Ralph Cudworth, ah English divine and philosopher, born at Aller, Somersetshire, in 1617, died in Cambridge, June 26, 1688. At the age of 13 he was entered at Emmanuel college, Cambridge, in which he afterward became fellow and tutor. In 1641 he was presented to the rectory of North Cadbury, and in the next year published a sermon on the true nature of the Lord's supper, which attracted the notice of several learned writers. In 1645 he was appointed regius professor of Hebrew, in which office he continued 30 years. After a short absence from Cambridge, caused by pecuniary embarrassments, he returned in 1654, when he was elected master of Christ's college. His subsequent preferments were a vicarage of Ashwell in 1662, and a prebend of Gloucester in 1678. In performing the duties of his professorship he devoted much attention to Hebrew literature and antiquities, and he was one of the persons consulted by a committee of parliament concerning a new translation of the Bible. In 1678 he published his great work, which had been written several years before, entitled "The True Intellectual System of the Universe," the epithet "intellectual" being intended to contrast it with any physical theory, as the Ptolemaic or Co-pernican. The design of the work was to establish human liberty against the fatalists, and it was to consist of three parts: the first being a refutation of atheism and atheistic fatalists; the second, of those who admitted a Deity, yet acting necessarily and without moral perfections; and the third, of those who granted the moral attributes of God, but affirmed that human actions are governed by necessary laws ordained by him.
Only the first part was completed, and the "Intellectual System " consists of a most erudite argument against atheistic fate. To account for the operation of physical laws without the continued agency of Deity, he devised the theory of a plastic nature, which he treats as a real being, giving it "a drowsy unawakened cogitation," and which he makes the immediate and obedient instrument in the execution of divine purposes. He also reviewed the systems of ancient speculation in order to show that a belief in one sovereign and omnipotent God underlay the polytheistic views of the pagan nations. Dr. Cud-worth left several large ethical and theological works, which still remain in manuscript in the British museum. His "Treatise concerning Eternal and Iihmutable Morality" was first published by Bishop Chandler in 1731. Its design is to prove that moral differences of right and wrong are antecedent to any divine law, and it was probably a partial accomplishment of the second division of his proposed "Intellectual System." Cudworth was one of the most eminent of several Cambridge divines who were termed Latitudinarians; and his clear and fearless statements of the arguments of his opponents caused him to be accused of heterodoxy, and of raising "so strong objections that he did not answer them." The "Intellectual System" was republished in London in 1743, in 1820, and in 1845; the last edition is in 3 vols., and contains translations of the valuable notes of Dr. Mosheim. Several editions of his " Complete Works" have been published in the United States.