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Animals, Freewill, and Animal Freewill: A Development in Cudworth’s Freewill Manuscripts

By Matthew Leisinger

1. The Freewill Manuscripts

Ralph Cudworth’s ‘freewill’ manuscripts (British Library Additional Manuscripts 4978-4982) may be somewhat long and rambling, but they are far from incoherent. On the contrary, Cudworth’s substantive views appear to remain largely unchanged across the manuscripts, even if Cudworth constantly seeks new modes of expression. This fact is remarkable because, as Mark Burden explains in his recent and important blog post, the manuscripts may well have been composed over a relatively long period of time. In their substance, the (perhaps) early sketches of 4982(1) and 4982(3) appear largely to agree with the (perhaps) later and more polished 4978 (the posthumously published A Treatise of Freewill).

Of course, this proclamation of consistency begs refutation. Scholarship on Cudworth’s freewill manuscripts remains in its infancy. The task at this point is simply to understand what Cudworth’s views are, not to chart how those views might have developed over time. As scholarship progresses, however, developmental stories may begin to emerge. As the freewill manuscripts become more accessible (in part through the efforts of The Cambridge Platonist Project) and as more scholars follow Burden’s lead by taking seriously the complex textual and philosophical relations between the manuscripts, it may become possible to distinguish the motions of Cudworth’s thought against the fixed background of his understood philosophical commitments.

I wish to make a modest (and perhaps premature) contribution to this project by attempting briefly to point out one such apparent motion. My suggestion will be that Cudworth’s views about animals seem to have gone through three stages. Assuming that Burden’s relative dating of the manuscripts is roughly accurate, I will argue that Cudworth initially believed that animals lack freewill but then lost confidence in this belief and went through a period of indecision before later changing his mind and adopting the contrary opinion that animals do indeed possess at least a kind of freewill.

2. Freewill, Animal and Moral

In order to see this motion in Cudworth’s thought, we need first to establish some fixed background as a frame of reference. To this end, allow me to provide a cursory and dogmatic sketch of Cudworth’s account of freewill.

Continue reading Animals, Freewill, and Animal Freewill: A Development in Cudworth’s Freewill Manuscripts

Ralph Cudworth’s Freewill Manuscripts: A Roadmap to Dating and Analysis

By Mark Burden

In the preface to his True Intellectual System of the Universe: The First Part (1678), Ralph Cudworth explained that he originally intended ‘onely a Discourse concerning Liberty and Necessity’ before broadening his scheme to take account of the ‘Tripartite Fatalism’ of Democritean Fate (material necessity and atheism), the Divine Fate immoral and violent (arbitrary, omnipotent will), and the Divine Fate moral and natural (intrinsic necessity as a series of causes without contingency). The True Intellectual System as published, in which Cudworth attempted to confute ‘All the Reason and Philosophy of Atheism’, represents the contents of the first part of this three-way scheme. It is often said that much of the contents of the remaining two parts can be found in five volumes of Cudworth’s unpublished manuscript writings, now held by the British Library, known collectively as the ‘freewill’ manuscripts (Add MSS 4978-4982). However, as we shall see, several of these manuscript writings probably predate Cudworth’s decision to prioritise discussion of Democritean materialism, and are perhaps better described as part of his original plan for a ‘Discourse concerning Liberty and Necessity’; thus, it may not be quite true to Cudworth’s intention if we refer to them as drafts for the projected second and third parts of the True Intellectual System. Only one brief fragment, Add. MSS 4982(2), provides any clear evidence of the continuation of the three-part design outlined by Cudworth in his preface; this section refers directly back to the opening pages of Part One before developing a discussion of arbitrary divine will as encountered in Calvin and his successors, so we can be reasonably confident that it constitutes an early draft of the opening section of the projected second part of the work.

The five volumes of Cudworth’s freewill manuscripts consist of eight fragmentary drafts, as follows:

Continue reading Ralph Cudworth’s Freewill Manuscripts: A Roadmap to Dating and Analysis

‘Dr. More the Controvertist’ and ‘Dr. More the Philosopher’: The composition and reception of Henry More’s “Exposition of the Seven Epistles to the Seven Churches” (1669)

By Mark Burden

If we believe the author’s own account, the composition of An Exposition of the Seven Epistles to the Seven Churches (1669) came as something of a personal surprise to Henry More. Even during the printing process, he remained anxious about the text’s likely reception:  a new ‘prophetic’ exegesis of Revelation chapters 1-3 was likely to be seen by many as unnecessary at best and hubristic at worst. The most obvious destination for readers seeking an explication of the final book of the Bible was Joseph Mede’s Works (not least in the edition of 1664, prepared for publication by More’s friend John Worthington), while those wishing to know More’s views needed to look no further than his recently-published Divine Dialogues (2 volumes, 1668). In his preface to the Exposition, More sought to mask his anxiety about the text under the shady cloak of ambivalence, asserting that his sudden decision to write it had been as ‘unexpected’ to him as its publication would be to some of his readers: after all, he had ‘never yet affected to bestow my pains on these kind of Subjects’, and had thought that the publication of his analysis of the Book of Revelation in the second volume of the Divine Dialogues (dialogues 4 and 5) had rendered him ‘secure . . . from ever being engaged’ in writing on the same topic again. Furthermore, he claimed that until quite recently he had felt that the correct literal and moral interpretation of the early chapters of Revelation was too obvious to require the ‘needlesse labour’ of a further exposition.

More’s apparent self-surprise at the composition of the Exposition should not be taken entirely at face-value: he and his Cambridge colleague Ralph Cudworth had been discussing the prophetic books of the Bible for many years, and Cudworth was to leave behind him a huge pile of unpublished manuscript papers on Daniel following his death in 1688. Neither can More have seriously considered that there was unanimous agreement among Protestants about the correct moral interpretation of Revelation chapters 1-3. And yet More’s Exposition is a crucial text in his oeuvre, marking a decisive turn away from his earlier philosophical output towards the publication of a string of works on Daniel and Revelation. Equally importantly, it included as a lengthy second part More’s most condensed and closely-argued attack on ‘Popish’ ceremony, his ‘Antidote against Idolatry’, a work which – as we shall see – swiftly became embroiled in political as well as theological commentary.

Continue reading ‘Dr. More the Controvertist’ and ‘Dr. More the Philosopher’: The composition and reception of Henry More’s “Exposition of the Seven Epistles to the Seven Churches” (1669)

The English Reception of Henry More: A Bibliography, c.1640-1700

Mark Burden has recently uploaded an extensive bibliography of English language texts, c.1640-1700, which mention Henry More and his writings by name. It is hoped that this list will make it easier to research More’s English reception. The list may be found here, on the Cambridge Platonist Research Group website:

Benjamin Whichcote and the Puritans, 1644-1660

(By Mark Burden)

Benjamin Whichcote’s presence in the historiography of seventeenth-century English thought rests chiefly on an influential claim, propagated in slightly different forms by Ernst Cassirer (Die platonische Renaissance, 1932) and James Deotis Roberts (From Puritanism to Platonism, 1968), that he is the ‘father of Cambridge Platonism’. Supporters of this view can point to some intriguing if somewhat imprecise comments by Whichcote’s near-contemporary, the pro-Williamite bishop Gilbert Burnet, who recalled that Whichcote ‘set young students much on reading the ancient Philosophers, chiefly Plato, Tully, and Plotin’ (Burnet (1724), I, 187). Burnet, who did not know Whichcote well, nevertheless made a series of other claims which have received much less attention. Whichcote, he stated, had previously achieved ‘great credit with some that had been eminent in the late times’, but had chosen to use these connections with the Puritan regime to ‘protect good men of all persuasions’, being ‘much for liberty of conscience’. Theologically, he had urged his students to consider religion as ‘a seed of a deiform nature’, and as ‘a doctrine sent from God, both to elevate and sweeten humane nature’ (Burnet (1724), I, 186-7). The extent of Whichcote’s incorporation of Platonic doctrines in his surviving (and posthumously-published) corpus of sermons remains the subject of considerable debate. However, my aim in the following essay is to explore another aspect of Burnet’s remarks: Whichcote’s connections, whether intentional or otherwise, with Puritan intellectuals in the period before the Restoration. What I hope to show is that Whichcote’s writings need not simply be categorised as ‘Platonist’, or even (to use a later term) ‘Latitudinarian’; while the term ‘Puritan’ sits uneasily in relation to Whichcote’s early works, it is nevertheless the case that his writings have a much more complicated relationship to Puritan thought (itself a very difficult category) than has been previously recognised.

Whichcote’s embroilment in the theological controversies of the 1640s and 1650s was an inevitable consequence of his determination to make an intellectual name for himself in the febrile atmosphere of civil war Cambridge, when he was already in his thirties. Continue reading Benjamin Whichcote and the Puritans, 1644-1660

Editing the Cambridge Platonists – Some Initial Questions

(By Mark Burden)

The major objective of the Cambridge Platonists Project is to produce an online ‘Cambridge Platonism Sourcebook’ which will provide reliable selections of texts by Henry More, Ralph Cudworth, John Smith, Benjamin Whichcote, and Anne Conway; the ‘Sourcebook’ is designed to supersede previous anthologies. Our edition of Cambridge Platonist texts will be the first to include a strict adherence to the orthography and punctuation of the seventeenth and eighteenth-century copy-texts, the inclusion of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic characters, and the representation of printed marginalia, notes, and corrections. It will also make available a significant quantity of unfinished and manuscript writings; it will produce the first English translations of rare works in Latin in its reconstruction of their reception.

Initially, the Project’s guiding editorial principle was to select copytexts based on the first edition of a work, unless there were substantial additions or corrections to be found in a later edition. In practice, this principle is working reasonably well for texts by Henry More, most of which were published in his lifetime, usually under his editorial oversight. However, the situation for our other authors has proved more complicated. Whichcote’s writings were all printed posthumously, based on manuscripts of uncertain authorial integrity, and subjected to considerable editorial intervention and restructuring; the generally-accepted ‘best’ text is the 4-volume Works (Aberdeen, 1751), but we now know that this publication is an amalgam of two separate strands of Whichcote editorial practice, represented by the London editions of 1698 (the Select Sermons) and 1701-7 (the Select Discourses), which vary dramatically in structure and content. Cudworth’s True Intellectual System was published in his lifetime, but the status of early eighteenth-century editions, abridgments, and translations of the work have never been fully investigated. There are no recent studies of the relationship between the posthumously-printed edition of Cudworth’s Treatise of Eternal and Immutable Morality and the lost manuscript, meaning that the editorial principles and alterations made in preparation for publication have never been investigated. With the exception of a few brief pamphlets and the Treatise of Freewill, the remainder of Cudworth’s philosophical and theological writings have never been published; the relationship of the surviving manuscripts to Cudworth’s True Intellectual System, to his wider academic work as a Cambridge tutor, and to the exegetical work of Mede, More, Smith and others is very poorly understood. Smith’s Discourses were also subjected to considerable editorial rearrangement and condensation prior to their posthumous publication in 1660, while the original English text of Conway’s Principles has vanished, and we are reliant upon a later Latin text which was then translated back into English for what was initially a fairly small domestic market.

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