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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.
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.
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.
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.
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