Ralph Cudworth
11th Regius Professor of Hebrew, University of Cambridge
In office
Preceded byRobert Metcalfe
Succeeded byWolfram Stubbe
14th Master of Christ’s College, Cambridge
In office
Preceded bySamuel Bolton
Succeeded byJohn Covel
26th Master of Clare Hall, Cambridge
In office
1645 (1650) – 1654
Preceded byThomas Paske
Succeeded byTheophilus Dillingham
Personal details
Born1617 (1617)
Aller, Somerset, England
Died26 June 1688(1688-06-26) (aged 70–71)
Damaris Cradock Andrewes
(m. 1654)
Children4, including Damaris Cudworth Masham
RelativesJames Cudworth (brother)
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge:
Ecclesiastical career
ReligionChristianity (Anglican)
ChurchChurch of England
  • 1650 (Priest)
Offices held
Vicar, Gt Wilbraham (1656)
Rector, N. Cadbury (1650–6)
Rector, Toft (1656–62)
Rector, Ashwell (1662–88)
Prebendary, Gloucester (1678)

Ralph Cudworth FRS (/rf ˈkʊdɜːrθ/ rayf KUUD-urth; 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).[1] A leading opponent of Hobbes's political and philosophical views, his magnum opus was his The True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678).[2]

Family background


Cudworth's family reputedly originated in Cudworth (near Barnsley), Yorkshire, moving to Lancashire with the marriage (c.1377) of John de Cudworth (died 1384) and Margery (died 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.[3][4][5][6][7]

The Rev. Dr Ralph Cudworth Snr (1572/3–1624)

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.[8]

Ordained in 1599[9] and elected to a college fellowship by 1600,[10] 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.[11] He was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Divinity in 1603.[12] He edited Perkins's Commentary on St Paul's Epistle to the Galatians (1604),[13] 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.[14] Lord Rich presented him to the Vicariate of Coggeshall, Essex (1606)[15] 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).[16] He then applied for the rectorate of Aller, Somerset (an Emmanuel College living)[17] and, resigning his fellowship, was appointed to it in 1610.[18]

His marriage (1611) to Mary Machell (c.1582–1634), (who had been "nutrix" – nurse, or preceptor – to Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales)[19] brought important connections. Cudworth Snr was appointed as one of James I's chaplains.[20] 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.[21] 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.[22] 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.[23] He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity (1619),[24] and was among the dedicatees of Richard Bernard's 1621 edition of The Faithfull Shepherd.[25] Ralph Snr died at Aller declaring a nuncupative will (7 August 1624) before Anthony Earbury and Dame Margaret Wroth.[26]


Parish Church of St Andrew, Aller, Somerset: where John Stoughton succeeded Ralph Cudworth Snr (1624)

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).[33] Dr Stoughton paid careful attention to his stepchildren's education, which Ralph later described as a "diet of Calvinism".[34] Letters, to Stoughton, by both brothers James and Ralph Cudworth make this plain; and, when Ralph matriculated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge (1632),[35] Stoughton thought him "as wel grounded in Scho[o]l-Learning as any Boy of his Age that went to the University".[36] Stoughton was appointed Curate and Preacher at St Mary Aldermanbury, London (1632),[37] and the family left Aller. Ralph's elder brother, James Cudworth, married and emigrated to Scituate, Plymouth Colony, New England (1634).[38] Mary Machell Cudworth Stoughton died during summer 1634,[39] and Dr Stoughton married a daughter of John Browne of Frampton and Dorchester.[40]

Pensioner, Student and Fellow of Emmanuel College (1630–45)

Emmanuel College, Cambridge

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),[41] 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),[42] and another, A Discourse concerning the True Notion of the Lord's Supper (1642),[43] in which his readings of Karaite manuscripts (stimulated by meetings with Johann Stephan Rittangel) were influential.[44]

11th Regius Professor of Hebrew (1645) and 26th Master of Clare Hall (1645–54)

Old Court, Clare College, Cambridge

Following sustained correspondence with John Selden[45] (to whom he supplied Karaite literature), he was elected (aged 28) as 11th Regius Professor of Hebrew (1645).[24] 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).[46] Similarly, his fellow-theologian Benjamin Whichcote was installed as 19th Provost of King's College.[47] 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),[48] which was later published with a Letter of Dedication to the House (1647).[49] Despite these distinctions and his presentation, by Emmanuel College, to the rectorate of North Cadbury, Somerset (3 October 1650), he remained comparatively impoverished. He was awarded the degree of Doctor of Divinity (1651),[24] 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."[50]

Marriage (1654) and 14th Master of Christ's College (1654–88)

First Court, Christ's College, Cambridge

Despite his worsening sight, Cudworth was elected (29 October 1654) and admitted (2 November 1654), as 14th Master of Christ's College.[51] His appointment coincided with his marriage to Damaris (died 1695), daughter (by his first wife, Damaris) of Matthew Cradock (died 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."[52]

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)[53] into two moieties: one was bequeathed to his daughter Damaris Cradock (died 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.[54] 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's.[55] 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).[56][57]

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 (died 1695), which reinforced the connections between the two scholars through a familial bond. Damaris had first married (1642)[58] Thomas Andrewes Jnr (died 1653) of London and Feltham, son of Sir Thomas Andrewes (died 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.[59]

Commonwealth and Restoration

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.[60][61] 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.[62] 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).[63]

The mid-seventeenth century Fellows' Swimming Pool, Christ's College, Cambridge

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.[64] 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.[65] He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1662.

Later life

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.[66] To avoid any difficulties, More published his Enchiridion ethicum (1666–69), in Latin;[67] However, Cudworth's planned treatise was never published. His own majestic work, The True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678),[68] 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."[69]

Memorial to Damaris Cudworth

Cudworth was installed as Prebendary of Gloucester (1678).[63] His colleague, Benjamin Whichcote, died at Cudworth's house in Cambridge (1683),[70] and Cudworth himself died (26 June 1688), and was buried in the Chapel of Christ's College.[71] An oil portrait of Cudworth (from life) hangs in the Hall of Christ's College.[72] 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.[73]

Cudworth's widow, Damaris (née Cradock) Andrewes Cudworth (died 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.[74]


The children of Ralph Cudworth and Damaris (née Cradock) Andrewes Cudworth (died 1695) were:

The stepchildren of Ralph Cudworth (children of Damaris (née Cradock) Andrewes (died 1695) and Thomas Andrewes (died 1653)) were:


Cudworth was a member of the Cambridge Platonists, a group of English seventeenth-century thinkers associated with the University of Cambridge who were stimulated by Plato's teachings but also were aware of and influenced by Descartes, Hobbes, Bacon, Boyle and Spinoza. The other important philosopher of this group was Henry More (1614–1687). More held that spiritual substance or mind controlled inert matter. Out of his correspondence with Descartes, he developed the idea that everything, whether material or non, had extension, an example of the latter being space, which is infinite (Newton) and which then is correlative to the idea of God (set out in his Enchiridion metaphysicum 1667). In developing this idea, More also introduced a causal agent between God and substance, or Nature, in his Hylarchic Principle, derived from Plato's anima mundi or world soul, and the Stoic's pneuma, which encapsulates the laws of nature, both for inert and vital nature, and involves a sympathetic resonance between soul (psyche) and body (soma).[90]

Plastic principle

The role of nature was one faced by philosophers in the Age of Reason or Enlightenment. The prevailing view was either that of the Church of a personal deity intervening in his creation, producing miracles, or an ancient pantheism (atheism relative to theism) – deity pervading all things and existing in all things. However, the "ideas of an all-embracing providential care of the world and of one universal vital force capable of organizing the world from within."[91] presented difficulties for philosophers of a spiritual as well as materialistic bent.

Cudworth countered these mechanical, materialistic views of nature in his True intellectual system of the universe (1678), with the idea of 'the Plastick Life of Nature', a formative principle that contains both substance and the laws of motion, as well as a nisus or direction that accounts for design and goal in the natural world. He was stimulated by the Cartesian idea of the mind as self-consciousness to see God as consciousness. He first analysed four forms of atheism from ancient times to present, and showed that all misunderstood the principle of life and knowledge, which involved unsentient activity and self-consciousness, addressing the tension between theism and atheism, took both the Stoic idea of Divine Reason poured into the world, and the Platonic idea of the world soul (anima mundi) to posit a power that was polaric – "either as a ruling but separate mind or as an informing vital principle – either nous hypercosmios or nous enkosmios.[91]

It is in connection with the refutation of hylozoic atheism that he brings forward the celebrated hypothesis, which he held in common with More, of a plastic nature,—a substance intermediate between matter and spirit,—a power which prosecutes certain ends but not freely or intelligently,—an instrument by which laws are able to act without the immediate agency of God...[92]

All of the atheistic approaches posited nature as unconscious, which for Cudworth was ontologically unsupportable, as a principle that was supposed to be the ultimate source of life and meaning could only be itself self-conscious and knowledgeable, that is, rational, otherwise creation or nature degenerates into inert matter set in motion by random external forces (Coleridge's 'chance whirlings of unproductive particles'). Cudworth saw nature as a vegetative power endowed with plastic (forming) and spermatic (generative) forces, but one with Mind, or a self-conscious knowledge. This idea would later emerge in the Romantic period in German science as Blumenbach's Bildungstreib (generative power) and the Lebenskraft (or Bildungskraft).

...the life of the universe splits into two principles – the one transcendent and intellectual (« an animalish, sentient and intellectual nature, or a conscious soul and mind, that presided over the whole world »), the other immanent and devoid of perception (« a certain plastic nature, or spermatic principle which was properly the fate of all things »)[91]

The essence of atheism for Cudworth was the view that matter was self-active and self-sufficient, whereas for Cudworth the plastic power was unsentient and under the direct control of the universal Mind or Logos. For him atheism, whether mechanical or material could not solve the "phenomenon of nature." Henry More argued that atheism made each substance independent and self-acting such that it 'deified' matter. Cudworth argued that materialism/mechanism reduced "substance to a corporeal entity, its activity to causal determinism, and each single thing to fleeting appearances in a system dominated by material necessity."[91]

Cudworth had the idea of a general plastic nature of the world, containing natural laws to keep all of nature, inert and vital in orderly motion, and particular plastic natures in particular entities, which serve as 'Inward Principles' of growth and motion, but ascribes it to the Platonic tradition:

The Platonists seem to affirm both these together, namely that there is a Plastick Nature lodged in all particular Souls of Animals, Brutes, and Men, and also that there is a Plastick or Spermatick Principle of the whole Universe distinct from the Higher Mundane Soul, though subordinate to it.(Cudworth, TIS, p. 165)[93]

Further, Cudsworth's plastic principle was also a functional polarity. As he wrote:

The Seminary Reason or Plastick Nature of the Universe opposing the Parts to one another and making them severally Indigent, produces by that means War and Contention. And therefore though it be One, yet notwithstanding it consists of Different and Contrary things. For there being Hostility in its Parts, it is nevertheless Friendly and Agreeable in the Whole; after the same manner as in a Dramatick Poem, Clashings and Contentions are reconciled into one Harmony. And therefore the Seminary or Plastick Nature of the World, may fitly be resembled to the Harmony of Disagreeing things.[94]

As another historian notes in conclusion, "Cudworth’s theory of plastic natures is offered as an alternative to the interpretation of all of nature as either governed by blind chance, or, on his understanding of the Malebranchean view, as micro-managed by God."[93]

Plastic Principle and mind

Cudworth's plastic principle also involves a theory of mind that is active, that is, God or the Supreme Mind is "the spermatic reason" which gives rise to individual mind and reason. Human mind can also create, and has access to spiritual or super-sensible 'Ideas' in the Platonic sense.[90] Cudworth challenged Hobbesian determinism in arguing that will is not distinct from reason, but a power to act that is internal, and therefore, the voluntary will function involves self-determination, not external compulsion, though we have the power to act either in accordance with God's will or not. Cudworth's 'hegemonikon' (taken from Stoicism) is a function within the soul that combines the higher functions of the soul (voluntary will and reason) on the one hand with the lower animal functions (instinct), and also constitutes the whole person, thus bridging the Cartesian dualism of body and soul or psyche and soma. This idea provided the basis for a concept of self-awareness and identity of an individual that is self-directed and autonomous, an idea that anticipates John Locke.


Locke examined how man came to knowledge via stimulus (rather than seeing ideas as inherent), which approach led to his idea of the 'thinking' mind, which is both receptive and pro-active. The first involves receiving sensations ('simple ideas') and the second by reflection – "observation of its own inner operations" (inner sense which leads to complex ideas), with the second activity acting upon the first. Thought is set in motion by outer stimuli which 'simple ideas' are taken up by the mind's self-activity, an "active power" such that the outer world can only be real-ized as action (natural cause) by the activity of consciousness. Locke also took the issue of life as lying not in substance but in the capacity of the self for consciousness, to be able to organize (associate) disparate events, that is to participate life by means of the sense experiences, which have the capacity to produce every kind of experience in consciousness. These ideas of Locke were taken over by Fichte and influenced German Romantic science and medicine. (See Romantic medicine and Brunonian system of medicine). Thomas Reid and his "Common Sense" philosophy, was also influenced by Cudworth, taking his influence into the Scottish Enlightenment.[90]

George Berkeley later developed the idea of a plastic life principle with his idea of an 'aether' or 'aetherial medium' that causes 'vibrations' that animate all living beings. For Berkeley, it is the very nature of this medium that generates the 'attractions' of entities to each other.

The refraction of light is also thought to proceed from the different density and elastic force of this æthereal medium in different places. The vibrations of this medium, alternately concurring with or obstructing the motions of the rays of light, are supposed to produce the fits of easy reflection and transmission. Light by the vibrations of this medium is thought to communicate heat to bodies. Animal motion and sensation are also accounted for by the vibrating motions of this æthereal medium, propagated through the solid capillaments of the nerves. In a word, all the phenomena and properties of bodies that were before attributed to attraction, upon later thoughts seem ascribed to this æther, together with the various attractions themselves. (Berkeley V 107–8)[94]

Berkeley meant this 'aether' to supplant Newton's gravity as the cause of motion (neither seeing the polarity involved between two forces, as Cudworth had in his plastic principle). However, in Berkeley's conception, aether is both the movement of spirit and the motion of nature.

Both Cudworth's views and those of Berkeley were taken up by Coleridge in his metaphor of the eolian harp in his 'Effusion XXXV' as one commentator noted: "what we see in the first manuscript is the articulation of Cudworth’s principle of plastic nature, which is then transformed in the published version into a Berkeleyan expression of the causal agency of motion performed by God’s immanent activity."[94]


Sermons and Treatises

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.

A Treatise concerning eternal and immutable Morality (posth.)

Cudworth's Treatise on eternal and immutable Morality, published with a preface by Edward Chandler (1731),[95] 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.[96]

A Treatise of Freewill (posth.)

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.[97]

The True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678)

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).

A finely-bound first edition of the True Intellectual System (1678) in the British Library (shelfmark: Davis 187).

The Intellectual System arose, according to Cudworth, from a discourse refuting "fatal necessity", or determinism.[96] Enlarging his plan, he proposed to prove three matters:

(a) the existence of God;
(b) the naturalness of moral distinctions; and
(c) the reality of human freedom.

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".[98] 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.[99]


Coat of arms of Ralph Cudworth
The arms of the Cudworths of Werneth, Oldham, Lancashire (with a crescent charged upon a crescent for the second son of a second son).
Azure, a fess Erminois between three demi-lions Or, with a crescent Argent charged with a crescent Sable for difference.[100][6]



  1. ^ J.A. Passmore, Ralph Cudworth: An Interpretation (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1951)
  2. ^ D.A. Pailin, 'Cudworth, Ralph (1617–88)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
  3. ^ Edwin Butterworth, Historical Sketches of Oldham (John Hirst: Oldham, 1856), pp. 22–23 (Google)
  4. ^ Butterworth, James (1826). History and Description of the Parochial Chapelry of Oldham. Oldham: J. Dodge, etc. pp. 52ff ('Pedigree of the Families of Oldhams and Cudworths').
  5. ^ Fuller, Thomas (1811). Nuttall, T.A. (ed.). History of the Worthies of England. Vol. ii. London: Thomas Tegg. p. 208.
  6. ^ a b c "The parish of Prestwich with Oldham: Oldham | British History Online". www.british-history.ac.uk. Retrieved 25 June 2021.
  7. ^ a b Stansfield-Cudworth, R. E. (2019). "Gentry, Gentility, and Genealogy in Lancashire: The Cudworths of Werneth Hall, Oldham, c.1377–1683". Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society. 111: 48–80.
  8. ^ 'History of the College' Emmanuel College website; S. Bendell, C. Brooke, and P. Collinson, A History of Emmanuel College (Boydell Press: Woodbridge 1999).
  9. ^ Church of England clergy database, Ordination record: ID 123517. Person Record CCEd ID 89100.
  10. ^ S. Bush Jnr and C.J. Rasmussen, The Library of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, 1584–1637 (Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 77–79 and p. 210 (Google).
  11. ^ B. Carter, 'The standing of Ralph Cudworth as a Philosopher' in G.A.J. Rogers, T. Sorell, and J. Kraye (eds), Insiders and Outsiders in Seventeenth Century Philosophy (Routledge: London, 2009), at p. 100 (see note 4).
  12. ^ Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses i(1), p. 431.
  13. ^ H.C. Porter, Reformation and Reaction in Tudor Cambridge (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1958), pp. 264–66 (Google)
  14. ^ A Commentarie or Exposition, upon the Five First Chapters of the Epistle to the Galatians: penned by the godly, learned, and iudiciall divine, Mr. W. Perkins. Now published for the benefit of the Church, and continued with a supplement upon the sixt chapter, by Rafe Cudworth Bachelour of Divinitie (John Legat: London, 1604).
  15. ^ Clergy of the Church of England database, CCEd Appointment Record ID: 193664.
  16. ^ Church of England clergy database, CCEd Records ID: 193711 (Vacancy), and 178652 (Appointment).
  17. ^ R.W. Dunning (ed.), 'Parishes: Aller ', A History of the County of Somerset, iii (1974), pp. 61–71 (British History Online).
  18. ^ CCEd Appointment Evidence Record ID: 178651, as 30 August 1610.
  19. ^ J.L. v. Mosheim, Radulphi Cudworthi Systema intellectuale hujus universi (sumtu viduae Meyer: Jena, 1733), i, 'Praefatio Moshemii' (34 sides, unpaginated), side 19. The information was from Edward Chandler.
  20. ^ Mosheim, as cited above.
  21. ^ P. Collinson, '17: Magistracy and Ministry – A Suffolk Miniature', in Godly People. Essays on English Protestantism and Puritanism (Hambledon Press: London, 1983), pp. 445–66.
  22. ^ D. Richardson, Magna Carta Ancestry, ed. K.J. Everingham, 2nd Edn (2011), ii, p. 10, items 15–16)
  23. ^ Letter of Ralph Cudworth (Snr) to James Ussher, Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Rawlinson Letters 89, fol. 25 r–v: Early modern letters online.
  24. ^ a b c Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses.
  25. ^ R. Bernard, The Faithfull Shepherd, wholy in a manner transposed, 3rd Edn, Thomas Pavier: London, 1621), dedication in front matter (Internet Archive). (1st Edition, 1607, 2nd 1609).
  26. ^ Will of Raphe Cudworthe, Doctor of Divinity, Parson of Aller, Somerset (P.C.C. 1624, Byrde quire).
  27. ^ Samuel Deane, 'Gen. James Cudworth' in History of Scituate, Massachusetts, from its first settlement to 1831 (James Loring: Boston, 1831), pp. 245–51; also Scituate Historical Society Archived 24 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  28. ^ Josias Beacham’s first wife was Maria Sheffield (died 1634): S.H.C., 'Extracts from the Parish register of Seton, Co. Rutland, relative to the family of Sheffield', Collectanea Topographica et Genealogica I (J.B. Nichols & Son: London, 1834), pp. 171–73.; Will of Josias Beacham, Rector of Seaton (Rutland) (P.C.C. 1675/76). London Marriage Allegations, 28 April 1636 (St Mary Aldermanbury). Foster, Index Ecclesiasticus. Beacham was a graduate of Brasenose College, Oxford
  29. ^ W. Dumville Smythe, An Historical Account of the Worshipful Company of Girdlers, London (Chiswick Press: London, 1905), pp. 109–10.; Will of John Cudworth, Girdler of London (P.C.C. 1675).
  30. ^ J. Peile, Biographical Register of Christ's College, 1505–1905: II: 1666–1905 (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1913), p. 64 (Internet Archive).
  31. ^ J. Peile, Biographical Register, ii, p. 111.
  32. ^ D. Richardson, Jewels of the Crown, 4 (2009), citing references to Jane Cudworth in the Will of John Machell of Wonersh (P.C.C. 1647).
  33. ^ J.C. Whitebrook, 'Dr. John Stoughton the Elder', Transactions of the Congregational Historical Society, 6(2), (1913), pp. 89–107; and 6(3), (1914), pp. 177–87 (Internet Archive).
  34. ^ F.J. Powicke, The Cambridge Platonists: A Study (J.M. Dent & Co.: London, 1926), p. 111.
  35. ^ "Cudworth, Ralph (CDWT632R)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.. See Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses i(1), p. 431.
  36. ^ Mosheim, Radulphi Cudworthi Systema Intellectuale (1733), i, 'Praefatio Moshemii' (34 sides, unpaginated) 19th side, note.
  37. ^ Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses, i(4), p. 171.
  38. ^ 'Letter of James Cudworth of Scituate, 1634', (to Stoughton), in New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 14 (1860), pp. 101–04.
  39. ^ Whitebrook, 'Dr John Stoughton the Elder', p. 94 (Internet Archive).
  40. ^ Marriage at St Mary Aldermanbury, 18 January 1635/6; J.P. Ferris, Browne, John II (1580–1659), of Dorchester and Frampton, Dorset, History of Parliament online, 1604–29.
  41. ^ T. Solly, The Will Divine and Human (Deighton Bell & Co.: Cambridge/Bell & Daldy: London, 1856), pp. 287–91.
  42. ^ R. Cudworth, The Union of Christ and the Church, in a Shadow (Richard Bishop: London, 1642) (Umich/eebo).
  43. ^ R. Cudworth, A Discourse concerning the True Notion of the Lord's Supper (2nd edn, J. Flesher for R. Royston: London, 1670) (Google).
  44. ^ D.J. Lasker, 'Karaism and Christian Hebraism: a New Document', Renaissance Quarterly, 59(4), (2006), pp. 1089–1116.
  45. ^ D. Levitin, Ancient Wisdom in the Age of the New Science: Histories of Philosophy in England, c.1640–1700 (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2015), p. 171 and note 300, with itemized citations (Google).
  46. ^ D. Neal (ed. J.O. Choules), The History of the Puritans, or Protestant Nonconformists (Harper & Brothers: New York, 1844), p. 481 (Google). See J. Barwick, Querela Cantabrigiensis (Oxford 1647), 'A Catalogue' (Umich/eebo).
  47. ^ S. Hutton, 'Whichcote, Benjamin (1609–83), theologian and moral philosopher' in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  48. ^ New King James Version at Bible Gateway
  49. ^ R. Cudworth, A sermon preached before the Honourable House of Commons, at Westminster, March 31. 1647 (Roger Daniel: Cambridge, 1647), Letter of Dedication (Umich/eebo).
  50. ^ Letter of John Worthington (6 January 1651/2), quoted in Mosheim's Preface to Systema Intellectuale (1733), i, p. xxviii (1773 edn).
  51. ^ '1654, Oct. 29. Dr Cudworth was chosen Master of Christ's College, admitted Nov. 2.': J. Crossley, Diary and Correspondence of Dr John Worthington (Chetham Society, O.S., 13 (1847), i, p. 52.
  52. ^ Letter of John Worthington (30 January 1654/5) quoted in Mosheim's Preface (1733), i, p. xxviii (1773 edn)
  53. ^ C. Seaburg and A. Seaburg, Medford on the Mystic (Medford Historical Society, 1980).
  54. ^ Will of Mathew Cradock of London, Merchant (P.C.C. 1641); C. Brooks, The History of the Town of Medford (J.M. Usher: Boston, 1855), pp. 90–92 (Internet Archive).
  55. ^ Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses, i(1), p. 411; J.C. Whitebrook, 'Samuel Cradock, cleric and pietist (1620–1706): and Matthew Cradock, first governor of Massachusetts', Congregational History Society, 5(3), (1911), pp. 183–90; S. Handley, 'Cradock, Samuel (1620/21–1706), nonconformist minister', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  56. ^ Brooks, The History of the Town of Medford, pp 41–43, and p. 93 (Internet Archive).
  57. ^ 'Cradock, Craddock', in C.H. Pope, The Pioneers of Massachusetts: A Descriptive List (Boston 1900), pp. 121–22 (Internet Archive).
  58. ^ R. Brenner, Merchants and Revolution: Commercial Change, Political Conflict, and London's Overseas Traders, 1550–1663 (Verso: London, 2003), p. 139 (Google).
  59. ^ Will of Thomas Andrewes, Leather seller of London (P.C.C. 1653). These relationships are confirmed by these wills and the Chancery case Andrewes v Glover (National Archives, London); W.G. Watkins, 'Notes from English Records', New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 64 (1910), pp. 84–87.
  60. ^ T. Birch, Account of the Life and Writings (1743), pp. viii–x (pp. 16–18 in pdf).
  61. ^ 'Life of Cudworth, Appendix A: Letters to Thurloe', in W.R. Scott, An Introduction to Cudworth's Treatise concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality (Longmans, Green & Co.: London, 1891), pp. 19–23 (Hathi Trust).
  62. ^ C. Anderson, The Annals of the English Bible (William Pickering: London, 1845), ii, Book 3, p. 394 (Google).
  63. ^ a b Clergy of the Church of England database.
  64. ^ Letter (6 August 1660), in J. Crossley, Diary and Correspondence of Dr John Worthington (Chetham Society, O.S., 13 (1847)), i, p. 203; and Christ's College website, List of Masters of Christ's College.
  65. ^ J. Covell, 'An Account of the Master's Lodgings in ye College', in R. Willis and J.W. Clarke, The Architectural History of the University of Cambridge, and of the Colleges of Cambridge and Eton, (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1886), ii, pp. 212–19 (Internet Archive).
  66. ^ 'Life of Cudworth, Appendix B: Letters of Cudworth and More', in Scott, An Introduction to Cudworth's Treatise, pp. 24–28 (Hathi Trust).
  67. ^ An Account of Virtue; or, Dr. Henry More's Abridgement of Morals, put into English (transl. Edward Southwell), (facsimile of Benjamin Tooke's London (1690) English edn; Facsimile Text Society, New York, 1930), Internet Archive.
  68. ^ R. Cudworth, The True Intellectual System of the Universe: The First Part; Wherein, All the Reason and Philosophy of Atheism is Confuted, and its Impossibility Demonstrated (Richard Royston: London, 1678)
  69. ^ R. Cudworth, 'Preface to the Reader', True Intellectual System (1678).
  70. ^ G. Dyer, History of the University and Colleges of Cambridge, (Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown: London, 1814), ii, p. 355 (Google).
  71. ^ Epitaph in Mosheim's Preface (1733), i, p. xxix (1773 edn); for his monumental inscription [1].
  72. ^ Oil portrait of Ralph Cudworth, image (copyright Christ's College) viewable here.
  73. ^ 'Splashing out for a piece of history', News, 23 July 2010 (University of Cambridge website). Listing by Historic England.
  74. ^ Will of Damaris Cudworth (P.C.C. 1695); H.R. Fox Bourne, The Life of John Locke, (Harper & Brothers: New York, 1876), ii, pp. 306–07 (Internet Archive).
  75. ^ J. Peile, Biographical Register of Christ's College 1505–1905: II: 1666–1905 (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1913), ii, p. 46.
  76. ^ Locke's letter, in Lord King, The Life of John Locke: With Extracts from His Correspondence (New Edn, Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley: London, 1830), ii, pp. 16–21 (Google).
  77. ^ R.C. Temple, The Diaries of Streynsham Master, 1675–80, and other contemporary papers relating thereto II: The First and Second "Memorialls, 1679–80, Indian Records Series (John Murray: London, 1911), p. 343 and note 2 (Internet Archive); W.K. Firminger (ed.), 'The Malda Diary and Consultations (1680–82)', Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, N.S., 14 (1918), pp. 1–241 (Internet Archive).
  78. ^ J. Peile, Biographical Register, ii, pp. 49–50, citing Journal entries from Factory Records, Kasinbazar III.
  79. ^ J. Peile, Biographical Register, ii, p. 70.
  80. ^ Locke's letter supposedly addressed to Thomas, in H.R. Fox Bourne, The Life of John Locke (Harper and Brothers: New York, 1876), i, pp. 473–76 (Internet Archive).
  81. ^ M. Knights, 'Masham, Sir Francis, 3rd Bt. (c. 1646–1723), of Otes, High Laver, Essex', in D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, and S. Handley (eds), The History of Parliament: the House of Commons, 1690–1715 (Boydell & Brewer,Woodbridge, 2002), History of Parliament Online.
  82. ^ J. Peile, Biographical Register, I: 1448–1665 (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1910), i,p. 601 (Internet Archive).
  83. ^ Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses, i(1), p. 30; J. Peile, Biographical Register, i, p. 612 (Internet Archive).
  84. ^ Covell, 'An Account of the Master's Lodgings'.
  85. ^ G.J. Armytage, Allegations for Marriage-Licences Issued by the Vicar-General of the Archbishop of Canterbury, July 1679 to June 1687, Harleian Society, 30 (1890), p. 70 (Internet Archive).
  86. ^ Will of Thomas Andrewes, Citizen and Dyer of London (P.C.C. 1688, Foot quire); H.F. Waters, Genealogical Gleanings in England, with the addition of New Series, A-Anyon (Genealogical Publishing Company: Baltimore, 1969), ii, pp. 1738–39 (Internet Archive).
  87. ^ Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses, i(1), p. 30. Will of Mathew Andrewes, Fellow of Queen's College, Cambridge (P.C.C. 1674, Bunce quire); H.F. Waters, Genealogical Gleanings in England, with the addition of New Series, A-Anyon (Genealogical Publishing Company: Baltimore, 1969), ii, p. 1738.
  88. ^ Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses, i(1), p. 2; A.A. Hanham, 'Abney, Sir Edward (1631–1728), of Willesley Hall, Leics. and Portugal Row, Lincoln’s Inn Fields', in D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, and S. Handley (eds), The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690–1715 ( Boydell and Brewer: Woodbridge, 2002), History of Parliament Online.
  89. ^ For correspondence between Cudworth and Edward's father, James Abney: E. Randall (ed.), C. Melinsky (ill.), Letters to my Father: Edward Abney, 1660–63 (Simon Randall: Sevenoaks, 2005).
  90. ^ a b c Stanford U. Encyc. of Philosophy. "The Cambridge Platonists". Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  91. ^ a b c d Giglioni, Guido (2008). "The cosmoplastic system of the universe: Ralph Cudworth on Stoic naturalism". Revue d'histoire des sciences. Tome 61/2 (2): 313–331. doi:10.3917/rhs.612.0313.
  92. ^ "Ralph Cudworth". Encyclopædia Britannica. 1902. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  93. ^ a b Smith, Justin E. H. "The Leibnizian Organism Between Cudworth's Plastic Natures and Locke's Thinking Matter" (PDF). Concordia University, Montreal. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  94. ^ a b c Raiger, Michael (Winter 2002). "The Intellectual Breeze, the Corporeality of Thought, and the Eolian Harp". Coleridge Bulletin. New Series (20): 76–84. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  95. ^ R. Cudworth, Treatise Concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality... with a Preface by... Edward Lord Bishop of Durham (1st edn, James and John Knapton: London, 1731)
  96. ^ a b Sturt, Henry (1911). "Cudworth, Ralph" . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 612–613.
  97. ^ Ralph Cudworth (1996). S. Hutton (ed.). Ralph Cudworth: A Treatise Concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality: With A Treatise of Freewill. Cambridge University Press. p. 219. ISBN 978-0-521-47918-9.
  98. ^ Scott, W. R. (1891). "The Life of Ralph Cudworth". An Introduction to Cudworth's Treatise. London: Longmans, Green and Co. pp. 15–17.
  99. ^ White, Andrew Dickson (1901). A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom. Vol. 1. New York: D. Appleton and Company. p. 16.
  100. ^ Saint-George, Richard; Raines, F. R. (1871). The visitation of the county palatine of Lancaster, made in the year 1613. Vol. Old Series, 82. Manchester: Chetham Society. p. 80.


Further reading

Academic offices Preceded byRobert Metcalfe 11th Regius Professor of Hebrew, University of Cambridge 1645–1688 Succeeded byWolfram Stubbe Preceded byThomas Paskevacancy from 1645 26th Master of Clare Hall, Cambridge 1650–1654 Succeeded byTheophilus Dillingham Preceded bySamuel Bolton 14th Master of Christ's College, Cambridge 1654–1688 Succeeded byJohn Covel