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Spinoza's 'Theological-Political Treatise'
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Book description

Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise was published anonymously in 1670 and immediately provoked huge debate. Its main goal was to claim that the freedom of philosophizing can be allowed in a free republic and that it cannot be abolished without also destroying the peace and piety of that republic. Spinoza criticizes the traditional claims of revelation and offers a social contract theory in which he praises democracy as the most natural form of government. This Critical Guide presents essays by well-known scholars in the field and covers a broad range of topics, including the political theory and the metaphysics of the work, religious toleration, the reception of the text by other early modern philosophers and the relation of the text to Jewish thought. It offers valuable perspectives on this important and influential work.

Reviews

"...Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise: A Critical Guide is a delightful book,an impressive demonstration of erudition and scholarship. The presentation is clear and forthright."
--George Lăzăroiu, PhD, Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences, New York

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Contents

  • 1 - Spinoza's exchange with Albert Burgh
    pp 11-28
  • View abstract

    Summary

    In September 1675 Albert Burgh sent Spinoza a long and passionate letter, imploring him to convert, as Burgh himself had recently done, to the Catholic faith. Spinoza was initially reluctant to reply, but when he did so, his response was generally temperate, concise, and tinged with sadness at his friend's conversion. This chapter examines this correspondence, to see what it can tell us about the reception of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (TTP), and about Spinoza's philosophy as it appears in that work. Spinoza did not convert to Christianity, much less to Catholic Christianity. In fact, Burgh's letter provoked Spinoza to be more openly critical of organized religion than he had been in the TTP itself, demonstrating that aggressive proselytization can backfire. The Preface to the TTP suggests a reason why Spinoza may have thought it desirable for the state to sponsor a religion he regarded as superstitious.
  • 2 - The text of Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus
    pp 29-40
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The issues in the textual history of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (TTP) that deserve attention can be grouped under the following headings: the genesis of the work; the printing of the Latin text; the early translations; the "Annotations to the TTP"; and the later modern editions of the text. The TTP first came out, in quarto, late in 1669 or early in 1670. In the 1670s, the work was translated into Dutch, French, and English. Spinoza wrote all of his works in Latin, but his Dutch friends were active in getting them translated. The five annotations entered by Spinoza in his own hand constitute the authentic core of the so-called Adnotationes ad Tractatum theologico-politicum. A new critical edition by Fokke Akkerman, accompanied for the first time by a full critical apparatus, a judicious account of the editorial choices and an examination of all the evidence now available, was published in 1999.
  • 3 - Spinoza on Ibn Ezra's “secret of the twelve”
    pp 41-55
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Spinoza was a profound and erudite student of Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra's Bible Commentaries. Ibn Ezra is without doubt the medieval author who, with the exception of Maimonides, had the greatest influence on the Theological-Political Treatise (TTP). By far the most significant mention of Ibn Ezra in the TTP occurs in Chapter 8 and concerns the "secret of the twelve". Spinoza begins his exposition of Ibn Ezra's esoteric doctrine by examining his comment on Deuteronomy 1:2. One of the most important of the Ibn Ezra supercommentaries is Rabbi Joseph ben Eliezer of Saragossa's Safenat Pa'neah; this work has been lauded by Ibn Ezra scholars. Rabbi Eleazar ben Mattathias's explanation of the "secret of the twelve" is striking in its originality, but unabashedly conjectural. Spinoza's discussion of Ibn Ezra's comments on Deuteronomy 1:2 should be compared also with Hobbes's discussion of the authorship of the Pentateuch in Leviathan, III, 33.
  • 4 - Reflections of the medieval Jewish–Christian debate in the Theological-Political Treatise and the Epistles
    pp 56-71
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Spinoza's use of Jewish and Christian polemical literature was two-directional, namely he used Christian arguments against Judaism in order to undermine the religion in which he was born. However, he also relied upon well-known Jewish arguments against Christianity in order to criticize the religion to which he refused to convert. It is quite reasonable to assume that polemical literature in its different languages was easily accessible to Spinoza in Amsterdam, and there is no prima facie reason to think that he was unable to use it. For Spinoza in the Theological-Political Treatise, both the observance of the commandments and the chosenness of Israel came to an end with the destruction of the Jewish state. In Epistle 78, Spinoza referred to the story in the New Testament that Jesus was tortured, died, was buried, and rose from the dead, which he accepted in total except the resurrection.
  • 5 - The early Dutch and German reaction to the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus: foreshadowing the Enlightenment's more general Spinoza reception?
    pp 72-100
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Many comments by intellectual historians and historians of philosophy about the early impact of Spinoza's thought suggest there prevailed more or less everywhere a fairly uniform pattern of rejection, denunciation, and repudiation. Even the earliest reactions in Holland and Germany demonstrate many conflicting responses which were indeed in part confessional, much depending on whether the critic was a Calvinist, Lutheran, Arminian, or Socinian-Collegiant but which were even more varied from the standpoint of philosophy and the question of the status of reason. A high proportion of the early antagonists were perfectly willing to embrace this or that slice of Spinoza's argument such as his plea for toleration. In the light of this, it is hardly surprising that the early Dutch and German reactions to the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus turn out to have foreshadowed the wide variety of positions surrounding Spinoza's philosophical challenge characteristic of the Enlightenment as a whole.
  • 6 - G. W. Leibniz's two readings of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus
    pp 101-127
  • View abstract

    Summary

    This chapter considers the question of how informed philosophical readers of Spinoza actually did understand him by examining one particular case, namely G. W. Leibniz. It first considers in some detail the historical and biographical context of Leibniz's reception of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (TTP). Next, the chapter turns to a discussion of how Leibniz situated Spinoza and the TTP in the intellectual landscape of the time. It then examines how Leibniz interpreted Spinoza's position in relation to the sect called Socinianism, in relation to the rationalistic biblical exegesis developed by Lodewijk Meyer and, finally, in relation to Thomas Hobbes's theory of natural right. The objective of these analyses is only to see just how discerning a reader of Spinoza Leibniz was, that is, to determine the extent to which he recognized the originality of Spinoza's position.
  • 7 - The metaphysics of the Theological-Political Treatise
    pp 128-142
  • View abstract

    Summary

    This chapter outlines the metaphysical views of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (TTP). It discusses two methodological principles (principle of sufficient reason and the priority of the infinite) that play a central role in motivating Spinoza's metaphysics. The chapter then delves into the metaphysical issues of Spinoza's alleged pantheism, the identity of God's essence and existence, substance and attributes, and finally, the conatus. Spinoza's main reason for demanding that the proper order of philosophizing is to begin with God is primarily the need to avoid an anthropomorphic conception of God. The critique of anthropomorphic and anthropocentric thinking is clearly one of the major underlying themes of the TTP. The essence of God is the cause of all things. An effect is a property of the cause. Hence, all things are just God's properties that follow from his essence. As a result, Spinoza can say that whatever we know is nothing but God.
  • 8 - Spinoza's conception of law: metaphysics and ethics
    pp 143-167
  • View abstract

    Summary

    This chapter focuses on two consequences: Spinoza's endeavor to use the notion of law (including divine law) to bridge the divide between the natural and the normative, and the role he assigns to the concept of law in underwriting the systematic unity of his ethical theory. Spinoza's general account encompasses two different notions of law. Type-I laws are descriptive propositions that state how things necessarily act, and that follow necessarily from the nature of a thing. Type-II laws are practical or action-guiding. Type-I laws are metaphysically basic, yet type-II laws are crucial to human agency. Spinoza insists that the concept of natural right is to be understood as grounded in a universal type-I law, the supreme law of nature. Spinoza holds that the claims of natural right are grounded in the necessity of the supreme law of nature, as this applies to the actions of any individual whatsoever.
  • 9 - Getting his hands dirty: Spinoza's criticism of the rebel
    pp 168-191
  • View abstract

    Summary

    This chapter argues that the reconciliation of Spinoza's egoism with the case of the rebel requires both a reconceptualization of the way in which the Principle of Sufficient Reason (the PSR) shapes Spinoza's account of normativity. For Spinoza, it is right and good for each of us to preserve herself, and indeed each of us has the right to seek her own advantage and to seek to control and even kill others if doing so would aid in her preservation. One can see how Spinoza's criticisms of the rebel and of the liar are not out of keeping with Spinoza's general egoism, but rather are dictated by that egoism, by the concern to meet the standards set by one's own nature. From God's point of view, the action in question is not fundamentally an action of the rebel, but rather an action of God.
  • 10 - “Promising” ideas: Hobbes and contract in Spinoza's political philosophy
    pp 192-209
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Like Hobbes, Spinoza invokes promising and contract or covenant in his discussion of the foundations of the state: primarily in his Theological-Political Treatise. This chapter poses a set of related puzzles concerning the interpretation of Spinoza's claims about promises and contracts specifically as they relate to Hobbes. It compares the doctrines of Hobbes and Spinoza concerning several key topics: rights and powers, good and evil, reason and passion, and faith and deception. These doctrines are used to resolve the puzzles about the nature and significance of promising and contract in Spinoza's political philosophy. It seems surprising that Spinoza characterizes Hobbes as denying that reason urges peace in all circumstances, since Hobbes states that "the first, and fundamental law of nature", from which he derives the obligation to keep covenants, is "to seek peace and follow it", and he characterizes all of the laws of nature as "dictates of reason".
  • 11 - Spinoza's curious defense of toleration
    pp 210-230
  • View abstract

    Summary

    A little more than fifteen years ago an exchange between David West and Isaiah Berlin concerning Spinoza's "positive conception of liberty" was published in Political Studies. West aimed to rescue Spinoza from Berlin's procrustean critique of positive liberty by pointing to liberal features of Spinoza's thought, such as his methodological individualism and his defense of toleration. This chapter explains why exactly does not Spinoza think that we should attempt to snuff out irrationality and dissolution with the law's iron fist. It intensifies the problem by noting several features of Spinoza's thought that lead him to eschew skeptical, pluralistic, and rights-based arguments for toleration, and make his defense of toleration even more surprising. The chapter delineates the prudential, anticlerical roots of Spinoza's defense. It then considers just how far and when toleration serves the guiding norms of governance, namely, peace and positive liberty.
  • 12 - Miracles, wonder, and the state in Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise
    pp 231-249
  • View abstract

    Summary

    In the Theological-Political Treatise, Spinoza offers a secular account of sovereign authority. Scripture is full of examples in which sovereigns point to some supposed miracle in order to inspire awe and wonder in their subjects. This chapter argues that collective action problems in Spinoza's social contract theory cannot be solved via Spinoza's strong sense of reason without begging the question. All forms of religion are not problematic in Spinoza's view. Religion must be stripped of its metaphysical pretensions. The chapter shows that even if there is no explicit appeal to miracles and their attendant wonder, there is another way in which the structure of the miracle has been imported into Spinoza's political thinking at a key point. It claims that Spinoza re-establishes the structure of the miracle in his account of the lawmaker's will. The purpose of human law is to regulate those who are passionate and tend to conflict.
  • 13 - Narrative as the means to Freedom: Spinoza on the uses of imagination
    pp 250-267
  • View abstract

    Summary

    As with any narrative, imaginative thinking expresses the point of view of a narrator and puts together a more or less coherent story about what is going on. There are two potential sources of insight into the project of creating ways of life that will accommodate both our desire to pursue individual goals and our dependence on other people. One of them, philosophical reasoning, is universalist; the other, imagining, is particularist. The doctrine of the Scriptures says that the only way to gain political freedom is to legislate for oneself a law that upholds the common good. Spinoza represents the emergence of a strong imaginative basis of cooperation as a significant conceptual transition in the history of humanity. The way of life endorsed by reason needs to be brought within imaginative reach if it is to mold our desires and actions.
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