Burthogge, Richard (c. 1638–c. 1698)
(c. 1638–c. 1698)
Richard Burthogge, the English physician and idealist philosopher, was born in Plymouth. After taking an arts degree at Lincoln College, Oxford, he studied medicine at the University of Leiden and returned to his native country to practice near Totnes in Devonshire. Of pacific and conciliatory disposition, he seems to have wavered in the religious controversy between Catholicism and Puritanism, and in philosophy, between Lockean sensationalism and Cambridge Platonism. He distinguished between heresy and error, maintaining that the former "must be eradicated," but the latter tolerated for humanity's sake. His life is obscure, and little is known of it beyond that information revealed in his writings, which have a certain importance as anticipations of Immanuel Kant.
We know the world, according to Burthogge, only through our own ideas, and these do not give us its real nature. On the contrary, our ideas transform the nature of things into qualities that are purely subjective. Similarly, our values are our own; and such relative judgments as those involving categories of cause and effect, or whole and part, are arrived at through the constitution of our minds, not discovered embedded in rerum natura. The things themselves, though remaining unknowable, nevertheless cause ideas to arise in our minds. Here Burthogge foreshadowed Kant's paradox of the relation between noumena and phenomena. Burthogge's view that the human mind projects relations into the external world exemplifies his Neoplatonic streak. However, this strain was accompanied by a Lockean one which led him to assert that no confidence could be placed in an idea contradicted by sensation. Burthogge thus seems to have accepted John Locke's theory of two kinds of ideas, those of sensation and those of reflection.
For Burthogge, there were also two kinds of truth—metaphysical and logical. Metaphysical truth is found in the conformity between our ideas and those in the mind of God; logical truth, in the conformity between our ideas and the things of which they are ideas. We cannot apprehend the former kind of truth; but since the latter involves knowing the unknowable, logical truth is reduced to consistency. Burthogge would not accept the doctrine of innate ideas, because if we had such ideas, we would be able to discover truth through introspection alone. He asserted dogmatically that there is a coherent system of ideas, duplicating the system of things, even though no individual possesses it. This system, he maintained, exemplifies God's ideas.
In his treatise on the soul of the world, Burthogge supported the Neoplatonic concept of a plastic nature permeating the universe and accounting for its "harmony." This is breathed into things by God himself but is not to be identified with God. If nothing else, this treatise is valuable as an example of the philosophy of nature which was acceptable to learned men of the time.
Burthogge, in sum, is one of the anomalies of the history of philosophy. He advanced startlingly "modern" ideas, side by side with fantasies no longer taken seriously.
works by burthogge
Organum Vetus et Novum. London, 1678.
An essay upon Reason, and the Nature of Spirits. London: Dunton, 1694.
Of the Soul of the World, and of Particular Souls. London, 1699.
Landes, Margaret W., ed. The Philosophical Writings of Richard Burthogge. Chicago and London: Open Court, 1921. Contains reprints of the three above works by Burthogge as well as a valuable introduction, notes, and bibliography.
works on burthogge
Boas, George. Dominant Themes of Modern Philosophy, pp. 253–259. New York: Ronald Press, 1957.
Cassirer, Ernst. Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie und Wissenschaft der neueren Zeit. Vol. 1, pp. 464–473. Berlin: Cassirer, 1906.
Grünbaum, Jacob. Die Philosophie Richard Burthogges. Unpublished PhD diss., Bern, 1939.
L[ee], S. L. "Burthogge, Richard." In Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 7, p. 453. London: Smith Elder, 1885–1900.
George Boas (1967)