Eighteenth-Century Dissent and Cambridge Platonism : Reconceiving the Philosophy of Religion book cover
1st Edition

Eighteenth-Century Dissent and Cambridge Platonism
Reconceiving the Philosophy of Religion

ISBN 9780367595111
Published August 14, 2020 by Routledge
222 Pages

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Book Description

Eighteenth-Century Dissent and Cambridge Platonism identifies an ethically and politically engaged philosophy of religion in eighteenth century Rational Dissent, particularly in the work of Richard Price (1723-1791), and in the radical thought of Mary Wollstonecraft. It traces their ethico-political account of reason, natural theology and human freedom back to seventeenth century Cambridge Platonism and thereby shows how popular histories of the philosophy of religion in modernity have been over-determined both by analytic philosophy of religion and by its critics. The eighteenth century has typically been portrayed as an age of reason, defined as a project of rationalism, liberalism and increasing secularisation, leading inevitably to nihilism and the collapse of modernity. Within this narrative, the Rational Dissenters have been accused of being the culmination of eighteenth-century rationalism in Britain, epitomising the philosophy of modernity. This book challenges this reading of history by highlighting the importance of teleology, deiformity, the immutability of goodness and the divinity of reason within the tradition of Rational Dissent, and it demonstrates that the philosophy and ethics of both Price and Wollstonecraft are profoundly theological. Price’s philosophy of political liberty, and Wollstonecraft’s feminism, both grounded in a Platonic conception of freedom, are perfectionist and radical rather than liberal. This has important implications for understanding the political nature of eighteenth-century philosophical theology: these thinkers represent not so much a shaking off of religion by secular rationality but a challenge to religious and political hegemony. By distinguishing Price and Wollstonecraft from other forms of rationalism including deism and Socinianism, this book takes issue with the popular division of eighteenth-century philosophy into rationalistic and empirical strands and, through considering the legacy of Cambridge Platonism, draws attention to an alternative philosophy of religion that lies between both empiricism and discursive inference.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Enlightenments, the Philosophy of Religion and the History of Philosophy

Chapter 2: Godliness and Godlikeness: Deiform Reason and the Honest Mind

Chapter 3: State Cozenage and Political Fictions: Reason, Revelation and the Politics of Conformity

Chapter 4: The Ethical Cosmos: Natural Theology, Epistemic Humility and the Immutability of Goodness

Chapter 5: Casting out Hagar and her Children: Deiformity, Liberty and Politics

Chapter 6: Wrought in each Flower, Inscrib’d on ev’ry tree’: Wollstonecraft, Reason and the Contemplation of Divinized Nature


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Louise Hickman is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Ethics at Newman University, Birmingham, UK


"This short volume is ambitious: it aims to offer both a clear and accurate account of a little known slice of the history of philosophy, and an argument for revising the way analytic philosophers conceive of philosophy of religion ... It succeeds, to a large extent, in doing both. In particular, Louise Hickman offers ... useful resources for rethinking some aspects of how natural theology is read and taught." - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"There is much to appreciate in this study. Hickman’s explanation of eighteenth-century arguments for the existence of God that claimed the status of scientific proof and justified belief in God on just such scientific grounds is useful. So, too, is her exposure of the often unrecognized political contexts and implications of theological inquiry that entailed the endorsement of both divine and secular power and will as the source and foundation of moral right and order." - Martha, K. Zebrowski, Columbia University