Study Group Political Platonism in modern Christianity (until 2012)

With its synthesis of Christian and Platonic thought, the Cambridge school, a 17th-century circle of Anglican theologians and philosophers, made an as yet hardly recognised contribution to the development of the modern ideal of autonomy such as it forms the basis of the later Kantian justifications and the ensuing idealistic justifications of universal norms and inalienable rights of the person. Based on their Christian Platonism, the Cambridge Platonists critically dealt with empirical science and the new philosophies of Hobbes, Descartes and Spinoza emerging in its wake. At the same time, with a view to the violent disputes between the litigant Christian denominations with which Christianity as a whole was visibly losing credibility, they propagated an ethos of religious tolerance setting them apart from all Christian groups of their time: Based on their Platonic apologia of human freedom in which God and the living world are closely associated, they regard conscious ethical life as the criterion and measure of true religion, solely and across all denominational boundaries.

In an interdisciplinary study group addressing philosophers and theologians, historians and Anglicists alike, the sources of the Cambridge Platonists’ philosophy will first be studied (including in particular texts on freedom transcendental deliberations in Plato, Orienes and Plotin). By means of selected texts (above all by R. Cudworth and H. Mores), the main features of the thought of the Cambridge school will then be developed and their meaning for both the modern “invention of autonomy” (J. B. Schneewind) and the relationship of religion and politics in Enlightenment Europe will be acknowledged. The German reception of the Cambridge school was as yet practically limited to the work of Cassirer of 1932. Therefore, it will be one objective of the study group to elaborate the meaning of the Cambridge schools history of ideas for the German reception of Plato and to make it more accessible through translations.