Review: Ancient Wisdom in the age of the new science by Dmitri Levitin

Susan James,  Ancient Wisdom in the age of the new science: Histories of philosophy in England, c. 1640–1700, Dmitri Levitin. Oxford University Press, 2015, xii + 670 ISBN: 9781107513747. In European Journal of Philosophy,  26(1): 676-678.

One thought on “Review: Ancient Wisdom in the age of the new science by Dmitri Levitin”

  1. Susan James concurs with the many reviewers who have found Levitin’s Ancient Wisdom to be an extremely important contribution to our understanding of this period, one that may well come to be seen as a milestone in Early Modern studies. However, she correctly points out that Levitin’s specific criticisms of current appraisals of Cambridge Platonism seem slightly off-target. Few of us have understood the group consisting of Whichcote, More, Cudworth and Smith as sharing a common ideology based on a syncretic notion of philosophical theology; More may well have wished that such a view could be demonstrated but was surely aware that that had not yet been achieved, whether in the form of a universal philosophia perennis as envisioned by Steuco or in that of a Christian appropriation of classical Platonism as proposed by Origen and the Cappadocian Fathers. Each of the other core members of the group is usually seen as having gone his own way in important respects, sharing and reacting to the common background of a Puritan upbringing but then following different philosophical interests and professional paths. I would disagree, as well, with Levitin’s suggestion that students of More have generally failed to reckon adequately with the eccentricity of his views. Everyone surely recognizes this, but few feel the need to rush into print to announce it yet again. More’s view of himself is not the point; the breadth and comprehensiveness of his philosophical speculations are surely what give him his value to students of the period.

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