Volume 11, Issue 1, Spring 2022
Philosophy, Religion, and Science in Seventeenth-Century England
The Eternal Truths in Henry More and Ralph Cudworth
The thorny issue of the created status of eternal verities, a hypothesis initially promulgated by Descartes in his 1630 correspondence with Mersenne, generated widespread debates across confessional lines in 17th century philosophical and theological circles. At stake was not only the necessary or contingent status of these truths, and thus God’s relationship with creation, but also the very nature of the Deity. This was certainly the case for the Cambridge Platonists Henry More and Ralph Cudworth. Both were early advocates of Descartes’ philosophy, while still critical of some of its assumptions. The doctrine of the creation of eternal truths represents such an instance, and it was a highly sensitive topic for both. I shall propose a scholastic context in which to situate some of their ideas in order to shed some light on how this issue was addressed in More and Cudworth. The position where eternal truths are arbitrarily instantiated by the mere fiat of God is avoided by the Cambridge Platonists in two ways. First, the immutable, necessary, and eternal status of these ideas is safeguarded by the premise that they are intrinsic to the divine essence insofar as it is intellectual. We shall see that this raises a question concerning their precise ontological status. Second, the function of these ideas as the framework of the created order is guaranteed by the perfection of the divine will. This will require a clarification of the causal relationships existing between eternal truths, God, and the realm of creation.