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Henry More

Henry More
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Henry More

Born: Oct 1614 in Grantham, Lincolnshire, England

Died: 1 Sept 1687 in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England

Henry More's father was Alexander More who had been mayor of Grantham on several occasions. Alexander More was financially well off and able to give his son a top class education. Little is known of his childhood except for a few comments More makes himself in the Preface of his Collected Works. There he writes that he was brought up (see or):-

... parents ... who were great Calvinists (but withall very pious and good ones).

He was brought up to be always thinking of religion:-

... even in my earliest childhood, an inward sense of the Divine Presence was so strong upon my mind, that I did then believe, there could be no deed, word, or thought hidden from Him.

After attending Grantham Free School (the Grammar School), More was sent to Eton when he was fourteen years old. Here he came to change his religious views, rejecting Calvinism which had the notion of predestination as a metaphysical necessity and the basis of faith. More came to the belief, which he held strongly throughout his life, that salvation was possible though goodness. During this time his father had put his upbringing in the hands of an uncle who tried to prevent the young More from being so forward by flogging him to try to make him return to the Calvinist ideas about free-will. Flogging certainly did nothing to return More to Calvinism, perhaps it had just the opposite effect.

In 1631 More entered Christ's College Cambridge. He wrote of his experiences as an undergraduate (see or):-

[I plunged] over head and ears in the study of philosophy; promising a most wonderful happiness to myself in it. Aristotle, therefore, Cardan, Julius Scaliger and other philosophers of the greatest note I very diligently pursued. In which the truth is, that I met here and there with some things wittily and acutely and sometimes also solidly spoken: yet the most seemed to me either false or uncertain, or else so obvious and trivial, that I look upon myself as having plainly lost my time in reading such authors. And to speak all in a word, those almost whole four years which I spent on studies of this kind ... ended in nothing, in a manner, but mere scepticism.

More graduated with a B.A. in 1636 and remained at Cambridge to continue his studies being elected a Fellow of Christ's College in 1639. He turned his philosophical studies towards Plato, the Platonists and the Neoplatonists becoming a member of the Cambridge Platonists.

Perhaps we should move towards the reason why More is included in an archive of mathematicians. He was a man of broad learning, and the ideas of experimental natural philosophy were to the fore due to those who would form the Royal Society. These ideas of experimental philosophy attracted More and he also became influenced by the writings of Descartes which:-

... seemed to show how to combine a scientific interest in nature with a primary concern for vindicating the reality of God and immortal human souls.

However, as he studied the mechanical philosophy of Descartes he became unhappy with it. More argued that Descartes' ideas must inevitably remove God from nature and so lead to atheism. During 1648 and 1649 More and Descartes corresponded about the mechanical philosophy and this correspondence was eventually published as The Immortality of the Soule (1659).

More argued that the motion of a body was an inherent property of that body, and that it was impossible for motion to be transferred from one body to another. This, of course, seems to contradict common sense for if a rolling ball strikes a ball which is at rest then the ball starts to move. More does not deny this fact which any simple experiment will verify, but he claimed that the motion of the second ball is from an internal property of its own, awakened by the impact of the first ball.

... I am the more inclined to this opinion, that there is absolutely no transfer of motions; but that a second body is as it were awakened into motion by the impact of the first body, as this or that event awakens the soul to reflection. And that the second body does not so much receive motion from the first, as put itself into motion at the bidding of the first.

Of course More's ideas here are totally fallacious but when he attacks Descartes' vortex theory planetary motion the he is on stronger ground:-

Why are not your vortices in the form of columns or cylinders rather than ellipses, since any point of the axis of a vortex is as it were a centre from which the celestial matter recedes with, as far as I can see, a wholly constant impetus? ... Who causes all the planets not to revolve in one plane (the plane of the ecliptic)? ... And the Moon itself, neither in the plane of the Earth's equator nor in a plane parallel to this?

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