Herbert of Cherbury, Edward
HERBERT OF CHERBURY, EDWARD
Religious philosopher, historian, soldier, and diplomatist, elder brother of George Herbert, the religious poet; b. Eyton-on-Severn (Shropshire), March 3, 1583; d. London, Aug. 20, 1648. Of a noble Welsh family, Herbert was educated at University College, Oxford. Shortly after the accession of James I he was created a Knight of the Bath. He went abroad in 1610 for seven years as a soldier of fortune, and made the acquaintance of several scholars, including P. gassendi and H. grotius. In 1618 or 1619 he went as ambassador extraordinary to the French court; he was recalled in 1621 owing to differences with De Luynes, but went back the next year as ordinary ambassador. On his return to England he received the Irish peerage of Castle Island, and in 1629 Charles I raised him to the English peerage as Baron Herbert of Cherbury. When the Civil War commenced he sided with the royalists, and in 1644 surrendered his castle at Montgomery to the parliamentarians.
Herbert is remembered as a historian for The Life and Raigne of King Henry VIII (1649) and his Expeditio Buckinghami Ducis (1656). The Life of Herbert by Himself was first printed by Horace Walpole in 1764. His Latin and English poems were published by his son in 1665. His most important work is the De veritate prout distinguitur a revelatione, a verisimili, a possibili, et a falso (Paris 1624). The third edition appeared in London in 1645 together with a short treatise De causis errorum, a tract De religione laici, and an Appendix ad sacerdotes. His De religione gentilium (Amsterdam 1663) is a kind of pioneer comparative religion.
Herbert held that man is a complex unity of body and soul, but that, while the body is passive, the mind is active in knowing. The senses bring things within the reach of the mind's activities. Presupposing a harmony between the world of things and the mind, he held that truth consists in the harmony between things and analogous mental faculties, which are as innumerable as the things with which they are in harmony. These faculties, though innumerable, can be classified in four groups: natural instinct, internal sense, external sense, and reasoning. Man knows by means of "common notions" or innate ideas, which have the distinctive qualities of apriority, independence, universality, certainty, and necessity. Herbert did not determine the number of these common notions, his main concern being to fix the common notions of religion, viz: (1) there is a Supreme Being or Deity; (2) this Deity is to be worshiped; (3) the chief part of worship consists in the moral life; (4) man should make expiation for his sins by repentance; and (5) man's deeds will be rewarded or punished in the next life. For him, these five notions determined the character of the natural religion of reason and shaped the primitive religions of mankind before these were corrupted by the sacerdotalism that originated in the self-seeking and craft of men profiteering on religion. They became the five articles of religion held by the English deists of the 18th century; thus Herbert is considered to be the father of English deism. His ideas have certain affinities with those of the cambridge platonists and the scottish school of common sense.
Bibliography: Works. De veritate, tr. m. h. carrÉ (Bristol 1937); De religione laici, ed. and tr. h. r. hutcheson (New Haven 1944), critical study of Herbert's life and work with bibliog. Literature. f. c. copleston, History of Philosophy (Westminster Md.1959) 5:53–54. v. sainati, Enciclopedia filosofica, 4 v. (Venice-Rome 1957) 2:1057–60. m. m. rossi, La vita, le opere, i tempi di Edoardo Herbert di Cherbury, 3 v. (Florence 1947).
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