Cambridge Platonists, who today are read by only a few, were admired, but Plato's commitment to interpreting the natural world by mathematics also inspired Kepler, Galileo, and Newton.
The other was associated with the Cambridge Platonists who saw humans as "intrinsically attuned to God" and man's inward nature was in tune with the universe.
In his crucial Trinitarian context Young uses the term "Energy" as do such Cambridge Platonists as John Smith, who states that "Grace" is not "feeble," for "by a mighty Energy within itself it is always soaring" heavenward as the soul becomes more "God-like" (192, 166; cf.
Accordingly his references are not to recent luminaries such as Friedman and Lucas, but to ethics, the good life, Coleridge, 'Cambridge Platonists' and the ongoing traditions of the Cambridge Apostles.
More specifically, papers address Maistre's genius, his critique of America, the Cambridge Platonists, Schopenhauer and Maistre as enemies of the Enlightenment, why Maistre became Ultramontane, and the pedagogical nature of Maistre's thought, among other topics.

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