Spinoza and Toleration

Thijs Bogers


The arguments put forward by Baruch de Spinoza (1632-1677) in his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (TTP) of 1670 build up towards the final chapter wherein Spinoza states that ‘the true purpose of the state is in fact freedom.’ (Spinoza 2008, 252). In the final chapter, Spinoza pleads for a state based on the toleration of differing opinions: ‘freedom of judgment must necessarily be permitted and people must be governed in such a way that they can live in harmony, even though they openly hold different and contradictory opinions.’ (Spinoza 2008, 257). However, the title of the preceding chapter begins with the words: ‘Where it is shown that authority in sacred matters belongs wholly to the sovereign powers’ (Spinoza 2008, 245). Here Spinoza heavily curtails the freedom of individuals concerning all ‘external’ religious matters. Spinoza brings these two seemingly contradictory views together in chapter 20 when he concludes that: ‘the state is never safer than [...] when the right of the sovereign authorities, whether in sacred or secular matters, is concerned only with actions, and when everyone is allowed to think what they wish and to say what they think.’ (Spinoza 2008, 259).


freedom, sovereignty

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