Alternate Author Name(s)

Robert Joseph Toole

Document Type


Date of Award



Third Earl of Shaftesbury, Anthony Ashley Cooper, Ethics

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Giorgio Tonelli

Second Advisor

John T. Wilcox

Third Advisor

Emilio Roma


This study is an attempt to examine and to trace a genesis of, and thereby to explicate, some of the important ideas of an eighteenth century thinker named Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Third Earl of Shaftesbury. Shaftesbury’s tremendous influence can be roughly gauged by the eleven editions of his Characteristics which were published between the years 1711 and 1790 (Locke’s Essay had nineteen editions in about the same period). Oliver Goldsmith said that Shaftesbury had more imitators in Britain than any other writer he knew. Leslie Stephen claimed that Shaftesbury is one of those writers whose reputation is scarcely commensurate with the influence which he once exerted. Herder called Shaftesbury the Plato of Europe. These and many other similar remarks are enough to make us realize that Shaftesbury had a significant effect on the history of ideas in England and Europe and, therefore, is worthy of philosophical study. This study is concerned, inter alia, with his more important metaphysical notions, and their natural effect on his ethical thought.

My dissatisfaction with most of the literature which deals with Shaftesbury impelled me to pursue this examination of his ideas. I believe that most of the students of Shaftesbury fail to devote enough attention to the metaphysical backgrounds and foundations of his ethical thought. I think that a closer look at these foundations will result in some surprising discoveries. I maintain, and shall attempt to establish in this study, that after such a probe into the metaphysical foundations of his thought, a rather new interpretation of Shaftesbury’s views is required. In my opinion, only after one understands Shaftesbury’s notions pertaining to God, Nature and Man does one fully grasp all of his fundamentally clear statements and begin to see the possible genesis of these ideas.

The general scope of this inquiry concerns the examination of Shaftesbury’s optimism and his ideas about God, virtue and freedom. In addition, this study is an investigation of a question regarding one of Shaftesbury’s possible intellectual predecessors, who I think contributed substantially to the formation of his doctrines.