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.

 

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Review of Broad’s Philosophy of Mary Astell

Jacqueline Broad, The Philosophy of Mary Astell: An Early Modern Theory of Virtue, Oxford University Press, 2015, 205pp., $70.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780198716815.

Reviewed by Penny Weiss, St. Louis University

It is hard to believe that it was only in 1986 that the first two modern books on Mary Astell were published, one a biography, the other a collection of complete and excerpted works. In the 30 years since, all of Astell’s major writings have been made available, several with substantive introductions, and three monographs, an anthology of critical essays, and dozens of academic articles from multiple disciplines have been published. We can now add to the growing list this book by Jacqueline Broad, who has mastered and engages with all of this primary and secondary literature. Broad is the first to read Astell’s texts as parts of “a united and consistent” (5) philosophical system with a moral theory at its core, which she importantly claims is how Astell understood her own work. Broad’s unmistakable grasp of Astell does not always manifest itself evenly; one chapter tackles a particular work while another deals with a theme and yet another makes central a conflict in the secondary literature. Further, one chapter is overwhelmed by comparisons with those who influenced Astell, in another they rarely appear, and in none but the conclusion are contemporary links pursued, though they practically beg to be explored. Nonetheless, everyone will learn from this text, several debates about Astell are resolved in it, and Astell’s philosophical status is generally elevated.

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