Context

(Student Guide to World Philosophy)

Anthony Ashley Cooper, third earl of Shaftesbury, was a grandson of the famous Whig statesman of the same name. When his own career in politics was cut short by ill health, he turned his liberal and humanitarian efforts into literary channels, bringing to the task, besides a Puritan sense of moral responsibility, an aesthetic sensibility disciplined by the study of Greek and Roman models. His assorted essays, published under the title of Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, develop the ideal of humankind working out the purposes of God through moral and spiritual striving. He opposed the dehumanizing tendencies of the Cartesian and Newtonian philosophies, much in the same way that Socrates had opposed the naturalism of an earlier day. Like the famous Athenian, Shaftesbury taught his age that humankind should know itself.