Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 January 2011
Spinoza famously concluded the preface of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus by requesting that “common people” should not read his book, because they would only “make trouble by interpreting it perversely,” while insisting that its contents would be “extremely useful” for the “philosophical reader” [philosophe lector]. The question concerning the intended or, as it were, ideal or potential reader of the TTP has been extensively discussed by numerous commentators since Leo Strauss. These discussions have been very helpful for clarifying the terms upon which Spinoza's reasoning relies and for understanding the motivations which led him to write the treatise. In order to complete such a historical, contextual approach to Spinoza's text, I believe, however, that we must also take into account the actual readers. The reception of the TTP constitutes an integral part of its historical meaning, whether this reception corresponds to Spinoza's intentions or not. This applies in particular when it comes to the reception of the book by readers that Spinoza would himself have found suitable. In the following, I will thus consider the question of how informed philosophical readers of Spinoza actually did understand him by examining one particular case, namely G. W. Leibniz.
One could object that Leibniz, who grew up in Leipzig in an intellectual milieu which was hardly open to modern philosophy but constituted one of the bastions of Lutheran orthodoxy, was not sufficiently free from such prejudices as would disqualify him as a true philosophe lector in Spinoza's eyes.