|Died||26 June 1688(aged 70–71)|
|Alma mater||University of Cambridge:|
Early modern philosophy
|Church||Church of England|
|Vicar, Great Wilbraham (1656)|
Rector, North Cadbury (1650–6)
Rector, Toft (1656–62)
Rector, Ashwell (1662–88)
Prebendary, Gloucester (1678)
Ralph Cudworth / / RAYF CUD-erth; 1617 – 26 June 1688) was an English Anglican clergyman, Christian Hebraist, classicist, theologian and philosopher, and a leading figure among the Cambridge Platonists who became 11th Regius Professor of Hebrew (1645–88), 26th Master of Clare Hall (1645–54), and 14th Master of Christ's College (1654–88). A leading opponent of Hobbes's political and philosophical views, his magnum opus was his The True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678).(
Cudworth's family reputedly originated in Cudworth (near Barnsley), Yorkshire, moving to Lancashire with the marriage (c.1377) of John de Cudworth (d.1384) and Margery (d.1384), daughter of Richard de Oldham (living 1354), lord of the manor of Werneth, Oldham. The Cudworths of Werneth Hall, Oldham, were lords of the manor of Werneth/Oldham, until 1683. Ralph Cudworth (the philosopher)'s father, Ralph Cudworth (Snr), was the posthumous-born second son of Ralph Cudworth (d.1572) of Werneth Hall, Oldham.
The philosopher's father, The Rev. Dr Ralph Cudworth (1572/3–1624), was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he graduated BA (1592/93, MA (1596). Emmanuel College (founded by Sir Walter Mildmay (1584), and under the direction of its first Master, Laurence Chaderton) was, from its inception, a stronghold of Reformist, Puritan and Calvinist teaching, which shaped the development of puritan ministry, and contributed largely to the emigrant ministry in America.
Ordained in 1599 and elected to a college fellowship by 1600, Cudworth Snr was much influenced by William Perkins, whom he succeeded, in 1602, as Lecturer of the Parish Church of St Andrew the Great, Cambridge. He was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Divinity in 1603. He edited Perkins's Commentary on St Paul's Epistle to the Galatians (1604), with a dedication to Robert, 3rd Lord Rich (later 1st Earl of Warwick), adding a commentary of his own with dedication to Sir Bassingbourn Gawdy. Lord Rich presented him to the Vicariate of Coggeshall, Essex (1606) to replace the deprived minister Thomas Stoughton, but he resigned this position (March 1608), and was licensed to preach from the pulpit by the Chancellor and Scholars of the University of Cambridge (November 1609). He then applied for the Rectoriate of Aller, Somerset (an Emmanuel College living) and, resigning his fellowship, was appointed to it in 1610.
His marriage (1611) to Mary Machell (c.1582–1634), (who had been "nutrix" – nurse, or preceptor – to Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales) brought important connections. Cudworth Snr was appointed as one of James I's chaplains. Mary's mother (or aunt) was the sister of Sir Edward Lewknor, a central figure (with the Jermyn and Heigham families) among the puritan East Anglian gentry, whose children had attended Emmanuel College. Mary's Lewknor and Machell connections with the Rich family included her first cousins Sir Nathaniel Rich and his sister Dame Margaret Wroth, wife of Sir Thomas Wroth of Petherton Park near Bridgwater, Somerset, influential promoters of colonial enterprise (and later of nonconformist emigration) in New England. Aller was immediately within their sphere.
Ralph Snr and Mary settled at Aller, where their children (listed below) were christened during the following decade. Cudworth continued to study, working on a complete survey of Case-Divinity, The Cases of Conscience in Family, Church and Commonwealth while suffering from the agueish climate at Aller. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity (1619), and was among the dedicatees of Richard Bernard's 1621 edition of The Faithfull Shepherd. Ralph Snr died at Aller declaring a nuncupative will (7 August 1624) before Anthony Earbury and Dame Margaret Wroth.
The children of Ralph Cudworth Snr and Mary (née Machell) Cudworth (c.1582–1634) were:
The second son, and third of five (probably six) children, Ralph Cudworth (Jnr) was born at Aller, Somerset, where he was baptised (13 July 1617). Following the death of his father, Ralph Cudworth Snr (1624), The Rev. Dr John Stoughton (1593–1639), (son of Thomas Stoughton of Coggeshall; also a Fellow of Emmanuel College), succeeded as Rector of Aller, and married the widow Mary (née Machell) Cudworth (c.1582–1634). Dr Stoughton paid careful attention to his stepchildren's education, which Ralph later described as a "diet of Calvinism". Letters, to Stoughton, by both brothers James and Ralph Cudworth make this plain; and, when Ralph matriculated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (1632), Stoughton thought him "as wel grounded in Schol-Learning as any Boy of his Age that went to the University". Stoughton was appointed Curate and Preacher at St Mary Aldermanbury, London (1632), and the family left Aller. Ralph's elder brother, James Cudworth, married and emigrated to Scituate, Plymouth Colony, New England (1634). Mary Machell Cudworth Stoughton died during summer 1634, and Dr Stoughton married a daughter of John Browne of Frampton and Dorchester.
From a family background embedded in the early nonconformity and a diligent student, Cudworth was admitted (as a pensioner) to his father's old college, Emmanuel College, Cambridge (1630), matriculated (1632), and graduated (BA (1635/6); MA (1639)). After some misgivings (which he confided in his stepfather), he was elected a Fellow of Emmanuel (1639), and became a successful tutor, delivering the Rede Lecture (1641). He published a tract entitled The Union of Christ and the Church, in a Shadow (1642), and another, A Discourse concerning the True Notion of the Lord's Supper (1642), in which his readings of Karaite manuscripts (stimulated by meetings with Johann Stephan Rittangel) were influential.
Following sustained correspondence with John Selden (to whom he supplied Karaite literature), he was elected (aged 28) as 11th Regius Professor of Hebrew (1645). In 1645, Thomas Paske had been ejected as Master of Clare Hall for his Anglican allegiances, and Cudworth (despite his immaturity) was selected as his successor, as 26th Master (but not admitted until 1650). Similarly, his fellow-theologian Benjamin Whichcote was installed as 19th Provost of King's College. Cudworth attained the degree of Bachelor of Divinity (1646), and preached a sermon before the House of Commons of England (on 1 John 2, 3–4), which was later published with a Letter of Dedication to the House (1647). Despite these distinctions and his presentation, by Emmanuel College, to the Rectoriate of North Cadbury, Somerset (3 October 1650), he remained comparatively impoverished. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity (1651), and, in January 1651/2, his friend Dr John Worthington wrote of him, "If through want of maintenance he should be forced to leave Cambridge, for which place he is so eminently accomplished with what is noble and Exemplarily Academical, it would be an ill omen."
Despite his sight started worsening, Cudworth was elected (29 October 1654) and admitted (2 November 1654), as 14th Master of Christ's College. His appointment coincided with his marriage to Damaris (d.1695), daughter (by his first wife, Damaris) of Matthew Cradock (d.1641), first Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Company. Hence Worthington commented "After many tossings Dr Cudworth is through God's good Providence returned to Cambridge and settled in Christ's College, and by his marriage more settled and fixed."
In his Will (1641), Matthew Cradock had divided his estate beside the Mystic River at Medford, Massachusetts (which he had never visited, and was managed on his behalf) into two moieties: one was bequeathed to his daughter Damaris Cradock (d.1695), (later wife of Ralph Cudworth Jnr); and one was to be enjoyed by his widow Rebecca (during her lifetime), and afterwards to be inherited by his brother, Samuel Cradock (1583–1653), and his heirs male. Samuel Cradock's son, Samuel Cradock Jnr (1621–1706), was admitted to Emmanuel (1637), graduated (BA (1640–1); MA (1644); BD (1651)), was later a Fellow (1645–56), and pupil of Benjamin Whichcote. After part of the Medford estate was rented to Edward Collins (1642), it was placed in the hands of an attorney; the widow Rebecca Cradock (whose second and third husbands were Richard Glover and Benjamin Whichcote, respectively), petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts, and the legatees later sold the estate to Collins (1652).
The marriage of the widow Rebecca Cradock, to Cudworth's colleague Benjamin Whichcote laid the way for the union between Cudworth and her stepdaughter, Damaris (d.1695), thereby reinforcing the connections between the two scholars through a familial bond. Damaris had married, firstly (1642), Thomas Andrewes Jnr (d.1653) of London and Feltham, son of Sir Thomas Andrewes (d.1659), (Lord Mayor of London, 1649, 1651–2), which union had produced several children. The Andrewes family were also engaged in the Massachusetts project, and strongly supported puritan causes.
Cudworth emerged as a central figure among that circle of theologians and philosophers known as the Cambridge Platonists, who were (more or less) in sympathy with the Commonwealth: during the later 1650s, Cudworth was consulted by John Thurloe, Oliver Cromwell's Secretary to the Council of State, with regard to certain university and government appointments and various other matters. During 1657, Cudworth advised Bulstrode Whitelocke's sub-committee of the Parliamentary "Grand Committee for Religion" on the accuracy of editions of the English Bible. Cudworth was appointed Vicar of Great Wilbraham, and Rector of Toft, Cambridgeshire Ely diocese (1656), but surrendered these livings (1661 and 1662, respectively) when he was presented, by Dr Gilbert Sheldon, Bishop of London, to the Hertfordshire Rectory of Ashwell (1 December 1662).
Given Cudworth's close cooperation with prominent figures in Oliver Cromwell's regime (such as John Thurloe), Cudworth's continuance as Master of Christ's was challenged at the Restoration but, ultimately, he retained this post until his death. He and his family are believed to have resided in private lodgings at the "Old Lodge" (which stood between Hobson Street and the College Chapel), and various improvements were made to the college rooms in his time. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1662.
In 1665, Cudworth almost quarrelled with his fellow-Platonist, Henry More, because of the latter's composition of an ethical work which Cudworth feared would interfere with his own long-contemplated treatise on the same subject. To avoid any difficulties, More published his Enchiridion ethicum (1666–69), in Latin; However, Cudworth's planned treatise was never published. His own majestic work, The True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678), was conceived in three parts of which only the first was completed; he wrote: "there is no reason why this volume should therefore be thought imperfect and incomplete, because it hath not all the Three Things at first Designed by us: it containing all that belongeth to its own particular Title and Subject, and being in that respect no Piece, but a Whole."
Cudworth was installed as Prebendary of Gloucester (1678). His colleague, Benjamin Whichcote, died at Cudworth's house in Cambridge (1683), and Cudworth himself died (26 June 1688), and was buried in the Chapel of Christ's College. An oil portrait of Cudworth (from life) hangs in the Hall of Christ's College. During Cudworth's time an outdoor Swimming Pool was created at Christ's College (which still exists), and a carved bust of Cudworth there accompanies those of John Milton and Nicholas Saunderson.
Cudworth's widow, Damaris (née Cradock) Andrewes Cudworth (d.1695), maintained close connections with her daughter, Damaris Cudworth Masham, at High Laver, Essex, which was where she died, and was commemorated in the church with a carved epitaph reputedly composed by the philosopher John Locke.
The children of Ralph Cudworth and Damaris (née Cradock) Andrewes Cudworth (d.1695) were:
The stepchildren of Ralph Cudworth (children of Damaris (née Cradock) Andrewes (d.1695) and Thomas Andrewes (d.1653) were:
Cudworth's works included The Union of Christ and the Church, in a Shadow (1642); A Sermon preached before the House of Commons (1647); and A Discourse concerning the True Notion of the Lord's Supper (1670). Much of Cudworth's work remains in manuscript. However, certain surviving works have been published posthumously, such as A Treatise concerning eternal and immutable Morality, and A Treatise of Freewill.
Cudworth's Treatise on eternal and immutable Morality, published with a preface by Edward Chandler (1731), is about the historical development of British moral philosophy. It answers, from the standpoint of Platonism, Hobbes's famous doctrine that moral distinctions are created by the state. It argues that just as knowledge contains a permanent intelligible element over and above the flux of sense-impressions, so there exist eternal and immutable ideas of morality.
Another posthumous publication was Cudworth's A Treatise of Freewill, edited by John Allen (1838). Both this and the Treatise on eternal and immutable Morality are connected with the design of his magnum opus, The True Intellectual System of the Universe.
In 1678, Cudworth published The True Intellectual System of the Universe: the first part, wherein all the reason and philosophy of atheism is confuted and its impossibility demonstrated, which had been given an Imprimatur for publication (29 May 1671).
These three comprise, collectively, the intellectual (as opposed to the physical) system of the universe; and they are opposed, respectively, by three false principles: atheism, religious fatalism (which refers all moral distinctions to the will of God), and the fatalism of the ancient Stoics (who recognized God and yet identified him with nature). Only the first part, dealing with atheism, was ever published.
Cudworth criticizes two main forms of materialistic atheism: the atomic (adopted by Democritus, Epicurus and Thomas Hobbes); and the hylozoic (attributed to Strato of Lampsacus, which explains everything by the supposition of an inward self-organizing life in matter). Atomic atheism, to which Cudworth devotes the larger part of the work, is described as arising from the combination of two principles, neither of which is, individually, atheistic (namely atomism and corporealism, or the doctrine that nothing exists but body). The example of Stoicism, Cudworth suggests, shows that corporealism may be theistic.
Cudworth discusses the history of atomism at length. It is, in its purely physical application, a theory that he fully accepts. He holds that theistic atomism was taught by Pythagoras, Empedocles and many other ancient philosophers, and was only perverted to atheism by Democritus. Cudworth believes that atomism was first invented before the Trojan war by a Sidonian thinker named Moschus or Mochus (whom he identifies with Moses in the Old Testament).
Cudworth's method in arranging his work was to marshal the atheistic arguments elaborately before refuting them in his final chapter. This led many readers to accuse Cudworth himself of atheism – as John Dryden remarked, "he has raised such objections against the being of a God and Providence that many think he has not answered them". Much attention was also attached to a subordinate matter in the book, the conception of the "Plastic Medium" (a revival of Plato's "World-Soul") which was intended to explain the existence and laws of nature without referring to the direct operation of God. This theory occasioned a long-drawn controversy between Pierre Bayle and Georges-Louis Leclerc, with the former maintaining, and the latter denying, that the Plastic Medium is favourable to atheism.
Summing up the work, Andrew Dickson White wrote in 1896:
To this day he [Cudworth] remains, in breadth of scholarship, in strength of thought, in tolerance, and in honesty, one of the greatest glories of the English Church ... He purposed to build a fortress which should protect Christianity against all dangerous theories of the universe, ancient or modern ... While genius marked every part of it, features appeared which gave the rigidly orthodox serious misgivings. From the old theories of direct personal action on the universe by the Almighty he broke utterly. He dwelt on the action of law, rejected the continuous exercise of miraculous intervention, pointed out the fact that in the natural world there are "errors" and "bungles" and argued vigorously in favor of the origin and maintenance of the universe as a slow and gradual development of Nature in obedience to an inward principle.
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