Tuesday, February 17, 2015

RALPH CUDWORTH (1617-1688)

“The nature of bodies is plastic,
Their motion’s not really stochastic.
Appeal to extension
Won’t answer the question:
We need a solution that's drastic."

Note: Ralph Cudworth was part of a group of philosophers who have come to be known as the Cambridge Platonists, because they lived in Cambridge (UK) and defended a kind of Platonic view of the world as guided by a mind.  Cudworth thinks of himself as articulating a view of the world that avoids the Scylla of Hobbes and the Charybdis of Descartes or Malebranche.  In the True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678), Cudworth argues that matter (extended substance) is passive by nature and hence incapable of producing motion.  In this respect, he agrees with Descartes and disagrees with Hobbes.  However, Cudworth also claims that God is not the immediate cause of all the motion in the universe, as he is in the Cartesian and Malebranchian system.  (For Malebranche, God is the only true cause.  For Descartes, matter moves according to laws, but these laws are just divine decrees.)  So here Cudworth agrees with Hobbes and disagrees with Descartes.  As Cudworth sees it, material things move because there is an incorporeal, plastic nature planted in them by God, a nature that directs their motion in various ways in keeping with God’s providential aims for them.  These plastic natures are similar in some ways to Aristotelian substantial forms.  But whereas Cudworth commits to their immateriality, Aristotle does not.    

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