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By John Locke, Philip Abrams

Philip Abrams (introduction, translation)

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B y the 1650s authors had become more conscious o f a broader body o f literature. The years 1658-60 saw a sudden acceleration in the out­ put o f pamphlets and a convergence o f arguments. Twelve con­ tributions to the debate were published in Oxford alone in six months in 1660. Tw o levels o f argument can be distinguished. There are general works which treat problems o f indifferency in the context o f an inclusive moral theology. The most important o f these were William Ames, Conscience with the Power and Cases Thereof (1634), Henry Hammond, O f Conscience (1644), Robert Sanderson, De Obligatione Conscientiae (1660), Edward Stillingfleet, Irenicum (1660), Gabriel Powel, De Adiaphoris (1606), and various works o f Roger Williams and John Milton.

Disputes about particular ceremonies or other indifferencies were referred first to Scripture. But Scripture invariably proved ambiguous: Galatians i. 1 5; ii. 9; and iii. 6, as well as I Corinthians viii. 9 -13, seemed to assert the authority o f the individual conscience. But Acts xv. 28, 1 Corinthians xiv. 40 and II Corinthians i. 12 treated the conscience as liable to be overruled by superior moral duties. 13 For to talk about indifferency implied the possession o f reliable moralphilosophical knowledge.

There was a need, as Clarendon put it in opening Parliament in May 16 61, for ‘ some law, that may be a rule to that indulgence, that under pretence of liberty o f conscience men may not be absolved from all the obligations o f law and conscience’ . And there was a need for works like Locke’s English Tract. L A W A N D IG N O R A N C E : T H E H IS T O R Y O F IN D I F F E R E N T T H IN G S The political problem which the debate on indifferent things was meant to solve was a real, troublesome and long-standing one.

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