Ralph Cudworth (1617-1688) is perhaps the most famous and influential of the group of Anglican divines that scholars since the 19th century have dubbed the Cambridge Platonists. These divines were some of the first, if not the first, English philosophers to discuss and critically engage with the new philosophy of René Descartes.1 They were certainly attracted to the a priori method of Descartes because it bore some resemblance to the classical Platonism that these Cambridge divines so much admired. Yet, their reception of the new philosophy was not uncritical. Cudworth and Henry More, the latter of whom exchanged letters with the renowned frenchman, believed that Descartes’s a priori method led to viciously circular reasoning, that his mechanism threatened to sever the vital connection between God and nature, and that his doctrine of matter as purely extended substance was essentially materialistic. Cudworth, however, did welcome Cartesianism insofar as it promoted principles that he and others could use to reintroduce classical Platonism as a more trustworthy account of the true intellectual system. In this way, Cudworth, More and others adopted Cartesian categories in denying the real existence of qualities in external things and in promoting atomism, yet they coupled these seemingly materialistic conclusions with a classical Platonist epistemology of absolute ideas and a natural philosophy of an enlivening spiritual principle known as “plastic nature” (similar to the Stoic rationes seminales) as an explanation of the intellectual organization of material phenomena.
Aimed at answering the encroaching atheistic mechanism of Hobbes, Spinoza, and Descartes, Cudworth’s massive The True Intellectual System of the Universe2, first published in 1678, promotes the classical notion of a God who has made himself known in both the intellectual ordering of the universe and in the proleptic intellectual drives of human beings who are naturally moral and religious. This work, originally intended to span three volumes, grew out of proportion to the author’s intentions, ultimately expanding to nearly 1000 pages in just five chapters. Despite its size and proclivity for extended digressions, Cudworth’s magnum opus became a very popular and influential work in British philosophy. Among those who made extensive notes upon the work are Newton3 and Leibniz,4 and others, such as John Locke and Samuel Clarke were highly influenced by the work. Locke was even a close friend of Cudworth’s daughter, Lady Masham, and lived at her estate in his final years.
The following is Cudworth’s final argument at the very end of The True Intellectual System in which he attempts to refute any attempt to ground civil government on atheistic principles. His main target here is Thomas Hobbes. Cudworth believed that Hobbes’s voluntaristic account of the origin of society undercut the very principles upon which society stands. For Cudworth, society must be founded upon natural principles, specifically that of conscience. Conscience is a natural motivating faculty that drives mankind to forsake their own private good for the sake of the common good and for the worship of a common God, thus forming the basis of the unity of society.
Ralph Cudworth On Civil Sovereigns: an excerpt from his The True Intellectual System of the Universe
And now come we to the Last Atheistic Argumentation; wherein they endeavour to recommend their Doctrine to Civil Sovereigns; and to persuade them, that Theism or Religion, is absolutely Inconsistent with their Interest: Their Reasons for which are these Three following. First, Because the Civil Sovereign Reigns only in Fear, and therefore if there be any Power and Fear, greater than the Power and Fear of the Leviathan, Civil Authority can signify little. Secondly, Because Sovereignty, is in its own nature absolutely Indivisible, and must be either Infinite, or None at all: so that Divine Laws (Natural and Revealed) Superiour to it, circumscribing it, would consequently Destroy it. Wherefore Religion and Theism, must of necessity be Displaced, and Removed out of the way, to make room for the Leviathan, to Roll and Tumble in. Thirdly and Lastly, Private Judgment of Good and Evil, Just and Unjust, is also Contradictious to the very Being of a Body Politic; which is One Artificial Man, made up of many Natural men United under One Head; having one Common Reason, Judgment and Will, ruling over the whole. But Conscience, which Religion introduceth, is Private Judgment of Good and Evil, Just and Unjust, and therefore altogether Inconsistent with true Politics; that can admit of no Private Consciences, but only One Public Conscience of the Law.
In way of Answer to the First of which, we must here briefly Unravel the Atheistic Ethics and Politics. The Foundation whereof is first laid, in the Villanizing of Human Nature; as that which has not so much as any the least Seeds, either of Politicalness, or Ethicalness at all in it; nothing of Equity and Philanthropy; (there being no other Charity or Benevolence any where according to them, save what resulteth from Fear, Imbecillity, and Indigency) nothing of Public and Common Concern, but all Private and Selfish. Appetite, and Utility, or the Desires of Sensual Pleasure, and Honour, Dominion, and Precellency before others, being the only Measures of Good in Nature. So that there can be nothing Naturally Just or Unjust, nothing in it self Sinful or Unlawful, but every man by Nature hath Ius ad omnia, a Right to Every thing, whatsoever his Appetite inclineth him unto, or himself judgeth Profitable; even to other mens Bodies and Lives. Si occidere Cupis, Ius habes; If thou Desirest to Kill, thou hast then Naturally, a Right thereunto; that is, a Liberty to Kill without any Sin or Injustice. For Ius and Lex, or Iustitia, Right and Law or Justice in the Language of these Atheistic Politicians, are directly contrary to one another; their Right being a Belluine Liberty, not Made, or Left by Justice, but such as is Founded in a Supposition, of its Absolute Non-Existence, Should therefore a Son not only murder his own Parents, who had tenderly brought him up, but also Exquisitely torture them, taking pleasure in beholding their ruful Looks, and hearing their lamentable Shreiks and Outcries; there would be Nothing of Sin or Injustice at all in this, nor in any thing else; because Justice is no Nature, but a mere Facticious and Artificial thing, Made only by Men and Civil Laws. And according to these mens Apprehensions, Nature has been very kind and indulgent to mankind herein, that it hath thus brought us into the World, without any Fetters or Shackles upon us, Free from all Duty and Obligation, Justice and Morality, these being to them nothing but Restraints and Hinderances of True Liberty. From all which it follows, that Nature absolutely Dissociates and Segregates men from one another, by reason of the Inconsistency of those Appetites of theirs, that are all Carried out only to Private Good, and Consequently that every man is by Nature, in a State of War and Hostility, against every man.
In the next place therefore, these Atheistic Politicians further add; that though this their State of Nature which is a Liberty from all Justice and Obligation, and a Lawless, Loose, or Belluine Right to every thing, be in it self Absolutely the Best, yet nevertheless by reason of mens Imbecillity, and the Equality of their Strengths, and Inconsistency of their Appetites, it proves by Accident the Worst: this War with every one, making mens Right or Liberty to everything, indeed a Right or Liberty to Nothing: they having no security of their Lives, much less of the Comfortable enjoyment of them. For as it is not possible, that all men should have Dominion (which were indeed the most desirable thing according to these Principles) so the Generality must needs be sensible of more Evil in such a State of Liberty with an Universal War against all, than of Good. Wherefore when men had been a good while Hewing, and Slashing, and Justling against one another, they became at length all weary hereof, and conceived it necessary by Art to help the Defect of their own Power here, and to choose a Lesser Evil, for the avoiding of a Greater, that is, to make a Voluntary Abatement, of this their Infinite Right, and to Submit to Terms of Equality with one another, in order to a Sociable and Peaceable Cohabitation: and not only So, but also for the Security of all, that others should observe such Rules as well as themselves, to put their Necks under the Yoke of a Common Coercive Power, whose Will being the Will of them all, should be the very Rule, and Law, and Measure of Justice to them.
Here therefore these Atheistic Politicians, as they first of all Slander Human Nature, and make a Villain of it; so do they in the next place, reproach Justice and Civil Sovereignty also, making it to be nothing but an Ignoble and Bastardly Brat of Fear; or else a Lesser Evil, submitted to, merely out of Necessity; for the avoiding of a Greater Evil, that of War with every one, by reason of mens Natural Imbecillity. So that according to this Hypothesis, Justice and Civil Government are plainly things not Good in themselves, nor Desireable, (they being a Hinderance of Liberty, and Nothing but Shackles and Fetters,) but by Accident only, as Necessary Evils: And thus do these Politicians themselves sometimes distinguish betwixt Good and Just, that Bonum Amatur Per Se, Iustum Per Accidens; Good is that which is Loved for it self, but Just by Accident. From whence it follows unavoidably, that all men must of necessity be ἄκοιτες δίκαιοι, Unwillingly Just, or not with a full and perfect, but Mixt Will only: Just being a thing that is not Sincerely Good, but such as hath a great Dash or Dose of Evil blended with it. And this was the Old Atheistic Generation of Justice, and of a Body Politic, Civil Society, and Soveraignty. For though a Modern Writer affirm this Hypothesis (which he looks upon as the only true Scheme of Politics) to be a New Invention, as the Circulation of the Blood, and no older than the Book De Cive, yet is it Certain, that it was the commonly received Doctrine of the Atheistic Politicians and Philosophers before Plato’s time; who represents their Sense concerning the Original of Justice, and Civil Society in this manner:
ὃ πρῶτον ἔφην περὶ τούτου ἄκουε, τί τε ὂν τυγχάνει καὶ ὅθεν γέγονε δικαιοσύνη· πεφυκέναι γὰρ δή φασι τὸ μὲν ἀδικεῖν ἀγαθὸν, τὸ δε ἀδικεῖσθαι κακόν· πλέονι δὲ κακῷ ὑπερβάλλειν τὸ ἀδικεῖσθαι, ἣ ἀγαθῷ τὸ ἀδικεῖν· ὥστε ἐπειδὰν ἀλλήλους ἀδικῶσι τε καὶ ἀδικῶνται, καὶ ἀμφοτέρων γεύωνται, τοῖς μὴ δυναμένοις τὸ μὲν ἐκφεύγειν τὸ δε αἱρεῖν, δοκεῖ λυσιτελεῖν ξυνθέσθαι ἀλλήλοις, μητ᾽ ἀδικεῖν, μήτ᾽ ἀδικεῖσθαι· καὶ ἐντεῦθεν δὲ ἄρξασθα νόμους τίθεσθαι, καὶ ὀνομάσαι τὸ ὑπὸ τοῦ νόμου ἐπίταγμα νόμιμόν τε καὶ δίκαιον·
I am to declare first what Justice is, according to the sense of these Philosophers, and from whence it was Generated. They say therefore, that by Nature, Lawless Liberty, and to do that which is now called Injustice, and Injury, to other men is Good; but to Suffer it from others is Evil. But of the two, there is more of Evil in suffering it, than of Good in doing it: Whereupon when men had Clashed a good while, Doing and Suffering Injury, the Greater part, who by reason of their Imbecillity were not able to take the Former without the Latter, at length Compounded the business amongst themselves, and agreed together, by Pacts and Covenants neither to Do nor Suffer Injury, but to Submit to Rules of Equality and make Laws by Compact, in order to their Peaceable Cohabitation, they calling that which was required in those Laws by the Name of Just.
And then is it added:
καὶ εἶναι ταύτην γένεσίν τε καὶ οὐσίαν δικαιοσύνης, μεταξυοῦσαν τοῦ μὲν ἀρίστου ὄντος, ἐὰν ἀδικῶν μὴ διδῶ δίκην, τοῦ δὲ κακίστου, ἐὰν ἀδικούμενος τιμωρεῖσθαι ἀδύνατος ἦ· τὸ δε δίκαιον ἐν μέσῳ ὂν τούτων ἀμφοτέρων, ἀγαπᾶσθαι οὐχ ὡς ἀγαθὸν, ἀλλ᾽ ὡς ἀρρωστίᾳ τοῦ ἀδικεῖν τιμώμενον·
And this is according to these Philosophers, the Generation and Essence of Justice, as a certain Middle thing betwixt the Best and the Worst. The Best, to exercise a Lawless Liberty of doing whatsoeves one please to other men without Suffering any inconvenience from it; And the Worst to Suffer Evil from others without being able to revenge it. Justice therefore, being a Middle thing betwixt both these, is Loved, not as that which is Good in it self, but only by reason of mens Imbecillity, and their Inability to do Injustice.
For as much as he that had sufficient Power would never enter into such Compacts and Submit to Equality, and Subjection. As for Example, if a man had Gyges his Magical Ring, that he could do whatsoever he listed, and not be seen or taken Notice of by any, such a one would certainly never Enter into Convenants, nor Submit to Laws of Equality and Subjection. Agreeably whereunto, it hath been concluded also by some of these Old Atheistic Philosophers, that Justice was ἀλλότριον ἀγαθὸν, Not properly and directly, ones own Good, the Good of him that is Just, but another mans Good, partly of the Fellow Citizens, but chiefly of the Ruler, whose Vassal he is. And it is well Known, that after Plato’s Time, this Hypothesis concerning Justice, that it was a mere Factitious thing, and sprung only from mens Fear and Imbecillity, as a Lesser Evil, was much insisted on by Epicurus also.
But let us in the next place see, how our Modern Atheistic Philosophers and Politicians, will mannage and carry on this Hypothesis, so as to Consociate men by Art, into a Body Politic, that are Naturally Dissociated from one another, as also Make Justice, and Obligation Artificial, when there is none in Nature. First of all therefore, these Artificial Justice-Makers, City-Makers, and Authority-Makers, tell us, that though men have an Infinite Right by Nature, yet may they Alienate this Right or part thereof, from themselves, and either Simply Renounce it, or Transfer the same upon some other Person; by means whereof it will become Unlawful for themselves, afterwards, to make use thereof. Thus a late Writer, Men may by Signs Declare, Velle se non Licitum sibi amplius fore, certum aliquid facere quòd Iure anteà fecisse poterant. That it is their Will, it shall no longer be Lawful for them, to do something which before they had a Right to do; and this is called by him, a Simple Renunciation of Right; and further saith he, they may declare again, Velle se non Licitum sibi amplius fore alicui Resistere, &c. That it is their Will, it shall be no longer Lawful for them, to Resist this or that particular Person, whom before they might Lawfully have resisted; and this is called a Translation of Right. But if there be Nothing in its own Nature Unlawful, then cannot this be Unlawful for a man afterwards, to make use of such Liberty as he had before in Words Renounced or Abandoned. Nor can any man by his mere Will, make any thing Unlawful to him, which was not so in it self; but only Suspend the Exercise of so much of his Liberty, as he thought good. But however, could a man by his Will, Oblige himself, or make any thing Unlawful to him, there would be Nothing got by this, because then might he by his Will, Disoblige himself again, and make the same Lawful as before. For what is Made merely by Will, may be Destroyed by Will. Wherefore these Politicians will yet urge the business further, and tell us, That no man can be Obliged but by his own Act, and that the Essence of Injustice, is Nothing else, but Dati Repetitio, The taking away of that, which one had before given. To which we again Reply, that were a man Naturally Unobliged to any thing, then could he no way be Obliged, to stand to his own Act, so that it should be Really Unjust and Unlawful for him, at any time upon Second thoughts, Voluntarily to undo, what he had before voluntarily done. But the Atheists here plainly Render Injustice, a mere Ludicrous thing; when they tell us, that it is Nothing but such an Absurdity in Life, as it is in Disputation, when a man Denies a Proposition that he had before Granted. Which is no Real Evil in him as a Man, but only a thing Called an Absurdity, as a Disputant. That is, Injustice is no Absolute Evil of the Man; but only a Relative Incongruity in him, as a Citizen. As when a man speaking Latine, observes not the Laws of Grammar, this is a kind of Injustice in him, as a Latinist or Grammarian; so when one who lives in Civil Society, observes not the Laws and Conditions thereof, this is, as it were, The False Latine of a Citizen, and nothing else. According to which Notion of Injustice, there is no such Real Evil or Hurt in it, as can any way withstand, the Force of Appetite and Private Utility, and Oblige men to Civil Obedience, when it is Contrary to the same.
But these Political Juglers and Enchanters, will here cast yet a further Mist before mens Eyes with their Pacts and Covenants. For men by their Convenants, say they may Unquestionably Oblige themselves, and make things Unjust and Unlawful to them, that were not so before. Wherefore Injustice is again Defined by them, and that with more Speciousness, to be the Breach of Covenants. But though it be true, that if there be Natural Justice; Covenants will Oblige; yet upon the Contrary Supposition, that there is Nothing Naturally Unjust; this cannot be Unjust, neither to Break Covenants. Covenants without Natural Justice, are nothing but mere Words and Breath; (as indeed these Atheistic Politicians themselves, agreeably to their own Hypothesis, call them) and therefore can they have no Force to Oblige. Wherefore these Justice-Makers, are themselves at last necessitated, to fly to Laws of Nature, and to Pretend, this to be a Law of Nature, That men should Stand to their Pacts and Covenants. Which is plainly to Contradict their main Fundamental Principle, that by Nature nothing is Unjust or Unlawful; for if it be so, then can there be no Laws of Nature; and if there be Laws of Nature, then must there be something Naturally Unjust and Unlawful. So that this is not to Make Justice, but clearly to Unmake their own Hypothesis, and to suppose Justice to have been already Made by Nature, or to be in Nature; which is a Gross Absurdity in Disputation; to Affirm what one had before Denied. But these their Laws of Nature are indeed nothing but Jugling Equivocation, and a mere Mockery; themselves again acknowledging them to be no Laws, because Law is nothing but the Word of him, who hath Command over others; but only Conclusions or Theorems concerning what conduces to the Conservation and Defence of themselves; upon the Principle of Fear; that is, indeed the Laws of their own Timorous, and Cowardly Complexion: for they who have Courage and Generosity in them, according to this Hypothesis, would never Submit to such sneaking Terms of Equality, and Subjection, but venture for Dominion; and resolve either to Win the Saddle, or Loose the Horse. Here therefore do our Atheistic Politicians plainly dance round in a Circle; they first deriving the Obligation of Civil Laws, from that of Covenants, and then that of Covenants from the Laws of Nature; and Lastly, the Obligation both of these Laws of Nature, and of Covenants themselves, again, from the Law, Command, and Sanction of the Civil Sovereign; without which neither of them would at all Oblige. And thus is it manifest, how vain the Attempts of these Politicians are, to Make Justice Artificially, when there is no such thing Naturally; (which is indeed no less than, to make Something out of Nothing) and by Art to Consociate into Bodies Politic, those whom Nature had Dissociated from one another: a thing as impossible as to Ty Knots in the Wind or Water; or to build up a Stately Palace or Castle out of Sand. Indeed the Ligaments, by which these Politicians would tie the Members of their huge Leviathan, or Artificial Man together, are not so good as Cobwebs; they being really nothing, but mere Will and Words. For if Authority and Sovereignty be made only Will and Words, then is it plain, that by Will and Words, they may be Unmade again at pleasure.
Neither indeed are these Atheistic Politicians themselves, altogether unaware hereof, that this their Artificial Justice and Obligation, can be no firm Vinculum of a Body Politic, to Consociate those together, and Unite them into One, who are Naturally Dissociated and Divided from one another; they acknowledging, that Covenants without the Sword, being but Words and Breath, are of no strength, to hold the Members of their Leviathan, or Body Politic together. Wherefore they plainly betake themselves at length, from Art to Force and Power, and make their Civil Sovereign, really to Reign only in Fear. And this must needs be their meaning, when they so constantly declare, All Obligation, Just and Unjust, to be derived only from Law; they by Law there understanding, a Command directed, to such as by reason of their Imbecillity are not able to Resist: so that the Will and Command of the more Powerful, Obliges by the Fear of Punishment Threatned. Now if the only Real Obligation to obey Civil Laws, be from the Fear of Punishment, then could no man be Obliged to hazard his Life for the Safety of his Prince and Country, and they, who could reasonably promise themselves Impunity, would be altogether Disobliged, and Consequently, might Justly break any Laws, for their Own Advantage. An Assertion so extravagant, that these Confounded Politicians themselves, are ashamed plainly to own it, and therefore Disguise it, what they can by Equivocation; themselves sometimes also confessing, so much of Truth, that Poena non Obligat, sed Obligatum tenet, Punishment does not Oblige, but only hold those to their Duty, who were before Obliged. Furthermore, what is Made by Power and Force only, may be Unmade by Power and Force again. If Civil Sovereigns Reign only in the Fear of their own Sword, then is that Right of theirs so much talked of, indeed nothing else but Might, and their Authority, Force; and consequently Succesful and Prosperous Rebellion, and whatsoever can be done by Power, will be ipso facto thereby Justified. Lastly, were Civil Sovereigns and Bodies Politic, mere Violent and Contra-Natural things, then would they all quickly Vanish into nothing, because Nature will prevail against Force and Violence: Whereas men constantly every where fall into Political Order, and the Corruption of one Form of Government, is but the Generation of another.
Wherefore since it is plain, that Sovereignty and Bodies Politic can neither be merely Artificial, nor yet Violent things, there must of necessity be some Natural Bond or Vinculum to hold them together, such as may both really Oblige Subjects to Obey the Lawful Commands of Sovereigns, and Sovereigns in Commanding, to seek the Good and Welfare of their Subjects; whom these Atheistic Politicians, (by their Infinite and Belluine Right) quite discharge from any such thing. Which Bond or Vinculum can be no other, than Natural Justice; and something of a Common and Public, of a Cementing and Conglutinating Nature, in all Rational Beings; the Original of both which, is from the Deity. The Right and Authority of God himself is Founded in Justice; and of this is the Civil Sovereignty also a certain Participation. It is not the mere Creature of the People, and of mens Wills, and therefore Annihilable again by their Wills at pleasure; but hath a Stamp of Divinity upon it, as may partly appear from hence, because that Ius Vitae & Necis, that Power of Life and Death, which Civil Sovereigns have, was never lodged in Singulars, before Civil Society; and therefore could not be Conferred by them. Had not God and Nature made a City; were there not a Natural Conciliation of all Rational Creatures, and Subjection of them to the Deity, as their Head (which is Cicero’s, Una Civitas Deorum atque Hominum, One City of Gods and Men) had not God made ἄρχειν καὶ ἄρχεσθαι, Ruling and being Ruled, Superiority and Subjection, with their respective Duty and Obligation, men could neither by Art, or Political Enchantment, nor yet by Force, have made any firm Cities or Polities. The Civil Sovereign is no Leviathan, no Beast, but a God (I have said ye are Gods:) he reigns not in mere Brutish Force and Fear, but in Natural Justice and Conscience, and in the Right and Authority of God himself. Nevertheless we deny not, but that there is need of Force and Fear too, to Constrain those to Obedience, to whom the Conscience of Duty proveth ineffectual. Nor is the Fear of the Civil Sovereigns own Sword, alone sufficient for this neither, Unassisted by Religion, and the Fear of an Invisible Being Omnipotent, who seeth all things, and can Punish Secret, as well as Open Transgressors, both in this Life, and after Death. Which is a thing so confessedly true, that Atheists have therefore Pretended, Religion to have been at first a mere Political Figment. We conclude therefore, that the Civil Sovereign reigneth not, merely in the Fear of his own Power and Sword; but first in the Justice, and Authority, and then in the Power and Fear also, of God Almighty. And thus much for the First Atheistic Pretence, from the Interest of Civil Sovereigns.
To their Second, that Sovereignty is Essentially Infinite, and therefore altogether Inconsistent, with Religion, that would Limit and Confine it, We Reply; That the Right and Authority of Civil Sovereigns, is not as these our Atheistic Politicians ignorantly suppose, a mere Belluine Liberty, but it is a Right essentially Founded in the Being of Natural Justice, as hath been declared. For Authority of Commanding is such a Right as supposes Obligation in others to Obey, without which it could be nothing but mere Will and Force. But none can be Obliged in Duty to Obey, but by Natural Justice; Commands as such, not Creating Obligation, but Presupposing it. For if Persons were not before Obliged to Obey, no Commands would signify any thing to them. Wherefore the First Original Obligation is not from Will but Nature. Did Obligation to the things of Natural Justice, as many suppose, arise from the Will and Positive Command of God, only by reason of Punishments Threatned, and Rewards Promised; the Consequence of this would be, that no man was Good and Just, but only By Accident, and for the Sake of Something else; Whereas the Goodness of Justice or Righteousness is Intrinsecal to the thing it self, and this is that which Obligeth, (and not any thing Forreign to it) it being a different Species of Good from that of Appetite and Private Utility, which every man may Dispense withal. Now there can be no more Infinite Justice, than there can be an Infinite Rule, or an Infinite Measure. Justice is Essentially a Determinate thing; and therefore can there not be any Infinite Ius, Right or Authority. If there be any thing in its own Nature Just, and Obliging, or such as Ought to be done; then must there of necessity be something Unjust or Unlawful, which therefore cannot be Obligingly Commanded by any Authority whatsoever. Neither ought this to be thought any Impeachment of Civil Authority, it extending Universally to all, even to that of the Deity it self. The Right and Authority of God himself, who is the Supreme Sovereign of the Universe, is also in like manner Bounded and Circumscribed by Justice. God’s Will is Ruled by his Justice, and not his Justice Ruled by his Will; and therefore God himself cannot Command, what is in its own nature Unjust. And thus have we made it Evident, that Infinite Right and Authority, of Doing and Commanding any thing without Exception, so that the Arbitrary will of the Commander, should be the very Rule of Justice it self to others, and consequently might Oblige to any thing, is an Absolute Contradiction, and a Non Entity; it supposing nothing to be in its own Nature, Just or Unjust, which if there were not, there could be no Obligation nor Authority at all. Wherefore the Atheists who would flatter Civil Sovereigns, with this Infinite Right, as if their Will ought to be the very Rule of Justice and Conscience, and upon that Pretence Prejudice them against Religion, do as ill deserve of them as of Religion hereby, they indeed Absolutely Devesting them of all Right and Authority, and leaving them nothing but mere Brutish Force, and Belluine Liberty. And could Civil Sovereigns utterly Demolish and Destroy, Conscience and Religion in the Minds of Men, (which yet is an Absolute Impossibility) they thinking thereby to make Elbow-room for themselves, they would certainly Bury themselves also, in the Ruins of them. Nevertheless thus much is true; That they in whom the Sovereign Legislative Power of every Polity is lodged, (whether Single Persons or Assemblies) they who Make Civil Laws and can Reverse them at pleasure, though they may Unquestionably Sin against God, in making Unjust Laws, yet can they not Sin Politically or Civilly, as Violators or Transgressors of those Laws Cancelled and Reversed by them, they being Superiour to them. Nor is this all, But these Sovereign Legislative Powers, may be said to be Absolute also, in another Sense, as being ἀνυπεύθυνοι, Un-Judicable or Un-Censurable by any Human Court, because if they were so obnoxious, then would that Court or Power which had a Right to Judge and Censure them, be Superiour to them; which is contrary to the Hypothesis. And then if this Power were again Judicable by some other, there must either be, an Infinite Progress or Endless Circulation (a thing not only Absurd, but also utterly Inconsistent with Government and Property, because there being no Ultimate Judgment Unappealable from, there could never be any Final Determination of Controversies;) or else at last, all must be devolved, to the Multitude of Singulars, which would be a Dissolution of the Body Politic, and a State of Anarchy. And thus have we Fully Confuted, the Second Atheistic Pretence also, for the Inconsistency of Religion with Civil Sovereignty.
Their Third and Last follows, That Private Judgment of Good and Evil, is Contradictious to Civil Sovereignty, and a Body Politic, this being One Artificial Man, that must be all Governed, by One Reason and Will. But Conscience is Private Judgment of Good and Evil, Lawful and Unlawful, &c. To which we Reply, That it is not Religion, but on the contrary, the Principles of these Atheistic Politicians, that Unavoidably introduce Private Judgment of Good and Evil, such as is Absolutely inconsistent with Civil Sovereignty; there being according to them, nothing in Nature, of a Public or Common Good, Nothing of Duty or Obligation, but all Private Appetite, and Utility, of which also every man is Judge for himself. For if this were so, then whenever any man Judged it most for his Private Utility, to Disobey Laws, Rebel against Sovereigns, nay to Poison or Stab them, he would be Unquestionably bound by Nature, and the Reason of his own Good, as the Highest Law, to do the same. Neither can these Atheistic Politicians, be ever able to bring men out of this State of Private Good, Judgment, and Will, which is Natural to them, by any Artificial Tricks and Devices, or mere Enchantments of Words, as Artificial Justice, and an Artificial Man, and a Common Person and Will, and a Public Conscience, and the like. Nay it is observable, that themselves are necessitated by the Tenour of these their Principles, Casuistically to allow such Private Judgment and Will, as is altogether inconsistent with Civil Sovereignty; as, That any man may Lawfully Resist in Defence of his own Life, and That they who have once Rebelled, may afterwards Justly defend themselves by Force. Nor indeed can this Private Judgment of men, according to their Appetite and Utility, be possibly otherwise taken away, then by Natural Justice, which is a thing not of a Private, but of a Public and Common Nature; And by Conscience, that Obligeth to Obey all the Lawful Commands of Civil Sovereigns, though contrary to mens Appetites, and Private Interest. Wherefore Conscience also, is in it self not of a Private and Partial, but of a Public and Common Nature; it respecting Divine Laws, Impartial Justice, and Equity, and the Good of the Whole, when clashing with our own Selfish Good; and Private Utility. This is the only thing, that can Naturally Consociate Mankind together, lay a Foundation for Bodies Politic, and take away that Private Will and Judgment according to mens Appetite and Utility, which is Inconsistent with the same: agreeably to that of Plato’s, τὸ κοινὸν συνδεῖ, τὸ ἲδιον διασπᾶ, That which is of a Common and Public Nature Unites, but that which is of a Private Segregates and Dissociates. It is true indeed, that particular Persons must make a Judgment in Conscience for themselves (a Public Conscience, being Nonsense and Ridiculous) and that they may also Err therein; yet is not the Rule neither, by which Conscience Judgeth, Private; nor it self Unaccountable, unless in such mistaken Fanatics, as professedly follow Private Impulses; but either the Natural and Eternal Laws of God, or else his revealed Will, things more Public, than the Civil Laws of any Country, and of which others also may Judge. Nevertheless we deny not, but that Evil Persons may and do sometimes make a Pretence of Conscience and Religion in Order to Sedition and Rebellion; as the Best things may be Abused; but this is not the Fault of Religion, but only of the Men: Conscience Obliging, though First to obey God, yet in Subordination to him, the Laws of Civil Sovereigns also. To conclude, Conscience and Religion, Oblige Subjects Actively to Obey all the Lawful Commands of Civil Sovereigns or Legislative Powers, though contrary to their own Private Appetite, Interest, and Utility; but when these same Sovereign Legislative Powers, Command Unlawful things, Conscience though it here Obliges to Obey God rather than Men, yet does it Notwithstanding Oblige, Not to Resist. Rom. 13. Whosoever Resisteth the Power, Resisteth the Ordinance of God, and they that Resist shall Receive to themselves Damnation. And Matthew the 26. All they that take the Sword, shall perish with the Sword. Here is the Patience and the Faith of the Saints. And thus does Religion, give unto Caesar the things that are Caesars, as well as unto God, the things that are Gods.
And now having fully Confuted, all the Atheistic Grounds, we confidently Conclude, That the First Original of all things, was neither Stupid and Senseless Matter Fortuitously moved, Nor a Blind and Nescient, but Orderly and Methodical Plastic Nature; Nor a Living Matter having Perception or Understanding Natural, without Animal Sense or Consciousness; Nor yet did every thing Exist of it self Necessarily from Eternity, without a Cause. But there is One only Necessary Existent, the Cause of all other things; and this an Absolutely Perfect Being, Infinitely Good, Wise, and Powerful; Who hath made all that was Fit to be made, and according to the Best Wisdom, and exerciseth an exact Providence over all. Whose Name ought to be Hallowed and Separated from all other things. To whom be all Honour, and Glory, and Worship, for ever and ever.
Amen. THE END.5
- For a very helpful and brief introduction to the Cambridge Platonsits with selections from their writings, see Charles Taliaferro and Alison J. Teply, Cambridge Platonist spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2004); See also the introduction and bibliography by Sarah Hutton, “Cambridge Platonists,” in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta, ed., http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2001/entries/cambridge-platonists/, 2007.
- Cudworth’s complete title for this work is, The True Intellectual System of the Universe the first part, wherein all the reason and philosophy of atheism is confuted and its impossibility demonstrated
- On Newton see Danton B. Sailor, “Newton’s Debt to Cudworth.”
- On Leibniz see Justin E. H. Smith and Pauline Phemister, “Leibniz and the Cambridge Platonists.”
- Ralph Cudworth, The True Intellectual System of the Universe; Wherein All Reason and Philosophy of Atheism Is Confuted and Its Impossibility Demonstrated, (London, 1678), 890-899.