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Cudworth, Ralph

1. Dates
Born: Aller, Somerset, 1617
Died: Cambridge, 26 June 1688
Dateinfo: Dates Certain
Lifespan: 71
2. Father
Occupation: Cleric
Ralph Cudworth [sic] was Rector of Aller and Chaplain to James I. He is described as a clergyman of some distinction. He died in 1624, when his son Ralph was only six or seven. His mother remarried, a Dr. Stoughton, another clergyman, who recognized Ralph's ability and saw to his education.
All of the information above indicates prosperity, as does the fact that Cudworth went to Cambridge as a pensioner.
3. Nationality
Birth: English
Career: English
Death: English
4. Education
Schooling: Cambridge, M.A., B.D., D.D.
Cambridge University, Emmanuel College, 1630-44; B.A., 1635; M.A., 1639; B.D. 1644; D.D., 1651.
5. Religion
Affiliation: Anglican
6. Scientific Disciplines
Primary: Natural Philosophy
The True Intellectual System of the Universe, 1678, was much influenced by the new natural philosophy.
All of the rest of Cudworth's publications were theological.
7. Means of Support
Primary: Academia
Secondary: Church Life
Fellow and tutor of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, 1639-44.
Rector of North Cadbury, Somerset, 1641-3. North Cadbury was a living under the control of Emmanuel College, which presented Cudworth to it. The living was worth about L300. It is not clear that Cudworth ever resided there.
Master of Clare Hall, 1644-54.
Regius professor of Hebrew, 1645-88.
Master of Christ's College, 1654-88.
Vicar of Ashwell, Hertford, 1662; no terminal date is given, but I think the appointment was for life. Again it appears that he never resided in Ashwell.
Prebend in Gloucester, 1678.
8. Patronage
Types: Government Official, Court Official, Eccesiastic Official
The Parliamentary visitors appointed Cudworth to the Mastership of Clare Hall, replacing an ejected royalist. Cudworth was called to preach to Commons in 1647, and he dedicated the published sermon to Commons--though its message was anything but hard core Puritanism.
Cudworth advised Thurloe, Cromwell's Secretary of State, about young men in Cambridge suitable for government service. It is difficult to believe that the mastership of Christ's, which he had trouble retaining at the Restoration, was unrelated to this connection.
He planned to dedicate a treatise on Daniel to Richard Cromwell, to whose father he acknowledged himself obliged. In fact the treatise was not published, but the acknowledged obligation to Cromwell remains. I categorize this as Court.
Upon the Restoration, someone befriended Cudworth sufficiently for him to retain the Mastership of Christ's. In 1662, it was specifically Sheldon, the Bishop of London, who presented him to Ashwell.
We are not told who arranged the prebend in 1678, but it was probably the Bishop of Gloucester.
Cudworth dedicated True Intellectual system to Heneage Lord Finch, the Lord Chancellor.
9. Technological Involvement
Types: None
10. Scientific Societies
Membership: Royal Society
Informal Connections: Correspondence with Worthington and with other Cambridge Platonists. The correspondence with Worthington is published.
Royal Society.
  1. J. Tulloch, Rational Theology and Christian Philosophy in England in the Seventeenth Century, reprint of 2nd ed., 2 vols. (New York, 1972), 2, 193-302. BR756 T919 Dictionary of National Biography (repr., London: Oxford University Press, 1949-1950), 5, 271-2. Biographia Britannica, 2nd ed. (London, 1778-93), 4, 544-9.
  2. John A. Passmore, Ralph Cudworth: An Interpretation, (Cambridge, 1951). Joel M. Rodney, "A Godly Atomist in 17th-Century England: Ralph Cudworth," The Historian 32 (1970), 243-9.
Not Available and Not Consulted
  1. Thomas Birch, "An Account of the Life and Writings of R. Cudworth, D.D." in Cudworth, Works, 4 vols. (Oxford, 1829), 1, 7-37.
  2. For all its defects, Birch's sketch is the principal source of information about Cudworth's life.
  3. Lydia Gysi, Platonism and Cartesianism in the Philosophy of Ralph Cudworth, (Bern, 1966).
Compiled by:
Richard S. Westfall
Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University

Note: the creators of the Galileo Project and this catalogue cannot answer email on geneological questions.

1995 Al Van Helden
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