John Russell Roberts on Berkeley and Cambridge Platonism

John Russell Roberts, “A Puzzle in the Three Dialogues and Its Platonic Resolution,” in Stefan Storrie, ed., Berkeley’s Three Dialogues: New Essays (Oxford, 2018). DOI:10.1093/oso/9780198755685.003.0010

This essay suggests that Berkeley’s Neoplatonism may be profitably viewed as developed under the influence of Cambridge Platonism. A brief account of some key aspects of Cambridge Platonism are reviewed, specifically the central idea of the Image of God Doctrine (IGD) and Cudworth’s Axiarchism. Then possible points of influence of these aspects on Berkeley’s views are explored. In support of its possible usefulness, this approach to Berkeley’s Neoplatonism is used to shed light on his otherwise puzzling embrace of the pure intellect and abstract ideas. If Berkeley is drawing on the Cambridge Platonism tradition in the way suggested, he can have his pure intellect and its innate ideas without dragging along a commitment to a faculty of abstraction and its abstract ideas. Instead, the pure intellect is seen as a reflective faculty directed to the perfectly particular, concrete self.



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.

Eighteenth-Century Dissent and Cambridge Platonism by Louise Hickman (Routledge, 2017)

Louise Hickman, Eighteenth Century Dissent and Cambridge Platonism: Reconceiving the Philosophy of Religion, Routledge, 2017, 211pp., $140.00 (hbk), ISBN 9781138652415.

Eighteenth-Century Dissent and Cambridge Platonism identifies an ethically and politically engaged philosophy of religion in eighteenth century Rational Dissent, particularly in the work of Richard Price (1723-1791), and in the radical thought of Mary Wollstonecraft. It traces their ethico-political account of reason, natural theology and human freedom back to seventeenth century Cambridge Platonism and thereby shows how popular histories of the philosophy of religion in modernity have been over-determined both by analytic philosophy of religion and by its critics. The eighteenth century has typically been portrayed as an age of reason, defined as a project of rationalism, liberalism and increasing secularisation, leading inevitably to nihilism and the collapse of modernity. Within this narrative, the Rational Dissenters have been accused of being the culmination of eighteenth-century rationalism in Britain, epitomising the philosophy of modernity. This book challenges this reading of history by highlighting the importance of teleology, deiformity, the immutability of goodness and the divinity of reason within the tradition of Rational Dissent, and it demonstrates that the philosophy and ethics of both Price and Wollstonecraft are profoundly theological. Price’s philosophy of political liberty, and Wollstonecraft’s feminism, both grounded in a Platonic conception of freedom, are perfectionist and radical rather than liberal. This has important implications for understanding the political nature of eighteenth-century philosophical theology: these thinkers represent not so much a shaking off of religion by secular rationality but a challenge to religious and political hegemony. By distinguishing Price and Wollstonecraft from other forms of rationalism including deism and Socinianism, this book takes issue with the popular division of eighteenth-century philosophy into rationalistic and empirical strands and, through considering the legacy of Cambridge Platonism, draws attention to an alternative philosophy of religion that lies between both empiricism and discursive inference.


Reviewed by Sandrine Bergès (Bilkent University) here.