Richard Baxter and the Mechanical Philosophers

ISBN : 9780190274870

David S. Sytsma
352 Pages
156 x 235 mm
Pub date
Sep 2017
Oxford Studies in Historical Theology
Send mail

Richard Baxter, one of the most famous Puritans of the seventeenth century, is generally known as a writer of practical and devotional literature. But he also excelled in knowledge of medieval and early modern scholastic theology, and was conversant with a wide variety of seventeenth-century philosophies. Baxter was among the early English polemicists to write against the mechanical philosophy of Rene Descartes and Pierre Gassendi in the years immediately following the establishment of the Royal Society. At the same time, he was friends with Robert Boyle and Matthew Hale, corresponded with Joseph Glanvill, and engaged in philosophical controversy with Henry More. In this book, David Sytsma presents a chronological and thematic account of Baxter's relation to the people and concepts involved in the rise of mechanical philosophy in late-seventeenth-century England. Drawing on largely unexamined works, including Baxter's Methodus Theologiae Christianae (1681) and manuscript treatises and correspondence, Sytsma discusses Baxter's response to mechanical philosophers on the nature of substance, laws of motion, the soul, and ethics. Analysis of these topics is framed by a consideration of the growth of Christian Epicureanism in England, Baxter's overall approach to reason and philosophy, and his attempt to understand creation as an analogical reflection of God's power, wisdom, and goodness, understood as vestigia Trinitatis. Baxter's views on reason, analogical knowledge of God, and vestigia Trinitatis draw on medieval precedents and directly inform a largely hostile, though partially accommodating, response to mechanical philosophy.



I. Richard Baxter as Philosophical Theologian

II. Baxter and the Rise of Mechanical Philosophy
The Reception of Gassendi's Christian Epicureanism in England
Baxter's Early Response to Hobbes' Leviathan
The Beginning of Baxter's Restoration Polemics
Matthew Hale and the Growth of Baxter's Polemics
On the Epicurean Ethics of Hobbes and Spinoza
Baxter and Henry More

III. Reason and Philosophy
Works on Reason
The Nature and States of Reason
Reason and Will
Reason in the State of Sin
Reason and Revelation
The Use and Limits of Philosophy

IV. A Trinitarian Natural Philosophy
I. Theological Motivations
God's Two Books
Mosaic Physics
Vestigia Trinitatis
Trinitarian Analogy of Being
II. Trinities in Nature
Baxter's Eclectic Reception of Tommaso Campanella
Threefold Causality
Passive Nature
Active Nature

V. A Commotion over Motion
The Nature of Motion
Substantial Form
Descartes' Laws of Motion
Henry More's Mixt Mechanicall Philosophy

VI. The Incipient Materialism of Mechanical Philosophy
Mechanical Philosophy and the Immaterial Soul
Henry More's Slippery Ground and Pierre Gassendi's Feeble Proofs
Pierre Gassendi, Thomas Willis, and the Material Soul

VII. From Epicurean Physics to Ethics
Baxter and Reformed Natural-Law Theory
The Specter of Necessitarianism
The Problem of Naturalistic Natural Law

VIII. Conclusion
Appendix A Chronology of Baxter's Post-Restoration Writings on Philosophy
Appendix B Richard Baxter to Joseph Glanvill, 18 November 1670
Appendix C Richard Baxter on Thomas Willis, De anima brutorum (1672)

About the author: 

David Sytsma is an assistant professor at Tokyo Christian University and research curator at the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research.

The price listed on this page is the recommended retail price for Japan. When a discount is applied, the discounted price is indicated as “Discount price”. Prices are subject to change without notice.