Cudworth, Ralph an eminent English divine and philosopher, was born at Aller, Somersetshire, in 1617, and entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge, in 1630, became M.A. 1639, rector of N. Cadbury 1641, and master of Clare Hall 1644. In 1645 he became professor of Hebrew; in 1654, master of Christ College; in 1662, vicar of Ashwell; and in 1678, prebendary of Gloucester. He died in 1688. Cudworth was a Platonist, of "great strength of genius and vast compass of learning." His reputation as a writer rests chiefly on his True Intellectual System of the Universe, which appeared in 1678 as the first part of a still greater work which he never completed. It is a defense of human liberty, and of belief in God, against fatalism and atheism. Cudworth describes three false systems or hypotheses of the universe in the preface: "Of the three fatalisms or false hypotheses of the universe mentioned in the beginning of this book, one is absolute atheism, another immoral theism, or religion without any natural justice and morality (all just and unjust, according to this hypothesis, being mere thetical or factitious things, made by arbitrary will and command only); the third and last such a theism as acknowledges not only a God or omnipotent understanding Being, but also natural justice and morality, founded in him, and derived from him; nevertheless, no liberty from necessity anywhere, and therefore no distributive or retributive justice in the world." Before erecting the true intellectual system of the universe (the epithet intellectual being used, as he tells us, "to distinguish it from the other, vulgarly so called, systems of the world, that is, the visible and corporeal world, the Ptolemaic, Tychonic, and Copernican"), it was his object to demolish these false systems. And the first of them, atheism, or the atheistic fate, is demolished in the first part of the "Intellectual System." It is a work of great learning and acuteness. In attacking the atheistic faith, Dr. Cudworth describes the atomic physiology, which, as held by Democritus, and other ancient philosophers, involved atheism. For the better confutation of other forms of atheism, to which he gives the names Hylozoic and Cosmo- plastic, he makes the hypothesis of an "artificial, regular, and plastic nature," working in complete subordination to the Deity. And to avert an argument brought against the oneness of the Deity, from its unnaturalness as shown by the general prevalence of polytheism among the pagan nations, he contends that "the pagan theologers all along acknowledged one sovereign and omnipotent Deity, from which all their other gods were generated or created," and that their polytheism was but a polyonymy of one God. The Treatise on Eternal and Immutable Morality corresponds to the second part of the Intellectual System. It is directed against Hobbes and those who, with him, "affirm justice and injustice to be only by law, and not by nature." Besides the Intellectual System, Cudworth published,
1. A Discourse concerning the true Notion of the Lord's Supper, in which he maintains, as Warburton has since maintained, that the Lord's Supper is a feast upon a sacrifice: —
2. The Union of Christ and the Church Shadowed: —
3. A Sermon on John 2:3, 4, preached in 1647 before the House of Commons: —
4. A Sermon preached in 1664 at Lincoln's Inn on 1Co 15:57: —
5. Deus Justificatus against the Assertors of absolute and unconditional Reprobation.
He left several works in MS., only one of which has yet been published, namely, the Treatise concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality (1731). The rest are,
1. A Discourse of Moral Good and Evil: —
2. A Discourse of Liberty and Necessity, in which the Grounds of the Atheistical Philosophy are confuted, and Morality vindicated and explained: —
3. A Commentary on Daniel's Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks: —
4. Of the Verity of the Christian Religion against the Jews: —
5. A Discourse of the Creation of the World and Immortality of the Soul: —
6. A Treatise on Hebrew Learning: —
7. An Explanation of Hobbes's Notion of God, and of the Extension of Spirits.
These MSS. are now in the British Museum. In 1733 a Latin translation of the Intellectual System was published by Mosheim (Lugd. Bat. 2 vols. 4to). The best ed. of the English work is Harrison's (London, 1845, 3 vols. 8vo, with index). A good and cheap edition is that of Andover (1837, 2 vols. 8vo), which includes all the published writings of Cudworth, but has no index. See Birch, Life of Cudworth (prefixed to most editions of his works); Engl. Cyclopeadia; Mackintosh, Ethical Philosophy, p. 73.