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Cambridge Platonism

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DA011-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 02, 2023, from

Article Summary

Cambridge Platonism was an intellectual movement broadly inspired by the Platonic tradition, centred in Cambridge from the 1630s to the 1680s. Its hallmark was a devotion to reason in metaphysics, religion and ethics. The Cambridge Platonists made reason rather than tradition and inspiration their ultimate criterion of knowledge. Their central aim was to reconcile the realms of reason and faith, the new natural philosophy and Christian revelation. Although loyal to the methods and naturalism of the new sciences, they opposed its mechanical model of explanation because it seemed to leave no room for spirit, God and life.

In epistemology the Cambridge Platonists were critics of empiricism and stressed the role of reason in knowledge; they also criticized conventionalism and held that there are essential or natural distinctions between things. In metaphysics they attempted to establish the existence of spirit, God and life in a manner consistent with the naturalism and method of the new sciences. And in ethics the Cambridge Platonists defended moral realism and freedom of the will against the voluntarism and determinism of Hobbes and Calvin. Cambridge Platonism was profoundly influential in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It was the inspiration behind latitudinarianism and ethical rationalism, and many of its ideas were developed by Samuel Clarke, Isaac Newton and the Third Earl of Shaftesbury.

Citing this article:
Beiser, Frederick. Cambridge Platonism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DA011-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2023 Routledge.

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