Stillingfleet, Locke and the Trinity
Until recently Edward Stillingfleet has featured in histories of philosophy only as the opponent of John Locke in their famous controversy on the implications of Locke’s philosophy for the doctrine of the Trinity. In recent years, however, he has been looked at as a thinker in his right by, amongst others, Richard Popkin, Robert Carroll and Sarah Hutton.1 As a result of their work Stillingfleet is beginning to emerge from the shadow of Locke and attention has somewhat shifted away from that famous exchange and towards other of his writings. In particular Sarah Hutton has emphasised that in his uncompleted second version of Origines Sacra, published after his death in 1702, Stillingfleet reveals a knowledge of contemporary philosophy and science and an engagement with it that is very much aimed at defeating contemporary Moderns as their positions support or tend towards atheism. He focuses especially on Hobbes, Descartes and Spinoza. Stillingfleet, as Hutton puts it, sees ‘these three figures as philosophers who undermine the generally received proofs of the existence of God and providence and ‘attribute too much to the mechanical powers of matter and motion’.’ She goes on to argue, contrary to Popkin’s reading, that Stillingfleet was concerned not merely with sceptical argument. He ‘perceived the hydra of atheism and unbelief to be philosophical in origin, and that its roots were not the corrosive effects of sceptical arguments but mistaken doctrines produced by supposedly rational minds’.2 Popkin had earlier given an apparently different reading of Stillingfleet’s place in the seventeenth century. He emphasised his commonsense approach against the arguments of the sceptics: ‘In the new scientific, philosophical and theological context he sought to show how an intelligent, reasonable man could maintain his religious views as more probable than their denials’.3
KeywordsSeventeenth Century Innate Idea Sceptical Argument Ontological Argument French Philosopher
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