The Cambridge Platonists and the Pre-History of the English Enlightenment

Matthew Cosby, “The Cambridge Platonists and the Pre-History of the English Enlightenment,” Ph.D. dissertation, The University of Wisconsin – Madison, 2016.


This work examines the prehistory of the Enlightenment, as manifested in a group of five English thinkers customarily known as theCambridge Platonists”—Benjamin Whichcote, Ralph Cudworth, Henry More, Nathaniel Culverwell, and John Smith. Not normally associated with the Enlightenment, and writing a generation before the latter is normally regarded as beginning, the Cambridge Platonists, my research has found, evinced many ideas and attitudes that we now associate with the Enlightenment—such as religious toleration, rationalism, an interest in natural science, and a focus on the present life and the physical world rather than the afterlife and realm of spirit. The broader, meta-hypothesis is that the Enlightenment does not begin suddenly at the end of the seventeenth century, as it is often treated, but emerges much more gradually and organically out of earlier modes of thought.

Committee: Johann P. Sommerville, Charles L. Cohen, Karl Shoemaker, Daniel Ussishkin, and Steven Nadler.

Lewis, “The Educational Influence of Cambridge Platonism,” PhD 2011

Marilyn Ann Lewis, “The Educational Influence of Cambridge Platonism: Tutorial relationships and Student Networks at Christ’s College, Cambridge, 1641-1688,” PhD Thesis, Birkbeck, University of London, 2011.


Assessments of the influence of the Cambridge Platonists have tended to focus on later writers who explicitly adopted some of their ideas, or have suggested more vaguely that their ideas resulted in liberal theology sometimes verging towards heterodoxy.  This thesis attempts to explore the ‘educational influence’ of Henry More and Ralph Cudworth on a group of Cambridge students who have been selected on clear and consistent principles.  It presents a prosopographical study of undergraduates at Christ’s College, Cambridge, between 1641, when Henry More became a fellow, and 1688, when the Master Ralph Cudworth died.  Thirty-one students − whose tutors’ names are known, who were at Christ’s throughout their undergraduate careers, who graduated BA, who published works showing original thinking, and who could be identified with certainty – have been arranged into three tutorial ‘families’:  Cudworth and More’s circle, the intruded Puritan fellows’ group and Ralph Widdrington’s party.  Beyond the study of tutorial relationships, this thesis also explores the friendship and patronage networks of tutors and students in their careers.  The personalities, careers and writings of tutors and students have been studied with three objectives.  First, an attempt has been made to assess the influence of tutors on students, especially as evidenced in their writings, although a lack of published or manuscript writings by some tutors presents acknowledged difficulties.  Second, the possibility of discovering the corporate, if complex, intellectual ‘personality’ of each group has been explored.  Third, the specific influence of Cudworth and More on individual students has been assessed; while this was greatest in their own tutorial circle, there is also evidence of intellectual influence and practical assistance in the other tutorial ‘families’.  The thesis represents an unprecedented attempt to examine Oxbridge tutorial influence, using a new methodology which could potentially be applied to the students of other major thinkers.

Full text is available through the British Library via EThOS.

Koffman, “Truth and tradition in Plato and the Cambridge Platonists,” PhD 2009

Jordan Bradley Koffman, “Truth and tradition in Plato and the Cambridge Platonists,” Ph.D., Queen’s University (Canada), 2009. AAT NR65295. ISBN: 9780494652954. ProQuest document ID:2183297901. For full text see here.

Abstract (Summary)

Both Plato and the Cambridge Platonists hold the view that moral knowledge depends primarily on cognitive resources which are innate to the mind. There is, nevertheless, a need for our minds to be prompted through experience in order for knowledge to occur. The following study is an attempt to reconstruct and compare the accounts in Plato and the Cambridge Platonists of the empirical conditions that are required for knowledge. Continue reading “Koffman, “Truth and tradition in Plato and the Cambridge Platonists,” PhD 2009″