Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

British Philosophy in the Seventeenth Century

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

British Philosophy in the Seventeenth Century

Article excerpt

British Philosophy in the Seventeenth Century, by Sarah Hutton, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2015, x + 286 pp., £27.50 (hardback), ISBN 978-0-19-958611-0

Sarah Hutton's volume in Oxford'snewHistory of Philosophy series makes an important contribution in four respects. It is, firstly, a truly comprehensive narrative of seventeenthcentury British philosophy. Familiar innovators are given due attention, of course. An entire chapter is dedicated to Hobbes, emphasising the originality of his classifying ethics as a branch of natural philosophy and of his recasting political philosophy as a demonstrable science. Locke receives similarly extended treatment, as does Bacon, the architect of inductive method. However, alongside the latter, Hutton gives equal attention to Herbert of Cherbury'sargumentsforanepistemologyfounded upon innate principles, and she details the continental influencethathe,quiteasmuchasBacon,commanded. She also explains why, although Herbert's philosophy later came to be seen as deist, it was contested for other reasons entirely during his lifetime. An account of the hostile reaction that Hobbes provoked is likewise counterbalanced by an equally extended assessment of those (such as Selden, More and Parker) who applied aspects of Hobbes's work positively. In a volume that ranges from John Case at the beginning of the century to Newton and the freethinkers at the end, space is nonetheless found for detailed accounts of the logic textbooks prevalent in British universities during the period, for the Scotist school of expatriate philosophers active on the continent during the midcentury and for the contemporaneous Blackloist Aristotelians who asserted their presence domestically, and for the defining achievements of the Cambridge Platonists. If it is thus comprehensive in its thematic and chronological sweep, this history is, secondly, truly Britishinscope.Thesurveyofphilosophical activity in the universities, for example, attends to Scottish curricula as well as English ones, and Scottish thinkers figure strongly in the book's biographical appendix. Hutton's third important contribution is to document in full the increasing role taken by women philosophers across the century, particularly as integral contributors to specifictraditions- Margaret Cavendish to the Hobbesian tradition, for example; Catharine Cockburn to the Lockian one.

Hutton's fourth innovation, emphasised in an article accompanying the book, is to frame her history not as a dialogue 'between the living and the dead' (one which would prioritise those past philosophers still deemed relevant today) but as 'a historicised "conversation" among the dead', in which those now side-lined (Case and Herbert, for instance) and those still privileged (Bacon, Hobbes) receive equal footing, and in which as much time is spent tracing continuities with past philosophising as is spent signalling changes and supposedly progressive new departures.1 Hence, this book highlights the continuing authority accorded to Aristotelian and scholastic textbooks throughout the century, even as universities also sought to engage with new intellectual developments. Similarly, Hutton observes the important role played by Stoicism's 'common notions' or 'prolepses' in the Cambridge Platonists' otherwise innovative moral psychology. Looking forwards in time, another conversation is tracked between these same Platonists and Cumberland, Shaftesbury and Locke (Cumberland in particular detail). Likewise, Hutton concludes her survey by enumerating the ways in which seventeenth-century philosophy anticipated the Enlightenment. In so doing, she recalls the different respects in which first Locke, then Shaftesbury, might each be characterised as the bridging figure between the two periods, the one as Voltaire's favoured champion of a natural philosophy tradition extending from Bacon to Newton, the other as anticlerical heir of Herbert of Cherbury and (in Montesquieu'smind)thelatestinalineofpoeticphilosopherswhichincluded Plato, Montaigne and Malebranche. …

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