Politics, theology, and Cambridge Platonism: the Trinity and ethical community in the thought of Ralph Cudworth

Carter, Benjamin Huw (2004) Politics, theology, and Cambridge Platonism: the Trinity and ethical community in the thought of Ralph Cudworth. PhD thesis, Middlesex University.

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Abstract

This thesis is an examination of the influence of theological ideas on the development of liberal political philosophy in the seventeenth century. The basis of this account will be a detailed exanlination of the ethical and political ideas in the
published and unpublished writings of the Cambridge Platonist, Ralph Cudworth. As the reputation of the Cambridge Platonists as other-worldly thinkers is well
established in intellectual history, this thesis, in rejecting this common view, will examine how this image of the Cambridge Platonists came to prevail. I will argue that, when the Cambridge Platonists are viewed within their philosophical,
theological and historical context, their thought contains a powerful critique of contemporary theological and political ideas. By a detailed analysis of Cudworth's theology, in particular his Trinitarianism, I will argue that Cudworth creates a sophisticated defence of political society based on the moral self-deternlination and political responsibility of the individual. Cudworth's defence of the political realm is
deflned by his belief in the democratic revelation made to all men, in the form of reason, through the active power of a Neoplatonically understood Trinity. Cudworth allows for a political society (what I term an ethical community, in which
the individual must make the most of his God-given potential, and in which the eternal and immutable truths in the intellect of God, and not the will of the sovereign, underpin the legitimacy and efficacy of that society. Cudworth's thought,
far from being the apolitical system it is often assumed to be, provided ethical and political arguments which were, I argue, very influential on the late-seventeenth century debates for toleration and comprehension, and in particular the role played
by the Latitudinarian divines in those debates. What we find in Cudworth's thought is a defence of the self-determining power of the individual which is defined by, and grows directly out of, a Trinitarian understanding of reality. This thesis will
therefore show the way in which liberal political principles can be identified as growing positively out of the theological debates of tlle late-seventeenth century.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Research Areas: B. > Theses
Item ID: 13445
Depositing User: Adam Miller
Date Deposited: 13 Jan 2015 15:27
Last Modified: 03 Apr 2019 06:05
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/13445

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