Antivoluntarism and the birth of autonomy

Journal of Religious Ethics 39 (4):651-679 (2011)
Traditionalist and radical orthodox critiques of the Enlightenment assert that the modern discourse on moral self-government constitutes a radical break with the theocentric model of morality which preceded it. Against this view, this paper argues that the conceptions of autonomy emerged from the effort to reconcile commitments within the Christian tradition. Through an analysis of the moral thought of the Cambridge Platonist Ralph Cudworth, this paper contends that distinctively Christian theological concerns concerning moral accountability to God and the character of divine-human moral relationships produced a theory of moral autonomy which anticipates that of Kant. This paper highlights the role of anti-voluntarism in the creation of this moral standpoint, and argues that the resultant moral view is an “internalization” of the voluntarist model of sovereignty
Keywords Cambridge Platonism  Ralph Cudworth  voluntarism  autonomy  secularization
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