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New Ages, New Opinions

Shaftesbury in his World and Today

Edited By Patrick Müller

Interest in Shaftesbury is as lively and productive today as it ever was. Indeed, the past decade has seen a veritable international renaissance in studies of his work. The various theoretical approaches of which modern critics and scholars can avail themselves are reflected in the different new interpretations we now have of Shaftesbury. This collection of essays manifests this diversity, offering a representative miscellany which covers a wide range of Shaftesbury’s own intellectual interests. The focus lies on the re-evaluations of his ethics, aesthetics, politics, religion, and literary criticism, as well as examinations of the reception of his works.
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Locke, Shaftesbury, and Bayle and the Problem of Universal Consent

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Daniel Carey, National University of Ireland, Galway

The argument from ‘universal consent’ was widely used by early modern philosophers in several important ways – as a proof of the existence of God, as a foundation for natural law, and as a basis for defending morality from attack by relativising sceptics. In essence, the suggestion was that the supposed unanimous support of all peoples in all times for certain moral and religious notions demonstrated their truth. Among influential exponents of this line of reasoning, Hugo Grotius and a range of figures associated with Cambridge Platonism stand out in the period. The obvious response available to those who rejected such an approach was to draw attention to evidence of moral and religious diversity which undermined the idea of consensus. John Locke adopted this strategy when he began to discuss the proper basis for natural law in the early 1660s, and this manner of handling the issue developed in his important critique of innate ideas and principles in the first book of the Essay concerning Human Understanding (1690).

On this subject, Locke received a hostile response from a range of critics, including Edward Stillingfleet and Shaftesbury. The latter in particular sought to reinstate a Stoic account of morals, one which Locke had threatened in the Essay, by recovering a version of innateness bound up with a Stoic conception of prolêpseis or ‘anticipations’ natural to mankind. For authorities like Stillingfleet, working in the same vein, appeals to consensus...

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