Cambridge Platonism at the AAR 2017

Papers read at this year’s American Academy of Religion annual meeting in Boston:

Karen Felter (University of Muenster), “’The Middle Way of Truth’: The Role of Christ in Anne Conway’s Trinitarianism,” presented to the “Origen and the Roots of ‘Human Freedom’ and ‘Human Dignity’ in the West Seminar,” 20 November 2017.

The group of seventeenth century thinkers, known as the Cambridge Platonists, is theologically renowned for its ties to Origen. However, a comprehensive study of Anne Conway’s theology has never been conducted. This paper contributes to rectifying this by examining Conway’s conception of the Trinity. While Conway deploys the doctrine of the Trinity in the context of neo-platonic systematics, two basic features of her teachings are distinctly Origenian: Firstly, Conway’s process soteriology is based on Origen’s idea of apokatastasis. Conway views Christ as the necessary mediator between God and creation as every being works towards restoration. Christ participates in every being separately in what Conway refers to as “intimate presence”. The idea that Christ accommodates individually in the salvific process is distinctly Origenian. Secondly, Conway’s Trinity is characterized by the polarity of “motion” and “rest”, as is Origen’s. I argue that this is foundational for her critique of Cartesian Dualism.

Derek Michaud (University of Maine), “Reimagining Revelation, Tradition, and the Development of Doctrine,” presented to “Traditions of Interpretation” session, Christian Systematic Theology Unit, 19 November 2017.

This paper argues that rather than more or less distinct loci in systematic Christian theology, revelation and tradition should be conceived of as aspects of a single communicative act initiated by God and received by humanity and played out through time. Borrowing an image from the forward pass in American Football, and building on the arguments of the Cambridge Platonist John Smith (1618-1652), I argue for and understanding of tradition (etymology notwithstanding) not as something to “hand on” but as the history of the reception of God’s self-disclosure. The “development of doctrine” therefore is the process of receiving what God is (and has always been) sending us in a changing world. Tradition is reimagined as a source of doctrinal authority but not as a collection of content so much as a liturgical, prayerful, exegetical, and theological guide for living the Christian life here and now.

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John Grey on “Conway’s Ontological Objection to Cartesian Dualism”

John Grey, “Conway’s Ontological Objection to Cartesian Dualism” Philosopher’s Imprint 17.13 (July 2017), http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.3521354.0017.013

Abstract

Anne Conway disagrees with substance dualism, the thesis that minds and bodies differ in nature or essence. Instead, she holds that “the distinction between spirit and body is only modal and incremental, not essential and substantial” (CP 6.11, 40). Yet several of her arguments against dualism have little force against the Cartesian, since they rely on premises no Cartesian would accept. In this paper, I show that Conway does have at least one powerful objection to substance dualism, drawn from premises that Descartes seems bound to accept. She argues that two substances differ in nature only if they differ in their “original and peculiar” cause (CP 6.4, 30); yet all created substances have the same original and peculiar cause; so, all created substances have the same nature. As I argue, the Cartesian is under a surprising amount of pressure to accept Conway’s argument, since its key premise is motivated by a conception of substance similar to one endorsed by Descartes in his Principles of Philosophy.

Full-text also available here.

Discovery of A New Conway Letter

The Cambridge Platonist Research Group

Professor Sarah Hutton has recently discovered a Conway letter not included in the Conway Letters edited by herself and M.H. Nicolson. It is National Library of Ireland MS, from Lord Conway to his wife, written from Dublin and dated 24 August 1678–the year before her death. It tells her that he has arranged for imprisoned Quakers to be released and for the charges against others to be dropped. It also tells the story of a “bad” Quaker who cheated someone of his inheritance. And other things.

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