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Ideas of Ralph Cudworth, by Text

[English, 1617 - 1688, Taught at Cambridge University.]

1688 On Eternal and Immutable Morality
Bk IV Ch 6.4 p.118 If the soul were a tabula rasa, with no innate ideas, there could be no moral goodness or justice
     Full Idea: The soul is not a mere rasa tabula, a naked and passive thing, with no innate furniture of its own, nor any thing in it, but what was impressed upon it without; for then there could not possibly be any such thing as moral good and evil, just and unjust.
     From: Ralph Cudworth (On Eternal and Immutable Morality [1688], Bk IV Ch 6.4)
     A reaction: He goes on to quote Hobbes saying there is no good in objects themselves. I don't see why we must have an innate moral capacity, provided that we have a capacity to make judgements.
Ch.I.I.5 p.106 If the will and pleasure of God controls justice, then anything wicked or unjust would become good if God commanded it
     Full Idea: If the arbitrary will and pleasure of God is the first and only rule of good and justice, it follows that nothing can be so grossly wicked or unjust but if it were commanded by this omnipotent Deity, it must forthwith become holy, just and righteous.
     From: Ralph Cudworth (On Eternal and Immutable Morality [1688], Ch.I.I.5)
     A reaction: This is the strong (Platonic) answer to the Euthyphro Question (Idea 336). One answer is that God would not command in such a way - but why not? We may say that God and goodness merge into one, but we are interested in ultimate authority.
Ch.II.3 p.109 The requirement that God must be obeyed must precede any authority of God's commands
     Full Idea: If it were not morally good and just in its own nature before any positive command of God, that God should be obeyed by his creatures, the bare will of God himself could not beget any obligation upon anyone.
     From: Ralph Cudworth (On Eternal and Immutable Morality [1688], Ch.II.3)
     A reaction: This strikes me as a self-evident truth, and a big problem for anyone who wants to make God the source of morality. You don't have to accept anyone's authority just because they are powerful or clever (though they do bestow a certain natural authority!).
Ch.II.3 p.109 Obligation to obey all positive laws is older than all laws
     Full Idea: Obligation to obey all positive laws is older than all laws.
     From: Ralph Cudworth (On Eternal and Immutable Morality [1688], Ch.II.3)
     A reaction: Clearly villains can pass wicked laws, so there can't be an obligation to obey all laws (even if they are 'positive', which seems to beg the question). Nevertheless this is a good reason why laws cannot be the grounding of morality.
Ch.II.4 p.109 Keeping promises and contracts is an obligation of natural justice
     Full Idea: To keep faith and perform covenants is that which natural justice obligeth to absolutely.
     From: Ralph Cudworth (On Eternal and Immutable Morality [1688], Ch.II.4)
     A reaction: A nice example of an absolute moral intuition, but one which can clearly be challenged. Covenants (contracts) wouldn't work unless everyone showed intense commitment to keeping them, even beyond the grave, and we all benefit from good contracts.
Ch.II.I p.107 An omnipotent will cannot make two things equal or alike if they aren't
     Full Idea: Omnipotent will cannot make things like or equal one to another, without the natures of likeness and equality.
     From: Ralph Cudworth (On Eternal and Immutable Morality [1688], Ch.II.I)
     A reaction: This is one of the many classic 'paradoxes of omnipotence'. The best strategy is to define omnipotence as 'being able to do everything which it is possible to do'. Anything beyond that is inviting paradoxical disaster.
Ch.II.VI.1 p.115 Senses cannot judge one another, so what judges senses cannot be a sense, but must be superior
     Full Idea: The sight cannot judge of sounds, nor the hearing of light and colours; wherefore that which judges of all the senses and their several objects, cannot be itself any sense, but something of a superior nature.
     From: Ralph Cudworth (On Eternal and Immutable Morality [1688], Ch.II.VI.1)
     A reaction: How nice to find a seventeenth century English writer rebelling against empiricism!
Ch.III.III.2 p.116 Sense is fixed in the material form, and so can't grasp abstract universals
     Full Idea: Sense which lies flat and grovelling in the individuals, and is stupidly fixed in the material form, is not able to rise up or ascend to an abstract universal notion.
     From: Ralph Cudworth (On Eternal and Immutable Morality [1688], Ch.III.III.2)
     A reaction: This still strikes me as being one of the biggest problems with reductive physicalism, that a lump of meat in your head can grasp abstractions (whatever they are) and universal concepts. Personally I am a physicalist, but it is weird.
1688 Treatise of Freewill
X p.132 There is a self-determing power in each person, which makes them what they are
     Full Idea: This hegemonicon (self-power) always determines the passive capability of men's nature one way or other, either for better or for worse; and has a self-forming and self-framing power by which every man is self-made into what he is.
     From: Ralph Cudworth (Treatise of Freewill [1688], X)
     A reaction: The idea that we can somehow create our own selves seems to me the core of existentialism, and the opposite of the Aristotelian belief in a fairly fixed human nature. See Stephen Pinker's 'The Blank Slate' for a revival of the old view.