Locke and Damaris Cudworth Masham

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In the last decade of his life, John Locke lived with Damaris Cudworth Masham (1659–1708) and her extended family in the English countryside of Essex. Masham was herself a philosopher and spent her early years among the Cambridge Platonists, a group of religious thinkers based at the University of Cambridge in the mid-seventeenth century. In 1682, shortly after they first met, Locke and Masham engaged in a correspondence concerning the Cambridge Platonist John Smith’s Select Discourses. Though this exchange is incomplete (only two of Locke’s letters survive and five of Masham’s), it is clear that Locke and Masham had a difference of opinion about whether or not Smith was an ‘enthusiast,’ someone who claims knowledge of direct divine inspiration without any grounding in reason. Locke maintains that Smith is an enthusiast, while Masham denies it. At the end of their exchange, however, Masham suggests that the two friends had reached a point of agreement. In the absence of Locke’s letters, this raises the question: on what grounds did they come to agree? This chapter demonstrates that an answer can be found if we examine Locke and Masham’s letters together with Locke’s chapter ‘Of Enthusiasm’ in the fourth and final edition of his Essay Concerning Human Understanding.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Lockean Mind
EditorsJessica Gordon-Roth, Shelley Weinberg
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages5
ISBN (Electronic)9781315099675
ISBN (Print)9781138296909, 9781032055794
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Publication series

NameRoutledge Philosophical Minds

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