Richard Cumberland

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Richard Cumberland (1631-1718) was an English philosopher, and bishop of Peterborough from 1691.

Cumberland was educated in St Paul's School, where Samuel Pepys was a friend, and from 1649 at Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he obtained a fellowship. He took the degree of BA in 1653; and, having proceeded MA in 1656, was next year incorporated to the same degree in the University of Oxford.

Cumberland was a member of the latitudinarian movement and closely allied with the Cambridge Platonists, a group of ecclesiastical philosophers centered around Cambridge University in the mid 17th century.

In 1672, he published his major work, De legibus naturae  (On natural laws), propounding utilitarianism and opposing the egoistic ethics of Thomas Hobbes.

The philosophy of Cumberland is expounded in De legibus naturae. Its main design is to combat the principles which Hobbes had promulgated as to the constitution of man, the nature of morality, and the origin of society, and to prove that self-advantage is not the chief end of man, that force is not the source of personal obligation to moral conduct nor the foundation of social rights, and that the state of nature is not a state of war. The views of Hobbes seem to Cumberland utterly subversive of religion, morality and civil society. He endeavours, as a rule, to establish directly antagonistic propositions. He refrains, however, from denunciation, and is a fair opponent up to the measure of his insight. The basis of his ethical theory is benevolence.

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