More, Locke and the Issue of Liberty

  • G. A. J. Rogers
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas/Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 127)


At first sight it would appear that Henry More and John Locke are unlikely to share interesting intellectual positions. More was the Cambridge man from the Puritan east of the country. He was a Platonist and a poet. He lived all his adult life, apart from some visits to Ragley Hall to see his beloved Ann Conway, within his college, a college hardly renowned for its worldliness in an unwordly city. He refused all preferment in the college or within the Anglican church in favour of the quiet scholarly life devoted to his writing. More was, by general agreement, the most mystical of the Cambridge school. By contrast, Locke was an Oxford man from the west of England, a man who soon left his far from unwordly college to move to Restoration London where, through his position as Shaftesbury’s assistant, he became deeply involved in the tempestuous politics of the Cabal, not to mention his practical work as a physician with Sydenham and his research science with Robert Boyle. For the remainder of his life he was never far away from the great political events of his day. Even after Shaftesbury’s death in 1683 he remained not just deeply committed to, but an active participator in, the revolutionary cause that was to lead to the displacement of James by William and Mary. His greatest work, the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, was, amongst other things, an assault on platonism, and not least as he had seen it flower in Cambridge in his life-time.


Human Nature Moral Virtue Moral Concept Proper Nature Cambridge School 
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  1. 1a.
    Locke’s intellectual bibiography is still under active review. Maurice Cranston’s John Locke. A Biography (London: Longman’s, 1957) remains indispensible.Google Scholar
  2. 1b.
    For Locke’s political biography, Richard Aschcraft’s Revolutionary Politics and Locke’s ‘Two Treatises of Government’ (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986) is an important new work.Google Scholar
  3. 2.
    On More’s rejection of the doctrine of predestination, see Ward, Life, 5–6, and Robert Crocker’s Biographical Essay in this volume. Whether Locke ever accepted Calvinism in that sense is unknown, but his family background was Calvinist.Google Scholar
  4. 3.
    More’s relationship to Descartes is well told in Alan Gabbey’s ‘Philosophia cartesiana tri-umphata.’ Locke’s relationship with Descartes is still a matter of debate. But there can be no doubt that Cartesianism, and Descartes himself, was a powerful force in his intellectual life. For some preliminary remarks see G. A. J. Rogers, ‘Descartes and the English.’Google Scholar
  5. 4.
    Hobbes, Leviathan chap. 21. According to J. P. Day, Hobbes was the creator of the negative concept of individual liberty: Liberty and Justice, London: Croom Helm, 1987), 103.Google Scholar
  6. 5.
    Samuel Hieron, Workes, 2 vols. (1604), 1: 482.Google Scholar
  7. 6.
    Cf. Isaiah Berlin, ‘This is the positive doctrine of liberation by reason. Socialized forms of it, widely disparate and opposed to each other as they are, are at the heart of many of the nationalist, communist, authoritarian, and totalitarian creeds of our day,’ in ‘Two Concepts of Liberty’ in Four Essays on Liberty (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 144.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Gabbey, ‘Philosophia cartesiana,’ 190ff.Google Scholar
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    Hobbes was the common enemy here. The defeat of Hobbist ideas was the more important because Hobbes’s case for materialism was totally at odds with the whole picture of the universe which I outline here and which More largely shared with Cudworth and other Cambridge Platonists. More’s hostility to Descartes arose very largely because he saw it as only a step away from total mechanism of the Hobbesian kind.Google Scholar
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  11. 10.
    As well as DD, see especially IS, passim.Google Scholar
  12. 11.
  13. 12.
    More’s argument is given most fully in IS, Bk. 1, chap. 8. See CSPW (1712), IS, 29.Google Scholar
  14. 13.
    Ibid., 30.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 67.Google Scholar
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    More, An Account of Virtue, 1. Cf. EE, 1: ‘ETHICA est Ars bene beatque vivendi.’Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 5–6.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 175.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 191.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 192.Google Scholar
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    More, MG, 516.Google Scholar
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    More, Moral and Religious Aphorisms (1753), Aphorism 13.Google Scholar
  24. 23.
    More, MG, 516.Google Scholar
  25. 24.
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    Ibid., 523.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 517.Google Scholar
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    Locke, Two Treatises of Government, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), 288.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 289.Google Scholar
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    Locke, Essays on the Law of Nature, ed. W. von Leyden (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954; reprinted 1958), 157.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 193.Google Scholar
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    Locke, Two Treatises, 324.Google Scholar
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    Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration in Mario Montuori, John Locke on Toleration and the Unity of God (Amsterdam: J. C. Gieben, 1983), 81.Google Scholar
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    More, Account of Virtue, 79.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 80.Google Scholar
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    On Newton’s reading of Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, see G. A. J. Rogers, ‘Locke’s Essay and Newton’s Principia’ JHI, 39 (1978): 217–232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter H. Nidditch (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), bk.2, chap. 20, sect., 18, p.233.Google Scholar

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht 1990

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  • G. A. J. Rogers

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