CFP: Vitalism in Early Modern Philosophy

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.


Hampton on “Herder’s Cudworth Inspired Revision of Spinoza from ‘Plastik’ to ‘Kraft’”

Alexander J. B. Hampton, “An English Source of German Romanticism: Herder’s Cudworth Inspired Revision of Spinoza from ‘Plastik’ to ‘Kraft’” The Heythrop Journal

Article first published online : 14 JUL 2015 07:26AM EST, DOI: 10.1111/heyj.12272

This examination considers the influence of the seventeenth century Cambridge Platonist Cudworth upon the thought of the late eighteenth century German thinker Herder. It focuses upon Herder’s use of Cudworth’s philosophy to create a revised version of Spinoza’s metaphysics. Both Cudworth and Herder were concerned with the problem of determinism. Cudworth outlined a number of difficulties relating to this problem in the thought of Spinoza and proposed amendments, particularly the introduction of the middle principle of plastik, which would mediate between the Ideas of transcendent reason and mechanical materialism. We find these amendments to Spinoza’s philosophy also employed in Herder’s contribution to the Pantheism Controversy, in which he too offers a revised Spinozism and introduces his own middle principle of Kraft. This demonstrates an important but under-explored English contribution to a key development in German intellectual history. The Pantheism Controversy was an epoch-making event, helping to bring an end to the German Enlightenment and to inaugurate the Romantic movement. Herder’s version of Spinoza’s thought revived the philosopher’s fortunes, and Herder’s notion of Kraft became central to Romantic aesthetics. Finally, Herder’s use of Cudworth demonstrates the important but overlooked source of Platonic realism in German Romantic thought.