(By James Bryson)
In 1684-5 the Oxford Platonist John Norris (1657-1711) engaged Henry More in an intellectually rigorous and fascinating correspondence that is best remembered for its relevance to ethical topics. Norris first published the correspondence as a supplement to his ‘Moral Essay’ on The Theory and Regulation of Love (1688), shortly after More’s death in the same year, and did so, he tells us, at the insistence of mutual friends. In addition to his desire to publish the ‘Remains of so great and extraordinary a person’, Norris says that he included the correspondence with More in this publication because he believed the exchange vindicated his ‘Hypothesis concerning the Root of Liberty’, it having withstood the scrutiny of ‘so severe a Speculatist’ as the good Dr. More. Norris first tested his hypothesis in a sermon on Romans 12:3 which he dedicated and sent to More in or around the same time he issues his third letter to More in this particular chain of correspondence. Norris had published the sermon in full in his Miscellanies (1687, pp. 333-358), and he included his own paraphrase of the sermon’s argument as an appendix to the 1688 publication of his correspondence with More (pp.239-46). His reason for doing so was to provide the reader with some additional context and theoretical background for his arguments, which, of course, being in possession of a copy of the sermon, More himself would have had. In this post, I will focus on what is said in the correspondence itself rather than on the appendix or the sermon, each of which provide helpful theoretical context, but they do not have a direct bearing on what’s most philosophically essential about the letters themselves: the implications of the philosophers’ respective moral psychologies.
W.J. Mander is the only modern scholar who has done more than note the existence of this correspondence and gloss its subject matter (The Philosophy of John Norris, OUP, 2009 p.152), and there has not yet been a careful appraisal of the philosophical details of the exchange. The principal philosophical points at issue are distinct but, as I will argue, ultimately related – they are: a) the moral status of sensual pleasure; b) whether when taking moral decisions the soul ‘necessarily wills as she understands’, which is Norris’ own formulation, a position he attempts to defend against More’s objections to it. More’s objections are rooted in the Cambridge Platonist’s emphasis on the purification of the will as a necessary and primary condition for the moral life of the soul. Norris and More take as their test case Peter’s denial of Christ, a scriptural episode which they analyze and put in service of their respective arguments in subtle and creative ways.
Continue reading Henry More and John Norris talk Sensuality and Peter’s Denial of Christ →
Readers may be interested in attending the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion’s twelfth conference, which has as its subject ‘Philosophy and the Spiritual Life’. The conference will take place at Oriel College, Oxford, 7-8 September 2017. For further details, see the conference’s blog page.
The debate between science and religion is one of the most fascinating and enduring themes of the modern world.
In that debate – sometimes hostile, often harmonious, always complex – Christ’s College has played a significant role.
Whether one looks to the Neoplatonist thinker Henry More (1614-1687), or to William Paley (1743-1805) and his divine ‘watchmaker’, or to Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and his revolutionary theory of evolution, or to the theologian and naturalist Charles Raven (1885-1964), the relationship between scientific understanding and religious belief has exercised some of Christ’s College’s greatest minds.
In a new exhibition held in the stunning period setting of the Old Library, the crucial contribution that these men, and others, have made to this ongoing debate is explored via the College’s rich and diverse collections of printed books, manuscripts and photographs.
For more information visit
The exhibition will be on display from 5 December 2014 until 29 May 2015.
Christ’s science and religion posterChrist’s science and religion poster
On September 12 and 13, 2014, the Philosophy Department at the University of Fribourg Switzerland will host a workshop on Henry More’s ‘Enchiridion Ethicum’ (1668). The workshop aims at exploring More’s rarely studied text by means of presentations and a roundtable discussion. Presentations will be in English and French.
Prof. Sarah Hutton, Aberystwyth University
Prof. Laurent Jaffro, Université Paris 1 Sorbonne-Panthéon
Dr. David Leech, University of Bristol
Dr. Christian Maurer, Université de Fribourg
Dr. Alain Petit, Université Blaise Pascal Clermont-Ferrand 2
Dr. John Sellars, Birkbeck College, University of London
Prof. Tiziana Suarez-Nani, Université de Fribourg
For further information, please visit the conference website (http://lettres.unifr.ch/fr/philosophie/philosophie/henry-more.html) or contact the organizer, Christian Maurer, Université de Fribourg (email@example.com). Attendance is free, but please inscribe via e-Mail.
On Monday 25th of November 4.00 pm-6.30pm 2013 there will be a session of the American Academy of Religion at Baltimore on 'Cambridge Platonism Revisited'. Speakers are Eric Parker (McGill) on Peter Sterry, Heather Ohanson (Columbia) on Cudworth and the Readmission of the Jews, Alex Hampton (Cambridge) on Herder and Cudworth. Douglas Hedley (Cambridge) will be presiding.
An international conference on the presence of Platonism and Neoplatonism in Modern Philosophy
12-14 November 2013
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas
The programme includes papers on Henry More, Anne Conway, Samuel Clarke and the Moral Philosophy of the Cambridge Platonists.
For more information visit
7 – 8 November 2013
Jointly organised by the Centre for Neoplatonic Virtue Ethics, University of Copenhagen,
and the Warburg Institute
Click here to download the poster
Organisers: Leo Catana (Copenhagen), Anna Corrias, Guido Giglioni and Jill Kraye (Warburg Institute)
Speakers: Leo Catana (Copenhagen), Christopher Celenza (American Academy in Rome/Johns Hopkins), Riccardo Chiaradonna, (Roma Tre), Anna Corrias (Warburg Institute), Rocco Di Dio (Warwick), Guido Giglioni (Warburg Institute), James Hankins ( Harvard), Sarah Hutton, (Aberystwyth), Cecilia Muratori (Villa I Tatti), Denis Robichaud (Notre Dame), Valery Rees (School of Economic Science), Valerio Sanzotta (Ludwig Boltzmann Institute) and Maude Vanhaelen (Warwick)
The conference will focus on the early modern reception of Plotinus and the post-Plotinian Platonists. Among the topics which will be discussed are: Marsilio Ficino’s translation of and commentary on the Enneads and his translation of works by Porphyry, Iamblichus and Proclus; the different ways in which Ficino’s translation and interpretation shaped the view which European scholars and philosophers had of late ancient Platonism up to the nineteenth century; the circulation of Plotinian and post-Plotinian philosophy after, and independently of, Ficino’s translations; and post-Plotinian elements in early modern Platonism.
For further details, see:
talk given by Professor Sarah Hutton at the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, 25th October 2013:
‘A Cambridge Enlightenment? The Cambridge Platonists Revisited.’
Friday 25th October 5.30-6.30pm
Little Hall, Sidgwick Site, Sidgwick Avenue, Cambridge, CB3 9DA