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date: 26 February 2021

Abstract and Keywords

For well over a century the dominant narrative concerning the major thinkers and themes of early modern British philosophy has been that of “British Empiricism,” where the great triumvirate of Locke, Berkeley and Hume is taken to stand united in opposition to their counterparts in the “Continental Rationalist” tradition. This chapter argues that this way of categorizing the thinkers and issues in question distorts and misrepresents this period and the core philosophical concerns and aims of the philosophers involved. Not only does the schema of “British Empiricism” encourage us to overlook some key thinkers who cannot be easily categorized in these terms (e.g. Samuel Clarke), and to group together thinkers with fundamentally different and even opposing aims and objectives (e.g. George Berkeley and David Hume), it places heavy emphasis on epistemological concerns as they relate to the philosophy–science relationship at the expense of the theological problems that were of primary interest for the thinkers concerned. This chapter examines the philosophical systems of Clarke, Berkeley and Hume as they relate to the issues of causal reasoning, theological speculations and the limits of philosophy. An examination of these salient themes and key philosophical figures of the early eighteenth century suggests that we need to radically revise and amend the dominant perspective and framework for interpreting these thinkers and the movements that shaped and directed their various philosophical systems.

Keywords: causation, cosmology, creation, divine creation, limits of philosophy, Samuel Clarke, George Berkeley, David Hume, atheism, speculative, British Empiricism

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