Marjorie Nicolson’s 1929 article, ‘Christ’s College and the Latitude-Men’ characterized the quarrel between Ralph Widdrington and the Cambridge Platonists Henry More and Ralph Cudworth as ‘the enmity of the fundamentalist for the liberal’. Widdrington called More and Cudworth ‘latitude-men’ and described the college as ‘a seminary of Heretics’. This article revisits the dispute by presenting a group biography of the Christ’s College fellowship between 1644 and 1669, showing More as an academic networker attracting students to his version of Platonism and Cudworth in action as a college head managing fellowship elections to build up support against Widdrington. The argument will be advanced that Widdrington’s opposition revealed the reality of a group of Platonic philosophical theologians at Christ’s College, as opposed to their mere reification by later admiring historians, thus challenging the doubts concerning the existence of Cambridge Platonism which have been asserted in recent historiography.
Marilyn A. Lewis, “‘Christ’s College and the Latitude-Men’ Revisited: A Seminary of Heretics?,” Mordechai Feingold, ed., History of Universities Volume XXXIII/1. Oxford University Press, 2020. ISBN: 9780198865421.
Vitalism in Early Modern Philosophy
March 29, 2019 – March 30, 2019
Emmanuel college, Cambridge University
For Call for Papers see here.
Early modern philosophy is often viewed as characterized by a crucial transition from the vitalist natural philosophy of the Renaissance to the new mechanistic natural philosophy of the seventeenth century. However, vitalism in fact continued to thrive in the early modern period, particularly in the writings of a group of philosophers associated with Cambridge Platonism. Thinkers such as Margaret Cavendish, Anne Conway, Ralph Cudworth, and Henry More each developed their own distinctive form of vitalism, and collectively provided a powerful counterpoint to Cartesian mechanism.
But while all these philosophers were united in their deep commitment to the irreducibility and universality of life, the details of their respective views vary considerably. Whereas Cavendish and Conway, for instance, proposed monist frameworks to ground their vitalism, Cudworth and More remained wedded to a dualist metaphysics. Moreover, while early modern vitalism is perhaps most prominent in the writings of the Cambridge Platonists, it also left its mark on numerous other philosophers of the period such as Leibniz and Spinoza.
This conference proposes to examine vitalism as a philosophical movement in the early modern period, as well as the various metaphysical, moral, and theological considerations underlying it.