True Intellectual System of the Universe: The First Part; Wherein, All the Reason and Philosophy of Atheism Is Confuted; and Its Impossibility Demonstrated Part 1 (all published).

True Intellectual System of the Universe: The First Part; Wherein, All the Reason and Philosophy of Atheism Is Confuted; and Its Impossibility Demonstrated Part 1 (all published).

Cudworth, Ralph

London: for Richard Royston, 1678


First edition. Folio, 30 cm. Modern leather, leather spine label. Blindstamping to covers. Marbled page ends and end pages. 6 raised bands. [22], 889, [84] pp, engraved title-piece, title page in red and black. Foxing, scattered pencil marginalia. Lacking final leaf of ads. Sir Thomas Pope Blount, 1st Baronet's copy, his signature to front flyleaf. Refs: Wing C-7471; Brunet II 437 

A note on provenance: Thomas Blount (1649-1697) was a Member of Parliament and author who acquired a high reputation for the extent and variety of his learning.  He, like his brother, the philosopher Charles Blount, was a noted deist. As a writer, he is most renowned for his "Censura celebriorum Authorum, sive Tractatus in quo varia" (1690).

Ralph Cudworth was a theologian and philosopher, a leading figure among the Cambridge Platonists along with Henry More. Their understanding of reason was as "the candle of the Lord": an echo of the divine within the human soul and an imprint of God within man. They believed that reason could judge the private revelations of the Puritan narrative.  To the Cambridge Platonists, religion and reason were in harmony.  Reality was not known by physical sensation alone, but by intuition of the intelligible forms that exist behind the material world of everyday perception.  

The present work is primarily a critique of what Cudworth took to be the two principal forms of atheism: materialism and hylozoism (that all that matters is life). Cudworth's criticism was directed at Thomas Hobbes.  Cudworth attempts to show that Hobbes had revived the doctrines of Protagoras, and is therefore subject to the criticisms which Plato had deployed against Protagoras in the Theaetetus. On the side of hylozoism, Strato is the official target. However, Cudworth's Dutch friends reported to him the views which Spinoza was circulating in manuscript. Cudworth remarks in his Preface that he would have ignored hylozoism had he not been aware that a new version of it would shortly be published. Cudworth argued that the only real source of knowledge is the Christian religion. Religious truth was embodied in three great principles: the reality of the supreme Divine intelligence and the spiritual world which that intelligence has created, the eternal reality of moral ideas, and the reality of moral freedom and responsibility. In was in this way that Cudworth attempted to assert the necessity for a revealed religion against the atheism of his day. "Cudworth's True Intellectual System of the Universe, a masterpiece aimed against all forms of predestination and necessitarianism" (Jonathan I. Israel, Enlightenment Contested. Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man, 1670-1752, pp. 445 and ff.)  For the most recent re-assessment of Cudworth, especially his influence on Locke, Shaftesbury, Clarke and Price, and the destruction of a certain 'stereotype' which pictures him as 'an antiquarian, remote, in his Cambridge isolation, from the philosophical controversies of his own day', see J.A. Passmore, R. Cudworth, Cambridge, 1951.

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