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The Ararat Factor: Moral Basics in Western Political Theory from Isaac Newton to John Stuart Mill

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Chapter Summary

It is not well known that the great natural philosopher Sir Isaac Newton looked to the Biblical revelations in the setting of Mount Ararat as the key to the solution of early modern Europe’s socioreligious ills. When Jesus gave his twin commandments to love God and one’s fellow humans, in Newton’s view he was distilling the Seven Precepts delivered to Noah after the Flood, regulations accepted in Judaism as preparatory to the Ten Commandments. For Newton this primary ‘true religion’ had the power to heal the nations, and this paper explores how this platform and Newton’s irenic commitments were taken up in the transition from the ‘Scientific Revolution’ to the eighteenth century’s ‘Enlightenment.’ His position connects with the agendas of Locke, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Priestly and Paine (among others), and, although the appeal to the twin loves of God and neighbour were often eviscerated of their original religious purport, they persisted in the development of modern political liberalism, lying behind John Stuart Mill’s dictum that we can do what we like so long as we do not harm others.

10.1163/9789004302068_038
/content/books/b9789004302068s038
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